Here is a good place to start if you need a reminder on how we got to where we are now. Otherwise, read on and enjoy.
Cole entered his jail later that day, rubbing his jaw, with a rueful smile playing across his lips. His left cheek stung where Emmalou had slapped hip, as he had expected her to, but he hadn’t thought she’d hit him as hard as she had.
She packs quite a wallop for such a tiny little thing.
Still, it was no more than he deserved, and he knew that.
I reckon so.
And, he had gotten the hug afterwards as he had also expected. There’s nothing quite so fine as a hug from a beautiful woman. A hug can cure all manner of wrongs.
I’ll say it again, I reckon so.
From his relaxed position in the cell Brig could see Sheriff Brown rubbing his sore cheek and would have been concerned if not for the accompanying smile. It couldn’t be anything too serious if he was smiling about it. Brig’s curiosity regarding the sheriff’s success in conveying the plan to Mrs. Sorensen and Miss Marsch trumped any lingering concerns anyway and he would have plied the sheriff with a plethora of questions if Cole hadn’t started telling his tale the second he saw Brig staring at him.
“You can rest easy,” Sheriff Brown state. “Mrs. Sorensen isn’t going to kick you out while I have you stowed away safely in that cell. She even offered to bring some of your meals to you, though they’ll be cold by the time she gets them here because she is going to finish up her post meal chores before heading this direction. Those chores will take longer without you there to help. She made sure I was aware of that.
“I think she was trying to guilt me into offering to come around more often and help her out as I can. If that was her ploy, it didn’t work because I promised nothing.”
Both Brig and Cole knew that was a lie. Sheriff Brown would be at Mrs. Sorensen’s frequently in the coming days. That was his nature. He had already been spending a lot of time there and the current situation gave him even more reasons to show up.
As the sheriff spoke, he locked the jailhouse door and then moved to his chair where he sat and leaned back to throw his feet onto the desk in front of him. Brig rose from his cot and took the few steps to stand next to the cell bars and leaned forward so his forearms stuck through the bars and his weight rested on one of the horizontal beams that held the locking mechanism for the door.
“Anyway, you’ll still have a room at her place when we get this all straightened out.” Cole leaned further back in his chair, crossed his legs on the desk, and studied his inmate. Brig Coyle sure didn’t look like much. One eye covered with a patch, skinny from years of malnourishment, and dressed in clothes that wouldn’t make him stand out in a crowd. How can he be the focus of so much anger and fear? How has trouble followed him his whole life? It’s a mystery.
How someone like Emmalou Marsch could have fallen for him is also a mystery. Thinking of Emmalou made Cole rub his sore cheek again. She hadn’t left a mark but it was a near thing.
“Miss Marsch was rather angry with me for my part in this charade.” Brig’s good eye lit up, a spark of brilliant light behind the piercing blue eye, when Cole mentioned the woman’s name. “She didn’t like that we put you behind bars. She really didn’t like that I lied about you drinking even though it was your idea. Apparently she is of the mind we could have come up with a better plan.
“Then again, she was happy that you should be safe for now and said she might stop by later to say hello. When I mentioned it might not be a good idea for the gunmen to see her associating more with you than they already had she gave me a look that could curdle milk and I dropped the subject. She’s a grown woman and can do as she pleases. They usually do anyway.”
“She wasn’t wrong, though,” Brig said entering the conversation. “We could have come up with a better plan.”
“If we’d had more time, yes, I agree,” Cole responded. “And getting you in that cell buys us some time to come up with something better.”
“Got any ideas?”
“Not really. You?”
The two men sat (and stood, well, more of a leaned really in Brig’s case) in silence for a few minutes while they tried to reason out a favorable solution to their predicament. Cole chewed on his lower lip. Brig frowned. Both were men of action, and reaction, and though neither was slow minded neither was likely to be called a genius either.
“You could always just give me a gun, clear the streets and see what happens. I promise not to draw first.”
“I had considered that but it would be impossible to clear the streets entirely. Small town such as this, and a big name like yours, everyone will want to see what happens once they figure out what’s going on, and they always do figure it out. I don’t want to risk any stray bullets hurting any of my people even if they are being dang fools for spectating when they were told to clear out.”
“I was only joking,” Brig quietly replied.
They both knew it was only partially a joke. It would have been the quickest way to resolve it. If they win, he’d be dead and they’d go to jail (assuming he kept his promise and they drew first), and if he won then they’d be dead. Of course, if he won, then it would only be a matter of time before others showed up to try their luck against the famous Brig Coyle and he’d find himself in the same situation that caused him to turn his back on his name and dive head first into a whiskey bottle.
Knowing they were both thinking along similar threads Brig continued with, “I don’t fancy waking up inside a bottle again. That being said, I don’t fancy be dead either.”
“Can’t fault you on either count.”
“I could assume another alias, hop a train in the middle of the night and try to disappear again…”
Sheriff Brown shook his head. “That would only work for awhile and then you’d find yourself in this sort of situation again. It’s a miracle you were able to make it as Jack Smith for as long as you did. Though, I guess you were truly going as el borracho for most of that time and nobody would have recognized Brig Coyle within that drunkard.
“Besides, I don’t ever want to feel the slap that Miss Marsch would deliver if you slipped out of town like that. No, sir. Considering the one I got tonight, that one might knock my head clear off.”
Brig couldn’t help but chuckle.
“You wouldn’t be laughing if she’d slapped you,” Cole retorted though his eyes held a twinkle of humor.
They day had grown short and the light from the sun filtering through the wooden boards of the structure and the few places in the windows where the frames didn’t completely line up with the shutters began to fade. Cole rose from his seat and used a long match, taken from a drawer in his desk and sparked with a fingernail, to begin lighting the jail’s oil lamps. While he worked the two men lapsed into silence again and when he was done he returned to his chair and his boots resumed their perch on the desk.
“I heard a story once that I’d like you to entertain as a possibility here,” Sheriff Brown broached. Brig inclined his head in the “get on with it” motion and Cole quickly said what was on his mind. When he had it all out he asked, “What do you think?”
Brig blew his breath out in a slow steady stream while shaking his head to the left and then the right. “What do I think, what do I think? It might work. It might not. It may be the best we can come up with. It is plum crazy.”
“I reckon so.”