Chapter 2 Three Mavericks and a Lady
Their stay in Texas was short. It hadn't been that long since Bret and Bart had been wrongfully accused men wanted for murder in their home state; though ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing they still weren't completely comfortable there. And Beau was ready to leave almost immediately, before he did anything to make Uncle Beauregard angry with him again, like he had when he'd volunteered for the Confederate Army and won a medal. It was decided that they would depart for Montana the next morning. None of them were pleased to have made such a long trip for so short a visit, but all three Mavericks were eager to see their inheritance. And learn as much as they could about Aunt Jessie.
It was decided that they would go to Silver Creek by stage; there was too much Indian Territory between Texas and Montana to take unnecessary risks. No packing was required – none of them had time to unpack when they got to Little Bend. They caught the stage in town and headed northwest. The journey took several days but time went by quickly; they were the only stagecoach passengers and they played poker almost the entire trip. Playing among the three of them was purely for fun; they cheated each other too much to play for money. "Just like when we were kids," Bret reminded them.
At long last the stage pulled into Silver Creek and the three Mavericks departed. First order of business was checking into a hotel and they were pleasantly surprised to find that the town had not one but two decent places to stay. They had decided en route to be cautious about using the Maverick name and all three registered as 'Mansfield,' a name that had been used by one of them before. They got separate rooms; Bart had spent too many nights out on the trail with either Bret or Beau and they both snored. They each got cleaned up and met in the dining room. It was pleasant to be able to eat a meal without bouncing around in a stage immediately after. Bret and Bart sat and drank coffee; Beau had picked up the habit of substituting tea. They talked among themselves and made the decision that only one of them should check out the saloon now; the other two would make a later appearance. And they would go separately, not together. For all they knew, the whole town was waiting for the new owners to put in an appearance at "The Three Mavericks."
Bret wandered over to the establishment and was impressed by how many of the menfolk were inside. And the most encouraging fact was that they weren't just drinking, they were gambling. The poker tables were full and the roulette wheel was in constant use. The saloon girls were all busily engaged laughing and encouraging the men to 'drink up!' For a family that didn't drink hard liquor, the Mavericks did not expect others to follow suit. Bret drifted over to the bar and ordered his usual, coffee. There was no hesitation and the bartender poured from a fresh pot. That was good to see. Aunt Jessie hadn't ignored teetotalers.
He stood for a few minutes and watched. Then a cowpoke rose and gave up his spot at one of the poker tables and Bret walked over. "Can a stranger join?" he asked politely of the men at the table.
"Sure," came the immediate response from the fellow that appeared to be the house man. He chuckled and said "You can't be any stranger than the rest of us." The whole table laughed and Bret sat down. He introduced himself with a nod of his head. "Bret Mansfield." He anteed up and the game was off and running.
He'd been playing for about an hour, winning small but steady pots, when he saw Bart walk in. Something didn't look quite right but Bret didn't want to leave the game. He watched Bart look the place over and go to the bar, just as he had done. The difference was that Bart said something to the bartender, nodded, and then picked up the drink that the bartender just poured. He carried it over to an empty table and set it down, then went back and got black coffee. That went to the table also, and Bart pulled out an empty chair and sat. Two or three minutes later Beau came through the batwing doors and walked straight over to Bart. He sat down, picked up the drink and drained the glass. 'Well,' thought Bret, 'so much for the Mavericks not drinking.' Then he saw the welt on the front of Beau's forehead and knew there's been some kind of trouble. 'Uh oh, already?'
Bart and Beau talked animatedly for a few minutes and a pretty dark-haired saloon girl walked over to their table and sat down. She flirted with Beau for a time and then signaled the bartender over with an empty glass and a bottle. Beau poured the girl a drink and set the bottle back on the table. It appeared that, even with a welt on his head, Beau's limit was still one.
Cousin Beau and the girl continued to talk but Bart's eyes swept the entire building. He too was pleased to see the crowd in the saloon, especially since this wasn't a Friday night and there were no cattle drives in town. Of major concern was the fact that somebody had attacked Beau as he entered his hotel room without any apparent reason. Nothing was taken or even disturbed and no one was seen fleeing the room. They'd only been in town a few hours and already trouble. No one even knew who they were.
