I used to tell this story decades ago because I thought it was funny and fascinating. About thirty years ago, I finished a night shift in a restaurant and as was the habit, the waiters would often have a pint at the bar after the work was done. One night, something odd happened.
I was sitting beside one of those “character” regulars and we got to talking. I know his real name but we called him by his nickname, BillyDave. Because half the time he would introduce himself as Billy and half the time he would introduce himself as Dave. It was always a bit fishy. He was about thirty, with long, blonde, scruffy hair. He liked baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, and that’s how I likely got to know him.
On this night, when we had exhausted our chat of the Expos and the Cardinals, the subject matter shifted and we talked about some of the weirder experiences we had encountered. And then he asked me, “have you ever thought about robbing a bank?” I laughed and then kidded, a lot of us considered executing the perfect crime as a lark.
He then looked me directly in the eye, having to turn his chair, and said, “I have robbed a bank”.
I laughed nervously and asked him to tell me about it. He said, as a young man, in Alberta, he’d lost his job and was desperate for money and thought armed robbery was his best new alternative.
And so he went to a bank, approached the teller, while masked, and pretending to have a gun, and menacingly demanded she fill his paper bags with cash. His demand was quiet and he told me his criminal nickname on the wanted posters was The Quiet Man. And so she did and he got away with it, about ten grand, and he never did it again and he never got caught. I am not sure I believed any of it but it seemed like a good bar story.
About four seats down the bar from us, I noticed a weathered old man listening to the story intently. And I was right. Because when BillyDave finished his story and we all had a laugh, the old man sidled up beside me, with sad and dangerous eyes and told me that robbing a bank would be the worst thing I could consider. Not that I did consider it.
And then he told me of a famous armed robbery in Boston, around 1962, maybe it was a gold heist at the airport, and a security guy was shot, not killed, and it was a national news story. Anyway, this old guy and his pals were caught and he did eighteen years in federal prison in the States. I somehow believed him, but wasn’t sure.
I asked him what part of town he grew up in and he seemed to grow up in my mother’s neighbourhood, in what is now Chinatown, and that interested me. And it was why I remembered because I wanted to ask her about it.
An hour later, when my friends and I were shooting pool in a tough bar in Hull called the Bijou, I saw the old man again. When a big guy there insisted I had to play for five bucks a game, the old man got in his face and said I was playing for free. The tough guy seemed to know the old man and I played for free. And when I saw the old man shoot pool, it was the most effortlessly brilliant pool playing I had ever seen. Everything about him seemed authentic.
I never saw him again but when I asked my mother about it a few days later, she remember the guy and told me to be careful. And I never saw BillyDave again because a few weeks later, he’d been picked up for armed robbery and had been awaiting trial.
Three chairs, with me in the middle, in an average Italian Bistro, with a bank robber on each side. You never know what secrets people bring into a bar on a Saturday Night. And you never know when you are going to be let in on those secrets. Because only dead men keep secrets.