Beyond The Grave – Nine – Pearl
The plan was to land in San Francisco and purchase a vehicle. The address of the business was in Kansas City ‘on the Missouri side.’ Pearl had never been to the U.S., so she had no idea what they meant by that statement. She just followed directions and only asked questions when she felt she needed more clarification. The boss liked that about her.
Once the plane landed, Pearl grabbed her suitcase and headed toward the signs that read ‘Customs.’ Standing in line, she overheard the man in front of her complaining.
“I don’t get it,” he said to the woman standing next to him. “Why don’t they have enough customs agents working when they know these planes are coming in? Don’t they realize we’re all exhausted from traveling? The least they could do is accommodate passengers rather than piss them off.”
The woman just shook her head. Pearl didn’t know if she was agreeing with him or disagreeing with him.
“Next.” The agent behind the plexiglass called the man and woman up. They handed her their passports. Pearl couldn’t hear what questions they were being asked, so she could have her answers ready when it was her turn.
As the couple moved away from the desk, the agent called out “Next” again.
Pearl stepped forward. She gave the agent her passport.
“Business or pleasure?”
“Business,” Pearl answered.
“Where are you headed?”
“Kansas City, on the Missouri side,” Pearl replied. In her mind, she figured the agent wouldn’t know it was her first time in the U.S.
“How much money are you declaring?”
“I have $10,000 in cash.”
“How long will you be staying?”
“I’m not sure,” Pearl said.
“What’s your business?” the agent asked.
“I’m here representing the company I work for; we are purchasing a container lot.” Pearl’s English wasn’t perfect. She had difficulty with Ps and Rs. The agent seemed to understand what she was saying.
“Thirty days should be sufficient. If you need a longer visa, contact this number. Welcome to the United States. Enjoy your stay.”
Relieved, Pearl followed the signs that directed her to transportation. Once outside, she found a yellow cab. She asked the driver to take her to a used car lot.
The trip to Missouri was long and boring, but Pearl was pleased with her vehicle purchase. She didn’t know much about cars, but the white Mercedes sedan caught her eye. Mercedes was a popular car back in her homeland, and the price seemed reasonable. The salesperson gave her a discount for paying cash.
The shipping container yard was situated on the outskirts of town. It had a single wide mobile home at the entrance and was surrounded by a locked chain-link fence. Parking her car, she walked up to the single-wide and knocked on the door. A face appeared in the small pane of glass where a peephole should be.
“Who are you?” a gruff voice called through the door.
“Pearl. My boss sent me with your money.”
“’bout time,” the voice said as the door opened.
“Mr. Shehan?” Pearl asked.
“You’re looking at him.”
“Good, I have papers for you to sign before sealing the deal.”
“Whatever. I’m heading for the Keys so let’s make this happen.”
Pearl had no idea what ‘the Keys’ were and stood waiting for him to retrieve them. When he didn’t move, she thought she misunderstood him.
“Where you getting me the keys?” she asked.
“Ma’am, all the keys you need for this place are hanging by the front door.” Mr. Shehan pointed to a hook sticking out of the wall with keys dangling from lanyards. “I got them all labeled for ya too. Color-coordinated. The list is in the top draw.”
Pearl waved to Mr. Shehan as he and his camper truck pulled out of the gates. “Sayonara.” He called out as he drove away.
Pearl sighed in relief to finally be at her destination. As she looked around the mobile home, she made a mental note to purchase some paint and replace the carpets. The furniture would do for now.
Ten years ago. Pearl couldn’t believe it had been that long since she stepped foot onto U.S. soil. The old American saying, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ applied to her. It took five years to become a citizen and seven to buy the business from the Philippines’ owners. In the beginning, the business deal she had cut with them was one-sided. A sixty-forty split when she was doing all the work didn’t sit right with her.
Since coming to America, Pearl became a savoy businesswoman. She took no crap from anyone. The trucking companies soon learned Pearl was not one to mess with. If they didn’t pay their storage fees on time, she would sell their containers. Some found out the hard way.
Diego Martinez owned several trucking companies and stored his extra containers with Pearl. Several months had passed, and Pearl hadn’t received his rental check. As she walked the yard, she jotted down the serial numbers of all the containers not paid for and placed a courtesy call to Martinez’s cell phone. When she didn’t hear back, she placed an ad in the newspaper and on Craigslist.
A loud banging on her front door awoke Pearl from a dead sleep one night.
She grabbed the stool she kept by the door so she could peek out the small window. There stood three men dressed in suits. Their black hair greased back into matching bouffants.
“What you want?” she called out.
“Diego Martinez would like a word with you.”
