Jessie Maverick's Kin

Chapter 4 Jody

They made it much easier for her by staying out of their rooms. This time she was able to search the room that she'd tried to last night, the one where she'd hit the unknown Maverick over the head, without interruption. His clothes were packed far neater and more orderly than Bart Mavericks were. Of course, she didn't find anything of interest or value in his belongings, either. What she was looking for wasn't in either of the two rooms that she'd searched. That just left the room that belonged to the one with the black hair. And dimples. Mustn't forget those dimples. He appeared to be the oldest of the three. Maybe he had it, she decided. So she was off to one last round of 'breaking and entering'. She had to be successful.

The third room proved no harder to get into than the other two. But she didn't find what she was looking for there, either. Where was it? One of them must have it. Why couldn't she find it? She heard someone coming down the hall and crawled under the bed. It was dirty and cramped down there. A key turned in the lock and the door opened. She saw black boots walk by the bed and wondered how long she would be trapped. The next thing she knew the third Maverick had lain down on the bed and was softly breathing within minutes. She waited until she felt it was safe and crawled out from under the bed. On top of it was the room's occupant, the oldest Maverick brother. And he was sound asleep.

Honestly, the hours these three kept! How was a person expected to find anything when Mavericks were running all over the place at all hours of the day and night? She tiptoed quietly to the door and left the room, closing it gently behind her. Well, if they didn't have it with them, maybe they didn't have it. That didn't make sense to her. Jessie had sent it to somebody, who else was there beside these three? As she stood in the hall and pondered the question her mind wandered and she didn't hear footsteps approaching. By the time the alarms sounded in her head it was too late and he was on top of her. She looked up into the very deep brown eyes of Bart Maverick and caught her breath. He looked just like Jessie!

She hadn't paid too much attention to the man asleep in bed last night when she'd rummaged through his belongings. But now she looked at him closely and tried desperately to think of the reason for being in the hall outside one of his relative's rooms. The only things she could think of were the item she was searching for and how handsome this Bart fellow was. So when she heard him ask her "Can I help you with something, miss?" as he tipped his hat to her, she was at a complete loss for words.

"I . . . uh . . . I mean . . . . I uh . . . . " oh shoot. 'When all else fails, faint!' she thought. And that's just what she did, right into his arms. He picked her up without any hesitation and carried her back down the hall to his room. He laid her gently on the bed and went over to the dresser for a face cloth. He came back to the bed and tenderly wiped her forehead and face with the damp cloth. "Miss? Miss? Miss, wake up." She slowly lifted her eyelids and there he was again, with a look of concern in those glorious brown eyes! "You fainted," he told her softly, as if she hadn't been aware of what happened. "Can I get you something? A glass of water?"

She just lay there, dumbstruck, and looked at him. 'Get your wits about you, Jody,' she thought. So he looks like Jessie. So what? "N . . . . no," she stammered.

"Were you looking for someone?" he asked.

She thought for a moment and had her answer ready. "Yes, I was looking for the new owner of 'The Three Mavericks' Saloon." She pushed the face cloth away and sat up. "That wouldn't happen to be you, would it?"

He looked at her with amusement. "Maybe."

Okay, she had his attention. Now what? "Maybe yes or maybe no?"

"Why does it matter? What do you want with him?"

"I need to ask him . . . . . wait a minute. What if you're not him and I ask you anyway?"

Again, amusement in his eyes. "Then I'll know what you want to ask him."

Now he had her confused. "What?"

"That's what I was asking," he couldn't help but laugh when he said it. She was really making a mess of this. Everything would have been fine if she'd just heard him coming down the hall and scurried away. But she hadn't. And she still didn't know where it was.

Bart was having quite a time controlling his laughter. He was on his way to get cleaned up and change clothes when he saw her standing outside of Bret's door, looking confused. She was adorable. Absolutely tiny, with dark red hair and pale blue eyes, she looked to be maybe 19 or 20. She'd done the worst imitation of fainting that he'd ever seen and now he had her flustered. He looked at her hands. Little bitty hands. Yes, he was sure that this was the girl who'd been in his room last night. And there was no doubt in his mind that she was either going into Bret's room or just coming out. But what did she want?

