How’s everyone enjoying the story now? We are getting near the end. Only 6 chapters to go after this one.
(Need a reminder on how we got here? Prior chapters can be found here.)
Jerry stammered in response. He had no idea how to answer the question. He was there to kill Brig Coyle. He and Able had teamed up specifically just to carry out that job. They would go their separate ways, take credit for the killing, and launch illustrious careers. There may be some flak that two men were claiming the same death, and they may have to face each other at some point down the road to settle the matter, but that was something they’d deal with if and when they had to. In the meantime they would be treated like celebrities for finally ridding the world of the scourge, Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.
But, that was the truth, and Jerry didn’t think that Brig actually wanted to hear the truth. He also didn’t think that telling Brig the truth would do much for prolonging his life passed all of thirty seconds or so. Besides, he thought, doesn’t he already know the truth of it? And if he doesn’t want to hear the truth, what does he want to hear? Why did he ask that question?
Jerry looked up at Brig and tried to read the man, tried to glean any information he could from body language, facial expressions, or any other sort of clue he could pick up on, but the gunslinger cast his eyes down upon him with a blank look. It held no contempt, pity, anger, or any other tangible emotion other than indifference. Brig was indifferent about him and that riled Jerry up to the point that he spat out the truth, his words dripping with venom.
“We came to kill you Brig. We came to bury you in this town and profit off your death. We were going to be the heroes that finally outgunned the notorious Brig Coyle. We were going to be legends.”
Brig raised an eyebrow and retorted, “You don’t seem to be doing much but laying there at the moment.”
Jerry’s eyes flamed red with hatred, and more than a touch of humiliation.
Before Jerry could offer his own retort, Brig said, “Besides, we both know that Able over there was the brains of your little gang, your little tet, and things didn’t work out too well for him.”
Jerry twisted his head to see the remains of Able settled in the dust behind Brig and then he turned back to the man standing over him.
“You said, ‘We came to kill you,’ but now there is no “we.” So, I ask again, Mr. Tunston, why are you here?”
He’s giving me an out. The reality of the situation finally dawned on the prone man. I could tell him I don’t know or that I’m leaving Gunnison and will never return or something along those lines and he will let me get up and walk away. The fool. I could get a gun and be back in a few days time and shoot him in the back as he walked down the street.
Jerry looked up at the gunslinger. His left thumb was hooked through the belt in front of his right hip. His right hand was in much the same position but the thumb was just resting on the belt and the butt of Able’s revolver was sticking out of the belt just in front of his hand. He slid his vision away from the gunslinger back to the body of his cohort. What if I missed? What if someone saw me in town before I could get the jump on him? We had him out numbered and unarmed and he still managed to get the better of us.
He’s offering me a chance to walk away now and if I don’t take it he probably won’t offer me that same chance next time around. I’ll end up like Able.
What other choice do I have?
“Well, Mr. Coyle, I’m not really sure anymore.” His words lacked the venom from moments earlier and reverted to a slow drawl, filled with as much pleasantry as he could stomach. “I think I don’t belong here anymore, that’s for sure and perhaps the time has come for me to move along and seek employment elsewhere.”
Brig read Jerry while he spoke and determined that the man was most likely leaning toward walking away. There was a part of him that wanted to come back guns blazing and still try and grab a hold of the glory he was certain would follow but Brig was fairly certain that once Jerry left Gunnison he would never return. He had tried to bring down the famous gunslinger once and the horror of the experience would haunt him forever more. He hadn’t even gotten a single gunshot off through the whole fight.
“I’m going now Mr. Tunston. I’m going to gather up my picnic supplies and then the lady and I are going to walk back to town. I’d prefer if you stayed right where you are until we are gone. Then I might suggest you get out of here as quickly as you can because we’ll be sending the Sheriff back up here to collect whatever is left up here to be collected. You probably shouldn’t be here when he gets here to deal with Able.”
Brig took another step closer to Jerry, his boots were less than an inch from the man’s side, and then he leaned over so their faces were only a couple feet apart. Brig’s eye bore into Able’s head. The indifference was gone. And while it wasn’t replaced with anger or contempt, it was replaced with meaning and Able believed Brig when the gunslinger said, in slightly more than a whisper, “If I see you back in Gunnison, I will kill you.”
With that, Brig righted himself and turned on his heel. “Emmalou, I think it’s time we headed back to town, if you would be so kind as to help me wrap up our little picnic I would greatly appreciate it.” Without a word Emmalou quickly collected the corners of the blanket and without ceremony stuffed the whole lot into the basket. Brig offered her his right arm and together they walked back into town where they headed straight to Sheriff Brown’s office: the jail.
Cole did a quick patch job on Brig’s shoulder, staunching the flow of blood with some rags, and then went in search of the doctor before then gathering up a few good men to go check the hillside for any sign of Jerry Tunston and to collect the body of Able Santz. While the sheriff was on his errand, Emmalou and Brig enjoyed the quiet and solitude the jail afforded them ahead of the doctor’s arrival.
Brig could tell that she was shaken, that she was nearing collapse and was very worried that she had finally seen in him everything she had assumed was there. She had seen him as the man she thought she’d witnessed all those years ago in Wyoming. He waited patiently for her eyes to meet his, knowing what he would see in them, and he sighed inwardly. She will be through with me now for sure.
When her eyes finally did meet his, all he saw there was pain. It wasn’t pain for herself, it was pain from worry and concern for him, for his injuries, for the life he’d been living. It was the pain of finally understanding everything he’d been through. It was the pain that comes with loving someone.
He hardly felt the throbbing in his shoulder at all after that.