Chapter 5 Georgia on my Mind
There was little difference between the crowd the previous night and the crowd tonight. Just as much noise. Just as much smoke. Just as many Mavericks. Only this time two of the three were paying poker and the third one was intently watching the roulette wheel.
It didn't take long for Bart to determine that there was something off at roulette. He watched the wheel spin and the ball drop into a numbered pocket again and again and finally thought he saw the problem. Harry was right, the game had been rigged so expertly that even Bart wasn't sure what was causing the ball to drop the way it did. But someone or something was definitely affecting each spin's outcome. Bart walked away from the wheel with a sour taste in his mouth.
Bret and Beau played poker at different tables. Bret had finally gotten a seat at one of the high stakes games and he kept a watchful eye on the house man that was doing the dealing. The first three or four hands seemed to go smoothly but there was a slight change in the way the cards started falling after that. Again, nothing blatant. No bottom or middle-of-the-deck dealing, no hideout cards, but rather he caught a subtle shaving of the deck, undetectable to all but the most knowledgeable of professionals. He had no problem winning once he discovered the marked cards and he more than made up for the previous night's paltry success.
Beau had no trouble with the cards. His biggest problem was Lettie. She seemed to have decided that he was her property and she wouldn't leave him alone. From constantly refilling his cup to simply hovering around him as he tried to concentrate on the cards was driving him to distraction. Just when he couldn't take any more Lettie saw Bart wandering around the saloon and decided to take a different approach. 'Thank goodness!' Beau thought to himself. 'Let Cousin Bart deal with her for a while.'
Beau would have been surprised to hear Lettie's conversation with Bart. She walked over as he was watching a game of seven card stud and slipped her arm through his. "Mr. Maverick, I'd really like to speak to you about your cousin."
Not having been particularly interested in the game, Bart turned his attention to Lettie. "Yes, Lettie, what do you need help with?"
"With Beau, I'm afraid." Her tone was petulant. "He just doesn't seem that interested in me. Did I do something wrong? Doesn't he like me?"
Bart saw the chance to make a little mischief and he couldn't resist. "Now Lettie, I know for a fact that Beauregard likes you a whole lot. Cousin Beau is just a very shy person. Why, he was all of 18 years old before he ever kissed his first girl. Don't you give up on him, he'll come around. Yes ma'am, you just keep paying attention to him and soon enough he'll pay attention right back." He smiled a big smile at her and slipped his arm away from hers. He tipped his hat to Lettie and walked to the bar, where he soon became involved in an intense conversation with Harry. Lettie smiled a 'cat-ate-the-canary' smile and returned to Beau's poker game.
Bret was up about $1,000 when a hush fell over the entire bar. Everyone's eyes turned to the swinging front doors as none other than Edgar Pike himself walked in. No one had seen Edgar in the saloon since Jessie took ill and all were surprised to see him now. He looked around the building until he saw Bret and strode over to him with his gun drawn. When he was ten feet away from the table he bellowed "Maverick!" at the top of his lungs. Bret kept playing poker and ignored him. "I said Maverick!" Edgar thundered again. Bret never looked away from his cards but answered "Yes, Mr. Pike? Did you want something?"
"I want you out of my saloon!" Pike demanded.
Bart had quietly left the bar and walked over to where Beau was sitting. He stood behind his cousin as they watched the unfolding drama play out.
Bret wasn't in any hurry to leave. He was winning. "I'm sorry, Mr. Pike, but I'm in the middle of a game. As my old Pappy used to say, 'Never leave a poker game in the middle of a winning hand.'"
Pike wasn't impressed. "I said get out of my saloon now!"
Bret remained unruffled. "I'll be happy to go as soon as this game is over."
Edgar walked over to the table, grabbed the edge of it, and flipped the entire table onto its side, scattering cards, coins and bills everywhere. "I said now, " he insisted.
Bret just smiled and looked up at Pike from his chair at a now upside down table. "Guess the games over." He stood up, towering over the little man with the gun pointed at him. Bret was weaponless. Everyone else at the table left their seat in a hurry and backed away from the confrontation. Pike continued to point his gun at Bret and cocked the trigger. "I'm unarmed, Mr. Pike," Bret pointed out. "You wouldn't shoot an unarmed man, would you?"
At the table across the room Beau started to go for his gun. Bart put his hand on Beau's arm and stopped him. "Sit still, Cousin Beau," Bart said quietly. Beau relaxed and released the gun. He wasn't about to let Bret get shot by this little tyrant. Bart nodded toward the bar. "Harry's got everything under control."
Indeed he did. Harry had a double barrel shotgun cocked and aimed right at Pike. He would be more than happy to use it. "Give it up, Mr. Pike," he told Edgar. "Mr. Maverick doesn't have a gun. Miss Jessie wouldn't be real happy to see you treatin' her nephew like that."
