Chapter 50 A Bullet for the Gun
Bret rode like his life depended on it, rather than his brother's. By the time he rejoined the road to Placerville on the other side of Boone's Ridge he was following one horse instead of three and the tracks were fresh. Whichever of the gang he was chasing wasn't far ahead of him, maybe half an hour by the look of the tracks. Once he got to the town he was hoping it would be easy to spot the worn out horse.
Placerville was a quiet town that was just starting to grow up and expand. They had a livery, a boarding house, a saloon, a barber and a small café. Most of the homesteaders were farmers rather than cattlemen and the town had a whole different feel to it.
Bret followed the dusty little main street down to the livery. There were no horses tied to any of the hitching rails in the street, so that left him with no choice. The livery owner was just shoeing a horse and stopped to answer Bret's questions. "Sure, that big bay stallion down at the end there just come in about half an hour ago. Tall young fella ridin' him. Name's Sanborn. Went over to the saloon. Wearin' a dusty brown jacket and a brown hat. You a friend a his?"
"Not exactly. Wearin' brown, you said?"
"Yep. Said he was expectin' his brother later today. You ain't him, are ya?"
"Nope, just an acquaintance. Thanks for the information." Bret went out the back of the livery and tied his horse there. No sense being obvious. He walked around to main street and into the café, right across the street from the saloon. He took a table by the window and waited.
Beau had a hard ride to get anywhere near the two remaining outlaws. Shanksville was bigger than Placerville and held mostly cattlemen and ranchers. And there were two saloons instead of one.
He wasted no time going straight to the sheriff. Yes, Sheriff McNally knew who Rusty Meyers was. He'd been in Shanksville before and gotten thrown in jail for a bar fight. No, the sheriff hadn't seen him recently. Beau told McNally the whole story and was almost finished when a deputy came running in to the office. "Sheriff, there's been a incident over at the Golden Dollar saloon. Young fella over there's been killed, friend of Rusty Meyers. They need you right away."
Dead? Friend of Meyers? Did that mean Rusty was at the Golden Dollar? And was the dead man a Sanborn? "Mr. Maverick, I think you better wait here. Let me go see what this is all about. I'll come back and let you know."
So Beau bided his time at the jail while the sheriff and deputy went back over to the Golden Dollar to investigate. He was sick of jails.
Bret sat in the café for over an hour and there was no sign of anyone coming or going into the saloon. After his third cup of coffee he finally broke down and ordered a sandwich just to continue occupying his vantage point at the window. Late morning turned to afternoon turned to dusk and still nothing. Bret couldn't wait any longer and knew he had to do something. Either the Sanborn in the saloon was very, very drunk by now or there was a back way out and he'd given Bret the slip; it was time to find out which was true. He paid his check, left the poor waitress a good tip and headed across the street. He pulled his hat down in front, opposite of the way he usually wore it, and slouched into the bar. He needn't have worried; whichever Sanborn it was, he sat slumped at a table by himself with only an empty whiskey bottle and a glass to keep him company. He was either asleep or passed out. Bret sat down at the table to wait him out.
It was more than an hour later when Sheriff McNally came back to the jail. Beau was watching out the window and saw another man with him; not knowing what the hunted man looked like Beau found an unlocked jail cell, slipped inside and slumped back against the wall, with his hat pulled over his eyes. Good move, he soon discovered as the sheriff and the stranger entered. It didn't take long for Beau to learn that this was, indeed, Rusty Meyers. Since there was no arrest warrant for Meyers, Beau was forced to play it out legally.
"Sorry about your friend, Meyers," McNally told him as he offered a chair next to his desk. "Just help me with a few questions and you can be on your way. "What was his name again?"
"Sanborn," Rusty replied. "Pete Sanborn. We stopped here for a drink and then were ridin' on to Placerville. Supposed to meet his brother Jack there. Damn shame. He was a good kid." He shook his head to emphasize the loss.
"Yeah, well, good kids don't draw a gun on local ranchers. If he hadn't done that he might not be dead."
"Well, Sheriff, everybody makes mistakes. Just that this one cost him. Guess I'll have to go tell his brother."
McNally shook his head. "Here's your gun back. Hasn't been fired, so I guess your version is right." The sheriff handed a gun back to Meyers and Beau watched from under his hat. That's when he saw it – the gun handed back to the outlaw had an intricately cut black diamond pattern on the grip. Bart's gun! So Bret was right; Rusty Meyers had killed Edgar Pike.
Meyers holstered Bart's gun and stood up. "Thanks, McNally. I'll take the body with me to Placerville to see what Jack wants done with it." Unexpectedly he shook the sheriff's hand and left the jail. Beau emerged quickly from the cell.
"Sheriff McNally, that gun you handed back to Meyers – "
The sheriff cut him off. "I know, son, it matches your description. Guess I have to arrest him after all."
