My office address is officially listed as 149 Union Avenue – L6, which means I occupy office 6, located just off the lobby of The Peabody Hotel – Memphis, Tennessee. I actually would consider my address to be 3rd Avenue – not Union, but the address has its perks.
The location itself is also handy. All my phone calls come through the hotel operator, which is also my answering service. I eat lunch and breakfast in the employee dining room at a great price. I have a beautiful lobby to greet potential clients – and please don’t forget the duck show, it happens twice a day. Aside from the perverts who hang out in the lobby restrooms, I can’t find a lot of fault with my office arrangements.
Besides, these are the 1960’s and people are accustomed to the modern ways of doing business. Appearance is everything, or at least a close second to whatever is first. The new real estate buzz is ‘location, location, location’ – I think I have one of the best.
The hotel directory and telephone yellow pages show L6 occupied by ‘The Drake Detective Agency’. That can be confusing, because the name on my office door reads:
Carson Reno – Private and Confidential Investigations
I am Carson Reno and always have been. A Drake has never worked from this office or any other office in Memphis that I am aware of. However, when I opened the agency, I just could not find any rhyme or rhythm in ‘The Reno Detective Agency’. Besides, everybody who has watched Perry Mason knows Paul Drake – and who knows, people may think this is a branch office or something. A little free publicity and promotion never hurt any business, just as long as they call or show-up with money.
A large number of my clients consist of damaged spouses looking for dirt and evidence on the unfaithful partner. It is possible that infidelity has made me what I am today; not a rich man, but I can pay my bills. Occasionally, I get some insurance investigation work – searching for someone who has successfully snookered the insurance company for their own goodwill, or some poor schmuck who filed false claims and skipped. But mostly, I deal with the underbelly of our society, where you find some very bad people and never make friends with anyone.
When I’m not specifically working on a case, I try to spend as much time as possible in or near the office. Another advantage of the Peabody is having access to restaurants, bars, shops and the downtown activity; so staying close is never a problem.
Afternoons and early evenings will usually find me at the ‘Starlight Lounge’ just off Winchester. Not only is it a good place to ‘hang-out’, it is a great place to look for clients or, in fact, to look for those my clients have hired me to find! The ‘Starlight’ has live entertainment starting at noon daily – yes I said noon. Every day it is loaded with housewives who use the early part of the afternoon and evening to visit The ‘Starlight’ for some drink and dance before the husband comes home from work. They cook dinner early, put it in the oven and dance on over the ‘Starlight’ for an afternoon of wine and martinis. I have a friend who calls the place “Club Menopause” – I think that is an appropriate name.
Of course with the ladies come the men – generally just in search of some companionship, but sometimes in search for much more. Regardless, these are my clients, or potential clients, and I see no harm in getting to know as many of them as possible.
Rita is the head hostess at the ‘Starlight Lounge’ and works some unbelievable hours. In fact, I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t the first to greet me, regardless of the time. She was once crowned Miss Memphis and, as I understand, had a brief acting career. This lady hasn’t lost a thing with age; she still has those terrific looks and manners that won her so many awards and titles. No question, she is one knockout, and a classy lady who knows her stuff and knows her customers. Rita always makes sure I get an opportunity to ‘meet and greet’ those who are in ‘distress’ and might need my services. She’s so good at it that I should put her on the payroll – assuming I had a payroll! However, I do make sure she gets tipped properly – whenever I get the opportunity.
My other hangout is home – or close to it. Home is a 12th floor, one-bedroom apartment at the 750 Adams Complex on Manassas Avenue. A great place to call home; they have a small grocery/deli on the ground floor and a little bar in the basement called ‘The Down Under’. Regardless of your condition, it is always just a short elevator ride home, and sometimes that makes good sense. Every weekend they offer live entertainment to a usually packed house. Being small, space is always limited, but my friend ‘Andy’, the bartender, can always seem to find me room.
I had spent the day in court, testifying in a client case for my partner/lawyer – Jack Logan. It had been a long and unproductive day and I was ready for some R&R.
But before calling in a day, I needed to stop by the office and pick up mail and messages. My associate, Joe Richardson, was in Little Rock shadowing an unfaithful spouse and was expected back tomorrow with photos and details. We could probably close that case in a couple of days, making EVERYBODY UNHAPPY – except ‘The Drake Detective Agency’!
