Chapter 23 Three of a Kind
The man in Sundown, one Alfred Bitters, was much more pleasant and helpful than his name. Once Bret located him it was easy enough to get Mr. Bitters to talk – for the price of a single beer.
"Sure, I talked to Johnny over at Snyder's. He keeps company with my wife's second cousin. Nice girl, they're talkin' about movin' over here and gettin' married. Anyways, like I told Johnny, these here fellas are a real piece a work. Rusty Meyers is mean as a snake. Wouldn't help his own mother if she was dyin'. Been in and out a jail since he was a young'un. Somewheres along the way he picked up the other two, brothers. Pete is the oldest one's name. Was a time he was a good kid, till he took to runnin' with Rusty." Bitters had to pause to sip his beer and take a breath. Bret didn't dare hurry him, for fear that he'd never get him back to the story.
"Other brother's kinda quiet. Name's Jake – no, hold on a minute – Jack. Never heard too much about him, but he's always with Rusty an Pete. Three of a kind, you might say. Story is they pulled a bank heist down in Colorado and hightailed it back up here. Willin' to do anythin' to make a buck, legal or not. Rumor is that Meyers was a hired gun in New Mexico for he come up here. Like I said, mean as a snake. Take any job offered, long as it pays. Don't care how low down it is. That's about all I know bout them three."
Bret had been sitting and nodding so long that he continued to do so for a minute. "Mr. Bitters, do you know what kind of a gun any of them carries?"
"Gun? No. I only seen 'em a couple a times myself. Never noticed no guns. Ya might go over to the county marshal's office in Fern Creek and talk to Marshal Cole. He's had plenty a run ins with that bunch. Reckon he could tell ya about their guns."
Another town, further south. Marshal Cole. Well, it was worth a try. Certainly everything that Alfred Bitters told him about Rusty, Pete and Jack seemed to fit so far. Could they be the three men he was looking for? Only one way to find out. Bret walked down to the livery stable to collect his horse. Then he headed south, towards Fern Creek.
Hiram Foster and Bart were in the jail cell discussing the trial. Hiram had the distinct impression that there was something big that the Mavericks hadn't told him. How was he supposed to defend the man if he was withholding information from his attorney?
Hiram looked directly at Bart and asked him, "Son, what haven't you told me?"
"Don't lie to me, Bart. Your life depends on this. The cards are stacked against you and you know it. Mort Bowman's got some kind of evidence and I can't find out what it is. I need to make sure that there aren't any surprises when we get into court. What haven't you told me?"
"Really, Hiram, that's the truth. I've told you everything." Bart could lie with the best of them when he needed to, but Hiram Foster was a master at ferreting it out of people. That's why he was a successful lawyer.
"I went to speak with Doctor Washburn. He seemed about as hesitant to tell me anything as you are. What is the good doctor going to say when the prosecution puts him on the stand?"
"Why would the prosecution put him on the witness stand? I thought you were going to call him."
Hiram hesitated to let Bart know how bad all of this really looked. But if he didn't, would Bart open up and reveal just what he was hiding? Maybe not. "I was, but Albie Grayson is the prosecutor and he beat me to it. He's going to call Doctor Washburn as a prosecution witness. Why is that? What can Doctor Washburn testify to that I don't know about? You have to tell me, Bart, or I can't defend you."
The stillness of the jail cell was deafening. "I can't Hiram. You'll think I killed him."
The attorney watched Bart carefully. He had to know. Maverick sat there, slumped over like someone had just beaten him. When he finally spoke he didn't raise his head or look at anything but the jail floor. His voice was quiet and defeated. "I've had blackouts. Doc Washburn knows about them. I had one the night Edgar was killed. Bret and Beau found me in the morning holding the gun that killed him."
Foster didn't say anything. He waited for the man to finish.
Bart finally looked at Hiram. His voice was clear and resolute. "I don't remember anything. I don't know if I killed Pike or not."
Minutes passed. Hiram Foster stood so that his back was to Bart. He walked over to the jail cell window and stared out into the back alley. So much to consider. No wonder he hadn't been told. This put a whole new light on things, good and bad. The attorney needed some time to digest this news.
He turned back to face Bart, who looked as disheartened and miserable as a person could look. "Did you ever intend to kill him?"
The answer came back swiftly. "No."
Foster weighed his words carefully. "I don't believe you did kill him, son. The man I know isn't a cold-blooded killer. In self-defense, certainly. But not the way he was killed. Not you." He walked back to the cot and stood in front of Bart, who looked up at him. "This murder belongs to someone else."
Relief flooded Bart. He was still watching Hiram Foster. "Thank you."
His attorney sat back down in the empty chair. "Now, tell me the whole story." So once more Bart ran through the entire string of events, from what he remembered of the beating to right now. This time he retold everything, including his visit to Doc Washburn and the night of the murder. Or what little he could remember of that night. After listening to the sketchy details that Bart had about the night, Hiram had come to his own conclusion. "Bart, there's no doubt in my mind that you were 'set up.' The window, the gun, the blood; all point to the scene being staged. And you fully dressed, with a shattering headache and remembering nothing? That's what we have to prove."
"How are we going to do that?"
"Bret and Beau are still trying to find the man with your gun, correct? In other words, the killer?"
"Yeah, that's where Bret is now, chasing down a lead. Beau said he went to Sundown day before yesterday. Hasn't made it back yet. Maybe he'll find something. Or someone."
The attorney knew what he had to do. "Is there anything that Mort Bowman found that has him so convinced you're guilty?"
Bart thought for a moment. "No, I was never in the ranch house. The only time I talked to Pike was the day I made the stupid threat, and he was never in the hotel. I can't imagine what the sheriff's got."
Foster stood and went over to the door of the cell. "Deputy Willis, come unlock the door." He looked back at Bart. "I'm going to talk to the doctor, and then I'm going down to see your cousin. Maybe your brother has gotten back with some news. I'll be by tomorrow."
The deputy unlocked the cell door and Hiram exited. Before leaving he turned back to Bart. "I'm glad you trusted me. I know that you're innocent."
Bart walked over to the cell door. "That makes one of us."