Sitting in a desk chair at the back corner of my cabin was Steve Carrollton. He had turned on the bedside lamp when I opened the cabin door.
Lying on my bed with his feet propped up was Jimmy ‘clean hands’ Sweeny. MoMo Murphy was in the other corner, and took up most of the rest of the room!
“Well, well – if it isn’t my favorite Memphis Mafia friend,” I said looking at Steve and then around my cabin. “And he’s brought along his freak show, ‘Mutt and Jeff’, for entertainment. If I had known you guys were coming, I would have ordered some appetizers and gotten a bigger room. Although, I don’t think they have anything in MoMo’s size available!”
“Have a seat Carson, we need to talk,” Carrollton said in a soft steady voice.
“Okay, I’ve got a few minutes to talk,” I said in a similar tone as I sat down in the only remaining chair. “But get that midget off my bed. I don’t know where he’s been putting his nose lately.”
“You son-of-a bitch,” Sweeny yelled as he jumped up and leaped in my direction. But, from out of nowhere, one of MoMo’s giant hands caught him in midair and threw him back onto the bed.
“My, my,” Steve Carrollton was shaking his head in disgust. “You know Carson, one of these days your mouth is going to get you into more trouble than you can talk or fight your way out of.”
“That may be true, but I’m not worried about your traveling freak shows. Your guys never stay alive long enough to hurt anybody. How many have you already lost this year? Four, five, or has it been six? I forget.”
“Please do us both a favor and try not to piss off MoMo. He doesn’t anger easily, but it usually makes a real mess when he does.” Steve was being unusually nice.
“I’ll try to remember his sensitive feelings!” I said angrily. “Now, why are you in my room? You here to tell me my 48 hours are up?”
“In a way – yes. I’m here telling you I no longer need you to look for my money. I know your little fly girls don’t have it and our business with you is finished.”
“Oh really!” I said with a laugh.
“Yes, really. You can gather your crew and go back to Memphis where you belong. That way no one gets hurt. As I said, our business is finished,” Steve spoke quietly.
“Well Carrollton, there is the small matter of a BODY somebody left in my friend’s apartment, and the matter of somebody destroying the place while searching for YOUR money. Or are you going to tell me you didn’t know about that?”
“We had nothing to do with destroying that apartment. I had asked you to look for my money and I knew that you would find it – if it was there,” Steve said.
“And what about the dead guy? You had nothing to do with that either, I suppose? He worked for you,” I said sarcastically.
“I suggest you let your sheriff take care of that matter,” Steve said as he stood up and walked toward the door. “I’m sure he and his deputies are quite capable. We’re leaving now – our business is finished. Have a nice evening.”
I followed Steve and his ‘freak show’ out the door and took a parting shot at Sweeney. “Hey Sweeny,” I yelled, “you keep hanging around with these guys and you’ll have to lose that nickname ‘Clean Hands’.”
Jimmy ‘clean hands’ Sweeny showed me the middle digit of his right hand as they walked around the corner of Chiefs. I went back in my cabin, slammed the door and locked it. I wanted no more visitors tonight.
It was almost 10:30 AM when I finally stumbled out into a cool morning and through the back door of Chiefs. Joe’s car was gone, so I assumed he was off on some self-appointed assignment. I wanted breakfast.
I grabbed a corner booth and was scanning Ronnie’s breakfast special, when Flo made her appearance.
“Hi ‘Hon’. Y’all all right this morning? Could I get you some eye opener coffee while you’re making your mind on the menu?”
“Yes, please. And would you ask Nickie to join me when she gets the chance?” I reluctantly said.
“Sure will ‘Hon’. I’ll be right back with that coffee,” she blurted as she bounced off to the kitchen.
I hadn’t decided on breakfast, and was still scanning the menu when Joe walked in the front door and joined me in my booth. “Guess where I’ve been boss?” he grinned.
“Please just tell me, and don’t tell me it has anything to do with Mavis or Flo! I don’t really want to work my brain too hard this morning. Have you had breakfast?” I asked while still staring at the menu.
