A Burning Cold Morning (Part 56)

The man seemed to pick up on the implied insult and his cheeks flushed a little bit but he regained his composure after a few shallow breaths.  Leo seemed pleased by the effect of his words.  

“Well, yes I suppose you might think that but people can be more than what you may judge them to be initially.  I have connections here, close ones.  My brother-in-law Otto, it’s his place, well his and his brother Louis I suppose, but he died a couple years ago.  Otto’s had a rough time of it, managing the hotel himself and getting older all the time.  He asked me to come up and help to run this place.”  The clerk’s voice was proud as he spoke although his eyes lacked the strength of his words.  

“You?  He asked you to come up here and help him?  At this fine place?”  Leo’s tone was derisive and harsh.   The man’s ears reddened and he rubbed his hands together nervously before replying.

“Yes, well, yes of course he did.  I have experience you know.”  A short silence followed with Leo drumming his fingers on the desk.  The man looked down and continued talking.  “Well, I suppose that maybe my wife talked him into it.  She’s quite close to him, you know, and worries about his health.  I’m quite capable of doing this though, of working here. Quite capable.”

“I guess we’ll find out then,” Leo replied, “set me up in a nice room.” 

Seelbach Hotel Louisville Kentucky

Seelbach Hotel Louisville Kentucky

And so he was checked in and started a short residency at one of the most popular places in the country for gangsters to visit, play cards, relax and of course, scheme.  Leo felt that he needed to make a strong play for attention from these men and spent most of his remaining money on two things: nice clothes and setting himself up as a fence for stolen goods, hoping to pick up some action from the guests at the Seelbach.  He inflated his credentials and added events to his past experience as he always did, although this time he was careful to follow the false timeline and life story he had developed in Selma.  He made sure that those he talked to had the proper story to bring back to the big-time gangsters. He also picked up several female companions within his first few days in Louisville and promptly fell back into his routine of social outings and romantic interludes.  The letters back and forth with the women also continued and he also wrote to Olivia informing her of his new address.  He was not quite sure why he did that except that he was thinking of her occasionally and it gave him a sense of connection, his only one, to his family and roots.  That seemed to be mattering more to him than it had in the past.  In that letter he also inquired if Stanley was still in New Munich and asked again for a new check to be sent to him.  His current operation was proving quite expensive and he needed all of the money he could get so that he could keep it running and gain a reputation that would get him noticed.  He did not tell Olivia that of course, as he knew it would only make her angry.  He simply stated that the money would come in handy.  

April of 1928 went well for Leo and by the early part of May he had attracted the attention for which he had hoping.  A member of Dutch Schultz’s operation approached him one night at the hotel, pulling him into a corner of the hotel’s restaurant.  They spoke for about twenty minutes, with the man being slightly cagey with details, but making it clear that Leo was being looked at and might be given a test job soon, to see if he measured up to expectations.  Leo walked away from that meeting beaming and positive that the future was looking bright.

Ten days later, and before he had received any kind of a test from the Schultz gang, Leo woke up feeling weak and nauseous, symptoms that got worse as the day wore on.  By seven p.m. he felt poorly enough to ask that the hotel find him transportation to the hospital.   They did so promptly and he was admitted around seven forty-five that night.  The next morning a doctor delivered some unwelcome news to Leo, namely that he had diabetes and it was severe enough that he would need to take medication for the rest of his life.  That did not sit well with Leo, who disputed the idea that he was diabetic and asked to have the tests run again.  When those results came back, confirming the diagnosis, he lashed out, calling the doctor an incompetent fool as the man walked out of the room.  

The real problem of course was that Leo found the idea that he had any medical issues at all to be a blow to his criminal credibility and future plans.  He felt it was a weakness that others would use against him and that would prevent them from looking at him as the big-time boss and gangster that he wished to be.  Also, being sick and weak, especially if that came up during the commission of a crime, was not something that was going to be acceptable.  It was undignified and unbecoming, or that at least is how he described it in a note written to Olivia two day later.  That letter was never sent as Leo really had no wish for anyone to ever know about his diabetes and he vowed to maintain that secret at all costs.  He did accept the medicine from the hospital, or at least he did after initially refusing it and then finding himself back at the emergency room four days later.  It was a fact of life he would deal with while keeping it a secret from everyone.  From that day forward he gave himself shots behind closed doors, spoke little of it (although it would come up and be known during some future incarcerations) and moved on with his plan to be a big time gangster.  Soon after his trips to the hospital Leo was back to running the fencing operation, had passed the test from the Schultz gang and was formulating another scheme that he hoped would bring him a good amount of quick, easy money.  It would be that scheme though which would lead him back into the prison system. 

