John said that four decades had passed since he’d visited his birthplace. How we found Rudy is somewhat a mystery. We took an unmarked turn, traded it for a crooked ribbon of asphalt, then a stretch of gravel. After crossing a short bridge, and we were there. If it has grown during the past century Rude must have been a very secret place while John’s father was town marshal
“Bonnie and Clyde found this place,” John said as we put our bikes on side stands and started toward the store for a cold drink.
“It was during prohibition, probably. I’m just passing the story on, you know. Rumors reached the powers that be that these two were headed toward Rude. A city council meeting was called. The mayor suggested that the Marshal Osborne should barricade the street and then take them into custody. Such a deed would certainly put Rude on the map. ‘Not on your life,’ my dad said. ‘Our squirrel rifles are no match for their machine guns.'”
“So then what?” I prodded.
“Dad told me he was checking doors when he caught the sound of tires on gravel. He couldn’t see any headlights, so he figured it was Bonnie and Clyde. Scrambling for cover, he crouched behind the water trough in front of the bank and waited. A few minutes passed, then the moon glinted off the roof of a car as it slowly crossed the bridge and into town.
“Did they stop?”
“No, they didn’t. They were evidently headed somewhere else, because they eased on through town. Dad said he saw the two of them through the car window.”
Leading the way to the corner, he pointed and added, “they pulled the that grade and rounded the turn. Nobody ever saw them again.”
Wanting to sit for a while, I noticed two men seated in front of the post office. The backs of their chairs were leaning against the wall. There were extra chairs, so we joined them.
One fellow never spoke, probably because he was chain-smoking roll-your-owns. He was busy, licking the paper from the corner of his mouth and then lighting the new cigarette from the old butt before it burned his lips. Even more curious was his black felt hat. Perhaps it was a homburg in the beginning. But on this day the right brim was cut off clean above his right ear.
Ralph, the other fellow, talked enough for them both. Perhaps they were father and son. Ralph wore stripped bib overalls made into cut offs. His feet were bare and the calluses he reminded me of a Chiricahua Indian I’d once seen in Mexico’s Sierra Madres. Ralph couldn’t keep his eyes off our motorcycles. Obviously, he had a story to tell. We just had to wait until he was ready.
“I rode one of them motorcycles once. That was 65 years ago,” he began. “It was a supped up 1932 Harley. I’d never rode anything like that before, so when the feller who was trying to sell it to me I thought I should try it out, I did.
“That dirty son-of-a-bitch was out of control as soon as the motor started. Me and that wild thing made that yonder corner and crossed that bridge quicker’n you could say Jack Shit. I hung on to that bastard until we got just beyond where you can see. That’s where it got plum away from me. Hell of a deal, it was, crashing into that rocky ditch. It throwed me into the brush and split my right leg open from here to Hell and back.”
I followed Ralph’s finger and I wondered how I’d missed that angry scar that went from mid-thigh to his ankle. The sawbones who patched him up must have used a strip of rawhide rather than catgut. Maybe his grandmother did it with quilting yarn.
“I haven’t been on another one of them devils since,” he added, tugging at his watch chain. “Buck, Ma’s gonna have dinner waiting,” he said, stuffing the watch back into his pocket. We shook our goodbyes and watched them leave.
John and I headed back toward Dallas. To do so, we’d have to cross the bridge over which Bonnie and Clyde had once traveled, the same one what Ralph crossed so quickly.
I thought of the stories I’d just heard. If there’s any truth to them I don’t need to visit the big city to find lively action.