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?”


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?”


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


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. 


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.

Chapter 48

Very long chapter this week, lots to cover, so we better just jump right into it.

(Prior chapters can be found here.)


The doctor arrived and patched Brig up without too much ado, though a few curse words were thrown about while the gunslinger was getting stitched up.  In those agonizing moments Brig was cursing his new sobriety more than he had in weeks, but every time the bottle was offered to dull the pain he turned it down.  He most likely would have done so anyway, but having Emmalou there, her hands squeezing his for support, solidified his resolve, much to the doc’s chagrin.

Since his patient wasn’t going to drink any, he took a few pulls off the bottle, to settle his nerves throughout the stitching process.  It was bad enough that he had to work on Brig Coyle, but an injured, cursing, and still armed Brig Coyle was a more grandiose nightmare to face.  The doctor took just enough in to calm his nerves and steady his hands.  After 30 years of patching up cowboys and farmers alike, he’d learned exactly how much he could drink and still function at the highest level.

Exhausted, and hurting, Brig fell asleep in one of the empty cells after the doc was through with him.  He had tried to insist that Emmalou head home and get some rest too, but she refused to leave his side.  When Cole returned to the jail a couple hours later he found them two of them asleep with their heads leaned against one another.  He was sprawled out on a bunk, and she was seated on the floor, her back against the wall, next to him.  He chuckled under his breath and went about his business as quietly as possible.

There was a burial to arrange for Able Santz and a posse to form up to go in search of Jerry Tunston.  Sheriff Brown also needed to send out telegraphs with the description of Jerry so the neighboring towns could keep an eye out for him.  Cole didn’t actually expect the posse or any of the wires to end up helping reign in the wayward gunman, but it was his duty to put forth the effort regardless.  If I had known all the paperwork that came with this job when I was elected in, I think I would have declined.  That wasn’t true, but it always made him feel a little bit better about getting the work done when he complained about it.

The night dragged towards morning, riders came and went, wires were sent and responses were received, and his two tenants slept on.  While they rested up from their ordeal, Cole pondered their problem.  It was obvious they were smitten with each other.  It was obvious that they would know no peace while Brig was still considered the fastest, the best, while he still had “the gunslinger” attached to his name.  But how can we change that?  How can we show the world that he isn’t the man it has always been convinced he was?  And once we show everyone that, how do we ensure they believe what we are showing?

It just couldn’t be as easy as having Brig change his name again.  While el borracho had managed to remain hidden in the shadows for a good long while, even then people had been aware of who he was, of what his real name was.  It was only a matter of time before someone came gunning for him, drunk or not.  Besides, it’s already known that Brig has been living here in Gunnison.  More people will come and it won’t matter if he changes his name before then.  They will find him, no doubt about it.

Cole considered, briefly, putting out a proclamation that all who enter the town limits intent upon calling out Brig Coyle would receive zero protection from the law, and bills for any damages incurred would be sent to their surviving relatives, since they wouldn’t be around to pay themselves.  But, he knew Miss Marsch would never approve of that, joke or not.  From what he had learned of Brig he didn’t think the gunslinger would go for it either.  He doesn’t want to fight.  He never did.

 Sometimes our blessings in this world, the skills we are best at, are also our greatest curses.

When a man is fast with a gun, it doesn’t matter if he wants anything to do with that gun.  The choice is taken away from him and he is told to either keep that gun handy or to die.  We are a sad people indeed to force people into molds the way we have.

Light began to creep through the edges of the shuttered windows and under the locked door to the jail.  Day was fast approaching and his two guests for the night would soon be awake, and I have nothing to show for it. I have no good news to give them.  Cole wracked his brain trying to think of a solution, a way for Brig to remain with Emmalou in Gunnison and for the world to finally leave him alone.  Nothing.  Zip.

