The Road to Pine Tree (part 3)
Recap of Part 2:
Jack’s client gives him the case and just enough details to get started tracking the mysterious Haynes sisters. The trail takes him to distant Key West and a painful run-in with a beefy goon.
Jack arrived at the Florida Inn the next afternoon. Going there the same night that Jeffries delivered his message-via-henchman didn’t seem like a good idea. In any event, there would be fewer people around now; once the club opened up officially there would be too many people to get any good information.
He went around the back alley to try the door where deliveries were made. On the loading dock, a couple Cubans—teenagers by the look of them—were unloading linens off a truck that must have just returned from the laundry. Jack’s Spanish was passable-to-appalling depending on the day; he could almost pass for conversational after a couple of drinks.
“Hola,” he began, his American accent making the word sound as silly as he felt. “Quiero information para Señor Jeffries.”
The older-looking of the two teens gave Jack a puzzled look and then offered, “We speak English, Mister. What do you want with Mr. Jeffries?”
“Oh,” Jack said. “Well, is he around?”
“Don’t know. If you’re looking for him at the loading dock, you’re in the wrong place though.”
Just then a middle-aged man in shirt sleeves stepped out from inside. He scowled in the direction of the teens and they scurried back to work.
“Who are you?” he asked Jack suspiciously.
“Jack Wilcox. I’m trying to get some information about the Haynes sisters.”
This guy was undoubtedly closer to the ownership, owing to his lighter skin tone and American accent. Jack didn’t want to go rooting around too much with people who were liable to get him clocked in the face again.
“You a P.I., buddy?” Before Jack could answer, the man continued, “Yeah, you are. I know the type. What do you wanna know about those girls?”
“Well, they left town the other night, right?”
“Skipped town is more like it. They had run up quite the tab with a lot of folks here. Gambling, booze, you name it; they borrowed money for it. I’m almost surprised they stayed as long as they did.”
“What about Mr. Jeffries? Did they owe him.”
“Nah. The boss doesn’t do loans to employees. Besides, they were his favorites; ‘his girls’ he always called ‘em.”
“Any idea where they might have gone? Did they ever talk about going back to their family?”
“No, they never said anything about family. I don’t know where they might have gone.”
“Well, did they do anything unusual, out of the ordinary, right before they left?”
“They were a little unusual to begin with, so no . . . but now that I think about it, there were those two guys. The ones with the show in New York, umm, Wallace and Davis, yeah. I’m pretty sure those were their names. I guess they’re a pretty big deal up there.”
“Anything else?” Jack prompted.
“The girls were hanging on them guys pretty much all night when they weren’t on stage. I can’t really go out in the dining room when the club’s open, but I did overhear bits and pieces of their conversations in the hallway backstage. Something about the girls being part of Wallace and Davis’s show, in New York, I guess. They left out the back window in a cab, South Beach Taxi Company . . . I made sure I saw that when they blew outta here.”
The man cast a furtive glance over his shoulder. “Look, uh, I like to help a guy like you out, but the boss sometimes has other ideas. You didn’t hear any of this from me, right?”
“My lips are sealed, friend,” Jack said. He reached into his pocket, palmed a ten dollar bill, and offered the man a handshake, slipping him the bill. “Thanks for letting me trouble you a bit. Good day.”
Jack couldn’t be sure where the taxi had taken the girls, but he bet it was to the train station. After paying a visit to the South Beach Taxi Company and sweet-talking one of the mousy female clerks to let him sift through their fare records, he had what he needed. A taxi had been called to the Florida Inn the night the Haynes sisters disappeared and it had dropped them at the train station. Jack was pretty sure now that he was headed to New York City. He made a stop back at his apartment for a bag and to lock up and then headed to the train station.
Jack peddled the photo the younger Pedrosian had given him around to various train station employees, but no one who was there that afternoon seemed to recognize them. If they did, they weren’t saying so, at any rate.
He asked for a train schedule at the ticket counter and scanned for the ones that ran to New York City. Only one train would have been leaving the night that the Haynes sisters disappeared. He went back to the ticket counter, handed over the cash for the ticket, and looked for a bench to get comfortable; his train wasn’t leaving any time soon and wouldn’t even pull into the station for at least another hour.
He passed the hour reading a day-old Miami Herald that someone had left a couple benches over. He flipped through the Metro section, but didn’t find anything of interest. In Sports, the Orange Bowl had just selected Oklahoma and Maryland to play in the bowl game on New Year's Day. Jack didn’t follow college football very closely, but if this case turned up some more cash, he might think about placing a bet; that always seemed to make things more interesting.
He folded the paper back and dropped it on the bench next to him, content now just to close his eyes and rest his head on the back of the bench. He dozed off and on until awoken by the sound of a train pulling up to the platform. A few people got off, but it seemed to be mostly empty. Checking the number of the train, Jack grabbed the small bag he had packed—although with only an extra shirt and some toiletries the bag seemed twice the size necessary for the job—and headed for the nearest passenger car.
The conductor met him at the door.
“Sorry, sir, you’ll have to wait to board. I’ll call passengers when it’s time.”
