We’re getting close to the end now…
(Need a reminder on how we got here? Prior chapters can be found here.)
The quartet of friends talked away the rest of the morning. They each, except for Brig, brought up different variations of the same two ideas: staying and leaving. Brig kept quiet on his ideas for the time being and just chimed in with his thoughts as the pros and cons of the other possibilities were tossed about, and then tossed out.
It might be best if I just disappear one day. Wake up early, sneak out of town, and disappear again for a time under a different name. That’s not what I want to do, but it might be what is best for my new friends. As long as I keep hold of my name, of ‘Brig Coyle,’ they will now be associated with me and they could be given trouble by those trying to find me.
It’s too late though, it’s already known they are my friends and they could get caught in the middle whether I’m here or not. People will think they know more than they do. I need to stay to take care of them.
Dan, Cole and Emmalou can take care of themselves.
I wish I knew what to do.
Brig’s revelry was broken by the sound of silence falling heavy upon his ears. He looked up from where he’d been boring a hole in his right boot to see his friends all looking intently at him. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “If I could have come up with a clean way out, I never would have gotten into this position in the first place.”
“The question,” Dan replied, bushy eyebrows raised high into his large forehead, “was ‘What would you like for lunch?’”
“Well, in that case…” Brig paused to consider the options. Emmalou rolled her eyes, Cole shook his head and smirked, and Dan choked down a laugh that had been building in his throat. “Shall we adjourn to Mrs. Sorensen’s and see what she will serve us?”
“I reckon so.” Cole pushed himself away from his desk, where he’d eaten the meal brought over by the others and then stayed throughout the conversation, and returned the dishes to the basket to carry them all back. Dan, who had spent most of the time pacing circles around the jail while he thought and talked, made for the door to work the lock. Emmalou followed closely on his heels.
Dan swung the door open and then stepped aside to usher Emmalou out into the sunshine first. She shaded her eyes as the light reflected off the freshly swept boardwalk and turned to face up the street while continuing so the others could file out after her. Dan continued to hold the door as first Brig and then Cole joined Miss Marsch outside the jail. Once they were all outside they turned as one and started their journey towards Mrs. Sorensen’s.
Brig knew something was wrong immediately and stopped before they’d gone more than five feet. He scanned the street ahead and behind while his companions, noticing he had stopped, also paused in their forward progress. Cole saw the look of concern on Brig’s face and a hand immediately dropped to his holstered firearm. He cast his eyes about too, looking for any sign of trouble. Dan reached over and put a protective hand in front of Emmalou, gently ushering her behind his larger frame.
The thought came to Brig, even as Cole said it, “Where is everyone?”
The street was deserted.
Cole started to say, “Let’s get back inside,” but only managed “Let’s ge” before the first bullet slammed into the building behind them. Cole and Brig ducked, and Cole pulled his revolver, but he couldn’t see anyone yet so didn’t know where to return fire. Dan began to edge backwards, keeping Emmalou behind him, trying to retrace the few steps back to the door to the jail. The second bullet came immediately after the first and Brig heard it whistle by his head.
“Get her inside,” he yelled to Dan and then sprang backwards as the boardwalk at his feet erupted in hail of gunfire.
Cole, finally having drawn a bead on the source of the attack, an open window across the street, returned fire and the sound of shattering glass was added to the thunderous roars of the guns. Dan, threw open the jail door and made sure that Emmalou went in first, so that she was still protected by his size, and then he went in to, using one of his mighty paws to hold open the door from the inside. Brig saw his chance and half jumped, half rolled through the doorway. Sherriff Brown, fanning the last two rounds from his six-shooter, backed in, and then Dan let the door slam shut before ramming home the lock again.
The question he wanted to ask Cole, if the sheriff had seen who was attacking them, died on his lips, and he turned to Emmalou instead, “Are you okay?”
She was shaking, but nodded her headed up and down and mumbled something that sound like, “I’m okay.”
“Go sit down on a cot in one of the cells.” He watched her start to walk away, her steps faltering, and he stepped to her side, grasping her elbow to lend her support. “It’s all going to be okay.” Once she was seated on the edge of the cot, he went and fetched a cup of water for her. “Take some sips of this. It will help calm you down.”
Brig watched her as she took a few sips and eventually the shakes went away, and then he asked again, “Are you okay?”
This time she looked him in the eye, and answered clearly, “I’ll be okay. Thank you.”
“Okay, good,” he smiled at her and she smiled back. “Sit here as long as you want, I’m going to go talk with Cole and Dan and see if we can figure out what is going on, okay?”
As Brig turned to walk away, she quickly reached up and clasped his right hand in both of hers and squeezed tightly. He returned the show of affection and smiled down at her again. When she released his hand he walked out of the cell, clapped Dan on the back as a thank you for doing such a good job of sheltering her, and then joined Cole next to one of the shuttered windows. The sheriff was peering through one of the slits trying to see what was happening outside.
“Did you see who it was behind the window?”
“Could you tell if it was more than one?”
Dan joined them at that point, but remained quiet. While he was used to throwing troublemakers out of the bar, breaking up fights, and busting a nose occasionally, getting shot at wasn’t something he had much experience with, and while he wouldn’t admit it, he was just as shaken as Miss Marsch.
“Do you think they were missing on purpose just to herd us back in here?”
Cole didn’t answer. No answer was needed. A professional, or even just an average cowhand, from that distance on a perfectly sunny and windless day, shouldn’t have had any problem ensuring that at least one of the shots found the target. It had definitely seemed like the bullets had been aimed to miss the four of them. But why? That’s the real question. Why do they want us in here? Why wouldn’t they just fire straight into us if they wanted us dead?
Brig read the whole train of thought on Cole’s face and moved to the second window to see if he could get a glimpse of the street from a different angle.
A new volley of gunfire erupted, hitting both windows at the same time, and the three men dove to the floor.
As Brig waited for the fresh barrage to stop it dawned on him that slugs coming through both windows at the same time could only mean one thing. There is more than one shooter.