Chapter 16

Another Thursday and another segment in the western I’m writing.  It started as a comedy… Is it still one?

If you want to start from the beginning, you should go here.

……….

The weight felt natural at his hip.  He had been concerned it would make him feel awkward and clumsy when he walked around, but it actually made him feel more complete than he had since he started drinking.  It made him finally feel almost normal, almost the way he had felt before that day all those years ago when he had first crawled up inside a whiskey bottle to hide from who he had become.  That scared him a little bit.  Okay, in truth, that scared him a lot and he came close to taking the holster off and returning it to Sheriff Brown right after he’d put it on.

Cole, as it turned out, had quite a collection of firearms at his disposal that were not town issued.  He’d brought most of them with him from his life before he had ended up in Gunnison.  Though, he’d come to town as a drunk just like Jack, his arrival had been under slightly better circumstance and he’d still had most of his possessions.  He hadn’t gotten quite to the point where he’d needed to start selling things to pay for his booze addiction.  It had been close though.

He selected a 7 ½ inch barrel Colt for Jack, and handed over the matching holster, a right handed low hung tie-down, and some shells.  The sheriff watched as Jack expertly checked the action, strapped on the holster and swung the gun into it.  He wiggled the butt a few times to check how snug the gun was held in place, and only when satisfied did he use the tie-downs to securely strap the bottom to his leg.  Then he pulled the revolver in one smooth action, quickly slotted home the cartridges, and dropped the gun back into the holster without having to look or guide it home with his other hand.

Who are you?  Cole was plagued by even more questions about Jack’s past and wondered if he had done the right thing in arming the man.  This was funny because at that same moment, jack was wondering the exact same thing.

He was no longer the one-eyed gunless gunslinger that had been thrown from the train.  Neither man was quite sure how comfortable they were with that fact.

Well, he trusted me, Cole thought, I’ve got to trust him.  He came to me for help and this is the help I can provide.  I’ve got to trust him to stay sober and not use that firearm unless he absolutely has to.  “How does it feel?”

Jack didn’t answer.  El borracho didn’t answer.  Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, the man he was before he had become Jack and before he had become el borracho, answered, “I’m not sure yet.”

“Well,” Cole replied, “I’m going to take it as a good sign that you seem to be just as uncomfortable having that thing on your hip as I am with you having that thing on your hip.”  He smiled and slapped Jack (he didn’t know it was Brig Coyle) on the back to help break the tension that had suddenly begun to build up in the room.  “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink to celebrate the occasion.”

Not funny, Brig thought and gave no answer.

That wasn’t funny, Cole thought too.  Now what?

“It’s getting pretty late, and I’ve got to be at the bar early tomorrow for my shift, I think I should probably head back to Mrs. Sorensen’s and try to get some rest.”

“You aren’t going to wear that iron while you are working, are you?”

“No, and I won’t wear it in Mrs. Sorensen’s either.  Probably will only be on while I’m walking back and forth to work and maybe on some of the errands I run around town, like going to the jail to visit you.”

Sheriff Brown surveyed el borracho for another couple of seconds.  He had a pit in his stomach and he was trying to put his finger on why he’d be getting that feeling.  Jack wore the revolver easily enough, and it was obvious he knew his way around a gun so he wouldn’t be a danger to himself with it.  He might very well be a danger to others though, but is it more important to let him have the means to protect himself, or to protect those that might cause him harm instead?  I guess I’ve already made my choice since he has the gun strapped on.

Brig had a pit in his stomach too but he knew exactly why it was there.

“I’m going to get this message out to Richard Blunt by tomorrow morning.  Just try and steer clear of Ed and his cronies for a few days until we see if he was able to get Ed called in and put to work again.  Can you do that?”

“I’ll do my best.”  I don’t want to use this anymore than you don’t want me to use it.

With that they parted ways.  Cole went on the first of his nightly walks around town making sure everything was in order and Brig, Jack, el borracho walked back to Mrs. Sorensen’s where he slipped into his room unnoticed, took the gun belt off immediately, and slung it from the side of his bed.

With the weight gone from his hip he felt almost naked: exposed and vulnerable.  In response to that feeling he checked the lock on his door before turning in for the night.  However, in total conflict, he was also relieved to have removed the gun from his side.  That relief wasn’t enough to save him from the nightmares that haunted his dreams that night.

He dreamed a small desert town in Arizona, a card game being played in a saloon, someone tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention.  He knew it was a dream at that point.  He knew it was more memory than dream too but he couldn’t wake up.  He needed to see it to understand the responsibility he had whenever he wore a gun.

He recognized the man that had tapped him on the shoulder, but the man’s face changed before a name came to his mind, and then it changed again and kept on changing.  He knew each of the faces though he could never put a name to any of them.  The man said something, Brig knew this only because his lips had moved, no words ever reached his ears and then he went for his pistol.

Brig was faster.  He was always faster, and the man with the ever changing face evaporated as the slug pierced him.  Somewhere nearby a woman screamed, and people shouted his name: “Brig, Brig, Brig!”  Chaos erupted and he was in the thick of a brawl.  He was struck by something heavy and tumbled to the floor of the saloon, his gun went skittering away from him to disappear under the mass of trampling feet.  There was blood everywhere and still the woman screamed.  Her voice rose in a high pitched crescendo until it felt like his head would explode.

“Enough!”  El borracho screamed into the empty, pitch black room.  He had woken from his dream, drenched in sweat, and full of the same raw emotions he had felt on that day: rage, fear, and, most overpoweringly, shame.  He rose and splashed water on his face from the basin near his door.  From the position of the light filtering through his window he knew it was close enough to the time he needed to be awake anyway there was no sense in trying to go back to sleep.  The moonlight glinted off the exposed steel of the revolver’s cylinder, catching his eye.  He ignored it and stepped across the room to the window to put the gun behind him.

“Maybe I’m not ready to be wearing a gun again,” he whispered to the night.  “Maybe I deserve whatever Ed dishes out to me.  I’ve never wronged him, but I’ve done enough in my life that would warrant that kind of end.

“How could I have known the kid would draw on me?”  What was he doing there in the first place?  Why was he there?  Why did he force my hand?  Why did I allow my hand to be forced?  Maybe there was a different way it could have been handled?  Those questions, and more, haunted his waking mind just as the memory had haunted his dreams.

“I need a drink.”

Brig turned away from the window and walked to the post where he’d hung the revolver the night before.  He strapped the holster across his hips and tied it down.  Then he exited his room and bypassed his customary stop by the kitchen to bid Mrs. Sorensen a good day and instead headed straight to the Gunnison Inn.  He took side streets to avoid running in to anyone using the main streets at that early hour and arrived at the bar unnoticed, unseen.

He pushed open the door and stepped inside.

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