Chapter 31 Ride With the Devil
The next morning was gloomy and dark. A perfect match for Bart's frame of mind. Hard to be any other way when you were about to go on trial for a murder you didn't commit.
Georgia and Jody were both at the jail to see Bart before he was taken to court. Jody was bright and optimistic; Georgia quiet and hopeful. Beau arrived just as Hiram Foster did and they stopped outside the sheriff's office for a moment to talk.
"Have you seen anything of Bret this morning?" was Hiram's first question. He was hoping against hope that the answer was a positive one.
Beau was forced to disappoint him. "No, I haven't seen or heard from him since he went to Barker Corners. I was hoping he's be back by now. When does this fiasco begin?"
Hiram almost chuckled at Beau's choice of words. "Ten o'clock. I want to talk to Bart one last time before we go over to the courthouse. Have you been in yet?"
"No, I just arrived. Georgia and Jody are in there with him, by the look of things. That's the Mayfield buggy," Beau indicated the horse and buggy tethered in front of the jail.
"Beau," Hiram started, and then hesitated. Bret wasn't around so Bart's attorney was forced to express his grave concerns to the cousin instead of the brother. "I don't have a good feeling about this."
Beau was alarmed. "You haven't told Bart that, have you?"
A shake of the head. "Of course not. I wouldn't do that to him. He's got enough on his mind." He turned and stared down the street. He needed to be extremely careful what he said to Beau, who was liable to repeat it to Bart at the most inopportune time. "I'm worried about this so-called evidence that Mort Bowman has. That's the biggest stumbling block I can see. We can explain away the threat and the gun; chalk the former up to hot-headed youth and the latter to a set-up. But I can't defend against evidence I know nothing about. Any ideas?"
"I wish I did, Hiram. I'm afraid the only idea I can come up with is breaking Bart out of jail and hightailing it out of this town. And I'd do it if it would work."
Hiram put his hand on Beau's shoulder to reassure the young man. "Well, son, I'll just have to be at my very best. That's what Bart deserves, after all. Let's go see if we can raise his spirits this morning, shall we?"
"Alright, Mr. Foster, allow me." Beau opened the jailhouse door and held it open for the attorney. Beau and Hiram walked in and found Mort Bowman and Deputy Willis both there and both very quiet.
"Beau. Hiram." Mort's greeting, accompanied by a nod to each of them.
"The Mayfield ladies?" Beau asked.
"In back with the prisoner. Just about time for them to leave. Got to take him over to the courthouse."
Beau turned the corner and found Jody holding Bart's hand through the cell and quietly talking to him. Georgia had brought him a change of clothes from the saloon and she was folding his discarded coat to return it to the same place. She looked up when she heard Beau and smiled. "Good morning," she mouthed to him. He tipped his hat and smiled back. "Morning, Mrs. Mayfield," he spoke gently.
"What is this, a funeral?" the prisoner asked. "Did I sleep through the trial? Come on, this isn't over, it's just starting." Whatever Jody told Bart had a dramatic effect; he was unfailingly gloomy when the ladies arrived and now sounded more like Jody than anyone. Jody released his hand and lightly kissed her own fingertips; she planted the transferred kiss on Bart's cheek. "For luck" she told him. She turned and put her arm through her mothers and the ladies departed.
Beau was glad to see Bart in a better mood than he'd expected; but Jody had that effect on people, especially Bart. They were bonded in a way that Beau had only seen between Bart and Bret; his youngest cousin didn't appear to be as close to anyone else. Beau envied him; Jody was a special person. He should know, he was in love with her mother.
Hiram cleared his throat and looked at Bart. "Ready to go?" Hiram asked.
"No, Hiram, but I sure am ready to get out of this cell. Any last minute instructions?"
Hiram shook his head. "Remember what I told you. Don't let anything Grayson says upset you. Don't say anything. Don't get angry. And most important – trust me."
Bart nodded just as Sheriff Bowman walked up. "Okay Maverick, back up in the cell. All the way to the wall." Deputy Willis stood right at the corner of the hallway exit with his gun drawn and pointed at Bart. "Make any break for it and Willis has instructions to shoot. Put your hands out."
Bart did as he was told and extended his wrists. Bowman slapped a pair of handcuffs on him and pulled him to the front of the cell. Then he pulled his own gun and pointed it at Beau and Hiram. "Back up away from the prisoner," he instructed them. He marched Bart out of his home for the past month and through the jail. Out the door they went and all Beau could do was watch. He'd never felt so helpless in his whole life.
Bret knew that his brother's trial had started but he was chasing a cold trail through the Montana countryside. Meyers and the Sanborns, at least one of them, appeared to be headed southwest in no particular hurry. Bret was gaining on them but was still at least two or three days behind. They were erratic at best, sometimes staying in a town and sometimes sleeping on the trail. They hadn't robbed or killed anyone yet; the worst thing they'd managed was a bar fight in Cedar Grove. That's when Bret discovered there were only two of them; the descriptions fit Meyers and Pete. Jack Sanborn seemed to have disappeared after Cedar Grove; unbeknownst to Bret he'd circled around and headed back towards Silver Creek, still determined to find a better path.