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 54)

Leo had, up to this point in his life, never exactly been a ladies man although he enjoyed their company as much as most other men do.  He usually did not go out of his way to make an impression on them and his preference for nice clothes was more about putting forward the image of a successful gangster than any attempt to catch a woman’s eye.  The interaction with Jim Tunney’s girlfriend though had sparked something inside of him.  He had not made any advances toward her but she had apparently been very interested in him, at least up until the issue with his college degree came up.  Leo caught the idea that maybe he was more dapper and attractive than he had previously thought and so, in his down time and during days off, took to spending more time at social events and speakeasy’s.  A little more bold than before, he found that women did indeed seem to be interested in him and that it would not take much effort on his part to get them into bed.  By the end of January 1928 Leo had on-going relationships with five women and would exchange romantic and sometimes lusty letters with them in-between social excursions and trysts.  He kept every one of their return letters in a shoe box under his bed, a habit of collection that he would continue from then on, often giving up space in a suitcase for them during this later travels.   He was enjoying himself during this period of his life and several times thought back to the times in the past when he had been missing out on all of the fun he was currently having.  One day he even admonished himself that, “good old Stanley Bittenhopper had it all figured out back in Bakersfield, chasing the good times while I stayed home.”  It was a mistake he planned not to repeat in the future.

On February 10th of that year a letter arrived from his sister, one that curiously also mentioned Stanley.

Leo, brother – 

I received your letter and it was good to hear that you are well and doing fine.  Hopefully you understand that I am quite unsettled by having to take part in this ruse with you and the false names.  It is not something I think proper, although you are already aware of my feelings on this matter.   There is, however, a situation to which I object even more and that is having to deal with your criminal friends coming up to our family home to seek you out.  A young man appeared here two days ago, a Stanley Bittenhopper (his true name I suspect although who would know with these types you spend time with), and asked of your whereabouts.  I did not share what I knew with him as for all I know he is looking to find you for bad or notorious purposes.  He plans to stay in New Munich at least from what I can tell as he took a room at the Palmer’s.  He asked that I relay a message when next I was able to contact you, namely that he is wanting to know if you have work for him.  There, I have relayed it as I said I would, although I am certain it implies the worst kind of business and I do not wish to be caught up in this again.  You surely understand and will abide by this wish.  As for your other request, I will discuss the matter of the missing check with the bank and if they advise it to be without risk I will send another.  If not, than you will need to do without that money at least until you next return here, as I fulfilled my obligation in that regard when I sent it the first time.  Perhaps a more permanent address would get your issues with the mail settled in a more satisfactory manner.  Be well brother and know that I wish you the best despite your situation and choices – O

Leo smiley wryly when he was done reading, appreciating the scolding tone and dry humor of his sister.  He was surprised to learn that Stanley had found out where he was from, although he quickly remembered that his former partner knew his real last name and that had undoubtedly made things easier.  He also wondered if there might be a way to put Stanley’s talents to work on his bank robbery plans, although they would first need to discuss the money he had taken from Leo in Pomona.  He wrote back to Olivia, thanking her for her “supreme patience in putting up with her wayward brother,” and asking that she, “tell Stanley that I will keep him in mind and that he should give you his address.  And remind him that he owes me something,” before signing off with, “Your Brother, Leo.”   Right before sealing the envelope he pulled the letter out and added a short post script, informing his sister that she should not worry too much about Stanley as he was a gentle type of criminal.  

Leo continued to have a good run as time moved along into late February, maintaining his work with the local gang while managing his group of lady friends and scheming about bank robbery.  He was making enough money to get by but not nearly as much as he wanted to have, often lamenting that he really had not properly replaced his lost wardrobe.  He wanted to look sharp for the women and also to impress the local criminals, who he though of as beneath him, “lackeys seeking a leader,” as he wrote in one boastful letter to a female acquaintance.  He was confident and proud, certain that he was about to turn things around and would be able to get his own gang up and running soon.  He had even remarked in his journal that he had managed to stay out of the hands of the law for quite awhile despite being involved in several criminal schemes.  The law had chased him, even detained him a few times, but they never made anything stick and he had always been released or gotten away.  That was the mark of a professional he wrote, someone who, “had the edge on the police, someone to be respected.”  Two days later, on March 26, 1928, Leo’s luck changed.  

…to be continued