Chapter 15

Do you look forward to Thursdays?  I do.  It means we get to see what Jack is up to now!

Who’s Jack?  Well, you can figure that out here.

…..

Jack pondered his dilemma while cleaning up in his room at Mrs. Sorensen’s place.  He had to make sure he was presentable for the evening meal to avoid calling down her wrath as well.  He’d already had more conflict than he wanted on any given day and the hour was still early.

It’s not like I have enough money to walk over to the shop and pick one out of the case.  They might have something I could afford but it wouldn’t be worth the money.  Besides, how can I justify spending money on a gun when I still owe Dan so much?  I can’t.

 What other options are there then?  I could ask the sheriff to let me borrow one, but he couldn’t do that unless he swore me in as a deputy and neither one of us want that.  I could ask Dan if he has one I could borrow… 

 Then again, having a gun isn’t necessarily the best idea either.  If I had one today, what would have happened?  If he had drawn on me who knows what the outcome would have been.  It sure wasn’t likely it would have been a favorable outcome for me, that’s for sure.  There is no such thing as a fair fight when the odds are stacked against me like they were.

 Even if I had somehow managed to survive the gun play, who would believe that a drunk like me could gun down 5 men unless I had drawn first and caught them by surprise.  I guess there were witnesses about, but I’m still a stranger in this town, and eyes seem to see funny things when outsiders are involved.  I can’t trust anyone to see clearly on my behalf.  Besides, 5 to 1, I wouldn’t have survived. 

 Plus, I stopped carrying for a reason, and started drinking for a reason too.  Do I really want to walk that path again?  I’ve been sober for awhile now, I guess, but it hasn’t been all that long really.  It might just be inviting myself to stumble and fall back into the bottle if I do carry a gun and something happens.  Something would happen too, wouldn’t it?  Why else would I carry the gun?

 Then again, I don’t particularly want to die either.  Not anymore anyway.  Not now that I’ve started to turn my life around again and have found a, mostly, peaceful town I can see myself sticking around for awhile.  How can I repay the debts I owe if I’m run out of town or shot down by Ed and his cronies?  How else can I protect myself against them if I don’t arm myself as they are armed?

Like I said, it was quite the dilemma, and he had a lot to ponder.  After finishing cleaning up, he decided to stay into his room until dinner.  He wasn’t hiding, per say, it was just a quiet atmosphere where he could continue thinking through his problem without being disturbed.  He sprawled out on his back on the bed, interlaced his fingers behind his head, and stared into the empty space between him and the ceiling.

What to do, what to do?

He stayed that way until he heard Mrs. Sorensen setting the table for dinner.  The sounds of the table being set were accompanied by the cooking smells that had started to drift through the large house and found him in his room.  The combination of the two was enough to get him off the bed and go help Mrs. Sorensen get dinner served.

While he ate he let his mind wander away from his predicament.  In truth, he didn’t really have a choice in the matter, because the delicious spread of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, steamed carrots and peppered gravy was all he could think about after the first forkful of flavor exploded in his mouth.  Wow.  It was good.

As a way of saying thank you for the great supper, Jack helped Mrs. Sorensen clean up after the rest of the tenants went their separate ways.  He carried dishes to the sink, cleaned off the table, and swept out the dining room again.  Well, he was only helping partially because he wanted to let her know he appreciated the good food.  He was also helping because it gave him some more time to think about possible solutions for his predicament without locking himself in his room again.

Besides, sometimes when he helped her clean up after dinner he found a bit more substantial breakfast waiting for him the following morning.

The extra time was enough for him to come to a decision on where to start at least.  After returning the broom to the kitchen and bidding Mrs. Sorensen a good night, Jack ventured outside to make the short trek through town to the jail where he hoped to find Sheriff Brown and ask his advice.  He had finally realized that he wasn’t alone anymore and there were people he could trust to help him make the more difficult decisions.

Who better to ask if I should arm myself than the sheriff?  He’ll know Ed’s history, he’ll know whether the threat warrants me carrying, and he may have other insights that could prove valuable. 

The door to the jail was open, with no current occupants in any of the cells and therefore no need for that extra bit of safety, Cole had opened the door to catch the evening breeze coming out of the mountains to cool things down inside.  He was seated at his desk, leaned back in his chair, with his boots up and legs crossed.  His hat was pulled low over his eyes and if Jack didn’t know better he would have guessed the man was sleeping.

