Chapter 39 All Through the Night
Lunch recess was over and there was still no sign of Mort Bowman and the posse. Bret and Beau were champing at the bit to leave town and search for the outlaws themselves but they'd made Bart a promise and they were going to stick to it. The next part of the trial would be excruciating; it was the prosecutions turn to try and shake Bart's testimony.
Bart sat very still in the chair on the witness stand and watched Albie Grayson carefully. This was a poker game of sorts; the outcome depended on whether Bart was dealt a good hand or ended up having to bluff his way out of it. Whichever way it went, he needed to be the victor.
Grayson was sly; he started with routine questions and worked his way forward, trying to make Bart comfortable so he would slip up at a crucial juncture. The gambler was on his toes mentally but the emotional burden of reliving the nightmare of his beating and the long, arduous aftermath had taken a toll on him physically. His head was still throbbing and his mouth was dry; his back ached from time spent sitting stationary in the straight backed chair, and he desperately wanted a cigar to help steady his nerves.
"Tell the court, Mr. Maverick, why you suspected that Edgar Pike was behind the random beating you suffered on April fourth of last year."
"I didn't suspect he was behind it, I suspected he paid for it."
"And why is that?"
"Because when Aunt Jessie died she left the saloon to my brother and me and our cousin Beau. Edgar stated publicly on several occasions and in front of various witnesses that the saloon should be his and we would under no circumstances run it. He'd filed a lawsuit against us, contesting Jessalyn Maverick's will. My Brother Bret went out to talk to him about the saloon and the lawsuit and Edgar stated in no uncertain terms that the saloon would never belong to the Mavericks." Bart had to stop and catch his breath. He was surprised that Grayson had let him go on so long without interruption.
"Is that all, Mr. Maverick?"
"No. One more thing. When my uninvited guests came to see me, one of the things they told me was that I didn't own the saloon. Pretty odd thing for a casual stranger to say, unless that stranger was paid to kill someone by the only person in town who believed the sentiment."
"I see." Grayson turned his back on the witness and walked back to the prosecutor's table. "So do you have any actual proof of Edgar Pike's responsibility? Or is this all just speculation on your part?"
Ah, the dealer raises the bet. "No, I have no actual proof."
"You sound fairly certain that Edgar Pike paid to have you killed. And yet you would have this court believe that you held no personal animosity towards Mr. Pike for this act?'
"I didn't say I had no animosity towards Mr. Pike, I said I didn't agree with violence."
"Ah, so you did have animosity towards Mr. Pike?"
Grayson was trying to twist his meaning. "In a fashion."
"And yet the day you and your relatives went riding you simply stopped at Pike's ranch to introduce yourself and 'visit.'"
Bart fiddled for a moment with his pinky ring. "Yes."
"And you didn't threaten Mr. Pike in any way?"
"I simply promised him that we'd win the lawsuit he'd filed against us." Why wouldn't the pounding in his head stop? He needed something to drink. And he started to sweat.
"Then how did it get all over town that you'd threatened to murder him?"
"I have no idea."
"The night that Edgar Pike died. You walked back to your hotel with your brother and he left you there?"
"And you changed clothes and went to bed?"
"Then how do you explain what your brother and cousin found the next morning?"
What? What did he mean? Bart fully dressed? The gun? The blood? The mess in the room? Him on the floor? WHAT?
"All of it. You fully dressed and on the floor, seemingly asleep or passed out. The gun in your hands with blood on both it and you. The wide open window. The picture of Jessalyn Maverick that had stood on Edgar Pike's mantel for years hidden under your saddlebags. How do you explain that, Mr. Maverick?"
"I don't know, Mr. Grayson. I don't know how to explain it." Dear God, not now! His head was swimming and his whole body was soaking wet. By sheer force of will he sat on the witness stand still as a statue. He had to concentrate on what Grayson was saying.
"Let me paint a more accurate scenario for you, Mr. Maverick. You blame Edgar Pike for your near death. You harbor a grudge and hatred for months. You have periodic blackouts that the doctor can't explain. One night, during one of these so-called blackouts, you get dressed, leave your room via the window and second floor balcony, ride out to Edgar Pike's house, pistol whip him and kill him. You steal the photograph of your Maverick family and return to town, re-entering the hotel the way you exited. You crash into the room and hide the photo, trashing the personal belongings on the table and collapsing on the floor. You and you alone killed Edgar Pike and you don't remember it because you don't want to. Isn't that what actually happened, Mr. Maverick?"
