Title: Petals Falling Trilogy: (Book III): Bloom (1/1)
Pairings/Characters: Mel/Johnny, Red Hamilton, Pete Pierpont, Homer Van Meter, J. Edgar Hoover/Clyde Tolson, Carter Baum, Sam Cowley, Violet Spriggs, J. Edgar Hoover/Melvin Purvis
Fandom: Public Enemies
Genres: Angst, Challenge, Drama
Claim: For the Challenge (Mel/Johnny)
Prompt: T 7; P 11: Questions
Prompt Count: (9/12)
Warnings: Implied rape
Summary: When Johnny finds the answers to his questions about Mel leaving him, he takes action.
Date Of Completion: March 9, 2012
Date Of Posting: July 12, 2013
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 7394
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Note: The entire series can be found here.
Off a faded rose,
Leaving thorns behind.
As they dry,
And blow away
In the wind.
Pick up the petals
And feel the
As the bloom
And a new day
Sarah Jean Simmons
“I just don’t get it, Red. Why?”
Red sighed. He had heard this question a hundred times since…
“He couldn’t live our kind of life, Johnny.”
Johnny frowned as he sat at the kitchen table of their safehouse in St. Paul. He was eating from a carton of French vanilla ice cream, his shirtsleeves rolled up. The heat of a brutal summer was giving way to the crispness of autumn.
At least Johnny was eating. He’d been moping around for months since Mel had left him in that Chicago hotel room.
Red had gone past anger to a world-weary resignation. He had warned Johnny when he had started his affair with a G-Man that it would end badly. He said nothing now, because Johnny was well aware of his former lover’s betrayal.
Though I suppose it’s just cowardice rather than betrayal. He didn’t even have the decency to tell Johnny to his face that it was over.
Red had been a little surprised at Mel skipping out the way he did. He’d thought the G-Man had more integrity, but facing a life on the run had been too much for the man.
“Mel had been happy with me,” Johnny insisted.
“Yeah, but he just couldn’t take our crazy life. You said that he admitted liking his comforts.”
Red took the chicken out of the icebox and put it in the oven, turning it on. He took out three large potatoes and started peeling them.
“Yeah, our life was too much for the delicate Southern magnolia,” Pete said as he entered the kitchen.
Red glared at him. “Here, have a potato and start peeling.”
Pete snorted but took a seat after grabbing a knife from the drawer and began peeling at the table.
Johnny set aside the carton. “He was a lot tougher than you know, Pete.”
Pete shrugged. “All I know is that he liked his fancy manservant and pheasant-under-glass better than scrapin’ for food and gettin’ his own clothes out instead of havin’ ‘em laid out for him.”
“Boy, aren’t you glib,” Johnny said sarcastically. “You should be on the radio.”
Pete snorted again. Red finished one potato and started on his second one. He hoped that things wouldn’t blow up between Pete and Johnny, but maybe it was better than Johnny moping around. Johnny could have his moods like anyone, but he was generally pretty upbeat, which was part of his charm. There were plenty of guys in the underworld who went around growling and threatening to rip people’s heads off, but Johnny had always preferred the sunny approach underlined with steel. Nobody wanted to cross him, but guys didn’t have to walk around on eggshells around him, either.
The moping had thrown him, Red had to admit. First Johnny had been incredulous, clutching the note that Mel had left, dazed and bewildered. Then he’d gotten angry and finally had fallen into the dumps. He had not exhibited any energy for planning jobs, listless and half-hearted, and his gang had stuck with him, only occasionally joining other gangs to pull jobs.
Johnny sighed. “I’m going to the movies. Don’t wait supper for me.”
He threw away the now-empty carton and cleaned the spoon, putting it away in a drawer. He shrugged into his greatcoat, put on his fedora, and left the house.
“Damnit,” Pete growled, slamming his knife down on the table.
“I know.” Red sighed and started down at the potato he held in his large hand. “He’s taking this hard.”
“No kiddin’. Fuckin’ Fed!”
“Well, he hasn’t betrayed us.” Red began peeling again. “He’s back with the Bureau but hasn’t used a thing he learned against us.”
“Big deal.” Pete stabbed the paring knife into the tuber. “Told Johnny that fancy-pants was bad news. You can’t trust a fuckin’ copper.”
Red finished peeling. “Still seems funny to me.”
“What? Purvis is back with that Bureau of his and is makin’ all sorts of announcements in the papers and the newsreels about runnin’ down Dillinger and the rest of us.”
Red took out the potato masher. “You done with that spud yet?”
“Almost.” Pete grimaced. “Damn Johnny’s sappy heart. He sure lost his edge with that Southern pecan.”
Red didn’t answer. Pete was right, but why puff him up? He did a good enough job on his own.
