A Burning Cold Morning (Part 13)

Early the next morning, Christmas Eve, he stopped the church’s maintenance man as he was unlocking the side door. Seven dollars later Leo had a promise from him to ring the church’s bells at 10 p.m. that night.  He had hoped for it to cost less, initially offering three dollars, but the man had been insistent, stating that there was a decent chance he would get fired over it and that he would need the additional money to tide him over until he found new work.  Leo also knew that technically the car was supposed to be stolen on Christmas  Day but that had been impossible to convince the maintenance man to go along with as “ringing them bells on Jesus’ day is surely a sin no money can save me from.”  So, it would have to be Christmas Eve, and maybe he could hide the car someplace overnight to make good on the original instructions.

With those things settled, Leo had some time to spare until he needed to start actually acting on his plan later that night.  As he sat nervously in his room that morning he came up with one final detail that he thought would ensure his place in Pendergast’s organization.  For that he needed to take another walk, this one outside the city limits, and go kill some rabbits.

These rabbits would be the animal kind, not their human namesakes that were controlled by Shannon.   Leo had brought a small pistol with him, tucked into his pocket as he made his way past Market Square and then alongside the train depot that fronted the Missouri River near the bridge.  Forty minutes later he was well away from the main part of the developed area in Kansas City and picking his way along the riverbank.  Red Godding, who was country-born and raised before embarking on his criminal career, often talked about killing rabbits down in this area of the river, bringing them back to the Savoy to make into stew.  Leo did not know much about hunting, having avoided it as much as possible during his own youth, but he figured that it could not be that hard to kill a few small animals.  This of course proved to not be true and several other men he ran into, armed with traps and rifles, gave him looks of pity and amusement as they saw him hiding with his pistol in hand.  Leo persevered though and, after two hours of crouching in river weeds and behind trees, he had two rabbits in hand to take back with him.

Stashing his kills in a box, Leo took a nap and woke up around six-thirty in the evening.  Knowing he had a long night ahead of him, he ate a large dinner down at the Savoy’s restaurant and then went back to his room to prepare himself.  He spent a little more time practicing with the lock and then pulled out a map of the city.  Although he had his original route well-planned and memorized, he wanted to be familiar with as much of the city’s layout as possible.  This was especially important now that he was stealing the car early and was going to have to hide out with it for awhile.  He came up with a few general ideas but nothing definite, hoping that he could finalize his plan on the way to Shannon’s house later in the evening.  Setting the map aside, Leo then pulled out a piece of wood that he had picked up out of the scrap bin of a lumber mill a week before while on a walk.  He had given the message some thought, wanting it to be derogatory enough to really impress Pendergast.  Written sloppily in black paint, the message read:

Shannon is a Zozzled Four-Flusher

Who’s The Next Dead Rabbit?

After the paint dried he wrapped it in burlap, cleaned up, and then got ready to depart.  It was cold that day, around twenty-six degrees by evening with the temperature still dropping, and Leo pulled on a sweater before shrugging into a grey wool overcoat and snapping his gloves closed at the wrists.  Shoving the rabbits into a canvas bag and tucking the sign under his arm, he put on his fedora, cocking the brim up just a little over his right eye, and walked out to steal Joe Shannon’s Renault.

As he walked south toward his target’s house, Leo thought again about what to do with the vehicle after he stole it.  He was a little bit uncertain about how Pendergast was going to view the fact that he was stealing the car on the wrong day, but he was certain that displaying it to mock Shannon before Christmas morning was going to result in not getting paid.  Kansas City was a big enough place, but Leo did not have any acquaintances who owned building where something as big as the Renault could be hidden.  All of his friends lived in rooms much like his own if not smaller.  Also, with large portions of the city controlled by one of the two factions, there really were not many places he could go that someone would not report seeing the Renault either to Pendergast or Shannon.  He continued thinking about it all the way to the Orphan’s House, trying to avoid the few people out for a late Christmas Eve stroll as much as possible, but had not come up with anything by the time he arrived at eight forty-five in the evening.

He rested there, in the darkness behind the Orphan’s House for fifteen minutes, stomping his feet to keep the feeling in them and blowing warm breath inside of his gloves.  He then picked his two packages back up and walked briskly toward Shannon’s house.  As he approached he could see two lights still on in the upstairs windows although the bottom floor was entirely dark.  Ducking off the road, behind a large tree and a group of cedar bushes, Leo waited and watched, hoping that all of the lights would be extinguished.  That, however, did not happen and at nine forty-five, with only fifteen minutes to spare until the bells rang, he knew that he had to make his move.  Walking rapidly up to the secured shed door, fedora now pulled down over both eyes, Leo set down the dead rabbits and the sign, yanked off his gloves and pulled out his lock picks.

…to be continued

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