The remark seemed to knock all the wind out of Pike's sails. He uncocked the gun and put it back in its holster. "Get your money and get out."
Bret picked his wallet up off the floor and straightened back up. He smiled at Pike and walked right past him, straight to the door of the saloon. "I'll be back to claim what's mine," he told the crowd in general as he left through the swinging doors.
Beau relaxed and Bart let go of his cousin's arm. Lettie let out a big sigh of relief and looked at Beau and Bart. "Maybe you two better go before he finds out you're Mavericks too." The cousins exchanged glances and Bart nodded In agreement. "I think she's right, Cousin Beau."
Beau picked up his money and told the other poker players, "Gentlemen, It's time to take my leave. You have a good night." He stood up and said to Bart "I feel the need for a smoke." Bart handed Beau a cigar and answered "That's funny. So do I." He turned and left the saloon with Beau right on his heels. They both walked across the street to the hotel, lighting up as they went.
"A little touchy in there." Beau was stating the obvious. "I wonder what Bret said to Pike this morning that got him so riled up?"
"I get the feeling it didn't have to be much," Bart replied. Then he brightened considerably. "Maybe it was just his charming personality that set our 'Uncle Edgar' off." They walked into the hotel lobby. No sign of Bret. Bart went over to the desk clerk and asked, "Did Mr. Maverick go up to his room?"
"No sir, he didn't," answered the clerk. "Say, I thought his name was Mansfield?"
"Maverick, Mansfield, we get confused sometimes," Beau informed the clerk. "Did you see him at all this evening?"
"Yes sir, he came in and started up the stairs like he was going to his room, then Jody caught him and they talked for a minute. Then they went back outside together."
"Jody?" Bart's ears perked up. Maybe Jody was their unknown burglar. "Jody who?"
"Why, Jody Mayfield. Georgia Mayfield's daughter. Georgia was Jessie Maverick's best friend in the whole world."
Bart held his hand out, barely five feet off the ground. "Little bitty thing 'bout this big, dark red hair, blue eyes? Pretty girl?"
The clerk grinned. "Yep, that's Jody alright. She had hold 'a Mr. Maverick's hand like she was never lettin' go. Drug him right outta' here behind her. Saw them head on down the street, towards her mama's house. Third house on the left, little picket fence, blue door. Looked like she was in a big hurry to get there."
"Thanks." Bart and Beau turned around and went back out into the street. "Cousin Bart, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Well Cousin Beau, I suspect I am. Miss Jody is no doubt our burglar. Think we should go see just what Brother Bret has gotten himself into now?"
"I think we should," Beau answered him. "Just because he can get out of trouble when a man has a gun pointed at him doesn't mean he can get out of trouble when a little girl drags him away. Besides, I have a lump I'd like to discuss with her."
Bart laughed and they headed off down the street, toward Georgia Mayfield's house.
Georgia poured Bret a cup of coffee as they sat in her small house. She didn't know what Jody was up to when she went out earlier; she hadn't learned of the plan until Jody returned home, dragging Mr. Maverick with her through the front door. After many apologies she offered to make a fresh pot of coffee and Bret accepted politely.
Georgia was a handsome woman, tall and dark haired, with a patrician face and an elegant manner about her. Jody hadn't told Bret much besides the fact that her mother was Aunt Jessie's best friend and might be able to provide him with some useful information. So he went with her voluntarily, back to the house that she had grown up in. Now as he sat and listened to Georgia talk it became clear why she and Jessie had been friends. Georgia was bright, cultured and warm. She made Bret feel at home as soon as Jody brought him in the house. She had a lot to tell him about Jessie's arrival in Silver Creek over 25 years ago. How she'd been lost and lonely at first, until she and Georgia became friends and partners and decided to buy an old building and open 'The Three Maverick's Saloon.' They started out small and kept pouring any profits they made back into the business. It gradually turned into the place it was today.
Georgia met a handsome man named Holt Mayfield when he came to town to open a newspaper. They fell in love and got married and had Jody three years later. Holt had been killed in an avalanche two years ago and Georgia traded their ranch for the small house in town. She sold her half of the saloon to Jessie when she and Holt married but Jessie had persuaded her to come back after she lost Holt. When Jessie became so ill that she couldn't run the place any longer, Georgia took over the day-to-day operations until Edgar decided he wanted 'his own man' running things. Since Georgia didn't legally own the saloon she had no choice but to accede to Pike's wishes. She hadn't made any attempt to go back to there after Jessie died. She missed her friend terribly, and she missed the saloon.
