Leaving Miller's Crossing. Arriving Denver the 29th. Jim with me. Be nice.
I looked the message over wondering if there was anything else I needed to say or elaborate on before quickly deciding it was fine the way it was. They do charge by the letter. Sighing, I passed the paper over to the clerk. "It's goin' to Bret Maverick care of the Denver Palace hotel."
The man nodded and began to tap out the message as I went to sit back down and continue to wait for the 2:00 stage to pull out.
"Do you suppose he'll be terribly annoyed by my presence?"
I glanced at the man beside me. There wasn't much expression on his face, but the devilish glint in his eye was unmistakable. Not that I was surprised, the glint was something one often saw when James Buckley, more commonly known as Dandy Jim Buckley, was concerned.
The he in question was my brother, Bret. Yes, the same Bret the telegram was for, and I should probably go ahead and add that my name is Bart, also Maverick. Simply put Bret and Jim don't get along real well, and at the moment, Bret was blissfully unaware Buckley was traveling with me. Now back to the question, would Bret be annoyed? "Probably," I answered. "But he'll be alright. Just don't steal anything from him and don't get him thrown in jail."
Dandy suddenly looked a little heartbroken. "You do take all the fun out of things, old boy."
See, Jim is a friend of mine, and Bret . . . well, enemy seems too strong a word, but it's safe to say Bret doesn't count Jim as a friend. Honestly, I can't blame Bret for his feelings. The first time they met, Jim tried to cheat him at cards. That alone can turn Bret against a man pretty fast. The second time they met up, Jim managed to unload a few thousand dollars of stolen counterfeit money on Bret. If that wasn't bad enough, the few days Bret sat in a jail cell waiting for that mess to get cleared up didn't improve his view of Jim. And that's not the only time Bret's been in jail because of Dandy.
Knowing all this, a person might wonder why I call Jim a friend. Well, it helps that he's never stolen anything from me, he's never tried to cheat me, and I've never been in jail because of him. Don't get me wrong, it pays to keep an eye on him, but for some reason he's never been as underhanded with me as he has Bret. But like I said, you do have to watch him.
As the nickname implies, Jim's a dandy, even by my standards and both me and Bret are rather fastidious ourselves. He is also a conman and a cheat who tends to look out only for himself. And all this is wrapped up with a nice English accent. Again, some might wonder about my choice of friends, but the truth is, I've been in some pretty tight spots with Jim before, and for all his faults, he's always come through when it really mattered.
"What do you have against him anyway?" I asked, genuinely curious. My brother's been my best friend all my life. We don't have to share all the same friends, but it would be nice if the two of them could get along, at least when I was around.
"I can't say really," Buckley replied resting both hands on the top of his walking stick, a pensive expression on his face.
"I think you enjoy gettin' a rise out of him." Jim was well aware of how Bret felt about him, and he always appeared to be completely unaffected by my brother's often hostile attitude.
Jim grinned in a way that confirmed my suspicions were at least partially correct. "It's just so terribly tempting at times."
"That's why I had to warn him with the telegram," I said, gesturing to the smirk plastered on Jim's face.
Jim sighed dramatically. "Yes, but it does rather ruin the surprise."
I'm pretty sure that if Bret wasn't so obvious about how much Dandy annoyed him, Jim would back off some. Not that I think either one of them is going to change anytime soon. "I told him to be nice. That goes for you too."
"Well, I can't make any promises."
I opened my mouth to reply when the stage driver stuck his head in. "You boys ready to move out?"
I decided to hold off on trying to talk Jim into behaving until we were on our way to Denver and followed the driver outside. He threw our bags up top and it was only a few minutes later we were on our way.
Stagecoaches are funny things. A ride can be really good or really bad, and there isn't much that separates the two. This day was shaping up to be a good ride, though. It was a sunny, late spring day; winters chill was gone for good, but summer's heat hadn't yet shown up. It had rained the day before, which meant we didn't have to worry about eating too much dust, but it hadn't rained so much that mud was a problem. The best part was for right now me and Jim were the only passengers, and passengers are really what can make or break a trip. In my life I've had everything from charming young ladies and men who can give you a good poker game, to stuffy old maids and do-gooders who are all set to reform me. I should probably add that the reason some folks seem to think I need to be reformed is because I'm in the family business, and the Maverick family business is poker.
When I say poker is the family business, I mean that literally. I play poker for a living, just like my father, my brother, my uncle, and my cousin. A lot of people take that to mean we're gamblers, and while the name is often given to me, it's not really accurate. As a matter of fact, my ole pappy would probably skin me alive if he ever found out I was gambling. See, Pappy taught me poker, and when played right there is very little gambling involved in the game. I was taught to play honest too. Pappy would skin me alive if he found out I was cheating anybody. That's not to say I can't cheat. My pappy's the best that's ever been and he knows every trick in the book, something he passed along to me and Bret. He also passed along very specific instructions for when that knowledge was to be used. Usually that's to teach someone who is already cheating a lesson. Otherwise, we always play straight.
