I’m Ray Hamilton. Famous, but you might not remember me. Fame’s a funny thing. You’ll be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, hell, you might even get tired of your own attraction, but when its gone you just have the photos. And, well, you might sort of miss it when the ol hoss packs up his knapsack and starts walking down the dirt trail with the thumb out. Yeah, fame’s a pretty funny thing when you get right down to it. But this ain’t about me, though I sure do play a part if you don’t mind me saying so. This is about Clyde and Bonnie, and to a lesser extent, it’s about Willy, Buck, and his wife Blanche. We were a hell of a team, and the team’s name was the Barrow Gang. You could see my face plastered from Texas to Louisiana. All over the south, up until the Mason-Dixon line. And once the cops caught wind of us hiding out with the Barker Gang outside Chicago, well heck, you could see me there too. It was a bad picture, me grinning with the sun in my eyes, a gun and beer in my hands. There was splotched catsup on my collar, people would swear up and down that it was blood, but take it straight from the horse’s mouth: we weren’t that bad. Sure people lost some money, and every now and again the copper’s would get close enough to catch a bullet but we didn’t kill no one. At least no real people, can’t say much-for when it comes to cops. A shoot out is a shoot out, and someone’s bound to get shot out.
We took that picture outside a Tennessee whorehouse after a great big score. We were in like Flynn man, scot clean of the thing. Don’t know why I get angry, but I do when I hear others say such a phrase, you know: “In like Flynn.” Same nagging irritation I get when the crowd cheered on my best bud in highschool, the star quarterback Matt Randall. Always felt like they were fakers. Crowd didn’t care that his daddy beat on him, or that Matt had to take care of his ailin’ mama when his dad tied a huge drunk on. They just came to see him run like greased lightening with that pig skin in his hand. And maybe throw a couple hundred yards in passes. Fakers. Don’t wanna read the book, gimme the ending; don’t wanna hear the story, gimme the moral.
I knew Eroll Flynn, the man behind “In like Flynn”. You’d think the stories were exaggerated but they aren’t. Quite rare for a story, for the folks who pass it to not give their own shine to it. In the 1930’s he got accused of molesting a young woman. But he was a bona fide actor back then, living off the fat hog of Robin Hood, and got clean off of any charges, on account of him being bona fide. Invited the whole gang out on his big red yacht one time. There was mighty fine dames on that boat, and so much hooch and spirits that you thought prohibition was just a bad nightmare, and those judges and courts had finally woken up. I’ll never forget that yacht, or the letters tattooed on its stern: “I.G.M.F.U.” It didn’t need asking to decode such letters, he said it so much that these new-age fools would probably call it his ‘mantra’ or something. “I got mine, Fuck you.”
But this isn’t about a famous actor like Flynn, getting drunk on boats, or how I cried like a baby teething when the good Matt Randall died of Typhoid. It’s about how Clyde Champion Barrow got his scar. When the pictures came out in the paper, lots of people didn’t believe Bonnie and Clyde died. “He was never THAT fat” they would say, or “I’ve seen Clyde Barrow, I knew his uncle, and he didn’t never have that scar next to his eye.” Well, I reckon those people just don’t know when to leave well enough alone. My two friends died on May 23, 1934, a year after they repealed prohibition. Downed by the meanest son of a bitch to ever walk this earth named Frank Hammer. Fitting name I assume. I guess God himself has something of a poet inside him. Clyde was always that nail that just wouldn’t set in. He was the one that poked out and would catch your clothing when ya walked by, almost like saying “Howdy doo!”Guess God finally sent a hammer that would set Clyde straight. You know, his son being a carpenter and all. That piece of shit Texas Ranger always had Black Maria chewing tobacco rolling ‘tween his cheeks, made his spit black like the devil’s. Bonnie read in the papers that he was after us, she’s the only one of us who could read, and said she figured his pecker was pitch forked and his bed was most likely a coffin. I think she mixed up the devil with Dracula, but we all still had a good laugh over it.
