The Rifleman
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The Rifleman's Serenade
Chapter 5 - Entered
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

Fitch got back to his room and slammed his fist on the dresser. He had to go and be fancy. He was having too good of a time mingling with the ones he needed to kill. Now he was both under suspicion and, in a strange way, wanting to be friends with them. There were qualities in these men that he wasn’t prepared to understand. All he started out knowing was that they were in the way of his employers. In New York it was a much different story. Blood ran much colder.

Ron performed a last minute inspection of his revolvers and made ready to leave for the range. He decided to continue on with his character and leave the killing for later, if at all. He knew there was no such thing as a Buckley. But he had to keep his wits with an expert in Bat, and that was tough. It was time to call his bluff.

As the men gathered at the range, Ron walked right up to Bat and confronted him. “There’s no such thing as a Buckley, what were you driving at mister?”

“Ah, then you know how we operate out West do you sir?” Bat came right back at him.

“That I do, and I’ll not have others play with me. If you have suspicions then get it out right here and now, before we shoot!” Ron knew his only chance was to take the offensive.

“My dear Fitch, let me assure you that all we’re doing is being careful due to some rather dangerous experiences we recently had in Fort Worth. I hope you can forgive me but we have to be sure. Are you willing to enlighten us as to exactly who you are then?”

Ron thought fast about his plans in hopes of surviving a change in his story. “I won’t lie any further Masterson. I’m a private investigator from New York. I’ve been assigned to investigate William Fulton by a concerned party. I know many things about all of you and I would like to put your minds at ease. I work for some very important people with large investments in the cotton industry. They need to know about Mister Fulton and his intentions with the cotton farm. You see, Quentin Renfro was our man for many years. We didn’t know exactly how crooked he was operating. Now that the big picture is changing there are, shall we say, many fearful of the future. Big money creates big fear and investors don’t like to guess.”

“That’s very interesting Fitch. I knew you weren’t a rancher. I’ve worked under cover many times. I’ve had to study for such masquerades myself. How can I know to trust you any more as an investigator than a rancher? I have served at both callings, so don’t try to color your story any further. There are people’s lives at stake here. We may seem less sophisticated than those you carouse with in New York, but mark my words, we know what’s going on and have had to protect ourselves from the likes of you before! If you’re prepared to play it straight with us, then we will do the same. I know just about everybody of importance in New York, especially the police. Who shall I inquire about in my next wire?”

“My name is not Ron Fitch. I can’t give you my real name at this time. I must protect the identity of my employers and I wouldn’t be able to return to New York if I didn’t.”

“I could have guessed that was the case. You’re probably in too deep with the wrong kind of people. Were you sent here to kill us?” Bat gazed strongly into Ron’s eyes. “Don’t even try to lie to me Fitch. The best have tried to lie to me, and I’m still here to tell about it, they’re not!”

“OK! Ok….. You are right. That is what they want me to do. But as you know, I haven’t tried to do that. The moment I set foot in town and met all of you, I saw that it would not be right. And I know most about you Masterson. I would have to shoot first and never say a word to even have a chance at killing you.”

“Good thinking. Normally I would deal with your likes in a harsh manner, but we can’t afford that kind of publicity right now. You are going to play along and stick by us during the contest. We can discuss your future afterwards. Perhaps you can think of a way to earn our trust. If not, I’ll see that you are supervised on your way back to New York by train. Both Lucas and I have full authority of the law. If I even dream about William Fulton being in danger, you are a dead man, understand?” Bat never let go of his gaze.

“Anything you say sir. I assure you there will be no trouble.” Fitch was flabbergasted. He didn’t expect Bat to unload on him so fast and he knew better than to lie to this man.

“Good. Now that we understand each other, shall we?” Bat motioned towards the shooting area.

Lucas and William were stunned. They looked at each other and then to Bat without a word. The men read the list and saw that they had a long wait so they found seats and watched as others arrived and made ready. Fitch had plenty to think about now. If he returned to New York without completing the task he was sure to lose face and perhaps his life. As he watched the people gather and the smiles glow upon them he realized that his life in New York wasn’t so great. It was hard to admit it, but he liked the way people cared for each other and were so much at ease compared to the up tight attitudes he was accustomed to. He honestly began to search for a way to convince them that he would rather remain here and become one of them.

Specially printed Ace of Spades playing cards were the targets for pistols at the close range of thirty feet, and rifles at one hundred feet. Each contestant received three cards and the best one went towards qualifying. On Sunday, before the show, the pistol finalists were to shoot at cards placed further away at fifty feet. Liquor bottles filled with colored water at two hundred fifty feet were in store for the final long range rifle competition. At the start, each contestant shot at their cards and then signed them in front of an official. There were one hundred and eighty hopefuls entered.

Fitch was understandably nervous as he sat next to Bat and Lucas. By ten in the morning everyone was present and the shooting was going at a rapid pace. Every so often someone would miss the card entirely and stomp off mad. Bat kept a close eye on each man as they shot and walked away. He couldn’t help thinking that if Fitch was sent along to do his dirty deed then perhaps others had this in mind. Lucas thought in similar fashion but took time to talk to people as they passed by. He couldn’t help remembering about an earlier time when a hired gun was sent to kill him. Many tried over the years, it was his curse for having a reputation. He tried to give his would be murderer a chance then and wound up having to kill him. At least this time he was surrounded by many in the know.

William and Wes remained standing at their side keeping a close watch on the crowd.

