I had cashed in every favor that I could recall, hocked myself up to my eye-teeth in credit card debt and taken two full weeks off from doing any real paying work that actually might let me buy some food other than ramen noodles or pop-tarts, but it didn't matter anymore. One way or the other, I hoped it would soon be all over and done with ... for keeps this time.
It had taken those two full weeks of full-time surveillance and spent them following Wally Watters, shadowing his every move day and night until suddenly the lights in my brain came on and I realized that we'd all been taken for suckers. Wally-boy was smart ... smart enough to keep his shit straight while at least three-quarters of the cops in Southern Florida were trying to find something, anything, that they could throw on him that would stick.
So far in over three years, they hadn't found shit. Mostly because the other quarter of law enforcement official had been paid by the Watters family to make sure that nothing would stick. Twice I'd been offered disturbing amounts of cash if I'd just drop my own private investigation and just 'go away'. Fat chance! Then the threats started, mild hints at first, and then lately flat out warnings by high ranking law enforcement officials that I was 'interfering with their official investigation'. Quit ... now, or face certain obstruction of justice charges!
I told the head of the Masher Task Force, Captain Roderick "Hot Rod" Baker that he kiss my nicely tanned ass and that I was staying on the case until at least one of his own investigators got off their fat asses and actually came up with a lead. They never did ... but I was worked much harder than they were and either my labors paid off or else I just got damned lucky.
Or the bastards were just setting me up. To this day I'm still not sure!
Mind you, I'm not exactly accusing a full one-fourth of all of southern Florida's law enforcement officials (and politicians too) of being in the pay of the infamous Watters criminal organization, but an awful lot of very senior officials worked tirelessly with the local news media to make sure that not a word of negative publicity was ever heard about the 'philanthropic pillars of Miami society', the Watters family. Did I mention that the kid's family was filthy stinking rich? Like the rumors of the start of the Kennedy fortune, the Watters had been Florida's most notorious rum-runners back during Prohibition. Even Al Capone when he came to Miami tipped his cap to the Watters family ... and their large private army of criminals and gunsels. Today, the old family enterprises still thrived ... allegedly. Drugs, guns and human trafficking had replaced alcohol smuggling, according to my ears on the streets, but the Watters family was untouchable as always ... and now even more rich and politically powerful.
Wallace Jenson Watters, aka the alleged 'Monroe Masher', was a 'person of interest' in at least eight verified disappearances, and the single mostly likely suspect in an additional two dozen disappearances between Palm Beach and Key West. He liked his girls young and dumb, beach or bleach blonde and more than a bit wild and adventurous, but none suspected that after a night of partying with Wally that they'd never live to see sunrise. Wally-boy allegedly liked his sport rough and had a very strong prohibition against allowing anyone to ever enjoy any of his leftovers.
According to my few casual friends in the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, they figured him to be a collector sort of serial killer, probably with a closet full of bloody panties and lots of sharply focused home movies. The only problem was his house and both cars were all as clean as a whistle, and all were under 24/7 surveillance ... and equally unlikely to ever lead the investigators anywhere.
Only three of the missing girls were from Miami, but Wally had his home there and the Miami-Dade County local police had more or less taken charge of the investigation. That was about three years ago and as far as anyone else could tell they hadn't found or done shit. The big problem, according to rumor of the bottom rung of beat-cops working the case, was that their #1 suspect Wally had a real talent for ditching his tails and just disappearing for a day or two. Off partying with friends, he'd say ... and lots of witnesses to substantiate any sort of alibi he ever wanted to make.
Officially, the case of the Monroe Masher was in serious danger of just being closed up and packed down to the Cold Case department of the Miami PD. There hadn't been any new real evidence turn up in over a year and the pressure from the top floors of various politicos, both state and local, to leave poor Wally-boy alone (or at least to find another prime suspect) was becoming politically irresistible now.
Still, all of the smart money was on Wallace; two girls in two different cities had been last seen leaving beach front bars with him. Both places had relatively hidden security cameras both inside the club and outside covering the parking lot. He'd been a little sloppy or overconfident those two times to get caught on film at all and no one considered this a coincidence ... but it wasn't proof that would hold up to a jury. Both videos were over a year old now and in the eyes of the Watters family defenders, an ever-growing and extremely politically connected faction, they didn't prove a thing ... that is if they even admitted that the images might even vaguely Wallace, or any number of hundred good looking young Florida beach boys in their early twenties.
