Pairings/Characters: Mel/Johnny, Estelle Kinder, Carol Ann Taylor, Mabel Schwartz, Hiram Miller, Ed Keckley, Rudolph
Fandom: Public Enemies
Genres: Angst, AU, Challenge, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Rating: R (Probably PG-13, but I’d rather be on the safe side)
Warnings: Violence (Gay-bashing, verbal and physical)
General Summary: Life on the run while dealing with homophobia is a volatile mix.
Chapter Summary: While on the run, Mel and Johnny find a safe haven…or so they think.
Chapter Summary: The fall-out begins from Mel’s beating.
Chapter Summary: For now, Mel and Johnny are stuck in hostile territory.
Chapter Summary: More trouble erupts for Mel and Johnny, and they receive help from a surprising source.
Dates Of Completion: May 9, 12, 15, 19, 2010
Date Of Posting: June 11, 2010
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 1893 + 1946 + 1283 + 2500 (Total: 7622)
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the lgbtfest Challenge. Prompt 2358: Public Enemies, Melvin Purvis/John Dillinger, how do Mel and Johnny live their lives on the run while dealing with the homophobia of the 1930s?
My soul soaring,
The surly bonds
Who would hurt us.
Is not bliss.
Fire burned along Mel’s limbs as he gasped, fist pounding into his stomach, a foot kicking him in the ribs. His head throbbed with pain as he tried to curl up, too dazed to fight back.
“Fuckin’ queer! Teach ya to pull your filth among decent folk!”
Mel cried out as another kick sent starburst of fire pinwheeling behind tightly-closed eyelids, the iron taste of blood in his mouth.
ONE DAY AGO
“How do you like the roast, Mr. Harrod?”
Mel looked at the landlady, Estelle Kinder. She ran the modest but respectable boardinghouse here in Buffalo. He smiled and answered, “Delicious.”
The gray-haired matron beamed. “Excellent.” She turned to Johnny. “And you, Mr. O’Shea?”
“Never tasted such melt-in-your-mouth beef, good lady.”
The other residents echoed their praises. The middle-aged Carol Ann Taylor was sitting next to Mabel Schwartz, a younger woman with stylish brown hair and light-green dress. Carol Ann was a frowsy frosted blond with an air of desperation, always on the prowl for a man. Mel and Johnny had sidestepped her advances, letting her down gently.
Old Hiram Miller paid no attention to the other diners, methodically cleaning his plate. College student Ed Keckley smirked at Estelle’s fishing for compliments. He wore a red vest and brown jacket patched at the elbows, running his hand over his close-cropped head.
“You’re going to love dessert,” Estelle assured Johnny.
Mel refrained from rolling his eyes.
Back in their room, Mel huffed, “Must you flirt with every female, young or old?”
“They love you, too.”
“I love you.” Mel grabbed Johnny’s collar and drew him close. “You are the reason I’m in this dreadful little rooming house.”
Johnny laughed. “Oh, it’s not so bad.” His amber eyes sparkled. “As long as I have you, Sunshine, I’m happy.”
“True, it’s clean and respectable,” Mel sighed. He kissed Johnny, love flowing between them as they clung tightly to each other. Once the kiss was over, Johnny touched his forehead to Mel’s.
“We’ve just got each other.”
Mel’s eyes closed. “I know.” He thought of how they were constantly on the run ever since the night of Little Bohemia. Everyone in Johnny’s gang was dead or captured, and only Mel’s timely intervention had saved Johnny from the same.
He had thrown in his lot with Johnny, desperately in love with the rakishly-charming gangster, who was just as besotted. Now they were simply trying to survive, hounded by the Bureau and other law enforcement agencies.
Mel had left behind his friends, family, and career, throwing it all away once Johnny had captured his heart.
But it was all worth it.
They tumbled to the bed.
“We need to lay low, darlin’,” Johnny drawled as he brushed back a stray lock of hair from Mel’s brow. “Once Piquette contacts me with the arrangements and sends new I.D.s, we can slip across the border into Canada.”
“So we’re going to live in the land of moose and Mounties?”
“As long as you’re a Mountee, I’m happy.”
Mel laughed as Johnny drew him down on top of him with laughter of his own.
The next morning dawned cold and clear. “And what will you gentlemen be up to today?” asked Estelle as she buttered her toast.
“Oh, we have business downtown.” Johnny scooped strawberry jam on his waffles.
“When will your business deal be done?” asked Mabel, fluttering her lashes slightly.
“Oh, any day now. Mr. Harrod and I are skilled negotiators.”
Mel sipped his coffee. He hoped that he and Johnny could get out of here soon. He wasn’t comfortable with the inquisitiveness of Estelle Kinder’s boarders.
Damn Piquette, anyay. The man was a sleazebucket. He didn’t trust him as far as he could throw him.
“So how do you like Buffalo, Mr. Harrod?” asked Carol Ann.
“Oh, charming, Miss Taylor.”
She tittered. “Oh, how I do love that accent. The South must be so different.”
“The weather is certainly cooler here.”
“Oh, most definitely! Why, any day we can expect snow.”
“But it’s only September.”
“My dear Mr. Harrod, snow is a possibility any month here, though if you’re lucky, not in July or August.”
