Chapter 38 Good Intentions
Bart was actually happy to see Harry with biscuits, eggs and coffee just as the sun burst up over the horizon. He was more than ready to get this day started, hoping and praying for a good resolution. Jody followed soon after and she was pleased as could be to see him eating and not just drinking coffee. She sat with him while he finished and waited until he was ready to talk.
"Big day today," Jody stated unnecessarily. "One way or another."
"Yes," came his terse reply. Then he softened. This was Jody, and no matter how tense or on edge his nerves were, she deserved better. "What's going on out at school?" The change of subject was meant to signal that he didn't want to talk about the day ahead of him, good or bad. Jody was a 'teacher in training' at the Silver Creek schoolhouse and spent hours telling Bart about her charges. He seemed to be the only one interested enough to actually listen to her stories. It kept him from worrying about the possibilities of his own life.
"We're learning spelling," she offered. It forced a laugh from him; spelling was one of his better endeavors. Bret not so much. If it wasn't spelled 'A-C-E' or 'full house' Bret wasn't really interested in it. Once Momma died the only thing his older brother wanted was to get out into the gambling halls. Bart had been more willing to bide his time and learn as much about everything as he could.
"Anybody good at it?" Not that he was really mesmerized by her winsome tales, but he was fascinated by the charming way she talked about the children. He could just imagine her with a large family of her own, little ones following momma everywhere and marveling at how beautiful she was.
"Well, there is one little boy named Adam that kind of reminds me of you." She smiled as she thought of the small boy who was so shy he had to hide behind his older sister during the spelling contests. There was something about his manners and grace that made her think of Bart whenever she saw him.
Bart laughed voluntarily at that one; poor kid. "He doesn't have an older brother riding herd on his every move, does he?"
Jody stopped and wondered about the question. Is that what it was like for Bart growing up with Bret as his brother? Did he wish he'd been the oldest? Or an only child? 'Too much guessing here, Jody,' her brain reminded her. 'Not enough facts.' She turned the question back on him. "Did you?"
He answered her quickly. "Sometimes."
This was one of the few times he'd said anything about his boyhood and she hoped to get him to talk more to her. She really wanted to know what it was like growing up as something other than an only child. Thus far in their relationship he'd been very reticent about sharing his life before Silver Creek with her, and from the next statement he made it appeared it was going to stay that way for now. "Shouldn't you be leaving for school soon?"
"Bartley Maverick, are you trying to get rid of me?" Indignance in her voice.
"Yes ma'am," he answered. "Cousin Beau should be here soon and I have something to talk to him about."
"Then I shall not take offense at your appalling lack of manners," she giggled. As was her habit, she placed a kiss on her first two fingers and placed the fingers on his cheek. It was the best she could do with the bars between them.
She gave a little wave and left. Less than five minutes later Beau came around the short corner. He was dressed down today, clean but more 'cattle rancher' than 'gambler.' Bart wondered about the change and Beau noticed the looking over that Bart gave him. "Just in case," Beau said by way of explanation.
"In case of what?" Bart asked innocently. "A possum in the courtroom?"
"In case I'm needed for something," Beau answered. He and Bret had discussed everything last night and neither trusted the sheriff and his so-called posse. They were both going to be ready to leave on a moment's notice if Mort came back without any prisoners.
Just like that Bret strode into the cell are, dressed much the same as Beau. "Good Lord, we're havin' a possum roundup!" Bart exclaimed.
Bret was thoroughly confused. "Huh? Possums? What?"
Beau patted his cousin's arm. "It's okay, Cousin Bret, I'll explain it all to you later."
"Are you two boys here for a social visit?"
Bret and Beau exchanged looks and Bret answered. "We don't trust Mort. Nobody has seen or heard from the posse since yesterday and they've been gone too long. If they aren't back by lunch recess today Beau and I are going out after Meyers ourselves."
Bart looked troubled at the declaration. "Don't. Please."
"Why?" they asked in unison.
