John and I were approaching Rude, Arkansas. This was John's birthplace and three decades had passed since his last visit. How we found Rudy is somewhat a mystery. We took an unmarked turn, traded a crooked ribbon of asphalt for a stretch of gravel, crossed 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.
"During prohibition. I'm just passing the story on. Rumors warned that these outlaws were headed toward Rude. A city council meeting was called. The mayor thought the Marshal Osborne should barricade the street and then capture them. 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.'"
"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 store and waited. A few minutes passed, then the moon glinted off a car slowly crossing the bridge. A moment later it was in Rude.
“Did they stop?”
“No, they didn’t. They were evidently headed somewhere else, because they eased on through town. Dad saw the two of them through the car window.” Leading the way to the corner, he pointed and added, "they pulled the yonder grade and rounded the turn. Nobody ever saw them again."
Wanting to sit for a while, I noticed two men in front of the post office. The backs of their chairs were leaning against the wall. There were extra chairs, so we ambled over and claimed two of 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 fingers. Even more curious was his hat. It was black felt, perhaps a homburg in the beginning. 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 that had been made into short pants. His feet were bare and so calloused he reminded me of a Chiricahua Indian I’d seen in Mexico’s Sierra Madres. He couldn’t keep his eyes off our motorcycles. I knew 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 owned it thought I should try it out, I did. It was a mistake.
"That 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 in nothin’ flat. I hung on to that dirty 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 ‘till Hell wouldn’t have it."
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 rawhide rather than catgut.
"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 prepared to head back to Dallas. To do so, we’d have to cross the bridge over which Bonnie and Clyde once traveled, the same one where 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.