prompt: you write the ending

He stepped into the street, the dust swirled around his boots and the wind tugged at the edge of his stained trencher.  The miles had not been kind to it, but it continued to hold together, just like him.  He leaned into the gale, ducking his head so the current wouldn’t get under the brim and send his hat sailing down the deserted road, and his coat’s tails whipped to attention.  The saloon door closed behind him and he was free of its clinging smells and dreams.

The drink remained, though.  Even when it was gone, it was never far away.  Of the stains on his soul, it wasn’t the darkest or the largest.

The tastes of the night remained strong on his tongue even as the morning sun warmed his shoulders.  He coughed into the weather beaten fist of his left hand, having learned long ago to never allow his right hand, his gun hand, to stray too far from the holstered shooter.  Thinking about it, he reached for the butt and was comforted by the reassuring feel of the smooth sandalwood grip.

Despite the demons in his head he smiled.  He knew what kind of man he had become, he knew the true source of the worst of his stains, but it no longer troubled him like it used to.

His stained soul was part of him.

His eyes scanned the empty stretch of road, squinting against the blistering light, and no shadows betrayed the stillness.  He considered pulling the iron and waking the town with chaos and blood.  He considered turning around and having another drink, or two.  Or three…

His smile broadened, mischievously, maliciously, and he…

Chapter 37

It’s that time again.  I wonder what Brig is up to this week…?

(And don’t forget all previous chapters can be found here.)

…..

For those of you who are wondering, and absolutely must know, Cole had left the jailhouse moments before to assist Miss Marsch with bringing over the morning’s breakfast.  He’d only made it a block or two down the street when he heard the pounding and turned around to see Ed and his cronies huddled around his jailhouse door.  If they’d been sober at all, they would have easily spotted him as he was walking down the middle of the street.  There, mystery solved, may I proceed with the story now?  Good.

When Emmalou and Cole showed up with breakfast, Brig asked if someone would kindly fill him on what was going on.  While they ate, Cole obliged and detailed out the morning’s events filling in gaps with conjecture as needed.  Though, he really only had to guess where the group had come from and where the four cowards had fled back to since he’d witnessed the rest of it firsthand.

Despite his sour mood from the previous night, Brig couldn’t help but smile when he heard that Ed had nearly blown his own foot off.  “The dang fool.”

Emmalou chimed in with, “I reckon so;” beating Cole to his normal response, and they all laughed.

After polishing off the breakfast provisions, fresh squeezed orange juice, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs, and harvest toast, Cole thanked Emmalou for the meal and then let himself out.  He needed to walk around town so the people could still see his presence and now that he wasn’t shirking his job, he also needed to walk off the heavy meal, and he wanted to give Brig and Emmalou some time to themselves.  Wasn’t that nice of him?  I thought so too.

Knowing full well what Cole was up to Brig was slightly embarrassed and a he avoided eye contact with Emmalou as his cheeks flushed slightly.  He found a particularly interesting looking knot in one of the floor boards and studied it intently.  It was fascinating.

Emmalou was only slightly more composed than Brig.  She had an inkling of Sheriff Brown’s intentions in giving Mr. Coyle and herself some time alone but she did a better job of hiding her emotions.  From her seat, Cole’s chair that she had dragged closer to Brig’s cell, she placed her hands in her lap and waited patiently for her “host” to break the silence.  It was an odd sentiment considering he was behind bars, but she was actually the guest in their current setting.

He hadn’t always been shy but the last few years of his life, spent as a drunk wandering from town to town, had severely limited the amount of time he had interacted with women to the point where he had begun to wonder if he still knew how.

His previous interactions with Miss Marsch had all been instinctual reactions to the situations that had sprung up.  He hadn’t had time to really think about what he was going to say or do.  Spending the last few days behind bars had given him plenty of downtime to think about Emmalou and think about the burgeoning feelings he felt tugging at his guts and the vast possibilities of topics to discuss and the future or lack thereof engulfed him in confusion to the point where he hadn’t been able to hold onto a thought long enough to determine if it was something he should bring up with her.  A veritable tornado of questions had torn through his mind and left nothing in its wake but fractured fragments and scattered words.

With nothing left in his mind but jumbled half-remembered thoughts it actually became easier for Brig to address Miss Marsch because his mind reverted back to instinct.  Without taking his eye off the knot in the floor, the imprisoned gunslinger managed to shake off his embarrassment, find something to say, and start talking.  “I wanted to thank you for taking the time to cook for Cole and me.  We truly appreciate it.”

