“Hey Johnny!” Martin, Amos’ apprentice telegrapher, called as he stepped from the telegraph office.
“What’s up Martin?” Johnny asked as he crossed the street.
“Got this here wire for you. Came from Yuma.”
Johnny read the wire Martin handed him and thanked him, before heading to the Marshal’s Office.
“Anything of importance?” Seth asked as Johnny stepped to the boardwalk.
“Yuma wired, notifying us of another prisoner’s release. The man served his time. I’ll match it with one of his wanted posters, if we have one, and file it away in the drawer with all the other notifications.”
Mark made it to Amarillo, Texas and after confirming with the captain of the Texas Rangers stationed there, that Turpin had been spotted in Amarillo, he figured the bounty hunter would turn North and head to the Oklahoma panhandle; Boise City, the closest location to claim a reward payable in Oklahoma.
Having been gone from home for over three weeks already, Mark made it to Masterson when he realized he had made a terrible mistake. Upon checking in with the town Sheriff, he found out that no bounty hunter had been through there in months, but the Sheriff had heard about a bounty hunter causing trouble in Washburn. Without bothering to send a wire home, Mark left town and headed southeast, frustrated that he was now even further away from his Pa.
Johnny Drako was the first person to see the steely-eyed man ride into town. Johnny’s eyes followed as the rider stepped from his horse and into the saloon. Pulling his hat from his desk, Drako left the Marshal’s Office and walked across the street, stopping in front of the saloon. The stranger was sitting at the table just inside the door, back to the window, hat on the table; Johnny saw the graying of the man’s hair.
“You’re a long way from Yuma,” Johnny spoke as he stepped inside and placed his hand on the butt of his gun. He took time to read the hard, weathered face of the man, wrinkles resembling crow’s feet played out from his eyes, an ugly scar along the man’s neck showing above his collar, and a part of the man’s left ear was missing. Understanding, this man had lived a hard life inside fifteen years of prison.
“Any law against my traveling?” the man asked as he looked to Drako.
To Johnny, those eyes were dark with evil.
“No, but I strongly suggest you get on your horse and leave. We have a peaceful town and the likes of you aren’t welcome.”
“The likes of me?” the man asked.
“I received the wire you were released from prison two weeks ago.”
“I’m just a man who’s served his time. I just want to sit on something not moving and wash the dust down my throat,” the stranger said.
“You can do that in the next town.”
“I don’t think so, Marshal Drako.” With a laugh more of a snicker, the stranger continued, “You once had a reputation as a gunslinger, now, I see you’re nothing more than a street sweeper.”
“I’ll be a street sweeper if it means keeping the likes of you out of North Fork. You once had a reputation as a low life, and I see it hasn’t changed,” Drako mimicked, before turning dead serious. “You have thirty minutes to enjoy your whiskey and sitting still. Any longer than that and I’ll personally run you out of town.”
“You’re not the first person to try to run me out of town.”
“You best not be here when I return in twenty-nine minutes,” Drako’s eyes narrowed as he sized up the man.
Drako turned and left the saloon, closely followed by Sweeney.
“Drako!’ Sweeney called, once outside.
“What is it Sweeney?”
“You can’t seriously be thinking of letting him stay in my saloon?” Sweeney nervously asked, looking back to his saloon.
“I gave him thirty minutes to get out of town.” Watching Sweeney’s nervousness, Drako continued, “You can always refuse to serve him.”
“Refuse? That’s Dan Maury, no one refuses Dan Maury…”
“I know who he is,” Drako replied. ‘It’s your establishment. You can refuse whoever you want.”
“You don’t get it. It’s different for you. You know how to use a gun… Me? …I’m just a saloon keeper…”
“He’ll be gone in twenty-seven minutes,” Drako replied as he replaced his pocket watch in his vest pocket.
“Man, the last time Maury was here, he sat in that same chair arriving in the afternoon and didn’t step to the bar until the following morning. The whole time he kept an eye on the Marshal’s Office. I heard the stories that Maury was the one who ambushed Micah and bummed his arm. That morning… Lucas rode into town, he came in here to tell him to move on out. Warned him if anything happened to Micah, he’d answer to him. Shot a glass out of his hand to prove he wasn’t afraid of Maury. Found out later, it didn’t phase Maury one bit. He’d left town, went out and shot Lucas in the back. Was by the grace of God that Lucas survived. Had little Mark not found him when he did… Maury called Micah out later that night. Lucas, practically on death’s door, somehow made his way to the street and created a diversion for Micah to get the upper hand. Anyway, later, we all told Lucas that Maury was dead, it’s the way Micah wanted it… We didn’t figure he’d survive in prison long enough to be released.”