Brig stirred on his cot, finally causing his head to separate from Emmalou’s.  With the lack of pressure, or just the change in general, she started to stir as well and they opened their eyes at nearly the same time, blinked a few times and smiled at each other.  Cole considered two things at the moment.  The first was to throw up a little bit and he scrunched up his face as if he might just do that, and the second was to cough or something so they would know he was there.

He ended up doing neither as Brig called out to him before he made up his mind on which action to pursue, “And a fine morning to you too, Sheriff.”

“I don’t think he counts as morning if I haven’t been to bed yet.”

After blinking a few more times, trying to get her wits about her, Emmalou pushed herself off the floor, and helped Brig sit up on the edge of his cot.  While he could have sat up on his own, his injured arm was very stiff and he happily accepted the help.  The blood had done a good job soaking through the bandage the doctor had strapped over the wound but it didn’t need to be changed yet.  Soon, though, she thought as she looked Brig over to see how he was faring.

He waved her off with his good hand, smiling mischievously, and stood up on his own.  She kept her hands near him to support Brig if he ended up being unsteady on his feet, but help wasn’t needed.  Brig didn’t have the heart to tell her then that he’d suffered far worse injuries and had to ride miles before getting help and then ride miles more before being able to rest.  Of course, the booze had always helped with that, hadn’t they, he thought while scratching at his chin and walking out of the cell side by side with Emmalou.  And I was a lot younger then.  It’s amazing what you can do in your youth, when you are too foolish to realize you shouldn’t be able to.

“Well,” Brig replied, “we are up and about now, why don’t you catch a couple hours of shut-eye.  We’ll head over to Mrs. Sorensen’s and see if she’d be kind enough to supply some breakfast for the three of us.  She’s probably already heard what happened and will be expecting us anyway.”

“That woman hears news faster than the news actually happens,” Cole joked.  “Fine, off you go.  Take your time.”  Yawning, he walked them to the door and showed them out.

“We’ll bring you back some crispy bacon, and some biscuits, and some other goodies too,” Emmalou promised.

“Fine, fine.”

Cole and Brig exchanged a glance just before he started to shut the door behind them.  Cole’s expression said, “the two of you are probably safe out there today, but you need to look out for each other,” and Brig’s immediate response was, “I won’t be leaving her side.”  Then they both smiled knowingly.  Emmalou pretended not to see the exchange, but when they smiled she couldn’t help smiling too.  It was infectious, and she was glad that Brig wasn’t planning on letting her out of his sight.  She was very glad of that indeed.

“I’m going to lock myself in for now.  If you need something, or you’ve got my bacon and biscuits, and maybe a couple apples, knock loud enough and I’ll let you in.”

With that Cole shut the door, and on the other side Brig and Emmalou could hear the lock sliding home.  They took their time walking down the deserted street to Mrs. Sorensen’s.  The quiet and crisp morning air filled their lungs and rejuvenated their spirits.  The light spilling into the valley as the sun began to crest the horizon fed them energy and coaxed the flames of their souls.  Despite everything that had happened the day before and the hard decisions they knew lay ahead they were optimistic that everything would turn out okay.  They were excited about what the future would bring for them.

Neither realized that they had started walking hand in hand until they were at Mrs. Sorensen’s front porch, and they decided there was no reason to break the contact then.  However, as Emmalou reached out to swing open the screen door at the front of the house, Mrs. Sorensen’s voice carried out to them, “You better take that thing off your hip before you step foot in my house.”

Grinning, Brig reluctantly released Emmalou’s hand so he could divulge himself of the gun he still carried.  He stowed it on one of the chairs on the deck, and then took up her hand again and crossed the threshold.

Chapter 47

How’s everyone enjoying the story now?  We  are getting near the end.  Only 6 chapters to go after this one.

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


Jerry stammered in response.  He had no idea how to answer the question.  He was there to kill Brig Coyle.  He and Able had teamed up specifically just to carry out that job.  They would go their separate ways, take credit for the killing, and launch illustrious careers.  There may be some flak that two men were claiming the same death, and they may have to face each other at some point down the road to settle the matter, but that was something they’d deal with if and when they had to.  In the meantime they would be treated like celebrities for finally ridding the world of the scourge, Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.

