You should be wary of continuing on (yes worth repeating – you’ll understand in a minute). It isn’t all happy silly love and redemption from here on out. Brig has tough choices to make. Battles will be fought… that is not just an idle threat.
(Prior chapters can be found here.)
You should be wary of continuing on. If you stop now you won’t get the whole story but you will end on a happy note and be able to provide whatever ending you want to this tale. If you continue on… well, I promise nothing.
You’ve been warned. That’s the best I can do.
The rest happened, or so I’ve been told and now I’m telling you, whether you read on or not.
Brig watched that hour pass an inch at a time as the sun moved across the sky and the shadows extended towards the west. It was quite possibly the longest hour of his life, and that was saying a lot given the life in question. Bar fights, gun battles, jail time, and years lost in the mire of booze were nothing compared to the dread that twisted in his stomach with each inch of fading daylight as he waited to return to Emmalou’s place.
If you’ve ever felt the twisting, gnawing, pull of love in your guts and the resulting thoughts your mind conspires to parade in one after the other you know exactly what Brig was experiencing in those moments. He questioned his motives, his feelings, and his sanity. He questioned Emmalou’s motives, feelings and sanity too for agreeing to join him for dinner, for possibly wanting anything to do with him in the first place. He was a wretch and she was perfection. They couldn’t possibly work together and yet that same feeling of budding love provided enough hope and optimism that made it worth chasing after all the same.
It’s just one of those things. You know you shouldn’t mess with it but you can’t help yourself. Rational thinking? It was left at the station and you didn’t even waive it goodbye as the train pulled away. By the time you thought to look back the station was hidden behind the rolling hills.
The one-eyed gunslinger-no-more, armed only with the picnic basket that Mrs. Sorensen had let him borrow and packed up for him with diced meats, a variety of cheeses, a sourdough bread wheel, and a few other odds and ends, knocked on Miss Marsch’s front door a few minutes after the hour had expired. It was simultaneously as close to her suggested arrival time as he dared to show up and as late as he could convince himself to wait.
The door opened and the sunshine seemed to step out on to the porch with Emmalou, it started somewhere near her smile, probably in that tiny dimple hidden in the corner, and spread out from there. Brig was speechless at the sight of her but did manage to get his lips to work their way into a smile and his body to half turn so he could offer her his arm. That was foolish. What if she doesn’t accept it?
Emmalou gave him her version of a mischievous grin, and then slid left arm through his right and used her other hand to shut the door behind her. Arm in arm they descended from the small porch and headed down the dirt road towards the sunset.
Were there sparks? Were there tingles from the contact? Were they both blushing and giggling internally as their minds processed the physical connection? Without a doubt. But, you already knew that, right?
Brig led Emmalou a short distance out of town to a spot he’d found in the first couple of days he’d been in Gunnison doing chores for the Sheriff. It was a small rise, with a single tree, that had a clear view of the giant rocky peaks rising out of the earth in the north. The Gunnison River burbled nearby; out of sight, but close enough to hear and marked by the scrub brush that grew along the banks. The tree was old, with a gnarled trunk, but large sturdy limbs full of lush green leaves sway ever so gently in the afternoon breeze tumbling out of the mountains. It was simple and beautiful at the same time.
The perfect place for us to eat because it is just like us: I’m simple and Emmalou is beautiful. This place was made for us.
Emmalou’s thoughts hadn’t progressed quite that far as she was still in state of shock over the view. How long have I lived in this town and I’ve never made it out here before? The sun slid an inch further down the western side of the sky and the shadows of the hills and mountains stretched that much further towards the east. The sections the sun hit were crystal clear in detail to the point that things miles away seemed like she should be able to reach out and touch them.
Brig reluctantly withdraw Emmalou’s arm from his own so he could set the whicker picnic basket down and pull the square piece of cloth that had been folded within. He quickly spread it out, located four small rocks to hold down the corners and then invited Emmalou to sit with them in the shadow of the tree. The faced north so they could take in the stunning terrain as they ate their meal.
“How did you find this place?” Emmalou watched as Brig carefully withdrew the dinner items from the basket one at a time and set them out in front of her. I’ve seen those hands do some atrocious things and now I’m seeing them carefully, meticulously, set out food for me to dine upon. Is this the man he would have always been if he had made different decisions along the track of his life?
“Sheriff Brown had me run some errands out this direction when I was working for him,” while he answered Brig began to peel the rind off a hunk of salami, “and I may have made a circuitous route of it heading back into town when I was done.”
Her eyes flashed with curiosity and Brig was helpless to do anything but to elaborate.
“Well, I guess I had been contemplating just not coming back to town. I was still in the throws of withdrawals at the time and being away from Cole’s watchful eyes had given me a fair amount of hope that I might stumble upon on an abandoned cabin or something off the beaten path that still held a cache of something, anything, that could soothe my desire and quench my thirst. I didn’t find any booze, but, I did find this spot and while I sat here, momentarily paralyzed by the shakes, I watched the sun set. The darkness settled in around me, the shakes passed, and I made my way back to town.”
“That’s a fine story, Mr. Coyle.”
She looked at him askance, uncertain, unsure of herself and unsure of him. She had heard his life story though, he had layed every bit of who he was at her feet and there was nothing left hidden that she needed to uncover. And I’m still here. She smiled at him and saw the immediate affect it had on him.
“That’s a fine story, Brig.”
“Yes, you may call me Emmalou, if you want.”
“Thank you, Emmalou.” Brig handed her a plate with a piece of the dried and peppered meat, along with some grapes, cheese, and a hunk of the sourdough wheel. She took the plate from him and for awhile the two sat in silence, enjoying their meal, enjoying the scenery, and enjoying just being in each other’s company. There are moments when it is best to remain silent, to not feel like there can’t be any gaps in the conversation, and those minutes while the two dined was one such moment. Perfection.
It was shattered by the sound of the hammer on a revolver being cocked. Well, to Emmalou it sounded like the sound of a hammer being cocked but to the trained ears of Brig, it was actually the sound of two hammers being locked almost simultaneously. He could also tell in that instant that it guns held by two different people because the ratcheting noise had come from two locations too far away to be a single gunman holding two pistols.
Really, that’s the kind of detail I want to focus on right now? That I could tell it was two different gunmen? While I completely missed hearing them walk up behind us, and that is information that would have been better to hear.
Brig was so irritated with himself that he scarcely reacted at all to the sound that had interrupted their afternoon picnic. Emmalou, on the other hand, immediately jerked her head around to locate the source of the noise. Her eyes went wide with surprise and fear and her mouth formed that perfect “o” shape reserved for such occasions.
Brig noticed her reaction, registered the fear behind her eyes, and his irritation with himself for having missed the signs of the gunmen’s approach quickly shifted gears to anger that they would cause her to have such a reaction, that they would dare to cause her to feel such fear. No one should ever make her feel that way!
Brig slowly shifted his torso and rotated his head around to face the two men. He didn’t bother looking at their guns. He didn’t bother acknowledging that they were the two men who had been looking for him and asking questions around town. He didn’t worry about the advantage they had in the situation.
His face contorted into a glare that few have seen and survived. Brig’s good eye bore into all four of his would be assassins one at a time. His anger, his passion, his drive and determination passed through those eye to eye connections and both men took a step back. Their guns didn’t waiver though.
When Brig spoke, his voice carried iron; his words were not to be trifled with. “You should turn around and walk away. Right. Now.”