& & & & & &
Johnny turned up the collar of his greatcoat. The temperature had dropped considerably since yesterday. It was still a beautiful day, the bright blue skies studded with fat, white clouds as the sun shone down warmly.
St. Paul was no Chicago, but it didn’t have to be. It was more like Boston to Chicago’s New York, a smaller city and more genteel than its raucous Big Sister.
St. Paul was good, sturdy Midwestern values and hard work, yet riddled with yeggs and the old speakeasies, now able to operate openly again after Repeal. Citizens both prosperous and just hanging on walked the downtown streets past furniture stores and the five-and-dime, cafes, office buildings, florist shops and beauty parlors.
A movie theater named the Bijou was open and showing an action flick. Johnny didn’t care what movie it was, as long as he could sit in the dark and see…
He stopped at the ticket booth, the teenage girl smiling at him as she took his money and handed him his ticket. He tipped his hat and went inside.
The matinee was sparsely-attended but that suited Johnny just fine. He took a seat in the back, the Warner Brothers cartoon playing on the screen. He slouched in his seat and massaged his chest. His heart ached as he remembered stolen moments at matinees and walks in the park, and the times spent in luxurious hotel rooms or shabby motels.
What happened to you, Mel?
Mel had been happy with him, of that Johnny was sure. What had changed?
Now he speaks as the No. 1 G-Man again for that Bureau of his. Is that the life he really wants?
He fingered the note in his coat pocket. He didn’t need to take it out. It was burned into his brain:
& & & & & &
I am leaving to return to the Bureau and my old life. I have tried to live your life but I just can’t. I’m sorry. My conscience won’t allow me to continue.
You had better get out of the country. The Bureau will be coming after you.
& & & & & &
The cartoon ended and the familiar tones of Movietone News started playing. Johnny watched the Capitol Building flash on the screen. Stentorian tones began a patriotic spiel about hard-working Congress, which elicited a smirk from him. Politicians sure loved to toot their own horns.
“Crime continues to spread like wildfire across the prairie.” A picture of the Bureau’s headquarters suddenly flashed on-screen. Johnny sat up. “Director J. Edgar Hoover of the Bureau of Investigation has sworn that a new push will be made in the War on Crime. No. 1 G-Man Melvin Purvis states his case.”
Johnny leaned forward as the face of Melvin Purvis appeared on-screen, his honeyed tones soft and Southern.
“The War on Crime is relentless. The Bureau of Investigation shall pursue the wanton criminals who jeopardize peace and safety on American streets. This is not some banana republic whereby we tolerate gunfire in the streets. We shall bring the outlaws living high to justice.”
The words came out but Johnny thought that Mel sounded uncomfortable. The words sounded as if someone else had written them and he was merely reading a script.
Probably Hoover. Sounds as pompous as he talks.
He studied Mel’s face. It was still the beautiful face that he had fallen in love with, but he could see the lines of strain around the eyes and mouth. His first impression on seeing Mel’s face had been that he was just as gorgeous as ever, but the closer scrutiny reflected a tired man.
Johnny looked into his eyes. Or a haunted one?
He had seen photographs of Mel in the newspaper, but the grainy quality had not allowed Johnny to see anything but the surface, and the shot had been of his former lover half-turned from the camera. As for newsreel pictures, the camera had never gotten close up until now.
Why was Mel so tired? Hadn’t he wanted his career back? Or did that bastard Hoover suspect what had really happened and was applying the screws? The official story was that Mel had been held hostage by the Dillinger Gang and had managed to escape. The story had hurt Johnny but he figured that Mel needed it in order to return, but now he was not so sure. This sounded more like a story that Hoover would relish.
Questions ran around in his head as he gazed upon the well-loved face of the man who had stolen his heart.
Something’s not right here.
He listened and watched carefully, a dawning realization causing him to sit back with a thump against his seat.
Mel looked like a hostage reading his captor’s statement.
Johnny let his thoughts dance in his head as the rest of the news played out, then the coming attractions and finally the movie. Throughout it all he played over certain scenes in his mind, sure one minute and uncertain the next. He finally left while the movie was still playing, hurrying back to the house.
“Red!” he called as he burst into the kitchen.
“What is it, Johnny?” asked Red as he came in from the dining room. “Do we have to pick up and leave?”
“No, nothin’ like that.”
Johnny took off his fedora and ran a hand through his thick hair. “I’ve been a dumb mope.”
“Can’t argue with you there.” Red pulled out a chair and sat down.
“Yeah, I know I’ve been mopin’ around for months. Poor Mel.”
“Poor Mel? He up and left you!”
“He didn’t want to.”
“Think about it, Red. Why would Mel just up and leave? He would at least have faced me, not run off the way he did. Somethin’ stinks here like week-old fish.”
Red cocked his head. “What’s your take?”