Bret listened to her without interruption. It was obvious from the way Georgia spoke about Jessie there was a deep and abiding love between the two friends. He felt disappointed that he'd never even gotten to meet Jessalyn Maverick.
Just as Georgia finished her story to Bret there was a knock at the door. Georgia excused herself and went to answer it. When she opened the door, there stood Bart and Beau. "Mrs. Mayfield?" asked Bart politely as he removed his hat.
"Yes," she answered. "You must be the other Maverick boys. Please come in."
Both men entered the room and Bart responded when he saw Bret. "Yes ma'am, I'm Bart, his brother, and this is our Cousin Beauregard." Beau smiled and removed his hat. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma'am," he said as he kissed her hand. They both moved into the room and politely waited for Georgia to sit down before taking the seats she indicated. She offered them coffee but both had enough for one day and respectfully declined.
"Brother Bret, we heard about your little visit from the desk clerk at the hotel. We thought we better see if there was anything that you needed help with." A bemused smile played about Bart's face. He wondered just where Jody was since she wasn't in the room. He wanted to make sure that it was she who fainted into his arms that afternoon.
"No, I think I've got it all under control, Bart. I can tell you everything that Mrs. Mayfield told me later."
Georgia Mayfield blushed slightly and looked straight at Bart. "You're the spitting image of Jessie, you know."
That remark caused Bart to pause and catch his breath. "No ma'am, I had no idea. We've never seen a photo of Jessie."
"Oh, I did, today, out at Pike's ranch," Bret interjected. "But it was a picture of Pappy, Uncle Ben, Uncle Micah and Aunt Jessie when they were very young. Too young to see any great resemblance."
"I have a photo of Jessie and me taken not long after we started the saloon. Would you all like to see it?"
Bret and Bart nodded their heads vigorously and Beau said "Yes ma'am." At last they would know what their Aunt looked like. Georgia excused herself and went into the other room.
"Where's Jody?" Bart asked his brother.
"Don't know," Bret responded. "Haven't seen her since we got here. Why are you so interested?"
Bart didn't hesitate but kept his voice low. "Because I think Jody is our burglar."
Bret raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything further as Georgia returned. In her hands was an old photo, yellowed with age but still quite clear. Side by side under the original sign that read 'The Three Mavericks Saloon' stood a much younger version of Georgia Mayfield and Jessalyn Maverick. Bret looked at it and shook his head, then passed it to Bart. Bart took a long look at the picture and tightened his grip on it. It was almost like looking in a mirror. Except for the fact that Jessie's eyes were lighter than Bart's, which were a deep, rich brown. Finally, there was someone in the family that he resembled.
That always bothered Bart. Bret was a 30 years younger version of Pappy and Beau reminded everyone of his mother Abigail. Bart looked more like a stranger in town than any of his relatives, save a small bit of similarity to Bret. Where had he come from? Was there really Maverick blood in his veins? No more wondering; there was no doubt that he was a Maverick. He was awash with relief; even though he knew that Beauregard and Belle were his parents he sometimes felt like an outsider. He loosened his grip on the photo and passed it on to Beau.
'So that was Aunt Jessie' Beau marveled to himself. 'Bart certainly does look like her.' Beau had experienced feelings similar to Bart's; the entire Maverick clan was dark haired and he was blonde. When they were all together he stood out like a sore thumb. At least his father had assured him how much he looked like his mother. Bart had never received any of those reassurances. Certainly now he would have no doubts. Maybe that would help his cousin feel less like he didn't belong in the family.
"Pretty woman," Beau remarked as he handed the photo back to Georgia. "It's good to be able to put a face with everything we've been hearing about Aunt Jessie. And she sure does look like Bart."
Georgia laughed at the last remark. "It's funny, Jessie always said she looked like someone gave birth to her and dumped her off with the Mavericks. She never felt like she really belonged in the family." She saw the glint of recognition and acknowledgement in Bart's eyes and she smiled at him.
"We've kept you way too long," Bret said as he stood up. "But there are probably a lot of things we'd still like to know. May we come back and visit again?"
They were like eager schoolboys waiting for a favorite teacher to reply. All three Mavericks looked at Georgia closely until she answered them in the affirmative.
"Please give our best to Miss Jody," Beau requested. "And tell her we would be delighted if she would join us the next time." He still wanted to talk to Jody about the bruise she inflicted on him.
They said their 'good-byes' and left the house. Georgia watched them go down the front steps and head back up the street towards the hotel. She shook her head and chuckled to herself. 'Jessie would have been so overjoyed to meet them all. They could have reminded her what it meant to be a Maverick rather than a no-good Pike.' She turned and went back inside, closing the door behind her. "Jody," she called out. "Where are you child?"