There were no fingerprints, no fibers and no DNA evidence. Nil. Noda. Notta. Nowhere. Unlike Julius Caesar - the cops came, they saw and they didn't find jack shit!
A lot of good honest cops and assistant district attorneys had already developed ulcers working on this cast but Wally-boy was just too smart and way too fucking rich to ever get caught ... or at least until I decided that I had to put myself full time on the case.
Wallace had money; real money ... and not just the pocket money his millionaire great-uncle Edward Watters gave him every month that made my pathetic earnings look like chump change. The boy had flunked out of two different colleges where he had majored in partying, and returning home he then put his education to good use afterwards, being a bright star of the rich-boy social circuit - and allegedly a powder boy that supplied the recreational drug needs of his peers. There was no proof of that really, as once again he was a bit too smart to ever be caught holding any of the cocaine himself, or be publically seen to partake of his own products in Miami's most exclusive nightclubs. He had a buddy or two to handle the real dirty work, so his hands were always clean.
The smirking fucktard also had damn good lawyers, the best that the Watters could buy and keep on constant retainer. I'd heard that he'd been brought in three times for questioning in the last year or so and each time it was a wasted exercise in futility. He'd smile for the cameras and lawyer up fast and two hours later he'd be on his way home with no charges filed. Supposedly the kid had a long history of trouble with the law since at least his high school days, but not once had any charge ever stuck. Allegedly, these prior offenses as a juvenile involving under-aged drinking usually followed by a bit of assault and battery. In every case afterwards, the witnesses suddenly developed acute amnesia or changed their stories to fit Wally's version of the facts ... and a lot of money changed hands. Word was even then that he was a mean bastard with his girlfriends, and some investigators hinted to me that nothing had changed in that department in the years since.
As long as Edward Watters had a few hundred million, or even as rumored up to a billion dollars of family fortune ... and all the politically connected friends that money could buy, his great-nephew, the alleged rapist and serial killer, would never spend a single night behind bars. There was still more money than a dozen profligate grandsons or nephews could burn, even with a bonfire and a big pitchfork - and blood was blood. The Watters protected their own!
Wally wasn't the only heir to the vast Watters fortune. Edward, the elderly crimelord did have a son, and even a single grandson, Chester who would seem to be the most direct heir, but Wally-boy was a family favorite ... and something special in the evil old fart's eyes and with only very minimal luck might inherit everything, legal and criminal, upon the old bastard's death. Already he was the odds on favorite to be the successor, becoming the next family crimelord upon Edward Watters death.
As for me, I didn't give a shit how well Wally-boy was protected, or by whom. I had absolutely no politically connected friends, but I did have a volcanic temper and an eager willingness to pursue justice well outside the boundaries of the law. So far outside those boundaries actually that you couldn't find them with the Hubble telescope.
If asked, I would be the very first to admit that I have severe anger management issues. I'm working to improve, but ever since I was a kid in school my nickname was Ri (pronounced Ree, like Lee) short for Revenge Incorporated. My real name is Irene, but I hardly ever use it. Ree fits me just fine.
I never took any shit then and I still don't take much shit now ... and I wasn't going to take even the slightest amount of shit from Wally-boy – or anyone else in the payroll of the Watters organized crime family. My inability to take shit from anyone (along with a few other minor issues) has cost me some elite jobs with top money in the past that anyone else would grovel to take. It has turned friends into enemies, and a few enemies into significant career and life-expectancy reducing liabilities, but this isn't the time or place to discuss past history.
Yeah you can say it ... I never did have much if any sense and I'm usually too pissed off to quit (or never start) fights I can't win. Wally's family might be insanely rich mobsters but my father and grandfather grew up on the Baltimore docks and learned to let their fists do most of their thinking for them, and I'm very much their girl in spirit.
The so-called 'Monroe Masher' began his infamous career with a series of fairly high profile kidnappings, assaults and rapes near Homestead, right about the time Wally-boy came home after his second time flunking out of college about four years ago. Daddy's swanky beachfront house in Coral Gables was just barely twenty miles away, and Homestead was a safe enough place to play close to home without quite shitting in your own backyard. The M.O. was fairly consistent; a young attractive blonde on her own in a beachfront dive bar without friends would have her drink spiked, and then she'd be taken off in the night, drugged further and then repeatedly raped and beaten senseless before being dumped naked along the side of a county road, usually near the Everglades. The drug cocktail combination that the victims had been given tended to made most of them useless witnesses, being unable to remember anything at all from the previous night. The rapist and his friends (possibly several young men according to several rather confused witness statements) had all worn condoms, so no DNA evidence there either.