Gratified that Red believed him, at least enough to listen, Johnny sat down, still wearing his hat and coat. He leaned forward. “I saw Mel in the Movietone News today. Red, he looks exhausted.”
“So? The job must put a strain on a guy, especially since he never gets close to us.”
“Exactly.” Johnny slammed his hand down on the table. “If he was the betrayer everyone thinks, why wouldn’t he have used his inside knowledge to nab us by now?”
“Because we’re always too smart for the Feds.”
Johnny snorted. “Don’t kid a kidder. You think we were able to duck the Feds because we were smarter than them? Sure, most of the time that was the reason, but not all of the time. It was Mel deliberately botchin’ the investigation to keep me…and you…safe.”
Red scratched his nose. “I know that. Maybe he’s just workin’ hard to get back in Hoover’s good graces.”
"That's another thing!” Johnny slammed his hand on the table again. “He was really disturbed by what Hoover was turning into. Said the guy had progressive ideas on law enforcement but what started out so bright and shining was being twisted into something dark, and it disturbed him.”
“He still went back, though.”
“But I don’t get it.”
“He left you, Johnny,” Red said gently.
Johnny gestured impatiently. “No, Red, you don’t understand. Mel wouldn’t have gone back to a situation that had become unbearable for him.”
Red shrugged. “Maybe he thinks he can change things.”
Johnny shook his head. “What I saw in Mel’s eyes mean he’s in trouble, and I’ve been too busy wallowing in self-pity to realize it.”
& & & & & &
Red and the rest of the gang thought that he was crazy. Johnny had to admit that they might be right, but that didn’t stop him. After robbing a bank to pad his wallet for expenses, he directed his newly-flush gang to get out of the state and lay low.
“While you go to Washington, D.C.?” asked Red incredulously.
“That’s right.” Johnny smiled as he packed his money belt.
“Johnny, you’re crazy to go right where all the Feds are!”
Homer stood in the bedroom doorway. “Are you still goin’ ahead with that crazy plan?”
Homer shook his head. “Red, talk to him.”
“I can’t get through that thick head of his.”
“Johnny, that Fed ain’t worth it!”
Johnny paused in his packing. “He is to me, Homer.”
Homer sighed. “He’s already hurt you, Johnny.”
“Maybe, Homer, but I gotta see him. Something’s wrong, I know it.”
“Then why don’t you want anyone with you?”
“I can lurk about the Capital without too much notice by myself.” Johnny finished packing the moneybag and stowed it in the suitcase that was open on the bed. “The city ain’t that big so I should be able to get the lay of the land pretty quickly.”
“So are you gonna just waltz on into the bigshot Bureau building and demand to see Mel?” Red asked.
“Ha, now wouldn’t that be a picture, me in the middle of those G-Men?”
Red and Homer had to laugh at that. Johnny tossed in one last shirt and snapped the suitcase shut.
“Okay, I’m all ready. You boys leave word with Piquett where you are.”
“Okay, we’ll be headin’ out tonight.” Red stood and put his hands on Johnny’s shoulders. “You be careful, eh?”
Johnny grinned and the two men embraced. Homer clapped a hand on Johnny’s shoulder and was pulled into an embrace, too.
& & & & & &
Washington, D.C. was a sleepy Southern town with a bunch of marble buildings, Johnny thought with a smirk. He was going to do a little sightseeing if he was lucky, but the sight he most wanted to see was his Mel.
It was unseasonably cool for Washington in early September. Johnny was glad that he had packed his greatcoat.
His wire-rimmed glasses were a good cover. It never ceased to amuse him how just a pair of glasses could hide his identity so well.
He had perfected the art of hiding out in the open. Still his charming self, he thought with a smirk, he could also walk about without attracting unwanted attention.
He decided to familiarize himself with the city. Walking suited him just fine. After nine years of prison, he liked the freedom of using his own two legs to get around.
He sauntered down Pennsylvania Avenue, glad that he had been able to find a decent boardinghouse. He had traveled light, leaving his suitcase of guns with the gang. All he had with him was his .38.
He reached the iron fence that framed the most famous building in the country: the White House. He stopped and gazed at the house, one hand on the iron bars. Ironically, he was the one outside the bars this time. He wondered if FDR felt like a prisoner in that house sometimes.
Bet Eleanor’s out on some fact-finding tour. Gotta give it to her: she’s got gumption. No fuss ‘n’ feathers female stuff for her.
He liked the whole picture: a classically-designed house with a bright green lawn and a sparkling fountain. He would have liked to walk on that lawn, hand-in-hand with his man.
Mel said the he’d visited this place before with Hoover. Met the President and everything. Said he was a real fine gentleman.
Johnny stood at the fence for ten more minutes, then wandered into Lafayette Park across the street.
Despite his love of big-city living, he was a farmboy at heart. He liked green grass and golden trees, the noise of traffic slightly muffled. He strolled through the park, heading toward the building that housed the Bureau of Investigation.
