And here’s another chapter in my western. How’s everyone liking it so far?
If you need a refresher on what happened last time, you can see all the previous chapters here.
His accuser faced him, her glare unwavering, her finger aimed at him like a gun was also unwavering, her words had been her bullets and they had hit their target. The hate in her eyes was so intense he could not look into them any longer and he dropped his gaze.
The great Brig Coyle stared down by a woman. The man she knew no longer exists.
He toyed with the idea of denying that he was Brig but he knew that wouldn’t work. From Dan’s reaction behind him he knew Reilly had recognized him too once his real name had been used. He considered disappearing into a bottle again and returning to el borracho completely but he didn’t truly want that either. He was happy with his sobriety, happy with the little life he had started to carve out for himself in that small Colorado town and he didn’t want to throw that away.
So, though it wasn’t something he would have done in most of his former personas, and perhaps that was the point, he opted for the truth. Shocking, I know. A truthful, one-eyed, murderous, bar-tending, gunslinger. Who has ever heard of such a thing?
“Mam, the murderer you knew is no more.” She opened her mouth to dispute and he held up his hand, his right hand, his gun hand, and she remained quiet. “I’m not going to deny the man I was before. I’ve killed men and… I did things I regret now. I was a murderer, yes, but that was a long time ago. The man you see before you today is…
“I just want to lead a quiet, peaceful, life in this town.”
“You think you deserve that? Do you really think you deserve a peaceful life after all the suffering you caused? Why should you get that when so many others no longer have that option?” Her pointed finger curled up into a fist to match the one her other hand was making, and her outstretched arm dropped to her side. She stood straight as a board, indignant, and righteous, and still full of fury. She was a force to be reckoned with.
A few strands of her hair had slipped loose from the bun and fell, with the slightest of curves and coils, in a tendril down the side of her face. Her chin was slightly raised and tilted to one side, and still she stared him down.
My God, Brig thought again, she is stunning. He couldn’t help it. If you had been there, you would have been thinking the same thing.
“If you want peace, Brig Coyle, why did I see you walking the streets this morning with a gun on your hip?”
Double crap. El borracho and Jack Smith didn’t carry a gun. The first day I put one on and I’m recognized, in the pre-dawn darkness, with my hat pulled low, from behind a window or wherever she was to have seen me when I didn’t see her. I guess my drunken personas were not as strong as I had thought they were. I guess my essence as Brig is stronger than I thought it was. I guess I must have done something to this lovely lady that has so etched me into her conscience that it just took seeing me with a gun for her to see through my alter egos.
Where to start? Should I explain that I don’t wish to carry a gun anymore that I’m just borrowing the revolver to protect myself? Would she even believe that? Will anyone believe that once they know who I truly am?
Should I apologize for my sins, ask what wrong I have caused her and work to right it or them? It’s more likely “them.” I have a lot of sins to atone for. Probably more than my worst critics would guess.
Brig heard Dan slide off his stool (finally), and approach him from behind. His gunslinger instincts screamed at him to turn and see what the big man was doing. He could have grabbed his club from behind the bar and be walking up on him to knock him down. He could have grabbed the revolver from behind the bar too.
He stood resolute. He had come to think of Dan, and Sheriff Brown, as friends and he wanted, he needed, to prove to them as much as he needed to prove to himself that he was a changed man. He would trust Dan to not be walking up on his blind side with mal-intent. He would trust that Dan was a friend. That was very difficult for him.
To help himself ignore what was going on behind him, Brig raised his eyes to meet the woman’s intense gaze again. She didn’t flinch. That in itself should have been proof that he was no longer the infamous gunman he had been. Then again, perhaps she was never afraid of me. Perhaps her anger would have let her stare me down even in the hay day of my ruthlessness.
Her eyes were magnificent. He could see through the hate and get lost in the myriad of swirling blues dancing in the lamp light. He felt like a fool. She had shown up and thrown out his name, a seemingly small and simple act that held the potential, like a small stone on train tracks, to completely derail him from his current route. He should have been furious. He should have been thinking about how he was going to do damage control on the situation. He should have been many things, but he couldn’t stop thinking about how lovely she was.
Why am I feeling like this? Why am I acting like this? She obviously hates me. I should be figuring out how to extricate myself from her and this situation so she doesn’t start to track my movements and harass me as I go about town. I don’t want her to be around if, when, Ed comes crashing back into my path. I don’t want her caught up in that mess. I don’t need any more innocents suffering on my behalf. I don’t even…
“What’s your name?”