Frankly, the Miami-Dade County Police didn't take this new crime wave particularly seriously even though there was a clear pattern of escalating violence in the assaults and the attacks continued like clockwork every few weeks for nearly a full year. The victims were usually out of town tourists, mostly beach girls, and most of the investigating officers assumed that the perps were just drunk frat boys, fellow tourists or beach bums. It wasn't until these attacks also began occurring in Monroe County, up and down the Keys that a couple of smarter detectives began to realize that the sadistic rapist and his friends were probably in fact locals.
The assaults continued, on average two to three a month for just over nine months until the attacks finally stopped, 'officially' about three years ago.
Already those same smarter detectives were smelling a rat, that despite an increasingly more accurate description of the primary rapist, and a few of his regular partners in crime, there seemed to be little or no executive level interest in solving these cases. It also couldn't be ignored that the local news media continued to find this long violent crime spree of little or no public interest. Even the silly name that the media gave Wally, the 'Monroe Masher', in their irregular stories made him sound like an inept and vaguely humorous rogue, instead of an insanely violent sociopath. Already the whispers started to murmur at street police levels that the 'big bosses' knew who the culprits were, but that they were 'golden boys', too filthy rich and politically hot to touch.
In retrospect, the change in the criminal behavior pattern was obvious. The beatings over time had become increasingly more violent and sadistically brutal during this period until Wally made his first and probably only significant miscalculation. This last known verified victim of the 'Masher' was a beautiful young woman named Tori Alverson, whose battered dead body was found one early morning on a remote section of beach on Sugarloaf Key.
Wally had gone too far this time, killing his victim ... now he had also probably
discovered that the sexual thrill of killing his victim had given him an ever greater rush of excitement than just plain gang rape and then beating the victim senseless. The kid was a seriously sick fuck ... but he was smart. Killing Tori had probably been an accident, as the local medical examiner had told me that he was pretty sure that she wasn't quite dead yet at the time that she had been dumped.
No one in authority had seemed to care much about a couple of dozen raped and beaten tourists. Shit happens, and Watters money (and political connections) had kept the crime spree out of the national news, thus tourism had not been affected. Now however, the murder of this particular girl had suddenly attracted more attention to the Masher case than anyone in authority had seemed to want. Tori's death had now changed everything.
She had been a local Florida girl, from Key West and a Bronze Star decorated Army veteran of the Iraq War who had just recently become engaged to marry her boyfriend, a US Navy SEAL currently assigned for training in the area. In short she was a very popular young lady in her late twenties, well-liked and not without some friends of her own to agitate for her murder to be solved when the powers-that-be started to drag their feet on performing an in-depth investigation.
Since Tori's death three years ago, Wally had been very careful and had now apparently disposed of all of his victims after playtime ... and unfortunately rather successfully. His skill as a predator had perhaps even grown in the quiet years since then, as he knew that he was an 'unofficial' prime suspect for all of the disappearances since. Suspected or not, no one believed for a minute that he'd given up his play, instead he just played smarter.
Very unofficially, as mere rumor heard from one of the few Monroe constables that was still on speaking terms with me, Wally was still the prime, and only suspect for over two dozen disappearances. Even more unofficially, some detectives thought that at least one hundred missing Florida girls over the last couple of years might fit his hunting profile. Allegedly the FBI was keeping a strong interest in the case as well, but with a near complete lack of any material evidence their hands were tied too ... and very likely to stay that way.
In short, the case was dead ... until I woke up in an even worse mood than usual one morning a few weeks ago and decided that Tori, and all of the other unknown and already forgotten victims of the last three years, needed justice ... even if it never took place inside of a courtroom!
I ran a small one-person security company from a small rental house on a side street in Key Largo and live in the small one bedroom flat upstairs. Business wasn't particularly good lately anyway, so I decided that just working for myself for a couple of weeks wouldn't actually hurt the bottom line all that much. I was already too broke to be worried much about not making anything in the way of money for awhile longer.
