Shannon Adler
The Truth About Billy Renfro

It is not true that Billy Renfro was killed during that trouble in Houston. It just so happens that in those days there was quite a bit of trouble in many different places, not just in Houston. Billy was killed in one of those other locations.

Not many people know the whole story like I do, but then I have a certain way of listening so that I hear everything and not just what a person might chance to say. I met Billy down in Houston, and he more or less told me the whole story. That tends to happen when you’re in prison with someone, you get so you can’t do much else but talk with whoever’s in the cell next door.

I was in for about five years, on account of my robbing the convenience store at the end of the block. My mama told me not to do it, but I get crazy ideas in my head sometimes. There was no way I could stop myself, really, once the idea hatched itself. I never hurt nobody when I do things like that. No, I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve never physically hurt anyone a day in my life.

Anyway, I robbed that store. I didn’t even have a gun at the time, just mama’s ketchup bottle rolled up in a stolen letterman’s jacket. The clerk at the time was a middle-aged type woman who swore when I waved that ketchup bottle around. She started up a ruckus that actually didn’t help me out too much since a police officer walking down the sidewalk heard her hollering and came to investigate. Unfortunately, I was so jumpy that I aimed my ketchup bottle at him and he shot me in the leg with his real gun. I’ll never forget how much that stung.

Damn cop was my uncle to boot. Seems like my mama had called in reinforcements once she couldn’t talk me out of my hair-brained idea. That woman sure did cry her eyes out the day of my sentencing, though. I’ll never understand her, I hope.

Anyway, I guess I got off the subject. Well, when I arrived in that Houston jail, Billy Renfro was in the cell next door. It wasn’t too crowded of a place, seeing as most criminals at the time were too quick to be caught as far as I could tell.

So, me and Billy were neighbors. At first he wouldn’t talk to me at all, no matter how much I chattered away. I told him all about my mama and my Uncle Charlie who arrested me. I told him how my daddy died when I was just a kid and how I had always wanted a brother.

Billy wouldn’t say nothing but, “Shut up, kid,“ from time to time.

When he said that, I’d be sure to respect his wishes and wait until at least the next mealtime before starting up again. Like I said, there’s not much else to do but talk some. And eat. It seems like I was always either talking or eating or trying to make sense of all that graffiti on the walls.

I had never really figured out why Billy was in prison with me, he‘d get pretty upset when I would ask and start punching his pillow and crying some. One day, though, after I asked for maybe the hundredth time, he peered through the bars at me and said,

“I killed a man, and I’ll be sure to do it again if you don’t stop asking me your foolish questions.”

That time I was quiet for a whole twenty four hours before starting in again. I’ve learned that perseverance is a pretty decent quality to have. Least of all, it gives you answers once in a while.

Billy looked at me and started to cry, but he didn’t punch his pillow anymore. So I pretended like nothing was wrong and asked him a few other questions, like did he have a family back home, and what did he do for a living.

“I run a bicycle shop,” He said after his crying stopped.

I was happy to hear that and told him about the time I tried to steal all the bikes on the rack at the library by slicing through the chains with my mama’s chainsaw. Once I did that, though, I couldn’t figure out how to take all the bikes with me. I could only take one. Of course I had to go and steal the one with the flat front tire; it was pretty hard balancing that thing with a chainsaw in one hand.

I don’t think Billy liked my story too much because he didn’t talk anymore for a long time.

I was sleeping for a while one day when Billy started calling out to me.

“Hey,” He said, real loud. I opened one eye and looked at him.

“Are you listening, you old idiot?”

“I hear you loud and clear,” I said as I yawned.

“You asked if I had a family. I did. I had a sister, two brothers, a mama and a daddy. My daddy was a math teacher and the football coach at my high school. He made me try out for football even though I didn’t want to. I busted my leg on the first day of try-outs and my daddy didn’t speak to me for three weeks after that. My mama died of lung cancer the day before my wedding.”

He paused and ran a hand through his hair. I sat all amazed at the information Billy had felt the need to give.

“You been married, Billy?” I had to think of something to say to get him to talk some more.

“Yes,” And he blinked a few times, as if waking up from a strange dream.

