Chapter 24 The Devil His Due
One more town. That's all Bret could think of as he rode into Fern Creek. Fern Creek. Silver Creek. What about Blue Creek? Or Brush Creek? Or Silver Fern Creek? Who thought up these names?
He was worn out. Nothing but riding for almost three days, no decent meals, no bed to sleep in, and his brother's life at stake. And so far, maybe the hint of a trail to follow. Tired as he was, he rode straight to the marshal's office. Time was getting short.
He dismounted wearily and tied his horse up. U.S. Marshal Travis Cole wasn't what he expected. Somehow he pictured an older, world-weary man, short and stocky, and what he got was very different. Travis Cole was tall, blonde, and rangy, with an air of authority that made women and men pay attention when he walked into a room. He stood and shook hands with Bret and offered him coffee.
"You look like you could use it, partner," Cole said as he poured two cups and brought them over to his desk. "Have a seat. Tell me what I can do for you this morning."
Bret took a big swallow of the coffee and started. "My name's Maverick. Bret Maverick. Alfred Bitters in Sundown told me you might have some information I need."
"Ah, yes," Travis answered. "Mr. Bitters is a bit of a talker, but a good fellow. What do you need to know?"
"How familiar are you with Rusty Meyers and Pete and Jack somebody or other that's probably brothers?"
The marshal nodded. "That would be Pete and Jack Sanborn. Born and raised right here in Fern Creek. Orphaned when they were babies. Bounced around from relative to relative; nobody wanted 'em. Pretty damn familiar, and I wish I wasn't."
"Bad news?" Bret already knew the answer to that one.
"From beginning to end. The Sanborn's weren't anything but petty criminals until Meyers came up here. Then they joined with him and been in and out of major trouble ever since. What are they into now?"
Bret's cup was already empty. He raised it questioningly and Cole nodded. "Help yourself." When he returned from the coffee he continued. "If I'm right, they killed a man in Silver Creek. And they're probably the same three that was hired by that man to beat my brother to death."
Travis Cole shook his head. "Sorry to hear that. Did they succeed?"
"No, but only because he's hardheaded." Bret let out a little laugh. "But it took him months to recover, and he's still not completely well." He took another drink of coffee. He was beginning to wake up. "That's what I'm here for. It looks like they tried to frame Bart for the murder. Bart's my brother. Somebody shot a rancher, Edgar Pike, and then swapped the gun Pike was shot with for Bart's. The gun is pretty ordinary except for a notch on the bottom of the grip. Almost looks like a lightning bolt. Have you ever seen any of those three with a gun like that?"
The marshal didn't have to think long. "Yep, I had all three of their guns in my desk the last time I had them overnight in a cell. Meyers had a notch like that on his gun. Sounds like he's the one you're looking for."
A chill shot up Bret's spine. Rusty Meyers. The man who had almost killed his brother. And who killed Edgar Pike. That was the answer. Bart didn't have a blackout, Meyers or one of the Sanborns had knocked him unconscious again and switched his gun for the murder weapon. No wonder poor Bart couldn't remember anything about that night. He was absolutely right, he hadn't done anything except go to bed. Everything in the room had been planted so that Sheriff Bowman would believe Bart guilty and arrest him. And then it suddenly struck Bret – the missing picture from Pike's house, the one of Jessie Maverick's kin, must be what the gang planted somewhere in Bart's room. Someplace hidden enough to be missed at first glance by Beau and Bret but conspicuous enough to be found by someone looking for evidence. Now he had to find them.
"Marshal Cole, can I get you to sign a statement swearing to a description of Meyers' gun? You might help save my brother's life."
"Sure, especially if it'll help convict Meyers and get him off the streets. There's an attorney about a block down the street, Aaron Mitchell. The judges in the territory know him real well and trust him pretty good. Go on down there and have him draft a statement and bring it back here and I'll sign it for you."
Bret got up and shook Marshal Cole's hand. He might be forced to change his thinking about lawmen. "Thanks Marshal Cole. Thanks a lot."
"Travis, please," the marshal said. "I'll be here all day."
With that, Bret hurried out of the marshal's office. For the first time in a while he had some hope that they might actually be able to settle this thing without Bart standing trial. He found Attorney Mitchell's office and got in to see him as soon as he told the clerk that Marshal Travis Cole had sent him. Once Bret explained what the affidavit needed to say, Mitchell had his clerk start work on it. He told Bret to come back at 2 o'clock and the papers would be ready for Marshal Cole's signature.
Bret left the attorney's office and went to send a telegram to Beau. The wire he sent to his cousin read:
Coming back with evidence.
I know who has gun.
He lit a cigar as he left the telegraph office. All he had to do was wait until 2 o'clock to pick up the affidavit and then get Cole to sign it. If he hurried he could eat, get the signature, and maybe get back to Sundown by dark. If he pushed it really hard and changed horses he might be able to reach Silver Creek in two days. That gave him only three more days to find Meyers and the Sanborn boys. Not an easy task.
Sammy, the telegraph clerk in Silver Creek, came running over to the saloon as soon as he received the message from Bret. He was breathless as he reached Harry at the bar. "Where's Mr. Maverick?"
Harry looked around and, not seeing Beau, assumed he was upstairs in the main office. "Upstairs, third door on the left," he told Sammy. The clerk went running across the floor and up the stairs as fast as he could. He knew how important this message was to the Mavericks.
Beau was in the office trying to teach Jody to play whist. She was a natural at poker but Beau had learned the game in England and missed having someone to play with. "Jody, it's simple. Really. The first trump card is hearts."
Jody looked at Beau curiously. "Honestly, Beauregard, can't we just play seven card stud? Nobody will ever play it with me."
Sammy heard the voices and knocked. Beau yelled "Come in," and Sammy did.