I don't have an official PI's license, so most of my jobs come from playing security guard for big-wig VIP's in either Key West or Miami. That's the good thing about Key Largo, it's just about mid way between the two cities so the commute to a paying job in either place isn't too annoying. I tend to annoy extremely easily, and when I get angry I tend to explode like volcano! I'd love to blame my mother's Mediterranean heritage for my life-long inability to control my internal rage, but the fault is mine and mine alone.
Did I mention that my childhood nickname was 'Revenge Incorporated'? Well, it bears repeating. Once I've made my mind up about doing something, I'm pretty much implacable.
I'd been tinkering with this case, following the investigation closely for the three years since Tori's death, but this was really the first time I'd dropped everything I was doing to to devote my full one-hundred percent attention to the case.
I spent the first week of my full-time private investigation, investigating the investigators. I cashed in every personal contact or IOU that I had ever collected to track down and corner every single member of the Masher Task Force team in public and in private to pump them for information. Some were helpful, others were not, and others seemed to take a perverse interest in providing me misinformation ... and not so very subtly hinting that the investigation was dead and that it might be professionally (and bodily) harmful if I continued to interfere with police business, or ever made any future libelous comments, accusations or insinuations about certain prominent citizens.
This set up the table fairly nicely. I now knew who the two or three detectives were that were still under the delusion that management would ever permit them to actually solve this case ... and I soon picked out who the paid toadies were that lurked in the shadows waiting to derail the investigation every time anything resembling new evidence reared up its ugly little head.
The 'good guys' kept hinting that their prime suspect, Wallace Watters was just too hot to hold onto, and equally unhealthy for their careers. On the negative side, the weasels now had my name written into their little black books, and with ink rather than pencil. It seemed that every time I showed my face in the Masher Task Force office, which I did daily for the first week, that at least two officers would immediately find the need to make a sudden and urgent phone call, probably to report on my continued interest in the investigation ... and to warn their higher-ups or other paid flunkies that something needed to be done about me!
Now I was pretty sure that my private security business would soon be heading even further south. Bribes and threats had no effect on me and I really doubted they could hurt my financial affairs worse than things already were. Business was already bad enough that I wasn't sure how even the powerful Watters crime family could ruin it any further! Silly me.
Bribes and threats, mostly the latter, had quieted most of the rank and file investigators working the Masher case and their office tended to be as cheerful as a morgue. Still, I'd found a few officers willing (if not quite eager) to talk, and they all grumbled the same name, 'Wally Watters'.
Now, equipped with the name of the only viable prime suspect, and two box loads of copied case files given to me by my very few eager supporters on the Task Force, I spent the next week reading files while encamped on an active surveillance of Wally-boy, and occasionally tailing him a few late afternoons or evenings to an endless circuit of top shelf night clubs where he'd party with the A-Listers until the early hours of the morning. So far, I'd come up with exactly zilch, but I wasn't alone. Not surprising since at least a half-dozen other folks had also made it their life's work, both officially and unofficially, to keep an eye or two upon our miscreant lad at all times, day and night. Oh very definitely at night. It was surprising to see how many off-duty beat cops lent a few of their unpaid off-duty hours to try and help nail the bastard ... career promotion prospects be damned.
We'd all watch everything around wherever Wally was; I'd watch the watchers, the watchers would watch me - and then the weasels would watch us, waiting to see who was watching Wally on Wednesday. Wonderful!
Needless to say, we were all getting nowhere pretty fast.
I was staying at a cheap motel in South Miami to save gas and wear and tear on my old car but in a couple more days my credit card would be getting to an entirely new stratospheric level of dangerously financial overuse and it might even get rejected for payment. One way or the other, I decided, I needed to create a break in this case, or as of next Monday my tired and broke little ass would be returning home to find some paying work, if I was to have even a vague hope of paying off my credit card bill next month.
First, to start off that Friday morning, I went driving by our suspect's beach front condo on South Bayshore, and I could tell that Wally-boy was still taking his beauty rest. Both of his cars, the BMW convertible and the Lexus sedan were in their usual spots inside the gated parking area. Genius or not, Wallace had a very discernable behavior pattern concerning his cars. If he was in the mood to party he invariably drove the convertible, always with the top down. If he was in a more serious business sort of mood, he took the four door sedan.
