Pairings/Characters: Mel/Johnny, Anna Sage, Polly Hamilton, Sir Hiram Eggleston, Doris Rogers
Fandom: Public Enemies
Genres: Action/Adventure, Challenge, Drama, Romance
Claim: For the 12_stories Challenge (Mel/Johnny)
Prompt: T 7; P 8: Forgiveness
Prompt Count: (6/12)
Warnings: Racist language, racism
Summary: Mel and Johnny find themselves in South Korea on the eve of the Korean War.
Date Of Completion: January 15, 2012
Date Of Posting: April 6, 2013
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 3287
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: July 27th is the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire in the Korean War. North and South Korea have never signed a peace treaty so have technically been at war since 1950. And now North Korea is doing its customary saber-rattling for the umpteenth time.
The entire series can be found here.
While the birds sing,
Turn to shimmer
In the summer,
Shows her colors.
“Summertime In Korea
And Other Poems”
June 25, 1950
“Can you forgive me, darlin’?” Johnny shouted over the chatter of strafing machine gun fire.
Mel pulled his fedora down to keep it from flying off his head. He ducked into the doorway of a restaurant, Johnny squeezing in next to him.
“How do you always get us into these situations?” Mel asked, flinching as the bullets tore up the street.
“It’s a gift!”
Mel shook his head at Johnny’s grin and smiled fondly. Johnny’s eyes shone with excitement and love as he grabbed the lapels of Mel’s suit jacket and pulled him into a deep kiss as the bullets flew around them.
June 18, 1950
Mel wiped her brow with his handkerchief. It was damnably hot, but one could not expect any thing less in South Korea in June. Fortunately the shrine they were visiting was a bit cooler. Trees shaded the walks and stone benches were set along the way for weary pilgrims or for those who simply wanted to be contemplative. It was always cooler in the mountains, for which Mel was grateful. He felt like a wilted gardenia.
Seorak-san was a lovely spot for contemplation. Mel enjoyed its peace since their lives were so often chaotic.
His hand brushed Johnny’s, and he smiled. As long as Johnny was at his side, he would endure any excessive weather, hot or cold, and any privation, though they were fortunate enough to be ensconced in a fine hotel in Seoul. Wise investments had given them all the money they would need, and they were checking out one of those investments now.
They would conduct business tomorrow. Today was for sightseeing and quiet contemplation, something that even Johnny had learned to enjoy.
Mel looked around and saw that they were alone on the path. He took Johnny’s hand and held on tight.
Johnny smirked but didn’t pull away. He was as much of a romantic as Mel, maybe worse. They continued walking along the dirt path lined with white stones the closer they got to the Buddha statue.
It was an enormous statue that loomed up against the brilliant blue sky, its impassive serenity just what Mel needed. His life with Johnny was fabulous, exciting and incredible, but it could also be chaotic. Mel loved the excitement but his nature needed quiet time, too.
They stopped to rest halfway up the stairway, Johnny taking out his handkerchief and wiping his brow.
“Hot as hell.”
“Hmm, reminds me of another hot day, oh, about 17 years ago.”
Johnny laughed. “Maybe we should go to the movies tonight and get into some refrigeration.”
“Shall we see Manhattan Melodrama?”
“Whatever’s playin’, darlin’.”
Mel grinned. “Let’s visit Buddha and then decide.” They started walking again. “We should come back when we’re properly dressed for a hike. They say it’s only a forty-minute hike to the Yukdam and Biryeong waterfalls.”
“Yeah, and I’d like to see those Ulsanbawi rock formations.”
“We’ll come back tomorrow.”
Johnny nodded and they were silent for a few minutes again as they concentrated on walking up the steps. Mel broke the silence. “Come to think of it, are there any movie theaters in Seoul?”
“I haven’t seen any, but there must be one somewhere.”
They stopped talking for the rest of the journey and reached their goal, the giant Buddha quite impressive. Johnny said after some moments of just staring, “Stand in front and I’ll take a picture.” He aimed his Kodak at Mel, shuffling back until he could get a good shot and clicked the shutter. They changed places and Mel took a picture of Johnny next.
“We’re such tourists,” said the Southerner ruefully as Johnny rejoined him.
Johnny laughed. “Of course, darlin’! What else would we be?”
“We, we certainly aren’t Ugly Americans.”
“Nah, too good-lookin’ for that.”
Mel shook his head as Johnny chuckled gleefully. He tugged on his lover’s hand. “Come sit with me and be contemplative.”
