Nickie delivered my breakfast – Ronnie’s special of scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy. She poured us both coffee and slid into the booth next to me.
“I guess you didn’t want to party with us last night. You don’t like me anymore? I saved a dance for you, but you never came back.”
“My apology, you know I wasn’t avoiding the party. I’ve just got some business that I haven’t been able to wrap up yet. We’ll have that dance when everything is over,” I said with a smile.
“Are you and that stewardess still playing house? Rumor around town is that their house was robbed and the sheriff found a dead man there. Is that true?”
“That’s all true. But I haven’t really seen Liz, other than trying to figure out the robbery and why the dead guy was there.” I was not telling much.
“Okay, but you didn’t ask me for messages and Jack Logan has been calling you all morning. He left his number at the Jackson Holiday Inn, and said to try him at Mary Ellen Maxwell’s house if he wasn’t in his room.”
“Thanks, I better call him now.”
I went to the outside payphone and tried both numbers. Jack was not in his motel room and no one answered at Mary Ellen’s house, not even the maid. Maybe the girls were shopping and I suspected Sunday was the maid’s day off. I wasn’t concerned; I would call back later.
Joe walked in just as I finished my second cup of coffee.
“Any luck?” I asked.
1962 Cessna 411
“Yes, good luck. I rented a Cessna 411 at the Humboldt Airport. It’s good for 6-8 passengers and has great fuel range. There are certainly larger planes flying in and out of that airport and Keller Field, but it should be sufficient; provided we have to use it,” he added.
“Good job. Now, let’s go see if we can visit with Hanson Collier. We’ll take my car.”
Bemis, Tennessee is really a suburb of Jackson, and located about 17 miles south of Humboldt. Highway 45 is the main road artery; and it’s lined by used car dealerships, bars, poolrooms and pawnshops. If you were looking for trouble, Bemis would be a good place to start.
While there’s not much of a ‘downtown’ area to Bemis, it did offer a few nice residential communities. Communities where the money sources weren’t questioned and the activities of the owners weren’t either. It was in one of these nice residential areas that we found the home belonging to Hanson Collier.
A locked iron gate secured the driveway entrance and that’s where I parked the Ford. There was no guard and no visible activity on the property, but the entrance offered a small call bell and an internal guard phone for visitors.
Joe and I got out of the Ford and walked up to the large gate.
Ringing the bell and using the guard call phone produced no response. It seemed no one was home, or if they were, they weren’t accepting visitors. I was preparing to climb the fence when two cars quickly pulled up behind the Ford and slid to a stop.
A 1960 Dodge Dart stopped in front and a 1961 Chevrolet parked behind; blocking the Ford, Joe and me in front of the gate. Two tough guys got out of each car, and they looked mad. This wasn’t going to be good for Joe and myself!
1960 Dodge Dart
Joe took a step toward our visitors and then stopped quickly. He was looking down the barrel of a .45 automatic and the guy holding it seemed serious.
A short fat guy was bringing up the rear, and he was the first to speak. “Who are you?” he asked looking directly at me.
“None of your business,” I yelled back. “Who are you?”
The big guy closest to me threw a punch that I never saw coming. It landed firmly on my left jaw and I made a big bounce off the gate before hitting the ground.
When I looked up from my resting place, I was also staring down the barrel of a .45 automatic.
“We’re from the Gas Company,” I said rubbing my jaw. “This guy is behind on his bill.”
“Bullshit. I’m only going to ask once more, who are you?” the short fat guy asked again.
Joe interrupted, “We’re pilots and heard Mr. Collier was hiring. We couldn’t reach him at the airport and thought we would try him at his home. Why are you guys being so rough?”
The fat guy spoke again. “You got Shelby County tags on your car. Why are you here in Bemis?”
“Look man,” Joe spoke again. “We’re just looking for a job. Move your cars and we’ll be on our way.”
The short fat guy rubbed his chin and then extended a hand to help me up. “Sorry about the rough stuff. Mr. Collier’s flying business is being shut down, so you fellows better look somewhere else for work.”
When I finally stood up I asked again, “So, who are you?”
The fat guy turned and looked at me. “You really want to know?”
“I asked, didn’t I?” I said with some anger.