Beau stopped the sheriff from leaving. "I have a better idea."
Bret sat with Jack Sanborn for quite a while before the drunken man began to stir. Maverick checked his derringer to make sure it was loaded, then pulled his .45 and set it in the table. Bret kicked Sanborn in the leg and brought him back to life – or, at least, consciousness.
"Wake up, Jack, it's time to have a little chat."
"Mmmmmm, no. Who are you?" Sanborn finally attempted to raise his head, open his eyes and squint at Bret. "Maverick?"
"Yep. One of 'em. The one you didn't try to get hung." Bret's voice was low and steady. He had to play this hand carefully and get Jack to talk while he still could.
Gravity won out and Sanborn's head sank back onto his arm. Bret reached over, grabbed the back of his neck, and shook as hard as he could. A low moan escaped from Jack's lips.
"Ohhh, stop it. STOP IT!"
Bret finally stopped shaking and let go. He picked up the .45 and noisily cocked the gun. "We need to discuss your friend Mr. Meyers."
Jack would have shaken his head 'no' but it hurt too much. "Not my friend. Pete's. Never liked the man."
Strong as the temptation to tie Jack Sanborn to a horse and drag him back to Silver Creek immediately was, Bret thought he should try to get as much information out of him as possible. He grabbed Sanborn by the back of the neck again and shook some more.
Once again Jack responded negatively. "STOP! Not here. Won't talk here. Stable. Need horse. Get out of town. Quick. Before he comes to kill me."
Bret assumed the 'he' that Jack referenced was Meyers. He yanked Jack's head back up. "Alright, not here. We'll discuss him at the stable. Are you gonna walk by yourself or am I gonna drag you there?"
"Walk." Of course he meant with a lot of help. Bret had to half support, half drag Jack with him out the door of the saloon and back through the livery. Once they got there it was a matter of time to saddle the bay stallion and get Sanborn mounted. Bret led the horse outside to his own mare and swung up into the saddle, still in control of Sanborn's horse. They headed slowly out of town, south towards Shanksville, until they reached a small wooded area that looked fairly well hidden from the road. Bret rode into the brush and dismounted, securing both horses to a nearby tree. Jack half-slid down from his horse, still on the edge of 'out-of-control-drunk.' Bret had no sympathy for him at all.
Sanborn stumbled across a log and then sat on it. "Cold," he announced. Bret started a fire, hoping to get some answers before the effect of the whiskey wore completely off.
"Tell me more about Rusty Meyers."
Jack shook his head 'no.' The desire to avoid the subject of Rusty Meyers was stronger than the desire to not feel pain from shaking his head. Bret repeated himself. "Tell me about Rusty Meyers."
"No. No good. Not a friend. Mean. Nasty. Gonna get us all killed."
"How is he gonna get us all killed?"
Sanborn stared at the fire. "Hung. Hung. Just like that poor Maverick in Silver whatever. Get us all hung for somethin' he did."
Bret was losing patience. It wasn't easy to have a discussion with a drunken man who was just beginning to develop a conscience. "What did he do, Jack? What's he gonna get us all hung for?" Bret paused for a moment when he heard a twig snap. Then a rabbit came running past the fire and he continued. "Why are we gonna get hung, Jack?"
"Cause we didn't kill Maverick like we were supposed to. Had to beat him instead a just shootin' him. Then he went back and finished Pike. Framed an innocent man." He turned his attention to the only audience he had, Bret. "And Pete and me was stupid. We helped."
"You helped? What did you help with, Jack? What happened?" He was trying everything he knew to get Jack Sanborn to admit the whole scheme. He needed to hear every word spoken so he could convince Sanborn to repeat it all in front of the Judge.
"Are you dense? Rusty killed Pike himself. Framed Maverick for it. Why you wanna know, anyway?" Jack staggered to his feet, wobbly and perturbed.
From the woods behind them came a voice. "Because he's a Maverick, you idiot!"
A shot rang out just as Jack started to fall forward. The shot, intended to kill him, pierced his left shoulder instead. He dropped to the ground in front of Bret. Rusty Meyers stepped out of the dense brush and pointed Bart's gun at Bret. "Shoulda killed all you damn Mavericks when I had the chance, stead a havin' to do it one at a time." He aimed for Bret's heart. "Good-bye, 'Brother Bret.'"
Another shot, this one not from Bart's gun. Further back in the brush than Meyers, Sheriff McNally stepped out, Beau behind him. A startled look came over Meyers face as he dropped the gun and then he himself dropped, mere feet from where Jack Sanborn lay. One was alive and the other dead. Bret looked from Beau to the sheriff and back again. "How much of that did you hear?"
"Enough, Mr. Maverick," came McNally's reply. "Enough to set your brother free."