Johnny smirked but allowed Mel to lead him toward a stone bench shaded by cherry blossom trees. The trees were beautiful whether in full blossom or not. Mel liked their perfumed scent.
He and Johnny sat down and held hands, still alone with no one but Buddha, he reflected whimsically. A slight breeze blew gently against their faces. They sat in companionable silence, Mel thinking about that sweltering hot July night in Chicago in the summer of ’34.
He closed his eyes and remembered the heat and noise of the crowds spilling along North Halstead Street, attracted by the glitter of the Biograph’s sign, the promise of Hollywood and refrigeration…
July 22, 1934
Mel hurried down the street, slipping into an alley. Carter had his Pierce Arrow and would arrive in that car while he went into the Biograph from the back. He found the door and went inside, walking to the screening room. The refrigerated air was a blessing on his overheated skin.
He managed to escape notice. No one from the Bureau was inside the theater. Hopefully Carter could keep any agents from entering.
Mel quietly entered the screening room and stood at the back. The place was packed, which was no surprise. The movie had star power with the triumvirate of Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell, and the cooled air was a definite attraction on one of the hottest nights in memory.
Unfortunately, the dim lighting was making it impossible to find Johnny. He found an empty seat and slid into it.
The movie was entertaining even with his distracted attention. He kept scanning the crowd but was unable to find Johnny. It would have to be after the movie, then, when he made contact. His stomach coiled with anxiety. If he couldn’t find Johnny or keep him out of sight of the Bureau agents, it would all be over.
Ironically, Manhattan Melodrama was a gangster picture. Clark Gable played Blackie, a man of the rackets and who had done ‘a favor for a friend’ and killed a man. The electric chair was his fate.
Mel shivered. A little too close to home for his taste but Johnny sometimes had a macabre sense of humor.
He clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to calm his nerves. Carter would keep things in hand outside as much as possible, but he could only do so much. Sam was in charge, and he could easily overrule Carter.
Still, there was nothing for it. Unless he stood in front of the screen and called for Jimmy Lawrence, Johnny’s current alias, he had to wait it out. Anna Sage’s orange skirt did no good for purposes of identification when the lights were off.
He kept scanning the crowd, hoping to get lucky, and was about to give up when he spotted Anna three rows in front of him. The light from the screen illuminated her distinctive profile. Excited, he leaned forward, expecting to see Johnny next to her but was disappointed.
He looked around again. The crowd must have forced Johnny, Polly and Anna to split up. He did a more careful scan and was rewarded by finding Johnny and Polly in the center section, several rows down.
Mel relaxed slightly. Now that he knew where Johnny was, he could start planning.
When the movie was finally over, he knew exactly what he was going to do. He waited, getting out of his aisle seat so that the patrons in his row could get out, lingering behind the last row of seats. He kept his fedora low over his eyes and was grateful that so many people would give him some cover.
Anna passed by first and didn’t see him. Polly was next, a pretty blond who had a nice smile. If he had time he ought to have been jealous, but he didn’t have that luxury. As Johnny started to pass by, Mel made his move.
June 18, 1950
“You okay?” Amber eyes looked worriedly at him. “You seem awfully flushed.”
“Oh, must be the heat.” Mel did feel a little lightheaded.
“Let’s get back to the city.”
Mel nodded, suddenly feeling a little nauseous. “You’d think this Southern boy would be tolerant of the heat,” he said ruefully.
“You can still swoon in the heat, sugar,” Johnny drawled. He helped Mel up.
They spent the rest of the day in the hotel room, the ceiling fan providing some relief. Despite the Western amenities of the Hotel Commodore, air-conditioning was not one of them. Johnny locked the door and they took a shower and curled up nude in bed together, falling asleep to escape the heat.
June 19, 1950
Mel gratefully sipped his lime drink. It wasn’t exactly a mint julep but was close enough. On a hot afternoon it was most welcome.
He and Johnny were sitting in a sidewalk café after their business meeting. Sir Hiram Eggleston was holding court, his white seersucker suit and fedora immaculate despite the heat. He was a large man but the heat didn’t seem to affect him all that much. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, his silver hair combed neatly and a pink carnation in his buttonhole. A large gold ring was on his large left hand, a symbol of Oxford. He waved that hand now, his ring glinting in the sunlight.
“So, how are you gentlemen enjoying South Korea?”
“It’s interesting despite the heat.” Johnny fanned himself with his straw boater. He was clean-shaven but wore his gold-rimmed glasses as a disguise. Mel had teased him about being Clark Kent.
“As long as I’m your Superman, Sunshine.”