“Ah, well, perhaps I should update my winter wardrobe.”
“That sounds like a good idea. We should go shopping after our meeting, Jim.” Johnny took a sip of orange juice.
“Of course, Danny. I’d like that fine.”
Ed tilted an eyebrow. “Clothes shopping? Not exactly my cup of tea.”
“A well-dressed man is a man worthy of respect.” Johnny finished his juice, smiling at Ed.
“Still sounds like woman stuff to me.”
“Humph! Woman stuff isn’t so bad,” Mabel huffed.
“Darned right! I like to see handsome men in sharp clothes,” Carol Ann agreed.
Hiram Miller ate his waffles.
“Well, we don’t have a meeting, but we can do the clothes shopping,” Johnny said jovially as he and Mel got off the streetcar and began walking.
“Good thing we were able to fend off Mabel and Carol Ann.”
Johnny laughed. “Poor girls! Gotta give ‘em credit for persistence, though.”
They found a men’s clothier, and both men were in their element. They checked the suits on display, Johnny smiling as he looked at a light-gray suit. “This would look smashing on you, darlin’.”
“And this dark-blue number is just the thing for you, sweetheart.”
“Ah, gentlemen, what’s your pleasure?” A sharply-dressed man with thinning brown hair and a pencil-thin mustache sauntered over to Mel and Johnny.
“We’d like to try on some suits and look for some winter coats,” Johnny said.
“Of course. The brutal Buffalo winter is on the way.” The salesman fluttered a hand. “I am Rudolph, gentlemen, and can help you pick out what suits suit you best.” He half-laughed, half-smirked.
Mel figured that he would have to keep his eyes on Rudolph. He was the kind of homosexual most people thought when they thought of them at all: fussy, fluttery and definitely on-the-make.
“Hmm, yes, a nice dark-blue for you, and the pearl-gray for you. It’ll go well with your dark eyes,” he said to Johnny, then Mel.
Mel felt uncomfortable but Johnny merely smiled. “Sounds great, Rudolph. Show us the dressing rooms.”
As they followed the salesman, Mel muttered, “Keep your eyes open and don’t let him in your cubicle.”
Johnny smirked. “I’ll give you the same advice, sugar.”
Somehow Mel and Johnny managed to evade Rudolph’s wandering hands except for the occasional pat on the shoulder or adjustment of the lapel. Mel concentrated on how good Johnny looked in the fashionable clothes, commenting, “I like the cut of that vest.”
Johnny looked at himself critically in the three-way mirror, turning slightly to view from all angles.
“I do, too.” He smiled at Mel. “That charcoal-gray looks great on you, but the pearl-gray is amazing.”
“Oh, I agree,” said Rudolph, crossing his arms and cupping his chin thoughtfully as he looked Mel over.
Mel smiled at Johnny. “Thank you, suh.”
Rudolph patted his arm. “Let me get the blue broadcloth for you.” He went into the back room.
Johnny twirled around, mischief sparkling in his eyes. Mel rolled his eyes as his lover laughed.
Rudolph returned and held up the suit in front of Mel. “Now, sirs, what do you think of this?”
“Hmm, I don’t think that color suits your eyes, Jim,” said Johnny.
“I think you’re right. I’m not too happy with it.”
“You gentlemen are right.” Rudolph set aside the suit. “On the other hand, you look smashing in yours.” He leaned close to Johnny. “You can call me Rudy.”
Teeth gritted, Mel stepped forward and smoothed Johnny’s vest as he elbowed Rudolph out of the way. “I’d get this one.”
Amusement sparkling in his eyes, Johnny agreed.
Mel and Johnny decided on three new suits apiece, and new winter coats. Mel tensed as Rudolph’s hands rested lightly on his shoulders as he tried on a black coat, but the salesman smoothed out the wrinkles and removed his hands, Johnny’s eyes grown dark as he watched. Mel bent his head to hide his smile.
“You know, Joe, we should check out the hat shop next door. You need a new chapeau, my man.”
I am your man, John Dillinger, don’t you forget that.
“I agree, suh. Let’s wrap up here, shall we?”
“Just some alterations to be done, gentlemen.”
Mel felt nervous at the prospect of Rudolph and a tape measure taking an inside seam measurement for either him or Johnny, but an elderly tailor came out from the back and took the measurements.
Mel was first, and he brought his clothing over to the cash register while Johnny was being measured. Two salesmen were behind the counter, one saying, “I’m surprised ol’ Nancy hasn’t chased away the customers by now.”
“If he minces anymore, the cops’ll be shutting us down.”
Mel set his purchases on the counter. As annoyed as he was by flaming Rudy, he was more annoyed by the two salesmen. One of them noticed him and came over to ring up his purchases and he was coolly polite.
Johnny was taken care of fifteen minutes later and as they headed for the hat shop, he glowed with the pleasure of buying new clothes.
Mel was far more comfortable in the hat shop. No one was pawing his Johnny!
“Oh, that one looks good on you,” Johnny said, adjusting a charcoal-gray fedora on Mel’s dark hair.
“I agree,” Mel smiled.
It was a completely pleasant way to spend a morning, and lunch at a café was the perfect capper.