He walked directly back to me and put his face about 2 inches from mine. “My name is Paulie Santoro. I represent Mr. Sam Maranzano. We own the business that Mr. Hanson Collier has been operating, and now we’re handling it for him. Anything else?”
“Yeah, who are the bastards with the guns?” I was getting brave.
“Mister,” he said with a shrug. “We’re going to move our vehicles and let you get into that turd you call a car and slide back into whatever coma you’ve been living in. If we ever see you again, it will be our last meeting. Am I being clear?”
I said nothing but Joe spoke quickly. “We’re leaving.”
Joe got behind the wheel and we made our way out of Bemis and back toward Humboldt. I was mad and he knew it.
Eventually I spoke. “Joe, good job. Thanks for getting us out of that disaster. But I promise, it won’t happen again. Trust me.”
“Boss, we were outnumbered and outgunned. Plus, we didn’t know what was going on.”
“I know, and you’re right” I said with disgust. “Please stop by the Jackson Holiday Inn and let’s see if Jack is there.”
Jack was not in his room, so we headed toward Humboldt. I told Joe to stop at Mary Ellen’s house. This time we found everyone at home, including Jack.
Evidently Jack saw us pull into the driveway, because he quickly came out the front door and met us as we were getting out of the car.
“Where have you been?” he asked angrily.
“It’s a long story that I’ll tell you later. I’ve been trying to call – what’s up?” I asked.
“We can’t find Jan. Sometime after you and she spoke yesterday, she borrowed Mary Ellen’s car, saying she had some business to take care of. No one thought anything about it at the time, but the girls said she seemed upset about something. And when she didn’t return last night, they got concerned. Evidently they couldn’t reach you this morning, so they called me at the Holiday Inn and I came right over. When you spoke with Jan, did she seem upset or give any indication that something was wrong?”
“Jack, I was asking her about Hanson Collier and their relationship. And yes, it did upset her. I probably gave her the impression that he was involved, and I think that made her feel somehow responsible for this mess.”
“Carson, was that smart? Why did you do that?” Jack was not happy with me.
“Probably not, but it was not my intent to upset Jan; however, Hanson Collier IS involved in this mess. I’m not sure how, but he is definitely involved. Trust me.”
“Okay,” Jack said to Joe and I. “Then I guess we need to go talk with Hanson Collier and see if he knows where Jan is.”
“No good Jack. Been there and done that. Joe and I just left his house, and I’m pretty sure no one was home.”
“How can you be so sure no one was there?” Jack was frustrated.
“Because we didn’t leave voluntarily – that’s why. Four bad guys met us at the gate with guns and suggested that we leave. They were also looking for Hanson Collier, and if he had been at home, they wouldn’t have still been looking!”
Jack rubbed his face with both hands. “Oh shit,” was all he could manage.
“It gets worse. Let’s get a drink and let me tell you about Sanford Galey. You’re gonna love this!”
“Okay, but watch what you say around the girls. They are understandably upset. Both Leroy and I have assured them everything will be fine, but I’m not sure they are convinced,” Jack added.
“Leroy! How did he get involved?”
“I took the girls down to see him this morning. I had to do something! Leroy didn’t seem too concerned – she’s a big girl and staying out overnight wasn’t a big deal to him. I don’t think he really understood, but it did seem to make them feel better.”
“Okay. I’m headed down to see him when I leave here anyway, so I’ll talk to him. Let’s get that drink and find a place to talk.”
I greeted all the girls and got a good hug from everyone – including a big one from Liz. I added my assurance that everything would be okay and not to worry. I’m not sure it did much good, but I tried.
Jack, Joe and I took our drinks out by the pool and I shared my story about Sanford Galey and the two million dollars. Jack listened, stared at me and just shook his head while I was talking.
“So, Carson,” Jack finally asked. “What happens next?”
“What happens next is up to Sanford Galey. I don’t intend to help him run away with the money, but I am going to play along until I can figure a way to stop him. Right now I don’t have a plan; I guess I’ll make it up as we go!”
“Have you told Leroy about this?” Jack asked.
“Absolutely not and I don’t intend to. He can’t help now and would just get in the way,” I added
“Do you think Jan went to see Hanson Collier?” Joe asked.
