It was a cool afternoon, but evidently that didn’t matter. As I pulled down the sloped driveway of the Maxwell residence and parked, I could see all the girls in their bathing suits and lounging by the pool.
I walked through the outside pool gate and shouted to the group, “Is this a private party or can I join?”
“You know you are welcome,” Mary Ellen answered. “Let me get you a bathing suit and you can help us catch some of this sunshine.”
“No, please – no bathing suit. Thanks for the offer but I don’t have time. And besides, I’m really just here to look – not swim!” I laughed.
“Well don’t look too hard Mr. Reno,” Liz spouted. “Most of this merchandise is already spoken for and the rest is off limits to you!”
“I’ll try to keep myself under control – Miss Teague! What I really need is a few minutes of Jan’s time, if possible.”
“Sure,” Jan responded. “Let’s go inside and talk. I need a drink anyway.”
We entered the den through the pool door and she instructed the maid to get her a vodka tonic and me my usual Jack and Coke.
She took a seat next to me on the couch and spoke first. “Carson, I’m so upset at all this and don’t know how it happened. I just hope everything turns out okay.”
“Jan, believe me, this isn’t your, Jane or Liz’s fault. It’s just some bad guys taking advantage of your jobs as stewardesses. You girls had no way of knowing what was going on. And if something hadn’t gone wrong with their plans, it would still be happening. Just relax, enjoy the time away from work and let the authorities get to the bottom of this. I’m here to help and will continue to be here until this thing is over. Understand?”
“I do, and so do the other girls. I hope you know how much we appreciate your help. Now, what did you want to see me about?” she asked.
“I need you to tell me about your ex-boyfriend, Hanson Collier. Tell me how you two met and anything else you can think of that might be of assistance to me or the police.” I shouldn’t have said that last part!
“Police? Do you think Hanson is involved in this mess? Why would you think that?” My comment had visibly upset her.
“Jan, I don’t know that he is. Please forget I said that. Just tell me everything you can about Hanson, I’ll take it from there.”
“We met about 6 months ago. He was on my flight from San Juan to Memphis and we struck up a conversation. It seemed we had so much in common. He was a pilot and owned a charter flying service, and I fly for a living. He lives in Jackson and I have an apartment in Humboldt. I had no steady boyfriend and he had just gone through a divorce. Everything just came together quickly. Plus, he is a handsome man and certainly does not have a need for money. At least I don’t think he does.”
“What kind of things did you guys do together?” I asked.
“A lot. He would occasionally meet my flights in Memphis and take me out on the town. Sometimes he would bunk over at the Memphis apartment and sometimes we would take one of his planes and fly back to Humboldt. Carson, for a while it was a whirlwind – we were always together and doing something.”
“Did you ever visit his home in Jackson?”
“Sure, several times. He actually lives south of Jackson in Bemis, and has a beautiful home along with gates, guards – the whole works.”
“What about his other friends? Did you ever meet any of them?” I asked.
“Yes, and that’s actually why I broke up with him,” she said as the maid delivered our drinks.
“What do you mean?”
“He had some odd friends. And by odd I mean – well, just odd. I guess they weren’t really friends, but business associates or employees. Regardless, I didn’t like them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked again.
“I mean I didn’t like them. They weren’t like him, or at least like the Hanson Collier I thought I knew. They were rough, they talked dirty, they seemed mysterious and when they would call or drop by, everything stopped. Hanson would go off with them and send me home or just disappear. I know that sounds strange, but somehow it seemed I didn’t matter when one of these guys made an appearance. Besides, they all had funny names,” she added.
“Really? What were some of the names?” I asked.
“Well, most had funny names PLUS funny nick names. A Joe Torino was one of his pilots, but his nickname was ‘Spider’. Frankie Carbone was another pilot, but they called him ‘Loose Wheel’. It seemed those two guys were always around or calling or leaving messages for Hanson. And when that happened, our date or evening or day ended.”
“Ha, ‘Loose Wheel’ – I can just imagine,” I laughed. “Anybody else?”
“Well, there were two others that would call and also make him disappear. But I never met them,” she said sipping her drink.
“Do you know their names?”
“Sam Maranzano was one and a Paulie ‘something’ – I don’t think I ever heard his last name. And I don’t know if they had nicknames, but they always HAD Hanson’s attention when they called!”
“What was the final straw? What caused the breakup?” I asked.
