W hen you look in the dictionary for a definition of ‘Paradise’ – you could find a picture of Key West, Florida. Located at the end of highway A1A, it is the southernmost point of the United States, and less than 100 miles across the ‘Florida Straits’ is Cuba.
But we had a unique problem – Jack, Joe nor I had ever met Hanson Collier. While we had a description that Jan had hurriedly provided, we really didn’t know what he looked like. But, on the flip side, he didn’t know what we looked like either – I hoped.
Parking in ‘Key West’ is hard to find, so golf carts are the preferred method of transportation on the island. But, we had this large footlocker to deal with; I decided to do both. Joe rented a car and put the footlocker in the trunk – Jack and I rented a golf cart.
Joe had rented a 1960 Edsel convertible. It was a piece of shit, but certainly did have ample trunk space – which we needed.
We drove together along the narrow roads and made the short trip to Rose Lane Villas. This off-path rooming house was owned and managed by an old friend, Kate Mueller – known as Mama Kate to all her friends.
Rose Lane Villas is located just a block off Duval Street, and I felt comfortable that none of the bad guys would be staying at Mama Kate’s. There was also ample parking at the rear of the villas, where we could easily hide the Edsel, and keep it out of sight until we needed it.
Rose Lane Villas
At daylight, with no time to waste, Joe headed to the harbormaster’s office. If Hanson Collier had a large boat, the chances were good that the harbormaster would know about it, and we really needed that information before putting our plan in place.
Joe returned within a half-hour with all the information we required. Hanson Collier owned a 45-foot ‘William-Hand Motorsailer’. It was an older boat, but very adequate for the waters of the lower ‘Gulf of Mexico’ and ‘The Florida Straits’. It was docked at Tarpon Pier at the end of Duval Street.
45’ ‘William-Hand Motorsailer’
“Good work Joe; now for the hard part,” I said shaking my head.
“Boss,” Joe interrupted. “That was almost too easy. The Harbor Master said the boat hadn’t been out of the harbor in a couple of months, and it was moored with full shore power – including a phone.”
“Well just remember, if it was easy for us to find, it will also be easy for the bad guys to find – which means we don’t have a lot of time. As we discussed on the plane, I’m betting Jan is on that boat. She may be there bound and gagged or she might be stringing along with Hanson on some wild tale he’s told her. Either way, we’ve got to get her off that boat before we turn the footlocker over to Hanson Collier.”
“You want me to check out the boat?” Joe asked.
“Yes, but be careful. He’s probably got one, maybe two men with him, and we need to know how many. When we have that information, we can start to put our plan in action.”
Joe took the golf cart and headed toward Duval Street and Tarpon Pier. Jack and I went in search of a drink!
Mama Kate had a pretty well stocked bar, so we didn’t have to search far. Jack and I took our drinks and comfortably settled into a couple of rocking chairs on the Rose Lane Villas front porch.
“Carson, are you as nervous as I am?” Jack asked with a serious look.
“Sure I am, but probably for different reasons than you are. Hanson’s a crook and a wannabe tough guy, but I don’t think he’s a killer. However, those bad guys that greeted us at the Humboldt airport and other bad guys probably headed here from Miami, ARE. I’m also sure he’s got some muscle with him on that boat. And when you do that, anything can happen. I’m sure everyone has a gun!” I said with disgust.
“Carson, I don’t have a gun,” Jack said slowly.
“Jack, I know that. Joe and I will handle the rough stuff. And that means that you’ll have to imitate Carson Reno and handle the meeting with Hanson Collier. Are you up to it?”
“I’m working on it,” Jack laughed. “The whiskey helps!”
Joe was gone longer than I would have liked, but being thorough was more important. He finally pulled the golf cart up in the front yard of Rose Lane Villas, looked at us and laughed, “Are you guys on vacation or are we working?”
“At this moment, we’re on vacation and you’re working. What did you find?” I asked.
“Carson, I saw two men and recognized neither. However, I suspect one of them was Hanson Collier, based upon the way Jan had described him. I didn’t see Jan, or anybody else, but I also suspect there were other people inside the cabin that never came out. And, I’m basing that on the way the two guys I was watching entered and exited the cabin. Just a hunch, boss.”
“Okay, that’s good enough for me,” I offered. “Joe, take this shopping list to that hardware store around the corner. When you get back, we’ll be ready to go.”
I sent Joe to the hardware store for strong tape, mariner rope and two pocketknives. He returned in 15 minutes, and then we all got in the golf cart and headed to Sloppy Joe’s Bar.
