Cold Hard Facts | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

Cold Hard Facts

Cold Hard Facts
Dallas Releford

Standing in front of a bank wasn’t a crime. Standing in front of a bank while casing it, memorizing every feature, every grueling detail about the structure and the activities that went on there wasn’t really a crime either, unless you carried out your plans to rob it. Walking into a bank with guns drawn was a crime and one that could get you killed, especially in the lawless days of 1933.
Barbara Naylor and Danny “Cold Heart” Padgett knew what they were doing. They weren’t as famous as Bonnie and Clyde in 1933, however they had one other attribute that made them almost as notorious. They had robbed more banks and killed more people than Bonnie and Clyde, the Barker Gang and all the other gangs of the time put together. Before he was twenty, it was said that Padgett, who sported a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun, had killed twenty men, one for every year of his young life.
Danny Padgett was the son of a West Virginia coal miner. Quitting school when he was fourteen, he left home and wandered to Cincinnati, Ohio where he took up with a gang of young punks who had a racket selling protection to local merchants. During a disagreement with one of the thugs, Danny killed him and fled to St. Louis where he found a job as a truck driver. There he met Barbara Naylor who was a seamstress in a local clothing store. When she was accused of robbing the store, she joined Danny in a cross-country robbery spree in the stolen truck. Standing six feet tall with thick brown hair, blue eyes and a jagged cut on his left cheek, Padgett lived up to his grim legacy with a blazing automatic Colt in each hand.
Barbara Naylor had migrated to Missouri from Hustonville, Kentucky where she had grown tired of farm life and wanted something spectacular in her life, such as a new car, a husband and lots of cash to spend. Working for it seemed like the wrong way to get rich, especially in those hard times, so she robbed her employer and left the old woman in a pool of her own blood. Her hazel eyes were as chilling as the frown on her lips and those who met her rarely walked away feeling like they’d had a pleasant experience. Most of the people she met were at the other end of a Colt .45 with pearl handles. Some were hauled away on a stretcher to the morgue. She wore her long brown hair tied back with a pink ribbon. Barbara was a beautiful woman with a slim figure that instantly attracted the attention of everyone she met. Her beauty came in handy when robbing banks and eluding lawmen. They rarely thought she could hurt anyone, until it was too late. Barbara could be a charming, lovable woman when she wanted to be. The only time when she was charismatic was when she wanted something she couldn’t get with a gun. Needless to say, she had few friends.
After robbing a bank near Houston, Texas where they killed a law enforcement officer, they headed north toward wide-open spaces in Oklahoma. In Tipton, they gassed up, rested for a few hours and drove west through unpopulated areas. Arriving at an intersection, they discovered a small town ahead of them just as darkness descended announcing the coming of the night. A sign said the town was named Pledge. Barbara could not locate it on the map except she noted that it had a bank and a hotel. They spent the night in the hotel. The lonely bank looked as inviting as the hotel with a hot bath, a warm bed and a place where they could enjoy each other.
“Nice little town,” Padgett said while lying on the bed watching Barbara put her clothes away. “Why are you unpacking everything? We’ll only be here for one night.”
“It makes me feel more like I’m home,” she said. “At least for a little while.”
“You still want that big white house with four bedrooms, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t every girl?”
“Maybe. If we don’t do better at robbing banks soon, that dream might be more elusive than we thought,” Padgett warned her.
“Hard times,” Barbara reminded him removing her clothes. Standing in her bra and panties looking at a pink nightgown she was contemplating wearing for the night, she looked at Padgett and said, “We just came out of the depression and for some folks, it isn’t over yet. These farmers don’t have much money to put in a bank. We need to get to the bigger banks, like the ones in Chicago.”
“Honey, don’t you think that if those banks were easy to rob that somebody would have done it. They have guards in the ones that are worth robbing and police have cars just as fast as ours. Chicago isn’t like this little town. They only have one sheriff and I’m betting his car can’t do forty.”
“I’m betting their bank doesn’t have forty dollars,” Barbara replied. “That won’t keep me in panties for a week the way you tear them off.”
“Sorry,” he said. “As soon as we make a good haul, I’ll buy you a whole suitcase full of them. How’s that?”
