THE MIDWEST GOODBYE

Walton Stanley hadn’t robbed enough banks to get a nickname yet. He and his gang were just starting out; knocking over First National franchises in no-name towns across Indiana for a couple thousand dollars a job, which, after being split three ways, never amounted to all that much. They were small-timers and the papers knew it. So did the Bureau. Mr. Hoover didn’t see the sense in sending a posse out to chase the FBI’s twenty-seventh, twenty-eighth, and twenty-ninth Most Wanted across the heartland when he knew right where the boys would end up anyhow.

See, Walt had a girl name of Dorothy. Dorothy Stanley. He kept her in a farmhouse over in Ohio; a little clapboard number surrounded by cornfields on all four sides. The windows were blurry with dust and the porch sagged under its own weight. The only thing connecting it to the outside world was a narrow dirt path that let out onto the main road into town. Modest digs for a wannabe gun moll. That’s where J. Edgar would send his G-Men, figuring it was only a matter of time before Mr. Stanley got homesick.

So a week after Walt and his gang hit the bank in Stinesville, Special Agents George G. Gordon and Maxwell Foster parked their Ford up the road a ways from the Stanley house and waded into the corn, carrying their Thompsons over their heads and their bedrolls and provisions on their backs like they did in the trenches. They threw together a ramshackle observation post five rows back from the edge of the property and settled in to watch for any sign of Walt. Mostly they just watched Dorothy.

Walt had done well for himself. Dorothy was tall and thin without being rangy like the other girls Gordon and Foster had seen in town, slim and graceful whereas they’d all been lanky and awkward; clearly the product of farmwork and malnutrition. What really set her apart, though, was her hair. She styled it in a way that told the world where she was now wasn’t where she was gonna be next year. Bobbed, just like Louise Brooks. It said, Money. It said, Class

Dorothy did a good job minding the property, too. Every morning, like clockwork, she’d appear on the porch with a saucer of milk for the cats. There were two of them, a tabby and a gray tiger looking one. Dorothy scratched their ears while she sipped her coffee. Foster and Gordon wrote all this down in a little notebook.

The second day, she spent the afternoon hanging her laundry on the clothesline. The agents got a good look at her under things. Gordon blushed. Foster said it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before. On the third day, they watched Dorothy walk barefoot through the yard, pulling thistles and weeds as she did. Gordon did his best not to stare when she bent over. Foster didn’t seem to notice. 

Watching Dorothy walk out onto the porch with the cats’ breakfast that fourth morning, Gordon wanted to kneel down in front of her with a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and scrub her feet clean. Get the yard dirt out from between her toes with his fingers. Or maybe his tongue, if that didn’t work.

“Now that’s a woman,” Gordon said, more to himself than to Foster.

“Hardly,” Foster replied.

“You kidding? Look at her.”

“I have been for the last three days, kid. Sure, she’s a nice piece, but you really think any woman worth a damn would shack up with some two-bit operator like Walt Stanley? Keep the home fires burning for him and his gangster buddies while they’re out robbing banks? No. I mean, Jesus Christ, what are they teaching you boys at the academy now? Chivalry?” Foster said it like a curse.

Gordon let it go. He’d decided by then Dorothy Gordon sounded a whole lot better than Dorothy Stanley. He knew there was more to her; that her setup here with Walt was temporary, a stepping stone to better things. A stepping stone to him. If Foster couldn’t see Dorothy for what she was, then to hell with him. Gordon put the binoculars to his eyes and watched Dorothy from behind the yellow corn.

***

That night, Walt came home. It was a little after sunset when he pulled in the driveway, his tires carving twin ruts in the dirt path leading up to the house. He got out of the car holding a beat up suitcase, filled near to bursting. Two more men stepped out and the three of them went inside the house, laughing all the while. The agents watched the lights come on from the field. 

Foster elbowed Gordon, hissed, “Now’s our chance. I’ll run around the side so we can get two lines of fire going, Kraut style. You can never be too sure with guys like these. A small-time bank robber is still a bank robber, end of the day. I’ll yell, ‘FBI, come out with your hands up!’ Give ‘em to the count of three. They aren’t out on the porch by then, well…” He shrugged.

And then, before Gordon could say anything, Foster disappeared into the corn toting his submachine gun. Gordon picked up his own gun and edged forward, getting his stance right, the way he’d been taught. He heard Foster shout, “FBI, come out with your hands up!” and started counting.

One…

They’ll come out, he thought. They have to. No amount of money’s worth dying over, right? Even if Walt and the other two didn’t think so, surely Dorothy did.

Two…

Didn’t she? Oh, God. What if she’s trying to escape and they’re holding her back? Dorothy didn’t do anything wrong. This is wrong. This is wro—

Three…

Gordon heard Foster open fire in the side yard. Windows shattered. Hoods screamed. It was too late. Gordon aimed at the roof and killed some shingles. He emptied his magazine and the night was quiet again. Somewhere, a cricket chirped.

He met Foster on what was left of the porch. Gordon couldn’t look him in the eye, afraid of the gleam he might see there. Foster didn’t say anything. He just slapped a fresh drum into his Thompson and opened the front door. It was a charnel house:

Glass carpeted the floor, the curtains hung in tatters. Walt was slumped over the kitchen table like a schoolboy who’d fallen asleep during one of his lessons. The suitcase was open in front of him, full of money. Dorothy’s ticket out of there.

The other two gangsters lay in puddles of themselves by the window, dead before they knew what was happening. Dorothy’s cats, somehow unscathed, picked their way through the carnage. Dorothy was at Walt’s feet, bleeding out. She was gut shot and would be a long time in dying.

Foster led the way into the house with Gordon at his heels. Gordon tried to look anywhere but at Dorothy and still saw her everywhere. Dorothy reached for Foster’s shoe and he moved it away.

“Help… me…” Dorothy wheezed.

“Shouldn’t we try to get her to a doctor?” Gordon asked.

“By the time we get her there she’ll be dead,” Foster answered, pulling his sidearm. This,” he said as he hefted the M1911, “is the best we can do for her now.”

Foster fired two shots and Dorothy’s face disappeared in a spray of red. Gordon’s ears rang. He blinked away tears.

— Dawson Wohler is a fiction editor at APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL