Chapter 53

This.  Is. The.  End…

(Need a reminder on how we got here?  Prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

Brig and Emmalou stuck around for the funeral.  They both wept as their friend was laid to rest.  They held hands through the whole service and they both spoke a few words.  Emmalou talked about the man who had befriended her when she had first come to town and had helped her regain confidence in herself and her neighbors, to not jump at every shadow.  Brig talked about how Sheriff Cole Brown had seen something in him worth saving and had gone through the effort to sober him up when some many others before him wouldn’t have put forth the effort, they wouldn’t have cared what became of el borracho.  He apologized for bringing trouble to Gunnison.  He would carry the shame and pain of that for the rest of his life.

Mrs. Sorensen wore all black, a long veil covered her face, and while she didn’t cry openly it was obvious from her red eyes and strained features that she had been.  She didn’t say anything at the service, whether that was because she had nothing to say or couldn’t say what she wanted to could only be guessed at.  Brig thought it was probably a little of both.  After Brig finished talking, she stepped forward and placed a single rose across the top of Cole’s unadorned coffin.  Then she turned and walked away.  There was supper to think about and a house to tidy up.  Life goes on, even when it doesn’t for some.

Dan ended up closing the Gunnison Inn a few weeks later.  He’d had enough of the late nights, the drunkenness, and the shenanigans of his regulars.  The big man had finally come to the conclusion that even the peaceful town of Gunnison had plenty of bad elements in it.  He no longer wanted to be part of that.  He no longer wanted to provide the fuel that was so often the spark on the underlying fire within the troublemakers, the drogues, the ruffians.  He took up the vacant position of Sheriff, by popular vote of the people, and ended up a fine lawman.  Fair and even tempered, the people were happy to have them wearing the star.

They’d offered the job to Brig but the job didn’t interest him at all.  He already had enough of a target on his back, he didn’t need to put one, star shaped or not, on his front as well.  Besides, he couldn’t stay in Gunnison after Cole’s death.  If he hadn’t already made up his mind to move on that would have made it up for him.  The pain of having lost another friend because of who he was would have been too great for him to stick around.  He’d been beaten, stabbed, and shot in the course of his life, and none of those could compare to the pain of guilt he carried around with him at all times.  No, he had to leave.

Emmalou packed up a few of her possessions, only taking what she needed for the road, and the two of them left the day after the funeral.  They had talked about heading west to try and find a place where the name “Brig Coyle” may not have been yet uttered, where he could use his name and be anonymous at the same time.  However, since the big railroads were all back east, they figured he had the best shot of getting a job for one of them, a job that wouldn’t include the need for a gun, if they went that direction.  They boarded the train with tickets made out to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, a gift from the local train depot’s man in charge: a new name to go with their new adventure together.

They rode side by side, hand in hand, looking out the window as the lush valley farmland turned into the rocky mountain terrain.  The sun shone down and illuminated every growing thing small and large.  The greens were brilliant in their contrast to the stark mountains behind them.  The crags and peaks stood out in breath taking relief.  The day was beautiful, just as the hope they had for the future was beautiful.

Brig and Emmalou were both nervous about the journey they were taking.  They were afraid of what would happen in the days, weeks and years to come.  Would someone figure out who Mr. Johnson really was?  Would they find work?  Would they grow apart or closer together?  As scary as the unknown was, it was also exciting.  They both felt the pull of the possibilities tugging at their heart strings.  What wonders would they see?  Where would they end up?  Would they start a family?

The train carried them down the tracks, the whistle blew away their worries, and they charged towards the horizon, towards their future, towards the countless adventures that could be waiting at each depot and town they passed.  Emmalou squeezed Brig’s hand as they continued to gaze out the window and see the world blur by.  Brig squeezed her hand right back.

I reckon it was so.

**

THE END

…..

I hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I enjoyed writing it.  I’d love to hear from you:  Did you like it?  What could have made it better for you?  What would you like to see me write about next?