“Breakfast? Yes, I had breakfast about 4 hours ago, its lunchtime isn’t it?”
“It may be on some other planet. On my planet, it’s still breakfast. Now, you are way too cheerful this morning. So spit it out, what have you been up to?”
Before he could answer Flo reappeared. “Well hi, ‘Hon’. You joining Mr. Carson for breakfast? I’m working on his coffee now. Would you like some too?”
“Yes, just coffee. I’ve already eaten,” Joe managed to say.
“Well ‘Hon’, if you need anything just holler. I’ll get that coffee now,” she blurted as she again bounced off to the kitchen.
Joe looked at me. “I wonder where Mavis is this morning.”
“I don’t CARE! But, for some unknown reason I STILL don’t have any coffee and that was her second trip to this table! We’ll hope for better results on her third try. Now, spit it out Joe, what have you been up to?”
“I started early and made the rounds of all the motels; writing down license numbers of the cars parked in the lots. I’m going to take these numbers down to the sheriff’s office, and work with the DMV to get the names of the people that bunked there last night. Then we’ll see if any familiar names pop up,” Joe said nodding his head.
“Joe, that’s terrific. Where all did you go and how many license numbers have you got?”
“I collected plate numbers from the Tennessee Motel, the Royal Court, the Humboldt Hotel, Tyler Towers, the Humboldt Motel and here at Chiefs. I’ve got 42 numbers to check, but I’m sure most of those are just normal folks enjoying Humboldt’s hospitality. It’s the familiar names we’ll be interested in.”
Before I could comment, Flo reappeared – this time with coffee. “Here y’all go ‘Hon’ – coffee for two. Sweetie, have you decided on your breakfast food yet? Ronnie’s special today is blueberry pancakes and sausage with sugar apples on the side. I’ve looked at you ‘Hon’, and you got the waistline for it. How ‘bout it?” she giggled.
How could I refuse such a sales pitch? “Okay, sounds good. I’ll have the special. Did you tell Nickie I wanted to see her?”
“Sure did, ‘Hon’. But I don’t recommend it right now.”
“Why not?” I was really afraid to ask.
“She has been busy cleaning ketchup off the wall from where she threw that bottle at Ronnie this morning, it was a real mess. But if you really need to see her, I’ll tell her it’s urgent.”
“Thanks, Flo. Please do,” I sighed.
“What’s our agenda today boss?” Joe asked as Flo finally wandered back toward the kitchen.
“You check on those plates. That’s a good idea you had, great thinking. It’ll be nice to know who all these bad guys are, but I figure most are rentals using some phony business name.”
“Well, I’m not sure it will do much good anyway,” Joe said shaking his head. “Most of them checked out this morning and have left town already.”
“Really? Well, I guess their reasons for being here are over. But, maybe we’ll learn the identity of some of those who were here. I also need you to find out what you can about Jan’s ex-boyfriend, Hanson Collier. I can’t tell you where to start, but maybe one of Leroy’s deputies can point you in the right direction. I’m going to visit the Humboldt Truck Stop and check out Mary Ellen’s lead about a Galey working there as a mechanic. After that, I’ll head out to Mary Ellen’s house and visit with the girls; you can probably find me there this afternoon.”
“Okay, I’m gone,” Joe said as he headed for the door. “Catch up with you later today.”
I had forgotten to tell him about my visitors last night. I guess I was trying to forget about them myself!
Nickie brought my breakfast and poured both of us coffee before sliding into the booth next to me. “Urgent huh? Why is it things with you are always urgent?”
“Please just call me ‘Hon’. I’m kinda getting used to it,” I laughed. “But, urgent was Flo’s idea – not mine.”
“Okay ‘Hon’. What is so urgent? You don’t have any messages, if that’s what you wanted to know,” she said sarcastically.
“No, that’s not it. I want to see your guest list for the past two nights. I know you’ve been full and I’m curious about who they were.”
“I don’t need to get you a guest list. I can tell you their names without ever leaving this booth!”
“Oh really!” I exclaimed. “Then please tell me.”
