Chapter 3 Divide and Conquer
Another beautiful day in Silver Creek. Unless your name was Maverick.
Beau's skull still hurt. Bart's back was sore. Bret only managed to win $25 the whole night.
Beau got dressed and went down for coffee. When your head hurt this bad, no matter what caused it, you needed something stronger than tea. After he'd ordered he asked the waitress "Do you have any aspirin, by any chance?" She went back to turn in his order and returned with one small pill. "Doc Washburn left this here just in case," she told Beau. He took the tablet gratefully and washed it down with his coffee.
Bart took the stairs to the dining room as slowly as he had taken them up to his room last night. He was so tired that he hadn't changed positions in the bed all night and his back hurt. He walked stiffly into the dining room and spotted Beau in the corner drinking coffee and looking like a man whose head was killing him. Two down, one to go.
Bret entered the hotel lobby and headed toward food. It was not a productive night when twelve hours of playing poker yielded only a $25 return on your investment. And he was starving, not having eaten since supper the night before. Beau and Bart were already seated at the back table and Bret joined them. Beau had a half-eaten breakfast in front of him but Bart was just drinking coffee. For the third time the waitress brought an empty cup and the coffee pot, refilling the other cups after she poured Bret's.
"Bacon and eggs, lots of eggs, and toast." Bret looked at Bart. "Is that all you're having?"
"Some toast, please. And keep the coffee coming."
"Order some food, man. You need some meat on your bones."
Bart smiled at the waitress and repeated "Just toast, please."
Beau looked at the two of them miserably. "Stop the caterwauling, please. My head is throbbing."
Bret shook his head and went "Tsk, tsk. Shouldn't drink so much, Cousin Beau." Bart started to laugh and thought better of it. "You're not the only one," he told Beau sympathetically. "Course no one hit me over the head. But there was someone in my room last night."
"Who?" Beau managed.
"Don't know. Didn't catch anybody, just found their handprint. It was small enough to be a woman's. Didn't take OR leave anything." Bart turned to Bret. "How about you?"
"I don't know," Bret answered. "I haven't been in my room since last night."
"Hardly," came the reply. He turned to Beau. "What happened?"
Beau looked a little less pitiful than before. "I went back to my room after dinner to get cigars. The door was unlocked and when I opened it somebody hit me with something."
"Really descriptive," Bret shot back. "Somebody with something?"
"Fine," Beau responded. "The next time you get hit over the head we'll see how eloquent you are. That's all I know."
"Now, Cousin Beauregard, don't go getting all offended. I'm just trying to figure out what we've walked in to."
Bart ignored the bantering back and forth between the cousins. "Something sure seems odd. Why break into our rooms? What are they looking for? And who are they?"
"Don't have any answers for that, but they sure didn't waste any time. Let's split up and see what we can find out. Bart, you go see Aunt Jessie's lawyer. Beau, you go back to the saloon and see if you can pry anything out of that pretty little girl that wanted your attention last night. I'll go out to Jessie and Edgar's and visit Mr. Pike. No sense pretending we're anyone but Mavericks, looks like somebody already knows."
Bart nodded agreement; Beau made a face and grabbed his head; Bret laughed at Beau.
Lawyers not being Bart's favorite people in the world, he went to see Hiram Foster, Esq. anyway. The lawyer's offices were bright and sizeable; no one in this town seemed to be hurting for business. As soon as Bart announced himself to Attorney Foster's clerk the little man scurried down the hall to a large office and went inside. In just a moment he hurried back out and came to get Bart, ushering him to a comfortable chair facing Foster's impressive desk. 'Doesn't anyone in this town do anything on a small scale?' Bart wondered. The attorney, a distinguished looking gentleman of around 50 years old, rose to greet Bart and shake his hand. "Mr. Maverick, so nice to meet you. You are the son of Mr. Beauregard Maverick of Little Bend, Texas?"
"I am," Bart answered. "There are two of us. We're an unmatched set."
