A Burning Cold Morning (Part 18)

“Christ,” Leo replied while running his hand through his hair, “I have to blouse outta here if that’s the way it is.  But still, I want to be sure.  Can you take a message for me to Pendergast?”

“Still stupid huh?  Don’t you get it, you need to leave Lee!”

“Will you?”
“Damn, if it helps get you outta here, sure.  What’s the message?”

“Hang on,” Leo answered, rummaging around in his pants pocket for a moment before producing a neatly folded up piece of paper.  “Here, take it and get an answer quick, ok?  I can’t be around here much longer if I’ve been burned.”

Red had a look in his eye as he replied, sympathy mixed with anger.  “You’ve been burned Lee, you’re just too stupid to see it.  Go pack your bag.”

Red walked off, back out the door, and Leo returned upstairs, opening a suitcase but not putting anything into it.  He really wanted this to work out, for his risk to have been worth it, for his rank as a real criminal to be on the rise.  Forty minutes later he answered Red’s knock at his door.

“Well?” Leo asked with a look of hope.

“You really don’t get it do you, Lee?   I almost feel sorry for you, but just almost.  Someone as stupid as you probably deserves to be dead by now.”

“Damn you, what’s the answer?”

“It’s simple.”  Red held up his left hand as he spoke, like he was making a proclamation.  “Mr. Pendergast thanks you for your work but due to present circumstances cannot provide you with any immediate assistance.  He will in the future, if an opportunity presents itself, and you are welcome back in Kansas City anytime.”

“Bushwa!” Leo shouted back, sitting down on the arm of his Crocker lounge and burying his head in his hands.  “Damn, damn, damn!  I can’t believe they would burn me like this, after what I did.  That wasn’t no easy caper to pull off and then they give me the icy mitt?  I just can’t believe it.”

“Listen Lee, you gotta leave now.  I know this ain’t easy to hear, but it’s true just like I said it was and you’re a dead man in KC right now.  So, pack up your things and leave and do it right now.”

“How am I supposed to get out of here?  They’ve got the place surrounded, they must have by now, I’m trapped in this damn building and burned by everyone!”

Red sighed and replied.  “Stop the antics Lee, it’s not a good look for you.  I can get you outta here, just get your things packed like I told you to do already.”

“You really think you can get me out?  Safely?”

“Yes, yes I can and I will, now please.”  Red motioned toward the open suitcase and Leo finally got up and walked over to his dresser.

It only took him fifteen minutes to pack up his life in Kansas City and then he rang up the manager of the Savoy and turned over his key and final payment.  It was not a pleasant moment for Leo as he had hoped to make his mark in the city and had been planning on staying around for the indefinite future.  He was not happy at all with the way he was being treated by Pendergast, he still feared for his life even with Red’s assurance, and he was once again feeling like he had missed a chance to gain some kind of evaluated standing in the criminal world.  The only thing he felt good about was his own performance and behavior, except of course the scared and frightened emotions that embarrassed him so much when they came to the surface.  Maybe that was the thing holding him back, he just needed to get tougher and things would start to look up.

For now, he grabbed his suitcase and another smaller valise and followed Red down into the basement of the Savoy.  Once down the stairs Red walked fifteen feet and pulled back a large piece of plywood that was leaned up against the wall.  That revealed a door, and when they stepped through it was into a narrow tunnel which was dark and smelled of stagnant water.  Flicking on a flashlight, Red explained that this was an old access tunnel which the workers had used while constructing the Eighth Street trolley tunnel, and that it led away from the hotel and directly into the main tunnel itself one block away.  Leo was amazed but also a little put off by the claustrophobic and damp  feeling of the narrow passage, wincing each time he bumped into one of the walls.  Finally though, they approached a dark, iron door which Red opened with a key, and Leo emerged into the Eighth Street tunnel.

