We Were to Leave the Ransom in a Garage
‘Death by Parking’ / Special Women In Parking Episode
I married a private investigator. He’s handsome, brave, and has a good heart. The first thing he did when we got back from our honeymoon was make me a full partner in his agency. He is Paul Manning, I am Shirley Manning, and we are Manning and Manning, Investigations.
It was assumed that I would handle all the “inside” work: human resources, accounting, office management. Paul would take the lead in the “detecting” end. After a few years and the birth of our son Paul Jr., I became restless.
I took the state exam, got my PI license, and through the good offices of our best friend (and Paul Jr.’s godfather), LAPD Captain Bill Vose, I learned to shoot. Actually, I was a better shot than Paul, but missed one once in a while. You do have to salve the male ego.
I began to take some cases. Often those that dealt with domestic issues – divorce, philandering husbands (and wives), even the odd “internal” family theft, the kind they want to keep from the police and local news. It wasn’t a lot, but it gave me experience. Then one day …
“There’s a man here who says he needs a detective. His name is George Kassas.” Our office assistant was good, but screening clients was not his strong suit. Paul was out on assignment. “Send him in.”
He was short, not over 5-foot-6. I stood and asked him to be seated. He seemed to be wavering about how to begin. I knew he was expecting a man.
“Hello, Mr. Kassas. I am Shirley Manning. I’m a licensed private investigator, one of the founders of this agency, and a good shot. How can I help you?”
“I apologize,” he said. “You are right in assuming I was expecting a man. But the world has changed, hasn’t it? I have a problem. I can’t go to the police. I need it handled with complete discretion.”
“Discretion is what we do, Mr. Kassas. Tell me about it.”
“My son Andy attends The Westholme School on the West Side. He’s a good boy and a good student. He just had his 15th birthday. He has never been in trouble. ... Andy has disappeared. He left yesterday afternoon to walk to a nearby store and pick up some school supplies, and never returned.
“It’s a boarding school, and they didn’t think anything was wrong until later in the evening. They called me, and I checked all his friends and usual haunts. He wasn’t there. I need help.”
While Kassas filled out the forms we needed to bring him on as a client, and wrote a check for the retainer, I called the school and talked to the headmaster. It was as Kassas had said. His son Andy had disappeared.
I then put my assistant on checking hospitals and the morgue. By the time Kassas had finished the paperwork, I knew the boy wasn’t in a hospital or on a slab.
“The next step is for me to speak with your wife,” I said.
“Why do you need to bother her?”
“Sometimes mothers know more than fathers.”
I arranged to meet the Kassases at their home in Brentwood. It was well-appointed, quite in keeping with one whose owners could afford a tony boarding school for their child.
I first asked to see Andy’s room. It was typical teenage boy. Rock band posters, a bit messy, and a Playboy magazine stuffed under the mattress. I left it there. In one of the books next to the bed was the picture of a teenage girl.
The Kassases were in the living room. I asked if Andy had a girlfriend. His father said no. His wife winced but said nothing. I asked to speak to her alone, and after some argument, her husband went into his office and closed the door.
“Andy has a girlfriend, doesn’t he?”
“You have to understand. My husband is traditional,” Mary Kassas said. “He expects that Andy will focus on his studies and then marry a woman who has been ‘selected’ for him. But, yes, Andy has a girlfriend. Mary Johnson goes to Westholme as a day student.”
Her husband came back into the living room. All the color had drained from his face. “I just received this in my fax machine”
He handed me the paper.
“We have your son. Gather $200,000 and await instructions. No police, or he will die.”
“We must call the police,” I said. “They will bring in the FBI, and they know how to handle these types of things.”
“NO! No police. They will kill him,” Kassas said. “You must handle it.”
Yikes. Paul was out of town, in a place where I couldn’t contact him. I could handle this. I would go with the Kassases for the first steps, and then I would make a covert call to Bill Vose at the LAPD and get his advice.
“Against my better judgment, I’ll continue,” I told them. “We can assume that instructions will be faxed, probably from the local UPS store. You collect the money. I’m going to do some sniffing around.”
It was strange. They had no way to communicate with the kidnappers. Typically, the parents would demand proof of life, would want to speak to the kidnapped person. The kidnappers would want to know and confirm that the money was collected, and that the parents would follow instructions. Hell, they didn’t even know that maybe Kassas’ fax machine was out of paper. This wasn’t right.
I decided to start with Andy’s girlfriend, Mary Johnson. I got her address from Mary Kassas and drove to where Mary lived with her parents in nearby West LA. Her mother told me that she had stayed with a friend last night and had gone directly to school that morning.
I called the school. Surprise, surprise. Mary Johnson was absent. She had called in and told them she had a cold.
This was beginning to make more and more sense.
I returned to the Kassas home, but said nothing to them about the missing girlfriend. A second fax had arrived.
“Put the money in a brown grocery bag and drive to the third deck of the parking structure at Santa Monica Place. Put the bag in the trashcan next to the elevator. Once we have the money, we will release the boy.”
The garage would be a terrible place for the kidnappers to make the exchange. Once they picked up the money, they would be trapped. And even if they did get out of the garage, they could easily be followed.
Not smart kidnappers at all. I was almost 100% I was right about this, but I was potentially gambling with a boy’s life.
I told Kassas that I would make the drop. Then I called the office and asked Paul Jr. to join me. He was former military and our agency’s No. 1 operative. We met in front of the garage in Santa Monica. I had the money.
“I’ll drop off the money and then watch the elevator,” I told Paul Jr. “You park near the exit. There is only one way out of this garage. With the two of us, we can easily follow.”
“You bet, boss,” Paul Jr. said with a smile. I love that boy.
I dropped off the money and waited. The kidnappers must have been watching the trashcan, because as soon as I drove away, the elevator doors opened and a teenage girl came out, rummaged through the can, and took the cash.
By golly, I was right. I called Paul Jr. and described her. He picked her up at the exit; she was driving a sports car. I fell in behind. With two cars, we could follow and keep a bit of distance so she wouldn’t notice she was being followed. She drove to a motel on Santa Monica Boulevard
Paul Jr. and I pulled into the parking lot as the girl knocked at one of the rooms. The door opened, and the focus of the kidnapping, Andy Kassas, gave her a hug and pulled her inside. Wow!
Paul Jr. and I walked to the motel room door, and he pounded on it. Andy and Mary opened it. Gotcha!
It was as I had suspected. A teen boy had a crush on a teen girl. His father – and probably her father – had forbidden them to date. So the two teens decided to pull this stunt and run off together. How can kids be so stupid?
I asked both sets of parents to meet us at the Kassases’ house. They were in the living room when we brought in the two master criminals. After I got the yelling stopped, I gave a little speech.
“Your children are too young to be making these kinds of decisions. However, you should remember that Romeo and Juliet were barely teenagers when they began their star-crossed romance.
“Rather than recrimination, I would suggest communication.
“My experience – I glanced at Paul Jr. – is that the more you forbid, the more the thing forbidden is desired.
“These two seem like sensible young people, when they aren’t acting like idiots. Perhaps you could come up with some alternative ways for them to ‘see’ each other in a more supervised setting. They told me that they have never dated anyone else. I think the best thing for them is time.”
As we walked to the door, George Kassas came over and shook my hand.
“You have a lot of wisdom, Mrs. Manning. I was fortunate that you were available to handle this case. Perhaps this will express our gratitude.”
He gave me an envelope. When we got to the car, Paul Jr. opened the envelope and let out a low whistle.
“I can’t wait until I see Dad’s face when he gets a load of this. It’s five figures!”
Honestly, I can’t either.