But, that was the truth, and Jerry didn’t think that Brig actually wanted to hear the truth.  He also didn’t think that telling Brig the truth would do much for prolonging his life passed all of thirty seconds or so.  Besides, he thought, doesn’t he already know the truth of it?  And if he doesn’t want to hear the truth, what does he want to hear?  Why did he ask that question?

Jerry looked up at Brig and tried to read the man, tried to glean any information he could from body language, facial expressions, or any other sort of clue he could pick up on, but the gunslinger cast his eyes down upon him with a blank look.  It held no contempt, pity, anger, or any other tangible emotion other than indifference.  Brig was indifferent about him and that riled Jerry up to the point that he spat out the truth, his words dripping with venom.

“We came to kill you Brig.  We came to bury you in this town and profit off your death.  We were going to be the heroes that finally outgunned the notorious Brig Coyle.  We were going to be legends.”

Brig raised an eyebrow and retorted, “You don’t seem to be doing much but laying there at the moment.”

Jerry’s eyes flamed red with hatred, and more than a touch of humiliation.

Before Jerry could offer his own retort, Brig said, “Besides, we both know that Able over there was the brains of your little gang, your little tet, and things didn’t work out too well for him.”

Jerry twisted his head to see the remains of Able settled in the dust behind Brig and then he turned back to the man standing over him.

“You said, ‘We came to kill you,’ but now there is no “we.”  So, I ask again, Mr. Tunston, why are you here?”

He’s giving me an out.  The reality of the situation finally dawned on the prone man.  I could tell him I don’t know or that I’m leaving Gunnison and will never return or something along those lines and he will let me get up and walk away.  The fool.  I could get a gun and be back in a few days time and shoot him in the back as he walked down the street.

Jerry looked up at the gunslinger.  His left thumb was hooked through the belt in front of his right hip.  His right hand was in much the same position but the thumb was just resting on the belt and the butt of Able’s revolver was sticking out of the belt just in front of his hand.  He slid his vision away from the gunslinger back to the body of his cohort.  What if I missed?  What if someone saw me in town before I could get the jump on him?  We had him out numbered and unarmed and he still managed to get the better of us.

 He’s offering me a chance to walk away now and if I don’t take it he probably won’t offer me that same chance next time around.  I’ll end up like Able. 

 What other choice do I have?

“Well, Mr. Coyle, I’m not really sure anymore.”  His words lacked the venom from moments earlier and reverted to a slow drawl, filled with as much pleasantry as he could stomach.  “I think I don’t belong here anymore, that’s for sure and perhaps the time has come for me to move along and seek employment elsewhere.”

Brig read Jerry while he spoke and determined that the man was most likely leaning toward walking away.  There was a part of him that wanted to come back guns blazing and still try and grab a hold of the glory he was certain would follow but Brig was fairly certain that once Jerry left Gunnison he would never return.  He had tried to bring down the famous gunslinger once and the horror of the experience would haunt him forever more.  He hadn’t even gotten a single gunshot off through the whole fight.

“I’m going now Mr. Tunston.  I’m going to gather up my picnic supplies and then the lady and I are going to walk back to town.  I’d prefer if you stayed right where you are until we are gone.  Then I might suggest you get out of here as quickly as you can because we’ll be sending the Sheriff back up here to collect whatever is left up here to be collected.  You probably shouldn’t be here when he gets here to deal with Able.”

Brig took another step closer to Jerry, his boots were less than an inch from the man’s side, and then he leaned over so their faces were only a couple feet apart.  Brig’s eye bore into Able’s head.  The indifference was gone.  And while it wasn’t replaced with anger or contempt, it was replaced with meaning and Able believed Brig when the gunslinger said, in slightly more than a whisper, “If I see you back in Gunnison, I will kill you.”

