Sleeps with the Fish
Sunday at Chiefs was always a slow day, and this afternoon was no exception. The Saturday night crowd was still licking their wounds, and despite the relentless jukebox music, things were relatively quiet.
Joe and I took the corner booth and were immediately greeted by Flo and Mavis – TOGETHER!
“Hi ‘Hon’. You handsome guys looking to get something to eat or just drink?” Flo asked.
“Drink,” I answered quickly. “And is Nickie around?”
“Hon’, you always seem to be looking for Nickie. Ain’t Mavis and I enough? You guys got something going on with Nickie? Cause Ronnie ain’t gonna like that – he’s jealous. I wouldn’t mess with him, ‘Hon’.”
“Thank you both for your attention, we’ve just had a difficult day, sorry. Please bring us two Jack Daniel’s and Coke, and if Nickie is here, tell her I need to see her. Okay?” I wasn’t in the mood.
“Okay, but it’s your ass if he finds out. I’ll get the drinks and see if I can find Nickie – she may be in the toilet.” Flo headed toward the bar and Mavis waddled off not far behind.
Joe looked at me. “Are they both for real?”
“As real as they come, I suspect,” I laughed.
Nickie appeared in a few minutes and came over to our booth. “Where have you been Carson? People have been looking for you all day.”
“That’s the second time I’ve been asked that question lately and I still don’t have the right answer. Who’s been looking?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got an envelope for you – delivered a couple of hours ago by taxi. You want it now?
“Absolutely!” I responded.
Nickie disappeared somewhere behind the bar and returned with a plain brown envelope with Carson Reno printed on it.
“Let’s see what’s in the envelope,” I laughed. “Maybe it’s good news!”
It contained a handwritten note that read:
I have Jan Guthrie. You are to bring the money to Key West, Florida. When you arrive, leave a note with the bartender at ‘Sloppy Joe’s’ Bar, telling me how you can be reached. I get the money, you get Jan. Anything else – she dies and I’m leaving the country. You can bring that asshole Sanford Galey and let me kill him, or you can kill him yourself – your choice. You have 24 hours.
I handed the note to Joe – he slowly read it.
“I don’t get it. Who’s this from?” Joe asked.
“It’s not signed, but I suspect Hanson Collier,” I answered with disgust.
“So now what?” Joe shrugged.
“We wait on Sanford Galey, and then take him and the money to ‘Key West’. Simple.”
“What if Galey doesn’t want to go to ‘Key West’? Carson, it can’t be that simple!”
“Sure it is. I’ll make up something and tell him we have a boat waiting or whatever. Remember, Sanford Galey doesn’t know Hanson Collier is in ‘Key West’ – at least I hope he doesn’t.”
“Okay, so now we just sit and wait on Sanford Galey. Right?” Joe asked.
“Right. You don’t happen to know if Hanson Collier has a boat docked in ‘Key West’ do you?”
“Carson, I have no idea and not sure how we could find out.”
“Well, we’ll figure that out when get there. Do you know what kind of plane he flies?” I asked.
“Now that I do know,” Joe grinned. “His personal aircraft is an Aero Commander 680 – a very nice ride.”
“Good, that may come in handy. Let’s get something to eat and hope our friend Sanford Galey shows up in time for us to meet our 24 hour deadline.”
We both had just ordered burgers and our second drink, when that 1960 Dodge Dart we saw earlier at Hanson Collier’s house pulled up and parked out front. The big guy that had punched me was driving, and his smaller companion was the one who had pulled the gun on Joe. The short fat guy, Paulie, wasn’t with them.
I watched as they opened their trunk, retrieved a package and then entered the front door of Chiefs. They walked up to the counter, and said something to Nickie that I couldn’t hear. But I knew what they were talking about. They were looking for me!
Nickie motioned her head toward the booth where Joe and I were seated and they turned and walked over.
“Well, well,” the big guy said. “We meet again.”
“Yeah, it must be my lucky day,” I said and not sure where this was going.
The smaller guy was carrying the package they had removed from their trunk. He looked at me and asked, “Are you Carson Reno?”
“Who wants to know?” I wasn’t going to make this easy.
“We do,” the big guy said, putting his large hand on the table as he leaned toward me.
“Well, do you have names or should I just call you both asshole?” I blurted.
The big guy stood up straight and said, “I’m Angelo Bruno and he’s Joey Gallo. Now, are you Carson Reno? I won’t ask again.”
“Yes,” I answered reluctantly.
“Paulie Santoro has sent you a present,” the smaller guy said when he tossed a package wrapped in brown paper on our table.
“Have a nice day,” the big guy offered, as they turned and walked out of Chiefs.
I waited until they had left the parking lot and was back on 22nd avenue before I examined my present.
It wasn’t ticking, so I assumed it wasn’t a bomb and would be safe to open inside the restaurant. Nickie walked over to our table just as I tore open the paper – we all stared at what we saw!
It contained a dead fish wrapped with a denim work shirt. The work shirt was monogrammed ‘Sanford Galey’!
“What the hell is that?” Joe and Nickie both asked at the same time.
“A message and one I didn’t want to see,” I said with disgust.
“Message? All I see is a dead fish wrapped in somebody’s shirt,” Nickie shouted.
“It means Sanford Galey ‘Sleeps with the Fish’. It means he’s dead.” I said.
“Who’s Sanford Galey and why are people delivering dead fish to my restaurant? This is your doing Carson Reno, and I’m not happy about it!” Nickie was upset.
“Trust me Nickie; I’m also not happy about it. And we can assume Sanford Galey isn’t happy about it either!”
I handed the opened package to Nickie. “Here, put this in your freezer. Sheriff Epsee might want to look at it later.”