That caught her off guard. She had been certain of many things when she had seen Brig Coyle stalking through the early morning streets of her beloved town. She had been certain he was up to no good, certain that she needed to confront him and help drive him out of town before he could bring the kind of anguish to Gunnison that she had witnessed in Cheyenne as a child. She had been certain that he would deny who he was but she had recognized him without a doubt. Those memories were seared forever in her mind’s eye.
She hadn’t expected him to be handsome. The eye patch, the stubble upon his chin, the ugly man she knew him to be on the inside should have all worked against him but somehow it didn’t. He had a certain charisma. He had a presence in the room she couldn’t deny, power and intrigue. She was uncomfortable with the slight attraction she felt when she got her first good look of him when she entered the bar. She hoped the lamp light was just being kind, softening his features, and that daylight would prove him to be the ugly man she wanted him to be.
She also hadn’t expected to see sorrow behind his eye. He was an evil man, and evil men had no sorrow or regrets for their actions. She thought perhaps she was reading that wrong too, didn’t trust her own eyes, and didn’t let it assuage any part of the anger that had fueled her to act.
Dan reached Brig’s side, put his hand on the gunslinger’s shoulder and asked, “Is it true? Are you the Brig Coyle?” Everyone in the room knew it was true. Reilly just needed to hear it for himself.
Brig ignored the question and asked again, “What’s your name?”
Still, the woman did not answer. How dare he? I’m not important. I’m just the voice of all the children he has left fatherless over the years, all the women he has widowed, all the peaceful people whose lives he has shattered. My name is not important.
“I think you should leave Mr. Coyle. I think you should leave Gunnison this morning. I don’t care if you have changed your ways. I don’t care if you’ve turned into a saint. People that have pasts such as yours seem to have trouble follow them and I don’t want that kind of trouble here. I won’t be alone in that. Many and more will be calling for you to leave as soon as who you are is passed around town. You should leave now, this morning, this very instant.”
Dan Reilly, lost in his own thoughts and considerations, asked again, “Is it true?”
Brig asked again, “What’s your name?”
She stomped her foot in defiance. “My name is not important.” Her tendril of loose hair bounced with her movement, and her lips quivered slightly, partially from anger and partially from frustration. A normal person would not have noticed the tremble but Brig Coyle’s watchful eye, the eye of a gunslinger, missed nothing. “Please leave, please… ”
Dan was forgotten, only Brig and the woman existed. “What’s your name?”
Her eyes were defiant, but her resolve was weakening. They flared even more brilliant as another wave of fury pulsed through them but she said nothing.
“What’s your name?”
She stomped her foot again, still could not find any words, and the fury and tension and frustration began to fade away as her eyes welled up with tears. He didn’t need to ask again. He had won the mental battle. Barely, but he had won.
“Emmalou. Emmalou Marsch.” A tear trickled unchecked down her cheek, clung to her chin for an instant and then plummeted to the clean floor below. He had defused her anger but not her purpose. “Please, Mr. Coyle, leave my town. Go today before trouble finds you here and those of us who call Gunnison home suffer as a result.”
Brig removed his hat, pressed it against his chest and smiled at Emmalou. Years later she would admit to him that at the time she thought she would never be able to forgive him for that smile. She had thought him a callous and smug miscreant and his smile had unnerved her further. It had taken the last bit of power she had that morning and in that moment she truly hated him for that.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Emmalou Marsch. I’ve grown fond of this little town of yours and I wish to stay.” She moved to speak again, but no words came and Brig took the opportunity to finish what he wanted to say. “I don’t wish any trouble upon this town, and you have my word I will do, and have done, my utmost to avoid it while I’m here. But I’ve begun to come to terms, as much as any man ever can, with my demons and I want to start over. If it’s not this town it will be another one just like it where they will be just as reluctant to let me stay long enough to prove my good intentions.
“I’ve already started to make friends here, and honestly the passion you showed in wanting to keep men like I was out of Gunnison just makes me want to live here more. I want to help keep this place peaceful. I want to help keep people like the man I was out of here. I can understand your desire to see me leave but at some point I will need to stop running and drive in stakes. Why not here? Yes, I was Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, the murderer of men, women, and children. I am still Brig Coyle, but if you let me I will be the defender of men, women, and children of this town. I will prove that I am now a good man.
“Won’t you give me that chance?”
A tear trickled out of Emmalou’s other eye and slowly inched down her face. The anger had been completely replaced by frustration and confusion. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to think. Brig was sorry about that too.
Dan had released Brig’s shoulder, suddenly, when Brig said his name again. The owner of the bar was reluctant to have his intentions misconstrued by the notorious gunman. “Brig Coyle,” he whispered. “Oh crap.”