And close ‘round
As the darkness falls.
The night was closing in around him as Mel stared in shock into the car. The man inside was slumped against the cushion, dead eyes staring at the beyond. Blood was spattered all over the body and seat.
“Don’t shoot me!” screamed another man, and Mel ordered him to get down. He scrambled back to the shelter of a pine tree, sick to his stomach.
I have blood on my hands. I botched this raid and an innocent man is dead.
He couldn’t dwell on his sin, however. The bullets were flying thick and fast and he had a job to do.
The staccato rat-a-tat-tat of the tommyguns pounded Mel’s ears as the shouts of the men echoed around the woods. The blood thrummed in his veins as he fired back at the gangsters ensconced in the lodge. He couldn’t see them, just blazes of light spilling out from the rustic place as they fired.
One of his men yelled that someone had gotten out. Heart pounding, Mel called, “Is it Dillinger?”
“I think so!”
“Baum, get around the woods and flank him!”
Carter nodded and dashed off for one of the cars. The Texans Winstead and Hurt went off deep into the woods with their shotguns, hunters in hot pursuit of the hunted.
Images played out in his mind’s eye, a kaleidoscope of people and guns, Carter driving and stopping along the dark country road while a faceless figure raised his tommygun and fired…
Fear for the man he loved surged up within him. Had he just served Carter up as a sacrificial lamb? There were already a dead innocent in this debacle. He wouldn’t allow Carter to join that group!
“Doc, take over!”
Mel ran deep into the woods like a man possessed. His fingers ached as he gripped his gun, his greatcoat flapping as he ran at a breakneck pace over tree roots and down hillsides, terror pushing him on.
He ignored stinging branches and brambles as he stumbled through thickets and down rocky hillsides. He had to get to Carter, had to stop the parade of violence and death and save his friend and lover from a grisly death. He didn’t know how he knew, he just did, and that was enough.
He nearly fell as his foot stepped into a hole, wrenching his ankle. Gasping, his fingers dug into the dirt as his fedora tilted over his eyes while he levered himself up, running on his swollen ankle.
Carter, I’m coming!
Mel ran and felt as if his heart would burst, but he was almost at the road now. He didn’t know how he knew to come this way but he didn’t question it. He just went with it, because Carter needed him. The image of the dead civilian in the Model T drove him on.
He saw a shadowy figure several yards away as the car that Carter was driving appeared. It eased to a stop as Mel shouted, “Duck, Carter! It’s a trap!” just as the figure lifted his gun.
Carter heard the warning and ducked down just in time. By the light of the gunfire Mel saw that the mystery man was Baby Face Nelson. His blood ran cold. Nelson wasn’t like Dillinger. Gentleman Johnny never sought to deliberately murder the police and Federal agents pursuing him. Baby Face Nelson reveled in bold-blooded killing.
Mel brought up his tommygun and fired, Nelson screaming in rage. Carter rolled up to kneel as he aimed the gun he’d grabbed from the front seat on his way out.
Nelson used the car as a shield, firing off a volley of shots as he yelled in glee, his eyes wild. Mel ducked behind a thick tree, Carter following him.
“Mel, you saved my life!”
“Guess I did.” Mel flashed his lover a quick smile.
“How do you figure we take him?”
“Circle around. I’ll draw him out.”
Carter nodded, giving him a quick kiss as he disappeared into the trees.
“Why don’t you show yourself, copper! Whatsamatta, ya yellow?”
Mel remained quiet. He smiled as he heard Nelson curse. A man like Nelson would never be patient. The gangster fired off another volley.
“Yella copper! Come out and fight like a man!”
Mel saw Carter creeping up behind Nelson. He stepped out from behind the tree.
“Here I am, Nelson.”
The gangster grinned as he took aim.
“Hold it right there, Nelson,” said Carter, the muzzle of his gun touching the back of the gangster’s neck.
Nelson froze and suddenly turned, knocking the gun aside. Mel yelled, “Hold it or I’ll shoot!” Nelson ignored him and fired.
Mel’s aim was true, bullets slicing into the gangster, whose body jerked like a marionette on a string. He fell to the hard ground in a spray of blood.
Carter checked Nelson, leaving the man as he went to Mel, the Southerner wobbling on his ankle. Carter grabbed his arm before Mel fell over.
“You saved my life again.”
“Well worth it.”
Carter helped Mel into the car. “He’s dead.” Mel nodded numbly. Carter got behind the wheel and drove back in the direction of Little Bohemia. “How’d you know?”
“I…had a feeling.”
Mel closed his hand over Carter’s as the car rumbled down the road.