THE CUT IN THE HILL GANG:
THEIR HISTRIONIC BEGINNINGS AND
I'll start about where they did - on a Grand Victoria Casino riverboat, some gaudy multimillion-dollar renovation of a military tanker, the U.S.S. Soulshaker or whathaveyou, on the River Ohio. It was mid-July, just the sunnyside of midnight. Of course, there's no need to take my word on faith. Here it is, as it was in the papers, the Enquirer I recall.
GANG KILLS THREE IN NEO-WESTERN
July 13, 2007 - CINCINNATI
Just before midnight on Saturday a band of three men boarded a port-bound Grand Victoria Casino riverboat and proceeded to rob the crew and passengers reportedly telling victims on the ship that they were conducting an "old-fashioned stick-up." Reports say the men wore Halloween masks – one panther, one President Lincoln, one zombie – and were armed with what security guards said looked like antique pistols. Police were unable to confirm the age of the weapons, and forensic reports have yet to be made public.
Authorities say the three men made off with over five million dollars worth of cash and valuables. The gang apparently stole a Northern Kentucky police department speedboat which they used to access the at-capacity Grand Victoria ship. The trio made off with their loot to an unknown location and then returned to the Grand Victoria boat, which by that time was being emptied of passengers and inspected by the police. The three men proceeded to sink the boat with military-grade explosives, killing three police officers.
The police boat used in the robbery was left with spray-painted letters on the starboard side: "TCITHG KOTJMF." An unnamed source close to Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati area gangs reported the first acronym to be the tag of The Cut in the Hill Gang, a small band of musicians, con men and thugs first recognized after a 2006 string of bluegrass concerts and subsequent holdups targeting bars and clubs in the area. The meaning of the second acronym is still unknown.
Police Chief suspect ties to a wide range of organizations dating back to the Black Panthers and even, some say, the Dalton gang, famous for a string of train and bank robberies in the late 1800s. Authorities are also holding for questioning a female with the alias Ruby thought to have romantic connections to the gang. It has been rumored that Ruby tipped off police about the riverboat heist but the information was dismissed as a prank. Police are asking anyone with further information to come forward.
Hear ye, have ye, of those old Cincinnati boys? Those musicians-come-bandits, troubadours-turned-troublemakers – or vice-versa? Those plunderers of the River Ohio? Those pariah pirates with enough gusto and plain idiocy to one day hold up City Hall like some kind of po-dunk Wild West posse – except this all took place not more than a spit's worth of years ago, so help me Jesus, from this redemptive year of our Lord, two thousand and eight?
Probably you ain't heard shit except maybe whispered on a wind blown in from Kansas. That above affair was the gang's first newspaper clip, and boy were they a proud bunch. That was before the authorities, you know the villainous powers that be, got in the way of press coverage and didn't allow sensationalized stories about the gang to run. And they were all sensational.
So should you want the real story, that's something only I can give you. I did, after all, spend the night in a holding cell with the guys. Ramble on like best old acquaintances, we did.
And the real story is the pigs must have been incredibly fucking lucky that day. First that the boys didn't sink their speedboat. Second that they didn't blow up the cops themselves, per se, but only the riverboat (the three cops that perished did so on account of drowning, which is a nice way of saying couldn't swim for a waterlogged sack of hog feed). And third that their source was right, as it turned out, about the first acronym. "TCITHG" – The Cut in the Hill Gang, sure enough.
Their names were John Quixote, the Six String Kid (though if you ever heard him play any instrument with any number of strings – banjo, mandolin, guitar, whathaveyou – you'd have swore he was the six-finger kid), and Lance-a-lot. At least that's what they came in telling people around the cell block. Nobody said anything about it because you just don't go around pestering boys who blow up riverboats full of cops and make millions doing it over something so petty as real birth-assigned names. Reason one is they're bound to be pissed off about being in the slammer in the first place. Reason two is that, when you've got so much dough as they did and so many connections with crooked cops and two-faced politicians, something must have gone totally haywire to make them get caught. No one knew if maybe one of them turned all plumb crazy onto Jesus or if maybe this lady-dame Ruby strutted her way into the turning gears of plans bigger than you or I thought could come from criminals this side of Saudi Arabia. You never knew how many times lady-dames have saved the pale asses of our heroes in blue uniforms and white Crown Vics. Maybe the boys themselves weren't even clear on what sent them to jail that night I met them – or what would lead them to such an ill-fated demise.
