Pairings/Characters: Mel/Johnny, Doris Rogers, J. Edgar Hoover, Sam Cowley, Carter Baum, President, Melvin Purvis, Sr., Marty Zarkovich, Red Hamilton, Harry ‘Pete’ Pierpont
Fandom: Public Enemies
Genres: Angst, Challenge, Drama
Claim: For the 12_stories Challenge (Mel/Johnny)
Prompt: T 7; P 10: Nature
Prompt Count: (4/12)
Summary: Mel’s life is crumbling all around him.
Date Of Completion: February 18, 2012
Date Of Posting: April 2, 2012
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 5897
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2012 dark_fest Challenge. Prompt: Any Fandom (Public Enemies), Any Characters (Mel/Johnny): I loved him so much I couldn’t let him live without me.
All around you,
Like a cookie left out
In the air too long,
Or pixie dust
That’s lost its glitter,
Falling like powdered sugar,
From an ancient wall,
Hold on to your hat,
Because once the wind
Gusts in howling fury,
The dust blows away
And nothing’s left
But bent and twisted
And a weary,
“I can’t go with you, Johnny.”
“Aww, c’mon, darlin’,” Johnny smiled. He touched Mel’s face. “You know you want to.”
Mel smiled sadly. “I do, but I can’t, darlin.”
“Sure you can!” Johnny slid his hands up-and-down Mel’s arms. “You know that you’ve been disgusted about the direction that the Bureau’s been takin’.”
“I do, but I have my family to think of.” Mel cupped his lover’s face. “I couldn’t do that to my family, runnin’ off with you, as much as my heart wants it.”
Johnny’s expression was sad. “We can work it out.”
“I don’t think so. My family name would be besmirched. The scandal would be double: my affair with a gangster and a man would be devastating.”
With a hurt expression, Johnny said, “Am I that much of a disgrace to you?”
“No, darlin’, never!” Mel hugged him hard.
When they parted Johnny said, “Then why not? I know about your family, but you said you weren’t getting’ along with your father.”
“That’s true. Father and I are rather at odds right now.”
“And I know you have a passel of siblings, but have you been close with them lately?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean that me turning my back on the Bureau to run off with you wouldn’t disgrace my family.” Mel’s liquid-dark eyes were sad. “It’s just impossible for me to be with you. We knew that when we started this that it could never ultimately go anywhere.” He smiled ruefully. “Besides, I am a person of creature comforts. I would not do well on the run.”
“That’s nonsense, Sunshine. You’ve got an adventurous streak in you, otherwise you’d have never started this affair with me.”
Mel chuckled as Johnny adjusted his tie. They were standing by the hotel room bed, Mel almost fully dressed in his dark-blue suit and Johnny in his pants and undershirt, his suspenders hanging down.
“You have me pegged, my love, but this adventure is fleeting. I fear that it’s in my nature to want those creature comforts and to have a respectable career. I doubt that I would make a successful disreputable outlaw.”
Johnny leaned closer and smiled. “You won’t know until you try.” He played saucily with Mel’s tie, displaying his trademark smirk.
“You are very tempting, darlin’, but I know myself.” Mel’s voice grew very soft. “I would prefer our romance stay positive and laced with the thrill of danger.” Mel’s eyes sparkled, drawing Johnny to him by the strap of his undershirt. “If I went with you, it might not end well. I would rather happy memories.” He kissed Johnny passionately.
Back in his office at the Bankers Building, Mel considered his position. He loved Johnny. He found him exciting and funny and charming. He knew that Johnny loved him, but he also knew that what he had said to him was the truth: they were enjoying a whirlwind, clandestine romance but a long-term relationship would never work. Mel had obligations to his family and colleagues, even Hoover, and he couldn’t just turn his back on those obligations and run off with Johnny, as tempted as he was to do just that.
I don’t want to give up everything I’ve built for a life on the run. What if it all goes sour? I’d be left adrift with nowhere to turn. I doubt I would make a good fugitive.
He still felt guilty, however. Johnny had given him his heart and he had rejected him.
It’s just too risky. I’m already teetering on the high-wire. He sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. Then why do I feel like such a coward?
He plowed through the paperwork on his desk. Responsibilities and shouldering them was not a cowardly act. He lived by the rules of society while Johnny did not. The term ‘outlaw’ described that status for men like his Johnny and the men he ran with in his gang.
