Chapter 21

Howdy!  Old West days are here again… oh, how I wish they could stay, or at least show up more often.  Hmm, maybe if I can ever get around to finishing this book I can see about posting these more than once a week.  I’ve got some work to do.  In the meantime, enjoy this new chapter and if you need to catch up, you can find the previous 20 chapters here.

……….

The rest of his morning passed without incident.  When his shift was up he roused Dan and went to see Sheriff Brown.  It’s better if it comes from me.  He was worried he might miss Emmalou if he didn’t head straight to Mrs. Sorensen’s but he had a feeling she wouldn’t show up for awhile if she showed up at all.  Besides, this is going to be a short conversation.  He either won’t care and I can go about my business, or he will care and he’ll escort me to the edge of town.

He found Cole at his desk, leaned back in his chair, boots propped up on the desk, and his hat pulled down over his eyes.  “Afternoon,” he said without moving.  He didn’t have to, who knew who it was, as we’ve covered before.

“Afternoon Sheriff, something I wanted to discuss with you if you’ve got a minute.”

“Not doing anything right now so you are in luck, take a seat, what can I do for you?”  The sheriff took his feet off the desk, repositioned his hat, sat up straight in his chair, and motioned to the chair across the desk from him.  “It’s not like I was sleeping anyway.”

Brig smiled, “You aren’t going to make me feel guilty about waking you. I know you weren’t sleeping.  I’m not sure you ever sleep.”

“I reckon you may be right about that.”  He had a mischievous grin.  “What’s on your mind?”

“Well, I wanted you to get the truth from me before you heard it from someone else and there isn’t really a good way to sugar coat this anyway so I’ll just come out with it.  I’m Brig Coyle.”

Cole leaned forward in his seat, elbows down on the desk, palms pressed together, eyebrows bunched together, “The Brig Coyle?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you were dead?”

“Obviously, those rumors aren’t true.”

“And the rest of the rumors about you?”

“Some are true, others aren’t.”

“I reckon so,” he leaned back into his chair and studied the man seated across from him.  Brig Coyle, the one-eyed gunslinger, the greatest pistolero since Wild Bill, murderer and scourge of the earth in my town, how do I feel about that?  Or, is he just el borracho, another rehabilitating drunk?  He hasn’t shown any hint that he is the man the stories speak of.  Perhaps the booze changed him?  Perhaps whatever led him to the booze in the first place changed him?

“Well, thank you for telling me.  You haven’t done anything to make me want to run you out of town yet, and I hope that doesn’t change.  He kicked his boots back up on the desk and lowered his hat over his eyes again.  “Now, you got anything else for me or can I get back to my nap?”

“Well, I’m going to be meeting with Emmalou Marsch this afternoon.  She recognized me and called me out this morning.”

The sheriff tilted his hat back and lifted an eyebrow, suddenly very interested.

“I’m going to try and convince her I’m not the man from the stories anymore, if I ever was completely, and I’m just trying to start a peaceful life here.  If I can’t convince her to give me a chance to prove myself, I promised her I would move on before the trouble my name attracts comes calling.”

“You’ll probably have a better chance of getting her to listen to you if you aren’t wearing that sidearm.”

“It’s coming off the second I get back to Mrs. Sorensen’s.  Do you have any news on the Ed front?”

“I sent a rider out there last night as promised.  I haven’t heard back yet.  I should hear something by this evening and I’ll swing by Mrs. Sorensen’s and fill you in on my rounds later.”

Brig got up to leave and then stopped himself.  He rested his hand on the butt of the revolver at his hip and briefly considered what to do before making up his mind.  “You better hang on to this for me for the time being.  I don’t think I’ll need it right now.  I’ve made it a few years now without carrying a gun.  One more afternoon won’t see the end of me.  I’ll swing back by tomorrow on my way to work and pick it up.”

He unstrapped the tie-downs and unbuckled the belt, coiled it neatly, and handed it across the desk to the sheriff.  There was a moment as it traded hands where the sheriff sensed that Brig wasn’t going to in fact let go and then he was holding them alone.

Brig turned and was to the door when the sheriff chimed in again, “You better be careful with Emmalou, she’s a firecracker.”

