A Burning Cold Morning (Part 38)

At this point Leo glanced back at Lester who had a look in his eye that made it very clear he would not be forgetting this detail about Leo.  

“Get out! Now!” Leo shouted at Stanley, “Go back to work!”

“Who is he?” Stanley replied, pointing at Lester.  “Why did he say I didn’t know about what you two were doing?  What’s going on?”
Leo grabbed Stanley by the arm and shoved him out into the cold afternoon.  “Go back to work now!” he snapped before slamming the door shut and turning the bolt.

“Quite rough on him, weren’t you Leo?” Lester asked.  “He’s not exactly the criminal type, not by a long shot.  Is that who you’re into this jewelry scheme with?”

“You need to shut up too,” Leo replied.

Lester took a few steps so he was right in Leo’s face before he spoke in a low, rough tone while holding his hand against Leo’s chest.  “Don’t even try your tough guy act on me.  I’m not some dumb Dora or a Reuben you can fool with your little act and you ain’t the crime boss of Bakersfield either.  I tell you something friend, if you’re into it with that silly egg of a man than you’ll both be busted and locked up in little enough time.  I’m getting the hell away from this whole operation.”

“Settle the hell down, will ya?” Leo replied while pushing Lester’s hand off his chest.  “You don’t need to be worrying about him, I’ve got him under control, ok?  He isn’t even supposed to be out in town.  He just got a little confused when the mail came I guess, he’s a bit odd in that way.  But he’s no problem for us.”

“I really doubt that Leo, I really do.”  

Over the course of the next ten minutes the two men went back and forth but ultimately, with a promise to push hard on selling the stolen goods and to increase Lester’s cut, Leo won the man back.  With that resolved he ripped open the envelope and pulled out a letter.  As he did so a small photograph fell out also, landing on the floor.  It was of Olivia, a black and white image of her near a large tree with a small barn off to one corner of the picture.  It was a winter scene and the tree had clumps of frozen snow on the branches.  Lester reached down and picked it up, staring intently for several seconds before handing it to Leo.

“Your girl?”

“My sister,” Leo replied.

“She’s quite a bit of choice calico,” Lester stated, “any chance she’s coming out this way?”

Leo’s face flushed red instantly.  “You better shut up about her, and never bring it up again, you hear?  Never.”  

“Hmm, well, she’s very attractive is all, maybe someday I can meet her.”

Leo swung at Lester but missed by a large margin with the other man chuckling as he moved a few more steps away.  “Easy now Mr. Hombert,” he said, “just take it easy.  I won’t go bothering her but it’s good to know she’s out there.”   

“Damn you, get over here and say that to me!” Leo shouted, throwing the letter down onto the counter and putting up his fists.  “I won’t have you talking like that about her.”

“Easy, easy,” Lester replied as he clicked the door bolt open and stepped out, “you just take it easy and get back to selling things.”  With that he left and Leo remained, fists raised and face red, frustrated and angry.  When he finally settled down and read the letter it simply stated that Olivia had sold his items, would be sending the money soon, that she hoped he was well and wished him a happy holiday season. 

The events of that day brought considerable tension to both of Leo’s relationships with his partners, Stanley constantly bugging him to know about the “other man” and Lester mocking Leo or telling him that failure was imminent.  Lester also made almost a daily point of mentioning the Hombert last name and breezing out references to Leo’s sister, although always in a public place where any altercation would bring unwanted attention.  Once the Thanksgiving weekend had passed and the days turned to December things really started to pick up at the shop, with both the jewelry and the stolen items selling well to gift-purchasers who came into the store.  Leo even took to offering gift wrapping for an additional twenty-five cents on smaller items.   There was one more incident with the police at the shop also, one that Leo solved by buying the item back and throwing in an additional three dollars for the “unfortunate issue with quality” that the customer had experienced.  The pressure from the criminal community was mounting at a faster rate, with several more warnings from other grifters in Bakersfield and at least three other similar fake jewelry shops opening up in early December.  Leo knew the end was fast approaching but he was determined to make it through the Christmas rush if he could and then make a fast exit from town.  He knew that Lester was also making his own plans to leave after the holiday so Leo’s only concern was to break things off with Stanley in the smoothest way possible.  He was still formulating a plan for that on Monday, December 20th when he locked up the shop for lunch and started to walk toward the park.  As he approached the corner of his building he heard Lester’s voice coming from the small alley that ran between the L&S shop and the mercantile next door.  Leo also heard one other voice and that belonged to the policeman who had been into the shop twice in regard to customer complaints.  As he stopped walking and pressed himself against the side of the building to listen he heard Lester’s voice quite clearly.

“Ok, just take it easy, will ya?  I can tell you the whole damn story.” 

…to be continued

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