Chapter 48 Four Aces
An audible gasp from the courtroom. A father's anguished cry. An angry outburst from the brother. A pledge of loyalty from the cousin. A sly grin from a stranger. A shockwave that reverberated through the whole town. Quiet resignation from the convicted.
Mort Bowman holstered his gun and took out his hand cuffs. He walked over to the newly condemned man and slapped them on him. "Alright, Maverick, let's go." While Pappy wept, while Bret raged, while Beau started planning out the hunt for the outlaws in his head, the sheriff of Silver Creek, having been vindicated in his belief that the man was a murderer, practically dragged his prisoner out of the courtroom and back to jail. Deputy Willis followed behind with his gun drawn, ready to shoot anybody who got in the way.
Harry had run from the courtroom and down the street to the hotel lobby, where a woman's grief-stricken shriek of "Oh my God, no!" could be heard. Jody Mayfield came flying out the hotel doors and straight up the sidewalk, where she practically tackled the prisoner and threw her arms around him. She made little whimpering sounds and tears streamed down her face. "No no no no no no no," continued in a steady litany from her and Bowman's attempts to disengage her from his charge proved futile. In frustration he told Bart, "Get her to turn loose or I'll arrest her and put her in the cell next to yours."
In the gentlest of voices Bart told her, "Jody, let go." He had to repeat it twice before she finally unwrapped herself and stood aside, still whimpering and crying. The sheriff shoved Maverick forward roughly and then had to keep him from falling. They proceeded slowly to the jail and entered it, leaving her alone on the sidewalk until her mother appeared and wrapped her in a fiercely protective embrace.
Bret collapsed into his seat and looked at Pappy. He'd never seen his father cry, yet big tears rolled down the elder Maverick's cheeks. "My boy, my boy," Beauregard kept repeating over and over and shaking his head. Bret reached out and grasped his father's arm. "Steady, Pappy," he offered, "we'll get him out." Pappy frowned at his oldest son. "How?" and Bret answered "Any way we can."
Hiram Foster sank into his chair in complete disbelief. How? What? True, there was evidence that suggested Edgar Pike had been killed by Bart Maverick. But enough to find him guilty? And be sentenced to hang? 'A miscarriage of justice' didn't begin to describe the verdict that he'd just heard from Kincaid's lips. How could this happen? He sat there in stunned silence for a moment and then his legal mind started working. The only way he could see out of this was to put Bret and Beau's plan into action - the plan where the battle became Mavericks vs. Meyers.
Beau stood up and took Bret by the shoulder. "Come on, let's get Uncle Beau back to the hotel."
It took Bret a minute to register Beau's advice. "Pappy, come with us." He gently persuaded his father to stand and walk out of the courtroom, a Maverick progeny on either side of him. The crowd parted to allow their exit.
The stranger, unseen by the crowd or the Mavericks, left shortly thereafter. Maybe now that everything was decided, his brother would leave this town willingly and never come back. That was his most fervent wish. Get away from the so-called friend who was nothing more than a sadistic killer and go make a new life somewhere. There was only one problem. In the back of his mind he couldn't quite let go of the fact that an innocent man had just been convicted of a murder that their 'friend' had committed.
Bart looked around the walls of the cell and found them unchanged. He'd hoped against hope that he would never see those particular walls again, but a small voice in the back of his head kept whispering 'guilty' to him, and he wasn't surprised to hear Judge Kincaid pronounce the same. He was calm, clear, unafraid at this exact moment. It all seemed like one of the many nightmares he'd had over and over, just waiting to hear the word enunciated out loud.
Thank God the sheriff had decided to take off the hand cuffs once they were back in the jail; it was hard enough to walk with the cane, much less without it. Even though there wasn't much walking room in the cell Bart still needed it for balance. A vision of him having to use the cane to climb the stairs to the gallows crossed his mind and he wondered just how long it would take to build his instrument of demise. Two or three days, he thought. Was that how long he had left to live?
He sat down on the now familiar cot and contemplated the length of time it would take Bret and Beau to find Rusty Meyers. Would they locate him before or after the hanging? Would he live to see his name cleared or would he end up as just another innocent man wrongly executed? He sighed and shook his head. There was no sense worrying about an event over which he had no control.
There were voices out front and what sounded like a commotion. Within seconds Bret and Beau came storming around the corner with Mort Bowman in hot pursuit. "Don't any of you people have any respect for authority?" he shouted.
Bret turned to him in anger. "Show me some authority I should respect and I will." Beau grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away from the lawman that was more than eager to have the Maverick brothers in side by side jail cells.
"Easy, Cousin Bret. We've got a job to do and we need to be outside of a cell in order to do it."
Bret attempted to regain his composure and looked at his cousin gratefully. "You're right, Beau, and I apologize. Bart, we're heading out now to track Meyers and the Sanborns. Have you thought of anything else you can tell us about them?"
Bart rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He'd seen his brother disgusted, embarrassed, amused, scheming and madly 'in love,' but he'd never seen him as angry and out of control. He stalled for time, giving Bret the minutes he needed to calm down. "No, not really, but I have to tell you – you'll think I'm crazy."
That forced a laugh out of Bret. Here Bart stood in a jail cell, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, and he was concerned about being perceived as crazy. Bret had seen his brother crazy and this didn't qualify.
"I know you're crazy, so don't worry about it. What is it?"
Bart was still hesitant to explain. "Well, I got the feeling that we were being watched."
Beau wanted more information. "Being watched how? Where? When?"
"Slow down there, Beau. I'm not sure how to explain it – like there was someone in court that didn't belong keepin' an eye on all of us."
"It's not just you. I had the same feeling," Bret weighed in again. "Like maybe there was a Sanborn around somewhere payin' close attention."
Right about then Bowman decided this conversation had gotten too strange even for him. "Since you all are not even supposed to be in here, you've got five minutes to get out." He turned his back on them and returned to the front of the jail. Enough with the crazy people.
"Bout time he left." Bret was not the only one happy to see the sheriff go.
"Any way you can figure to take me with you?" Bart asked.
"Brother Bart, even if we could get you out of here there's no way you can sit a horse." The elder of the brothers let out a small chuckle. "You're in charge of the gallows building. Make sure they do it right so it'll hold Meyers when we bring him back. Remember, short rope, long drop." Then he turned serious. He put his hand on Bart's, which was resting on the jail cell bars. "You stay put and get your strength back. We've got a murderer to catch." He turned to his cousin. "Come on, Beau, let's ride."
Beau fingered the brim of his hat. "We'll get him, Bart. We won't let you down."
"Better not, Cousin. I still owe you five hundred dollars."
They departed and left Bart behind once again. Right now he was happy to see them go; it was exhausting to try and keep up with them. He needed to sit down and rest - it had been a difficult morning. He sat on the cot for several minutes, waiting to see what emotion would set in once his head cleared and he was fully cognizant of the death sentence he'd received. Fear, shock, anger, something? As time passed he realized that he was devoid of feeling anything right now. Maybe relief. There was no more ambiguity; it was all cut and dried. Find the outlaws – live. Don't find the outlaws – die. He'd finally laid his cards on the table and he had four aces – would it be enough to win the hand?