He was not as foolhardy as his men liked to think. He would walk by, observe the comings and goings, and maybe catch a glimpse of Mel but he wouldn’t walk inside. He had to find out where he was living now, maybe some fancy townhouse in Georgetown. He had visited the Chicago Public Library before his trip and had done a little research, which included chatting up the pretty reference librarian. She had been able to tell where a man of Mel’s means was likely to live. Since his original townhouse had been sold after he’d taken off with Johnny, chances were that he couldn’t live there again.
“These districts here, and Georgetown. It’s getting so that the only white man who lives in the city is the President.”
He’d thanked her and filed away all the knowledge in his head, which included this particular building.
He made sure not to linger but strolled by. Buying a bag of birdseed from a vendor, he fed the pigeons from a bench a few blocks away, shooing them away when the bag was empty.
At noontime he bought a hot dog and a bag of peanuts from two other vendors, topping off with a Coke from a third vendor. He calmly ate his lunch on the same bench, and a steady stream of men and women went in and out of the Bureau building during the lunch hour, but no Mel. He finished his lunch and sauntered away.
He returned at five o’clock, hoping that today Mel could leave at a decent hour. He chose a different park bench and lolled, hoping that no one from the building would notice that he was back.
He kept a sharp eye on the people coming out despite his indolent attitude. He could see quite a few young men in cheap suits, probably the lowest-paid Bureau agents. Women who were clerks and typists were a little better-dressed, mostly young but sprinkled with middle-aged supervisor types. A handful were probably personal secretaries. Older men who most likely had some power in the Bureau came out a little later.
Just when Johnny was ready to give up, he saw Mel. He did his best to stay casual when all he wanted to do was run toward him and put his arms around the slender body.
Mel was beautiful even from a distance, and Johnny’s pulse quickened as his gaze roamed over the lithe form clad in a stylish dark-blue suit and fedora.
He gritted his teeth when he saw Hoover practically attached to Mel’s hip. The Associate Director, Clyde Tolson, signaled Hoover’s chauffeur and all three got into the back of the big, powerful sedan. Mel hesitated for a minute, but he disappeared into the back seat.
Johnny cursed under his breath. There were no cabs in sight. Besides, he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of trailing Mel with Hoover at his side.
Disgruntled, he decided to walk back to his boardinghouse.
As he walked, he tried to corral his chaotic thoughts. Mel had looked thin, even from several yards away. And he definitely disliked Hoover sticking so close.
Uneasy thoughts rolled through his mind. Mel had said that Tolson and Hoover were rumored to be lovers, and Hoover had made Mel feel uncomfortable on more than one occasion. He had hinted of unwanted advances, and Johnny’s stomach churned. Was something like that going on now? Did Hoover know the truth about why Mel had left the Bureau last year?
The thought chilled Johnny. Whether Hoover was bedding Tolson or not, the thought of him knowing about Mel’s inclination was a problem on two levels: if he wasn’t homosexual, he would scorn Mel’s desires, and if he was homosexual, well, that could be even worse.
Johnny’s blood boiled as he thought of Hoover with his hands on his man.
Pete would say that I was delusional, that Mel is fine and I’m just seeing things. Maybe so, but I know Mel. I ate with him, drank with him, slept with him. He could have tried to play me, but I’m not stupid. I would have known. I’m a survivor, and no matter how head-over-heels I was, I would have been able to smell a scam. What Mel and I shared was real, even if we’re the only two that believe that.
“Hey, Mister, got a dime?”
Johnny looked down and saw a little black boy in jeans that were baggy and a blue flannel shirt that was two sizes too big.
“Yeah.” The kid looked half-starved. “Here you go.”
The kid scampered off and Johnny realized that he had unwittingly walked into one of the Negro neighborhoods that were on the outskirts of the city. He saw a thin woman in her thirties staring at him from a stoop, a man a little older sitting next to her. His clothes were shabby and his brown eyes were piercing.
Johnny felt little fear even though this was an all-Negro neighborhood and he was most definitely an intruder. Most Negroes would not dare accost a white man even in their own territory, but Johnny wasn’t about to push his luck.
“Can I help you, suh?”
Soft, Southern tones created a pang deep in his chest as Johnny turned and smiled at the elderly man who had quietly approached him.
I must be losin’ my edge. How’d the old man sneak up on me? Mel, honey, you are a Grade-A distraction.
“I seem to have gotten turned ‘round without realizing it. I’d appreciate some directions, sir.”
The old man relaxed slightly but was still wary. Johnny didn’t blame him one bit. He knew how some white folks treated Negroes. Why should any colored person trust him for a second?
