What follows is a work of fiction….more or less.
The last story.
John William Tuohy
Surprise, Arizona, 1984.
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’ve been following me for close to two weeks. 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 5, 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. It felt good to say the name out loud. “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 I drove a stolen car across state lines? When I broke out of that jail at Crown Point, Indiana.
“March of 1934” Brennen added “I covered that story. You took a sheriff’s car and drove into Illinois.”
“Based on that” Dillinger said “and just that, the FBI decided me to be Public Enemy Number One” He smiled at the memory of it.
“Well” Brennan added slowly “That and you robbed at least two dozen banks and four police stations. You shot it out with federal agents, kidnapped two cops during a getaway and killed a third cop”
Dillinger’s turned away quickly “I am sorry about that policeman.” He said “That was never supposed to have happened. But it did and I’m sorry for it”
They booth watched a boy swing desperately at a low pitch.
“So what’s the story?” Brennan asked. “How did handsome and daring John Dillinger, Public Enemy Number One end up on a grandfather on a set of bleacher’s in Surprise Arizona? How is it the world say’s your dead, shot down in an alley in Chicago, and yet, here you are?”
“I don’t know much about it” Dillinger said “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. This Anna Sage woman, from what I heard, was an illegal from some place in Europe, and was getting booted out of the country after a morals conviction the year before. She told Purvis that she could set me up for arrest if Purvis would assure her the deportation was called off.
“There also the matter of the $70,000 reward money for your arrest.” Brennan added “You remember how much $70.000 was back then?”
“Oh yeah” Dillinger said “Big money”
“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, smiled and said “I’ll be damned”
“Agent Purvis took the bait.” Brennan continued “Anna Sage said she would have you bring her to the films at the old Biograph Theater on Clark. She would wear a red dress so Purvis could spot her in the crowd.”
“But who was the guy they set up in my place?” Dillinger asked. He had waited half a century to learn that the answer.
“A farm boy from down state Illinois named Jimmy Lawrence.” Brennan answered “He’d knocked off a couple of gas stations, strictly small potatoes. Not to bright a kid. Threw his money around at Anna Sage’s brothel.”
Brennan stopped and looked at Dillinger’s face lined with age and said “He did look something like you. There was a similarity”
A bat cracked on the field, there was cheering. They paused, watched for a second and returned to the conversation.
“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 Jimmy Lawrence and Anna 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 with Anna Sage. Purvis and his men rushed in, guns drawn, so everyone who was there, a crowd of at least a hundred folks, assumed the FBI fired the shots because Dillinger had tried to escape down the alley. People see what they want to see.
You can image how 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 the differences away as plastic surgery. Most reporters bought the story after all it made good print. Shoot out with the law, dead bank robber. But I didn’t but it . I went to the autopsy. I saw two pathologists examine Jimmy Lawrence before twenty medical students with a recording nurse in attendance. She wrote down every 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. But I got my hands on a copy. 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 paper and handed it to Dillinger “You can see for yourself, it says right there, the corpse had brown eyes”
“Mine are blue” Dillinger said, looking over 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 your arms were missing. They 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.
Dillinger shook his head in disbelief.
“So how did you end up here?” Brennan asked.
“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. The FBI was happier than a pig in mud that I was gone. It was for the best. Desperadoes like me were a dying breed. I suppose it was just a matter of time before they got me like got everybody else Ma Baker and her boys, Charlie Floyd, Nelson, all of em. It was for the best I disappeared.
“You were always down here? In Arizona?” Brennan asked.
“At first I lived on an Indian Reservation in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Was there for a while. Then over to California for a bit and then made my way down to here when the war started, got a job at airplane assembly plant near Tucson. That was in the winter of 43. Stayed there, work’n on the line until 1973, retired. Full pension. Union too. Got married back in 1950, good women, God rest her. I never told her more than what she needed to know. Two kids, two girls. You?”
“Divorced” Brennan said as he lit a filter less cigarette. “No kids”
“What happened to the woman, Anna Sage?” Dillinger asked.
“Purvis had her deported back to Romania. She died right after the war.” Brennan answered.
“And Zarkovic? The cop?”
“With Anna gone, he took over the brothel for himself. A couple of years later he appointed chief of the East Chicago Police Department” Brennan said. “The FBI sent letters of recommendation”
“Purvis?” Dillinger asked.
“He shot himself through the head in 1959” Brennan answered “I heard he had some peccadilloes. He was being blackmailed. Seems you were the only one leading a double life”
“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. I said “I want to go find John Dillinger.” Well he had a good laugh about that and he said “Kid, if you want to go find John Dillinger, by God, you go find John Dillinger”. And every editor since then said the same thing. So I went out and found John Dillinger”
“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 with a slight moan “Besides, it isn’t the story that makes the reporter, it’s the tenacity”
Brennan looked at his watch.
“How the hell did you 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. 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”
“Well I’m sorry” Dillinger said. “That’s not anyway to treat man”
Brennan nodded his head in gratitude and stared out into the field, way back to the outfield.
“So now what?” Dillinger asked. “What happens next?”
“We watch the rest of the game and leave the past behind us” Brennan replied.