“I had a Mr. Smith, a Mr. Jones, a Mr. Brown, a Mr. Green, a Mr. White, a Mr. Richardson and a Mr. Reno. With the exception of Mr. Richardson and Mr. Reno, they have all checked out of their cabins and left like leaves in the wind. Once again we have vacancies at Chiefs Motel.”
“Smith, Jones, Brown? Those weren’t their real names!”
“Mr. Reno, it is not my job to question someone’s identity. If they want to be a Smith, Jones or some Color Name, it is none of my business. We don’t ask; we just rent rooms!” she nodded.
“Okay, I give up. But, could I get some ketchup if there is any left?” I knew I was asking for trouble!
“Kiss my butt and enjoy your breakfast, Carson. I’ve got work to do,” she said getting up and heading back to the kitchen.
I did enjoy my breakfast. I was also going to enjoy seeing if we had any success with Joe’s license plate search. I was positive we had some real Mafia players in town. I just wish I knew why!
Marlon Crow owned and ran the Humboldt Truck Stop. In addition to the large volume of 18-wheeler truck business, he did a fair amount of automobile service for the local residents. He also operated a 24-hour restaurant, which was a favorite stop for the late partygoers, after Chiefs closed at 2 AM. Their slogan was ‘We Doze, But Never Close’.
I had known Marlon for years and knew he had ‘other’ business that was usually on the fringe or just outside the law. He and the former sheriff, Richard P. ‘Dick’ Valentine, were known to bend and occasionally break the law with some of their business deals. Leroy had his thumb on most of it, but sometimes it just wasn’t worth the effort. Everyone knew what was going on, so I guess that made it okay in the minds of most citizens.
Marlon’s office was located on the front of the building, between the restaurant and the service station. That gave him quick access to both. But most importantly, it gave him a clear view of all activities and people coming or going. With glass on three sides, he could watch the restaurant, the service bays and the front fuel area. Marlon liked to know what was happening around him!
I pulled up at the pumps and used this opportunity to refuel the Ford, knowing Marlon would see me if he were in his office. He was and he did.
I walked into the service area and then directly into his office through the open door.
Marlon stood up and greeted me. “Carson Reno, you son of a gun. I haven’t seen you in forever. What brings you to Humboldt? Your parents okay?”
“Yep, parents are fine. Dad’s gone most of the time and mother keeps tabs on the local gossip. How’s your business?” I asked.
“Good as ever, and better than most in town. As long as they keep these big trucks running up and down the road, I won’t be complaining. Is there something I can help you with, or did you just stop to say hi?”
“Marlon, do you have an employee – a mechanic by the name of Galey?”
“I did, but I haven’t seen him in three days. So, I guess the official answer to that is NO! If he shows up, we’ll give him his time earned and point him toward the door. Why are you asking?” He was fishing.
“I’m not at liberty to talk about it. He might have some knowledge about a case I’m working on, and I just needed to talk to him. Do you have an address or phone number?’
Marlon fumbled through some papers on his desk, picked one up and said, “Sanford Galey, 215 North 18th Avenue, Humboldt. But I don’t have a phone number for him; I’m not sure he has a phone.”
“The address is good enough. I’ll see if I can catch him at home. Thanks for the information,” I said walking out his office door.
“If he shows up, do you want me to tell him you’re looking for him?” Marlon shouted.
“No, just let it drop. If I find him, he’ll know it then. If I don’t, then I’ll try something else. Thanks again,” I said waving and walking toward the Ford. The attendant had finished filling the tank and had courtesy checked my oil and coolant. He was still wiping on the windshield, and it was obvious he was hawking for a tip. I handed him a five- dollar bill for four dollars of gas and said, “Keep the change.”
The last thing in the world I wanted was for Marlon to get involved. If this Sanford Galey was part of what happened at the girl’s apartment, then I wanted Marlon and his crew as far away as possible.
215 North 17th Ave.
I was headed to Mary Ellen’s but decided to stop by the sheriff’s office and see if the coroner had completed an autopsy on Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey. 215 North 17th was on the way to the Leroy’s office, so I drove by there first to see if anyone might be home. No cars were present and no signs of activity – I would check back later.