Foster laughed pleasantly. "And is your brother with you? His name is Bret, isn't it?"
Bart's eyes swept the room before answering. Not only was the size of the desk impressive, the entire room was impressive. Hiram Foster was quite successful, Bart concluded. "Oh, I'm sorry. My brother is in town but not here with me, as you can see."
"And your cousin Beauregard? Named for your father, I presume."
"What? Oh yes, he was. Cousin Beau is also in town." Bart let his answer sink in for a moment and then inquired, "Should I have brought them with me?"
Foster shook his head. "Oh, not necessary today, not just yet. They'll need to be here to sign some papers, of course, but that can be done later." He kept looking at Bart, as if trying to remember where he'd seen him before. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be staring. It's just that your resemblance to Jessalyn is quite remarkable. Did you know that?"
"No, I had no idea. None of us even knew that we had an Aunt Jessie until a few days ago."
Foster again shook his head. "Really? Well, Miss Maverick certainly knew about the three of you. Say, there aren't any more of you, are there? Mavericks, I mean."
Bart laughed an uncomfortable laugh. "No, that's all. At least that we know of. Just the three of us."
"Just for clarification, Beauregard the younger is the son of Bentley Maverick, your uncle?"
Bart thought they'd cleared all this up. "Yes, he is."
"And you're certain that there are no more nephews out there?"
Bart was becoming a little annoyed. "I'm certain. Uncle Micah has no children, and there were only four in the family – Beauregard, Bentley, Micah and Jessalyn."
"Just needed to be positive. Jessalyn thought there were only three nephews but she hadn't been in contact with Micah in a long time."
"Does that mean she was in contact with my . . . . father?"
"According to her, yes."
"And Uncle Bentley?"
Never once had either Pappy or Uncle Ben mentioned Jessalyn Maverick, by name or relation. Never once.
"Doesn't that seem rather odd? That we never knew she existed."
The attorney looked amused. "Oh no. You'd be surprised how many people have relatives that they've never heard of."
They sat in silence for a moment, Bart trying to understand the concept of having relatives you didn't know about. What had they missed by not knowing Aunt Jessie? What had she missed by not knowing them?
Finally Bart asked the obvious question. "What do we do now?"
"Well, Mr. Maverick, the will is already in probate. Miss Maverick left the house and all its belongings to Mr. Edgar Pike; and the saloon and all of its assets and debts to you three. As soon as probate is settled a new deed will be made out naming you, your brother Bret and cousin Beauregard as the new titleholders, each with 33 1/3 % ownership. Until that happens, there is the question of running the business on a day to day basis. I imagine that you and your family will want to assume proprietorship immediately. That can be arranged. There will be some papers to sign, as I told you earlier, but that is merely a formality. You can collect the keys to the property from Harry, he's the bartender. He was Jessie's oldest employee and the man she trusted more than anyone. Harry can guide you from there."
Bart's head was swimming in circles. He felt the way Beau must have after being hit last night. He waited for everything to sink in and then asked "Is there anything else I . . . . we should know?"
Hiram Foster considered this for a moment before answering. "I probably shouldn't share this with you, but I was Miss Maverick's attorney, and now yours, not Mr. Pike's. Ownership of 'The Three Mavericks' Saloon is being contested by Edgar Pike. He doesn't believe that you or any of your relatives have any right to the property and that it should belong solely to him. He's said so in public on many occasions. In fact I believe his direct quote was 'they should all burn in hell before I give up Jessie's baby.' I'm sorry to be so blunt about it but I thought you should be aware of his sentiments and intent."
There it was, right out in the open. Who indeed was on to them? Edgar Pike. And what was he looking for? That question Bart didn't have an answer to. Yet. Maybe Bret would after his visit with Pike.
"Thank you, Mr. Foster. You've been quite . . . . informative. We'll be in touch soon." Bart and Hiram Foster stood and shook hands. Bart put his hat back on and left the office. Hiram Foster had given him a lot to think about.
