I woke from a dreamless sleep and stared at the ceiling, my thoughts starting from where they had stopped the night before. At some point I had finally given up to the ‘sand man’ – the storm outside being an obvious contributor to my surrender. This morning the thunder over Memphis seemed louder and the rain continued its attack on my patio.
My 48 hours had already started and I had accomplished nothing – not even getting a good night’s sleep. From my apartment I made calls to Attorney Jack Logan, Shelby County Chief of Detectives Larry Parker and to Liz’s Memphis and Humboldt apartments; I was unable to locate anyone. Jack was in court and Larry was out of his office, but expected back soon. In desperation, I called Mary Ellen Maxwell. She wasn’t there either!
Mary Ellen Maxwell was the owner of Maxwell Trucking. She was a widow, a Humboldt socialite and one of Liz’s best friends. I did learn from Mary Ellen’s maid that Liz had been in Humboldt. I also learned that Mary Ellen and Liz were traveling to Natchez, Mississippi with a local social club – touring historic houses or something like that. I left a message with the maid for Liz to call me; hopefully, they would check in with the maid soon and Liz would get my message.
Since I had not reached anyone at either of Liz’s apartments, I assumed that her roommates, Jan Guthrie and Jane Dudley, were working and flying somewhere. Somehow, I needed to get these girls together and ask some questions. If one of them had that money, it would only be a matter of time until they found it; or one of Carrollton’s men found it for them! Steve Carrollton’s warning was specific – I needed to know something and I need to know it quick. My 48 hours was ticking away fast.
Marcie waved and shouted as I left the rain outside and entered the Peabody lobby. “Carson,” she yelled. “Larry Parker and Jack Logan both returned your calls. Do you want me to call them back for you?”
To avoid shouting and alarming the guests sitting in the lobby, I quickly walked over to her desk where we could talk. “Yes,” I said shaking the rain out of my hair. “And please ask them both to meet me for lunch at the Rendezvous – noon if they can make it. Is Joe in his office?”
“Yep, he’s waiting to see you,” Marcie said as she stood up and looked over at my wet shoes. “Where is your umbrella? Do you need to borrow mine?”
“No, I have an umbrella,” I nodded. “It’s at home!”
“Well, that’s great Carson. It will be handy if it ever rains in your living room!” Marcie laughed as she sat back down behind her desk.
Joe Richardson was my associate, and a damn good one. He still considers himself to be in training, but I consider him to be a valuable asset of the ‘Drake Detective Agency’. I guess that maybe I should start paying him! Huh?
As usual, Joe had a full, detailed and comprehensive report for our client. He had located the unfaithful spouse in Little Rock, and had some clear photographs of her meeting with a man at a discrete and out of the way motel. I told him to contact our client and arrange a meeting, today if possible.
He headed off to his office and I tried Liz’s phone number again – still no answer.
I hung up in frustration, sat down behind my desk and was beginning to worry,. Steve Carrollton has said 48 hours, so surely he wouldn’t do anything before then – I hoped.
Marcie stuck her head in my office and let me know that both Jack and Larry would be available for lunch. It was already 11:30, so I interrupted Joe from his phone calls and we both headed out into the rain and across the street to the Rendezvous.
I had just ordered my second beer when Jack and Larry walked down the stairs together. They quickly joined Joe and me at our table.
“Damn, Carson,” Larry said waving his hands as he sat down. “I’ve never seen you so excited. You’ve been calling since last night. Has somebody died?”
“Not yet,” I said shaking my head. “But I need both of you to hear my story.”
“Hold on, Carson,” Jack interrupted. “You invited us here for lunch, so do we have time to order?”
“Sorry,” I responded. My obvious excitement was clouding my good judgment. “Yes, let’s order lunch and then we can talk.”
Everyone ordered the ‘dry rib lunch special’ and iced tea. I ordered another beer!
When the waiter had delivered our drink orders and walked back to the kitchen, Larry shuffled in his seat and said, “Okay Carson, let’s hear your story.”
As I told the group about my meeting with MoMo Murphy, Jimmy ‘clean hands’ Sweeny and Steve Carrollton, I noticed Jack and Larry look at each other several times. Joe was just listening. I had not told Joe anything, so this was the first he had heard about my meetings.
Lunch was delivered during my story, and the group continued to listen while working on their lunch rib plate.
