Chapter 13-Back Bay, 2 August 1922
Back Bay-2 August 1922
A sharp knock on the door roused Henry Diaz. He did not realize he had dozed off looking at the books. He rubbed his eyes and looked up. The door had opened and Theodore Desporte stood framed in the opening. From the expression on his face Diaz could tell he was not happy.
“Come on in, I was going to call you soon.” Diaz tried to compose himself and not look like he had been sleeping. “What ah, what can I do for you?” he asked while shuffling papers to the side of his desk, clearing an opening where he rested his arms.
Desporte walked in slowly, he made a point to hit the floor hard each time he moved his cane. Harder than really necessary. “Whose side are you on, Henry?” The old man stopped directly in front of the desk. There was a chair but he did not take a seat.
Sputtering, Diaz answered, “Well, uh, you know that. I’m working with you, for you. But I can’t look like I’m looking for you. If I had told you exactly when it’d be going down you’d’ve been ready and sprung the trap back. It wouldn’t’ve worked. I have to look trustworthy, too.” He tugged at his collar and undid the button. His tie was already loose around his neck. “It uh, it’s gotta look like I’m still with them.”
The lowered volume Desporte used made Diaz lean forward, “I will not be made a fool of. You’re my duplicitous agent, not theirs.” He reached in his jacket pocket and took out an envelope. He tapped it on the desk but held on to it for now. “Fill me in.”
He mopped his brow before picking up the papers on his right, “Most of it’s been sold already, but hasn’t been transferred yet. It’s the delicate part of the operation.”
“Right where I can step in and do the most damage,” Desporte interrupted. “That’s part of it, but I need to know who else is in on it. This little stunt hit me when I knew it was coming but caught me off guard. I don’t get caught off guard. Who’s the mastermind?”
“I, uh, I don’t know who you’d call the brains, I mean, Ernest seems to be running things...” he started.
“I know him, and Webster, too,” Desporte interrupted again, “Who else?”
Diaz fidgeted in his seat. “Ta-Taconi, Paul Taconi, and a Woods. Everybody calls him Captain, never heard a first name. And a kid, Eugene Ladner. He’s Webster’s crony. Woods seems to know Webster real good too.” Sweat was beading on his forehead again so he wiped it off.
Now he sat, “Taconi? Not surprising. Don’t know about this kid but he ain’t the brains. Maybe it won’t matter.” Desporte folded his arms, “This town is 120 years old, and a Desporte’s been running it 70 of those years. Who do you think made this town what it is?”
The chair creaked as Diaz stood and walked to his side table. “Well there’s a lotta folk who have pushed the town along. You may have been steering the boat, but Dunbar, Lopez, Dukate, I’m pretty sure they had a hand in it.” He was sweating profusely now, his hands shook as he tried to pour a glass from the pitcher of water on the table. “They had to have a little to do with it. Maybe the Howards?” His voice took on a questioning tone as he waved at the table to offer a drink.
The old man shook his head, “The Howards threw money and ran back to New Orleans. Lopez and Dukate will probably be remembered, maybe get a school named after them or something, probably all three of them but they only did what I let them do. You know who I didn’t let work in this town? Burklin. I crushed him. No one remembers him or what he tried to do to this town.
“Lopez and his cronies worked with me. That’s why they’re still here. They’re on the board at the bank, they have thriving businesses. They are the group that made this town the Seafood Capital of the World. Because I let them.” Desporte paused to let his words sink in. “Burklin tried. I wiped him out. No schools, no streets, no buildings named after him.” The last words were spit through his clenched teeth as the room fell silent.
“Uh, the product is waiting to be transferred. . .” Diaz started but stopped as Desporte took something out of the envelope he was holding and threw the rest on the desk. He sat as he put the glass of water down and picked it up. Glancing at the old man he looked back down and opened it up. It was a deed to property on Beach Boulevard at the foot of Oak Street. Prime real estate at the start of the row of seafood factories that made this town what it is.