Mason ‘Booker-T’ Brown is the headman around the Peabody, and nobody questions that. The labor union just describes him as ‘Head Porter’ – but Mason takes care of everything. In addition to being totally responsible for the ducks, he makes and coordinates all work schedules for the doormen, elevator operators, porters and parking garage workers. If you aren’t a maid or a cook, you best look to Mason for instructions – he is the man!
When I entered the lobby, Mason was cleaning around the duck fountain, and I stopped to chat. As always, Mason was wearing his ‘Peabody uniform’ of gray coat, gray slacks with red leg stripes, white shirt, black tie and a polished gold nametag – reading MASON BROWN– PEABODY HOTEL
“Mason,” I asked. “What is it with all the duck feathers? They seem to be everywhere!”
“Mr. Reno, it’s that damn hardheaded drake. Ever since Miss Lucy hatched those little ducklings, he’s been kicking up a fuss. Yesterday he decided to fly around the lobby and entertain our guests! I had to go up to the mezzanine twice and bring him back down to the fountain!”
“Ha! Well at least he’s entertaining our guests. Do you think you might need to clip his wings?”
“Mr. Reno, I’m thinking about ‘clipping off his head’! Today he has decided to pull out all his feathers and make this mess. Seems like I’ve done nothing today but clean up duck feathers.” Mason was laughing and shaking his head.
“What do you figure his the problem is?” I chuckled.
“Well sir, Mr. Reno. I figure he’s the daddy of those six little ones Miss Lucy hatched and he and her is having some domestic issues! That’s what I figure.”
I laughed, “Mason – you are probably right. We see it every day at the ‘Drake Detective Agency’. They fight, pull their hair out and then run away. Seems like this old fellow has some problems we could probably take care of.”
“Well, Mr. Reno, he’s going to need more than a detective if he doesn’t calm himself down. I’ll send him down to the kitchen and we’ll put him on the daily special!” We are both laughing and that old drake was looking at us, while swimming in the fountain and pulling out his feathers.
“Mason,” I observed, “there is a message here somewhere. He was obviously a happy fellow before he and Miss Lucy got together; now he might be headed for the frying pan – and it’s a woman’s fault! It happens all the time!”
I was still laughing as I walked across the lobby headed toward Marcie’s workstation. She was just hanging up the phone when I reached her desk, “Any messages?” I asked.
“They are on your desk, but nothing important. Here’s your mail,” she said handing me a short stack of windowed envelopes. “How did it go in court today?”
“Don’t ask,” I said shaking my head and thumbing through my mail.
“But I already did!” Marcie blurted back.
“Marcie, sometimes you are just too practical. If you must know, it was a long and unproductive day – which means that I’ll be required to do it again sometime in the very near future. I don’t know how Jack does it, but I needed to get out of that courthouse today. It was really getting to me.”
“I understand,” she said smiling. “Joe called earlier and said he would be back late tonight. He’s got the photos and the other information you suggested he gather. Guess you’ll see him tomorrow, right?”
“That’s right. And since you tell me I have no important messages, I’m headed to the ‘Starlight Lounge’. I need a drink!”
I rolled the windows down and pointed the Ford toward East Memphis and another frequent visit with my friends at the ‘Starlight Lounge’.
Happy hour (2PM – 4 PM) had just started when I entered the front door. Rita seated me at my usual table and headed off to make sure my waitress, Ruthie, got me a Jack Daniel’s and Coke as quickly as possible. As Rita walked away, I asked her to join me when business permitted – she agreed.
I know I have said this before, but Rita is one class act. She was a former beauty queen and once crowned Miss Memphis. This lady hasn’t lost a thing with age; she still has those terrific looks and manners that won her so many awards and titles. I must also add that she is one of my best friends.
I had just gotten my drink and was surveying the crowd, when Rita appeared from somewhere and casually walked up to my table. She motioned for one of the other hostesses to handle the door, as she slid into the chair to my right and took my hand. “Well, handsome, what can we do for you?” Rita asked showing her award-winning smile. “We’re seeing you early today; you come to dance with the ladies?”
“Not tonight. I’m just trying to wind down from a difficult day. You guys are crowded this evening, is something special going on?” I asked looking around the room.
“Nope. It’s probably just the full moon!” she laughed.
