Howdy, folks. I’m here with another one of my hitchin’ adventures. I’ve written about this one back a few years ago, but I’ve cut out all the superfluous words and the hyperbole in this version. Just the unadorned facts this time ’round.
Before we get started, I got something to say. When reading these stories, you may think these adventures happened all the time while I was on the road. Well, that’s not true. I was on the road five years and most of it was pretty mundane. Just moving around and meeting new people. Things did happen, but not every event was a full story’s worth. Like the time I was kidnapped by a woman because she was tired of being lonely. When I “escaped” from her, I ran into the heir of the Coca-Cola fortune. He had rebelled from his wealth and privilege and bought an old school bus. He was travelling around the country with a bunch of hippie friends. I sat up front with him as he drove and listened as he told me of his life before dropping out. He had been a world traveler and had some good stories of his own. I sometimes think of him and wonder if he ever dropped back in. So you see, while things were always interesting, they were seldom dire.
Now, on to my story:
I was standing on the side of a lonely road, wet and cold, when the car stopped fifty feet ahead of me. The fog was so thick the car itself was not visible, only its red taillights. This was in the panhandle of Florida in 1967. The time was three in the morning, and I was hitchhiking home on a deserted two-lane that ran through a swamp.
When comfortably ensconced in the passenger seat, the driver told me to call him Teddy Bear. Because of the low visibility, we were going about thirty miles per hour, and Teddy Bear was in an expansive and talkative mood. He told me in great detail of his job as an ambulance driver. He especially enjoyed picking up and transporting dead bodies. As we traveled the winding road, I learned of the joys of being in close proximity to the dead. He spoke of his fascination with death and dead bodies. I nodded in agreement with whatever he was saying. I was not about to be put back out into that inhospitable climate for being an inattentive guest. I had been let off from my last ride five hours earlier, and in those five long hours, I had not seen a single soul until Teddy Bear came creeping along.
Fifteen minutes into our time together, he slowed the car down even more than was necessary, given the conditions. It was about then he said, “You know, I could kill you, throw your body out into the swamp, and nobody would ever find you.” Having said that, he reached under the seat and came up with the largest damn hunting knife I ever did see—before or since!
When you’re in a car traveling ten miles an hour, it does not seem like you’re going very fast. However, if you try to exit a vehicle while going at that rate of speed, it’s a whole different story. I grabbed the door handle and yanked on it as though my life depended on it. I meant to put my right foot onto the pavement, followed by my left … and then run like hell. But that’s not what happened. My feet got tangled and I found myself falling. I had just enough time to get my hands out in front of me before my face met the asphalt.
As I lay prostrate on the ground, all I could see were the red taillights slowly receding into the fog. Then my heart jumped straight into my mouth. The brake lights came on! Then, to make matters worse, the white backup lights came on immediately thereafter. I jumped up and took off in the opposite direction. When I was a good ways down the road, I thought it might be safe to stop for a moment and see if I was being pursued. I turned to see those goddamn taillights still coming my way. They might as well have been the angry red eyes of a demon for the fear I felt.
I then became cognizant of my folly. Staying on the road had been a mistake, a big mistake. He could follow me at his leisure. There sure wasn’t any other traffic around to impede whatever he had in mind. Was he toying with me? Had he done this before? Did he indeed throw dead bodies into the swamp, never to be seen again?
There was only one thing to do; get off the road and into the swamp. When you’re running for your life, you don’t sweat the little things – such as snakes and alligators. I turned and ran for the tree line, which lay about fifty feet from the road. I could not see the trees, but I knew they were there, having seen them earlier in the night before the fog thickened.
A few feet in, I stepped into a foot of water. My initial reaction was to stop and take a step back. But as I did so, the car pulled level with my position. This propelled me onward. The only problem with this strategy was the noise I was making as I splashed through the water. But I kept moving.
I finally reached the tree line and stopped and listened. From the sound of his splashing, he was close on my heels. Suddenly, there was dead silence. Even the frogs had stopped their raucous croaking. I held my breath. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was the only person for a hundred miles. Then it started. Out of the dense fog, I heard a chant that almost made me cry. “Hey chick, chick, chickie. Hey chick, chick, chickie. Come to Teddy Bear.”
My God! If things weren’t creepy enough already.
I dared not move a muscle. Then I caught a break. I could hear he was moving away. Without making a sound, I ventured a peek from behind a tree. It was the first time I had seen him since leaping from the car. His white ambulance driver’s uniform was glistening-wet from the tiny water droplets hanging in the air, making it semi-luminous. He was still too close for me to make a run for it. He might hear me. I was not about to budge unless it became absolutely necessary. I watched in fear as the ethereal figure became an iridescent blur, fading into the inclement mist.
When I thought it safe, I started off in the opposite direction. I had to move slowly so as not to make any noise. It was slow going, but I seemed to be making progress when all of a sudden I heard him coming up fast behind me. I reacted like an animal pursued and blindly ran farther into the swamp.
As I frantically blundered about, I noticed that the water was getting deeper. I pivoted, hoping to find shallow water again. But there he was, not ten feet away. His face indistinct in the fog. However, there was no mistaking the menace in his voice as he said, “Hey, Chickie, I’ve been looking for ya.”
He was still holding the knife.
At that point, I just gave up. What was the use? Then, any doubt that he was playing with me, as a cat plays with a mouse, was put to rest when he took one step back and said, “You’ve got two minutes, Chickie. I suggest you use ’em.”
I turned and ran. I ran pell-mell deeper and deeper into the swamp. I was petrified. I was scared to death. I only wanted to live to see my mother again. I was praying like I had never prayed before when my foot caught on a root and I pitched headfirst into that dank, pestilential water. As I started to get up, my right hand touched something. It was a 2″ x 4″, about four feet in length, just floating there in the middle of a swamp! Thinking it might come in handy, I took hold of it and quickly continued on my journey of fear.
A minute later, I heard my pursuer not too far away. I froze in my tracks, not wanting to make a sound. He was getting closer, but I stood motionless, afraid he would hear me if I so much as breathed.
I then noticed two trees not far away. One had a trunk large enough to hide behind with room to spare. The other one was only half the size. I was about to get behind the larger of the two when the thought struck me that maybe I should get behind the smaller tree. It wasn’t as obvious a hiding place as the other one.
I was no sooner in place, shaking and breathing hard, when I saw the faint outline of his white jumpsuit. He was moving slowly, his attention focused on the larger tree. As he approached, I quietly hefted the 2″ x 4″ and planted my feet as best I could in the muddy bottom of the swamp.
He came closer, then hesitated. He was sure I was behind that tree, and he was going to have some fun with me. He wanted to prolong my terror. He started moving again and came to within three feet of where I was hiding, his back towards me. It was now or never. I aimed for his head, but missed and hit his shoulder instead. His scream reverberated throughout the cold damp night, muted somewhat by the fog. I swung again. This time I connected with his head. He stood for a moment, dazed, then collapsed. I dropped my weapon and ran.
I made my way out of the swamp and emerged onto the road only a few yards from his car. Thank the Lord, the keys were in the ignition. I slipped into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and accelerated away from that accursed place as fast as I could. The fog be damned!
I drove until I saw the lights of a truck stop up ahead. I parked the car around back, leaving the keys in it. I found a water spigot and washed up. It was summertime and the Florida night was warm; my clothes would dry quickly.
I walked among the parked trucks and asked the first driver I saw if he was going south. He said he was, but first he was going to get himself some coffee and a sandwich. If I was still around when he came out, he’d give me a ride. I waited. He got me to within fifty miles of Miami. The next ride dropped me off a few blocks from my mother’s house.
To this day, I do not know if I killed him or not. Sometimes, late at night when I can’t sleep, I think of that night and pray I did not take a life. At other times, thinking he must have been a serial killer – and if not for me, he would have killed again – I think I might have done the right thing.
To those of you who have been following my hitching adventures, I want to thank you for reading my stuff. This is the last of those adventures I’ll be posting. There just ain’t that much more to tell. I wrote this in a rather flippant style, but I assure you, when it was going down, I was shaking in my boots. Also, now that the statute of limitations has run out on most of my crimes, I reckon it’s safe to tell you that Andrew Joyce is my pen name. In another life, I was known as Billy Doyle.
It all happened in a little café just across the border. The year was 1971 and I was twenty-one-years old. I was hitchin’ west and was let off outside of El Paso, Texas. It was just before dawn and I had not slept or eaten in a day. But at twenty-one, that’s not a big deal. This is a story of friendship, and how the length of the relationship does not matter. What matters is the commitment and intensity the participants feel for one another.
As I stood on Highway 90 waiting for my next ride, a little man walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, sir, but would you like to make some easy money?”
Now, if you know me, you know money has never interested me all that much. However, the unknown—something new—drew me as a moth to flame.
I said to the man, “Whatcha got in mind?”
It seemed that, because I was a gringo, he thought I might be able to help him. He then laid out the plan to me. His wife was being held captive for a debt that he owed. She was forced to work in a café just across the border in Juarez. He wanted me to go into the café and ask for her, and then pretend I wanted to go upstairs with her; but I was to bring her out the back door and walk her across the border. For this, he offered me the princely sum of twenty-five dollars. Son-of-a-bitch! Even to a kid who hadn’t eaten in a day, $25.00 was chump change.
But his story got me angry. How could those damn assholes keep a man’s love from him? It got my Irish up. And goddamn it, I was going to get that man’s woman out of that café if it was the last thing I ever did. And it nearly was.
But first things first. If this guy had money on him, then he could buy me breakfast and fill me in on the details at the same time. I suggested we adjourn to the nearest diner and he readily agreed. We walked a few blocks until we found a hash house that was open. We entered and made a beeline for the counter.
Because I had not eaten in a long while, I ordered the biggest damn breakfast you’ve ever seen. Of which I could only eat half. I don’t know how many of you have gone a day or two without eating, but a funny phenomenon takes place. The first day you’re hungry as hell, but by the beginning of the second day, the hunger, for the most part, is gone. Mentally you’re hungry, but physically you’re just fine. At the time, I was told it was because your stomach shrinks, but I don’t know how true that is. I’ve never gone a full forty-eight hours without food, so I don’t know what happens then. Anyway, that’s why I could only eat half of what I had ordered. But while I was eating, the little man, whose name turned out to be Miguel Delarosa, told me his story.
He was of Indian descent, as are the majority of Mexican people. There are two classes of people in Mexico: those descended from the Spanish who own most of the country, and those descended from the people who used to own the land, the Indians.
He came from a town in the estado (state) of Oaxaca, which is located in southern Mexico. The town’s name, which I never did learn how to pronounce properly, was Tehuantepec. He had been married about eight months by the time we met. Three months after getting hitched, he made the determination that he wanted a better life for himself, his wife, and any children that might someday come along. So it was decided that he would go to America to get work and get settled. When he had saved enough money so his wife could make the trip by bus, he would send it to her and they would be reunited. The reason his wife, whose name was Asuncion, or Asun for short, did not accompany him to begin with is that they had no money. Miguel would have to make the trek by walking and hitchhiking; and he’d be traveling the entire length of the country. Not the sort of trip a man wants to bring his bride of a few months on. The trip would be not only arduous but also dangerous. There were still bandits roaming the highways and roads of Mexico. A man and women alone could very easily find themselves in dire straights out in the countryside.
Now we come to the part of Miguel’s story where he fucked up. It seems he was homesick, so on Saturday nights he’d walk across the border into Juarez and hang out at this particular café. Of course, he was in the country illegally. And with all the hysteria today about the great horde coming up from Mexico to take our jobs, rape our women folk, and pillage our cities, it may be hard to believe that in those days the border guards where hip to the goings on. I mean they knew the guys going and coming on Saturday night were not kosher, but the local farmers and ranchers needed their labor, so everyone was cool.
The name of the café was “The Mouse Trap,” or as the sign above the door read, Café La Ratonera. It was owned by a man named José. He’s the villain of this piece. He was big and fat, but more big than fat. He stood 6’ 4”, wore a grizzled black beard, and had a large scar in the form of a lightning bolt on his right cheek. (No shit. This guy had the scar on his cheek just like I said. He was right outta central casting!) When he smiled, the gold front tooth that he was so very proud of shone brightly in the dim light of his café. He was a bad motherfucker. No … bad is not the right word. The man was downright evil.
José could spot an “illegal” a mile away. By illegal, I mean a man who was in the United States without documentation, without his “papers.” Most seemed to get homesick at some point, as Miguel had, and would walk across the border for a little bit of home. And the biggest, gaudiest place in all of Juarez was the Café La Ratonera, so naturally that is where most of the men ended up.
José’s choice of name for his establishment might have been a coincidence, or it may have been by design; but regardless of serendipity or intent, he did snare the weakest of men in his “trap.” His method of doing so was quite simple; once he had scouted his prey, he would befriend his intended victim in some small way. He might forgive that evening’s bar bill, buy the man a few drinks, or perhaps, if he was in an expansive mood, give the man a few pesos to put toward bringing his family to America. All the men José preyed upon were working, and saving for one reason, and one reason only, to be reunited with their loved ones. Of the men’s longing to be with their families, José was able to make a very despicable living.
This is how Miguel got taken. José scoped him out and did his usual bullshit, pretending to be his friend. Then when Miguel told him of Asun and how he was working to bring her to America, José laid out his trap.
The trap consisted of exactly what Miguel wanted to hear. José told of how he had connections throughout Mexico, how he could arrange to have Asun brought up to Juarez, and then he, Miguel, could walk her across the border on a Saturday night. Of course, Miguel wasn’t completely brain dead. He did ask, “Why would you do this for me, and will there be a cost involved?”
To which José responded, “Man, you are my compatriot, mi amigo, we are simpatico. Yes, there will be a small cost, not everyone thinks as I do. But we’ll work it out, mi amigo.”
And work it out ol’ José did. He did indeed bring Asun up from Tehuantepec and got her to the Café La Ratonera. But once there, Miguel was told the fee for bringing her up was $1,000.00. It might well have been $100,000.00 as far as Miguel was concerned.
That’s when Jose cut out the being nice crap—the “I am your amigo” crap—and let Miguel have it right between the eyes. He informed Miguel that until the debt was paid, Asun would work in his hellhole of a café. And then to emphasize his intent, he pushed a button that was affixed to the side of his desk (they were in José’s office at the time) and two men appeared out of nowhere. José simply said, “Eighty-six the son-of-bitch.” Eighty-six being a universal term used in the bar and liquor business meaning throw the bum out, and don’t let him return.
Miguel told me that was two weeks ago, and he had yet to set sight upon his wife. And he was beaten if he even walked by outside the café. Of course, he was not allowed in. He knew she was there because he had friends, or more like co-workers, go in and they had spoken with her. She told them that her job was to serve drinks, be nice to the men, and if things were slow, she was to help out in the kitchen. The damn place was open twenty-four hour a day. She had a small room she had to share with two other young girls who were in the same predicament as she.
If my Irish was up when he first told me of his problem, it was through the fuckin’ roof after hearing the details. I might not have seemed upset on the surface because I was so busy shoving eggs, bacon, and hash browns in my mouth, but I was. When I pushed away the remainder of my breakfast, and told Miguel to pay the man, I rose and walked to the door of the place, stretched, scratched my stomach, and looked at the brightening sky in the east.
As Miguel joined me at the door, I asked him if he would be so kind as to answer a few questions. He said he’d be glad to. So I asked the most obvious question first. “How come an illiterate bean picker like you speaks better English than me?”
