Sunday, February 12, 2012

The most heinous weapon of all: one saxophone (definite)

The exact quantities of weapons found in Bonnie and Clyde's 1934 Ford V8 death car are a matter of some debate. The following is a summary of the lists of weapons reportedly found in the 1934 Ford V8:

Three 30-caliber Browning automatic rifles (BARs) (definite)
One ten-gauge sawed-off shotgun (definite)
One twenty-gauge sawed-off shotgun (definite)
Six or seven Colt 45-caliber automatic pistols (definite)
One Colt 32-caliber automatic pistol (probably)
One Colt 38-caliber revolver or pistol (probably)
One Colt 45-caliber revolver (probably)
2000-3000 rounds of ammunition (definite)

The most heinous weapon of all: one saxophone (definite) (click here for the rest of the story)

Cotton Season

William Pierce, Jr., grasped his hip with both hands and tugged with all
his strength against the action of the auger that caught his leg and was
pulling his body to bloody pieces.

The foreman Red Smith locked eyes with him over the stub of an unlit
cigar. Pierce screamed without a sound against the deafening roar of the
machinery. He knew that Smith left the grating off the top of the
horizontal floor shaft that was meant to cover the auger.

After Pierce's right leg was reduced to a bloody pulp up to the pelvis,
Smith turned off the main power switch. All the machines shut down
slowly. The vacuum hose that sucked raw cotton out of the wagons and
into the gin was the last to stop with a diminishing moan. In the sudden
quiet of that moment, on cue, he smiled at Pierce, speaking around the
stub of unlit cigar.

"You look real stupid like that, Mr. Pierce."

Pierce thrashed the air with his fists and howled again. Blood spattered
his white dress shirt and the gold pen and pencil set clipped in his
breast pocket.

"I tried to tell you about rushing a man in his work."

Indeed, he had warned Pierce about rushing a man in his work earlier
that morning. Pierce had reminded him that it was l934, there was a
lingering depression, and that he was lucky to have a job.

"I know you right, Mr. Pierce," Red had said in oily, neutral tones,
then spat the juice of chewing tobacco at his feet. "You sho’ nuff

Red knew what year it was, all right. He had spent eight long years in
the cotton fields of the Texas Department of Corrections planting,
hoeing and picking cotton, running to the patch and running back to "the
house" in the evenings. He’d seen men go mad after "riding the Coke box"
in their bare feet, made to stand on the necks of glass soft drink
bottles in wooden cases all night because of some imagined or perhaps
real but slight offense against a "boss" or a "building tender," the
term for a sadistic inmate guard.

He had received a crooked trial in a kangaroo court for something not
only he didn’t do but no one did because it, because the offense, in
fact, never happened.

Burglary of a building.

What building? It wasn’t specified.

When? Where?

The jurors didn’t care.

He was just another drifter, a two-bit sharecropper with a barefoot

He’d seen men beaten with trace chains on their bare backs and go on to
die of infections of the untreated wounds, seen them kept in the hole on
"piss and punk," the term for bread and water or hominy and putrid,
filthy water, for days until they were unable to perform their work in
the fields.

He had seen men lashed with the "bat", a piece of industrial grade
leather belting attached to a wooden handle for being the last to reach
the field or the last to reach the "house" in the evenings after running
to and from. A few well placed elbows and knees took care of any man
that was targeted to become a boss’s "boy" or a building tender’s
"bitch." Broken ribs and strained knees or pulled hamstrings made a man
last, put him in the unenviable position of being lashed to the bars of
a cell door hand and foot, whipped until he screamed for mercy, and
subsequently broken through sexual torture.

Red had seen it all, but he wasn’t broken, not by a long shot. He had
family and that family had paid case money to keep him in the good
graces of the crooked authorities. They paid to keep him in a job as a
ginner in the civilian work force where he was rented out as a worker by
the warden. Thus, the warden was collecting two ways.

It had turned Red into a hostile, cynical piece of work. He was
taciturn, dour and by turns downright hateful to all but his family.
Family meant everything to Red. It was all he had, that sense of
belonging to a family and fathering his own.

He was now living under the terms of parole, a system that placed him in
the true state of feudal villainy, a man unable to leave the county
without permission or seek employment anywhere except where he had been
assigned to work - for Pierce, the local cotton king.

But Red had also had the sense to make the best of his situation. His
little girl Dotty was smart and it showed way before she went to
kindergarten. By that time, she was reading him items from the paper,
explaining the funnies, and adding up the family grocery bill based on
the prices listed in the sale papers.

The Smiths knew they had a very special little person living in their
family, someone that came along while her daddy was "away" and whose
spirit had kept him alive through his darkest days while he waited for
his Sunday afternoon visits with Mrs. Smith.

His problems with Pierce started after Dotty had been called to the high
school office one morning the week before, told that she was the
valedictorian of her graduating class, and given the morning off to go
tell her mom and dad. She had practically run the mile and a half home
to tell them.

They called everyone they could think of to crow the news. Ran to the
company store on the corner, the "Pierce Mercantile Company," with its
odors of rat trap cheese, oily sawdust and bologna. In the dim
recesses, Red cranked the phone with everything he had and shouted his
instructions to Central.

It meant everything to them. Their girl could compete for the
scholarships that would lead to a university education, a good job - in
short, a way out of the grinding poverty of the depression and the
attendant rural politics of mere survival it dictated.

She would be free, more free than they had ever hoped to be.

Then she went back to class after the lunch period and the world turned
upside down.

They called to the office and told her that there had been a mistake.
She wasn’t the class valedictorian, after all. Another student had
beaten her record by a half a grade point.

She cried. She pleaded with the principal and the school superintendent
to let her check the figures.

They refused her.

Then who had gotten the higher grades and displaced her from her spot?

The daughter of School Board President William Pierce, Jr., owner of the
cotton gin, the bonded warehouse and seed mill.

He had wheeled up to the school in his Cadillac to pick up his girl and
get the good news.

And so, the next morning when a wealthy farmer, a man in control of a
half a township, three square miles, came to the gin to complain that
Red had told him to "Blow it out his ass" when he demanded that his
cotton wagons be unloaded first, Pierce came firing out of his office in
his white shirt and wing-tip shoes, striding across the gin floor that
he, in fact, owned, without looking where he was putting his feet.

"What happened, Mr. Red?" A colored man asked in the sudden quiet,
strolling over with the arthritic gait of one that has grown old far
before his time.

"I don’t know, Clarence. I purely don’t know."

Red lighted a fresh cigar and sat down to wait for whatever would come

"I didn't see nothin', Clarence. Nothin' at'tall, don't ya' see?"

Clarence looked from Red to the bloody mess that was once Mr. Pierce.
He turned his whole body from the hips, hurting, respecting the
arthritis that was slowly crippling him.

"Is that right?"

# # #

© 2005

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