What We Saw Was Impossible
Private investigator Paul Manning found a dead woman in the trunk of a car blocking his in the stack parking lot at the Hollywood Bowl. His business card was in there, too. Once back home, Paul found an envelope with a picture of the person in the trunk, very much alive, and a note saying they wanted $1 million. The woman turned out to be his sister-in-law’s best friend, Sarah, who had left an estranged father and been widowed for about six months. But none of this made sense. Why would they kill Sarah if they were going to ransom her? How did they know not only where the Mannings would be tonight, but where Paul would be parking? And how was it that he had parked in virtually the only spot at the Bowl that could be blocked by a single car behind him? Paul returned to his office after talking to the operator who ran the Bowl’s parking and getting the names of the attendants who were probably involved. A big man came in. He had a dark suit, white shirt, navy tie, a bulge on his hip, and an attitude. “Manning? I’m FBI Special Agent in Charge Leon Peyton. We need to talk.” Paul’s phone rang at that moment; LAPD Capt. Bill Vose, his best friend, said, “Paul, the Feds are in on this. You are going to get a visitor.”
Bill’s timing was better than this. He usually called before the fact, not after. What did a murder in Hollywood have to do with the FBI? I bet I would soon find out.
The big man who had come into my office said, “We need to talk. What do you know about the Delacroix murder?”
Now that was a curve. Delacroix? I knew no Delacroix and I told him that.
“Come on, Manning: Sarah Delacroix, Hollywood Bowl, your sister-in-law’s friend, your business card next to the body, a body you found.”
Ahhhh, Delacroix was Sarah’s married name. But the FBI? I told him everything I knew right up to the vintage of the wine we drank celebrating Paulo’s engagement. The look on Peyton’s face told me he wasn’t satisfied.
“Come on, Manning. Her father, William Smythe-Jones, who by the way is flying in this afternoon on his G5 from New Jersey, specifically asked to meet with you. You are in this up to your PI neck.
I was clueless and told him so. I didn’t know Smythe-Jones, had never met him, had never spoken to him.
“Well, he knows you and wants you at the airport at 8 tonight when he arrives. I’ll meet you at Santa Monica at 7, and we’ll continue this discussion.” Peyton left.
I called Paulo to join me, and we went to the bar in Culver City where we had planned to meet Bill Vose. Perhaps between the three of us and some alcohol we could make some sense of this.
I like Ford’s – a tony spot near the Sony Studios. They have a great selection of single malts. Plus, the view from the bar, out to the dining room, was great. Studios hire only beautiful women, and they like Ford’s. Probably many were there trying to spot the owner’s father, a Ford with the first name of Harrison.
Sightings of movie stars are a hobby of many who live on Los Angeles’ West Side. The other day I literally ran into Donald Sutherland at a Ralphs supermarket. We collided rounding an egg display. He apologized before I had a chance to, and then struck up a conversation with a woman about the advisability of free-range over regular eggs. But I digress.
Bill was at the bar when we walked in. There was a glass of whiskey in front of him, and a glass of amber liquid on the bar next to him. It was 15-year-old Laphroaig. I could almost see the smoke rising out of the glass. Bill’s a good man. Paulo ordered a beer.
We rehashed the case. Obviously, Smythe-Jones had some pull if the Feds were delivering his messages. His estranged daughter is kidnapped and killed, probably accidentally. I was to be the go-between. But why me?
We held it to one drink, as we wanted to be clear-headed when the “meeting” took place.
We left Ford’s at 6:30 and headed for the Santa Monica airport. The airport was a favorite for the rich and famous. It’s about 15 minutes from the wealthy enclaves of Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Century City. However, their private jets upset the airport’s neighbors to no end. I guess knowing that Madonna was in the jet rattling your fillings as it took off didn’t help.
Peyton was there. We met in a conference room and then spent an hour looking at each other. There really wasn’t much to say.
The G5 touched down at exactly 8 p.m. It taxied right up to the executive terminal. The door opened, and the pilot came down the stairs. He turned and offered his hand to a man who needed a bit of help. He carried a cane and his shoulders were bent. He reached the tarmac and turned and looked back up the stairs.
A woman dressed in a full-length fur coat stepped out of the plane. She paused on the top step and then descended, much like royalty entered a room. Slowly and with great dignity.
It was dusk and I couldn’t see her features, but her walk seemed familiar. She took Smythe-Jones’ arm and they walked slowly toward the building. Some floods created circles of light, and I could see her clearly when they walked into one.
I felt Paulo stiffen next to me; Bill’s mouth fell open. We were looking at a woman who had died 18 months ago. She had been shot by her partner in crime. I absolutely knew it happened that way. I was sitting next to her at the time.
To be continued ...