The one-eyed gunslinger paused in the doorway, without turning back he said, “Thanks for the warning sheriff.  She did make quite the impression.”  Then the door was swinging shut and he had disappeared into the afternoon sun.

Sheriff Brown stared at the shut door.  Then he shut his eyes, re-positioned his hat pulling it down low to cover his eyes, leaned back into his seat into his resting position, and said “I reckon so.”

Chapter 20

Another Thursday is upon us pardners… and you know what that means, right?!  We step away from our modern lives and venture into the old west for another chapter out of my work in progress.

You can see all the previous chapters here.

………

The first weak rays of morning light forced their way through the east facing windows.  Brig donned his hat, and took a step towards Emmalou, his arms stretched in front of him, slightly splayed apart and his palms up in a universal gesture of peace and truce.  “Mam, this is no place for a lady to be, especially so early in the morning.  I don’t want anyone getting the wrong sort of impression about you.”

Emmalou blushed.  She hadn’t considered that her presence in a bar might start defamatory rumors.  She had been so intent upon her mission to see Mr. Coyle leave the town she had banished all other normal considerations.  Is he really concerned about my image, or is this some trick to make me think he has changed his ways?  How can I trust him?  How can I learn the truth of what is actually going on here?  How can I ever move on from the image of him I have seared in my mind?

There is so much sadness behind his eyes.  That has to be real, doesn’t it?  He can’t fake that, could he?

“I would be happy to try and dispel any concerns you have over my staying but perhaps we can find a more suitable time and place?  My shift ends a little after lunch.  We can meet at Mrs. Sorensen’s, enjoy some of her fine sun tea and chat out on her porch.  I’ll listen to your concerns and provide my answers as I can, and if I can’t either convince you that I have changed or that I deserve a chance to call Gunnison my home, then I will leave and never return.  Is that acceptable?”

She was momentarily lost, her mind was reeling, and she couldn’t get a thought to stay long enough to transfer it into words.  Her inquisition hadn’t gone at all like she had thought it would.  She nodded her head in consent, found the handle and was out into the morning light, not fleeing, but walking briskly towards her home.  At that moment she wasn’t sure if she would meet Brig that afternoon or what she was going to do but she was grateful to be out of the bar and headed home where she could clear her mind and think through the morning’s events uninterrupted, unencumbered, and without distraction.

Brig watched her go until the swinging door cut her off from view and then he immediately turned towards Dan.  The movement caught Reilly by surprise.  The big man recoiled a step until he noticed that Brig had kept his arms out in the “I mean you no harm” position.   He steadied himself and surveyed his employee with new eyes.

“I’m still the man you hired.  I’m a no-good drunk just trying to turn my life around.  I’m el borracho ever so much more than I am Brig Coyle.  Though who I was will always be a part of who I am, I promise I am not that man anymore.”

“I see that,” Dan replied.  “I see you clearly, but it will be hard to ignore the stories that go with your name.  It will be doubly hard for the people in this town to ignore those stories when they haven’t had the interaction with you that Cole and I have.  She is right.  The town is going to want you to leave.”

The tension relieved, Brig dropped his arms to his side.  “I know.   They always do.

“It’s not the first time I’ve tried to start over.  It’s not the first town I stumbled into drunk, tried to sober up only to be recognized and fall willingly back into the bottle as they chased me out of town.  I’ve been down these tracks before.  But, I don’t want to drown my memories in booze this time.

“I want to set el borracho aside for good.  Maybe part of problem was trying to be Jack Smith, or Kit Williams, or Morgan Young or any of the other aliases I’ve used over the years.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been trying to be someone I’m not.  Okay, I’m Brig Coyle.  I’m not the Brig Coyle everyone thinks they know, but from now on I’m not going to hide behind some other name.  I’m not going to hide in a bottle either.

Well, I’m a drunk, so that really isn’t something I can guarantee.  I’ll do my best not to hide in a bottle ever again, that’s the truth.”

Dan said nothing.  Like Emmalou his mind was a torrent of thought, running through every story he had heard about Brig Coyle and weighing those against what he knew of the man that had been working for him the past few weeks.  It was hard to see the recovering alcoholic living up to the legends of the gunman.  It would have been easier to believe that el borracho wasn’t Brig Coyle.

