Anything for Billy A Novel

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2001-12-04
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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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 sinceLonesome Dovehas there been such a rich, exciting novel about the cowboys, Indians, and gunmen who live at the blazing heart of the American dream.

Author Biography

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.


from Part One: 1

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 McMurtry

from Part One: 2

Later on, I realized it was a good thing I had paid Billy's reputation that trite little compliment. If I hadn't, I doubt we'd ever have become friends. In fact, if I hadn't, he might just have shot me.

Billy expected people to take note of his reputation, though why he even had a reputation at that time was a mystery to me, once I knew the facts. From listening to gossip in barrooms I had formed the general impression that he had already killed ten or twelve white men, and scores of Indians and Mexicans as well.

But when I met him, Billy Bone had yet to shoot a man. A bully named Joe Loxton had abused him considerably when he was thirteen or fourteen and making his living cleaning tables in a saloon. Joe Loxton made the mistake of wrestling him to the ground one day when Billy had just been carving a beef and happened to have a butcher knife in his hand. When they hit the floor the butcher knife stuck in Joe Loxton's belly, and a day or two later he was dead.

"It was mostly an accident," Billy said, "though Iwouldhave stabbed that shit-ass if I'd had time to think."

That's not to say that Billy was a gentle boy. He was violent all right. In his case the reputation just arrived before the violence.

I felt a little peculiar for a moment. There we were, in a thick cloud in the Hidden Mountains, with only one mule between us and the most feared young gunman in the West making jokes about my name. Nothing unfriendly had occurred, but it's a short step, in some situations, from the unfriendly to the fatal -- and a short step that often got taken in New Mexico in those days.

We had exhausted what few conversational supplies we seemed to have, and were just standing there. Billy had stopped giggling and looked depressed.

"I get a headache when I'm up this high," he said.

I was carrying one or two general nostrums, but before I could offer Billy one, Rosy, my mule, lifted her head and nickered.

I was horrified. Now all the Messy Apaches would have to do was ride in and make a mess of us, unless Billy Bone could shoot them all.

But Billy didn't even draw his pistol -- he just looked irritated.

A minute later Joe Lovelady trotted out of the cloud, riding one horse and leading another.

"See! I told you it would be just like him!" Billy said.

Joe rode up beside him and handed him his bridle reins, but Billy didn't even look up. "It must get boresome being so danged competent," he said in a tone that was anything but grateful. "Did you scalp all the Indians, too, while you were rescuing these nags?" Billy asked, in the same annoyed tone.

"Nope," Joe Lovelady said. "I just snuck in and stole back our horses while they were taking a shit."

"I thought those dern Apaches were supposed to know their business!" Billy said in an ugly tone. He seemed to be working himself into an angry fit just because his friend had recovered their horses.

Joe Lovelady, a calm man if I ever knew one, was unperturbed.

"It ain't getting any earlier," he said. "Why don't we lope on over to Greasy Corners?"

"In this fog?" Billy asked. "I couldn't find my hip pocket, much less Greasy Corners."

"I reckon I can find my way down a hill, fog or no fog," Joe Lovelady said.

Billy choked off his fit, sighed, and struggled onto his horse, a rangy black at least seventeen hands high.

"Gentlemen, could I ride along with you until we get out of these mountains?" I asked, seeing that they were about to ride off and leave me without further ado.

They both looked down at me. Joe Lovelady was a good-looking young man with a fine mustache. He could have been twenty-one or two, but no older, and he had more self-assurance than Billy Bone would ever have.

"I'm out of bullets and I'm lost and I'm not good at heights," I said, realizing it was a lame speech.

It had a good effect though -- it put Billy Bone in a better humor.

"This old man's a total loss, but let's take him along anyway," he said. "Let's show him some fun."

Joe Lovelady seemed surprised at the suggestion.

"What's his name?" he asked, looking me over.

"His name's Mister Sippy but he ain't from Mississippi," Billy said, and laughed even harder at the joke than he had the first time.