When I finished my story, Jack spoke first. “So, Carson, what have you done about any of this?”
“Nothing!” I shouted. “I have done absolutely nothing. I can’t locate Liz or any of her roommates, but I assume Jan and Jane are working – somewhere – and I do know that Liz has a few days off. Mary Ellen Maxwell’s maid told me Liz and Mary Ellen are riding around Mississippi looking at old houses or something.” My frustration was showing.
Larry wiped rib sauce from his fingers and then rubbed his forehead. “Carson, I have an idea what this might all be about. The FBI has formed a new drug enforcement task force, and one of my buddies has been drafted to head up the local team. They have discovered, accidentally I must add, that drugs are being brought into the US through the Everglades. Apparently the size and frequency of the shipments are substantial, but they are still investigating; which could take forever! Anyway, information from my friend is that payoffs were being funneled through Memphis to Puerto Rico. That would mean our friend, Steve Carrollton would be responsible for getting large amounts of cash out of the US and to the drug providers – most likely in Colombia.”
“And you think that bastard was using Liz or her friends to transport the money?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know, but it fits. Doesn’t it?” Larry said, nodding at everyone.
I’m shaking my head when Jack jumps in the conversation, “Look, Carson, it makes perfect sense. Carrollton knows what he’s doing. He wouldn’t have come to you unless he was pretty damn sure that one of those girls had that money.” Then Jack looked at Larry. “Larry, what should we do?”
“First, we assume that that one of the girls has the money and doesn’t know it, then we find the money,” Larry started.
“Wait a minute,” Joe interrupted, “these characters don’t go around misplacing money! I would most likely assume that if they ‘lost’ it, then one of their people stole it! I mean…assuming one of these girls is walking around with a lot of loose cash, and doesn’t know it, is a stretch – isn’t it?”
Larry looked at me. “Carson, do you think it’s possible that one of these girls has the money and hasn’t said anything?” he asked.
“Absolutely not,” I answered deliberately.
“Then we go back to my original assumption,” Larry said. “If one of Carrollton’s men, or someone else in his organization stole it, then they would have quickly known that and this whole situation would never have come up. No, I think if Carrollton came to you, then it is a pretty good bet that he already knows it wasn’t stolen. Regardless, we need to work on the assumption that one of the girls has that money and doesn’t know she has it.”
“Okay, so then what?” I asked.
“As I said, we find the money,” Larry answered. “Then we tell Steve Carrollton that we have the money, which should take the girls out of harm’s way. Then, I’ll turn the money over to the FBI and let them handle it. They are amazingly inefficient, but surely they can take it from there!”
“Well,” I said with some relief, “you certainly make it sound simple.”
“It is,” Larry nodded. “We stay out of it and let the FBI dark suits handle it. You just need to get hold of that cash, and the quicker the better. But, Carrollton should just stick that 48-hour crap back up his ass. I’m sure that was intended to get your attention, which it obviously did.”
I sipped on my beer and thought for a minute – everyone was not speaking and just staring at me. “Okay, here is my plan,” I started. “Jack, I need you to contact Delta Airlines and see if you can locate Jan and Jane. Make up some story, but please get them on the ground and contained some place where we can protect them from Carrollton. Larry, you should advise your friend with the drug task force, but keep him out of the mix until I get my hands on that money. Will that work?” I asked looking around the table.
“I’ll do what I can,” Larry answered shaking his head. “I think I can hold them off for a few days.”
“Just what I need,” I sighed. “Another 48 hour deadline! Jack, will you take care of finding Jan and Jane?”
“Just like Larry, I’ll do what I can. I assume you will be headed to Humboldt, so let’s stay in touch,” Jack added.
“What about me?” Joe asked.
“You wrap up this infidelity thing with our client as soon as possible. Today preferred, tomorrow latest, and be sure to call me at Chiefs if you run into any problems. Then make sure Marcie knows where we’ll be, pack your bags and meet me in Humboldt. I’m leaving now to see if I can’t locate Liz or one of the other girls and find that money – my 48 hours is almost half gone and I haven’t accomplished anything yet!”
I drive a 56 Ford – left over from college. It’s black, 4 doors, V8, manual transmission and nothing fancy. It is however, very functional and very dependable – not to mention it is built like a tank. It is also very fast – fast enough to get you into trouble quickly and, hopefully, fast enough to get you out of trouble just as quick.
