Chapter 6 Rain and Bullets
The next morning was cloudy and drizzling rain. A terrible day to be awake so early, but that was the price one paid for actually sleeping at night rather than playing poker. "Who turned off the sun?" was the first thing Bart asked when he looked out the hotel windows.
"No human should be awake this early," was Bret's only comment as they went in to breakfast. "No human is awake this early," was his brother's reply. Beau just shook his head and kept walking.
When they reached the dining room they found yesterday's waitress had a table set up for them, again in the back. And their coffee was waiting. "Have we been here too long already?" Beau asked.
"Only if your name is Edgar Pike." Bret's words were dead serious. "Mr. Pike owes me some money."
"Mr. Pike probably owes a lot of people some money. That roulette wheel is as crooked as Edgar."
"How about that table you played at, Beau? How was your dealer?"
Beau took a sip of coffee before he answered. "Not too bad. Just dealt off the bottom five or six times."
Bart shook his head. "From everything we've heard, Jessie and Georgia ran an honest establishment. This is all Pike's doing."
Bret nodded. "Yep, since Jessie got sick and he ran Georgia out, the place is headed downhill. By none other than our dear uncle." He stopped talking while breakfast arrived. It did his heart good for once to see that Bart was actually going to eat something besides toast. There was a little bit of a swagger in Bart's walk this morning; maybe finally seeing a family member that he resembled had done him some good. Bret was well aware of his brother's insecurities. He was the one in the family who had taken their mother's death the hardest. Maybe because he depended on Belle Maverick the most.
Beau spoke up as he finished the last of his coffee and waved the waitress away. "I think it's time we go get the keys from Harry and start earning our keep." They all agreed.
With full stomachs they made their way towards the saloon. Harry was already there, sweeping off what passed for a sidewalk in front. "Morning, gents. Awful early for Mavericks to be outside, ain't it?"
"That it is, Harry. That's what happens when you get invited to leave a saloon early." There was a lightness in Bret's words but not his meaning. Harry held the swinging doors open and all four of them went inside. The bartender walked behind the long mahogany bar and retrieved the saloon keys. "Who wants these?" he asked.
"Give them to Bart," Bret answered. "He's the only one that's ever tried to buy into a saloon."
"Try not to hold that against me, would ya?" On more than one occasion Bart had been on the verge of going 'partners' with someone in a gambling establishment, only to have the deal fall through for one reason or another. Nevertheless, he took the keys from Harry and pocketed them.
"I suppose you'll be wantin' to get a new bartender?" Harry asked with a tone of regret in his voice.
"No, sir," Beau spoke up quickly. "As a matter of fact, as of right now you are in charge of the bar and all the liquor. You sell what they drink and pour them honest. No more watered down anything."
Harry's countenance brightened considerably. "Praise the Lord, just not in here," he said.
"And there'll be a raise coming with that," Bret added. "You just keep that double barreled beauty loaded and ready."
All three had made a friend for life. "Office upstairs, Mister Bart," Harry offered. "Keys on the ring."
"Thanks, Harry." Bart started upstairs, then turned back to Harry. "When do the ladies start coming in?"
"Oh, usually around eleven. Not too much call for them before that."
A nod of the head followed. "Fine. Sure they don't like getttin' up any more than we do." He shifted his attention to Bret and Beau. "You coming?"
"Go ahead," Beau answered. "I really want to walk the place."
Bart headed for the staircase to the office and Bret followed. Beau really hadn't gotten to see much of the saloon in the two nights he'd been there and he wanted to get a better idea of the size and layout of the establishment. He walked the perimeter and found the girls dressing area, with a nice heavy locking door to protect them from unwanted cowpoke eyes. There was a large backroom storage space that was stacked tall with bottles of all shapes and sizes, and a tiny office with a locked door marked 'Manager.' That had probably been Georgia's office until Pike replaced her. If they were lucky they could get Georgia to come back to Jessie's saloon.
Beau took a closer look at the tables and chairs in the place. For a saloon that regularly put up with rowdy cowpokes and repeatedly occurring bar fights all the furnishings seemed to be in pretty good shape. They probably had a different roulette wheel somewhere, since the one they were using currently had been tampered with. Beau's only real complaint was that the stage seemed rather small and cramped; if you didn't keep the customers entertained they found someplace else to go. That could be fixed.
He made the circuit and returned to the bar, where Harry was polishing the wood grain. "Looks good, Harry."
Harry's curt reply: "That's because Edgar didn't have it long enough to destroy it." Then he apologized to Beau. 'Sorry for the tone. Miz Jessie spent so much of her time and effort to make this a real home for the ladies and a place she could be proud of. Her and Miz Georgia worked real hard, and it was all gonna be for nothin' after Edgar got through with it."
Beau nodded his head in agreement with Harry. "Don't have much good to say about Uncle Pike, do you?"
"Nope," came the swift reply.
Bart had begun to dig into the office upstairs while Bret looked around. A picture of Edgar sat on Jessie's desk, with a picture of Jody Mayfield next to it. 'Strange,' thought Bart. 'Why a picture of Jody instead of Georgia and Jody?' He said nothing to Bret.
