Pairings/Characters: Doc White, Hugh Clegg, Charles/Doris (implied), Carter Baum, Harold Rienecke, Clarence Hurt, Jerry Campbell, Sam Cowley, Mel/Johnny/Billie
Fandom: Public Enemies
Genres: Challenge, Drama, Romance
Summary: Despite all obstacles, love endures.
Date Of Completion: February 10, 2010
Date Of Posting: February 14, 2010
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 2503
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Written for my 2010 Guns_Fedoras Public Enemies Fic/Art Valentine’s Day Challenge. Option 1: Traditional, and Option 3: "Us Against The World!"
Like the thorn,
Of a rose
Just a token.
"Up Against The Wall
And Other Poems"
“I don’t know how Purvis could have given up everything for such sordid reasons.” Doc White’s voice was puzzled, his face twisted up like he’d bitten into an exceptionally sour persimmon.
Hugh Clegg’s mouth twisted in disgust. “It’s really so sleazy, falling for a man, and a gangster at that! How can a man be in love with another man, anyway? It’s like playing at love.” He shuddered. “Gives me the creeps to think of him kissing Dillinger.”
“It gets even weirder. They say he’s shackin’ up with Dillinger’s girl Frechette, too.”
“A three-way?” Clegg gasped.
“Yeah. Guess ol’ Mel goes all the way with his perversions.”
Doris scowled as she heard the conversation a few feet away. Carter paused by her desk, leaning on his cane. Along with Sam, they were Mel’s closest friends and confidantes in the office.
She’d suspected that Mel had fallen for the gangster, and had seen his tenderness with Billie Frechette after the woman had been brutally beaten by Harold Rienecke. Mel had been missing for days after Little Bohemia, and she had asked him point-blank when he’d returned.
Mel could never hide anything from her. He’d admitted his love for John Dillinger, and Doris had been happy for him.
Carter knew Mel’s secret, too. He was still recovering from his wounds from the Battle of Little Bohemia and was on desk duty. He exchanged looks with Doris.
“Probably shoulda seen this comin’,” drawled Doc. “Purvis was too pretty, and a dandy to boot. Guy like that usually is light in the loafers.”
“You sure have a lot of opinions, Doc,” Doris said sharply, unable to keep quiet anymore.
White and Clegg frowned at her. Rienecke scowled from his desk. “You’re not defendin’ that nancy boy?” he asked incredulously.
Doris glared at the fat man. She’d always disliked Rienecke, not because he was fat but because he’d always looked like a mean-spirited thug to her, proven by his battering of Billie Frechette while she’d been in custody.
“Melvin Purvis is a good man. He followed his heart. Just because you can’t understand it doesn’t mean you have to mock it.”
Rienecke hooted while White and Clegg laughed. Charles Winstead drifted over to stand behind Doris’ chair. His fellow ex-Rangers Clarence Hurt and Jerry Campbell watched the goings-on from their desks.
“You’re kiddin’, Doris,” White smirked. “I always knew you were soft on Mel, but get ahold of yourself. He’s not only a turncoat but a pervert of the worst kind. I suppose we should feel lucky that the third one in his sleazy ménage a trois is that whore Frechette instead of another guy!” White shuddered again.
Charles put a hand on Doris’ chair. “You fellas sure are opinionated.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that you don’t think this is disgusting, Winstead. Surely back in Texas you string queers up if they just look at you funny,” Clegg declared.
Charles’ posture was relaxed with one hand in his pants pocket, Doris well aware of his presence and glad of it.
“You city fellers think you know everythin’, doncha?” Charles drawled. “Though you oughtta know better, Doc, bein’ Texan yourself.”
“So queers can just prance ‘n’ dance all over the Lone Star State?” Clegg sneered.
Charles was forestalled from an answer by the appearance of Sam Cowley from the filing room. He was in charge now after Melvin’s defection, a fact that rankled White and Clegg.
“Hey, Doc, I need that report from you about that Sandusky lead. You, too, Clegg.” Sam smiled at Carter. “I found that information you were looking for. Here you go.”
Carter took the file folder. “Thanks, Sam.”
White crossed his arms. “I still say Purvis wasn’t much of a surprise. Skinny little priss was a prime candidate for perversion.”
Doris rolled her eyes while Sam frowned. Carter leafed through the folder and spoke without looking up. “You’ve said your piece, Doc. We get it. We don’t need to hear it again.”
“You of all people ought to despise ol’ Melly. His incompetence nearly got you killed at Little Bohemia, and then he ran off with Dillinger to get fucked for days!”
Carter stepped forward, gripping his cane while Sam said sharply, “That’s enough, Doc!” and Charles growled, “Watch your language around a lady.”