Or did they? What if someone had seen them arrive and put two and two together? After all, everyone in town probably knew that Jessie had left the saloon to her nephews. Maybe they were being watched. Bart shook his head as if arguing with himself. It didn't make sense. He didn't have all the puzzle pieces. Over the customary noise in the place Bart could hear fragments of the conversation the saloon girl was trying to have with Beau. She was interested and he very clearly wasn't. Bart took another look at the girl and wondered just how hard Beau had been hit. She was pretty in a traditional way, but even though she was relatively young her looks had already started to fade. "Really Lettie, not tonight. You go ahead and have another. I'll be fine. I'd just like to sit here for a while." Lettie said something back to Beau, which Bart didn't hear, then he turned again to watch Bret. He seemed to have everything under control and it had been a long, hard trip. Bart was really looking forward to sleeping in a decent bed tonight and left money on the table as he rose to go. He gave a little nod to Bret, tipped his hat to Lettie, and told Beau, "Later, partner."
Beau and Lettie watched him leave the saloon. Actually only Lettie watched him leave. Beau's head was throbbing and the only thing he wanted to do was get up and follow Bart back to the hotel as fast as his legs would carry him. "Why don't you have another?" Lettie asked as she poured a shot into Beau's glass.
Beau tried to shake his head 'no' but it hurt too much. He was reduced to telling Lettie politely, "No thank you, ma'am. I need some rest." He tried to stand and the room swam slightly before it stopped moving. With his feet back under him he continued, "The rest is yours. The bottle is paid for."
Lettie made a face but downed the shot. Who was this very good looking and very polite fellow with the English accent? "Thanks, honey. Say, what's your name?"
"Mav . . . . . Mansfield," Beau corrected at the last second. He touched the brim of his hat and nodded at Lettie. "You have a nice night, ma'am." With that he was out the doors and gone. Lettie sat still for a moment, then picked up the bottle and took it back to Harry at the bar. "Put this on my shelf," she told him. "It's paid for." She straightened her dress while trying to find another likely candidate for the evening. 'So your name is Maverick, huh? Just which one are you, Mr. Maverick? And who else did you and your friend bring with you?' Lettie wondered as she found another prospect and sashayed across the room.
Bart wearily climbed the hotel stairs and unlocked his door. Everything looked normal until he checked the window sill and noticed a small smudged handprint that hadn't been there when he left for the saloon. Who was already on to them? And just what were they looking for?
Putting the pieces together would have to wait until morning. He could barely keep his eyes open.
Once she was certain he was asleep, she crept out from behind the dressing screen and began her search. She was careful not to disturb anything too much as she went through his clothes and personal belongings and found nothing that was of any use. 'They weren't going to make this easy, were they?' she wondered. When she'd examined almost the entire room she finally turned to his jacket, hung neatly over a chair. On the inside she found a $1,000 bill pinned to the lining. His wallet yielded nothing of any consequence except some smaller bills and an engraving on the inner flap – 'Bart Maverick.' That wasn't any help. She already knew he was one of the Mavericks.
It didn't appear that her stealthy looting of the room and its contents was going to yield information of any importance. She still didn't know why they were here, or what their relationship was to each other. Or even if they were the right Mavericks. She sighed and admitted defeat. And then quietly snuck out of the room, leaving the door unlocked behind her. She considered trying to get into one of the other two rooms, maybe the one that belonged to the dark haired one, when she heard someone coming up the stairs. She fled down the hallway and turned the corner just in time to catch a glimpse of the blonde Britiah-sounding man, the one she had been forced to hit with the butt of her pistol when he almost caught her snooping earlier while she was closing the door to his room. Was he another one of the new saloon owners or just a 'tag-along' that Bart Maverick had brought with him? Too much going on the first night they were here, she decided. Her next attempt to dig up some information that might prove useful would have to wait. She found her way to the back stairs and left the hotel.