But I get ahead of myself. After that first riverboat bit, the boys kept a low profile. Or rather, they began taking on such big league targets that the cops didn't want mention of it in the papers or on the news. Especially after word leaked out that it wasn't as if the three that I told you about were holding the reins of a massive, well-organized criminal collective, but that those same three were the only three, the be-all and end-all of this gang, the only three solely responsible for perpetrating a crescendo of egregious crimes against society. No one was allowed to talk of the Cut in the Hill Gang officially – papers, TV, anywhere.
So people talked unofficially. The gang's exploits blossomed in the public imagination under the clampdown of the higher-ups, became fodder for the gossipers, oxygen to the folklore junkies' fires. Rumor and truth worked like a couple of kids playing ring around the rosie, all dizzy and singing and holding hands.
Once, I was home visiting Mama and my kid brother, Abe, in Covington, Kentucky, and we all got to talking about those Cut in the Hill boys after hearing a radio report that a recent spike in violence and automobile accidents was being attributed to the gang having pumped truckloads of gin into the city's water supply.
"Didn't hear no complaining about that," I said. I couldn't help sniggering. "Up til now."
"Pack of wild hoodlums," I remember Mama saying. "Lock your doors at night and pray is all you can do."
For Mama, a litter of week-old pups could have qualified for a pack of wild hoodlums, so we ignored her. But I thought it was strange how my kid brother seemed somehow sympathetic toward the boys, him being a cop too and saying all this about how their fierce independence of mind, action, and spirit made them superior examples of the American deviant. A bunch of college bullshit still in his head.
"What about all them citizens they killed?" I said, contrary as was my custom. "And those crime-fighting comrades of yours that ate bullets on the gang's account?"
"Papers don't say about any citizens killed."
"Abe, papers don't say shit." I remember spitting when I had to make some important point because I chawed a lot of tobacco in those days. Mama kept a nice old bronze spittoon about the size of a man's head and she grinned a little when I decided to use it. "This ain't no goddam Batman," I told my brother. "They put bullets through unsuspecting ears almost every job they pull. Just necessary in that kind of work."
This was right when everyone was talking about how the gang forced its way into the big AM sports radio station in Cincinnati one afternoon during a the broadcast of one hot-shot commentator, name of Cunningham, and tied up him with sausage casings they'd stolen from a nearby meat plant. This was a guy who'd hobnobbed with some the most uppitty gents in town on his radio show, in politics and in business, and here the boys just waltzed in, tied him up with tripe, and used his connections to extort a million bucks or so. They gang gained de-facto corporate and political funding from the likes of Chiquita, P&G, Kroger and the Cincinnati Republican contingency. After they'd raised this war cry on establishment (and the said amount of money), they pretended to waterboard the crusty old dude live on the air until he capitulated and annouonced to his listeners that he'd hereafter like to be called by his true name, Bill Cunnilingus. The name still sticks and everyone has a theory about whether they really dunked the guy or not. He, for one, stays mum on the issue and now spends his time on some warm golf resort far away from microphones and broadcast booths. And the gang managed a safe getaway too, which is where the blood was spilled, as always.
It was this unavoidable violence, I told my kid brother, that made these men dangerous. I spat.
"I never heard about any citizens getting killed," he said. "And who makes you the authority anyway? I bet you just pulling my leg."
"You two shut up now," Mama said. "Talking too much evil brings evil down upon the heads of the talkers." See, Mama liked to spout what sounded like scripture but wasn't.
"Know what else they pulled at that radio station?" I wiped away a dribble of tobacco juice from my chin.
"What?" Abe was chomping it all up.
"They programmed it so the computer will play Public Enemy songs at random intervals throughout the day. Turns out one of the gang went in for studying computers and shit just to raise hell with the technocracy."
"Nevermind. Point is, WLW is programmed to broadcast Public Enemy at various points throughout the day. Station people still haven't figured out how to fix it."
"It was at the bequest of this homeless alliance the gang was supposed to be assisting with their surplus dough. They took a vote about what to make all the tightwad wasps in the city hear, and the homeless people all voted Public Enemy. It's the sort of raw democracy that scares the Dockers right off of ordinary citizens."
"Watch your language, Abraham. He who speaketh ill lives with dirt on the back of his tongue, swallowing often, to no end."