Beau didn't have quite as much success with Lettie. It was daylight and Lettie wasn't getting paid to be nice to men who didn't want to drink with her. The only way that Beau could get her to sit down and talk to him was to buy another bottle. And pour drinks. For Lettie, of course. She had three in her before she would even smile at him. By number five Lettie was much more willing to tell him everything she knew. It wasn't much but it was helpful.
"Say, I thought you said your name was Mansfield." That was the most profound statement that Lettie had made to this point. Beau was slightly embarrassed but determined not to let it show. "I did. I apologize for that small deception, Lettie. But in reality I am a Maverick."
"Which one?" Lettie asked.
"Beau. Beauregard Maverick. In the flesh."
"One of the brothers or the cousin?" Lettie's questions were relentless.
"And Bart, with you last night?"
"One of the brothers."
"And the other brother?"
Beau decided to keep 'the other brother's' identity under wraps for now. "He's here too."
"Was he in the saloon last night?"
"I don't know. I wasn't looking for him."
Lettie temporarily ran out of questions. Now it was Beau's turn. "Is this place always as busy as it was last night?"
"Oh sure," came back her quick response. "Nothin' much to do in this town but drink and gamble. Most 'a these cowpokes got nothin' better to do with their time or money." She gave a little laugh before continuing, "And they sure do like to spend both. This is the only place in town they can let off a little steam."
"Is that why you work here?"
Five drinks in her and she was suddenly sober as a judge. "No. My ma worked as a cook for Jessie when I was growin' up and she took real good care of us. I never wanted nothin' more than to spend time with Ma and Jessie, so after Ma passed it just seemed like a good thing to do. Jessie treated me like I was hers." There was sadness in Lettie's voice as she spoke of Jessie. "I sure do miss her. She was a real fine lady, no matter what anybody says."
Beau was startled by the declaration. Who thought his aunt wasn't a 'real fine lady?'
"Who thought badly of Aunt Jessie?" was his next question.
Lettie took her time in answering. "All them snooty church ladies." She looked Beau in the eyes and declared "Tweren't none of 'em knew her like we all did. If they'da ever been around her they'da known all the good things about her."
Beau reached over to pat Lettie's hand sympathetically. She was startled at his gentle touch. This wasn't the typical gambler that frequented the saloon. There was a sweetness and a grace about Beau Maverick that every woman who came in contact with him found appealing. Lettie began to fall under his spell. Last night she saw the resemblance that Bart Maverick had to his aunt and felt the physical attraction; today she sensed the tenderness that Jessie possessed evident in her other nephew.
"Tell me what you know about Edgar Pike."
The look of affection on Lettie's face quickly changed; it became hard and cold. "Not much to tell. Pike was always a different sort of fella. Kinda' shifty but nobody could ever catch him at anything. Not much ambition. Didn't do nothin' except help Jessie run the place. Never touched any of the girls." She paused and looked away wistfully. "One things for certain – he loved Miss Jessie with a passion. Never no doubt about that."
Bret went to the livery and got a horse. The 'JP' Ranch was about 10 miles from town and it took him no time to get there. It was a pretty little place, well taken care of. A small house, a smaller barn, and no one in sight. Quiet and peaceful.
He knocked on the door and heard someone walk across the room to answer. When the door opened a short, stocky, white-haired man stood in front of him. He had a small beard and even smaller mustache and an unpleasant look on his face. "Yes?"
Bret stuck out his hand to Edgar Pike. "I'm Bret Maverick." Pike looked at him impassively and wouldn't shake hands. "One of Jessalyn Maverick's nephews?"
"I know who you are." Pike looked as if he had swallowed something unpleasant. He stood and glared at Bret without moving an inch. "What do you want?"
"Sorry if I disturbed you, Mr. Pike, but I'd like to talk to you." Pause. "About Aunt Jessie." Pause. "May I come in?"