Back in the present, the Englishman was speaking. “The Oriental mind is fascinating. The ol’ inscrutable, but the culture is centuries old.” Hiram drank his daiquiri. “Some fascinating notions, actually. The value of life isn’t all that high to them.”
Mel frowned. “Are you sure about that?”
“Just observe their culture. They value males so much that if a girl is born, it’s not surprising that they’ll leave her exposed to the elements to die.” Mel and Johnny exchanged shocked expressions. “Yes, gentlemen, such things exist, just as widows in India throw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres or are burned alive when their dowries are too small or there’s some other dispute.”
“How awful!” Mel burst out.
“Life is cheap to the Oriental mind. Look at this little set-up here.” Hiram waved vaguely toward the north. “The whole country is split in half at the 38th Parallel, I believe, and if the saber-rattling North ever invaded, things would go all right for the South for awhile if they could get U.N. help, but everything would shift if the Chinese came in.”
“I take it that’s due to their numbers and not the quality of their equipment?” Mel asked.
“Very astute, sir.” Hiram signaled for another round of drinks. “They would literally overwhelm any enemy by sheer numbers alone. It would change everything on the board.” He smiled at their pretty waitress as she delivered the fresh drinks. After she left he continued, “They’re like the Russians. They’ll use their soldiers as cannon fodder without a second thought. The Russians lost millions in the last war.”
“Was it really due to callousness on the part of the higher-ups?” asked Mel in distress.
“Some of it is due to that. The generals get careless when they have an abundance of troops on hand. Also, they don’t have outraged mothers and fathers writing to Congress, either.” He appreciatively sipped his drink. “It’s in the Russian make-up, gentlemen. They’re always used the peasant soldiers this way. They used them as fodder against Napoleon and did against Hitler. The Chinese have the same mindset.”
“Pretty tough for the South Koreans,” Johnny said. He fanned himself again with his hat.
“It won’t be pretty.”
“How would a war affect the business venture?” Mel asked. Practicality in these matters was always wise.
“All business, at least of the legitimate stripe, would be suspended.” Hiram didn’t look overly concerned. “Everything is conducted by bribery here. President Syngman Rhee’s Administration is notoriously corrupt.”
“You’re not exactly presenting a case for us to invest, suh.”
The Englishman laughed. “Quite so, old chap. But I must be honest, hmm?”
“That’s what I like. An honest man.” Johnny winked and saluted Hiram with his drink while Mel looked down at the glass he held in his hand with a smile playing around his lips.
“Thank you, sir.” Hiram looked down the street toward the dusky hills. “A pity that the capitol city is practically on the North Korean border. Seoul is a sitting duck for invasion.”
Mel looked up, his eyes meeting Johnny’s. The ex-gangster said mildly, “You may be right, Sir Hiram, but I think the people here are pretty hardy. They’ll do what they have to do, to survive.”
Hiram smiled. “You have faith in people, sir.”
Johnny smiled, too. “I suppose I do.”
“Jack’s a romantic,” Mel said lightly.
Hiram laughed. “Well, the world could use more of those. Pragmatists are useful but romantics are needed in this world, too.”
Johnny and Mel shared a secret smile.
Back in their hotel room, Mel asked, “Do you really think that Hiram’s right? That there could be war?”
“It’s possible.” Johnny looked out the window at the hills to the north. “You’ve read the posturings of both sides.” He shrugged. “How long did Hitler rattle his saber in Europe? You and I were in Paris in 1940. People were jittery but they didn’t really believe he’d go through with his threats until he did. Can’t say as I blame ‘em much. Most people don’t fancy war in the long run.”
“You think the South would invade the North?” Mel asked skeptically, removing his fedora and suit jacket.
Johnny tossed his straw boater onto the dresser. “Anything could happen with politicians, Sunshine.” He slipped his suspenders down with a wolfish smile. Mel laughed and continued to peel off his clothes.
July 22, 1934
Mel led Johnny through the crowd by the arm, Johnny going with him without question. If they were lucky, Mel thought, they could get out of the theater before Anna and Polly realized that Johnny was gone. He had no idea how sharp Polly was, but Anna was a smart cookie.
Mel found the door leading to the alley and led Johnny through it. “This way,” he said tersely.
“What’s this all about, Sunshine?” Johnny drawled.
“Bureau agents are all around North Halstead. They know you’re in the Biograph.”
“How…?” Johnny’s nimble mind worked fast. “Anna?”
“Exactly.” As they walked swiftly down the alley, Mel shot a look at his lover. “They threatened her with deportation.”