Eight Street tunnel

Eight Street tunnel

“You better hurry,” Red said, already turning back to return to the Savoy, “that trolley is going to come past here in about fifteen minutes.  Go that way.”  Pointing to Leo’s left, he waved and finished with, “And stay away for a good while.  They have a warrant out for you now on that Shannon theft, it’s under Lee O’Dare, which I know isn’t your real name.  So maybe you shouldn’t use that one anymore.  Good luck.”  He was gone after that, just a shadow being led down the passageway  by the flickering beam of the flashlight.  Leo made it, clearing the tunnel before the trolley came, and then he quickly eased out of town, a plan already forming in his head to return to Washington.

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 17)

So that day passed and then the next two and Leo spent the time mostly just sitting around his room and reading.  At least he read when he could, as a majority of his waking moments were spent pondering the situation he was in and just how much danger there might be for him.  His thinking went in a circle, over and over again; Shannon’s mad and wants him dead, some thug is just waiting for him to step outside the Savoy to collect the money on his head by putting him down, Pendergast would not leave him in such danger, he was safe after all, Shannon’s mad…  On and on it went.

Walnut Street Kansas City Missouri

Walnut Street Kansas City Missouri

Finally, after breakfast on Tuesday, January 29th, Leo had convinced himself that all was indeed well, he was in fact protected and could carry on with his normal routine.  There was not a shred of evidence to support that, other than the fact that he was still alive, but he chose to believe it anyway.  Stepping out the front door of the Savoy into an usually warm winter morning, Leo took off at a leisurely walk.  He was feeling good and happy, mostly preoccupied with how he could approach Tom Pendergast to capitalize on his new association with the man, and he whistled a little bit as he walked.  His destination, a nondescript brown building on Walnut Street, was a poorly kept secret of the prohibition era, a place you could pick up a bottle or two of homemade liquor.  After stopping in, Leo took the longer way back to the Savoy, enjoying the weather and his sense of better things to come.

He even stopped and sat for awhile in Central Place, reliving in memory his time spent there after the car theft, embarrassed now about his shaking hands and worry.  Those were thoughts he preferred not to linger on, so he started walking again, eventually passing between Humboldt and Central Schools.

He probably never would have noticed the man if it were not for the fact that just as he was passing the schools he bumped into a woman walking the other way on the road and almost dropped his package of liquor.  Saving it required him to spin partially around and that is when he saw the man.  Tall, maybe six foot four, dressed in a black overcoat with the collar turned up, cigarette smoke drifting out from under the rim of a wide fedora.  It was almost too theatrical for Leo to believe, and he might have shrugged it off except for the flinch.  Just as he turned around he saw the man flinch, not in an exaggerated way, just a little bit, enough to tip Leo off anyway.  The man did not want to be seen back there, walking so casually along the road about one hundred feet behind Leo.  Right in that moment he realized that his calculations about his own safety, and Pendergast’s protection, had likely been very wrong indeed.

Speeding up his pace, Leo began to take the most haphazard route possible, cutting over at every block, still hoping that maybe it was not true; Eleventh to Oak, Tenth to McGee and then finally left onto Ninth.  From there it was a straight run to the Savoy seven blocks away.  Looking back, it was still true.  The man had followed him through all of those streets and was still the same distance behind him.  His fears confirmed and all hope gone, Leo ditched the liquor package on a door stoop and took off at a run for the Savoy, embarrassed but too afraid to care.  Three blocks later, another similarly dressed but much shorter man with a mustache stepped out from behind a vehicle, put one hand inside his coat and watched silently as Leo approached.  Glancing quickly back, Leo saw that the other man had maintained his same distance and the two thugs had him neatly sandwiched between them.  Leo had reached full panic mode just as a police car turned down Ninth from behind the smaller man.  It gunned its engine just a little bit, enough to get the man’s attention, and after looking back he removed his hand from inside the coat and got back into his own vehicle.  A quick look from Leo confirmed that the taller man had also stopped his pursuit, a welcome fact but he kept running anyway.  Passing the police vehicle with a small wave, Leo did not stop until he was safely behind his own door, collapsed onto hands and knees and breathing heavily.

