Chapter 15 Remembrance of Things Past
Bart was worn out. It had been a long day, starting with the horseback ride out to Pike's, then the confrontation, the ride back, and the worrisome discussion with Bret followed by several hours of poker. He was tired and sleep called to him. The only problem was his self-appointed baby-sitters were not going to let him go back to his hotel room alone. Those days were over, at least for the time being in this town.
That meant he had to wait for either Bret or Beau to take him back to the room that became his prison for so many months while he recovered. Most nights Beau walked Georgia home after the day was over, and this night was no exception. So by the time Beau got back to the saloon Bart was ready to go to sleep in one of the offices. Instead they left and walked out into the night air, Beau lighting a cigar and handing it to Bart, then lighting one for himself. It was turning into fall and the nights were getting chilly, so they hurried back up the street towards the place they had come to call home. Beau wanted to get his own take on Bart's state of mind and now was just as good a time as any. Without much ado Beau launched into the 'subtle' grilling of his cousin.
"So, Cousin Bart, how are you going to go about doing it?"
"Doing what, Beau?"
"Killing Edgar Pike."
As chilly as it was Bart stopped and looked at Beau. "Did Bret put you up to this?"
"Put me up to what?"
"To digging into my brain," Bart answered.
"I don't think he's worried about your brain. He knows your brain would never let your head get put into a noose. I think he's worried about your heart."
Bart sounded indignant. "My brother should know my heart. And you, too. I can't believe either of you give me so little credit."
"Oh I give you plenty of credit, Bart. I give you enough credit to know that once you make your mind up to something, a mule would be less stubborn. And you certainly sounded like you had your mind made up this morning out at Pike's ranch. About going out there to kill him, I mean. Convince me otherwise, please."
Bart would have shaken his head 'no' but right now it hurt too much. Another one of those blinding headaches starting? He hadn't told anyone about them. So instead he settled for a "No. I'm not going to try and convince you of anything. You can believe whatever it is you want to believe. I didn't spend all those months fighting to get better just so I could get hung. And if you think I did you're crazy." He had stopped dead in his tracks and turned to argue with Beau but now he turned back towards the hotel and resumed walking. If Beau wanted to argue he could go argue with Bret. Bart had enough.
"Wait up there, Bart. I wasn't trying to set you off; I just wanted to know where your head really was. Bret is convinced that something isn't quite right and he tried to talk me into it. I wanted to make up my own mind. That's why the questions. I think your heads on straight and you're fine."
Beau had no idea. Neither one did. A good day was a day where there was no ringing in his ears and no pounding in his head. He didn't have those very often. And then there were the headaches, far worse than just the normal throbbing. They hurt so bad that he sat perfectly still in a darkened room and prayed for death. Every minute passed like an hour. He couldn't eat, he couldn't sleep, and all he could hear was the crashing in his head. He'd been lucky so far, none had occurred while he was with anybody. He was afraid that wouldn't last forever, and then what would they do with him? Lock him away somewhere?
And last night he blacked out. One minute he was sitting in his room watching the street below his window and it was 9 p.m. The next thing he remembered it was 3:30 in the morning and he was thrashing around on the floor. He had no idea what happened during the six and a half hours he lost. What if he'd gone somewhere and done something he didn't remember? What if he went out and killed Edgar Pike? What then? He had to go see Doc Washburn and find out what was going on. But what would he do if the doctor told Bret? Or Beau? No, better to keep it to himself for now and see if things would settle down.
He realized that Beau was talking to him. " . . . . we just have to humor him until he gets over it. That's about all we can do." They reached the hotel. They trudged up the stairs together and, as had become the habit, Beau opened Bart's door and checked around inside before letting him go in. Bart walked over to the open window and closed it. It was chilly in the room.
"All set? Well, good night. I'll see you tomorrow."
Bart was ready for sleep. But was sleep ready for him?
He slept deeply, with no interruptions. For once no nightmares, no reliving the brutal attack, no dreaming about strangling Pike with his bare hands. Everything in his head was quiet and peaceful, the way sleep was supposed to be. The way it hadn't been for months.
When he woke the next morning the sun was shining in through the curtains. The window was still closed and the room was slightly stuffy. Bart got out of bed to crack the window open and that's when it hit. A wave of nausea unlike anything he'd felt since the first and last time he'd ever gotten drunk. He hated throwing up and no matter how sick he felt he wouldn't let himself. He made it to the window and opened it enough to stick his head out into the fresh air. Just breathe, he told himself. Slowly the nausea receded and he started to feel better. 'Well, that was a new piece of the puzzle,' he thought to himself. 'Where did it come from?' That was the one thing he hadn't had any trouble with – his stomach. Maybe it was something he ate yesterday. Then he remembered, he hadn't had any food after lunch. 'Well, just great. Add that to all the things wrong with me. Now my stomach's losing its mind.'