As for his politeness, he figured a colored man had every right just as a white one for respect. He’d known some Negroes during his time in prison and while most of the white prisoners thought that they were uneducated, lazy children, Johnny had gotten to know a few. They weren’t exactly like the faces they showed the hostile world, which was not all that surprising.
“Where you supposed to be?” asked the old man.
“G Street, though I’m no G-Man.”
A flash of amusement showed in brown eyes. “Lawdy, I hope not.”
“Not a fan, eh?”
“Can’t say as I am.” The old man hooked his thumbs in his suspenders. His overalls had seen better days, but that was the case for a lot of people these days. “That Mr. Hoover drives through here every day and don’t look out the window once.”
“Really? Doesn’t he live in some fancypants neighborhood?”
The old man laughed. “Shore does! He rides with two fellas in that fancy car of his.”
“Yeah. One look kinda bored mos’ of the time while the other looks sad.”
Johnny’s heart skipped a beat. “Sad?”
“Yeah. Pretty enough man, but looks like he got a world of sorrow on his shoulders.”
“Maybe he does,” Johnny murmured.
He thanked the old man after he was given directions back to his street. As he walked he thought about what the elderly Negro had told him.
Sad means that my Sunshine didn’t come willing, of that I’m sure.
He was determined to find the answer to his questions.
& & & & & &
The next day, Johnny visited the Lincoln Memorial early in the morning. Sunlight shone off the reflecting pool as the day was a perfect September offering, cooler than normal for Washington but Johnny was used to colder weather growing up in Indiana.
Walking up the marble steps, he had to admit that the statue of Lincoln was impressive. He’d read in the guidebook that it had been dedicated in 1922, so it still seemed pretty fresh and shiny.
He read the words carved into the walls, all very lofty but with a ring of truth. The man had grown up dirt poor on a farm and had worked hard all his life splitting rails and doing all the other grub work of farming, which Johnny knew well. It was why he had left the family farm. He stopped in front of the statue, gazing at the serene marble visage of the 16th President.
He felt a sense of peace here. This cool marble temple was made for quiet contemplation.
Mel probably loves this place.
He’d been impressed by his lover’s ability to think out a problem, to use quiet to give him a sense of calm. Mel could be a nervous, high-strung thoroughbred, but he had a knack of being able to center himself when necessary.
Johnny spent the morning at the Memorial.
& & & & & &
Later that day, Johnny rented a car and parked down the street from Bureau headquarters. He waited patiently. If prison had taught him anything, it was to bide his time.
Today he would follow Hoover’s car and see where Mel was living and talk to him. If he was wrong about Mel, he was taking a risk, but he was certain that he had nothing to fear from his former lover, no matter what.
People began coming out of the building, and at 5:30, Mel appeared, flanked by Hoover and Tolson. Johnny’s grip tightened on the wheel. He intensely disliked this arrangement. It reminded him too much of a prisoner with two guards.
The three got into Hoover’s shiny car and the chauffeur drove away. Johnny eased into traffic behind them, careful to keep a few cars back.
The big, powerful sedan cruised through the streets of Washington, most people taking no notice. The big and the powerful were a common sight here.
They traveled through the Negro neighborhood that Johnny had visited yesterday. The old man had been right. Hoover never even glanced out the window. Eventually they reached the higher-toned suburbs of the city, and the car stopped in front of an impressive house. Tolson got out first, then Mel, and finally Hoover.
Johnny frowned as he parked several blocks away. Were they having a late meeting at Mel’s house?
Once the men were inside, the chauffeur drove the car into the garage. Johnny thumped the steering wheel and cursed under his breath. It definitely looked like a long meeting, and this was probably Hoover’s house. The chauffeur was putting the car away because he knew that he wouldn’t have to drive Mel home for several hours.
Johnny drove away. He couldn’t sit here for hours without being noticed. He would try again tomorrow.
& & & & & &
The next day, Johnny lolled on a different park bench as he kept his eye on the Bureau building. He’d brought a book and read while performing the stake-out. It amused him that he was acting like a G-Man. Mel would appreciate the joke.
The book kept his attention. It was a Lone Ranger book and written well for a Western. Johnny smirked. Were he and Mel the Lone Ranger and Tonto, riding the range with only each other for back-up? Mel’s cheekbones surely did look like he had some Indian in him somewhere. His smile faded. If only he had backed up Mel when he had needed it last year.
He gripped the book a little harder. He hoped that he and Mel would be able to share a joke again soon.
Oh, Mel. I’m sorry it took me this long to get this far. We’ll talk and figure something out. Even if we have to just snatch moments together, we will.
It would be harder than ever to do since Mel was now working in the Bureau’s headquarters instead of the Chicago field office, but they would manage it. He and Mel were good together. Nothing could stop them when they put their mind to it.
He looked up and recognized two of the agents coming down the stairs. What were their names again?
Oh, that’s right, Carter Baum and Sam Cowley.
