Chapter 34 The Rusty Gun
Sure enough, the sheriff of Jackson Flats was right. The 'Meyers Gang', as he'd come to think of them, was headed back towards Silver Creek. Bret wondered if they were returning to the little ramshackle cabin he'd found and was glad he'd replaced the burned clue in the stove. He was closer to them now, having made up some time and ground on the riders. He was halfway to his destination when the tracks of a third rider joined them. The missing brother. Good, they were all together now.
There was nothing to do but think as he rode on, ever closer to finding the real killer or killers. He drifted back over the years, through all the scrapes and scratches and messes they'd been in, and felt exceedingly lucky that they'd all come out this side relatively unscathed. Until this one, that is. What would he have done if Bart had been killed? Drifted around from town to town with Beau or gone off alone? Thank God he didn't have to find out. Much of a pain in the butt as Bart was sometimes, Bret had no desire to be an only child. Of course if Bart was gone he wouldn't exactly be an only child; Beau was like another brother. But it wasn't quite the same – there was a bond between the blood brothers that couldn't be broken. That's what bothered Bret so much about the last few days on the trail of Meyers and the Sanborns – something was wrong and he couldn't put his finger on it. Bart was on his mind constantly.
Another cold blast of air whipped past him and he wished with all his might that he'd gotten a heavier jacket before taking off after the gang. Plenty of time for that once this was over and Bart was free. Was there really? Were they going to stay on through winter in Silver Creek? They'd already been there longer than almost any place else, save for Texas where they grew up. Wasn't it already past time to go? And what would they do with the saloon if they left? Then an unpleasant thought shoved its way into Bret's consciousness. What if he was the only one that wanted to leave? Could he go by himself, knowing that the kin he was closest too was way up in Montana without him? Would he go by himself? Was it time to find a home and settle down?
There was a thought. Settling down. Hmmm. Pappy had long ago extracted the promise from his boys that they wouldn't marry until they were 38. Bart had broken that promise but Pappy didn't know. Anyway, she was gone now so it didn't matter. But marriage and settling down were two different things. Pappy and Uncle Bentley had both married and settled, staying in one place long enough to raise their children. What was wrong with that? Was Pappy's edict given because he wished he hadn't married? No, he truly loved Belle Maverick and was devastated when she died. Maybe there was such a thing as Maverick wanderlust, after all.
So much was going through Bret's mind as he rode that he missed the turn he was supposed to make. It was an hour or more later before he realized that he'd double-backed and was headed to the town rather than the creek itself. Dang!
He made a turn and took a short cut back towards the creek and that's when he realized that lady luck had switched sides and was back in his pocket after all. He heard them before he saw them, thank goodness. Voices, three men talking quietly. Just off the trail and to the north, way back behind the Ponderosa pines. The 'gang' seemed to like hiding in the forest.
Bret stopped his horse and listened. He couldn't make out what they were saying at first because of the wind but he got enough.
" – seems there was some kind of something happened day before yesterday. Doctor didn't know if he was gonna live but he did. Trials been on hold since; they're supposed to . . . . . . tomorrow."
"Just our luck," came what sounded like the older voice. "Couldn't just die like he was supposed to . . . . . this would have been over a long time ago . . . . . guess there's no sense of leaving for good till we know . . . .hangs or not."
"Really want to . . . . . . here until then? Could be five or six more days. What if . . . . ?"
"Nah, nobody's lookin' . . . . . us. If somebody comes snoopin' . . . . go back to that run down . . . . "
Bret's heart was pounding. What had they said about Bart? "Something happened day before yesterday. Doctor didn't know if he was gonna live – "The only thing he was sure of was that his brother was still alive. He had to get back to Silver Creek. From what he picked up the gang was going to stay where they were until they knew Bart's fate. That gave him time to get the sheriff and a posse and leave nothing to chance when it came down to capturing these three. He walked his horse back out the way he'd come and took off at a gallop as soon as he was sure he could no longer be heard. Everything was forgotten except one thing – whatever had happened, Bart was alive.
It was almost two days later when the trial got restarted. Bart was still shaky but better than he'd been immediately after the collapse. They all went through the same routine as the first day of the trial, but Sheriff Bowman brought the prisoner into court without handcuffs upon the advice of the prosecutor. No sense making him look like even less of a threat to escape than he had previously. The whole town, including Judge Kincaid, was well versed in how the trial was almost over before it'd much begun.
Albie Grayson was ready to continue his case and ready to call his star witness – Sheriff Mort Bowman. After swearing the sheriff in Grayson began his methodical questioning, leading up to the discovery of Edgar Pike's body. "And what did you find when you entered the Pike home, Sheriff?"
Mort was succinct. "I found the body. Mr. Pike had been shot through the heart and then pistol whipped. Or vice versa. It was hard to tell which came first."
"And did you find a weapon, sheriff?"
"None at all?"
"What did you do then?"
"I rode back to town and sent the coroner out to get the body."
"And once that had been accomplished?"
Sheriff Bowman cleared his throat. "I went to Bart Maverick's hotel room to arrest him, just as I promised I would."
"And did you arrest him?"
"Yes I did. I put him in handcuffs and turned him over to Deputy Willis, to be taken to jail."
"And what, if anything, did you see when you entered the room and made the arrest?"
"Bart Maverick was fully dressed, sitting up in the bed. He had his gun in his hand and there was blood on the gun. Also on his hands and shirt. The room was a mess, with personal belongings scattered all over the floor, including a lamp that had been on the table. The window was wide open."
"Who else was in the room?"
"Bret Maverick, his brother, and Beauregard Maverick, his cousin."
"No one else?"
Grayson turned back to the prosecutor's table momentarily. He picked up something that had been hidden in his briefcase. It was the photo of Jessie Maverick and her brothers as children. "Sheriff, did you find this photo in the room?" He handed the picture to Bowman.
