A Burning Cold Morning (Part 46)

For the next two days Leo did not do much, choosing to linger around the motel and try to make a friend out of the manager.  He was not the most social of people but was also out of money and needed to build up a little bit of goodwill.  His hope was that he would be able to transfer that goodwill into being allowed to stay in the room on credit while he figured out a way to start generating some income.  It seemed to work as Margie, the thin, chain-smoking blonde who ran the place told him that she would give him two weeks before he needed to pay her.  Leo was pleased, both by the offer and at his own skill in pulling his plan off, although he learned on his third day there that Margie was expecting a few favors in addition to his eventual payment for the room.  Over the next three days these favors included handyman work around the property but by Thursday night she had propositioned him for sex and it was clear that refusing her was not going to be an option.  She proved to be a rather eager and energetic lover and the following morning, March 11th, an exhausted Leo realized he had to get some money together, pay her off and then leave.  He then collapsed into his own bed and slept for much of the remainder of the day.  

That weekend, in between trying to avoid Margie, he started to work on a plan.  Although he did not know anyone in the area, Leo started walking around to scout for opportunities.  This part of Los Angeles was  known as Van Nuys and, although having only been founded sixteen years prior, had a growing population and an established criminal element.  After a couple afternoons and evenings of asking around Leo made contact with a man named Clark Mason who needed some assistance with his numbers game.  Establishing his bona fides with this man through a series of discussions over cigars and whiskey, Leo found himself part of the operation a few days later.   It vexed him a bit, having to join up as a small time player in someone else’s scheme, but he knew he needed to get some cash together so he could move out of the motel.  Another week passed, long days followed by equally long nights meeting Margie’s demands, Leo trying to catch naps between pick-ups for the Mason operation.  Finally, he was set and he gladly marched into the motel office, plunked down the money he owed, demanded a receipt and walked off down the street.  

Cloud 9 Motel sign

Cloud 9 Motel sign

He only went six blocks away, to another cheap motel which was called the Waverley although the decrepit sign out front read Cloud 9.  Leo kept working for Mason while trying to develop a scheme that would, if not be as big as his Bakersfield operation, at least allow him to work for himself.  He also continued to be a voracious reader, finishing three more textbooks on civil engineering by the beginning of June 1927, and self-testing himself via the example exams in those books.  It was at this point that Leo believed himself to be fully educated in the field and he would claim at various points later in his life to be an actual civil engineer.  

He tried a few small schemes but quickly learned that all of the grifting, stolen goods trafficking and numbers operations in the area were tightly controlled by a consolidated group of criminals known as the Valley Boys.  Clark Mason was a member of that group and, once word reached him about Leo’s activities, had cautioned him strongly against running any further operations of that kind in the area.  That limitation, and Leo’s inability at the time to leave Van Nuys due to financial restrictions, were what pushed him into the next level of his criminal career. 

In the past he had of course pushed against such constraints, having been a bit of a maverick up to this point.  It was an interesting list; the theft of the money from the owner’s of his father’s baseball team, stealing goods from his own Army unit, embarrassing a well-known gangster in Kansas City and turning down Jerry Salazar’s offer to work together in Olympia.  Leo had definitely not been bound by conditions or restrictions that other people may have found reasonable to take into consideration.  This time though he did heed them as Clark Mason had made it a point to show Leo an example of the treatment that awaited those who infringed on the Valley Boys territory.  That example, delivered via a baseball bat to a man named Stan Liberman, had left an impression on Leo that he would not forget.  

Instead he decided to move into armed robbery, an area which he had made sure was not covered by any of the Valley Boys operations.  Mason had even told him specifically that his group only dealt in non-violent crimes as it allowed them to keep the police at bay as long as they were paying them off regularly.  Leo saw that as an opportunity and, although he did not have much experience in the area, started to formulate a plan for an armed hold up.  Although his initial thoughts were about banks and trains, he eventually realized that he needed to start much smaller and decided on robbing an oil and gas station.  He figured that such a place would have few complications as there was likely to be only a couple of employees on duty and he would be able to get in and get out quickly.  He also recalled something that his cellmate at McNeil, Robert Markword, had taught him about armed robberies.  He had told Leo that figuring out the patterns of the local police was important, as all law enforcement operations tended to operate in a routine way.  If you can figure out where the police are going to be at any particular time then you can plan the robbery, and your escape, accordingly.  Police, Markword stressed, are creatures of habit and almost never break out of their established routines.  Get them figured out and you will be in the clear.  Leo took that advice to heart along with another bit of Markword advice, which was to always have a second man there with a gun just in case you needed to control more people than anticipated.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 45)

As it turned out, Stanley did have the nerve to do it, and he quickly left town after taking all of the money he could find in the room, not just the cash that was sewn into Leo’s valise.  He was not sure exactly what prompted him to look through every drawer, every pocket and every piece of Leo’s belongings, but he did it and managed to secure a total of five hundred and eighty-five dollars.  Afterwards he would realize that he was angry at how he had been used, his talent with metals corrupted by a criminal and turned into something bad.  That act had now made it necessary for him to abandon his father and a relatively simple life, making him into a fugitive.  He would understand later that he was scared about the future and that the money made him feel at least a little bit more secure.  In the moment though, rifling through the room at the Mayfair, he just did what felt right and that was to take all of the cash he could find.   Right before he left he paused at the door, reached into the small burlap sack in which he had collected all of the money, and put a twenty dollar bill on the table for Leo.  That way he was not leaving him totally broke.

twenty dollar bill as issued until 1929

twenty dollar bill as issued until 1929

Leo healed slowly at the hospital, experiencing a few complications in the days immediately after Stanley left which had the result of denying the police the opportunity to talk to him.  In the moments he was awake and lucid Leo spent most of his time thinking about how angry he was with Lester and planning out a way to get back at him.  He knew that although the police were currently cutting him some slack due to doctor’s orders, that this would change soon enough and legal trouble could follow.  The remainder of his time was spent doing more reading on civil engineering, his books and other personal belongings having been brought to his room when the hotel officially kicked him out.  Upon the delivery of his property he had soon figured out that all of his money, save the twenty dollars, was gone but he had kept his own counsel about that issue.  It was something he would deal with later.  It was January 3, 1927 when a detective, different from the one who had first spoken to him, next sat down for an extended discussion with Leo.  

“Feeling better?” the detective, a heavy-set, green-eyed and balding man in a black suit, asked. 

“Well, a little but not much.  I’ve had some other issues.”  Leo had decided he was going to play out his injuries for all they were worth, trying to gain extra time to effect some kind of an escape.