Mel sighed again and rubbed his eyes. He could feel a headache coming on.
He lifted his head as a knock sounded on his door. Doris poked her head in. “Just a reminder that you’ve got a staff meeting in ten minutes.”
She came in all the way in. “Would you like an aspirin?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Doris disappeared and came back with an aspirin and a glass of water. Mel took both gratefully. She shut the door behind her. “I thought your, uh, ‘meetings’, usually relaxed you.”
“They do. It’s just this time…I had to refuse a request.”
“Ah, I see.” Doris nodded sagely. “It’s never easy to disappoint a loved one, is it?”
“No.” Mel tried to shake off his depression. “I’ll be out in five minutes.”
Doris nodded sympathetically and left the office.
Mel stared down at his paperwork and then resolutely pushed his chair away from his desk. Rising, he straightened his tie and walked out to the squadroom.
“Gentlemen, our latest sightings include…”
As he talked, Mel wondered what all the men who were raptly listening to him would feel if they knew that he was sleeping with John Dillinger? Would by-the-book Sam or the hard-bitten Texans or his old friend Carter look at him the same way? He doubted it. He was betraying them all, in a way.
He answered the questions about the searchers for Nelson and Kelly and asked some of his own. He did not try to steer the conversation away from John Dillinger. That would be too obvious, but he needed to make sure that the leads grew cold. The last thing he needed right now was guilt over seeing Johnny in a cell.
It’s best if I stay here and keep you safe, Johnny.
He sighed mentally as he made assignments for the next day.
The next few days found Mel running down tips and dodging phone calls from the Director. He knew that he would have to make a report soon, but he just wasn’t up to it.
After one such busy day, relieved only by a phone call from Johnny, he trudged into his house with weary steps. The only bright spot in his day had been that phone call. Perfectly timed, it had come on the heels of a phone call from Hoover. The Director had not been pleased with the lack of progress on all fronts.
“We must do better, Agent Purvis.”
When Hoover addressed him as Agent Purvis instead of as Melvin, his displeasure was obvious. The pressure was on to capture a Public Enemy but especially John Dillinger.
I’ve got to persuade Johnny to get out of town permanently.
The idea of never seeing his vivacious lover again hurt him but he would rather that than see Johnny in jail.
He was looking forward to a hot bath and one of President’s fine meals when the phone rang. His manservant picked up the receiver.
“Purvis residence. How may I help you? Oh, hello, Mr. Purvis. I’ll check and see if he’s in.”
President turned to Mel, who reluctantly nodded. His stomach tightened as President told his father that he had just come in. He and his father rarely talked these days. He really didn’t need this, but better to get it over with now instead of wondering what his father wanted. He took the receiver from President.
“Hello, Father. How are you?”
“Skip the small talk, Melvin.” His father’s voice dripped with anger, his accent even thicker than usual. “How dare you!”
“How dare I what?” Mel asked in confusion.
“Disgrace our family name!”
“I have heard that you are dallying with that gutternsnipe Dillinger!”
“What?” Mel’s heart raced. “Who told you such nonsense?”
“I have my sources.” The older man’s tone was grim. “Not only are you betraying your colleagues at the Bureau, you are lying in sin with a man! If either betrayal gets out, we’ll be ruined. Not that you care.”
Stung, Mel insisted, “Of course I do!”
“Then why are you cavorting with that gangster?”
“You have no defense! You are no longer my son. Stay away from this family!”
Melvin Purvis, Sr. hung up the phone, his son left holding the receiver. Shaken, he hung up.
How had his father found out? Sources, he had said. His father was well-connected. But if he could find out, that put Mel in a very precarious position. Hoover could certainly do the same.
Unsettled, he took his bath and ate hot beef stew and cornbread for dinner, trying to figure a way out of this dilemma.
At least Father won’t say anything. He wouldn’t want the scandal.
Mel went to bed for a restless night’s sleep.
The next day he tried to contact Johnny but was unsuccessful. He wanted to give him a heads-up.
Frustrated at his inability to reach Johnny, he decided to go out for lunch. He stopped in at the bank. Filling out a withdrawal slip, he went to the teller’s window. The teller smiled at him, her pert face framed by soft, wavy brown hair. She began the transaction and suddenly stopped.
“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t give you this amount.”
“Why not? I know I have more than enough to cover it.”
“I’m sorry, sir, this account has been frozen.”
“What?” Mel felt utter shock. “I don’t understand.”
The teller signaled a middle-aged man with silver hair. Dressed impeccably, the man introduced himself as the bank manager, Lee Crawford.
“Mr. Crawford, the teller here tells me that my account is frozen.”
“Come with me to my office, sir.”
Mel followed Crawford to his office and sat down as the bank manager shut the door. He sat behind his desk.
“Mr. Purvis, we were notified yesterday that this account of yours that draws from your trust fund is frozen.” He pushed a slip of paper across the desk. “This amount was deposited by you in the last month.”
“Yes, they’re my paychecks.”
“That’s all you’re entitled to, I’m afraid.”
“Why is my trust fund frozen?”
“Your father ordered it done.”
Mel sat back in the chair. “All right. I’ll look into this.”
He left the bank with the funds from his paychecks in his pocket in the form of a check, where he would deposit it in another account that he had here in the city. He was grateful that his mother had always advised him never to keep his money in one bank. And considering the history of bank failure lately, that was good advice.
Thoughts raced through his head as he walked. His father had cut him off. Luckily he had the money saved from his job, but he had used most of his paychecks to pay for the rent on his house and his suits and meals. He occasionally drew from his trust fund to pad his savings account here in Chicago. He only touched the interest, never the principal.
Now he was cut off. His father controlled all the trust funds of his children until they reached the age of thirty-five. He fell short of that by a handful of years, unfortunately.
I won’t be able to afford the house. I’ll have to send President home, too.
He could afford both for possibly four months, five if he stretched it.
Maybe Carter would be amenable to a roommate. We’d shared his place when we first got here until I found the house.
His mind continued to whirl as he tried to absorb what had just happened. A glance at his watch showed that it was time to get back to the office. He had missed lunch but he was not hungry anymore, anyway.
He now had to face life on the salary of a Federal agent.
Back at the office he busied himself in the mind-numbing minutiuae of paperwork. When the phone rang he picked up the receiver automatically.
“Jack on the line, Mr. Purvis.”
Mel immediately felt relaxed. “Hello, darlin’. I’ve been trying to get hold of you.”
“Oh? What’s up?”
“My father knows about us.”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. Just as Mel was about to speak again, Johnny said, “He won’t talk?”
“No.” Mel laughed mirthlessly. “He cut me off.”
“Oh, sugar, I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” Mel sighed. “I can keep the house for a little while but I’ll have to let it go.”
“Darlin’, I wish I could help.”
“By just being you.”
“Aww, you’re sweet, sugar.”
Mel chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”
“Why don’t you come over tomorrow night?”
“I’d like that.”
“See you then, sweetheart.”
Mel hung up and smiled.
The next day Mel discovered that his paperwork seemed to have multiplied overnight. A call came in and he took it.
“Mr. Purvis, Marty Zarkovich here.”
“Could you meet me in an hour? I’ve got something on Dillinger.”
Mel’s hand gripped the receiver painfully. “Where do you want to meet?”
The sleazy pool hall was filled with cigarette smoke, the smell of cheap beer, and the constant clack! of billiard balls as the denizens played.
Mel found Zarkovich at a corner table nursing a beer. He ordered one for himself and sat down, leaning forward.
“What about Dillinger?”
Zarkovich took a swig of his beer. “My sources tell me that you were seen at 14 Oak Avenue last week.”
The safe house! Mel’s hands clenched underneath the table. “Everyone has sources, it seems,” he muttered.
Zarkovich’s smiled with cunning. “I’m a reasonable man, Mr. Purvis. I can be persuaded to stay silent.”
Mel frowned. “What you mean is blackmail.”
“A harsh word.”
“But an accurate one.” Mel sat back with his arms folded. “Your timing’s off. I have very little money now.”
Zarkovich snorted. “You’re loaded.”
Mel accepted the beer that the bartender brought him. He sipped it and said, “Not anymore.” He watched the bartender return to his bar.
“What about your gangster boyfriend? He could pony up.”
Mel set the beer down. “I would advise against such a course of action.”
“Okay, have it your way.” Zarkovich’s eyes were shrewd. “I’ll do ya a favor. Johnny, too. Stay out of my hair in East Chicago and I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“Okay.” Mel tried to keep calm. “Probably wise, Detective. You don’t want to annoy Johnny.”
Mel was satisfied to see Zarkovich’s eye twitch slightly. John Dillinger did not take lightly to being crossed.
