Chapter 42

Still here?  Ready for more?  Read on then…

But remember you were warned.

(Prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

You should be wary of continuing on.

I guess I’ve said that before, but the warning merits repeating.  How can Brig possibly extricate himself from that impossible situation?  He is unarmed, he is more worried about Miss Marsch’s survival than his own, his rational thinking is most likely compromised due to anger, and the two gun men already have their weapons drawn and leveled.

My suggestion to you is to forget the gunmen showed up, don’t finish this story and go forward thinking the end was Emmalou and Brig sitting under that tree with the sun setting behind the Rockies.  Can you do that?  Probably not.  Would you do it if you could?  Also, probably not.

Well, that’s just the way it is then, right?  I reckon so.

Okay, here we go.  You might want to hang on to something because this could get a bit bumpy.

“Pardon?”  The gunslinger’s question came out in visceral drawl, scratchy, southern, and chalk full of venom.

Upon first encountering the two tie-down toting pistoleros at the Gunnison Inn, Brig hadn’t noticed much about them beyond their tall and lean figures, their hardware, and the condition of their travel weary clothes.  He had been a little more preoccupied with trying to keep Emmalou from cluing the two men onto who he actually was to spend more time analyzing them.

For the second encounter, Brig had been behind bars, and more concerned about finding out their true intentions towards him than reading anything deeper into them.  His focus had been on their words, their interaction with Sheriff Brown, and making sure that Cole didn’t leave himself open for any sort of hidden attack.

In those brief moments of staring the two men down, Brig learned a great deal more than he had on the previous two occasions combined.

The man who had spoken, the shorter of the two, had a scar running the length of his left cheek, from the edge of his ear lobe to just below the left edge of his lips.  Looks like a knife scar.  His clothes were still dusty and showing signs of overuse, but they weren’t as bad as they had been that day back at the bar.  He wore a smaller style black hat with a rattlesnake skin wrapped around the cap.  His eyes were a very fine blue, like the gray and white muddled sky just before the sun rises out of the east.

The scarred man’s companion, the taller of the two and the one who had ill advisedly run his mouth off to Cole back in the jail, had a week’s worth of stubble on his chin, ungroomed, and shaggy black hair that hang over his ears.  His hat was a large affair with a cord of hemp wrapped around the cap and some fancy embroidered beads along the brim.  And his eyes were the same color as hit hat: coal black.

The man with the scar is the leader of the two.  Brig knew that straight out on instinct, though if had thought back on the last encounter he could have surmised that as well from their interactions then.  He had read the two men and his gut had told him the truth of it.  Even if two men think they are equals when it comes time to make decisions one will always defer to the other.  If, and it is a huge if, I can convince “Scar” that they should walk away the other will follow without any further problems.

 Brig desperately wanted to look over to Emmalou and let her know that he would find a way out, let her know he had been in worse situations and always found a solution, but he didn’t want to show any sign of weakness, and wasn’t sure what the sight of her would do to his own resolve.  There may be only one way out of this.

 No more pleasantries.

“Turn around and walk away.”

Scar laughed, and after the briefest of hesitations his companion joined in.  The guns stayed where they were and neither looked apt to leave without additional assurances it was the right thing to do.

One of the reasons that Brig had never considered himself a gunslinger is because of all the men who knew who had actually liked being branded as such not a single one of them had been anything but a coward.  They had never learned how to stand up and face living, struggle through the toughest parts, without hiding behind a gun.  When push came to shove, their cowardice would show, and if a situation arose where they thought the risk to themselves outweighed the benefits of the pursuit they were after they would turn tail and flee.

The original plan that Sheriff Brown and Brig had worked up on how to deal with the gunmen had been little more than a very dangerous bluff of sorts.  If he had been confronted in town and been afforded the opportunity to name a time and place for a traditional “quick draw at noon” type of fight, that so many of the men in Brig’s past had been too eager to initiate with him, he was supposed to find Cole to get a gun, and to also get a special vest of sorts that the two of them had put together.

The “vest” consisted of little more than the wrought iron door of an old furnace that Cole had replaced in the jailhouse a few years before but had never gotten rid of.  Good iron is good iron.  The square door was affixed with rope straps to hold it in place and the whole mess of it was camouflaged by a ratty poncho Cole had purchased from a trader the year before but had never found a reason to wear.

The rest of the plan was simple, as all good plans should be.  If Brig’s nerves could hold, he was to just stand there in the street and not draw.  Eventually one of the two men would draw, and being a professional, would aim center of mass.  The slug would hit the iron vest and Brig would crumple to the ground.  Then Cole would run into the street, gun drawn and either send the two men on their way so they could gloat over killing Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, or he might arrest one or both of them depending on the circumstances that played out.  The hope was that Brig would then be able to live on anonymously in town or, if it seemed too dangerous to stay, he could move on and start over somewhere else with a new name, because the word would spread that Brig Coyle was officially pushing daisies.

It was, of course, a terrible plan, and both men had known it.  There was no guarantee that just because the two men looked like they knew what they were doing with a gun that they would actually aim for his chest.  In their rush, and nervousness, to draw against the famed Brig Coyle they might hit him anymore, or miss entirely in which case it would be obvious that he wasn’t drawing on them and they would suspect that something was amiss.  Additionally, if they did manage to hit the iron vest the sound of the slug slamming into the metal would ring out loud and clear and they would definitely wonder about that.  Finally, there was no way to know if Cole would be able to keep them from inspecting Brig’s remains and the closer they got the easier it would be to tell that there was no blood, and he was still breathing, and wouldn’t it be super simple to just squeeze off a few more rounds at close range.

Terrible plan or not, it didn’t matter anymore because he wouldn’t have to follow through with its madness.  Our one-eyed antagonist was actually a little relieved despite the current predicament.  He had not relished the thought of lining up in front of the two men and trusting his life to their aim and a piece of scrap metal.  Plus, he wasn’t entirely certain that he would be able to withstand the urge to defend himself.

Brig let the men laugh without batting his eye or shrinking away from them.  He had faced death before, wasn’t afraid of it, and certainly wasn’t going to give those two assassins the pleasure of seeing him squirm before they fired their widow makers.   In Brig’s case there wouldn’t actually be a widow, but that didn’t matter.   The laughter quieted down and Scar grimaced because it had no outward affect on his prey.

He was the freight train and he had desperately wanted to see Brig’s eye light up like a deer caught in the headlamp as he barreled forward.  It hadn’t and that both annoyed him and flustered him.  His finger depressed ever so slightly on the trigger.  In a minute I’ll be the man who killed Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.

“Brig Coyle, it’s nice to meet you, again.  Now it’s time to say ‘goodbye.’”

“Are you sure that’s what you want to be doing?”

Brig’s voice was flat, expressionless, it held none of the rage that shown clearly in his good eye, and it held no trace of fear or anguish.  It was the tone, lifeless and matter-of-fact, that caused Scar to pause squeezing the trigger of his firearm.

Brig saw the hesitation and lunged.

Scar’s gun fired.

Emmalou screamed.

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