The door swung open and the day’s first business sauntered in.  He stopped in his tracks because Dan and Brig were blocking his path to the bar, “You open this morning?”

“Of course,” Brig replied and left Dan’s side to move to his place behind the counter.  The man followed him and took a seat in one of the stools.  Dan remained rooted to his spot.  “What can I get you?”  As he asked, Brig was already reaching for a glass and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.  The patron was a regular who always ordered the same thing, two shots of bourbon to clear out the dirt and dust from the mine as he made his way home.

“The usual.”

The two shots were poured and placed in front of the man.  Brig placed the stopper back in the bottle and returned it to it’s proper place.  “Dan, you need something too?”

“No,” Dan said finally breaking out of his revelry.  “I’m going to go catch some sleep.  You are all set here.  Wake me if the lunch crowd gets to be more than you can handle.  Otherwise don’t wake me until you are headed out for the afternoon.”  With that the big man made his way to his chambers.

With that, Brig knew that at least for the time being he still had a job and had the trust and friendship of Dan Reilly.  He worried that he would be able to sway the sheriff into staying in his corner but he didn’t worry that much.  Sheriff Brown is a cagey fellow and he already knew that I was more than I seemed.  Pinning my real name on me shouldn’t change his opinion of me that much.  Swaying Emmalou to trust me, well, that may be nigh on impossible.

A second patron pushed open the door and made his way up to the counter, another regular, and Brig gave the newcomer an inviting smile.  “What can I get ya?”

Chapter 18

Ready for another installment in my western?  Here you go!

Oh, and if you need to know what’s going on, this right here might be helpful.

………

She was of medium height, good figure, wearing a sundress befitting the heat of the coming day and a shawl across her shoulders to ward off the morning chill.  Her hair, pulled into a bun at the back of her head, was that reddish blonde color where it wavered from one to the other depending on the light and never seemed to stop shimmering even when she stood still.  The flickering light from the oil lamps around the bar sparkled in her fierce blue eyes.  Even with the anger and revile etched across her face she was still easy to look at.

El borracho’s heart skipped a beat.  She is beautiful.

Jack Smith’s heart skipped a beat.  What is a woman, of obvious high standing in the community, doing in a bar?  And what is she doing here this early in the morning?  The sun isn’t even out yet.

Brig Coyle’s heart skipped a beat.  Which one of me does she know?  I don’t recognize her so hopefully she knows me as either Jack or el borracho or one of my other baser aliases.  Please don’t let her know me as Brig.  I don’t need that name thrown in my face right now.  I don’t need the people of this quiet town to know who I truly am.

All that inner-turmoil dialogue transpired before Dan could even turn in his seat to see who the newcomer was.  He had just managed to get a good look at the woman himself when el borracho responded.

“I’m sorry, mam, I’m not sure what you mean.  I’m just a drunk working on turning my life around thanks to the help of the good sheriff and this man here,” he pointed at Dan.  “If I did something to offend or bother you while in one of my drunken fugues I’m truly sorry and I’d be happy to repay you in any way I can.”

She briefly looked unsure of herself, her brow furrowed as she held her own internal court about the man that stood in front of her.  Her beautiful blue eyes briefly flicked over to Dan, who for his part was sitting motionless on his stool at the bar taking in the scene, before returning to Brig.  Her mind made up, she took a purposeful step further into the bar, planted her feet, and pointed at Brig.

“Sure, you may be a drunk, you may be lots of things now, but that’s not who you used to be.”

She was going to say more and Brig couldn’t allow that.  He couldn’t allow her to say his name.  He couldn’t allow her to bring that storm down upon him.  Brig took a step towards the lady and started yammering on about the follies of his recent drunken past.

Her resolve faltered when she saw him step toward her and she involuntarily took a step back.  He took another step forward and she retreated again.  He took a third step towards her and she backed into the closed door.  If she wanted to flee further she would have to turn her back on him and wrench the door open.  Brig saw her hand start up the door, trying to find the handle without taking her eyes off him.  He took another step forward thinking that would be enough to send her scurrying into the street.

