Surprise, Arizona, 1984.
A short story
John William Tuohy
John Dillinger eyed the heavy set man walk into park and continued to watch him as he passed the swings and the broken water fountain and made his way to bleachers and took a seat two rows down and just to the left of Dillinger. He studied the man. He had seen him several times that week. He was too old to an FBI agent or cop.
After a few minutes of sitting in silence the man turned, looked up at Dillinger and smiled and nodded towards the Little League players on the field.
“Follow the game?” he asked.
Dillinger shook his head “No, not much” and then pointed at the boy on first base “My grandson”
They watched the game in silence for several minutes before Dillinger spoke.
“You know who I am” Dillinger said without taking his eyes from the game and then added “So who are you?”
“I’m Ray Brennan.”
Dillinger turned and looked Brennan over and asked “FBI?”
“No” Brennan answered with a smile. “Reporter. Chicago Tribune”
Dillinger sighed and then nodded his head in the direction of his grandson and said “He’s never heard of John Dillinger. Doesn’t know a damn thing about him. You know what he does know?”
Brennan smiled softly and shook his head.
“He knows that if you hurt someone, you apologize. He knows God is good. He knows that he should love his country, be respectful to his parents. That stealing is wrong. So is lying and cheating. He knows those things because I taught him those things. He knows his grandfather is a decent guy, a guy who would never harm a soul.”
He stopped talking and looked down at the sun baked blue paint on the bleacher and said “I disappeared fifty years ago. I haven’t robbed a bank or broken a law since….”
He stopped to recall the dates and then continued “since we knocked off the Merchants National Bank in…………..” he voice trailed off and he searched his memory for the banks location.
“South Bend, Indiana, June 1934” Brennan added.
They fell silent for a moment and then Brennan asked “Did you pay the FBI to let you disappear? What was the agent’s name?”
They both knew the agents name and they both knew that asking was a reporter’s trick.
“Purvis” Dillinger added “Special Agent Melvin Purvis. Did I pay him? No, Melvin Purvis was the straightest arrow ever made by God or man.” And then he shook his head, smiled and said “Did you know that the only federal charge ever made against me was that he drove a stolen car across state lines? When I broke out of that jail at Crown Point, Indiana.
“March of 1934” Brennen added
“I took a sheriff’s car and drove into Illinois.” Dillinger continued “Based on that, and just that, the FBI decided I was Public Enemy Number One”
They booth watched a boy swing desperately at a low pitch.
“So what’s the story?” Brennan asked.
“I don’t know much. What I heard was that in the summer of 1934, a dirty cop in Chicago named Martin Zarkovic approached Agent Purvis and told him that he knew a woman named Anna Sage who was running a brothel and that one of her girls was seeing me as a regular. Anna Sage was an illegal from some place in Europe, was getting booted out of the country after a moral arrest and that she could set up Dillinger if Purvis would assure her the deportation was called off”
“Were you?” Brennan asked “Were you involved with one of her girls?”
“Hell” Dillinger said “I never heard of no Anna Sage or nobody who worked for her.”
“So you didn’t know Zarkovic the cop was Anna Sage’s partner in the brothel?”
Dillinger leaned back slowly and said “I’ll be damned”
“Purvis had a small army of agents with him waiting outside the theater.” Brennan said. “When the film was over, Sage would walk with Dillinger. Purvis had told his men that he would light a cigar when he spotted Dillinger and on that signal they would draw their weapons and move in.”
“And that’s when his Jimmy Lawrence fellow saw the agents, figured they were cops and ran for it down the alley next to the theater” Dillinger added “And Purvis shot him”
“Well that’s what we wrote in the papers” Brennan said “What happened was that James Lawrence and Sage started walking down the street when the cop, Zarkovic walked up behind Jimmy Lawrence, fired two shots into the back of his head, Lawrence fell face down into the alley entrance and then Zarkovic disappeared into the crowd. Purvis and his men rushed in, guns drawn so everyone assumed the FBI fired the shots because Dillinger had tried to escape down the Alley, it was just one of those remarkable acts of God at the right place at the right moment”
“You can image I surprised I was” Dillinger said “When I opened the morning paper the day after to read that I was, shot and killed by Special Agent Melvin Purvis of the FBI outside the Biograph theater”
“I went to the morgue that morning” Brennan said “Jimmy Lawrence might have looked like you alive but as a cadaver, you two had nothing in common”
“Is that so?” Dillinger asked.
“Yeah” Brennan continued “Purvis explained it away as plastic surgery. But I was there. I saw two pathologists perform the autopsy before twenty medical students with a recording nurse in attendance. She recorded ever word for the final report
“And where’s the final report?” Dillinger asked.
“Agent Purvis took it. And it was never seen again” Brennan answered. I got my hands on a copy of the original autopsy. The nurse kept it. I’ve had it for almost fifty years”
He reached into his pant pocket and took out a couple of sheets of folded papers and handed it to Dillinger “You can see for yourself, it says right there, the corpse had brown eyes”
“Mine are blue” Dillinger said reading the report as he spoke.
“The four inch scar on your abdomen from your surgery in the navy wasn’t on the corpse. The bullet wound scars on the arms were missing. The measured the corpse at six foot four, a full six inches taller than you and it just went on from there”
“Fingerprints?” Dillinger asked
“Provided to the Coroner’s report by the FBI” Brennan said. “So how did you end up here?”
“I waited a few weeks, you know, laid low” Dillinger said “The story disappeared from the papers and I figured ‘Hell, I must be dead” so I high tailed out of Chicago. Lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon for a while. The over to California for a bit and then made my way down to Arizona when the war started, got a job at airplane assembly plant near Tucson. That was in the winter of 43. Stayed with em until 1973, retired. Full pension. Got married, good women, God rest her. I never told her more than what she needed to know. Two kids, two girls. You?”
“Divorced” Brennan said “No kids”
“What happened to the woman, Anna Sage?” Dillinger asked.
“Purvis had her deported back to Roumania. She died right after the war.” Brennan answered.
“And Zarkovic? The cop?” Dillinger asked.
“He took over the brothel for himself and was appointed chief of the East Chicago Police Department” Brennan said. “The FBI backed the promotion”
“Purvis?” Dillinger asked
“He shot himself through the head in 1959”
“And you” Dillinger asked “What made you find your way down here?”
“After I saw the autopsy on Jimmy Lawrence I knew you were still alive. And I told my editor as much. He had a good laugh and he said “Well, kid, if you want to go find John Dillinger, by God, you go find John Dillinger”. So I did”
“It took you fifty years?” Dillinger asked.
“Well you’re not an easy man to find. Worlds only travelling dead man.” Brennan said as he stood to his feet “Besides, it isn’t the story that makes the reporter, it’s the tenacity”
Brennan looked at his watch.
“How did you find me?” Dillinger asked.
“Tenacity” Brennan answered.
“So” Dillinger said “I don’t suppose there’s any way I can get you not to file this story”
“Nope” Brennan said “Not for love or money. That is if I had a place to file it”
Brennan looked at his watch again “By the time I get back to Chicago tomorrow, they will have retired me from the paper”
“How do you know?” Dillinger asked.
“I’m a reporter” Brennan said “I find stuff out”
“So now what?” Dillinger asked. “What happens next?”
“So now we enjoy the rest of our lives and leave the past behind us” Brennan replied.