THE BALLAD OF BILLY HAYES
by Ray Nessly
See a little town in southern
not far from the border, December, 1964. That bank on the corner? Inside, a
bunch of folks are waiting in line. But the only ones that matter are Mr. and
Mrs. Bill ("don't ask him his real name") Hayes. California
Good looking couple. Young, ambitious. Newly wed in '62. And smart. They understand the opportunities inherent in a bank managed in absentia by a lard ass bozo who loves three-hour lunches.
Bill believes in practice runs. The books he loves preach it hard. The movies too. First step, the stakeout.
"See, hon? Manager's gone," Bill says, a trace of
in his voice, sweet n' smoky. He tilts
his head, indicating the security guard. "And the guy catnapping on his
stool? Manager's cousin. Big butts run in the family." Virginia
"Keep it down," she whispers. She's not so sure about this. They've knocked off filling stations, mom and pop stores, lemonade stands. But a bank?
"Okay, T, we've seen enough." He calls her "T"—or better yet, "hon" or "toots"—if he calls her anything at all. If he blurts out her real name during a job, they're goners. The only girl in the world with that name.
Sometimes she calls him "Billy." Usually, it's just plain "Bill." Lots of those around. The country is lousy with Bills.
He hates the name on his birth certificate. No wonder.
Go ahead, press him. All you'll get are initials.
Time to practice the getaway now. (Can't practice the holdup itself, right?) Bill opens the door for her, and they step outside.
Wasn't raining before. It's capital r Raining now.
"Okay, I'll bite," she says. "How so?"
"Two things. One, it hardly ever rains around here, right? So bet you anything it won't be raining come curtain time!"
"And . . . ?"
"Two, we gotta practice running down the street to the car, right? Well, nobody's gonna wonder what we're up to. It's raining! Hard!"
They bolt down the street to the '39 Chevy, green. The corner of a tarp hangs from the trunk, just enough to obscure the rear license plate. They hop in; the rain stops. Another omen, she supposes.
Bill in the driver seat, T riding shotgun. "Okay, let's take the first right," he yells. "Way I figure it? We'll clear this corner before Big Boy gets his second cheek off his stool. Ha! I like that. You?" He turns on the radio. "Music, hon?"
It's Johnny Cash, mid-song. The Ballad of Ira Hayes. Big hit that year.
"Any relation?" she jokes.
"Could be. I have some injun in me. Who doesn't? . . . Hey, let's practice some alleys!" He yanks the steering wheel, tires squealing like
hogs. "Okay, let's open 'er up"—stomping
the throttle—"Whoa, move yer tail, mister kitty cat!" Virginia
Is the cat okay? she wonders.
More important, that funny feeling . . .
Eyes. Following their every move. As if a movie camera's in the backseat, poking the back of her head, hard as a shotgun barrel.
She turns around. Nothing on the backseat but pulp novels. And on the floor, empty beers and crumpled packs of Winston reds.
He's up to three beers and one pack a day lately. Not too bad. No call for concern.
Johnny on the radio: drunken Ira Hayes . . .
"Billy, did you know Peter La Farge wrote that song?"
"Oh sure. Met him, in fact."
Johnny's done singing. A Winston ad comes on. She turns the radio off.
"Gotta tell you, Bill, I just had this weird feeling. It was like that movie we saw. Newlyweds rob a bank. They're in their getaway car, and—"
"Oh sure. Gun Crazy. 1950. John Dall and Peggy, um . . . don't tell me. Cummins."
She laughs. "Is there anybody on the planet with a better memory than yours?"
"Oh, probably. Okay, that's enough alley practice for—oh shit, another cat?!" He brakes, the Chevy fishtailing, the right rear fender like the open fist of God, slapping down trash cans. The Chevy slides to a stop. Engine's stalled.
Bill rolls the window down. A couple of barking dogs is all. "Nobody's come a-runnin. Good."
He turns the key. Sucker won't start.
"Great," she says.
"It's another omen, Thur—" He almost blurts it out.
"It's God—or something—telling us we need a backup car."
"Car trouble insurance. Case in point right here. Plus, when you hop in your backup car? The heat's still looking for the first one!"
"Where do we get another car?"
"Your mom's'll do nicely."
"You're outta your mind."
"No. Am. Not."
"Bill? We're not getting my mom involved!"
He hasn't said a word for three minutes! He's shooting for the record, she figures.
"You're not cut out to be a bank robber."
A dog barks. Barks again.
Dog's done. Bill's quiet. She's quiet. It's uncommonly quiet inside their Chevy.
"This car's been good to us," he says at last. "But I've got my eye on a new El Camino. Wanna know why?"
"Okay," he says, opening the door. "Guess I'll have to fix this one. Again!"
Hood goes up. Couple minutes later, he's back inside, about to turn the key.
"Hold on," she says.
"Give up this bank robber shit. Get a job fixing cars. Stick to the theoretical side of robbing stuff."
"Just write about it. Stories. Like those pulps in the backseat."
Shrug. "Meh. I dunno."
"Tell you what. Turn that key. If the car starts up? Get a job fixing cars. If it doesn't? Knock off that bank. Deal?"
Is he stalling? Or thinking it through?
"On three, Bill?"
He nods his head, then,
"Ready, hon? One, two . . . "
Ray Nessly hails from Seattle but since '82 has parked his butt in a little town east of San Diego. Whilst butt-parking, he pounds on a computer keyboard as music plays in the background and two cats fight over lap rights.