Lurking outside, parked on the street was Miami police Sergeant Frank Gordon, running surveillance from his nearly twenty-year old worn and battered Toyota Corolla. He had the day shift watching Wally and he was one of the good guys. Half of the photocopied police files in my passenger seat he had copied for me himself, very, very early in the morning when no one was watching. He might have been the last 'official' Masher Task Force officer that still gave a shit about closing the case ... and not just packing it away unsolved.
Taking the night shift watch would be his boss and partner Detective Dick Smith, and maybe another backup or two. Dick was one of the more lukewarm investigators; he knew that Wallace was their best suspect but he had absolutely no illusions that he'd ever get the evidence to make a case to the DA's office. He'd frequently told me, and anyone else that would listen, that he hoped that he'd be reassigned to something else soon that was much less career killing.
The homeless bum down at the corner, who also watching the back of the condo was a constable from the Miami-Dade County Sheriff's department. They ran a 24/7 surveillance on Wallace as well, and as secretive as they were, I couldn't get a good read on them to tell what team they were really playing for, so I mostly left them alone.
Watching Wally-boy was a full-time job for a lot of people, not that it did much good. The lad had a genius for ducking a tail ... especially right before another young lady went missing, and then he'd reappear the next day in some public area, or more usually in some flash nightclub with clean hands and a smirking smile. It was a cat and mouse game and the cat was way ahead of the mice on points with the ball game nearly over.
Watching the condo was pointless in my opinion. Wally-boy was sharp enough to know all of his main watchers by sight, waving and smiling at them as he drove past them when either coming and going. His place had also been searched officially twice – it was as clean as a whistle. Unofficially, I think it had been searched again at least once more, quietly without a warrant, but still no one has found anything there remotely of interest.
Obviously, Wallace didn't do his entertaining or playing here. To me, it was equally plain that neither of his expensive high visibility cars would be taken anywhere that he didn't want to be seen at. The Masher Task Force was certain that somehow he was ditching his cars somewhere for another that they didn't know anything about, and getting away with it ... every time. I'd had a thought or two myself about that, but so far I hadn't struck any gold with my own efforts either.
Other than the condo, there was one other place that Wally-boy regularly hung-out at, in fact quite nearly every day, a swanky bar-nightclub called the Golden Grotto, right on the edge of Deering Bay next to the Yacht and Country Club. It had the perfect combination of being relatively secluded but yet was popular with well-heeled locals in the know. Staking out this club was tricking and extremely problematic, as it had at least four main streets surrounding it that needed to be watched here in this harbor area. This was the place, however, where the smart money was betting that he was pulling off his escapes, but even after months of surveillance here as well, no one had a clue as to how he was getting away with it.
I found the name hilarious, for reasons that I'll explain later ... and this did give me an idea or two for a different longer term problem that I hadn't fully considered yet. I took this to be a very good omen that for the first time I was now on the right track!
The Golden Grotto was reputed to be a major drug distribution point for Southern Miami, the smuggled cargos brought into town via the harbor on the yachts of the rich, famous and infamous. Most of this powdery cocaine gold didn't hit the streets and remained instead largely in circulation among the peers of the country club and night club set, so accordingly there had been more than enough political pressure applied to ensure that the Grotto could conduct its business in peace and quiet, and largely without police interference.
My photocopied files indicated that the owner of Grotto, Steve Morrison, claimed that Wally was an old friend and a very good customer, and often visited and stayed for a day or two in one of the fancy private rooms upstairs, near the office. Morrison smiled far too much to be a completely innocent person, and after the first search warrant turned up nothing, he had more than enough political clout to squash the next two attempts to search his 'private property' upstairs. This first search did determine that Wally actually did sometimes stay and even sleep over here at times, but no evidence of any crimes were found. His apparent civic duty done, Morrison now referred everything to his very well paid and efficient lawyers, who were not coincidentally the very same firm as Wally's.
Morrison wasn't much older than Wally and scribbled on a corner of one report in his file was a comment that Steve's juvenile criminal record and been expunged from the court computers on the very same day, and by the same judge, as Wally's. One of the old witness composite sketches of one of the Masher's friends bore more than a vague resemblance to Steve. Probably not a coincidence. It didn't take much external research to confirm that the Morrison family had been longtime lieutenants in the Watters crime family dating back to Prohibition. The more things change, the more sometimes they stay the same! I was starting to see a very definite pattern here.
