Chapter 8 Down the Rabbit Hole
Beau stayed at Georgia's house that evening for dinner. It had been a while since he'd had a good meal cooked by anyone other than Lily Mae and Georgia knew her way around food. The company was charming and the conversation pleasant; they talked mostly about Jessie and Georgia's adventures with the saloon and Beau's years in England. Jody appeared when they were almost finished and Beau finally got to meet her, face to face. Bart was right, she was a tiny little thing and cute as all get out. She fervently denied any and all knowledge of the lump on Beau's head and being in their rooms at the hotel. Beau saw the look that passed between mother and daughter and knew that it was best not to pursue the subject at this time. Later, when he could speak to Jody alone, he would hear the real story behind the search.
When the clock on the mantel chimed 9 o'clock Beau got up to leave. It had been a wonderful evening and he thanked Georgia most sincerely for such a pleasant time. She rose with him and took both his hands in hers. "I should be thanking you, Beau, for asking me to come back to the saloon. You and Bart and Bret. It's been a while since I've felt this good. Since before Jessie died." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then blushed. "Thank your cousins for me, please?"
Beau nodded. "Yes ma'am, I will. And thank you for being willing to stand in the middle of this mess with us. Your support and help means a lot." He tipped his hat, said his good-byes to Jody and left. He lit a cigar as he made his way back up the street to the saloon, which seemed to be as lively as ever. Beau once again walked through the swinging doors and over to the bar. Harry started for the coffee pot and Beau waved him off, laughing and good-naturedly telling the bartender, "You take care of the paying customers. I can pour my own drinks."
Bret had taken over dealing at the high stakes table and everyone there was laughing. New card decks replaced the shaved ones, and all dealers were told to play fair and square, no cheating for or against the house. Beau didn't know if the profits would be as good but the clientele would be a lot happier to know they were getting an honest deal. He looked around the saloon but didn't see Bart anywhere. Maybe he was upstairs in the office. Just as Beau was about to head upstairs Lettie appeared at his elbow.
"Hi gorgeous," she purred to him. "Glad to see you finally arrived."
"I was busy." Beau was in no mood to deal with Lettie tonight. Any other time he would have welcomed the brunette's attention, but at the moment he had too much on his mind. He side-stepped Lettie as she reached out for his arm and kept walking, over to Bret's table.
"Cousin Beau, nice to see you could join us. Do you want to play?"
"Not just yet, Cousin. Have you seen Bart anywhere?"
Bret shuffled the deck in his hands. "Nope, haven't been here too long myself. Maybe he's upstairs."
"That's where I was headed." Beau turned and walked the length of the saloon, to the long staircase that led to the upstairs offices. He climbed them and went to the main office but the door was locked. He knocked and called "Cousin Bart, are you in there?" but got no answer. Beau tried the other two doors and found they were locked, also. Where was Bart?
The upstairs railing allowed a great view of the whole saloon floor. Beau scanned it but didn't see Bart anywhere. Could he be back at the hotel? He decided it wasn't worth worrying about and went back down to one of the other card tables. 'Might as well play poker,' he thought, 'maybe it will take my mind off things for a while.' Little did he know that decision would almost cost Bart Maverick his life.
Everything had been so nice and peaceful at his hotel room. He was tired and dirty and all he wanted to do was get the hotel clerk to heat him some bath water and then sleep. So when the knock came on the door to his room he assumed it was the clerk telling him his water was ready. One look at the three men with guns drawn and bandanas around their faces told him he was wrong. He was defenseless, having removed his gun belt in anticipation of the bath. They backed him up into the room and closed the door.
"I assume this isn't a social visit," Bart offered, hoping desperately to diffuse what was about to happen. "Funny boy," the first one answered.
"You don't pay attention real well, do you?" asked the second man. "You don't own the saloon, understand?"
"Yes sir, I understand." Bart looked from one to the other, searching for a way out. Any way out.
"No, I don't think you do," the first man replied. With that he knocked Bart across the skull with the butt of his pistol. The second and third intruders held Bart while the first man proceeded to pistol whip him into unconsciousness. When Bart was a bloody mess they finally let go of him and he crashed to the ground. There he would lay for hours, bleeding all over himself and the floor. The men holstered their guns and stepped over his body to exit the room. Their job was done.