He'd had just about enough from his body lately. He wasn't going to put up with any more. Slowly, so as to not upset the delicate balance in his intestines, he got cleaned up and dressed. He was going down to talk to Doc Washburn. Neither of the other Mavericks would be awake at this hour and he could get in and out of the doctor's small office without being seen. He was still tired from yesterday's first full day of exertion but he was no longer sleepy. He made his way quietly down the stairs and out to the sidewalk without running into anyone who would question where he was going at this early hour. When he got to the doctor's office he was lucky – Doc was the only one there.
"Well Bart, my boy. It's good to see you up and out. How are you this morning?"
By now he knew better than to shake his head. Especially when it was this early and there was still a chance that it wouldn't ache today. "That's what I've come to talk to you about, Doc. I'm still having the ringing in my ears and the pounding in my skull. And new wrinkles have been added –blinding headaches and blackouts." He paused and looked plaintively at the doctor. "And this morning I was sick to my stomach. I'm not havin' a baby, am I Doc?" He tried to make a joke of the complaints but Doc Washburn could see that Bart was miserable.
"Come in here with me, Bart, and we'll have a look at that head of yours." Bart followed the doctor into his inner office and sat while Washburn fiddled with his instruments. He poked and prodded and asked questions and checked out every square inch of Bart Maverick that he could think of. Finally, when Bart was beginning to feel like a dressmaker's doll, Doc Washburn stopped and sat down. "Son, I don't know what to tell you. Outside, physically you're healed. There's no scars, no cuts, bruises, swelling or lumps anywhere visible. You don't have a fever and your color's good. I just can't find anything that's causing this. You're remarkably healthy for someone that took the punishment you did. I can give you some aspirin to carry with you for the headaches but there's not much else I can do."
Bart sighed. He'd been afraid that the doctor was going to tell him something, anything, but instead the answer he got was 'nothing.' He looked at Doc and said pleadingly, "Don't say anything to Bret. He worries about me every minute; he doesn't need any more troubles. Or Beau. He's got problems enough of his own." Bart was thinking about Georgia Mayfield.
"Now you know, son, that I'm not gonna tell either one of 'em anything you don't want me to tell 'em. Problem is, I got nothin' to tell you, either. I just don't know what to do for you."
"Shoot me." Bart was only half kidding. At least his stomach had settled down.
Doc Washburn chuckled. "Leastways you got a sense of humor about it. Well, come back and see me if anything gets worse."
Bart stood up and swayed slightly. Then he caught himself and was fine. "Okay Doc. Thanks anyway."
He left the office and headed back to the hotel. He was going to quietly sneak in and go back to bed for a while when Bret came down the stairs. "So that's why you didn't answer. Had me worried for a minute."
Bart looked at him and tried not to wince as he turned his head. "You didn't break down another door, did you Brother Bret?"
"No, I restrained myself. At least they didn't make me pay for the last one." He hadn't wasted any time destroying the door to get into Bart's room the night he and Beau found Bart. "Well, since you're up, how about some breakfast?"
Bart's stomach rolled slightly at the mention of food but settled down. "No, but I can have some tea."
Bret gave him a long, hard look. "Tea? Have you been spending too much time with Cousin Beau?"
Bart was quick with an answer. "Think I overdid it yesterday. Stomach's kinda fragile."
Bret slapped Bart on the back. "That happens to everybody once in a while. Everything else okay?"
"Sure," Bart lied. "Just a little tired. Think I'll take it easy today."
"Good idea. No more life threatening encounters."
Bart didn't feel like arguing with his brother. "No, no more life threatening encounters. Just some tea and rest."
They walked into the dining room together. As usual, Bret ordered enough food to feed two men. How did he do that, put all that food away this early in the morning? Bart opted for tea. Bret ate and told Bart how well the ledgers looked at the saloon. Bart let him talk and nodded every now and again so that Bret would think Bart was paying attention to him. Instead he was thinking about Beau and the complicated relationship he was developing with Georgia. In Bart's opinion that was headed nowhere but trouble if Beau decided he was in love with the woman. Why couldn't he get involved with some sweet young thing like Lettie, where nothing was expected from either side? He realized suddenly that Bret had stopped talking and was staring at him.
"You didn't hear a word, did you?"
"Sure I did. Ledgers. That's a word."