Without question, ‘Sloppy Joe’s Bar’ is the most well known and recognizable place in Key West. It has been made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, who reportedly spent hours drinking and telling his stories for the patrons in the bar. Evidently he drank himself to suicide, because he killed himself in 1961 – which simply added more notoriety to ‘Sloppy Joe’s Bar’.
‘Sloppy Joe’s Bar’ is located at 201 Duval Street, at the corner of Greene and Duval Streets, and has been at that location since 1935. Both the Greene Street and Duval Street sides of the bar are open to the sidewalk and the rambling crowds – which could be huge, at times.
I parked the golf cart in a spot that gave Joe and I a good view of the bar area. Jack entered ‘Sloppy Joe’s Bar’ and appropriately took a seat where we could observe him and see what happened.
Jack ordered a drink and handed the bartender a note we had written earlier. The bartender read the note and then quickly went to the payphone located behind the bar. It was a short call, because he walked back to Jack and handed him the note – shaking his head as they talked. Jack handed him the note again, and I could tell the conversation was getting loud. Jack was pointing his finger at his barstool and giving new instructions to the bartender. Evidently it worked, because the bartender went back to the phone and made another call. This time he returned with an affirmative head nod as he handed the note back to Jack.
Jack looked our way and gave us a discrete ‘thumbs up’. Our plan was in motion.
It was less than 5 minutes later when Joe tapped my arm and gave a head motion toward a man that was walking briskly up Duval Street. This was one of the men he had observed earlier on the boat – this was Hanson Collier.
Hanson was a slim six-foot, long blonde hair and well tanned. He was dressed ‘Key West’ – wearing shorts, beach shoes and a T- shirt.
He entered ‘Sloppy Joe’s Bar’ through one of the many open doors, and quickly took a seat next to Jack at the bar. This was our cue. Joe and I got out of the golf cart and walked down Tarpon Pier toward the boat.
Jack’s assignment was to stall, delay and confuse Hanson until we had the chance to locate Jan. Posing as me, he would demand part of the money. Hopefully, they would negotiate long enough to give Joe and me ample time to complete our mission.
At the end of the pier I walked directly onto the deck of the boat and entered the upper cabin – startling two guys who had been sitting at the table playing cards. They immediately stood up – pointed large guns at me and yelled, “Who the hell are you?”
“U. S. Coast Guard. You got a license for this boat?” I managed to say before the larger of the two guys hit me with a mean right cross. It hurt!
I went tumbling over tables, chairs and other furniture on my way to the floor. Face down; I tried not to move – hoping they wouldn’t shoot before asking questions! Fortunately they didn’t. They both walked over, still pointing their guns, and looked down at me lying on the cabin floor. The big guy spoke again, “I said, who are you?” This was just what I wanted then to do.
While their attention was on me, and their backs to the door, Joe entered unnoticed with his revolver cocked. “I’ll shoot the first bastard that moves,” he said loudly. “I don’t want to kill you and you don’t want to be dead, so drop the hardware and back off!”
They looked at each other and then back down at me, it was a moment of decision. Finally, they reluctantly dropped their guns. Our plan had worked perfectly – so far.
While Joe held his gun on the bad guys, I quickly searched the boat for Jan. I found her, unharmed, sitting in a locked downstairs bedroom. Crying, she ran to me, grabbed my neck and started to hurriedly talk and cry louder.
“Jan, there’s no time for talk now. We need to get out of here. Grab anything that is yours and come upstairs in a hurry. We’ll talk later,” I said quickly.
Back upstairs I made both of the bad guys completely undress and throw their clothes out the window into the bay. I used part of the mariner rope to tie their hands, and then walked their bare asses downstairs to the engine compartment. There I used more rope to secure them to a bulkhead, put an oily rag in their mouth and secured it with tape. I felt assured they wouldn’t make much noise or get away – at least for a while.
Jan, Joe and I quickly ran back up the pier to the where we had left the golf cart. I put them in it and told Joe to head to Mama Kate’s with Jan. I would see them soon.
I’d already started looking for the other bad guys on the streets of ‘Key West’. They’d had plenty of time to make the trip, and unless I was really mistaken, would be showing up real soon. But for now, I saw nothing.
I walked into ‘Sloppy Joe’s Bar’ and took a seat on the barstool next to Hanson Collier. Jack was to his left; I was sitting to his right.
Hanson Collier turned and looked at me. “Who the hell are you? Go away, we’re talking business!” he frowned.
“I’m the guy that has the money – asshole. And I suggest you listen very carefully to what I have to say,” I said clearly.
“Then who the hell is this guy?” he asked pointing at Jack. “He said he had the money!”