Doc remained defiant. “He’s a traitor and ought to be hung by his thumbs.”
Sam was about to issue a reprimand when Carter poked his finger in Doc’s chest.
“You’re pretty high-and-mighty, Doc. You seem to know how everyone should live and whom they should love. I’m not going to get into Mel’s decision but he made it and he’ll have to live with it. Maybe it’ll all go to hell in a handbasket and maybe it’ll be the best decision he ever made.”
“You really amaze me, Carter. Last I checked, homosexuality was illegal and immoral. Don’t act like it’s just some crazy romantic choice. It’s a perversion that society rightly scorns.”
Carter’s fury flushed his cheeks red. “Mel is…”
“…a pervert twice over. He fu…has sex with a man and then compounds it by using that half-Injun whore in a three-way that flaunts what’s natural: one man, one woman. That’s it. We aren’t a bunch of Mormons, you know.”
Doris stifled a gasp while Sam’s face resembled a thundercloud. Clarence and Jerry edged closer to Doris’ desk.
For a tense moment, the sides were clearly drawn as they glared at each other.
Finally Sam snapped, “The Bureau isn’t the morality police. Our mission is to catch gangsters menacing the public.”
“Seems to me that Gangster Trio is pretty immoral,” Doc said casually. “That’s menacing our social standards.”
“Yeah, Sam, and tell that to Hoover,” Clegg drawled. “He’s big on morals.”
“Yeah, a man who hangs out with another man twenty-for hours a day wouldn’t dare go against conventional morality,” Charles said in a matching drawl.
Clegg was furious. He opened his mouth to retort when Rienecke beat him to it.
“I always knew that Purvis was a queer. A man who dresses that fancy is no real man.”
“You got a big mouth, boy,” Charles said, his eyes narrowing.
“Agreed.” Sam’s expression was grim. “I think we should all get back to work.”
“Good idea,” Charles said. His steel-blue eyes were still fixated on Rienecke.
“Fine,” Doc said, aware of his colleagues' fury. “But you can’t stop the inevitable, Sam. We will find your precious Melvin and bring him to justice for the crime of betrayal and for crimes against nature.”
Doris felt her own anger rise. She was tired of the slurs on Mel’s character. It was one thing to disapprove of his going over to the other side, but to constantly tear down his choices of John and Billie…love was rare enough in this world without people trying to stop others from being with the ones they loved. Mel had found his lovers, and damned if she was going to allow these narrow-minded prigs to strut around looking down their noses at him like they were better than him.
“That’s enough!” Doris eyes blazed as she stood. “Don’t sully Mel’s name with your prejudices! He’s a good and decent man who grabbed love where he could find it, which is more than I can say for you!” She poked her finger in White’s chest and threw a glare at Clegg. Rienecke looked like he wanted to hit her.
“Doris, honey,” Charles said softly, gently laying a hand on her arm.
The stand-off was tense, then Sam said, “Back to work, everybody.” His tone promised dire consequences if they didn’t follow his orders this time.
Everyone slowly went back to their desks, and Doris hooked an arm through Carter’s while smiling at Charles.
“Carter, Sam asked me to check on a file with you about Baby Face Nelson. Would you come to the file room with me?”
Carter looked pale, his face pinched, and he leaned heavily on his cane. “Sure, Doris.”
Once in the file room, Doris closed the door behind them while Carter sat at the scarred wooden desk.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah. Just good ‘n’ mad at those idiots.” He rubbed his forehead.
“I can understand why. You’re Mel’s closest friend.”
“So are you.”
She came over and sat on the desk. “I miss him.”
“So do I.”
She squeezed his hand. “I know he misses us, too, but he’s happy.”
“I know.” Carter smiled slightly. “Mel’s a gentle soul, Doris, but he’s a lot tougher than he looks. He’ll be able to handle Dillinger and charm the pants off him. He’ll keep Miss Frechette satisfied, too.”
“I have no doubt.” She sighed. “Am I just getting all sentimental just because it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow?”
Carter squeezed her hand. “No, honey. You know that Mel’s found love, even if it doesn’t meet with the approval of those yahoos out there.”
Billie hummed as she put the jeweled butterfly clip in her hair. She was wearing her three-dollar red dress, the color matching the occasion perfectly.
The table in the spacious hotel room was draped in a rich red cloth that shimmered in the candlelight. Pink candles were set in gold holders, and the plates were fine bone china etched with a pink rose pattern. The heavy linen napkins were rose-pink, and a beautiful white vase held a large bouquet of red and yellow roses.