“Wouldn’t be necessary if you would exercise a little restraint,” she complained. “But sometimes I enjoy the wild side of you.”
“Both sides of me are wild,” he bragged. “It’s the only way I know how to be.”
Reaching over, he grabbed her by her arm and pulled her onto the bed. Jerking her bra off breaking the strap, he kissed her as he ripped her panties from her naked body. Entangled in hot flesh, they made love until they both were exhausted.
In the darkness, Barbara whispered to him, “You monster, don’t you know how to treat a woman gentle. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, that’s the only way I know.”
“I know,” he agreed. “You like it rough and so do I. We better get some sleep if we’re going to hit that bank tomorrow.”
In his arms, she stroked his chest and whispered words of love to him until he was asleep. Hoping nightmares wouldn’t bother him the way they normally did, she fell back and tried to sleep. When would death come for them? Would it be sudden and quick or would they spend the rest of their lives locked up in some prison cell where rats and roach bugs were constant companions? She didn’t know and that was what made their lives so exciting. The threat of death knocking on their door when they least expected it was so exhilarating.
* * *
Hand in hand they walked down a dusty street from the hotel after checking out at ten o’clock and putting their luggage in the Ford parked across the street from the bank. Casing the bank, checking out how many people went through its doors and how many came out, where the sheriff was and things like that was part of their—so far—successful operation. Displeasing to Barbara and acceptable to Padgett was the fact that the sheriff’s office was only two buildings down from the bank. An old ’32 gray Dodge was parked in front of the office building, a wooden structure with a large glass window that announced that it was indeed the sheriff’s office. A lone white star painted on the side of the vehicle indicated that it was an official vehicle not to be misidentified as anything else as if everyone knew the star meant that it belonged to the sheriff. Padgett had a hankering to blast that damn star until he saw two well-armed deputies come out of the office and drive away.
“They have at least two deputies and a sheriff,” Barbara said glancing at Padgett. “That’s unusual for a town this size. Does that mean the bank is loaded? If so, where does the money come from? This is a farming community and from the look of things, people around here aren’t doing much farming.”
“Maybe they have oil wells,” Padgett said with a grin on his mouth. “That could be the reason for the troops. It doesn’t matter, if we hit the bank while they’re out of town, we only have to worry about that sheriff.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? This is just another little hick town like the last ones we robbed. Let’s take a look at the inside of the bank just in case they have a guard in there or a safe we can’t crack.” Barbara started walking across the dusty street noticing that the streets were crowded with people going about their business. For a Tuesday morning she thought there was a lot of people in town. As she looked up the street she saw something that caused her to stop dead in her tracks. Nothing she had ever seen before, including dead, bloody bodies and dying men turned her blood colder than what she saw now.
Padgett turned and followed her briefly touching his twin automatic Colt .45s under his gray suit coat. He never wore a tie because it made him feel as if a noose were around his neck. In a fight for his life, the tie could be used to strangle him and he sure didn’t intend to give any adversary that advantage. Wondering why so many people were in town on a weekday, he tossed the thought out of his mind as he watched Barbara wiggle her tight cute ass as she walked across the street. What the hell was she doing? Was she trying to attract attention? Already, too many old codgers with bib Overalls and blue shirts were beginning to pay attention. Not that he blamed them, her physique had a way of mesmerizing him too. Just as he was closing the distance between them, ready to whisper to her that she should walk like a normal woman—as if she weren’t already walking like a normal woman—she stopped abruptly and he bumped into her further attracting attention to them. Embarrassed, he excused himself and looked at Barbara. She was staring up the street as if she saw Edgar Hoover riding a white horse down the center of the street naked.
In the center of the dusty street, painted red was a tall gallows with two hemp ropes hanging from it. The perfectly formed nooses swung back and forth to the rhythm of a warm breeze that signaled the beginning of another hot day on the plains. Barefoot kids in dirty, ragged overalls were trying to throw rocks through the loops.
“Damn,” Padgett said taking Barbara by her arm. “So, that’s why there are so many coppers in town.”
Shaking her nervousness aside, Barbara looked at Padgett and said, “That also explains why so many folks are in town. There’s going to be a hanging today. Probably about sundown if I remember my western lore. I didn’t know they still hang people?”