Across from him, Emmalou dipped her slightly in recognition but said nothing.  Providing the two men with a few meals really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for her; she’d been helping less fortunate families around town for awhile with extra meals as needed.  Still, she contemplated responding with “You’re welcome,” or “It was nothing,” or something along those lines but her uncertainty around her own feelings and around what type of man Brig Coyle truly was kept her reserved for the time being.

If Brig had expected any sort of verbal response it didn’t show on his face.  He only let the silence return for a few seconds before he asked one of the questions his mind had managed to reassemble, “How have you been since we last had a chance to talk?”

It was a silly question because they’d seen each other a lot recently with her delivery meals to the jailhouse from time to time and they’d chatted on each of those occasions.  Plus, in the conversations they’d had on Mrs. Sorensen’s porch it had turned out that he had done most of the talking.  Beyond a few courtesies and pleasantries where placating and vague answers were given he had never asked her how she was before and wanted a truthful answer.  He wanted more than “fine” or “okay” or any of the other stock answers that people give that don’t really mean anything.

She went that route anyway, “I’ve been good, thank you for asking, and other than the obvious difficulties you are facing how have you been?”

Brig shook his head and smiled at her.  “No, Miss Marsch, don’t give me that.  Truly, how have you been?  Is there anything Cole or I could do for you?   Is there anything that’s been bothering you?  Is there anything in particular you’ve been happy about recently?”

Something in her stomach fluttered and she realized that Mr. Coyle had looked up and met her gaze as he asked his questions.  Her heart rate increased, her cheeks feathered with the lightest touch of a red paint stroke, and she was temporarily lost in the swirling depth of his penetrating eye.

I’m happy that you stayed.  The thought sprung to the forefront of her mind but she quickly pushed it away.  It would be improper to say such a thing.  She cast about for a more suitable answer and settled with, “Tired.”

Brig, a look of concern etched on his face, was about to ask if she could elaborate, but she continued on without the need of any further prodding.

“My quiet little town hasn’t been so quiet these last few weeks.  While I’ve tried to stick to my normal routines I’ve found that my sleep is stunted, interrupted, by pressing thoughts and concerns.  I’m worried … “ about your wellbeing, she almost said but caught herself and finished with, “about the townspeople.  I’m even worried about those two gun men and Mr. Sans.  I don’t want them causing any more trouble than the already have but I don’t want any harm coming to them either.

“I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  In the world you’ve come from the idea is probably unthinkable.  I just don’t understand why there can’t be a way where everyone comes through this unscathed, without … without gunplay, without violence.  I stay awake long into the night trying to think of solutions to these problems, to your problem, and how we might get everyone out of this uninjured.  That may be naïve of me, but that’s who I am.”

Once he got her talking she had a lot to say.  Brig, sitting on his cot in his cell, took in every word.  There were times where he wanted to interject but he decided to let Miss Marsch have her say.  He had asked, had wanted the truth, and he would let it all come out before he said anything on the matter.

“It seems to me that you also wish there was a reasonable way out of this mess.  You’ve basically told me as much yourself, and thank you again for telling me your story, it meant a lot that you trusted me with it.  Your actions since showing up in Gunnison have also spoken volumes for you: you’ve turned your life around, you’ve put away your gun after putting it back on not because you were asked to but because you felt it was the right thing to do, and you’ve kept yourself from putting the gun back on when the world seemed to rise up against you.”

At that moment Brig felt terrible about his comment from the night before.  He opened his mouth to confess that he had desperately wanted a firearm in his hand after tearing into Ed verbally last night but she swept forward before he got a word out.

“You’ve probably wanted to arm yourself in the past few days, you’ve probably wanted to march out of this cell and face the men that have been threatening you… with the life you’ve led that could only be the natural response.  But you haven’t yet.  You haven’t asked Sheriff Brown to let you out and give you a gun.  You’ve stayed patient and bided your time to see how this whole fiasco plays out.  That has impressed me Mr. Coyle.

“So, yes, I’m tired, and frazzled, and fairly a mess because I don’t know how to help you, how to save everyone, how to protect my home and my town and it has made me feel small and insignificant.  How can we stand up to those who seek out violence and chaos without becoming part of the problem?  We can’t pretend they don’t exist.

“I’m at a loss, drifting along this torrent and not sure I have the strength fight against it if I don’t like where it is taking me.  I can see by your expression that you know exactly what I mean.  That’s good.