The whole gang was lying low, after Buck’s little disaster, in a ratty little place called the Red Crown Tourist Court. Not fit for a hen to shit in or a pig to root, but we got along okay. Blanche tried to pick up our spirits, even ripped her blue Sunday dress to hang curtains on the window, but like Clyde would say, “You can put your boots in the oven, but that don’t make ’em biscuits.” The Red Crown was south of Platte City, Missouri (nowadays that’s in Kansas City, Missouri, across I-29 next to that big ol Kansas City International Airport), and we felt as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party. I might’ve said Buck’s disaster, but it was really both of our faults. Me and Buck were trying to make gas money so’s the gang could get back to Texas, when we hit a little snag. A bad gun and poor decisions usually adds up to one helluva nightmare. We decided on a local grocer’s store to rob and I was to be the wheelman. Normally I’m all business during one of these things, even turn the radio down as to hear anyone shouting. Real businesslike, hell, you coulda confused me with an out-of-town lawyer if ya saw me sitting in the Ford V8. But of course it was a woman, just like that damnable Eve from the bible, that set me off my ways.
She was the spitting image of Trudy, a girl I used to fool around with in my family’s hayloft but never quite, how would you say, sealed the deal. Well I was determined to seal the deal with this fine prize. Before I know it, I was out of the car chewing the fat with this young lady, talking about the weather and local gossip, all the while wondering what she might be like in the cool shade of a hayloft. If she was Christian borne or ate before grace, if she was quiet or laughed in the way that made men tighter than bark on trees. I was workin’ up the nerve to ask her to the local pool hall when Buck came running out of the Five and Dime. A quick three rounds of .22 followed him, and it took me a good bit to realize the owner hadn’t taken kindly to being robbed. Old man was aiming to get his money back with a shotgun. I heard the crash when the back windows were shot out, but didn’t notice Buck bleeding till he got out of the car twenty minutes later, he left a pint of blood pooling on the seat.
Blanche screamed like a banshee when she saw her one and only the way he was. And poor fragile Bonnie kept saying “Oh my god” so much you woulda thought our room at the Red Crown Tourist Court had turned into a god damned revivalist church, all set with Blanche playing the choir. The room turned an awful color of blue, and tilted like a fun house. I couldn’t get my head on straight. There was an awful piercing sound, not quite a wail. Like when me and my daddy went out hunting and caught a rabbit in our traps. A terrible sound. I couldn’t eat dinner that night, no matter the grumbling in my gut. The same sound kept ringing in that blue room, Buck’s juices streaming closer to my cheap boots. The corners of the room rounded and I thought I would sick up right then and there, maybe even on Buck, writhing on the ground like that poor rabbit. I didn’t. I remember thinking, “I buried Matt, I watched Trudy leave and never come back, I’ve forged my heart, hard and strong with the fires of loss, and no little death was goin’ to ruin me. Even if the room seems like a fun house in hell, even with Blanche elbow deep in Buck’s damn life juice. If only that screech would stop, if only someone would stop that horrible noi–.” That’s when Clyde grabbed my collar and struck me. The noise stopped. It had come from deep down inside of me, not me really, but I was the cause of it. The room didn’t seem so terrible no more. The wind had blown off the blue curtains and the bright sun light brought us all out of hell. The corners were right angles again and Buck had fallen asleep.
Blanche had helped out in a local hospital down in Texas, so she went out to get something called ‘atropine sulfate’ for her man’s wound and Bonnie went with her. Me and Clyde, we stayed behind, arguing about where we should go next. He was red in the face, even more than usual, and fuming at the nose. I can’t rightly say what I argued for; it was vehemently argued though. All that screaming sure did attract attention, but Clyde was the kinda guy who didn’t care where he was or who was looking when he threw a fit. Bonnie told me he once called her a cheatin’ jezebel in the middle of church, on account of him noticing her eyeing a farm hand. That was Clyde. He didn’t really have a mean streak but not a soul would accuse him of being gentle. He was smack dab in the middle. So there we were. Arguing about where to go next, him wanting West and me pleading to go South, back to Texas. The arguing spilled out to the dusty parking lot. We didn’t want to disturb the dead, and that sick green, yellow and blue had seeped into Buck’s face. I’d seen the same colors on my father’s mean face on a gloomy December day. Coldest winter on record, but o’course he had to take the spotlight with his death. The bright sun shone hot and angry on us, yelling and pushing. We must have been a queer sight for the onlookers comin’ out of their rooms. I had bloody shoes and a big red welt on my cheek from Clyde. Clyde’s shirt was off and his chest was a road map of scars, each one with their own story. He looked like he had red gloves on his hands courtesy of Buck and no one looking could miss the big revolver stuffed into the crotch of his jeans. Like I said before, we were quite a sight.