Unfortunately, the steel resolve returned to her eyes.  Having her back against the wall had literally added support to her spine and her hand stopped seeking the handle and instead pointed at Brig again.  El borracho raised his voice and continued spouting off about how sorry he was that he had been addicted to booze and how sorry he was that he had caused her some trouble and how if she gave him a chance he would make it up to her and prove that he turned over a new leaf in his life, he had gotten his train on the right tracks finally.

“Brig Coyle,” she said, loud enough for Dan to her it clearly from his stool over Brig’s chatter.

My God, el borracho thought, even her voice is beautiful.

Jack Smith thought nothing because Jack Smith was no more.  Only Brig, and el borracho, remained.  And el borracho will always be a part of who I am now.

Brig Coyle stopped talking.  The damage had been done.  Behind him he could hear Dan’s glass hitting the counter top as it dropped from nerveless fingers.  He didn’t need to see the look of fear on his employer’s face to know it was there.  He had seen it on countless faces before.  That look haunted his dreams.

“Brig Coyle,” she said, “you are a murderer.”

Crap.

Chapter 17

Thursday already?  How did that happen.  Here’s another chapter in the western I’m writing.  If I was titling chapters, this one would be called: The Lady Enters from Stage Left.

Go here if you need to catch up.

………

No, he didn’t drink.  Honestly, who are you rooting for in this story?  You should be ashamed.

Brig removed his borrowed revolver, wrapped the belt around the holster and placed it on a shelf under the counter.  Then he went to work sweeping the floor just as if it was any other morning.  It was just another morning.  He was there to work and there was work to be done.  Wearing a gun didn’t change that.

After he had swept and mopped, and while he was busy replacing the stock pile of bottles Dan emerged from his room to survey Jack’s progress and noticed the gun tucked away under the counter.  The sight caused him to raise his eyebrows but the large man said nothing.  It wasn’t his place to speak for or against Jack carrying a gun in general.  It was his place though, the Gunnison Inn, so he was happy the man wasn’t wearing the weapon while he worked.   Truth be told, he was pleased to see that Jack was willing to take steps to protect himself rather than just being bullied or gun-downed by Ed and his miscreants uncontested.

People need to stand up against the evil in this world.  Dan was a firm believer in that.  He was also a firm believer in clean floors and a stiff drink.  Jack had taken care of the former, so he poured himself a couple fingers of the good whiskey and took care of the latter.  It was early, yes, but sometimes a day called for an early start on those sorts of things.  I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those days, he thought as the smooth smoky brown liquid kissed his taste buds.

El borracho saw Reilly take the drink but said nothing.  It was Dan’s bar, Dan’s booze, and Dan could do whatever he pleased.  That seems reasonable enough to me.

With the morning’s chores accomplished Jack took up his customary spot behind the bar waiting for the first customers of the day.  Dan took one of the stools directly across from him and asked for a re-fill.  Jack obliged but didn’t let the second round go without comment.

“Awfully early to be putting away as much as you are, isn’t it?”

Dan nodded his head in response, letting it slowly bob back and forth in agreement, and took the drink that had been proffered at the same time the question was asked.  He took a sip and set the glass down on the counter.

“Something troubling you?”  An interesting question for a gun toting drunk to ask his employer, el borracho thought while studying Dan’s reaction.  Well, there was no reaction, so there wasn’t really anything for him to study but he observed the lack of reaction just as keenly as if there had been one.  For his part, Dan sat unmoving on his bar stool, coolly looking back across at his employee.

Unmoving, that is, until his lips formed his response.  “Well, Jack, I wouldn’t exactly use the word “troubling,” but I guess there are things weighing on my mind this morning.  Don’t you ever just wake up and know that it’s going to be the kind of day you’ll only be able to get through with a drink in your hand?”

That is a silly question to ask a drunk.  El borracho said nothing.

Dan frowned.  “I’m sorry about that, Jack.  In truth, I’m none too comfortable with the recent escalation of events around here.  Sure Ed is a no good whatchamacallit, but it sure seems that he is behaving worse and worse recently.”

Brig said nothing, he just let the man talk.

“Perhaps that is our fault for never reining him in before.  If we hadn’t let him get away with the petty nuisances and crimes he’s committed since he first started working at Blunt’s spread maybe…  Well, maybe he would have been put in his place or moved on a long time ago.  Nothing we can do about it now, I guess.  We’ve laid these tracks ourselves and now we have to see where they go.

