Part Three

“And then damn Bonnie and Clyde ran through there. Weren’t safe for no one. Bunch of mad dogs…” Pretty Boy Floyd

Clyde could barely walk. Bonnie couldn’t at all. They’d been ambushed and shot through the legs while rendezvousing with family members on the side of a back road. Blood gushed from the bullet holes. Big bullet holes. This time the cops had given them a dose of their own medicine. This time they’d been shot with a BAR–short for Browning Automatic Rifle.

The irony here was considerable; perhaps–more than anything else–Clyde and Bonnie owed staying alive as long as they did to the BAR and their proficiency with it. The BAR M1918 was developed during World War I. Fully automatic it was a long, heavy, brutally  powerful killing machine; especially if you used armor-piercing ammo–Clyde did. He looted National Guard Armories in order to stockpile them.

Clyde taught Bonnie to shoot even though she reportedly didn’t like guns. Wielding BARs they shot their way out of battles with the cops in: an over the garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri; a motor court in Platte City, Missouri where authorities utilized an armored car against them; and, most famously, an abandoned amusement park in Dexter, Iowa.

In these and other skirmishes they were badly outnumbered and, more often than not, seriously wounded. But the BAR evened the odds, and then some. Plus they were gritty and desperate, to boot. They dug bullets out of each other (Clyde once stole a medical bag out of a doctor’s car and injected Bonnie with pain medicine he found in it), slept in dried up creek beds and ate pork and beans out of cans. They hardly ever asked for help. But after getting shot with a BAR they reached out–to fellow outlaw, Pretty Boy Floyd.

Charles Arthur Floyd was a professional criminal who was regarded as a hero in the  isolated hills of his Oklahoma hometown, Salisaw. He staged carefully orchestrated bank robberies and shared the proceeds with the hill folk.

Floyd tried to keep violence to a minimum so naturally he loathed Clyde and had no tolerance for Bonnie. He hated it when the couple crossed the border into Oklahoma, even though he was rarely there when they did. He warned his family to avoid them like the plague.

So when Clyde showed up at Pretty Boy’s sister-in-law’s house, she was aghast at his gall and more than a little afraid; but she just couldn’t flat-out turn him away. From her front porch, Bessie Floyd could see Bonnie slumping in the front seat of the car. She felt sorry for her. Nonetheless Bessie told Clyde they’d have to find someplace else to lick their wounds. She did come up with some medical supplies, sheets and canned goods for them though.

Clyde got it–sort of. They were as hot as a fire cracker. Every cop in the entire Mid West was looking for them. Still, he expected better from a fellow thief (and, by extension, a fellow thief’s family); especially one who’d been in prison, and Pretty Boy had. Any self-respecting ex-con would understand why Clyde would do anything–yes, shoot, even kill, anybody–if it meant he’d never have to go back to that hell hole. And though almost nothing was  certain in his piss-poor life, this one thing was: he was never going back.

Chicamaw’s swinging a hoe when the car pulls up. He can’t believe his eyes. There’s no way. And yet, here he is in a sheriff’s get-up with the high captain, no less. It’s Bowie.

The guard tells him to toss the hoe and so he does. Then Bowie calls him over to the car. He gets in, up front with Bowie. The captain’s in the back. They take off down the road toward the entrance gate.

There’s small talk, something about a bench warrant. Bowie’s playing the part alright. He nudges Chicamaw, all discreet, and motions toward the glove box. Chicamaw whips it open and pulls out a pistol. He shoves it in the captain’s face.

Still he can’t believe it. Bowie’s nothing but a hayseed. He can barely pull his head out of his hind end. And yet here he is, doing the impossible, breaking him out of this prison farm. Nobody escapes from these farms. Maybe in someplaces, up North probably. But not down here in Texas they don’t. No sir.

At first it appeared Edward Anderson’s second novel Thieves Like Us was going to be his ticket out of obscurity and into the big time. Raymond Chandler, author of the Philip Marlowe detective series, was talking it up, name dropping it in all the right places, and the influential Saturday Review proclaimed Anderson the best American author since Hemingway and Faulkner. A couple of  big league agents even came calling and, yet again, Anderson uprooted his family, striking out for Tinseltown.

Once there he was scooped up by Paramount studios where he went to work writing screenplays, but it was hardly glamorous. Instead he ran into the dreary grind to which he was all too accustomed–all production and deadlines. It was no better than writing for the papers, or even the tabloids. He churned out scripts for one B movie after another. The low point came when he became the designated writer for the Nancy Drew serials.

Still Anderson had hopes that one of the studios would commission his novel. It got passed around and there was some talk but no action. He grew more despondent and climbed deeper into the bottle. His marriage collapsed. He left Hollywood, this time for good and, once again, went to work for one newspaper after another, hopscotching around the Southwest until he ended up back in Texas, broke. He finally sold the rights to Thieves Like Us for five hundred dollars. Despite two movies that were eventually adapted from it–They Live By Night (1949) and Thieves Like Us (1974)–Anderson would never see another dime from his novel.