'NO! NO!' His head screamed out the word but his mouth wouldn't say it. Stay cool, Bart! Now was no time to throw everything away. Just calmly look at the prosecutor and say 'No.'
And just at that moment the courthouse door was flung open and Sheriff Mort Bowman walked in empty handed.
Everyone in the courtroom held their breath. Time stopped for all three of the Mavericks as long as the sheriff stood in the doorway without saying anything. Very slowly it seemed, Mort walked into the courthouse. The judge banged his gavel on the desk as a murmur ran through the spectators.
"What's the meaning of this intrusion, sheriff?" Judge Kincaid demanded.
Mort looked dirty, tired and cold. "I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I thought the court should know immediately."
"Know what, Sheriff Bowman?"
"That the posse wasn't able to find any trace of Rusty Meyers, Pete or Jack Sanborn, or anyone else out in the God-forsaken wilderness that we were sent out into. If they ever existed they're not there now."
Before Beau or Bret could jump to their feet and call the sheriff a liar, Bart lurched up from the chair he occupied on the witness stand. He swayed on his feet for a moment and reached out his left hand as if to grab the sheriff, who was twenty feet away from him. Then he clutched at his head, gave a loud gasp and dropped to the floor. Bret was up and had his brother in his arms in seconds. He searched desperately for a pulse as Beau's words rang in his ears – 'Doc doesn't know if he can survive another attack.' For a moment he couldn't find anything and he feared Doc's prediction had come true. Then, at last, a very faint heartbeat; barely there, but beating.
Without a thought Bret picked Bart up like a rag doll and carried him out into the street and over to Doc Washburn's office. The door was closed and Bret had no time to stop and open it – he kicked it in. Doc came running out of the back room ready to give holy hell to someone until he saw what Bret carried in his arms – the almost lifeless body of his brother. "Bring him in here, son," was the only direction he gave. They went into Doc's inner office and Bret gently laid Bart down on the exam table. He was soaked with sweat but his skin was cold and clammy to the touch. All the way across the street Bret had listened carefully for his brothers' breathing – and hadn't been able to hear any. Now there was barely any rise and fall to Bart's chest and he was almost as white as Doc's hair. "Let's put him on his side - he'll breathe easier." Bret rolled Bart onto his side, then untied his tie and opened the collar of his shirt. When he realized that Beau was at his elbow he tuned to their cousin and said, "Help me get his coat off." They did and Beau threw it over a chair.
"I need you two to leave," Doc told them, to which Bret replied simply "No." They could hear people gathering in the outer office and Beau glanced in that direction. Sheriff Bowman, Deputy Willis and Hiram Foster all stood there anxiously, the sheriff and deputy in mortal fear of an escape attempt and Hiram just as fearful of death. Even the judge and the prosecutor stood outside the office in the street, waiting to see if there would be any reason to continue the trial or not. Beau finally reached over and closed the door to everyone.
Doc worked frantically, trying everything he knew to help Bart breathe. He directed Beau to hold a cold, wet towel to Bart's head and neck, trying to stop the sweating and the fever raging inside his body. He unlocked the cabinet and pulled the bottle of laudanum out again, hoping it would work a second time. Bret held Bart's head as Doc tried to pour some of the medicine down his throat. After a second or two Bart coughed and gagged, finally swallowing enough for Doc to be temporarily satisfied. Long minutes went past while all three men waited and watched, two of them praying as hard as they could and the third hoping that prayers would be enough.
Just when Doc started wondering if Bart would be lucky once again the chills started. Within seconds Bart was trembling so violently that Doctor Washburn piled every blanket he had on the man. The longer this kept up the more Doc feared permanent damage of some kind. It was probably too early but the doctor had Bret help him with another dose of the only medicine that appeared to do any good. This time they got the laudanum down more successfully and Bart seemed to respond slowly. It took almost an hour but the trembling stopped and his breathing eased. Doc finally dropped into a chair and let out a sigh big enough for all three of them.
