Chapter 25

What do you think so far?

Don’t know what we are talking about?  You can find the previous 24 chapters here, and here we go again.

……….

As Brig headed to work the following morning it dawned on him that he hadn’t thought about drinking since he’d told Emmalou his tale.  That may not seem like all that great of an achievement since he’d slept most of that time, but for el borracho it was a monumental step in the right direction.  The last time he had allowed himself to re-live that memory he’d woken the next morning curled up in a horse trough, surrounded by empty bottles, smelling of far worse things than manure and unable to recall what had transpired the previous evening.

He couldn’t remember how many times he’d woken up unable to recall the events of the preceding night, and to spill my story and not find myself waking up in a hung-over stupor or even immediately think about dulling the pain with some whiskey shows progress, doesn’t it?

Feeling pleased with himself, Brig got to work sweeping and mopping with an extra jump in his step despite the early hour.

Dan rose from his short nap, rummaged up a breakfast of yesterday’s leftover biscuits and a cup of piping hot coffee, and hung out at the counter as Brig finished up his morning duties.  The bar was quiet except for the occasional squeak of wood on wood as Brig moved chairs about and the slurping sound Dan made while trying to sip down the coffee without completely scalding his tongue.  After so many years of burning his mouth on the dark brew he didn’t have that many nerves left in his mouth to react to the pain of the hot drink but he slurped anyway out of habit.

When Brig finished wiping down the tables, he poured his own cup of coffee and pulled up the stool next to Dan.  Then the only sounds were the two of them drinking.  Slurp, slurp.  Slurp, slurp.  Slurp, slurp.  You get the idea.

The day’s first customer entered the bar and Brig lowered himself down from the stool and took his place behind the counter.  A regular, Brig recognized the man and got his drink poured before he’d made it up to the bar.  He sat at the stool Brig had just vacated and slid the necessary coins across the counter as Brig offered the first of three shots the man would down before heading out for the mines.

Brig had never worked in a mine and had been surprised at first that men would drink before starting their shifts.  It was dangerous work to begin and adding alcohol to the mix seemed like a stupid thing to do.  When he broached the subject with Dan, his large and jovial employer had replied, “Well, the ride up to the mines is long and they are sober enough to do their jobs by the time they get out there or their foremen wouldn’t let them down into the ground.  Plus, sometimes you have to be partially drunk to be stupid enough to go below ground in the first place.  They know each time they go in that they may never see the sun, or their families, or a get to taste another drink again so they might as well go down with its sweet taste in their mouths.  Honestly, I’m surprised more of them don’t drink on the way out.”

They almost all stopped in somewhere for a drink on the way in.  That part Brig understood.  Even though el borracho was a drunk he couldn’t understand drinking before going to work.  He didn’t judge them though.  He couldn’t fathom earning a living in the mines, nothing would be worth the odds those men faced.  He understood the irony of that thought though, a gunslinger thinking about odds of survival in other professions.  To be fair, Brig had never really considered his profession to be “a gunslinger.”  He had just been fast and accurate, accurate being the more important of those two, and the term had been thrown about and then fastened securely to him.

There was a time, just before the incident in Wyoming, where you would have never heard his name without the added tagline of “gunslinger.”  He was never just “Brig,” or “Brig Coyle,” or “Mr. Coyle,” or even “Mr. Brig Coyle.”  It was always “Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.”

“Did you see that Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, is in town?”  “Did you hear about the latest shoot out with Brig Coyle, the gunslinger?”  “I heard that Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, was headed this way.”

It’s not as if he went around introducing himself that way, ever.  He had never liked the term being affixed to him and who he was, not even in the very beginning when his fame was just beginning to be spread about and he had enjoyed the celebrity.  People seldom have a choice in these matters though and Brig was no exception.

Two more patrons entered and Brig didn’t recognize them so he welcomed them to the Inn, “Good morning gents and welcome to the Gunnison Inn.  What can I pour you?”

The first indication that something was wrong should have been that Brig didn’t recognize them from around town.  Strangers don’t often enter bars for a drink so early in the morning.  Where did they come from?  What are they doing in town?  Why do they need a drink?  Those are all questions that would have normally sprung up for Brig the second they entered, but with the added foot traffic the bar had seen for people coming in just to get served a drink by Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, it wasn’t enough anymore to concern Brig.

The second indication that something was wrong was the fact that neither man returned Brig’s greeting.  That Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, did notice.  (Sorry, couldn’t help that one.)  With his interest piqued, Brig studied them closely as they ambled up to the counter.  They were both tall, lean, tanned from days riding the ranges. Their eyes scanned from side to side as they made their way forward brushing over everything in the bar, and their clothes were covered in a layer of dust and grime.  So they’ve just come into town this morning, in the dark. 

 That’s not good.

The third indication that something was wrong was the tie-down revolvers each man had strapped across their hips.  Men with guns coming and going from the bar weren’t out of the ordinary.  Local cowboys and bronco busters and ranchers and other such tradesmen frequented the bar often and usually carried the tools of their trade when they did so.  However, those sorts of men wouldn’t have need of tie-downs and their revolvers would show the wear and tear of their professions.  The sidearms of the two men who had just entered were polished to a brilliant shine and well oiled so they would slip easily, and quickly, out of their soft holsters, as befits their profession.

Crap.

Why didn’t I get the gun back from Sheriff Brown?  I’d sure feel a lot better if I had it right now.  Then again, why am I worrying?  Maybe they aren’t here for me.

As the two men pulled up two stools a bit further down the bar from Dan and the other patron, Brig made his way down to take their orders, “What can I get you?”

“We’re looking for Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.”

Double crap.

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