Chapter 6-Biloxi, 5 May 1922


Biloxi-5 May 1922

"Luis! Get in here!" Henry Diaz yelled from the door of his office into the empty hallway. Down the hall, a door opened and the younger Diaz rushed out. He slammed his door and briskly ran toward Henry's door.

Henry turned to re-enter his office as he saw his brother head for him. The room was cramped and crowded. His desktop could hardly be seen underneath a pile of folders and loose papers. Except for a small place in the center of the desk, every flat surface was covered. The file cabinet, the window seat, even the refreshment table had papers under the bottles. Henry grabbed the papers in the extra chair. He played a delicate balancing game as he put them on top of the liquor decanters on the refreshment table. Luckily, thanks to the papers under the left side bottles they were all at the same height. Then he went around the desk to his seat.

When Luis reached the doorway Henry barked, "Get in here, Luis, and close that door!" Luis complied.

The younger Diaz took a seat, and asked, "What is it, Henry?"

"What happened last night with Webster's boat? And don't give me any crap about those goofy Vets, they don't come around here until Thursday, and you know it."

"Well, actually his boat was parked next to the William Tell. In our over enthusiastic preparations for today, someone heaved a bit too hard, and a cargo boom landed on Webster's boat. I didn't want to lie to Webster, but it seemed all right to lie to the kid."

"Listen, that kid is in for the money, too. Webster just called me about it. You didn't even tell me last night. How am I supposed to deal with people about things I don't even know about? I'm tired of you messing things up, if it weren't for the fact that you're my brother, I'd fire you. Who told you to put cargo booms on the damn ship anyway?"

Luis stammered, ”I, I took it upon myself; I, I mean you do want me to be the captain when we lose it don't you?"

"That is beside the point,” Henry fumed, “I am in charge, you'll do what I say, when I say it, and not before. Did you get them all stored aboard at least?"

"We even got a barrel for the light." Luis added. 1

"A barrel, what barrel? I never said anything about a barrel."

Luis signed, “The barrel goes under the light atop the mast, that way other ships will see our position and not hit us, and the deck will still be hidden in the shadows. Desporte talked about it the last time he was here."

Henry's face showed his anger. "I've thought about losing you with the boat, you know. Have you found a spot to hide the ship until we need it, or is that decision mine?"

"The final choice is yours of course, but I thought we might want to use the old boat house on Dock one. We never use it anymore."

"To close for comfort.” Henry looked around the room for inspiration. “Try to find a spot in the bayou across the Bay. No one hardly ever goes over there."

"If you mean Fort Bayou,” Luis pulled a map from under a stack on the desk, “There's talk about a resort being built over there, Gulf Hills I think they want to call it. Besides, there are more houses going up over there daily. I've been thinking of buying one there myself." He pointed on the map to the location on the far side of the bay.

"I want the boat hidden in that bayou. Go buy a house there and hide the boat on your property for all I care." Henry's face was turning red and his breathing was turning into wheezing. "After you've reported the boat lost, you are going to remain with it until the night of the raid."

Luis put on his best poker face, he had been waiting for an opening like this. "If I can get a little yearly bonus right now, I could not only buy the house, but would have a good excuse for missing time off of work. Moving in is such a difficult task. Everything must be perfect."

Henry's face showed no pleasure as he dug through a stack of papers on his left. As he pulled out his checkbook he said, "Get with Taconi, and make sure the William Tell has everything needed before it disappears.”

“Goes dredging for oysters.” Luis interrupted.

Henry stopped and an annoyed look crossed his face, “Bring him those personnel files, too." He waved at the papers atop the liquor bottles. "Those are our people for the run; make sure they meet with his approval."

Luis reached for the files, "You know you could really use a bigger office."

Henry got up to pour himself a drink. "If this venture pays off as well as it should, I will get a bigger office. I'm thinking of running for Governor next fall."

Thoughts flashed through Luis' mind, with Henry up in Jackson, who will run the plant, who would be in charge of Diaz Packing? No other Diaz's around, and Henry knew less about the plant than Luis. That would made him the prime candidate. All he had to do was make sure Henry did not expect any help in Jackson. "You can count on my vote."