“Huh, rock and a hard place, huh?”
Johnny shrugged. “She did what she had to do.” He bright eyes looked around. “Where are we goin’?”
“To this alley.”
They emerged out into a nondescript alley with a car parked with its engine running. Mel opened the door. “Get in the back.”
Johnny obeyed. “Hey, who’s the pretty lady behind the wheel?”
She turned around with a smile. “Hello, Johnny.”
“Why, I do declare it’s Miss Doris.”
She laughed. “You’d be right.”
“You have a lovely voice on the telephone.”
“Thank you, sir.” As Mel slid into the front seat and shut the door, she said, “Better duck down, Johnny. Time for us to get out of Dodge.”
Johnny obeyed as Doris turned around and started driving. “Is Carter set?” she asked Mel.
“He’s keeping the men busy. Hopefully they won’t realize that Johnny’s gone until we’re far away.”
Doris eased out into North Halstead traffic. Gripping the wheel of the rental Ford hard, she kept her eyes on the road as Mel watched out for Bureau agents and police.
The atmosphere was tense inside the Ford, but not without its wit. Johnny drawled, “You surely are a prettier getaway driver than Red.”
Doris laughed. “Flattery will get you everything, Mr. Dillinger.”
“Oh, I have pretty much what I want.”
Mel blushed and Doris laughed again. She sobered as she said, “Turn that pretty profile, Melvin darlin’. Doc and Hollis are in the car coming our way.” Doris tilted her hat to hide her face and Mel looked out the window. Johnny remained safely out of sight down in the back seat floor.
The other car rattled past them, neither agent even glancing their way.
“All clear,” Doris said cheerfully.
Mel turned back to look at her and smiled. “You’ve got ice in your veins, darlin’.”
Doris smirked. “I’ve learned from the best.” She glanced in the rearview mirror. “Uh, oh.”
“What?” Mel asked nervously.
“Does that look like a police car to you?”
He looked in the mirror. “It does.”
“Are they on to us?”
“Not sure. Could just be a coincidence.”
“Coppers are never a coincidence,” Johnny declared.
“You’re a bit biased, my dear,” Mel drawled.
“Maybe, but that’s the way it is.”
Doris snorted. “Maybe, but I have to say that you two sure attract trouble.”
“It’s my middle name,” Johnny said proudly.
Doris laughed again. “Oh, I can see why you’re so attractive to our Mel, Mr. Dillinger.”
“Why, Miss Rogers, you are a fine judge of character.”
“Not to interrupt this mutual admiration society, but we do have a police car on our tail,” said Mel.
“They don’t seem to be making a move.” Doris looked in the rearview mirror again.
“We can’t assume this is coincidence.”
“Recognize ‘em, Mel?” The cock of a gun could be heard from the back seat.
Mel took out his gun and checked it. “No.”
“Still, we have to be sure.”
Doris kept the car’s speed steady. “Let me know if you need me to step on it!”
“You’re a doll, Doris,” said an amused Johnny.
Mel kept watch on the police car through the rearview mirror. “Take a right up ahead.” His eyes never left the mirror.
Doris complied, turning at the intersection. Mel hissed. “They’re turning, too.”
“Damnit,” Johnny said.
They traveled for several more blocks and Doris suddenly turned a hard left, startling her passengers. She took another hard turn, this time to the right. Admiration shone from Mel’s eyes as Johnny whooped.
“We lose ‘em?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t see them,” Mel answered.
Doris put her foot on the gas, speeding up. “Stick with me, kids.”
Mel and Johnny laughed in mixed relief and admiration.
June 25, 1950
“C’mon, darlin’, we gotta get outta here!"
“In here!” Mel opened the door of the restaurant and he and Johnny spilled inside.
The restaurant was empty, a neatly-kept establishment that was bright and cheerful with its yellow wallpaper and purple flowers on the table. It looked like what was called a mom-and-pop operation back home.
“We’d better get back to the hotel and get our things,” Mel said. “Time to get out of Dodge, Mr. Dillinger.”
The sound of the invasion was muffled but experience told them that they had little time. Despite that, Johnny reached out and grasped Mel’s arm. “You didn’t answer me.”
“Oh, Johnny.” Mel’s smile was affectionate. He drew his lover to him. “There’s nothing to forgive. I knew what I was getting into but went with you, anyway.” He brushed Johnny’s lips with his own. “No forgiveness necessary for you giving me a rare gift: happiness.”
Johnny smiled and they kissed to the sound of war outside the door, parting to head for the back door and the hotel.