I’ve got to admit he did have a ready and plausible answer. “The priest in our town was from your country. He taught me when I was very young, and we conversed only in your tongue whenever we spoke.”
Okay, next question: “What the hell day is it today?”
He had a ready answer for that also. “It is Friday, my friend.”
Wait one fuckin’ minute, thought I. I am now this little man’s friend. Then I thought I did have him buy me breakfast, and I did intend to help him out. But holy shit! If he was now a friend, that would mean there would be no pulling out if, or when, the going got tough. So be it, I’ve got me a new friend. What the hell.
Third and last question: “You got a place I can crash for a while? I’m not going to be good to anybody until I get some sleep.”
“Yes, my friend. There is a small shack that I share with other men who work on the farm with me. We will be in the fields all day. You will have it all to yourself.”
There he goes with that friend shit again, but I had resigned myself to that. What touched me, though, was the way he offered his humble abode. He seemed to imply having what I was sure was a shithole all to myself was a high honor. Nothing against my little friend. My point is that the assholes who employ men like Miguel house them in conditions that, if you housed your dog in like manner, you’d be arrested for cruelty to animals.
So, the two new friends turned their backs to the rising sun and Miguel walked me to his domicile. By the time we got there, it was empty of inhabitants. He showed me which bed was his, and told me he would see me at the end of the day. He was late to the field and said he had to vamoose. I dropped onto his bed, and I was so tired I think I was out before Miguel hit the door.
I woke up a few times throughout the day, but thought it advisable to keep a low profile. I didn’t know how the owner of the outfit would take to a gringo, a non-working gringo at that, hanging out in his shithole of a shack. So I went back to sleep to await Miguel.
I was awakened by Miguel shaking my shoulder. When I opened my eyes, I beheld Miguel and three other men standing over me. When Miguel saw that my eyes were open, he said, “Mr. Billy, these are my friends, and I have told them that you are here to help me. They are now your friends also.” There he goes with that friend shit again. I rubbed my eyes and yawned before saying in my best American accent, “Hola.”
I know I’ve used this phrase before, but it is so apt. First things first: “Miguel, I need a shower. Whatcha got?”
He, as it turned out, didn’t have much. I’m not even going to tell you how these people were forced to wash themselves. No, the hell with it, I’ll tell you. There was a hose outside next to the shack and you had to stand there holding the damn thing over your head while cold water poured down on you. The owner of that place, I am sure, is roasting in hell as I relate this tale to you. So everything works out in the end.
After my “shower,” I dressed in the best clothes I had with me, which ain’t saying much. And even though the sun had just sunk beneath the horizon, I asked Miguel to buy me another breakfast. In my mind, I planned it more as a council of war than an eating experience. Miguel and I had to lay out our strategy. His original idea of me just waltzing into the café and walking out with his beloved, I was pretty sure, was not going to work.
As I shoveled my second meal of the day into my mouth, I told Miguel that the “extraction” would take some planning, and most importantly, some reconnoitering. I thought it good that it was a Friday night. If the café was busy, then I might have a chance to talk with Asun. Then it hit me, Does she even speak English? So I asked Miguel, and his answer was a simple “No.” That was going to make my job a whole lot harder. I couldn’t see her just walking outside with a perfect stranger, especially one babbling in a foreign tongue.
We dawdled at the hash house until just before midnight. I figured that the café should be getting up a good head of steam right about then and I wouldn’t stand out as much. But first, I needed Miguel to tell me something I could tell Asun so she would know I was a friend. I had the “Mi amigo … Miguel” down pat, but I thought I should have a closer, just to make sure that if the chance presented itself, she would leave with me.
Miguel thought for a moment before saying, “I gave her a ring for her birthday last year when she became a woman; it was her eighteenth year. No one ever knew of it but us.”
“Okay, Miguel, lay it on me. Teach me to say, “Miguel gave you a ring for your eighteenth birthday.” It took a while, but I finally got it down, “Miguel te dió un anillo cuando cumpliste dieciocho años.”
To quote a man I am not too familiar with, but he did come up with some good lines now and then: “Once more into the breech. Cry havoc, let slip the dogs of war.” Man, I love that quote. I use it whenever I can. But in simpler terms, I merely said to Miguel, “Let’s boogie.” Yeah I know, very archaic, but hey, so am I.
We walked into town and crossed the border without incident. There was never any trouble going into Mexico. They were damn happy to have you and your gringo dollars come into their country. Miguel led me to the café and said, “I better not go any farther. They know the sight of me. It would not be good for us to be seen together.”
Well damn, why hadn’t I thought of that?
Miguel had already told me what Asun looked like, so now it was up to me. I pointed to a little bar down the street and told him to wait for me there. I walked the half a block to the front door of the café and entered.
From the outside, the Café La Ratonera didn’t look half-bad. But once inside, what a fuckin’ dump. You entered, and through the haze of cigarette smoke, the first thing you saw was the bar. It was a massive thing; it stood against the far wall, and ran the entire width of the room. Of course, at that time of night every stool was taken. And there were men and women standing in between and behind every stool. Between the bar and the front door were tables, maybe thirty. They were not set up in rows or anything like that. No, they were haphazardly strewn about, and they too had people sitting at each and every one of them. There was no band, but some kind of noise (some, not many, might call it music) was blaring out of a single speaker situated over the bar.
Running back and forth from the bar to the tables were girls—young girls—serving drinks and talking with the men sitting at the tables. Then I noticed something I’d missed when I first entered. The place was all men, the only women I saw were the ones serving the drinks and the few at the bar who I was sure were “working girls,” if you know what I mean. To me, they—and the drink servers—all looked alike. How was I to tell which one was Asun?
I was conspicuous enough being the only gringo in the place, so I thought I had better order a drink and go into my dumb and stupid act. I saw that the girls were getting their drink orders filled at the far right-hand end of the bar, so that is where I headed. I figured at least there I’d get a chance to ask each girl, “Asun?” When I got an affirmative answer, then I could use my code phrase.
As I stood at the bar waiting for the bartender to notice me, I made another observation of something that had escaped my attention previously. Against the far wall was a staircase that led to a balcony that ran around the entire room. It was hard to see in the dim light, but it looked like there were rooms, one every twenty feet or so. I counted ten doors. That meant that if the layout was the same on the other three sides, there were forty rooms up there. What the hell took place up there, as if I didn’t know? I didn’t think Asun had been there long enough to be indoctrinated into that part of José’s scheme. But, We better get her out of here quick before a fate worse than death befalls her, I thought as I surveyed the upstairs.
As I was thinking the worst, I was asked something in Spanish by the bartender. I guess he wanted to know what I wanted to drink. So I said the first thing to come to mind, and the only drink I knew how to order in Spanish, “Tequila, por favor.”
After being served, I paid for the drink, with a healthy tip for the bartender so I’d be left alone for a while. Hey, it wasn’t my money. Miguel had given me all he had on him, which wasn’t much. But I did need a front, no matter how meager.
As I stood there, the girls, one by one, came up to the bar to order their drinks. I was less than three feet from the serving station. And as the bartender left to fulfill an order, and the girls stood waiting, I’d lean into them and say, “Asun?” The first two ignored me completely; the next three shook their heads, and then ignored me completely. On my sixth attempt, the girl turned, looked at me, and then nodded towards the girl standing behind her.
So it was to be lucky number seven? When number six had departed, and number seven took her place at the serving station, I did my usual, “Asun?” The startled look told me that I had finally hit pay dirt. Before the bartender returned, I went into my act, “Miguel mi amigo. Miguel te dió un anillo cuando cumpliste dieciocho años.” Just then, the bartender walked up and she gave him her drink order. He saw that I had spoken to her, but it looked like he thought I was just hitting on her, which was cool with him. Asun played it cool too. She turned away from the bar, so no one could see, and winked at me. Hey, Miguel got himself a smart one!
Now that I knew my target, I thought I’d get a better lay of the land, so to speak. If there was a back door, I sure as hell couldn’t see it. What the hell was Miguel talking about? Also, José was nowhere to be seen. As I scoped out the skinny, I came up with a plan. Admittedly, a simple plan, but a plan nonetheless. I ordered another Tequila, so not to arouse suspicion, drank it, and left.
Once outside, I proceeded to the bar where Miguel was waiting for me. He was standing outside looking forlorn, like he didn’t have a friend in the world.
“Whatcha’ doin’ out here, amigo? Why aren’t you inside?” I wanted to know.
“I gave you all my money and they won’t let me sit in there unless I buy something.”
“Okay, mi amigo, let’s go in. I’ll buy you a drink … with your money.”
“Si, mi amigo.” We went in, got a couple of beers, and I laid out my plan of action.
“First of all, I don’t know what fuckin’ back door you’re talkin’ about, pal, but if there is one, it’s gonna be locked up tighter than Kelsey’s nuts. Next, the only plan I can come up with is just getting Asun near to the front door and then we make a run for it. It might work if there was some interference put in place as we hauled ass. Or more to the point, as you and Asun haul ass. I plan on being the interference. And by the way, that’s one smart broad you got hooked up with. No offense.” Fortunately, Miguel did not understand the lexicon of 1950s America. He took no offense of me calling his wife a “broad.” Then I said, “Miguel, any chance of us getting a firearm?”
“You mean a pistola?”
“Yeah pal, a fuckin’ gun. You know … boom, boom! And don’t worry; I’m not gonna shoot anyone. I just want to use it as a persuader.”
“Yes, one of my amigos I live with has one.”
“Well, go get it, boy. I wanna’ finish this up tonight. I was California-bound when this little detour came up. Comprende? I’ll wait for you here, now git movin’.” I always drop my g’s and talk like I was in a Gabby Hayes movie (look it up) when I’m nervous. And nervous I was. But I said I’d help the little guy, and after getting an eyeful of his wife, it was my mission to get her outta that hellhole.
Miguel was gone two beers’ worth, and returned with a bulge under his shirt. I thought it a good thing he was coming into Mexico, and not going out, looking like that. I told him to sit down, and went to the bar and got him a beer. After we were settled, I asked him to hand me the gun under the table, which he did. Once I had it in my hand, I sneaked a peak at it. It was an old Colt .45, the kind you see in cowboy movies. While still holding it under the table, I checked to see if it was loaded. It sure was—every chamber filled.
While Miguel was gone, I had formulated my plan. I told him to go to the bar and get a piece of paper and a pencil from the bartender. After he returned with said items, I told him to write the following (I didn’t have time to learn any damn Spanish):
“This is a friend. Get near the door, and when he tells you, run out into the street. I will be there waiting for you. Miguel”
Of course, it was written in Spanish.
The plan, as I’ve said, was simple. I’d get Asun out the door, and then the two of us, me and Mr. Colt, would try to dissuade anyone from following her. “The best laid plans …” Another favorite quote of mine, though one I don’t like to use often. It usually means that I fucked up.
“Okay, amigo; let’s get this circus on the road. When Asun flies through the door, you grab her and haul ass.”
“ ‘Haul ass’? ”
“Yeah, run for the fuckin’ hills. Get your asses across the border; I’ll be right behind you. Tell your friend you owe him a gun because no fuckin’ way am I bringing this monster across any border, let alone into the United States.”
Before getting up, I slipped the gun into the waistband of my pants, and covered it with my shirt. Now I had the bulge. When we got back to the café, I told Miguel he better keep a low profile to ensure his being there when Asun exited. It wouldn’t do to have some of José’s bouncers see him and drive him off … or worse.
I left him standing on the street, and that was the last time I saw him until he rescued my ass. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
I went into the café and proceeded to my usual haunt right next to the service station. When asked, I ordered my usual Tequila; everything was as usual. Except for the gun under my shirt. It wasn’t too long before Asun came up for a drink order, and I was able to slip her the note. She, as I’ve stated, was one smart cookie; she took it in stride without even looking at me. I had no doubt she would read it the moment she had a chance. So I thought I better position myself by the door and be ready.
I moseyed (more Gabby Hayes talk) toward the door and stood by the table that was closest to the exit. I stayed there pretending to listen to, understand, and enjoy the conversation at said table, all the while praying that Asun would make her move soon. The guys at the table kept looking up at me, wondering what the fuck I was doing.
It wasn’t long before I saw her come out of the back. I reckon she had to go someplace private to read the note. She went from table to table taking drink orders. All the while working herself closer to the door. When she got to the table I was at, she took the boys’ orders, and then looked at me. I nodded, she nodded back, and then all hell broke loose.
She dropped her tray with the glasses still on it, and made a spectacular dash for freedom. I didn’t, at that stage in my life, know a woman could move so fast. I stepped into the space Asun had just vacated as she went through the door, pulled out my partner, Mr. Colt, and fired a shot into the ceiling. I hadn’t planned on discharging the weapon, but I saw two burly types come charging toward me. They were obviously bouncers, and girl wranglers. The shot stopped them in their tracks, but only momentarily. Then both of ’em pulled out their own version of Mr. Colt and started firing right at Yours Truly. I think the only thing that saved my ass was a conk to the back of my skull. All I remember is seeing stars.
I don’t know how long after all the excitement that I came to. But I found myself in a dark room lying on a bare mattress, which was on the floor. The only light was the light that came in from under the crack at the bottom of the door. My head was pounding. It was worse than the worst hangover I’ve ever had. Before or since, and I’ve had some doozies. I knew I was still in the café because I could hear that goddamn noise they took for music.
When I got around to thinking about it, I figured it must be early morning because the din of drunken revelry had diminished considerably. So there I sat, or more to the point, that is where I lay for what seemed like hours. And it seemed like hours because that’s what the fuck it was.
I know as I relate this to you years later, I may come off as glib at times, but I assure you, I was one scared motherfucker while all this was going down.
Finally, a little action. I heard someone at the door, I guess unlocking it. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, I did try the door shortly after regaining consciousness. I’m not a total boob, just a partial one. Anyway, the door swings open and in walks the big asshole himself, José, followed by a man in a lime green suit with no tie. He looked like a bookkeeper, which was a good thing, because I was shortly to find out that’s exactly what he was. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and stood a little over five feet in height. And he turned out to also be José’s interpreter.
I was lying down when I first heard them, but I made sure I was standing when the door opened and they walked into the room. José says something in Spanish to the little guy, and he in turn tells me that the man before me holds my life in his hands. Wow, no preamble, no how do you do, no nothin’.
I told you what the bookkeeper was wearing, so I guess it’s only fair to tell you of José’s taste in clothing apparel. From the ground up: cowboy boots, jeans, and here’s the kicker, an oversized Hawaiian print shirt. I reckon he thought it would help cover his bulk. It didn’t.
Now, down to business. José, through his interpreter, tells me that I stole one of his women. His women! I thought, Jesus H. Christ! What fuckin’ balls on this asshole. He then goes on to tell me I have two choices. One, I can be driven out to the desert and have a bullet placed in my head. Or two, I can work off the debt Asun was working off.
I was told José was going to have his noon repast. That’s not how it was phrased, but that was the general idea. And afterward he would come back for my answer. Yeah, let me think about that. Death or servitude? That’s a hard one. Take your time, José ol’ buddy. I’ll wait for you right here.
José and his toady left and locked the door behind them. I sat back down on the rank mattress and thought, Billy boy, how do you get yourself in these messes? Or better yet, how the hell ya gonna get yourself outta this one? Well, at least I made a friend. One who is probably getting laid at this very moment. I know I’d be, if I hadn’t seen my woman in three months. Friend, smend, I hope I never hear the fuckin’ word again.