“My, you gentlemen really shopped up a storm!” Estelle said as Mel and Johnny entered the boardinghouse laden with boxes.
“That’s right, Mrs. Kinder,” Johnny said jovially.
“I’ve got beef stew and fresh-baked bread for supper tonight.”
“Mmm, sounds delicious, Mrs. K., but Jim and I are going out tonight.”
“Wearin’ your fancy new duds, no doubt.”
Johnny wore the dark-blue suit and Mel the charcoal-gray, the women of the house admiring them while Hiram Miller snorted behind his newspaper and Ed headed out on a date.
Mel and Johnny spent the evening in a dimly-lit club, staying as much in the shadows as possible, enjoying good food and getting pleasantly buzzed.
They took the streetcar home and walked a little tipsily as their arms were slung around each other’s shoulders. They stumbled into the backyard of the boardinghouse, moonlight the only illumination as Johnny pushed Mel up against the wall.
“You sure look pretty in your new suit, Beautiful.”
Mel hiccuped, eyes shining, and they both giggled.
Johnny nipped at Mel’s nose, then pushed close to his lover and kissed him, the perfect end to a perfect day.
A shadow moved several feet away, and neither man could guess that disaster awaited them.
All around me,
Its red haze
Like smoke’s cinders
From a raging fire.
Mel groaned as another vicious kick connected with his ribs. He’d gotten in some good licks before a blow to the head had sent him staggering. Now all he could hope for was to keep all his teeth and cracked ribs to a minimum.
“Danny!” he yelled, remembering to use Johnny’s alias.
“Shut up, you stinkin’ queer!”
Mel cried out as a kick jarred his shoulder. He rolled away from the next kick, but two pairs of hands roughly grabbed him and hauled him to his feet.
Mel blinked, trying to focus his blurry vision. Warm blood trickled down the side of his face.
“You were seen last night,” sneered the burly man in front of Mel. His two friends were smaller, one with a gap between his teeth, and the other man sporting a bandage on his wrist, but they were tough enough to let loose with some haymakers. They all wore denim jackets and jeans, and might have been factory workers. “We don’t care for such fancypants crap, Pretty Boy.”
Mel doubled over as a fist was driven into his stomach. The world began to spin as he could feel himself starting to lose consciousness.
“Get out of town, queer, you and your nancy-boy friend, or we’ll throw you out.” His laugh was nasty. “And you won’t like it.”
Mel spat out blood, grateful that a tooth didn’t follow. “I don’t like it now,” he gasped.
His attackers laughed.
Where was Johnny? Mel groaned as he remembered this has lover had gone downtown.
“Take off!” the leader growled to his men.
The duo holding Mel’s arms let go and he fell to the dirt, strong arms lifting him up us his name was frantically called.
“Oh, Mel, darlin’, who did this to you?”
“Can you walk?”
With Johnny’s help, Mel painfully struggled to his feet.
“C’mon, honey, I’ve got you.”
Mel wrapped an arm around his throbbing ribs and moaned as each step jarred them and his painful right shoulder.
“Oh, my goodness! What happened?” exclaimed Estelle as her two boarders entered the kitchen.
“Some guys beat up Jim, but damned if I know why.” Johnny’s tone was angry and frantic. “Help me get him upstairs.”
Together Johnny and Estelle got Mel up the stairs and into bed.
“I’ll call for Dr. Graff,” she said.
Johnny almost said no, but if Mel had serious internal injuries…
Estelle hurried downstairs to make the call. Johnny ran to get a washcloth from the bathroom down the hall and wiped away the blood on Mel’s temple and mouth.
“Honey, what happened? Did they recognize us?”
“N…no.” Pain-filled eyes looked into Johnny’s. “They…saw us…kissing.”
Johnny leaned back, feeling a pain slice through his gut. “Oh, darlin’…”
Mel’s hand plucked at Johnny’s sleeve. “We can’t report this…to the police.”
“I know.” Johnny grasped his hand. “I don’t think the doctor has to report this, unlike a gunshot wound.”
“No doctors!” Mel sat up abruptly, gasping as he slipped an arm around his midsection again.
“You could have internal injuries, love.” Johnny gently rested his hand over Mel’s.
“Johnny, we’re both in trouble.” Mel was shaking. “We have to…get out…of town.”
“As soon as you’re well.”” Johnny cupped his lover’s face.
“We…we can’t wait…that long.”
“Let’s wait and see what the doc says.”
Footsteps sounded in the stairs. “Mr. O’Shea, I’ve got Dr. Graff! He came right over. He was just a few houses down on a house call.”
A well-dressed, gray-haired man in his fifties followed Estelle into the room, carrying a doctor’s black bag.
“So, young man, hear you got yourself banged up.”
Mel looked bad. His left eye was swollen, a cut above it still welling blood, his lip cut, and his face was bruised. His hands were scraped and his clothes dirty, blood-spattered, and torn.
“Let’s get the jacket off,” Graff said. Johnny helped him as Mel winced. The doctor began unbuttoning the blood-streaked shirt. More cuts and bruises showed on his arms and shoulders. “Let’s get the undershirt off.”
Johnny gasped as he saw the livid bruising along Mel’s stomach and ribs. He grabbed Mel’s hand as the doctor said, “This is gonna hurt, son.” Graff probed along Mel’s ribs, the Southerner hissing in pain.