"Funny boy." That was the last thing that Bart remembered, hearing the same words from Bret's mouth that his first attacker had used right before the beating started. Everything around him went black. He lurched to his feet, dropped his cup and keeled over, right into Bret's arms.
Bret let out a yell and grabbed Bart, easing his body down to the floor. The waitress ran out from the back and Bret sent her to fetch Doc Washburn. By that time two other men had come into the dining room and they helped carry Bart's limp body back to his room, where, once again, Bret laid him gently on the bed. Because of all the noise and commotion Beau came running down the hall, still in his nightshirt and robe. As soon as he made the turn into Bart's room he asked Bret "What happened?" and Bret told him the whole story. By that time Doc had arrived and shooed them away from the bed. For the second time that morning he gave Bart a thorough going over and once again could find nothing amiss. Remembering the assurances he'd given Bart just an hour earlier he gave Bret and Beau as little information as possible. "Just did too much yesterday," he told them. "Keep him in bed and let him rest." With nothing further that Doc could do, he left to tend to his other patients.
"I'll stay here today," Bret volunteered.
"You can't. You've got the mayor and the town council coming in for a game at noon and they expect you to be their dealer. They arranged this meeting around your schedule. I'd stay here but Georgia needs me to help her make a decision between the new liquor suppliers that are coming by. I'll get dressed and go get Jody. She can spend the day here."
"Alright," Bret agreed. "But be back as soon as possible. I want somebody with him before we leave."
Beau returned to his room to dress. Bart moaned softly and Bret turned back to him. "Hey, son, how's the weather down there?"
"Cloudy with a chance of snow," Bart mumbled through closed eyes. "How's it where you are?"
Bret chuckled in spite of his concern. "Sunny and clear. You wanna tell me what that was all about?"
Bart's eyes remained closed. "Don't know. Told you I was shaky this morning."
"Yeah, there's a big difference between shaky and passed out. What do you remember?"
Bart didn't answer right away. When he did his voice was unsteady at best. "I remember you saying 'funny boy.' That's what I heard right before the beating started. I knew I had to get out of there and – "
"Never mind," Bret interrupted. All he could do was apologize. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"I know that. I didn't remember until you said it. It's not your fault." Bart finally opened his eyes and Bret didn't like what he saw: that vacant, glassy eyed stare again.
Bret pulled a chair over to his brother's bedside. "How you feelin' now?"
"Better. Don't you have a big game to go run?"
"Nothin' that won't wait. You're more important, anyway."
Bart smiled slightly at that and his eyes seemed to focus. "Glad to know I stand ahead of the mayor."
"And the entire city council," Bret added. They sat and listened to the stillness for a minute. Then Bret spoke. And he was dead serious. "What aren't you tellin' me, little brother?" He hadn't called Bart 'little brother' for a long time, not since they were both in Camp Douglas during the war.
Bart was quietly evasive. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean."
"No, I don't. There's nothin' to tell."
Bret wasn't buying what Bart was selling. "Try again, Bart. You didn't pass out because I said a couple words. What's wrong with you?"
Bart answered him truthfully but not completely. "I don't know, Bret. Neither does Doc Washburn."
"That doesn't make me feel better."
Bart sat up partway in bed and put two pillows behind him. Now he had a better line of sight to his brother. "Sorry, that's all there is to tell. I heard what you said and somethin' just clicked off inside. Next thing I knew I was back here in bed. I'm tellin' you the truth." Bart did a good job of selling that line to Bret, because the older Maverick brother gave up.
"Alright, I believe you. But you're not goin' anywhere today, hear? Beau went to get Jody to come stay with you." Bart groaned at the thought of poor Jody being forced to stay with him again. Really, how much could you ask of a young lady with a life of her own? And no relation to the invalid, save a friendship between her mother and his aunt?
"Forget it, little brother. Miss Jody is in charge, not you. You'll stay in bed and like it."
"I'd like it better if I wasn't alone."
Bret had to chuckle. That sounded like the brother he knew. "Anyone in particular in mind?"
"Well, there is that little blonde named Arlene at the saloon."
"Yeah, and she's got a great big boyfriend that works out at the Lazy W. Anybody else?"
Just for a moment a vision crossed Bart's mind. Tall, blonde and beautiful. Caroline. His late wife. Then it was gone. "Nope."
There was a knock at the door and then Beau opened it. Behind him stood Jody.
"Hi, Bartley." She loved calling Bart by his full name because she knew he hated it. "Heard you need a nursemaid again."
"No, I don't," Bart answered. "But these two seem to think I do."
"That's okay," Jody responded. "I don't have anything exciting to do."
"Then come on in," Bret interjected. "Because we sure don't have any excitement around here."