When Mel returned to the office, he felt as if he was in a small box, and it was getting smaller.
The next few days, Mel did his job while wondering if he could hold it all together. He’d had to cancel his evening with Johnny because of a late tip on Nelson, but nothing had come of it.
He made another date with Johnny and was looking forward to it. Carter interrupted his pleasant reverie with a new tip and they headed out of the office.
“Are you all right, Mel?”
The two agents were walking along North Halstead Street. The Biograph Theater’s lights were dark this early in the morning. The poster on the wall was advertising It Happened One Night.
“You seem far away.”
Mel smiled ruefully. “Sorry. I guess I just have a lot of things on my mind.”
“Well, things have been crazy lately.”
Mel chuckled. “Seems like our life has been hectic ever since we arrived in Chicago.”
“That’s for sure.” Carter grinned. “We should take in the movie later. How perfect is that, a Clark Gable movie attended by the Clark Gable of the Bureau?”
Mel rolled his eyes while Carter laughed. “I did not give myself that moniker, suh.”
Carter couldn’t help but chuckle. When he sobered he bit his lip. “Mel, can I be frank with you?”
“Sure, Carter. What is it?”
They stopped in front of the Biograph, holding onto their fedoras as a gust of wind nearly blew them off their heads.
“There have been rumors going around.” At Mel’s raised eyebrow he continued, “There’s rumors of you being a little too close to this manhunt.”
Mel’s stomach contorted but he managed to keep his voice steady. “How so?”
Carter’s expression was sympathetic. “Mel…”
“Thanks, Carter.” He pulled the collar of his greatcoat up. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Carter nodded and they resumed walking down the street.
That evening Mel arrived at the safe house. Johnny greeted him at the door with a smile.
“Come on in, darlin’.”
Mel quickly came inside the kitchen. He had come to the back door, wary of neighbors watching their reunion at the front door. He kissed Johnny, drawing back with a raised eyebrow at shouts and laughter from the dining room.
“The boys decided to stay in and play some poker. We’ll go out to dinner and when we get back, we’ll have plenty of privacy upstairs.” Johnny winked.
Mel blushed slightly. “I won’t take off my hat and coat, then.”
“I’ll go upstairs and grab my wallet. It’s all on me tonight.”
Mel appreciated that. He had to be careful with his money now more than ever.
While he waited for his man, Mel wandered into the dining room. The whole gang was there with cigar smoke wreathing their heads and shot glasses full of shimmering amber liquid at their elbows.
“Hey, Mel!” Red greeted him. “You and Johnny got a hot date?”
The men snickered but there was no mockery. Mel had learned to read this group. Some would never trust him, others not completely, but Red, at least, was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Out of all Johnny’s gang, he liked Red the best, and not just because of his friendliness. The man had genuine warmth, which had surprised him a little.
Just goes to show you that stereotypes can be foolish.
“I certainly hope so, Red.”
Pete peered through the smoke. “How’s your poker hand?”
“I’m a fair hand.”
“Why not sit in?”
“Thank you, Pete, but Johnny and I have dinner plans.”
“Much better than sittin’ around with us, Pete,” said Red jovially. The rest of the gang grinned.
“Hey, just tryin’ to be friendly.” Pete shrugged. “Guess you’re slummin’ enough as it is.”
“I don’t consider it so,” Mel said smoothly. He tapped one of Pete’s cards. He had a good view of his hand from where he stood behind the chair. “Play this one.”
The gang guffawed as Pete jerked his hand away. “Wise guy.”
“I certainly hope not.”
Red laughed. “Yeah, you don’t look like one of Nitti’s boys.”
Mel smiled as Johnny poked his head into the dining room. “No, he isn’t.” He winked at his lover. “Ready to paint the town red?”
“Nah, I’ll stay here,” said Red, chomping down on his cigar.
“Hah, ha, Charlie McCarthy. C’mon, honey, let’s shake a leg.”
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said Mel as he went to join Johnny.
“See, fellas, I toldja he classes the place up.”
Mel laughed and took Johnny’s hand as the dining room door swung shut behind them.
The restaurant was respectable but out-of-the-way, the dark interior lit by candles on the tables.
They enjoyed roast chicken, rice and asparagus with good wine. Mel felt himself relax as he dined with Johnny, who kept up a patter that delighted him.