Anyway, for the last few years, Bret and I have been traveling around earning our living at poker tables and avoiding actual work as much as possible. It's a good life most of the time, and more often than not, Bret and I travel together. As I said before, Bret's been my best friend my whole life, so traveling together usually works out well, but Bret is the older brother. It's a role he takes very seriously, too seriously at times, and every once in a while, I need a break from big brother and his mother-henning. One of those occasions happened about five months ago and we'd gone our separate ways for a while with plans to meet back up in Denver. I'd been on my way to do just that when I'd run into Jim and he, without any real invitation, had decided to come along. So now we were on our way to Denver, and I was left hoping both he and Bret would behave themselves.
It was supposed to take a little over two days to reach Denver from the little town of Miller's Crossing we'd set out from. The first day and a half was uneventful. Jim and I remained the only passengers, and the travel was about as mundane as a trip could be. Mundane to the point that I was wishing we did have other passengers, no matter who it was. I like Dandy fine, but there's only so much you can talk about and so much poker you can play before you're ready for something else to happen. One day I'll remember to be careful what you wish for.
The second day started off quietly too. It was still just me and Buckley traveling, so I pulled the cards back out. There wasn't much else to do so I decided to teach Jim how to play poker the way me and Bret do when it's just the two of us. We cheat. We started doing that when we were little as a way to practice all the tricks Pappy taught us but told us never to use against honest men. For some reason we never stopped playing with each other that way and now it's an unspoken rule that the dealer gets to cheat. Naturally, Jim took right to this new method of play, and the morning passed quickly.
We were about thirty miles outside of Denver when the stage pulled into a way station for fresh horses. I was glad to be on the last leg of the journey. A stage can be better than horseback at times, but it never has been and never will be the easiest way to travel. There's something about just sitting for that long that can wear a body out, and there's nothing fun in the almost constant jarring.
"You boys should have about fifteen minutes before we're ready to pull out," the driver said as he hopped to the ground. "You got any needs I suggest you see to them quick. Mrs. Burton might have coffee inside if you want to ask."
I stiffly climbed out of the stage and stretched. It felt good to be able to stand straight again after sitting for so many hours. Obviously, this wasn't a stop that was going to allow for much leisure time, but I decided to try and get the coffee out of Mrs. Burton. We'd had a hurried breakfast around sunup and I could use something else in my stomach. I could use a smoke too and lit up a cigar as Jim joined me outside the coach. About that time a man came out of the station. He was about fifty with graying hair, and I assumed he was Mr. Burton.
"You two the only ones today?" he asked.
"That's right," Jim replied.
A grin broke out across his face. "Well, the last bit of the trip ought to be a mite more pleasant for you than the first part was." He offered no other explanation, but jerked his thumb towards the door. "Janet's got coffee and sandwiches inside and the facilities are out back."
"Thank you," I managed to get out before Burton rushed off to help the driver change out the team.
"What do you suppose he meant by that?" Jim asked.
"I don't know. But I plan on getting some of that coffee before climbing back in that coach." I continued my walk inside but silently ran the man's statement through my head. I had no idea how the trip would improve. I knew the roads wouldn't get any better, and while coffee and a sandwich would be appreciated, it wouldn't ruin or redeem the trip. I didn't have to wonder long. As soon as I entered the house, I knew exactly what Burton had meant.
Two women were seated at the table when we entered. I assumed the older one in the calico was Mrs. Burton. The other was a young lady who appeared to be in her early twenties and had to be the reason our trip was about to improve.
Before I could think much on the young lady, Mrs. Burton stood up. "If you gentleman want something to eat you'd best hurry. Zeke takes his schedule seriously and he hates being held up for any reason. You just go ahead and sit and I'll have you a plate in moment."
"Thank you, ma'am," I replied.
"This is Miss Charity Moss," Mrs. Burton explained as she poured coffee for us. "She'll be riding the rest of the way to Denver with you."
"Bart Maverick, Miss Moss," I said barely beating Jim to the table and Miss Moss. I told you he was sneaky; it would be just like him to beat me to the girl even though he knew I'd seen her first. Not that my efforts did that much good. Jim was right on my heels and Miss Moss was also quickly introduced to James Buckley.
Burton was right I decided as I sat down to eat the sandwich Mrs. Burton had given me. The trip had just gotten more pleasant, and it was obvious Jim agreed with me. About halfway through the sandwiches Miss Moss got up from the table and Jim looked over at me. "I saw her first," I told him before he could say anything.
"Maybe so, old boy, but she's not really your type."
"What's that mean?"
"She's a lady." I raised an eyebrow and Dandy rushed to explain. "I mean a real, proper lady. Almost aristocratic if you will."
"We have thirty miles to Denver. Thirty miles in that stage; just the three of us. Why don't we let the young lady decide for herself?"
"Very well," Jim said that familiar smirk coming to his face. "If you think you're up for the challenge."
I glanced over at Charity then back to Jim. "I am, old boy," I told him with a grin. "I most certainly am."
A/N: I don't own Maverick and I'm making no profit. It's just for fun.