I was thinking those negative thoughts when all hell broke loose downstairs. At least that’s what it sounded like from my vantage point. I listened with keen interest. Had the Marines landed? What the hell was going on?
Within a very short time, there was a crash on the door, then another, and finally a third. That’s when the door gave way and fell from its hinges. And guess who comes in carrying the leg that used to be on a table? My old amigo, Miguel. He was followed by a few others, but I only had eyes for Miguel.
“What the fuck is going on?”
“We are here to rescue you and the women,” was the simple answer to my simple query.
Because you and I were both out of the loop on this one, I’ll fill you in on what I later learned. When I didn’t return by daylight, Miguel got his housemates to forsake work for the day, and instead they went into the fields and told the men how Asun had been freed. But the man responsible for her freedom was now being held a prisoner at the same location. Word spread as the morning progressed. Somehow word got to the neighboring farms, and some of the men who heard the story also had women held at the café.
Without anyone actually suggesting it, as the noon hour approached, the men walked out of the fields and met at Miguel’s shack. They were about fifty in number, and it was decided that they would do something about the café and its owner once and for all. The men who had women there—and they were the majority—were going to free their women now that they knew it was possible. The others were outraged that the gringo boy who had freed Miguel’s wife was now in José’s hands.
Miguel took charge. He told the men to cross the border in groups of twos and threes and meet up at the little bar down the street from the café. Once they were all there, they simply walked to the café and stormed its battlements. Because the placed never closed, gaining entrance was no problem. And they got lucky in the fact the gunmen were off duty. José probably didn’t think the expense of gunmen was necessary in the middle of the day.
When inside, they broke up the tables and chairs to use the legs as clubs, just in case anyone got in the way. Clubs weren’t really needed. The sheer force of their numbers kept any would-be heroes at bay. As soon as the ground floor was secured, the men, both patrons and employees, were herded to one side of the room. The women were put in a protective area near the door, and while half the men stayed downstairs to keep an eye on things, the rest charged upstairs and went room-to-room freeing women who had been locked in. Oh, and by the way, they also freed me in the course of events. Unfortunately, José was nowhere to be found. Or fortunately, depending on your point of view. I’m sure José found it quite advantageous not being on the premises that afternoon.
Now that the men had me and the women, Miguel issued his marching orders, “Back to America!” It was said in Spanish, but I got the “America” part. We left the café as a conquering horde, but soon split up into twos and threes. Each man with his woman, and those who didn’t have a woman, paired up with the guy or guys nearest him. Miguel was my date.
When we got close to the border crossing, we held back, out of sight, so two of our little group could cross at a time. We spaced it out. Because even though the border guards were hip, they were not going to let almost eighty illegals cross in one fell swoop. Miguel and I were the last to cross. When we got back to the shack, he formally introduced me to his bride. Not being able to speak English, she thanked me in her own way. She put her arms around my neck and gave me a big kiss, one on each cheek.
Asun told Miguel that while he was gone the foreman had come looking for the missing men to find out why they were not in the fields. She told him her story, and he being of Mexican descent, told her to tell the men they all better be in the fields first thing Monday morning. He also said that she could not stay in the shack, that was for single men only. She and Miguel would have to move into one for married couples. He then smiled at her and said, “Welcome to America.”
I didn’t stick around either. I gathered up my stuff, put it in my suitcase, and turned to Miguel and said “Gracias, mi amigo.” He started to say something, but I held up my hand to stop him. “There’s nothing to say. I’ve gotta go.” I turned to Asun and said, “You are beautiful.” She cocked her head to one side, indicating she did not understand. And as Miguel turned to her to translate my statement, I walked out of that shithole of a shack and into a new life, one where I took a man’s friendship to heart.
Well, that’s my story of how I came to believe in friendship. Miguel had what he wanted, but he organized and led the revolt to free me because he had said he was my friend. It was as simple as that.
If anyone feels so inclined, I’d appreciate it if you’d like my Facebook page. You can click on the button on the right side of the page. Thank you.
Now that the statute of limitations has expired and the people who were out to kill me are either dead or in their nineties, I feel it’s safe to relate the following story.
I originally wrote this right after I got clean from thirty years of opiate addiction. My soul was raw. The insidious thing about coming off opiates is that you cannot sleep. For the first month, I was lucky to get ten or fifteen minutes a night.
One night, after lying in bed for three hours praying for sleep to come and give me a few moments of escape from my torment, I gave up any hope of sleep and sat down at my computer. I sat there for twelve hours nonstop and wrote what you are about to read. I wrote it as if I were talking to a few old friends I had not seen in decades, but had run into recently. Because I was just banging it out, I’m all over the place with tense placement, so be prepared.
I was driven to write it, why I do not know. I am not proud of what I have done. Just the opposite, I am ashamed. My only defense is that it was a different time and I did not know the harm my actions could cause.
If there is any such thing as Karma, and I believe there is, this story will show that I’ve made a partial down payment in this life. The balance will have to wait until some future life.
The story is a long one, so some of you may not get through it, but that’s okay. I wrote it as a form of therapy for myself. I never thought I’d put it out there. But here it is.
Just know this: Every damn word is the truth. Perhaps publishing it is part of my atonement. I don’t know.
A few paragraphs may seem familiar to some of you. I lifted them and put them in a recent post. But this is the whole story.
Now that I’ve done everything I could to dissuade you from reading it … here’s, Joanie’s Adventure.
Joanie was my best pal’s gal. They were both fifteen years older than I. When I first met them, I was twenty-five, and they were fortyish. I had just moved my sailboat to a new location and they lived a few slips over on a houseboat. I do not know what most of you think of when I say “houseboat.” The ones that are pertinent to this story were more properly known as “house barges.” They had no engines and were rectangular in shape with a barge-like hull. The superstructure was a house-like edifice. It was like living in a floating apartment. Theirs was a two-story affair, a bedroom and bathroom or “head” upstairs, and the “galley” and living room below.
Henry, Joanie’s old man, and I became friends immediately. Now, the stories about Henry and me will have to wait for another day. The adventure I want to convey at this time took place about four years after our initial meeting. In the intervening years, Joanie slowly warmed up to me. Me being single, she fed me many a meal on that houseboat of theirs. It was usually late at night after Henry and I returned home from a night of debauchery. Joanie was either very understanding or long-suffering. Probably both.
The reason I say, “we” returned home was that, by then, Joanie had sold me a houseboat of my own. That’s what she did for a living; she was the only houseboat broker in all of South Florida. She could hustle anyone out of a dollar. And it’s a damn good thing too, because I’ve never seen a person more in love with money than Joanie. Maybe she had reason to be. Henry did not work and she was the sole support for both of them. They, by the way, were ex-New Yorkers who were hip. They had lived in Los Angeles during the late sixties and owned a nightclub there. Oh, I forgot to mention, I first met them in 1975.
This is the story of how Joanie made me wealthy and got me thrown into jail, all in one thirteen-day period. And let’s not forget the local mafia—they came looking for me because of her, as did the Coast Guard, The Palm Beach Police Department … well, you get the picture.
Like all my tales, this is going to need a set-up to understand how Joanie and I went from law-abiding citizens (sort of) to desperados in a relatively short period. It all started with love. However, before I can get to the love part, you must understand how we lived. Because it was that lifestyle that brought me to the one true love of my life, and it was my one true love that brought me to the people some of you might refer to as the mafia or maybe gangsters.
Okay, here goes. I hope I do not bore you.
When I first met Henry and Joanie, I was, as I’ve said, twenty-five years old. I had two businesses that were doing quite well, and was a partner in a third. My day consisted of going to the office at 10 a.m., checking things out, giving marching orders to my staff, and then at noon going to lunch for the rest of the day.
The next thing you gotta know is, I drove really nice cars. Porches, Vets, shit like that. The dealers were just getting into leasing, and didn’t know what they were doing. Because of my age and my driving record, insurance for me was three times what it would cost to lease. And the leasing company threw in insurance and maintenance! At that time my business took me all over the state, and I was rackin’ up about 30,000 miles a year. The leasing company gave me a new car every six months so the cars wouldn’t have too high a mileage on them when they went to sell them.
The reason the cars come into it is that Henry was what I would call a bus-bench man. He would drive around Miami Beach, which is where we lived, and when he saw a single female sitting on a bus bench, and she caught his eye, he would drive around the block and pull up to the bus stop. He would then offer her a ride. And nine out of ten times, the female would get in his car. You say, so what’s the big deal in that? And you’d be right if the motherfucker was driving a Ferrari. But he wasn’t, he was driving a ten-year-old Volkswagen with no seats in it. His dog, a little Dachshund, had eaten the upholstery, so Henry took out the metal frames that were left and got himself an orange crate to sit on. I don’t know what the hell the women sat on, but ol’ Henry got laid every fuckin’ day from his bus stop escapades.
Then I come into his life with my fancy new cars and a shine came into his eyes. I guess what was going through his mind was, Think of the possibilities. Before you knew it, we were out cruising every day. We’d start in the afternoon, and depending on what action we ran across, we might not get back to the boats until the next morning. The way it started was, I would go out and visit my accounts every day, not that I had to, but all my guys were hip. So when I got to their place of business, rather than conduct business, we’d get high in their offices. When Henry started to accompany me on my “runs,” they soon developed into what they developed into—afternoon and evening cruising sessions. That’s how I met the love of my life.
It was a few days before Christmas. I don’t know what year, but I was about twenty-seven and I was at one of my accounts, a “Head Shop” … you know where “drug” paraphernalia was sold. I told you my guys were hip. The shop was on the beach, so I left Henry in the car; the passing parade of beauties were enough to keep him occupied. I walked into the shop thinking I’d just shoot the shit with the owner, let him know I was thinkin’ of him, and if he had a little dope, so much the better.
Well, I hadn’t been through the door for more than a second before I fell in love. There she was, looking into a display case of hash pipes. Red hair, petite, a figure a woman half her age would kill for. She was fortyish, but to me she was the sexiest woman I had ever seen. Now, after spending two years with Henry, I had finally learned how to speak to the opposite sex. Prior to meeting him, I was shy around woman. He taught me that women are just like men, only smarter about going after what they wanted, and if you were somehow lucky enough to be what a particular woman wanted, then nothing this side of hell was gonna save ya.
Now that I knew the ropes, I walked right up to her, gave her my killer smile that never failed and said, “Howdy, may I help you?” I figured if she thought I worked there she’d be more likely to talk to me.
She told me she was looking for a hash pipe for her son, for a Christmas present. Well, to make a long, embarrassing story short, I came on to her with everything I had. Hell, I was used to pushing women out of bed, locking my door to them. I had them literally flying through my windows to get to me. That’s a story in itself. But this broad wouldn’t give me the time of day. I tried everything, and with that kind of effort, I usually would have had her in the back room by now and we would not have been playing tiddlywinks. But she just blew me off. The best I got that day was her name and where she worked.
I remember walking out of that shop, getting into my car, and just sitting there. I said nothing to Henry; I just stared at the door of the shop, waiting for her to come out. Henry looked at me and said, “What’s happening? Let’s blow this pop stand.” I turned to him and said, “I can’t, I’m in love.” I told you Henry was hip, and older than me, so he took my pronouncement in stride. In fact, he thought I was full of shit. But I refused to leave until she came out of the shop.
Yeah, she walked out of the shop alright, gave me a half smile, and turned her back on me. FUCK! I’m gonna get that broad if it’s the last fuckin’ thing I ever do, I thought as I started the engine.
Anyway, I knew where she worked. It never occurred to me that she might have been bullshitting just to get rid of me. In those days (and believe me those days are long since gone) all I had to do to get laid was pull up to a red light, put my window down, and say to the honey in the next car, “How ’bout cocktails?”
She would then ask, “Where?”
And I would respond, “On my boat.”
It was that easy. They never said no. But here I am with shit all over my face, thrown there by this fuckin’ old broad. It was going to be my mission in life to make her fall in love with me.
I’ll tell you what I didn’t know at the time. Her name was Terry; she had just gotten out of prison. She had done five years of an eleven-year rap. She had been a member of the infamous “Murph the Surf” gang, named after Jack Murphy, the leader. Jack got all the press; they even made a movie about him. But there were two leaders of that gang. The other was Bobby Greenwood, Terry’s old man. You older folks might remember the “Star of India” heist from the New York Museum of Natural History. It was one of the biggest jewel thefts in history. Well, my little love was in on that. The gang all got light sentences because everyone loves a jewel thief. But when they got out and reassembled, they went crazy. No need to go into the details here, but it involved murder, and all the men are still in prison. The women, as women did in those days, received lighter sentences. Which was only fair; they had nothing to do with the killings. They just spent the proceeds from those endeavors on furniture.
However, the main reason she would have nothing to do with me was the fact she had a sugar daddy paying her bills. She had three kids from three different men, and I guess it can get scary out there, especially if you’re on parole and all alone in the world. Not to mention the three kids you gotta feed. But I didn’t know any of this at the time. All I knew was that I had the hots for an old broad that wouldn’t give me the time of day.
You’re probably thinking, Where the hell is Joanie in all of this? Be patient, my friends. There would have been no Joanie’s Adventure if not for Terry.
I’ll spare you the details on how I won Terry’s heart and got her to throw over the sugar daddy in favor of me. And no, I did not take up the slack. As I’ve told you, I didn’t know there was any slack to be taken up. She had not lied to me about where she worked and once I knew where to find her, it was only a matter of time before she was mine.
All right, now we can get down to the nitty gritty. Terry and I got hot and heavy, and eventually I got to know “associates” of hers from the old days. These were second-tier members of the gang. At the time all the shit went down, they were young. But when I met them they were Terry’s age and just getting out of prison.
Back at that time, almost everyone was smuggling marijuana into South Florida, even the “good old boys” on the west coast: shrimpers, fishermen, and the like. They referred to the bales of pot as “square grouper.” That is where Sonny, an old friend of Terry’s, was based out of; he had done eight of a twenty-year sentence. So, Sonny and the others guys fell right into the smuggling thing. And they’re making money hand over fist with nowhere to put it. That’s where I came in. They thought my business was just the place to invest some of their ill-gotten gains.
Now I’ve got these wise guys as partners. And I have to admit; as far as partners went, they weren’t too bad. Every Saturday, another briefcase of cash was flung onto my desk. It got so I told them enough already. I remember one Saturday I was on my boat because I was trying to avoid that week’s stipend. Well, ol’ Butch tracks me down and says, “What’s wrong with me? Why won’t you take my money?”
I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I said, “Okay, Butch, just this one time.”
And with that, he tosses me a brown paper bag and says, “Here’s fifty large ($50,000.00). Thanks for taking it.”
“Don’t worry about it; maybe you can do me a favor someday.”
They were bringing pot in every week. They had a squadron of boats that would go out and pick the stuff up from the “beaner” boats. A beaner boat was what brought the stuff up from Colombia. It was a square-hulled thing with a wheelhouse big enough for only one man.
I may have given you the wrong impression about the time line. It wasn’t until two years into my relationship with Terry that I got hot and heavy with the “boys.” By then Terry was living in Los Angeles. I had opened an office out there and rented an apartment. Once there, Terry went Hollywood on me and refused to come back to Miami. So I left her butt out there. She was having a ball; she had hooked up with an old girlfriend, a “fence.” You know, someone who buys stolen goods. She sold me a diamond ring I wanted for Terry, three carats. Got it for $1,000.00! One time, Terry and I were fighting and she took the ring off and threw it at me. I just picked it up, put in my pocket, and said thank you. You should have seen the look on her face. Well, being the sport that I am, I gave it back to her. It never left her finger after that.