He made a quick decision. Getting up from the bench, he followed them at a discreet distance. They bypassed food vendors and went into a modest restaurant. Johnny was in luck. He took the empty table next to the two agents.
Johnny ordered a turkey sandwich and coffee, eating slowly as he listened to the conversation taking place under the hubbub of the other diners.
“Our last sighting of Nelson sure didn’t pan out,” Carter said as he reached for the sugar bowl.
“Yeah.” Sam pushed the green beans around his plate with his fork. “Amazing how these gangsters can slip away.”
“Nobody’s as good at it as Dillinger.” Carter scooped two spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee and stirred.
Sam smiled faintly. His dark eyes were pensive. “How do you think Mel looks?”
Sam sighted. “I know. If he loses any more weight he’ll disappear.” He rubbed his square jaw. “Carter, do you believe that story Hoover told when Mel came back?”
It was Carter’s turn to play with his food. Finally he said, “No. I think Mel went willingly with Dillinger.”
Sam sighed as he drank his coffee. “I think so, too.” He stirred his coffee with a nervous gesture. “I bet if we asked Doris…”
“Sam, let’s not beat around the bush.” Carter set his fork down. “I knew about him and Dillinger.”
“Carter,” Sam hissed.
“Yeah, I know. That’s why it shocked me when he came back.”
“He said that he’d been held hostage by the gang.”
Carter scoffed. “Absolute nonsense! First off, Mel went willingly with Johnny, and secondly, Dillinger doesn’t do kidnapping.”
“But the story…”
“…was Hoover’s, not Mel’s.”
Sam’s hand shook slightly as he grasped the handle of his coffee cup. “What must Hoover be thinking, keeping Mel at his house?”
Carter grimaced. “Hoover’s obsessed with Mel. We all know the rumors about him and Tolson.” He ran a hand through his thick chestnut hair. “What do you think he wants?”
Johnny put down his sandwich. He felt sick.
“Can’t something be done?” asked Carter.
“What can be done? Announce to the world that our esteemed Director is bedding his No. 1 G-Man? You and I would be smeared and drummed out of the Bureau and in a breadline so fast your head would spin.”
Carter looked miserable but couldn’t disagree.
The rest of their conversation was about their leads on Nelson, Kelly and others. Johnny’s name was no longer mentioned, but he was only half-listening, his mind in a whirl.
He ate the rest of his sandwich mechanically, not tasting anything. Carter and Sam left the restaurant and Johnny sat for ten minutes more, finally leaving, too. He wandered the streets and found himself at the Lincoln Memorial. Desperately needing some sense of peace, he climbed the steps.
Johnny looked up at the statue, his hands jammed in his greatcoat pockets. He allowed the peace to flow over him to fill the numbness as he thought of Mel’s fate.
He couldn’t allow his anger to start. He needed a cool head to figure out a plan. No matter what Mel might say, Johnny knew that his lover hadn’t wanted to end up in Hoover’s bed.
I’ll get you out, Mel. I promise, sweetheart.
& & & & & &
Johnny hadn’t bothered to spend the rest of the day on the park bench. Instead he had sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as he watched the play of sunlight on the water of the reflecting pool. To any of the sightseers or office workers out for a lunchtime stroll, he was merely a young man enjoying the beautiful fall day.
Except that in reality, he was planning.
& & & & & &
Johnny watched Hoover’s house that night, becoming familiar with the routine of the household. He did so for the next three days and nights, careful not to stay too long or be spotted, haunted by the face of his trapped lover.
“Oh, sweetheart, hang on just a little while longer,” Johnny murmured.
He figured it was better for Mel to suffer a few nights more rather than for the rest of his life. He wanted to charge right in that house and take his Mel out of there, but he’d learned that success was best gotten after careful planning.
Just a little while longer, Mel. Just a little while longer.
& & & & & &
That afternoon he waited in the upscale neighborhood of Hoover’s house, sitting in a different rental car. He had found a good spot, safe from prying eyes, and watched as the shiny black Ford glided down the street. The chauffeur parked in front of the house and the three men in the back seat alighted. Johnny noted once again the painful thinness of his man. Gripping the wheel, Johnny bided his time.
The three men disappeared into the house and the chauffeur drove the car into the garage, leaving it to go to his own quarters.
Johnny waited until the occupants of the house had eaten dinner. Now he made his move before everyone retired for the night and before Hoover forced Mel into his bed. He had observed that everyone went to bed early.
Johnny entered the house through the back door. His afternoon spent at the Library of Congress had paid off.
& & & & & &
“Yes, sir, may I help you?”
“Yes, Miss.” Johnny smiled at the middle-aged librarian. She wore her blond hair in a short bob, her wire-rimmed glasses perched on her cute pug nose. Her silk print dress was rather pretty. “I need to find out information on Washington’s grand old houses.”
