Chapter 47 The Verdict
Pappy had moved into Bret's hotel room with Bart and Bret had transferred to Beau's room. Bart's progress inched its way forward, and this time there were no headaches or fevers or ringing in the ears. And, thank God, no blackouts. Whatever had continued to plague him after the initial beating seemed to have packed its bags and moved on; even his appetite came back a little at a time. The only thing that didn't go away was the nightmares. Pappy quickly learned that, most likely as not, Bart would wake up in a cold sweat sometime during the night. Sometimes he knew immediately upon waking that everything had been a dream, sometimes Pappy had to shake him until he was sure that Bart's insides would fall out. The most repetitive nightmare concerned, of course, death. Sometimes Pappy's, sometimes Bret's, sometimes Beau's, once or twice even Jody's. The most prevalent dream about death was, of course, his own.
He dreamt about the time he was shot in Dry Springs and the knifing he'd endured in that God forsaken town whose name he couldn't remember. The broken leg that almost resulted in his lynching in Woodstone and the time he'd been trail boss on a cattle drive through Arizona and his saddle slipped during a stampede and his horse had dragged him for nearly a mile before he got free. Over and over again, until he was almost afraid to go to sleep at night.
Judge Kincaid had been poring over the details of the case for three days. Twice he sent a messenger to Bart's room with additional questions; Bart answered them as best he could. Pappy fussed over him like a new born colt and Bart was about to go crazy with the attention. The only time he got any respite from Pappy's constant hovering was when Bret or Beau took him down to the saloon for an evening of poker.
Beauregard was a big hit at 'The Three Mavericks,' especially when word got around that he was one of the original three the place was named after. It did his heart good to hear everyone talk of Jessie with such high regard; he heard stories of her 'exploits' from most of the townsfolk. But he particularly loved the stories he heard from Georgia, as her best friend and partner in crime. In fact, he fell in love a little bit with Georgia herself. Until his nephew took him aside and had a heart to heart with Pappy about Miz Mayfield's availability. Beau expected to have his ears torn off when he expressed his intentions regarding the lady; Uncle Beauregard surprised everyone by slapping him on the back and congratulating him. As he told Bret, "That lady is a class act. Might do your cousin some real good to settle down with her." When Bret relayed the story to Bart, all he could do was look at Pappy in wonder and ask, "What have you done with my Pappy?"
On the evening of the third day word came from the hotel that Kincaid had reached a decision and everyone was to be in court at ten the next morning. Bart retired early; wondering if it was the last night he'd sleep in a real bed. Sheriff Bowman stood watch himself outside room 211; he wasn't taking any chances. Doc and Hiram had convinced Bret and Beau to delay going out to search for the gang; their reasoning being that if Bart was found 'not guilty' they didn't have to be the men to bring in the outlaws.
No one slept easy that night.
Much to everyone's surprise there was a dusting of snow on the ground in the morning. Pappy stayed with Bret and Beau so that Bart wouldn't be disturbed when they came in after midnight. He was still up before either of 'the boys' and went back to Bart's room to help him get ready for court. It was everyone's intentions to dress like respectable citizens and not the itinerant gamblers they were. Georgia and Jody were at the hotel, waiting in the lobby, even though they wouldn't be welcome in the courtroom. Alvin was opening the saloon so Harry had escorted the ladies to the hotel and intended to be in court for the verdict. Doc Washburn joined everyone in the dining room drinking coffee in silence and waiting for Bart to come downstairs.
Finally he did, still leaning heavily on the cane and Pappy to negotiate the long climb down. And a climb it was; just because he was going down and not up certainly didn't make it any easier. When Bart was ready to leave the hotel everyone but the ladies went across the street to the courthouse. Georgia and Jody stayed in the hotel lobby praying for a 'not guilty' verdict.
Hiram Foster met them at the courthouse and everyone went inside. Sheriff Bowman had followed the Maverick group across the street at a discreet distance and he and Deputy Willis stood on the inside of the courthouse doors, guns drawn to fend off any last minute escape attempts. Bret and Beau warily scanned the crowd gathered to hear the verdict but didn't see anyone that appeared out of place. The man that sat in the corner on the last day of the trial wasn't there; another similar looking man had taken his place. He too kept his hat pulled low and didn't speak to anyone.
On this day Pappy sat with Bart at the defendant's table; Hiram thought it might be better for Bart to have his father alongside him. Again the cousin's sat behind the defendant and both wore their guns. Bret carried his Remington derringer in his hideout holster. They had been able to convince the judge on the last day of the trial to allow Jody to sit in the courtroom; since a decision was being handed down today she was barred from attending.
There was a low murmur in the room; most of the town held little or no regard for Edgar Pike and were sure that he was behind the attack that had started this string of events. The Mavericks had made a name for themselves in Silver Creek as fair, honest when they needed to be, and good men. The overall consensus was that they didn't want Bart found guilty; he'd been through more than enough and even if he committed the murder didn't need to be punished any further.
At precisely ten o'clock Judge Horace Kincaid entered the courtroom. He took his seat on the bench and began his summation. "Citizens of Silver Creek, this has been a complicated case and a complex decision. On the one hand we have a preponderance of physical evidence and on the other hand we have a massive sentiment. These are the facts in evidence:
Bart Maverick was pistol whipped and almost killed in April of last year.
The men responsible have been identified by the victim as Rusty Meyers and Pete and Jack Sanborn.
There is no substantiation of this evidence other than the word of the alleged victim.
No one has been able to produce said outlaws.
Edgar Pike was supposedly threatened with murder at his own front door by Mr. Maverick.
Mr. Pike was subsequently murdered in his own home by being shot to death and then beaten in the same manner as Mr. Maverick.
Mr. Maverick was found the morning after the murder in his room, fully dressed, and with the murder weapon and blood on both the gun and his hands. Also a photograph seen daily in Mr. Pike's home was found in Mr. Maverick's room.
Mr. Maverick cannot remember where he was at the time of the murder."
Judge Kincaid paused to let his restatement of the evidence sink in. Then he began again. "There is no doubt that Mr. Maverick was beaten within an inch of his life. Most likely the three men accused of the crime were the ones who executed it. Mr. Pike had made various statements to the effect that the Maverick family had no right to the saloon ownership; he maintained that as Jessie Maverick's common-law husband the property was his. A court in this state had already upheld the validity of the will and Mr. Pike knew he was defeated. It appears that Mr. Pike probably engaged the services of the three men in question to maim or kill one of the new owners of the saloon in question; although why Mr. Bart Maverick was attacked specifically we do not know. It may have been a crime of opportunity."
The Judge took a drink of water and continued. "There is no proof of any threat made by Mr. Maverick to Mr. Pike. No one saw or heard the alleged threat. There is, however, the disturbing evidence found in the accused's hotel room the morning after the crime was committed. A gun, blood, an overturned room, a picture belonging to the deceased were all recovered from said hotel room. As I stated at the beginning, a preponderance of physical evidence."
"Bart Maverick has suffered mightily through all of this; first with the initial attack and subsequently with the physical aftermath of that attack. It seems unfair to attempt to punish him any further, if he is guilty. However, the law is the law." The Judge turned his attention to Bart. "Mr. Maverick, please rise." Bart stood up, shakily, and Hiram Foster stood with him.
Then Judge Horace Kincaid issued his ruling. "Bart Maverick, due to the overwhelming physical evidence against you, I hereby find you guilty of the murder of Edgar Pike. You are to be hanged by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on your soul." The gavel banged down noisily.