Were they really going to make him say it? "Because today is my day on the stand and I'd rather have both of you here."
"I think that's a splendid idea, gentlemen." Hiram Foster had entered the room. You both should be there to lend support. Whatever you were going to do will wait."
"We're going out after Meyers and the Sanborns if Mort doesn't bring 'em back," Bret said bluntly. "But we can wait and be here for Bart."
Hiram turned to Bret and Beau. "I need you to leave now, gentlemen. I must go over a few things with Bart before we get started today."
"We'll be there, Cousin Bart," Beau told him before walking back around the corner. Bret reached through the bars and slapped Bart on the arm. He felt so thin! "See you later, Brother Bart." Then Bret was gone, too.
Hiram raised his voice. "Alright, Deputy Willis. You can come unlock the cell for me now."
Right before ten o'clock Willis and Bart entered the courthouse. The Mavericks were there, along with the usual spectators, the attorneys and the judge. Court was called to order and then Judge Kincaid spoke.
"Mr. Foster, you may call your next witness," the judge intoned.
"I call Mr. Bart Maverick to the stand, your honor." This from Hiram Foster.
Bart rose from his seat and made his way over to the witness stand. He looked thin and tired, in character for all the circumstances that had befallen him in the last year. After he was sworn in Hiram started his questioning, life and death potentially riding on Bart's answers. Routine at first, the attorney began with the arrival in Silver Creek and proceeded on through Edgar Pike's lawsuit. Finally Hiram got to the night of the beating.
"And when someone knocked at your door, Mr. Maverick, why did you answer it?"
"I was expecting the desk clerk to tell me my bath water was ready."
"And who was at the door instead of the desk clerk?" Hiram knew he was getting into areas that would be excruciating to remember.
"Three men I'd never seen before."
"What did they want?"
"Well, considering they had their guns pointed at me and bandanas over their faces, I didn't think they were there to play whist." Bart said it so matter-of-factly that there was a ripple of laughter in the courtroom.
"Now Mr. Maverick, tell us what you remember of what happened next."
Bart frowned at the prospect of telling the painful story. His head began to pound and his throat was scratchy and dry, but he pushed on. "They forced me back into my room. I was unarmed and at their mercy. I knew what was coming, so I made a remark that I hoped would prevent it. It didn't. The oldest one said something about my not paying attention and owning the saloon. I don't remember his exact words. He hit me with the butt of his pistol and the other two grabbed my arms and forced me to stand still."
"And then? Please go on, Mr. Maverick."
Bart grimaced and tried to keep his heart from pounding. It was almost like being beaten all over again. In a very quiet voice he explained, "I was pistol whipped."
"For how long, Mr. Maverick?"
"Until I blacked out."
"Until you were unconscious, is that correct?"
"Yes." Hiram could see Bart tensing up with the strain of remembering. Nevertheless he was forced to press on.
"And what is the next thing you remember?"
Bart and Hiram had discussed this for long hours. What he remembered and what he was willing to admit he remembered were two entirely different things.
"I opened my eyes. Nothing would focus. The sights, the sounds were all blurry and I couldn't get anything to clear up. I tried to move my head but I couldn't. Then I passed out again."
"And how long were you like this?"
Bart let out a sigh and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I'm not sure."
"Didn't your brother tell you it was two or three days?"
"Yes, he did, but I'm not sure."
"How long did it take you to recover?"
Bart laughed slightly, a sick and pathetic laugh. "Still workin' on it, Mr. Foster."
Again a ripple of laughter through the courtroom.
"And who did you suspect was behind the attack, Mr. Maverick?"
Albie Grayson rose to his feet. "Objection, Your Honor. That calls for speculation on the part of the witness."
"Sustained. Mr. Foster, rephrase your question."
"Yes, Your Honor. Mr. Maverick, did you have any proof regarding the instigator of the attack?"
Bart looked at his brother, then his cousin. Both had grim expressions on their faces. It was difficult for them to hear this testimony, forced to listen to Bart's recollections of the beating that almost killed him.
