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«Infamous», Ace Atkins

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В© 2010

The author gratefully acknowledges permission to quote from “My Forgotten Man,” words and music by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, © 1933 (Renewed) WB Music Corp. All rights reserved.

This book is for

DORIS ATKINS and CHARLIE WELCH

 

I’m leading a trail that is crooked,

My foes lurk ’round every bend;

I know someday they will get me,

I dread to think of the end.

– GENE AUTRY, “GANGSTER’S WARNING”

Everything is funny as long as it is

happening to someone else.

– WILL ROGERS

 

1

 

Saturday, June 17, 1933

 

They’d barely made it out of Arkansas alive after nabbing Frank “Jelly” Nash inside the White Front Café, a known hangout for grifters, thieves, and assorted hoodlums vacationing in Hot Springs. At first, Nash had made a real show of how they had it all wrong and that his name was really Marshall, and for a second it seemed plausible until old Otto Reed-the sheriff they’d brought along-ripped the toupee off Nash’s bald head and then started for the mustache. “That’s mine. That’s mine,” Nash had said. They’d ditched the plan to drive to Joplin after almost losing Nash at a roadblock of crooked cops. And now the old bank robber was seated across from them, riding the Missouri Pacific all-nighter out of Fort Smith, wearing a shit-eating grin, confident his hoodlum buddies would spring him.

Special Agent Gus T. Jones of the U.S. Department of Justice checked his gold pocket watch.

It was three a.m.

Four more hours until they’d meet the Special Agent in Charge in Kansas City, where he, his partner Joe Lackey, and Sheriff Reed would hand off the son of a bitch for a short trip back to Leavenworth, from where he’d escaped three years before.

Jones would want a shower and a shave and some sleep, but first he wanted a meal at the Harvey House, a big plate of eggs and bacon with hot coffee, served by a lilac-scented Harvey girl who’d flirt with him despite Jones being fifty-two years old and needing a pair of bifocals to read the menu. He’d call Mary Ann, find a hotel, and then ride the rails back to San Antonio, where he worked as the Special Agent in Charge.

“If you let me go, I’ll just tell people I escaped,” Nash said. “To my grave, I’ll tell people I hopped out the crapper window.”

Jones filled his pipe from a leather pouch and dusted loose tobacco from his knee.

He stared over at Joe Lackey-a good fella, for a Yankee-who sported a gray fedora over his Roman nose and small brown eyes. Jones still preferred a pearl gray Stetson, the same kind required when he’d been a Ranger and later worked for Customs years back, riding the Rio Grande on the lookout for revolutionaries, cattle rustlers, and German spies.

The night flew past.

The seats in the train jostled up and down, metal wheels scraping against rail, anonymous towns of light and smoke flying by the window, just slightly cracked. Joe Lackey crossed his arms across his chest, his chin dipping down to his red tie in short fits of sleep. Sheriff Reed sat closest to the window and watched the lean-tos, farmhouses, and hobo jungles ablaze with oil-drum fires whiz by, exchanging a glance or two with Nash. The old bandit would give him the stink eye and turn his head, disappointed that Jones would be so hardheaded as not to take a bribe.

“How’d you find me?” Nash asked, his bald pate stark white. Face beet red from the sun. “Doesn’t matter much now.”

Jones looked at him across the haze of pipe smoke with a wry smile. Jelly Nash was chained to a bunk and couldn’t even scratch his ass.

“But you’re not going to tell me.”

“Guess not,” Jones said.

“Hey, where’d you get those boots?”

“ El Paso.”

“You still got a horse?”

“Why don’t you get some sleep.”

“Just making some conversation.”

“You got a lot of friends in Arkansas.”

“Sorry about that,” Nash said. “I thought that roadblock was my ticket out.”

“So did I.”

“Probably be some friends waiting on me in Kansas City.”

“I doubt it.”

“You want to put some money down?”

“You wanna fill me in?”

“People talk.”

Jones stood as the train shifted onto another track, and he found purchase on an overhead rail. He emptied his pipe out the open window, feeling the hot summer wind on his face. Without much thought, he fingered the loose bullets in his right pocket, keeping the.45 revolver in a holster under the hot coat, despite the Justice Department’s policy about agents not carrying weapons.

“I think a federal cop is a screwy idea,” Nash said.

“Who asked you?”

“What makes you all any different from those goons in Spain or Germany?”

“I’d like to know what makes a con so damn stupid as to return to the prison where he escaped. If you hadn’t busted them boys outta Lansing, you might be sleeping on satin sheets at some hot pillow joint.”


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