Pairings/Characters: Mel/Johnny/Billie, Addie Swenson, Toby Swenson, Red Hamilton, Homer Van Meter, Russell Clark, Harry ‘Pete’ Pierpont, Charles Makley, various other characters
Fandom: Public Enemies
Genres: AU, Challenge, Holiday, Slice-Of-Life
Warnings: LOTs of food! Do not read while hungry. ;)
Spoilers: A few for the movie, nothing major.
Summary: Thanksgiving is a time to count your blessings.
Date Of Completion: November 2, 2009
Date Of Posting: November 21, 2009
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 2471
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for my 2009 Guns_Fedoras Public Enemies Fic/Art Winter Holidays Challenge. :)
The Triptych Series won’t be presented in chronological order. While it will usually focus on the Gangster Trio’s life in Europe, I'll be skipping back to their lives in America before they left the country, which includes this story.
Originally this story was going to be only Johnny and his gang, but Mel and Billie insisted upon inclusion, so what can I say? They’re very persuasive! ;)
The entire series can be found here.
“How you fixed for Thanksgiving, darlin’?”
Addie Swenson pushed stray strands of brown hair out of her eyes. “Not much, John. Budget’s too tight for a proper feast.” Her voice was weary as she stood in her modest kitchen on her Indiana farm.
“No problem.” Johnny dug out a wad of bills from his pants pocket. “Take this and get all you need. The boys and I’ll help you with the cookin’.”
Eyes wide, Addie looked down at the cash, then up at Johnny. “This is mighty generous, Mr. Dillinger.”
Johnny smiled lazily. “Well, I can’t go home for the holiday, and I’d really like a dinner done up right. The boys would like it, too.”
“All right, then.” Addie untied her apron and tossed it on a chair. “Traditional menu okay?”
Her brown eyes sparkled. “I’ll hold you to that helpin’.”
He laughed. “Don’t you worry none. I always keep my word.”
“Toby, come on down! We got shoppin’ to do!” Addie called upstairs.
The tow-headed boy dashed down the stairs, eager for a trip to town.
“Would you mail this for me, darlin’?”
Addie took the envelope and went out to her car, got her old beater going, and it rattled down the driveway and out onto the rutted road.
Johnny leaned against the house as he stood on the porch, gazing out at the endless yellow-brown fields. Whatever harvest there had been was already in, the only things left a patch of pumpkins off to the side of the house.
Addie wasn’t as beaten down as the woman who had fed them after the Michigan City breakout a few months ago, and the farmhouse was in better shape, but she was barely hanging on.
He saw two figures coming through the fields. Red and Homer. Homer waved and headed into the house, Red staying on the porch.
“Where’s Addie going?”
“Town. I gave her some money. We’re going to have a real Thanksgiving feast!”
“Hey, that’s great, John! I could fancy some home-cooked turkey.”
“Beats the fatty pork they’d serve us in prison, eh?”
Russell, Pete, and Charles walked in from the barn and were thrilled to hear about the feast.
“Addie and the kid could use some decent food, too,” Johnny said.
Red clapped him on the shoulder. “You’ve got a big heart, John.”
Johnny and Red discussed plans for their next job, and Addie and Toby returned, the truck loaded with grocery bags. Everyone converged on the truck and took out the bags, laughing and joking as they went into the kitchen.
“I mailed your letter, Johnny.”
As the boys helped unpack the bags, Red asked, “What letter?”
"Just a little somethin' to the kind woman who fed us after we busted outta Michigan City. She and her kid could use a feast, too."
Red smiled. “Like I said, a big heart.”
"Let's get started, boys. Toby, go pick out a nice big pumpkin from the patch.”
“Yay, pumpkin pie!” Toby scampered outside, and Addie began handing out assignments.
“Charles, start peeling potatoes. Russell, cut up that Hubbard squash. Pete, I’ll need your help with cutting up the pumpkin. Homer, start making the piecrust. I’ll walk you through it. Johnny, can you snap these beans?”
Everyone set to work, Johnny grabbing an apron and tying it around his waist, playful jibes going back and forth.
Addie started preparing the turkey. Johnny glanced out the window and saw Toby struggling to carry a heavy pumpkin. He hurried outside, smiling at the boy.
“Hey, Toby, need a hand?”
Johnny easily lifted the pumpkin and Toby hurried to open the door.
“Good boy! Set it over on the table, wouldja, Johnny?”
The kitchen was filled with chatter and the sounds of chopping, dicing, and pounding as the Hubbard squash was a tough nut to crack.
