Smart Like Dillinger

Josh and Celia Brooks were sitting in rocking chairs on their small front porch just like they did every day. It was early November, and there was a chill in the air. Josh wore his everyday light jacket. Celia had on a heavy sweater. On Josh’s lap, rested a shotgun as he read the newspaper. On the small round table, set between the two rocking chairs laid a pistol.

“Anything in the paper today?” Celia asked.

“Plenty of stuff,” Josh replied.

“You know what I mean,” she said.

He sighed and replied, “Nope.”

“Sure?”

He turned from the newspaper he was reading and looked at her.

“It was a long time ago, Celia, and none of it happened ‘round here.”

“I know, I know, but we can’t let our guard down.”

Josh put the paper down for a moment and lifted up the old shotgun from his lap. “Does it look like I’m lettin’ my guard down?”

“No, I guess not,” she said, then added, “they never give up, you know.”

“I know.”

Celia got up from her chair and walked toward the edge of the porch. She gazed out toward the woods and the one road that led to their small cabin far from anywhere. She turned back toward Josh.

“They got that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Shot them full of bullet holes,” she said.

“Yep, that’s true, but I remember when we were kids, my daddy saying, those two weren’t very smart. He said, ‘they were the dumbest pair of outlaws ever.’ Daddy always told me Dillinger was smart. He’d say, ‘if you’re gonna be an outlaw, you need to be smart like Dillinger.’”

“They killed him too.”

“Yeah, but that was because of that woman in red who turned on him.”

“No matter who or what, they killed him.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

Celia walked back to her chair and sat down. She turned and looked straight at Josh.

“You won’t let them fill me with bullet holes like they did with that Bonnie Parker, will ya?”

“No, I won’t,” he said, “that’s why I got this.” He picked up the pistol. “There are two bullets in it. One for you and one for me. It’ll be quick.”

Celia smiled and sat back in her chair. Josh put the pistol down and Celia patted his hand.

“They’re gonna get us one of these days,” she said.

Josh picked up the newspaper. “Celia, you worry too much.” He started reading again.

The wind picked up. Celia wrapped the sweater she wore around her tight. Her eyes still focused on the woods and the one dirt road, as they always were, ever since they found this place. They bought it cheap from the previous owner, under false names, but Josh thought the old man recognized them. He suddenly acted like he couldn’t wait to get in his car and get away from them. They couldn’t let him go and risk him telling the law. If they did and Josh was right, it all would have been for nothing. If Josh was wrong, well, it was just the old man’s bad luck. Either way, he was the last one. They came here to get away from their past life.

They buried the old man in the back of the cabin. The biggest problem was getting rid of his car. Josh drove it down to a nearby lake, which was about twenty-five miles away. Celia followed behind in their car. The old man’s car was dumped in the lake and never found. At least, it never appeared in the local newspaper. The old man’s disappearance did, but nothing ever came of it… so far.

“We shoulda gone to Canada. They’d never find us there,” Celia said.

“They haven’t found us here.”

“I’m afraid they will.”

“Celia, you got to stop worrying so much. It doesn’t help.”

“Josh, you don’t worry enough. They’d never find us in Canada!”

“They ain’t lookin’ for us here, either.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

“Well, no,” he admitted. “But they would have found us by now if they were.”

They were silent for a few minutes. A bright red Cardinal flew by landing in a nearby tree. Celia looked up and watched as it flew from one branch to another and then began singing.

“I don’t wanna go to jail,” Celia said. “Living in a jail cell for me would be like living in a cage for that bird. Besides, I am too old. I wouldn’t last long.”

“Celia, you’re not goin’ to jail, and neither am I.”

He looked down at the pistol that laid on the small table between them. “I told you that.”

“You better remember if it comes to that.”

“I’ll remember.”

“You forget about a lot of things these days,” she laughed.

He smiled back at her. “I won’t forget.”

They were silent again. It was a serene piece of land that, despite Celia’s fears of being found she had come to love. The nearby Cardinal continued singing. Celia smiled and took in a deep breath of the cool air. She turned toward Josh.

“You’ll do it, won’t you? I mean you’ll really do it.”

“I said, I would.”

“Saying isn’t doing, Josh. I mean, will you be able to do it when the time comes? You won’t back down because it’s me.”

He looked at her. He knew what she meant. She was his wife. The only person in his entire life he ever cared about. He loved her more than anything. He would kill for her and had in the past. Knowing that, would he be able to put a bullet in her head?

“I can do it,” he said hesitantly. “I can do it.”

She was looking at him. He knew what she was thinking. This man won’t have the guts to kill the woman he loves no matter what the reason.

“Okay. If you say so, enough said.”

“Think I’ll take a nap,” Josh said. He put the newspaper down on the floor, then leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He fell asleep quickly.

Celia stared at him. She loved him dearly and knew that he loved her dearly. It was always them against the world. Everything they had or done was between the two of them. She looked out toward the woods, listening for a moment to the Cardinal in the nearby tree still singing. Her eyes darted upward to the pristine blue sky. It was a beautiful day, she thought. Celia glanced over at the pistol resting on the small table and reached for it.

He never felt the bullet penetrate his head. Celia sat there with the pistol in her hand.

“I’m sorry Josh, but if they came after us, I wasn’t going to jail, and I know you loved me too much to pull the trigger.”

Celia then raised the pistol. Opening her mouth wide, she placed the barrel into her mouth and pulled the trigger one last time.

In the woods, the Cardinal jumped after the second shot and flew away.

This story originally appeared in Devious Tales available on Amazon

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John Greco

John Greco

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Author of various short story collections including, "Harbor House," and The Late Show."