Read an Excerpt
A Bullet for Billy
The Journey of Jim Glass
You couldn't hear it falling, but you could tell from the rattling wind and the cold creeping in under the door that it had snowed the night before. I rose and put on a pot of Arbuckle after hopping into my pants and boots.
Luz was still asleep in the bed. I was tempted to stay in there with her. She had a warmth that made me want to be lazy and playful.
I rubbed frost from inside the window and looked out at the horses that were strutting around in the corral blowing steam from their nostrils. The buckskin stud was boxed off from the mares, and he was nickering and daring them to kick down the rails.
I put on a wool shirt and threw some more chunks of wood into the stove's belly. I tried to be quiet about it, but Luz rose to one elbow and smiled.
"You hungry?" she said.
"When am I not?" I said.
She came out from town once a week to clean and keep me a little company. That's how it began. She was the widow of a man who broke his neck from falling under a wagon he'd been loading with bricks. The workhorses spooked just enough to roll the wheel over him. From everything she'd told me about him, he was a good man but full of bad luck. She had two half-grown children her sister watched on the nights she spent with me.
She started to get out of bed.
"Why don't you let me get you some coffee," I said. "I'll make the breakfast too."
She liked to switch from English to Spanish when we talked, and over time I'd learned quite a bit of her language. Now she smiled and said in her own language, "Me siento como soy unaesposa otra vez."
"Yes, it feels like you're my wife too," I said. "It's not so bad, is it, to feel like that?"
"But when you cook for me," she said in English this time, "it is like you are my wife." Then she laughed and brushed away the hair that had fallen over one side of her face and tucked it behind her ear.
"Why didn't you ever remarry?" I said, mixing some flour and water and a little yeast for biscuits.
"I don't know," she said. "I guess the same reason you never did."
"I've never been married," I said.
"So you said. But the question is, why not?"
"Just never got around to it, I guess."
"Now you know why I didn't remarry, too busy, too much work. And besides, all the hombres who aren't married are either old or have buck teeth." She laughed again.
She had straight black hair she normally kept parted down the center and twisted into braids or wrapped atop her head and held with large combs. But when her work around my place was finished and we'd sit down to have supper, she'd unpin or unbraid her hair and let it all fall free, and it made her look younger and more at ease, and I think she knew it and that's why she did it.
Over the weeks we'd flirt and eat. The flirting with each other began about the fourth or fifth time she'd come out to clean. She had a friendly way about her and was always singing softly while she worked. But when I talked to her I could tell she always kept something back—like a gambler with a pretty good hand, but not necessarily the best hand at the table.
She'd be in the house doing something and I'd be out on the porch mending a broken stirrup or just having a cup of coffee, and she'd come out and ask if she could get me anything and we'd just get to talking. Then she told me about her husband, how he'd died, and I could see that even after three years she was still affected by the loss—the way her bottom lip quivered sometimes when she talked about him. She would apologize as if she had something to be sorry for. I told her she didn't and she could talk to me about anything that she wanted to.
"He was a good husband and a father . . ." she said that first time. I remember how the light from the setting sun turned her brown skin golden, how it caused her eyes to shine like wet black stones. I kept on thinking about her long after she headed home and finally decided I didn't want the day with her to end so soon, and so worked up the courage to ask her to stay and have supper with me. I thought for sure she'd turn me down, make some excuse as to why she had to get back to town to take care of her kids. But she stayed, telling me that her sister, Carmelita, watched her children when she went off to clean houses. We'd carry my small table outside and eat our supper there because the weather was warm and pleasant. I found some candles and set them atop the table and we ate with just the light from them. We started out sitting at opposite ends of the table and ended up sitting next to each other, the third or fourth time we ate together.
She asked me to tell her about myself and I probably talked way too much—more than I had with anyone about my own past. I told her I'd once been a Texas Ranger but I didn't tell her why I'd quit. I told her about herding cattle up some of the trails from Texas into Kansas and once into New Mexico, which is how I'd come to eventually settle here. But I never told her about the ranch owner's wife in Nebraska and why I finally left that job. I told her lots of things but not everything.A Bullet for Billy
The Journey of Jim Glass. Copyright © by Bill Brooks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.