Chapter 22 The Carousel Ride
Another cold, rainy day. Winter was coming in a hurry and the Mavericks were still in Silver Creek. Some by choice, others forcibly. The two there by choice were unhappy with the local sheriff this morning. The one that was there forcibly was also unhappy, but for a different reason.
Bret and his cousin Beau were trying to find evidence of some sort, any sort, that would clear the Maverick name. Bart was hoping for the same thing, but the name he most wanted cleared was Bart. Sheriff Mort Bowman refused to do any more investigation of the crime; he had decided that the forcibly detained Maverick, Bart, was the guilty party. In fact he was sure of it, and after finding all the evidence he needed to be convinced, he arrested Bart Maverick and jailed him. For murder.
That was the source of Bart's unhappiness, being held in jail awaiting trial for a crime that he didn't think he committed. And not being able to do anything about it. The fourth circuit judge was due to be in town in a week's time and the trial would start then. This wasn't the first time Bart was in jail and it wouldn't be the last. He'd even been accused of murder on one occasion. But this time was different, because Bart didn't know if he'd committed the murder or not.
He'd already been incarcerated for three weeks and it was about to drive him crazy. He couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't assist with his own defense. Or flirt with the redhead at the saloon that was in desperate need of his attention. Worst of all he couldn't play poker. And the headaches had come back. Not as bad as before but enough to make him aware of their presence. But these seemed different. The back of his head felt like someone had hit him with a boulder.
Hiram Foster spent long hours with him going over the sequence of events from the first day in town. Bret and Beau were a big help when it came to reliving the weeks after the beating. There were whole periods that were unclear to Bart. He didn't tell Hiram about the blackouts. Doc Washburn didn't tell Hiram about them, either. For that he was grateful.
Bret tried to get the sheriff to reveal just what 'evidence' he'd found in the hotel room that made him so certain Bart was the murderer, but Mort Bowman wouldn't budge. He did let Hiram examine the gun he'd taken from the room and the attorney was able to provide Bret with a good account of the murder weapon. Bart gave them a description of his gun, with a distinctive black diamond pattern on the grip, and it was obvious they weren't the same firearm. Bret and Beau scrutinized every cowpoke's pistol when they came into the saloon, knowing if they could find Bart's gun they had their killer. So far no luck.
Georgia and Jody did what they could to try and lift the prisoner's spirits. There's only so much to be done when you're confined to a relatively small space. Bart took to reading law books just to occupy his time and attention. Everything he read worried him more.
Beau basically ran the saloon, with help from Georgia and Harry and even occasionally Jody, while Bret attempted to track down every person that Edgar had ever swindled. None had reason enough to kill him. They were missing something and they knew it, but what?
The closer it got to the starting date of the trial, the more reckless Rusty got. He was sure they were in the clear, since Rusty had planted the indisputable proof in Bart's room and the judge had been sent for. Most nights Rusty and Pete were drunk and wanted to go off shooting something. Anything. Jack began plotting a way to escape from the gang he no longer wanted to be part of. Trouble was, everything he devised involved getting his brother arrested, too. Wherever Rusty went and whatever Rusty did, Pete Sanborn was sure to follow. Jack couldn't convince him it was time to stop breaking the law and try to live a decent life.
Bret was gone again, headed to Sundown, a little town a day past Barker Corners. One of the hands from the Snyder Ranch had run into a man from Sundown who said he'd heard a story about a small gang that was willing to do most anything for money. The man was vague except for the fact that there were three men, two of them brothers and the third had a reputation for being cold-blooded and cruel. Since one of the few details that Bart remembered from the night of the beating was the fact that there were three men involved, Bret was hopeful that he could discover more if he talked to the man in person. Beau was hesitant to share the news with Bart; so far, none of their leads had worked out.
He went down to the jail to see Bart in the morning, before going to the saloon. As usual he found his cousin immersed in one of the law books that Hiram had given him.
"Hey, Cousin Beau, did you know that it's illegal in this state to shoot a frog?"
Where did Bart find this stuff? "Really, Cousin Bart, that's fascinating. Remind me not to go shooting frogs." Beau paused for a moment. "What about toads?"
"Hmm, don't know. The law doesn't say anything about toads. I guess it's alright if you can hit one."
Beau sighed and pulled up a chair outside the jail cell, where he usually sat. Sheriff Bowman wouldn't let anyone in the cell except Hiram Foster. "Judge will be here in a week."
Bart looked up from the book in his hands. "I know. Say, where's Bret this morning? Off on another wild goose chase?"
Beau certainly hoped it wasn't a wild goose chase. "He rode to over to Sundown. Got a lead over there."
"Better than the last one, I hope." Bart seemed to be taking the whole situation rather casually.
"Bart, didn't you tell us there were three men the night of the attack?"
"Yeah, there were three. One older and meaner. He's the one with the strong arm. The other two were younger, kinda favored each other. Maybe brothers. Tall, kinda built like me." He stopped for a moment and chuckled. "Me the way I used to be before I went on my forced diet. Why?"
"That's who Bret went to Sundown to find. Somebody told one of the Snyder hands about three men in Sundown, sounds like they have the right reputation. Would you recognize them?"
Bart got very serious and very still. "Oh yeah, I'd recognize them. Especially the older one. He really enjoyed his work." He closed the law book he was currently examining. "What does Bret expect to find?"
Beau wasn't sure how to answer that. "He's still looking for your gun. If he finds that he finds the murderer. These three seem to be known in that area. Maybe the man in Sundown can point him in the right direction."
"I hope so. I'd like to get out of here before I'm old and gray. Well, at least before I'm gray."
"Is there anything you need? I can send Harry down with whatever you want."
"How about a decent meal? The food in here is killing me. And have you got any cigars on you? I smoked my last one this morning."
Beau pulled three or four cigars out of his pocket, along with some matches. "Here, take these. I'll get more. I'll tell Sheriff Bowman that we're sending your food down from now on. Steak tonight?"
Bart grinned. "You bet. And potatoes. Plenty of potatoes. Got to keep up my strength."
"You know, we are trying to find the real killer."
"I know, Beau. Let's just hope the real killer isn't having this conversation with you."
Beau looked down at his boots. "You didn't kill him, Bart."
"Let's hope not." Bart paused for a moment and repeated in a quieter voice, "Let's hope not."