Now I can bring Joanie back on stage. As I’ve said, Sonny had a squadron of boats bringing the stuff in, but they were all small speedboats. I don’t think there was one over thirty feet.
The thing is, more pot was coming up from Colombia than they could bring in. And anything not off-loaded to a boat for the run into Miami was tossed overboard. Millions of dollars’ worth of pot was thrown into the Atlantic. The beaners only brought the pot one-way. There were no round trip tickets for the bales of marijuana.
So one day, Sonny comes up to me and says, “I just found out you know how to sail. Want to make a run and pick up a load for me? I’ll pay you $50,000.00, and you can be the foreman of the off-loading crew for another $25,000.00. You won’t have to do any work, just watch the boys and keep ’em working.”
I sure as hell didn’t need the money, but I was a junkie for adventure, so I said, “Sure, why not?”
As usual, there was a catch. We needed a large sailboat. I had sold mine a few years earlier, so what to do? It was then that I thought of Joanie. I told Sonny that I knew a woman that was sort of a yacht broker and maybe she could find a sailboat to meet our needs. He said, “Get her. I’ll pay her anything as long as we have a boat within forty-eight hours.”
Long story short, Joanie got us the boat. This is significant because it was the introduction of Joanie to smuggling. But I’ll come back to her in a minute. I’m sure you guys want to hear all about my first smuggling run.
The next day, I went and picked up this beautiful forty-five-foot cruising sloop that Joanie had chartered for a week. I was given coordinates on a chart (this was before GPS) and told to be at that exact location at sundown the next day. It’s a ten to twelve hour trip if I have a moderate wind.
I get my mate, a young kid. Listen to me, a “young kid.” I was twenty-eight, and he was twenty-two. We got going at first light. We didn’t want to be late for our first date.
No one told me much of anything, just go to point “A,” be there at a specific time, get the shit, and come back. Simple, no? Simple, yes. But when I get to Point “A,” there are twelve or thirteen other boats hangin’ out at the same spot. And sundown was only a half hour away. Well, I needn’t have worried. They were there for the same reason I was, which very shortly became self-evident. I don’t know how someone sitting in Miami and someone out on the Atlantic can coordinate things so perfectly, but forty-eight hours previously, Sonny told me that the little beaner boat would arrive at point “A” at sundown, and by God, so it did. As soon as it arrived, the other boats got in a line. Because my boat was the largest, I guess I just knew intuitively that I should be at the back of the line.
You know what the scene reminded me of? A checkout line at the grocery store. Here we were, fourteen boats all lined up waiting to be checked out. There were two guys on the beaner boat. One passing bales to the crew of the boat that was alongside of it at the moment, and the other guy, with a clipboard, keeping a tally of how many bales each boat took on board. Man, these guys had it down to a science.
After a little while, our turn came. My mate was down below, and as the beaner guy handed me a bale, I would hand, toss, or throw it down to him. In a very short time, we were filled to the gunwales with bales of marijuana. I couldn’t even stick my hand down below, and still they were throwing bales at us. I ordered my mate to get the bales off the deck and heave them overboard. As we cast off, I shouted to the guy with the clipboard, “Keep those bales I just tossed on your tally and I’ll …” that’s all I got out. We were then too far away for him to hear me. As we headed east, I saw the beaner guys heaving what remained of their cargo into the dark waters of the nighttime Atlantic.
We came in the next morning to Dinner Key Marina. All we had to do was tie her up, walk away, and make a phone call. She was now someone else’s problem.
I received my $75,000.00 a few days later in a brown paper bag. To tell the truth, I would have made the run for nothing. The money was a bore. I threw the bag into my bedroom closet and forgot about it.
After that, Joanie and Sonny became fast friends. She started getting him big boats so nothing would have to be thrown overboard. The boats, however, were motor yachts, not my cup of tea. I made a few more runs using different sailboats that Joanie dug up for me, but to be honest, once you do it, everything else is anticlimactic. So now that Sonny and Joanie had things under control, I went back to my sedate life of trying to get laid as much as possible.
There is one last thing I’d like to tell you about before we move on to the story I promised at the beginning of this yarn. As I’ve told you, Sonny’s organization was bringing up more pot than they could get into Miami. Well, other organizations were running into the same problem, so bales started to stack up on various islands in the Bahamas. Sonny had his way of doing things; meeting the beaners, and running in at night. But other guys would bring the shit up from Colombia and use the Islands as a staging area. There were tons and tons of the stuff sitting on various islands just waiting to be brought in, but there were not enough boats or more aptly, not enough big boats available to get the job done. And because of this problem, a phenomenon took place that marked the beginning of the end of the cowboy smuggler days and the rise of the bloody years of the early ’80s.
What started to happen was that a few Bahamians got the bright idea of hijacking boats to bring the stuff in. And they weren’t nice about it either. When they would see a boat that caught their fancy, and it was usually a sailboat, they’d simply murder whoever was on board and throw the bodies overboard. Then they would load her up, make the run into Miami, and abandon the boat there.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’ll tell you of two incidents that happened to people of Sonny’s organization. One of those people was me; the other, a guy I knew pretty well and liked a lot.
I think it was on my third run that I ran into some minor trouble. It could have been worse if not for the fact that Sonny had all his crews carry at least one fully automatic M-16 machine gun on board. It was for defense only. Yeah, Sonny was a gangster, but he had a good heart. He didn’t want any of his people harmed. We were told to use the guns only in self-defense. “Firing at the US Coast Guard does not constitute self-defense,” he told us on more than one occasion.
First my story, though there’s not much to tell. We were sailing out to meet a beaner when a speedboat came out of the east at a full throttle, heading right for us. I turned the helm over to my mate and picked up the binoculars lying on the seat next to me. What I saw was a boat full of men, maybe five or six, and one of them had a rifle in his hand. So I went below and broke out the gun, went back up on deck, and awaited the inevitable. I kept the gun on the seat; I didn’t want them to see it just yet.
When they got to within a hundred yards of us, they started to circle the boat, getting closer all the time. The fellow that had been holding the rifle now had his hands free. We were both keeping our little surprises secret. One of the men waved to us in a friendly fashion. I let them get to within twenty or twenty-five yards and then I picked up the gun and gave them a spurt right across the bow. I aimed low, and then I raked the water with a second burst not five feet from their boat. I could have sunk them if I wanted to. After my little show of force, I pointed the gun right at their stunned faces. As I’ve said, there isn’t much to tell. They turned the boat around and hightailed it out of there as fast as they had come.
The second story is tragic. My friend, Jess, and his mate were anchored off Eleuthera, by Rock Sound, when they were boarded in the night. They had been asleep in their bunks, but before they knew it, three men were standing over them with guns in their hands. They were told to go up on deck, where they were separated. The mate was marched to the bow and Jess was told to sit down in the cockpit. They then put a bullet in the mate’s head and his body dropped overboard. One of the men kept a gun pointed at Jess, while the other two made ready to get underway. One brought up the anchor, and the other started the engine.
The three men were in high spirits, laughing and joking among themselves. After about half an hour they pulled into a little cove. In this cove was a downed plane. It had been a single engine job and its tail was sticking up out of the water. In fact, that was all that was visible of it. The plane was about 300 yards from shore. Because of the draft of the sailboat, the men transferred Jess to the small boat they had used to get out to Jess’ boat. One of them brought him over to the plane and told him to get on the tail. And there they left him, laughing uproariously as they departed.
Jess was stunned to say the least. He had just seen his friend murdered, and now here he was perched on the tail of a downed plane in the middle of the night. He sat there for about five minutes before getting his wits back. He figured he’d just swim to shore. What he would do after that, he did not know, he knew only that he wasn’t going to spend the night on a goddamn tail of an airplane. Just as he was about to jump into the water, he saw a fin slicing the surface, then another, and another. The whole lagoon was teeming with sharks. It, as he learned later, was their hangout. That’s why the bastards were laughing as they left him. In fact, that’s why they didn’t outright kill him. He was to be their evening’s sport. Jess stayed on that tail for a day and a half before someone happened along and rescued him.
Well, I’ve stalled long enough. I reckon I’m going to have to tell you guys my best Joanie story. I have a lot of them, but I think you will agree with me that this one takes the cake.
Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, Joanie’s running all over creation getting boats for Sonny and his crews. In the course of all that running around, she encountered one Arimus Neely. We just called him Neely. Neely was the head honcho of West End. West End is on the island of Grand Bahama, and as its name implies, it’s at the west end of the island. Neely had found some boats for Joanie or vice versa. They were both scoundrels, and so they hit it off right away. I don’t get into other people’s business, so I didn’t know the man as this story opens.
Joanie gets a call from Neely, telling her that a plane has crashed on his island and it had one hundred-fifty footballs in it. He makes no mention of the pilot, and Joanie later told me she didn’t want to know any details. She wasn’t sure the whole crashed-plane story was even true. Football was the term used for kilos of cocaine. These packages were tightly wrapped in plastic, I mean tight, and had the same shape and size of a football.
Believe it or not, Ronald Reagan has a part in this story; we’ll get to him in a minute. On the particular day Joanie received Neely’s call, cocaine was selling for $45,000.00 a kilo. He told her he’d sell her all she wanted at $15,000.00 per kilo. He asked her to fly over; he’ll show her the goods, and let her take one back to help work up some customers in the States. Joanie is salivating at the thought of a $30,000.000 profit per kilo.
Joanie was a tough old broad, but even tough old broads don’t go into something like that unless they can bring along an asshole to take a bullet for them. So guess which asshole she chooses to take along with her? If you said Andrew Joyce, you are correct. She called me up and told me the score, and seeing as how I hadn’t done anything stupid for at least a week, I agree to go along for the ride. Ride hell! I ended up being the goddamn driver, mechanic and chief bottle washer of the whole fuckin’ mess. And mess it did turn out to be.
Joanie and I were not the kind of people to own a private plane, even though we could afford to. No, we just leased one. So we called our pilot and told him, “Drunk or not, meet us at the airport, we got shit to do.” He was used to us by now, and the fact that we paid him three times the going rate for pilots made him very good at not asking questions and keeping his mouth shut.
I wish I had known what I was getting myself into when I stepped onto the plane that godforsaken day. If you believe in Karma, this episode was my payback for a lot of things.
Joanie and I lived on Miami Beach, but we flew out of Fort Lauderdale. There was a reason for that, and I’ll fill you in on it later, but right now, I’d like you to meet Neely.
Joanie and I hop in a cab. When we got to the airport, Frank, our pilot, was revving up the plane. When he saw us, he stepped out of the plane and opened the door for Joanie. Of course, I take advantage of his courtesy and scramble in after her.
The next thing you may be interested in was our landing on West End. First of all, I was amazed that West End even had a landing strip. There really is nothing there, but being able to fly into West End did save a lot of wear and tear on my butt. I ended up flying over there a lot because the only other airfield was in Freeport, an hour’s drive away.
The “landing field” was basically a road built on a spit of land. If it was larger, it could have been called a peninsula. It jutted out into the Atlantic; there was water on both sides of the runway, and no windbreaks, which factors into our story.
The day we picked to make our grand entrance onto West End was one of the windiest days in recent memory, except for hurricanes, of course. Frank made three passes and couldn’t get us down because of the crosswind. He informed us, “I’ll give it one more shot, but if I can’t get us down, we’ll have to go back to Fort Lauderdale.”
I thought, Great, I’ll make it home in time to hit a little nightlife.
Joanie just set her jaw and looked unhappy. Neither one of us said a word. After the fourth pass, and I got to admit that one was a lulu, the wind caught the left wing and lifted it forty degrees. I thought the plane was going to flip, Frank said, “Let’s pack it in, we can come back tomorrow.”
That’s when Joanie said her first words of the entire flight, “Frank honey, you like your job, don’t you?” She did not give him a chance to respond before continuing with, “If you still want to have it tomorrow, you’ll get this motherfuckin’ plane on the ground now.” Oh, I forgot, that is what Joanie was famous for. People from throughout South Florida knew her as “That Salty-Tongued Redhead.” She had a mouth on her that made me, and any ten sailors, look like Sunday school teachers. And that’s going some.
Frank turned to me, like I’m supposed to be the level-headed one, but if I were so smart, I wouldn’t be in the goddamn plane to begin with. Hell, I’d been in bed with the sweetest little thing when Joanie called. The poor girl was still on my boat awaiting my return. I was on Frank’s side Let’s go home already! But all I could do was shrug my shoulders, put my thumb out in my old hitchhiking way, and point it towards Joanie. It was my way of saying to Frank, You want to fuck with her, then be my guest, but leave me the fuck out of this conversation. I think Frank got the message, because he said, “Okay, one more time, and if we can’t make it, you won’t have to fire me. I’ll quit.”
Well, I guess you can figure out for yourselves that we made it down in one piece. Once the plane came to a stop, Joanie patted Frank’s shoulder and said, “That’s a good boy. You see? That wasn’t so hard.”
Frank looked at her, and the look said, You’re lucky you pay me so much, you dumb bitch. He then looked at me as if to say, You wanna make somethin’ outta it, asshole?
Who me? I’m just along for the ride.
So now that we’ve gotten to the West End in one piece, we sent Frank on his way. It was no use keeping him around; we were going to be there for a couple of days.
Finally, I get to meet the infamous Neely. He had expected us and was waiting at the airstrip. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’ve refrained from giving physical descriptions of the participants in this tale. Well, that’s going to change now. Neely I will describe. I want you to know what I saw as I stepped off the plane.
The man standing and smiling at us was about forty-five years old. He was a little on the plump side, but not fat. He was black, of course, as all Bahamians are. He stood about 5’ 10”, and had the biggest damn smile I’ve ever seen on another human being. Maybe it was just those white teeth set against that black face. I later found out that the smile was his stock-in-trade. That’s what con men do; they make you like them so they can take you for everything you’re worth.
After the introduction, the handshake with me, and the hug with Joanie, we were ushered to his waiting car and driven to his restaurant/bar. Don’t be impressed. It was a small cinder block building painted bright pink. I can’t remember if there was a separate color for the trim, but if there was, I’m sure that it was green. The front door stood wide open, and we walked through it into a small room with a bar against the far right-hand side. The rest of the space was taken up with tables, maybe twenty in number. Oh yeah, there was a lazy overhead fan that made one revolution every two or three years.
Neely brought us over to the bar and asked me if I’d like a drink. I kinda wanted to keep my head clear because, after all, I was riding shotgun for Joanie. So I said, “A beer would be nice.” Then I was asked if I’d like something to eat. Now ya talkin’, Neely, my man, were the first thoughts to go through my head, but aloud I said, “Yes, please.” As my food was being prepared, Neely took Joanie over to a table where they sat in heated discussion for about twenty minutes. I finished my seafood-whatever-it-was with beans and rice at about the same time they stood and returned to the bar.
Joanie informed me that Neely was going to drive us into Freeport and put us up at a hotel. When Neely left us for a moment, she leaned into me and said, “Be cool, Andrew, I’ve got it under control, just follow my lead; I’ll fill you in when we get to the hotel.”
Like I gave a shit. I was there to make sure no harm befell Joanie; I could care less what she had under control. Boy, did that broad suck me in … hook, line, and sinker. Before this whole mess was over, it would be my shit to “get under control.”