“So, I’m taking each day at a time, taking on each situation as it comes up and doing my best to stay in one piece throughout.  My mind is probably taking the worst of the brunt of it all, just listen to me rambling on, but I’m sure the rest of me is equally frazzled and fraying around the edges.”

She took her right hand out of her lap and smoothed a few stray hairs back into the bun she had twisted around at the back of her head.

As she fixed her hair, though it needed no fixing, Brig smiled at her.  It was a thoughtful, knowing, smile full of emotions: concern, tenderness, longing.  “I don’t know that I would agree with that, Miss Marsch, you still look stunning to me.”

Her right hand paused in mid air, she broke eye contact with him, dropped her hand back into her lap and clasped it together with the left hand, and stared at the white of her knuckles as she desperately tried to keep the deepening flush of her cheeks.  She failed.

Brig saw her flush, and though he scarcely thought it was possibly, found her even more beautiful in that moment.  He didn’t tell her though.  He’d already acted improper enough for one morning.  He let her compose herself and then he shifted the conversation to more mundane things: the rapidly approaching change in seasons, what life in Gunnison is like in different times of the year, who she knew that worked in the mines, what it’s like to live in a cell for an extended period of time, etc…  Eventually Cole came back in and joined their conversation; which lasted well into the afternoon when Emmalou finally had to excuse herself so she could go see about putting supper together.

Sheriff Brown escorted Miss Marsch to her home and then did another round about the town, pressing the flesh, solving disputes, and performing the functions he was paid to.  Alone, again, in the jailhouse Brig stretched out on his cot and reveled in the first truly pleasant morning he had indulged in quite some time.

Yes indeed, things were good for him in his cell.  Almost good enough for a man to get comfortable, content, and never want to return to the trials, hardships and responsibilities of life on the outside.  Though, I guess being a guest in jail is probably a bit different from being forced to be here.

Chapter 36

What do you do all week while waiting for the next installment of Brig awesomeness?  I procrastinate on writing more of it… that’s what I do.  Here’s what I’ve already done though, so that’s at least something.

…..

Not as scheduled, Ed came back the following morning.

He’d spent the night carousing with his cronies, drinking liquid courage, and talking himself into a frenzy.  At first, he’d just been happy to be walking away from the jail.  Ed was certain that under other circumstances he would have either been killed by the man claiming to be Brig or jailed by the Sheriff or vice versa – it was all a bit muddled up in his head.  Then, as the booze had begun to ease away his fears, he’d gotten very angry.

“How dare they make a fool out of me like that.  They have no right!  There’s no way that drunkard is the legendary gun man.”

His cronies, those who had been around town more than he had in the preceding days passed on the information that the man had been posing as Brig Coyle while working in the Gunnison Inn for several days, but rather than see that as evidence that the man may in fact be the gunslinger of repute, Ed saw that as further evidence of some grand scheme to get a laugh at his expense.

Quite the elaborate charade just to get a laugh, don’t you think?  Perhaps Ed was a bit paranoid.  The amount of alcohol he continued to dump into his system as the night progressed just fueled that line of thinking until, as the sun was gracing the eastern sky in a soft glow heralding the coming morning, he talked himself, and his cronies, into marching down the street to confront the sheriff.

The four men who followed him weren’t entirely sure what they were going to do once they got to the jailhouse, but they trusted that Ed had a plan.  In truth, Ed had no idea what he was going to do or say once he was standing in front of Cole but he figured he’d come up with something on the spot.

The truth, for starters, he decided as he stepped onto the wooden walkway in front of the jailhouse door.  Then maybe I’ll take off my gun and whoop the sheriff in a good old fashioned throw down.  After I’ve beaten Cole, I’ll let myself into el borracho’s cell and beat him down too.  The spirits made him feel invincible and convinced him he’d be able to overcome any challenge.

Most of you would be lying if you said that drinking hadn’t given you that same over inflated confidence at some point in your life.  Ten feet tall, ready for anything, bring it on world… you know what I’m talking about.

Ed Sans strode forward, in his head he strode and in reality he half stumbled, across the wooden walkway and, smiling, he knocked on door.  “Sheriff Brown, I’ll be having words with you.”

Ed quickly looked around him and his confidence grew even stronger, surrounded as he was by his faithful companions, who he knew would back his play whatever happened.  They wouldn’t, of course, but he certainly thought they would.

Seconds passed but to Ed and his cadre of backers it seemed like minutes.  Impatient, Ed knocked again, louder and felt a dull pain the knuckles of his right hand.  He looked and saw that his hand was red from the contact but the pain quickly subsided and so he determined he was alright and yelled out again, “Sheriff, I’ll be having words with you.”