We came a long way from the silly tongue-in-cheek characters this started with, didn’t we?  That wasn’t my intent.  I had wanted to keep the whole story as a comedy.  However, as is always the case, I just wrote and the words took me where they wanted to go.

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Chapter 52

Oh dear.  Oh me, oh my.  This is the second to last chapter!  And, it’s a doozy.  (Need a reminder on how we got here?  Prior chapters can be found here.)  Next week is Thanksgiving so I won’t be posting the final chapter until the following week… that gives you plenty of time to come back and re-read this chapter and make guesses on how it is going to end.

…..

We’ve been here before.  You’ve been warned before.  Though, if you’ve made it this far you didn’t heed the advice previously so why should this time be any different?

Brig went through the door first, low and fast, a six-shooter cocked in his right hand, finger on the trigger.  He’d gone through the door expecting shots to ring out as soon as the opening was wide enough for someone to step through and when nothing happened he kept moving until he could find some shelter to provide covering fire for Cole who was supposed to be right on his heels.  Cole came through clean as well, and the two men huddled together behind the water trough adjacent to the jail, on the opposite side of the door from when they had been fired at previously.

Dan shut the door with a loud crack, and slid the lock into place, once Cole was clear.  He was armed with a scattergun, as was Emmalou, and they’d been instructed not to open the door for anyone until the shooting had stopped.  And if someone other than Brig or Cole knocked on the door afterwards, it was up to them if they wanted to open up their shotguns on the door or not.  No one knew how it was all going to turn out.

Brig was actually disappointed that there had been no shots when he first stepped through the door.  Sure he may have been hit but then they would have at least known where their attackers were.  Since no shots were fired there was no way to tell where the slugs would come from when they did.  He and Cole scanned the street for any sign of movement.  The window that the shots had come from previously was bathed in shadows but they could tell that nothing was stirring within.  Glass from the shattered window lay scattered about the street and the windowsill, throwing beams of light in every direction as the sun hit them.

Time to move.

Brig nudged Cole and they stood and moved in opposite directions around the water trough.  Their eyes were in constant motion, checking windows, roofs, corners, and doorways for any signs of movement.  They stayed about five feet apart as they ventured into the center of the street.  The space was close enough that they could offer cover for the other if needed while still being far enough away so they weren’t making it easy for the whoever was out there to shoot both of them before one or the other could scramble to safety.

But they don’t actually want to shoot us.  If they had wanted to do that they could have done it earlier.  So, what do they want?

“Cole, I’m going to mosey on up the street to the Inn and get a drink.”  Brig wasn’t really going to get a drink but he wanted to say something just to ease his nerves, to break the pounding silence of the empty streets.  “Want me to get a bottle and bring it back so you can take a swig too?”

“I reckon I’ll just mosey on up the street with you.  We can toast each other on being fools standing out here waiting to get shot.”

“Fair enough.”

Brig started forward, and heard Cole’s boots crunching in the dirt behind him immediately afterwards.  They only made it about five steps down the road again before the shooting started.  The crack and whine, nearly on top of each other, caused Brig to dip as the first bullet whistled over his head.  His gun swung toward the sound and fired twice in quick succession, even as he was ducking and leaning away from the slug fired over his head.  He heard Cole’s gun discharge too as he swung his eye to see what he had fired at.

Yes, his gun hand is faster than his eye.   Deal with it.

The glass of a second window, from the same building as before, shattered as the three bullets tore through it, and then there was a scream as at least one of the slugs found their mark.  Brig knew that scream meant whatever game their attackers had been playing was off, and the next bullets would be aimed at them instead of around them and so he pushed forward with his feet to close the distance to the window.  Counterintuitive?  Running towards the source of danger and making himself a bigger target?  Yes, but it was also a plow to make them panic and fire without taking the time to aim.

He heard additional shots ring out but couldn’t tell if they were coming from in front of him or behind him, everything was happening in too close a proximity and the echoes of the shots were bouncing off the buildings up and down the street, and he never felt the stab and sting of a bullet tearing into him so he threw himself through the shattered window.