Billie fussed with the silverware, her silver bracelet winking in the candlelight. She was very impressed by the whole set-up. Johnny had put it together and had consulted with Mel. Johnny loved to go all-out for holidays. After nine years of very little in the way of celebrations, he loved to observe every holiday. Mel liked the tradition of the holidays and enjoyed lending his taste and elegant touch to such things.
Billie laughed. Both her men were not conventional, and she liked it that way.
Though, once she thought about it, they were traditional. Mel was steeped in tradition and Johnny loved the old-fashioned, gentlemanly touches.
The two of them were saps at heart.
Billie straightened the seam of her stocking as she reflected on the obstacles they’d faced in coming together, and still had to overcome.
Billie had learned early in life about who was where on the social scale. Her half-Indian heritage had given some men license to treat her like dirt, and Johnny was an ex-con and bank robber, of a class called ‘criminal scum’.
Mel was the only one who came from privilege, but now he was considered a traitor to his class, and worse, a sexual deviant, the lowest-of-the-low.
They all were: Johnny and Mel as lovers were considered scum, perverts, less-than-men because they loved each other.
She, of course, was little better than a whore because she dared to love two men at the same time. ‘Loose’ and ‘immoral’ would be two of the kinder words spoken about her.
They were all considered criminals and faced the hurdles of being on the run, the threat of any day seeing their happiness snatched away from them.
So, Valentine’s Day was a time to celebrate what they had while they had it.
“Oh, my, aren’t you a vision,” Johnny said as he entered the room, followed by Mel. Both were impeccably-dressed, Johnny in a dark-blue suit with a crisp white shirt, red tie, and gold cufflinks, and Mel in a light-gray suit and tie, white shirt, and silver cufflinks. Both looked stunning.
Billie kissed her men, accepting the chair that Mel held out for her. There was a knock on the door and Johnny answered it as she sat down.
A waiter rolled in a cart laden with covered dishes and a magnum of champagne was chilling in a silver bucket of ice.
He set the dishes on the table, setting the cart against the wall. Johnny tipped him generously, and the man smiled.
“Thank you, sir.”
After he departed, Johnny and Mel started removing the covers.
The plates were laden with steak, baked potatoes, and crisp green beans. Small dishes of butter and sour cream were available as condiments of choice, and the steaks were marinated in barbeque sauce.
“What’s under that cover?” Billie asked curiously as she pointed to the lower tray of the cart.
“You’ll find out after dinner, sweetheart.” Johnny’s eyes twinkled.
“You’re just full of surprises…both of you.”
Mel smiled a little shyly. Billie reached out her hand and grasped Mel’s, squeezing it.
Johnny poured the champagne and raised his glass in a toast, Billie and Mel copying his gesture.
“We’ve overcome a lot to come together, and now we get the chance to celebrate. Happy Valentine’s Day, my loves.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Johnny,” his lovers chorused.
The meal was delicious, and after they finished, Johnny took two yellow roses out of the vase and handed one to each of his lovers.
“I learned about the language of flowers when I read about it in prison. I had a lot of time to read and went through practically the whole library. And what I read was that yellow roses are symbols of friendship. And I’ve always felt you have to be friends as well as lovers.”
“That’s beautiful, Johnny.” Billie sniffed her rose.
“A lovely sentiment, indeed,” Mel agreed. “And the red roses are for love?”
“Oh, yes.” Johnny took out two red roses and handed them to his companions. “And now...” He reached over to the empty chair and picked up two boxes.
“Oh, Johnny!” Billie exclaimed as she opened her box. She lifted out a glittering diamond bracelet. “It’s gorgeous! Thank you!”
Mel’s eyes shone as he saw his sapphire tieclip. “Thank you, Johnny,” he said softly.
Johnny was pleased. He loved giving gifts.
“And here’s yours,” Billie said. “It’s from both of us.”
Johnny opened the rectangular box and exclaimed softly. He reached to touch the white silk shirt with French cuffs.
“This is the most beautiful shirt I’ve ever seen.” He couldn’t stop touching it. “Hey, what’s this?” He opened a little box that had been tucked into the corner of the bigger one. “Oh, wow!” Diamond cufflinks sparkled in the candlelight. “Oh, luvs, you spoil me.”
“And who else would we spoil?” Billie slapped his arm lightly.
Johnny grinned. He produced a heart-shaped box. “Sweets for the sweets,” he winked.
“You are extravagant, suh,” said Mel.
Johnny laughed and he put the final covered dish on the table, lifting off the cover.
“Chocolate cake with strawberries! Mmm.” Billie eyed the dessert avidly.
It was all so good and delicious and all three luxuriated in their good fortune, each wearing the bruises of their past, scarred by society’s scorn, but the smell of roses was sweet, silken petals soft on their skin, mingled red and yellow, and they would survive, no matter what hurdles would be put in their way.
Their love would be enough.