I had picked up a tail when I left the truck stop. A 1962 white Chevrolet Bel Air Coup was following, but remaining several hundred yards back. Two men were in the car, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to get a good look at them or see the tag. Maybe we would see this car on Joe’s list.
I let them follow me all the way to the Sheriff’s office. I stopped – they didn’t.
Nancy was sitting at the front desk and smiled as I walked in the front door and headed toward Leroy’s office. Through the glass I could see Joe in Leroy’s conference room and on the phone. Waving at Joe, I headed straight to Leroy’s office. He was sitting at his desk and staring off into space. I knew Leroy well enough to know when something was wrong – something was wrong.
“Leroy,” I asked calmly. “Have you gotten any updates from the coroner?”
“Sit down Carson. You’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you,” Leroy said with disgust.
“Oh, I’ll believe you,” I said with a nod. “I may not believe everything I hear, but I will believe you. What did Dr. Barker say?”
“Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey did not die from a stab wound to the heart,” Leroy stopped, and I knew there was more.
“Okay, then how did our friend ‘Noodles’ die?”
Leroy stared directly at me and said, “He drowned.”
“Drowned? Drowned in a kitchen? Drowned with a knife stab wound to the heart? You’re right – I don’t believe it!” I managed to say.
“Evidently he was already dead when someone stuck the knife in him. Someone took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed the corpse, stabbed him in the heart. Now, if you’ve got an answer for that one, you are the greatest detective in the world!”
We sat in silence for a couple of minutes and just looked at each other.
“Leroy, I don’t have an answer, but I’ve got that feeling I get when I think somebody is jerking me off. And in this case, they would also be jerking off the whole Gibson County Sheriff’s department. We’ve got a drowned dead guy that is dumped and stabbed where the body would surely be found. I think whoever dumped that body wanted you, and probably me, to be looking in one direction when we should have been looking in another. Does that make any sense?” I was thinking out loud.
“Maybe,” Leroy said. “But looking for what? Carson, I’m confused and not sure where to go with this.”
“Me too, but I’ve still got some rocks to turn over. Let’s see where that takes us.” I was trying to be confident for Leroy’s benefit.
“Doctor Barker is running tests on the water that was in his lungs,” Leroy added. “Maybe that will help us determine where he drowned.”
“Perhaps. Just don’t come back and tell me he drowned in salt water. Please!” I pleaded.
“I sure hope not,” Leroy shook his head. “Now, what has Joe been doing in my conference room for the past couple of hours?”
“Checking on some license plates. I’m pretty sure it’ll be a dead end, but it was his idea. I’ll let you know if we find anything interesting.”
I left Leroy still staring at nothing and walked across the office to the conference room. Joe was finishing up a call when I walked in.
“Anything interesting?” I asked while pulling up a chair.
“As you suspected, most were rentals using bogus company names. But, based upon the addresses used at the rental agency, we had Louisiana, New Jersey and Florida visitors in Humboldt. Of course, we also had our Memphis friends in the group too.”
“Did you happen to find a white 62 Chevrolet Bel Air in the group?”
Joe looked at his notes. “Sure did. It belongs to the address of a Sugar Warehouse in Miami, and not a rental. But guess what else I found?”
“Joe, I’m out of guesses. What else did you find?”
“One of the cars I pulled the tag number from this morning belongs to Hanson Collier, Jan’s ex-boyfriend!” Joe said with a smile.
“You’re kidding? So, he was visiting with our out of town guests? What have you found out about him? Anything?” This was interesting.
“Not much, yet. I know he operates a flying charter service, based at Keller Field in Jackson. He is a pilot himself, but also has planes working out of other airports; I just don’t have all those locations – yet.”
“Good stuff, keep at it. I’m going to Mary Ellen’s and see if I can’t get more information from Jan about Mr. Hanson Collier. Meet me there when you finish here.”
I was shaking my head as I made the short drive to Mary Ellen’s house. This thing was getting crazier by the minute, and it seemed nothing made much sense. Evidently the danger for the girls was over, and I’m sure they would be happy to hear that. At least that is what I thought!