Chapter 43

Do you still remember the cliff hanger from last week?  Maybe you should go re-read it?  (Prior chapters can be found here.)  Okay, back and ready to press on?  Here we go…


Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…  The single thought ran through Emmalou’s mind again and again.  After initially being startled by the two men holding the guns, and not having recognized them as the men from the Inn who had been looking for Brig, her fear had given way to anger.  She was angry that they had interrupted her meal with Brig.  She was angry that they were threatening him.  She was angry that people like them were in her town, or as near to it as they might as well have been.

In her mist of rage she missed the exchange between Brig and the gunmen, she missed the look of death in Brig’s eye, and she missed the shorter of the two getting ready to pull the trigger.  In all honesty, she probably would have missed that fact even if she had been paying attention.  That sort of detail takes training and experience to pick up on.

As the gun fired, the sound shattering the silence of their scenic picnic spot and the smell burning her nostrils, she screamed and flung herself to the ground, covering her head with her arms and burying her face into the cloth blanket they’d been seated on.  Her eyes scrunched closed and her mind pounded with the pain of the concussive blast ringing in her hearts and her own elevated heart rate.

She didn’t realize she had screamed until she heard her own voice carrying on after the sound of the shot faded away.  She closed her mouth, shutting off the scream, and opened her eyes a mere slit to see what was happening around her.  The first thing she spotted was a small pool of red seeping into the cloth where Brig had been seated.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…

Her eyes couldn’t budge from the pool of blood.  They were riveted to the spot, even though she wasn’t even seeing the red liquid anymore.  Her mind had drifted back to Wyoming, to when she had been young and scared and had last seen the results of a bullet tearing through flesh.  Brig had been there that day as well, but he had been the cause of the blood rather than the source.

The sound of scuffling broke her from her trance like state and she slowly edge her vision away from the pool, following a trail of thick droplets away from the blanket to where a mass of arms and legs were tangled together in a struggle of life and death.  Two guns lay on the dusty ground near the pile of writhing flesh, she saw them, she knew she should go pick one up and help Brig but she couldn’t get her arms off her head, she couldn’t get her back to arch so she could get her feet under her and stand.  She was paralyzed, just as she had been that day all those many years ago back in Wyoming.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…

Cries of pain punctuated the din of the fight as blows were landed on all sides.  Gouging, punching, kicking, biting, clawing, and all manner of brawling were taking place in the aggravated struggle.  She couldn’t tell who’s pinched and pained voice was who’s.  Was Brig holding his own or were the two men overpowering him?  Was he going to be able to fend them off without help or was he fighting a losing battle unless she could find her courage, her strength, and go to his aid.

She made out Brig for a split second in the melee.  His good eye was bruised and blood shot.  The eye patch covering his bad eye had been pulled askew and the empty socket was partially visible behind it.  A streak of red ran down his face but there was no way to know if that was his blood or one of the other’s.  Then his face was gone again in the swirling mass before she could tell if he was okay or not.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…

She was on her feet without remembering standing up, unsteady and swaying a bit, yes, but on her feet all the same.  The three men continued to fight on, oblivious to her miraculous ascent from the picnic blanket.  Emmalou thought it was a noteworthy achievement, however, especially considering that she hadn’t remembered her body finally deciding to cooperate again.  The swaying stopped and she took an experimental step forward.

She didn’t fall.  The men continued to fail to notice her.

Emmalou Marsch strode forward to the closest gun.  She bent and plucked it out of the dust.  Its hammer was depressed and the smell of powder clung to it, the one that had been fired, and she knew that meant there were most likely five shots left within in it.  She gripped the handle with both hands, and used her two thumbs to pry back the hammer and rotate the cylinder so a new round was lined up in front of the firing pin.  The cocking hammer made its distinctive sound as it journeyed backward and locked into place and the men on the ground stopped mid struggle to all turn in her direction simultaneously.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…  Now what?

She didn’t trust her voice to command any sort of authority and she didn’t know what else to do so she kept moving the barrel back and forth between Brig’s attackers.  In doing so, the path of the gun also crossed Brig who was between the two men.

