Mike interrupted his story to find Genevieve’s eyes.
“You gotta know, Sugar,” he said. “You see me as this nice, harmless old man, maybe colorful, I don’t know. Only I wasn’t so nice back then. I sure wasn’t harmless. I was like Jelly and Harv Bailey. I was against any unnecessary violence, didn’t want to shoot nobody I didn’t have to, but I had a rule like everybody else. If it was between you getting hurt and me going to prison, it wasn’t going to end good for you. I didn’t like guns. Didn’t like to hurt. But if it was a choice of you or me or if you messed with my family—I would do what needed to be done. That’s the way it was.”
Genevieve smiled, only there was no commitment in it. She didn’t want to think of Mike as a killer. That would mean she was friends with a killer, that she cared for a killer. Nothing in her upbringing prepared her for that.
“Not that I went around shooting people,” Mike said. “No, no, no, no, not like the Barkers or Pretty Boy. I was a bank robber, not a nut job.”
Frank Nash shook his head as if the young man were too dim to understand what he was telling him. “That doesn’t answer the question,” he said. “If something goes wrong, what are you going to do?”
Mike stared at him for a few beats, then turned his attention back to the map. “South,” he said. “Head for Sioux Falls.”
“There are a lot of people in Sioux Falls,” Nash said. “A lot of police.”
“That’s why we go there. We stop along the highway and switch plates, put on the South Dakota plates we got. We slide into the city—we’re just one of who knows how many other black roadsters. If we go north we stick out. Every hick peekin’ through his window blinds could make us. Down here we’ll be able to hide in plain sight. Also, if they got the roads to Minnesota blocked, we can sneak into Nebraska or Iowa. Get home the long way, maybe, but we get home.”
Nash slapped Mike’s shoulder. “Now you’re using your head for something besides a hat rack,” he said.
“It was one of the best compliments I ever got,” Mike said.
“Tell me about the robbery,” I said.
“Went smooth as silk. Frank and the Finnegan brothers went into the bank through the front door while I parked the car round back. I get out of the car, pop the trunk, and go to the back door. Joey Finn already has it open. I go upstairs, take the chopper from Jimmy Finn, and hold the front door and guard the hostages. We had the bank manager, two cashiers, and a customer, a woman about my age, beautiful; she was wearing a bright white dress, with a big brim white hat and white gloves. I don’t know why, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a couple of days without thinking about that woman. Anyway, Jelly blows the safe, and the Finnegans start loading the gold into the trunk of the car. They carry two bars at a time, eight trips each, takes three and a half minutes. Meanwhile, Jelly loads a bag with cash and bonds, all the time yelling out the minutes—five minutes, six minutes, like that. It was the only talkin’ anyone did in the bank while I was there. At nine minutes, I tip my hat to the woman in white and we’re out the door. We follow the route we laid out just like we rehearsed—never even saw a cop. Nine hours later we’re in St. Paul. Perfect job.
“Yeah, copper, you could say I learned my trade by watching how Jelly went about his business. Plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more, think beyond your guns, take luck outta the equation—that’s what Jelly taught me.”
“Except your luck ran out,” I said.
“You could say that. Know how they got me?” He glanced up at Genevieve. “I ever tell you, Sugar? Talk about bad luck. I was in a joint in Minneapolis, mindin’ my own business. Half-dozen gees walk in. They’re celebratin’. One of ’em was a daisy named Willie Meyer, owed me a thousand large. He squares the debt with two five-hundred-dollar Liberty Bonds and offers to buy me drinks to take care of the interest. I should have dangled right then. Instead, I stick around, dipping my bill. All of a sudden, the joint is jumpin’ with John Laws. Turned out Willie and his pals took down a bank in Indiana the week before, got away with fifty-eight thousand in cash and another sixty in bonds. Only they were spendin’ stupid, if you know what I mean. Coppers followed their trail to the Cities. One of ’em slaps bracelets on me. I told him I wasn’t in on the heist, was nowhere near Indiana, but I had two of the bonds in my pocket and a judge with no sense of humor at all.” Mike shook his head at the wonder of it. “Thirty-three banks without a fall and I get sent over for a job I didn’t do. It’s what you call irony.”