“Anyway, the long and the short of it is I felt like a drink this morning.  The first one went down real smooth and so I decided to have a second.  I’m all done after this one though.

“Well…  All done for this morning.  It could be a really long day.  I may be forced to have another one or two this afternoon.”  Dan winked at Jack when he said the word “forced” and Jack couldn’t help but smile.

Silly, crazy, fool.  Though I guess I am much the same, aren’t I.  “I’m sorry for my part in all of this,” el borracho said in response.

“You’ve nothing to apologize for.  You’re just playing the game as you see fit, doing the same as anyone would, trying to see each day out and make it to the next one.  I may be drinking to calm my nerves this morning, but I wouldn’t want to trade for your position in this game, and you’ve been handling yourself with aplomb without the aid of any liquid courage.  Now that’s an accomplishment worth raising a glass.”

Dan did just that.

The twinkle in his eye as he took another few sips before returning the glass to the counter was not lost on Brig.  Both men had seen the irony in drinking a toast to sobriety and while Brig didn’t share in the mirth to the same extent as his employer he allowed himself a chuckle all the same.

“Well,” he said, “you’re the boss.  You let me know if there is anything I can do to ease the concerns that are leading you to partake so early, but in the meantime if I’m still here this afternoon when you need your next round I’ll happily set them up for you.”  With that Jack made his way out from behind the bar to do one last sweep of the place before the first customers of the day started filing in.

He was halfway through the room when the door opened and she walked in.  He didn’t recognize her but the glare in her eyes and the five words she spoke turned his day upside down.

“I know who you are.”

Chapter 16

Another Thursday and another segment in the western I’m writing.  It started as a comedy… Is it still one?

If you want to start from the beginning, you should go here.

……….

The weight felt natural at his hip.  He had been concerned it would make him feel awkward and clumsy when he walked around, but it actually made him feel more complete than he had since he started drinking.  It made him finally feel almost normal, almost the way he had felt before that day all those years ago when he had first crawled up inside a whiskey bottle to hide from who he had become.  That scared him a little bit.  Okay, in truth, that scared him a lot and he came close to taking the holster off and returning it to Sheriff Brown right after he’d put it on.

Cole, as it turned out, had quite a collection of firearms at his disposal that were not town issued.  He’d brought most of them with him from his life before he had ended up in Gunnison.  Though, he’d come to town as a drunk just like Jack, his arrival had been under slightly better circumstance and he’d still had most of his possessions.  He hadn’t gotten quite to the point where he’d needed to start selling things to pay for his booze addiction.  It had been close though.

He selected a 7 ½ inch barrel Colt for Jack, and handed over the matching holster, a right handed low hung tie-down, and some shells.  The sheriff watched as Jack expertly checked the action, strapped on the holster and swung the gun into it.  He wiggled the butt a few times to check how snug the gun was held in place, and only when satisfied did he use the tie-downs to securely strap the bottom to his leg.  Then he pulled the revolver in one smooth action, quickly slotted home the cartridges, and dropped the gun back into the holster without having to look or guide it home with his other hand.

Who are you?  Cole was plagued by even more questions about Jack’s past and wondered if he had done the right thing in arming the man.  This was funny because at that same moment, jack was wondering the exact same thing.

He was no longer the one-eyed gunless gunslinger that had been thrown from the train.  Neither man was quite sure how comfortable they were with that fact.

Well, he trusted me, Cole thought, I’ve got to trust him.  He came to me for help and this is the help I can provide.  I’ve got to trust him to stay sober and not use that firearm unless he absolutely has to.  “How does it feel?”

Jack didn’t answer.  El borracho didn’t answer.  Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, the man he was before he had become Jack and before he had become el borracho, answered, “I’m not sure yet.”

“Well,” Cole replied, “I’m going to take it as a good sign that you seem to be just as uncomfortable having that thing on your hip as I am with you having that thing on your hip.”  He smiled and slapped Jack (he didn’t know it was Brig Coyle) on the back to help break the tension that had suddenly begun to build up in the room.  “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink to celebrate the occasion.”

Not funny, Brig thought and gave no answer.

That wasn’t funny, Cole thought too.  Now what?

