A Fashionista-Owned Parking Garage
John Van Horn
Private Investigator Paul Manning and his wife, Shirley, own Paul Manning Investigations. Over the years, Shirley has gotten her PI license and become proficient in firearms usage. But she has remained principally the office manager, while Paul and their son, Paul Jr., have concentrated on the field work. That is about to change.
I was in my office, staring at a mound of paperwork, wondering if my men (husband and son) would have the concentration to attack the necessary forms to keep us out of the clutches of the IRS, when my assistant knocked on the door.
“You have a visitor. She demanded to see you and you alone. She is very insistent.”
“Send her in.”
I walked to the door as a tall woman, about 50, dressed to the nines, with curly blond hair, walked in. She was wearing a stylish fedora. She put out her hand, and with a hint of Eastern Europe, started the conversation.
“My name is Helga Jackson, Mrs. Manning. I need your help. My sister and I own a business in West Hollywood. We have become very successful; our cash flow is super. However, I have the feeling that something is wrong, and my sister may be involved.”
“What type of business is it?”
“It’s a parking garage.”
“Mrs. Jackson, we should discuss this with my husband. Our agency was founded more years ago than I would like to think based on an investigation in a parking garage. Paul has tremendous experience in that sector of our economy.”
“I asked for you for a reason,” Jackson said. “This is an extremely delicate situation. I want to find out what is happening and not involve my sister, unless it turns out that she is at fault.
“I think that a woman’s touch is needed. I was hoping that I could bring you on as a shift supervisor or manager, and you could investigate ‘from within,’ so to speak.”
Wow! This would give me an opportunity to get out of the office and use some of the training I had received, both from working with Paul and when I qualified for my PI license. I was pretty sure I could handle the situation – how complicated could a parking garage be?
“OK, Mrs. Jackson. We will work it out. Please have a seat in our client office. My assistant will bring in the appropriate forms and information about our retainer. Let me consider the situation overnight, and I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Jackson walked out, her Manolo Blahniks clicking on the terrazzo, with a Goyard bag over her arm. Her Chloé dress cost more than my entire wardrobe. This woman would have no problem meeting our fees.
After Jackson filled out the paperwork, she returned to my office and gave me some basic facts. The 500-space garage was grossing about $1 million a month. It was located in a shopping district. The average parker paid $20. The garage experienced three turns a day. That is, about 1,500 parkers in the garage every day, seven days a week. There were no contract parkers.
I’ll say that it’s very successful.
They had had considerable turnover in their staff, Jackson said. I could go in as an HR expert, assisting them in finding staff that would “stick,” and at the same time nose around a bit and see what I could find, if anything.
Jackson said it was only a “feeling’” that there was a problem. We agreed that I would start at the beginning of the following week.
Later, Paul and I discussed the case in detail. I knew I would have to perform an “audit” of the garage, but do it behind-the-scenes, so to speak, if we were to keep Helga’s sister from knowing what was going on.
Paul suggested we have an operative sit outside the garage and do a car count. After a couple of days, we would have an idea as to what the garage’s gross income should be.
When I arrived the following week, Jackson – “call me Helga” – met me in the lobby area of the garage office. It was well-appointed in light colors, with a huge floral arrangement (changed daily, I was told) dominating the waiting area.
She was dressed for business in a knee-length Gucci suit, Christian Louboutin pumps (I could see the trademark red soles as she led me to her office), and carried a small YSL bag. Wow!
When we entered her office, a woman was sitting next to her desk. She was petit, very pretty, with a pony tail and horned-rimmed glasses. She wore jeans, a Grateful Dead T-shirt and Nike trainers.
Helga introduced her as her sister Maria. When she stood to greet me, Maria barely came to Helga’s shoulder. She was a good 10 years younger than her sister. Again, wow! Talk about yin and yang.
“I can see you are looking at my clothes,” Maria said. “If I have to work in a parking garage, at least I can be comfortable. I spend most of my days running up and down ramps and solving problems on the floors.
“My sister is our CEO. She needs to look the part.”
I couldn’t help but hear a bite of sarcasm in that last sentence. Perhaps this case was more complex than Paul and I thought.
Helga explained what I would be doing, and Maria escorted me to an empty office. She said that an ad was running and interviews could start the next day. I said I would poke around and become familiar with the operation.
That evening, Paul reported that our operative had counted 1,445 vehicle entries. At $20 a pop, that meant a $28,900 gross for the day. I would check the numbers the next day at the office, and we would keep the count going.
The next day brought a surprise. The gross was $35,000! What the hell was going on?
To be continued next month in Parking Today.