Mort took the photo and looked at it. "Yes I did."
"And where was it? Was it out in the open, in plain sight?"
"No sir, it was hidden on the table under Mr. Maverick's saddle bags."
'"Excuse me, sheriff, did you say hidden?"
"Yes sir, it was underneath the saddle bags, kinda tucked inside where it couldn't be easily seen."
"And had you ever seen this photograph before, Sheriff Bowman?"
"Yes sir, many times."
"And where exactly did you see it?"
"It was in a frame on the mantel of Edgar Pike's fireplace."
"And how do you know this is the same photograph, Sheriff?"
"Jessie Maverick kept the photo on the mantel for years and told everyone that it was the only picture in existence of her with her brothers."
"Would Jessie have given it to her nephews?"
"Maybe. But she didn't."
"And how do you know that sir?"
"Because I saw it on Edgar Pike's mantel the day before he died."
"You saw it, Sheriff?"
"Yes sir, I went out to the JP Ranch to talk to Edgar about the threat that Mr. Maverick made. I was in the house, sitting in front of the fire with Edgar."
"Are you sure this is the same photograph, Sheriff Bowman?"
"Yes sir, I am."
"No further questions, your honor." With that Albie Grayson took his seat, a smile of satisfaction on his lips.
Hiram Foster stood to question Sheriff Bowman. "Sheriff, did you actually hear Mr. Maverick allegedly threaten Mr. Pike?"
"No, I wasn't there when the threat was made."
"And to your knowledge, was there anyone who heard the alleged threat?"
"Yes, there was. Mr. Bret Maverick and Mr. Beauregard Maverick."
"They are the accused's brother and cousin, Sheriff?"
"And did you question them about the alleged threat?"
"And what did they tell you?"
"That neither one was close enough to hear anything."
"So they denied hearing any kind of threat?"
"Yes, they denied it."
"Did anyone else hear the alleged threat?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"So we have an alleged threat made to Mr. Pike that no one else heard, is that correct?"
"Well, when you put it like that, I guess so. But Maverick never denied making the threat against Edgar."
"Isn't the lack of a denial different than actually admitting something?"
Bowman refused to answer. Judge Kincaid leaned over and told him "Answer the question, Sheriff."
"Now Sheriff, turning your attention to the gun. I believe you said when you entered Mr. Maverick's hotel room he had his gun in his hand. Is that correct?"
"Yes, that's correct."
Hiram waited for just a moment before asking, "How do you know it was his gun?"
"Well, I," the sheriff sputtered, "He was holding it. His gun belt and holster were on the bed and they were empty. There was no other gun in the room. I assumed it was his gun."
"I see," Hiram stated dramatically. "You assumed it was his gun. Did you ask him if it was his?"
"Did he tell you it was his gun?"
"Did he not, in fact, tell you repeatedly that the gun you found was not his gun?"
"That's what he said, yeah."
"Did you believe him?"
"Why didn't you believe him?"
"Well who else's gun was it gonna be if it wasn't his?"
"Didn't you say there were two other men in the room when you arrested Mr. Maverick? His brother and cousin, I believe."
"Did you check their guns?"
The sheriff hesitated. Darn it! "No, I didn't."
'Do you know if they were wearing guns?"
"No, I don't."
"So there were two other men in the room who may or may not have been wearing guns and you didn't check to see if the gun was theirs. Is that correct?"
Sheriff Bowman had been caught failing to do his job properly. He sat there for a moment and then said "Yes."
"In fact, you were told several times by Mr. Bret Maverick and Mr. Beau Maverick that the gun in your possession, the one you believe was used to kill Edgar Pike, did not, in fact, belong to Mr. Bart Maverick. Isn't that correct?"
"Yes. Several times by each one."
"And doesn't the weapon that you removed from Bart Maverick's possession have a rather distinctive notch carved on the bottom of the grip? That looks like a lightning bolt?"
"Yes, it does. I identified the gun earlier."
"Your honor, if It please the court, at this time I would like to introduce into evidence a sworn affidavit, signed by U.S. Marshal Travis Cole of Fern Creek, Montana attesting to the fact that Marshal Cole arrested one Rusty Meyers and held him in jail and that during that incarceration Marshal Cole had in his possession Mr. Meyers gun. On that gun there was the exact same lightning bolt notch carved in the bottom of the grip. In other words, the gun that Bart Maverick protested was not his in fact belongs to Rusty Meyers, a well-known bank robber and petty criminal." Hiram walked over to the bench and presented Judge Kincaid with the affidavit. The Judge looked it over carefully.
"Alright, Mr. Foster, the court will accept this affidavit as true and correct."
Hiram returned to the defense table. "Sheriff Bowman, does this affidavit not prove that Mr. Maverick was telling the truth, that the gun found in his possession was in fact the gun that belonged to Mr. Rusty Meyers?"
"If it was Rusty Meyer's gun what was Bart Maverick doing with it?"
"That's a good question, sheriff. Did you ever ask it?"
Mort was very quiet. "No."
"So as far as you know the gun in question could very well have been the same gun that belongs to Rusty Meyers?"
"I guess so."
"Wouldn't that lead you to ask how Mr. Maverick got the weapon and what he was doing with it?"
"Could one of those ways be that the gun was planted on Mr. Maverick and he was relieved of his own gun?"
"He could have gotten it a lot of different ways."
"But couldn't one of those ways be the way I suggested? That Mr. Maverick's own gun was taken from him and Rusty Meyers' gun was left in its place? The very same gun that was used to pistol whip and murder Mr. Pike?"
"I suppose so."
"And wouldn't that suggest to you that in fact it was Rusty Meyers that murdered Edgar Pike and not Bart Maverick?"