“You want it? It’s yours. You can shift this little two bit factory off the bay or just run them both. Catch, clean, can, and sell, do the whole shooting match start to finish. Be the Seafood King in the Seafood Capital, just get me what I need. You want to be Governor, you can get it yourself, this will give you the clout. Here’s the contract.” Desporte tossed a second paper across the desk.
Opening it, Diaz could see it was an agreement. The property for the product. Turn on his co- conspirators completely. None of the delicate dance he had been doing, an outright betrayal. There would be no going back. This would make him enemies with men who were the most capable of dethroning the powers that be. Power that is. But these men were only capable because they had come to Henry Diaz. No trying to kid himself into believing he was the power, but he was the one that made a difference. It was him that tipped the scales. He brought the last piece needed to topple Theodore Desporte.
Diaz reached for a pen. He had not really known these guys that long anyway.
Naval Reserve Park, West of Biloxi-2 August 1922
The sound of crickets drowned out the noise of the Chevrolet until it reached the end of the driveway. Ladner was resting in a hammock strung up between the mast and forestay on theElla rocking with the gentle breeze and perked up as he saw the car round the last corner. He got out of the hammock and headed for the pier as Woods stopped the car and got out. By the time Ladner arrived at the driver’s side Webster had opened the door to the house.
“You aren’t who I was expecting, but come on in, old friend,” Webster welcomed.
Woods reached into the back seat picked up a bag. From the top he pulled out a book and turned to Ladner, offering the book. “I brought you something special,” he said.
Webster scoffed from the door, “What does he need with a book, can he even read? If you’re trying to turn him into a book worm like you, you shoulda never sent him this way.”
Ladner took the book reverently. “I can read. In fact, I left behind my small library when I came here and I’ve been missing it. Commentaries on the Gallic War,” he read the title aloud.
Clapping him on the shoulder Woods said, “A book full of history, but lessons to boot. Most of what we know about Caesar we learned from his own writing, but he wrote in the third person so we forget it’s him doing the talking. History is much more kind to you if you’re willing to write it yourself.” He handed Ladner the bag.
Looking inside, the boy’s face broke out into a huge smile, “Thank you, Cap’n Woods. I thought it’d be a long time before I got to see these again.”
“Well a man without a library is,” Woods looked at Webster, “Well, he’s Webster.” He laughed while Webster just shook his head.
“I got books, I just don’t put ’em out for company. Now you wanna come inside or stand out here and jaw about some dusty ol’ books?” Webster held the door open.
Ladner started to walk back towards the Ella with his bag of books but Woods stopped him, “Eugene, come on in with us. You’re a part of this now, too.” He waved his hand in the direction of the door and held it out directing him inside.
Hesitating for a second, Ladner looked from Woods to Webster then walked into the house. The two older men shared a quick smile then followed him in.
The house was dimly lit with a single fan blowing air around the room. The windows were open and a slight breeze came in from the bay. It had been a typical hot and humid day but the evening was more tolerable even inside the house. Webster flipped a switch by the door and a bulb that dangled overhead came on lighting up the whole room.
“I didn’t expect to see you so soon, what’s going on and do you want a drink?” offered Webster.
Sitting on the sofa below the window on the front of the house, Woods said, “Maybe in a minute, there’s work to discuss first.”
The screen door banged against the frame twice before closing as Webster let it go and walked to his chair. Woods did not relax on the couch before asking, “What did Diaz tell you when you last saw him?”
This time Webster shared a glance with Ladner before answering, “We talked about the loads we’d shifted and what he had left. He said he was headed east to Alabama.”
“Did he mention any crew missing?” Woods asked.
“Uh, he said a couple fell overboard but he sent some guys after them. I had to get to Bay St. Louis.”
“Mr. Taconi said he’d get ’em,” interrupted Ladner. “He said they were in a dinghy near Ship Island when they went over so the crew he had to leave would head there.”
