A used and abused dark blue Chevy Trailblazer was parked across the street from the church. The two men sitting inside had an unobstructed view of Lori’s front door. I might not have noticed them at all except for the still-burning cigarette butt that the driver flicked out the window. It joined three others in the street. Assuming he was a diligent chain-smoker, I decided he must have been parked there for at least thirty minutes.
Ivy and her companion were sitting at the same table as when I first saw her; she could have been perched in the same chair. Even the paintings for sale on the walls looked familiar. While Lori’s hadn’t changed much, though, Ivy had. Twenty-four months ago I thought she was an attractive young woman hiding behind dowdy clothes, thick, large-rim glasses, and an unfortunate hairstyle. Well, she wasn’t hiding anymore. Irish red hair curled around her triangular face, setting off eyes that glistened like wet shamrocks. Her shirt was selected to accentuate her curves and her shorts—it was probably too chilly to wear shorts in early May, but if I had legs like hers I would have worn them, too.
She came out of her seat for a hug. She was so happy to see me that she laughed out loud. I kissed her cheek and said, “You look fabulous.”
“You’ve always been nice to me,” she said.
“Is this the boyfriend?”
Her companion rose to his feet and extended his hand. “Josh Berglund,” he said like someone fond of reciting his own name. His appearance generated about as much excitement as a bowl of oatmeal—medium height and twenty pounds overweight, with straight brown hair, unremarkable hazel eyes, and a mustache that he should have given up on years ago. My first thought, Ivy could do a helluva lot better.
“Please,” he said and gestured at a vacant chair.
Two large mugs sat empty on the small square table, along with a white plate that once held something made with a lot of powdered sugar.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“About a half hour,” Ivy said.
Berglund studied his watch. “Forty-two minutes,” he said.
It couldn’t be “about forty-five minutes, ”my inner voice said. No, it has to be exactly forty-two minutes. C’mon, Ivy, what are you doing with this guy? Still, the timing worked with the chain-smoker outside.
“So, what’s going on?” I asked.
Berglund gestured at the mugs in front of us. “Can I get you something?”
“Mocha, latte, cappuccino, espresso, French soda—”
“Coffee is fine.” He stared at me as if he had never heard of such a thing. “Black,” I added.
“As you wish. Ivy?”
“Nothing else for me,” she said.
Berglund left the table and made his way to the counter. I turned to Ivy. She reached across the table and squeezed my hand.
“I am really glad to see you,” I said. “You look absolutely beautiful.”
“So, when did this Berglund happen? Last time we chatted you were unattached and happy about it.”
“That’s what I said, but I didn’t actually mean it. As for Josh, I’ve known him on and off for a couple of years. We didn’t start dating until three months ago.”
“Ahh—you sound like my brother.”
“Your brother goes ahh?”
“Everyone I know goes ahh, especially when they’re about to tell me that I should be with someone who’s better-looking and has more money, but Josh is smart and generous and he’s kind to me and he makes me laugh. That’s a lot.”
“Ahh,” I said.
I asked how she had been, and Ivy filled me in on the past six months—she was still going for her Ph.D. and expected to get it by the end of the term. A moment later, Berglund returned with the coffee. He set it in front of me and sat quietly while Ivy and I continued to exchange pleasantries. I was sure it annoyed him that I was holding hands with his girl; I just didn’t care. He seemed tired and uncertain, but that lasted only a few minutes. He gestured impatiently with an unexpected flash of energy.
“There are things we need to talk about,” he said.
“Yes,” Ivy said. “That’s why we’re here.”
I took a sip of the coffee. The house blend. Nice. Lori’s always served a good unadorned cup of joe.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m primed. What’s your story?”
“McKenzie, we need your help,” Ivy said. She squeezed my hand for emphasis, then released it.
“No,” Berglund said. “Not need.” He glared at Ivy as if she had just tipped his hand in a high-stakes poker game.
She shrugged. “Why else did we call him?”
He shook his head as if Ivy were discussing matters that were far beyond her grasp. I didn’t like the gesture but let it slide.
“Why did you call me?” I asked.
Berglund’s eyes went from me to Ivy to the ceiling and then back to me again. “Do you know who Jelly Nash was?”
“Jelly Nash was a bank robber who committed most of his crimes during the twenties and early thirties.”
“His real name was Frank Nash. He was born in the small town of Birdseye, Indiana, but he grew up in Oklahoma. His mother died when he was two …”
Berglund didn’t care what I knew or didn’t know. He had a story to tell and he was going to tell it his way and there wasn’t anything to do except lean back in the chair and listen.