In 1956, Tim Kelly began his young Indiana Jones style adventure by running away from home to survive the mean streets of New Orleans and enlist in the Coast Guard at the tender age of fourteen.
Kelly's early Coast Guard career took him to Hawaii, the Far East, and Alaska and in 1962, he returned to the Texas Gulf Coast where he was born and raised. His new assignment in Galveston made it possible to spend time with his estranged father in Freeport and provide opportunities for frequent visits to his mother in Port Isabel—roughly four-hundred miles further south.
* * *
Within walking distance of the Freeport waterfront stood a rundown stucco building, in an equally rundown strip mall. New lettering on an old door advertised the local office of the Seafarers International Union—James Kelly—Union Representative.
He entered the outer office and stopped at the edge of the desk belonging to a cute brunette who immediately put down her nail file and smiled up at him.
"Hi. I'm Tim Kelly. Is my dad in?"
Tim and his father had never been close. Then James had never been much of a father. Thus, there was a void in his formative years only partially filled by male role models like Mexican drug lord Rodolfo Guzman and deputy sheriff Dave Holt.
Although he never told him, Tim loved his father despite his character flaws. Like the time James took his son's, paper route money to go out drinking with his friends. Tim didn't know why he had kept the I.O.U. his father scrawled on the back of an old envelope and stuffed in his piggy bank. James never made good on it and Tim never mentioned it to him. Tim couldn't remember a single promise his father had ever kept.
"I'll tell him you're here." The young woman hurried into the older Kelly's private office.
Bursting out of his office James locked his son in a bear hug.
Tim's breath made a whooshing sound as it forcefully left his lungs.
Holding Tim at arm's length, "Let me look at you boy! You've grown into a man! Yes, you have. Mary Jo could you bring us some coffee?"
Seated in James' cluttered office Tim and his father tried to fill in the gaps stemming from their years of separation. Their conversation stopped when Mary Jo entered with coffee made earlier that morning and day old doughnuts.
"Thank you Mary Jo now no interruptions unless it's life-or-death. Mine."
When she left Tim turned to his father; "What's the deal with this union gig?"
"I'm not as young as I once was and I wanted to do at least one selfless act in my life to give back to the rank-and-file members of the shrimp fishing industry. I realize I've not been a real father to you but I wanted to do something in the years I have left to make you proud of me."
After an awkward moment of silence, James cleared his throat. "Would you like a little stiffener for your coffee?" He was holding a bottle of Jameson's Irish whiskey suddenly appearing as if by magic from one of the desk drawers.
"No thanks Dad it's a little early for me."
Pouring a large dollop of whiskey into his half-empty coffee mug James tilted his head. "Where was I. Oh yes the fat cats who own the fish houses and shrimp boats have exploited the fishermen along the Gulf Coast for years. It's dangerous and dirty work for poor pay and no benefits so before I die, I'm going to try to change all that and if I can make a difference, no matter how small it will be my legacy."
"That sounds good Dad but how are the fat cats reacting to your efforts?"
"Like you might expect, I've received threatening phone calls and letters and I've had my ass kicked on occasion and the local cops have begun a campaign of blatant police harassment, rousting me on the slightest pretext. In other words my efforts are making some people nervous."
* * *
As he approached the bed in the intensive care unit, Kelly was shocked to see his father with his left leg in traction and his right arm in a cast. At the sound of his son's footsteps James opened his eyes to the extent, his bruised and swollen eyelids would allow.
"Hi kid." The words were barely audible through cracked and swollen lips.
"Who did this to you Dad?"
"Some wise guy from here in Galveston. He calls himself Coastie."
"This jerk is in the Coast Guard?"
"I think he was but he got kicked out or something."
* * *
"Are you the doctor taking care of my father?"
"I'm Doctor Alvarez. Who is your father?"
"James Kelly. I'm his son Tim."
"I'm glad to meet you. Sorry it has to be under these circumstances."
"How is my dad doing? Can you give me some idea of his prognosis?"
"Well he was badly beaten and has a broken left femur and a broken right radius and ulna. There are also five broken ribs and multiple abrasions and bruises over almost his entire body. To put it in nontechnical language he's a mess. The good news is he has no obvious damage to any of his internal organs and doesn't have a skull fracture that we can see and he's conscious. I've treated him for injuries and illnesses in the past but nothing like this though."
"I don't suppose you have any idea where I can find the animal who beat him up?"
"I've no idea but the police may have a lead. They came just after your father arrived but he wasn't able to talk with them while we were working on him and they haven't returned. Detective Sergeant Adams left me his card and I'm assuming he's in charge of your father's case."
"Thank you Doctor I'll check with him later."
"Your father's stable and if he continues to improve, I plan to take him off the critical list and move him out of the ICU in two or three days. Meanwhile I'll write an order allowing you to visit anytime you wish."
"Thank you Doctor I appreciate that."
* * *
Galveston in the early 60s continued to enjoy its hard-earned reputation as one of America's last open cities. The Maceo Dynasty had all but faded away and the Fertitta Era was ramping up. Nothing legal or illegal happened in Galveston in the pre-JFK-assassination days without first getting the blessing of the Fertittas.
Shortly after Kelly's arrival in Galveston, he became friendly with the owner of the Colony Club. According to local media accounts Leo DeNoto was an under boss in the Fertitta crime organization.
"Hey Timmy how you doin'? You look like you lost your best friend or something."
"Not exactly Leo somebody busted up my old man and put him in intensive care over at the Public Health Service Hospital."
"That's terrible. Is he going to be all right?"
"His doctor thinks so but who knows?"
"That's a shame. Who would do something like that?"
"My dad is working for the Seafarers International Union trying to organize the shrimp fishermen down in Freeport and the fat cat fish house and boat owners aren't too happy about that. Dad thinks they hired a local wise guy who goes by the nickname Coastie to persuade him to back off. I'd like to find out if this character is one of the goodfellas or a bum. Either way I figure I owe him for my dad."
"I'm not familiar with this Coastie person. However, I'll make a few calls. Meantime have a seat at the bar and tell Mary to give you a drink on me."
DeNoto dialed a number from memory. On the second ring, a cheerful almost bubbly female voice came on line. "Gulf Oil Properties how may I direct your call?"
"Leo DeNoto calling. Is he in?"
"One moment I'll connect you."
"Hey Leo how's the boy?"
"Not bad. You?"
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