Chapter 51

What would you have done if you found yourself in the same predicament?  (Need a reminder on how we got here?  Prior chapters can be found here.)  But, you don’t need to answer that unless you want to.  Let’s see how our friends are coping:


“What are we going to do?”

The pressure, the strain of anxiety, had finally eaten away at Dan enough that he spoke up.  Brig and Cole could tell he was on the verge of panicking, and they were both trying to figure out how they could get the big man safely locked into a cell if his fear made him completely lose his head.

In the interesting tracks he had ridden in his life, Brig had seen some of the smallest men cause enormous amounts of damage when they gave into their fear.  He didn’t want to see what Dan was capable of in similar circumstance.

“We are going to sit tight for now,” Cole responded in his authoritative voice.  He was sheriff for a reason, and he had no problem taking command of the situation.  “We may not have any food, but we’ve got plenty of water and coffee to last us awhile, and eventually whoever has us holed up in here will make their intentions known.”

At that point Emmalou came out of the cell where she’d been sitting, away from the action, and placed a hand on Dan’s arm.  The show of friendship and concern immediately caused Dan to regain control on his fear.  She smiled up at him and he returned it.  Then the four trapped companions gathered around the desk, much like that had that morning, to discuss their options.

“Without knowing what they want with us, it’s hard to know how we should act,” Cole started, and Brig raised his eyebrows.

“They want me.”

“Then why didn’t they finish you off rather than shooting at your feet?”

Brig didn’t immediately have an answer to that.

“Perhaps they are here for me,” Cole continued, “something related to someone I’ve locked up or hung over the years, and they want me to suffer like I made someone they loved suffer, hurt me and my friends as I hurt theirs.”

Brig shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe it’s someone at the bar unhappy with how I’ve been watering down the drinks,” Dan added, a small smile playing at his lips and a twinkle in his eyes.

“You don’t water down your drinks,” Brig responded, laughing.

“No, but that’s hardly common knowledge.  And it’s a good thing to, if I did, they probably would have been sober enough to hit what they were aiming at.”

They all chuckled a bit at that.

They all turned to look at Emmalou as she cleared her throat, “Perhaps they are here for me.  Imagine all those suitors I’ve turned down over the years only to go heals up for Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.  They couldn’t stand the injustice of it all.”

Cole snorted.  Dan guffawed, and Brig’s snickering quickly escalated to a full on laughing fit with all four joining in.  Brig hoped whoever was out there could hear so they would know that the trapped hadn’t succeeded in breaking their spirit.  He also hoped that would make them angry and do something foolish.

A fresh volley of gunfire pounding through the shuttered windows and into the solid door was the response to their laughs.  It did get them to stop and dive for cover, but when the thundering ceased and the four regained their composure they still had the magic that had been created by their shared laugh moments before.  They would not give in to fear.  They would not go stir crazy inside the jail.

As they looked at each other, and nodded back and forth to show they were all okay, no one had been hit, and no one was going to give up hope, Brig decided it was as good a time as any to let them know what he had been considering all morning.  Not sure why I didn’t say something earlier.  I guess I thought I’d have more time.  I should have known better.

He started by apologizing to Emmalou that he hadn’t had an opportunity to discuss it with her first, in private, and then quickly outlined his idea to find a job on the rails and keep moving, keep quiet, and keep out of trouble.  Times are different now than when I first worked for a train company.  The regular employees aren’t responsible for their own protection anymore as the railroads have hired the Pinkerton’s and other companies to travel about and ensure the safe passage of the cargo, passengers or otherwise.  It’s a fair bet that I wouldn’t be called upon to even carry a firearm again, let alone fire one.  It’s possible I could be anonymous again.

“I can’t ask you to leave Gunnison with me, Emmalou.  Your life is here, and it’s a good one.  And I’d stay in Gunnisone, to see where this goes, to see what kind of life I could carve out for myself in this quiet town and the rolling mountains around us, if I knew that nobody else would come here looking for me.  I can’t put you in danger like that.  I can’t put any of you in danger like that.”

When none of his friends immediately had anything to say, Brig finished with, “I think leaving is my only option.”

Then it was Dan’s turn to clap Brig on the back.  They could all see it had been a tough decision for Brig to make, and it was a decision he didn’t want to make.  Once again the actions of others were forcing his hand.  This time, rather than forcing him to draw, they were forcing him to run away from his friends.  I’m tired of having my life shaped by the actions of others.  I want to take control back as much as is possible.

“I understand,” Emmalou replied after a few minutes of silence had engulfed the jail.  “I don’t know what to say.  I don’t want to leave, but I don’t want to lose you either.”  Hadn’t I already made up my mind that I would follow him?  Hadn’t I already decided that I’d stand and fight with him if that’s what it took to keep him in my life?  I should tell him.

She started to speak again but Brig cut her off, “It’s not like I’m going to make you decide right now,” he joked, smiling big and winking at her with his good eye.  “It may not matter if we don’t get ourselves out of this fix.”

“Too true,” Cole interjected.  “Let’s push the future aside for now and figure out what we should be doing here in the present.  Any thoughts?”

Dan shook his head, frowning.  Timidly, Emmalou shook her head as well and then look down at her feet, wringing her hands in front of her.  Then, as if on cue, all three looked to Brig.  He was still smiling, and they could tell why even though his words were dark.

“All my life I’ve been hounded by people, backed into corners, told to reach for my gun, and pushed into fights I didn’t want to be in.  I’ve been portrayed as the villain.  I’ve been cast as the bad guy, gunning down innocents and leaving behind me a path of death and destruction.  And perhaps I was the bad guy, perhaps I could have found other solutions than the easy one of pulling iron and dealing lead, but in the heat of those moments I was rarely given time to think the situations through.  I’ve had my whole life to think them through since, to regret the lives I’ve taken, to regret that I couldn’t walk a different path, I couldn’t take a different rail through the twisting canyons of this world.

“I’m awfully tired of waiting around to see what other people do so I’ll know how I can act and react.  I’m tired of my choices being limited because people see me a certain way.  I’m tired of being a good guy cast in the role of the villain.”

Cole raised his eyebrows and Emmalou reached out and placed her right hand on Brig’s left arm.

“They are out there right now planning their next move and I don’t want to give them time to figure it out.  I want to walk out that door, guns blazing if necessary, and take the fight to them.”  Brig looked into first one and then other of Emmalou’s eyes to see how she would respond.  Would she be disappointed?  Approving?  Would his desire to fight change her opinion of him?  All he saw was understanding.

“Sometimes,” she said, “fighting isn’t just the only option, it’s the best option.  We have to fight for what is right, we have to fight for…,” she broke eye contact with Brig, blushed, and smiled shyly, “… for what we love.”

With those words hanging in the air, a beacon of light, Brig knew that Emmalou would leave with him.  It was the happiest moment of his life.

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