“It’s getting pretty late, and I’ve got to be at the bar early tomorrow for my shift, I think I should probably head back to Mrs. Sorensen’s and try to get some rest.”

“You aren’t going to wear that iron while you are working, are you?”

“No, and I won’t wear it in Mrs. Sorensen’s either.  Probably will only be on while I’m walking back and forth to work and maybe on some of the errands I run around town, like going to the jail to visit you.”

Sheriff Brown surveyed el borracho for another couple of seconds.  He had a pit in his stomach and he was trying to put his finger on why he’d be getting that feeling.  Jack wore the revolver easily enough, and it was obvious he knew his way around a gun so he wouldn’t be a danger to himself with it.  He might very well be a danger to others though, but is it more important to let him have the means to protect himself, or to protect those that might cause him harm instead?  I guess I’ve already made my choice since he has the gun strapped on.

Brig had a pit in his stomach too but he knew exactly why it was there.

“I’m going to get this message out to Richard Blunt by tomorrow morning.  Just try and steer clear of Ed and his cronies for a few days until we see if he was able to get Ed called in and put to work again.  Can you do that?”

“I’ll do my best.”  I don’t want to use this anymore than you don’t want me to use it.

With that they parted ways.  Cole went on the first of his nightly walks around town making sure everything was in order and Brig, Jack, el borracho walked back to Mrs. Sorensen’s where he slipped into his room unnoticed, took the gun belt off immediately, and slung it from the side of his bed.

With the weight gone from his hip he felt almost naked: exposed and vulnerable.  In response to that feeling he checked the lock on his door before turning in for the night.  However, in total conflict, he was also relieved to have removed the gun from his side.  That relief wasn’t enough to save him from the nightmares that haunted his dreams that night.

He dreamed a small desert town in Arizona, a card game being played in a saloon, someone tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention.  He knew it was a dream at that point.  He knew it was more memory than dream too but he couldn’t wake up.  He needed to see it to understand the responsibility he had whenever he wore a gun.

He recognized the man that had tapped him on the shoulder, but the man’s face changed before a name came to his mind, and then it changed again and kept on changing.  He knew each of the faces though he could never put a name to any of them.  The man said something, Brig knew this only because his lips had moved, no words ever reached his ears and then he went for his pistol.

Brig was faster.  He was always faster, and the man with the ever changing face evaporated as the slug pierced him.  Somewhere nearby a woman screamed, and people shouted his name: “Brig, Brig, Brig!”  Chaos erupted and he was in the thick of a brawl.  He was struck by something heavy and tumbled to the floor of the saloon, his gun went skittering away from him to disappear under the mass of trampling feet.  There was blood everywhere and still the woman screamed.  Her voice rose in a high pitched crescendo until it felt like his head would explode.

“Enough!”  El borracho screamed into the empty, pitch black room.  He had woken from his dream, drenched in sweat, and full of the same raw emotions he had felt on that day: rage, fear, and, most overpoweringly, shame.  He rose and splashed water on his face from the basin near his door.  From the position of the light filtering through his window he knew it was close enough to the time he needed to be awake anyway there was no sense in trying to go back to sleep.  The moonlight glinted off the exposed steel of the revolver’s cylinder, catching his eye.  He ignored it and stepped across the room to the window to put the gun behind him.

“Maybe I’m not ready to be wearing a gun again,” he whispered to the night.  “Maybe I deserve whatever Ed dishes out to me.  I’ve never wronged him, but I’ve done enough in my life that would warrant that kind of end.

“How could I have known the kid would draw on me?”  What was he doing there in the first place?  Why was he there?  Why did he force my hand?  Why did I allow my hand to be forced?  Maybe there was a different way it could have been handled?  Those questions, and more, haunted his waking mind just as the memory had haunted his dreams.

“I need a drink.”

Brig turned away from the window and walked to the post where he’d hung the revolver the night before.  He strapped the holster across his hips and tied it down.  Then he exited his room and bypassed his customary stop by the kitchen to bid Mrs. Sorensen a good day and instead headed straight to the Gunnison Inn.  He took side streets to avoid running in to anyone using the main streets at that early hour and arrived at the bar unnoticed, unseen.

He pushed open the door and stepped inside.