“Yes, we were told, but they say you are now healing up pretty quickly.”

“We’ll see,” Leo replied slowly, trying to look as feeble as possible.

The detective went over his story again, pressing him for more personal details and not being as easily dissuaded as the last officer.  After a few minutes of verbal sparring about this the detective closed his notebook.

“Look Leo, you’re going to have to start being straight with me.  I’m going to track down the info on you and something tells me it’s not going to be all charity work and honest employment.”

“You have such little faith in me?”

“I’m not new to this game.  Besides, the Bakersfield PD already called down and want to speak with you.  That surprise you?”

“What do they think I did?” Leo asked.

“Well, they just said they have some questions for you, that’s all.  I guess if they really thought they had something on you, well then they’d be down here to arrest you.  But they do definitely want a chance to talk.”

“Hmm, well, I guess I’ll try real hard to get better than,” Leo replied sarcastically. 

He feigned drifting back to sleep and the detective left, although not before announcing rather loudly that he would be back soon.  Leo did his best to remain in the hospital’s care, coming up with a continuing list of ailments for them to check out, none of which proved to be medically significant.  None, except one that is, as a nurse had informed him that they thought he might be a diabetic but a few more tests would be required.  As all of this was going on, the questioning by the Pomona police continued and then, one day in late February, a Bakersfield officer accompanied the detective.  That interview was difficult for Leo as they did seem to have a good amount of information on his scheme but just not quite enough to arrest him.  He did his best to seem cooperative while not giving them any information that could seal his fate, a plan which worked because the Bakersfield officer left with only an admonition to Leo that he had better never return to the city.  After that, Leo knew his time was running out and he needed to get at least a little bit of distance away from Pomona.  

In his last interview with the heavy-set detective on March 3, 1927, Leo spent most of the discussion stressing that he wanted everything possible done to track down and arrest Lester for attempted murder.  Although he could not know where his old partner had run off to, he did provide what information he knew about his time Washington, Hawaii, and California, just in case that helped in finding him.  As they were talking a nurse came in, telling Leo that it was time for him to go for the additional diabetes tests, but Leo waved her off stating that he felt fine and did not want to have any more needles jabbed into his body.  She protested for a few moments but then withdrew, stating that a doctor would need to come speak with him.  Leo then told the detective that he was planning to move to Los Angeles but would stay in touch and be ready to come back once they apprehended Lester.  Later that day the doctor did speak with Leo, telling him that it was critical that he take part in the tests as an untreated case of diabetes could be deadly.  Leo promised to be more cooperative the next day and then, late that night he packed up his belongings and slipped out of the hotel during a few minutes when there was no one at the nurse’s station. 

van nuys blvd 1926 courtesy ciclavalley.org

van nuys blvd 1926 courtesy ciclavalley.org

He checked into a cheap motel on the outskirts of LA the next morning, registering as Leo O’Malley.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 44)

He definitely was much worse than when Stanley had left him in the bed.  The blood had leaked onto the sheets and although Leo opened his left eye when Stanley touched him, he managed only a groan in reply to the question of if he was feeling any better.  Realizing that they had absolutely nothing in the room that was going to be useful in trying to save Leo, Stanley left again and picked up a collection of medical supplies.  Twenty minutes later he was back in the room.  It took another twenty for him to get Leo bandaged up enough to stop the bleeding after which he collapsed into an arm chair, exhausted by the entire ordeal.  He napped for the remainder of the day, getting up hourly to check on Leo and change his bandages when necessary.  At one point, around seven-thirty p.m., his patient was alert enough to be asked just what exactly had happened, and Leo had responded by pointing to the envelope from his sister which still lay on the floor.  After a few more questions, which elicited short, pained answers from Leo, Stanley managed to understand some of what had happened.  By ten o’clock that night, with Leo more responsive and having regained some color in his face, Stanley was feeling pretty good about himself, thinking that he had actually been involved in saving a man’s life.  He drifted off to sleep in the armchair after eating some soup for dinner.

When he awoke at three a.m., neck sore and right arm asleep from the awkward position he had been in, Stanley stumbled over to the bathroom to get a drink of water.  Putting the glass to his lips, he began  drinking while turning around to check on Leo.  As he drained the glass Stanley realized that he had not seen his patient breath once in the entire time since he had gotten up.  Rushing over to the bed, he was relieved to find that although Leo’s respiration was extremely shallow and slow, he was in fact still alive.  Efforts to rouse the injured man failed though and in a panic, not wanting anyone to die on his watch regardless of the consequences, Stanley called the front desk and told them to send an ambulance.  When it arrived the attendants were accompanied by a police officer.

Stanley really did try to bluff the officer but he quickly lost track of the story he was trying to tell and finally broke down and told the truth.  That of course prompted the call for more police and soon a detective showed up just as Leo was being moved out of the room.  Just a few minutes later a reporter arrived and listened in as the detective interviewed Stanley.  They both then escorted him to a vehicle which took them all to the hospital where they were told that Leo was in surgery.  It was ten-thirty the next morning, December 26th, before anyone was allowed in to speak with him.  The detective and reporter both entered Leo’s room at the same time leaving Stanley sipping cold coffee in the waiting area.

Leo told some of the truth during that interview, including clarifying that although the hotel and Stanley all thought the man who shot him was Lorane North, the man’s real name was Robert Lester.  He dodged most of the questions about himself and filled in a few of the details about the supposed “Christmas check” that Stanley had told them was the source of the incident.   After that they left, the detective leaving an officer at the door and the reporter running off to file a story for the next edition of the paper.  When Stanley asked to speak with Leo the young officer on duty would not allow it but several hours later, when he was relieved by a grey-haired and bored looked corporal, he was allowed into the room.   Leo smiled slightly at him as he approached the bed.

excerpt from san bernadino paper on humbert shooting 27 dec 1926

excerpt from san bernadino paper on humbert shooting 27 dec 1926

“You better now?”  Stanley asked.  

“Yeah, yeah.  Much.  Just gotta figure out a way outta this place.”

Stanley looked down at the floor.  “I’m really sorry about getting you here, calling the cops and all.  I mean, I’m sure it’s gonna be trouble for you.  But I thought you were about to die.”

Leo waved a hand weakly in his direction.  “It’s ok.  I could’a done without you telling them what you did but it’s ok.  I probably would’a died back there, so it’s better that I ended up here.”

“I, I just didn’t know what to say.  The cops scare me, honest, they really do.  I just…’” his voice trailed off as he continued to look at the floor.  