Nickie gave me a dirty look, took the package and stormed off toward the kitchen. She was pissed.
“What does all this mean?” Joe asked hurriedly.
“It means we have a problem. We need to get to ‘Key West’.”
“But we don’t have the money! Sanford’s dead and the mob probably have the money now. What will we do? They have Jan!” Joe was excited.
“I’m not sure. But, what I am sure of is we will be headed to ‘Key West’, shortly. Money or not, we are going. Go find Jack and bring him up to speed on everything. Tell him we are headed to ‘Key West’ and see if he wants to tag along. Then, go get the plane ready. I’ve got a hunch. Sanford wouldn’t have the money at his house or anywhere it could be found. But, there is one place he would be able to keep it without worry. I’m going to check that out. Watch for a tail going to the airport, because you will probably have one, and get your gun ready – you might need it. I’ll see you there in an hour or less.”
My hunch was a long shot, but it was the only one I had. As a mechanic, Sanford Galey would have had a locker at the Humboldt Truck Stop. I wasn’t sure he still had a locker, but if he did, he could store anything there without concern.
Marlon was on his usual perch when I pulled up and walked into this office.
“Marlon,” I started. “I’ve got to do something you’re probably not going to like. I won’t go into detail about the importance, but I will tell you it is a matter of life and death.”
“Wow, Carson. You’ve got my attention! What do you need?” he said with excitement.
“I need to open one of your employee’s lockers, and maybe, take the contents with me. You up to that?” I asked hopefully.
“Nope, cannot do. Sorry.”
“Okay Marlon. Then I’m leaving and will return with a warrant. I’ll have the sheriff take this place apart – including that locker. Do you want that?”
Marlon stared at me for almost a minute. “Can this be between me and you – nobody else involved? I need to know.”
“Me and you – promise,” I assured.
“Okay, do your thing. Whose locker?”
“Sanford Galey. What number is it?” I asked.
“Locker number 12. Do what you need to do and then get the hell out of here. Okay?”
I grabbed a tire iron from the service area and went quickly to the employee locker room. Locker 12 was larger than I expected and it was also locked. I used the tire iron to break the lock and inside found a large footlocker standing upright. It weighed over 60 pounds, and I struggled to finally get it out to the floor.
As I expected, it contained money – a lot of money. Two million, according to Sanford, and I wasn’t prepared to count it! I drug the footlocker out to my car and put it in the trunk. Marlon watched from his perch and waved as I drove away. He didn’t move or say anything. What a guy!
The airport was chaos. Joe had both engines on our plane running and sitting at the north end of the runway. But the Dodge and Chevrolet were also on the runway, parked about 100 yards from the south end and facing the plane. There were also four bad guys standing on the runway and pointing guns at the plane. They didn’t intend to let us take off.
While their focus was on the plane, I managed to make it to the far end of the runway and quickly drive up next to where Joe had the plane sitting. I was safely out of gun range, and while they watched, I opened the trunk of the Ford and pulled the footlocker onto the concrete runway.
Joe and Jack met me at the open door of the plane. “Nice to see you again,” Jack said excitedly.
“Help me with this damn box. It’s heavy,” I yelled.
We loaded the footlocker on the 411 and I took a seat next to Joe. I left the Ford on the runway with the doors open and the key in the ignition. “Can you clear those bastards with takeoff?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But, I do know they’ll be shooting at us when we get close enough,” Joe said hurriedly.
“Maybe not. They think they have us trapped and we won’t try to take off. If you point this airplane at those cars with a full head of steam, I bet they run like hell!” I yelled.
“Carson,” Jack shouted. “Are you crazy? You want to commit suicide?”
“Jack, if we don’t get out of here, suicide won’t be necessary. Those guys at the end of this runway will take care of that for us!” I yelled back.
Joe stood on the brakes and brought both of the 411’s engines to redline. The plane was shaking so much, I was afraid the wings were going to tear away from the fuselage. The bad guys were still standing next to their cars and staring oddly at our plane jumping up and down on the runway.
I heard Joe yell something when he released the brakes, and my heart went up into my throat! Evidently it did for the bad guys too, because they started running in all directions at the same time. We couldn’t have cleared that Dodge Dart by more than 2 inches, because I’m sure I could read the odometer from my side window!
Joe had the flaps full and hit the landing gear switch almost before we left the ground. We made it, but I swear we took the top out of an oak tree somewhere next to the highway – it was almost as close to us as the Dodge Dart – almost.
“Wow,” Jack said when we finally leveled off.
“Yes, wow,” I added.
“Piece of cake,” Joe said laughing.
We had over a 6-hour flight ahead of us, so we had plenty of time to soothe our nerves, talk and put our plan together. I told them about the money and Marlon Crow – we got a good laugh talking about Marlon. If he had known there was two million bucks in his employee locker room, he would have had a stroke. I couldn’t wait to get back to Humboldt and tell him!
It wasn’t necessary, but I wanted Joe to stop in Jacksonville and refuel. We might not need it, but I wanted to make sure we were prepared to leave ‘Key West’ without any delays.
“Joe,” I asked when we were somewhere over Georgia. “Does anybody know where we are going with this plane?”
“Sorry boss, but yes they do. This is a rental, remember? I had to file a flight plan at the airport – they required it. If we had my plane, we could have gotten by without it. Is that a problem?”
“Only if that bunch decides to follow us, and I’m afraid they will!”
We discussed our plan and then tried to get some sleep. There was no weather and a beautiful evening and night for flying. It was almost 3 AM when we landed in ‘Key West’.
Another flight from Humboldt would soon be leaving and following our route. And the boys from Miami were also headed our way. It was going to be crowded in ‘Key West’.