(Based on true events)
Dan Conley climbed into the car where his younger brother Jessie was sitting behind the steering wheel, waiting for him, after running out of the bank from robbing it. He set down the bag of cash on the floor, between his legs, and knocked on the dashboard with his fist, as if to say: job competed let’s get the hell out of here. There were no words spoken. Dan, looking at his brother Jessie, behind the steering wheel, gave him a smile, still having the smell of the hot asphalt street in his nostrils; Jessie feeling the manual gearshift, shifted quickly into first gear—looking into the rearview mirror, there was someone behind him, he had seen a figure, but it was by a blink of an eye, and more likened to a shadow that whizzed by. He felt and sensed it again, from his peripheral vision. Now someone was at the side of the door—blocking the sun, as the wheels of the car started to spin on the hot asphalt street, and they were burning rubber as the car speeded out of its parking space, and out of town.
“Jessie,” Dan said, listening to the tires squealing.
Jessie was silent, dodging the traffic to escape the police.
“He’s there, was over there too,” Jessie remarked.
“Who’s there?” asked Dan.
“What do you mean who?” asked the hoarse voice of Jessie. “I want to get out of here fast brother,” he added.
Something in his head clicked, he was seeing things, thought Dan, and his voice had changed, he knew Jessie had been drinking all night, and he knew Jessie was tired and hungry.
A short fat elderly woman sat on a bus stop bench on the far side of the road at the corner in this little Minnesota country town, a ways outside of the district they had just robbed a bank in. Above her head was a café sign that read, ‘Food and Beer, Open Twenty-four hours, daily’ and under that sign it read, on the windows in white letters ‘Food, food…!” and had pictures of food pasted onto the glass.
The short fat elderly woman sat motionless on the bench, turned to look at the green 1960 Ford Galaxy 500, and stared as if in a trance. They had stopped at the one and only corner stop light, looking to their side, checking out the restaurant, waiting for the red light to change to green.
Ahead of them was another sign that read “Straight ahead, Canada—
They’d go back to their wives after a quick rest in Canada, and they had both thought of this, talked about it, or they’d eventually, get caught again, and go back to jail, and they thought about that also. But this time, Jessie in particular was getting tired of the bank robbery business, and serving years upon years, a half lifetime in jails. Age was catching up with both of them, but Jessie was feeling it more so. Dan was forty-two years old, and Jessie forty.
“…Canada Welcomes You!” Dan read the sign aloud.
Dan saw Jessie looking at the sign sharply, hesitantly, almost morbidly.
“Canada is getting old brother, we made some scandals up here,” said Jessie, “the police are still looking for us, but if we must go let’s hit the café, I’m hungry.”
Dan looked at Jessie, knowing he was spontaneous more on the wild side, he leaned back into the soft seat of the car deep in thought, and there was something wrong.
“Relax,” Dan told Jessie. “Take that hat off your head; it’s too hot for a hat.”
“I thought we were dead,” said Jessie, still with his hat on. Then hit the dashboard with his fist. The little fat lady looked at him across the street. As if wondering what they were going to do, they had just sat at the corner talking, through three green lights.
“How many banks and stores and gas stations, and restaurants have we robbed this year?” Jessie Asked.
“About twenty, that’s all.”
Then Jessie stepped on the gas and within a minute they were out of town. Dan looked up and into the mirror checking out to see if anyone was following them, it was a habit, even if he knew he was safe from the police he had trained himself to double-check, to doubt what might be the obvious. He knew from experience, that when you least expect it, the police were on your tail. He felt for certain they had made a clean break from them, and the check was just a kind of reassurance.
Dan, as well as Jessie, had left their wives behind as usual; and both had spent twenty-years in jail, off and on, in different jails, prisons, halfway houses, pretrial confinement centers, on house arrest, you name it, in the criminal justice system half their lives, they had experienced it all, spent half their lives dealing with it, they both had qualified to be veterans of the system.
It was believed of old everywhere and everywhere in the criminal justice system in the Midwest, it is still believed by some, they were the modern day Frank and Jessie James type robbers of yesteryear.
Jessie took a more relaxed posture now, took his hat off and threw it into the backseat, then made a turn to the Canadian Boarder. His face had changed from an aloof attitude, to a more peaceful if not tolerate manner. He looked pale and tired, drained and nearly fried as far as thinking went, and his appearance was that of a sickly person, and taking that hat off gave him a stranger look, as if he was missing hair that he should not have been missing; that is to say, his scalp (the skin and hair on the top of his head) was unhealthy looking, hair thinning, skin discolored and cut.
“You seem better, but you don’t look so well,” said Dan.
“I’ve been feeling shitty since that bank robbery, two months ago,” Jessie said. “And when I was serving my last ‘time’ a year ago or so, it was mostly in the hospital, they told me I had cancer, I thought it stopped spreading, and I got my strength back some, but it’s back again I guess…!” Jessie explained.
“No,” said Dan. “It’s not true. You’re kidding, you just want to go back home!”
Jessie leaned to his right side looked across the dashboard, then directly into Dan’s face, and pushed his right hand to Dan’s left shoulder, said in a serious tone of voice, hoarse like, “Brother, it’s true, give me a cigarette.”
Dan handed him one “Thanks,” he told his brother. Then Dan lit it for him.
“Want some?” Jessie asked Dan.
