By Larry McMurtry
Published by Scribner
Reprint December 2001; 0743216288; 416 pages
The first time I saw Billy he came walking out of a cloud. He had a pistol in each hand and a scared look on his rough young face. The cloud drifted in from the plains earlier in the morning and stopped over the Hidden Mountains, in the country of the Messy Apaches -- that was what buffalo hunters called the Mescalero.
It was a thick cloud, which made downhill travel a little chancy. I had found myself a seat on a rock and was waiting for the cloud to go somewhere else. Probably I looked as scared to Billy as he looked to me -- my mule was winded, my gun was empty, my ears were popping, and I was nervous about the prospect of running into some Messy Apaches. One minute I wanted the cloud to leave; the next minute I was glad it was there.
Billy looked relieved when he saw me. I think his first notion was to steal my mule -- it would only have been common sense.
"This mule won't make it far," I informed him, hoping to scotch that notion -- though if he had pointed one of the pistols at me I would have handed him the reins on the spot.
Billy gave me a chip-toothed grin. I would have guessed him to be no more than seventeen at the time, and short for his age at that. In fact, he was almost a runt, and ugly as Sunday. His dirty black coat was about three sizes too big for him.
He glanced at Rosy, the mule. She didn't like heights, or clouds either, and was in a foul mood.
"An Apache could take that mule and ride her fifty miles," he pointed out. "It's lucky for you I'm not an Apache."
"If you were I'd offer you the mule and hope for the best," I said.
He stuck one of the pistols into an old holster he wore and shoved the other one into the pocket of his black coat.
"Joe Lovelady's around here somewhere," he said. "It would be just like him to show up with my horse."
"I'm Ben Sippy," I said, thinking it was about time we got introduced. I stood up and offered a hand-shake.
Billy didn't shake my hand, but he gave me another grin. He had buck teeth, and both of them were chipped.
"Howdy, Mr. Sippy, are you from Mississippi?" he said, and burst out laughing. In those days Billy was always getting tickled at his own remarks. When he laughed at one of his own jokes you couldn't help liking him -- he was just a winning kid.
Though now, when I think of Billy Bone giggling at one of his own little sallies, I soon grow blind with tears -- sentimental, I guess. But there was a time when I would have done anything for Billy.
"No, I'm just from Philadelphia," I said. He was not the first person to make the Mississippi joke.
"Well, I'm Billy Bone," he said, with a flicker of threat in his eyes.
I guess I must have started or flinched or something, because the threat immediately went away and it seemed to be all he could do to keep from laughing again. I don't consider myself much of a comic, but for some reason Billy always had trouble keeping a straight face in my company.
"You act like you've heard of me, Mr. Sippy," he said.
Of course, he knew perfectly well I'd heard of him. Everyone in the West had heard of him, and plenty of people in other parts of the world as well. Since Wild Bill Hickok had let himself get killed in South Dakota two years before, I doubt there was a gunfighter alive with a reputation to match Billy's. But I just looked at him and tried to take a relaxed line.
"Oh, you've got a reputation," I said. "They say you're a cool killer."
"I am, but the cool killing don't start till around November," he said, giggling again. "This time of the year we mostly do hot killing, Mr. Sippy."
Copyright © 1988 by Larry
The first time I saw Billy he came walking out of a cloud....Welcome to the wild, hot-blooded adventures of Billy the Kid, the American West's most legendary outlaw. Larry McMurtry takes us on a hell-for-leather journey with Billy and his friends as they ride, drink, love, fight, shoot, and escape their way into the shining memories of Western myth. Surrounded by a splendid cast of characters that only Larry McMurtry could create, Billy charges headlong toward his fate, to become in death the unforgettable desperado he aspires to be in life. Not since Lonesome Dove has there been such a rich, exciting novel about the cowboys, Indians, and gunmen who live at the blazing heart of the American dream.
Larry McMurtry, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is the author of twenty-three novels, three collections of essays, two memoirs, and more than thirty screenplays and the editor of a collection of short stories of the modern West. He lives in Archer City, Texas.