“You already said that,” one of his cronies reminded him.

“Shut up.  I know I did.  I repeated myself for emphasis.”  Ed scowled at his group, not entirely sure which one had spoken, he made sure he let his disapproving gaze linger on each of them before turning back to the door.  His smile did not return.  He was tired of waiting.  The cool pre-dawn air was starting to sober him up and his confidence was turning into frustration.

What is taking so long?  Why hasn’t he answered the door?  He already made me look like a fool once and now he is doing it again: making me stand here like a jackass pounding on his door.  Well, I’ll show him I’m not someone to trifle with.  I’m not going to be his fool!

Ed drew his revolver from its holster on his right hip and aimed it at the floorboards where the walkway ran up against the door.

I know what you are thinking, and yes, he is that big of a fool.  His cronies were thinking that too and they all took a step backwards.  If I’d been standing there, I would have done the same too.

“Cole, I’m beginning to lose my patience.  Come on out now.  I won’t ask again.”  Ed cocked the hammer back on his weapon.  He closed his eyes to try and visualize where each of the locks on the door were located so he could shoot them out to get the door to swing open freely but having his eyes closed made him a little wobbly on his feet and he immediately opened them again.  The opened even wider, in terror, as he heard a gun cock behind him.  He, and his four cronies, turned in unison to face Cole standing on the street a few feet off to their left, gun cocked and aimed at Ed.

“I’m not sure what it is your after, Ed, but I’d like to suggest you ease back that hammer and holster your weapon.”

Ed didn’t move.  He knew the odds were against him but his anger was overpowering all other thoughts and he didn’t want to back down.  Along with the coursing anger was a large amount of alcohol induced confusion.  He didn’t understand what exactly was going on, how the sheriff wasn’t in the jailhouse, and needed to buy himself some time to figure out what to do next.  Holstering my gun is the same as giving up, being made a fool of again, and I’m not willing to do that.  So, instead, Ed stared at the sheriff with a look he believed to be intimidating but actually came across as that of drunken confusion and terror.

“Ed, I’m not fooling around here, put your gun away.”

The Sheriff shouldn’t have used any word that sounded like “fool.”  Ed cringed at it, found a new resolve and determination, and he twisted to face the sheriff.   As he swung around he fired his gun.  Unfortunately, in his haste and due to his drunken state he forgot to actually raise his arm and aim at Cole.  The bullet tore through his right boot.  Pain coursed through his foot, radiating up his leg, through his gut and torso and down his gun arm until his fingers went numb and he dropped his gun.

As the iron hit the wooden planks, Ed’s four cronies took to their heels, not even bothering to see if their ring leader needed help before they showed their yellow bellies.

Cole sighed, holstered his revolver, walked over to the dropped gun, opened the canister, dropped the five remaining slugs into the palm of his right hand, spun the chamber shut, stuck the gun in his belt and pocketed the bullets.  Then saying “Come on Ed,” he wrapped his left arm around the shoulders of the injured man and helped him hop down the street and over a few blocks to where the town doctor lived.

The pain had finished the job of sobering up Ed, and though the pain also made him want nothing more than to drink a whole lot more he went along peacefully.  The anger subsided as the pain left room for nothing else.  As they walked, and hopped, up the path to the front door Ed said, “I sure am sorry I came knocking on your door like that Cole.  I guess I let the booze get the better of me.”

Sheriff Brown said nothing in response.  Doctor Lawrence Shaw, a genial grey haired old timer, was halfway out his door as the sheriff and Ed walked onto his porch.  He’d heard the single shot and had come out to see if his services were needed.  He ushered the two men back inside and got Ed situated on his examination table.

Cole watched the doctor remove Ed’s boot as gently as could be down, and then cut away the sock underneath to expose a gash on the outside of the cow puncher’s foot where the bullet had created a small crease.  It was bleeding and Cole had no doubt it was a painful wound, but it wasn’t life threatening, no bones had been broken or major arteries severed, and it would just require some stitches and a few days rest before Ed would be up and moving again.

The sheriff had seen as much as he needed to.  By rights he could have arrested Ed on a few different charges for his outburst that morning but he decided the wound was punishment enough.  However, before exiting the exam room Cole bent down so his face was inches away from Ed’s and said, “I’m keeping your gun for now.  When you are back on your feet you can come and collect it, but then I think it’d probably best if you left town for a few days, again.”