It took him awhile to recover, and even longer to summon up the courage to leave his room, but Leo had to get a message to Pendergast.  Uncertain if the police vehicle was happy coincidence or a sign of protection, he needed to know as soon as possible.  Since he was absolutely certain that the men would be waiting outside for him if he left, the only way he could think of was to try to get a message to Pendergast through Red.  It took six hours of waiting, sitting nervously behind a large plant in the Savoy’s lobby, but eventually Red came strolling through the door and Leo bounded over, pulling him around the corner so they could not be seen from the road.

“They almost got me today, right out on the street!  I can’t believe it, right out on the street, in the open!”

Red pulled Leo’s hand, which was grabbing a fistful of his overcoat, away and shook his head.  “I told you Lee, ya were stupid to think that wasn’t going to happen.  I warned you.”

“I know it, damn it! Still though, you know, the police came at just the right moment, it saved me I’m telling you.  You think,”

“No,” Red interrupted, “that wasn’t nothin’ like what you’re thinking right now.  Nobody was trying to save you, it was just your own stupid man’s dumb luck.”

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 16)

crocker company lounge chair courtesy wisc.edu

Leo passed the remainder of that Christmas Day sleeping and sitting around in his favorite chair, a lounge from Crocker Company that had come with the place.  It was not a piece of furniture that he would have chosen himself, but it was well made and comfortable.  In the evening he made himself a simple ham sandwich for dinner and then went to sleep for the night.  Rising at six a.m. the next morning, he shuffled down to the restaurant for breakfast.  He was sitting there, just about to get his first sip of coffee, when he noticed that the place had become eerily silent.  The other patrons were all staring past Leo’s table, some of their mouths agape and most of them with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  A ball of nausea formed in Leo’s stomach as he slowly turned his head, expecting to see Shannon’s henchmen behind him.

tom pendergast

Instead, standing just a few steps away, was Tom Pendergast.   He was an imposing figure, stoutly built and with a round face that exuded a quiet confidence along with a kind of aloof warmth.  His eyes appeared large and peered out from beneath thick eyelids, their icy depth a stark contrast to the rest of his soft face.  The moniker of ‘Murdering Teddy Bear’ had been used more than once behind Pendergast’s back and Leo had to admit that it fit the man well.  He stood there, towering over the seated Leo, not saying a word but instead quietly surveying the clientele.  After several more long moments, he took two steps forward and placed his hand on Leo’s shoulder.

“How’s your breakfast?” Pendergast asked, his voice soft but raspy.

Leo’s hands were shaking a little and he grabbed the cup, still held aloft and about a quarter of the way to his mouth, with both hands to steady it.

“Just fine, just, just starting,’ Leo stammered in reply.

“Good, good.”  Pendergast patted Leo again on the shoulder before sitting down across the table from him.  Leo was lost for what to say and a minute or more passed in silence as he nervously sipped coffee while Pendergast peered at him intently.  Eventually Leo composed himself enough to speak.

“Did you like what,”

“Did you sleep well son?” Pendergast interrupted.

“Well, sure, yes, I guess, I did, yes I slept fine.”

“Good.  You deserved to,” Pendergast replied and then he stood up and walked off, back toward the entrance.  Quickly standing up to follow, wanting to hear some praise for his work, Leo took only one step before the large hand of an equally large man stopped him.

“Good work,” the man said and then slapped an envelope into Leo’s hand before finishing with, “now sit down and enjoy your breakfast.”

Ten seconds later the man,  Pendergast and three others who had been arranged near the doorway were gone and the clatter of people eating slowly returned to the restaurant.  As he sank into his seat Leo could feel eyes glancing over at him inquisitively.   Slowly opening the envelope, he found one hundred and fifty dollars inside, which brought a smile to his face.  Obviously, Pendergast had been impressed enough to give him a fifty dollar bonus on the job.  That had to be a good sign.  Spirits buoyed by the encounter, Leo ate a large, leisurely breakfast before retiring back to his room.  Around noon, while he was dozing off in the lounge chair, a hard knock sounded at his door.  Opening it, Leo was greeted by the somber face of Red Godding.

