Jessie Maverick's Kin

Chapter 21 I See Said the Blind Man

Bart lay on his cot in the jail cell and stared at the wall. How had he gotten here? Why had he ridden all the way out to Edgar Pike's ranch just to threaten to kill the man? When he had no intention of actually doing it? How ironic that he was now under arrest for that very murder. He had to laugh to himself. This sure wasn't his idea of justice.

Just a day ago he'd been feeling better about everything. His wounds seemed to finally be healing, both inside and out. There was a pretty little redhead at the saloon who seemed to light up whenever she saw him, and she'd caught his eye, too. Georgia had become a close and trusted friend and seemed to understand the only part she could play in Beau's life. Beau seemed more at peace, less restless than he'd been. Jody was almost like a little sister to him, and he felt himself enjoying the big brother role, for once. Only Bret seemed ill at ease, and only occasionally. It felt like he was waiting for something to happen and he wasn't sure if it was going to be good or bad. Guess this answered that question.

Had he killed Pike? That was the uncertainty that kept hammering at his brain. He hadn't experienced a blackout for several days but that didn't preclude having another one. Is that what happened last night? Or did something else transpire? Something that he didn't understand or have the answer for. And how was he ever going to find out while locked in this jail cell?

"Hi, Bartley." He knew Jody's voice and didn't have to turn around to hear her smiling at him. He sat up anyway and turned to face her. "What are you doing here?" was his first question to her.

"I wanted to see you."

"Well, here I am, kid. Take a good look at what clean living will do for you."

"Don't say that," she immediately shot back. "You don't deserve to be here. You didn't do anything wrong."

He tried to make her understand. "Didn't I? I wish I was that sure." How could he explain it to her?

Jody was quiet for a minute, then she beckoned him over to the front of the jail cell. "Come over here for a minute."

He sighed. She stood there and waited. He finally got up off the cot and walked over to her. She reached through the bars of the cell and took his hands, then looked at him as if daring him to lie to her. "There's something you're not telling us, isn't there?" How did this little girl manage to sense what others hadn't?

He couldn't lie. "Yes."

"And it would hurt you if we knew?"

"It might." How much should he tell her? How much could he tell her? Did he trust her with his life?

She let go of his hands. "Then don't tell us." Quietly she continued, "You've been hurt enough."

He stood there and looked at her, grateful for her affection and belief in him. "Jody – "

She stopped him before he could finish. "Uncle Edgar was an awful man. He was mean and spiteful and made Aunt Jessie miserable for years. And she still loved him. And he was probably the person that tried to have you killed. If anyone deserved to die, it was him." She paused for just a moment. "But I know that you didn't kill him. Because you're not the same kind of man he was. You're a good man. No matter what it is that you haven't told us. So just trust us, we'll find a way to set you free."

When Jody was finished she realized someone was standing behind her. "I couldn't have said it better myself, Jody," Bret told her.

She blushed and turned to leave. "I'm sure you two need to talk." She looked up at Bret. "Be kind."

"I have to be. He's the only brother I've got." Pause, then "Pappy's not inclined to make more."

Jody giggled and departed. Bret watched her leave the jail, then turned to Bart. "How ya doin'?"

"You mean besides the fact that my skull feels like it was split wide open again? Just dandy."

Bret looked at his brother seriously. "Got anything you want to share?" He turned around and motioned in Deputy Willis, who had the cell keys in his hand. "Willis, I need some privacy with Bart."

Willis came over to the jail cell. "Sheriff told me not to let anybody in but Mr. Foster."

"I'm not anybody, Willis. I'm his brother. Let me in."

The deputy unlocked the cell door and then re-locked it after Bret entered. "Shoot, what Mort don't know won't hurt him." He went back out to his desk in front. Bret turned to Bart, who had reclaimed his seat on the cot. "Now, about that question I asked."

Bart looked at his brother. "Nope." That was Bart's standard answer when he didn't want to discuss something.

"Not accepting that for an answer this time."

That was a new one. Normally when Bart answered "Nope" to one of Bret's questions, the older brother allowed the younger brother his privacy. Not this time. There was too much at stake.

There was still silence. Bart got up and wandered over to stare out the window in the cell. "I don't know what you want me to say."

Bret knew this must be hard for Bart to talk about. So he tried again. "Doc Washburn talked to Beau. It wasn't the first time they've spoken. Doc shared some information with Beau that we need to discuss."

Bart's voice was angry. "He shouldn't have done that. He didn't have any right."

Bret walked over to his brother, put his hands on Bart's shoulders and turned him around. Now Bart had to look him in the face if he was going to lie.

"He's trying to protect you, Bart. He thought that we needed to know."

Bart shook his head. His voice was less angry. "He still shouldn't have done it."

Bret looked at the man in front of him. Things must be worse than Doc thought for Bart to be so reluctant to talk. "He's not gonna tell the sheriff. Mort jumps to conclusions." Bret looked around the cell, making his point.

Bart pulled away from Bret and sat back down. "What do you want to know?"

"Whatever you're willing to tell me."

"What did Doc tell Beau?"

Bret calmly and patiently reiterated everything he knew. When he finished Bart sat silently for a moment, and then quietly told Bret, "That's not the half of it." He went over all of it in detail: the blinding headaches, the constant caterwauling in his head, the irrational nightmares, the blackouts. And when he was through the only thing Bret wanted to do was put his arms around his brother and comfort him. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked instead.

"Because I didn't want to see that look in your eyes."

Bret didn't understand. "What look?"

"That look of pity you gave me when I was sick as a kid."

Ah. Now it made sense. "Why didn't you tell Beau?"

"Beau's got a bigger problem than me. Georgia's in love with him."

Bret snorted a laugh. "Yeah, the only one that doesn't know that is Beau." He sat down on the cot next to Bart. "Cousin Beau's a big boy. He can handle it."

Bart shook his head carefully. The headache was still there. "When have you ever seen Beau handle something like that?"

"Tell me the truth. Did you have another blackout?"

"Honestly?" Bart looked at Bret and there was nothing but truth in his eyes. " I don't know. I didn't have one for a while. I was really feeling better." He reached up and held his head. "Until this morning." He turned his head away from his brother. "Do you think I could have killed him?"

Just a small moment of hesitation. "No." But Bart heard the hesitation and turned back toward his brother. "You're not sure, are you?"

Bret wasn't certain he could make Bart understand. "My brother Bart could not have killed Edgar Pike in cold blood. Period." He hoped this would make sense. "The man having blackouts might have been able to. Probably not, but maybe." He watched Bart and waited for his reaction. There was none.

They sat side by side for a moment in the jail cell and then Bart softly said "I see."

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