“Oh, okay.” Jack stepped back onto the platform. “In the meantime, do you mind if I ask you a question or two?”
The conductor pulled an old-timey pocket watch from his vest, flipped it open, and furrowed his brow.
“Fine, but make it quick. I have things to do.”
Jack pulled the picture of the Haynes sisters out and handed it up the steps.
“Have you ever seen them?”
“The man, I don’t recognize. The girls, yes, they took this train a few days ago. Sat up in the diner car most of the night with two men. I think they were all traveling together.”
“And they went all the way to New York?”
“Yes, I believe so. Most people on the train take it all the way to New York. The line ends in Vermont, but we don’t get too many people who ride all the way up there, especially this time of year.”
“Thanks for your help. Are you sure they went all the way to New York?”
“Well, no, I got off the train in Richmond. I don’t keep track of every passenger on every train I ride.” He pulled his watch out again and snapped it shut. “I have things to do.”
With that, the conductor turned abruptly, tramped back up the stairs, and slammed the door to the passenger car behind him. The hasty exit seemed a bit rude to Jack, but it was no worse than what he’d become accustomed to in his line of work. That the guy answered any questions was enough for him. Besides, a conductor has to be pretty busy getting a train turned around and ready to go, he figured. He probably wouldn’t be too talkative if someone interrupted him in the middle of a stake out.
Jack sauntered back over to the bench where he had been sitting before. Just as he was sitting down, however, he caught a glimpse of a hulk of a man slipping around the corner of the station and out of view. Jack couldn’t be sure—and he never got a really good look at the man in the first place—but he was pretty sure this was the same guy that knocked him out back in Key West. Apparently Jeffries was quite interested in Jack’s activities; interested enough to tail him all the way to Key West and back.
When it came to losing a tail, however, Jack was no slouch. He still had about two hours to kill before his train left; that should be more than enough time to get loose of a guy who didn’t exactly look like any sort of Nobel laureate. Jack stood, looked at his wristwatch, and then walked briskly toward the far end of the platform, away from the musclehead. When he had waited there long enough to be reasonably sure that he was being watched, he stepped outside the fence and walked toward the street where a line of cabs was waiting. He bent over to ask the cabbie if he knew where the Florida Inn was—not because he doubted the driver’s knowledge of the city, but to give the galoot time to catch up.
When he saw that his tail was, indeed, following he hopped into the back seat of the car and told the driver, “Head over to U.S. 1, go north, and keep driving. I’ll let you know when I want to stop. And let’s get there quickly.”
The driver pulled out into the early evening traffic and pushed the gas, not enough to really speed away exactly, but it was clear to anyone that his passenger was in a hurry. Jack sneaked a glance behind them and, as he suspected, his hulking would-be travel companion had hopped another cab and was following them.
They continued driving north until they got about a block away from a pool hall that Jack used to frequent when his office was over on this side of town. He told the driver to let him out in front and then circle around to the other side of the block where he’d meet him.
The cabbie slammed on the brakes directly underneath the neon lights of the seedy Northside Bar and Pool Hall and Jack jumped out, throwing his fare and a bit extra into the open, passenger side window. He walked inside as quickly as he could while still not letting on that he knew he was being followed.
Stepping up to the bar, he knew he had only a minute or two to spare. He spied the saddest looking drunk he could find.
“Hey pal, mind putting on this hat and jacket for me? The next round’s on me if you do.”
The man looked up from his drink, bleary-eyed and managed to slur out a thick, “Sure, why not?”
Jack paid, Sam—the bartender and a friend of his—gave the unsuspecting man his hat and jacket, and positioned him so that his back would be to the door that Jeffries’ henchman would come in. With a nod toward Sam—with whom Jack had pulled this stunt on a few previous occasions—he slipped past the bar and out the back door. From the alley behind the pool hall, Jack worked his way through the growing shadows to his meeting place. He found the cabbie there, just as instructed, and they drove back to the train station, where he gave the driver a little something extra for his trouble.
He was just in time to board the train as it was preparing to pull out of the station. Stepping aboard the last passenger car he handed his ticket to the conductor he had seen earlier.
“Cutting it a little close, aren’t you?” he said without a hint of a smile.
“I guess.” Jack took back his ticket. “Any place on this train I can go where I know I won’t be disturbed?”
“You could get a sleeper. That’d cost you $7.50 extra. We have one left. Do you want it?”
Jack thought it over. He had a trip ahead of him and he couldn’t be sure how long it would be. That $7.50 might prove too dear down the road to spend it now. He didn’t figure he needed to hide since he had shaken off his follower. At the same time, it was going to be a long train ride and he would need the rest—rest he wasn’t likely to get sitting up for who knows how long elsewhere on the train. He gave in.
“I’ll take it,” he said and handed over the money. Taking back his change, he asked the conductor, “Where is it?”
“Right down that way on the left. Number 4. You can lock the door from the inside.”
“Thanks. The diner still open?”
“For about another 30 minutes.”
Jack flipped a two-fingered salute to the conductor and shuffled off to the diner car. He always had trouble sleeping on trains and wanted to see what kind of “sleep aids” might be available behind the bar.