Chapter 35

Does anyone else feel like this story is nearing its end?  It’s had quite the run, and I’ve got a few more chapters left to post, and a few more chapters left to write, so don’t fret yet.

…..

As scheduled, Ed came around later that same day.  Mrs. Sorensen had already delivered the evening meal, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and steamed vegetables,   via one of her tenants and the sun had already begun to slip behind the mountains in the west when Brig and Cole heard the tapping on the door.  Sheriff Brown had heard Ed’s patterned walk approaching the door and was already on the move to open for the cow puncher when the knocking began.

To add to the scene that was about to unfold, they had decided not to light all of the oil lamps yet and shadows abounded.  Brig hid himself into one of the darker recesses of his cell, hopefully prolonging the time it took for Ed to recognize him as the drunk he had previously scuffled with.

As the sheriff went to open the door Brig found his right hand twitching and he wished he was armed.  He trusted Cole to handle the situation if the ruse was enough to send Ed spiraling into madness and draw his weapon out of anger, but he trusted himself more.  Nothing I can do about it now.

“Who’s there,” Cole asked to the door, though he knew full well who was on the other side already.

“It’s Ed, Sheriff.”  The man’s voice held obvious touches of eagerness and fear.

This is going to be interesting, thought Cole as he unlatched the multitude of locks.  Always erring on the cautious side, he kept his right hand on the butt of his holstered gun and eased open the door with his left hand.  Ed stood peacefully on the other side, and waited for Cole to say, “Come on in,” before breaking the plane of the door and entering the jailhouse.  The cow puncher’s face matched his voice: a mixture of eagerness and fear.  He didn’t even notice, much to Cole’s amusement, that the Sheriff’s hand was ready to pull iron at the first sign of trouble.

Brig remained where he was, his face hidden in the shadowy depths of his cell where the flickering oil lamps did not reach.  Here we go.

Ed took a few steps forward and then his forward movement halted when he heard Cole engaging locks on the door.  He turned slightly to watch the process and then swung his head back to face the dark cells at the rear.  After the last lock was activated, Cole remained where he was and kept his watchful eyes on Ed.

“Mr. Coyle,” Ed started and then paused for a moment as his mind reeled with the prospect that he was actually addressing the famous gunslinger.  Fear, deep seated from his healthy and natural inclination towards self preservation, threatened to overcome his faculties and make him abandon his current path but with the help of the liquid courage he had imbibed before heading over to the jailhouse he fought of the fear and continued.

“I was sorry to hear about the trouble you got into and I would have gladly paid your fines so you didn’t have to spend any time in jail if I had only heard about your predicament earlier.”

Ed had spent most of the day working on what he was going to say to Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, and was especially pleased with himself for that first part.  If I get him to see me as a friend and supporter he will probably be more likely to take me up on my offer.

Brig kept his mouth shut and stayed hidden in the shadows.  Unperturbed, though he couldn’t make out the gunslinger’s face he thought the man was at least looking at him, Ed kept talking.  “It would be a great boon for our sleepy little town if you decided to stick around for awhile once you are released.  We could use the excitement, that’s for sure, and if you stick around me I can make sure you don’t get tangled up with the sheriff again.  Everyone can use someone to watch their back from time to time.

“And there’s a drunk I’d like you to meet.”   Ed frowned as he thought I wonder if I’m being too subtle, but with the sheriff standing right behind me I don’t want to come out and say what I mean.

The presumptuousness of asking a known gunfighter to kill someone he’d never met, and being asked by someone he’d never met before either, was lost on Ed.  He felt there was nothing wrong with what he was doing.

In his cell, Brig’s cold eye bored through Ed.  In his previous life he would have found a way to turn the tables on anyone who had come to him as Ed was doing then.  The humor of the situation melted away the longer Ed carried on.  He hadn’t been fond of the man before, and now Brig was finding himself truly loathing Edward Sans.

Ed’s hands fiddled with the belt loops in the front of his pants.  He was nervous and that made him more fidgety than normal.  He wasn’t sure what to say net and that made him even more nervous and therefore even more fidgety.  He hadn’t expected to be holding up so much of the conversation.  He assumed that Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, would have spoken up already, and the fact that he hadn’t made Ed even more nervous and, well, you get the idea.

“Mr. Coyle,” Ed fumbled for the right words.  All the practice and thought he had whiled away most of the day with were forgotten.  “All I’m trying to get at is to let you know you’ve got some friends in this town if you wanted to stick around once Sheriff Brown lets you out.”

Silence.

Well, near silence anyway, Ed’s heart was thumping in his chest so loudly it pounded in his ears and he was certain the other two men in the room could hear it.  He was so focused on that, and the lack of any response from Brig that he missed Cole’s stifled chuckle.

The sheriff couldn’t help it and he cut it off as soon as the sound escaped his lips but it was almost more than he could control.  He’s just looking for a friend.  And, he’s looking for a friend in a known killer while trying to ask him to kill somebody for him at the same time.  Edward Sans, you are a fool among fools.

The silence continued, aside from Ed’s pounding heart.

His hands kept up their fidgeting.  They fiddled with his belt loops and then moved to tuck his thumbs under his belt, and then moved to smooth down the front of his shirt, and then moved back to the belt loops.  He just wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.

Brig spoke up, though he did enjoy seeing Ed in discomfort, he was tired of looking at the man.  This charades has gone on long enough.

Well, almost.  There is some fun in this I just can’t resist.

“That’s mighty kind of you.  As I’ve always said (he’d never said it once before in his life), a man can never have too many friends and it’s always good to know where I’m welcome.”