So, once again into the breech. We piled into Neely’s car for the excruciating ride into Freeport. The road was a two-lane affair cut through the mangroves. As boring mile after boring mile passed, I thought, Who were the first guys to cut this road? It must have been a bitch. Then I looked over at Neely and thought, Oh, right. Slaves. Just as the modern-day smuggler used the Bahamas for a staging area to make runs into the states, so did the slavers of old. That is why every country in the Caribbean is populated mostly by blacks.
We get ensconced at the best hotel (like there’s a difference) in Freeport. We got separate rooms, not only separate, but on different floors. No, we did not do it that way because we feared not being able to control our ardor for one another—Jesus Christ, by now Joanie was more of a buddy to me than Henry—it was because they were the only rooms available.
I won’t bore you with my escapades of that night. The next morning, bright and early, about 10 a.m. Joanie called down to my room and told me that Neely was on the way, so I better get my ass up there right away.
The phone had awakened my bunkmate. She sleepily looked up at me, and goddamn! what will power I had to muster not to let those blue eyes suck me right back into bed for the rest of the day. Instead, I told her I would see her later. She raised herself on one arm and said, “But I’m going home today. Want my phone number?”
“I sure as hell do. Leave it on the table. I really gotta go now; you were somethin’ else last night. Let yourself out, and I’ll call you in a few days. Maybe I’ll fly up and take you out to dinner.” I would have too, but for the fact I lost the damn phone number. If you are reading this, and you know who you are, that is the reason I never called.
When I got up to Joanie’s room, Neely was already there. He had brought one football with him. While waiting for me to arrive, Joanie had told Neely that I was part of the deal, and that he could speak in front of me. Actually she need not have bothered because by the time I got there they had worked everything out between the two of them.
As soon as Neely left, Joanie filled me in on the deal. She was going to use the football Neely gave her for samples to show the quality of the product to work up customers back in Miami. I said, “That’s fine, but how the hell are you gonna get it to Miami?”
“We’re going to smuggle it in on our bodies.”
Okay wait—time out. There are a few things you have to know before we go any further. Remember I told you we flew out of Fort Lauderdale for a reason? Well, as you might have surmised, it had to do with smuggling; not drugs, but emeralds. To make a long story short, we had established contacts in Colombia, and these people would bring the emeralds up to the Islands where we would meet them and take possession of the stones. We, and by we, I mean Joanie and I, in turn would secrete them on our bodies and fly into Fort Lauderdale. We used Fort Lauderdale because of the customs setup. There was a separate Customs office in which you would pass through when you flew in on a small private plane. It wasn’t near the terminal. It was a little building out at the far edge of the airport; usually manned by two guys.
We liked Fort Lauderdale because the Customs guys were big football fans. We always scheduled our returns to coincide with the Sunday games. The Customs men didn’t like being pulled away from their TV set when it was third and nine, so we were always waved through without an inspection, which is the way we planned it. And it didn’t hurt that Joanie looked the part of a lady of distinction. She always, and I mean always, wore expensive clothes, never any jeans, or stuff like that; always slacks and a blouse, and lots of jewelry.
By the way, you might be wondering where was Henry in all of this. Two things about that. One, Henry didn’t have the balls to jaywalk. He had a healthy respect—no, fear would be closer to the truth—of the law. Joanie and I had been playing these games for a couple of years by the time this story takes place. And in all that time when it came time to “go to work,” Henry would disappear. He wasn’t even involved, but he didn’t want to be around when the cops came breaking down doors. And the second reason he is nowhere to be found in this tale is that Joanie had shipped him out to California. More on that later.
Okay, where was I? Right! Joanie was telling me her brilliant plan on how we’re going to smuggle drugs into the United States of America, secreted on our bodies. Now it’s one thing to bring in a ton of pot on a sailboat. It’s a big ocean; you’ve got the percentages on your side. And it’s one thing to smuggle emeralds into the country; if you’re caught, you probably wouldn’t even get jail time. But, to be in a small room with nowhere to run, with men whose sworn duty is to arrest people like you, and be loaded down with a Class A drug is a bit much. At least for me.
And that’s exactly what I told Joanie. Her response was, “There’s a box of baggies over there. Break open the football and start filling them.”
“Shit!” was the only thing I could think of to say at the moment. But I did as ordered. It didn’t mean I was going along with her crazy scheme, but to keep her from harping on me, I filled the goddamn bags, each one about half full. I think I got sixteen or something like that, I really don’t remember the exact number, but it looked like a lot of shit to try to hide on just two people. Correction—one person. I’d be goddamned if I was going to walk through Customs carrying even one of those damn bags.
Well, guess what asshole carried half the bags through Customs later that day? Joanie reminded me it was Sunday and there were going to be some good games on later. That didn’t sell me, but when she ripped off her shirt and started shoving baggies of cocaine into her bra, it kind of made me feel like a pussy; so I started shoving some into my boots. I wore cowboy boots in those days. Joanie was a big-breasted woman, her bra was already full, but she filled it up even more. Then she started shoving the shit down her pants. Jesus Christ! When she had finished, I said, “For God’s sake, woman, put your shirt back on and let’s go get drunk because that’s the only way I’m doin’ this.”
“Sure, Andrew dear, just let me first call Frank. I want to get in during the first half of the Jets game.”
I got my drunk on, but it was the usual breeze through Customs. We gabbed a cab and headed for Miami with a kilo of cocaine on us, a commitment to buy one hundred forty-nine more, and not the faintest idea of who we (notice how it now has become “we” all of a sudden) were going to sell the first ounce to, let alone one hundred fifty kilos.
This is where I wanted to tell you about my anticipated homecoming. How the little lady was still in bed waiting for me, and how she helped me off with my boots and we climbed into bed for some recreational sex, but no, straight to business. Joanie was hell bent on getting this enterprise going. She followed me to my boat, came aboard uninvited, and said, “You got a girl here?”
“Maybe, what’s it to you?”
“Well, get rid of her. We gotta talk. And besides, you’re gonna be too busy for the next few days to even think about getting laid. Where is she? I’ll get rid of her, probably in your bed, you pervert.”
“I got a better idea. Seeing as how I’ll get no goddamn peace until I hear what you’ve got to say, let’s go over to your boat; and we’ll leave the little lady alone. Okay?”
“‘Little lady’ my ass! Knowin’ you, she’s probably a filthy whore.”
From the bedroom upstairs came this not-so-soft refrain, “I heard that, you bitch!”
I figured that was a good time to leave. “Come on, big mouth, let’s split,” was what I had to say to Joanie. And to my love upstairs, I said, “Be right back, honey. Keep your motor runnin’.”
We had no sooner walked through Joanie’s door when she said, “Who the hell are we gonna sell this shit to?”
I told her to calm down, and asked her, “When did I become a partner?”
“Andrew darling, I thought you knew from jump that you were in this with me.”
“Bullshit, Joanie. If you didn’t need me to help you peddle the shit, you would have paid me off with a beer and sent me on my way a long fuckin’ time ago, so don’t bullshit me, darlin’.
You got to hand it to Joanie; she could roll with the punches. “Okay, asshole, you’re a fuckin’ partner now. I got the shit, you sell the shit. Comprende?”
There was not a soul I knew who could move that much coke. Even Sonny’s connections were for pot only. This is where Terry comes back into the story. I told you at the beginning of this mess that there wouldn’t be a story if not for Terry. She was the connecting fiber throughout this adventure. And true to form, she’s back.
But, as usual, I’ve got to set it up for you. Terry knew all the big-time gangsters in and around Miami. She, after all, had made her “bones.” She took eleven years (and with three kids to boot), rather than rat out members of her gang. In certain circles, she commanded a lot of respect.
When it came to big-time gangsters, there was none bigger than John Anderson. I know it isn’t your typical gangster name, but then again, John was not your typical gangster. He had his fingers in every pie from Miami to California. And I mean every pie! There was not anything this guy was not into.
Okay, now you gotta know that, by this time, Terry and I had been splitsville for a year or two. We’d run into each other on occasion, and when we did, we’d fuck like rabbits, but that’s all. She was out of my life.
But going back three years … Terry asked for a ride to a friend’s apartment; it was the first time I ever heard the name John Anderson. This man was so heavy—and by heavy I’m not talkin’ weight, I’m talkin’ influence—he never had to leave his apartment. People came to him, and he conducted all his business from his bedroom. If fact, he never left his bed. Hugh Hefner had nothing over this guy.
Of course, I could not go up to his place. Very few people were granted an audience with the great man. If anyone tried to get through that front door uninvited, they’d get a bullet in the head for their trouble. It had happened on occasion. But John lived in the city of North Miami, a small enough city where the cops that mattered were on his payroll. If someone was shot at his front door, it was a simple case of “Home Invasion”, the man was within his rights. That was the conclusion of the police investigation, first time, every time.
Anyway, when we get to John’s place, I’ve got to sit downstairs like a schmuck. After about twenty minutes, I got tired of waiting, so I split. I don’t care how much I’m in love with you, you leave me hangin’, there’s gonna be some words about it.
Well, she never left me downstairs again. Because of her name in the community, she was allowed to bring her young lover up on her next visit to John Anderson’s apartment. That is how I met John. And I want to say right now and right here, I have never met a finer gentleman. I loved John Anderson. Not at first, of course, but for some unknown reason he took to me. Pretty soon I was going over there without Terry, and when Terry and I finally broke up for good, I was more welcomed there than she was.
Fast forward, back to the present: A light bulb goes off over my head. Fuck! John Anderson! He could move the entire one hundred and fifty in a day if he wanted to. I tell Joanie not to come just yet, but I might have a way to unload the shit in one fell swoop. But I think she’s already havin’ her fuckin’ orgasm.
John was a night guy. Things didn’t start poppin’ at his place until midnight at the earliest. But I wanted to catch him before the crowd showed up. When I left Joanie, it was about 6:00 p.m., which meant I had at least three hours to kill before I could call John and ask if it was all right to come over. No matter how close one was to John, one never showed up without calling first.
Seeing as how What’s Her Name waited patiently for me for two days, I figured I could give her at least the next three hours. You wouldn’t be interested in what transpired. So let’s move on to my meeting with John.
I called him at about 9:30 and asked if it was okay to come over, I had something I wanted to talk to him about. As usual he said, “Sure, but stop off at the Chinese joint and get me a bucket of Won Ton.” That’s how John fed himself. If you wanted to come over, you had to first stop off and get whatever held his fancy at the moment you were speaking to him. That night it was Won Ton soup. Before leaving the marina, I went over to Joanie’s and picked up one of the baggies of cocaine so John could test the product.
I got over to John’s about 10:30, and no one else was there except for these two girls. They’re sitting on the floor next to his bed and he’s reading to them from Homer’s The Odyssey. John was always trying to improve his girlfriends’ minds. That’s why he and I got along so well. We were both voracious readers of books. We would sit for hours discussing Mailer, Tolstoy, and—a favorite of ours—Steinbeck. I introduced him to an out-of-print book by Jack London entitled The Jacket (Star Rover). It is one the most mind-blowing books I have ever read. I gave him my original copy, and he told me that after reading it, he almost called me and said, Who do you want killed? I love this book. So you can see why John and I hit it off.
When I came in … oh, there was a third girl there, she’s the one who let me in, and took the soup from me. I guess John had her well trained because she went right to the kitchen and started preparing John’s repast for the evening.
So, as I was saying, I walked into the room, and John looked up and said, “Hey, Captain, let me eat, then we’ll talk. I want to finish the part about Ulysses being lashed to the mast so he won’t succumb to the Siren’s song.” I could tell the girls didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. One had a look on her face that said, Siren, you mean like on an ambulance?
John ate, got rid of the girls, and we got down to business. I gave him my sample baggie, and he did the usual … a taste, a snort, and then he got out the chemicals. Or more to the point, I got out the chemicals. John did not leave his bed unless he had to; and as long as I was there to root around his closet and get the damn shit, he was stayin’ in bed. The stuff did as it was supposed to; it turned a nice bright blue color when the proper chemical was applied.
When John was satisfied the shit was pure, we agreed on a price of $40,000.00 per. I liked John, so I gave him break. Fuck Joanie, if she didn’t like it. Let her go out and find her own buyer.
The upshot was John would take all I could deliver, but only six at a time. He said he didn’t like keeping a lot of product around the house. He had the locals in his pocket, but there was always the Feds to worry about.
Now that we had a supply and a buyer, the only other thing we had to do was get the shit over to Miami. No sweat, right? Shit, no sweat! Now it’s time to tell you why Henry was cooling his heels in Los Angeles.
At the beginning of this tale, I told you Joanie was either very understanding, long-suffering or both. She knew all about Henry’s screwin’ around. She even knew about his bus stop shenanigans and joked about it with me. But she was now in her mid-forties, and something came over her. She fell in love. The guy she picked to fall in love with was a cat my age. (Good for her!) And being the smart old broad that she was, she got Henry out of town by letting him think it was his idea to go and visit old friends in California. This is very important, so pay attention. It was the fact that Joanie was in love that got me arrested. It was because Joanie was in love that the ball of yarn that was our little venture started to unravel. Don’t get me wrong, Joanie was the smartest woman I’ve ever known, but you know the old saying about men who think with the wrong “head”? Well, Joanie started thinking with either her heart, or maybe with something a little lower, but whichever it was, it didn’t go well with drug smuggling. This was a new Joanie to me. Men were always coming on to her, but she’d laughed at them. Not to their faces, of course, but she would tell me of the inept, as well as the dexterous, passes made at her. Her thinking had always been that the energy expounded in getting laid would be put to better use making money.
Okay. We’ve got that out of the way; Joanie’s in love. Now on to the problem of getting the shit to Miami. Somehow the problem became mine, and mine alone. I sure as hell wasn’t going to fly it in and go through Customs again. So I prevailed upon Joanie to get her head out of the clouds for a few minutes, and get me a goddamn boat. Well, the easiest way to do that was to call Neely and have him supply us with one, which is what she did.
I grabbed my mate from the old pot smuggling days, called our pilot, and flew over to West End. Neely met us, and took us to his goddamn bar again. For some fuckin’ reason, he just couldn’t have the footballs there waiting for me. No, it had to be a big production. He wanted the money first, then he would return with the footballs. Every time I handed him $90,000.000 (for six footballs at $15,000.000 each), I expected never to see him again. But this was the first time, and Joanie said he could be trusted.
We got the footballs and Neely gave us the loan of a twenty-eight foot speedboat. My mate and I made the run, and pulled up right next to my houseboat. That was run number one. I brought the stuff to John, got my $240,000.00, and everyone was happy. The next time we don’t fly to West End, we take Neely’s boat. West End from Miami is about a two and a half hour run each way.
I do this shit three more times. Then I got arrested. I’ll get to that in a minute. But for those of you out there who might be saying, Why did you buy only six at a time? If you doubled your order, you could have made fewer runs. You know, that is a damn good question. The six limit was my idea. For some unknown reason, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, I didn’t trust Neely. It was obvious he didn’t have possession of the footballs; he was buying them from someone else using our money. And if at some point he decided not to come back with either the money or the footballs, what could I do? It was his turf.