Though all kinds of emotions were running through him, he wanted to shout at Emmalou to tell her to drop the gun and get away and he want to embrace her for being brave and trying to defend him, he didn’t waste the opportunity she had given him.  With the gunslingers distracted he aimed and landed a right hook square across Scar’s scar and then dove for the taller man’s gun which had spun away from the melee after Brig had initially rammed Scar into him and the trio had descended into a wild raging mass.

As Scar’s body fell face first into the dust, his companion decided he couldn’t worry about the woman holding the gun on him if it meant that Brig would also get a gun in the next few seconds so he too lunged for the fallen firearm.  His body and Brig’s collided in the air and sent them both tumbling away, their outstretched fingers digging ravines in the dirt as they clawed desperately but failed to gain purchase on the gun butt inches away.

Emmalou watched Brig deck one of the two assailants and then push off to try and reach the second gun, she saw the man Brig had hit fall face forward, and she saw the second man also go for the gun.  She knew she should fire a warning shot or yell out a command for him to halt but she couldn’t get her finger to move off the guard and actually depress the trigger and she still didn’t trust her voice.  The men clashed and fell short of the weapon and their hands flew forward but were too far away for either to grab it.  And still Emmalou couldn’t bring herself to act.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…

In the dirt, dust stinging his eye, blood seeping from the wound in his left shoulder and his energy quickly fading, Brig desperately hoped that Emmalou would fire a shot to freeze the other man or do something else to provide the moment of distraction he would need to reach the gun first.  He didn’t dare look her direction though.  He didn’t have time.  He didn’t have the strength left to see how she was doing and see the fight through.  He dug the toes of his boots into the earth and pushed himself forward on his belly, scrambling with his arms, to get to the weapon ahead of the other man.

Success!  Crap!  Just as his hand closed around the cylinder and he tried to drag it closer so he could spin it around and grasp the butt, a second hand, that wasn’t his, closed around the barrel.  Brig continued forward on his knees, pulling on the gun with his right hand and then leaning towards the assailant to try and get into a position with better leverage.  The gun man had the same idea though and their bodies collided again.  Double crap!

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…

Brig got his left hand around the gun and tugged even harder only to have his efforts wasted because the man also got his second hand wrapped around the weapon.  Their bodies clashed together a second time, and a flash of pain shot through Brig’s head as it came into contact with an elbow, or a shoulder, or something else.  He wasn’t sure what it was because his attention was solely on the revolver.

Their bodies came together a third time, bouncing the two men apart but Brig had been expecting that, and as they separated he released his grip on the gun, spun his body around using the momentum from the collision to propel him around faster and swung his left fist straight into the man’s temple, who had been momentarily confused by the lack of resistance on the gun and hadn’t taken advantage of having sole possession of it.

Brig felt the knuckles in his hand crack as he landed the blow but compared to the rest of his aches and pains it wasn’t anything he was too worried about especially since he had the satisfaction of seeing the lights go out behind his assailant’s eyes right before the unconscious body slumped to the ground.  He reached down with his right arm and grabbed the revolver.

Emmalou watched Brig slug the man and felt a bit of relief and jubilation as the man slid lifelessly to the earth.  The pit of fear and anger in her gut unclenched and a sense of serenity cascaded over her.  But then a hand reached up from the ground at her feet and ripped the revolver from her hands.  She tried to stumble away but Scar grabbed her as he rose to his feet and he roughly gripped her wrists to keep her from fleeing.

From the corner of her eye she saw Brig retrieve the second firearm from the ground as the main part of her focus saw the man with the scar point his gun in her face.  His eyes were rage.  His jaw was set.  The hammer was still locked back and ready to fire from when she had cocked the gun moments before.  She resorted to the only action she had left.

Emmalou’s scream pierced Brig’s world.

He didn’t need to see to know what had happened.  He knew it.  Call it instinct, call it intuition, call it experience; he knew the whole scenario in an instant and his body moved on its own accord, as it always had before, as it was born to do.

In one motion, he cocked the hammer, turned, raised the weapon and fired.  It happened faster than the human eye could see.  It happened faster than a normal person could have even cleared a gun from their holster.  It happened faster than the arms spin on a speeding locomotive.  It was the speed of thought.

But it wasn’t fast enough.  Scar’s gun fired nearly simultaneously as Brig’s.  The two shots sounded as one as they rolled across the Gunnison Valley.


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