“I hadn’t heard that. I just knew that he’d been in prison after serving time on multiple charges of murder and attempted murder. I get notified of any outlaw being released.”
“You think he’s here for Lucas or Micah?” Sweeney asked.
“Sweeney, right now, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure Maury doesn’t know that Lucas is missing. If he did, that’s dangerous for Hope and Milly. Whether he knows Mark grew up to be the territorial marshal… Damn it!” Drako cursed. “Sweeney, thanks for the information…”
“Drako?!” Sweeney called out as Johnny returned to the Marshal’s Office.
With moments to spare, Maury exited the saloon and climbed aboard his horse, slowly he left town. Johnny and Seth nervously watched as he headed in the opposite direction of the McCain Ranch.
“What’s he doing in town?” Micah demanded upon entering the Marshal’s office as he pointed to the man riding down the street.
“We’re handling it, Micah,” Johnny answered.
“Handling it? Letting him ride nonchalant through town? I’ll ask again, what’s he doing here?”
“Micah, he’s just passing through. Wanted to just sit a spell and have a drink.”
“Johnny you know damn well and good that Dan Maury never just ‘wanted’ to do anything. He’s planning something. You get out there and order him out of town!”
“Micah, he’s leaving. I talked with him thirty minutes ago and he’s leaving by my deadline. Now, why don’t you just go on back to Hattie’s and take it easy. We’ve got everything handled,” Johnny stated as he escorted Micah from the office.
“I ain’t a helpless old man! Never realized how anxious you were to put me out to pasture!”
Micah pulled his arm from Johnny’s grip, stormed out of the office and to the saloon.
Upon the hill overlooking the ranch houses and barns…he watched as two woman and numerous children went on with their lives, none the wiser of his presence. The figure’s curiosity was piqued when a lone rider stopped in front of the barn. Pulling a spyglass from his saddlebag, the man gave a sigh as he didn’t recognize the rider…
Micah was on his second beer in his attempt to drown his anger. Two men stood at the middle of the bar, talking of Dan Maury and how Drako had handled the situation.
“That’s a real lawman, ordering an outlaw from town,” one of the men stated. “Gave him fair warning of how long he could stay. Still, letting the likes of him just vamoose, I’d feel a whole lot better knowing he were dead.”
“Sweeney, another beer!” Micah ordered.
“Yeah, from what I heerd, some other lawman was such a poor shot, he allowed that outlaw to live and stand trial instead of planting him six feet under.”
Micah heard enough. The men talking were relatively new citizens to North Fork and didn’t know the history of her people; he threw his beer glass shattering it against the far wall. Micah promptly grabbed for the beerglass from Sweeney and downed it as quick as Sweeney had ever seen anyone down a beer.
“You think you know what you’re talking about?! You think you know how to handle the situation?! See how better you fare when Maury returns to town. See if you upstanding citizens will support your lawman or will you cower in your homes,” Micah hollered as three beers took affect he started slurring his words.
“Micah, come on now. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re only talking hearsay,” Sweeney said as he came around the bar and tried to persuade Micah to go home. “We know the truth.”
“The truth, maybe I was washed up, but see how you do standing in front of your ghost. What would you do?”
“The same as you did, try your best to defend your town,” Sweeney answered.
The two men stood at the bar and watch Sweeney lead Micah out the door and down the boardwalk.
Hattie stood at the door, “What happened?” she asked as Sweeney helped Micah to the sofa in the parlor.
“Dan Maury’s back in town,” Sweeney bluntly answered.
“Dan Maury?” asked a fearful Hattie.
“I’ll let Johnny and Seth know that Micah got into it with two men in the saloon. They’ll keep Micah safe.”
“Safe! I can keep myself safe!” Micah slurred.
“You’re drunk!” Hattie declared.
“I ain’t drunk, woman!”
“Sweeney, please, let Johnny and Seth know. Thank you,” Hattie stated as she showed Sweeney out the front door.
“I tell ya, Seth, you should have seen Micah. I ain’t seen him this way since Lucas rode out and told Ansel Bain where to find Micah.”
“He’ll thank you in the morning for seeing him home,” Seth offered. “Maury rode out of here this afternoon. I’m sure he won’t be back.”