I fought the rain all the way, but it was still daylight when I finally rolled into Humboldt.
Sheriff’s Office and Jail
My first stop was at the Sheriff’s Office and Jail. I wanted to make sure Leroy knew I was in town. Leroy Epsee was the Gibson County Sheriff and an old and trusted friend. I had the greatest respect for him, and I believe he had that same respect for me.
I quickly entered the front door and immediately stopped to shake the rain out of my hair. Sitting behind the desk was Deputy Nancy Oakland. Nancy has short black hair, a dark complexion and is quite gifted, in a ‘womanly way’. She had been busily writing some report when I busted in.
“Are you always in a hurry?” she asked with a frown. “Every time you come in here it’s like someone is chasing you!” Deputy Oakland stood up, looked at me, and then leaned over to see if anyone was behind me. “IS someone chasing you?” she asked.
“Uh…well…I don’t think so,” I stuttered.
Deputy Nancy Oakland sat back down. “Then how can I help you – other than getting you an umbrella?” she asked.
“I was looking for Leroy and…uh…I have an umbrella. It’s at home,” I was still stuttering.
“That’s good,” she laughed. “That way you will never lose it and it will be handy if it rains in your house!”
“Believe it or not, you are the second person to tell me that today,” I said walking up to her desk.
“I guess you didn’t pay attention the first time,” she laughed again. “And no, Leroy is not here. I believe he is attending his son’s baseball game. Do you need me to call him on the radio, he’s carrying his portable?” she asked.
“No, it’s not necessary to bother him. Just make sure he knows I am in town and tell him I’ll call tomorrow. I do need to talk with him, but it isn’t urgent,” I said turning to leave.
“Wait a minute!” she said in a demanding policewoman’s voice. “Will you be staying at your parents or somewhere else?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said turning around. “Probably at Chiefs, if I can get a room. But just tell Leroy I’ll see him tomorrow.”
“Trouble?” she said cocking her head to one side.
“Oh, no trouble. I don’t mind stopping back by,” I said turning around again to leave.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it! Every time you are here there is trouble. So, what is it this time?” she snapped.
I stopped and stared at her before answering. “No trouble this time – I certainly hope not,” I said stumbling back out into the rain.
Leroy wasn’t going to be able to help me this evening, so I would wait until tomorrow to get him involved. For now, I needed to make use of what was left of my 48 hours.
My second stop was Maxwell Trucking, I wanted to talk with Judy Strong. She was a vice president of Maxwell Trucking and another one of Liz’s close friends; she might be able to help me locate her.
Judy was also a pleasure to look at! She has cold black hair, slim figure and dark skin tone, which added significant emphasis to her ‘parts and pieces’ – which were very ‘well positioned’! I repeat myself; she was a pleasure to look at.
Also, Judy and my friend Jack Logan had been seeing a lot of each other recently. They had met during our investigation of a ‘Murder in Humboldt’.
Judy greeted me with her familiar hug, cheek kiss and ear nibble when I walked in. It was good to see her again.
“Carson Reno, what brings you to Humboldt? Is Jack with you?” she asked hurriedly.
“Jack’s not here – yet. But I expect you’ll get to see him in a couple of days. I’m looking for Liz. Do you know where she might be?”
“You mean you’ve lost her AGAIN? Shame on you! You’re not keeping up with your homework. Is that it?” she laughed.
“No, that’s not it, Judy and I really can’t explain. But, do you have any idea where she is?” I asked taking a seat in her office.
“Sure. She and Mary Ellen have gone to Natchez, Mississippi on a tour with the garden club or something. Liz stopped by yesterday, said she had a few days off and intended to enjoy herself. Is there something wrong?” She seemed concerned.
“Not really,” I was trying to not show concern. “I just need to talk with Liz and also her roommates, Jan and Jane. Have you seen them lately?”
“Not in several days. Carson, you seem upset about something. Are you and Liz having a fuss?” she said shaking her finger at me.
“No, Judy, we are not having a FUSS – promise. Something has come up and I need to get in touch with her. Do you know when she and Mary Ellen will be returning?” I asked.
“I think tomorrow, but I’m not sure. When is Jack coming? What’s going on? You’re acting suspicious,” Judy frowned.
