“I’m sorry for the broken nose, I really am,” I said. “I didn’t know that was going to happen. I didn’t want that to happen. Things just got out of hand a little bit. It won’t happen again.”
Nina sighed heavily and unfolded her arms. “I should be used to it by now,” she said. “These favors you do for people at risk of life and limb. I just wish you had a more conventional hobby.”
“It’s not a hobby.”
“Calling, then. Avocation. Mission. Quest. Crusade. Whatever.”
“It’s not like that this time. I’m not trying to right the wrongs of the world.”
“What are you doing?”
I leaned in and whispered, “Searching for buried treasure.”
“Buried treasure?” Nina said.
“It could be buried.”
I explained everything. As I spoke I realized that—as unlikely an enterprise as it might be—I had become just as excited by the prospect of finding Jelly’s gold as the kids were.
“Wow,” Nina said when I finished. Then, “Wow,” again.
“It probably doesn’t exist,” I said.
“Yes, but if it does …” Nina smiled her brightest smile at me. Black hair that she had grown out to her shoulders, high cheekbones, narrow nose, generous mouth, curves she refused to diet away, and those incredible, luminous eyes—she was so much lovelier than any college girl I had ever known. And smart. And disciplined. She had built Rickie’s from scratch while raising a daughter after her husband abandoned them both. I was never sure what she saw in me, except maybe that I made few demands on her. We spoke about marriage, but when she told me that her first attempt at it had been so disastrous that she never intended to tie the knot again, I let the subject drop, although I couldn’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.
“It’s not about the money,” I said. “I already have five million dollars, and I’m never going to spend it. What am I going to buy that I don’t already own? It’s about—”
“It’s about searching for it, about finding it when no one else can.”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
“You’re just raring to go, aren’t you?” Nina said.
“Well, you’re far too distracted to be of any use to me tonight. Get out of here. Go have fun.”
I kissed her before I left. It only lasted a couple of seconds. Anything longer and I might not have left at all.
I spent the evening on the Internet searching for information on Frank Nash, using every search engine I could find. They directed me to the archives of the FBI, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, the Green County Gazette in Green County, Arkansas, and dozens of other Web sites. Combined, they gave me enough information that I thought I could imagine what Frank was like and how his final days unfolded.
June 16, 1933
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Frank Nash was getting fat. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror in his Hot Springs hotel suite, frowning as he squeezed the loose flesh around his stomach. In his youth he had earned the nickname “Jelly” because of his proficiency at blowing bank safes using nitroglycerin. Now he was sure that people secretly called him that because of the way his belly wiggled.
“Honey, do you think I should go on a diet?” There was no answer. “Honey?”
Frances was in the other room. She had been giving him the silent treatment ever since they left St. Paul. He couldn’t remember when she had been this angry—at least not since she learned that his name wasn’t George Miller and that he wasn’t a successful big-city restaurateur. They were living luxuriously in a Chicago hotel when she discovered his true identity, and he figured the money had gone a long way toward placating her outrage. Frances was dirt poor when they met, scratching out a living as a cook in a cheap resort, a former Minnesota schoolteacher working hard to support herself and a daughter following an abusive marriage. Now she was with a man who loved her, who doted on her, who sent her child to the finest schools. The anxiety of life on the dodge during the past three years was beginning to work on her, though. She tried to maintain a semblance of normal life, especially when young Danella was with them, yet she would jump every time she heard a loud noise; would rush to the window whenever a car door slammed.
Spending time with Alvin Karpis and Doc and Freddie Barker just before they left St. Paul hadn’t helped matters, either. They showed up at the Green Lantern, where Frank and Frances had gone for dinner. They were psychopaths, homicidal punks who would chop a bloke in two with a tommy gun just for the fun of it. Yet while he didn’t think much of them or their methods, they clearly admired and respected Frank, whose reputation as a criminal strategist was well known. They invited Frank and Frances to spend the night at their comfortable hideout, and Frank agreed. They asked him questions, listened intently to his answers.
“Is it true that you broke out of prison?”