And sure enough, within the hour we heard the verifiable AM radio truth: Public-fucking-Enemy.
Now, of course, it wasn't all roses and backward knight-errantism for those Cut in the Hill boys. No, much of the work was simple larceny, petty or grand made no difference. A jewelry store here, an elegant restaurant there. They saved the high-profile public hijinks for special occasions just rare enough that you wouldn't necessarily change your way of life to avoid being unwittingly involved, but just frequent enough to make the general population grow constantly, unconsciously committed to a dark wariness and fear.
It was almost like the less the gang was in the news, the more scared people got. The authorities were faced with a lose-lose dilemma. Officials wrote long public discourses on Cincinnati becoming the next homeland security hotbed – compared it to London's Indian quarter, to the Afghan-Pakistani border – conjuring terrifying visions in the public mind of shoe bombs and full-scale chaos right smack in the heart of flyover country.
It only took the federal people a few days and few wiretaps after such reports became too public to find the boys – pulling some embarrassing small-time job at a chili joint (lunch, as it turned out, but the cops wouldn't admit to that). Before nightfall, the gang was in a big-time prison in the middle of nowhere Indiana.
Which is where I came to know those boys. We all shared a holding cell for one afternoon and night, and we passed around a bottle of lightning shine brought along by Lance-a-lot, or just Lot as he insisted as the night deepened when, after he spelled his version of the name out for me, I inquired as to what he made of the biblical-medieval-postmodern smashup he'd chosen as his bandit moniker and he just shrugged. He'd snuck the booze in on account of his having a hollow leg the pigs did not seem to have noticed. Lot was a real crafty guy, the one who pulled off all the gang's complicated computer pranks like at that radio station. And he was real gentlemanly too, offering the bottle first to Quixote who held it out to all.
"Get it in ya, fellas," Quixote said. "Cheers."
The Six String Kid, he drank two to our one. He seemed real shook up, fidgety like, and kept talking about how when he got out he was gonna stay with his baby forever.
"Soon as I'm free," he said, "no more shit except what my darling approves of." Which pissed off everyone in earshot either from jealousy or proof of a lack off testicular fortitude.
Lot grunted and took a swig of the shine. "That Ruby's got you trained, kid." Lot wiped his mouth with a denim sleeve and tapped a loud tattoo on his hollow leg. "Trained little boy soldier."
"Fuck off, Lot. She's a bonafide sweetheart."
When Six wasn't bawling about his lost lady-dame, he was a truly nice fella. He'd forget a woman ever existed and go on and on about the equines and the dogs and the acres of soybeans he grew up with. Then he'd look at his hands suddenly and the fingers'd be moving like he was playing some song on the guitar or mandolin right there in the air. Then, at the very twoness of his hands, it seemed, he'd start whining about the lady-dame again, like he always had to be in love with something and if it wasn't his old memories of beans or horses or even an imaginary song, then it'd have to be some woman.
As for Lot, when he got loosed up (on the second pint of shine from that hollow leg), he said tough things like "Imma strangle me a pig when I get outta here and enjoy them screams." But as soon as he got done saying it, he'd look around and Quixote and Six would look away. The gang didn't go in much for manslaughter so much as for wild thievery and civic turmoil. Then Lot would seem to remember this fact and go pale and twist his face like he didn't believe he'd just said what he'd just said and then go real melancholy at the knowledge that yes, he did just volunteer murder at which point he'd take a long coupla gulps, go silent, tap a rhythm or two on the hollow leg.
But John Quixote was the real baloney-and-grits of the night. Quixote was as close as the Cut in the Hill Gang got in the way of leadership. He seemed like the sleazy kind of honcho who leads by rhetoric and conniving rather than by force of respect or sheer power. He'd fly off reciting passages of "Don Quixote" (no brainer, huh?) and quote Napoleon and Malcolm X all in the same breath. He had grand designs that night, plans about revolutionizing the law and justice apparati of our great society, stuff about liberating the disenfranchised, indistinct, lowly proletarian masses from the heinous crimes of the rich and oppressive god-force with the untried force of rock'n'roll renegade politics. Shit that really gets the goats of suckers like my brother and intellectuals and the French and that I generally forget posthaste. His speech was a high caliber of performance, the way it polished his eyes to a high shine with the wetness inherent in, if you know anything about the human tribe, pretend passion. Plus we were all more than half in the bag and out the other end and all pissed off and dis-fucking-illusioned about being in federal goddam prison in the first place, even in such esteemed company as each other. All of us were all ears. Hard not to be with a fella like Quixote.
