Jelly's Gold (Mac McKenzie #6)
For Renée Marie Valois,
who finds beauty in all things old and new
I wish to acknowledge my debt to historian Paul Maccabee, not only for his wonderful book John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920—1936, but also for the eleven years’ worth of research he graciously donated to the Minnesota History Center that provides much of the historical accuracy found on these pages.
I also want to thank Judge Tammi A. Fredrickson, Keith Kahla, the Minnesota Historical Society, Alison J. Picard, the Ramsey County Historical Society, and Renée Valois.
Frank Nash was dead. Which is why it was such a surprise when I received his letter:
You ’re just the mug I need to help me get back my gold.
Think about it.
I checked the postmark. The letter had been mailed a day earlier, another surprise. Frank “Jelly” Nash might have been one of the nation’s most prolific bank robbers, pulling over a hundred successful jobs in a twenty-five-year career, but dead was dead, and since Nash had been shot in the head in 1933, he was deader than most. Also, while I like to keep an open mind when it comes to the paranormal, somehow I was confident that if Nash wanted to speak to me from the grave, he would have chosen more efficient means than the U.S. Postal Service. Still, there’s something about the word “gold” that captures the imagination, so as the letter writer requested, I did indeed think about it.
The next morning I received a second letter.
I’m planning a job worth millions. Do you want in?
I didn’t actually need the money, yet I had to ask—how many millions?
Two days later, a Sunday, Nash sent an e-mail; apparently he had an account with Comcast:
The boys in St. Paul tell me you’re a mug who can
be counted on in a tight spot. Want to join my gang?
I clicked the Reply button, wrote “I would never join a gang that would have me as a member,” and hit Send.
Twenty minutes later, the phone rang.
“Hello, McKenzie. It’s Ivy Flynn.”
“Ivy. How are you?”
“I’m really good. How ’bout yourself?”
“Couldn’t be better.”
“McKenzie? I’m sorry to call you out of the blue like this, but I need a favor.”
Ivy was a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, and about two years ago I had hired her to determine what was killing the honeybees owned by a close friend of mine. During the course of her research, someone took several shots at her with a twelve-gauge.
“I owe you one,” I said. “Tell me what you need.”
“It’s kinda complicated. Can we meet?”
We worked out the details. Afterward, I asked, “Ivy, do you know anything about some messages I’ve been getting from Jelly Nash?”
“That was my boyfriend’s idea. He thought they would pique your curiosity.”
“Did he actually use the word ‘pique’?”
“Let me guess—English major.”
“American literature. He’s working on his Ph.D.”
“Will he be joining us?”
“Well, tell him the mug’s curiosity is indeed piqued.”
“I will. McKenzie? This is going to be so much fun.”
“More fun than getting shot at?”
She actually thought about it for a few beats before answering. “Yes, sir. Lots more.”
We agreed to meet at the same place we had met years earlier, Lori’s Coffeehouse on Cleveland Avenue across from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. I parked on Buford next to a small, classically designed Catholic church with arched stained glass windows, blond stone recovered from a church that was torn down decades earlier, and a peaked red tile roof. It was called the Church of St. Andrew Kim and served a congregation of Koreans. Before that it was called Corpus Christi; the previous owners sold it to the Koreans when they moved to an ultramodern church with all the personality of a New Country Buffet—go figure.