As they waited for dessert, Johnny sipped his coffee. They had finished the wine and the coffee was a nice demitasse. He looked at Mel. “You look tired, darlin’.”
Mel sighed as he put his cup down in his saucer. “I just feel as if…”
“As if what?” Johnny encouraged gently.
Mel looked up and met his lover’s sympathetic brown eyes. “As if the world is closing in all around me.”
“I know the feelin’ well.”
“Yes, I suppose you do.”
Johnny leaned back in his chair, fiddling with his cup. “Do you think you might re-consider my request?”
“To go away with you?” Johnny nodded. “I might. If Hoover gets wind of this…” he gestured back-and-forth between them. “…there will be hell to pay.”
Johnny leaned forward. “Now’s your time, Mel. You really don’t have a decision to make anymore. Your father cut you off, the rumors are flyin’ about you and me…I don’t see a future in law enforcement for you anymore.” At Mel’s wince he added, “I’m sorry, darlin’, I know it hurts.”
Mel smiled wanly. “I know. I also knew the risks when I started this torrid affair.” He chuckled at Johnny’s leer. He reached across the table and entwined his fingers with Johnny’s. “I’m sorry; I’m just not ready to give up my old life and go underground yet. I know that must disappoint you.”
Johnny squeezed his hand. “Some, but I know it can’t be easy to give up everything you’ve ever known. It was like when I went into prison. I had no choice.” He frowned. “Though I hope you don’t consider going away with me to be like prison.”
It was Mel’s turn to lean forward. His intensity was mesmerizing. “Never, Johnny. Life on the run would have its restrictions but incredibly freeing at the same time.”
“Always the college boy, eh?”
Mel smiled. “As long as I’m your college boy.”
Johnny smiled briefly, then became serious. “You know that I’ll take care of you, don’t you, Sunshine?” At Mel’s nod he continued, “Say it.”
“I know that you’ll take care of me.” Mel’s thumb brushed Johnny’s fingers. “And I know that you love me, too.”
“Always," Johnny said with an intensity that made Mel shiver.
Coming home, the boys heard the poker game still in progress in the dining room. Johnny put a finger to his lips and his eyes twinkled. Mel followed him silently up the stairs.
Once in Johnny’s bedroom, he closed the door behind them. The murmur of voices was muffled, a burst of laughter indicating that the game was still on friendly terms.
“Make me forget about everything, Johnny,” Mel murmured as he began unbuttoning his lover’s shirt.
“Always, darlin’, always.”
Johnny mirrored Mel’s actions, sliding the taller man’s shirt off his shoulders. He rained butterfly kisses on Mel’s face and neck, nipping at the collarbone. He gently pushed Mel down on the bed, pulling off his pants and underwear as Mel kicked off his shoes. Mel wiggled his toes and Johnny laughed, peeling off the socks.
“You’re over-dressed,” Mel teased.
“So I am.” Johnny quickly divested himself of his clothing and climbed up on top of the bed.
Mel let every sensation wash over him: the feel of Johnny’s lips on his face and chest, the sound of the little purrs he made, the weight of his body as he pressed close.
He shivered with pleasure as Johnny kissed him from head-to-toe and then swirled his tongue around his cock before swallowing him whole.
Mel’s hips bucked up as he lost himself in the sensation of warm wetness, gasping Johnny’s name. He whimpered as he bucked again, blissful moments later spurting into his lover’s mouth. Johnny came seconds later, and as they curled up together with Mel’s arm around his lover, he thought of how he felt safe here. Johnny kissed him and slipped his arms around Mel as he pulled him close.
The office was busy. Phones rang and typewriters clacked while agents scurried about, carrying files and checking out weaponry. Leads were coming in fast on Nelson, Kelly and Dillinger.
Mel sifted through what they had, studying the bulletin board. Tacked onto the cork were photographs of crime scenes, the gangsters and their molls, and close-ups of weapons and other evidence. He had to figure out a way to steer the agents away from Johnny without being too obvious. He did his best and was pleased at being successful, yet he could feel the walls closing in.
Or perhaps they were crumbling. It felt as if his whole world was crumbling all around him. He was losing everything piece-by-piece: his family, money, and career. His reputation was being shredded a little more every day. He feared losing his friends and his freedom. All he had left was Johnny.
He ran a hand through his hair. Despite Johnny’s desire, Mel knew that he was more valuable here. He would never tell Johnny, but one of his reasons for not joining him was this very fact. He could keep Johnny safe with all his inside knowledge. Unfortunately, that knowledge could be cut off soon.
