Frank had been arrested for burglary in the months of May, June, July, August, September, October, and November of the same year when he was first learning his trade, yet beat the rap each time. In 1913, he was sentenced to life in the state penitentiary at McAlester, Oklahoma, for killing his partner but talked himself into a pardon. In 1920, he was sentenced to twenty-five years for burglary with explosives and managed yet another pardon. In 1924, he was sentenced to another twenty-five years in Leavenworth for a mail train robbery, yet still managed to help engineer the daring escape of seven inmates, including bank robbers Jimmy Keating and Tommy Holden, before escaping himself by literally walking away from a work detail a few months later.
“Is it true that you read Shakespeare and Dickens?”
He quoted the authors.
Because they wanted to impress the master, Karpis and the Barkers then told Frank of their plans to kidnap William Hamm, the owner of the brewery that bore his name, one of the city’s wealthiest men, and hold him for a one-hundred-thousand-dollar ransom—a stunning violation of the O’Connor System that had protected criminals in St. Paul for so many years. Frank was impressed, all right. So impressed that he made plans to get out of town while the getting was good.
Yet, while Frank enjoyed the attention lavished on him, Frances did not. She would ask him during the long drive to Arkansas why he associated with such hoodlums. The entire Barker clan was nuts, just plain nuts, she would say, and Karpis was creepy.
“That’s how he got his nickname, Creepy Karpis,” Frank said.
Frances didn’t think that was funny and said so. She pointed out that they all treated their women like whores; they beat them and gave them venereal disease and forced them to get abortions whenever they became pregnant. Frank asked her to name just one time when he didn’t treat her with the utmost respect and affection, when he was rude to her or even impolite. Frances stared at him for a good quarter mile. Did he really want her to answer that? No, he didn’t. So it went.
Frank carefully fixed the red toupee to his bald scalp and stared at himself in the hotel’s mirror while fingering the scars along his nose. He looked like hell. He was forty-six years old, and the stress of a lifetime of thieving had clearly taken its toll. What’s more, he had started to drink heavily. Maybe Frances was right, he thought. Maybe it was time to get out.
He finished dressing and stepped back into the suite. Frances was poring over a movie magazine, her wire-rim glasses perched on her nose. She was fast approaching thirty and was unhappy about it, yet still a very handsome woman, he thought.
“I’m going out for smokes. Is there anything I can get you?”
She glanced up from the magazine and shook her head. “No, thank you.”
“I won’t be long,” Frank said.
Frances didn’t reply.
Frank opened the door and stepped into the hotel corridor. He took the elevator to the lobby and quickly made his way to the entrance of the hotel. He didn’t notice the three men sitting in the lobby who set their newspapers aside, rose, and followed him out.
Frank waited for a car to pass before casually crossing the street and walking into the White Front cigar store. He asked for a pack of Luckies and began browsing the store shelves. Maybe if he bought Frances a gift… He was unworried about being recognized. Hot Springs maintained a safe haven agreement with America’s gangsters just like St. Paul, Toledo, Kansas City, and Cicero, Illinois, where Capone had reigned supreme. All a bloke had to do was announce his presence when he arrived, pay a tribute to the powers that be, and keep his nose clean, and he would be left alone. That’s why he was so surprised when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and heard a low, curt voice say, “Hello, Frank.”
Frank turned to find three men wearing dark suits and fedoras staring at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You must have me confused with someone else. My name is George Miller.”
The man who had spoken slowly shook his head and smiled. He gave Frank a quick glance at his credentials: L. Joseph Lackey, Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“And you gentlemen?” Frank asked.
Lackey pointed with his thumb at the two men. “Special Agent Frank Smith and Police Chief Otto Reed of McAlester.”
Frank guessed that the three of them were in Hot Springs without the knowledge of the local police or he would have been warned.
“A bit out of your jurisdiction, aren’t you, Chief?” Frank said. “Last I heard, McAlester was in Oklahoma.”
“I’d go a long way to catch you, Frank,” Reed said.
“I’m sorry to have put you to so much trouble.”
“No trouble,” Reed said.