I’m now going to talk about my fourth and final run. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this, but these runs were taking place every couple of days. By the end of run four, we had amassed $960,000.00. And that was in less than ten days. If you took out our original $90,000.00 investment, and the $40,000.00 we paid my mate for doing nothing more than keeping me company on the runs, that left a net profit of $830,000.00 divided two ways, meant $415,000.000 apiece. Big fuckin’ deal. I was beginning to hate money. I mean, it’s nothing more than paper with green ink on it. The adventure aspect of this enterprise was wearing thin. I had decided that run number four was going to be my last run, no matter how much Joanie screamed and hollered. And you want to know what? It was my last fuckin’ run. The Palm Beach Police Department made damn sure of that.
So my mate and I leave from my houseboat bright and early that fateful day. We get to West End in less than three hours. Of course we have to go through the Neely crap, and wait around for him to do his shit. But eventually things happen and we can get on our way. It’s about 1:00 p.m. and the sun is shining and the birds are singing as we get underway. We’re haulin’ ass across the Gulf Stream with six kilos of cocaine on board when who do we see bearing down on us but the fuckin’ US Coast Guard.
Well, it was easy to outrun them; they were too far away when I first saw them, so I altered my course and headed due east instead of the heading I should have been on, southeast. But because there is this thing called a radio, I thought it prudent to get the shit off the boat as soon as possible. Some fuckin’ copper was going to be waiting for us no matter what inlet we used to get to the Intercoastal Waterway.
The plan was to run onto Palm Beach, drop me off with the footballs and then the mate would continue on back to home base, clean and pristine as a newborn babe. Too bad it didn’t work out that way.
The first fuck up was we brought the boat in too close to shore. Ordinarily that would not have mattered. But that day, of all days, there was a swell, albeit a small one, but just big enough so the boat could not get back out and running. I tried for a moment to push her off, but holding six kilos of cocaine kind of impeded my pushing-off power. I told my mate I would find a phone (this was way before cell phones) and call Joanie, and as soon as she got up there and took the kilos off my hands, then I’d be back to help him get the boat moving again.
Now to the fun part. I’m going to make this as short and concise as I possibly can, which based on my performance so far, may not shorten the story very much at all. It’s painful to relive this portion of my tale, not because of what transpired, but because of my monumental stupidity.
I get to a phone, and get the bitch on the line. Some of you might ask, Why is he calling his partner and friend a bitch? Just hang on, pal, you’ll see. I tell her I need her to come up right away. I’ve got a situation, and I need her. I told her where I was, and she said she was on the way. Now Palm Beach is fifty miles from Miami, and there is an Interstate Highway between the two cities, so it should have taken her, at most, an hour to get there. After an hour and a half, I called her again. Please remember, I hold twenty years in the state pen in my hand as I await the dumb bitch. I get her again; she tells me this time “for real” she’s on her way. Guess what I’m doing another hour and a half later? Right. I’m standing there with my thumb up my ass. I call a third time … you know, the fuckin’ broad still hasn’t left.
I later learned she was having a tête ā tête with her new love. Jesus H. Christ! But she finally showed up four hours later. It took all the willpower in my Irish carcass not to strangle the dumb bitch right then and there. I think the only reason I didn’t was because I needed her to get the footballs out of Palm Beach. And, you know, she had the fuckin’ nerve to bring that fuckin’ asshole she was in love with. He stood there with a shit-eatin’ grin on his puss while I handed the footballs over to Joanie. I could just picture him on the witness stand at my trial.
Sir, will you please tell the court what you witnessed on the day in question?
Yes. I saw the defendant pass a million dollars’worth of cocaine to his co-defendant, that redhead sitting next to him.
Thank you, sir. No further questions.
Yeah, that’s exactly how it was going to go down.
Once I got rid of the footballs and the two assholes that were going to take them back to Miami for me, I turned my attention to helping my mate. This is where the monumental stupidity I spoke of earlier comes in. I go tearing down the beach road, back towards the spot where I left my mate and the boat. There are sand dunes about ten feet high that separate the road from the beach; you can’t see the beach from the road, but I knew right where the boat was. So I leave the road, and it’s up the sand dune, crest the top, and down the other side. As I’m descending the dune, I see the boat; there’s something different about it, but the difference doesn’t register in my brain. And I continue to run toward the boat. My only thought being, My mate needs me.
As I neared the boat, which now is beached, I see three men on it, and they are intent on what they are doing. They seem to be looking for something. The first thing I notice about them is that they all have guns strapped to their hips. So I know right away that they’re cops, even though they are in plain clothes.
Once I get a gander at the guns and know who the men are, I do a U-turn in the sand and start walking down the beach. I walk as if I’m out for an afternoon stroll, no hurry whatsoever. After I get about a hundred yards down the beach, I once again surmount the sand dunes, descend to the other side, and start walking along the road. I’m thinking how cool I am to have gotten away from the cops. I’ll just get a cab and go home. As these nice thoughts are going through my head, a police car pulls up next to me and the officer says, “Get in.” The cops weren’t as dumb as I thought. The guys on the boat must have seen me running toward the them, and then witnessed my abrupt U-turn. They knew the boat was mine and they radioed to their buddy to pick up the asshole walking down A-1-A, which is the name of the beach road.
I don’t ask why he wants me in his car, I don’t try to bluff my way out of anything, I just do as I’m told, and get in his car—back seat, of course. The only thing going through my mind is how fuckin’ lucky I am. Yeah, that’s right, I said lucky. It hadn’t been five minutes since I handed the footballs off to Joanie. Five fuckin’ minutes! If this cop had happened along just six minutes ago, I’d be going to prison for twenty fuckin’ years. Even though I was in the back of a police car and in store for a few hours of bullshit, I was one happy motherfucker.
Look, I knew there was nothing on the boat to cause me grief. My plan was to play innocent. I would tell them I was delivering a boat for a yacht broker, Miss Joan Ruggiero. I would simply tell them the engines conked out, and I had to beach her and go make a phone call. The only thing I was worried about was my mate. What happened to him? Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but he was the only one who showed any brains that day. When I didn’t come right back, he got his ass off the damn boat, got himself a cab, and went home. That’s what I meant about monumental stupidity. When I saw the boat was not going to get past the swells, I should have ordered that the boat be abandoned, and both of us get a cab. I would have been in Miami three hours ago, instead of in the back of a police car.
Now I’ve got to tell you a little bit about the interrogation at the police station. As far as I was concerned, they had me, and could do with me as they pleased. Book me on whatever charges they could dream up. My plan was, as I’ve said, to play dumb. But their game plan was different. They were going to “nice” a confession out of me. A confession to what, they didn’t know. But they were sure I had been up to something, probably smuggling.
So the back and forth began. “What were you doing with the boat?”
“I was delivering it from the Bahamas to Miami for a yacht broker.”
“Why did you beach it?”
“The engines died, I think it ran out of gas. I’m a sailor, I know nothing of engines.”
They thought they had me with this next question. “Well, if you’re so innocent, why did you run when you saw us on the boat?”
Great, I was waiting for this. “I saw your guns, and I didn’t know who you were. I was on my way to call the police when the officer picked me up.”
When they asked their question, they—and there were three of them—leaned forward, anticipating my shuddering non-response. When I gave out with a plausible reason for walking away when I saw them on the boat, you could see the wind being let out of their sails. They leaned back in their chairs in disappointment.
This crap went on for hours. Finally, I said, “Why don’t we call the yacht broker. She’ll confirm my story.” They thought that a capital idea. Now any real investigator would have done that hours ago. This is where things get a little funny. Oh, by the way, they tried to rattle me by telling me they found “traces” of marijuana on the boat, I thought, Wrong drug, boys, but nice try anyway.
Now, to the famous phone call: One of them said, “Sure that’s a great idea, call your yacht broker.” But when I picked up the phone, another one of the cops said, “Wait a minute,” and scrambled out of the room. Man, how obvious can you get? Of course, I had to wait while he got to another phone so he could listen in to my conversation. I even heard him pick up the receiver. You have to know, I wasn’t as cocky then as I may sound writing these words forty years later. I did have one big fear. That fear was that I wouldn’t be able to give Joanie a high sign or a signal of any sort that we had three cops listening in on both sides of our conversation. If she said something stupid, then the game the cops and I were playing would be all over. Cops: 1, Andrew: zip.
Joanie almost blew it. When I got her on the phone and told her I got picked up by the police, and was calling from the police station with two of the officers sitting there with me (hint, hint), she exclaimed, “What? Are you crazy?”
At least she didn’t say, “What, are you crazy, why call me?” Before she could say anything else even remotely stupid, I cut in with, “I was just telling the officers how I was delivering a boat for you.”
I was trying to convey the story line to her, so she could jump in with her own dialogue. Well, to the old broad’s credit, she started to catch my drift and we talked like legit business people, sort of … Joanie was still in shock. Not because I’d been arrested, no. Fuck me! It was because I had brought her into it. Brought her into it! Shit, the only reason I was sitting in the damn police station in the first place was because she thought an afternoon fuck was more important than taking care of business, not to mention taking care of a so-called friend.
I wanted off the phone as fast as possible because I didn’t know what Joanie might say. I’d made my point to the cops, there was a yacht broker, and because it was a woman (this was 1979 after all), there could be nothing nefarious about me. The cops didn’t buy the act completely, so we went around in circles for another hour or so. Finally, one of them said, and I quote, “You’re either the most innocent person we’ve ever had in here, or the smartest, I don’t know which.” I knew I wasn’t innocent, and I surely was not the smartest—perhaps I was just the luckiest.
So they decide to let me go. At least that’s what it looked like, but that wasn’t the case at all. They had a little surprise in store for me, just down the road a bit.
By now, it had gotten dark and it was pouring rain. They told me I was free to go; hell, they even called a cab for me. That should have made me suspicious, but it had been a very long day, and at that point all I wanted was a drink.
They told me I could wait for the cab on the front steps of the station. I had to. It was pouring down rain and the little overhang was the only protection from the wet. As I stood outside their building, oblivious to what was really happening, the cops kept peeking out the window at me, and when I saw them, they would duck back for cover, as if I had caught them doing something wrong.
The cab comes, I get in, and for the first time that day, I can relax. I’m feelin’ pretty good, but I still want that drink, so I say to the driver, “I need a drink. How about pulling in somewhere and I buy you one too?” He declines my kind offer, and for some reason, he seems nervous. Another thing that should have gotten my attention is the fact that I’ve never known a cab driver not to want to stop when asked by a fare. The meter’s running. No cab driver is that well off that they can pass up easy money. But as I’ve said, it had been a very long day, and my mind was mush.
About five minutes later, the driver gets a call over his radio. He mumbles something into the mike and says to me, “I’ll take you up on that drink now.”
My thought was, Good.
So he pulls into the first bar we see, we both get out of the car, and he comes into the bar with me. Another missed sign—he could lose his hack license by being seen in a bar while on duty. But my only thought is of a vodka and cranberry juice, with a lot of lime in it.
I order my drink, and before it’s even made, the fuckin’ cops come storming through the door, guns drawn, and make a beeline right for Yours Truly. Fuck! The cuffs go on and this time there’s no doubt about it. I am arrested and only God and the cops know for what.
Here’s what went down. It seems the cops were dead set on getting me for something. They had nothing, so they thought they’d have to let me go, but as a last ditch effort, they ran the numbers of the engines to see if they might have been stolen. This was before computers, so it was taking a while for the info to get back to them. So they came up with this brilliant plan of sending me on my way, but they would make sure they would be able to grab me with no trouble if the numbers came back as stolen; hence, the offer to call a cab for me. It was all a setup. They had a prearranged code if they wanted the driver to stop, and that’s why the driver was so nervous. For all he knew, he had Jack the Ripper in his back seat. But the crazy thing is, I was in no rush to quit the cops until I had their unqualified blessing. If they had told me they were running the numbers, and would I mind sticking around until they came back, I would have been delighted to wait. But no, these clowns had to stage the “Great Raid.”
The upshot was that one of the engines had been stolen from Jacksonville a year earlier. I was charged with possession of stolen property. Only a fuckin’ misdemeanor! All in all, it had been a good day, except for the fact I didn’t get my vodka and cranberry juice with extra lime. I didn’t get picked up with the footballs, and I was saved from a murder rap because being in jail overnight allowed me to cool down enough so that I wouldn’t kill Joanie on first sight. I bonded out the next morning, and unbeknownst to me, the charge was taken care of by a friend. More on that later.
Well, folks, it looks like it’s getting close to closing time. There’s just a few items remaining on the table that is known as Joanie’s Adventure. Just a few small items, like betrayal, death, murder, a “contract” for murder, and murder once again. I know this story has gone on far too long, longer than I envisioned when I started it, so anyone wanting to leave now, I’ll understand. For the rest of you, this is what happened next:
I got back to my boat the next day about noon, and seeing as how I hadn’t slept in nearly forty-eight hours, I was looking forward to a little sack time—by myself for a change. But it was not to be. Just as I laid my head on that soft, inviting pillow, there was a knock upon my door. For once, I had had the forethought to lock it, so I thought I was safe. Whoever it was would go away eventually, and she, (I had no doubt it was a she) couldn’t get to me because of the locked door. But the fuckin’ knocking continued until I heard the voice of doom, loud and clear, “Andrew Joyce, I know you’re in there, open up. We’ve gotta talk.” Yep, you guessed it. It was fuckin’ Joanie. She was lucky to be alive at this point; man, was she pressing her luck.
Knowing I couldn’t win with this fuckin’ broad, I got out of bed, went downstairs, and yelled through the door, “I’ve got a gun pointed right at the door, heart level … if you don’t get the fuck off my boat in five seconds, I’m gonna open fire.”
My bluff didn’t work. “Fuck you, Mr. Big Fuckin’ Shot. What? Has one lousy night in jail turned you into a fuckin’ gangster?”
“No, but you sure as hell have,” was my reasoned retort.
I knew the dumb bitch would never give me any peace until I heard what inane plan she had cooked up for me this time. “What the hell is it now? You want me help you rob Fort Fuckin’ Knox? No, don’t tell me. It’s gonna be a bank job this time. Or maybe …”
It was there that she said, “Andrew, you’re such a card. You should go on television, you’d be a scream.”
What the hell ya gonna do with a woman like that? You either have to have her killed or you have to shut up and listen to her crazy plan of the week. I chose the latter of the two options—big mistake!
“Okay, you crazy broad, what do you want? And don’t think for one fuckin’ minute I’ve forgotten about yesterday. You owe me, and you owe me big time.”
“Sure, honey. That’s why I’m here, to make it up to you.”
Right then and there, I knew I was in trouble. Anytime Joanie wanted to do you a favor, you could make book you’d somehow come out the loser. I figured the most painless way to hear what she had to say was to let her in, and tell her to make us a couple of drinks. I didn’t know if the sun was over the yardarm yet, but dealing with Joanie sure made it seem that way.
I reluctantly opened the door and admitted my nemesis. After she had made the cocktails and we got comfortable in my living room, she told me of her grand vision.
“You’ve got to get over to John’s right away and give him the six you brought in yesterday. We need the money. Neely just called and said the supply might be drying up, and that we’ve gotta move fast.”
So that’s all it was. Shit, I should have left her outside.
It took a moment for my anger to subside. I had just about had it with Joanie, Neely—especially Neely—and the whole damn shebang. I told Joanie, “Number one, nobody, but nobody calls John before 6:00 p.m. And then it had better be a matter of life and death. Number two, I’ve had it. You can have my cut from this run if you’ll just leave me the fuck alone.”
She only smiled at me, sipped her drink, and said, “How you do go on.”