At that moment Doctor Shaw prodded the wound to clean out any pieces of boot or sock that may have traveled through the crease with the slug and Ed’s face contorted in anguish.  Cole didn’t wait around for a response.

As he exited the Doctor’s home the sun peaked over the eastern horizon and flooded the Gunnison Valley in warm light.  Cole smiled as he took in the natural beauty of the day and whistled a happy little tune as he made his way over to Miss Marsch’s.  I think it’s going to be quite a nice day today.

Chapter 35

Does anyone else feel like this story is nearing its end?  It’s had quite the run, and I’ve got a few more chapters left to post, and a few more chapters left to write, so don’t fret yet.

…..

As scheduled, Ed came around later that same day.  Mrs. Sorensen had already delivered the evening meal, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and steamed vegetables,   via one of her tenants and the sun had already begun to slip behind the mountains in the west when Brig and Cole heard the tapping on the door.  Sheriff Brown had heard Ed’s patterned walk approaching the door and was already on the move to open for the cow puncher when the knocking began.

To add to the scene that was about to unfold, they had decided not to light all of the oil lamps yet and shadows abounded.  Brig hid himself into one of the darker recesses of his cell, hopefully prolonging the time it took for Ed to recognize him as the drunk he had previously scuffled with.

As the sheriff went to open the door Brig found his right hand twitching and he wished he was armed.  He trusted Cole to handle the situation if the ruse was enough to send Ed spiraling into madness and draw his weapon out of anger, but he trusted himself more.  Nothing I can do about it now.

“Who’s there,” Cole asked to the door, though he knew full well who was on the other side already.

“It’s Ed, Sheriff.”  The man’s voice held obvious touches of eagerness and fear.

This is going to be interesting, thought Cole as he unlatched the multitude of locks.  Always erring on the cautious side, he kept his right hand on the butt of his holstered gun and eased open the door with his left hand.  Ed stood peacefully on the other side, and waited for Cole to say, “Come on in,” before breaking the plane of the door and entering the jailhouse.  The cow puncher’s face matched his voice: a mixture of eagerness and fear.  He didn’t even notice, much to Cole’s amusement, that the Sheriff’s hand was ready to pull iron at the first sign of trouble.

Brig remained where he was, his face hidden in the shadowy depths of his cell where the flickering oil lamps did not reach.  Here we go.

Ed took a few steps forward and then his forward movement halted when he heard Cole engaging locks on the door.  He turned slightly to watch the process and then swung his head back to face the dark cells at the rear.  After the last lock was activated, Cole remained where he was and kept his watchful eyes on Ed.

“Mr. Coyle,” Ed started and then paused for a moment as his mind reeled with the prospect that he was actually addressing the famous gunslinger.  Fear, deep seated from his healthy and natural inclination towards self preservation, threatened to overcome his faculties and make him abandon his current path but with the help of the liquid courage he had imbibed before heading over to the jailhouse he fought of the fear and continued.

“I was sorry to hear about the trouble you got into and I would have gladly paid your fines so you didn’t have to spend any time in jail if I had only heard about your predicament earlier.”

Ed had spent most of the day working on what he was going to say to Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, and was especially pleased with himself for that first part.  If I get him to see me as a friend and supporter he will probably be more likely to take me up on my offer.

Brig kept his mouth shut and stayed hidden in the shadows.  Unperturbed, though he couldn’t make out the gunslinger’s face he thought the man was at least looking at him, Ed kept talking.  “It would be a great boon for our sleepy little town if you decided to stick around for awhile once you are released.  We could use the excitement, that’s for sure, and if you stick around me I can make sure you don’t get tangled up with the sheriff again.  Everyone can use someone to watch their back from time to time.

“And there’s a drunk I’d like you to meet.”   Ed frowned as he thought I wonder if I’m being too subtle, but with the sheriff standing right behind me I don’t want to come out and say what I mean.

The presumptuousness of asking a known gunfighter to kill someone he’d never met, and being asked by someone he’d never met before either, was lost on Ed.  He felt there was nothing wrong with what he was doing.

In his cell, Brig’s cold eye bored through Ed.  In his previous life he would have found a way to turn the tables on anyone who had come to him as Ed was doing then.  The humor of the situation melted away the longer Ed carried on.  He hadn’t been fond of the man before, and now Brig was finding himself truly loathing Edward Sans.

