A Burning Cold Morning (Part 24)

Over the course of the next five hours the three of them talked although it was not about any actual criminal partnership.  The speakeasy was much too public for that kind of discussion.  Leo did share enough of his own story, or at least a version of it, to convince Jerry Salazar that he was criminally minded and might be someone with whom Jerry could do business.  They parted ways around eleven p.m. with a promise to meet up again in a couple of days at a more private location.  Leo was fairly drunk by that time and stumbled as they emerged from the alleyway onto Fifth.  Veronica caught him and pulled him back up, admonishing him to “get straight and walk normal.”

“You know Veronica,” Leo mumbled, “you said it was gonna be a toot and it was.  That was…,” his voice trailed off and he seemed to be recalling something as his eyes had a faraway look.  “I’ve always been meaning to ask you something, something about McNeil.”

“And what’s that?” Veronica replied.

“You helped him, didn’t you?”

“I can’t imagine what you mean by that Leo, you’re drunk and talking nonsense.”

“You know, you know, you know ” Leo replied slowly, wagging a finger at her, “Roy Gardner, that’s who, that’s who I’m talkin’ about.”  His speech was slurring and he stumbled again but caught himself and then stopped and turned to Veronica.  “You helped him get off that island, I’m sure of it.  I mean, how else could he have man, mana,…,” Leo stopped to try to figure out what he was saying.  “ I mean, how else could he ‘a done it?”

“Stop talking nonsense and keep your damn voice down.  Now, let’s get you back to your room.”  She stepped away but Leo grabbed her arm.

“Just tell me, just admit it, you helped him.”

Veronica pulled her arm away and started walking.  “Come on now, let’s get you back before you get us caught out by the police.  You’re a real  wurp ya know Leo, you really are.”

She did manage to get him back to the Governor although the last two blocks mostly involved her trying to convince him to keep walking and then assisting him to stay upright as he was rapidly slipping into oblivion.  By the time they reached the hotel he was almost completely passed out, leaning on her heavily with an unlit cigarette in his mouth.  She left him at the registration desk with the manager who commented, “Well, I see he really had a time of it tonight,” before having the doorman assist in carrying Leo up to his room.  They put him face down on the sofa, covered him with his overcoat and laughed a bit at his general condition.  When he awoke the next afternoon with a splitting headache and vomit on his shirt and the floor next to the sofa he was surprised to find himself in his room.  After easing himself up and calling down for coffee he attempted to reassemble the events of the night before but had little memory after the first hour at Plumb’s.  After another day of slow recovery he was feeling better by the afternoon, sitting in a lounge chair and starting to eat a bowl of soup while day-dreaming about robbing a bank.  A very loud knock on his door startled him back to reality.  When he opened it he saw Veronica who laughed before speaking.

“Aren’t you a sight?  You’re a bit of a novice with the whisky I take it?  Two days and ya still look like death.”

“I’m fine, just fine,” Leo replied.

“Hardly I reckon, but say what you want to make yourself feel better.  I guess maybe you’re just a dewdropper then, nothing to do and nowhere to go.  I thought you wanted to do some business Leo, not sit around with your soup bowl all day.”

“Really, give me a break huh?  I’m just fine, now what are you here about?”

“See, you’ve already forgotten, or maybe can’t remember?  I’m not too sure about you at all Leo, maybe we should just skip this.”

That stung Leo, as all comments about his criminal prowess did and he snapped back at her.  “Damn it!  I’m just fine and we can do business!  Now, what’s this all about?”

“Yes, well maybe you forgot about our meeting with Jerry today?”

Leo, who did remember meeting the man, had to admit that he had no idea what she was talking about when it came to a meeting which provoked another laugh from Veronica.  She explained the whole thing to him again but Leo, now that he was sober, was not so willing to go along.

“I don’t know Veronica, I really don’t.  I mean I don’t know the guy and well, I guess you do but still.  How do we know he’s playing straight with us?”

“He’s not playing anything with us, not yet anyway.  We just agreed to all meet up today and discuss things, you know, see what angles Jerry might have that we could get in on.   You agreed to it Leo.”