I should have known better. Nothing was going to dissuade Joanie when there was money to be made. So I said, “Look, let’s make a deal. You tell me what’s it gonna take to get some peace around here. Just tell me the bottom fuckin’ line and I’ll do it, short of making another run. You give me your word you’ll get the fuck out my life, at least business-wise, and I’ll do whatever you say. I’ve never known you to break your word, at least not to me. So, what’s it gonna take, you fuckin’ crazy broad?”
“Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. You don’t want to make another run, that’s fine. I can get Aldo to do it.” (Aldo was my mate’s name. I haven’t used it before because I couldn’t remember it until just now. It came to me as I was remembering this conversation with Joanie.) She continued, “All I need you to do is see John and get the money. Then I need you to fly over to Freeport, give the money to Neely, take the footballs from him, and hold them until Aldo gets there. One night, that’s all. I’ll pay for the best fuckin’ room they got. Then you can retire with my blessing. Is it a deal?”
“Have I got a choice?”
“I’d kiss you if I didn’t think you’d try to fuck me. You’re a sweetheart.”
I asked, “Is that another word for sucker?”
I waited until 9:00 p.m. and then called John. All I said was, “Are you ready for me?”
He knew what I meant, and he responded, “Hey, Captain, where you been? I want to talk to you about this new fuckin’ book I’ve got. Yeah, get your ass over here, but first stop off at Tony Roma’s and get me an order … no, make that two orders of baby back ribs. And two orders of onion rings. Now get moving. I’m hungry and I haven’t had an intelligent conversation in days.”
You want to hear about me getting the ribs? Or should I just get to the part where John has just finished eating, and I, like a good little domestic worker, am clearing up the mess to take it to the kitchen? None of the usual girls were in attendance that evening. In fact, I thought it so strange that he didn’t have his staff on call, I asked him, “Where are the girls?”
“I told them to skedaddle when you called. I want to talk to you. Wait a minute, let me disconnect the phone.”
I’m thinking, Oh shit, I’m in a heap of trouble. That “new book” shit was just to put me off my guard. Some of those footballs must have been bogus.
After he finished messing with the phone, John turned to me and said, “So tell me, Andrew, what are you planning for your life?”
That threw me on many levels. First of all, the entire time I had known John, he had not referred to me by any name other than Captain, and where he got that was a mystery to me. Then for this gangster of gangsters to be asking me a question that bordered on the metaphysical, well, it was a bit much. I could only tell him the truth, “You know, John, I’ve never looked past the next moment, let alone the next forty years. I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow, and as far as the rest of my life is concerned, I’ll worry about that when it gets here.”
He looked kind of sad, shook his head, and said, “All you young guys got the same rap. I don’t suppose it would do any good to tell you that the ride you’re on is not going to last forever. No, I can see it in your face. You, like I was at your age, are immortal.”
This was, to say the least, not our typical subject of discussion, and I felt uncomfortable. In an effort to change the subject, I asked him if he was still in the market for footballs.
“Why do you ask? You said you could get your hands on a hundred and fifty, and I’ve only taken twenty-four. What’s up?”
“Well, John, I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this whole venture. For one thing, I don’t trust the guy we’re buying from; and I’m backing out. My partner is going ahead, and I just thought if you are making good money, I’ll make sure I get all she has and bring them over here.” With that last statement, John threw back his head and laughed so hard I thought he had gone crazy.
“Captain Andy, my dear friend, don’t you know I only agreed to take your product as a way to help you. I’ve got an unlimited supply straight from Colombia. And at a less expensive price, my friend.”
This I did not expect. I thought I was being stand-up, and here it turns out I’ve been the recipient of John’s largess. I didn’t want to, but I had to ask, “You mean you had all the coke you needed and you only took mine as a favor?”
“No, Captain. I took your product as a way of keeping you close. I was afraid you’d go out and try to sell it to someone you didn’t know. And the percentages in that are not good. They would have either been cops or guys out to rip you off, maybe even kill you for it. And if that happened, who the hell would I discuss Dostoevsky with? I would miss you, and so would Fyodor.” He meant, of course, Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist.
I gave up; John was light years ahead of me. But there was something I did want to know, so I asked a question I’ve wanted to ask forever, “John, why do you call me Captain?”
He smiled and put his finger to his lips, you know, like, quiet, don’t tell anyone. Then he said, “Do you remember how you got up here in the first place?”
“Yeah, sure. Terry asked you if it was all right if I came up, and you said okay.”
“No, Captain Andy, that is not how it was at all. You were running with someone I had great respect for, and word got back to me long before Terry asked to bring you up here.”
I looked at him and said, “What the hell are you talkin’ about, Johnnie boy?”
“I’m talking about checking out anyone who walks through that front door. About a month before Terry asked if she could bring you up, word got back to me that she was running around with some young asshole. Because of my love for her, I made it my business to find out as much as I could about that young asshole. No offense.”
“It’s cool, John.”
“So I made a few phone calls, and lo and behold, what do you think? I find out that Sonny G. (no last names please) knew you. Well, I called him and asked him to fill me in on Terry’s young asshole. He told me how you, a legit citizen, stepped up when he was having trouble getting his loads in. How, when he asked you to make a run for him, you did not hesitate. In short, he said you were stand-up. I was going to ask Terry to bring you up here anyway, but she asked before I had the chance.”
“Okay, Big John, but why Captain?”
“Oh that. Sonny told me about the sailboats you captained for him. So I always pictured you at the helm of a sailboat. You understand now?”
“Yeah, but why all the Andrew and Andy shit now. I’ve known you for a few years, what’s up?”
He just looked at me and said, “Maybe I’m feeling a little sentimental, who the fuck knows. Let’s talk about this book I’ve just read.”
If I had known that night what I was to learn a few days later, I would not have let him change the subject so adroitly. However, John was a force to be reckoned with. One either went with the flow or one was swept under by the current that was John Anderson.
“Okay, John. I can see you’re dying to tell me about your new find. Let’s have it already.”
“No, Captain, no preamble. I just want your promise—no, your word of honor—that you’ll read it.”
“John, if I tell you I’ll do something, I’ll do it. You don’t need my word of honor … others maybe, but not you.”
“Okay, Andrew, this book is entitled There Is a River. It’s a biography about Edgar Cayce, and before you ask me who the fuck Edgar Cayce is, just read the damn book. Okay?”
Just then the intercom from downstairs buzzed. John reached over, pushed the button, and said, “Yes. The phone’s disconnected. That’s okay, come on up.” He turned to me and said it was time to go; he had a meeting. John was always having “meetings,” you know … business. As I turned to go, he asked me to come over to the bed. When I got there, he stuck out his hand. He wanted to shake my hand. Now that was really strange. I’ve known the man almost three years and have never seen him shake anybody’s hand, much less mine. After an initial hesitation, I grabbed his mitt and shook it. I then said good-bye and left.
Two days later, John was murdered in his bed. Shot six times, twice in the head. There had been a “contract” out on him, put there by some New York wise guys. I found out later that he had known about it and decided to do nothing more than sleep with a gun under his pillow. No bodyguards, no extra locks on the doors, nothing. But it explained two things: Him suddenly calling me Andrew instead of Captain, and the hand shake.
One last thing about John Anderson: The day before he died, he pulled some strings and got my possession charge dropped. How the fuck he even knew about it is beyond me. I sure as hell didn’t tell him. I didn’t know about it until a month later when the bail bondsman that sprung me called and told me everything was kosher, thanks to John. You wonder why I loved the man.
Now back to Joanie.
When I got back from John’s that night, it was past midnight. I finally had gotten some sleep after pacifying Joanie by agreeing to fly over and meet with Neely, but I was still worn out from the events of the day before. Hell, I started the day in jail. Midnight was early for me, but I decided to call it a day.
The next morning, I awoke to Joanie standing over my bed, looking down at me. Fuck! I had forgotten to lock the door.
“Rise and shine, sleepy head, it’s a new day.”
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself!”
“If you’ll get your ass up, I’ll think about it.”
“Shit, Joanie, what the fuck do you want, and what time is it?”
“It’s time to get up. Frank is at the airport waiting for you.”
She started right in on me. “You get the money from John? Where is it? Did you count it?” Blah, blah, blah. What a fuckin’ way to wake up! Well, a deal’s a deal. And anyway, this was going to be my last mission for the crazy bitch.
In those days I slept in the nude. And it’s none of your goddamn business how I sleep nowadays. So I’m still in bed with the covers over me, and when Joanie started with her litany of questions, I pulled the sheet up over my head. When she finished her recitation, she reached down and pulled the sheet completely off me. She stood there staring down at Yours Truly in all my glory. She finally said, “I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” before turning, and leaving me with, “Get dressed, I’m driving you to the airport. You got fifteen minutes.”
On the way to the airport, I suddenly remembered my conversation with John of the previous night. The part about him having his own supply. I thought, Great, maybe I can get out of this trip. So I told Joanie that we no longer had John for a customer. And of course, I had to explain the whys and the wherefores—the whole fuckin’ thing, even though it was none of her business.
But it did not deter her, no, not Joanie. If there was money to be made, she just had tunnel vision. I tried to explain to her that she didn’t have a ghost of a chance of moving six kilos. That’s when she said, “I don’t plan on moving six kilos. I plan on moving eighteen. I’m giving you $270,000.00; you tell Neely you want eighteen.”
I thought her desire to give more than a quarter of a million dollars to a man I did not trust was the second case of monumental stupidity I’d encountered in the last forty-eight hours, my own case of monumental stupidity being the first.
I explained to her, “Neely’s buying the footballs with our money. It’s obvious that his supplier does not trust him for even an hour with six footballs, and you want me to turn over $270,000.000 of your not-so-hard-earned money to the man?” Nothing. I could have gotten more conversation from the Sphinx.
The “I don’t trust Neely” thing didn’t work, so I played my last gambit. “You know, Joanie, I was talking to John a couple of weeks ago, and he said his people in Colombia tell him that, because of Reagan’s stepped-up drug war, no one is bringing up pot anymore. He said the thinking is why take a chance with fifteen boats to run it in, when you can make the same money, or more, with a small package and just one boat. And you know what that means?” I didn’t wait for an answer before continuing, “It means the market is going to be flooded and the prices are going to drop.”
I might as well have saved my breath; she was oblivious to anything I said that involved her buying less then eighteen kilos. By the way, just for the record, John was right on. Within a month, the price of a kilo of cocaine dropped from $45,000.00 to $18,000.00, thanks to Ronald Reagan.
I get to Freeport, check in at the hotel, and meet Neely at about 6:00 p.m. He takes the money and tells me he’ll see me in the morning. “In the fuckin’ morning? Are you shittin’ me, Neely? What the fuck are you talkin’ about?”
“This time I’ve got to go a long way, and I won’t be back until morning.”
Then I did the first smart thing I’d done in days. I thought, Fuck it. It’s Joanie’s money, I tried to warn her. So I said to Neely, “See ya in the morning, now get the fuck out of here. I’ve got to get ready for a night on the town.”
Because of Neely’s bullshit, I found myself stuck in goddamn Freeport for the night. A tourist trap if I’ve ever seen a tourist trap. The only thing to do is go downstairs and either get drunk or go into the casino. Then I remembered I could do both.
I get to the casino, and as I’m walking by the bar, I notice this stunning redhead. She’s by herself, and dressed in black, in what they used to call a mini-skirt. You know, the hem came to about mid-thigh. Well, as I approached her, I can’t help but notice she’s checking me out. That made us even, because I was checking her out. But I wasn’t in town to play around. I wanted to play blackjack. My mother taught the game to me when I was five years old, and played it with my brothers and me until we became wise-ass teenagers. The point being, that having learned the game from such a tender age, I was able to keep track of most of the cards that had been played. I wasn’t a “card counter,” but pretty close to it.
As I got even with the redhead, she stood and blocked my progress. She made it look accidental, but I was flattered and decided to alter my plans. With my best gentlemanly manner, I said, “Excuse me.”
She in turn said, “No.”
That was different. So I threw caution to the wind and said, “I’m going in to play some blackjack. You wanna accompany me and be my good luck piece?”
“I’d love to, but I’m waiting for my girlfriend.”
“Where is she?”
“Upstairs, she got lucky, she met this guy.”
“Well, you just met this guy. You comin’ or not?”
“Sure, why not.”
I could not lose that night. I told the girl it was because of her beauty (how’s that for Irish blarney?). What happened after that is, I’m sure, of no interest to you folks.
The next day, Neely showed up sans footballs. He said he could not lay his hands on them at the moment and that he would call Joanie when he could. He did bring the money back, most of it. There was $18,000.00 missing. He said it was for the boat we lost at Palm Beach. Nice profit; that piece of shit wasn’t worth more than $7,000.00.
But here’s the thing. As Neely handed me the brown paper bag containing $252,000.000, I saw in his eyes that at that very moment, at that very instant, he regretted coming back at all. It was palpable, it radiated out of him like a beacon.
As soon as Neely left, I called Joanie and told her what Neely had said, and asked her if she could cancel Aldo. She told me it was too late, that he should be there any minute. “Aldo’s a bright boy; he’ll call for instructions when he can’t find you.”
I called Frank, checked out, and flew back to Fort Lauderdale. Once back on my boat, I called Joanie and told her to come over and get her money—what was left of it.
Of course, being Joanie, she had a million questions, none of which I could answer. But I did have one piece of advice for her. I told her, “If Neely calls you and tells you he’s now back on track and can supply you again, don’t believe him. He’s going to rip you off.” She told me I was talking nonsense, and that Neely could be trusted. After that I didn’t try; she was a big girl and she could afford to lose the money.
Two days later, she told me Neely had called, and she was going over there and take care of business herself. I told her I hoped I was wrong and wished her luck. It was the last time I ever saw Joanie, though not the last time I spoke with her.
A day later, she called me and said I had been right about Neely. He had disappeared with her money. She said she was calling from Neely’s bar at West End. She was trying to track him down, but no one, including the employees of his bar, had ever heard of someone by the name of Arimus Neely. I asked her what she was going to do, and she said, “Frank’s on his way over. I think for right now I’ll go home and think this through. Then I’ll send someone over here to kill him.” She was kidding about the kill part. Joanie did not roll that way.
I told her it sounded like a plan and to have a nice flight and call me when she got back. She never did make it back. The plane was never found, much less the bodies of Frank and Joanie. Officially, the plane is listed as missing, presumed down, and those on board presumed dead.
You heard me call Joanie many names throughout this tale, but I only tell those I love to go fuck themselves. I had great affection for her or I would not have gone along on so many of her crazy schemes. The one I’m relating here was only one of many of the adventures Joanie dragged me on; and it was to be the last adventure for both of us.
It’s time to wrap this funfest up. I am now going to tell you what Joanie’s adventure cost me. And don’t worry about Neely, I haven’t forgotten him. We’ll get back to him shortly.
About a week after Joanie and Frank’s plane went down, I’m sitting on my boat at about 9:00 p.m., just having a quiet drink by myself. I was still in mourning for Joanie. Henry had flown in a few days earlier … and was on his boat—doing what, I don’t know. He took it pretty hard. He wasn’t talking to anyone, especially me. He blamed me for everything. I didn’t try to tell him what the score was or defend myself. I just listened to what he had to say, and when he finished I simply said, “I’m sorry.”
So I’m sitting there when I hear a knock on the door. Thinking it was one of my girlfriends, I ignored it. The knock became a loud pounding, which I couldn’t ignore because accompanying the pounding was a male voice saying, “Open up, we know you’re in there.” So what do you think, cops, right? That was my first thought. I only wish it had been the cops.