What no one mentioned was how come the feds weren't keeping the boys in separate cells, seeing as how they were perceived to be a threat to national security and all. Not half-drowning the gang to get them to admit to crimes worse than they'd committed (which would be hard to achieve, but half-drowning can probably do unexpected things to the creative powers of one's will to live) was one thing; but not putting the boys into separate cells seemed just crazy and dumb. Something was afoot.
And sure enough, by morning, the boys were gone.
When the Cut in the Hill Gang marched out of the holding pen, I thought it was so each could go off to his own cell. It made sense for the crimes they had these boys on. Have to keep those minds from collaborating on some violent and genius plan for escape.
Turns out they didn't even need the chance to scheme up an unlikely escape. Everything was arranged that morning so they'd just waltz the hell right out. Had a couple of moles on the inside, it turned out, yes, even in a federal clink like that, lackeys with keys to the right doors or maybe even true-blue supporters even of whatever cause John Quixote had cooked up to preach at some point previous. I can't image what level of shit those Indiana jailers had to take from the feds the day after the gang's impossible disappearance. Just goes to show you what kind of authority these boys could wield.
The gang left the door open on the way out, and for whatever reason, this was the first time I noticed that these gentlemen wore some of the most elegant boots you ever saw. Real prestigious ass-kickers and cunt-punters. Gave you a deep sense of respect for the fellas. Anyhow, I was entranced with their steps, one-two to freedom mind you, and maybe still pretty drunk from the shine we'd shared the night before, so I just followed the boys right on out.
I watched the boys carefully from then on, became like one of them, went on jobs with them, ate with them, listened to them play music, watered their plants.
The gang lay low for a couple of weeks after this so-called prison break and recorded a haystack of tunes with equipment that they would steal and then hawk to unwise hipsters, and a good handful of these hipsters ended up in the slammer because they wouldn't realize they'd bought hot gear. In the end, most of the gang's tunes would survive only in memory, though I bet there's still a record to two somewhere you ought to dig up some day.
No matter how many songs they made, the boys ended up having robbed, scammed or otherwise swindled twice as many institutions and individuals in the Greater Cincinnati area in the months following. All to set them up with what they'd need for what they began referring to as the Last Gig, the one that would send the whole operation to hell but would pit the Cut in the Hill Gang in an easily won battle with notoriety for as long as humankind is interested in passion and arrogance and change.
"Queen City needs a new Queen," the boys began spray-painting wherever they went. And no one seemed to disagree.
"One joker, one scam, one fear," Quixote'd sing.
"One bourbon, one scotch, one beer," the boys would chime in.
The swindling gave them all a great delight. They united under the pure and basic and boyish banner of lawlessness.
And it sounded perfect then.
I'll spare you, of course, the silly domestic bits, the highs and lows and general bickering, the ego binge that resulted when the Cut in the Hill Gang pulled off a miracle escape from this big-league lockup and proceeded to knock off five banks, two musical equipment stores, and one ice cream shop (Lot had a thing for malts). The band was soon considered solvent again by police and dangerous, the Six String Kid grinning again with his girl on his arm – the girl, Ruby, a knockout, too, of pin-up proportions with pipes to shame the angels if you could get her to sing, and no outward indication of ever even having seen a policeman, nonetheless conspiring with their kind – Lot slurping a malt and Quixote solitary, looking forward and cunning as the gang walked across the purple bridge to Kentucky, a triumphant homecoming from prison and a deluge of music and robberies, clicking his bootheels and spitting chaw juice into the River Ohio, the smug curl of lip belying an inner certainty that it was his spat chawjuice alone that colored the river that way in the first place and kept it so dredged-up shitcolored. That was how powerful you feel after strutting right back into the criminal life with a rap like his in your past, inconsequential to the one you're cooking up for you and your boys in the soon-to-be-past.
It was those eyes and that look which fell upon Six and Ruby whispering, walking hand-in-hand over the bridge, across toward the little pub on Scott Street which adjoined the strip club where Ruby worked nights, about a block from the police station where the gang had long been in cahoots with the right folks to have an easy time of raising hell around the neighborhood.
"Doc, ain't it great to be free again?" Six said.