He ran his hands through his hair before replying.  “I might have, I don’t remember, but I though we were going to get our own operation going.”

“How do you ever expect to make it big if you won’t talk to the big-time operators?  You sure didn’t seem to have any problem with it in KC, or at least not from the stories you tell anyway.”

“That’s just it, ok?  I mean, where did that get me?  I’ve been thinking a lot and I figure it’s better to run things on my own, or just with a few folks that I know.  It’s safer that way.”

“You really are dumb Leo, I mean, look at what your last solo operation got you.  Nothing.”

“Well, I crossed paths with you, I got that out of it.”

“Stop it, really, it’s silly to talk that way.  And it’s silly, and stupid, to turn down a meeting with Jerry especially after you agreed to go.  He’s not someone you want to insult.”

“I don’t mean it that way, I just want to do things on my own.”

“Well, you do that then.  I have to keep living here so I’m going to the meeting.  Happy day-dreaming Leo.”

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 23)

Elmer Plumb was an interesting man in his own right but had an even more interesting father, Elihu Plumb.  That man, along with his brother William, their father Alva and all the members of their various families had traveled from Wisconsin to Rocky Prairie, Washington in 1861.   They were part of the first pioneer group to travel via Mullen’s Military Road and one evening that wagon train ended up camped out with a large group of Bannock Indians during their journey west.  That night, with the Indians restless and threatening to take action against the pioneers, the Plumb family men had tried to borrow some ammunition to protect themselves but were refused.  Exactly how or why they had none of their own, especially given the norms of the time, is lost to history but they did manage to survive although it was a rather nervous night.  At some point after three a.m. the Bannock’s made off with some of the oxen and supplies from the wagon train but never attacked the group.  After a few more misadventures they all arrived safely in Washington and the  family set up a homestead and began to try to make a living.  Over time Elihu would become recognized and revered as one of founding fathers of the Olympia area.   Along the way Elmer Plumb was born in 1863 and although he worked the family land until he was twenty, he then headed out to Olympia to seek his own way in life.  Much later, after a wide variety of ventures in that city, some successful and some not, he opened up a cigar shop on East Fifth Avenue.  It was a respectable business and provided a good living for Elmer; however, his entrepreneurial nature was always on the lookout for opportunities.  The advent of Prohibition brought such a opening, and he quickly converted the storage area of his store into a speakeasy.  Those establishments, some of them abided by law enforcement and some not, provided the liquor that the public continued to crave despite the nationwide ban on its sale.  Elmer made sure that he was on the good side of the Olympia police and because of that enjoyed a bustling business in his former storage area.

Elmer Plumb at the register of his cigar shop in Olympia

Elmer Plumb at the register of his cigar shop in Olympia

The front, legal side of Plumb’s Cigar Shop was of a typical arrangement for the time.  The shelves were crammed full of boxes of cigars and the various accessories that went along with that habit.  The most prevalent item not related to smoking that he sold was candy, most of it being dispensed from penny gum ball machines.  It was a simple, quiet and legitimate business and, although there was a door which allowed Elmer to slip into the other side of his operation, everyone else entered the speakeasy via the alley.

Elmer Plumb at the counter of the other side of his business, the speakeasy in the old storage area. Note the keg in the far back corner.

Elmer Plumb at the counter of the other side of his business, the speakeasy in the old storage area. Note the keg in the far back corner.

Once you had given the appropriate password at that back door you would step into a narrow passageway that ran alongside a counter which Elmer had installed for his alcohol seeking clientele to step up to and order drinks.  The shades on the windows were always drawn down, although small slivers of light filtered in through the top and there were cans on the floor into which customers could toss cigarette butts and exhausted cigars.  He sold candy on that side also and still retained his cigar shop supplies on the shelves along the back wall.  This was not the kind of noisy speakeasy that was popular in other cities where prohibition was looked at mostly as an inconvenience.  In Olympia, although the police allowed them when the money was right, they still needed to be discreet and hidden.  At Plumb’s you got your drink and carried on quiet conversations with your fellow lawbreakers.  Parties were strictly reserved for private residences.  At five-thirty p.m on January 25, 1926, when Veronica and Leo stepped through the door, three other men and one woman were already enjoying an early evening libation.   Elmer Plumb stood behind the counter polishing a glass and looked up when they entered.