The relief on Ed’s face at Brig’s words was short lived as the gunslinger rose from the shadows and drew into the light at the front of the cell.  He stuck his arms through the bars of his cell and looped them on the other side.  His body language was easy, matching the tone of his voice, but his eye was brooding and bore into Ed with a ferocity that even startled Cole.

The cow puncher took a step backwards.  He didn’t realize his feet moved.  “What…  What…  What…”  He stammered, trying to get a grasp on what his eyes were seeing, his brain couldn’t process it as fast as his eyes took it in.  Then, his thoughts managed to catch up with his mouth.

“You?  What are you doing here?  What is the meaning of this?”

Ed didn’t want to take his eyes off the man in the cell but he needed to look over his shoulder at the sheriff and see if this was all some great ruse (which it was, of course, but not the way he thought it was at the moment).  His eyes clung to el borracho as his head turned until the rotation had gone too far and then snapped around to face the sheriff.

“What is he doing in there?”

“What do you mean?”  Cole’s face was blank, expressionless, a poker player’s face concealing all manner of emotions far below the reaches of a common man’s sight.

“You said Brig Coyle was in your cell!”

Ed was shouting, something Sheriff Brown wouldn’t have normally tolerated in his jailhouse but he let it slide for the time being as any even more humorous thought occurred to him.  If Ed does something stupid here and I have to arrest him I could throw him in with Brig.

Before Cole could respond to Ed, Brig spoke for himself, “I am Brig Coyle.”

Ed studied the sheriff, ignoring the drunkard in the cell; it can’t be true, they are just playing me for a fool, thinking I’ll fall for their trick and believe el borracho is actually Brig Coyle.  It won’t work.  This won’t keep me from exacting my revenge on that drunk for making me look like a fool in the Gunnison Inn.  I’ll still get even with him.

Cole easily held Ed’s gaze and raised his eyebrows saying with the motion “it is the gunslinger whether you believe it or not.”  Ed’s face turned sour, not that hard a feat considering it wasn’t sweet to begin with, and whipped his head back around to face the man in the cell.

Brig was sure that Cole was thoroughly enjoying watching Ed squirm but all the humor in the situation had vanished for him.  “I am Brig Coyle, and it’s a good thing I’m in this cell because I’d rip you apart right now if I weren’t.

“Listen, and listen good, because unlike you, when I speak there is iron in my words.  You are an inane and cowardly man, a waste of space, and not normally worth my time but right now I’ll make an exception.

“I know why you are here.  You want to set me loose on this town so you can have some fun, but I was never like that even in my darkest days.  I would have turned on you instead of the town.  How dare you presume to come to a man like me with your cowardly ways.

“There’s a man you want me to meet…  Did you really think that a man like me would kill someone on the behest of a man such as yourself?  You have too high of an opinion of yourself and one day that is going to get you in more trouble than you can handle.  The only reason you’ve lasted this long is because you are in such a quiet and peaceful town.  If you’d had to walk the roads I’ve walked your life would have been forfeit years ago, you sniveling coward.”

On the first use of the word “coward,” Ed took a step forward, face flushed, and ready to spit words back and the man in the cell.  At the second use of the word his hand slapped down to grasp his revolver, but he didn’t pull it from the holster.  He knew that the man in the cell, el borracho, saw him make a move for his gun and yet he didn’t flinch, didn’t show an ounce of concern and kept talking at Ed without missing a beat.  The pause in his motion to draw in that split second of realization allowed his brain enough time to remember that Sheriff Brown was still standing behind him.  On the third use of the word Ed began to wonder if the man in the cell, the man he knew as el borracho, was really in fact Brig Coyle and his hand moved away from his weapon.

Brig smiled.  “That was the first smart thing you’ve done today.  Now I’m tired of looking at you so get on out of here.”  He withdrew his arms from between the bars, turned his back on Ed, and went back to the shadows.

Ed’s mind was reeling.  He didn’t know what to think, didn’t know what to believe, and in his heart he knew he was in fact a coward and the last thing he wanted was to have Brig Coyle cross with him.  Behind him he heard the locks disengaging as Cole prepared the door for his imminent departure.

Should I apologize?  Do I even think that is really Brig Coyle?  What should I do?  Should I throw down now while Cole is distracted with opening the door?

His confusion led to inaction and the moment was lost.

“Come on Ed, out you go,” Sheriff Brown held the door open.

Ed turned towards the open door but he was loath to have his back to the man in the cell so he shuffled sideways towards the opening.  As he moved his eyes swept over the Sheriff and he saw the man’s right hand firmly gripping his holstered revolver.  He shuffled faster.

As soon as Ed was clear of the precipice, Cole shut the door, reset the locks and then walked over to the cell where Brig sat on his wooden cot.  He kept his poker face on, “That was a fine speech.”

Without lighting the rest of the oil lamps it was remarkably difficult to make out Brig’s face in the gloom.  Cole briefly considered setting up getting them lit but ultimately opted against it.  He’d light them in time.  He didn’t need Brig thinking he was a coward too, friends or no friends, that wouldn’t sit well with either of them.  “Seems like Ed rubbed you the wrong way.”

“This whole mess has rubbed me the wrong way, Cole.  I’m tired of the games.  I’m tired of ‘hiding’ out in jail.  I’m tired…  Well, listen to me go on.  This is the track I’m on now because of the decisions I’ve made leading up to now.  I have no right to complain.  I know we are doing the best with the situation that we can.

“And you’ve already done more for me than most would, and more than most have in recent years, and I’m mighty thankful for that.  I can keep on for now and see where this path leads but it is looking more and more like the end isn’t going to be good.  Right now, in this moment, I see us having to make a stand and when that time comes I’ll be wanting a six-gun in my hand.”

“I reckon so.”

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