If he had been sleeping, however, the door would have been shut.  The sheriff was just resting his eyes, and Jack wasn’t more than two feet inside the jail before Cole spoke up, “You know I can tell it’s you from halfway down the street.  The way your boots gently caress the boards, now that you’re sober, you don’t make as much noise as the rest of the cowhands and the others whose boots slap and snap down.  Nope, you’ve had training to walk quietly, I reckon.”

“And you’ve had training to pay attention to the sound a man makes when he walks?”

Cole smiled under his hat, and then put his feet back on the floor and leaned forward in his chair, pushing the brim back over his brow as he did so.  He hadn’t expected any real insight from Jack but he’d had fun dangling the information out there as bait anyway.  You can learn a lot about a person from the questions and topics they are adept at avoiding.  “No real training to speak of,” Sheriff Brown replied, “I’ve just found it an interesting exercise while I’m in here resting in the evenings.  Especially at night, you just never know when you’ll need to rely on more than just your eyes.”

“Or, eye, in my case, right?”

“I reckon so.  Now what can I do for you on this fine evening?”

Jack laid bare the events from that morning outside the Gunnison Inn and his thoughts on the matter.  Cole had heard the two shots and had gone to investigate and had also gotten the same story from the few people he had interviewed.  Always good when stories corroborate.

“So,” Jack finished, “I’m here trying to get your take on it and see if you’ve got any advice for me?”

Interesting, Cole thought.  Quite interesting indeed.  If it was almost anybody other than Ed the answer would be simple, just keep on doing what you’re doing, but Ed is a different beast altogether.  

“You didn’t mind being called a coward in front of all those people this morning?”

“I did mind, but I wasn’t going to let blood be spilled over a word, especially when it was likely that blood would have been mine.”

“And if you’d had a gun this morning and he had called you a coward and acted the same way he did, then what?  If he has a gun tomorrow and you have a gun tomorrow, and he calls you out again and you try to walk away again, and then he calls you coward, what then?”

“I honestly don’t know.  I wouldn’t draw first, I know that, but I probably wouldn’t walk away either, even if he and his goons let me.  I might force his hand.”

“Name calling worth getting killed over?”

“Of course not, but you know that it isn’t the name calling that is going to kill me.  It’s the bullet in my back the time I walk away from the fight when there are no other witnesses around.  Without his tagalongs he might have shot me today, witnesses or no.”

“Can you shoot?”

Jack took a minute to answer.  “It’s been awhile.  I haven’t carried since I started drinking, but I used to be decent.  I don’t know if I’d be any good anymore.”

You stopped carrying when you started drinking or you started drinking when you stopped carrying.  I wonder which it truly was.  And decent with a gun?  Could be a modest answer, could be the truth, there is no real way to know for sure at this point, but I do believe there is more to el borracho than he wants even those he is beginning to consider friends to know. 

Cole placed his elbows on his desk and steepled his fingers, drumming the pointers together while he thought over the best course of action.  Then he grabbed a piece of parchment from one of his drawers and the fountain pen from its station on his desk and began to write out a note.

While he wrote he said, “Perhaps there is some way I can get Ed out of town for awhile, and maybe he’ll have cooled off about the whole thing by the time he returns.”  That’s not very likely.  It’s already been long enough that he should have moved on if he was going to.  “I’ll get this message out to Richard Blunt and see if he can rein in his man for a spell.”  A waste of time, I know, he’s already tried to do that.

Across the desk, Jack nodded in appreciation.  He had made the right decision in trusting Cole with his problem and was happy that there were other potential solutions that he hadn’t considered.

“Still,” Sheriff Brown continued as he finished his note and looked up at Jack, “let’s head on down to my place and I’ll see if I can find you something to carry for a spell.”

Jack was surprised.  He hadn’t thought it would really need to come to that.  He hadn’t made up his mind that he even wanted to start carrying a gun again.  Needs aside, he wasn’t certain he could be trusted with one.  What if I start drinking again?  What if I make another mistake?  That kid…

“Is there no other way?”

“I reckon not.”

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