“Hey ho Mr. Plumb!” Veronica called out along with giving him a little wave.  “What’s new?”

Elmer pushed his glasses up further onto his nose and replied. “I can’t say too much, dear.  Things are the same as always.  Now, who’s this new fella?”

“An old friend so don’t worry.  Leo, say hello to the owner of this fine place, Mr. Elmer Plumb.”

Leo gave a curt nod but said nothing.  Veronica poked him in the ribs and said, “Now Leo, you’re not going to make yourself any friends acting like that, especially in a place like this.  You want to be social and friendly so say hello.”

“Hello then,” Leo replied and forced a slight smile onto his face.  He still was unsure about being in the speakeasy, not from any sense of morality but because he did not know anyone there except Veronica.

“Come on Leo,” Veronica said and then whispered into his ear, “if you want to do some business in this town you better get used to these kinds of places.”  With that she stepped further down the passageway eventually stopping next to a tall, thin man with a red complexion and a fat, twisted nose that had obviously been broken several times.  The man, Jerry Salazar, was the only mixed-blood gangster in Olympia who was allowed to operate without interference from the other criminal operations in town, all of which were run by white men.  It probably helped that he looked more like the boisterous Irish men that populated his mother’s side of the family.   It could also have been because Jerry was a ruthless killer who had eliminated sixteen family members of gangs that originally tried to run him out of Olympia.  He had everyone’s attention and respect.   Elmer slid a glass of champagne across the bar to Veronica as she turned to the tall man.

“How’s my favorite egg today?”

“Living large as you say Ronnie, living large.  What’s this quiet fella all about?”  Jerry had a slight accent to his speech, a small drawl from somewhere in the southeast.

“He’s alright Jerry, someone I met in the McNeil days.”

“That right?  Why ain’t he drinkin’?”

Veronica turned to Leo.  “You better get something or else everyone in here is gonna think you’re with the bureau.   Izzy and Moe might be gone but nobody trusts a person who’s not drinking.”

Izzy Einstein & Moe Smith in one of their famous disguises - they used them to catch unsuspecting violators of the Volstead Act during prohibition. They were both dismissed from the Bureau of Prohibition in 1925 even though they had racked up thousands of arrests with their methods.

Izzy Einstein & Moe Smith in one of their famous disguises – they used them to catch unsuspecting violators of the Volstead Act during prohibition. They were both dismissed from the Bureau of Prohibition in 1925 even though they had racked up thousands of arrests with their methods.

Leo turned to Elmer who was already sliding a whiskey across the counter.  He took it and then Veronica introduced him to Jerry.

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 22)

Leo sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“I always have known you were a sharp one Grace, sorry, Veronica.  You seemed it from the first time we spoke and I still see it now.”  He ran a hand through his thinning hair and then told her about his misadventure at Crombie’s.  When he was finished Veronica laughed and then stared at him for a few moments, blowing smoke into his face.

“Damn Leo, that story sure don’t say much about your level of talent, does it?”  Before he could reply she went on.  “You know, when I saw you out there, going past me on the sidewalk, well I had an inkling that you might be chasing me down.  I wasn’t too sure if that was a good thing or not but I followed you figuring we might at least get into business together, if you happened to be interested in such a thing.”  She paused again, blew more smoke and finished with, “But now I’m not so sure.”

Leo blushed deeply, pulled his glasses off and looked at the floor.  He was embarrassed, exposed again as a failure in the criminal world, and it quickly turned into anger.

“Damn it, don’t be thinking I’m some Dumb Dora!  I cased that place good and had a plan.  How was I to know,”

“You can’t know sometimes,” Veronica interrupted, “but that just was not a good plan.   Who makes a trial run to steal one box and check out what’s inside?  You figure out what’s in the boxes and then either pass or steal them all.  It’s that simple.  It was a dumb move, Leo, real dumb.”