On the surface, Morrison's statements seemed to provide a more than adequate alibi for Wallace's whereabouts during the time of most of the alleged disappearances, but not everyone was satisfied. Some of the officers I'd questioned suspected that the abductees were brought here, raped and tortured and then disposed of onboard one of the ships in the nearby harbor. Others thought that this place was just a convenient front, at best a diversion, and that Wally (and his friend Morrison) did their business ... and had their fun, elsewhere. The rest (somewhat of a majority) thought I was just wasting my time and sticking my nose into places where it was definitely not welcome.
The obvious misdirection methods for how Wallace could have escaped surveillance had all been checked and rechecked. Wally was definitely not disguising himself as another bar patron and leaving unnoticed out the front, nor was he leaving out the back dressed as a cook, vendor or other deliveryman.
Stumped for leads, six months ago the Masher Task Force had set up hidden video surveillance cameras all around the Grotto for a full two block radius, trying to catch a peek at their bad-boy pulling his disappearing act and hadn't discovered a hint of any vehicle switch. This just reinforced to me the impression that Wally-boy was a very smart cookie ... and that normal police plodding wasn't likely to catch him.
For now, everyone was more or less contented to just wait for Wallace to make a mistake. Fortunately, I'm pretty good at thinking outside of the box and I was pretty sure that our smirking serial killer was too careful and self-controlled to make any sort of stupid mistake. He could handle his urges, apparently able to wait a month or even more between his killings. I was equally sure that he had found a very clever means of escape that so far hadn't been connected to his normal routine at all, and I was determined to find it!
The whole Deering Bay area of South Miami is fairly historic and had a colorful history, particularly back in the roaring 1920's. In those days, endless boatloads of rum sailed into the harbors here at night to quench the thirsts of Prohibition. Today, similar but different cargos from the Caribbean and Central or South America arrived at these docks daily, in spite of the modern drug prohibition. Girls, guns and all sorts of other smuggled contraband arrived and left daily, and whispered voices from the shadows hinted that the Watters organization took their percentage of it all.
Just by reviewing the list of suspects and the shadowy figures behind them, it wasn't at all hard to figure that the same families that were rum-running and making millions then were probably still at it today, and making even more millions now. The entire area around the harbor was lousy with big estates and fancy mansions, but just behind the Grotto were several blocks of old businesses that probably dated back to the prohibition-era, and that though gave me a few clues that the local investigators had missed. My paternal grandfather had worked for rumrunners on the Baltimore docks back in the day and he'd told me more than enough old stories to tickle my curiosity about smuggling both then and now. According to my grandfather, his own great-grandfather had been a famous smuggler in Essex, England about the time of the American Revolution. At least now as a result I thought I knew what questions to ask. The trouble was finding just the right person to ask!
Back in the day, Miami was one of the wettest cities in the nation, with so much access to smuggled liquor that Congressman LaGuardia declared Miami the 'Leakiest spot in the nation' with 'more prohibition lawbreakers in Florida than in any other state'. Speedboats could and did make the smuggling run to Bimini in just two hours and the Coast Guard had perhaps only six cutters at that time to patrol the entire eastern seaboard. It wasn't for nothing that Al Capone came to Miami in 1928 to secure one of his alcohol procurement sources. The profits were vast and the odds of law enforcement interference almost none.
During my grandfather's day in Baltimore, a town nearly as wet and lawless as Miami, enterprising bootleggers and rum-runners had constructed a labyrinth of underground tunnels solely for the purpose of storing and transporting alcohol unseen, from the docks to other distribution areas, warehouses and near rail lines. Looking at this pocket of old vintage buildings, I wondered now if the same couldn't have been done here as well?
It took quite a few phone calls but someone finally pointed me into the right direction to make contact with a retired veteran newspaper reporter that had written a book back in the 1960's about prohibition-era Miami. He didn't really want to meet me or even talk much about the big organized crime families of that era, and it took over an hour (and quite a few drinks) before I gained his trust enough to explain, more or less factually what I wanted ... albeit without naming any actual names. In short, I kept asking him, "Where there back in the 1930's, any significant smuggling tunnels at or near Deering Bay?"
"Deering Bay?" He laughed. "There's tunnels there almost everywhere around there! Gregory Watters was the boss of the rum running then, all during prohibition. He or his friends owned most of the businesses in the area near the waterfront too and they stored most of their products underground safely out of sight. More for protection against other rackets rather than the police, who were mostly all paid off and never caused much trouble to the operation. The ground around there was mostly hard packed sand and he put in a lot of good wide concrete tunnels. One supposedly stretched from the docks all the way over to somewhere near Palmetto Road. Another branch was said to go right under his mansion off of Royal Palm in Coral Gables, not to mention a few other branches under the nearby business district."
