Chapter 3 Paul and Shirley Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
Private Investigator Paul Manning’s detective agency was taking a close look at a parking garage. Its owner, Helga Jackson, an extremely well-dressed woman, was concerned that “something funny” was going on. She wanted a woman investigator, and Paul’s wife, Shirley, was on the case. Helga’s business partner was her sister, Maria, a not-so-well-dressed operations manager for the garage. The Mannings started by doing a quick one-day survey. Their operative reported that he had counted 1,445 vehicle entries. At $20 a pop, that meant a $28,900 gross for the day. The next day brought a surprise. The gross was $35,000! Now the operative that Shirley had placed in the garage was in the hospital, a result of a hit and run. What next?
Paul and I sat in the small courtyard off our bedroom. It was 9 p.m. The weather was warm, the breeze soft. We were surrounded by plants, and each of us had our favorite drink. He was sipping 15-year-old Laphroaig; I held a glass of Pinot Grigio. He let out a sigh.
“Remember that first case nearly 40 years ago? I ended up in the hospital. You threw a vase of flowers at me. We put a low-level mob boss in jail.
“If I remember correctly,” I said, “You were in the arms of a very pretty nurse when I walked into that hospital room.”
Paul smiled. “You have been a tad possessive these past few decades.”
“My favorite case,” I told him, ignoring the possessive jab, “was the one where you took young Paulo on a stakeout. He was, what, 14 years old?”
“Yeah, he thought that old parking garage near his school was haunted. We did find people dragging chains across the floor to check for rusting rebar, and we also found evidence dating back to before JFK’s election. I will never forget the look on Paulo’s face when we were on a conference call with the last remaining Kennedy brother, imploring us to keep the evidence secure.”
“Paulo has grown up to be quite a wonderful young man. I’ll never forget when I was sitting at my desk outside your office and heard those shots fired. I came in and found Paulo treating the wound of a new client. She has made a wonderful daughter-in-law. I wonder when we are going to see a grandchild out of that branch of our family.
“Oh, Paul, and remember that evening we were caught ‘stack-parked’ at the Hollywood Bowl, and you found that body in the trunk of the car next to us. It all sort of went back to the valet company that ran the parking at the Bowl. Have we ever had a date where you didn’t find something that caused the LAPD to be involved?”
“There was Maria LaFlonza,” he said, deftly changing the subject, “that second-tier movie star we took down in that first case, who had been released from prison and was sniffing around the parking business. I still believe she was behind those shots though my office window.”
Paulo and I had run the head of the local crime syndicate to ground. The shocker was that she was the woman you had saved in the original case.
“What was her name?”
“Betty Beeson,” I said.
“Yeah, you always remember the girl’s name.”
“Well, I should. She had you wrapped around her little finger. You didn’t even know that she was, in fact, the daughter of a New York crime boss and was running everything. You thought she was a poor little girl from Iowa.”
“Now, just a minute, you told her to call me in the first place.”
It was time to move on.
“Ah, New Orleans, and ghosts, and movie stars.”
“Ha, I remember how frightened you were in that old cemetery,” he said, “when someone was trying to shut down the filming and had recordings playing, scaring everyone. But I knew it was false.”
“Riiight,” I said. “You were right beside me when we were running down Bourbon Street trying to get back to our hotel. ... But unless you have had too much of that Scottish firewater, maybe we could talk a bit about our current case. ...
“Our operative is in the hospital,” I said. “And I don’t believe in coincidences. Her ‘accident’ (I love air quotes) happened three hours after she started digging into the inner workings of the garage’s computer program. We need to know what she found.”
“OK, let’s hit the sack, and then tomorrow go see if she can talk.”
Paul was moving his eyebrows in that way that always turns me to mush. I smiled, walked through the sliding door to the bedroom, and left it open.
The next morning, Paul and I were at the hospital, talking to
“She is one very lucky young woman. She has some cracked ribs, a bruise on her forehead from the airbag, and a twisted ankle. We will hold her until tomorrow, but I think she wants to talk to you now. She was insistent we let you in as soon as you arrived this morning.”
Donna was propped up in bed. The look on her face wasn’t pain; it was anger. She was one pissed-off PI.
“That bastard drove me off the road. On purpose. And I think I know why,” she said. “I found some very interesting footprints when I started the forensic analysis of the garage’s computer system. The data coming out in the reports weren’t accurately reflecting the data that went into the system.
“Someone was altering the data. And I think I know who it is.”
To be continued…