With that, Brig righted himself and turned on his heel.  “Emmalou, I think it’s time we headed back to town, if you would be so kind as to help me wrap up our little picnic I would greatly appreciate it.”  Without a word Emmalou quickly collected the corners of the blanket and without ceremony stuffed the whole lot into the basket.  Brig offered her his right arm and together they walked back into town where they headed straight to Sheriff Brown’s office: the jail.

Cole did a quick patch job on Brig’s shoulder, staunching the flow of blood with some rags, and then went in search of the doctor before then gathering up a few good men to go check the hillside for any sign of Jerry Tunston and to collect the body of Able Santz.  While the sheriff was on his errand, Emmalou and Brig enjoyed the quiet and solitude the jail afforded them ahead of the doctor’s arrival.

Brig could tell that she was shaken, that she was nearing collapse and was very worried that she had finally seen in him everything she had assumed was there.  She had seen him as the man she thought she’d witnessed all those years ago in Wyoming.  He waited patiently for her eyes to meet his, knowing what he would see in them, and he sighed inwardly.  She will be through with me now for sure.

When her eyes finally did meet his, all he saw there was pain.  It wasn’t pain for herself, it was pain from worry and concern for him, for his injuries, for the life he’d been living.  It was the pain of finally understanding everything he’d been through.  It was the pain that comes with loving someone.

He hardly felt the throbbing in his shoulder at all after that.

Chapter 46

Another long chapter this time around.  It’s a good one though and worth the time to read through it.

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


The events of the crashed picnic flooded back into Emmalou’s consciousness quickly, before her instinct to scream again could be carried through with.  Brig’s left hand was outstretched over her, held carefully inches away, but firmly not moving to make sure she didn’t budge from her spot on the ground.  The gunslinger’s right hand held the revolver which moments before had been pointed in her face.  She followed along the sight line and saw that it was aimed at the second of the two men who had disrupted her picnic with Brig.

She could see the crumpled mass of a man next to Brig’s kneeling body but she refused to look at it and acknowledge what it meant that she was still alive.  She was grateful to be alive, there was no doubt about that, and grateful that Brig had done what he had needed to in order to ensure her continued life but that didn’t mean she would ever be comfortable with seeing someone else die.

The second man stirred again and Brig called over to him, “Don’t move or I will shoot you.”  The stirrings ceased immediately.  Brig quickly turned his head back to Emmalou, saw that she was awake and relief flooded his face before he turned his attention back to their attacker.  He switched the position of his left hand from holding Emmalou in place to offering it to her.  She took it and he pulled her up while rising from the kneeling position at her side.  His eye never left the man on the ground.

Once they were up, Brig released Emmalou’s hand and took a step closer to the man on the ground.  He moved in front of her to shield her and to keep his seeping shoulder wound away from her.  The loss of blood was continuing to sap his strength and if he didn’t wrap up the situation quickly he would be in trouble.

He heard Emmalou gasp a little as he stepped in front of her.  She must have seen the wound.  He hadn’t actually looked at it yet because he had needed to keep his attention elsewhere so far but he knew it couldn’t be all that bad because he was still alive, he was still standing, and he still had use of his arm.  It was probably just a nasty flesh wound.  I’ve had worse.

The unmistakable sound of movement didn’t surprise Brig as he assumed that Miss Marsch was probably stepping further away from the unfolding scene of carnage, but he was surprised when she instead stepped to his side and placed a hand on his outstretched gun arm.  He hazarded a glance in her direction.  Her expression was grave, full of concern for his well being and full of concern for what his intentions were for the man on the ground.

“What are you going to do, Mr. Coyle?”

“I don’t know.”

Brig couldn’t hold her gaze any longer and returned to looking at their assailant.  He wracked his mind for a solution but none was forth coming.


