Now the Hollyhocks was empty, the party over. No one used the sixteen-car garage anymore; no one leaned against the white Greek columns out front, drink in hand, and gazed contentedly at the Mississippi River flowing lazily beneath the bluffs beyond. Instead, Violet wandered the club alone, searching for loose floorboards as she had been instructed in Jack’s last letter to her.
Violet knew it all would come to an end. It had to. Only she didn’t know it would end so quickly and so violently. Within just a few short years, John Dillinger and his friends Homer Van Meter, John Hamilton, Tommy Carroll, and Eddie Green were all killed. So were Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. So were Frank Nash and Verne Miller. So were Fred Barker and his mother. Doc Barker was killed trying to escape from Alcatraz. Leon Gleckman drove his car into an abutment, either because he had a point-two-three blood alcohol level or because he didn’t want to go to federal prison. Jimmy Keating, Tommy Holden, and Harvey Bailey were sentenced to thirty-year prison terms. Machine Gun Kelly got life, and so did his wife. So did Harry Sawyer. So did Alvin Karpis. Vi had known them all; she had shared lunch with Frank and Frances Nash just days before they left for Hot Springs. They all had been welcome guests at the Hollyhocks Casino. Rubbing shoulders with St. Paul’s gentry. Men and women that Violet now bitterly felt were just as guilty as the others but who would never pay for their crimes.
She was convinced that that’s why Jack had been murdered. Jack claimed he was “an ordinary citizen from a typical good Minnesota family.” Prosecutors said he was a “fixer,” a “mob banker,” and a “go-between” who regularly introduced gangsters to corrupt police officers, government officials, and wealthy benefactors. He was convicted of helping to plan the kidnapping of William Hamm; Vi collapsed in shock when the thirty-year sentence was read. Part of the evidence against him was the heavy telephone traffic that came in and out of the Hollyhocks Casino during mid-June of 1933. Jack never explained in court, but Vi knew many of those calls were from Brent Messer to Jack and from Jack to Verne Miller; they involved the Kansas City Massacre, not the Hamm kidnapping. Jack might have said so during his appeal, except he was found dead from cyanide poisoning only eight hours after he had been sentenced. Some claimed he committed suicide. Vi agreed with those who believed Jack was killed to keep him from testifying against members of the St. Paul aristocracy.
The thought of it made Violet stamp her foot. A board groaned in reply. She stamped some more, moving her foot in six-inch increments along the floor until she heard a hollow squeak. A few more stamps, a few more squeaks. She dropped to her knees and pried up a loose board. Beneath the board was the money Jack had promised her, enough for Violet to start her life anew. Twenty-five thousand dollars in cash.
“The man loved his wife,” I said. “For all of his faults, he truly loved Violet. He left her the twenty-five G’s to rebuild her life with. If he had the gold, I think he would have left that for her, too.”
“Would you have left me the gold?” Nina asked.
“I would never have left you, period.”
“Hold that thought.”
Mahtomedi Avenue between Spruce and Rose streets I parked the Audi illegally along the shoulder of the busy avenue midway between the two narrow side streets.
“Take your pick,” I said.
“What do you mean?” Nina asked.
Six houses lined the avenue, half facing east, the others west. On the east side was a small cottage with a brick facade, a one-story frame house with forest green siding and a much larger two-story house between them that was made up to look like a log cabin. On the west side was a two-story frame house with redwood siding next to a second two-story, this one with blue vinyl siding, and a one-and-a-half-story cottage with red shakes and yellow trim.
“Frank and Frances Nash lived in one of these houses.”
“I don’t know; the information is sketchy. All I know is that they lived on Mahtomedi between Rose and Spruce. We can eliminate the pretend log cabin and the redwood house because they were built after 1940. All the others were built between 1901 and 1930.”
The houses were located on the east side of White Bear Lake in the City of Mahtomedi, about two miles from Nina’s own home and ten miles from the St. Paul city limits. The gangsters had used the area as a kind of vacation hideaway. When they weren’t on the lake, they gambled at the Silver Slipper roadhouse and drank at Elsie’s speakeasy and ate at Guardino’s Italian Restaurant, all within easy walking distance. Or they crossed the lake and danced at the Plantation nightclub.
“If I had to choose, I’d pick the red and yellow cottage,” Nina said. “It’s the cutest.”
“Somehow, I don’t think Frank Nash went for cute.”
“I bet Frances did.”
She had me there.
“Was he living here when the gold was stolen?” Nina asked.
“Something else I’m not sure of.”
“If they were living here when Nash robbed the bank, why would they stay at Vernon Street with Karpis and the Barkers?”