A Burning Cold Morning (Part 41)

After a moment of recovery Leo stepped into the doorway to block Stanley from entering.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Hi!” Stanley replied brightly, not picking up on the wariness in Leo’s voice.  “Boy, it took a bit to find you, but I did it!  I must have been to every other place in town but I should have started here.  This is a nice place, a good place for you.  Can I come in?” 

Leo repeated his question in a slightly more hostile tone and Stanley’s face reflected that he was getting the message.

“I didn’t mean no offense, I really didn’t.  I just, well, I had to get out of Bakersfield and I knew you were coming here and maybe could help me.  Besides, the mail came,” Stanley said while extending an envelope he had taken from his pocket.

“What? The mail, oh yes, the mail.  My mail, you mean?” Leo replied while looking at the envelope.  “Well, thank you,” he concluded and started to shut the door.

“It’s the police though, that’s why I’m here right now anyway, so fast, I just had to leave so fast.”

Leo stopped closing the door.  “The police?” he inquired.

“Yes, you bet,” Stanley replied in a nervous and excited voice that was gaining in volume, “they were right at Dad’s door,”

“Shut up and get in here,” Leo interrupted, grabbing the other man’s arm and pulling him into the room.  He closed the door promptly and, as he started to question Stanley, Robert walked out of the sitting area that was tucked into one corner of their room.  

Texaco truck circa 1926

Texaco truck circa 1926

It took a few minutes to get the younger Bittenhoffer calmed down but once that was done, the details came out fairly quickly.  Apparently, just the day after Leo had driven out of Bakersfield, the postman had delivered a letter to the clock shop which had been addressed to Leo Humbert.  This particular postman, new to the job just three days ago,  had actually taken the time to ask Stanley a few questions about, “who this Humbert was and why was he getting mail at the clock shop instead of a regular address.”  Stanley had managed to convince him that the addressee in question was a friend who was moving to the area and just needed a temporary place where his mail could be delivered.  As this part of the story was being told Leo had commented that it sure seemed odd that the post office was so interested in that piece of mail and that this did not bode well for his own prospects in the area.  Lester agreed and added they may all of them were in danger and should make plans to leave soon.  Stanley had then continued, revealing that his original plan had been to wait until after Christmas to contact Leo about the mail.  That had all changed later in the day, when he had been walking back to his Dad’s house after going into town to pick up some grocery items.  As he approached there were two policemen standing at the front door, already talking to Ben Bittenhoffer. Stanley had quickly hidden behind a large mulberry bush and watched for several minutes.  Although he could not hear what was being said, it looked like a tense conversation and his father looked extremely confused and worried.  That had been enough to spook Stanley completely and he had grabbed the few items of clothing he kept at the repair shop, some money from the bank and started to figure out how to get out of town and down to Pomona.   He had managed to pick up a ride from a Texaco truck driver headed out of Bakersfield and he had arrived late on the night of the twenty-second.  After a long night spent walking to hotels and boarding houses, and being met with hostility in more than one place due to his early morning inquires, he had finally decided to check the Mayfair.  That caught Leo and Lester up on the story and Stanley had slumped back in the chair with a, “I’m so relieved I found you, now I’ll be safe.”  Lester, who had remained quiet for most of the story, burst out laughing.

“You are about as stupid as I figured you would be,” he commented and walked back into the sitting area.

“What’s he mean by that?” Stanley asked.

“Never mind it.  Just let me think,” Leo replied.

After fifteen minutes or so, during which Stanley fell asleep, Leo sat silently, staring at the fake flowers in a vase on the mantle of the fireplace.  Then he got up and walked over to where Lester was sitting, reading the paper.  What followed was an argument that managed to wake up Stanley, who then overheard the details of how much Lester wanted him out of the room, Leo’s insistence that he needed to look after him, and both of their desire to get out of town quickly.  When they finished, Stanley feigned still being asleep and then “woke up” five minutes later.  

“What are we going to do now?” he asked Leo.

“We’re all going to stay right here in this room for now, and that means no one leaves.  We can’t be out on the streets right now.”

“But, this is Pomona.  They aren’t looking for us here.” 

“Boy, you really are,” Lester started, then cut himself off following a glare from Leo.  “Listen, here’s some information.  Police talk to each other, okay?  Pomona cops could easily be looking for us too.”

“Really?  I didn’t, I mean, yeah, I understand.  I guess I do.  So what do we do?”

“We stay here,” Leo repeated, “so just settle in and stay quiet.”

They passed a few hours in relative silence, Lester calling down for lunch for all of them around noon and managing to carry on a civil discussion with Stanley about clocks as they ate.  Just as they were finishing, Lester asked Leo a question.

“You know, you never did open that letter, did you?”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s none of your concern.”

“Well, I mean the man did come all this way to bring it to you,” Lester replied while gesturing over at Stanley, “don’t ya think we should see what it’s all about?”

“It’s personal, so shut up about it,” Leo snapped back at him.

“Sure, sure,” Lester replied with a sly smile.

The three of them managed to get through that day and the next, passing Christmas Eve playing cards, napping and reading newspapers.  They all even shared a small spice cake for dessert and listened through the windows to some carolers outside the hotel.  It was a pleasant night overall and none of them would have believed that the next day, Christmas, would include an attempted murder. 

…to be continued

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