“That’s just it. That’s what we thought the last time. Lucas almost ended up dead, because he and Micah figured wrong.”
“Sweeney, Johnny’s headed out to Lucas’ place to let Lariat know.”
“I just don’t like it. Dan Maury showing up now. After all these years, why now?” Sweeney asked.
“He was released from prison two weeks ago. He’s just traveling through.”
“If you say so.” Sweeney turned and left the Marshal’s Office.
Johnny called out to Lariat as he stepped down from his horse.
“Hey Johnny, did you receive another wire from Mark?” Lariat asked.
“Not today. I came to let you know that a man named Dan Maury is in town.”
“Dan Maury, am I supposed to recognize the name?”
“No, he was released from prison two weeks ago. I didn’t know there was history between him and Micah and Lucas until Sweeney told me. Maybe it is a good thing that Lucas and Mark aren’t here. Unfortunately, Micah knows he’s been in town. He rode out of town earlier this afternoon, but I thought it might be best to warn you, just so you’d know.”
“Thanks for the heads up. How long ago was this ‘history’?”
“From what Sweeney said, fifteen years ago and as far as Lucas or Mark know, Micah killed Maury that night.”
“Lucas don’t know he’s alive and in prison? Boy, whose hare-brained idea was that?”
“Unfortunately, it was Micah’s. Everyone went along with it because no one thought he’d survive in prison long enough to serve his sentence and be released.”
“Well, let’s hope that when he realizes Lucas and Mark aren’t here, he’ll just move along,” Lariat replied.
Johnny Drako returned to the Marshal’s Office to find Seth looking through one of the drawers in the filing cabinet in the office.
“What are you looking for?” Johnny asked.
“Sweeney stopped by here after you left. Seems Micah got into it with a couple of men over at the saloon. He’d already had three beers when he started going off on them. Sweeney saw him home.”
“Johnny I was hoping to maybe find some notes that Micah might have written regarding the last time Maury was in town. There has to be more than just Maury injuring Micah.”
“Some men can’t handle losing. They’re always seeking to settle the score.”
“I know, but still. Why would Micah go off and get drunk… I’ve never seen him drink a quarter of a glass of beer. Sweeney said he downed three…”
“I came down on him pretty hard. I only wanted to get him out of here and safe. Keep him hid so Maury will just go away. Told Lariat it might be a blessing that Lucas and Mark aren’t here. With no one to antagonize, we can only hope that Maury decides North Fork isn’t for him.”
“Still, he came all this way for something. Lucas or Micah, I just wanted to find out more about what happened,” Seth stated as he pushed shut the drawer, not finding anything to enlighten the situation.
“If you’re looking for information,” Thadd stated as he entered the Marshal’s Office, “You might want to come to the clinic. I got to looking through some of Uncle Jay’s old records and there’s plenty of information regarding Dan Maury.”
After reviewing the records of the Late Dr. Burrage, Johnny and Seth sat back and pondered, “I can’t believe it,” Seth was the first to speak.
“Maury was pure vindictive back then. Micah was right, he said that Maury didn’t just ‘want’ to do something for the sake of doing it. He has reason and motive enough to come back here.”
“Can you believe they’ve kept this secret from Lucas for all this time. I can’t imagine how he would react, if he were here,” Thadd replied.
“For one thing, we’re doing right in keeping Micah away from Maury,” Johnny spoke.
Nils came running into the clinic, “Drako, Sweeney told me to come get you. Said you’d want to know that Maury’s back.”
Johnny and Seth looked at each other.
“Now look here Marshal. I ain’t causing no trouble. I’m paying my tab as I go and I’m just sitting here minding my own business.”
“I told you to get out of town,” Johnny replied.
“And I did, but… You said something that got me to thinking… How this is a nice quiet town. I’m tired of always being on the move.”
“You’ve only been on the move for two weeks, you can keep on moving,” Seth added.
“You keep North Fork real peaceable. Maybe this is where I want to spend my final years.”
“There’s no maybe about it, Maury,” Johnny added insistently.
“If you have charges to prefer against me, then take me to your jail… Otherwise, I’d appreciate being able to enjoy my whiskey, quietly,” Maury stated as he raised the shotglass to his lips and took a sip. “Good, quality whiskey. Missed this while I was in prison.”
Johnny motioned for Seth to follow him from the saloon.
“You’re just gonna let him stay?” Nils asked as he followed the two lawmen.