"It's not your vote I'm worried about, Luis, but thanks. Good luck with the ship. If this works out, you'll be the next Diaz of Diaz Packing. I'll see you again when the boat's gone." Henry turned to return to his seat with his glass generously filled.

"Right, see you soon, Henry." Luis got up and left in a hurry.

As the door shut, Henry turned his chair to look out the window. Diaz packing had grown tremendously since the name had been changed from Mitchell and Sons Seafood. It had become bigger in size, had diversified, and prospered since Diaz had stolen it from the Mitchell family.

In his will, Luke Mitchell had left the company to his two sons, Gary and Jeffery. The two had never gotten along, and were not about to start after the old man died. Their constant bickering was not good for profits, and as income began to shrink, the bills piled up. Employees began pilfering the company to make up for their lost wages and incomes. The bank threatened to foreclose on their mortgage if they missed one more payment. The business was on the verge of ruin.

Then Diaz stepped in. Although neither Mitchell brother knew it, at the time, Diaz was the lawyer for the People's Bank, the mortgage holder. Diaz convinced Gary to take Jeffery to court to sue for control of the company. Henry would represent Gary, and legal fees would be decided on after the trial. Diaz deliberately dragged out the proceedings.

An employee was found who testified about criminal activities of Jeffery. Diaz's paid informer accidentally slipped up on the stand and cast suspicion on Gary, too. Judge John Graves announced that neither brother would own the company, and that it would be auctioned off. Diaz met with Graves in his chambers and showed his arrangement with Gary to the Judge. Graves awarded Diaz the company after a staged closed bid auction.

Diaz's payment to the court for the auction was lost in the paper shuffle, as was the record of the amount he paid. Graves became a large stockholder in the People's Bank, with a seat on the board. Diaz got the packing plant, and The Mitchell's left everything they owned that would not fit in their car and skipped town. It was the first time they had gotten along since they had been in the womb.

The hustle and bustle of the docks below Henry's window seemed trivial now. His mind continued to wander. Governor Diaz sounded much better to him than Mayor Diaz ever had. Not to mention the fact that this time there would be no Webster to beat him, or stop him from his dreams of power. Clarence's son John would not be able to blackmail him out of running this time. The Governor's Mansion. Gubernatorial power. Even just Governor-Elect sounds more regal than seafood-packer. A man of the people, a seafood packer, elected to the highest office in the State. A regular rags to riches story, except that he was already a rich man. Dreams of grandeur? Never, just a vision of what can be. Napoleonic Complex? Never. "I just like to have control," muttered Diaz. "It can't be that bad working with Desporte again, besides, how much can one ship hold?"

Diaz spun around, his wheezing breath had finally returned to normal, his dreams of being Governor enough to calm his nerves. He reached for the phone. He removed the papers covering it and picked it up. "Delores, get me Theodore Desporte, quickly and quietly."

Theodore Desporte opened his oaken desk drawer to answer its incessant ringing phone. The voice on the other end informed him it was Henry Diaz. "Put him through." Desporte began to clear his desk as the lines were connected.

"Henry, how are you?"

"Can't complain. Listen Theodore, I've been thinking about what you said. What do you want me to do?"

"I don't care how you do it, but make sure your friends are caught. Chief Bills is under my wing. You won't even be investigated. I'll even get back my liquor. The Party is in my pocket, and you need not worry about a Republican Candidate, the day Mississippi elects another Republican is the day I retire. After the smoke clears, you get the backing you need for a successful campaign for Governor. Sound fair?"

"I think I can handle it.” Diaz stared out the window dreaming. “What about your son?"

"He's the reason I'm doing this. He'll run to me to stay out of trouble with the law, and if he doesn't, he'll come to me because I kept him from having trouble with the law. Either way, he'll stop resenting me. Bills will have plenty of scapegoats without you and my son. Webster in particular should make him happy. Are you in?"

"I'm in."
Desporte relaxed in his seat, "Good, keep in touch," he paused then added, "Governor."