Authors: Bill Brooks
For Bob Faulkner,
writer, pal, muleskinner, and a pretty good
man to go upriver with, I'm betting.
You couldn't hear it falling, but you could tell fromâ¦
Nice lady, your friend,” the Cap'n said when I steppedâ¦
I sat listening as the Cap'n explained it. All theâ¦
He was sitting there in front of the station, inâ¦
The Cap'n slept on and off as the train rolledâ¦
We stepped off the train in Tucson at around noonâ¦
In the dying heat you could smell the greasewood. Theâ¦
Jim & the Cap'n
Billy & Sam
The wind-waggled sign read: ciudad de tontos. A sagebrush tumbledâ¦
Of course the General had them beaten to get themâ¦
He waited till the old man had placed himself inâ¦
Billy was lying there on the cot, his arm flungâ¦
Jim & the Cap'n
Jim & the Cap'n
Sam & the General
Jim & Billy
I bent and picked up the Cap'n's body and gotâ¦
Sam & the General
Jim & Billy
We rode on like that slow, the rain falling harderâ¦
Billy visibly stiffened when we he saw the town risingâ¦
As if it were some sort of Greek tragedy, theâ¦
She was there at the house, my house, waiting forâ¦
ou 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 una esposa 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
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 backâlike a gambler with a pretty good hand, but not necessarily the
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 lossâthe 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 fatherâ¦” 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 muchâmore 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.
“I did a lot of drifting,” I said. “But I always liked this country best and knew someday I'd come back. And, well, here I am.”
“I was wondering what brought you here,” she said.
“Now you know.”
One other thing I never told her about me was that I'd most recently killed a man named Johnny Wacoânow nearly a year ago in the history book of my life. Everyone in Coffin Flats knew about it at the time, and why I had done it. But she lived out nearer to Wild Horse River than Coffin Flats, and if she did know about it, she never brought it up in our conversations, and I appreciated that about her.
Her laughter was something to behold. She was beautiful when she laughed. She was no young girl and her age and looks, by most men's standards, probably put her in the average category, I guess you'd say. And being a widow with children didn't exactly endear her to the few eligible bachelors worth a peck when there were so many younger, fairer Mexican women whose folks wanted to see them married off down in this part of the country. But what Luz was, was just about right for me at this time of my life. That first night we had supper together I rode with her back to her home. She had a little paint mare. She insisted she could make it home by herself just fine like she was accustomed to doing, but I now felt an obligation to make sure she got home safe and sound.
We both knew something had changed in our relationship that nightâthat if she continued coming out to the house and we continued along the same lines it was going to be more than just her cleaning my house and more than just us having supper together.
We got to her front door, the night having long descended, the inside of the casita dark, and we just sat there for a moment.
“What do you want from me, SeÃ±or Glass?” she finally said.
She gave me long enough to explain it.
“I don't know,” I said. “I liked tonight, having supper with you, talking, laughing, telling you about myself. I like the fact you smoke cigarettes even though I never have, but I'm thinking of taking up the habit. I like the way the evening sun looks in your eyes. I don't know what it all means. I just know I liked it and wouldn't mind if we made it a regular deal.”
“I liked it too,” she said. “But what might people say?”
“Hell, I don't care if you don't. We're both still vital people, me and you, Luz. You're widowed and I'm single; what can they say that's so terrible?”
She touched my hand for the first time and I leaned and kissed her soft cheek.
“Then I'll see you next week,” I said.
“Yes, you'll see me next week.”
So that's how it began, like thatâtwo strangers who'd come to know each other a little more each time over the ensuing weeks and decided at some point we didn't want to stop with just supper.
When the coffee was ready I poured her a cup, remembering she liked two spoonfuls of sugar in hers, and brought it to her and said, “I'm going to go out and break ice off the water troughs for the horses, then gather some eggs if those chick
ens didn't all get et last night by the coyotes and we'll have some eggs and biscuits with honey for breakfast, how will that be?”
“Sure. We'll pretend we're rich people.”
She reached up and kissed me, letting the blanket drop away when she did, her warm brown breasts pressed against me as she hugged my neck. And it roused my desire all over again.
“Don't go anywhere,” I said. “I'll be right back.”