“Doc…” Johnny said.
“Sorry, but it’s necessary.”
Mel turned a shade paler as the doctor probed, and when it was over, he was shaking.
“Three cracked ribs, son. Luckily they didn’t puncture a lung, but I’ll have to wrap them good and tight.”
Johnny bit his lip. “Is he all right otherwise, Doc?”
“Well, I’m going to find that out now. Hold your friend’s hand, son.”
The doctor probed Mel’s stomach, searching for rigidity or any other sign of internal injuries. Mel gripped Johnny’s hand tightly.
“Well, of course you’re sore, but I don’t detect any problems, but I think you should have X-rays done at the hospital.”
“No, thank you, Doctor,” Mel said firmly.
“All right, but if you develop a fever or the pain gets too intense, you’d better go. Estelle can direct you.”
“Be glad to, Hank.”
“I’ll leave some pain pills for you. Take one every six hours.” Graff put a bottle on the nightstand. “You probably won’t need them after a few days, but for now, keep ‘em handy.” He closed and picked up his black bag.
Johnny grabbed his wallet off the dresser. “How much, Doctor?”
“Two dollars ought to do it.”
Johnny paid and Estelle said, “I’ll see you out, Doc.”
Johnny sat on the bed. “Take a pill and get some sleep.”
“Johnny, we have to leave.”
“Now, Sunshine, you have to rest for a couple of days. Don’t worry, I’ll get us a car and we’ll be on the road.” He carefully brushed a lock of hair out of Mel’s eyes. “What did they look like?”
“Factory workers. All big, dressed in blue jeans and jackets and work boots.”
Johnny got Mel a glass of water to take the pill, and Mel sighed as his lover removed his shoes and pulled the covers up. Johnny kissed his forehead. “Sleep, darlin’.”
Johnny waited for Mel to fall asleep, his anger building as he gazed on his lover’s swollen face. He was itching to pay back the men who had hurt his Mel, but was also worried. They were on the run from the law for being Public Enemy Number One and the man who had betrayed the Bureau, but their bigger crime was being in love. These people hadn’t recognized them, but now they knew about him and Mel.
I’ll get us outta here, love.
First he had to make sure no cops were called. Reluctantly he left the bedroom and went downstairs.
“How’s Mr. Harrod?” Estelle asked.
“Good. By the time the cops get here, he’ll have several hours of sleep.”
“You called them?”
“But thugs beat him up! Terrible, the muggings in this neighborhood.”
“Please, Mrs. Kinder. Jim and I have to leave in a few days and we can’t afford to stick around for testifying.”
“Oh, you businessmen. Always in a hurry!” Estelle sighed. “All right, I won’t call, but I think it’s a mistake.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Kinder.”
“I’ll make some chicken soup for him when he wakes up.”
“Thank you so much.” Johnny smiled at his landlady and headed back upstairs to Mel.
Johnny was persuaded to join the rest of the boarders for dinner. Since Mel was still asleep, he decided he could enjoy the company while feasting on Estelle Kinder’s good cooking.
“He’s staying at the dorm tonight. Gonna party with the boys,” said Mabel.
“College boys,” smirked Carol Ann.
Johnny didn’t have college experience, though he could guess what frat boys got up to. He could always ask his own college boy for details.
“What a terrible thing to happen to poor Mr. Harrod,” Carol Ann said. “How is he?”
“Better. The rest is doing him good.”
“That’s wonderful to hear.”
Johnny was touched by their concern, and was pleased at Estelle bringing chicken soup upstairs as promised when Mel awoke. He coaxed Mel into eating most of it and helped settle him for the night, curling up next to him for a good night’s sleep.
“You need another pill, darlin’?”
“No, I just need you.”
Johnny laughed softly and gently tugged Mel closer.
Mel woke up a few times during the night, soothed back to sleep by Johnny, but by morning Mel was in considerable pain. Johnny gave him a pill and glass of water to wash it down.
“Want some breakfast?”
Mel grimaced. “No. My stomach isn’t up to it.”
“Okay, darlin’.” Johnny kissed his temple. “I’ll get a bite and be right back up.”
Worry clouded Mel’s eyes. “Johnny, we have to get out of here.”
“We will, but you need at least a day of rest. You can’t go on the run with such bad ribs that you can’t barely move.”
“Sweetheart, we have to leave.”
Johnny patted his shoulder. “We will leave. Just not yet.”
Mel sighed but said nothing, knowing that Johnny could be very stubborn when he got into mother hen mode. He closed his eyes.
Johnny quickly went downstairs. He was worried, too, about staying in this city, about the Feds, and mostly, about Mel.
“Is Mr. Harrod feeling better?” asked Estelle as he entered the kitchen.
“A little rocky this morning. Maybe I can tempt him with some of your fine cooking.”
She laughed. “Does he like waffles?”
“I’ll cook him some after we eat.”
Johnny managed to coax Mel into eating, helping him wash up and change into fresh pajamas.
The bruising along Mel’s ribcage was a sickly greenish-yellow, and every breath was painful. Johnny re-wrapped his ribs, and sat in a chair by the bed as Mel fell asleep.
You’re healing, love. I just hope your mind is healing, too.
