Chapter 35 Posse Comitatus
The day in court had actually gone better than Hiram Foster could have hoped for. They made inroads into Sheriff Mort's testimony and proved that no one had actually heard Bart Maverick threaten Edgar Pike. And the testimony about the gun was all in Bart's favor. The only problem came from the 'Indisputable Proof' that Mort Bowman had provided – the photo of Jessie and her brothers. It was going to be up to Hiram to make the judge believe that the photo was part of the plan to point the guilty finger at Bart rather than the real murderer.
The prosecution rested after the Sheriffs testimony. Without any viable evidence pointing at anyone else, Albie Grayson thought he had a strong case. The defense was slated to begin the next day, and the list of witnesses was short - Beau, Bret if he returned, and Bart.
Hiram had Beau come to his office so they could discuss the agenda for the next day. The attorney wanted to be sure that he and Beau were on the same page and there would be no embarrassing moments like Mort Bowman had. Which is how Beau once again missed Bret's return to town.
Bret was about forty miles south of exhaustion by the time he got back to Silver Creek. His first stop was the jail. He needed to get Sheriff Bowman to round up a posse and go apprehend Rusty Meyers and the Sanborns. Convincing the Sheriff to do just that would take all of the silver-tongued skill Bret Maverick could manage.
He remembered the last time he'd strode into the jail demanding that Mort allow him to do something and took a different approach. He walked in quietly and determined to stay as charming and pleasant as he could manage – no matter what the sheriff threw at him.
Hat in hand, full of trail dust and cold as a rattle snakes heart, Bret plastered a friendly smile on his face and the same tone in his voice. "Morning, Sheriff Bowman."
Mort looked up and was surprised to see him back in town. "Well, look what the wind blew in."
Bret forced a laugh. "Good one, Mort. Say, I need your help doing something."
'Oh no, here it comes,' thought the lawman. He gritted his teeth. "What would that be, Mr. Maverick?"
Bret steeled himself for the resistance he anticipated. "I know where Rusty Meyers and the Sanborn boys are. I'd like to help you round up a posse to go out and bring them in."
Bowman fiddled with something on his desk before looking up. "And just why would I want to do that?"
Maverick kept the tone of his voice even and steady. "Because they tried to kill my brother and Meyers is responsible for Edgar Pike's death."
A tiny smile slowly crept across the lawman's face. "Do you have any proof of that?"
"Yes, I do."
No more time to play games. Bowman accepted the challenge. "And what would that be?"
Bret answered him in a voice loud enough to be heard everywhere in the jail. "My brother can identify them."
The sheriff snorted in response. "Since when?"
Bret didn't hesitate. "Since now."
The lawman may have been a pompous ass when it came to the Mavericks, but he wasn't stupid. If word got around town that there was a witness to the attack and the sheriff ignored that evidence, it wouldn't be long before there was a new sheriff hired by the city council. So he reluctantly rose to his feet and looked Bret right in the eyes. "Let's just go see if he can."
Bret nodded his head in agreement and followed the sheriff back to the cells. He stopped in his tracks and staggered back when they rounded the corner and he saw what used to be his brother for the first time in several weeks. Rail thin, pale as a ghost and with a look of intense pain on his face, Bart Maverick stood at the cell door waiting for them. Bret was shaken to his very core. He'd seen Bart shot, stabbed, unable to breathe with pneumonia, running a fever so high it almost burned your hand to touch him, and he'd never looked this bad. His heart broken that he hadn't been around to prevent this, Bret prayed that Bart had heard his assertion to the sheriff and would play along.
Mort wasted no time. "Mr. Maverick, your brother here says you can identify the men that attacked you last summer. Is that true?"
Bret breathed a sigh of relief when Bart stated, in a clear voice, "Yes, Sheriff Bowman, that is correct. I can identify them."
Mort was momentarily taken aback. "And who was it?"
There was no hesitation in the answer. "Rusty Meyers and the Sanborn brothers."
Resigned that there was no way out of this, Mort turned to Bret. "Alright, Mr. Maverick, you've got your posse."
"Thank you, sheriff. I'd like to talk to my brother for a minute and then I'll be right along with you."
Bowman looked puzzled. "Right along with me? You're not going anywhere, Mr. Maverick. You're due in court today."
That was enough of the nonsense. Bret wasn't going to let Mort Bowman push him around anymore. "Sheriff, I'm the one that knows where they are!"
"Yes, and you can tell me and the posse. I'm the law, Mr. Maverick, not you, and you are due in court today."
Bret wanted desperately to continue arguing, but a glance at Bart's face told him not to. This shell of his brother needed him here. The sheriff and his official posse could bring in the 'Meyers Gang.'
"Alright, Sheriff Bowman, I'll come up and give you a location in a minute. I'd like to see my brother, please."
"Certainly." Mort Bowman turned and walked away, convinced that he controlled the situation. "Willis, round up a posse. We've got some outlaws to catch."
Bret focused all his attention on Bart. 'Stay calm,' he told himself. 'Don't let him know how bad he looks.' "Brother Bart, I'm sorry I was gone so long. This should be over as soon as Bowman brings Meyers and the Sanborns in." Not prone to physical displays of affection, Bret nonetheless grabbed Bart's hands through the bars. "How are you?"
Just as uneasy as Bret was, Bart pulled his hands away from his brother's grasp. "You don't have to pretend everything's fine, Bret. I must look at least as bad as I feel."