“We closed. Come back in the morning.”
“We’re here now. May we suggest you open the door.”
“I call police,” she shouted.
“May not be a good idea. If you catch my drift.” One of the men stated as he pulled his jack open to reveal a sidearm. “We mean you no harm; we just want to give you some money.”
“Money? I can do money,” Pearl said as she opened the door gesturing for them to enter.
“Diego Martinez, Ms. Pearl.” The shorter of the three men stepped out with his hand extended.
“Ah, I know you. You not pay me for months and ignore my calls.”
“Not intentionally. I’m a busy man, and these frivolous business handlings are the responsibility of someone else. However, when I heard you had sold some of my special containers, it got my attention.”
“Shipping containers are not special. They’re just containers.”
“Do you have any coffee?” Diego asked Pearl. “I didn’t realize Shehan had sold the business. He understood how special our containers were, so I need to explain it to you. Do you mind if I sit?” He gestured toward the kitchen table.
Pearl gathered her robe and tied it closed. She put the coffee on and sat down across from Diego. Several piles of money had been stacked in the middle of the table.
“Will this do to keep you from selling my remaining containers?” Diego asked.
Pearl reached out and started counting the money, all one-hundred-dollar bills. Her little eyes widened. “Boy, they must be really special. And yes, this will hold you over for a couple years.”
“Good. Now what I need from you is who purchased my three containers?”
Pearl got up from the table and walked over to her office area. She unlocked a metal file cabinet and took out a file folder. Opening it up, she ran her finger down the list of names of the people who purchased containers.
“Hank has two of them.”
“Hank? Does he have a last name?”
“I imagine so, but he paid cash, so I didn’t ask.”
“Do you have an address?”
“Here. Blue Springs, Missouri. Off the I-70, has a mechanic shop.” Pearl grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down the address for Diego.
“And the other container? Who did you sell that to?”
Pearl ran through the list again. “A renovation company in Kansas City.” She wrote down their information.
Diego stood up, his chair scraping across the new linoleum floor. “I have your number on my phone now, Pearl. If my office forgets to pay our rent, do not hesitate to call my private number.”
Diego looked at his guys and jerked his head toward the front door. The guys walked outside. Diego took this opportunity to discuss a business deal with Pearl.
“My company is the American side of the Mexican Cartel,” Diego explained. “If anyone else had come here tonight, I can assure you it would have turned out much differently. Our shipping containers are made out of steel and lined in a thin layer of lead. Nondetection of radar or infrared devices is what makes them so special. Should I explain why we use these containers?” Diego asked Pearl.
“We are in the people transporting business. We transport people over the border from Mexico and Canada. We ARE the largest people transporting business, which is why our shipping containers are so special. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
Pearl nodded again.
“Our transporters travel from different U.S. ports; Savannah, Houston, New Orleans, Charleston, Miami on the east coast. The west coast has gotten a little trickier as they have beefed up their security. We moved from Long Beach up to Portland and Seattle. We drive our people into the middle of the country and set them up in massage parlors or sell them to sex shops.”
Pearl had heard about rings like these though she never in a million years would have believed she’d be a part of it.
“So, now you know. Mi Amiga, welcome to our Familia.” Diego walked over to Pearl and gave her a bear hug. She thought one of her ribs would crack if he pushed in any harder. She gave him a weak smile as he stepped back, hands still on her shoulders as he looked her in the eyes.
Pearl saw nothing good in Diego’s dark brown eyes. If eyes were the window to the soul, she figured he’d lost it a long time ago. All Pearl saw was emptiness, and it frightened her. But she knew how to play the game and decided she wanted her fair share.
“The arrangement you had with Mr. Shehan, who negotiated the price of the storage?”
“I don’t deal with negotiations.” Diego squinted his evil eyes at Pearl. “What exactly are you getting at?”
“I want more money. My risk has now increased. I don’t need the law all up in my business.”
Diego started to pace. “How much more are we talking about?”
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure it out and get back to you.” Pearl was surprised he was considering it.
* * * * *
Hank was walking out of a shipping container when the VICAP team pulled up his long gravel driveway. Daniella looked over at Ramon, who was driving. “Think he’s moving more stuff?”
“Hard to say. If this perp is hiding bodies, the scanners will pick it up.”
But later that afternoon, when the team pulled out empty-handed, everyone was puzzled, including Old Hank. He thought for sure this was the beginning of his end.
Daniella thought she finally had him.
Disappointed, she went home that night, downed a bottle of red wine, and combed through her notes. She was missing something.
And then it hit her; Pearl.
Daniella sent a text to Rodriquez, ‘road trip tomorrow.’