“Yes, and that scares me,” I added. “He’s in this up to his dirty neck, and those guys we tangled with at his gate weren’t there on a social visit. I think they intend to kill him, most likely because of his involvement with the Galey brothers and the two million bucks. Hanson probably wouldn’t harm Jan, but these guys will kill him and not leave witnesses. If she’s with him, she’s in trouble.”
I left Jack with the girls and Joe and I headed to Leroy’s office. I needed to get back to Chiefs and wait on my contact from Sanford Galey, but I also needed to get a reading from Leroy and the sheriff’s department.
Jeff was manning the desk, and as usual, Leroy wasn’t in.
“Hey Jeff,” I asked. “Where’s the boss today?”
“He and Scotty are out collecting another body. That makes three in last two days!”
“Oh my! You guys have been busy!”
“Yep. We got one dead guy who was drowned one place, but then his body moved and stabbed after he was dead. We got another who seemed to have fallen out of an airplane and now we’ve got another who really DID drown – in Lanier’s pool! He had concrete blocks tied to his waist and was not a welcome attraction to the guests and swimmers today. So, yes you’re right – we have been busy.”
“I’m sure it’s little consolation, but at least this last guy really did drown! You have any identification on the skydiver and the swimmer at Lanier’s pool?”
“The skydiver was a fellow named Joe Torino. Had the nickname ‘Spider’ and, oddly, was a pilot. We sure hope he didn’t fall out of his own plane! Anyway, he worked for some charter service at Keller field in Jackson. The guy swimming with concrete blocks in Lanier’s pool has been identified as Frankie Carbone. That’s all we know about him, so far.”
I grabbed Joe by the arm. “Okay, Jeff. Tell Leroy I’ll call him later. We’ll be at Chiefs if he needs to talk.”
“One more thing,” Jeff added. “Doctor Barker ran an analysis on the water in the lungs of that fellow ‘Noodles’. He found traces of urine.”
“Oh really! Drowned in a toilet – typical Mafia. Guess they were trying to make him talk. I wonder if he did.” I knew the answer to that question already.
Joe waited until we got in the car and headed toward Chiefs. “Okay, boss – what is it? You had a funny reaction when you heard those names.”
“It’s because I heard those same two names yesterday from Jan Guthrie. They both worked for Hanson Collier. Now do you understand my reaction?”
“I sure do!” Joe exclaimed. “But what I don’t understand is why Nathan ‘Noodles’ Galey was drowned in a toilet and his body dropped at the girls apartment. Then the corpse stabbed with a kitchen knife. That part just doesn’t make sense.”
“Sure it does,” I answered. “I figure ‘Noodles’ and Sanford both went to the apartment to recover the money from Liz’s bag. Of course, they easily found it, but then something went wrong. Probably ‘Noodles’ wanted to return the money and get himself off the hook with the mob, but Sanford wanted to keep the money. They could always say it wasn’t there, and maybe it never had been or maybe Liz had found the money already. Regardless, they disagreed, argued and had a big fight – which ‘Noodles’ won. Sanford leaves and ‘Noodles’ goes to the bad guys to return the money and make amends. However, the bad guys don’t necessarily believe his story and stick his head in a toilet to get the truth. What they got was more than they had planned on – he spilled the whole pot. He turned on his half-brother and told them about the two million, which somehow implicated Hanson Collier and his flying business. At that point, they finished what they started and drowned poor ‘Noodles’ in the toilet.”
“But why move the body and stab him with a kitchen knife?” Joe asked.
“They needed time to chase down the two million. All the family heads were having a big meeting somewhere to discuss their drug delivery problems. They didn’t need snoopy sheriffs, or maybe the FBI, getting in the way. So, they dump the body where they knew it would be easily found and get everybody involved in trying to solve a homicide, while not watching what they were up to. It worked.”
“Interesting,” Joe said.
“Steve Carrollton knew what was going on, and his late night visit with me was intended to ‘un-light’ the fuse he lit when he told me to go find the money. And that almost worked too! If Sanford Galey hadn’t put that gun in my ribs, I would probably be sitting at the ‘Starlight Lounge’ instead of spending the afternoon at Chiefs and worrying about Jan Guthrie.
“Interesting,” Joe said again.
“Yes, but there are still a lot of missing pieces. And now we can add a missing stewardess to those pieces. How we play this with Sanford Galey will be important to finding Jan. I think she is in real danger and I don’t think we have much time.”
Little did I know that things were just going to get worse.