“Just criminals,” a voice said from behind them. “We only send criminals off to where they get their just rewards. You fine folks have nothing to worry about.”
“Uh. We’re just passing through and thought we would walk around town before leaving, maybe get something to eat,” Padgett said quickly recovering from his surprise as he always did. Standing in front of them was a man with too much fat on his bones and a silver star pinned on his khaki clothes. He wore a traditional gray western hat that shielded a weathered face from the hot Oklahoma sun. His deep gray eyes looked at Padgett and then drifted over to where Barbara was standing. “Is there a good restaurant in town, Sheriff?”
“Sheriff Ben Coleman at your service,” he said offering Padgett his big hand. Padgett took it and felt like he wanted to rip it from his arm. He hated lawmen. “Formerly of the Texas Rangers. Say, haven’t I seen you somewhere? Have you been to our fair town before?”
“Never,” Padgett said feeling cold hands squeezing his heart. For the first time in his life, he just wanted to get behind the wheel of his Ford and leave town. Something about this place didn’t add up. He hated lawmen, the electric chair, gallows and tornadoes. He thought about adding fast women to his list and then thought better of it. He’d had plenty of hot, sinful flesh in his time. He liked it. “I guess you got me mixed up with someone else,” he said. “Me and the lady there are on our way to California. Thought we might find work out there and get a fresh start.”
“Where are you from?”
Padgett felt his skin itching and his legs get weak. The sheriff was getting too nosy. Maybe a bullet between his eyes would help solve the problem, he thought. Maybe not, the entire town was now watching them. “Kentucky,” he finally said. “Now, Sheriff Coleman, if you’ll direct us to that restaurant, we’ll leave you to your business.”
“Sure. Ma’s Cooking Pot is up the street and on the left. If you have time, stay for the hanging. Everyone in this town does that.”
“Who are you hanging?” Barbara didn’t really want to know, didn’t care, but it was the only thing she could think to say that might convince the sheriff that they were just passing through. Showing a casual interest in community events might throw him off the trail.
“Don’t know yet,” he said. “We never know until the last minute, until they bring them over and that’s what makes it so interesting.”
“Sounds like it,” Barbara said managing a brief smile for the benefit of the attentive sheriff. As they turned and walked up the street, she made sure she swung her hips to the harmony of a million dollar tune. “See you later, Sheriff Coleman.”
“Well, that sure did mess things up,” Padgett said as he took her by her hand and pulled her up on the sidewalk. “Darling someone as beautiful as you shouldn’t walk in all that old dust.”
“Darlin’,” she mocked, “Are we still going to rob the damn bank or are we going to have lunch and watch them hang some poor soul.”
Padgett said, “We are going to have a meal at the restaurant to show the sheriff that we’re who we said we are, then we’re going to mosey down to the bank and get some change for the two hundred dollar bills we got from that robbery the other day. That will give us an excuse to get a look at the bank.”
The cornbread, bacon and beans tasted good and in the spirit of the times, they were happy to get it. Even in the middle of cow country, or close to it, steak was expensive. The restaurant was almost empty. Most of the people were mulling around the gallows as if anticipating a good show.
“Pretty pathetic,” Barbara said putting her plate aside, staring out the window at the throng of people. “We rob banks for a living and can’t afford a decent meal. Even worse is the fact we showed up the same day of a hanging to rob a bank. Maybe we should just call the whole thing off and go to the next town.”
Padgett looked at her and then took her hand in his. “Darlin’, we have seventy five dollars to live on. I don’t want our cash reserve to get lower than that because if the law gets any closer, we’ll need all the money we can get. Before the end of the year, I want to be across the border living a life of luxury.”
“You better get hustlin’,” she reminded him. “At the pace we’re going, a turtle will be richer than we are. All I’m saying is that this makes me feel—”
“I mean,” Padgett said, looking at her concerned face, her daunting eyes and her creamy white skin that entranced him every time he looked at her, “we’re in a violent business. Death is everywhere for us. You knew that when we started doing this. A gallows would make anyone nervous under the same circumstances. They won’t be expecting us to rob the bank while they’re hanging someone.”
“Oh? And, what makes you think the two deputies won’t be watching the bank?”
“They’re here to see that nobody interferes with the hanging.”