“Really, it’s ok.  I’ll fix it.  Now come here, closer,”  Leo replied softly, his voice starting to lessen in strength.  

When Stanley bent down so he could hear, Leo reached an arm up and grabbed him by the back of the head.  His touch was cold and clammy, causing Stanley to wince involuntarily.   He looked up and Leo’s piercing blue eyes were staring at him.

‘You gotta get out of town Stan, you gotta leave.”  His voice was very low, just a faint whisper.

“Why?  What do you mean?  I’ll stay here and make sure they take good care of you.”

“No.  It’s time to get your facts straight.  You know we were breaking the law back in Bakersfield and being tangled up in this thing here ain’t going to make things easy.  They’re gonna get you too.  I might’a got you involved in some stuff you weren’t ready for, so consider this me making up for it.   There’s some money back at the room, it’s sewn into the lining of my valise.  Get back there before they think to collect it up and leave, go far away, and hide.”

Stanley had started to sweat profusely while Leo spoke, suddenly facing up to some of the facts that he had known internally for quite awhile.  He took a handkerchief from his pocket to dry off his face and neck.  

“I can’t, I mean, oh no,”  Stanley replied, wiping his face again.  “I cannot just leave, what about Dad, my stuff back there?”

Leo’s grip on his head had loosened due to the sweat but returned in full force.  “No.  You gotta go now.  Get the money and go.  Try Minneapolis, they’ll never think of looking for you there.”  Leo released his hold after that and closed his eyes, seemingly falling back asleep.  Stanley stood there, hat and wet handkerchief in hand,  wondering if he really had the nerve to follow through on Leo’s advice.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 43)

Stanley had gone on a pretty good tour of the hotel, even stepping outside for a few minutes despite Leo’s instructions to not do so.  He had picked the small side entrance door for his quick excursion and was just stepping back inside when he first heard about the shooting.  A tall man, well dressed and with a silver-headed cane, strode past quickly while commenting, “watch out for bullets” in Stanley’s direction.  It had been an odd thing to say and caught him off-guard as he had not heard anything out of the ordinary.  Not thinking too much of it, he continued on down the hallway toward the lobby.  It was the second person who mentioned it, a hotel bellman, that sprung Stanley into action.  That man had stopped him as he entered the lobby saying, “There have been some shots fired inside the hotel, sir.  Manager says all guests are to stay in their rooms until the police get here.” 

elevator 1926

elevator 1926

That comment had scared Stanley and he had complied, turning around and heading for the elevator.  Before he got on, it occurred to him that his roommates could have been involved in the shooting, which left him conflicted about returning to the room.  Stepping off the elevator, he paused in the hallway, listening for anything that might indicate danger.  Instead, he heard a low groan which prompted him to quickly open the door.  

It was obvious from his first look that something had happened in the room as the furniture was out of place and some items had been knocked to the floor.  He could not see either Lester or Leo and at first thought maybe the sound he had heard originated from another room.  He stepped through the door, closed it softly, and was just turning around when he heard it again.  It definitely came from inside this room.  Stanley stepped around the end table which had been pushed into the pathway toward the kitchen and saw Leo lying on the floor by the sofa.  His face was very pale and some drool and blood had leaked from his mouth and run down his cheeks.  The shirt he had on was partially pulled up and soaked in blood, and a small pool of it had also formed on the floor.  Stanley stayed there, frozen in shock, as Leo mumbled softly for help.  It took him so long to recover that his former partner had started to struggle to sit up, which prompted him into action.  Kneeling down, he touched Leo’s shoulder and pushed him back onto the floor.

“Easy, easy.  Lay down and stay still.  I’ll ring for an ambulance.”

“No,” Leo replied in a soft but urgent voice.

“I have to Leo.  I heard about the shots and, well, it’s you that got it.  I can’t fix this and you’re bleeding all over.  You need a doctor.”

“Shh, shut up. No.  I can’t go to any doctor or hospital.  Just help me up.”

“I can’t, I don’t know how to fix you from getting shot.  We need help.”

“We don’t damn it!” Leo snapped back, some strength back in his voice, “Get me up and onto a bed.”

Reluctantly Stanley complied and a few minutes later had managed to get his former partner situated somewhat comfortably, although blood still leaked out of the two bullet wounds.  Leo seemed to pass out for several moments but then woke back up and grabbed Stanley’s arm.  

“Listen, you have to keep the cops out of here.  Did they get called?  Are they here yet?’

“I’m not sure if they’re here but the hotel manger called them I think.  They told me to go back to my room until they arrived.”

“Damn!  How did they know it was our room?”

“Huh?” Stanley replied.  “Oh, no, not that.  I mean, I was in the lobby and they told me that all the guests had to go back to their rooms until the police arrived.  They don’t know nothing about me or us up here.”

“Oh, good, good.”  Here Leo paused and closed his eyes, breathing erratically for a minute or so.  Then he continued.  “Ok, so listen.  You gotta keep them out of here.  I can’t move right now, I gotta rest.  You gotta bandage me up, but that’s for later.  Right now you gotta keep them out of this room.” 

“How the heck am I supposed to do that?  Don’t ya think they will want to talk to all the guests, check their rooms?  I mean, what could I say?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t, but you’re going to have to figure it out.”  Leo then lay back slowly and either fell asleep or passed out, leaving Stanley to ponder what to do next.  It took him a few minutes but then a thought occurred to him and he ran out of the room.  He was just getting to the lobby when the police walked in the front door.  Fortunately, the bellman he had previously spoken with was not present.   Striding up to the officer Stanley began to speak excitedly about how he had been smoking outside the side door and had heard the shots coming from the alleyway that ran behind the hotel.  The officer pointed out that they already had several reports of them coming from inside the hotel, which prompted Stanley to tell about the man he had seen running out of the alley just a few seconds after he heard the sound of shooting.  That seemed to sway the officer who took the description and then stopped the next officer who entered the hotel, saying they had a suspect on foot who had left the scene.   Expecting that his ruse would not last long, Stanley hung around the lobby for another twenty minutes but the police never returned.  He would find out in the next day’s newspaper that his story had become the “facts of the situation” and the police had apprehended a known criminal who fit the description but had the audacity to insist that he had not been involved.  By some fateful stroke of misfortune this unlucky man also had a pistol in his pocket with some empty shells in the chamber. When he read it, Stanley just shook his head at the charmed turn of events that had occurred to cover up the truth.  For now though, once he felt comfortable that they would not be back soon, he rushed back up to the room to check on Leo.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 39)

That was as far as the conversation went though as a few seconds later a gunshot rang out that sounded like it was a few streets to the west of the L&S shop.  The policeman came running out of the alleyway, followed closely by Lester.  The officer continued on but Leo grabbed his partner by the lapels of his jacket.

