Chapter 32 Critical Mass
Judge Kincaid recessed the trial at six o'clock. It had been a long, arduous day for everyone. Sheriff Bowman put the handcuffs back on Bart, drew his gun and took the prisoner back to his cell. Hiram and Beau followed at a safe distance. Harry was waiting at the jail with Bart's dinner. He took one look at the food and sent Harry back to the saloon with it. Mort put him back in the cell, locked the door and returned to his desk. Hiram and Beau were left with Bart. No one spoke at first.
"Well, look at it this way," Bart finally offered. "They can only hang me once."
Beau looked at his cousin and shook his head. "Sorry, Bart. You know Doc Washburn didn't want to answer those questions."
"I know. But he told the truth, and that's all I could expect."
Hiram looked at Bart and could see the pain in his eyes. "Things will sound different when we get to present our case."
Bart stuck his hand out through the bars to shake Hiram's hand. "Hiram, I couldn't ask for a better attorney. I'm glad you're on my side."
"It's real easy to be, Bart. I know you didn't do it."
The sound of laughter filled the jail. "Oh, that's a good one. I wish everyone knew that!"
Hiram picked up his briefcase and turned to go. "I'll be here in the morning in case there's anything you need before we go to court. Tomorrow could get rough."
"Couldn't be worse than today," Bart said hopefully.
Hiram Foster looked at his client and couldn't lie to him. "Yes, it could."
"Great. Won't that be fun?"
Before Hiram could dig the hole any deeper he left. Beau and Bart looked at each other through the bars of the cell and Beau shook his head. "Is it too early to ask you to be my best man?"
"Oh yeah. Have you talked to Georgia yet?"
"No, I thought that could wait until this is all over."
Now it was Bart's turn. "Don't wait too long, cousin, or you might have to ask Brother Bret. Course he does clean up nicely so you should be okay."
"Don't kid, Bart. Nothing is happening until you're out of this jail."
Bart got serious. "One way or the other, Beauregard, I will get out. I'm just not sure if I'll walk out to a wedding or a noose."
"It will be a wedding, Cousin. No more talk of hangings."
They were both quiet for a minute as each pondered the implications of Beau's remark.
"If this doesn't go well, Beau, there are some things we need to talk about."
Beau hesitated to ask but he needed to know what his cousin meant. "Such as?"
Bart was in the mood to be brutally honest. "Such as personal belongings and where they should go. What I want you to tell Pappy. Where I want to be buried. And why." He paused for a moment before continuing. "There are things you don't know that you need to. And I need to explain to you why I never told you before. And some things you'll need to tell Bret that I can't."
Beau lowered his head so that Bart couldn't see his eyes, so he wouldn't see the tears. His voice was clear. "Alright. But we'll not talk about those things now." It took him a minute before he could continue. "How about I send Harry back with a big, fat juicy steak rather than that pitiful dinner he brought before?"
Bart didn't have the heart to tell Beau he wouldn't touch whatever Harry brought up. "Sure. But cook it well done, would you? Harry tends to think the steer needs to still moo at me. I need the darn thing dead. And bring plenty of coffee."
"That I can do, Cousin Bart. I'll see you in the morning." Beau left before he could get any more emotional.
Bart sat down on the cot. Thank God they were all gone. He didn't have to pretend anymore. He was shaking inside and soon his whole body followed suit. The pounding in his head increased until he couldn't hear anything, including his own heartbeat. He finally stretched out as much as he could and buried his face in the blanket. 'Make it stop,' was the only thought he had.
But it didn't stop. It got worse and worse until he couldn't breathe anymore. Harry picked that exact moment to deliver the steak dinner and dropped the entire tray as soon as he saw Bart lying there. "Sheriff, get the doctor!" he yelled as loud as he could. "Boss, boss, hold on!"
It wasn't five minutes before Doc Washburn got there. Bowman was right behind him and unlocked the cell door. He was so rattled by the entire incident that he didn't even bother telling Harry to stand back before doing so. Doc rushed in and immediately went to the prone man he had just finished testifying against. "Bart, can you hear me?"
The pain and the noise were agonizing. Something was happening around him but Bart didn't understand what. He heard a voice and knew he should be able to tell who it was but it was muffled and unintelligible. Then hands were poking and pushing on his head and every fingertip that he felt was sheer torture. Suddenly a light flashed in his brain, the thunder in his head roared and then – sweet oblivion.