“Lee, you’ve got trouble,” he said, stepping into the room and then closing the door.

“You mean about the Shannon caper, I suppose?”

“Damn right about that.”

“Ya wanna know something?  Tom Pendergast came by this morning and personally thanked me for doing it, came right to my table at breakfast.”

Red replied only with a skeptical look.

“Well, he came to my table anyway, said I deserved a good night’s sleep, that’s the same coming from him I suppose.  And they paid me fifty extra clams so I must have made an impression, huh?”

“Look, I dunno why he would’a come to see you personally, it’s not really his thing.  But maybe he did.  The caper was his idea after all so maybe he thought it would be a good idea to let you know he appreciated it.  But that don’t mean nothin’ now.  You got a mark on your head from Shannon and you better leave town right now if you plan on living much longer.”

Leo blinked a few times in rapid succession, absorbing the idea that someone had actually put a price on his head.  That was frightening but he was not worried.

“Well, Pendergast’s gonna protect me, that’s what I figure.  I mean, I just did him a big favor.  He wouldn’t let anything happen to me after that, so why should I be afraid.”

“Good lord you are a stupid man Lee, a stupid, stupid man.  You don’t mean a thing to that man or anyone in his gang.  Maybe the real reason he came by was just to look at you before you died.  He had to know about that price on your head because Shannon put that mark out Christmas Day.  And maybe that fifty was just a way to say, get the hell out of town boy.”

Now Leo was not feeling so confident.  “Seriously?  They are just going to hang me out like that after what I did?”

“Without even thinking about it for a second,” Red replied.

“Bushwa!”

“Think what you like Lee, but leave here and do it today.”

Leo leaned back in his chair, slowly stroking his chin.  He still did not completely believe that Pendergast would abandon him, especially after coming to see him personally at breakfast.

“I’ll think about it,” he replied.

Red snorted in disgust, got up and walked out the door.

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 14)

Now that the moment was upon him, he was more nervous than he had hoped to be and was a little angry at himself because of it.  Leo wanted to be a cold, hard criminal, part of the Pendergast machine, and getting the shakes because he had to pick a lock in the darkness was no way for such a person to act.  His was, however, trembling as he tried to get the lock open and the picks fell several times from hands which were also starting to lose feeling from the cold.  Frustration building inside of him, Leo took a deep breath and tried again, still to no avail.  Glancing at his pocket watch he realized that ten minutes had already gone by and it was very close to ten o’clock.  Fumbling the picks again, he picked them up and this time, with his eyes squinted up in frustration and foggy breath blowing out in ragged bursts, he managed to get the lock open.  He then quietly pushed the door open, threw his packages into the car and waited for the bells.

Church Tower Kansas City

Church Tower Kansas City

Ten o’clock came and went but nothing happened.  Leo sat there in the vehicle of one of the most powerful men in Kansas City, in possession of two items that were going to be hard to explain, armed bodyguards only a short distance away, and with the the cold creeping into his body and waited in silence.  Ten oh-three, ten oh-four, and still nothing but the cold air and his own breathing.  At ten oh-five something slammed from the direction of the house and Leo almost took off running, but nothing else followed that sound and the silence returned.  Finally, at ten oh-eight the bells pealed in the distance and Leo pushed the button to start the Renault.  Nothing happened, so he pushed it again to no effect.  Realizing that he was going to have to hand-crank the engine, he swore and jumped out.

As he slid the hand crank into the generator unit, Leo could still hear the bells although he knew that was not going to last much longer.   The man he had paid had stated that after a few minutes of them ringing the priest, who lived two houses away, was going to come looking for a reason.  It took two attempts but finally the vehicle fired up and Leo sped out of the storage shed, clipping the edge of the door with the back wheel,  just thirty seconds before the bells stopped ringing.  He could hear the last sounds from them fading into the night as he turned east onto Twenty-Seventh Street headed toward Union Cemetery.