"I told you don't call me Doc no more," Quixote said. He cut all around with those sharp eyes. "Besides, we were only imprisoned for sixteen hours, kid. Quit taking it so heavy."
"Seemed like forever, babe." Six held Ruby, proud of his romanticism. And the girl looked proud enough, too. "But now we're on a roll again, right Doc?"
Quixote sighed, seemed to know, either from the papers or from plain intuition, that the girl had talked. He treated her with suspicion and jealousy and was sour all around.
And Lot seemed to sense this tension. He offered Quixote his malt, an instinctual and childlike move. With bile and spite in his veins, Quixote turned and grabbed the cup and tossed it over into the river.
"You bovine fucking lug." Quixote boxed Lot's ears
"Sorry, boss. I though you'd like to celebrate." When Lot didn't know words used against him, for he needed not chains of letters and meanings to understand more than most can comprehend with them, but picked up from body language and vocal tone that the obvious implications and intentions were negative, he liked to put the speaker into strangle holds. Plus he hated getting his ears boxed.
So he tried the strangle hold. Which brought out Quixote's quick, well-sharpened switchblade.
Seeing those two knife-to-throat and Six and Ruby a few steps ahead necking desperately, you could sense the doom and future strife, see it clear as a white pillar on a plain, that had become irrevocably adrift in The Cut in the Hill Gang's every action, even this bickering, from the day they walked out of prison. Of course, maybe it was always that way.
The two finally eased up, and we all walked on toward the bar. It was a tradition, on nights without jobs, to walk Ruby to work. Not that she needed it or even liked it, but we sure did. Ruby was not the sort of creampuff girl you can just push all around – or up to any bar counters or into any beds for that matter. She wore flowerprint dresses and commanded at least two second looks with hips and bangs and strut that caused traffic accidents, but she was a steeled sort of beauty, the stuff of American lore. To work like she did, you gotta be that way, and she did and she was.
And you know Six, he was still about one foot and a half in the grave over the old prison business, scarred for sure by it, the one night stand that it was, and took to spinning his wheels something furious.
"Let's just have babies, honey." He was getting sweaty, scared, pleading to the beauty. "Ruby, what if I get dead in pursuit of some job?"
We were at the bar, at last, and Ruby played it cool at first, dabbed lipstick with the tissue she kept tucked beneath a bracelet, adjusted a crooked stocking, all the usual pre-show refinements. But Six kept pushing the issue, out of desperation no doubt and genuine fear of demise, drinking all the while for courage and loquaciousness, with needs and desires wrapped up in a domestic plea: "Get thee one in thee oven or I'm out the door." It was the sort of embarrassing and false ultimatum that some men resort to after plenty of booze and trauma from what they see as a close call on their lives. Ruby countered the whole affront with a scowl and a cold, shapely hip.
"I've got to work now, hun."
She knew Six better than he knew what the hell he was doing or trying to suggest and carry out. She knew Six like an addict knows dope but treated him like one who'd long ago kicked the habit.
So at this point, you see, Ruby was facing John Quixote, making her final preparations, as it were, to go on stage. Quixote put this look on his face like he'd never seen Ruby before, ever, nor any of the guys around him – the thugs out to celebrate the gang's release and resurgence, the crooked cops who'd greased the door hinges, the doe-eyed, dough-faced sweater-wearing set in from the college, won over by Quixote's subversively publicized rhetoric, come to witness the tribulations and brute physical indulgences of this knight-errant set.
"Goddam, Ruby," he drawled and spat. "How about I make you queen of this city? We'll change the world, baby."
At which suggestion many onlookers snapped their fingers or looked away. Except Six who was within obvious hearing range, who had been serious with this sweetheart lioness of his about babies and the whole homey dream, who clenched his jaw and fists both and tossed back one more jigger of rotgut and wailed on Quixote – who saw it coming but cared not to stop anything, only to use what he knew would occur to fuel some other idea in his soul or loins, as if they were actually distinct entities for the man at all.
His idea was this. Wait for the Last Gig and set up the Six String Kid and Lot for a sting. He knew plenty of backward-assed cops who would drool at such two-timing. Thus had he been trying, since he sensed the Ruby nark, to bring discord to the group, perhaps to justify the cruel double-cross to his stump of a conscience.
"We'd be a great pair," Quixote said between fists. "Captain Egregious and Queen Gorgeous."