“Carson, I had enough! A week ago we were having a wonderful evening at the Manhattan Club in Memphis, when the waiter delivers a message from this ‘Paulie’. Hanson just gets up and leaves. He leaves me with an uneaten dinner and even left me with the check! I took a cab home and called his answering service with the message to NEVER call me or come see me again. I guess I thought it worked, because I haven’t heard from him since. And then when you told me he had been at my Humboldt apartment, I just came unglued. I don’t want Hanson Collier in my life anymore – period!”
“Jan, I understand. Do you have any idea what these calls were about? Did he ever offer an explanation?”
“Nope, never. He just said it was business and I needed to understand. Well, I understood enough to know that our relationship wasn’t very important to him and I needed to end it. That is what I did – or thought I did.”
“Interesting,” I said to myself. “Anything else you can think of?”
“Yes. Carson, I’m sure he had a key to the apartment. I just didn’t want to volunteer that information in front of Liz and Jane. With the way he treated me, they didn’t exactly approve of him either,” she said shaking her head.
“You know I also have a key – right?” I’m not sure why I needed to say that!
“We all know that, Carson. Your having a key is okay. Although Liz may not always show it, she is really stuck on you. And besides, you certainly treat her better than she treats you!”
We both laughed.
“Well, let’s not let Liz know that I’m kinda stuck on her too. But, I like her the way she is and don’t want her to change,” I added.
“My lips are sealed, Mr. Reno!” she laughed.
We took our drinks back out to the pool area where Joe had finally joined the group.
“Hey boss,” Joe said. “I’ve got the list together of those license plate owners. You want it now?”
“No, save it for later. I need to leave now, and we can discuss it at Chiefs this evening,” I said grabbing Joe by the arm. “Walk me to the car; I want to talk with you about something.”
I said my good-bye and gave Liz a big kiss before leaving. I guess discussing scrambled eggs with Liz would have to wait until another evening!
I didn’t speak to Joe until we reached my car. “Joe, I need you to dig deeper into this Hanson Collier character. Just get me what you can, including an address and phone number. I’m playing a hunch and will be in Trenton for the next couple of hours. Why not entertain the girls for a while, and then go see what you can find out about Hanson Collier? And do NOT mention any of this to them. Okay?”
“Can do boss. Besides, I could sit here and look at this scenery all day!” Joe added with a laugh.
“Well DON’T. I want some information when we meet at Chiefs tonight and you won’t get it sitting by the pool!”
My ‘hunch’ was to go talk with the former Gibson County Sheriff – Richard P. ‘Dick’ Valentine. He has been a very reluctant snitch in the past, but seeing what information he could add wouldn’t hurt. Dick was always plugged into things that were happening around Humboldt, especially those that were outside the law.
Besides, Dick was never hard to find. Most days and nights he could be found sitting on a barstool at Runt’s poolroom, located just off the Court Square in Trenton.
Dick Valentine was the former Humboldt Chief of Police. He and Leroy Epsee both ran for the job of Gibson County Sheriff a few years ago. Leroy’s platform promise was to clean up the city of Humboldt, and that included getting rid of Dick Valentine as Chief of Police. When Valentine learned what Leroy was planning, he decided to join in the race for sheriff too.
It was a tough campaign and close vote – but Leroy prevailed. Then Leroy set about fulfilling his promise to getting rid of Valentine. It wasn’t hard.
Valentine was on the take from almost everybody. If you were a bad guy, it wasn’t hard to get by with most anything in Humboldt; all you needed to do was make sure Dick Valentine got his cut. Illegal gambling, prostitution, bootleggers and even an occasional moon-shiner worked under the watchful eyes of Richard P. ‘Dick’ Valentine. They were known on the street as ‘Valentine’s Boys’ and nobody interfered with their activities.
Leroy helped get a new mayor elected and finally Valentine and most of his police force were put on the street. The new chief, Raymond Griggs, and Leroy are doing a good job of putting most of the ‘Valentine Boys’ out of business and in jail. They still have work to do, but the community is now a much better and safer place to live and work.
Valentine never went to jail, and I suspected Marlon Crow’s influence had something to do with that. However, I was sure Valentine’s fingers were in most illegal things going on, or if not, he knew whose fingers were.
Sure enough, there was Dick Valentine sitting just where I knew he would be. On a raised bar stool in Runt’s poolroom watching a big dollar pool game. He had just lit another Camel – probably his 75th of the day, as I sat down on the stool next to him.
Dick didn’t acknowledge my presence or interrupt his stare at the ongoing pool game. He finished the cigarette he was smoking, stomping the still burning butt into the floor, and then quickly lit another. Without looking at me, and almost as if he were talking to no one, he finally said, “Carson Reno, why are you sitting on a barstool next to me?”
