Don't Close Your Eyes
Chapter 1 – Sneaking Into Town
The train pulled into the station right on time and Bart heard the conductor yell "DENVER! ALL OFF FOR DENVER!" Gee, couldn't they let a guy sleep? Especially one that had just finished a sixteen hour marathon of poker, poker, and more poker?
The operative word was "DENVER!" He'd been traveling for two days and he doubted he'd slept more than an hour or two in that time. Certainly would be good to get up and stretch his legs, even if he still needed the cane that had become his constant companion every once in a while. He stood and braced himself with that cane while he gathered his bag, then started for the door. How many times had he been met at this very station by Bret? Not this time, however. Whoever was following his brother had caused him to go into hiding and it was up to Bart to get to the Denver Palace Hotel by himself. Several long blocks later he was leaning heavily on the cane as his lack of sleep and recently healed wounds caused him no end of grief.
By the time he finally got there he was in need of a room. There was a new front desk clerk that he didn't know, so he decided to give Bart Maverick a vacation. He checked in as 'Bartley Jamison' and inquired about a hotel guest named 'Breton Joseph.'
"Yes, Mr. Jamison, Mr. Joseph is registered here. He's in room 316. But he's out right now. Would you like to leave a message for him?"
"Please. Tell him I've arrived and I'm in room 324. I'll be expecting him."
"Thank you, Mr. Jamison. I'll be sure Mr. Joseph gets the message. Do you have any bags?"
Bart looked down at the lonely, half-empty bag he carried. He needed some clothes to replace those that had been destroyed in Nevada. "Just one today."
The desk clerk motioned a bellhop over and directed him to "take Mr. Jamison's bag to room 324."
Bart took the key and followed the bellhop up to the room. Good thing he had the cane, with three flights of stairs to navigate. He entered the room and flipped a coin to the bellhop, then locked the door behind him and braced a chair against it. He'd learned the hard way not to leave his door unsecured. He took off his coat and hat and unbuttoned his vest, then untied his tie and finally his gun belt. The gun belt and gun stayed next to him in the bed. Another painful lesson learned the hard way.
Much as he wanted to know what was going on with Bret, at this moment he wanted sleep more. He lowered himself onto the bed and didn't bother with blankets. He was out almost immediately, a skill learned after many years of staying up all night playing poker.
It seemed like only a few minutes before he heard a persistent knocking. He was up out of the bed and at the door, gun drawn, before he heard "Psssst. Bart. It's me." He pulled the chair away and unlocked the door. From the expression on his brother's face he knew better than to say anything with Bret out in the hall. He motioned his brother inside with the gun and closed and locked the door behind him.
Bret threw his arms around Bart and felt the shoulder blade bones in his back. Good Lord, he was wafer thin again. It had been several months since their last encounter. Then he saw the cane leaning up against the bed and could draw only one conclusion. "What happened this time?"
"Never mind all that. I'll give you the full story later. What's with the disguise?" Bart referred to the name Bret had registered under and the way he'd followed suit.
"Oh you mean 'Breton Joseph?' You're the only one that would know it was me. Besides, Mr. Jamison, I see you registered the same." Other than Pappy and Beau, they were the only two people on earth who knew each other by their full names and simply omitted the 'Maverick' when necessary. Obviously this was one of those times. Bret flopped down on the bed and handed the gun belt and holster to Bart. "Better put this on."
Bart strapped on the proffered gun belt and asked, curiously, "That bad, huh?"
Bret smiled and was quick with an answer, "I don't know, Brother Bart. Somebody's chasin' me."
"As a pair of deuces."
"Start at the beginning. I've got time." Bart put his foot up on a chair to secure the leg tie to his leg. Bret noticed his younger brother wince when first bracing his foot on the chair and again when he took it down. He was going to want a detailed explanation of the wince and just what caused it. When he and Bart parted company in Sante Fe he was almost back to being himself. Now here he was again, thin and in need of meat on his bones, still carrying the cane around and acting for all the world like he'd been injured anew. Bret shook his head.
"What's that for?" Bart asked innocently.
Bret pointed at the cane. "What's that for?"
"At dinner. I promise."
"Alright," the older Maverick started. "When I left you I went to San Francisco, stayed there about a month. Left for Denver. Made several small detours along the way. Got close to Virginia City and noticed I was being followed. Stopped in there and left the message with Gerald at the Gold Rush. Whoever it is's been doggin' me all this way, never gettin' close enough to see clearly. Thought I lost 'em around Grand Junction but the night I got here they were back with me. One rider, dark gray mount. Been dodgin' shadows ever since. More than once I've had that bein' watched feeling. So far I haven't caught anybody."
Bart turned the chair and sat on it backwards. "You owe money to anybody but me?"
A half-laugh, then a question. "Does Pappy count?"
"Nope. Pappy'd just kill you for it. Or send me to fetch it. Anybody's husband chasin' you?"
Bret shook his head no. "You know after what happened with Constanza I always ask if they're married."
"Yeah, that was a painful warning." Bart thought about the load of buckshot and believed Bret's sorrowful plea that he'd learned his lesson. "We must be missing somethin'."
"I agree. I just don't know what. Thought maybe if you were here we could flush out whoever it is and find out what I'm bein' accused of this time." A pause, and then, "You were ready to leave Carson City, weren't you?"
Bart stood and walked away from the chair, over to the window. He grimaced slightly on standing and turned sideways quickly so that Bret didn't see it. "Yes." And then a few seconds later, "No."
"Which is it?"
"Yes and no."
"Uh-oh. I smell a woman. Serious?"
"Do you really need to know?" Bart asked peevishly.
"Ah-ha. Serious." 'Good,' thought Bret. 'Maybe he's finally over Caroline.'
"Do you want my help or not?" Bart was still just a little angry. Did Bret have to put his nose into everything? Especially things Bart still wasn't sure enough to talk about?
A small laugh escaped Bret but he quickly stifled it. He could see his brother was in no mood to discuss the subject, whoever she was. Back to the problem at hand. "Of course I want your help. In spite of what you think I always want your help."
Bart had to do a little back-peddling at this point. "Sorry. Not ready yet. How about dinner? I'm starved."
"Yes, I should certainly think so. Let's go to the dining room and see if we can fatten you up." Bret slapped his brother on the shoulder, and saw Bart wince slightly. "You can tell me all about your friend, Mr. Cane." He pointed at the object as he named it. "And why he's still living with you."