He’d been so scared when he’d seen a bloody and bruised Mel in the alley between the boardinghouse and the house next door. He lightly touched his lover’s face.
I can’t bear to see your beautiful face like this.
Mel’s eyes fluttered open. “Johnny?”
“Hi, Sunshine. How you feelin’?”
“I’ll give you another pill after lunch.”
“Mmm.” Mel held out a hand. “Help me sit up.”
“I’m tired of being flat on my back.”
“I like you that way.”
Mel’s laughter turned to a groan. “Don’t do that.”
“All part of my natural charm, honey.” Johnny was very gentle as he assisted Mel in sitting up against the headboard, adjusting his pillow. “Mel?”
“Do you regret leaving your old life behind to be with me?”
Mel smiled slightly. He reached out and grasped Johnny’s hand.
“I could have been a rising star in the Bureau, living in the lap of luxury, very respectable and admired…and empty inside.” He squeezed Johnny’s hand.
Johnny blinked rapidly, squeezing back. “Let me get you some lunch.”
He headed downstairs, pausing at the entrance to the sitting room. Everyone was there, including Ed, who must have come home, and Hiram Miller looked like he was asleep.
“Hey, Mrs. K., what’s on the menu today?” His smile trailed off as everyone except Hiram turned to look at him.
Each face reflected disgust and disdain. Estelle spoke.
“I can’t believe I’m boarding two queers!”
"US AGAINST THE WORLD!"
Against the world,
And as long
As I have your love,
I’m okay with that.
"In The Trenches:
Memories Of The Great War"
Johnny felt ice hit his stomach. Hard eyes stared at him, and he said quietly, “So you know.”
“Damned right!” Estelle’s brown eyes blazed. “I want you two out of here right now!”
“Please, Mrs. Kinder, Jim needs to rest another day.” Mel could barely move. He needed Johnny’s help to walk to the bathroom, for cryin’ out loud.
Estelle stood up and walked toward Johnny, stiff with rage. “I trusted you! You were fine young men who I rented a room to, but now I know what you two were getting up to in that bed!” Her face twisted in disgust. “I’ll give you a day, but then I want you gone, understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Johnny said softly.
“Get your own meals from now on,” she snapped, turning away to return to her chair.
“Better get to the kitchen to get your buddy some lunch,” Ed sneered. Mabel had a similar look on her face, Carol Ann appalled as she looked at Johnny. Hiram was still asleep.
Johnny crossed his arms. “You saw us,” he said flatly, his eyes hard as he looked at Ed.
The college student smirked. “Yeah, I did. I saw you in the backyard the night you came home drunk. I let it drop what I’d seen. Guess some of the local boys decided to take care of things.”
Fury burned white-hot inside Johnny, but he restrained himself from slugging the smirking creep. That would get him and Mel thrown out for sure. He turned on his heel and went into the kitchen.
“What’s going on?”
“Hmm?” Johnny finished his soup and set the bowl aside on the nightstand.
“You’re eating here instead of downstairs, and this chicken soup wasn’t made by Mrs. Kinder.”
“It’s out of a can, darlin’. Chicken soup is chicken soup.”
“Mrs. Kinder uses special spices in her soup. And some fresh vegetables.”
“Is that your Bureau training? Detective 101?”
“Of course. Carter and I took top honors in that course.” Mel smiled slightly, then put his bowl on the nightstand, too.
“Can’t I just want to enjoy your charmin’ company, Sunshine?” Johnny turned a blinding smile on his lover.
“Flattering, but try again,” Mel answered, amusement sparkling in his eyes.
Johnny sighed. “Mel…”
Johnny nodded, an ache in his heart.
Mel sighed. “Do we have to leave?”
“We get one day.”
Mel nodded slowly. “You be careful when you go downstairs.”
“I doubt I’ll get beat up by any of the ladies or old Mr. Miller, sugar.”
“Words can hurt just as bad sometimes. And you could have a tussle with that college kid. Isn’t he on the football team?”
Johnny smiled his patented crooked grin. “I’ve been in big boy prison. I can handle a few bad words and College Boy.”
Tears shimmered in Mel’s eyes. “You just be careful, darlin’.” He reached out and squeezed his lover’s hand.
“Us against the world,” Johnny said softly, and Mel nodded with a little smile.
Johnny stayed in their room with Mel all afternoon, checking the backyard out the window. He was beginning to get nervous. What if that little weasel Ed and his buddies decided to sic the cops on them? Even if they weren’t already on the lam because of who they were, what they were was putting them at risk.
He hated that. Why should something so good and so pure be so scorned? God, wasn’t life crappy enough these days without people dumping on others who were happy? He let the curtain fall back across the window.
The gangster turned back toward the bed. “Have a good sleep, Sunshine?”
Mel patted the bed. “Come sit.”
Johnny complied, stretching out beside Mel, putting his hands behind his head. He looked down at Mel, whose head rested on the pillow.
“How are you feeling?”
“Okay. Still sore and a little stiff.”
“More of a dull ache in my ribs.”
“Well, that’s an improvement.” Johnny carded his fingers through Mel’s hair. “I’ll go buy a car tomorrow and we’ll blow this town, okay?”