There was some kind of commotion in the front office and Beau opened the door he'd slammed shut to find Bowman holding a flailing and kicking Jody back from entering the room where Bart lay. Finally his fingers slipped slightly and Jody bit him on the hand. Mort yelled and let go his grip on Jody, who immediately ran into Beau's arms. "You little spitfire," he yelled at the young woman as she clung to Beau and sobbed. There was a large angry bite mark on Mort's hand and he was mad as hell. "I'll throw your female hide in jail for assaulting a peace officer!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.
Beau held Jody close to him protectively. "No," he insisted. "You won't." He ushered her into the inner office and closed the door behind her. Then he turned angrily back to the sheriff. "You will leave that young lady alone and keep your hands off of her. She's part of our family now and you've done enough damage to the Mavericks. And if you think this is over you're mistaken. If my cousin lives through this his brother and I shall find the outlaws you let slip through your fingers and bring them back to stand trial for murder. And I will personally see to it that you are never sheriff again. Even if I have to take the job myself!"
Beau turned on his heel and walked back into the room he'd come from. He slammed the door behind him and heard Jody softly crooning a lullaby. She'd pulled a chair over to the exam table where Bart lay and once again brushed the hair off his face, then started singing the song. It was the only lullaby she knew:
Sleep my child and peace attend thee, All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee, All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping, Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones' watch am keeping, All through the night.
It was a beautiful old Welsh lyric and remarkably comforting. Jody learned it from little Adam and his sister Beatrice and it was the closest she could come to a prayer. There were more verses but Jody only remembered this one, so she hummed the tune after she sang the first verse. Beau knew that Bart certainly needed guardian angels now, this night, if there were such things. He and Bret watched Jody sit with their brother, their cousin, their kin until it was dark outside. By that time everyone had gone away but poor Deputy Willis, who was left by the humiliated sheriff to "make sure the prisoner doesn't escape." Willis was so unconcerned about that happening that he'd gone to sleep in a chair in Doc Washburn's front office.
Once again Georgia was Beau and Bret's angel, bringing food and coffee to them, Doc and Jody. She tried to comfort them as best she could but knew in her heart there was only one thing that would help, and he hadn't opened his eyes. Her daughter refused to move from Bart's side, insisting that she was going to be the first one he saw when he did regain consciousness. If he regained consciousness. At midnight when Georgia came back again to check on them Doc was asleep at his desk, Bret and Beau were reminiscing about growing up in Texas and Jody had fallen asleep in her chair, her head resting peacefully next to Bart's. She didn't want to interrupt the two Mavericks but knew she must.
"Harry is closing up as we speak. Alvin will open tomorrow but Lettie is coming in early to cook breakfast. I'll be here with food and coffee first thing in the morning. Is there anything you need before I go home?"
"Blankets, cards and some cigars," Bret suggested.
"I concur. I shall walk you down to Harry at the saloon and then stop back by the hotel." He turned to Bret before leaving. "Anything else?"
"No, that's all. Unless you've got a miracle in your pocket somewhere," the oldest Maverick answered.
Beau looked downcast a he shook his head. "I'm afraid the miracles are between Bart and God tonight." He took Georgia by the arm and walked her to the office door, then turned back to Bret. "I'll just be a few minutes. You know where I am if you need me."
Bret nodded and stood as Beau and Georgia left the room. They walked out through Doc's outer office and down the sidewalk, arriving at the saloon doors, which Harry had already closed. "Georgia, I . . . . that was as far as Beau got before they kissed, long and tenderly. "I love you."
"I know, Beauregard," she answered. She didn't say it back.
"When this is all settled and done there's something very important I need to ask you. Will that be alright with you?"
She sighed and felt his arms around her. They felt good, and right, like they belonged there. But not right now. He needed to get back to Bart and Bret. And her daughter, sleeping so peacefully. She pulled away from him and said "Yes. Go on back now. I'll see you in the morning." She opened the doors and stepped inside.
He watched her disappear inside the saloon and breathed out deeply. He'd found his woman. He hoped it wouldn't be at the expense of his best friend.