“I got some fresh bread for the stuffing, and those new Ritz crackers, and fresh celery and walnuts, too. They had little pearl onions for sale.”
“Sounds great, Addie,” Red said jovially. He was old friends with her and doubted that the cops knew about her. At least he hoped so.
“I’m going to direct you boys to make cranberry relish.”
“Darlin’, my mouth is waterin’,” Johnny said, eyes sparkling as Addie laughed.
By Thanksgiving morning, the house was filled with wonderful smells. Johnny awoke to the delicious aroma of turkey cooking in the oven. He stretched, glad for the comfortable bed.
Rank has its privileges, he smirked. While everyone else had to double up, he’d gotten a room to himself after years of sharing a cell. He appreciated the privacy.
He stared up at the ceiling with his hands laced behind his head, listening to the birds singing in the spruce tree outside his window. Freedom hadn’t been very long for any of them, but it was always sweet.
Johnny allowed himself the indulgence of lying in bed for five more minutes, then leaped out.
He’d been stuck in a cage for too many years. He wasn’t going to waste a minute of life.
Addie had plenty of help with Thanksgiving Day preparations. The kitchen was filled with helpers, and Toby and Homer set the dining room table.
“We need a centerpiece, Mom!”
“Get a small pumpkin from the patch.”
“Will you come with me, Johnny?”
“Sure, kid. Be right back, Addie.”
The air was fresh and clean, Johnny taking in deep lungfuls. He couldn’t get enough of it. Even prison yard air was still prison.
Toby eagerly led the way with six-year-old energy, Johnny smiling at his enthusiasm. At least the Depression hadn’t beaten this kid down yet. He’d seen pictures of hollow-eyed children in the Dust Bowl or in Okie camps in California. Even when things had been tight at home and his father distant when he’d been growing up, there had been love between him and his sister Audrey and brother Hubert, and enough to eat.
“What about this one, Johnny?”
Toby was pointing to a perfectly round pumpkin small enough for him to carry.
“That’s just right, kiddo.”
“Like Baby Bear,” the boy giggled.
Johnny smiled, “That’s right, that one’s too big and that one’s too small, but this one’s just right.” He ruffled Toby’s hair as they headed back to the house with the pumpkin.
The last of the side dishes were brought into the dining room, the men taking their seats as Addie carried the turkey into delighted exclamations. She set it by the head of the table, then took her seat at the opposite end.
“Join hands.” Everyone clasped hands and bowed their heads. “Dear Lord, thank you for this bounty. May everyone know the abundance of the harvest today of all days. Amen.”
“Amen,” everyone chorused.
“Johnny, would you carve, please?”
Johnny sharpened the long carving knives and plates were passed around with generous helpings of turkey, both light and dark meat, and bowls and platters of side dishes followed.
Addie had truly outdone herself. She had, with her guests’ help, cooked hamburger stuffing with bread crumbs, Ritz crackers, celery, and pearl onions, deciding on using the walnuts as an after-dinner dish. The menu included tart cranberry relish, hot, fluffy biscuits fresh from the oven, gravy, sweet yams, buttery mashed potatoes, savory green beans, and Hubbard squash. Pumpkin pies were on the kitchen counter, ready to bring in for dessert.
Truly a magnificent feast!
“Put the radio on, Toby,” Addie said.
Classical music spilled out of the radio, a nice backdrop to the meal, and then the announcer said, “Welcome to the NBC presentation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. We’ve got floats and marching bands, and, of course, the giant balloons! They say that Mickey Mouse will be making his debut next year. We’ll be bringing you the pageantry and joy as the parade winds through the concrete canyons of the Big Apple, and right by Macy’s Department Store.”
Johnny savored every bite, sprinkling French’s Worcestershire sauce on his squash and green beans, enjoying the apple cider to wash it all down, reveling in good company.
He and his boys all missed their families, but they were making a new family now. They had to trust each other in their line of work.
Yet despite his enjoyment of the day, he was missing something, or someone.
Maybe by the next Thanksgiving, he’d have that soulmate he’d always wanted.
In a Chicago boarding house located by the El, the train rattled by, but Billie barely heard it. The El was background noise by now.
“The Pilgrim float is the first one in the parade.”
The radio was on while conversation bubbled all around her. The residents of the boarding house had pooled their resources for a feast: turkey, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, salad with sliced green peppers and apples, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade bread, and cherry, apple, and pumpkin pies.
Everyone had pitched in to help landlady Elsa Bach cook and set the table, and now they were seated around the dining room table.
There was old Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in a month, and middle-aged spinster Charlotte Corday, young college student Jimmy Coakley, and Evie Trask, Billie’s good friend. The young married couple, George and Mabel Brent, hurried in from the kitchen to take their seats.