They maintained a comfortable silence, then Mel said, “Hey.”
“You did me a huge favor.”
“If I wasn’t in this bed with you, Jayee would be chasing me around his desk.”
Johnny’s stomach tightened. He kept caressing his lover’s hair.
“Did he ever hurt you?”
“No, but he backed me up against the wall a few times.”
Johnny rested his head against the headboard, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. He didn’t want to upset Mel.
“Did you knee him in the nuts?”
Mel laughed and groaned, clutching his ribs. “I…came close.” He struggled to steady his breathing, pain shooting up his ribs.
“Time for your pill.”
Mel didn’t object, swallowing the pill and a glass of water as Johnny raised his head up.
“Rest,” he said softly, brushing his lips across Mel’s forehead.
Johnny reluctantly went downstairs to get supper for him and Mel. As he approached the sitting room, he heard voices.
“Y’know, you got a big mouth, young man. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t blab all over the neighborhood that we have two queers under my roof!” Estelle was on a roll, Johnny thought, half-amused despite himself. “Because of you, I’m losing two paying boarders. I’ll have to fumigate the bedroom, I s’pose.”
“You’re blabbermouthing again.”
Smirking, Johnny headed for the kitchen.
He checked the icebox and took out a roll of salami, cutting several slices and putting them on bread. He took out a head of lettuce and tomatoes next. He would have liked a hot meal, but the chicken in the icebox was probably for the other boarders’ supper.
High heels clicked behind him and Mabel’s voice drawled, “Be careful what you touch in here.”
“I’m not contagious, darlin’.”
“That’s a matter of debate, I’d say.”
Johnny picked up the knife and began cutting up the beefsteak tomatoes. The salad would be very simple, but he was lucky to be able to use even this much of his put-out landlady’s groceries.
“How can you do the stuff you do?”
“I admit I’m not much of a cook…”
“You know that isn’t what I mean.”
Johnny sighed and turned, disapproval all over Mabel’s face. “Would you like a blow-by-blow description?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Goodness, no! I don’t want to know what you two get up to.”
“Then let me make my sandwiches in peace and I’ll get out of your hair.”
She grimaced and stalked away. Shaking his head, Johnny finished cutting the tomatoes and put the slices in the two bowls that contained the fresh lettuce. He opened the cabinets, searching for dressing, and found a bottle of Italian. He knew that Mel liked it, so he lightly drizzled the dressing over the salads. He poured two glasses of lemonade and set everything on a tray, taking it upstairs.
Just as he was about to enter the bedroom, Hiram Miller ambled down the hall.
Johnny sighed. “Yes?”
The old man’s blue eyes were clear as he looked at Johnny. “Don’t let them getcha down.”
Johnny’s lips curved into a crooked smile. “Thanks, Mr. Miller.”
Hiram nodded and started to walk to his room, then turned back. “Take care of your gentleman.”
“I surely will.”
Johnny felt better as he went into the bedroom.
Johnny awoke, wrapped up around Mel as they both lay under the warm covers of their bed. He gently nuzzled Mel’s ear, his lover stirring.
“How are you this mornin’, darlin’?”
“A little stiff, but better.”
“Mmm, I like you stiff.”
Mel laughed, wincing slightly as he put an arm around his ribs.
“Yeah, but improving.”
“Good.” Johnny kissed Mel’s cheek.
Mel grasped the hand that slid around his waist. “Everything that’s happened…it’s worth it.”
Love shone in Johnny’s eyes and he squeezed Mel’s hand, resting his head on his partner’s shoulder.
After several minutes, Johnny said quietly, “Right after breakfast I’ll go buy us a car.” He sighed. “I hate leaving you alone.”
“I’ll be fine. I doubt Mrs. Kinder will come in here with a rug-beater.”
Johnny laughed. “C’mon, let’s get showered and dressed.”
Johnny helped Mel down the hall and with the shower. He joked about wasting a good opportunity, but Mel was still too sore and battered for any sexual hijinks. Johnny clamped down on his anger as he saw once again the evidence of the vicious beating in glorious Technicolor. He would have loved to have shown those yahoos a trick or two that he’d learned in prison.
He helped Mel dress, and his lover settled back into bed, sitting on top of the covers.
“Breakfast comin’ up,” Johnny said cheerfully.
Downstairs, he quietly passed the dining room as the boarders passed around neighborhood gossip.
“When are those two leaving?” Ed asked.
“Today.” Mrs. Kinder’s voice was firm.
“Good,” said Mabel. “It gives me the heebie-jeebies to think of what they must be doing at night.”
“The way Mr. Harrod’s beat up? I doubt many shenanigans are going on,” said Carol Ann.
“The sooner they're out of here, the better. Finish up now. I’ve got to catch the streetcar downtown for my doctor’s appointment,” said Estelle.
“I’ve got morning class,” Ed said.
“I’m going over to Rudy’s,” Hiram chimed in.
Mabel and Carol Ann had to go to work, so Mel would be left alone in the house. Probably for the best, Johnny decided. No harassment.
After breakfast, Johnny shrugged on his dark-blue suit jacket and knotted his red tie. He leaned over and kissed Mel, who was sitting up propped against the headboard. Tapping the nightstand, he said, “Our guns are in here, just in case.”
