Mrs. Moore was still working in her yard when I parked the Ford in front of her house.
“What do you think?” Joe asked, as we stared at the activity across the street.
“I’m not sure. You go talk with Mrs. Moore and see what she says. Introduce yourself, and if she offers lemonade, accept it. Whatever has brought Leroy out to ‘the apartment’ is not going to make him happy. Especially when he finds out that I visited it earlier and didn’t report the situation to him. So, stay with Mrs. Moore until I get Leroy and his deputies’ back in the box. Okay?”
“Can do. Cold lemonade sounds better than a hot sheriff!” Joe laughed.
As I walked across the street, I saw Scotty Perry step from the porch and then walk back in the front door. It only took a moment for Leroy to exit the door and meet me halfway across the yard.
“Carson, I don’t know what you’re up to, but spending a night in my jail should prove to be an uplifting experience.” Then he turned to Jeff Cole who had followed him off the porch. “Jeff, place Carson under arrest – no bail. He’ll think twice before he pulls something like this next time.”
Jeff looked at Leroy and frowned. “Come on Leroy, that’s not going to accomplish anything. Why not listen to what Carson has to say? He’s on our side!”
“Yeah, Leroy,” I said. “I’m on your side. Why are you so upset?”
“Because Mrs. Moore called the office this afternoon and reported a prowler. She says there have been several over the past few days. Oh by the way, you were one of them! She also says she told you all about it this afternoon and that you told her you would report it to the Sheriff’s office. Obviously that didn’t happen. So, when no one from my office showed up, she thought it wise to call and report. Scotty comes to check on things, finds the house has been trashed and a dead body lying in the kitchen! Therefore, being upset that you were here and chose not to report a burglary and a body, is just a normal process of being the Sheriff of this county!” Leroy was pissed and getting louder.
“Wait a minute,” I yelled. “There was no BODY here this morning! The place was trashed and I saw evidence of a fight, but there was nothing else. I couldn’t tell if anything had been stolen and there was CERTAINLY not a dead body lying in the kitchen! Who is it?”
Leroy didn’t answer me.
“Carson, I’m going to give you a choice,” he finally said. “Either you leave now and drive straight to the sheriff’s office or I’ll have Jeff take you there in handcuffs – your choice.”
“Okay, Leroy,” I said shaking my head, “I’m headed to the sheriff’s office. I have a story to tell you, and when you hear it, you’ll understand why I waited to tell you anything.” I was trying.
“I’m sure you have a story, Carson, you usually do. I’ll be following behind as soon as I wrap things up here.”
Joe was sitting in the swing with Mrs. Moore when I headed back across the street. I saw him give her a hug and then walk to meet me at the car. I waved and smiled at her as we got in the Ford and headed east on Main.
“Everything okay?” Joe asked.
“No, they aren’t, I’ve been arrested!”
“What?” Joe yelled.
“I’ll tell you later. For now, I’m taking you back to Chiefs; I need you to get to the Jackson Holiday Inn and find Jack Logan. Tell him to meet me at the sheriff’s office as quickly as he can. I’ll catch you up on everything tonight.”
I dropped Joe at Chiefs, and as I was instructed, headed straight to the sheriff’s office. Deputy Nancy Oakland was sitting at the desk and gave me a big smile when I walked through the front door.
“Well, well, Mr. Carson Reno – again! How can the Gibson County Sheriff’s office be of assistance?” she asked, still showing a big smile.
“Handcuffs, I suspect. According to Sheriff Epsee, I have been arrested!”
“Really,” she laughed. “Usually the bad guys don’t drive their own cars to the jail and turn themselves in. What have you been arrested for?”
“I’m not sure, but I promise I didn’t do it!”
“They all say that, we only arrest the innocent,” she chuckled. “Would you like a nice comfortable cell, or just prefer to sit and chat with me until the sheriff arrives?”
“Can I have handcuffs?” I smiled.
“No…at least not today,” she said raising her left eyebrow and grinning at me.
We spent the next hour getting acquainted and trying to determine why we had not met before. Nancy had married young, to an out of town sweetheart who was in the Air Force. Unfortunately, he was killed in a military accident, and Nancy returned to school and studied law enforcement. After graduation, she contacted Sheriff Epsee and here she was – a new member of the Gibson County Sheriff’s Office.
Conversations were getting interesting, when I saw both Jack Logan’s car and Leroy’s cruiser pull up out front at the same time. They entered together and motioned for me to follow them into Leroy’s office.
Leroy closed the door, poured himself some coffee and sat down at his desk before speaking. “Okay boys, let’s hear it.”
Jack and I looked at each other, and then we settled into the office chairs opposite Leroy’s desk.
Jack and I shared the whole story, including the latest updates Jack had gotten from the FBI. Leroy listened and didn’t speak or ask questions. When we finished, he poured himself another cup of coffee and looked at me. “Carson, you could have saved some wear and tear on my blood pressure if you had let me in on this story when you hit town.”
