A Burning Cold Morning (Part 26)

Leo blinked a few times before answering Jerry’s request to come into his room.  The man was acting courteous and polite but Leo knew this was not going to be some kind of delightful social call.  Salazar’s next words made that even more clear.

“How about you go and fetch Ronnie up here for us also, ok?”

“You want Veronica here too?”

Jerry just looked back at Leo in reply.

“You want me to leave you here, in my place?”

More silence followed and then Leo quietly shuffled past Salazar, who was partially blocking the doorway, and went to get his partner.   When they had both returned Jerry slowly closed the door and asked them both to sit down.  He remained standing as he began to speak to them in his slow drawl.

“Now, I’m goin’ta make this just as simple as possible for you two.  I don’t know what happened with our deal there bud,” he began, gesturing toward Leo as he spoke, “but apparently you decided not to go into business with me.  That I count against you.”  Salazar then turned his attention to Veronica and continued.  “Now you Ronnie, I know you came over to talk but like I said, quite frankly, I don’t want you runnin’ no business with me by yourself.”  Veronica started to protest but Jerry silenced her with a scowl.  “I respect you though, for showing up and for the business you’ve already done in this town.  You never crossed me yet, well not before the Scott’s robbery, and I’m putting you in the positive column in this little situation we have.  You two see where I’m at?  I’ve got this fella in the bad column, some unknown guy I sit down with for awhile to discuss business and then he turns his back on me.”  Jerry held his hands in front of him, right hand lower than the left.  “And then over here,” he continued while moving his left hand up, “I’ve got Ronnie, a respectable piece of our little criminal community here in Olympia.  So you see,” and at this point his hands were held evenly next to each other in the air, “we got a balance, just barely I tell you, but we’re at a balancing point so to speak.”

He stopped talking and looked back and forth between Leo, who was sweating a bit and tapping his fingers across his knee, and Ronnie, who still looked angry but was otherwise calm and collected.  Salazar let things linger like that for several long moments and then he spoke again.

“Now I gotta tell you, it ain’t goin’ta take even the littlest piece of a screw-up on your two’s side to seriously upset this delicate balance.  And if that happens, there ain’t goin’ta be anything you can put back on the other side to even things up.  You two understand me?”

Both Leo and Ronnie nodded in reply.

“So, what’s going to happen is that right now I’m goin’ta see thirty-four dollars and thirty-eight cents appear right here in my hand like fucking magic,” Jerry said while tapping his right palm with his left index finger, “and I better not have to wait very long for it.”

Leo looked at Veronica but she was already up and moving toward the door, whispering, “I’ll just be a quick minute,” as she passed Jerry.  As the two men waited not a word was spoken and Salazar’s right arm remained outstretched, palm up, waiting for the money.  Veronica returned about two minutes later and laid thirty-five dollars gently across his palm.

“It’s a little more, I didn’t want to waste time counting out change.  I’m sorry about all this Jerry,” Veronica said, “I really am.  I know the deal around here but you really got me mad when you wouldn’t go into business with me.  I’ve done my time, you know what I can do and,”

“That’s enough,” Salazar interrupted, “we ain’t goin’ back over that again.  We’re moving forward.  This money right here,” he said as he closed his fist around the cash, “represents exactly fifteen percent of what you stole yesterday from the grocery store and that’s goin’ta be the deal going forward.  Fifteen percent of everything, you understand me?”

“Yes, yes, I do,” Veronica replied although Leo only nodded in reply.

“I know this town and everything that happens, every crime, who committed it, what they took, even when the police don’t know a damn thing,” Jerry said, “so don’t try to cheat me.  Otherwise…”  He held his hands evenly up in front of him again, and then abruptly dropped his right hand.  “You’re both finished.”  Drawing a finger across his neck for emphasis, Salazar turned and walked out of Leo’s room.

They sat there in silence for about four minutes and then Veronica slowly walked toward the door.  She was just about to step out when Leo, who now had a face flushed red with anger, spoke.

“Do we really have to pay him?  I can’t imagine having to cut that fool into our profits, it ain’t right.”

“Leo, like I’ve said before, you’re the fool.  I might have been temporarily out of my mind but I’m all better now.  We can do this business we talked about and pay Jerry Salazar every damn penny we owe him, or you can get out of Olympia right now, tonight I mean, and never come back.  I’m mad as hell right now about this, mad as hell at Jerry, but I’m not looking to end up dead.  So either come get me in the morning and we go forward under his terms, or be gone forever.”

The next morning, after a night spent awake pacing his room and being angry about pretty much everything that was happening, Leo knocked loudly on Veronica’s door.   From that day, and for the next thirty-three days, the two of them lived as peaceful of an existence as the car stealing scheme they were running would allow.  When they were not busy with that, Veronica hung out at the speakeasy and ran a few side grifts that Salazar agreed to exempt from their agreement.  During the daytime down periods Leo sat in his room reading civil engineering books he picked up at the local library.  When Veronica asked him why such a mundane topic interested him Leo would make jokes about how he planned to get famous by building the nation’s best sewer system.  In reality, he took notes relating to information that he believed would help him in two main areas: bank robbery and prison escapes.  At night he took part in what had fast become his favorite activity, hanging out at the secret strip clubs in Olympia.  Although Veronica mocked him constantly for this vice Leo kept going and became quite friendly with several of the women who worked there.  Together they both made good money and spent it freely, and all seemed well.  Then, on Monday March eighth, Veronica burst into Leo’s room with very bad news.

…to be continued

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