Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Road to Del Rio VIII: En Route to a Crime Spree with Bonnie and Clyde

Upon hearing the endless radio reports claiming that he is about to join up with Bonnie and Clyde as their criminal mastermind, Herbert does his best to flee Arkansas and then East Texas, but all he succeeds in doing, is running directly in their clutches. For several days he’s their prisoner/guest in a succession of remote abandoned farmhouses which they are using as hideouts. Though Clyde promises to let him go, that day never seems to come. They spend their days smoking marijuana and playing Clyde’s saxophone and talking about their home back in Eagle Ford. It’s not altogether unenjoyable for Herbert, who is at least grateful to not have Stevens or the Other Guy in his face.

Then one day, they pack up and drive off on one of their multi-state crime sprees. Clyde drops all pretense of ever letting Herbert go. He tries to impress on Herbert all the advantages of joining their outfit. Most of the reasons seem to involve fame and meeting girls. But Herbert refuses for a number of reasons, the first being that having already killed too many men in the war, he’s dead-set against ever picking up another weapon again.

But Clyde is adamant:

"Look at us! We’re just a couple of two-bit hoods on our last legs. With you on the team, we could rule the headlines again.”

“I don’t care,” I say. “Now I told you I ain’t packing and that’s final!”

Clyde and I stare knives at each other. But Bonnie has an idea. “You know, we can always have him carry me in and out, like a porter.”

Driving through Texas, it all seems like a skylark with lots of high-spirited talk between Clyde and Bonnie with Bonnie endlessly sneaking playful but hungry looks over at Herbert. It isn't until nightfall when they reach the Oklahoma border, that things start feeling serious. They have an evening picnic in a city park just outside Elmer, Oklahoma. After eating, Clyde decides to have a nap on one of the picnic tables. Herbert half expects Bonnie is going to try for some alley-cat action while Clyde snoozes. But instead, she becomes very serious.

For once, Bonnie doesn’t start messing with me. She sits at the end of the bench meditating on her Chesterfield, and the town lights across the field. Does it occur to her that at this moment, once she walked across the field, she could probably disappear into the city of Elmer and go back to a normal life and never get caught? But she’d never do it. Without Clyde, she’d never get the levels of excitement and drama she requires. She has to be the kind of gal that they write romance stories about, not the kind who reads them.

Bonnie crushes out her cigarette. She turns around and says to me in a low voice: “Herbert, you’d better not fuck us up tomorrow. You understand?”

She glares at me, her head quavering, eyes tear-filled and blazing, like she’s half a moment from busting out into a massive crying jag. Then she pushes herself back to her feet and hobble steps over to the other side of the picnic table and crouches down onto the bench where she can caress Clyde’s sleeping head.

She brushes her fingers against the curl of his forelock. “Oh, Daddy,” she whispers, like she could be in church.

After that they drive almost non-stop for several days, sticking mainly to back roads. Finally they reach a prosperous little town in Missouri called Munson. Seeing a grocery store with lots of cars parked in front of it, they decide it's time to swing into action: Clyde goes in first, pistol in hand, followed by Herbert carrying in a shotgun-wielding Bonnie:

“All right, this is a stick-up!” he shouts out. “Nobody move!” He walks up past all the folks with their arms up and goes to the cash desk. He sticks his pistol in the lady’s face and says, give me all your money, now! And he puts a bag on the table and the lady empties out the whole cash drawer into his bag. Even where I am, I can see the fat wad of bills. Unless they’re all ones, we’re going to be pulling all right here.

Bonnie taps my arm. I let go of her and she hop-hobbles over to Clyde, who hands her the bag. Then she hobbles over to the clerk, points her pistol in his face and growls. “Cloverine Salve! All you got!”

Once Clyde has emptied the cash drawer and taken everybody's purses and billfolds, they start their exits.  Clyde heads out first, with Herbert and Bonnie taking up the rear. I lift her and carry her up toward the door. When we get there, she taps on me to turn. I carefully rotate ourselves clockwise so Bonnie can point her pistol back at everyone lying face-down on the floor. Down at the counter, Clyde is loading a last wallet in his bag. Then he gathers it together, holding it with the same hand as the sawn-off shotgun. He nods that he’s leaving, points his guns to the ceiling and starts moving up our way. I turn and push open the door and lift and carry Bonnie outside into the parking lot. Bonnie waves her pistol in every direction as we run over to the Ford and get in. Clyde lets off the brake, gives it some gas and we’re heading up that road.

An hour after that, we rob a filling station and then a little after that, another roadside grocery store and another filling station after that. Each is a piece of cake.

Hours later, they park in a secluded spot and divvy up the loot.  Assuming Herbert is every bit as charged from the robberies as he and Bonnie are, he renews his plea to Herbert to quit being odd man out and start carrying a gun. But Herbert won't budge:

He turns back to face me. “Booger, I ain’t talking anything permanent, just long enough to tide us over and till we can get another boy.”

I don’t like the sound of this, either. I fall back into my seat and start actively thinking about being riddled with machine gun bullets.

Bonnie turns and gleams sweetly at me like I’m just a boy and she’s someone’s older sister. “Come with us, Doc,” she purrs. “It’ll be fun! Wouldn’t you like to see Missouri?”

“I’ve seen it,” I say.

“Don’t be sore, Doc. Daddy’s just crazy about you.” She pouts. “You know, sometimes I think he likes you more than he likes me.” 

(Friend of the Devil, by Brendan McNally, available on Kindle)

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