Very long chapter this week, lots to cover, so we better just jump right into it.
(Prior chapters can be found here.)
The doctor arrived and patched Brig up without too much ado, though a few curse words were thrown about while the gunslinger was getting stitched up. In those agonizing moments Brig was cursing his new sobriety more than he had in weeks, but every time the bottle was offered to dull the pain he turned it down. He most likely would have done so anyway, but having Emmalou there, her hands squeezing his for support, solidified his resolve, much to the doc’s chagrin.
Since his patient wasn’t going to drink any, he took a few pulls off the bottle, to settle his nerves throughout the stitching process. It was bad enough that he had to work on Brig Coyle, but an injured, cursing, and still armed Brig Coyle was a more grandiose nightmare to face. The doctor took just enough in to calm his nerves and steady his hands. After 30 years of patching up cowboys and farmers alike, he’d learned exactly how much he could drink and still function at the highest level.
Exhausted, and hurting, Brig fell asleep in one of the empty cells after the doc was through with him. He had tried to insist that Emmalou head home and get some rest too, but she refused to leave his side. When Cole returned to the jail a couple hours later he found them two of them asleep with their heads leaned against one another. He was sprawled out on a bunk, and she was seated on the floor, her back against the wall, next to him. He chuckled under his breath and went about his business as quietly as possible.
There was a burial to arrange for Able Santz and a posse to form up to go in search of Jerry Tunston. Sheriff Brown also needed to send out telegraphs with the description of Jerry so the neighboring towns could keep an eye out for him. Cole didn’t actually expect the posse or any of the wires to end up helping reign in the wayward gunman, but it was his duty to put forth the effort regardless. If I had known all the paperwork that came with this job when I was elected in, I think I would have declined. That wasn’t true, but it always made him feel a little bit better about getting the work done when he complained about it.
The night dragged towards morning, riders came and went, wires were sent and responses were received, and his two tenants slept on. While they rested up from their ordeal, Cole pondered their problem. It was obvious they were smitten with each other. It was obvious that they would know no peace while Brig was still considered the fastest, the best, while he still had “the gunslinger” attached to his name. But how can we change that? How can we show the world that he isn’t the man it has always been convinced he was? And once we show everyone that, how do we ensure they believe what we are showing?
It just couldn’t be as easy as having Brig change his name again. While el borracho had managed to remain hidden in the shadows for a good long while, even then people had been aware of who he was, of what his real name was. It was only a matter of time before someone came gunning for him, drunk or not. Besides, it’s already known that Brig has been living here in Gunnison. More people will come and it won’t matter if he changes his name before then. They will find him, no doubt about it.
Cole considered, briefly, putting out a proclamation that all who enter the town limits intent upon calling out Brig Coyle would receive zero protection from the law, and bills for any damages incurred would be sent to their surviving relatives, since they wouldn’t be around to pay themselves. But, he knew Miss Marsch would never approve of that, joke or not. From what he had learned of Brig he didn’t think the gunslinger would go for it either. He doesn’t want to fight. He never did.
Sometimes our blessings in this world, the skills we are best at, are also our greatest curses.
When a man is fast with a gun, it doesn’t matter if he wants anything to do with that gun. The choice is taken away from him and he is told to either keep that gun handy or to die. We are a sad people indeed to force people into molds the way we have.
Light began to creep through the edges of the shuttered windows and under the locked door to the jail. Day was fast approaching and his two guests for the night would soon be awake, and I have nothing to show for it. I have no good news to give them. Cole wracked his brain trying to think of a solution, a way for Brig to remain with Emmalou in Gunnison and for the world to finally leave him alone. Nothing. Zip.
Brig stirred on his cot, finally causing his head to separate from Emmalou’s. With the lack of pressure, or just the change in general, she started to stir as well and they opened their eyes at nearly the same time, blinked a few times and smiled at each other. Cole considered two things at the moment. The first was to throw up a little bit and he scrunched up his face as if he might just do that, and the second was to cough or something so they would know he was there.
He ended up doing neither as Brig called out to him before he made up his mind on which action to pursue, “And a fine morning to you too, Sheriff.”
“I don’t think he counts as morning if I haven’t been to bed yet.”
After blinking a few more times, trying to get her wits about her, Emmalou pushed herself off the floor, and helped Brig sit up on the edge of his cot. While he could have sat up on his own, his injured arm was very stiff and he happily accepted the help. The blood had done a good job soaking through the bandage the doctor had strapped over the wound but it didn’t need to be changed yet. Soon, though, she thought as she looked Brig over to see how he was faring.
He waved her off with his good hand, smiling mischievously, and stood up on his own. She kept her hands near him to support Brig if he ended up being unsteady on his feet, but help wasn’t needed. Brig didn’t have the heart to tell her then that he’d suffered far worse injuries and had to ride miles before getting help and then ride miles more before being able to rest. Of course, the booze had always helped with that, hadn’t they, he thought while scratching at his chin and walking out of the cell side by side with Emmalou. And I was a lot younger then. It’s amazing what you can do in your youth, when you are too foolish to realize you shouldn’t be able to.
“Well,” Brig replied, “we are up and about now, why don’t you catch a couple hours of shut-eye. We’ll head over to Mrs. Sorensen’s and see if she’d be kind enough to supply some breakfast for the three of us. She’s probably already heard what happened and will be expecting us anyway.”
“That woman hears news faster than the news actually happens,” Cole joked. “Fine, off you go. Take your time.” Yawning, he walked them to the door and showed them out.
“We’ll bring you back some crispy bacon, and some biscuits, and some other goodies too,” Emmalou promised.
Cole and Brig exchanged a glance just before he started to shut the door behind them. Cole’s expression said, “the two of you are probably safe out there today, but you need to look out for each other,” and Brig’s immediate response was, “I won’t be leaving her side.” Then they both smiled knowingly. Emmalou pretended not to see the exchange, but when they smiled she couldn’t help smiling too. It was infectious, and she was glad that Brig wasn’t planning on letting her out of his sight. She was very glad of that indeed.
“I’m going to lock myself in for now. If you need something, or you’ve got my bacon and biscuits, and maybe a couple apples, knock loud enough and I’ll let you in.”
With that Cole shut the door, and on the other side Brig and Emmalou could hear the lock sliding home. They took their time walking down the deserted street to Mrs. Sorensen’s. The quiet and crisp morning air filled their lungs and rejuvenated their spirits. The light spilling into the valley as the sun began to crest the horizon fed them energy and coaxed the flames of their souls. Despite everything that had happened the day before and the hard decisions they knew lay ahead they were optimistic that everything would turn out okay. They were excited about what the future would bring for them.
Neither realized that they had started walking hand in hand until they were at Mrs. Sorensen’s front porch, and they decided there was no reason to break the contact then. However, as Emmalou reached out to swing open the screen door at the front of the house, Mrs. Sorensen’s voice carried out to them, “You better take that thing off your hip before you step foot in my house.”
Grinning, Brig reluctantly released Emmalou’s hand so he could divulge himself of the gun he still carried. He stowed it on one of the chairs on the deck, and then took up her hand again and crossed the threshold.