“Leroy, I know but please understand, I had my reasons. At that point, I didn’t know if the money was in ‘the apartment’. I didn’t even know if it had EVER been in ‘the apartment’ or if Elizabeth might still have it with her. My interest was getting the money and putting it in the hands of the FBI, which would get Steve Carrollton and his thugs off our case. Having police cars show up and policemen stomping around that apartment would have accomplished nothing. And believe me, there was no dead body there this morning.”
“Well, that part I can believe. Dr. Barker came by after you left, and his opinion is that the guy was killed somewhere else and the body dumped at ‘the apartment’.” Leroy was calming down.
“Guy?” I asked. “Okay, so now I know it was a man. Who was the man? Do you know?”
“According to identification we found on the body, his name was Nathan Galey. Also, according to a security badge in his wallet, he was a baggage handler at the Memphis Airport.”
“Really,” I said.
“Yes, really,” Leroy answered. “We’re still checking on Mr. Galey and his background. But, when you put it with your story, maybe things make more sense; however, they are still very confusing.”
“How did he die?” Jack asked.
“Knife through the heart – according to Dr. Barker. And we found the knife near the body. It appears to be part of a carving set from ‘the apartment’, but Dr. Barker claims that he wasn’t killed where we found him – not enough blood. And since we didn’t find blood any other place in ‘the apartment’, it appears he was stabbed somewhere else and the body dumped in the kitchen – along with the murder weapon. I know how strange that sounds, and maybe we’ll learn more when Dr. Barker completes an autopsy. He also didn’t have a good estimation on the time of death, but did say he probably had been dead for 8 hours or more when we discovered the body.”
Leroy was interrupted when Scotty stuck his head in the office door. “Leroy, we got a positive on the dead guy. His name is Nathan Galey, and used the nickname of ‘Noodles’. He was still employed as a baggage handler at the Memphis Airport and his employment file listed a previous address in Humboldt. We’re checking on that now. You need me to do anything else?”
“Not yet, thanks Scotty. Make sure you keep your information clean and organized, it seems we’ll need to share what we find with the FBI, at some point,” Leroy ordered.
“Okay, and one other thing,” Scotty added. “We’ve got more bad guys checking in the local hotels; three more today at the Royal Court.”
“Okay, thanks,” Leroy said as he dismissed Scotty.
“What did he mean ‘more bad guys’?” I asked bluntly.
“Carson, whatever you might think about this hick police operation, we do know our jobs. It seems we’ve been welcomed by several known Mafia types in the past couple of days. If you had been kind enough to have shared your information with us, we might have been able to prevent this murder.”
“I doubt it, and that’s not a slap at you or your deputies,” I offered. “These guys don’t play by the rules. They care very little about the FBI and even less about a county sheriff. Money is what motivates them and a lot of it is missing. They intend to find it, and it seems they may already have. Perhaps now they’ll crawl back in their holes and we can all get on with our lives. But, understand Leroy, I was not going to risk the safety of Liz or her roommates. If I didn’t try to find the money, then Steve Carrollton and his thugs were. What they didn’t know is that when I found it, I was going to turn it over to the FBI.”
Leroy sipped his coffee, “Well, Carson, assuming all that is true, can you explain why I have a town full of bad guys? I can’t believe these guys are here looking for that missing money, can you? Or, can you explain why Carrollton didn’t give you your full 48 hours to find the money? Or why we have a dead guy in your girlfriend’s apartment? A dead guy that was probably involved in the drug/money smuggling operation.”
“Those are all good questions, Leroy. Unfortunately, none of which I can answer – yet,” I added.
“Alright, you two get out of my office. I’ll be in touch,” Leroy ordered as he stood up and looked at Jack. “Jack, when I have all this together, I would appreciate you passing it along to your FBI contacts in Memphis. I’m sure they aren’t interested in my homicide, but they should be interested in the unknown whereabouts of the $200,000.”
Leroy was right. They would be interested.
We left the sheriff’s office and headed straight to the Humboldt Country Club. The girls would be waiting, and hopefully Joe had been entertaining them during our unscheduled absence!
As I expected, they were already seated in the dining area, probably enjoying their second or third glass of wine. Jan and Jane were still wearing their stewardess clothing, indicating a hasty exit from Memphis.
Both Jan and Jane were quite similar in size and appearance. They were blonde, short hair and very well put together. Jan was a couple of years older than Jane, but it didn’t show. What did show was the closeness and friendship among them. Jan, Jane, Elizabeth, Judy and Mary Ellen were all the best of friends.
I received the ritual hug and cheek kisses from everyone and apologized for being late. Everyone seemed to understand, except Liz, she was giving me that ‘stare’. That ‘stare’ told me she was not happy with this detective and I had a lot of explaining to do.
We ordered another round of wine and I offered my explanation and an update on everything I knew. I ended my story with the discovery of poor Nathan Galey’s body in their apartment’s kitchen.