“Judy, why don’t you call Jack? He can explain things to you, and then I’m sure he’ll be coming to Humboldt. Just please promise me that if you talk with Liz before I do, you will tell her I am in town and she should call me at Chiefs. Okay?”
“Okay. I’ll do that if I hear from her. I’m calling Jack now, since you won’t tell me anything!” she snipped.
“Good. You call Jack and I’ll see you in a day or two.”
Looking back, stopping to see Judy was probably not a good idea. Obviously, my concern was showing and she had picked up on it, which didn’t need to happen. But, my 48 hours was almost half-gone and I had accomplished nothing. Maybe a dinner and drinks at Chiefs would help my attitude. There really wasn’t much I could do until I found Liz.
My plan was to call Jack from Chiefs and see if he had located Jan or Jane. If one of those girls had the money, the chance of them finding it before we had an opportunity to talk with them was good. If that happened, I’m not sure how they would react. And, if Steve Carrollton and his muscle men went looking for the money, the results could be devastating. I needed to prevent all that from happening and I had less than 30 hours left.
It was almost dark when I pulled into Chief’s parking lot. As usual, they were crowded and I had difficulty finding the Ford a good spot to rest. An endless line of cars circled the building, occasionally stopping for curb service, but mostly just participating in the nightly ritual; which would continue until the wee hours of the morning.
Chiefs Restaurant and Bar
Chiefs is a popular local hangout located on North 22nd. Avenue in Humboldt. It is owned and operated by a couple of close friends, Ronnie and Nickie Woodson. Given the opportunity, you would find it an unusual and terrific place to stay and visit. They offer an indoor restaurant and bar, outside curb service and small cottage rooms for traveling guests. You can’t miss it – it’s located right under the big neon Indian Chief sign!
Nickie and husband Ronnie have owned and operated Chiefs for as long as I could remember. He runs the kitchen and does most of the cooking. Nickie handles everything else – including Cottage rentals, the books, the inventory and keeping Ronnie in line. Ronnie has a ‘wandering eye’ – and probably other ‘wandering’ parts – which does keep Nickie busy. However, along with a couple of waitresses and Nickie’s supervision, everything always seemed to go like clockwork. She also manages the carhops who serve outside patrons.
Carhops are a different breed – they are either good or just plain terrible. Tommy is my favorite, and has been with Nickie and Ronnie since the beginning. I guess you would call him the ‘team leader’ carhop. Whatever you needed – and I mean ‘whatever you needed’ – Tommy Trubush is your man. Everybody knew there was a lot of underage drinking – but Tommy keeps it straight and never lets it get out of hand. I have many times seen him put tough guys on the ground, and when he asked someone to leave – they left. He runs the outside show – no question about it.
The bar and restaurant were crowded, but I managed to find a stool at the end of the bar. I looked around at all the customers, but didn’t see Nickie anywhere, and that was unusual.
When I stopped looking and turned back to the bar, I was greeted by something that took my breath away – it was Mavis and I was staring at two of the largest breasts I had ever seen on a woman (or anything else)! Pinned high on the left one was a nametag that read, ‘MAVIS’, and from somewhere behind all that mass I heard a weak voice say, “Hello Mr. Reno, kin’ I help you?”
Standing somewhere before me was Mavis Wardlow, the waitress (I think) – my clue was the pink uniform. I stood up, allowing me to look over the barrier and check out the voice. Standing behind that barrier, I saw a short woman with dishwater blonde hair sitting in a circle on the top of her head – making a shape that resembled a small spare tire! Her head sat squarely on her shoulders, and if she had a neck, it wasn’t visible. She had a pencil sticking through the spare tire bun, another behind BOTH ears, plus an unlit small thin filtered cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.
“Ah…ah…” I stuttered as I sat back down. “Can I have a drink?”
“A Jack Daniel’s and Coke cummin’ up, Mr. Reno,” I heard as she waddled off to get my drink.
I watched in disbelief as she maintained her balance – I’m not sure how she kept from just falling on her face every time she took a step. Finally, from somewhere behind me I heard a familiar voice – it was Flo. “Hi ‘Hon’, welcome back to Humboldt. Where is that handsome partner of yours?”
“I’m not sure,” is all I could manage to say, as I continued to watch Mavis shuttle behind the bar.
“Well ‘Hon’, he still owes me some dances, and I ain’t forgot. Did Mavis git’ you a drink?”