He heard the startled shriek of surprise as he rolled into a kneeling position, turned and brought his gun up, level and cocked, aimed straight at the heart of none other than Edward Sans.  I should pull the trigger.  Ed was bleeding from at least one would on his right arm, which still had a revolver clasped tightly in that hand, and his left hand was trying to staunch the flow of blood oozing down and dripping off his elbow.  His eyes were wide with terror and pain.  He expects to die.  I shouldn’t disappoint him.

Through sheer force of will, Brig managed to not pull the trigger.

“Who else is in here with you?”

Ed said nothing, his mouth opened and closed but no words formed.

“Ed!”  Brig shouted trying to snap the wretched fool back into reality.  “Who is working with you?  Where are they?”

“Everything okay in there?”  Cole called in from the street.

“Yeah,” Brig called back.  “I’ve got Ed Sans in here, bleeding, trying to get him to tell me who’s working with him.”

“I’m coming in.”

While Brig waited for Cole to come through the front door, he plied Ed again for an answer, “Ed, I’m not going to kill you, but you need to tell me who is working with you and where they are.  If I get shot, or Cole gets shot, I may change my mind.”  When Ed continued to open and close his mouth without actually saying anything, Brig added, “Remember who I am.  I’m Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, the nastiest man to ever carry a long iron.  Nothing says I have to kill you with one shot.  I could drag out your death for a long time.”

Unbelievably, Ed’s eyes grew even wider, but he finally managed to find his voice.  “Don’t kill me, Mr. Coyle, please, please don’t kill me.”

“Where are they?”

“Behind… behind the front door.”

“Cole!  Look out!”

A gun crashed.  Ed screamed again and the firearm he had been clutching in his right hand fell from his grasp to land with a thud at his feet.  Brig feared the warning had come too late.  I should put a bullet in Ed and be done with this madness right now.

“Cole?”

“Cole!”

Brig edged towards the hallway that he assumed would lead towards the door to the street.  He switched his eye back and forth between the empty space and Ed.  He didn’t want to turn his back on the miserable oaf but he needed to know what had happened.  If the ambusher had shot Sheriff Brown he might be edging his way to the same hallway corner to take a shot at Brig next.

“Ed, don’t move.”  Brig’s eye burned into the injured, trembling man.  The pungent odor of urine filled the air and a large stain spread across Ed’s groin.  Brig scrunched his face in disgust.  A cowardly miserable man for certain.  Killing him would be a favor to the world.  Brig’s finger tightened on the trigger but he still did not pull it.

“Cole if you are there, you better say something.  I’m coming, and I’m coming shooting.”

Brig braced himself to launch into the hallway, pushing into the floor with the balls of his feet, his boots grinding into the dust and broken glass on the wooden floor.

“Come on then,” Jerry Tunston said through walls.  “What are you waiting for you?”

Oh no.  Cole…  My friend.

Brig grabbed Ed with his left hand, the man screamed as the pain in his shoulder increased with the jerking motion of being pulled forward.  Brig felt pain course through his own shoulder as his recent wound split open again from the exertion.  He could feel the warm trickle of blood running down his arm but he pushed the feelings aside and continued to pull Ed in front of him.  Then before Ed could catch his balance or put in any sort of protest, Brig shoved the fool out into the hallway with all of his weight.

Ed went, screaming all the way, head first into Jerry’s line of sight.  The small building exploded with the thunder of gunfire as Jerry fanned his gun, spraying bullets into his new partner, and into the nearby walls.  The effort of having pushed Ed forward sent Brig sprawling forward after Ed.  He felt the impact of the slugs ramming home into his human shield and hear the whine of the misses whizzing past his ears.

His eye met Jerry’s as he brought his own gun up and fired once, then Jerry’s head rocked backwards and disappeared from sight behind the body of Ed Sans as Brig slammed into the floor behind him.  Not dead, but dying, Brig could hear Ed gurgling and moaning, trying to fight the inevitable and knowing he was losing.  Brig did not feel sorry for him and did not put him out of his misery.