The boarders jovially drank wine and ate the feast while Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade played in the background.
Billie was pleased at the good fellowship of the day, but she yearned for something more.
Someone to love?
The chandelier light blazed down, illuminating the white china plates with a gold stripe encircling the family crest. The burgundy tablecloth was set with rose-pink heavy linen napkins, the crystal glasses filled with sparkling red wine for the adults and ginger ale for the children.
Melvin Purvis sat at the long dining room table, the mahogany sideboard gleaming behind him. His many siblings and their spouses and children filled the table, his father at the head.
The table was laden with a feast: turkey, gravy, yams, sweet potatoes, tart cranberry sauce with chopped apple, hamburger stuffing with whole cranberries, green beans with slivers of almond, biscuits, spoonbread, and fried green tomatoes. The appetizer had been creamy potato soup with Vidalia onions.
Pies lined the kitchen counter: pecan, pumpkin, Key Lime, lemon, chocolate silk meringue, and blueberry.
The low muted sounds of the radio formed a backdrop to quiet conversation and the clink of silverware: “The first giant balloon, Peter Rabbit, is hippity-hopping down Fifth Avenue…”
Delia, their maid, brought in more stuffing, looking crisp in her black uniform trimmed in white, the frilly white cap on her dark hair bobbing slightly. Mel smiled his thanks, Delia remaining properly impassive, but her brown eyes twinkled.
“Anything else, suh?” she asked his father.
Melvin, Sr., shook his head. “We need to save room for dessert.”
“All right, suh.”
Delia returned to the kitchen where she and a small army of Negro servants were working to make this feast possible. He would make sure that each one of them got leftovers to take home to their families.
He was happy to see his sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and in-laws. He had been lucky to make it home, something not every Bureau agent could say. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to come home for Christmas, so he was savoring what he could.
He and his father had a truce, and his family was eager to hear his tales of his hunt for Public Enemies.
There were the usual suspects: Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis, Ma Barker and her boys, Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly…Pretty Boy Floyd was no more.
There was a new gang out there, headed by John Dillinger, a recent parolee from the Michigan City prison. He’d seen his picture: handsome, self-confident, dangerous. There was a sparkle in his eyes and a smirk on his lips that Mel had found appealing, criminal or not.
Mel took a bite of turkey as his mind began to race over search strategies, then he abruptly stopped. It was Thanksgiving; he was home; no work.
Still, something was missing.
He looked at his brothers and sisters, most of them married, and wished he had someone to love, to be close to him, to know him.
“Well, three-way all right?” Johnny smirked.
Billie rapped him on the forearm with a rolled-up newspaper as she rolled her eyes and Mel shook his head while Johnny laughed.
He divided up the small package of sliced turkey and each of them received several slices on a hard roll, small jars of mustard and mayonnaise set on the small table of their shabby motel room.
They’d been lucky to get this much yesterday. The small grocery store in this rural Northern Maine town had been nearly cleaned out the day before Thanksgiving.
The radio was turned on, the volume soft. The cheerful announcer said, “We’re welcoming Santa Claus to Herald Square!”
Johnny finished dividing up the thin meat, using the bottle opener on his Coke, and handed the opener to Mel. Mel and Billie had managed to snag bottles of Moxie, and Billie had squealed in delight at finding Hostess cupcakes, much to her lovers’ amusement.
“Open that jar of pickles, would ya, darlin’?” Johnny asked Mel.
Mel unscrewed the lid and used a plastic fork to take out the pickles and place one on each paper plate.
“Well, a different Thanksgiving this year, eh, my friends?” Johnny handed paper napkins around.
Mel and Billie nodded, remembering last year’s holiday.
“We’re nearly at the border. Once we get to Toronto we’ll have us a proper feast, don’t you worry none.”
“It’s okay, love, this meal is wonderfully delicious, because of the company,” Mel drawled.
“I agree.” Billie leaned forward and grasped Johnny’s hand, giving it a squeeze. Her other hand patted Mel’s thigh. “I like roast turkey and all the trimmings as much as the next girl, but the idea of Thanksgiving is to enjoy a meal with those you care about, better even if you love them, and even though we’re having packaged turkey on hard rolls, I’m thankful for it and, mostly, for you two.”
Johnny’s smile was incandescent as he leaned over and kissed Billie, then drew Mel into a kiss.
“Enjoy your turkey, darlins.”
Mel and Billie laughed, and all three clinked their soda bottles together.
It was their best Thanksgiving feast ever.