“What the hell was that?  What were you going to tell him?” Leo demanded.

Lester seemed unfazed with finding Leo in close proximity to his police encounter and shoved him off, stopping to fix his collar before replying.  “Not a damn thing Leo, not a damn thing.”

“I heard you back there,” Leo continued loudly, “I heard it all.”  

“You better quiet down friend; what will all your nice neighbors here think about you being so worked up about the police and me?”

“I still heard it,” Leo repeated but in a much lower voice, and then he dropped his voice even further to a whisper and finished with, “and it’s Lee, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah.  Don’t worry about the police.  He came up to me on the street right there in front of the mercantile.  I got him to take it into the alley in case he asked about your place.  You know, so no on else would hear?”

“You said you were going to tell him the whole story.”

“I tell a lot of stories.  It wasn’t even about you, but if it had been I wouldn’t have given him anything useful, really ok?”

“I still heard it.  I don’t trust you,” Leo replied.

“Yeah, well then keep on with that.  I’m almost out of here anyway.”  Lester leaned in close to Leo’s ear.  “I’ll expect you to cash me out tomorrow and then I’m gone,” he whispered and then patted Leo’s arm and walked away.  

Leo had already been thinking much the same thing about getting out of town soon and was planning to approach Stanley later in the week to tell him that things were finished.  Lester’s demand caused him to push that timeline up even if that meant he would have to leave before Christmas.  He headed over immediately to the clock repair shop.  When he arrived Stanley put down what he had been working on and came right up to Leo with a smile on his face.

“See, I’ve been busy,” he said excitedly while gesturing at a box on the table, “it’s my most productive day ever.  Look at how many pieces I have.”

Leo gave them a cursory look before replying.  “That’s nice Stanley, good work.  But there is,” 

“Aren’t you gonna look at all of them?  It’s really good work.  I thought you would be pleased.”  Stanley had a slightly dejected look on his face as he spoke, then he reached into the box and pulled out a ring.  “What about this one?  It should get a nice price, huh?”

“Look, I’ve got something to tell you so just listen, ok?”  

Over the course of the next few minutes Leo explained things to Stanley, telling him that not only was the business over but he would also be leaving town.  He had braced himself for an unpleasant experience, which had been heightened by his partner’s eager demeanor about the new pieces, but he was surprised by Stanley’s reaction.

“So, that’s it?  It’s just over right now, done?” 

“Yes Stan, sorry about the short notice but that’s how these things work out.”

“Thank the saints,” Stanley replied, sitting down with a look of great relief on his face.

“You’re happy about it?” Leo asked.

“Oh yes, yes indeed.  It was killing me on the inside.  I was terrified of getting caught.  I don’t know what that would’ve done to Dad.”

“Well, then good.  You sure seemed to be an eager worker a few minutes ago so I was worried you wouldn’t take it well.  Now I feel better.”

“I just figured I owed you, you know?  I said I would do this thing with you and so I did, I kept working at it.  I didn’t want to let you down.”

“Well, you didn’t.”

“What about that other guy?” Stanley asked.

“Don’t worry about him, he’ll be gone too and won’t be bothering you.v Get this stuff melted down and I’ll come by tomorrow and pay you out.  You sure you’re not going to miss all the ladies at the speakeasy?”

“Good lord no, that was killing me too.  I figured I owed it to myself, to have a good time since I was doing crime, ya know?  But just recently I’ve really gotten tired of it.”

“Well then, I’ll see ya tomorrow,” Leo  replied and walked out of the shop.

That night, while counting up the money to distribute to his partners Leo realized that he was going to be a little bit short on one of the payments.  He had spent more than he should have recently, mostly on getting his car fixed up so that it would be ready to use in his departure from Bakersfield.  He knew that Lester kept his own accounting and would know if he was shorted, and that Stanley did not, but Leo had a sense of honor about these kinds of things.  He was going to have to tell one of them that they would need to wait for some of their money.  Knowing that Lester might be angry but would keep it between the two of them, and fearing the unknown about who Stanley might talk to if he got angry about it, Leo decided to short pay Lester.  The next day things in that regard went much better than expected.

1926 Ford Tudor Sedan

1926 Ford Tudor Sedan

Leo had met Lester at the park and explained the situation to him.  His partner’s only reply had been, “I won’t forget you owe me fifty bucks friend,” before getting up and strolling away holding the envelope of money Leo had given him.  The meeting with Stanley also went well, with the two of them parting as friends and Stanley stating that he intended to stay in the clock repair business now that he had a little extra money.  Leo cautioned him to be careful how he spent it and then they shook hands before Leo left the shop.   Just after he left, a thought came to him which caused him to turn back immediately.  He had forgotten about the check his sister would be sending, one that would be delivered to the clock shop and thus to Stanley.  He could not imagine what his now former partner might do with that mail, but he could imagine a few situations that might end up in exposure for him, his aliases or the scheme they had been running, especially with Stanley’s lack of criminal sophistication.  Rather reluctantly he told Stanley that he planned to be in Pomona for awhile and would send information back to him on where to send any mail that arrived.  Later that day Leo did a detailed cleaning of the place he was living at and the L&S shop before discreetly packing up his car and heading out of town.  He believed that only he and Stanley were aware of his plans to go to Pomona.  As it turned out, Robert Lester also knew and would be waiting for him.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 36)

western white pine

western white pine

They walked in silence for the entire two blocks, a few passersby looking at them with idle curiosity,  and entered the park from the north side.  It was a mostly open space with well-kept grass and an occasional bench for visitors to sit on.  At the western edge was a small group of fairly young Western White Pine trees and this is where Lester motioned Leo to go, something he complied with reluctantly.  He did stop next to one of the benches, peeking back over his shoulder only to see his former partner give a small shake of his head.  By this time Leo had determined he may have made an error in pursuing a confrontation with Lester, who seemed simply intent on fulfilling his apparent desire to get some payback.  He pushed the boughs of the young pines aside as they entered the copse, not bothering to hold them for Lester who remained close behind him.  Finally they were in the middle of the trees, well screened from view even if someone had passed very close to the two men.  Leo turned around.

“Listen, I know you think you have a beef with me Rob, but I’m telling you that I never did anything against you.”