Ed’s hands fiddled with the belt loops in the front of his pants.  He was nervous and that made him more fidgety than normal.  He wasn’t sure what to say net and that made him even more nervous and therefore even more fidgety.  He hadn’t expected to be holding up so much of the conversation.  He assumed that Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, would have spoken up already, and the fact that he hadn’t made Ed even more nervous and, well, you get the idea.

“Mr. Coyle,” Ed fumbled for the right words.  All the practice and thought he had whiled away most of the day with were forgotten.  “All I’m trying to get at is to let you know you’ve got some friends in this town if you wanted to stick around once Sheriff Brown lets you out.”

Silence.

Well, near silence anyway, Ed’s heart was thumping in his chest so loudly it pounded in his ears and he was certain the other two men in the room could hear it.  He was so focused on that, and the lack of any response from Brig that he missed Cole’s stifled chuckle.

The sheriff couldn’t help it and he cut it off as soon as the sound escaped his lips but it was almost more than he could control.  He’s just looking for a friend.  And, he’s looking for a friend in a known killer while trying to ask him to kill somebody for him at the same time.  Edward Sans, you are a fool among fools.

The silence continued, aside from Ed’s pounding heart.

His hands kept up their fidgeting.  They fiddled with his belt loops and then moved to tuck his thumbs under his belt, and then moved to smooth down the front of his shirt, and then moved back to the belt loops.  He just wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.

Brig spoke up, though he did enjoy seeing Ed in discomfort, he was tired of looking at the man.  This charades has gone on long enough.

Well, almost.  There is some fun in this I just can’t resist.

“That’s mighty kind of you.  As I’ve always said (he’d never said it once before in his life), a man can never have too many friends and it’s always good to know where I’m welcome.”

The relief on Ed’s face at Brig’s words was short lived as the gunslinger rose from the shadows and drew into the light at the front of the cell.  He stuck his arms through the bars of his cell and looped them on the other side.  His body language was easy, matching the tone of his voice, but his eye was brooding and bore into Ed with a ferocity that even startled Cole.

The cow puncher took a step backwards.  He didn’t realize his feet moved.  “What…  What…  What…”  He stammered, trying to get a grasp on what his eyes were seeing, his brain couldn’t process it as fast as his eyes took it in.  Then, his thoughts managed to catch up with his mouth.

“You?  What are you doing here?  What is the meaning of this?”

Ed didn’t want to take his eyes off the man in the cell but he needed to look over his shoulder at the sheriff and see if this was all some great ruse (which it was, of course, but not the way he thought it was at the moment).  His eyes clung to el borracho as his head turned until the rotation had gone too far and then snapped around to face the sheriff.

“What is he doing in there?”

“What do you mean?”  Cole’s face was blank, expressionless, a poker player’s face concealing all manner of emotions far below the reaches of a common man’s sight.

“You said Brig Coyle was in your cell!”

Ed was shouting, something Sheriff Brown wouldn’t have normally tolerated in his jailhouse but he let it slide for the time being as any even more humorous thought occurred to him.  If Ed does something stupid here and I have to arrest him I could throw him in with Brig.

Before Cole could respond to Ed, Brig spoke for himself, “I am Brig Coyle.”

Ed studied the sheriff, ignoring the drunkard in the cell; it can’t be true, they are just playing me for a fool, thinking I’ll fall for their trick and believe el borracho is actually Brig Coyle.  It won’t work.  This won’t keep me from exacting my revenge on that drunk for making me look like a fool in the Gunnison Inn.  I’ll still get even with him.

Cole easily held Ed’s gaze and raised his eyebrows saying with the motion “it is the gunslinger whether you believe it or not.”  Ed’s face turned sour, not that hard a feat considering it wasn’t sweet to begin with, and whipped his head back around to face the man in the cell.

Brig was sure that Cole was thoroughly enjoying watching Ed squirm but all the humor in the situation had vanished for him.  “I am Brig Coyle, and it’s a good thing I’m in this cell because I’d rip you apart right now if I weren’t.

“Listen, and listen good, because unlike you, when I speak there is iron in my words.  You are an inane and cowardly man, a waste of space, and not normally worth my time but right now I’ll make an exception.

“I know why you are here.  You want to set me loose on this town so you can have some fun, but I was never like that even in my darkest days.  I would have turned on you instead of the town.  How dare you presume to come to a man like me with your cowardly ways.

“There’s a man you want me to meet…  Did you really think that a man like me would kill someone on the behest of a man such as yourself?  You have too high of an opinion of yourself and one day that is going to get you in more trouble than you can handle.  The only reason you’ve lasted this long is because you are in such a quiet and peaceful town.  If you’d had to walk the roads I’ve walked your life would have been forfeit years ago, you sniveling coward.”