"Telegram from Mr. Maverick, Mr. Maverick," he announced. Beau took it from him and handed him a coin. "Thanks, Sammy."
He read it quickly and a smile spread over his face. "What is it?" Jody begged.
"It's from Bret. He's coming back with something and he knows who has the gun." This was the best news they'd had in weeks. Beau wanted to rush downstairs to tell Georgia but he stopped to look at Jody.
"It's alright," she told him. "I know what's going on. Go tell her."
Beau jumped up from behind the desk and practically flew down the stairs. "Georgia!"
Georgia was in her office talking to a very unfamiliar character. Beau stopped in the doorway. "Jack, this is one of the owners, Beau Maverick. Beau, this is Jack Sanborn. He's looking for a job tending bar and I just finished explaining we don't have anything open right now. But we might very soon in the future, the way we're growing."
Jack Sanborn stood up and offered Beau his hand. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Maverick." Beau looked at him with a small flicker of recognition.
"Have we met before?" Beau asked him.
"No, I don't think so. I have been in the saloon a few times with my brother. Maybe you saw me there."
"Perhaps." There was something about Sanborn that made Beau uneasy. He was a pleasant enough looking fellow, clean and polite, and reasonably well-spoken, but something seemed just a bit wrong. Beau couldn't put his finger on it, so he chalked it up to nerves. "I'm sorry to interrupt. I'll come back later."
"No, that's alright," Georgia told him. "Please stay." She turned back to Jack Sanborn. "Jack, why don't you check back with us in about a month? We could be looking for someone by then."
The young cowboy stood. "Thank you, Mrs. Mayfield. I will." He tipped his hat to Georgia, nodded to Beau and left the office. Beau closed the door behind him.
"Did you find him a bit . . . . strange?" Beau asked.
"No, not in the least. He was very nice, actually."
Beau shook his head. "I could swear I've seen him somewhere before."
Georgia responded "Maybe in the saloon like he suggested."
"Maybe. Anyway, there's something I came to tell you." He waved the piece of paper in his hand. "Bret's on his way back. He found some kind of evidence. And he says he knows who has Bart's gun."
Georgia jumped up from behind the desk and ran around to Beau. She was so happy that she hugged him. Then she kissed him.
Beau kissed her back. Several times. They were still locked in an embrace when Jody walked in. She nonchalantly sat down in front of Georgia's desk and looked at her mother. Georgia and Beau hastily separated and Georgia returned to her chair. Georgia cleared her throat and said quite formally, "Beau was just telling me about Bret's telegram. Isn't it wonderful?"
Beau sat down next to Jody and interjected, "Let's not be too hasty. We still have to find the gun owner, whoever it is. And bring them in. But we need to get Bart out of jail. Maybe this will do it."
"Poor Bartley," Jody said. "He's so miserable in there. Do you know how many law books he's read already?"
"Did he tell you about the frogs?" Beau asked.
In unison Georgia and Jody said "Yes!" and they all laughed. Then Beau got serious again.
"I don't know how he's stayed as sane as he has. All this hanging over him and never knowing if you committed murder or not. At least now he can be assured that he's not guilty."
"And we knew it all along," Georgia added.
"And told him so repeatedly," Jody chimed in.
Beau got up to leave. "I must go see him," he told the ladies. "I'll be back to take you both to dinner."
Beau rushed out of the office. Finally, some good news to share with Bart.
Georgia and Jody watched the door close behind him. Jody shook her head at Georgia. "Mother, do you know what you've gotten into?" she asked.
"Perfectly well, thank you, my dear," Georgia replied.
"You're going to get hurt by all this."
Georgia looked at her 'little girl' and wondered when she had grown so wise. "Probably," she answered.
Jody was determined to make sure her mother knew what she was doing. "He's going to leave someday, you know."
"Yes, I know," Georgia was firm in her resolve to never try to fool herself. "And it will break my heart when he does. But I'm not the right person for him, and he's not your father."
Jody knew how hard it had been on her mother when she lost Holt. At least now she was happy, involved in life again. Maybe the looming heartache was worth the spirit she'd regained. Beau was good for her.
"I wish you didn't have to be hurt."
"I'm not the only one who's going to be hurt. You've gotten really close to Bart, haven't you?" Georgia was asking a question that the answer to was obvious.
Jody looked down at her hands before she answered. "He's like a big brother. I hate to see him in such pain."
Georgia knew exactly how her daughter felt. "He's almost completely healed, you know."
Jody shook her head. "I don't mean physical pain, Mother. He's so miserable over not knowing if he killed Uncle Edgar. And it doesn't matter how many times I tell him that he's innocent, he's still not sure. I really hope Beauregard can make him feel better with that telegram."
"I do to, honey. More important, I hope that Bret really does have a lead on who the murderer is. We're running out of time."
They were both silent for a minute, then Jody asked, "Do you really think they'll leave? When this is all done, I mean?"
There was no hesitation in Georgia's answer. "Yes, Jody, I do. I think Bret would have been gone a long time ago if Bart was well. Beau I'm not sure of. He might still be here. But he'll be gone eventually, too. He's not ready to settle down. He might never be. It has to be on his timetable, not someone else's."
"What about Bart?"
Georgia thought about that carefully, knowing about Bart's brief 'marriage'. "I think Bart's different. His chance may have passed him by. He moves around out of habit more than anything else. I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it. The bottom line is, he's still a Maverick. They were born full of wanderlust." She paused for a moment and thought about Jessie. "Jessie had it, too. There were times when we had the saloon that she would get so restless she'd just about crawl out of her skin. But she resisted it. That's the difference. I don't know if they can."
Jody offered her own 'insight.' "I hope so. I'd really miss them."
"I would too, sweetheart. Let's worry about that later. For right now, I'd settle for getting Bart out of jail."