"Mort, go get me a wet cloth," Doc Washburn ordered the sheriff. "And have Willis bring me as many blankets as you've got – this man is freezing. Harry, here's my keys. Go over to my office and get that bottle of reddish-brown liquid that's on the top shelf of my locked cabinet. And hurry, man!" Doc handed Harry the keys and turned back to Bart. "If you can hear me, son, just hang on. Helps comin'." Mort returned with a wet rag that Doc used to wipe the sweat off of Bart's face and neck. Then he looked back up at the sheriff. "Get yourself down to the saloon, Mort, and get Beau Maverick. And you better bring Jody Mayfield with you too, if she's there. This boy is havin' some sort of seizure and I don't know if he's gonna make it."
For once Mort didn't argue. He took off for the saloon as fast as he could go. Doc did the best he could to keep Bart wiped down and covered up at the same time. As badly as his face and neck were sweating, his whole body was still shaking with cold. Harry returned with the bottle Doc needed and helped him raise Bart's head enough to get some of the liquid down his throat. He swallowed reflexively and in two or three minutes the shaking had calmed down significantly.
Beau came running in followed closely by Mort. Jody was several steps behind the two men. "What's happened, Doc?" Beau asked anxiously.
"I'm not sure," Doc Washburn answered tentatively. "He collapsed and had a seizure of some kind. It seems to have backed off some. I gave him laudanum and I don't know if that helped or it just started to run out of steam. Mort, you can't leave him alone in this cell tonight."
Beau pushed his way through the men outside the cell and knelt next to the cot. He cradled Bart's head in his hands and leaned down by his ear. "Bart,' he whispered, "we're all here. Stay with us, Bart. Come back to us."
Jody knelt next to Beau on the cell floor. "Bartley Maverick, you come back, you hear. I need my big brother," she whispered tenderly. Then her voice broke and she let out a sob. "Don't you go!"
Slowly the shaking stopped and his breathing returned to almost normal. It appeared that whatever had happened was over for now. Mort took heed of Doc Washburn's edict and slipped a handcuff on one of Bart's wrists; the other side he closed around one of the cell bars. "Doc, you can stay in the cell with him. Maverick, I'll leave the cell open and Willis can get you another cot. Miss Jody, you'll have to go on home."
Jody looked up at the sheriff with tears running down her face and defiantly said "No. I'm not leaving. I'll stay right here on the floor if I have to, but I'm not going anywhere tonight."
Beau looked at Willis as he brought a cot into the jail hallway and set it down. "Deputy, find me a chair. Jody can take the cot. None of us are leaving here." Bowman looked at Deputy Willis in exasperation and let out a long sigh. "Get the man a chair, Deputy," the sheriff declared, and went back to his desk in the front of the jail. Doc Washburn turned to Harry. "Go back over to my office and bring my bag over here. It's on the floor next to my desk. Then go to the hotel and tell Judge Kincaid what's happened. I don't think this boy's gonna be fit to sit in a courtroom tomorrow. Then go find Hiram and get him down here." Doc thought for a moment and then asked, "You haven't seen Bret come back yet, have you?"
Harry shook his head 'no.' "Not yet, Doc," he answered.
"Alright, then that's all you can do for now."
Beau reached out and grabbed Harry's arm. "Wait, Harry, when you go back to the saloon tell Mrs. Mayfield what happened and tell her that Jody and I are staying here tonight. Make sure she gets home safe, see to it, please?"
"Yes, sir, boss," Harry answered, and left to execute all the tasks he'd been given.
With Harry gone Beau turned to the doctor. "What now, Doc? I thought he was past all this?"
"Well, Beau, I did too. Guess you can never tell what the brain is causin' the body to do and vice versa. Coulda been too much for him to handle all at once. Plus we don't know how healed up he really is inside. Ya know by all rights he shoulda died months ago, the night he got that pistol whippin'. Maybe this is just his body's way of catchin' up to that. Anyway, it looks like he's settled down for now. Probably be quiet through the night with no more trouble. Leastwise I hope so. That's why I'm stayin' right here." Doc got up from his sitting position on the floor and gave a hand to Jody to pull her to her feet. "Jody, you move the cot over to the other wall so that you're here inside with us. Beau, you stay close."
Beau pulled the chair right next to the cell door, then moved the other cot inside for Jody. She smoothed Bart's hair from his face and leaned down to kiss his cheek, then lay down on the cot against the cell wall. It seemed curiously odd to see a woman in a jail cell.
Beau sat down and put his feet up on his normal 'visiting' chair. He leaned over once again to Doc before settling in for the night. "Doc, tell me the truth. Is Bart going to be alright?"
Doc answered the best he could. "I don't know, Beau. I just don't know."