Leo still did not have a solid idea about hiding the car but his immediate plan was to stick to the middle of the city.  The Rabbits firmly controlled everything down by the river and the Goats had most of the southeast portion, east of the KC Rail Line, under their power.  That left a portion of the city, roughly bordered by four schools, where one was least likely to run into an operative of either side.  Turning north off of Twenty-Seventh, Leo took Broadway and then turned into what he considered to be the safe zone on Sixteenth Street.  As he passed the Webster School a small feeling of relief came over him although the adrenaline was still pumping fairly strongly through his body.  His senses were on high alert and several times he thought he caught the sound of a vehicle approaching; however, each time this proved to be false.  Turning north on Oak Street, two blocks later Leo arrived at Central Place, a park area almost directly in the center of his safety zone.  Still without a plan as to what to do for the remainder of the night, he pulled the vehicle over into a dark, tucked away corner of the park and listened for any sounds of pursuit.

As he sat there, finally out of immediate danger, the adrenaline finally left his body and his hands and legs began to shake uncontrollably.  Scolding himself again, Leo tucked his hands under his armpits and clenched his leg muscles in a attempt to get the shaking to stop.  Eventually it did of course and his breathing, which he had not noticed was irregular and fast, also returned to normal.  The night settled in quietly around him again, and although he was getting very cold Leo felt a strong sense of accomplishment.  He was certain that this was going to get him an invite to join up with Pendergast.

It was forty minutes later, around eleven o’clock, when Leo heard the distant but approaching sound of what seemed to be several vehicles.  Knowing that it was extremely unusual for multiple vehicles to be on the road late at night, and especially on Christmas Eve, he had the sudden sinking feeling that the theft had been discovered.  Knowing that these possible searchers would eventually make their way to his location, Leo started up the Renault again and headed back out onto Oak Street.  He was making things up as he went at this point, so he headed south down Oak even though that brought him closer to Goat territory.  Going that direction had to be better than going toward the river where someone was sure to recognize Shannon’s vehicle.  Willing the car to be quiet, Leo eased it down the road, watching and listening intently as he went.  Crossing over Eighteenth he was suddenly lit up by the headlights of another vehicle and a small yelp escaped his lips before he could control it.  As the vehicle went past, two old men who hardly looked his way, Leo fought down the impulse to shout profanities at them.

He could now see two sets of headlights trailing behind him on Oak, and seeming to gain ground.  Making a quick turn onto Twentieth Street Leo pressed the car hard and was soon going almost forty miles per hour.  The headlights turned his way, still seemingly in pursuit, so he turned hard onto Holmes Street and then west onto Twenty Third.  The lights still followed him; however, and he made another attempt to lose them by turning onto Grand Ave and really pushing the vehicle as hard as he could, eventually reaching a speed of forty-four miles per hour.  As he crossed over Twenty-Seventh Leo saw that he was back in the area of Union Cemetery and he impulsively slammed the brakes and pulled in, careening through the open gate and onto the dirt road that wandered among the graves.

Union Cemetery Kansas City

Union Cemetery Kansas City

Although he could no longer see any lights behind him he was certain that the chase was not over, so he drove deep into the cemetery and pulled the vehicle behind a large stone monument.  Shutting it down, he leapt out, taking his packages with him, and ran to a small copse of trees about twenty feet away.  Out of breath and sweating, he sat down and waited.

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 13)

Early the next morning, Christmas Eve, he stopped the church’s maintenance man as he was unlocking the side door. Seven dollars later Leo had a promise from him to ring the church’s bells at 10 p.m. that night.  He had hoped for it to cost less, initially offering three dollars, but the man had been insistent, stating that there was a decent chance he would get fired over it and that he would need the additional money to tide him over until he found new work.  Leo also knew that technically the car was supposed to be stolen on Christmas  Day but that had been impossible to convince the maintenance man to go along with as “ringing them bells on Jesus’ day is surely a sin no money can save me from.”  So, it would have to be Christmas Eve, and maybe he could hide the car someplace overnight to make good on the original instructions.