Pike opened the door slightly and moved aside. He didn't say a word. Bret entered the room and the inside was as neat and well-kept as the outside. There was a small fireplace on the main wall and an extremely old photograph in a frame on the mantel. The photo appeared to be of a very young Maverick family – Beauregard, Bentley, Micah and a girl Bret assumed to be Jessie. There were two rocking chairs in front of the fire and the older man walked over to one and sat down. Bret followed him and took the other seat.
"Mr. Pike, I'd like you to know that my brother and cousin and I were very sorry to hear of Aunt Jessie's passing. You probably know that we weren't aware that she even existed until a few short weeks ago. That's why none of us ever came to visit."
Still Pike said nothing. After a short pause Bret continued. "We just learned of her and her will and came up here as soon as we could."
Pike snorted, a most disagreeable sound. "No doubt to claim your inheritance."
Bret worded his reply very carefully. "Not just that, Mr. Pike. We wanted to meet you and find out everything we could about the aunt we never knew we had."
Pike's look got even more unpleasant. "Hmmpf. What's there to know? She was a wonderful woman. I loved Jessie for more than 20 years and whatever her reasons were for not marrying me, she kept them to herself. Now she's gone. And the buzzards have arrived to pick the bones clean."
No misjudging Pike's attitude. The Mavericks were 'buzzards' to him, and from the tone of his voice nothing was going to change his feelings. Bret tried a different tactic.
"Is there anything you can share with me about Aunt Jessie's saloon?" Maybe talking about the business instead of Jessie would be easier for Pike to take.
"Yes. It should be mine. I helped her run the place and grow the business for all those years. I can't imagine what was in her head that made her think it was a good idea to give it to people she'd never even met."
Nope, better not go there either. It was becoming fairly obvious that Edgar Pike had no intention of co-operating with Jessie's nephews in any way, shape or form. Bret tried one more thing. He nodded his head toward the photograph.
"I've never seen a picture of Aunt Jessie. Do you mind?"
The expression on Pike's face seemed to momentarily soften, then grew cold again. "Suit yourself. Why Jessie kept it all these years is beyond me."
Bret stood up from the rocker and walked over to the mantel. He picked up the old, fading photo and stared at it for a long minute. Everyone in the picture seemed so young, Pappy and Uncle Ben and Uncle Micah. At the center of the picture was a beautiful young girl with dark hair and dark eyes. Bret was struck by how much Bart resembled the young Jessie. Maybe that explained some of the times that Bret caught Pappy looking sideways at his younger brother, as if seeing Jessie all over again. Bart would be surprised to know that he favored a relative none of them had ever laid eyes on. He gently replaced the photo on the mantel and turned back to the unpleasant little man. "Aunt Jessie's grave?"
"Out back," Pike growled. "Kept her here, where she loved it. Wasn't putting her in any high faluting graveyard where she could be mistreated and ignored." He looked at Bret with dislike bordering on loathing. "Why?"
What had he ever done to make this man he'd just met detest him so? "I'd like to visit her."
Pike seemed genuinely surprised by the statement. He rose from the rocker and indicated that Bret should follow him. They walked silently out the door and around to the back of the house, where there was a small fenced area that had become the makeshift graveyard. It held two graves, one much smaller than the other. Only the larger one had a marker of any kind. It read simply "Jessie, My Love." No dates, no last name. The small grave was untouched except for some wilted flowers that lay strewn across it. Bret looked at the marker and then down at Edgar Pike. There were tears in the old man's eyes. There was no doubt that Jessie had been his whole life.
Slowly his focus shifted to the smaller mound. Who or what was this? An old hound of some kind, one that was near and dear to Jessie's heart? Or something else – a baby or young child perhaps. Had Jessie and Edgar had a child? Bret was not about to ask Pike any questions at this point. He put his hat back on his head, looked down again at his 'uncle' and said quietly "Thank you." Then he walked back to the front of the house, mounted his horse and rode back to town.