Bret and Beau continued dealing cards and playing poker most of the night. They had no idea that Bart was on the verge of bleeding to death and still lay unconscious in his hotel room. Not until dawn broke over the mountains did either of them worry about the third Maverick. Bret's game finally broke up and he stood and stretched, yawning and heading for the bar and coffee. Beau soon joined him, both at the bar and with the coffee.
"Say, did you ever find Bart?" Bret suddenly remembered Beau's question from the night before.
"No. He wasn't upstairs and I didn't go back to the hotel."
There was a small note of worry in Bret's next remark. "That's not like him. I wonder if he was at Georgia's?"
Now the same note crept into Beau's voice. "Not unless he went to see her after I left. I was there until just past nine o'clock."
Realizing that Bart had been missing far too long, they looked worriedly at each other. Bret finally nodded his head towards the saloon doors and he and Beau left for the hotel. They were concerned by Bart's absence and had no idea what terrible shape he was in.
When they got to his door Bret instinctively listened for any noise inside. Hearing nothing, he knocked. If Bart was still asleep he really was exhausted last night. No answer. Bret knocked harder. Beau was fidgeting like he did when they were kids and were about to get caught doing something they weren't supposed to. Still no answer. Bret pounded on the door. Not a sound. That was enough. Bret put his shoulder into it and crashed through the door. And almost fell over Bart's body, still lying on the floor where it had been dropped last night.
"Bart! For God's sake, Bart!" Bret knelt on the floor and lifted his brother's head. Though faint, he was breathing. He turned to Beau in a panic. "Get. Doctor. Hurry."
Beau was horrified. He tore out of the room at breakneck speed, the picture of Bart beaten and bloody seared into his brain. 'Dear God,' he thought, 'he has to be alright.' He flew down the steps to the front desk and paused only long enough to ask "Doc Washburn?" The clerk answered "Two doors up" and Beau was gone.
Bret turned his brother over slowly and cradled Bart's head in his arms. He was beaten worse than Bret had ever seen a man beaten, obviously by more than just fists. There was so much blood everywhere that Bret was surprised to find his brother still breathing. As gently as he could he picked Bart up off the floor and carried him over to the bed, laying him down as carefully as a new born baby. Bart let out a small groan and Bret had never heard anything so welcome in his whole life. "It's alright, Bart," Bret whispered. "It'll be alright. Beau's gone for the doctor. Just hang on. I don't want to be an only child." There was another small groan and Bret wondered if Bart had heard his remark or was just reacting to the pain. Either way, his brother was still alive.
Minutes passed like hours while he waited for Beau and the doctor to return. He tried to clean some of the blood off of Bart's face and head but he didn't make much progress. Just as he was about to give up he heard footsteps in the hall and Beau and Doc Washburn entered the room. The doctor had seen plenty of men beaten and bloody through the years but this was one of the worst he'd ever witnessed. As he examined the injuries he wondered just how Beau and Bret were related to this brutalized man. How much to tell them? How honest to be about the chances of survival? He worked on Bart for a long time while Bret paced in circles around the room and Beau attempted to clean some of the bloodstains off the floor. Finally he had done all that he could and faced the two relatives.
"Who's kin?" the doctor asked.
"Me," came the answer from both men.
"I'm his brother."
"I'm his cousin."
The doctor looked from one to the other, and made the decision to be brutally honest. "You might as well hear it from me straight. I'd be real surprised if he makes it till sundown." Beau let out a strangled sound and dropped his head into his hands. Bret just stared at the doctor, praying that he'd heard wrong. Bart couldn't - no -– he wouldn't die. After everything they had been through, there had to be another answer.
"Doctor?" Bret choked out the word. Doc Washburn had a hang-dog look to him, the same face he always had when giving somebody bad news. These two men were going to lose someone they cared deeply for and there was nothing that he could do to prevent it. "I'm sorry. He's just lost too much blood. Got no idea how bad he's broken up inside and even if I did there's not much I could do about it."
The brother stood up straight and looked the doctor square in the eyes. "What can we do for him?"
"Not much," came Doc's answer. "I'll leave aspirin. See if you can get that down him, every few hours. Try to keep him comfortable. Get some of that blood off him. Other than that – "
The cousin nodded his head and took a bill out of his wallet. "Here, doctor, for your trouble."
Doc Washburn waved the bill away. "I'll be back this afternoon. If he pulls through you can give me that. Not takin' it now." He turned back to the brother. "There's one other thing you can do, son."
"What's that?" Bret asked in hushed tones.