“Nils, I’ll tell you the same as I’ll tell Sweeney. The man’s served his time and I have nothing to charge him with.”
“But, Micah and Lu… What about Micah?” Nils insisted.
“We’ll keep an eye on Micah and we’ve already warned Lariat, just in case. He might not have done anything I can charge him with, but that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to act if he steps one inch out of line.”
After three days on a drinking binge, and ultimately some strong words from Hattie threatening to leave him, Micah forced himself to put the bottle down. Two days later, the whips and jingles found him cowering behind a locked door in his own home. Refusing Hattie’s desperate pleas to let her help him. Desperately wanting another drink, Micah remembered the words a young boy named Mark asked him, “Whiskey make you feel better?”
“I can do this. I done it before.”
The following morning, standing tall as he could, Micah opened the door to find Hattie waiting in the hallway, “Hattie, I think I could stand a cold bath. Nothing like a cold bath to firm one’s resolution to get through the whips and jingles.”
Hattie hurried down the steps to prepare a bath for her husband, content that he was going to make it.
For the past week, Maury affected an air of enjoying the quietness of North Fork, tipping his hat as he passed any woman walking along the street. Most of the women turned their heads and hurried on by without even acknowledging him. The men looked at him and quickly averted their eyes as they passed. Entering the general store, Maury was looking over some of the clothing when he overheard two women talking…talking about how difficult it must be for Mrs. McCain, what with both of the men in the family missing for over a month. Maury slipped a wiley smile on his face as he tipped his hat to the ladies and left the store.
“So, that ranch still belongs to the sodbuster and he has himself a family… Too bad he left the women and children all alone. Wonder who the man is?” Maury asked aloud, not noticing the figure in the shadows.
Maury believed he had quietly slipped from North Fork and directed his horse to the McCain’s ranch. From the hill overlooking the homestead, he watched the comings and goings for several hours, not realizing that he too had someone watching him.
Lariat Jones exited the barn to find a man sitting on a horse, with his leg hooked over the saddle horn.
“Well… well… well…” Maury spoke. “When the cat’s away, the mice will play. Wonder what Lucas McCain would say about some saddle tramp moving in on his woman? Which one is Lucas’ wife. I’m thinking the brunette; the redhead seems a little too young for the sodbuster. Maybe that’s why you come and go from her home.”
“I take it you’re Dan Maury?” Lariat asked.
He watched as Maury slid from his saddle, landing on his feet.
“I’m touched, you’ve heard of me.” Maury removed his hat and bowed deeply. Standing up and placing his hat back on his head, “So, how is the redhead? Is she as much fun as I hear tell redheads are? Or maybe you’re sneaking around and sampling the brunette?”
“Maury, you’re not welcome here.”
“You know… I’m getting tired of people telling me where I am and where I’m not welcome. I heard from Marshal Drako himself how nice and peaceable North Fork was. You’re making your marshal out to be a liar.”
“When it comes to the likes of you, he can lie all he wants,” Lariat declared.
Without warning, Maury reached for his gun. Lariat saw Maury’s hand moving and quickly went to draw his own gun. He fired his weapon as he felt the searing pain in his right shoulder, spinning him around and knocking him to the ground. As Lariat looked up, he saw the streak of red along Maury’s ribs where his bullet had only grazed his opponent.
“You know, that old man of a marshal wounded me worse than you done,” Maury stated.
With one hand over his ribs, Dan Maury walked to stand over Lariat as he lay on the ground cradling his shoulder. A crooked smile played on Maury’s face as he brought his gun to bear on the one man keeping him from Lucas McCain’s family. Maury cocked his gun and tightened his finger on the trigger, “Say goodbye.” From the corner of his eye, Maury saw movement in the barn. He turned, raised and pointed this gun in the direction. Two shots rang out…the first belonged to Maury’s handgun, the second a rifle. The crooked smile turned to one of disbelief, as Maury looked down and his grip on the gun lessened; it fell from his hand.
Lariat did his best to move out of the line of fire as Maury dropped to his knees, the red of blood spreading out over the blue of the shirt he wore. Looking to the barn Lariat saw where Maury’s bullet had struck the open door, but walking from the barn…
“You were warned a long time ago, you don’t mess with me or the McCain’s!” called a determined voice as Micah stepped from the barn, rifle still pointed at his nemesis.
“Old man! You and that mangy sodbuster…” Maury’s eyes rolled backwards in his head as he collapsed to the ground with a thud.