We chatted for a while and I decided to call it a day. The ‘Starlight Lounge’ was packed, Rita was busy and I wasn’t in the mood for crowds. I decided to finish my evening with Andy at ‘The Down Under’ and then take an elevator home.
The ‘Down Under’ wasn’t loud or crowded and I liked it that way. Andy had a college football game playing on his little black and white TV at the end of the bar, and I was trying to get interested in the game, when I remembered that I hadn’t eaten all day. Andy fixed me a hamburger to share along with my Jack and Coke; I was telling myself this was a good end to a bad day. As usual, I was wrong.
I had just finished eating when my bad day got worse.
The outside door opened, and for some reason I turned on my stool to see who might be joining our small party. I stared in disbelief as a walking nightmare entered ‘The Down Under’ bar – it was MoMo Murphy. MoMo is absolutely the biggest man I have ever seen. His hands look like a catcher’s mitt and his head is the size of a basketball; the rest of his body was proportionally just as large. Fat he wasn’t – big he was!
He was dressed, as always, with a size 60 triple X sport coat over a white tea shirt. I actually believe those were the only clothes he could find to fit his enormous body.
Walking beside MoMo was a little guy that I hadn’t seen before. He was wearing a goofy looking hat and an even goofier looking bow tie. The comparison ‘Mutt and Jeff’ came to mind, because these two were definitely not a matched pair!
MoMo walked directly to where I was sitting and somehow managed to locate his big frame on the stool to my right (without breaking it!), and then the little guy hopped up on the one to my left. I spoke first.
“Well, well,” I said after glancing at both of them. “It looks like the circus is back in town! Did you guys break out of your cages or do they trust you enough to return on your own?”
MoMo spoke in a very deep monotone voice with no expression in his words, “Mr. Reno, we need to see you in the parking lot.”
“I’m busy, can’t you see that? And besides, it’s raining outside – or are you just too stupid to know it! Make an appointment; we can meet sometime when you’re not in jail. You need the phone number?” I asked – ignoring his request and returning my attention to at the television.
Then the little guy spoke in a high pitched squeaky voice, “Consider this as our appointment.” He was leaning over the bar trying to speak to my face, which required him to stand on the barstool. “We’re not fooling Mr. Reno, the parking lot – NOW!”
I looked at him and laughed, because he was almost standing on the bar – then I turned back to MoMo. “Hey, who’s the midget with the bad breath?” I asked, nodding in the little guy’s direction. “Is he with you?”
That’s when I felt the familiar cold steel of a gun being stuck in my ribs! The little guy had discretely removed his gun from some unknown location and quickly poked it into my left side. Trying to ignore this little guy was getting more difficult! “Listen asshole,” he said in his squeaky voice. “My name is Jimmy Sweeny, and I’m the midget who’ll plaster your insides all over that nice clean wall! Do you understand?”
“I understand your mouthwash ain’t working,” I said glancing down at his gun. “And if you don’t get that gun out of my ribs, I’m going to take it away from you and clean your mouth out with it!’
“Please don’t make Jimmy mad,” MoMo said shaking his big head. “I don’t feel like cleaning up another one of his messes.”
I turned slowly on the stool to look the little guy in the eye and this managed to get the gun out of my ribs. “Are you Jimmy ‘clean hands’ Sweeny?” I chuckled. “The guy who’s known for keeping his hands clean when the rough stuff starts? Has MoMo been a bad influence for you?”
Before Sweeny could respond, MoMo put his huge hand on my shoulder. “Conversation is over – let’s go,” he said. I got the message!
I had no idea what I had done to deserve such a fate, but I reluctantly accompanied these two tough guys out the back door and into the back parking area of my apartment building. They walked me up to a 1963 Lincoln with tinted windows; it was sitting with the motor running and a driver behind the wheel. MoMo’s big hand opened the rear door and he shoved me into the back seat.
Sitting in the back seat was my old friend, Steve Carrollton. He was having some sort of a cocktail and smoking a Pall Mall – probably his 50th of the day.
“Carson, good to see you again. Can I offer you a drink?” he asked pointing at the bar.
“You can offer, but I won’t accept. What you CAN do is call off that freak show and let me return to my dinner and football game.” I was not happy.
“My apology. I promise not to keep you long, but I needed to speak with you and I needed to do it tonight,” Steve said crushing out his cigarette and stirring his drink.