The one-eyed gunslinger frowned.  There is no solution.  There is nothing I can do to keep others from coming after me in the future.  If I kill this man the story will get around eventually and more gun toting idiots will come hunting for me.  If I don’t kill him there is no way to know if he won’t come back looking for glory again.  Why shouldn’t he?  If I’m not prepared to kill him now he has nothing to fear in future encounters. 

 Crap and double crap.


He looked over to Emmalou again.  She hadn’t removed her hand from his arm and she was indicating with a small downward push that it was okay for him to lower the weapon.  Her expression, though still full of concern, had switched slightly to include a hint of sadness.  She had guessed at the thoughts that plagued him and understood the dilemma he faced.

He didn’t lower the weapon, though.  It wouldn’t be a long term solution, only his own death would bring that, but killing the man that had taken part in his most recent trials and tribulations would be a short term solution.  He wouldn’t have to worry about that particular gun man anymore and it could possibly delay the amount of time that passed before the next glory hunters came into Gunnison looking for him.  It would be so easy to pull the trigger.  I’ve done it so many times before.

 But… those were all in self defense, right?  How many unarmed men have I killed over the years?  How can I claim to not be the villain that Miss Marsch believed me to be when we first met if I pull the trigger now?

 I can’t.

Still, his gun arm did not waver.


He caught the hammer with his thumb and released it from its locked position before easing it down.  Slowly, he dropped his arm to his side and then tucked the revolver into his belt on his front right side.  He normally wouldn’t have wanted it there but he still wasn’t entirely sure what he would end up doing and wanted it handy in case he needed it again.

Brig briefly turned and smiled at Emmalou before taking another two steps towards their second attacker.  Blood continued to ooze from Brig’s wound but he didn’t let his steps falter.  He needed to appear strong and menacing despite how he truly felt.

Emmalou did not follow him.  The hand that had rested on his gun arm came together with her other hand in front of her, clutched together just below her neck, and firmly pressed against the uppermost part of her sun dress.  She chewed her bottom lip and transferred her weight from one foot to the other, back and forth, in a nervous jig.

An errant breeze rolled across the valley, catching a few strands of her fiery hair and sending them cascading across her face.  The sun continued to dip down into the west, sending long shadows streaming out from everything.  Brig’s shadow seemed twenty feet tall.

He had saved her life and in the moment, in her mind, he was twenty feet tall.  She would always remember Wyoming, but she could see it from his perspective now and the last shreds of doubt about the type of man Brig Coyle was were ripped from her even as the wind coming out of the mountain passes ripped the weeds from the parched summer earth and sent them tumbling.

Suddenly, Gunnison didn’t seem as important as it once had.  She could stay or not.  It depends on him.  If he needs to leave, to keep on the move to stay away from men like these, then I will follow him.  If he wants to stay, then we will face whatever challenges come our way together.

The thoughts came unbidden and she was taken aback by them.  I’m in trouble.  But, she didn’t have any extra time to delve into them because Brig addressed the man on the ground.

“What’s your name?”

“Tunston.”  He spat the word out.  He eyed Brig with a mixture of contempt and fear.  He knew his life was over and was angry with Brig for prolonging the inevitable.  He was also afraid of dying, that great unknown, and that fear added to his anger.  His hands itched to have a firearm in them so he could fight for his life.

“Your full name?”

“Jerry Tunston.”

“And the name of “Scar” over there?”

“Able Santz.”

Brig hadn’t heard either of their names before.  Jerry could have been giving false names but with the very real possibility of death hanging over his head, Mr. Tunston, had no reason left to lie.  Amateurs.  Brig let the moment lapse and slide, prolonging Jerry’s discomfort and further cementing his control on the situation.  He could hear Emmalou shuffling nervously behind him.  He could hear Jerry’s ragged breath as the fear worked further into his heart.  He could hear a hawk flapping lazily in the wind above their little scene.

When his gut told him it had been long enough, he asked another question:  “Mr. Tunston, why are you here?”