“What?” Liz yelled as she stood up. “You’re telling me there is a DEAD man in our kitchen? How did he get there? Who is it? Who did it? How did he die? Did you kill him?” she just kept spitting out questions!
Liz’s yelling had gained the attention of other customers in the dining room, and she quickly realized that everyone was looking at her. She smiled, looking around the room, and slowly sat back down.
“Calm down, Elizabeth,” I quietly ordered. “We’ll get to your questions one at a time. Now, I have a question for the group. Did any of you know Nathan Galey? I think he used to live in Humboldt and used the nickname ‘Noodles”.
“That’s it,” Elizabeth shouted as she stood up again! “I have a DEAD man named ‘NOODLES’ in my kitchen? How revolting!”
“Sit down Elizabeth,” Jane shouted. “We’re all in this together. Carson, Joe and Jack are trying to help and I, for one, appreciate it. I’m not sure how we would handle this without them. In fact, we would probably all be in jail! So, just get yourself together and SIT DOWN! We need to hear what Carson has to say.”
Liz sat down.
“There used to be a Galey family that lived on 17th Avenue,” Judy answered and then looked at the group. “Does anybody remember?”
“I think I do,” Mary Ellen added. “In fact, I think one member of the family is still in town. I believe there is a Galey working at the Humboldt Truck Stop. I think he serviced my car a year or so ago, but I could be wrong. And he may not still work there, and it may not be the same family. I’m just not sure.”
“Well, that’s good information anyway,” I said. “Leroy’s guys are searching for any Humboldt connection with the dead guy. It seems he had listed Humboldt as a former address on his employment application with the Memphis airport. I’m sure we’ll know more about that tomorrow.”
“But, Carson,” Jan asked. “What was he doing in our house? Was he looking for the drug money that was in Elizabeth’s luggage?”
“Maybe. However, the Coroner doesn’t think he was killed in your apartment, but killed elsewhere and his body dumped there,” I replied, not thinking.
“How gross!” Liz exclaimed.
“I agree,” I nodded. Then I looked at Jan. “Jan, what can you tell me about your boyfriend, Hanson Collier?”
“Ex-boyfriend,” she said bluntly. “Why do you ask?”
“Because he’s visited your apartment in the past couple of days and I don’t believe any of you were home,” I answered.
“I’ll kill the bastard!” Jan shouted. “Why would he do that?”
“Jan, I don’t have an answer – but I will soon. Did he have a key?”
“I guess so. I don’t remember. I’ll kill that bastard!” she said again. She was mad and frustrated.
Jack took over the conversation. “Okay, let’s have dinner and try for more pleasant conversation. We’ll work all this out over the next few days. Meanwhile, you are all to stay at the Holiday Inn.”
“No they will NOT!” Mary Ellen interrupted. “They will all be staying at MY house and I’ll not accept any arguments. And Jack Logan, if you argue with me I’ll never speak to you again!”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Your house is fine and I know Jack agrees. Right, Jack?”
He gave me a dirty look and finally said, “Okay, I surrender.”
We had a good dinner, a few more glasses of wine and an after dinner drink. Jack, Joe and I escorted the ladies to Mary Ellen’s house and we all said our goodnights. I guess no scrambled eggs for me tomorrow morning!
Jack, Joe and I went back to the Country Club’s downstairs bar to talk and have Nuddy fix us a good drink – a Jack Daniel’s and Coke for Joe and me, and a Scotch and Water for Jack.
“Carson,” Jack finally said. “I guess you realize that I had planned on a few days with Judy. And now, I’m at the Holiday Inn and she’s at Mary Ellen Maxwell’s house!”
“You’ll get over it,” I offered. “But what I can’t get over is Steve Carrollton giving me a deadline and then not honoring it. Bad guy he is, but that isn’t his style. If he were coming after the money, then why come to me in the first place? It makes no sense.”
“I know,” Jack said. “That bothers me too. But, I’m pretty sure this ‘Noodles’ guy worked for him, and perhaps Carrollton pressured him to find the money he had misplaced. Maybe ‘Noodles’ found the money and returned it to Carrollton. But, then why kill him and dump the body back at the girl’s apartment? That also makes no sense. We’re missing something key and critical to this whole situation. And why are all the bad guys in town? Something just doesn’t add up.”
“You want my idea?” Joe asked.
“Sure,” We both said.
“I think this situation has evolved out of Steve Carrollton’s control. They don’t need an army to find the money; a few bad guys would be enough. There is something else going on in Humboldt that we don’t know about. When we figure out that connection, then maybe we can get to the bottom of this problem.”
“Interesting,” We both said.
Jack reluctantly headed for the Jackson Holiday Inn and Joe and I made our way back to Chiefs.
It was late, but Chiefs’ crowd was still active both inside and outside. I parked the Ford in front of my cabin and decided to call it a day. I told Joe I would meet him for breakfast and we said goodnight. Joe headed through the back door and into Chiefs. I headed to my cabin.
I opened my cabin door and stepped inside, I was ready for bed. But, before I closed the door, someone turned on the lights – I had guests!