On the first use of the word “coward,” Ed took a step forward, face flushed, and ready to spit words back and the man in the cell.  At the second use of the word his hand slapped down to grasp his revolver, but he didn’t pull it from the holster.  He knew that the man in the cell, el borracho, saw him make a move for his gun and yet he didn’t flinch, didn’t show an ounce of concern and kept talking at Ed without missing a beat.  The pause in his motion to draw in that split second of realization allowed his brain enough time to remember that Sheriff Brown was still standing behind him.  On the third use of the word Ed began to wonder if the man in the cell, the man he knew as el borracho, was really in fact Brig Coyle and his hand moved away from his weapon.

Brig smiled.  “That was the first smart thing you’ve done today.  Now I’m tired of looking at you so get on out of here.”  He withdrew his arms from between the bars, turned his back on Ed, and went back to the shadows.

Ed’s mind was reeling.  He didn’t know what to think, didn’t know what to believe, and in his heart he knew he was in fact a coward and the last thing he wanted was to have Brig Coyle cross with him.  Behind him he heard the locks disengaging as Cole prepared the door for his imminent departure.

Should I apologize?  Do I even think that is really Brig Coyle?  What should I do?  Should I throw down now while Cole is distracted with opening the door?

His confusion led to inaction and the moment was lost.

“Come on Ed, out you go,” Sheriff Brown held the door open.

Ed turned towards the open door but he was loath to have his back to the man in the cell so he shuffled sideways towards the opening.  As he moved his eyes swept over the Sheriff and he saw the man’s right hand firmly gripping his holstered revolver.  He shuffled faster.

As soon as Ed was clear of the precipice, Cole shut the door, reset the locks and then walked over to the cell where Brig sat on his wooden cot.  He kept his poker face on, “That was a fine speech.”

Without lighting the rest of the oil lamps it was remarkably difficult to make out Brig’s face in the gloom.  Cole briefly considered setting up getting them lit but ultimately opted against it.  He’d light them in time.  He didn’t need Brig thinking he was a coward too, friends or no friends, that wouldn’t sit well with either of them.  “Seems like Ed rubbed you the wrong way.”

“This whole mess has rubbed me the wrong way, Cole.  I’m tired of the games.  I’m tired of ‘hiding’ out in jail.  I’m tired…  Well, listen to me go on.  This is the track I’m on now because of the decisions I’ve made leading up to now.  I have no right to complain.  I know we are doing the best with the situation that we can.

“And you’ve already done more for me than most would, and more than most have in recent years, and I’m mighty thankful for that.  I can keep on for now and see where this path leads but it is looking more and more like the end isn’t going to be good.  Right now, in this moment, I see us having to make a stand and when that time comes I’ll be wanting a six-gun in my hand.”

“I reckon so.”

Chapter 34

It’s that time again.  I wonder what Brig is up to this week…?

(And don’t forget all previous chapters can be found here.)

…..

Since I know you are worried about it, yes Brig and Cole got breakfast.  Cole had previously arranged to start having their meals delivered to them for safety purposes.  He wasn’t going to shirk all of his responsibilities about the town but if he didn’t have to worry about fetching food for himself and for his prisoner three times a day that was one less worry on his mind.

Miss Marsch and Mrs. Sorensen had volunteered to deliver meals to the jail for the next few days, though in reality Mrs. Sorensen wouldn’t actually be doing the delivering.  She’d enlist the help of a neighborhood boy to carry the food down to the jail when it was ready or ask one of her tenants to run the errand for her on the days when Miss Marsch wasn’t handling the duty.

It was a simple, classic and hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and coffee and it was delicious.  Mouth wateringly good, actually.  The biscuits were golden brown, flakey, and warm still having only been pulled from the oven moments before they’d been packed up to be delivered to the jail.  The bacon was thick cut and crunchy without being burned.  The eggs were fluffy and topped with a handful of cheeses.

It was a much better breakfast than a normal prisoner would have gotten at the jail but Brig wasn’t a normal prisoner.  It was also much better than Cole had requested when he’d broached the idea with Emmalou and Mrs. Sorensen.  He put down the extra effort Emmalou put forth to whatever was budding between her and Brig.  He certainly wouldn’t expect the same kind of meals from Mrs. Sorensen.

We’ll be lucky if her contributions show up lukewarm.