He was still laughing when we started down the hill.

Copyright © 1988 by Larry McMurtry

from Part One: 3

Joe Lovelady set a smart pace, cloud or no cloud. Rosy didn't appreciate it, but she was tired of living the lonely life with me and did her best to keep up for company's sake. Billy's horse was so tall it was like following a giraffe.

I don't think Billy much cared for horseback travel. His reputation was made in the Territory, but to me he had the look of a city boy -- and in fact he had been born on the Bowery in New York and brought West as a baby. Something of the Bowery had stuck to him, even so.

Before we had been traveling an hour, he got bored enough to drop back and make a little conversation.

"We could all break our necks trying to follow Joe Lovelady in a fog like this," he remarked rather petulantly.

Finally we got down below the cloud and saw the great plain stretching away. By noon we had got pretty well out of the Sierra Oscura, but Joe Lovelady evidently had no intention of stopping for lunch. I began to realize that he behaved with a certain relentlessness when it came to getting where he was going.

I suggested to Billy that we might stop and try to scare up a bite in Tularosa, but Billy immediately vetoed that.

"There are plenty of unkind sons of bitches in Tularosa," he informed me.

By midafternoon I had begun to feel a little desperate. Greasy Corners, our destination, I knew of only by hearsay. It was said to be a den of whores and cutthroats, but that part didn't worry me. Most of the local settlements were dens of whores and cutthroats.

My own hope was to find one a little closer. Greasy Corners was somewhere on the Rio Pecos -- at least one hundred and fifty miles from where we hit the plain. I knew Rosy well enough to know she wasn't going to tolerate Joe Lovelady's pace for any one hundred and fifty miles. She was a mule with a lot of balk in her. I was not looking forward to being left on that vast empty plain with a stalled mule.

Besides, I was starving. By midafternoon I had begun to scrape little curls of leather off my saddle with my fingernails, just to have something in my mouth.

Billy Bone seemed a little gaunt too.

"You wouldn't have a biscuit, would you, Mr. Sippy?" he asked at one point.

I shook my head. "Do you think your friend will consider stopping for supper?" I asked.

"No, and if we did stop I don't see what there'd be to eat," he said.

"I've got a headache," he added in a sad tone. "If you don't have a biscuit you probably don't have a pill, either."

But I did have a pill -- a bottle of them, in fact. I had bought them in Galveston a few months before and forgotten about them. They were just general pills, about the size of marbles and guaranteed to cure a wide range of diseases. I dug them out of my saddlebag and poured Billy Bone a handful.

"Let's just eat them," I said. "They're just general pills. It's better than starving."

Billy didn't say anything, but he gave me a kind of quizzical, grateful look. It may be that my sharing those Galveston pills sealed our friendship.

We rode out on the plain, munching the big pills. After he'd eaten about thirty, Billy got tickled.

"I may get so healthy I'll fall off this horse," he said, but before he could get any healthier we saw Joe Lovelady racing this way and that, whipping at something with his rope.

"Prairie chickens," Billy said. "He's good at catching prairie chickens. Joe just whacks them down with his rope."

That indicated to me that Mr. Lovelady was at last thinking of his stomach, which proved to be the case. That night we feasted on four fat hens, and our troubles seemed to be over. The big pills had left Billy and me with gaseous stomachs, and we did a lot of belching, which Joe Lovelady, an unfailingly polite man, did his best to ignore. Billy tended to linger over his belching, as kids will -- some of his better productions gave the horses a start.

While we were polishing prairie chicken bones, Joe Lovelady suddenly looked at me and smiled -- his first smile since we met.

"I know who you are," he said. "Sippy. You're that Yankee who don't know how to rob trains."

"Hey!" Billy said. "Are youthatSippy?"

I had to admit I was. My own little reputation had caught up with me again.

Copyright © 1988 by Larry McMurtry

Excerpted from Anything for Billy: A Novel by Larry McMurtry
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