Chapter 25 You.Didn't.Kill.Pike
Beau made his way down the street to the jail. This time of day there was no one at the jail but Sheriff Bowman and Beau didn't like to visit with just the sheriff around. Bowman seemed to dislike the Mavericks and made things as difficult as possible for them. He'd never really investigated the beating and had been more than willing to jump to the conclusion that Bart was Edgar Pike's murderer. And he refused to share the evidence with Bart's attorney, Hiram Foster. Beau tended to stick to visiting in the morning when Deputy Willis was on duty; Willis was a lot more pleasant to deal with.
This visit couldn't wait until tomorrow, not with the way Bart's state of mind was progressing. So Beau gritted his teeth and walked into the jail. "Good evening, Sheriff Bowman."
Mort nodded. "Mr. Maverick. Little late in the day for you to be here, isn't it?"
"Something's come up. I need to see Bart."
"Well now, Willis told me you were already here today. Why can't it wait until tomorrow?"
Lord forbid Bowman had to go out of his way to do anything for anyone named Maverick. "Because it can't, sheriff."
Mort wasn't happy but he didn't have a good reason to refuse Beau. He pointed back towards the cells. "Well, you know where he is."
Beau hurried back to the all too familiar jail cell. Bart was attempting to play Maverick Solitaire. He looked up, surprised, when he saw Beau. "Cousin Beau, what brings you out this time of day?"
"I got a telegram from Bret."
"And where is Brother Bret now?"
"On his way back from Fern Creek," Beau shared.
"Fern Creek? Where's that?" Bart stopped playing and looked at his cousin.
"South of Sundown. He went to see a man in Sundown who had information. Remember?"
Bart shook his head. "I'm havin' a little trouble with my memory these days. So much goin' on it's kinda hard to keep track of everything. What kind of information?"
Beau was perplexed. Was Bart serious? Did he not remember what Beau told him? Had the beating really affected his memory? Or was Bart pulling his leg? "About the gun you had when we found you."
"Oh yeah, now I remember. So?"
"Bret knows who the gun belongs to." At last Beau had Bart's attention; he put down the cards, stood up and walked over to the cell door. "Who?"
"The telegram didn't say. He's coming back with some kind of evidence."
"What evidence?" Bart was interested now.
Beau handed him the telegram and let him read it for himself. "Hmmm. Doesn't say. Wonder what it is?"
"Bart, he knows who the gun belongs to! That means he knows who killed Pike." Beau paused for a moment to let that sink in. "You didn't do it. Bret's got proof!"
Bart shook his head. "No, Beau, that's not what the telegram says. It says he knows who has my gun. That doesn't mean I didn't kill Pike."
The Maverick stubbornness had reared its ugly head. "Bart, you didn't kill Edgar. Bret knows who did. That's probably why he didn't tell us who has your gun in the telegram. In case somebody saw it."
"Ok, Beau, whatever you say."
Now Beau was really worried. What in the world was going on in Bart's head? Would Bart give him an honest answer? Did Bart even know?
"Cousin Bart, sit down." Beau pointed at the empty chair in the cell. Bart pulled it over to the cell door and obediently sat down. Beau grabbed the chair he used in his morning visits and sat as close to Bart as he could, with only the bars of the cell between them. This conversation was going to be private. Mort Bowman didn't need to hear any of it.
Beau made sure that Bart was really paying attention to him. He kept his voice low. "You've got me totally bewildered, Cousin Bart. Do you understand what I'm telling you? You didn't kill Pike. ' .Pike. Someone else did and set you up for the murder. Bret's on his way back now and we're going to find the real killer and this whole nightmare will be over. You'll be free. Cleared of all charges. Ready to leave this place and never look back. You didn't kill Edgar Pike."
Bart sat and stared at Beau for a good five minutes. Then he blinked several times and looked like a fog had begun to lift in his head. There was an incredulous tone in his voice when he asked, "I didn't kill Pike?"
Beau shook his head and looked down at the floor. "No, Bart, you didn't kill Pike. That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"Yes Bart, I'm sure."
Bart lowered his head into his hands and his shoulders heaved, but he made no sound. He sat that way for the longest time and Beau sat with him, waiting for the reality of what he'd just been told to sink in. Finally Bart lifted his head out of his hands and said out loud, "I didn't do it. I really didn't do it." He leaned in as close as he could get to the cell bars and almost whispered to his cousin, "You don't know what it's been like. For weeks I've doubted my own sanity, my morals, everything I ever believed in. Could I really kill a man in cold blood? Even if I hated him and wanted him dead? And I thought that I'd done just that. It was perfect. I started to believe every vile thing I've ever been called. I was sure that I was a murderer. Why? Why would somebody do this to me?"
Beau was immensely relieved. Bart was more rational than he'd been in months. For the first time in a long time, he sounded like himself rather than the terrified and maddened shell of Bart Maverick that he'd turned into.
With his head starting to clear, something that bothered him for weeks surfaced. "Beau – Edgar was shot and pistol whipped. Why? To make it look like I paid him back for what he'd done to me? Since it wasn't me, who'd do that?"
The answer was obvious to Beau. "The men that tried to kill you."
"Yes, but why?"
The puzzle pieces were beginning to fall into place and Beau guessed the next one. "They had to get him out of the way. They considered him a danger."
"How? I couldn't identify them. That must have been obvious." Bart stopped for a moment to think. It came to him quickly. "The only one who could identify them was Edgar. As long as he was alive he was a threat to them."
That made sense to Beau, but one thing still bothered him. Why now? "So what changed? They must have known for months that you couldn't identify them. Why wait until now to go after Edgar? What prompted the murder?"
Bart didn't have an answer. "Don't know, but something must have. Maybe they thought they'd done their job and they found out differently. Maybe they tried to get more money out of Edgar. Maybe he wanted them to finish the job and they wouldn't." That was a sobering thought. Bart tried not to dwell on it. "Or wanted more money to try again. I don't know. Something made them change their plans for Pike when they did."
Beau was thankful that Bart seemed to be thinking straight again. "I guess we'll have to wait till we can find them and bring them in." He got up from his chair and moved it back against the wall. "When Bret gets back."
"Where did you say he was?"
"On his way from Fern Creek. Should be here in two, three days. Time enough to find whoever we're looking for." 'I hope,' thought Beau.
Bart said it out loud. "I hope. Sure would be nice to see something besides these four walls. Did you get rid of the hotel room like I asked?" Right after being arrested Bart told Beau to move his things into one of the offices at the saloon. No sense paying for a hotel room you couldn't even visit.
"You will be delighted to know that I did just as you asked. The last office on the left upstairs is where your belongings now reside. As soon as we get you out of here there will be a hotel room waiting for you."
"With a double lock on the door, please." Bart let out a little laugh.
"Anything you wish," Beau responded. "I must get back to 'Mavericks.' I promised to take the ladies to dinner."
Bart had one last question before Beau returned to the saloon. "Will you let Hiram know about the telegram?"
"I shall, Cousin Bart. I shall."