Instead, despite the pain coursing through is body from having fallen heavily on the ground, and the pain in his shoulder where his gunshot wound had reopened, Brig pushed himself up and scanned the small hallway to see what had become of Jerry and Cole.  He knew he had fired true and that Jerry was dead.  He knew that before he’d even hit the ground.  He wasn’t going to miss.  He wasn’t going to hesitate.  And so he wasn’t surprised to find Jerry’s lifeless body halfway between him and the open door.

All he could see of Cole was one of his boots, on the ground, outside the door.  Brig stepped over the dying Ed, and the dead Jerry, and went to see what had become of his friend, the man that had saved him, had helped him sober up and remember that not everything in the world was pain and hate.  He went with hope in his heart, but he knew what he would find just as surely as he’d known the second he’d heard his voice that Jerry Tunston was a dead man walking.

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.

Chapter 50

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?”

“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.

“Any movement?”

“Not yet.”

“Did you see who it was behind the window?”

“Nope.”

“Could you tell if it was more than one?”

“Nope.”

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. 

 Crap.

Chapter 49

Another long chapter this week as we start to wrap things up.  Though, there may be one more twist up my writing sleeve…  Intrigued?  Well, I’m not showing you all my cards this week.  You’ll just have to keep coming back for the run in to the end.

(Prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

Mrs. Sorensen was chattier that morning than Brig could ever remember her being.  She had heard all about their adventure from the day before, from the ambush, to the injury, to where they’d spent the night, and even some thoughts on where Jerry Tunston had headed after he’d fled.  She didn’t even pause while she and Emmalou switched out the bandage on his wound.  The landlady poked the skin around the injury sight expertly checking for signs of infection and nodded in satisfaction with the job the doctor had done stitching him up.

With Brig cleaned and trussed up again, she turned her attention back to running her household.  Emmalou stepped in to help her get breakfast going for Mrs. Sorensen’s other tenants and when Brig tried to help they both shooed him away, telling him to sit down, rest up, get out of the way, in as few words as possible before Mrs. Sorensen went barging into her rambling again.

She’s the town’s main engineer, making sure everyone is running the way they are supposed to be, on the right tracks, and keeping the right time.  Brig couldn’t but smile as the train reference came unbidden into his mind.  I am a fool for trains still.

Emmalou eventually joined Mrs. Sorensen in conversation, and Brig tuned the two of them out, leaning back into his chair to get comfortable, he shut his eye and let his mind wander.  Perhaps the solution is life on the road after all?  If I can get hired on by a railroad in some capacity, something other than safety, it would be a way for Emmalou and me to not be tied down a specific place where gunmen could come looking for me.

 I guess if I worked a route for too long, stayed with one engine for too long, they might come and search me out anyway…  But, I’d be a moving target, harder to pinpoint, and I could make sure I’m always switching up the routes I work on.  I could just be another nameless engineer, or stocker, or ticket checker.  I could just be one of the faces that blends into the background and nobody notices.

 But, that would mean either leaving Emmalou here in Gunnison and only getting to see her when I’m passing through or uprooting her and taking her with me.  I don’t like the idea of leaving her here.  I don’t like the idea of not getting to see her every day.  However, I’m not sure she’ll want to go with me.  She’s made a home for herself here, a good life, and I can’t ask her to leave that.  Plus, what company would hire me on knowing who I am, and meeting my demands to let her come along?

The background noise of the women talking stopped abruptly and Brig cracked open his eye to find the two of them peering down at him.  He smiled sheepishly and went to stand up, but they both motioned for him to stay seated.  “Just making sure you weren’t getting into trouble,” Emmalou winked.  And they went back to their back and forth while plating for the morning meal.  The smells coming from the kitchen wafted out to find Brig and his mouth set to salivating, reminding him of how hungry he was.

Poor Cole must be starving too.  Though it’s part of his job to miss a few meals here and there, it comes with the star I guess.

