I shot a finger at her. “Good point. Maybe he was afraid the cops were after him and he felt the house wasn’t safe.”
“Except, if he thought it wasn’t safe, it’s unlikely he would have stashed the gold here.”
“Another good point.”
Nina sighed heavily. “We’re no closer to the gold than when we started, are we?” she said.
“You didn’t think we were going to just drive over and pick it up, did you?”
“Yeah, I kind of did. Was hoping anyway. I’m being silly.”
“That’s because you’re weak from hunger. C’mon. We have one more stop.”
958 Mahtomedi Avenue
To reach the entrance to Guardino’s Italian Restaurant we had to climb up three concrete steps and slip between two brick walls. On one wall was a faded poster of an Italian flag. On the other was a detailed map of Mahtomedi—also faded—with a star designating where we were. A mesh screen door recently painted black stuck when I pulled but came free with a jiggle of the handle. The big glass interior door was already opened. We stepped inside onto a slightly warped plank floor that had been sanded so often it seemed to be nearly worn through. Right away we were assailed by the strong aroma of garlic, homemade sausage, and marinara sauce.
I took a deep breath. “Ambrosia,” I said.
Nina rolled her eyes at me, but then she had been eating too much of Chef Monica’s cooking lately and had become spoiled.
There was a tiny bar with only three stools in the corner next to a door leading to the kitchen; the rest of the room was filled with comfy beat-up chairs, ancient wood tables, and worn booths. The walls were decorated with the photos of Italian heroes: Frank Sinatra, of course, Dean Martin, Joe DiMaggio, Martin Scorsese. In one, Tony Bennett had his arm around the shoulders of a small elderly gentleman with silver hair. The man was wearing an apron with the name of the restaurant on it; the photo was taken just outside the front door.
“Tony Bennett ate here?” I asked.
The waitress who distributed the place mats, silverware, and water glasses in front of us nodded. “Oh, sure,” she said. “A lot of famous people did. That photo with Tony, it was taken in 1958, ’59—it was one of Grandpa Joe’s fondest possessions. For weeks after he ate here, all Joe would play was Tony Bennett records. And then the night Rosemary Clooney ate here—where is that photo?”
The waitress found it hanging in the booth next to ours. It was nearly identical to the Bennett photo, except this time Joe had his arm around Rosemary and was beaming like a man who had just fallen in love. The waitress was laughing heartily when she gave it to us to examine. “Grandpa Joe,” she said. “What a character.”
“He was your grandfather?” Nina asked.
“Oh, yes,” the waitress answered. She offered her hand first to Nina and then to me. “I’m Rosemary Guardino, and before you ask, yes, I was named after Rosemary Clooney.” She laughed again as if it were a joke she had heard for the first time.
“A lot of gangsters ate here, too, I hear,” Nina said.
“Oh, yes. Plenty of them.” She waved at the walls of the small restaurant. “We have pictures all over the place, but we didn’t start putting them up until the mid-eighties.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“How do I explain it?” Rosemary sat next to me in the booth as if we were old friends; I scooted over to give her room. “This whole area”—Rosemary waved her hand in no particular direction—“used to be a kind of resort area for the gangsters who stayed in St. Paul.”
I smiled like a kid whose outlandish story had just been confirmed by a higher authority. Nina rolled her eyes some more.
“John Dillinger ate here. So did Homer Van Meter, Harvey Bailey, Bugsy Siegel, Machine Gun Kelly—all those badmen.”
“Frank Nash,” I said.
“Oh, yes, him and his wife. They used to live about a half mile down the road.”
“Between Rose and Spruce streets.”
“That’s right. You know about him?”
“Do you know which house he lived in?” I asked.
Rosemary shook her head. “I really don’t. Here—” Rosemary left the booth and crossed the restaurant. “Hey, how you doing?” she asked the couple eating in a booth near the front window. “Everything all right? Do you need anything? Be sure to give a shout if you do.” She removed a photograph from the wall above the man’s head and returned to us. She gave me the photo, holding the frame so she wouldn’t smudge the glass.
“That’s Frank Nash and his wife, Frances,” Rosemary said.
I studied the picture of a balding Frank Nash and a lovely, stylish brunette with long, wavy hair, a narrow face, and eyes that seemed to sparkle even off a seventy-five-year-old black-and-white print. I handed the photograph to Nina.