Lester grunted in reply, pulling the gun, a Remington Model 51, fully into view and pointing it at Leo.

model 51

model 51

“Come on, don’t shoot, ok?  Listen for a minute,” Leo pleaded.

“That’d be about how long you’ve got rat, I’ll give you about a minute of mercy.  Then I’m going to shoot you.”

“I read your letter, the one you sent to Minnesota for me.  It wasn’t until just a little while ago really, when I ended up back there this spring, but I read it and I’m telling you that what you think about me just ain’t true.”

“Of course you’d be saying that now, now that I’ve got you at the point of this gun, but I know what happened.”

“You think I ratted on you?” Leo asked.

“I know you did,” Lester replied while looking Leo squarely in the eyes.

“I read it and headed out here directly.  I needed to set the record straight with you.  Why would I come looking for you like that if what you think I did is true?  Why would I see you and then chase you down on the street?”

Lester did not reply immediately, a slightly confused look on his face which he then shook off.  “I don’t know or give a damn why, but I’ve been waiting all this time to square up with you and it’s gonna happen right now.  Your minute’s up.”

“I’m no damn rat!” Leo shouted back, “and I won’t go down with you thinking I am.  I never told nothing on you, not in Hawaii, not in prison and not since.  I even wrote you a letter from McNeil telling you I never talked but I’m guessing you never got that, did you?”

“I didn’t.” Lester replied tersely, the gun still pointed at Leo.

“Well, I’m telling you I wrote it, hell I thought you were a free man at the time, they never even told me you got pinched on that scam.  I was rung up so fast in Hawaii and shipped off to the rock,  I never knew.  I swear though Rob, I never said a damn word about you or our business.  Now shoot me if you must but at least tell me you know I ain’t no rat.”

Lester continued to hold the gun on Leo but removed his finger from the trigger, tapping it instead on the slide of the gun as he continued to look at his former partner.  There was still steel in his eyes but it was softening a little, and then he slowly lowered the weapon.

“I’ve been angry at you for a long time Leo, a long damn time.  When they arrested me back then they told me you had given up the scheme, told it all.  They had details too, ones I thought would’a had to have come from you.  They knew so much I just plead guilty.  But I guess maybe they just did a good investigation.  I really held it against you though, figured you for a rat.”

“I’m telling you I’m no rat,” Leo replied sharply, “and you better tell me you know it.”

“You still ain’t in no position to be demanding things even if I do believe you,” Lester replied as he gave the lowered gun a small shake to illustrate he still had it ready for action.

“I think you see it now, the truth of it, and I need to hear you know I’m not a rat.”  Leo’s voice was earnest and strong, pleading and demanding at the same time.   “I know you’ve thought it for a long time but I won’t take that disrespect when it ain’t warranted.  Like I said, shoot me if that’s still what you’re after, but say it first.”

Lester looked back thoughtfully, seeing the anxious desire to be validated in Leo’s eyes, the absolute need to have his reputation cleared even if he died afterward.  He let it linger there for a few extra moments, just to make a point that he could not really explain, and then a slight smile crossed his face and he holstered the gun.

“Hell Leo, I know now that you ain’t no rat.  You’re square with me.  I hope that makes you feel better.”

“I does, it certainly does,” Leo replied as he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.  “What are you doing out here in Bakersfield anyway?”

“Escaping from Portland,” Lester replied with a wide grin before continuing, “I’m parched old friend, let’s go find one of those wonderful speakeasy’s they have around here and we’ll get caught up.”

They walked over to the National Bar, a soft drink stand run by a often arrested man named Albert Martin, and enjoyed several illegal libations over the course of the next two hours.  There was still a little lingering tension between them but the conversation went well up until Leo gave a very vague overview of the scheme he was running with the Clockmaker.  He had not intended to say anything at all about it but Lester had been pressing him hard and eventually it slipped out somewhere in-between the liquor and an old sense of camaraderie.   He left out the name of his partner and their store but did tell how they were making the fake pieces of jewelry.   Lester made his disapproval of that scheme apparent, telling Leo it was a sure way to get caught because someone would figure it out, probably sooner rather than later, and they would know exactly where they had gotten the fake item.  Once one person made a fuss, another would and soon the police would be down upon Leo and there would not be much of a defense to offer.  That comment sparked the nagging nervous feeling Leo already had considering what had happened at the store with the police and the other recent complications; however, he kept his cool and told Lester that the scheme was running fine and would continue to do so as long as no one ratted anyone out.  He said that just to make sure Lester got the picture about keeping his mouth closed, kind of a way to shut the barn door after leaking out information he never intended to disclose anyway.  Lester nodded in reply but kept pressing him, telling Leo to give up that business and get back into a scheme that the two of them could run together.  They argued back and forth for awhile and eventually Leo said that although he was going to keep the jewelry business he would do some side jobs with Lester.  That seemed to make the man happy and the two of them parted with a promise to meet back up in a few days.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 35)

“What do you mean, what does he know?  I told you, everything!” Stanley exclaimed, rubbing his hands together and walking slowly in a tight circle around the shop floor.  

“Will you settle down?  Just stop for a minute and tell me what he said.”

“He knows!  He asked me how the business was going!”

Leo reached out and grabbed his partner to get him to stop moving.  “What did he say exactly?”

“I told you!  He asked how the business was going!”

Leo rubbed a hand across his face, realizing that Stanley might be just a little bit unstable after all.  “That’s all he said Stanley?”

“Yes! That’s all he needed to say.”  

“You don’t suppose he might have been asking about your clock business?” Leo asked.

“Why?  What?”  Stanley replied, and then he stopped, a dumbfounded look on his face.  “Well, I mean, maybe, but why would he ask me that?”

“Maybe he was just wondering about it, or making small talk, or who knows why.  Did he mention the shop, or me, or anything about jewelry?”

By now Stanley’s face was bright red and his eyes were averted, staring down at the rugged wooden floor of his shop.  “No, nothing else.  Just like I said, he asked how business was. But…”

“But what?”

“Nothing,” Stanley muttered back, his face getting even more red.  Leo reached out his hand again and shook the other man’s shoulder.  

“Look at me friend, I think maybe you have something to tell me.  What did you say after he asked you that?”

There was a long pause and Leo knew he was not going to like the answer, but he needed it nonetheless.  He shook Stanley’s shoulder roughly and asked him again what he had said to his father.

“It, well, I thought he was on to us, you know.  I thought he knew about all of it.  I was just afraid, I didn’t know what to say.”

“But you did say something, so what was it?”

