BIGGER THAN A CADILLACChapter 4 (To read this novel from the beginning, click here)
Together, Jud and Jud Hanson Jr. (JJ) operate the largest cattle operation in Palm Beach County, which in itself doesn’t mean much. They rear cattle, sell cattle, and show cattle—and the selling and showing means moving livestock across state and sometimes international lines. This is the aspect of their business that concerns Pap and therefore me. Because Pap’s been looking for a way to move merchandise ever since SunKoro, the outboard motor and dirt bike company we formerly employed, went up in literal flames two months ago. En fuego. A giant industrial complex spouting soot and gorgeous orange flickers and flashes and fireballs in the dead of night. Hard to put the thing out. Damn near impossible, really. And such a waste. The good people at SunKoro just couldn’t understand how replaceable they were—they wanted to increase their per transaction fee, which is not a negotiation you try with Pap. Pap negotiates you.
I won’t say how that fire started. But I’ll say this: no one was on the property when the first delicate flames lapped the air. I’ve always done my best to keep clear of murder charges. That’s what Pap’s got Bruce for—too bad for the SunKoro people. Anyway, the bitch of it is that those pasty patsies (of the palest American skin, for what it’s worth—trailer trash frat boys using a fake Japanese company name, Lord knows why, maybe to sound like more legitimate competitors with Yamaha)—have actually proved pretty tough to replace.
Pap has a very specific way he likes to think about his “product acquisition and relocation procedures” (I am not one-hundred percent on what comprises Pap’s merch—his business is compartmentalized and I do not deal with the actual product, though my guess is that he dabbles in everything from pot to oxy to tiger pelts. There’s not a hell of a lot I’d put past Pap, though I’ve told him I won’t be any part of human trafficking and would torch him in his sleep if he crosses that particular line): take an established business, offer the owners the right incentive, send several fake shipments unbeknownst to the operators, slowly and randomly mix in the real stuff, and increase volume when everything runs smooth. When it works, it’s kinda neat: we take care of the logistical hassles: loading the product, making the product invisible, and offloading the product. The distributors we work with never have to touch it, never have to see it, never have to change established routines or alter business in any particular way. They just have to move the product. Of course, if they get caught, they assume all risk because they don’t really know us. They never meet Pap. The man they think runs the Company is actually an accountant, quite respectable, who has no direct ties to us on paper. We talk to these people in terms of wanting partnerships, of course, but what we’re really bargaining for are servants. “Slaves,” Bruce calls them. But if they were slaves, Pap wouldn’t pay them so well.
Anyhow, after that fire, we needed a new distributor. To Pap’s credit, he keeps up supplies as far as six weeks out so that we can absorb these types of minor crises. Tonight was the first I learned that he’s interested in Prince Rupert, though it makes sense because we’re well past that six-week buffer. But I’ll get to the bull in a minute. The point is, we’ve been after the Hansons since June. Back then, it was my job to make the pitch, which meant finding the right incentive. So I watched their place for two solid weeks, learning the following:
Jud Hanson is sixty-four. He is a third-generation rancher, big as a schoolbus and near as yellow. Jaundiced, surely. He smokes incessantly. Drinks Clamatos spiked with vodka, chases them with beer, and finishes off a six-pack regularly by eight o’clock.
JJ is six-foot and one-eighty give or take ten pounds, making him half the size of his father to my eyes. He’s forty-five. I’ve never seen him with a cigarette. I’ve never seen him with a beer, whiskey, or even a Xanax. He runs the numbers side of the business.
Neither man is married, neither visits hookers, and neither keeps a regular girlfriend. JJ spends weekend nights in West Palm Beach, cruising the strip in his silver El Dorado and never stopping before finally returning to ranchland.
I dug up their financials, looked at the cost of their properties, the cost of their livestock, and read their last ten tax returns. I read every newspaper, magazine, and Internet tidbit about them that I could. I Facebook stalked Jud’s ex-wife then bumped into her at a tanning salon on the North Federal Highway in Boca Raton (who needs a tanning salon in Florida? It amazes me) and learned that their marriage fell apart after she found out Jud had allocated a quarter million dollars to a second family in Tampa (names of Cristiana la Paz and Sal la Paz—Sal appears to be another junior Hanson; the man has a knack for producing male offspring).
So I went to Tampa and watched Cristiana for two days and learned she prefers neon tangerine to just about any other clothing color choice and spends a good six hours a day shopping for shoes, clutches, swimsuits, and lingerie. Her breasts are too perky for her age or physics generally. She also packs a 9mm Beretta for which she has a conceal carry permit and which she keeps in working order at Bullet Zone, a gun dealer and shooting range outside the city limits. This appears to be the way the woman builds up her appetite for leafy green lunches. I am not sure why she carries the gun, but I find the fact, in conjunction with the payment from Jud, quite curious. Also, son Sal is borderline psychotic. He’s twenty-three. I tailed him from a gym to a basketball court to a bar. He broke two noses in one day: throwing elbows after a rebound and sucker-punching a guy who accidentally bumped him on the way to a restroom.
Unfortunately, none of that shed much light directly on the Hansons, and I returned to Palm Beach County somewhat at a loss. For all of Jud’s personal missteps, his business was (and is) making money. He could, it appeared, absorb both a divorce and a $250,000 payout without soiling his panties or even laying off the help. So last week, I went back to following JJ around on his nightly excursions to West Palm. He was cruising Clematis Street and pausing outside the Goth club Respectable Street when I gently tapped the fender of his Cadillac with my Miata, crumpling the poor Miata.
I stopped immediately, got out, and hurried up to the driver’s side of the El Dorado under the pretense of making sure JJ was alright. He was hurriedly zipping up his pants. A smatter of blood stained his hands and shirt. This was the little something I needed when I made our pitch: the knowledge that JJ was a voyeur, a pervert, a social outcast. I rapped the glass of his window with my fist.
“You okay?” I asked. “I’m so sorry.” I tried to put real feeling into the words. “Totally my fault.”
(To read BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC from the beginning, click here)
– Candice Cousins