It was then that Brig suddenly remembered that he was probably expected at work that morning too.  He pushed himself out of the chair with his good arm to head into the kitchen and let Emmalou know that he needed to run over to the bar and tell Dan he wouldn’t be able to cover his normal morning shift but would be right back, only to have Dan walk through the front door.

Yes, that’s convenient.  We’ve been over this before.  Sometimes things just happen to work out like that.  Can we move on?  Okay, good.

“Sit down, there’s no rush.  She came over last night before I finished up the late shift and let me know you’d be out for a few days,” Dan said, guessing correctly at Brig’s intentions.  Brig and Dan shook hands and then took two seats at the giant table.

Brig was confused, and once again mystified of how Mrs. Sorensen always seemed so completely on top of things, never letting a single line drop, and marveled at how well she kept tabs on the populace.  He could say nothing but shake his head side to side as he sat down again.

“How bad is it?” Dan asked while motioning to Brig’s shoulder.

“I’ve had worse,” Brig shrugged while rubbing the palm of his hand around the meat of the sore shoulder.  He grimaced as the stiff tissue absorbed the pressure.  I won’t be able to shoot with that hand for awhile, he immediately thought before following it with, which hopefully isn’t a problem as I’d really rather not have to shoot with either hand ever again.  “Considering the circumstances, I’m pretty lucky it’s just my shoulder.”

“That’s what I heard.”  Then Dan nodded towards the kitchen and asked, “How bad is it?”

Bring didn’t immediately follow and furrowed his brow trying to catch Dan’s meaning.  Then the big man broke into a giant grin and Brig knew he had been asking about his feelings for Miss Marsch.  Smiling ruefully, he answered just before Emmalou and Mrs. Sorensen came in bearing plates full of steaming food, “The worst.  I’ve never had it this bad.”

With the food on the table, the rest of the house’s occupants filed in quickly and they all ate and talked and greeted the day properly.  None of his housemates seemed overly surprised, or overly concerned, with Brig’s injury and none of them lingered on the subject longer than it took to ask if he was okay and get his response.  Then they were off spinning off onto the weather, and the errands they had for the coming day, and all sorts of other gossip that can only keep the conversation from dying in small towns.

After the tenants ate, excused themselves one by one, and went about their days, Brig and Dan insisted on helping Emmalou and Mrs. Sorensen clean up and they fell into a familiar and easy rhythm of putting the table and the kitchen back into order while Emmalou pitched in with other projects and Mrs. Sorensen put together a basket of food to take back to Cole.  When everything was spick and span again, they said their thank you’s for the meal, bid their goodbyes and Dan, Emmalou and Brig made their way back to the jail.

Despite Dan’s presence the two walked hand in hand again, because it was a beautiful day, because they could, because they wanted to.

At first Brig had been surprised that Dan was going to accompany them back to the jail, but he figured that once they were all there they would set about figuring out what needed to be done next.  As someone he had grown to think of as a friend, one of three he had made in Gunnison in his time there, Brig was glad that Dan was going to voice his opinions on the matter as well.  One more mind tackling this puzzle certainly can’t hurt.

As they walked in silence, enjoying the feel of the sun on their skin and the kiss of the early morning chill on their cheeks, a strangely exhilarating and discomforting sensation at the same time, Brig’s thoughts returned to the rails.  They were what got me started on this path in the first place.  Perhaps it is fitting that they could be my way forward, throw the switch, and continue on down a different path to see where it leads…

The more he thought about it the more he liked the idea, but he wanted to hear what the others had to say, and he wanted to talk alone with Emmalou about it too.  He wanted to know how she felt, what she wanted, before he got too set on a decision, because I won’t be doing anything that she doesn’t agree to.

They knocked loudly, as instructed, when they reached the jail door and it took a little while for Cole to wake up, throw some water in his face and pry back the lock so he could welcome them in.  As they crossed into building they passed off the basket so Cole could start devouring the contents and Dan swung the lock home again on the door, shutting them safely in.  There were important decisions to make and it wouldn’t do for them to be disturbed.