Barbara nodded her head. Maybe he was right. Maybe that was the reason for the deputies. Still, she continued to worry. Something about the entire setup didn’t quite make sense to her. “Well, pay the bill and let’s go take a look at that bank.”
Standing in front of the bank, Padgett let all the possible things that might happen flow through his mind. She would be in the car while he robbed the bank. He hoped he could grab the money, escape out the front door to the waiting car and while most of the town was busy watching the hanging, they would drive out of town. That was the way he thought it would work. That was the way he thought it would work before she asked the inevitable question that had been bothering him.
“What if they close the bank and all the other businesses in town?”
“What if? Is that all you think about? If they are going to close the bank then we just have to find out about it before we actually try to rob it.”
“Uh-huh,” she said as they walked inside. The air was humid, the temperature was approaching ninety-five and she thought that it was going to be a long time before the sun went down. Together, they walked over to a window where a teller was busy shuffling a stack of papers. Padgett cleared his throat to get the clerks attention.
“Good mornin’,” he said trying to imitate a deep southern drawl. “Could I please get two one hundred dollar bills cut into smaller bills?” Pulling out the two crumpled greenbacks, he laid them on the counter. “I sure would appreciate it.”
“Don’t see too many folks around here with this much cash,” the teller said with a solemn look on his face. He looked as if his face might break if he dared smile. “You folks passing through?”
“Yep,” Padgett said. “We want to do a little shopping before we leave?”
“Staying for the hanging?” The clerk handed him ten, ten dollar bills and twenty fives. Taking the two hundred dollar bills from the counter, he looked at them carefully and put them in a drawer beneath the counter. Padgett watched every move. He also noticed the open safe in the back room through an open door.
“Maybe,” he answered. “Are you going?”
“Nope,” the clerk said. “I have to work. The bank doesn’t close till five and by the time I get all the paperwork done, the shebang will be well underway.”
“That’s sad,” Barbara said, “everyone should be allowed to go to a hanging.”
“Oh, you’re absolutely right,” the clerk agreed, “maybe I’ll get to go to the next one.”
“Have a lot of hangings, do you?” Padgett backed away from the counter and glanced around the room placing everything in his picture perfect memory.
“Of course, a lot of them,” the clerk bragged. “We have more hangings than anyone else.”
“Great,” Padgett said. “Well, you have a good day and we’ll probably see you later. We’ll be in town a little longer, getting a few things.”
They walked out of the bank and went across the street to the car.
“What do we do now?” Barbara asked. “We have almost six hours to kill. You heard what he said. The bank closes at five so if we’re going to rob it, we have to do it before they close the safe.”
“We’ll buy a few things and then drive out to that creek we saw back a few miles and have a picnic,” he said. “A cold beer would taste good with a sandwich.”
Her face brightened as she thought about sitting under the shade by a silent little creek with Padgett near her. “Good, let’s do it,” she told him.
* * *
The sandwiches and beer did taste good and after a good meal they made love under the shade trees and later, they talked about what they would do when they had enough money to go to Mexico. Immersed in dreams of a colorful future, they consumed more alcohol than they intended. Naked, they slept in each other’s arms as a cool breeze blew through the woods that ran along the narrow creek.
The sound of thunder in the distance awakened Barbara. Glancing at Padgett as naked as a newborn rabbit, she realized what had happened. Glancing at his pocket watch that had fallen out of his pants pocket, she saw that it was almost four thirty. Shaking Padgett, she tried to awaken him as dark clouds gathered on the horizon. Finally, he sat up, rubbed his eyes and cursed. “We better hurry,” he said. “The bank closes at five and that storm looks as mean as I feel.”
The top was down on the Ford coupe. Before they got their things into the car, put the top up and got in heavy drops of rain was already splattering the windshield. Padgett started the car and as he drove up the dirt road, it was turning into a muddy path. The tires spun and the engine groaned as it tried to stay where Padgett wanted it to go. Within minutes, they entered the outskirts of Pledge and saw that it was almost deserted.
“Good luck for a change,” Barbara said. “Nobody will see us because most of them will be inside. If we can hit the bank and get out without firing a shot then we might just make it.”
“What about this damn mud?”