After polishing off their meals, Cole left the jail to walk about town and get a feel for the comings and goings.  He left Brig the pack of cards before he left so his prisoner could entertain himself with some solitaire if he wanted.  Sheriff Brown didn’t think he’d be gone for very long but didn’t want to unduly punish his friend anymore than he already was.

I’ve already got him locked up for crimes he didn’t commit and have slandered him by saying he started drinking again.  I don’t need to bore him to death on top of all of that if I can help it.  I’ll need to remember to ask around for a chess board.  Hopefully, though, he won’t have to “rot” in their much longer.

Cole was just about finished with the first leg of the circuit he was going to walk through the busiest sections of town when he spotted Edward Sans walking towards him.  The Sheriff stopped in a bit of shade and made Ed come all the way to him.  He saw no need to have whatever conversation was about to ensue out in the exposed heat of the day.

Ed only has two of his cronies shadowing him at the moment, that’s good, though it does make me wonder where the rest of them are.  I don’t really want to worry about his hangers-on as well as the two gun men.  With any luck they’ve left town but I …

“Sheriff, I’ve got some troubling news I think you ought to hear,” Ed interrupted Cole’s thoughts.

“What’s that?”

“Brig Coyle is in town.”

“And?”

“And I thought you ought to hear that.”

“I know he’s in town, Ed, I’ve got him locked up in my jail.”

The cow puncher was a bit taken aback at that and didn’t quite know how to respond.  One of Ed’s cronies found his voice first, “What was he arrested for?”  All three men seemed somewhat surprised that Sheriff Brown would have been able to get Brig Coyle into a cell.

“Disturbing the peace, and some other minor charges; he’ll be locked up for a few days.”

The sheriff shifted his weight forward preparing to step away from the group but was halted by Ed’s hand placed firmly on his shoulder.  He looked down at the hand impeding his progress and then looked into Ed’s face.  The sheriff’s expression was not pleasant.  He didn’t like being touched in general and being touched by someone of Ed’s caliber was near intolerable.  “You’ll be wanting to remove your hand from my shoulder,” Cole practically growled.

Ed’s hand withdrew immediately and hovered an inch away before his whole arm fell back to his side.  His body weight shifted slightly away from Cole as he prepared to take a step away before his machismo kicked in and forced his body to stand firm.  He would not be frightened by the sheriff.  Well, he wouldn’t be frightened anymore than he already had been.  His two cronies, however, didn’t have the same level of machismo and they both took a step backwards.

Ed’s mind worked feverishly.  He saw the gunslinger being in town as a chance to have some real fun.  He didn’t want to challenge the famed shootist or anything as foolish as that but imagined all sorts of entertainment on display having the man unleashed about town.  He noticed Cole still glaring at him and realized he needed to say something.  “Do you mind if I stop by the jail later on and have a chat with your famous patron?”

The result was instantaneous.  Cole couldn’t help the smile as it spread and he wouldn’t have stopped it if he could help it.  Ed Sans, you are a fool.   “No, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Sheriff Brown took a step forward and the three men parted to let him pass.  As he finished making his rounds about the town he decided that letting Ed come by for a visit may not have been the wisest decision.  Once he sees who Brig Coyle is he’ll know I played him for a fool and then he’ll be out for vengeance against me every bit as much as he is against the man he knows as Jack Smith.  I doubt those other gun men left town and having them to deal with along with a stupid Ed Sans would have been bad enough.  The gun men and a stupid and angry Ed could end up being a disaster.  Then again, the whole situation is pretty much already a disaster.

 Besides, the look on Ed’s face is going to be priceless. 

The sheriff chuckled just thinking about it.

As he entered his jailhouse again and engaged the locks another thought occurred to him.  I wonder if he was going to try to hire Brig to cause trouble for “Jack?”  The thought was too much.  He doubled over, his hands on his knees, and laughed.  When he looked up to see the look of confusion on Brig’s face the laugh became so boisterous it forced tears to streak from the corners of his eyes.

When he finally calmed down enough to tell Brig the story of his encounter with Ed Sans and the ranch hand’s request the look of sheer mirth on Brig’s face sent Cole teetering towards the edge of laughter oblivion again.  The sheriff managed to control himself until Brig’s broad grin broke so the caged man could say, “I sure hope I don’t have to duel it out with myself in the street.  That could be awkward… and confusing.  I don’t see how that could possibly work out well for me whatever the outcome.”

Their eyes met, Brig tried to stay straight faced, failed, and the two men burst out laughing.