A Burning Cold Morning (Part 21)

Leo was not the fastest man but he did have the advantage over the driver, who seemed to be having trouble moving at a pace much faster than a light jog.  The man did, however, have a rather loud voice and his cries of “Thief!” and “Police!” trailed after Leo as he ran out onto Fifth and then left around the corner onto Washington Street.  The man’s yelling was a little bit fainter there but increased again a few seconds later and Leo realized the driver was around the corner also and still chasing him down.  The overcoat was making it difficult to run but Leo did not have time to take it off and also did not want to leave it laying around for the police to find later.  So he kept on, people staring at him as he passed by, one hand holding his hat low over his eyes and the driver’s shouts chasing after him.  He crossed over State Avenue and then cut down an alley back toward Capitol Way.  As he neared the end of that dim passageway he slowed down to a walk and tried to hide the fact that he was breathing heavily by turning up the collar of his overcoat.  Two men engaged in a conversation glanced at him as he stepped onto the road but quickly turned back to their own business.  Leo was only two blocks north of Crombie’s and knew he could not walk directly past it to return to the hotel.  Instead he wove through a few other blocks and then turned onto Fourth right down by the waterfront.

It was here that another improbable coincidence occurred.  Leo needed to get to Columbia Street so he could walk the back way to the Governor and in doing so he passed directly in front of the Angelus Hotel.  By this point his breathing had recovered and he was doing his best to look relaxed and natural.  Veronica was out front talking to M.E. George and happened to look up at the passing figure, doing the classic double-take when she recognized the man she had known from McNeil Island.  Leo noticed nothing including how Veronica quickly excused herself from her discussion with the store owner and quietly followed behind him.  When he swung around the back of Seventh Street and ducked into the side entrance of the Governor, she stopped and sat down on a nearby bench.

Although not as sure about Leo as he seemed to be about her, she was always looking for a good partner in crime and believed Leo was at least useful in that regard.  She had made a decent place for herself in the criminal world, especially in these years of living in Olympia, but having a male partner could open up a few new angles for exploration.  It was curious that Leo was here, and it made Veronica a little bit nervous considering that he may have some back looking for her.  He did not even know who she really was and there had not been anything romantic between them for Leo to come back looking to reignite.  Either way, she needed to confront him, get some answers and then decide how to play this situation.  After a brief, playful discussion with the desk clerk she obtained Leo’s room number and several minutes later was banging at his door.

“Yes, what,” Leo began as he opened that door but then stopped cold.  His mouth moved a few times before he found his words again.  “Grace, good lord, what are you doing here?”

“I came up here to ask you the same damn thing Leo.  What the hell are you doing in Olympia?”

“Really, well, maybe we should talk inside.  Please come in.”

After getting her a glass of water Leo sat down and leaned forward.

“It was a shock to see you at the door Grace, but, well you might not believe it but I’ve been looking for you.”

“I don’t know if I should be flattered or afraid.”

Leo gave a small laugh.  “Really, no harm intended.  I was looking for you to see about getting some business started.  You know Grace,”

blue ribbon cigar box

blue ribbon cigar box

Veronica held up her hand to stop him.  “First of all, do you have a light?”  She reached into her heavy white cardigan and produced a Blue Ribbon cigar.  After Leo had produced a box of matches she lit it and breathed out heavily.  “And secondly, my name is Veronica.”

Leo just stared at her for several long moments but then recovered and replied.  “Well, that is a surprise.  I guess then I have been hunting for the wrong person all along.”

“Not the wrong person, just the wrong name.”  Veronica smiled as she said that, the act an unnatural one on her usually stern face and it looked more like the grimace of a dying patient trying to fight through a bout of internal pain.  It went away quickly, replaced by her usual scowl.  “So, to get back to the start of this conversation, what the hell are you doing in Olympia?”

Leo told her a story, not the real one of course as that reality did not really put him in the best light.  Instead, he told a version of it that was more suitable, one where he left Kansas City voluntarily because there was not enough money to be made there for a man of his talents.  He did include the mainly truthful fact that Tom Pendergast owed him a favor, the only point in his storytelling where Veronica openly scoffed at him.  She knew about the Pendergast machine, she told Leo, and there was not  much chance that a man like that owed even a penny to a small-time operator like Leo.  He tried to convince her, insisting that he had indeed made an impression on the man, but she would not believe it and cautioned him to, “stick to your little lies, not these grandiose things.”

Giving up, Leo finished his story by saying he had just arrived in Olympia and had been looking for her since then.

“That’s it?” Veronica asked.

“Yes.” Leo replied.

“You just passed the days away looking for me?”

“Like I said, yes.”  Leo tried to look sincere but it was not working.

“You’re either a terrible criminal, a terrible liar or maybe both.  I’m not sure at this point except that I’m disappointed.”

That seemed to hit Leo hard and he leaned back with a hurt look on his face.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” Veronica continued, “I think you needed a place to hide from something, I don’t know what and it really doesn’t matter.  Maybe you remembered me, or maybe Olympia seems far away from everything else, or maybe you have some bushwa sentimental attachment to places you’ve been.  I don’t care about that either.  You are a criminal though, I know that for a fact.  And, you’re here and in my town, where I do business, so now you better come clean about what you’ve been up to.”

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