He wished that he could calm his nerves. He was jittery all the time now. Doris would look at him with sympathy in her kind eyes, and Carter was a silent supporter.
He was grateful for it all, especially three days later as Carter called and said, “Meet me at the Biograph at one. Take the streetcar.” He was out of the office chasing down a lead.
Mel agreed, sauntering out of his office while shrugging his greatcoat on and putting his fedora on his head.
“I have to go out, Miss Rogers. If the Director calls, tell him I won’t be sure of when I’ll be returning.”
“All right, Mr. Purvis. Oh, Mr. Purvis?” He turned back and looked at her inquiringly. “Be careful, Mel,” she said in a low voice.
He smiled. “Thank you, Doris.”
He turned and left the busy squadroom.
Mel purchased a ticket and went inside. The matinee was well-attended. It Happened One Night was a popular film. Clark Gable was a newly-minted star because of this movie.
Mel went into the inner theater, trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness. Light flickered on the screen as the movie played. He did manage to find Carter, who was sitting in the back and on the aisle.
“Carter,” Mel whispered.
“Glad you got here so quickly,” his friend whispered back.
“What’s up?” Mel settled into the seat beside him.
“Hoover’s set to take you down.”
"What?" Mel’s stomach clenched.
”He’s going to move against you by the end of the week. He has pictures, Mel.”
“I see.” Mel prided himself that his voice was steady as his pulse raced.
“You’ve got to get out of town.”
“You said that Hoover was planning his move at the end of the week? Why not today?”
Carter shrugged. “Who knows? You know he likes to have all his ducks in a row. Maybe he needs an airtight case before he goes after you. Whatever the reason, Friday is the day, but that could change to earlier.”
“Today’s Tuesday.” Mel’s mind raced. “That gives me some time, even if he changes his mind.”
“You’ve got breathing space, but if I were you, I wouldn’t go back to the office.”
On the screen Clark Gable was removing his shirt and revealing a bare chest instead of an undershirt to the appreciative murmurs of the audience. Mel briefly thought of Johnny.
“Carter, I can’t thank you enough for the heads-up. How did you find out?”
“I have my sources. One of them contacted me.” Carter grasped Mel’s hand. “Good luck, Mel.”
Mel formulated a plan while he and Carter watched the rest of the movie. They left with the other patrons, Carter going out front while Mel slipped out the back. Their parting was brief but heartfelt.
Mel walked several blocks and caught the nearest streetcar. He arrived at his house and quickly packed a bag.
“President, I must go,” he told his manservant.
The elderly man nodded sagely. “I know, Mr. Purvis. I’ve seen this comin’ for some time.”
Mel stopped in the act of packing. “President?”
President smiled. “I’ve known you, Mr. Purvis, ever since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.”
Mel impulsively hugged President, who had always been more than a butler to him. When they parted, he murmured, “I fear that I will never see you again.”
President smiled gently. “I’m sorry for that, too, Mr. Purvis, but you got to do what you got to do.” He put a hand on Mel’s shoulder in a fatherly gesture. “I’ve seen the way that Mr. Dillinger has made you happy. This life ain’t for you anymore.”
Mel blinked away tears. He was feeling terribly sentimental today, but he was leaving behind his old life for a new one. It was to be expected.
“Thank you, President. For everything.”
The butler nodded. “Let me finish the packin’, suh. I know what you need.”
Mel smiled. “You surely do. I need to check my study.”
Mel quickly took out papers from his desk and sorted through them. Some would stay here, a few he needed to take, and the rest would be burned. He knew how thorough Jayee could be. This study and its contents would be ripped apart once Hoover knew that he was well and truly gone.
He burned the papers in an ashtray. He would tell President to thoroughly clean the study. Hurrying out of the study, he paused by the entrance to the library. All of his beloved books would have to be left behind. He hesitated, then crossed the threshold and grabbed two books. He had to travel light, but surely a few books would be all right? He marched back upstairs to his bedroom. President smiled and took the books, packing them securely in the suitcase. He snapped it shut and handed it to Mel.
“Good luck to you, sir.”
Mel stuck to back streets and alleys, glad that the suitcase was not uncomfortably heavy. He had taken a streetcar part of the way but had gotten off as quickly as he could. When he had left the house, he had looked back wistfully at his Pierce-Arrow, but as with so many things, he had to leave it behind. It was far too easy to spot.