“You’re not taking yours?”
“Well, sugar, if the car dealer saw me packin’ heat, he might call the cops. No, I’ll play the nice, respectable businessman, get us a car, and get us the hell out of Buffalo.”
“Shuffling out of Buffalo?”
Johnny laughed. He kissed Mel again. “I love you, Sunshine.”
Mel smiled prettily. “I love you, too.”
“I’ll be back. Get your rest, darlin’. We got a lot of traveling to do.” He slipped on his glasses.
Johnny left the house, hurrying to catch the streetcar for downtown.
A small boy in knickers, turtleneck sweater and a newsboy’s cap watched him leave, then ran off down the street.
Johnny strolled into the Ford dealership, smirking as a salesman hurried to greet him. He’d worn his best suit, the quality of the most expensive kind, and knew that he’d get top attention. This guy smelled a sale, and Johnny had to play it cool. He could have stolen a car but didn’t want the added heat, not with Mel hurt. His love had willingly gone on the run with him, and Johnny didn’t want to make things worse.
He shook hands with the salesman, a man in his early thirties with slicked-back brown hair and a sharp suit. The guy must be good if he could afford this suit. Good. Johnny needed a savvy guy, not some kid wet-behind-the-ears.
“So, what are you looking for, sir?”
Mel tried to rest, though he was always worried when Johnny was out of his sight. It was dangerous out there. He knew how relentless the Bureau could be, and there were trigger-happy cops and sheriffs eager to make a name for themselves, and would consider Johnny their ticket to fame.
The house was quiet, everyone gone. Mel took his book off the nightstand, the latest Dashiell Hammett, and hoped he could settle his nerves.
He had read a chapter when he heard the squeak of the kitchen door being opened.
“You’re a man of discerning taste, Mr. O’Shea.”
Johnny smiled. Oh, yeah, this salesman knew his stuff.
“Thank you. I’d like to pay cash.”
“Certainly, sir.” The man’s eyes lit up. He’d probably skim his commission right off the top. “Come into my office.”
Johnny smiled and followed the salesman.
Mel continued reading. His door was halfway ajar. Either Mrs. Kinder or Mr. Miller were back from their appointment or visit. He turned a page, absorbed in the writing skill of the author.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Heavy footsteps.
Mel frowned. Neither Mrs. Kinder nor Hiram Miller had a heavy tread.
Voices whispered down the hall, and Mel felt fear strike his heart. He dropped his book and reached for the handle of the nightstand drawer.
His door was kicked all the way open. “Well, look, boys, our favorite nancy-boy in what they call his natural habitat.”
Mel recognized the three who had beaten him up. The leader was barrel-chested, with a smirk plastered across his broad face. The others were smaller, one man missing his front teeth, the other wearing a bandage on his right wrist. All wore denim jackets, shirts, and jeans.
Mel yanked open the drawer but the gap-toothed thug slammed it back shut, narrowly missing jamming Mel’s fingers. The agent snatched his hand back, grateful that no bones were broken.
“You’re pretty tricky, nancy-boy.” The leader’s smirk was definitely irritating Mel as he schooled his face into a neutral expression while his heart pounded with fear. “I thought I told you to scram.”
“We’re leaving today,” Mel said, hoping to stave off the inevitable.
The leader leaned in close. “Well, you see, when a red-blooded American male tells a prissy nancy-boy to move his well-fucked ass, the nancy-boy does it…right away!” He drew back a fist.
Mel rolled off the bed just in time to avoid the blow as pain exploded through his ribs at his movement. He lashed out with his foot, knocking the man with the bandage off his feet, grabbing the chair and throwing it at the others as he raced for the open doorway.
He almost made it.
The bandaged man just managed to catch his ankle and Mel fell, scrambling to his knees, but it was too late. The other two were on him, dragging him back. He punched and kicked and was flung onto the bed.
The leader cracked his knuckles with a sickening grin. “Nancy-boy, you’re gonna get the beating of your sorry life.”
Mel glared at him but privately braced for what the thug promised as the other two men pounced to hold him down, and their leader threw his first punch into Mel’s stomach.
Johnny smiled as he drove his new car. It had taken a big chunk of their remaining funds, but he could pull a quick job until he could contact Louis Piquette and get his money. He had quite a bit of it stashed away. It would be a nice amount to treat Mel to a lifestyle to which he was accustomed, as they said.
His Sunshine had given up so much to be with him: his career, friends, and family, not to mention the luxuries he had enjoyed, courtesy of his family’s money.
Mel still had some of his old suits, and they looked so good on him, in addition to the new ones they’d bought. Johnny had to make sure that his Mel would have his luxuries as often as he could provide them.
This car wasn’t Mel’s beloved Pierce Arrow that he had been forced to leave behind, but it wasn’t a rattletrap, either. It wouldn’t attract too much attention, but would be stylish and comfortable.
Johnny couldn’t wait to get out of town. He sure had dropped the ball in protecting his Sunshine. Mel was his equal and able to protect him, but that worked both ways.
He drove up to the boardinghouse and parked the car, hopping out with a spring in his step. With any luck, they could be packed and out of here before anyone got back.
He decided to go around to the back door and make some sandwiches to take on the road. He wanted to put as many miles as possible between them and this accursed town.