“Why? Is this stool taken?” I asked.
“It is now and it seems to be taken by you. I asked you why you’re sitting in it,” he said, still staring at the pool game.
“I’m looking for some information and thought you might be able to tell me where I could look for it.”
He briefly looked at me and then returned his stare to the pool game. “Carson, I’m not your snitch. So, I suggest you look elsewhere for information. Go away.”
“Look Dick, I’ve always been straight with you and you’ve been straight with me. I wouldn’t ask you anything that I thought might step on your toes or any of your friend’s toes,” I lied. “So why not just listen to my questions? If you have anything to add – that’s great. If not, then that will be great too.”
He said nothing and continued to watch the pool game and chain smoke his Camels.
“I’ve got a situation that might involve a fellow named Hanson Collier from Jackson. You know him?” I asked.
“No, but I know one from Bemis. He’s a bad man with lots of bad friends.” He was still looking at the pool game and talking as if to no one.
“Oh yeah? Well what do you know about this Hanson Collier from Bemis who is a bad man with bad friends?” I asked.
“He’s a bad man with a lot of bad friends,” he said again.
“Okay, we’ve been there already. Do you know why he is a bad man and why he had a lot of bad friends?” I was trying.
Dick briefly looked at me again and then turned back to the pool game. “If you want information on Mr. Hanson Collier, I suggest you talk to Tony Scarsetti or one of his family’s hoods. They know him much better than I do.”
“Really? I think Tony Scarsetti and perhaps other Mafia family heads have been in Humboldt recently.”
“No shit,” he said as he lit another Camel.
“Yes, no shit. Do you know why they might have been in Humboldt?” I was still trying.
“Ask Leroy. Ain’t he still the sheriff,” he said with a growl.
“Yes, and you know he is. But he doesn’t know anything about why they were in Humboldt.”
“He should – he’s the sheriff ain’t he?”
“Okay Dick, we have established that Leroy is still the sheriff. But why were all the Mafia folks gathering in Humboldt? Leroy doesn’t know – do you?”
“They have been having some difficulties with drug deliveries and money. You know the kind of problems you have when a bunch of idiot bad guys get together and try to run a business.” He was still not looking at me but talking toward the pool game.
“You know any details?” I was trying.
“Ask Scarsetti,” Dick said sarcastically while crushing his cigarette on the floor.
“Maybe I will,” I lied, “but today I’m asking you.”
He looked at me again, lit another Camel and turned back toward the pool game. “Some big drug operation in Florida got snuffed out by a hurricane. Then, it seems, they misplaced a big payoff to the Colombia guys. And while trying to sort all this out, they find that some people might have been taking more than their due share of the profits. That’s what I heard.”
“So how does Hanson Collier fit into all of this?”
“Ask Scarsetti,” Dick said again.
“Okay, okay, I’ll ask Scarsetti. But how does Collier fit into all of this? Do you know?”
“Yes, and you don’t? Figure it out stupid. Somebody had to handle the transfer and transportation of the drugs when the bad guys got their hands on them – right? What does Collier do? He flies planes. He flies planes all over the country. Should I draw you a picture?” He looked at me and then looked back to the ongoing pool game.
No, he didn’t need to draw me a picture. But he sure did add some definition to the missing pieces!
“So, why the meeting, and why Humboldt?” I asked.
“They’re like a corporation – asshole. When things go wrong, you get everybody together and work out the problems. And they didn’t meet in Humboldt; they just stayed there to avoid the watching eyes of our FBI. A stupid hick town sheriff wasn’t going to give them any problem, and they knew that. These guys used Hanson Collier’s resources to pull the meeting together and probably used his house for the gathering. How can you and Leroy Epsee be so dumb?”
“Just comes naturally – I guess.” I was sucking up this information and it was great.
“Well, you’re probably going to find some dead guys lying around the county – maybe several. Mostly bad guys killing bad guys, but we always hope no innocents get in the way,” he added.
“One more question.” I pleaded.
“It’s your last,” he said frankly.
“What about the Galey brothers? I know one worked for your friend Marlon. How do they fit?”
“Half-brothers and halfwits! They are in it up to their dirty necks. ‘Noodles’ has been skimming money from the mob and Sanford has been putting his nose where it will probably get cut off. Sorry to see that happen – I always liked Sanford.”
“Where is Sanford now?” I asked.
“That’s two questions and you said one. This conversation is over.” He put out his cigarette and quickly lit another. Then he got up and walked to the back of Runt’s poolroom.
