“How ’bout right now?”
Genevieve glanced at her watch and then up at the chapel. “I have a business class—Information Technology and Applications,” she said. “I suppose I could get a friend to take notes for me.”
The nursing home was located in Arden Hills just down the road from a strip mall. There was a chapel on the right as we entered and an office on the left that you could step up to like a counter in a deli. Genevieve waved at the woman behind the counter and announced, “A friend to see Mike.” That, and the way she led me by the arm as if I were a lost child being returned to his parents, seemed to satisfy the woman, who merely nodded in return. I was surprised by how quiet the home was as we walked down the carpeted corridor to an elevator and up to the second floor. I guess I was expecting a scene out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—I couldn’t tell you why.
Genevieve left me in a room she called “the commons” and went off to fetch Mike. There were two doors, one in the front and one in the back. The room itself was large and also thickly carpeted, with plenty of tables, chairs, and sofas. There were shelves filled with books and games, and in the corner there was a big-screen TV mounted halfway up the wall; no one was watching. Two men and three women were playing hearts at a square table at the far end of the room. I wandered over to watch and accidentally slipped between the table and the window.
“Get out of the fucking light,” one of the old men said without bothering to look up. I apologized and moved away from the table.
A few moments later, Genevieve pushed a wheelchair into the room. The man sitting in the chair was smiling like a kid on a merry-go-round. He was wearing black slippers, black slacks, a black shirt, a gold cardigan sweater, and a jaunty yellow seersucker men’s dress cap like the kind golfers wore in the fifties. He had been tall once, and big, bigger than me, but he’d shrunk a few inches. All of his clothes seemed three sizes too large for him except the cap.
He looked up at me and said, “You’re a cop.”
“Uncle Mike,” Genevieve said, as if she had just heard him utter an obscenity.
“I used to be a cop in a previous life,” I told him. I offered my hand, and he took it; his bones felt like dry twigs, his skin like parchment. “I’m McKenzie.”
“Yeah, I could always spot a bull, McKenzie,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I like cops. I have more in common with them than hardly anyone else. My best friend was a cop, yes he was. Used to be with the BCA. I hooked up with him after I got out of stir. He had retired by then, but so had I. We used to get together every Sunday for brunch, play cards, watch the ball games. When that got too boring, we opened a bar in Minneapolis. The license was in his name. Who was going to give me a liquor license?” Mike laughed at the telling of it. “We were like a curiosity at a carnival. The cop and the bank robber. Everyone came to our place. Cops, crooks, lawyers—it was like a license to steal, that liquor license.” His face became red as he laughed, and his entire body shook. “When my partner died, I sold the joint. Made out like a bandit. How ’bout that, Sugar? Made out like a bandit.” He laughed some more.
“Oh, Uncle Mike,” Genevieve said.
“A bandit,” Mike repeated.
I decided I liked him. I liked them both.
“I’m sorry to see you in a wheelchair,” I said.
“Oh, I don’t really need it. I can still get around pretty good, can’t I, Sugar? Sometimes I’ll amble over to the shopping mall down the road just to prove that I can. Don’t need a walker, neither.” Mike began massaging his right leg with both hands. “ ’Course, the ol’ pins ain’t what they used to be, no sir. Can get pretty tired dragging this ol’ carcass around. ’Sides, would you rather walk or get pushed around by this sweet thing?”
Mike and I both looked at Genevieve. She blushed.
“Can I ask you some questions, Mike?” I said.
“See, a cop, what did I tell you, Sugar? Softens you up by showin’ concern for your health, then starts askin’ the hard questions.”
“So, what’ll it be, copper?” Mike said. “Want to talk about the new days or the old days?”
“Old days,” I said. “What can you tell me about Frank Nash?”
“Jelly? We used to thieve together, me and Jelly. I remember this one time—wait.” Mike looked up at Genevieve. “Didn’t we just talk to some kid about Jelly just the other day?”
“Last week,” Genevieve said.
“Yeah. Some kid. Kept giving you the big eye. Stay away from that one, Sugar. He’s a weasel. I can spot a weasel from a block away.”
“I will,” Genevieve said.