A Burning Cold Morning (Part 20)

Angelus Hotel Olympia Wa - courtesy olympiahistory.org

Angelus Hotel Olympia Wa – proprietor and staff of M.E. George Grocery – courtesy olympiahistory.org

The incredible coincidence of Veronica’s presence in the same town as Leo, not to mention her living less than a block away from where he was staying, would be unbelievable in any story.  It was, however, true in this one.  Veronica had lived at the Angelus Hotel, located at 204 West 4th, for almost six years in what was an unusual stretch of location stability in her life.  All of the rooms were on the upper floors, with the entire ground level dedicated to various retail establishments including the M.E. George grocery where she occasionally picked up part-time work.  The owner of that business, Michael Edward, was one of the few people in town who knew Veronica and did not consider her to be a complete scoundrel.  She was good with numbers and he would ask her to check his books and inventory from time to time, and she also filled in at the register when he needed some time off.  On this particular day, with Leo sitting in a park around the corner, Veronica was off to tend to one of her other schemes.

Capitol Way Olympia WA looking south - Crombie's is on the left

Capitol Way Olympia WA looking south (caption is incorrect) – Crombie’s is on the left

She walked out of her building and proceeded to pass directly in front of the Governor, walking past the park although neither her nor Leo glanced in each other’s direction.  Instead she walked on and Leo got up four minutes later and walked back toward Crombie’s Drugstore which bordered the park on the north side.  While out previously inquiring about jobs and scouting locations, he had been in the drugstore while a delivery was bring made.  The store had a back entry, which was open at the time and Leo could clearly see the truck, rear door open and piled up with various boxes.  The driver, a short man with a slight hunchback, was standing at the lunch counter eating a sandwich and having a loud conversation with the owner Jack Crombie about his disagreements with President Coolidge.  Leo had already been dismissed Mr. Crombie, told that they did not need any help at the moment, but he lingered, sipping on a soda he had purchased and counting the minutes.  Twenty of them passed with the truck wide open and the driver and owner oblivious to anything except their own conversation.  It was the driver’s final comment, “I’ll see ya in two days,” made after he finally went back and unloaded the boxes, which gave Leo the information he had used to develop his plan.

It had indeed been two days since that observation and he wanted to see if everything happened again in the same way.  Purchasing a soda, he waited but the truck did not arrive.  Not wanting to be looked at suspiciously for lingering too long, he walked out and across the street, leaning up against the cold brick of a mercantile business.  Forty minutes later Leo saw the truck come around the corner and a short time after could see the driver at the lunch counter.  Making notes in his pad he counted off twenty three minutes this time and then returned to his hotel room.  It took another four scouting sessions before he felt confident enough in the timing of the deliveries to decide to undertake the mission the next time the truck was scheduled to come to the drugstore.  That day was January 21st and he woke that morning eager to put his plan into motion.

United Suitcase ad 1911 - similar to the one purchased by Leo

United Suitcase ad 1911 – similar to the one purchased by Leo

This first robbery was planned to be a small one, just a snatch and grab from the collection of boxes in the rear of the truck.  Leo wanted to see both what exactly might be in those packages and also determine what kind of reaction occurred.  Would the one missing box be noticed?  Would it be assumed to have been stolen, or maybe just lost off the truck?  Would the police be called?  Once he had that information he would be able to develop a plan for a larger robbery or possibly a series of smaller ones.  He had dressed for the event in a light grey suit, a brown overcoat and a dark grey fedora. He wanted to be nondescript and the wider brimmed hat would also allow him to partially cover his face by pulling it low and bending the edge.  Leo’s plan was to grab the box, walk out onto the side street off Capitol Way and duck into an alley that was one block west.  There he could open the box, get a quick idea of its contents and transfer them to a rather bulky United brand suitcase he had picked up from a secondhand store.  Once that was accomplished, he planned to stroll back to the Governor, looking to anyone who noticed like a guest coming in for a stay.   That was the plan he had come up with anyway and after tucking the suitcase behind a pile of garbage in that alleyway he walked toward the drugstore. Leo then stepped into the driveway behind Crombie’s, truck already parked and the driver inside,  feeling confident that the day was going to be a success.

It was a few small but important details, changes to what Leo had observed as the usual pattern of these deliveries, which would lead to the downfall of his plot.  Leo had not been inside the drugstore when the truck arrived, observing instead from across the street.  He missed the driver’s comment to Mr. Crombie, made as he came through the back door, that his wife was sick and he needed to pick up some medicine for her.  He also had not noticed that there was a sign in the front window, “Cook Sick – No Food Today,” which meant of course that there would be no lunch for the driver.  Instead, Mr. Crombie offered to prepare the medicine while the driver unloaded the truck.  That had begun while Leo stashed the suitcase and he was just lifting a box out of the vehicle when the hunchbacked man emerged from the store.  There was a shout, the box fell to the ground, and the chase was on.

…to be continued

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