“He’s my negotiator. Have you guys reached a deal yet?” I asked Jack.
“Not yet,” Jack laughed. “This guy is a tough negotiator.”
“Damn right,” Hanson demanded. “I don’t negotiate. If you want Jan, then I get the money. That’s the deal!”
“Look at me Hanson Collier,” I said as I gently turned him on his barstool. “You listen and don’t speak until I’m finished. You no longer have Jan – I do. And there are a lot of bad guys headed this way looking for the money, along with your ass.”
“What, what do you mean?” Hanson stuttered.
“I said listen, don’t talk. Those two thugs are tied up downstairs on your boat and I have Jan. I didn’t have to kill Sanford Galey or bring him here for you to kill – your Mafia friends took care of him for you. But now they’re on their way here, and they want their money back. And you know what else, Hanson Collier?”
“What…what?” he was still stuttering.
“I’m going to give you the money. And do you want to know why?” I had his attention.
“What…why?” he managed.
“Because they’re going to kill to get it, and I don’t want it anymore. Let them kill you; I could care less. Understand?”
“Yesss, okay, I guess,” he was falling apart.
“My friend and I are leaving now. In 15 minutes I will drive a 1960 Edsel to the end of Duval Street, park it and leave the keys in the ignition. The money is in a footlocker in the trunk of the car, take the money and go away. And if you somehow manage to live through this, I never want to see you again. And if you ever contact Jan again, I’ll personally kill you myself. Is all this clear?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s clear,” he seemed more composed.
Jack and I left and quickly made the short walk back to Mama Kate’s place. I still had not spotted any of the Mafia guys from Tennessee, so we might just be able to pull this off – I hoped.
At Mama Kate’s place, Jack ran in the house to see about Jan. I gave a hand signal to Joe and backed the Edsel out of the driveway. Hopefully this would be over in a few minutes and we would all be on the plane headed back to Humboldt within an hour.
Then things went terribly wrong.
I parked the Edsel at the end of Duval Street, left the keys in the ignition and got out of the car. I still hadn’t spotted any of the Mafia guys, and figured that was good. Unfortunately, I was wrong. They had gotten rid of their mob clothes and dressed like the locals – I was totally surprised when someone stuck a gun in my ribs as I was walking back up Duval Street.
“We’ll take it from here,” the short one named Paulie said in my left ear. “Quietly walk back down the pier to the boat – no funny stuff.”
I did as instructed.
I retraced my earlier steps and entered the upper cabin of the boat. Sitting in one corner of the room I saw Hanson Collier securely tied and gagged, with two other thugs standing guard. Things were not looking good for me either!
“You set the charges?” Paulie asked the one named Angelo Bruno.
“All set boss, it’ll light up the whole harbor,” he said with a grin.
Using the leftover rope I had brought earlier, the one named Joey Gallo tied my hands, stuck a towel in my mouth and then used my left over tape to secure it in place. This was NOT going according to plan!
They sat me in the floor next to Hanson and I could see the fear in his eyes – I’m sure mine didn’t look much different. Paulie looked around the room and seemed satisfied with his work – then he waved his arm and said to his men, “Okay, guys let’s go.”
Before I had time to think about how the bad situation was – it got worse!
These three goons had just put their guns away and started walking toward the cabin door. Suddenly, someone kicked it open! Standing in the open door way was Camilo Rivera, with a silenced automatic pistol in each hand!
The gunfight was over quickly. A startled Paulie Santoro was raising his hands when he caught two rounds in his middle chest and slowly slumped down to his knees. Paulie stared briefly at his killer before falling on his face – just a couple of steps from where I was sitting.
Joey Gallo took a step sideways as he was trying to find the gun he had just put away a moment earlier. A bullet in his forehead sent him falling backwards, where he landed across Hanson’s lap.
Angelo Bruno managed to retrieve his weapon, but it did little good. With Paulie and Joey already down, Camilo emptied a remaining clip into Angelo’s chest – shooting him repeatedly as he stumbled backward over Paulie’s body.
Camilo reloaded quickly and then stared down at Hanson and me – sitting tied and gagged on the floor.
Either the challenge wasn’t there or he knew this place was going to blow. He just smiled at us, and then turned quickly and left. In an instant he, the Edsel and the footlocker were gone.
Left behind were three dead guys – lying on the floor and bleeding all over everything. They, along with Hanson and me, would soon become a part of the landscape. We were sitting on a bomb!
Hanson Collier and I were staring at each other and struggling with our bindings when an angel opened the door! It was Joe.
“You alright boss?” he asked as he ripped the tape from my mouth.