There was the usual junk and clutter in the desk, nothing out of the ordinary until he found Jessie's ledger books. Once he took a good look at those he whistled softly. Bret turned and asked "What?"
"No wonder Uncle Edgar is so determined to get hold of 'The Three Mavericks.' This place is making a tidy profit. I'm surprised he didn't shoot you last night, Brother Bret, while he had the chance. Then he'd only have to eliminate me and Beau in order to own the whole thing!"
"Don't give him any ideas," Bret interjected. "Not much I'd put past him at this point."
"No, probably not," Bart agreed. "I think we need to get Georgia Mayfield back in here as soon as possible so that we know we can believe what we read in these ledgers. Everything looks pretty straight forward until about three weeks ago when Edgar's man took over. I don't trust anything he recorded."
Bret was staring at the picture of Jody Mayfield. "Hmm? Oh no, I agree. Let's go pay Mrs. Mayfield another visit. Offer her back the position of manager. Get rid of Pike's man and start getting this place in shape." 'Besides,' Bret thought, 'I've got some questions for Jody.'
Bart put the ledger back in the drawer and locked it. He and Bret left the office and went back downstairs to find Beau attempting to explain to Edgar Pike's 'manager' that he was no longer employed. "As of when?" asked the now former manager, whose name was Virgil McLaren. "As of right now," answered Beau.
"I have personal belongings in my office," Virgil declared.
"Fine. Follow me and we'll get them." Bart handed Beau the keys and Beau led the way. He stood in the doorway of the office while Virgil collected his property, then locked it behind them on leaving. McLaren wasn't at all happy and let all three Mavericks know it in no uncertain terms. His parting remark was "You'll never get away with this. Edgar will fight you tooth and nail for this place. It belongs to him."
"I believe that's up to the courts to decide, Mr. McLaren," Beau countered. "We have been advised by legal counsel that the property now belongs to us. If Mr. Pike intends to argue against that position he can do so before a judge. You are more than welcome to inform Mr. Pike that we shall see him in court." With that, Virgil McLaren took his possessions and left the saloon.
"Now you've gone and done it," Bret informed Beau. "Dear Uncle Edgar will no doubt be looking for you to blow a hole through next. Maybe you better go back to the hotel and lay low for a while."
Beau yawned; he was more than ready to go back to sleep. "Not a bad idea, Cousin Bret. I think I shall avail myself of the services of my bed for a while longer. I shall see you both later in the day. Make sure you stay out of trouble, my lads."
With that, Beau took his leave. Bart and Bret were left standing at the bar, laughing. "Is he always like that?" Harry inquired.
"Oh no," Bart answered. "Most of the time he's worse." He turned to Bret. "Ready?"
"Ready," answered the older brother. "We'll be back later, Harry."
"Yes, sir," answered Harry. "I'll be right here." The brothers left the saloon and headed back towards Georgia Mayfield's house. About halfway there Bart spotted Hiram Foster coming towards them in a buggy and waved him down. Foster pulled the buggy over to talk to them.
"Mr. Foster, I'd like you to meet one of the other two Mavericks, my brother Bret. Bret, this is Hiram Foster, Aunt Jessie's attorney."
Bret nodded a greeting to the older man. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Foster."
"My pleasure, Mr. Maverick. Your attorney, too. Have you taken possession of the saloon yet?"
Bart rattled the keys for the attorney's benefit, but Bret did the answering. "Just this morning, Mr. Foster. We're on our way to Mrs. Mayfield's house to persuade her to come back and manage the place."
"My boy, I think that is a capital idea. Georgia Mayfield will do everything she can for you. A word of caution is in order, however – Edgar Pike has already let it be known around town that he intends to regain ownership of 'The Three Mavericks,' by whatever means necessary. Stay vigilant. Trust no one that you haven't already met. There are a lot of good people in this town and this valley, but Edgar is not one of them. He'll do whatever it takes to get what he wants, and that includes murder." Foster looked at Bart and Bret, and they exchanged glances. All the cards were on the table.
"Thanks for the warning, Mr. Foster. We'll be careful." Foster urged his horse forward. The buggy swerved back into the street and the brothers continued toward Mrs. Mayfield's. "We're in this up to our eyeballs, Brother Bart. Are you sure?" Bret asked quietly.
"I'm sure," Bart answered. "And so was Aunt Jessie. That's why she didn't leave the saloon to him."
"Mmhmm. That thought had crossed my mind. Well then, all we need to do this morning is hire a new manager and keep from getting killed. Doesn't seem like such a tall order."
"Been in tighter spots before."
"That we have. At least we're all together in this. I'm glad of that. Wouldn't be near as much fun without Beau."
Bart laughed at the thought of them all in this venture. "As long as it's Cousin Beau that keeps getting hit on the head and not us."
They walked on to Georgia Mayfield's.
It didn't take much persuading to convince Georgia to return to the business. She was more than willing to have a reason to leave her house on a daily basis, especially since it meant taking 'Jessie's baby' away from Edgar Pike. She agreed to return to the saloon with them and take a look at the business ledgers that very day. Once again Jody was nowhere to be seen; Bret would have to hold his questions until later.