Bret tried not to lie without telling the absolute truth. "You could stand to put on some weight, Bart. What happened?"
Bart sat down on the cot and shrugged his shoulders. "Not sure," he answered reluctantly. "Doc called it a seizure. Guess I gave them a scare. I'll be fine, once I get out of here."
Bret wasn't so sure about that. "And Beau?"
"Should be here soon. Comes every morning and goes to court with me. Then comes back and stays here for a while at night."
Neither brother spoke for a full minute. Finally Bart asked "Did you really find Meyers?"
"Yes, Bart," Bret answered emphatically. "And I overheard enough to know that they're guilty of everything I accused them of. This really will be over soon."
Bart let out a long sigh. "That would be good."
The brothers heard the jail door open and footsteps. Beau turned the corner and lit up when he saw Bret.
"Bret! Does this mean you found our elusive criminals?" Beau was so happy to see his other cousin that he engulfed Bret in a bear hug. Much to his surprise, Bret hugged him back.
"Yes, it does. Bowman is rounding up a posse to go out and bring them in."
"Then this should be over today." There was a long awaited note of optimism in Beau's voice.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Cousin Beau. Maybe not today, but it should be soon."
Bret grabbed a handful of Beau's coat and walked him back out front. "What the hell happened?"
Beau looked ashamed, embarrassed and guilty all at the same time. "He stopped eating, Bret. And he had some sort of seizure three nights ago. Doc almost lost him. Jody and I spent the night here with him." Beau shook his head and cast his eyes down at the floor. "Mort was so worried he even let Doc and Jody stay in the cell. I slept in a chair. He's come back from that but I know he's in pain. He won't talk about it, won't eat, doesn't sleep as far as I can tell. Whatever's going on inside him, he keeps it to himself. Maybe now that Bowman's going out to bring in Meyers things will be different. Something's got to change. Doc doesn't know if he can survive another attack."
Bret had turned loose of Beau's coat and now he sat down heavily on the corner of Deputy Willis' desk. "Dear God, Beau, I've never seen him look that bad."
"I know. We've tried everything. He won't touch food; nothing but coffee. Everybody is worried sick. Even Jody can't get him to eat. And I can't make him talk about anything. All he says is he's 'fine.' You can tell by looking at him that he's not fine." Beau's voice got very quiet. "Bret, if something doesn't change soon I'm afraid we'll lose him. He can't go on like this."
Bret let out a big sigh of relief. "He won't have to, Beau. Soon as Mort brings in Meyers and the Sanborns this will all be over."
Beau was startled to hear Bret's declaration. "Wait – the Sanborns?"
Bret nodded. "Yeah, the two brothers, Pete and Jack. Runnin' mates of Meyers."
There was absolute anguish in Beau's next question. "Jack Sanborn? Are you sure?"
"Because Jack Sanborn came into the saloon and tried to get a bartending job."
Beau had to think. "A week or two back. Found him sitting in Georgia's office one night and had a strange feeling about him. Why would he do that? What was he after?"
The older of the cousins shook his head. "Don't know. Maybe information. He split from Meyers and Pete at one point. Maybe he was trying to break away from being an outlaw. Get a fresh start somewhere. But why here where he might be recognized?"
Beau was a step ahead of him. "No fear of that. Bart couldn't identify any of them."
Bret chuckled slightly. "Yeah, well, that's not what we told Mort this morning."
"The only way I could get Bowman to round up a posse and go out after 'em. Lie."
"Doesn't surprise me. Sheriff's got a real prickly backside when it comes to doing anything for a Maverick." Beau looked right at Bret and willingly accepted his guilt in the matter. "Maybe that's because of the way we treated him."
"I guess. But he got treated that way mostly because that's the way he deserved to be treated."
This time Beau was the one to shake his head. "Doesn't matter. This might have gone down differently if we'd been a little more respectful."
"There you go again, Cousin Beau," Bret admonished him. "Sometimes you have a little too much respect for authority. Maybe that's what got you that medal in the war."
Beau's medal was a sore point for him. "I told you. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I did absolutely nothing to deserve it."
"Tell that to Pappy."
Beau knew better than to respond to Bret about his Uncle Beauregard. "You able to testify?"
"Testify to what?"
"Hiram wants us to tell the court that we never heard Bart threaten Pike."
Bret broke into a big grin. "I can do that."
"And make it sound like the truth."
"It will be the truth." He was still grinning. "When I tell it."
Deputy Willis came back through the door with half a dozen men behind him. "Sheriff, posse's ready to go."
Mort walked away from the coffee pot in the corner. "Alright, Willis, you stay here and escort the prisoner to court. We'll go get these dangerous criminals and bring them in." He turned to Bret. "Tell me where this hiding place is."
Bret stood up from the desk and followed the sheriff outside. Beau went back to Bart's cell. "Cousin Bart, if I do say so myself, things are looking up."
His cousin stood up and walked over to the cell door. He looked at the bars and shook his head. "Never saw anything so ugly in my whole life. Can't wait to get out and never see this place again." At least there was a more jovial tone in Bart's voice. Then he looked at Beau with something in his eyes that his cousin didn't recognize. Fear? "Bret didn't leave after all, did he?"
"Nope," Beau was quick to answer. "He'll be in court today."
"Good," said Bart. "Good."