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A Burning Cold Morning (Part 76)

At Stillwater Prison the day of tragedy passed with absolutely no mention of the events in Minneapolis.  The inmates went about their usual routines with discussions about the possibilities in the new year already having faded into the background.  It was a quiet and ordinary day.  After a fitful night of sleep Leo woke up on January 4th and was lined up to go to breakfast when the first bit of news relating to the events of the day before began to be discussed.  This initial conversation did not mention the name of the hotel and it made little impression on him until he sat down with his tray of grits and toast.  Each table had one newspaper that was shared between the inmates who sat there and several minutes after sitting down Leo was passed the front section.  Several moments later he stopped chewing on the toast in his mouth, his attention focused solely  on the story in the paper.  

His reaction would probably be lost to time except for the fact that it was written about by another inmate in a letter to his girlfriend the next day.  This letter was actually intercepted at the prison during the routine review of all out-going mail and confiscated, although that was not due to the details it provided about Leo.  It was instead a strange sentence near the end, which read “Tomorrow seems like a good day for catching minnows”, that seemed to draw the suspicion of the reviewing jail employee.  Perhaps they thought it was a code for something that was going to happen or a request for contraband.  That letter remained in the file of the inmate who wrote it and was later discovered by a journalist investigating Leo’s life.  The relevant part read:

Let me tell ya about this guy, the one in the cell just one down from me that I told ya about, the one back because of that parole bust.  He’s readin’ the paper yesterday and then slams it down hard, spilled his food and a few other fella’s too.  Got up and tried walking out, he had to be pulled down by a guard.  We aren’t supposed to be up like that without askin’ if we can.  The whole time he’s talkin’ to himself about bombs and clocks.  Couldn’t make no sense of it really but he said it was all in the papers.  They tried to get him to sit back down but he got up again and said he needed to make a phone call right then.  Well, the same guard came back and took him down to his knees and then dragged him off.  Ain’t seen him since so I figure he must be in solitary.

Leo was indeed very upset about what he read in the paper as he had been immediately convinced that it was Stanley’s work that had caused the destruction at the Marlborough.  It was just too hard to believe in the coincidence that some random other kind of explosion had destroyed the one hotel against which Leo held a grudge. The papers were saying the cause was unknown but he was sure it had been the bomb, the one he had almost told his former partner to stop working on.   Now that bomb, obviously much more powerful than it should have been, had killed and maimed innocent people possibly including children.  Leo had wanted a measured amount of justice and had instead been given a serving plate full of dead and injured bodies.  The article he had read was unclear on if any children had actually been hurt but it was that possibility which caused him the most anger.   

The four days that Leo spent in solitary confinement allowed him plenty of time to vent his anger, which he did by shouting curses, ranting to the white-washed walls and eventually lying on the floor and envisioning ways to kill Stanley without drawing any suspicion on himself.  The guards at Stillwater were taken aback by his behavior as it was well outside the normal calm demeanor and relative conformity that Leo had displayed up to this point in his time at the prison.  None of them could figure out why a newspaper article had apparently made him snap although they had seen enough odd behavior from prisoners and mostly just chalked it up to “prison insanity.”  

By the morning of January 8th Leo had exhausted most of his anger as far as the prison officials could tell and internally he had decided to take solace in the fact that Otto the janitor was almost certainly dead, so at least that score was settled.  After he was escorted back to his regular cell he spent the remainder of the day silently continuing to plot his revenge against Stanley.  It was two days later when he read a follow-up article about the fire in which the cause had now been ruled to be accidental, a statement that left Leo chuckling to himself.  Five sentences later his eyes narrowed and his thin, pointy fists curled around the edges of the newspaper.  He had just read a quote from Otto Knaack who had been interviewed as a survivor of the Marlborough Hotel fire.  It took quite a bit of effort but Leo kept himself together until the inmates were marched back to their cells.  Once there he slammed his fists into the cinder block walls, breaking three fingers in the process.

The next day, while he was lying in the infirmary, Leo made an unexpected decision.  He had of course already been thinking a lot about what he would do when he got out of prison the next time.   He still wanted to hold firm to his resolution to not get caught again, to not have to be returned to this life behind bars that he had grown to hate so much.   It was likely that continuing to try to find ways to get back at Otto would just end of bringing too much police attention onto him.  Plus, he had realized a little too late that carrying around so much stress and anger about what had happened was not really doing him any good.  So, with a very loud and audible sigh that managed to turn the head of the medical attendant, Leo let it go.  He decided that Otto had earned his life by living through the explosion and deserved to be free from the debt that he, perhaps unknowingly, owed to Leo.  The same, however, did not apply to Stanley.  That was one final score that Leo felt he really needed to settle up properly, regardless of his commitment to a discreet life of crime in the future.  

He was back in the general population two days later and things returned to normal, although he grew increasingly anxious about getting parole and more determined than ever to avoid returning to what he has taken to calling, “the pen of misery.”  His chance finally came in March of 1943.  

…to be continued

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