Then Billy flopped over onto his bed and closed his eyes. I could tell he was asleep because when I asked if he was, he didn’t answer me. Then I shrugged and went back to sleep myself. It certainly had been a strange conversation.

The next few days Billy wouldn’t talk to me at all. I started to get discouraged seeing as how I felt we had made a real breakthrough the time he told me about his family. He must have just needed some more time to heal up from that heart wound he had.

“What was your wife like?” I asked one day when our food was being brought in. Green hot dogs on moldy bread, my favorite.

Billy paused with his hot dog halfway to his mouth. He studied it a moment and put it back on his tray.

“She was beautiful. Always wearing red dresses. She had long legs and blonde hair that curled at the ends. Her eyes were blue like a cornflower and she had a smile that would melt your heart the first time you laid eyes on her.”

He got a faraway look in his eyes and I could almost picture his wife then.

“Her name was Sally and she was a two-timing, traitorous hussy.” He added and put all of his hot dog into his mouth so that he started coughing when it went down wrong, which was pretty inevitable when you eat like that.

I took a sip of my water and got a real good thought in my head that I wanted to share with Billy. I had to wait for him to stop choking though. It’s not much fun to talk when whoever’s listening isn’t really listening.

“I had a dog named Sally and she had pretty long legs for a dog. She wasn’t near as pretty looking as your Sally. I don’t know about the hussy part, either, though I do recall her dropping a litter every chance she got. And I never saw her with the same male dog twice.”

Billy stared at me. “I don’t think all your lights are on upstairs, boy.”

“We never had any upstairs, Billy,” I laughed. “I always lived with my mama in our mobile home, though we never did take it nowhere, so there wasn’t much use in it’s being mobile.”

“Give me that book you got there. I need something to occupy my time besides conferring with you.”

I looked to where he was pointing and handed him the Pride and Prejudice my mama had brought me on her last visit. Pages thirty through seventy five were missing but I could pretty much fill in the gap on my own.

“You like Jane Austen, Billy?”

“I never met no Jane,” He answered as he thumbed through the book.

I started to think Billy was probably not the brightest crayon in the box when he threw the book back at me.

“I can’t read that fancy talk. It don’t make no sense.”

I held the book gingerly. When he had tossed the book it made page fourteen come loose and I wasn’t too happy about that.

“You’re gonna ruin my book, Billy. My mama brought me this. And besides, you don’t have to understand fancy talk to enjoy a good story when you read one.”

“You couldn’t tell me the first thing about that book,” Billy cracked a wide grin, the first time I had ever seen his teeth. A few were missing, but not all of them.

I was upset then and told Billy I really didn’t want to hear about how he killed a man anyway and that he could find someone else to criticize from then on.

Billy looked surprised.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, Hank.”

I didn’t reply and instead opened up my book to the page that was coming loose. It was a pretty good page, so I was still displeased at him.

“The man I killed was my brother.”

I was definitely not mad anymore and I threw my beloved book in my haste to sit up.

“Billy! I told you I always wanted a brother, and you tell me you didn’t even like the one you got?”

“Oh, I liked him alright, until he talked Sally into running away with him.”

“Your brother stole your wife?”

“Not stole. If he had stolen her, I would have just called the cops. She left willingly, even left me a note. Here,” He said and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket.

I unfolded the paper and tried to make out the words. Here’s what she wrote:

“To Billy Rodger Renfro,

I hate to have to be the one to tell you, but me and George (your brother) have fallen head over heels for each other. We decided to run away and avoid hurting your feelings too much by living down in Houston. I know that George’s wife will be pretty heartbroken too, so maybe some good will come out of this between you and her. George says to tell you that Rita has a real good vocabulary and she can speak some words in French, even. (Wow!) I hope you are not still mad at Christmas time so that you can come down to Houston and eat some turkey with me and George. Bring Rita too!

From Sally Mae Renfro-Renfro”

After reading it I cleared my throat. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me.

“How many words of French did Rita know?”

“About ten or twenty,” Billy admitted with shrug.

“That’s quite a few,” I pondered a moment. “I imagine I only know about three.”

“Me too. But Rita knew a lot of things.”

“Did you and Rita eat Christmas dinner with George and Sally?”