The spoils of the job, then, would be Quixote's alone, the spoils now to include a redheaded Queen Ruby. Quixote, by the by, was a little man, not unlike his hero Napoleon who came by all he ever had by forcefully taking – women not just included in this list, but at the very pinnacle.
That's what carouseled in Quixote's head as he went down under the Six String Kid's fists, and even Lot threw in a kick or two for that whole bovine business earlier on the bridge which still signified nothing to him but which he understood regardless.
Ruby looked bored by the whole false show of swagger and bravado, except by Lot, who was drunk enough and confused so as to look actually, plaintively cow-like. Which is a look of divinity in some parts of this globe.
They fellas were still at fisticuffs when Ruby took the stage, subsumed by the spotlight.
When the fight ended, the boys parted ways knowing when and where to show for the Last Gig. They were to meet at 5:53 a.m. outside City Hall with the prearranged cargo of guns and explosives, no masks, no women, no hangovers, the usual bit, all this on Monday the next. The objective: to turn vigilante, to take over the city's capital and officially implement a form of Cut in the Hill Gang pariah law.
So it was when the fellas in the gang nodded unspeaking to each other, and John Quixote, still a little puffy-lipped and green-eyed from Six's fury the week previous, grabbed the handle of the front door to City Hall which was supposed to be locked and found it turning easily, opening as easily as pushing back a stage curtain – heavy with doom and dread, but not much in the way of physical obstruction. Except Quixote got confused and turned around in the darkness preceding his entrance as the unlocked door spawned in his mind a whole ugly batch of possible backfires and triple-crossings or nothings-at-all but just mere coincidence, and his heavy hand sweated on the latch.
As it turned out, Six was no fool either, or even if he was sometimes because of drink or the power of the fairer sex, few men stay that way after their pride's been so severely wounded or their woman's been tampered with in such an insouciant manner as Quixote had pulled at Ruby's club the night previous, and he, with Ruby asking for help from the pigs, was planning to take Quixote down on some sting of his own, hiring Quixote's very own cop-brother to lead the sting, which he sensed correctly would be a counter-sting, and later, when all was settled, to bring Lot along as a sort of hench or body guard and also moral support for both Six and his Ruby and the progeny he was lusting after having faced what he clearly feared in that cell block that night, the end of everything.
Quixote sensed all this on the precipice, saw it in the eyes of his cohorts as soon as the idea presented itself. It took no less than five seconds to decide and seal the fate of the Cut in the Hill Gang's attempted usurpation. Quixote slipped the switchblade from inside his sleeve, slashed behind him to keep back Lot and Six and slipped deftly inside and bolted the door behind him.
Quixote was immediately facing cops, both those working for him and those involved in the Six String Kid's double-cross. In a chain reaction of pistol-cocking, all looked surprised to see all the others, as if each had come hired individually, which they had been, arranged by their respective bosses like chess pieces and now gaping around, even more like chess pieces, still and cold.
This took five seconds more.
It was during the very next five seconds that some very arrogant fucker pushed the first gun to Quixote's forehead and he quickly disarmed the guy in one move, saying out loud how the cops can't teach any of these poor saps anything about handling real weapons because of all the regulations and tasers and whathaveyou which is why most cops turn out renegade or crooked. He began firing his pair of Butch Cassidy pistols in windmill fashion, like a blind or deranged man, which just then he definitely seemed to be.
When all the sting cops in City Hall, mine and the others, were down, Lot and Six outside working hard at the bulletproof, soundproof door, looking more horrified than panicked about what Quixote might have in store for them, Quixote surveyed the ones he'd made bleed or had shot to sleep at his feet. All of his guys – Ragged Duke, Jimmy the Exploder, Betty Boy, Swank, Dechman, Ostrichmeat, Kat Man Doo.
And then one face I recognized but did not immediately know then did – Abe, my kid fucking brother all dead and bleeding from the bottom of his blown-out chin where I'd put one of the unaimed bullets, me, and now this is where I begin to lose it, fully intending always but always failing to keep myself out of my own story, impossible always at this juncture to maintain the impersonal telling of events when I realize again how I shot my own kid brother in the goddam jaw. Then my head and limbs and whole body cavity began filling with the sort of awful juice that makes men choose to end their own lives.
And I went for good or ill apeshit on the whole existence around me, stomping, firing, hollering – any old release.
