Friday, December 10, 2010

Bungles of Bonnie and Clyde Cement a Friendship

Part 2 of this story series ...

The trial had all the drama and hilarity of the Keystone Cops meeting Bonnie and Clyde. I had to hand it to these two bank robbers. Their modus operandi was fascinating and brilliant, and they managed to avoid capture for several months as a result.

"Clyde" was a small, slight man, all of 5 feet, 5 inches and with a whisper-thin build. His angular face of delicate features and jet black hair gave the impression that the Stork got confused and had mistakenly put a woman's face on a man's body.

And Clyde knew that, too.

So his bank robbing scheme was simple. He dressed in a long black coat, topped his head with a wide-brimmed woman's hat -- and strapped pillows around his abdomen. He made up his face, wore women's gloves and carried a large tote bag. Then he robbed the bank -- as a pregnant woman.

In fact, when the Keystone crew first put out news reports, they said bank tellers described the robber just as that -- a small pregnant woman who was probably in her 7th month.

"Bonnie" was the getaway driver. And this was the funny thing (or, not so funny, depending on how you look at it). She really was pregnant. She sat behind the wheel waiting for Clyde, and as soon as he exited with the tote filled with cash, she took off with a tire squeal. That started everyone looking for two pregnant women with a Thelma-and-Louise streak.

When they were finally caught, no one was more surprised than the detectives that the robber who was politely taking money at the point of a gun -- was really a man. And, of course he was the father of Bonnie's child.

The trial that Joy and I were covering was for Bonnie. Clyde was a witness for the prosecution. See, he'd sold his girl out for lighter sentence. But she, loyal to the grave and even after having given birth in prison, vowed that she would never turn on him.

Ironically, it was this pair that united Joy and I in a unique friendship.

Each morning before the trial started, as I sat on a hard, pew-like courtroom bench, Joy would sidle in next to me with her conspiratorial smile and give me a gentle arm squeeze. "I heard some good gossip about Bonnie," she'd whisper, and then would regale me with the latest jail house activities of the femme fatale.

I was amazed that even though Joy knew I lived for beating her at the story, she still would share nuggets of color that she'd gleaned from bailiffs, detectives and court officials. She showed me how to work the ropes of the courthouse and gave me tips, the more experienced reporter to the cub reporter. She introduced me to people who had worked the case -- and even introduced me to Clyde himself.

Bonnie would show up for court usually in a prairie skirt or frilly white blouse, looking very much the ingénue. I'd marvel at her seeming innocence to the detective who would plant himself in the seat behind me and Joy.

"Don't feel sorry for her," he'd snarl in a Northeastern Maryland drawl. "She's not as sweet as she'd like you to think." He rolled his eyes at Joy, and she covered her mouth like a Southern Belle and quietly chuckled.

"But look at her," I said to both of them. "She just had a baby. There's no way that she wasn't manipulated by her boyfriend."

"Listen," the detective answered, leaning forward so that his head sat on the back of the bench between our two heads. "She's not going to fool the judge like she has you, I can tell you that much. The night we arrested her, she fought like a tomcat, kicking, scratching, biting."

I sucked in my breath, and Joy smiled at me and nodded her head.

"Not only that," the detective continued, "if you heard the words that came out of her mouth, you'd wonder if she'd risen straight from hell's belly. It's a good thing her child is in foster care, that's all I can tell you."

All three of us glanced in Bonnie's direction. As if sensing our collective gaze, she looked over her shoulder at the three of us, then made a face at the detective, whipped her head forward and defiantly crossed her arms.

"See?" he said with a laugh. "No remorse. To her, we're the bad guys for calling off her little bank robbing party."

"Um-hmm," said Joy in agreement as the bailiff announced the judge's entry.

We rose as the door to his chambers swung open and the aroma of the brewed Maxwell House filled the courtroom.

"I want coffee," I whispered to Joy.

"I know, it's not fair that he can brew that and make all of us smell it while we wait for him," she mumbled back.

"Wanna get some coffee after this?" I asked, catching myself by surprise that I'd even suggest lunch with my biggest competitor.

"I'd love it," she said. "I'll buy the coffee. And I'll take you to a place that has great Maryland She-crab soup."

"Deal," I said.

We sat simultaneously as the judge settled behind the bench and called the first witness, both of us flipping open our reporter notebooks and pulling the pencils that were tucked behind our ears.

And in that moment, I knew that Joy was going to be one of those friends I'd have for life.

I was too young to consider that within six years, she would be gone forever.

Tune in for part 3 of the story of how my atheist friend became a Christian ...

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