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.”
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.
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.