He frowned as he touched the door and it opened. Someone had come back early. He hoped it was ol’ Hiram Miller instead of anyone else.
Johnny closed the door quietly behind him. He didn’t want to alert anyone to his presence. He’d rather avoid another confrontation.
He took out a loaf of bread from the breadbox and was about to rummage for fixings when he heard a cry of pain, followed by mocking laughter. Mel’s cry! He grabbed a kitchen knife and raced upstairs, fearing the worst.
He found it. When he reached the doorway of the bedroom he shared with Mel, he saw his lover held down on the bed while the biggest man punched him in the stomach.
Johnny didn’t give any warning. He simply leapt onto the biggest thug’s back, his arms cutting off the man’s wind, and the thug stumbled backward, clawing at Johnny’s arms. Johnny pressed the knife against the thug’s throat.
“I wouldn’t get too frisky if I were you,” he whispered silkily into his opponent’s ear.
Mel was fighting with the other two, landing a kick to the groin of Gap Tooth, who howled in pain, and ducked as the other thug swung at his head. Mel managed to get in a punch of his own, keeping the thug off-balance, getting in enough punches to send him crashing to the floor.
Johnny was startled as his man suddenly pushed backwards, grabbing the hand holding the knife and exerting pressure. Johnny yelped and the knife clattered to the hardwood floor, the thug whirling and letting his roundhouse punch fly.
Johnny smiled grimly. One thing that prison had taught him well was how to fight dirty. He was really good at it.
The fight continued ferociously, Mel gasping as already-cracked ribs were hit and a punch grazed his face by Gap Tooth.
Johnny was slammed against the wall but kicked his attacker in the stomach, doubling the man over, and laid a fist to his jaw, knocking him cold. He immediately turned to help Mel, who was hampered by his injuries. He quickly brought his joined hands down on Mel’s attacker, knocking him out.
“Honey, you all right?” Johnny gasped, running over to where Mel was sitting on the floor.
“Help me onto the bed.”
Mel gritted his teeth to keep from crying out. His ribs were on fire.
“What the hell!” Hiram Miller was standing in the doorway.
“We need to get the doc,” Johnny said, seeing how Mel was holding his ribs.
“No.” Mel shook his head, trying to breathe through pain. “We can't. He’ll call the cops for sure this time. We have to leave now.”
“No, you have to leave now.” Hiram stepped over the leader’s unconscious body.
Mel and Johnny looked in surprise at the elderly man.
“Hey, I’m not an old fool. I recognized you…” he pointed to Johnny “…from the newspaper, and you, Melvin, from the newsreels. You gotta go now. Once these rats come to, they’ll leave, satisfied they ran you off.”
Mel and Johnny looked at each other, and Johnny reluctantly agreed. Good thing he’d already packed both their suitcases last night. He grabbed them out of the closet, taking out their guns from the nightstand drawer and stuffing them in one of the bags. He tossed Mel’s book into his suitcase.
Hiram dug a bottle of pills out of his coat pocket. “Here,” he said, handing it to Mel. “I can get more at the drugstore. They’re just aspirin.”
“Thank you.” Mel put the bottle in his jacket pocket, smiling slightly.
“C’mon, let’s go, darlin’.” Johnny hefted the suitcases. “I’ll carry these. Hiram, will you help Mel?”
Johnny hurried as fast as he could, the suitcases banging against his legs, and he practically tossed them into the trunk of the Buick, heading immediately back into the house.
Every breath was laced with fire, Mel’s pace glacial as Hiram held onto him tightly. The agent worried that he might need a doctor after all, but it was impossible. It would cause no end of complications. He just hoped that a rib didn’t puncture a lung.
He negotiated the stairs with Hiram’s help, an overwhelming sense of anxiety driving him onward when he’d rather be curled up in bed with Johnny.
His lover hurried back into the house and up the stairs, slipping his arm around Mel’s waist as he took his hand. “How you feelin’, darlin’?”
“A little sore.” Mel could see that Johnny wasn’t buying it, but he had no choice but to stay silent, though his man clearly wasn’t happy about it. Mel’s thigh was throbbing from a kick suffered from the flight, adding to his difficulty in walking.
Johnny and Hiram helped Mel into the car, the elderly man leaning on the running board.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of things here. You two take off.”
Johnny slid behind the wheel. “Why are you helping us, Hiram?”
He shrugged. “Let’s just say you two provide me with some entertainment with your robberies, and with the antics of Hoover’s college boys trying to catch you.”
Mel was certain there was more to it than that, but he nodded and smiled. “Thank you, Hiram.”
“Same here,” said Johnny.
Hiram nodded, and Johnny shifted gears as they drove off, glad to leave Buffalo behind.
Johnny popped the cap off with the church key and handed the Coke to Mel, who gratefully took it. The motel room was small and a little shabby but clean.
“How you feelin’?” Johnny sat on the bed.
“Sore, but I’ll survive.” Mel took a swig of the frosty soda.
Johnny drank from his own bottle. He gently caressed his lover’s silky dark hair, Mel smiling at him.
They were together, and no one would ever separate them, despite being hounded relentlessly.
Let the world hate them for loving each other. As long as they had each other, they would always win.