“Of course. I have just the thing.”
Violet Spriggs led Johnny to a section with several old books. They were large and printed at the turn of the century.
“These houses are some of the finest in the city.”
“This is fine, Miss Spriggs, just fine.” Johnny smiled charmingly. “Oh, does that fine, upstandin’ Director Hoover have an old, wonderful house?”
“Oh, yes. You can find it in one of these books. This one.”
Johnny noted the book she pointed to. “Thank you.”
“Are you a fan of the Director?”
“He helped organize our classification system here at the Library.”
“Really? Well, he is a stickler for organization, I hear.”
& & & & & &
Johnny had studied the layout of the house, the book describing the interior and even providing a diagram. He knew where the different rooms were, and Johnny headed upstairs. He could hear the murmur of voices in the dining room as he quietly went up the small staircase off the kitchen.
He stealthily made his way down the hall, his adrenaline pumping but he remained calm. He felt like he was leading a bank robbery: excited but cool-headed.
He knew where the master bedroom was located. The light had gone on in the window and Johnny was betting that Mel would be sent upstairs first. Hoover and Tolson would probably remain in the study while they smoked cigars and discussed Bureau business. He wondered if Tolson was part of the nightly rape sessions.
Johnny kept his fingers crossed that no maids or manservants were up here. He could hear someone moving around in the bedroom at the end of the hall. Cautiously he approached.
He was in luck. Mel was the sole occupant of the well-appointed bedroom. He was dressed in a dark-blue pinstripe suit and was slowly starting to undress. He looked up into the large mirror over the dresser and saw Johnny in the doorway.
Johnny nearly cried out in despair at how thin Mel looked. His liquid-dark eyes were enormous in his pinched face and suits that were once magnificently-tailored now hung off his painfully-thin frame.
Mel’s pale face went even whiter. He stared as if unable to believe his eyes and suddenly whirled around. “Johnny!” he hissed.
“That’s right, Sunshine.”
“You have to get out of here!”
“I’ve come for you.” Johnny gently grasped Mel’s arm. It was like touching a bone.
“You can’t stay.” Johnny loved the sound of Mel’s sweet, honeyed voice. He had missed that. “If Jayee found you here…”
“Screw ol’ Jayee.” Johnny searched Mel’s face. “You’re comin’ with me.”
“I can’t.” Mel’s voice was almost devoid of emotion.
“It’ll be risky, but…”
“No.” Mel shook out of Johnny’s grasp. “I can’t go with you.”
Johnny frowned. “Why not?”
“Because I gave my word.”
Johnny bit his lip. “Mel, honey, I’m sorry it took so long to get here. I was hurt that you’d left, but I knew something was wrong.”
Mel turned to face the mirror again. “I look at myself and can’t really recognize that face in the mirror as mine.”
Johnny was frightened by the dead tone. “Mel, your word was given under…what’s that word you college boys are so fond of?”
“That’s it, duress.” Johnny wanted to touch Mel again but held back. “Whatever Hoover’s got on you, it doesn’t matter. We can leave and he’ll never hurt you again.”
“He’ll hurt you.” Mel started at Johnny’s reflection.
“He’ll never stop hunting you, especially if I’m with you.”
Johnny closed his eyes, sorrow welling up inside him. “Oh, Mel,” he whispered.
“You must hate me,” Mel said, despair overflowing the numbed tone.
“Never,” Johnny said quietly. He gently laid a hand on Mel’s shoulder.
“You wouldn’t have done this.”
“To save you? Don’t be so sure.” He could feel Mel trembling.
“He had pictures. He followed us to the hotel that day.” Mel didn’t have to specify which day. It was burned into Johnny’s brain. “He forced me to write that note.”
“I kinda thought so. After I studied it like it was the King James Bible, I knew something was off.”
Mel’s breathing was labored. “I had to leave you. Jayee would have dragged you off to jail. I wouldn’t have been able to help you. I probably would have been in jail, too.”
Johnny gently squeezed Mel’s shoulder. He had a silver tongue and wasn’t afraid to use it, but he sensed that Mel needed to talk.
“I made my choice. I would …” his voice caught “…make the same choice if I had to do it all over again.”
Johnny tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. He had been lucky to have been loved in his life before, but this love and loyalty had reached new heights. He blinked rapidly to clear his eyes of tears.
“I know,” he said, proud that his voice didn’t shake. “But you don’t have to suffer anymore, honey. I’m here and we’ll face this together.” He felt his heart flutter. “I need you, Sunshine.”
Mel nearly sobbed, turning around and hugging Johnny fiercely. Johnny hugged back just as hard, nearly gasping for air as they held each other tight. Johnny rubbed his hand up-and-down Mel’s back, murmuring reassurances.
“It’ll be all right, honey, I promise.” After a few minutes he kissed Mel’s hair and said, “We have to go.”
