It Became a Family Matter
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? They met the dead woman’s father’s G5 at Santa Monica Airport. A woman took his arm and the two walked slowly toward the building. They recognized her; they were looking at a woman who had died 18 months ago. She had been shot by her partner in crime. Paul absolutely knew it happened that way. He had been sitting next to her at the time.
I was looking at the impossible. Not 18 months ago, my wife, Shirley, and I had been kidnapped by some bad guys who worked for people in Vegas and New Jersey whose families had close ties to groups in Sicily. During the rather hectic drive in the Santa Monica Mountains, they had a falling out and a gun was discharged.
Betty Beeson, or whatever her name was, was the niece of a mob boss and was running their operation in LA. She was shot as we were driving to her upscale hideout in the mountains. I knew she was dead; I had seen the hole in her temple. I had felt her pulse. I had seen the coroner take her body away.
But there she was, looking better than ever. Actually, she was also looking younger than ever. Betty was about 10 years younger than me. That would put her in her mid-50s. This woman wasn’t a day over 35. But she certainly was Betty’s doppelganger.
Paulo, Bill Vose, FBI agent Leon Peyton and I went to meet the couple. William Smythe-Jones was at least 80. And it was anyone’s guess if he would make 81. The woman was helping him walk and whispering to him as they approached.
Smythe-Jones held out his hand to me and said, “Manning, good to meet you, finally. This is my grand-niece, Melissa.” His voice was steady, belying his appearance. His grip was cool but strong. “Can we go someplace to sit down? I’m not as young as I once was.”
Paulo and Bill were staring at Melissa. They couldn’t take their eyes off her. Actually, neither could I. She was a bit older than Paulo. There was something …
We went in to the conference room. Agent Peyton got the coffee. I guess we found out where he was in the pecking order. We waited for Smythe-Jones; it was his party. However, looking at his “grand-niece,” I was beginning to have some idea of where this was going.
“Manning, I’ve done a rather poor job of involving you in my most current problem,” Smythe-Jones said. “I should have contacted you directly, but there wasn’t time. No, that’s not true. I simply found it difficult to call.
“You see, the woman you call Betty Beeson was my niece, Melissa’s mother. Sarah was her sister, not my daughter. I was a guest of our friend Peyton’s organization when she was killed, but I followed your involvement closely.
“You are good, very good. I felt that if you were involved with getting Sarah back, nothing would go wrong. I didn’t figure fate taking a role in this.”
I was sitting across from a major mob boss who had lost his niece in a shootout where I was involved. FBI or no FBI, this was not comfortable.
“You are honest, fair and determined. I needed someone like that to help me through Sarah’s kidnapping. Certainly there is no one in my old organization that would fill that bill,” Smythe-Jones said.
“When we got the ransom note, I immediately contacted my ‘handler’ at the Bureau. I told them I wanted you involved, and here you are. Thank you for that. I only wish you could have been on board sooner. Maybe Sarah wouldn’t be dead.”
There was one minor problem. Sarah had my business card in her hand, and the kidnappers knew who I was before she was taken. They had to have been able to set up all that parking mess at the Hollywood Bowl. Plus, they left the ransom note on my door step. I explained all this to Smythe-Jones, or whatever his name was.
“So you were involved before I contacted you.” He paused. “This is most interesting; it makes matters easier. Manning, I want you to find the killers of my niece.”
I began to demur. I didn’t work for the mob, even those that had so-called paid their debt, and I told him so.
“This is different, Manning. You’re …”
“Wait, Uncle Mario.” It was Melissa. The old man shut up.
“Mr. Manning, will you join me in the hall for a moment?” This woman was used to having her way. I followed her outside.
“What my uncle was about to blurt out, for all the ears in that room, you may want to keep private. You see, this has become a family matter. Mr. Manning, I am your daughter.”
To be continued ...