“No,” Dan replied shaking his head, “not now anyway.”
“There isn’t much time anymore,” Jessie said.
“I’m a robber,” Dan replied.
“I know,” laughed Jessie.
Dan sat back in the car seat angry at what he had heard come out of Jessie’s mouth. He wasn’t mad at Jessie per se, but at time, the times, it had come and gone, and he only knew those summers that were and this summer, it was to him only a half summer, a little while, and that little while was going to be no more. It was all coming to an end.
I’ll let you have the car and most of the money if you want, but I got to go back home to Shelly, I’ve been feeling bad, and I’m not sure how much time I’ve got left. I can’t serve anymore time Dan.”
“To-morrow morning…tomorrow I suppose, we’ll split up then,” said Dan in a stupor.
“You can have it all if you want, I just want to rest in a nice bed, with clean sheets, and a warm body next to mine,” said Jessie. He leaned back, and then over the steering wheel. He was no longer interested in robbing, it did not appeal to him. For a moment he almost fell to sleep driving; Dan would have liked to have helped him but he sat back, unable to figure out how to. It was all up to him he told himself, as was his driving. It was the way they always had worked things out.
“How much is half Dan?” asked Jessie. Dan was still trying to figure out how they could stick together and do some more jobs. The idea of them splitting up was too much for him to handle, yet I suppose in the back of his mind he knew it was a fruitless endeavor.
“I don’t like this situation for you or for me,” Dan said.
“Dan look,” said Jessie, “what you see is all I have left of me, and it will not get any better, before it gets worse.”
“Why don’t I put you on the next bus home, I’ll need the car, and we’ll split-up the money, fifty-fifty, we have $12,000-dollars,” Dan explained.
“I’m offering to put you on the bus tomorrow morning,” Dan told Jessie in an exhausted tone of voice.
“I don’t really like the situation either,” Jessie reiterated.
“How much do I get?” asked Jessie, as if he had forgot the sum total Dan had just confirmed between them.
“We each get six-grand,” answered Dan.
“Six-grand and a good breakfast,” Jessie said. He had a smile on his face, but Dan noticed it was becoming hard for him to even open his mouth to smile, everything, every movement, every breath strained him.
“You got it brother, your six-grand and the biggest breakfast you can eat,” Dan exclaimed, unable to hold back the pain of losing his brother.
“Can I have twenty-dollars now?” Jessie asked.
“Sure,” said Dan, his emotions more under control now. Next he took the bag grabbing a twenty-dollar note from it, and handing it to Jessie.
“You know I’ve got to have one good breakfast with my brother before we part.” Said Jessie (feeling it maybe the last they see of each other).
“I know,” said Dan.
“All I want is to see my wife, have a good breakfast with my brother, and a little time to make peace with God,” said Jessie with a deep breath, as if trying to help his heart and lungs operate properly.
Jessie was telling his brother his desires, man to man, before they’d part, and Dan was—for the most part—in another world, hearing but not hearing, thinking about how life was going to be without Jessie. He didn’t hear much of what he said, but I suppose he didn’t have to, he knew his brother inside and out.
“If you need a little extra, you can have a few thousand more,” Dan told Jessie. “I can get more.”
“All right,” Jessie said, “let’s stop here and eat.”
Dan picked up his bag of money, and got out of the car.
“Shut the door,” Jessie called to Dan; Dan’s mind was elsewhere, and he turned around and shut the car door.
They were quiet in the café. The morning sun had been penetrating, and the cool air had been brisk, and refreshing, the wind had been perfect, just enough to lift up and push back their hair. There they were in the café, as quiet as sleeping mice. There were several customers sitting at tables, and at the counter. Old man playing cards, solitary at one table, and two men at another smoking and drinking coffee they had the paper laying to the side of them on the table. Jessie ordered eggs over easy, bacon and toast, fried potatoes, coffee and a glass of milk. Dan ordered the same, but neither one could eat but half the breakfast, the food was fine, but Jessie was falling to sleep, and Dan had lost his appetite.
A waiter came by asking if they needed anything else.
“Bring me some more coffee,” Dan said, “for both of us.”
The waiter came back carrying a tray with a pot of coffee, looking at Jessie almost falling asleep where he sat.
“I think your partner will need a little more coffee than you my friend,” said the waiter with a chuckle.
Dan smiled with a smirk, as he walked away.
“A hell of a lot he knows,” said Dan.
He brought him to a motel, thereafter; and Jessie slept hard and long, and the following morning Jessie took a bus back home, it would be the last time Dan saw his brother Jessie. Dan would end up serving another two sentences in prison. Not being able to see Jessie’ funeral. But he had talked to Jessie over the phone. Jessie was happy for once in his life. But Dan never got over it, could never quite let go of the past. Matter-of-fact, as I am writing this (2000 AD), he is somewhere out there running from the law—at this very minute, at fifty-six years old; still living the legacy of Frank and Jessie James, as if he himself was part of the saga, right out of the Old West, only his brother is no longer his sidekick.
Notes: This story was originally written in AD 2000, after talking to Dan about his life of robbing banks, who thereafter, would escape the confinements of the Bureau of Prisons where I worked—and written in short story form for the book, “Everyday’s an Adventure,” under the title: “The Restless” published in 2002, reedited 6-2009, and again in 8-2010.