“We’ve traveled dirt roads before,” Barbara reminded him. “This main road is graveled and with a little luck it will be that way for most of the way out of town. We just have to stay off the side roads.”
“Yeah, just remember that only the section in town is graveled. The way we came in isn’t graveled. That doesn’t make much sense. Is it only graveled within city limits?”
“God, I hope not,” Barbara said. “Maybe they can only afford to gravel the part that is in city limits. Anyway, we’ll make it out of town and I doubt they will follow us, at least not during this downpour.”
“I just hope we don’t have a tornado,’ Padgett whined. “I hate those damn things.”
“You rob banks and kill people and you’re afraid of a little tornado?”
“One hit back in West Virginia one year. It scared me to death.”
Barbara shook her head and grinned just as they stopped in front of the bank. The street was deserted and she couldn’t even see the gallows anymore.
“Let’s do it now,” Padgett yelled over the howling wind, the furious booming of the thunder and the crackle of lightning bolts. “You stay in the car and keep the engine running. I’ll go inside. If I don’t come back in three minutes or anything happens, you hightail it out of here.”
“Done,” she said knowing she would never leave him no matter what happened. His lovemaking was too much of an influence on her for her to give him up without a fight. Pulling her pearl-handled Colt out of her purse, she checked the cylinder to make sure it was loaded. “Good luck,” she said as she kissed him on his cheek.
Padgett never did like long partings so he walked briskly into the bank and looked around. The only person in the bank was the teller and two men standing by the window watching the rain. They never saw him until he pulled his guns and pointed them at the two men. “Get over by the cashier,” he commanded loud enough to be heard over the storm. “Hold your hands above your heads, and keep them there if you know what’s good for you.”
With the two men covered with one gun in his right hand, he pointed the other one at the clerk. “I’m Danny Padgett and I’m robbing this here bank. Give me all the cash from the drawer and then get everything from the safe and you’ll live to tell everyone you met the greatest bank robber of all time.”
The clerk moved with shaking hands and his eyes wide. Taking the money from the drawer, only a handful of paper bills, he stuffed it in a bag. Tossing the bag on the counter, he got another bag from under the counter and walked toward the vault. Another man, a big one with a business suit on and wearing dark rimmed glasses stood up in a dark corner of the room. Danny Padgett froze. He hadn’t seen the man when he came into the bank.
“Don’t do this,” the man pleaded. “These are poor people. They need their money. This is a terrible thing you are doing, son. Just think about it. That’s all I ask.”
Danny looked at the man with graying hair, a square face and dark eyes. He looked like a banker so the figured he was a banker. “Who are you? Where did you come from? I didn’t see you in that corner.”
“Name’s Devlin Jones,” he said. “Won’t you please reconsider?”
“Nope,” Danny said. “I’m robbin’ this bank and that’s final. Get back there and help that clerk with the money. You better get all of it, you hear? No cheatin’. I don’t like cheaters.”
Without hesitation, the tall man with a muscular build like a wrestler disappeared into the next room.
One of the men standing by the counter lowered his arm and started to put it in his pocket. Both men wore button down flannel shirts and bib overalls. “Put that arm back up,” Padgett commanded.
“I got an itch,” the man said. “It’s killing me.”
“Okay,” Danny said, frustrated, “rub your damn itch but you better not bring anything out of that pocket but five fingers.”
The big man who stood two inches taller than Padgett and who was seventy pounds heavier than him, put his hand in his pocket and started scratching. The clerk and the other man came out of the vault carrying four bags. Two of them were filled with coins. Danny could see the impression of coins in the bulging sacks. “Okay, good boys. Fine. Put them on the counter,” he ordered as something caught his eye to his right.
Danny turned just as one of the old farmers pulled a .22 pistol from his pocket. Danny dropped to the floor and fired just as a bullet tore off his ear. He felt hot blood splatter on his face and chest. His bullet caught the old man in the chest. The man fell to the floor and was still kicking when Danny jumped up and shot the other man. Without hesitation, he turned toward the clerk and the banker.
“Please don’t shoot,” the clerk pleaded. “We have families and we did as you asked.”
“It don’t matter none to me,” Danny told them. “I don’t leave witnesses.”