With those things settled, Leo had some time to spare until he needed to start actually acting on his plan later that night.  As he sat nervously in his room that morning he came up with one final detail that he thought would ensure his place in Pendergast’s organization.  For that he needed to take another walk, this one outside the city limits, and go kill some rabbits.

These rabbits would be the animal kind, not their human namesakes that were controlled by Shannon.   Leo had brought a small pistol with him, tucked into his pocket as he made his way past Market Square and then alongside the train depot that fronted the Missouri River near the bridge.  Forty minutes later he was well away from the main part of the developed area in Kansas City and picking his way along the riverbank.  Red Godding, who was country-born and raised before embarking on his criminal career, often talked about killing rabbits down in this area of the river, bringing them back to the Savoy to make into stew.  Leo did not know much about hunting, having avoided it as much as possible during his own youth, but he figured that it could not be that hard to kill a few small animals.  This of course proved to not be true and several other men he ran into, armed with traps and rifles, gave him looks of pity and amusement as they saw him hiding with his pistol in hand.  Leo persevered though and, after two hours of crouching in river weeds and behind trees, he had two rabbits in hand to take back with him.

Stashing his kills in a box, Leo took a nap and woke up around six-thirty in the evening.  Knowing he had a long night ahead of him, he ate a large dinner down at the Savoy’s restaurant and then went back to his room to prepare himself.  He spent a little more time practicing with the lock and then pulled out a map of the city.  Although he had his original route well-planned and memorized, he wanted to be familiar with as much of the city’s layout as possible.  This was especially important now that he was stealing the car early and was going to have to hide out with it for awhile.  He came up with a few general ideas but nothing definite, hoping that he could finalize his plan on the way to Shannon’s house later in the evening.  Setting the map aside, Leo then pulled out a piece of wood that he had picked up out of the scrap bin of a lumber mill a week before while on a walk.  He had given the message some thought, wanting it to be derogatory enough to really impress Pendergast.  Written sloppily in black paint, the message read:

Shannon is a Zozzled Four-Flusher

Who’s The Next Dead Rabbit?

After the paint dried he wrapped it in burlap, cleaned up, and then got ready to depart.  It was cold that day, around twenty-six degrees by evening with the temperature still dropping, and Leo pulled on a sweater before shrugging into a grey wool overcoat and snapping his gloves closed at the wrists.  Shoving the rabbits into a canvas bag and tucking the sign under his arm, he put on his fedora, cocking the brim up just a little over his right eye, and walked out to steal Joe Shannon’s Renault.

As he walked south toward his target’s house, Leo thought again about what to do with the vehicle after he stole it.  He was a little bit uncertain about how Pendergast was going to view the fact that he was stealing the car on the wrong day, but he was certain that displaying it to mock Shannon before Christmas morning was going to result in not getting paid.  Kansas City was a big enough place, but Leo did not have any acquaintances who owned building where something as big as the Renault could be hidden.  All of his friends lived in rooms much like his own if not smaller.  Also, with large portions of the city controlled by one of the two factions, there really were not many places he could go that someone would not report seeing the Renault either to Pendergast or Shannon.  He continued thinking about it all the way to the Orphan’s House, trying to avoid the few people out for a late Christmas Eve stroll as much as possible, but had not come up with anything by the time he arrived at eight forty-five in the evening.

He rested there, in the darkness behind the Orphan’s House for fifteen minutes, stomping his feet to keep the feeling in them and blowing warm breath inside of his gloves.  He then picked his two packages back up and walked briskly toward Shannon’s house.  As he approached he could see two lights still on in the upstairs windows although the bottom floor was entirely dark.  Ducking off the road, behind a large tree and a group of cedar bushes, Leo waited and watched, hoping that all of the lights would be extinguished.  That, however, did not happen and at nine forty-five, with only fifteen minutes to spare until the bells rang, he knew that he had to make his move.  Walking rapidly up to the secured shed door, fedora now pulled down over both eyes, Leo set down the dead rabbits and the sign, yanked off his gloves and pulled out his lock picks.

…to be continued