Chapter 14 Laying the Groundwork
Bret had to shake his head to make sure he'd heard the words right. Beau sat on his horse dumbfounded. Neither man knew what to think. Was Bart serious, or was he just trying to put a scare into the old man?
Edgar continued to stand in the door to his home, stunned into silence by the promise. Bart nonchalantly tipped his hat to Pike, turned on his heel and walked back to his horse. He mounted and headed for town. Bret and Beau turned their horses around and followed the youngest Maverick. The three of them rode silently back through the gate and continued on the road to Silver Creek. No one spoke all the way back to the hotel.
When they arrived in town Beau took the horses back to the livery and Bret and Bart went in to the hotel dining room. Bret just got coffee but Bart actually ordered food. He still had a way to go to get back up to his 'fighting weight' but Bret was happy to see that Bart's statement to Pike hadn't cost him his appetite.
"Uh, Brother Bart, what you said to Edgar – "
"You weren't serious, were you?"
Bart had his fork raised and full of food but stopped halfway to his mouth when Bret asked the question. He set the fork down on the plate and looked at his older brother with a strange scowl. "Do you really have to ask me that?"
Bret remembered the tone in Bart's voice as he threatened Pike. "Yes."
Bart sat perfectly still and looked Bret right in the eyes. "Of course not. I thought that a little fear would be the least that I could pass along to him. You know me better than that."
Yesterday Bret would have bet his life on it. Today he wasn't so sure. "Bart?"
This time Bart just raised his eyebrow in response.
"Are you sure?"
Bart put his utensils completely down and pushed away his plate. His eyes were twinkling but his tone was dead serious. "Bret, I've had enough head and neck injuries to last a lifetime. Do you really think I'd be dumb enough to risk a noose around my neck just for the sheer pleasure of killing that man?"
It was the tone of voice that made Bret question his brother. "I thought you were going to die. I can't go through that again."
Bart chuckled at Bret's serious countenance. "Quit worrying. I'm not going to kill anyone, especially Pike. He didn't do the beating, he just paid for it."
Bret dropped the subject but something about their exchange still bothered him. He'd talk to Beau when they got to the saloon.
"I'm going down to 'Mavericks.' Are you up to it?"
"Sure." There was that word again. "About time I sat down to play poker with somebody besides Jody. See if I still know how."
"Don't play with me, Bart. You cheat when we play."
"Bret, how can you say that? You cheat, too, when we play. Besides, I need to see how well my head works in a real game, not that stuff you're over there dealin'."
"Just remember when you insult me that Pappy taught me first. I know things you've never thought of."
The younger Maverick laughed outright at that. "Yes, brother dear, but he taught me best."
It was the first time Bart had been back to the saloon in months. Harry was happy to see him and introduced him to their new bartender, Alvin. Lettie came over to hug him and Georgia emerged from her office long enough to give him a kiss on the cheek. Harry poured him a coffee and Bart took it gratefully. Then he went looking for a nice, quiet little poker game and found one without too much trouble. The skills were still there and it wasn't long into the game before Bart was winning almost every hand.
Bret wasn't ready to sit down and run his table for the night so he stayed at the bar and talked to Harry for a while. When Beau came in he went straight to Georgia's office but was back out in 10 or 15 minutes. He sat down at a table on the far end of the room and waved Bret over. Bret brought his coffee and set it down, then looked at Beau seriously. "There's something we need to talk about."
"You mean besides Bart's little show this morning?" Beau's tone was flippant but his eyes and expression were serious.
"That's what bothers me," Bret answered him "I'm not so sure it was a show."
Beau rubbed his chin and sat silently for a minute. "Do you think he was serious? Did you speak to him?"
"I don't know if he was serious. He says no, but something isn't right." A loud burst of noise from the roulette wheel drowned out everything for a moment. When it quieted back down, Bret resumed. "I've never seen him like that, Beau. The way he talked to Pike – if it was me he'd said those things to, I'd believe him."
"Bart's not capable of cold-blooded murder," Beau protested.
"Wouldn't you be capable if you were beaten like he was?"
Another silence as Beau and Bret both considered the question. Finally Beau shook his head 'no.' "You, maybe. Me, possibly. Bart? Not a chance. You know him. When he gets pushed far enough that temper explodes but it doesn't happen very often. And there was no temper involved in what he said or the way he said it. He was as calm and rational as we are right now." Again he shook his head. "No, not our boy. Not in a million years. Not in cold blood."
Bret thought it over and then told Beau, "I hope you're right. There's something that's different about him and I just can't put my finger on it. Whatever it is, I don't like it." He turned his head to watch Bart at the poker table for a minute. "That's why I'm glad he decided to come with me this afternoon. I kinda wanna keep an eye on him for a while."
Beau protested, "Even if he had that thought in the back of his mind, you heard him this morning. There was an order to the things he told Pike, and the first one was for us to win the lawsuit. That hasn't happened yet. Matter of fact that's why I was late coming here. Mr. Foster stopped me and told me that the hearings been rescheduled for next week."
"That's not good. Keeps what happened in the front of his mind while we sit in court. And he's gonna hafta look at Pike every day."
"Yes, but at least we'll know where he is at all times." Beau lit a cigar and blew out a plume of smoke. "If one of us is always with him he won't be able to do anything about it."
Bret nodded in agreement. "That's true. I thought our baby-sitting days were over."
"No such luck, cousin. At least until Bart is Bart again."