The horses pricked their ears at my approach and I took the hand ax and busted the plates of ice off their water and said, “There you are, ladies.” The stud stood off watching me cautiously as I went to his pen. I shattered the ice on his water and said, “Just so you know, we're going to have us another go-round today, so you might just as well get used to the idea.”
He tossed his head and pawed the cold earth just as if he knew what I was talking about. The thought of getting bucked off on such a cold morning was a little more than I wanted to think about. I'd wait till around midmorning, then give it a goâwhen it was a little warmer and the ground not so damn hard.
I went over to the chicken coopâone I'd constructed myself and surrounded with chicken wire
but didn't seem to do much good when it came to crafty coyotes and zealous badgers. Even had a hawk once that flew down and took one. I strung more chicken wire for a barrier. Those chickens acted scared and I couldn't blame them. I un-latched the wire holding the small gate so I could enter and hopefully find a few eggs for breakfast. The rooster squawked like someone told him he was about to be murdered and the hens ran about with their clipped wings flapping and squawking too.
Then I saw something way out on the road that caused me to pause: a quarter-top leather buggy, black against the snow, pulled by a single trotter. I didn't know anybody in Coffin Flats who owned such a rig except the new doctor. I wondered what the hell the new doctor was headed to my place for.
I got my eggs, holding them in the fold of my shirttails, and hitched the gate shut again and started up to the house. Inside I set the eggs in a bowl on the sideboard next to the stove and said to Luz, “Someone's coming. Looks like that new doctor. Maybe you ought to get dressed. You know I'm a jealous man.”
She smiled boldly, said, “Oh, you are, huh.”
“Maybe just a little.”
“I like that you are,” she said.
She tossed back the covers and stood fully naked before me, her arms out away from her sides.
“You're a sight and half, woman. And if you keep that up, I'm going to crawl back in the bed with you, and that new doctor will just have to wait outside till we're done in here.”
She laughed and came and threw her arms around my neck and kissed my mouth.
“Okay,” she said. “I'll get dressed, and I'll make breakfast too.”
I stepped out on the porch, closing the door behind me.
But the man riding in the hack wasn't the new doctor. Instead it was a man I hadn't seen in almost two years and never thought I'd see again.
His name was Gus Rogers, Captain Gus Rogers, and I knew he hadn't traveled all the way from Texas just to pay a social visit.
He halted the hack, the morning sun glistening in the new snowfall, his horse blowing steam.
“Jim,” he said in that South Texas drawl of his as he just sat there huddled inside a mackinaw with his hat pulled down tight to the top of his ears.
“Cap'n,” I said. “You're quite a ways from home.”
“Hell if I ain't, old son.”
“You lost, or just out wandering the earth?”
He smiled like a man who didn't do it much.
“Neither,” he said. “I come looking for you.”
“Get on down,” I said. “Was about to have some breakfast. You hungry?”
“No, not too much. Could use a taste of hot coffee though, maybe just a finger or two of something in it to ward off the chill.”
I watched the way he stepped out of the hack; like a man who had something in him broken.
He stood for a moment straightening himself, hands pressed to his back, looking around.
“Nice little place you got here,” he said.
“Ain't it though.”
“Never thought I'd see the day Jim Glass had himself a house.” He looked to the corral. “Nice horses too. Hell, old son, you've become like some sort of potentate.”
“Hardly,” I said. I was trying to kill enough time for Luz to slip on a dress but I figured by now she had. I almost smiled at the thought of the look on the Cap'n's face was he to see her innocent beauty in all its glory, a man like him, who was all Bible and by the book.
“Let's get in out of this morning cold. Coffee's already on,” I said.
I waited for him to go first and saw the way he was listing and moving slow. I'd known the man for a goodly number of years, knew him to always
be tough as a blackjack stump, figured even bullets couldn't kill him, which they hadn't yet after being shot at least three times I knew about.
His face was ashen, his features drawn, and he looked like he had aged twenty years since I'd last seen him.
I introduced him to Luz and told him to take a seat at the table. He gave her an appraising eye and smiled like a coon eating melon.
“Ma'am,” he said, touching the brim of his Stetson with a finger. Supporting most of his weight on the back of the chair and edge of the table, he eased himself down.
I went to the cupboard and took out the bottle of bourbon I kept there for special occasions, which were mostly for the nights after Luz and I had supper together and would sit out on the porch and watch the sun set and sip and talk till it got dark. She confessed she quite liked the taste of my whiskey.