I’d been able to decrease the frequency of the treatments, but I doubted I’d ever stop smoking all together. If I wasn’t just a bundle of complexities.
Response still sluggish and muscles working like they were submerged in butter, I pulled myself onto the hay loft and dangled my legs over the edge. After popping open a crusty metal tin and retuning it to the inside pocket of my duster, I lit the marihuana cigarette and held the smoke in my lungs. Exhaling through my nose with my eyes closed, I began to drift. This time I relied on discipline and clarity rather than chaos and weakness.
Trip Jones floated by, dead cigar stub clenched in his teeth, with a smug look on his face. You sure know how to frack skulls. The opium den dojo replaced the front office of J&J. Its toothless proprietor grinned—an Asian man whose body had lost to time and intoxicants, the same skills he imparted to me. Next, the burning timbers of a Mexican medicine woman’s jakal, a searing pain in my hand, an Aztec amulet. Good medicine.
Elizabeth. I fluttered midstream, struggled against the current, before relenting. Elizabeth hovered over me, laughing. Her golden hair sparked and popped like embers before drifting into darkness—the last fireflies of the season. Mother. I whisked my eyes open, cigarette still hanging from my lips. My mother had finally died when I was twenty-one, a year before I finished my schooling at University of Texas.
“Never did take you for da smokin’ type.”
My cheeks puckered, as I reached for my Colt.
“Uh-uh, not dat it bother me none. I used to take a good chew ever now and den, lady-like or no. But John always have a hissy on da matter, yammerin’ on about how there taint no way someone under his employ gonna smoke nor chew. So I gived it up right then and there.”
I quickly overrode my first instinct. Releasing the grip of my .45, I pinched the cigarette and held it out of sight. I could count the number of people who knew I smoked and were still alive on one finger. I never liked big numbers.
She scanned the barn with keen eye before shuffling toward the sideboard with the kettle in her hands. Placing it on the grease and sawdust-laden boards, she sniffed the air. Her eyes bulged slightly, a tell that she recognized the tang distinguishing marihuana smoke from tobacco. “But I suppose dat’s why you smokin’. Young’uns these days.”
“I don’t smoke.” I pocketed the remainder of the cigarette. What was I afraid of? That this old maid would tell my father? “Is that coffee?”
“I figured a young smarty-pants might need a slug after his all-night ride. And since you don’t smoke maybe dis can wash out da taste of dat cigarette you ain’t just smoked. Now git your raggedy, lying ass down here before I drink all dis coffee myself.” I obeyed as she poured two steaming cups and continued the one-sided conversation. “No good, lying, disrespectin’ smarty-pants drinking my coffee with out even a thanks.”
“I apologize, ma’am.” I tipped my hat before placing it on the sideboard. “You’re right. Bullets is no excuse for one to forget his manners. I’m J.T. McCutchen III. And I’d be grateful if you could spare a cup of that fine smelling coffee.”
“Well ain’t you proper when you get thirsty?” Hands on her ample hips, she scanned me from head to toe before riveting me straight in the eyes. Finally, she softened. “You’re John’s boy sure enough, uh-huh. Stubborn, self-righteous, persuasive and good lookin’.”
She raised her hand surprisingly fast, in what I figure was an attempt to swat my behind. I blocked it on instinct. “Sassy too. Help yourself, Mr. J.T. Smarty-Pants. I made da coffee for you, so you might as well drink it. But don’t go getting offended if I don’t hang around sipping it with ya like some gun slinging young’un with nothing better to do at nine in da morning. I got a sick one to tend to, shells to reload, and beans that are burning, so you might as well tell me if I gotta get another bed ready.”
I took her gently by the wrist. “I’m staying.”
She sipped from her coffee before nodding. “Good. John needs you.”
I still had no idea who this lady was or how she’d gotten elected for the role she’d taken, but I owed her. “Look, I… thank you. Thank you, Miss—”
“Bougere. Nanette Bougere. But I ain’t no miss. Call me Nannie.”
I nodded. “Nannie. Last thing I want is the beans to burn, but I need to know—”
“Oh, never you mind. I ain’t even started them beans to cooking.”
“Where are the hands?”
“Who’s been shooting the place up?”
“Other than me?”
“What’s wrong with my father?”
She shook her head. “You wanna know what, or why? As to why, I’ll tell ya, but you ain’t gonna like it. Nobody ever does.”
“I don’t have to like it to do something about it.”
“No, I suppose you don’t. Might make it easier dat way. But I’ll tell ya, it don’t make a lick a sense dat man curse the earth and wonder why the devil comes out to play. But they do it all da same.”
“The drilling? So this is about the oil rights?”
“Rights or wrongs, it ain’t just about da oil no more. Uh-uh. It’s about da curse.”