“We decided it would be for the best to smooth things over.”

“Sounds reasonable of you. Is that when you killed ol’ George?”

He looked confused. “I never killed George. Rita did. Right before Sally served the apple pie, Rita put George in a choke hold. Rita was a pretty big-sized woman. I tried to stop her, but she knocked me to the floor. I woke up two days later and George was dead.”

“Rita killed George? I thought you said you killed him.”

“I never said I killed George! Are you fool enough to think I’d kill him at Christmas dinner? Read your fancy book and leave me the hell alone, you stupid fool kid.”

I was so confused then that Pride and Prejudice started making sense to me. But I really couldn’t concentrate what with thinking of Rita being the one to kill ol’ George, when all the time he was talking, I thought Billy was the one committing murders. But big Rita had put ol’ George in a chokehold when Sally was getting pie. Just like that.

I started to wonder if Rita was in jail too. Or if maybe Billy had been sent by mistake because the cops were as confused as I was over the whole business. Maybe Rita was running around free as a bird when Billy was serving the time for her crime. But then, why had Billy said that he had killed his brother?

“I did kill my brother,” Billy retorted when I had the courage to ask him two minutes later.

“But you said-”

“I know what I said. Rita killed George. I killed Carl.”

“Who’s Carl?”

“My brother.”

“I thought George was your-”

“Don’t you ever listen? I told you I had two brothers. One was named Carl and the other named George. Rita killed George and I killed Carl.”

“Oh. What did Carl do?”

I was more than confused now. For if George could get away with running off with Billy’s wife, then what could Carl possibly have done that was worse?


“You killed Carl for nothing?”

“It was mostly an accident.”

“How mostly?” I was about to go plum crazy but Billy looked as though all this made perfect sense to him.

“He came in my bike shop and tried to steal one of my bikes.”

“Stealing?” Finally, something I was familiar with. “What did you do?”

“Like I said, I didn’t really do anything. It was all a freak accident. He was taking the bike he wanted off a rack and was carrying it with him to the door, so as not to alert me of his presence. When I saw him, I started to chase him. When I caught up, I gave him a good shove so that he would fall and drop my bike.”

I scratched my head. “Did he fall?”

“Sure he did, right on top of the bike. The kick stand on the bike was still up, since it had been sitting on the shelf in my store. That fool fell right on top of it and the kickstand stabbed him in the back of the throat. He bled to death all over my floor before help could arrive.”

“You got arrested for that?”

“Sure enough. And you know who was behind it all?”


“Rita. She wanted to run away with Carl and told him he needed to find a way to ride her out of town before she had to meet up face to face with me.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say for a long time after that. But as I happen to be one of the best conversationalists around, I finally found something.

“Well, how long are you in for?”

“Tomorrow I’m out on bail.”


“You know what I’m going to do first thing?”


“Find Rita and tell her that I love her.”

“But she’s the one who caused the deaths of both your brothers! Aren’t you kind of scared of her after that?”

“No. I’m not as dumb as my brothers.”

“I sure hope not, Billy.”

The next morning, the warden stepped up to Billy’s cell and opened up the door.

“Billy Renfro, you’re free to go.”

I wanted to give my friend Billy a round of applause, he was going free after all that mess. I told him to wait just a second and handed him my book.

“Let me know how you and Rita are doing, Billy,” I told him with a smile.

“I will,” He turned to go, but stopped for a moment, tapping the book against his hand. Page fourteen fluttered to the floor but he didn’t notice. I was irked by that.

“Thanks for listening, Hank. You’re the one who helped me see that Rita and I belong together.”

I never saw Billy Renfro after that again, but when I got out of prison, I looked up the only bike shop I could find in his home town. Going inside, I stepped gingerly, knowing that somewhere was the place where Carl had fallen to his untimely death.

A woman came out from the back and frowned at me.

“Can I help you?”

“I was wondering if Billy Renfro was around anywhere.”

She laughed some. “No Renfros in these parts anymore.”

“Oh. Do you know where I might find him? I’d just like to know how he’s doing.”

“I have no idea. You run along now.”

I turned, but having a sudden thought, I doubled back.

“Do you happen to know any French words?” I asked.


And she reached for my throat.