“Damn it!”  Leo slammed his right fist into his left hand.  “I know what I’m doing Grace.  I can run some business with you.”  He returned his glasses to his face and looked up to see Veronica smiling at him.

“You are sensitive aren’t you Leo?  And you need to stop calling me Grace.”

“Sorry,” he replied, “just don’t, well, don’t go making me out like some kind of idiot.  We can do business, I can do this.”

She waited again, and as she did so Leo’s face retuned to its normal color and he composed himself, leaning back in the chair and closing his eyes for a few moments.  Veronica eyed him while continuing to smoke her cigar, her brow furrowed as she calculated what to do.  Finally she reached over and touched knee.

“Yes, well maybe we can at that.  I think you just might be useful despite all your tall tales about Kansas City.”  Leo started to blush again but she reassured him.  “It’s alright, we all do it, little exaggerations here and there to make ourselves look tougher or meaner or whatever.  You don’t seem to have had much success so far but maybe you’re just unlucky, or maybe you just need a good partner.  I’ll come by on Monday and pick you up around five.”  She then reached over and dropped her cigar into the glass of water which had remained untouched during their conversation.

“Where are we going?” Leo asked.

“Plumb’s.”

Leo stared back blankly but Veronica exited his room saying, “Just be ready on Monday.”

After she left he leaned back and closed his eyes again.  Even though he had composed himself fairly well, the entire conversation he had just had was still running through his mind.  There was anger inside of him both for the way Veronica had laughed at him and also at his own criminal failings.  He was even mad at himself for getting mad, knowing that his outburst only made him look weaker.  He should have laughed back at her and just told her what they were going to do.  That would be the way a real hard-boiled man would have handled it.  Thinking about it did not resolve much though and he kept going over it in his head until he fell asleep in the chair.

He awoke around midnight, neck stiff and back sore from sleeping in such an awkward position and stayed up until daylight, this time thinking about what kind of business might be good for him and Veronica.  He wanted to show her he was in charge and could come up with a plan.  After eating breakfast he asked the hotel manager where Plumb’s was and then walked over to check out the place, determined to know where he was going before Veronica picked him up.  Maybe that would even give him some ideas for developing a plan of action.  He was disappointed though when he got there as it was just a simple cigar shop, full of the usual supplies and accessories.  Could she really be picking him up to go buy cigars?  Surely this was not a place she planned on robbing?  Maybe he was the brains of their new venture after all.  Leo poked around a little in the store but did not buy anything, giving a curt “Just looking,” response to the old man behind the counter who offered to assist him.  He left and kept walking, trying to come up with ideas and although a few came to him none seemed good enough to present to Veronica.  After an hour of walking he returned to the Governor, toes cold and ears hurting a little from the biting wind outside that day.  As he passed the desk the manager he had spoken to in the morning called out to him.

“Enjoy yourself at Plumb’s?” the man asked, a slightly mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Leo, thinking the man was in on some joke against him, just glared back and returned to his room.  He stayed in that weekend, writing down plans and then crumpling each one up and throwing it into the fireplace.  Veronica’s laugh echoed in his head constantly and he could see her scoffing at each one as not good enough, or stupid, or silly, or any other reason she could come up with to put him down.  It was not a very good way to start a criminal venture and he began to regret ever coming to Olympia.  He needed money though and realized he could not come up with a good enough plan on his own.  Veronica was going to be necessary.  By the time she picked him up on Monday he was resigned to that fact, determined to make the best of it for awhile and then see what happened.  Veronica was all dressed up when she arrived, looking about as good as Leo could have imagined.

“A bit fancy for cigar shopping?” Leo inquired.

She laughed before replying.  “You’re quite the detective, huh?  But you missed the picture entirely my dear.  We’re going drinking Leo, not shopping.  It’s going to be quite a toot so I hope you’re ready for it.”

…to be continued