“What is it with you?” I said angrily. “Why can’t you make an appointment like normal people? When you want to see me, you always send some goons to interrupt my day and I don’t like it! So, I’m going back inside and you can call my office tomorrow for an appointment,” I said reaching for the door handle.
“You’re not going anywhere until I have my say. Now, you can listen quietly or I can have MoMo sit on you while I talk. Your choice,” Steve said calmly.
Now, please understand – the choices between having MoMo sit on me and ANYTHING else was not a choice at all! I decided to listen.
“Okay, I’ll give you 5 minutes,” I said with frustration.
“Thank you. Now, you just need to listen and don’t ask questions, okay?”
“I’ll try,” I muttered.
“Carson, I like you and I don’t want to see you or any of your friends get hurt; that’s why we’re having this conversation. For reasons you don’t need to know, we have misplaced some money – a lot of money. One of two things has happened. Either I have a thief in my organization, or your stewardess friend – or perhaps one of her roommates – has my money. I’m giving you 48 hours to find out if one of your friends has it. If they do, then you will retrieve the money and return it to me. If I have a thief, then that’s my problem and I’ll take care of it.”
“What?” I yelled.
“You heard me and I know you understood me. I’ll be back in contact with you in 48 hours. If you find the money, then you will return it. If it was my problem, I will have already taken care of that, and our business will be finished.”
“Carrollton, this is nuts. I have no idea what you are talking about and no idea what you want me to do!” I was very agitated.
“Carson, yes you do. If one of your friends has my money, you’ll find it and give it to me. If they don’t have it, then I will have already found it. Now get out of my car and go find my money.”
Before I could respond, MoMo opened the door and pulled me out just as gently as he had pushed me in! Then he and the midget took my place in the back seat and they slowly drove away. I stood in the parking lot, watching the car leave while scratching my head; what in the hell was this all about? Steve Carrollton was a lot of things, but a bull-shitter wasn’t one of them. His conversation with me was serious, and I intended to treat it that way.
I ignored my unfinished drink in the bar and took the elevator upstairs to my apartment. It was late, but I need to talk with Liz and see if she had any idea what this was about. I tried Liz at both her Memphis and Humboldt apartments – no answer.
Laying across my bed and listening to the thunder, I tried to put some answers to the questions Steve Carrollton had left me with. Somehow, somewhere and someplace the bad guys had lost some money and they believed that Liz, or one of her roommates might have that money. I was pretty certain that if Liz, Jan or Jane had ‘accidentally’ discovered some cash, then they would have informed somebody – perhaps me. So, since that hadn’t happened, the only answer was that if the money was ‘somehow’ in their possession, then they didn’t know they had it. I would start my work with that assumption, until I found out something different.
However, according to Steve Carrollton, he wasn’t sure that the money was really ‘lost’; maybe it had been stolen. Certainly not stolen by Liz, Jan or Jane, but by somebody in his organization.
The whole thing didn’t make sense and the sound of rain pounding on my patio wasn’t helping me think. My 48-hour clock was already ticking and I needed to see Larry Parker, Shelby County Chief of Detectives first thing in the morning.
Larry had been a policeman for as long as I could remember. He worked his way up the ladder and, unlike many others, had done it through honesty and good police work. I trusted him and he had never let me down. Our friendship goes way back to the beginning. He was a sponsor for my private detective license and had always been there when I needed him – and I think I needed him again.
Prior to paying me a visit at ‘The Down Under’, Carrollton, MoMo and Sweeny had made a similar visit to Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey, the airport worker. The missing money was getting a lot of unwanted attention and all the bad guys, not just Carrollton, were trying to find it. ‘Noodles’ had one story and the guy in Puerto Rico, Ivan Negron, had another; they didn’t match.
Carrollton gave ‘Noodles’ the same 48 hours to find the money. If he had stolen it, he could return it, and perhaps avoid a watery grave. If he hadn’t stolen it, then he had certainly ‘misplaced it’ and it would be up to him to find it. MoMo worked him over pretty good, and Steve Carrollton was convinced the money would return itself very soon.
In San Juan the circumstances were quite different and much more urgent. The dealers wanted their payoff and the Mafia claimed they had delivered it; using the regular and proven method.
The FBI hadn’t discovered the money, so somebody else had it, and the Puerto Rico folks needed to find it. The Colombian dealers didn’t care, but someone was going to pay – the drug delivery had been made and the debt was overdue.