While he sat and tried not to laugh at her, she calmed down enough to regain her composure. "Look, I'm sorry that I fainted. I was tired and hot and got mixed up in the hallway. I feel better now and I think I should leave." He had a bemused look still on his face and she said sternly, "A gentleman would never force a lady to stay in his room against her will."

His expression changed and became serious. "Yes, miss, you are absolutely right. The next time you faint make sure a gentleman catches you." He took her hand and helped her off the bed, then he steered her toward the door by her elbow. He held the door open and propelled her into the hall. "I hope you find the man you're looking for." He closed the door behind her.

Bret slept the rest of the afternoon and woke up just as it was getting dark. With a minimum of effort he washed his face and put on fresh clothes and left his room when he heard someone coming down the hall. It was Beau. They walked to the dining room together, both ready for a little food and a lot of explanation. Bart was already there, drinking his customary cup of coffee and looking to all the world like a man harboring a secret.

"Well, boys, how were your naps?" he asked them as they sat down.

"Restorative," came Bret's reply. Beau just shook his head. "What nap?"

"Now Cousin Beau, you didn't spend the whole day with Lettie, did you?" Bart asked slyly.

"You have a filthy mind," Beau shot back. "Devious and dirty. No, I didn't spend the whole day with Lettie. Not that I would have objected." A small smile played around Beau's mouth. There was little doubt that Lettie was certainly willing. "As a matter of fact, I talked to most of the working girls in the establishment. Seems they all had a very high opinion of Jessie. And a very low one of Edgar."

Bart nodded in agreement. "Her attorney feels the same way."

"And I understand why," Bret interjected. "You didn't get to spend the morning with the charming Mr. Pike."

A different server than the one this morning came to take their order. Three steaks with all the trimmings, one medium, one rare and one well done. Their taste in women was similar; their taste in steak wasn't.

Beau began his narrative. "Almost every girl there has a similar story. Jessie collected all the strays that no one seemed to want and took them in. She gave the girls a home, a decent job and a living wage. She treated them well and never expected anything extra out of them. They all loved her. Edgar, not so much. He didn't try to 'get friendly' with any of the girls, but he kept track of every penny they owed Jessie and every favor ever done for them and made sure that everyone paid their own way. He expected every cowpoke that came in to be kept happy and spending money, no matter what the girls wanted. The customer always came first, and if a girl was sick or dead tired he expected her to work anyway. 'No Mercy' Pike is what they called him behind his back. Toward the end when Jessie was really sick he stopped coming in and hired a saloon manager to make sure that all the girls 'behaved' themselves. Harry almost quit after working for Jessie 12 years because of Pike. He suspects that the roulette wheel is rigged, or has been recently. And Pike has got him cutting the drinks with water."

"Sterling fella, huh?" asked Bart. He cut another piece of steak and put it in his mouth. "What I found out isn't any better. Pike thinks everything should be his and wants nothing more than to see us 'rotting in hell' rather than running the saloon. Foster told me that Harry has the keys and he could point us in the right direction to keep everything moving. Sounded like the sooner we took over day-to-day operations the better it would be for everyone."

"I can tell you why,." Bret volunteered. He finished the last of his meal and set down his fork. "I don't know what Edgar Pike was like before Jessie died, but right now he's a bitter, mean, lonely old man." He motioned the waitress over with an empty coffee cup. "Here's something else to consider. There's another grave where Jessie is buried."

All three Mavericks looked at each other. "Nobody said anything about a baby." That from Beau.

"Or a child," Bart added.

"That might explain some things like Jessie's need to be momma to all the girls, and Pike's bitterness about losing Jessie and their child." Bret reached inside his coat for a cigar. "Cousin Beau, I believe this meal is on you, is it not?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?" Beau asked.

"Oh, just the fact that I bought dinner last night and this morning was on Bart. Your turn to pay, Beauregard."

Beau grumbled, as usual, but reached for his wallet. "My lads, I feel the need to earn some money."

"Does that mean poker, cousin dear?" Bart inquired.

"Why yes, yes it does, Cousin Bart."

Bart had a skeptical look on his face. "Isn't that like taking money out of our own pockets?"

"Do you have a better suggestion?"

Bart thought for a moment and considered the options. Then he stood and shook his head. "No. No I don't. Let's go visit some of our money."

All three Maverick boys, each smoking a cigar, walked out of the hotel dining room and headed for the saloon.

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