He finally caught a break when he got to Jackson Flats and found that Meyers and Sanborn had been in jail for two nights and he was only about half a day behind them. After talking to the sheriff in Jackson Flats he turned around and headed back the way he'd come; during the hours prior to their release the prisoners had discussed Bart's upcoming trial endlessly and made the decision to head back towards its location. The sheriff believed that the event held some particular interest for them. Bret passed on a night at the hotel and instead traded his roan gelding and fifty dollars for a fresh horse. He was becoming more desperate by the minute and couldn't take the chance of them slipping through his fingers. He headed out for Silver Creek via the back roads in hopes of making up the half day the outlaws were still ahead of him. He could only pray that the trial would last long enough for him to catch up to them.
The trial had convened with both attorneys making an opening argument. Grayson contended that Bart was a 'man crazed with pain and intent on seeking revenge on the innocent victim, who he blamed for the beating' even though there was no proof to that effect. Foster, of course, argued that the so-called threat that Maverick made on Edgar Pike's life was 'no more than an attempt to make the man worry for no reason.' Bart was 'innocent of the charge of murder and would be proven so.'
Grayson called Burt Felton as his first witness. The foreman told how Pike had relayed the entire Maverick visit to him and ended with Bart's threat to kill Edgar. Hiram cross-examined and got Burt to admit that he hadn't actually heard the threat; he'd just heard what Pike told him had been threatened.
The next witness was one of the girls from the saloon who repeated how angry Bart had gotten over the prospect of Pike winning the lawsuit he's brought against the Mavericks. Again, on cross-examination Foster got her to admit that she hadn't actually seen the anger; she'd just heard gossip about it.
After recess was called for lunch the prosecutor finally had an unimpeachable source to call – Doc Washburn. After a long detailed explanation of the damage inflicted on Bart by the three masked gunmen, Albie Grayson got to the heart of his witness' testimony.
"Doctor Washburn, did Mr. Maverick come to see you sometime after his physical wounds appeared to be healed to discuss an ongoing problem he was having?" The prosecutor was tall and elegant looking, with a full head of silver gray hair and a trim set of whiskers. Doc Washburn looked at him as if he couldn't stand the man.
"And can you tell us the nature of that problem?"
"He was still in a lot of pain."
"What kind of pain, Doctor?"
"Ringing in the ears; headaches." Doc's answers were terse and unembellished
"And wasn't there something else wrong?"
"What was that, Doctor Washburn?"
"He'd had a blackout."
"Please elaborate, Doctor."
"What do you mean, elaborate? A blackout is a blackout." Bart was trying not to get uneasy, listening to the doctor attempt to be as evasive as he could.
"Explain a blackout, please, Doctor Washburn."
"It's a blackout! You pass out, aren't conscious, don't know what you did. You don't remember anything."
"Did he complain of only one, doctor?"
Doc Washburn thought back over what Bart had told him the morning he first came to see him about the problem. "Far as I can remember, yeah."
"But there might have been more?"
"I rightly don't remember."
'And were you consulted when another blackout occurred?"
"And when was that?"
"After Bart was arrested."
"For a blackout that occurred the night of Edgar Pike's murder?"
"And what did the defendant tell you, Doctor?"
"About the blackout he suffered the night that Mr. Pike died."
"Just that. He'd had a blackout. He couldn't remember what happened after he went to bed."
"And that when he became aware of his surroundings he was fully dressed in his hotel room."
"Anything else, Doctor?"
Doc Washburn looked down at the courtroom floor. He didn't want to answer any of the questions, but so far he'd had to. He really didn't want to answer this one. "He was holding a gun that he didn't recognize."
"Did the gun have blood on it, Doctor?"
"Was it Mr. Maverick's blood? Was he cut or bleeding anywhere?"
"Nothing further, your honor."
Hiram rose to try and mitigate the damage Doc Washburn had done. "What usually happens to a person suffering a blackout, Doctor?"
"You mean like what do they do?"
"Not much, usually. Sleep."
"Would it be normal for a man who was severely beaten about the head to have these blackouts?"
"Yes, it would be."
"And would it be normal for that same man to get up from his bed, get fully dressed, leave his hotel via a window on the second floor, saddle his horse, ride out of town to another location, break into a home with a heavy wooden door, shoot and pistol whip another man, ride back to his hotel, stable his horse, climb back in through the hotel window and not remember any of it?"
"No. It most certainly would not be normal."
"Thank you, Doctor Washburn. No further questions."
Albie Grayson rose from his seat. "One last question, Doctor. Even though it might not be normal, a man who had been as severely damaged in the head as Mr. Maverick might still be able to do all those things, might he not?"
Doc Washburn hung his head and very quietly said "Yes."