Chapter 26 Home Again
Bret had been saddle sore before but not like this. After two full days of driving one horse after another practically until they dropped, Bret had finally gotten home to Silver Creek. It was almost 3 a.m. when he rode into town and headed for the livery stable. At this time of night he'd have to bed his own horse down, and the poor beast deserved special treatment. He spent over an hour removing his gear, feeding, grooming and watering the roan gelding, before finally feeling like he'd done everything he could to make up for the way he'd pushed the animal this last 100 miles. Besides, it was the middle of the night. Or rather almost morning when he finished. Surely everyone would be asleep.
He left the stable and walked up the silent street towards 'The Three Mavericks.' There were lights on but all seemed quiet inside. He was right, when he walked into the saloon there was one man at the bar talking to Harry and one poker game going with four players. Lettie was there but the other girls were gone. Poor Harry looked like he was about to fall asleep. Beau was nowhere in sight but the door to the main office upstairs was open and the light was on. Bret nodded to Harry and climbed the steps two at a time. Beau was seated at the desk, head across his arm, fast asleep. He appeared so peaceful and childlike, just like he had when they were kids together. Whenever the three boys got caught doing anything they weren't supposed to, Beau was always the one who looked like he was just an innocent bystander. Those were carefree, simple days. Bret sighed and reached down to turn off the light on the desk. 'Let him sleep,' he thought. He tiptoed out of the office and closed the door.
Bret took the stairs a little slower. He watched Harry wipe the bar down from end to end and got there just as he was finishing. "Close it up, Harry. That's enough for one day." Harry acknowledged Bret's direction and started washing glasses. The poker game had just broken up and the men were slowly making their way towards the door. Bret followed them and closed and locked the big saloon double doors behind them. That's when he noticed a light on in Georgia's office and asked Harry about it. "Miz Georgia been here all night," he told Bret. "Says she can't sleep anyway. Does a money count after we close."
Bret took off his hat and shook his head. "Is this the first time that's happened?"
Harry hesitated, not wanting to say anything out of turn. "No sir, boss, been happenin' pretty regular ever since Mr. Bart's been gone." Bret dropped his hat on the corner of the bar and walked over to Georgia's office. He was about to knock on her door when she looked up and saw him. She jumped up out of her chair, ran over to him and gave him a big hug. "Bret, I'm so glad you're back. Did you see Beau?"
He laughed out loud before answering. "Yes, Georgia, I saw him. Sound asleep at the desk upstairs. I didn't wake him."
She sat back down at her desk and offered him a chair. "I know. That's the first time he's slept since he got your telegram. Poor boy. I didn't have the heart to wake him, either."
Funny, when Bret walked into the saloon he had been ready for sleep, too. Now he found himself wide awake. "I assume he shared that with you and Jody? And Bart? Who else, do you know?"
"Hiram Foster," she answered quickly. "Nobody else that I know of. I don't think he even told Harry."
"Good. The less people who know, the better. I wanna' make sure that everybody's safe. That includes you and Jody. This isn't what you signed on for when we talked you into coming back."
Georgia recognized and took note of the serious tone in Bret's voice. He really was the big brother to everyone. Even her. "You're not trying to get rid of me, are you Bret?"
The reply was swift. "No ma'am. You're the one who really runs this place, not us. I hate to think of the mess we'd of made by now without you. I'd just like to have this all be over and everyone back where they belong." His face darkened as he continued. "Including the men responsible. I'd like them to be somewhere other than Silver Creek. Like maybe the graveyard." He hadn't forgotten how they'd almost killed his brother. He would be more than happy to see them get their due, especially if they were hanged for it.
Everything was still and quiet for a minute. They could hear Harry whistling as he cleaned up from a long night. Georgia broke the silence by asking quietly, "Do you really know who the gun belongs to?"
He hesitated to answer, but not because he didn't trust her. Finally he said softly, "Rusty Meyers."
She looked startled. There was a name she hadn't heard in years. "I thought he left these parts a long time ago."
Bret was slow to reply. "He did, according to the marshal in Fern Creek. But he's back, and he's been hanging out with two brothers and doin' 'odd jobs.' The kind that gentlemen and ladies don't talk about. The marshal over there wasn't shocked when I told him what happened." That edgy tone in his voice. She'd heard that a lot lately. "Now we have to find him."
"Any idea where to start?"
"Out at the JP. I'll see if Pike's man Felton remembers a stranger coming to see Edgar. I've got a sketchy description but it might be enough to go by. Where I go next depends on what I find."
"Bret, be careful." Georgia looked at the oldest Maverick brother with grave concern. "One of you sitting in jail at a time is enough. Mort Bowman seems determined to hang a Maverick and even if you can get Bart out it won't do any good for you to take his place."
Bret realized that Georgia had misunderstood him. "I'm not gonna kill him, Georgia. I just wannna take him in so we can get Bart released." He gave a little laugh. "Besides, the law can hang him. They're good at that."
The saloon manager was relieved to hear that. None of the three Mavericks seemed like it would be an easy thing for them to take a man's life, but so much had happened since they first arrived in Silver Creek. When time after time things went the wrong way it was easy for even a good man to change. And the Mavericks weren't exactly what you would call good to begin with. Card sharps and part time con men could turn to the dark side faster than most. Even when they had decent hearts.
Time to wrap things up for the night. Georgia closed and locked her desk and turned to Bret as she rose from her chair. "Go get some sleep. You can't keep going the way you look now."
"I look that good, huh?" There was a distinct tone of amusement in his voice.
"You look like you were ridden hard and put away wet. Take care of yourself or you'll end up in a sick bed. What good will that do?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm headed for the hotel now. Couple of hours and I'll be good to go. How about you?" He stood next to her, ready to escort her out of her office and through the front door.
"I'll be back before noon. Maybe by that time Beau will be up and we can have some breakfast. A whole meal would be a luxury right now."
When was the last time he'd had one of those? He couldn't remember. "Yeah. I'll stop and see Bart before I ride on out. I'll be here later, tell Beau. I'll see him then."
He walked her to the front door. It was barely daylight outside. "Harry, you about done?"
Harry took off his apron, picked up his hat and coat and joined them at the front door. "Yep, boss, I'm done for a while. Alvin's on at noon today. Either of you mind if I go by the jail and see Mr. Bart this morning?"
"Nope, Harry, go right ahead. It'll no doubt do Brother Bart some good to see a friendly face." Bret unlocked the front doors and let everyone out. Then he turned around and relocked them. Didn't need anybody breaking in, especially with Beau asleep upstairs. Harry offered his arm to Georgia. "Miz Georgia, home as usual?"
Georgia switched arms from Bret to Harry. "Yes sir, home as usual. Good morning, Bret."
Bret tipped the hat he picked up on the corner of the bar where he'd left it earlier. "Good morning, Mrs. Mayfield. Harry. See you all later." He turned up the street towards the hotel and was glad that he'd stopped in before going to his room. Now, a couple hours sleep, a visit to his brother, and another ride. At least he was home.