Another long chapter this time around. It’s a good one though and worth the time to read through it.
(Need a reminder on how we got here? Prior chapters can be found here.)
The events of the crashed picnic flooded back into Emmalou’s consciousness quickly, before her instinct to scream again could be carried through with. Brig’s left hand was outstretched over her, held carefully inches away, but firmly not moving to make sure she didn’t budge from her spot on the ground. The gunslinger’s right hand held the revolver which moments before had been pointed in her face. She followed along the sight line and saw that it was aimed at the second of the two men who had disrupted her picnic with Brig.
She could see the crumpled mass of a man next to Brig’s kneeling body but she refused to look at it and acknowledge what it meant that she was still alive. She was grateful to be alive, there was no doubt about that, and grateful that Brig had done what he had needed to in order to ensure her continued life but that didn’t mean she would ever be comfortable with seeing someone else die.
The second man stirred again and Brig called over to him, “Don’t move or I will shoot you.” The stirrings ceased immediately. Brig quickly turned his head back to Emmalou, saw that she was awake and relief flooded his face before he turned his attention back to their attacker. He switched the position of his left hand from holding Emmalou in place to offering it to her. She took it and he pulled her up while rising from the kneeling position at her side. His eye never left the man on the ground.
Once they were up, Brig released Emmalou’s hand and took a step closer to the man on the ground. He moved in front of her to shield her and to keep his seeping shoulder wound away from her. The loss of blood was continuing to sap his strength and if he didn’t wrap up the situation quickly he would be in trouble.
He heard Emmalou gasp a little as he stepped in front of her. She must have seen the wound. He hadn’t actually looked at it yet because he had needed to keep his attention elsewhere so far but he knew it couldn’t be all that bad because he was still alive, he was still standing, and he still had use of his arm. It was probably just a nasty flesh wound. I’ve had worse.
The unmistakable sound of movement didn’t surprise Brig as he assumed that Miss Marsch was probably stepping further away from the unfolding scene of carnage, but he was surprised when she instead stepped to his side and placed a hand on his outstretched gun arm. He hazarded a glance in her direction. Her expression was grave, full of concern for his well being and full of concern for what his intentions were for the man on the ground.
“What are you going to do, Mr. Coyle?”
“I don’t know.”
Brig couldn’t hold her gaze any longer and returned to looking at their assailant. He wracked his mind for a solution but none was forth coming.
The one-eyed gunslinger frowned. There is no solution. There is nothing I can do to keep others from coming after me in the future. If I kill this man the story will get around eventually and more gun toting idiots will come hunting for me. If I don’t kill him there is no way to know if he won’t come back looking for glory again. Why shouldn’t he? If I’m not prepared to kill him now he has nothing to fear in future encounters.
Crap and double crap.
He looked over to Emmalou again. She hadn’t removed her hand from his arm and she was indicating with a small downward push that it was okay for him to lower the weapon. Her expression, though still full of concern, had switched slightly to include a hint of sadness. She had guessed at the thoughts that plagued him and understood the dilemma he faced.
He didn’t lower the weapon, though. It wouldn’t be a long term solution, only his own death would bring that, but killing the man that had taken part in his most recent trials and tribulations would be a short term solution. He wouldn’t have to worry about that particular gun man anymore and it could possibly delay the amount of time that passed before the next glory hunters came into Gunnison looking for him. It would be so easy to pull the trigger. I’ve done it so many times before.
But… those were all in self defense, right? How many unarmed men have I killed over the years? How can I claim to not be the villain that Miss Marsch believed me to be when we first met if I pull the trigger now?
Still, his gun arm did not waver.
He caught the hammer with his thumb and released it from its locked position before easing it down. Slowly, he dropped his arm to his side and then tucked the revolver into his belt on his front right side. He normally wouldn’t have wanted it there but he still wasn’t entirely sure what he would end up doing and wanted it handy in case he needed it again.
Brig briefly turned and smiled at Emmalou before taking another two steps towards their second attacker. Blood continued to ooze from Brig’s wound but he didn’t let his steps falter. He needed to appear strong and menacing despite how he truly felt.
Emmalou did not follow him. The hand that had rested on his gun arm came together with her other hand in front of her, clutched together just below her neck, and firmly pressed against the uppermost part of her sun dress. She chewed her bottom lip and transferred her weight from one foot to the other, back and forth, in a nervous jig.
An errant breeze rolled across the valley, catching a few strands of her fiery hair and sending them cascading across her face. The sun continued to dip down into the west, sending long shadows streaming out from everything. Brig’s shadow seemed twenty feet tall.
He had saved her life and in the moment, in her mind, he was twenty feet tall. She would always remember Wyoming, but she could see it from his perspective now and the last shreds of doubt about the type of man Brig Coyle was were ripped from her even as the wind coming out of the mountain passes ripped the weeds from the parched summer earth and sent them tumbling.
Suddenly, Gunnison didn’t seem as important as it once had. She could stay or not. It depends on him. If he needs to leave, to keep on the move to stay away from men like these, then I will follow him. If he wants to stay, then we will face whatever challenges come our way together.
The thoughts came unbidden and she was taken aback by them. I’m in trouble. But, she didn’t have any extra time to delve into them because Brig addressed the man on the ground.
“What’s your name?”
“Tunston.” He spat the word out. He eyed Brig with a mixture of contempt and fear. He knew his life was over and was angry with Brig for prolonging the inevitable. He was also afraid of dying, that great unknown, and that fear added to his anger. His hands itched to have a firearm in them so he could fight for his life.
“Your full name?”
“And the name of “Scar” over there?”
Brig hadn’t heard either of their names before. Jerry could have been giving false names but with the very real possibility of death hanging over his head, Mr. Tunston, had no reason left to lie. Amateurs. Brig let the moment lapse and slide, prolonging Jerry’s discomfort and further cementing his control on the situation. He could hear Emmalou shuffling nervously behind him. He could hear Jerry’s ragged breath as the fear worked further into his heart. He could hear a hawk flapping lazily in the wind above their little scene.
When his gut told him it had been long enough, he asked another question: “Mr. Tunston, why are you here?”