The clock over the empty fireplace chimed seven o’clock. Woods waited for it to finish before saying, “It’s too late tonight, I’ll have to get with him in the morning.” He began to fidget while he talked..
“Serendipity takes you everywhere doesn’t it? He’s supposed to be here. I was expecting him when I heard your car,” said Webster.
As if on cue, a car could be heard coming down the path. All three looked toward the door as Woods sighed. “Well, let’s have that drink now.”
They all stood. Ladner was closer to the door so he held it open and looked out. Webster stood and headed for the kitchen. As Taconi cleared the tree line the engine got noticeably quieter, then he turned off the engine and coasted to a stop next to the Chevrolet in his 1920 Hudson Super Six.
“Sounded kinda loud, didn’t it?” asked Taconi. “Yes sir,” answered Ladner.
“G-Pied Muffler Cutout. Adds power. This thing goes from 0 to 50 in 16 seconds straight off the lot. They tell me it’ll do 80 but I haven’t found a stretch of street long enough to get that fast. I can tell you this, it’ll damn sure take off in a hurry.” Taconi extended a hand to Ladner for a handshake as he walked past him into the living room. “One for me!” he called to Webster’s back in the kitchen. He turned to Woods and offered his hand, “What brings you around?”
Taking the offered hand for a brief shake Woods answered, “Trouble.” He sat back on the couch, “A couple bodies washed up in Gulfport. One was known to have been on the William Tell. Diaz mention anything to you?”
Webster walked back in and handed a glass to Taconi. “Yeah, he said one guy started dumping cargo ‘cause they were riding low. Another fellow tried to stop him and they got into a fight. That boat wasn’t gonna turn for anything in the world loaded like that so he dropped off a dingy and told ‘em to head for Ship Island when they found the two overboard.”
Everyone took a seat as he continued, “I looked for them after my last load but didn’t find them on the island. They were still out looking. Never did find the two dudes.”
“If they were Diaz’s men it easily could’ve taken two days to get from Ship Island to here,” said Woods.
Ladner headed for the icebox. He got out a Barq’s for himself and added some chipped ice to a glass for Woods.
He leaned back into the couch and got comfortable. “I can work with this. It’s early, but might as well leak some details to spin it our way.” Woods stroked his chin. “Eugene, better bring me a pen and paper with that drink. We need to write an article for the newspaper to throw off the investigation. Time to make history kind to us.”
“Well, Clarence, I came by to go over the numbers with you. I know we left some booze on the William Tell but some seems to be missing,” said Taconi. He pulled some sheets of paper out of his shirt pocket. “Where are your numbers?”
“My notes are on the Ella,” Webster said as he got up.
Taconi held up a hand to stop him a moment, “Look, I know it wasn’t me, and none of the three of y’all touched it. I may be out of line saying this, but both of you,” he pointed at Webster and Woods simultaneously, “Have made me feel like an equal. More equal that anyone or anywhere in this town. You know separate ain’t equal and if it gets me in trouble to think I’m your equals then so be it.”
“Paul, I don’t give a shit if I’m an old, white, Southern man,” started Woods. “And I damn sure don’t care about the color of your skin. I’ve known Clarence a long time and he’s the same. In his house, in my eyes, and certainly anywhere in my presence, you are every bit as equal as we are and if anyone is going to judge something by its color it’ll be the color of liquid in our glass and nothing else. So what are you getting at?”
He looked from Woods to Webster. Webster nodded, “I think someone is on the take.” Taconi said.
“Imagine that, a crooked crook? Paul, we knew all along that Diaz was probably going to sell us out. But we have a plan for that,” Webster headed for the door while he spoke. “The conversation with Cuevas was detailed so we’ll figure it out.” Taconi stood and followed him out.
Ladner returned with the drinks, paper, and pen for Captain Woods and soon the sound of a pen scratching paper mingled with the crickets.