He reached the safehouse and desperately hoped that Johnny and his gang were still there. He would be in trouble if they were gone.
He slipped into the house through the back door. Johnny had given him a key.
The kitchen was empty, but the gang could be in any other room of the house. He made noise deliberately so that he wouldn’t startle anyone. Making armed gangsters jittery was not a wise move.
He removed his hat and coat and placed them on the table. He left his suitcase in the kitchen as he checked the dining room and parlor, but both rooms were empty.
They could be asleep upstairs.
Boredom often led to daytime sleeping for the gang, or tiredness from late nights out. Mel checked the icebox. There was leftover ham, six eggs, a head of lettuce and two beefsteak tomatoes inside, so the chances were good that the gang was still in residence, unless they had been forced to leave quickly.
The proof would be upstairs. Mel walked up the staircase and down the hall to Johnny’s room. It was empty, but a search of the closet revealed his clothes and suitcases were still there. One was empty and one was full of guns and license plates for the various cars they used, frequently changing them. Since Johnny would never leave the guns behind, he was still around.
Relieved, Mel sat on the bed when the enormity of what he had done hit him. His old life was over. Once he left town with Johnny, there was no turning back.
Johnny laughed at Red’s joke as they came into the kitchen through the back door. He stopped suddenly, taking out his gun.
“Wha…?” Red yanked out his gun, too.
“False alarm.” Johnny lowered his weapon. “That’s Mel’s hat and coat.”
“What’s with the suitcase?”
A grin spread over Johnny’s face. “He’s comin’ away with me!”
Red frowned. “That means that things could be hot. We might have to get outta Dodge fast.”
“Yeah.” A quick check of the other rooms led to Johnny saying, “I’ll look upstairs.”
He made his way up the staircase quickly and quietly. He found Mel sitting on his bed, his head in his hand.
“Sunshine, you all right?”
Mel looked up with wet eyes. “It’s all crumbling around me, Johnny.”
“Aww, Sunshine.” Johnny sat down next to him and pulled him close, rubbing his back.
“We’ll have to get out of Chicago right away. Once Jayee learns I’ve taken off, he’ll tear this town apart.”
Johnny hugged him harder. “It’s all right, honey. We were plannin’ to leave soon, anyway. Can’t stay in one place too long.”
“I know.” Mel drew back and wiped his eyes. “You must think me a nancy-boy with these waterworks.”
“Nonsense.” Johnny cupped Mel’s face. “I know it’s hard, leavin’ all you know behind, but I promise you, I’ll make your life a happy one.”
Mel smiled through his tears. “I know you will.”
“You bet.” Johnny kissed him. “I’ll tell Red to pack. The rest of the boys are due back any minute.”
Mel nodded and stood. “I’ll start packing for you.”
The packing was swift, since the gang pretty much lived out of their suitcases. The rest of the gang came back to the house and everyone was ready to go in less than thirty minutes after Mel’s arrival. They piled their suitcases into the Ford and drove off, leaving Chicago behind.
It was quiet in their room. Mel was asleep after an emotionally-exhausting day. Johnny’s arms were wrapped around him and the gangster stared out the window at the stars.
They were on their way to St. Paul and had stopped off in a little inn, unable to reach the city before dark. The rest of the gang had rooms of their own, doubling up like Johnny and Mel.
Mel stirred restlessly, Johnny soothing him, and he settled back into sleep. Johnny continued to stroke his lover’s hair. It was so much in Mel’s nature to worry, and the day had taken a lot out of him.
He was sorry about Mel’s stress, but it couldn’t be helped. He was much better off with Johnny, who loved him. He certainly didn’t disinherit him or put pressure on him like his father and Hoover did.
Mel really wanted to be with him. Johnny had merely helped things along. He had managed to get word to Mel’s father about his son’s affair through sources of his own. He had made sure that the Bureau had received certain pictures, and Carter Baum had been contacted through an intermediary once Johnny’s source in Washington had told him about Hoover’s plan.
He caressed Mel’s cheek, and the Southerner sighed in his sleep. He had always told Mel that he belonged with him. Now he was free to enjoy the life that was best for him. It was in Mel’s nature to be cautious, but it was in Johnny’s nature to take care of those he loved, no matter what.
Johnny smiled as he curled up around Mel, holding him tight and never letting him go.