“I told him that it wasn’t my idea, that I was just doing the work, making the pieces but not selling them.  He was confused, starting asking me questions, and I, well, I just ran out of the place and over here.”

Leo stayed silent but his grip on Stanley’s shoulder increased, until his partner started to squirm under the pressure.  Finally he let go.

“Damn, damn, damn!  You stupid foolish dumb,” was a far as he got before he decided that berating Stanley was not going to be very useful.  He needed to figure out what to do next.  Collapsing back into the chair where he had been reading the newspaper, Leo sighed deeply and returned to silence, staring blankly down at the floor.  Five minutes later he looked back up.

“That’s all you said?  Absolutely nothing else?”

“Nothing else, I swear, nothing.”

“Ok, so now you are going to go back home and figure out just what exactly he might be thinking about what you said, and what he might be doing about it.”

There was about ten more minutes of protesting from Stanley but in the end he went and then met Leo the next day.  It turned out that his father was mostly confused and figured his son was having some kind of a fit, after which a long lecture on the effects of fire-gilding followed, and then it was dropped.  Ben Bittenhopper had mentioned through that he was going to be, “taking a stroll around,” to see what some of the new businesses were up to in town.  Leo knew that did not bode well, but things were less serious than they might have been.   As a safeguard he decided to shut the store for ten days, taking off into the nearby countryside for what he considered was a well deserved break.  When he returned Stanley confidently reported that his father had not mentioned the episode at all and had indeed toured the new businesses in town, returning only with some concerns about there being too many mercantile establishments.  Feeling he was in the clear at least for a little bit longer, Leo reopened L&S and they were back in business.  

A profitable three weeks followed and Leo was walking down the street behind his business on October 5th, on his way to eat lunch in a small park he liked, when he was brought to a dead stop.  Across the street, walking next to a short, blonde-haired woman, was Robert Lester.  

Leo took a few moments, following the couple with his eyes as he tried to convince himself that he was wrong.  After all the time he had spent looking for the man it was hard to believe that they had just walked past each other on a public street.  The man never looked back but it did not matter.  By the time he stepped off again toward the park, Leo was pretty well convinced that he had found the man he had come to look for in Bakersfield.  He was, however, not certain on how he wanted to proceed, weighing the need to get the “rat” issue resolved against Lester’s threat against him.  He thought about that as he ate, and for a whole day afterward, and then decided he was going to face the situation head on, just like he had originally planned.   He would go out and find Lester and talk to him and get this whole thing straightened out regardless of if it put his safety in jeopardy.   Knowing from his previous attempts that locating him through public records was futile, Leo took to spending one to two hours a day on that street behind his shop, just watching and hoping for a repeat appearance.  It finally came four days later, the man’s slight limp and arms that swung too much as he walked reconfirming Leo’s belief it was Lester,  and he ran across to confront the man.

“Robert!”

The man took three more steps before stopping, slowing turning around but reaching inside his jacket as he did so.

“Hold on, hold on, it’s just me after all, you remember don’t ya?” Leo said.

“You bet I know who you are,” the olive-skinned man replied, “and I got a score to settle that’s up on the board right now.  I plan to cash it in.”  Leo could see the gun, held just under the man’s jacket, free of its holster but still out of sight of the few others walking near them.

“You don’t need to do anything like that Robert, really, this is all a big misunderstanding, it really is.  I came here to find you, to straighten it up.  Let’s just talk for a few minutes, ok?”

Lester motioned his head back up the street in the direction of the park.  “Sure, we can talk if that’s what you want.  It’ll be much better to be in a secluded place anyhow.  After you then.”

Without looking back, but with his heart beating rapidly in his chest, Leo walked toward the park, his former partner a few steps behind him with one hand still nonchalantly inside of his jacket.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 33)

As mentioned before, Bakersfield in the 1920’s had a population of around thirteen thousand and much of the manufacturing and commerce of the town focused on the oil industry.  The first big oil strikes in the area had occurred just two decades before and there were large crews of men toiling away at extracting that black gold from the ground.  There was also a decent agricultural presence, centered around the growing of grains and alfalfa along with the raising of various kinds of livestock.  An additional number of people transited through the town on the railroad.  These three groups, but especially the oil field workers and the travelers, encompassed the people that Leo now planned to run his scheme against with Stanley.  Once he was satisfied that he had the right man picked out, it had been a fairly simple process to convince Stanley to join up with his idea, especially once it was explained how much money they might end up making as a result.  Leo breezed over any concerns about the police or penalty, ensuring his new partner that he was experienced enough to avoid any trouble.  As part of their deal Leo moved into the back area of Stanley’s repair shed, writing back to Olivia soon after to tell her of the change of address.  He still was waiting for that check from the sale of his possessions and his move to the shed solved another problem which had occurred to him soon after he had checked into the El Tejon.  He might have notified Olivia about the address but had not dared to tell her about the false name he was living under again, believing that she would refuse to send it to him given her previous anger over his aliases.  Now he simply told Stanley that he occasionally used different names and if anything showed up addressed to any, “first name of Leo, don’t worry about the last name,” well, that was to be given to him directly with no further questions asked.   Leo disliked the idea of anyone knowing his birth identity but he hoped his inexperienced partner would forget about the Hombert name quickly.  The idea of false names seemed to fascinate Stanley and Leo had to cut off the discussion to avoid telling him too much about his past.  He just ended it with, “it’s useful sometimes but complicated, you probably shouldn’t try it.” 

South Pacific train depot Bakersfield

South Pacific train depot Bakersfield

Their operational plan was simple.  Leo would purchase copper or brass which Stanley would turn into pieces of jewelry that were then electroplated to appear to be more precious metals.  Leo would take these items to a very small shop he had rented out in the main business area of Bakersfield where he hoped to sell them as “solid gold and silver”, mostly to drunk oil workers or unsuspecting persons passing through on the train.  His shop, which he had managed to get by offering the former occupant one hundred dollars to move, was well situated for the scheme as it was located right by the train depot and only blocks from several well attended establishments that were subverting the prohibition laws.  They started up production in late June of 1926 and Stanley had produced the first pieces by July 1st, just in time for the big holiday weekend.  It was on that day that Leo also informed his partner that he was changing his name again.

“Why now?” Stanley asked when told.

“It just works out better for me this way.  Up to now, well, I’ve been Lee O’Dare and that’s still a good name in this town.  Starting up our business I need to have a name that I can burn here.”

“Burn?”

“Well, yes, one that will be associated with this business we are running.”

“The illegal one, you mean?”  Stanley replied.