The three of them left the house and headed back to the saloon. The town was awake now, and people bustled back and forth between businesses. The street was filled with horses and wagons coming and going, so filled that none of them noticed the rider on the gray gelding that seemed to be following them. Bret and Bart were occupied listening to Georgia's ideas on how to increase business and begin rebuilding the saloon's reputation for being an honest gambling hall and weren't paying any attention to the street traffic. Just before reaching the saloon doors the rider suddenly spurred his horse forward and approached them at a gallop. As he rode past the trio a hail of gunshots filled the air. Bret and Bart hit the sidewalk and pulled Georgia to the ground with them, Bret doing his best to protect her from any stray bullets while Bart pulled his gun and returned fire. The rider galloped off and was quickly out of sight. Bart holstered his gun and got up while Bret helped Georgia to her feet. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine, " she answered. She looked from Bret to Bart and back again. "He didn't waste any time, did he?"
Bart brushed himself off and turned his attention back to Georgia. "Sorry we got you mixed up in this mess. Maybe you should reconsider the job. It would be safer that way."
Her head nodded vigorously. "There's no being safe as long as Edgar Pike is around. And you didn't get me mixed up in anything. Jessie was my friend and she never would have stood for Edgar's greediness."
Bret ushered Georgia inside. Harry was standing at the window, the double barrel shotgun ready. "Everyone ok?"
Bret escorted Georgia over to a table and pulled out a chair for her. "We're fine, Harry. It wasn't meant to be anything more than a warning. Bring Mrs. Mayfield some coffee, would you?" Georgia laughed and turned to Harry. "Make it whiskey, Harry. I haven't been shot at for a while."
The brothers looked at each other and smiled. Georgia Mayfield was tougher than she looked. "What's next?" Bret asked.
Georgia drank the shot that Harry poured her and set her glass down on the table. "One of you help me bring the ledgers back down to the office, please?" Georgia stood up and Bart gave her his arm. He escorted her up the stairs and unlocked the door, then held it open for her. She went straight for Jessie's desk, took her own key out of her purse and unlocked the drawer the ledgers were in. She glanced at the picture of Jody and a smile danced around her mouth. Bart saw the glance and interrupted her thoughts. "Aunt Jessie must have really loved Jody."
Georgia nodded assent. "She did. A lot. She was Jody's godmother."
"Is that why the picture was just Jody and not you and your daughter?"
There was a split-second worth of hesitation before Georgia answered. "She always loved that picture of Jody." She continued to look at the photo and didn't notice the look on Bart's face change.
"Was it difficult for Aunt Jessie?"
"Watching you get married and have a daughter when she didn't?"
Again that split-second hesitation. "No. If she had wanted to marry Edgar she would have."
Bart dared to approach unknown territory "Is that their child in the grave next to Jessie's?"
Georgia's head snapped up sharply. "How do you know about that?"
"Bret went to Edgar's ranch and visited the grave where Aunt Jessie was buried."
Georgia's answer was cold. "Jessie went through a lot. Not the least of which was her conflict with Edgar over that child." She sounded as if there was something more to say, then changed her mind. Bart started to ask her who or what was buried next to Jessie but Bret walked in the office. "Need some help?"
Georgia replied curtly "No." Bret sensed that he'd walked in on something already in progress and made a hasty exit. Bart was hesitant to pursue the issue any further, given the hostility he heard in Georgia's answer. Instead he picked the ledgers up from the desk, along with the picture of Jody, and carried them out of Jessie's office and down to Georgia's. By the time they arrived Georgia was smiling again. "I'm sorry. Jessie and Edgar not having children was a sore point between the two of them and I was put in the middle a lot, especially after Jody was born. I don't like to remember it."
Bart wondered if that was all there was to it. He wasn't going to push any harder at this point; whatever had been left unsaid when Bret walked in on the conversation would wait until later. He left Georgia in the manager's office and returned to the bar and Bret.
The elder Maverick and the bartender were talking very quietly. Several of the saloon girls had come in and there were even two or three trail hands sitting at a table drinking. Bart sent Harry over to the table with a 'drink on the house.' Bret looked at Bart and shook his head.
"A natural born businessman," he murmured. "You know what Pappy would say about giving away free liquor."
"Yes," replied Bart. "Don't do it."
"Exactly." Bret turned serious. "Did I walk in on something upstairs?"
"Just doing a little detective work."
Bret's mind was working the same way as Bart's. "In a round-about way."
"Tread lightly, Brother Bart, I get the feeling that's a touchy subject."
"You are so right, Brother Bret."
They stood at the bar in silence for a few minutes, Bret in front of it, Bart behind. Something about standing behind the bar felt very natural to Bart. He wondered where that came from, since he had little or no interest in alcohol. Maybe he just liked being the man in charge. Not responsible, just in charge.
Finally Bret spoke. "I think it's time the whole family paid Mr. Pike a visit."
They stood in silence a moment longer, then Bart answered. "Let's go get Cousin Beau."