Welcome back. Ready for more? Of course you are!
(All prior chapters can be found here and I know you knew that already.)
The following morning Brig rose, before sunrise, found a basket with his breakfast waiting outside his door and made his way over to the Gunnison Inn to resume his work for Dan Reilly. He ate the biscuits and bacon breakfast as he walked. It was all delicious. The biscuits were still warm and flaky from the oven and while the bacon had quickly cooled since being pulled off the griddle it was thick and crispy and just as good lukewarm as it would have been hot.
After stepping into the bar, Brig quickly went about his tasks, falling into his old routine with ease. The floor was swept and mopped, tables and chairs were dusted off, the bottle inventory was reviewed and restocked as needed, and the bar was in tip-top shape long before the first hint of dawn crept into the eastern sky.
Brig felt good to be working again, doing something constructive with his hands even if it was just menial tasks. He liked being a contributing member of society. He liked repaying the people in town who had shown faith in him and given him the opportunities to turn things around. And, it’s really good to not be in that cell anymore.
After finishing the last of his daily prep jobs, Brig poured himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at one of the tables near the bar. He watched the day grow brighter as the sun eased up the eastern skyline while sipping his cup of strong brew. As more and more light filtered into the Gunnison Inn he rose from his seat and extinguished the various oil lamps placed about the room and then returned to his seat. His chair was positioned so that his back was to the counter, he faced the main door to the bar, and the hallway to Dan’s private quarters and the store room were behind him to his left.
It wasn’t until Dan rose a little while afterwards that it dawned on Brig that no patrons had come in yet. Even on a slow day there were always a few regulars who came in for a little pick-me-up to start their day. To have no patrons at all was unheard of. It set Brig on edge.
As Dan pulled up a chair next to Brig, after pouring his own cup of coffee from the kettle behind the counter, he also seemed to notice the lack of customers because he blinked a couple times in rapid succession and looked slowly around the open room. And then he frowned; an exaggerated gesture pulling back his left jowl and giving the large man an overall unpleasant countenance. “Where is everyone?”
Brig didn’t reply. He had already gone into gunslinger mode. His eyes were probing the bands of light at the edges of the windows and doors looking for the brief interruptions of shadowy approaches. His ears strained to pick up any wayward creaks as booted feet strove to steal across the wooden walkway out front undetected and any other noise that was out of place. And, he waited for the sense of unease to settle into his gut. Intuition, experience, whatever you want to call it, he had learned to trust his gut instincts long ago; they were seldom wrong.
However, he saw or heard nothing out of the ordinary and his gut told him that everything was fine. He relaxed, a little bit, and asked, “Has it been quiet in here recently?” He was trying to gauge if things had already been slower than normal or if they should attribute the lack of clientele to his return to work. He wasn’t one to believe in coincidences.
Dan thought about it, took a sip from his coffee, cursed as he burned his tongue and wiped the back of his left hand across his mouth where some excess black sludge had managed to sneak out his lips. Then he slowly shook his head. “Don’t recall it being any slower than normal while you were in jail.”
Brig was terse, “What do they all know that we don’t?”
Dan had no answer and so let the silent room answer for him. Brig’s right hand fell to his right hip, a motion born of years of experience and routine, only to recall, with some surprise, that there was no gun hung there that morning. And there hasn’t been for some time, you fool. He brought his right hand up to his face and scratched a spot under his chin where his beard growing in reminded him it was time for another shave. Sufficiently scratched, itch relieved, his hand returned to his coffee mug and he raised it to his lips for another sip, and then another.
The two men sat at the table for the remainder of the morning and still no patrons came. Intriguing, right? Where is everyone?
As Brig’s shift drew to a close at the Gunnison Inn, he bid Dan a good day, and then he made his way up the main street to see if the barber was open and had time to give him a shave. Everything about town seemed normal. There were people on the streets. There were people in the shops going about their business. There just hadn’t been any people in the bar.
Maybe it was just a coincidence.
Open and busy, Brig took a seat at the barber’s, third in line, and waited his turn for a shave. He tried to push the thoughts about the lack of patrons at the bar out of his mind by focusing on happier things, Maybe I should get a haircut while I’m here too. Maybe I should call on Miss Marsch this afternoon after I’m all spruced up. Maybe she’d like to join me for dinner, but eventually his mind came back to the situation at the bar.
Or the lack of the situation at the bar. It’s not like I’m being shunned. The barber hasn’t kicked me out of his shop. The people I passed on the way over here weren’t avoiding more than normal. So, if it’s not me, and it isn’t something affecting everyone else in town, what could be keeping the regulars from showing up?
Could something have happened out at the mines? I guess that’s a possibility but wouldn’t more people around town have heard and be concerned? There’d be some sort of rescue mission or gossip or something, right?
Brig didn’t know. But I’m going to find out.
At that point Brig was called into the chair and the next 20 minutes, give or take, were spent in idle chatter with the barber. The aging, heavyset, man appeared nervous at first to be doing a straight razor shave for the infamous Brig Coyle but the gunslinger-no-more told a joke or two to ease the tension and things went smoothly after that.
The barber, normally a good source for town gossip, didn’t know why there wouldn’t have been any patrons at the Gunnison Inn that morning either. But, to be fair, he wasn’t the best source of information as he didn’t frequent any of the bars around town all that often; twice in his 25 years of residence to be exact. The first time was on the day he arrived in Gunnison and the second time was the day his son was born. His sharing of those stories pretty much dominated the rest of their “conversation.”
Please with the cut and the shave, Brig paid the man, and headed back down the street to Mrs. Sorensen’s, where he planned to change into something nicer than his work clothes before then going to see Miss Marsch. With that plan in mind and the recent professional grooming he felt like a new man and his worries from the morning finally subsided to the back of his mind.