“Yes.  It’s just a good idea, don’t worry about it, just call me Leo from now on.”

“Leo O’Malley?”

“Yes.”

“So, what should my name be?”

“What are you, oh, never mind that, you need to keep your name, you’ve been here too long.  You can’t just change it after all that time.”

“But what if we get caught?  Isn’t that why you are using a different name?  So that if we get caught you can change it to something else when you run way?”  Stanley’s voice was rising as he spoke. 

“Who says I’m running away?  And we won’t get caught.”   Leo was getting tired of the questions.  “Now stop worrying about it.  Just produce the goods and I’ll sell them.”

“But, what if we do get caught.  I can’t stand it, I mean, my father would be devastated, he really would be.  It would be terrible.”  

“Just stop with the worrying.  I’ll worry, and you just work and keep quiet.”

“But what if we get caught?”

“Shut up!  I’ll protect you!”  Leo shouted back, raising his fist a few inches but then thinking better of it.  “Just shut up!”

Stanley wiped his eyes before replying.  “We’re going to get caught, I just know it.  But oh well, I guess that can’t be avoided.”  He then shuffled off back toward the front of his repair shop to go back to work.  Leo snorted and shook his head, thinking that maybe his plan to use Stanley had not been such a great idea after all.  This operation had to work though, it just had to, as it was his very own and he needed to prove to himself that he could be his own boss.  Any issues with Stanley would just need to be dealt with as they came up. 

The July 2nd opening of their store was a great success, aided by the general air of celebration for the Fourth of July festivities.  Everyone seemed in a good mood and were spending freely, with people clamoring for all kinds of goods including Leo’s falsely advertised jewelry.  His stock was depleted by the following Monday and Stanley had not kept up on inventory production over the weekend, choosing instead to do work for his father in their shop and also take a day off to relax.  That did not sit well with Leo, who scolded Stanley harshly and told him that he needed to get his priorities straight if they were going to make good money with their venture.

“But I can’t work on it all of the time.  My father will get angry, or suspicious, or both.  And if he starts asking questions, well, what am I supposed to say I am doing down here?”

“Fixing clocks obviously.”

“He knows there is not enough business to keep me that busy.  I don’t have many customers you know, this is mostly by hobby.”

“Tell him you have more customers then, tell him you have a big order.”  Leo was getting impatient again, his words spoken in a terse manner.

“That won’t work.  He’ll know, he knows everything about business in this town.  He talks to people.”

“Well, I don’t know what then but tell him whatever you have to.  The priority is our business, ok? Or don’t you want to make money?”

“I do.  But,”

Leo cut him off.  “Here’s your share for now.  Get to work.”

Staring down at the eighty dollars which Leo had placed into his hand brought a smile to Stanley’s face.  He thought about all of the things he could do, the women he could seduce, the fine food he could buy, maybe a good set of clothes for himself.  Closing his fist around the money he nodded and went back to work.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 32)

Lucky Strike

Lucky Strike

 

By the time that Leo and Stanley met, the Bittenhopper’s had been in Bakersfield for over a decade.  Ben was content in his surroundings and job, making enough money to get by and enjoy just a few select luxuries that he favored such as smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes and going to the movies.  He had in fact just returned from seeing The Flying Ace when he interrupted Leo and Stanley’s first meeting.  As he walked back from the theater he remembered that there was a piece of unfinished work that Stanley had promised to complete by the next day and he decided to stop by his son’s clock repair shed to remind him.  As much as he disliked going to the place, he just planned to duck his head in the door for a minute to speak to Stanley.  As he did so he observed Leo, a stranger to him of course, standing by the work bench although no one else was in sight.

The Flying Ace

The Flying Ace

“You here getting work done by my boy?” Ben asked.

“If you mean the clockmaker here, well, not exactly but I stopped by to talk to him.  You’re his Dad?”

“Where is he then?”

Leo motioned toward the darker area at the back of the shop.  Several seconds later Stanley emerged with a clock in his hands.

“Hey Dad, what are you doing here?”

“Just stopping for a second to remind you about that work for Jack Peters.  He’s coming for it tomorrow so you better get over to our place and get it done.  Who’s this fella?” 

“I’ll get it done, I said I would.  You better go before you get the vapors or something,” Stanley replied in a friendly but mocking tone, a small smirk on his face.

“Funny boy, very funny.  This fella?  Who is he?”

“What’s it to you?” Leo asked before Stanley could reply.

“I just ain’t seen you around before and I wondered.  Nothing wrong with being new, we all were at one point or another around here.  I just like knowin’ the people, that’s all.”

“Le, umm, yes,  Lee’s my name and I’m just here for a bit, shouldn’t be anyone you need to remember anyway.”  Internally, Leo scolded himself for almost blowing his alias which could have been an issue as he had introduced himself to Stanley very clearly as Lee O’Dare.  

Ben started closing the door and called back over his shoulder, “Don’t you forget that work Stanley.” 

Once he was gone Leo let out a low laugh.  “Kind of rough on you, huh?  Treats you like a kid.”

“It’s always that way, but he’s not a bad character.  Just sees me as a youngster still I guess.  We work together, me and him, gold and silver stuff mostly.  He’s right though about that other job, I really need to close up here.  This one will work for you, I think.”  He extended the small clock he had in his hands to Leo, who took it and gave it a quick glance before nodding.  “It’ll do.  How much?”

“I have to say that I don’t get many folks that come here just to buy a clock.  I’m not really a seller you know?  I just fix ‘em for people.”

“Yeah, well I like used things and I heard about you when I was asking around town about some other business ventures I’m looking into.  It peaked my interest.”

“What did?” Stanley replied, an openly quizzical look on his face.

“The work you do, I mean, mostly the stuff with your Dad I guess.  I heard you two were goldsmiths but I figured you might be more interested than he would be in a business proposition I might have for you.”

“Fixing clocks?”

“Not, not that at all.”

Stanley still looked puzzled and stayed that way as Leo paid him for the clock and then left after saying, “It’s just an idea for now but I will come around and we can get to know each other a little better.  Maybe then we can discuss business.”

Over the course of several more visits and some additional time the two of them spent hanging out together around Bakersfield Leo confirmed several key factors about Stanley.  One was that he did not have much of a conscience when it came to small crimes that did not seem to hurt anyone.  He even admitted that on occasion he had pulled a minor scam on customers that irritated him, were too demanding or whom he just did not like.  This usually involved substituting inferior material in some piece of metal work or inflating the price on a simple job.  He had to be careful of course as his father was a completely honest business man, so the opportunities had been few and far between up to this point.  It also became apparent that Stanley was not happy with his own lot in life, wanting to make more money and have better things.  He also very much wanted to woo one, or preferably some, of the pretty ladies he saw around town or who came to him with repair work.  He figured he needed money to do that properly.  And lastly, although older, Stanley was willing to have Leo, or Lee as he knew him, be the captain of their operation.  