"Proof? Do I have physical proof?"
"Yes Mr. Maverick, that was the question."
"No, I don't."
"The perpetrators never mentioned who hired them?"
"Turning your attention to the day you and your relatives rode out to Edgar Pike's ranch."
"We didn't ride out there, we ended up there."
"It wasn't your original intention to ride out to Edgar Pike's?"
Bart kept his poker face firmly affixed. "No."
"Very well, the day you ended up at the JP ranch. Hadn't you been on a horse for quite a while when you ended up there?"
"Yes, I had. And I was plum worn out. So I suggested that we stop and visit with Mr. Pike for a while."
"Visit with him?"
"Yes, sir, I really hadn't gotten an opportunity to meet Uncle Edgar before all this happened, so I wanted to introduce myself and apologize for taking so long to get out there."
"I see. And is that why it was you that dismounted and knocked on the front door?"
"That was my main reason, yes. I'd been sitting a horse for the first time in months, and I was tired. I needed to put my feet on the ground for a while. What better place to do it?"
"And did Mr. Pike answer the door?"
"Yes he did. With a shotgun in his hands, pointed right at me."
"Had you given him any reason to point a shotgun at you?"
"None that I knew of."
"What did you say to him?"
"I introduced myself and explained why I hadn't come sooner. I tried to talk to him about the lawsuit he'd filed against us but Uncle Edgar wasn't very friendly."
"No, that's about all. When I realized that Edgar wasn't going to talk to me I mounted my horse and we left."
"Did you threaten to kill him?"
"Me? Threaten him?" Bart's voice was incredulous. "Anybody that knows me knows I don't agree with violence. Especially murder." He hadn't actually lied, he just avoided answering the question. So far, so good.
"Did you pay a visit to Doctor Washburn the next day?"
"Please tell us why." Hiram was matter-of-fact about everything.
"We'd been riding, then lunch out with Bret and a trip back to the saloon, to play poker. I'd had an incident the night before, when I woke up in the morning and couldn't remember going to bed or getting back up. I wanted to know what was going on, so I went to see the doctor. He looked me over and didn't have any answers for me."
"Explain what you mean by that."
"He couldn't tell me what happened or why." Seemed pretty plain to Bart what the doctor had meant.
"Did it happen again?"
"Not exactly, but something similar. I didn't feel well when I saw Doc Washburn and was going back to my hotel room to rest. I ran into my brother Bret in the hotel lobby and went in to breakfast with him. We sat for a few minutes; he ate breakfast. We were talking about saloon business and he said something using a phrase I'd heard the night of the beating. Next thing I remember, Bret's got me upstairs in my room and on the bed."
"And do you remember what he said?"
"Funny boy. He called me funny boy."
"And that caused your attack?"
"It wasn't an attack. I just wasn't well that morning and instead of eating food I'd had quite a bit of coffee. I just passed out."
"Did you recover?"
"Of course. I'm here, aren't I?" Small titter of laughter in the back of the courtroom.
"Now to the night of the murder. Tell us what you remember about that night."
"Not much. I spent the evening at the saloon. Bret walked with me back to the hotel and then remembered something he wanted done at 'The Three Mavericks' so he returned. I changed into my night shirt and went to bed. The next thing I knew Bret was shaking me awake."
"And were you still in bed?"
"Kind of. Bret and Beau found me on the floor of my hotel room and moved me to the bed."
"And were you still in night clothes?"
"No, I was fully dressed."
"Was that all?"
Bart was very still for a moment and then answered quietly. "No. I had a gun in my hand."
"No sir, not my gun."
"How do you know it wasn't your gun?"
"Because my gun has a very unique black diamond pattern on the grip. I won it in a poker game in Santa Fe several years ago. This gun had no diamond pattern and a lightning bolt sort of carved into the wood on the bottom."
"Where did it come from?"
"I don't know."
"Where was your gun?"
"I don't know."
"Did you kill Edgar Pike?"
There was a long pause before Bart answered the question. "No."