The big man in the gray suit backed away from the counter looking for a way to escape. Danny shot him right between his eyes. As his head exploded bone, skin and blood plastered the white wall behind him. Danny grinned as he thought it looked just like a big bird with spreading wings. He aimed his gun at the other mans chest just as he attempted to turn and run. The bullet caught him in his arm and he screamed. Danny shot him two times removing his head completely from his body.
With the bank to himself, he suddenly realized he had a big problem. He had six bags to carry and only two hands. Putting one of his weapons in its holster under his left arm, he gathered two of the bags and ran for the door. Opening the door, he opened the car door and threw the bags into the back seat. “Four more to go,” he yelled. “Get ready to haul ass.”
Returning to the bank, he put his other gun away and grabbed the other four bags. Because he hadn’t seen anyone in the street, he decided that he could get the loot out to the car before anyone realized that anything had happened. The thunder was so loud that nobody had probably even heard the gunshots. In his haste, he had left the front door to the bank open. The rain was falling so hard he could not see the car parked in front of the door on the street. With his arms full, he headed in the general direction where he thought the car was located. The car was gone. Damn her, he yelled. Barbara had taken off without him. Why had he trusted the little whore, anyway?
“Drop the bags,” a familiar voice yelled from behind him. Spinning around, he stood facing the big sheriff and four deputies. The sheriff held a double-barreled shotgun and it was pointed right at him.
Dropping the bags so his hands would be free to go for his guns, Danny Padgett stood in the falling rain wondering what his chances of killing five men with guns pointed at him would be. “Where’s Barbara?” He yelled loudly not believing that his luck had run out. For Danny Padgett, bad luck was not an option. It was death. “Where is that little bitch?”
“I’m over here, Danny,” she said. Hearing her voice, he turned and looked at several people standing on the sidewalk. She was handcuffed and two big deputies stood beside her. He froze, his heart beat faster and he thought he might die when he saw four men standing near her that he recognized. The clerk, the two farmers and the banker were as alive as he was. Was he dreaming or was he having some kind of fit? He didn’t know except he did know that he didn’t have a chance against all the firepower. Maybe a judge would think he was crazy and let him off easy, he thought. Sure, that was it. That was his way out of this mess. Things weren’t as bad as he first thought, except that he had called Barbara a bitch. He knew that a good night in bed would cure that problem.
The banker stepped off the sidewalk splashing mud and water in every direction, mostly on Danny as he approached. “I’m Devlin Jones,” he said. “I’m the mayor of this town. Welcome to Pledge, Mr. Padgett. You’re just in time to attend a hanging.”
Danny Padgett looked at him with a puzzled look on his face. “Who are you, Mister? I just killed you a few minutes ago. How did those men over there come back to life? Please don’t lie to me, I know I didn’t miss.”
“You’re in Purgatory, Mr. Padgett,” the man said. “Those men, as well as myself, cannot be killed. We just staged this little event for your benefit. We wanted one last chance to prove that your soul is worthless and should go to hell. That goes for your girlfriend over there, too. In one hour exactly, you and your girlfriend will be hung by the neck until dead. If you have any prayers, I suggest you say them. I doubt if it will do any good, but then on the other hand, you just never know. Somebody up there may see something in one of you, or both of you, that we have not been able to see. I suggest you spend all your remaining time praying.”
As the rain poured down on them, soaking them, they were led up the street to the gallows. Barbara cried as they walked up the steep steps toward the waiting ropes that would end their short careers. Before placing black bags over their heads, the executioner asked them if they had anything to say. With trembling lips, Barbara managed to say a few words. “I wish you all will come visit us in hell,” she shouted.
“Yeah and that goes for me too,” Padgett said although the thought of spending eternity in Hell didn’t quite appeal to him at all. “Give me a gun and I’ll take most of you with me.”
The mayor smiled. As the bags were placed over their heads and the ropes tied securely around their necks, he gave the signal that ended their lives. The crowd cheered when the lever was pulled and two struggling bodies dangled at the end of the ropes in the heavy rain. When they struggled no more, the mayor turned and walked away, the rain stopped and the entire town disappeared. Hours later, a lone wolf stopped and sniffed the ground where something had once died. He could sense something evil in his presence. Raising his head, he howled. There was only silence until another hanging was needed.

The End

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