"Are they still there today? Do you have a map of the tunnels?" I asked, with entirely too much eagerness.
"The only part of the old tunnels I've been inside of was bricked off from the main passage a long time ago, but it's probably still there. It was in the cellar underneath the old McVaney Cleaners, but I think they're closed down now ... have been for years since the mid 1980's I think. Don't know who owns it now. During prohibition there was a local brewery down in the basement there but the Watters family sold the property right before the war. Probably did the bricking up of that side tunnel then too. As for a map, no, I've never seen one. Didn't mention the tunnels, or the Watters family in my book either. I was going to tell a few old harmless stories, but my old editor at the paper warned me to leave them out. They're still very powerful old money, even today and like to keep their privacy. They don't like any news stories about them or theirs at all, even good or fluff pieces for the society column. Anyone looking for anything harder on them gets warned off once and then they or their friends have an 'accident'."
"Sounds like they're still running the old traditional family businesses, like smuggling."
"That's strictly your opinion, not any word you might have ever heard from me. I'm retired and got my pension and would like to keep it. If ... and that's a big if, your fugitive is being hidden or protected by the Watters, then he's safe from everyone and anyone up to and including the chief of police, and probably even the governor. You don't want to know who they have on speed-dial. Last dumbfuck I heard of who got his nose into Watters business had a personal meeting in a dark alley with three big bastards in state trooper uniforms. Left the state in a hurry ... after he checked himself out of the hospital."
"Ouch. I get the hint. I've never heard of you and I should shred and burn any piece of paper that might even hint that I've talked to you."
"Bright girl. But if I were you, I just forget your young troublemaker even exists, unless you want to start a war you can't possibly win. But that's entirely up to you ... I never saw you. In fact, it's a good time to go visit my eldest daughter up near Atlanta and spoil my grandkids. A long stay, I think..."
He left without another word but I knew clearly what he was thinking. This was quickly turning into a suicide mission and I needed to decide exactly how badly I wanted to get this little prick ... and the dangerous old prick protecting him. Well, I already knew the answer to that ... I just had to decide how much collateral damage I was really willing to accept.
I've done worse things in my time. Much worse things. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite sure that my conscience could deal with too much more – but anything that would get our smirking serial killer off of the streets, for good, would be a checkmark on the positive ledger of my accounts. Maybe that would pay off a little of the moral debt I owed, but probably not nearly enough.
Finding the old McVaney Cleaners wasn't too hard, and just like the old reporter had thought, the place had closed up about twenty years ago. Looking through the front glass display windows, the storefront looked quite clean, as if someone came along every few months to dust up, but the place looked very much semi-abandoned nevertheless. A quick search of the online County tax assessor's office showed that once again the Watters family, or rather one of their real estate property management companies, now owned this property. Since it allegedly had a connection tunnel to their main underground highway, they would want to keep this access secure, safe and remaining very secret. This was another nail for my reasoning that the old family business was once again going strong ... especially if the underground doorway to the tunnels was unbricked and opened up once again!
The front door looked securely locked enough that I didn't much care for my odds of getting inside. My lock picking skills are rather average at best. They didn't teach that in either Army boot camp or weapons school. I learned just enough to make me dangerous in the Green Zone of Bagdad, but this doorway immediately looked to be beyond my comfort zone. The back door, a modern solid steel one, looked even more out of my capabilities, and had a new-looking, expensive and very secure lock. Up above the door was an equally modern security alarm box that connected up to the telephone poles above. This was rather too much security for an apparently abandoned building with nothing left inside to protect or guard. There was one vague possibility of forcing open a glass window on the second floor, but I was pretty sure that the security boys who had set up the alarm would have covered that third entrance too. They'd probably also installed top security motion detectors everywhere upstairs and down.
With a lot of prior preparation and planning, I could have worked out a plan to bypass all of these rather excessive security measures, but my gut was telling me that I was badly outclassed by this challenge. Facing fourth down and long, like any wise player I decided to drop back and punt, leaving the building unforced. Then I took a long break for a late lunch to think up another game plan for getting inside.