Mel pulled back, his eyes wet. “Johnny…”
“You are not staying here, Mel. Giving your word to a man who blackmails you isn’t binding. What he does to you every night throws that all out.”
Mel looked down with a flushed expression. Johnny immediately lifted his head by grasping his chin.
“Listen to me. I hate what he’s been doing to you, but I don’t love you less. I never could.”
Mel took Johnny’s hand and kissed the palm. “We have to hurry,” he whispered. “Jayee will be here any minute.”
Johnny nodded. “Come on.”
Mel grabbed Johnny’s arm. “Be careful, John. Jayee is diabolical about sniffing things out.”
“Yeah, well, darlin’, I’m not Public Enemy No. 1 for nothin’.”
Mel’s lips quirked into a small smile. It gladdened Johnny’s heart to see.
The two men quietly exited the bedroom, Johnny leading the way down the hall. They crept down the stairs and were almost in the kitchen when voices could be heard approaching. They hurried back up the stairs just enough to be out of sight.
The swinging door opened and Hoover’s loud voice complained as he entered the kitchen, “Honestly, Clyde, can’t we have efficiency in our own department? Chicago is approaching disaster, Kansas City is a mess, and Dallas is unspeakable.”
Clyde’s softer voice answered, “I know, Jayee. Our SACs are trying to stem a rising tide. Sam Cowley’s a good man, but maybe you’d better send Melvin back to take over.”
Hoover laughed derisively. “Yes, you’d like that! Jealousy doesn’t become you, Clyde.”
“I’m not jealous, Jayee.”
“Of course you are.” The rattle of cups echoed in the kitchen. “Really, Clyde, you have nothing to be jealous about.”
It was Clyde’s turn to be derisive. “Of course I do! You’ve left my bed to go to his.”
“Not so.” The sound of liquid being poured into a cup punctuated Hoover’s next statement. “I bring him to my bed.”
Clyde made an angry noise. “You’re crude.”
“Maybe, but think about it. If you were half as good as Melvin, I wouldn’t be lavishing my attention on him.”
Johnny saw Mel’s face and squeezed his lover’s hand. Mel nodded and lifted his head up. Johnny had never been prouder of him.
“Well, I hope you enjoy that piece of pecan pie, because you’re sure as hell won’t be gettin’ any from me.”
“Oh, I think I will. When I come to your bed, you’ll greet me with open arms. Right?”
The only answer Hoover got was the stomping of Clyde’s shoes as he left the kitchen.
Hoover drank his beverage (Johnny doubted that it was whiskey) for five minutes, crossing the kitchen to make sure that the back door was locked. He shot the deadbolt with a loud snap and left the kitchen. Johnny and Mel came down the stairs.
Johnny led the way to the back door. They both froze as they heard footsteps, but Mel mouthed, “The other stairs” and so Johnny drew back the deadbolt, both of them listening hard as it snapped, but no one came to investigate. They slipped out into the night.
It was a cold autumn evening and Mel shivered. He began to silently protest when Johnny took off his greatcoat and put it around his shoulders, but the gangster’s warm smile convinced him to put his arms through the sleeves. They slipped into the darkness and started across the lawn of the next house. Johnny and Mel immediately speeded up their pace as the back door of the Hoover house opened and the light went on to illuminate the back yard.
“Melvin!” Hoover bellowed.
Johnny grabbed Mel’s hand and they ran, keeping to the backyards as Hoover yelled once more. Lights came on in some of the houses. Johnny pointed to his car as they emerged from around the back of a house and Mel ran around to the passenger side. Johnny got in behind the wheel and they drove off.
The boardinghouse was dark and quiet, Johnny using his key to unlock the front door. Mel followed him and they walked up the staircase with the threadbare carpet and into Johnny’s modest room. He took the suitcase that was open on the luggage rack and threw in his travel case after clearing out the bathroom: toothbrush, toothpaste, aftershave, pomade and comb. He put on his spare greatcoat and fedora.
“We gotta leave now.”
Mel nodded. “I need to use the bathroom.” He disappeared inside the small room and closed the door. Johnny shut the suitcase and almost reached for a second one, smiling as he remembered that he didn’t have his suitcase of guns with him. All he had was his trusty .38.
That’ll be enough.
Mel came out of the bathroom as the toilet flushed. Johnny used it next and then he came out and grabbed his suitcase.
“Johnny.” Mel put a hand on his lover’s arm. “Are you sure you want a man who’s been broken and defiled?”
Johnny’s heart nearly broke but it was filled with love. He took Mel’s hand and kissed the palm. “I want you, just like I always have. I love you. That will never change.”
Mel’s eyes shimmered with tears and he took Johnny’s hand and pressed it close to his heart.
They left the boardinghouse and Washington behind.</center>