Outside the Biograph Theatre
by J. B. Hogan
I was across Lincoln Avenue from Purvis, who stood by the ticket window waiting for Dillinger to come out of the Biograph Theatre. We were all nervous as cats when the show ended and the crowd began filing out. How could we get Dillinger without hitting someone in the crowd? What if he got the drop on us? He might take us all out. He was that bad.
Suddenly, through the door came a big, handsome man, dressed finely, with two ladies on his arm. One was young and pretty, the other, supposedly our contact, an older, foreign-looking woman wearing a bright dress, red, or orange.
My eyes went from the man to Purvis. The boss was supposed to light up a cigar as our signal but I could see he was having trouble striking the match. We had to act fast; if we didn’t get Dillinger, old Hoover would fire Melvin and all the plans for the big national investigation agency would go down the drain.
I didn’t wait any longer. I crossed the street and got right behind the big man with the two ladies. I knew he had seen me but he didn’t make a move until he reached an alley next to the movie house. The second he got there, he bolted and ran. I could see he was going for his gun — I knew Dillinger liked the Colt 1911, though in .38 Super caliber, not .45. That didn’t matter. It had man-stopping power any time, all the time.
I didn’t let the man turn around. I fired two shots into his back and he fell face first into the alley. I could hear his women back at the top of the alley crying and screaming. They were cursing me. I walked up to the man and stood over him. Blood was already running from his body onto the cracked pavement on which he lay.
I pointed my police .38 point-blank at the back of his head and fired once more. Hoover had said shoot to kill. He was tired of Dillinger making us look like fools. Leading us on wild goose chases all over the country. We had gotten him at last. Public Enemy Number 1. Dead.
Purvis finally reached me there in the alley. We were all breathing sighs of relief. We were glad we were the ones still alive.
“What do you think, Melvin?” I asked the boss. “We got him, at last.”
Purvis bent down and checked the body. When he turned towards me, even in the night light, I could tell he was pale as a ghost.
“This isn’t him,” he said, “this isn’t Dillinger.”
“We know he had surgery on his face,” I reminded the boss.
“Even so,” Purvis said. “It’s not him.”
“Who is it?” I asked. “Who did I kill?”
“Just some dumb stand-in crook,” Purvis answered, shaking his head. “Dillinger took us again.”
There was a hell of a stink over the shooting, let me tell you. If the dead guy hadn’t turned out to be a minor mobster there in Chicago, they would have fired me for sure. Some of the guys started looking for other jobs right away.
Purvis knew his time was up and resigned the very next day. Hoover was so mad, I thought he might throw Melvin in the can but the boss’s quitting saved him from that. As for me, well I never could get over that damned Dillinger pulling another fast one on us.
In my mind, I picture him in a shiny new Ford V-8 rumbling along the roadway in some place like northern Indiana. I see him at the wheel, a handsome man with several scars around his eyes and mouth from a botched plastic surgery job, his arm around a pretty young woman sitting beside him in the front seat. In back there’s probably an older, slightly foreign-looking woman, wearing a stylish pink dress. I can just hear him talking, all cocky and arrogant and such.
“I will give old Clyde Barrow one thing,” Dillinger might be saying, looking at the older lady in his rear-view mirror, “he was right about these Ford V-8s. They do run good.”
“Didn’t keep the law from getting him,” the older woman would sniff.
“He was none too bright,” Dillinger laughs, tapping the side of his head with a long index finger. “Got himself all shot up in an ambush. Tough luck.”
“Where are we going, John, honey?” the young girl asks demurely.
“Well, baby,” Mr. Public Enemy Number One says, with a devilish smile for his lady, “we’re going to go get George Nelson and some other boys and get back to doin’ what we do best. Robbin’ banks. There’s nobody or nothin’ to stop us now. We can do what we darn well please for as long as we want.”
“Oh, John,” the young girl says, shaking her head, “you are just incorrigible.”
“Ain’t it the truth, baby,” Dillinger would surely say, letting out another big laugh, “ain’t I just the baddest of them all.”
Copyright © 2010 by J. B. Hogan