“Yes, but this place is rigged to explode and we need to get the hell out of here – pronto!”
Joe quickly cut our bindings, and we wasted no time making our way up the pier and west on Duval Street – headed to Mama Kate’s.
The boat exploded just moments later. The, now, dead guy was right about one thing – it did light up the harbor! It also destroyed the pier, other boats and several retail businesses that adjoined Tarpon Pier. It was quite a show, and I’m sure both the locals and tourists found it entertaining!
We, however, needed to get out of town quickly. Joe kept his gun pointed at Hanson during our ride back to the airport. I didn’t think he was up to running, but I wanted him for the FBI when we got back to Tennessee. Jan never looked at Hanson, and I’m quite sure she would have used Joe’s gun on him, if she could’ve gotten her hands on it.
Jan had shared her story with Jack and Joe while Hanson and I were at the boat.
My conversation and questions about her relationship with Hanson Collier had really upset Jan. She borrowed Mary Ellen’s car and then drove to Bemis to have it out with Hanson. Unfortunately, her meeting didn’t go as she planned.
When she confronted him about my questions, he put two and two together and decided to use her as a hostage to recover his money from Sanford Galey. His two men, Joe Torino and Frankie Carbone, were already missing, and he knew Sanford was probably next – and that he would likely seek my help to make a getaway.
Hanson sent me the ransom note, then he and two of his goons put Jan on the plane and they flew to Key West. When he had his hands on the money, he would be headed to Cuba on his boat. In his mind, it was that simple.
Other than being held hostage, Jan had not been mistreated, and I don’t think Hanson ever intended to harm her. But, exposing her to the obvious dangers did put her in harm’s way. That could, and probably would, have gotten her hurt. Fortunately, the only damages to Jan were her feelings.
It was mid-afternoon when we lifted off from the ‘Key West’ Airport. As Joe circled to head us home, we had a good view of the fire and chaos in the harbor. I’m glad I wasn’t around to answer questions from the police, and even more glad that I wasn’t a part of the show!
We sat in silence for almost an hour and Joe finally spoke. “Hey boss, I just remembered. We left those two naked guys tied up on the boat!”
“Yes, I know. But we didn’t have time to save them. May they rest in peace,” I added.
Finally Hanson looked up and spoke. “So, now what? They have the money and they’re still going to kill me. You guys need to put me down somewhere. Give me a chance, okay?”
I looked hard at Hanson Collier before I spoke. “Listen asshole. I’m going to put you down somewhere all right. I’m going to put you down in Leroy’s jail – and as far down in it as you can be put. Kidnapping, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundry – hell, I can’t image all the things they might come up with. I expect you to spend the rest of your natural life in jail. If not, call me when you get out, we’ll have a drink and talk about old times. And to ease your mind, those bad guys don’t have the money. What they have is a footlocker full of Jacksonville, Florida phone books with a couple thousand dollars sprinkled over the top. Can you imagine how pissed they’ll be when they figure that out!” I laughed.
Hanson Collier put his head in his hands and tried to stare a hole in the floor. I didn’t blame him. His world, as he knew it, had ended.
Jack looked at me. “Well, if he can’t imagine how pissed they’ll be – I can! This isn’t going away, just yet.”
“I know,” I nodded. “But we’re leaving the money where it is, for now. I’m not quite finished with Hanson Collier. He’s going to do one more thing before we put him away.”
Hanson looked up and asked, “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“You’re going to call your boss, Sam Maranzano, and tell him where his money is. And if he wants it back, he’ll need to see the FBI,” I answered.
“You can’t make me do that!” Hanson said with a growl.
“You’re right, I can’t. But if you are as smart as I think you are, you’ll gladly make that call. That’s the one hope you have to stay alive in jail, a slim one, but a hope. Remember, someone shot Maranzano’s men on the boat, and my bet is that ‘someone’ was sent by Scarsetti. Now, Scarsetti thinks he has the money, and will be very unhappy when he learns differently. I expect Scarsetti and Maranzano will figure the deal is over and call a truce. If that happens, maybe you’ll get lucky and he’ll focus his revenge on someone other than you.”
Hanson put his head back down and, once again, stared at the floor.
“You think that will work?” Jack asked.
“Well, I don’t really care one way or the other about Hanson Collier’s health. What I do care about is stopping Maranzano’s search for the money. When he knows the FBI has it, maybe he and Scarsetti will go away and take his crime wave with him,” I answered.
“Let’s hope so,” Jack and Joe said together.
“Right now let’s get back to Humboldt. Remember, I left the Ford in short term parking on the runway at the airport! Let’s go get it before the charges get too big!” I laughed.