Micah turned at the sound of riders approaching to see Johnny and Seth riding their mounts hard, guns in their hands.
“Micah, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Johnny yelled as he and Seth reined their horses to a stop, the animals’ flanks heaving from the race to get to the McCain’s.
Seth had already dismounted, turned Maury over as he knelt next to him, and declared, “He’s dead.”
“As he should have been fifteen years ago. Had I been a better shot and not so exhausted, he would have been.”
“You should have left this for us to handle,” Johnny proclaimed.
“I might be a retired lawman but I ain’t no invalid! I only did what should have been done a long time ago. Besides, had we left it up to you, Lariat would be dead.”
Micah watched as Milly ran from her home to Lariat, and he asked, “How’s Lariat?” as he ejected the spent cartridge from his rifle.
“Thanks for worrying about me. Just a scratch,” Lariat jovially replied as he stood to his feet, supported by Milly.
“Just a scratch? You need to see a doctor!” Milly declared.
Hope came running from her home and stopped by Micah, wrapping an arm around his arm, “Micah who is he?”
“You two women get back into your homes and keep your children from the windows,” Micah ordered.
“Micah!” Milly called.
“Do it. You know Lucas wouldn’t want either of you out here. We’ll explain later.”
Hope and Milly turned to walk to their respective homes.
“What about me?” Lariat asked.
“Can you ride?” Micah asked, not giving Johnny or Seth time to ask.
“Yeah, I can ride. Didn’t even get a kiss for saving the day,” Lariat commented as Micah helped him into the saddle.
“I didn’t do it to get a kiss from Hope or Milly,” Micah replied.
“You…” Lariat gave a brief laugh as he pushed his hat back on his head. “I guess it was you who saved the day. Thanks for saving my bacon.”
“Johnny, I’ll stay here for a while,” Seth stated as he looked to the two homes.
Having left Maury with the undertaker and Lariat at the clinic, they returned to the Marshal’s Office, Johnny pushed Micah to sit down in the chair in front of his desk. Taking a page from Tom Benton’s book, he walked to his side of the desk, turned to look at Micah, leaned forward with both hands on his desk and yelled, “JUST WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?! You could have gotten yourself killed!”
“But I didn’t!”
“That doesn’t change the facts!” Johnny yelled.
“Oh, you’d prefer that I’d been killed?” Micah asked as his bantering, old self settled into the chair.
“That’s not what I mean and you know it, old man!”
“I ain’t an old man. I stepped aside to give you and Mark the respect you were due as lawmen. It’s been a long time since I felt this good.”
“Four days ago you were a drunk!”
“And this morning, I’m stone sober and more alive than ever. Johnny, I miss this office. Maury’s coming back to town made me realize that.”
“What are you talking about?” Johnny asked as he sat down.
“Come on, North Fork’s grown and God only knows when Mark will return. You and Seth can’t always be in the office. You need someone here, to keep an eye on things and let North Fork’s citizens know they have protection.”
“Old man… and I use that term the same as you call Mark, boy…”
“I know,” Micah stated with half a laugh. “With old age comes wisdom. I still have plenty to teach you and your deputies about upholding the law and figuring out the facts and keeping people under surveillance.”
“Such as?” Johnny asked.
“You totally missed the signs that Maury left indicating what his intentions were…” Micah raised his eyebrows.
“We figured it out.”
“And it could have been too late for Lariat and possibly Lucas’ and Mark’s families.”
“So what are you proposing?” Johnny asked as he finally sat back in his chair and crossed his arms.
“Re-deputize me. I can help keep an eye on the town.”
Shaking his head, Seth stated, “And Lucas is going to shoot me when he returns and finds out.”
Thadd knocked on the door to the Marshal’s Office before he opened it.
“Well, how’s Lariat?” Micah asked.
Thadd was quiet for a few moments while he tried to comprehend what his eyes saw.
“Don’t stand there gaping your mouth. I asked you, how is Lariat?” Micah asked again.
“Didn’t mean to keep you waiting, Deputy? He’s going to make a full recovery, in time. Won’t be using his arm for a while. He’ll sleep through the night. Oat Jackford stopped by and said he was going to send a couple of his men out the McCain’s.”
“Thanks Doc…” Johnny stated as he
watched Micah shine up the badge pinned to his vest.
The Next Step — Words of Warning
This is a story based on the TV series “The Rifleman”
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