Chapter 18 A Picture's Worth 1,000 Words
It was a simple plan, really. Edgar Pike had sealed his fate the morning he threatened Rusty Meyers. Now it was just a matter of carrying it out. And making sure that the right person got blamed for it.
Rusty wasn't a bright man. He was violent, brutal, cunning, larcenous, vicious, deadly and stubborn. But he was unusually good at planning and carrying out nefarious acts, and what he was planning was illegal. Very illegal. He needed to guarantee that Edgar Pike's rash threat to turn him and his cohorts in to the sheriff never materialized. And the only way to guarantee that was the aforementioned act. Murder.
Of course Rusty had no intention of getting caught and getting hanged for the crime. As he saw it, that was totally unnecessary. Unnecessary because he had the perfect patsy. The man that Pike had paid him to kill. Bart Maverick.
Rusty, Pete and Jack hung around Silver Creek for several days, talking to everyone they could and gathering all the information they needed to plot and plan the deed and its aftermath. They heard all about the brutal attack, the lengthy struggle to heal, and the long lasting effects suffered by the victim. They watched all the Mavericks surreptitiously, noting their comings and goings and how often and when the youngest Maverick was most often alone. And they mapped out their vile plan, step by step, down to the smallest detail. Then it was just a matter of watching and waiting for the right moment to present itself.
That moment came to pass almost a week later, on a night when there was no moon and an unsettling fog had rolled in to the town. They watched as Bart exited 'The Three Mavericks', accompanied by his older brother, and went back to the hotel. A few minutes later the brother returned to the saloon alone. Rusty immediately left town and rode out to Pike's ranch as fast as his horse could carry him. There he snuck stealthily across the porch and burst through the front door. Edgar practically appeared to be expecting him; he was sitting in front of the fire staring into the flames and was unarmed. He jumped from his chair and attempted to escape, but Meyers was on him in seconds and put a bullet through his heart. Then he proceeded to pistol whip the body, much as he had done to Bart. A few minutes and he was gone the way he came, but the last thing he saw before he left the room he took with him. He removed the picture of the four Maverick children from the mantel.
He took the same route back, again as fast as his poor mount could manage. When he arrived at the appointed meeting place Pete and Jack were ready and waiting for him. The three of them traveled quietly into town and left their horses a block away from the back alley entrance to the hotel. Jack snuck through the back door and went around to the front desk, where the hotel clerk was supposed to be stationed. The clerk, however, had stolen off to the back room for his normal prohibited nap. Sanborn stole the key to room 214 and snuck up the stairs quietly. At the top landing he met Pete and Rusty and they used the stolen key to open Bart's door. Maverick was asleep and Rusty once again used his gun butt to bash him over the back of the head, then proceeded to roll him onto the floor. Jack and Pete helped him dress the unconscious gambler and switched Rusty's gun for the one in Maverick's holster. They left the gun belt and holster splayed on the floor and the gun in Bart's hand. For a few final touches they opened the window and tipped a chair over. They dropped Bart's hat on the floor and knocked a lamp off the table, making it look as if someone had re-entered the room through the window. For the coup de grâce Rusty hid the stolen picture under Bart's saddlebags. Their staging done, Rusty and Pete locked the door to 214 and slipped out the back entrance of the hotel. Jack stole back downstairs and left the room key where he'd found it. Operation complete.
The next morning Beau knocked on Bart's door and, when there was no immediate answer, used the spare room key to unlock it. He found Bart sprawled on the floor, much as he and Bret had found him months earlier. He rushed to Bart's side to make sure there was no blood anywhere before scrambling back to his feet and running down the hall to Bret's room. He knocked urgently twice and as soon as the elder Maverick opened the door Beau desperately whispered "Bart's down. Come quick." They both ran through the hall and Beau pushed open the door again. Bart was on the floor moaning softly and Bret and Beau got him into bed. It was quite a scene – Bart fully dressed with a gun in his hand, personal belongings strewn across the floor, the window open and obviously used as a way in or out. Bart continued to moan but it was apparent that he was slowly coming to. Bret sat on the bed next to him and Beau took the chair. "Bart, Bart, wake up," Bret pleaded with him.
Slowly Bart's eyes opened. He looked at Bret, then Beau, and was thoroughly disoriented. "What happened?" he asked both of them.
"We were hoping you could tell us," Bret answered. "You were ready to go to bed when I left. Did you go somewhere? Did somebody get in? You have your gun in your hand."
"What? My gun?" Bart looked at the gun still clutched in his hand. "That's not my gun."
Beau got up and looked around the room. He picked the empty gun belt up off the floor and brought it back to the bed. "That's the only one here. There's no gun in your holster."
Bart strained to sit up. "I don't care. That's not my gun."
Bret took it from his hand. "Looks like there's blood on it. And on your hand."
Beau looked directly at Bret. "Where did it come from? And where's Bart's gun?"
"Wait a minute," Bart protested. "I was in bed asleep. How did I get dressed?"
"You weren't dressed?" Bret queried.
"I was in bed asleep. I usually don't go to sleep dressed."
"Usually?" Beau asked.
"Come on," Bart offered. "We've all laid down and slept when we were dressed. But not last night. I was in my nightshirt. I might forget what I'm doing sometimes but I didn't go to bed fully dressed."
Just as Bret was about to say something there was a pounding on the door. In a booming voice Mort Bowman demanded, "Bart Maverick! Open the door!"
Beau stood and opened the door. "Sheriff, you don't have to shout."
Mort walked in and looked from one Maverick to the other. From Beau to Bret. Then he spotted Bart sitting up in the bed and looked him right in the eyes. "Bart Maverick, you're under arrest for the murder of Edgar Pike."