“Not yet, but I believe she is working on it,” I answered still watching Mavis.
“They have names, you know,” Flo said nodding her head.
“What have names?” I knew better than to ask that!
“Her tits, they have names!”
“Oh, yeah, I remember you telling me that.” Why was I having this conversation!
Flo giggled. “One is named ‘Luscious’ and the other is named ‘Bodacious’. Can you guess which one is which?”
“NO! And I’m not going to try! Maybe they should both wear nametags!” I yelled. “Is Nickie around?” I was trying to change the subject.
“Sure, ‘Hon”, she’s in the kitchen fussing at Ronnie. I’ll tell her you are here,” Flo said as she walked away.
I turned on my stool and watched as Mavis waddled across the room after delivering my drink. She MUST have a balance problem – top heavy, if I can say that. Mavis could not be over four feet tall, and carrying all that frontal weight had to make standing up straight a real challenge on her small frame. However, she handled it without any noticed difficulty, and even managed to bend over to take an order without falling across the customer’s table!
I had just started to recover and sip on my drink when Nickie slipped up behind me.
“Well, well,” Nickie said as she positioned herself on the stool next to me. “I read the paper this morning and there were no murders, no kidnappings and no crime – at least none that found its way to the Courier Chronicle. So, you must be here to see that long-legged blond, right?”
“Maybe, but I will need a room for a few nights and one for Joe too.”
“Joe too?” Nickie quizzed. “Something’s up. You gonna tell me about it?”
“I could be here to see my parents you know? They do live here.” I was trying to change the subject.
“Don’t shit a shitter. I own a bar – remember?”
As we talked, mysteriously two large tits attached to a waitress reappeared in front of us. “Hi, Miss. Nickie. Does Mr. Reno need a fresh drink?” I heard from somewhere.
“He always does, Mavis – at least until the excitement gets started,” Nickie smiled.
“Well, let me fresh that drink before the excitement gets here,” I heard from somewhere, as she giggled and wrote something on her green order pad.
“Thank you Mavis,” I said to her breasts before turning toward Nickie. “And, did you know they had names?”
“What has names?” Nickie frowned.
“Never mind.” I changed the subject, “Have you got a room for a weary traveler?”
“Sure do, your usual – Cabin 4. How long you need it for?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know. Have Ronnie fix me a burger, fries with all the fixings. I need to make a call and I’ll be outside on the payphone,” I said leaving Nickie on her stool and heading out the front door.
I needed to make a call and would, of course, need to use the payphone located outside. Whatever idiot installed the inside payphone next to the jukebox had to have been drunk or crazy – probably both. Nobody used that phone because nobody could HEAR while using that phone. The jukebox only stopped playing when Nickie or Ronnie turned it off, which was never. It probably has a thousand country songs already lined up for play. People just keep putting money in it and wondering why their song isn’t playing next; it would take a week to cycle through all the songs and reach their selection. No matter, they still keep dropping quarters and punching buttons.
My first call was to Liz’s apartment. Again, I got no answer.
My second call was to Jack Logan at his home number. Jack answered quickly and told me that he had spoken with Delta Airlines. Jan Guthrie and Jane Dudley would both be returning to Memphis tomorrow; Jack would meet them at the airport and have them travel to Humboldt as quickly as possible. They were to turn ALL their luggage over to him before leaving Memphis. He would give them as much information as he thought necessary, but would bring everyone up to speed when we all got together later. He and I agreed on his plan; it would be easier to watch and protect them in Humboldt rather than Memphis. Jack also told me he would be traveling to Humboldt tomorrow and I should expect him sometime in the early afternoon.
My third call was to Joe Richardson, also his home number. He briefed me on our client status and told me he would be wrapping up his infidelity investigation tomorrow morning. Joe would then be immediately coming to Humboldt.
It seemed I had bases covered, but I hadn’t. First, I still didn’t know where the money was and I didn’t know if one of the girls even had the money. Second, I had not been able to locate Liz, as I needed to do. Third, I was running out of time. My 48 hours was over half-gone and I had little to show for my efforts.
I had another Jack and Coke along with one of Ronnie’s burgers, and then spent the rest of the night in my cabin staring at the ceiling. The rain had finally ended and I expected heat and humidity tomorrow along with a busy day. Little did I know just HOW busy it was going to be.