That operation was one that Leo had developed as he sought out opportunities for a viable criminal enterprise in Bakersfield.   He was determined to find a way to run his own operation, to be his own man and not have to work for anyone else, preferably ever again.  He was tired of the demands, rules and betrayals he had experienced at the hands of those he had worked for previously and believed this move to the west coast was his chance to establish himself as a top operator.  Initially nothing had presented itself other than offers to work for other criminal operations, all of which he had turned down.  Then one day, while he was sitting outside of a bar and smoking a cigarette, he observed a local scam artist selling pyrite to an unsuspecting traveler who believed it to be gold.  Although he had no intention of getting into that swindle, a fortuitously overhead conversation the next day did give him another, similar idea.  That discussion happened to be between two men at the general store and it centered on the idea of electroplating.  Leo was unfamiliar with the term but he gathered enough to realize that it generally involved making things that were not gold or silver look like they were in fact those precious metals.  He probably would not have connected that idea with profit if he had not observed the pyrite scam the day before, but the beginning of an idea now formed in his head.  All he needed was a qualified and willing tradesman, one who needed money, had few scruples and was willing to work for Leo.  In Stanley, he had found such a man.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 31)

Stanley Bittenhopper was born September 19th, 1890 in Bristol, Connecticut.  He had an average childhood in an average household of the day, growing up as the youngest of four children in a middle-class family.  His father was a goldsmith who also worked as a jack-of-all-trades repairman and his mother ran the household while taking in neighbor’s laundry for extra money.  When Stanley graduated from high school in 1907 he was five feet eleven and weighed about one hundred ninety pounds, a lanky young man with dirty blonde hair and green eyes. 

Sessions company clock

Sessions company clock

Through connections that his father Ben had in town, he picked up an apprenticeship at the Sessions Clock Company, something considered to be a valuable way into an established line of work.   He stayed there long enough to gain an interest in clockmaking that would stay with him throughout the rest of his life, and picked up enough skills to make money doing so even after he left Sessions in 1911.   In October of that year his mother passed away and his father, with an empty house he did not want to live in and a life-long yearning for the west coast, sold everything and headed out to California.  He offered to take his youngest son along and teach him to be a goldsmith, an offer that Stanley accepted as he figured he could make more money in that line of work.  When the two of them arrived in Bakersfield on October 27, 1911 Stanley had to wonder what his father had been thinking.

When the two Bittenhopper men departed Bristol they had left an established, growing and robust city of around thirteen thousand people.  Getting off the train in Bakersfield they entered a place with a similar population but a totally different culture and atmosphere.  Their hometown on the east coast had been part of the original settling of the United States and was steeped in the history and traditions of its people dating back to the late 1700’s.  It had a settled economy, a population of established  families and the general air of the place was reflected in houses like that occupied by Stanley’s former employer at the Sessions Clock Company. 

Sessions Home

Sessions Home

Bakersfield was much younger, less refined and had an air of wild uncertainty about it.  Much of the community had been developed as a result of gold and oil being found in the area, bringing with it the unattached men and women from all over the place that usually flock to those kinds of locations.  It was a rough place and not one where either of the Bittenhopper’s initially felt very comfortable.  

Union Oil Company at Bakersfield 1910

Union Oil Company at Bakersfield 1910

They decided to stick it out though and eventually, over the course of a few years, they became well established in the area.  One benefit of a constantly evolving and changing place such as Bakersfield was that if you stuck around for a few years you became an old-timer in the area, “respected and connected” as Stanley’s father would say.  They also both welcomed the warmer weather, and eventually grew to appreciate the tone of the area’s interesting, constantly changing population.  By fall of 1913 they had a successful company established making, selling and repairing gold and silver jewelry and doing other kinds of metalwork.  Stanley also ran a side business repairing clocks, a venture that his father would not allow in their joint business due to the fire-gilding involved.

This was a skill that his son had picked up while working for Sessions, although it was certainly something that Ben Bittenhopper also knew how to do.  He had stopping doing it; however, many years prior believing that the rumored side-effects were true, if not actually worse than already realized.  He used electroplating in his metalworking and had taught Stanley the skills for that much safer practice.  He had trouble understanding why his son insisted on using fire-gliding when working on clocks.   They argued about it often, with Stanley repeating a version of the same reason every time; “Bob Miller at Sessions taught me that this was the best way, the only way to do it, and the results look better than your way, it’s easy to see.”  Ben disagreed of course and so, to keep things sailing along smoothly, they both agreed to stop talking about it as long as Stanley kept it out of the shop.  This he was happy to do, renting a small shack about a mile away from their house for his side work in the clock repair business.  

Most of his work there did not involve fire-gilding at all, as it was usually just internal repair work or the replacement of gears and broken clock faces.  As stubborn as he was with his father, Stanley was aware of the suspected problems with the practice and only used it when necessary, or occasionally to impress an especially pretty female customer by turning an ordinary looking clock into a eye-catching piece of workmanship.   He did love the way the pieces would turn out and he always felt that the risk was worth the result.

Fire-gliding has been practiced for centuries and can most easily, without getting into arcane details, be described this way:  When gold or silver is added to room temperature mercury, these metals dissolve and form an amalgam, which is a spreadable liquid metal thicker than just the mercury would be by itself.  Once you have coated an item (ideally some kind of copper-based material such as brass or bronze as these allow for better adhesion), you then need to boil away the mercury.  That process, where the mercury is heated to six hundred and seventy five degrees, is where the dangerous part of the operation occurs.  Although this process does leave behind the gold or silver (although in a rough form that often needs to be burnished) it also releases elemental mercury into the air, and that is definitely not something you want to be breathing.  Prolonged and repeated exposure to this kind of mercury vapor leads to neurotoxin poisoning with symptoms such as high levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.  This has often, especially in the past, been referred to as Mad Hatter’s Disease, as that occupation as involves repeated exposure to mercury.  The symptoms can linger for quite a long time, especially if the periods of exposure are not too frequent or intense.  It would take quite awhile to become evident but Stanley Bittenhopper, known around Bakersfield simply as The Clockmaker, definitely was being poisoned.  

…to be continued