Coffee, Tea or Me
Elizabeth Teague is a stewardess with Chicago & Southern Airlines, and had just recently celebrated her 10th anniversary with the airline. She was very excited about their recent merger with Delta and looking forward to the benefits from the new company. Elizabeth was also a close friend of Carson Reno; they had met during his investigation of a ‘Murder in Humboldt’.
Elizabeth and her co-workers, Jan Guthrie and Jane Dudley, were all originally from Humboldt. They were also roommates and shared apartments in both Memphis and Humboldt.
Because of schedules, it was rare when they were all traveling or at home at the same time. That made the residence sharing perfect. It was even rarer for all three to be assigned to the same flight. However, the merger with Delta meant more flights to more destinations and shuffled schedules for everyone.
Chicago & Southern, along with Delta, operates 2 roundtrip flights daily from Memphis to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a favorite assignment, because the crews almost always have a one-night layover, then working a return flight the next day. The early morning flights offered the opportunity for the girls to enjoy an afternoon on one of San Juan’s beautiful beaches, and the nightlife of ‘Old San Juan’.
Jan is a regular on the Memphis to San Juan flights – usually making two roundtrips per week. Jane’s normal flight schedule took her to northeast destinations, while Liz typically worked other overseas destinations.
On this beautiful fall day, schedules have been shuffled and all three are assigned to the early Memphis/San Juan flight. It was scheduled to depart at 7AM Memphis time and arrive in San Juan at 1:00 PM Puerto Rico time. They would spend the rest of the day in San Juan – working the returning 2:00 PM San Juan/Memphis flight the next day.
They were so excited about spending a day together on the beach and a night on the town, that they almost missed the flight – getting to the airport only 5 minutes before a back-up crew would have been assigned. Liz had just returned from a trip to Mexico and Jane had arrived late that previous evening on a New York flight. Because of the confusion, packing was hurried and their newly issued Delta crew luggage was being used for the first time. But they promised themselves to add proper identification before arriving in San Juan and turning their bags over to the handlers.
As usual, the crew was scheduled to stay at the historic Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Puerto Rico; known for its spectacular view of Condado Beach and its restaurants offering classic native dishes.
Hotel El Convento
During the flight, Jan, Jane and Liz used every opportunity to plan and discuss their upcoming day and night in San Juan. They had remembered bathing suits, evening attire and even casual dress – cramming everything they could think of in their new Delta baggage.
Unfortunately, the shuffled schedules were not going to permit the three girls to enjoy their plans; at least one of them anyway.
Just prior to landing, Liz was informed by the Captain that she would need to work the return flight; departing San Juan at 2:00 PM. An illness of one of the other return crew stewardess required a replacement, and she was it!
Jan, Jane and Liz were disappointed, but understood and knew they would have many other opportunities to share a day and night in San Juan. Changes like this were not unusual.
Turnaround time was short, and as head stewardess, Liz was responsible for getting the cabin ready for the return trip. Jan and Jane grabbed their baggage and dropped it with the awaiting handler; who would see that it was transferred and delivered to their hotel. The girls shared quick good-byes; then Jan and Jane boarded the shuttle to their hotel. Liz readied the aircraft cabin and the plane left San Juan on schedule, headed back to Memphis.
As Jose Chavito had instructed him, and as he had accomplished many times before, Ivan Negron separated the baggage from the recently arrived Memphis flight. Bags identified as ‘Crew’ were loaded on a separate carriage, while regular passenger baggage headed toward customs.
In a remote and discrete corner of the baggage collection area, Ivan searched for the bag with the ‘special’ tag that had been added by the Memphis handler. It wasn’t there!
Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey worked for Steve Carrollton and had been a loyal employee for 5 years. He willingly accepted any assignment, always with hopes of improving his standing within the family. He mostly ran numbers for the street hoods and, on occasion, was used for muscle, but never anything big or important. His big opportunity came when he heard that the Memphis Mafia was looking for a way to transport cash out of the country.
Nathan’s half-brother, Sanford Galey, lived in Humboldt and worked as a mechanic at the Truck Stop. Sanford had told Nathan about the stewardesses, and that they had an apartment in Humboldt, but worked and flew for Chicago & Southern Airlines. In fact, one flew the Memphis to San Juan flight twice weekly. Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey mentioned this to one of Steve Carrollton’s close associates, and eventually the idea reached Steve’s ear. He like what he heard, so Nathan was called into the Beale Street pawnshop office for a meeting.
Steve Carrollton’s Beale Street Office
Nathan had never been to Steve Carrollton’s office before. So when Steve’s bodyguards, MoMo Murphy and Jimmy ‘Clean Hands’ Sweeny, pulled him off his numbers collection route, he figured he was in real trouble.
At the office, Steve questioned Nathan and wanted all the details about his idea. He wanted names, what airline they worked for, Humboldt address, Memphis address and any other information he could provide. Nathan told Steve everything he knew and everything his half-brother, Sanford had told him.
When Steve had sent for Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey, he thought the idea had possibilities. After hearing what Nathan had to say, Steve thought it was a perfect set-up, and the plan was put in place.
Steve Carrollton arranged a job for Nathan as a baggage handler at the Memphis airport. Nathan never questioned the job, and after he learned that his role was to place large sums of cash into selected baggage, Nathan knew his assignment was an important one. This job wouldn’t be given to just an ‘anybody’. He felt important and completed the assigned tasks efficiently and without question. Nathan took great pride in the fact that it was his suggestion to use one of the Chicago & Southern Airline stewardesses as their ‘mule’ to carry the drug payments out of the country.
On the nights before he was to put the package in the crew luggage, two of Steve Carrollton’s men would deliver a small package to his apartment. This package was sealed, but he knew it contained cash – a lot of cash in large bills! Prior to loading the baggage on the airplane, he would place this package in the baggage of a crewmember of Chicago & Southern Airlines. It was always placed in the same crewmember’s bag, Jan Guthrie, and identified by her attached nametag. He then would add the standard ‘crew luggage’ transfer tag and mark that tag with an indiscrete X – making it easier for the San Juan handler to find.
This last time, he carried out his duties as always. At the Memphis Airport baggage area, Nathan separated the luggage, moving the bags marked ‘Crew’ to a different cart. However, this time something was wrong. The bags were marked ‘Crew’ but the name on the bag he was instructed to use to place the money in wasn’t there. He had three ‘crew’ bags scheduled for transfer in San Juan, but they had no name identification attached. In a panic, he selected one of the ‘crew’ bags, added the package of cash, and marked it with the transfer tag and the indiscrete X. Surely that would be sufficient. Surely that idiot in San Juan would be able to find his mark – why did the name matter?
Elizabeth was exhausted from her quick turnaround trip to Puerto Rico, and still disappointed that she was not able to share in the fun with Jan and Jane. However, she was scheduled for several days off and intended to spend them in Humboldt with her friend, Mary Ellen Maxwell. She and Mary Ellen would be traveling by car to Natchez, Mississippi and touring antebellum homes and mansions. This was a trip scheduled by the Humboldt Garden Club and Elizabeth was looking forward to the time away from work.
She threw her unpacked new Delta bag in the back seat of her car and stopped by her Memphis apartment to grab some fresh clothes. Then she headed to Humboldt for her mini vacation.
Unknown to Elizabeth, and seemingly lost by everybody, the bag with the indiscrete X was now in the back seat of her car and headed to Humboldt. The bag contained $200,000 dollars in large denomination unmarked bills!
Let the fun begin!