Yes, this conversation was over.
On my way to Trenton the white Chevrolet had followed me, but didn’t follow me back. If the occupants entered the poolroom while I was talking to Dick Valentine, I had not noticed; however, I don’t think they did. But, it was a pretty good guess that they knew why I was in Runt’s Poolroom and who I would have been talking to. They didn’t need to watch.
Chiefs was unbelievably crowded when I finally got back to Humboldt. I circled for 15 minutes before eventually finding the Ford a resting-place not too far from my cabin. It was Saturday night and the party had just gotten started. The good news is most of the party was going on outside – the bad news was that the rest of the party was going on inside!
Joe was huddled at the end of the bar and he waved as I entered the front door. I fought my way through the crowd and was able to find a ‘leaning’ place next to Joe – no seats left at Chiefs tonight.
“I ordered you a drink when I saw you come it,” Joe said. “But it hasn’t arrived yet!”
“It’s probably taken a detour! Have you been here long?” I asked.
“No, only about 15 minutes. I’ve been with Leroy at a place called the ‘Price Farm’ all afternoon.”
“What?” I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.
“You hadn’t been gone 10 minutes when a call came in to the sheriff’s office. It was somebody calling from the ‘Price Farm’, saying they had found a body in one of their cow pastures. Scotty and Jeff were out on patrol and Nancy needed to watch the office, so Leroy invited me to go with him. Carson, what we found was the damnedest thing I have ever seen!”
“What do you mean?” I said as I looked around to see if anybody might be bringing me a drink.
“In the middle of this cow pasture was a dead man. He was lying face down and his body had sunk into the earth about 3 or 4 inches. The body was half buried, and it was just luck that one of the workers found him.”
“Huh?” I was confused.
“Doctor Barker arrived a few minutes after we did, and along with pronouncing him obviously dead, said that every bone in his body had been broken! They had a hard time finding a piece big enough to lift the body and put it on a stretcher!”
“Huh?” Now I was more confused. “Joe, have you been drinking all afternoon? Was this guy shot, stabbed, beaten or maybe drowned (I hoped not)?”
“None of those, they don’t think. It appears that he might have been thrown from an airplane – inconveniently landing in the ‘Price Farm’ cow pasture!”
“Stop there, please. I need a drink!” I said shaking my head.
From somewhere Nickie appeared with my Jack and Coke. “Hey handsome,” she said. “Glad you could join the party. I’ve saved a dance for you and Flo has her eye on Joe – so you guys drink up and have fun,” Nickie managed over the jukebox and crowd noise.
“Where’s Mavis?” I shouted.
“She’s out in the crowd. You can’t see her? I’ll send her over,” Nickie shouted.
“I don’t need to see her, I was just concerned,” I yelled.
“You just want to look at those tits – I know you Carson Reno.” Then Nickie disappeared back into the crowd.
Taking a healthy swallow from my drink, I looked back at Joe, “Do we know who this skydiver was?”
“Not yet. He didn’t have any identification, or at least any that could be located. Because of the condition of the body it was hard to tell, but I think the guy was Hispanic. Leroy will run his prints and maybe we’ll know something tomorrow.”
“Anything on Hanson Collier?” I asked.
“Didn’t have a chance, this took all afternoon. As I said, I just got back here about 15 minutes ago. What did you find out?” he asked.
Somehow over the loud music, I managed to share with Joe the information I had gotten from Richard P. ‘Dick’ Valentine.
Joe listened without speaking and then asked, “Okay boss, what’s next?”
“I don’t know, but I need to think and I can’t do it here. I’m headed out to the VFW and have a drink. You want to join me?”
“No,” Joe said looking around the room. “I think I’ll hang out here and see how the party goes.”
“Suit yourself, but meet me for breakfast tomorrow – we need to come up with a plan. And it’s my suggestion that you stay as far away from Flo as you can. That woman is dangerous!”
I went to my cabin and had a quick shower and shave. I needed it.
Standing in the shower, I was trying to figure why I didn’t just fold up my tent and head back to Memphis. Since the girls didn’t have the money, they seemed to be safe and were certainly enjoying being together. Leroy had a couple of dead guys, but that was his problem, not mine. While I had a lot of information, I really didn’t know what to do with it, or why it was important. I had no client, so my work was done.
My plan was to go to the VFW, have a couple of Jack/Coke and visit with some old friends. Tomorrow Joe and I would wrap this up. We will give all our information to Leroy and head back to Memphis. I’ll let Leroy handle these problems.
As usual, just when I had my plan together – somebody screws it up!