I went to the door and opened it, and standing there was Sonny, some guy named Dave that I’ve seen around a couple of times, and a bald-headed man whom I had never seen before. Seeing that it was Sonny, I invited them in, and offered them a drink. Sonny turned to me and said “This is business, let’s sit down.” The bald-headed man and Sonny took a seat on the couch, I sat in a chair; Dave remained standing by the door.
Allow me to digress for a moment, and tell you about Dave. He figures quite prominently in some of the upcoming scenes. Dave was the only wise guy that wore a beard. He was a borderline nut job; no humor at all, and there wasn’t an ounce of spontaneity in his whole body. He was, in a word, factitious. He was also fastidious about his appearance and grooming habits. He wasn’t tall, about 5’ 11”, but he was well built. It must have been all those years lifting weights in prison. When I would see him around, he was always hangin’ at my bail bondsman’s office. I’d say hello to him, and never, not once, did I get more than a grunt out of him. He wasn’t from Miami; in fact, he was new to the wise guy scene there—as new as I was. He and Sonny had hooked up in prison, but Dave did twenty-two years; he was fried. Prison does that to a man. I didn’t know how Dave made his money, but I was to find out shortly.
As we seated ourselves, Sonny introduced the bald man, “Andrew, this is Tony S_____. It was his plane that went down on Grand Bahama. He would like to speak to you for a moment.”
“Sure, Mr. S_____ (sorry, I’m still afraid to use his last name). What can I do for you?”
For the first time since I’ve seen Mr. S_____, he spoke, “You can give me the two and a half mil you owe me.”
With that pronouncement I thought, WHAT!
Yes, that was my first thought, What! And my second thought was, Oh shit! I looked over to Sonny for some kind of explanation, but he just shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his hands. He was plainly embarrassed. I looked back to Mr. S______ (who henceforth will be referred to as “Mr. Big”), hoping that he might elucidate his statement. He only stared into my eyes, and I could almost feel the hatred. Without taking his eyes from me, Mr. Big says to Sonny, “You tell him.”
Please, somebody tell me.
Sonny stops looking at his hands and says, “As I’ve said, the plane and the product that went down over there belonged to Tony and he feels that you owe him for the product you bought. He feels it’s like buying stolen goods.”
My brain couldn’t work that fast. But I did say, looking at Sonny because looking at Mr. Big was too scary, “We only bought twenty four … where does the two-point five come in?”
Mr. Big cut in and said, “That is what I would have realized if you hadn’t stolen my product, $100,000.00 per kilo, and ten grand for vig (interest). That’s ten grand per day, but you’ve only got one day.”
My fuckin’ head was spinning. I was so confused I even looked over to Dave for help. Nothing. I didn’t say it out loud because I was too scared, but I thought, You mean I’m being charged retail, like I’m buyin’ it off the street? What the fuck is that all about?
Then Mr. Big continued, he was getting really wound up, “My brother was flying that plane, you asshole. Dave just come back from West End and he had a nice little talk with another asshole by the name of Neely. You’ll be pleased to know the son-of-a-bitch gave you up in the first five seconds.”
First five seconds of what? I thought.
It had not occurred to me how they knew I even bought the shit, much less how much. And because he was having such a good time, Mr. Big continued on, “Neely is dead, the broad (Joanie) is dead and that just leaves you, asshole. I really don’t want the money; in fact, you’d be dead now if it wasn’t for Sonny. He called in a favor to give you twenty-four hours to make things right.” I looked at Sonny and his expression didn’t change; he was still embarrassed.
Mr. Big was on a roll. “This is the way it’s gonna be, asshole. I’m takin’ all the cash you got, and if it’s less than half a mil, you’re dead. Then Dave will stay around to make sure you don’t bolt. Because let me tell you, asshole, if you do a fade, I’ll do whatever it takes to run you down, and even if it takes a year, or even two, I’ll have your ass back here. And then it won’t be one of Dave’s bullets for ya. It’ll be the meat hook. Now go get my money.”
Wow, what a perfect end to a not-so-perfect day! By now I was beginning to come out of my stupor and I could at least remember my name, which was a start. There was no fuckin’ way I was going to come up with two million dollars in twenty-four hours, not even in twenty-four days. Hell, let’s be honest here, my big-money-making days were behind me, there was no fuckin’ way I could ever come up with that kind of dough.
But first things first, I had to get these guys off my boat so I could think. So I did what I have done so well in the past. I went into my obsequious act.
“Yes sir, I got a stash in a safety deposit box. I’ll get it first thing in the morning, and thank you for the chance to make things right. I’ve got over $600,000.00 upstairs; I’ll go get it for you now.”
“Dave, go with him.” Of course, that came from Mr. Big.
I headed for the stairs and ascended. I didn’t wait for Dave, let the son-of-a-bitch catch up. Once in the bedroom, I started rooting around in the closet, pulling out brown paper bags containing cash. All but one was semi-hidden. The one that was visible was the one I received for my first run for Sonny, the one with $75,000.00 in it. I dumped the contents of that bag onto the floor and started counting. When I had finished, I had counted only $55,000.00. There was $20,000.00 missing. Not that I gave a fuck, it wasn’t my money anymore. But still, who would take only a portion of a bag of money? Then it dawn on me. Remember my telling you that whenever Terry and I would meet, we would fuck like rabbits? Well, I didn’t tell you she had gotten married by then, so we always came to my place. Yeah, that was definitely a Terry move all right. She was always going through my stuff. I just wished she had taken more. I’d rather she have it than that psycho downstairs.
I also wish Dave wasn’t there. I wanted to keep a little cash for whatever plan I came up with, but old eagle eyes just stood there with his arms folded and his usual non-expression on his face. Anyway, there should have been, from the tally I kept in my head every time I put another bag in the closet, $650,000.00,.But there was only the $630.000.00 I held in my hands, thanks to Terry. And as I’ve said, that was cool with me. I put it all into two of the bags, and just to needle Dave, I told him I needed help carrying the shit downstairs. The fuck just looked at me, and said, “Go.” Meaning, of course, get my ass downstairs.
We went downstairs with the money, and I held the two bags out to Mr. Big. He made no move to accept them; he just said, “Dave, take my money from the asshole.” Then he added, “Okay, asshole, how much did you come up with?” I told him, and he looked down at his gold Rolex before saying, “You’ve got until 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night to come up with the rest.” Then Mr. Big went to the door and waited for Dave to open it. I was damn glad Sonny didn’t open it; I would have been disappointed in him if he had.
Mr. Big walked out first, followed by Dave and my ex-money. Sonny held back and waited for them to get down the dock a piece before saying, “Sorry, Andrew. I did the best I could. I’d give you the money, but Tony said that if I did, he’d kill me and my family. The son-of-a-bitch is really pissed off.”
“Thanks for buyin’ me the time. And thanks for the offer of the money, even if you can’t do anything about it.” We shook hands and that was the last time I saw or spoke to my friend Sonny.
After Sonny walked out, I left the front door open because I expected happy-boy Dave to return to take up his guard-dog duties. I went over to the drink I was drinking when they arrived. It was diluted with melted ice.
I needed a drink or two to stop my hands from shaking. I know I sound flippant relating some of my thoughts at the time. But I assure you, I was very, very scared.
I made myself a strong drink, and while at it thought that if maybe I could get Dave drunk and then … Fuck! … I forgot the bastard didn’t drink. And speaking of bastards, where the hell was Dave? I went to the door, no Dave, so I went up onto the dock and saw him standing at the entrance to the marina.
One more digression, if you please. This is very important to the story. The marina was situated behind a seafood restaurant. The building was in the middle, and on either side were parking lots for the cars of the people who lived in the marina. One dock was on the north side of the building, one on the south side, with one in the middle for good measure. The people who lived on the north dock parked in the north parking lot, and the people who lived on the south dock, of course, parked in the south parking lot. The poor bastards that lived on the middle dock parked wherever the hell they pleased. One could get into, or out of, the marina only through one of the walkways at each parking lot. Though one could traverse from dock to dock, and parking lot to parking lot via a walkway that ran along the head, or beginning of, each dock. In short, what I’ve taken the long way around to say is that, if one was so inclined, one could park in either lot and still get to one’s boat. And as it happened, I was so inclined. More on that in a minute, but right now dear Dave is waiting for us.
I walked up to him, and knowing there wasn’t much he could do until the time limit was up, I decided to test his resolve. “Hey, Dave, whatcha doin’ out here? You’re housebroken aren’t you? If so, why not come in? I’ll fix ya a drink.”
“You think,” said Dave, “you’re so fuckin’ funny, don’t ya? Well, get this straight, I’m standin’ here all night. You want to get to your car ya gonna have to go through me. Now why not get your sorry ass back on the fuckin’ boat.”
“Hey, Dave, I’ve known you for two years, and that’s the most words I’ve ever heard you speak. Don’t fall asleep on the job.” I was one happy motherfucker. Dave had just told me how I was going to give him the slip.
Man, these digressions are getting ponderous, but at times they just gotta be. May this be the last of them. Girlfriends, a strange breed indeed, but one worthy of study, at least in my humble opinion. I’ve had girlfriends where I had to hide every goddamn knife in the house before they came over. I’ve had them fly through my windows because I wouldn’t let them in, and of course, I’ve had them slash the tires on my car. Par for the course, I always thought. Well, I had just stopped seeing this one girl who was the Tiger Woods of slashing car tires. In the past when a girl got angry with me, one tire was enough to express her dissatisfaction, although some would break my windshield. But this one girl was a four-tire girl. Not once, but twice. I have very fond memories of her, even though I have no idea who the hell she was. I mean I knew at the time, but in my dotage I’ve completely forgotten her name. But that crazy woman saved my life.
Let me explain. After the second go-round of her slashing my tires, I started parking in the south lot—I lived on the north dock—in an effort to keep from having to buy a set of tires every other day. So on the night in question, my car was parked in the south lot, and our friend Dead Eye Dave was watching the north lot. All I had to do was get to my car, and as they say nowadays, I was gonna be outta there.
But how to effect my leaving without ol’ Dead Eye seein’ me? Then it came to me … Jay, my gay friend whose boat was on the south dock. I know I told you kind folks that digressing should be avoided at all cost, but we cannot give short shift to Jay. After all, the man helped me in my greatest moment of need.
I had known Jay for a couple of years. We, for some reason, became good friends soon after he moved into the marina. Our lifestyles could not have been more different. He, enmeshed in the gay lifestyle, and believe me, gentle reader, gayness was not as tolerated in 1980 as it is today, the culture was just emerging from the shadows of Stonewall (look it up). Jay and me, Mr. Get-Laid-Every-Five-Minutes, became, if I dare say it, mental lovers. We understood one another from the soul outwards. He would take me to the bathhouses of Key West, and I in turn would take him to my gettin’ laid haunts. We both smiled and appreciated each other’s lives, but put a gun to either of our heads and neither one of us would have partaken of the other’s lifestyle.
Sorry for the interruption. Now back to our story already in progress.
As I’ve said, because of the tire-slasher I started parking in the south lot. My car was there that night. Ol’ Dead Eye was guarding the wrong lot. Or more to the point, he thought my car was in the north lot. So all I had to do was get to my car in the south lot and I was outta there. However, there was a problem. I couldn’t walk there; I’d have to pass Dead Eye to get to my car, and we all know that wasn’t gonna work. So how’s a hounded man to make his escape? By water, of course, and a little help from a friend.
I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the seawall system they have in South Florida, but one cannot get out of the water once in, if there is not a ladder present. And there was no such ladder at our marina.
Here’s the plan I came up with. I would strip down, put my clothes into a plastic bag, and swim over to Jay’s place. He had a small speedboat tied up behind his houseboat, and if he lowered the ladder that was attached to the dive platform, I could get out of the water, no sweat. Then I’d be on the south dock and have easy access to my car, yes? No. Because the two entrances were not that far apart, Dead Eye might see me as I passed into the south parking lot, but one thing at a time. First to see if Jay was home.
I called and he was there. I told him, “Don’t ask any questions. Just do me a favor, get on your boat and put the ladder down. I’m swimming over and I’ll explain when I get there. This is no joke; I’ll see you in about five or ten minutes. Thanks.”
After hanging up the phone, I went upstairs to see what, if anything, was important enough to bring with me. There wasn’t really anything. Some cash would be nice. That’s when I remembered my emergency stash. It was only five thousand dollars. I had put it under the carpet years ago when $5,000.00 was a lot of money to me. Well, it looked like it was back to being big money again.
I went to the corner of the room, pulled up the carpet, got the money and went downstairs to the kitchen. I then got a plastic garbage bag and walked into the living room where I stripped down, putting my clothes in the bag as I took them off.
Outside of the living room was a small porch that was accessed by sliding open a glass door. I went out onto the porch and looked over the railing and into the dark water. Even though it was nearly midnight, I feared one of my neighbors would see me standing there nude and call out to me. You know … make a joke or something. We were a hip little community; the nudity wouldn’t have bothered anyone. The commotion might attract Dave’s attention, though. So without further ado, I stepped over the railing and gingerly lowered myself into the water.
Once in the water, I reached up to the deck of the boat and retrieved the bag of clothes. Then it was simply a matter of doing the sidestroke with one arm, and keeping the bag out of the water with the other. I was at Jay’s in less than a minute, and he was there waiting for me with a towel in his hand. I tossed him the bag and climbed up the ladder. Jay handed me the towel saying, “I’ve waited a long time to see you in the nude.”
“Take a good long look because, first of all I owe you, and secondly, it’s the last time you’re going to see me in the nude or any other way.”
After getting dried off and dressed, Jay and I climbed out of the speedboat and into his living room. We had to climb through a window because his little boat was tied up behind his houseboat and that was the only way on or off it.
When we were inside, Jay said, “Okay, what’s happening?”
“Listen, there a gorilla standing guard at the head of my dock, and he’s waiting for me, and I’ve got to get out of here without him seeing me. And I’m going to need your help to do it.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just walk over to him and try to engage him in conversation. I say try because the son-of-a-bitch will probably just grunt, if he doesn’t take a swing at you.”
“Sounds like a pleasant fellow.”
“Yeah, a real sweetheart. But here’s the thing, you have to maneuver him so his back is to the south parking lot. I’ll be on the dock, out of view, but I’ll be peeking around the corner of the boat, and when you got him facing north, I’ll skedaddle across the open space and into the lot. How’s that for a plan?”
“You want to tell me what’s really going on?”
“No, but if this works, you won’t see me again, and I just want you to know that you’ve been a good friend—for a fagot that is.” Jay and I were that close that we could kid one another in that manner with no offense taken. You should have heard some of the things he had called me.
Well, that’s my story. Everything worked out, and I was in my car heading north before I knew it. I had no idea where I was going. I had $5,000.000 and the clothes on my back. I could not keep the car, too easy to trace, and I couldn’t sell it because it was leased.
I drove to the Fort Lauderdale airport—maybe they’d think I took a plane somewhere—and pulled into the parking garage. I parked the car, leaving the keys in the ignition, walked to the terminal, hailed a cab, and drove off into a new life.
Post Script: I broke contact with everyone I knew, including my family. After thirty years, I resurfaced. I found a couple of old friends on Facebook, and sent both of them the same message: “Just crawled out of my grave, thought I’d say hi.” That was seven years ago.
If anyone feels so inclined, I’d appreciate it if you’d like my Facebook page. You can click on the button on the right side of the page. Thank you.