By that time, the heavy-duty security forces had arrived on Ruby's tip, albeit already a step behind me, the black helmets with helicopters and lights and giant fucking firearms all yelling at the maniac, me, barricaded inside City Hall with a bunch of corpses or near-corpses to drop his weapon, my weapon. And then they shut up for a while and I heard only gunfire, which was peaceful and all I could think was how Mama would have my head for shooting her other son through the jaw – "they who blow holes in their brothers' jaws before blowing holes in their own..." or whathaveyou.
The gunfire, turns out, was prompted by Six and Lot, who for whatever reason – pity, hope, despair, who knows – began blasting away at the swarm of baying pigs perhaps trying to save some face or maybe some time for me, inside, to make sense of my own sin. Only one of which would prove possible.
Five seconds was all it took, so the police report would read, for the Six String Kid and Lance-a-lot to succumb to the shower of pigs' bullets. It seemed a lot longer from the inside, and nobler too.
When it was down to me and the corpses or near-corpses versus the gaggle of pigs outside, I looked dead ahead and spat. You might think it looks grim at this point, and that's true it did look grim. But you never let the pigs get an inch on you, and you sure as hell don't earn the title outlaw by playing by any set of prearranged rules or suppositions.
I grabbed up my brother's bleeding body and propped him up in front of me and unlatched the door. Maybe this was sick. I like to think of it as the best available diversion. It seemed like maybe he was still breathing, but you couldn't really tell and anyway my mind was set. I kicked open the door and my near-dead brother absorbed the first volley of bullets as I made my way to where Lot and Six were splayed out on the concrete, where I took a fall that I'd practiced a hundred times, one that looked like I'd taken a bullet to the chest.
The truth was that I had taken bullets, not to the chest but a few to the guts in fact. I mean, I had enough blood on me, if that's your concern, that you couldn't tell where the bullet entered. And it's not that the pigs were dumb or mismanaged the situation. It's just that we were smarter and managed it better.
We made just the shortest looks with our eyes, slips of white and a dot of pupil: one, two, three. All on the same page, all playing the same game of possum, though I couldn't tell if Lot and Six had actually been shot like I had or had just played safe with an early bow-out once they realized that their double-cross was a bust, maybe even purposefully so at that Ruby's urging, who knows, and that that group of pigs supposedly only going after me was really going after all three of us. Regardless, it's a trick you learn early in this trade, to slow the heart and pulse to slug speed, to clammy up your skin, to lie limp and get used to being kicked and poked and stuck by medical authorities. So we played.
We were so good that the pigs felt sure enough to line us up, Lot, Six, and myself, against the wall of City Hall and stripped off our boots and sent in the press to take pictures like we were an actual reincarnation of the old Dalton Gang. Here we were pretending to be dead in front of flashbulbs and live video feeds and now the cops had begun to pack up and leave and at that point we all felt the Coffeeville in our veins.
I let loose a mouthful of blood and lead and all the worst fluids you probably swim in down in hell, spat at those cameras with olympian authority, Lot and Six right behind me with reloaded pistols and blood of their own to spit and in the chaos of it all we slipped into a police cruiser and made off, in the chaos of it all made ourselves gods.
We three went our separate ways after that, mostly, believe it or not, on account of a lack of mutual trust. And the fact that you can swindle a man a hundred times, but fate usually only once. If the Daltons' ghosts had been there to guide us that day in front of City Hall, they soon abandoned us and we each ended up incarcerated, under new identities mind you, on one rap or another.
Which is why I'm alive today at all and have no idea what Six or Lot or Ruby got mixed up in afterwards. Me, I took to giving rousing public speeches while dressed in Confederate grays with a loaded musket on an array of topics including but not limited to anarchy and asphyxiation. Needless to say, I quickly got put away on charges of "vagrancy and generally insane behavior" (I decline to believe such charges are very genuine, myself).
That's why I have this cell to myself now, deep in Kentucky smelling all day the sweet horsesmells, the tobacco and honeysuckle, and this the sort of old-time prison of the Civil War rust-and-crumble sort you didn't know still existed until you stumbled out this way and heard my harmonica blowing and so you walked in and got your ear talked off by what you thought might be a ghost, turned out to be a brother-killer, gang member and self-made deity whose existence you cannot yet verify even here at the end until you walk off a ways and see if you can still hear the harmonica's unfunny laugh in your head, in the air.