Each contestant was free to shoot in their own style. When it came time for Bat the cheers went up. He waved at the crowd and turned to face his target. Before the noise could subside Bat drew his Colt in his familiar quick draw fashion and put his first round dead center in the spade. The attendant brought the card up front for inspection and the crowd cheered even more. Bat initialed it and returned to his chair. One card was all that he wanted. Fitch was riveted by what he saw. Not just that Bat had drilled his target so accurately, but that he gave it no thought or preparation. He knew that was what he could expect should he incur his wrath. Lucas came up a short while later and gave his pistol a try. He stood still and held it firm. He wasn’t worried about this part of the contest. His round hit true though, only a slight distance to the left of center. He shot two more with about the same result. Not everyone participated in both pistol and rifle events, but Bat and Lucas agreed it was best that they did both. Fitch had a while to wait and looked a bit anxious. Bat and Lucas wanted a chance to talk, so they left Fitch in the watchful eyes of William and Wes.

“What do you think Lucas? Shall we bring Fitch back to the ranch and give him a chance to talk with us? I think I stunned him good earlier.”

“It’s been on my mind to say the least. It could be helpful if we get him to talk. He might know something we can use later on. We have nothing to lose and I’d feel better if we know where he is at all times.”

“I agree. Maybe once he sees what ranch life is really about he’ll become a changed man. What could he possibly have to look forward to by returning to New York? We could surely use his knowledge as time goes by and William becomes more involved as an owner of the farm.” Bat brought out two cheroots and they looked quite relaxed as they conferred.

“I don’t think Fitch is as crafty as he likes to think. If he really expected to do us in, he wouldn’t have flirted with us so much. I don’t reckon he would do such a thing in New York. He must be feeling about two feet tall right now. I say we let him up for air and see what comes of it.” Lucas drew long on his cheroot and looked up to release the smoke.

“I hope you’re right Lucas. Hopefully we’ll have an ally when we’re done. This has taught us to never let our guard down. Ann was quite astute to smoke him out for us. Let us never neglect her talents!” Bat rapped his cane on the ground.

“That gal is the wife of my adopted son. She has the eyes of an eagle and the soul of a saint. Her nerves are made of iron and she can cook too!” Lucas gave a very wide grin as Bat blew rings of smoke.

“We better get back and let William have his turn. It’s going to take all day to determine the finalists. I’ll give Fitch some reassurance and we’ll have him as a guest tonight. We should have the poker game at the lodge instead of in town. We need the rest.”

“Good thinking Marshall. I like the way you work!” Lucas tipped his hat to some onlookers as they walked back to the target range.

Fitch was looking towards Bat as they approached. Bat motioned for him to join them just outside the entrance to the range.

“Ron, Lucas and I would like you to join us this evening at his ranch. We have a proposition for you. We can’t afford the exposure of your real identity and you don’t have much choice but to work with us. You have a chance to become our friend and perhaps change your life. We think you might like it at the ranch, at least for a while.”

“I know what you mean Bat. I’ve been giving this a great deal of thought as you might imagine. I can’t go home like this and I realize you don’t want to let me out of your sight. My people in New York know me to be a loyal servant but they won’t like what I have to tell them upon my return. I don’t see much choice but to join you.”

“Then we have your promise of no funny business?” Bat gave Ron the gaze and patted his Colt.

“No sir! I know who’s boss, believe me.”

“Good. I don’t shoot at human targets often, but as you can see, I seldom miss!”

“I got ya Bat! I just want to walk away from this alive and possibly free. Do I have a chance?”

Lucas spoke up, “Your chance is real Fitch. We don’t lie. It wasn’t wise to walk into this den of gunslingers with what you had in mind. Now, it’s possible you can walk out having only shot at a paper target.” Lucas nodded at Ron and got a nod back. “I think you’ll find us good people Ron. Go with what we’re thinking and life will be a whole lot easier for all of us.”

“Lucas, I’m thankful for what you two are doing. I think I can be of some help to you. I look forward to our discussion this evening. At least now I can take my turn without such a cloud hanging over my head!”

“Right you are Fitch! Have a Cheroot.” Bat handed him the cigar and they looked very natural on the way back to the range.

Ron’s turn was soon after William’s. Will drilled his card almost as close to center as Bat’s. Only four men had competing cards so far. Ron got up for his turn and was pleased with the attention from the crowd. He looked out at the people and felt a different spirit come over him. He smiled at Lucas and nodded at Bat. With one quick look behind at his target he faced back at the crowd and then spun around with a quick draw and nailed his target dead center! No hesitation. As he glanced over at Bat he was looking right into the master’s eyes once again. Bat nodded and grinned as he rapped his cane. When the card was brought forth the crowd erupted Ron knew he had made many new friends. The finalist group was now five. In the morning hours until noon, close to one hundred pistol contestants had their turn. About eighty more were scheduled for after the noon break.

Talk during lunch was casual. Ron and Bat drew many visitors wanting to compliment them on their performance. Bat was well known and used to the banter with fans. Ron was basking in his new found popularity, he got lost in the flurry of questions and congratulations. He tried to be careful with his story about being a Fort Worth rancher and stayed away from any detailed conversations. Lucas had a great time with his hometown friends and visitors as always. There was plenty of food and more to come at the dinner hour. By then, the finalists would be known and the party could come into full swing. It was expected of Bat and Lucas to be there, so they decided they would attend for a few hours and then a small group would be invited to the ranch for a special poker game. Before they knew it, lunch was over. People started making their way back to the range. The officials were ready in time and the bullets began to fly.

Lucas placed in the top ten in the first round of the long range rifle contest. He hit his target dead center as did Bat and two buffalo hunters with Sharps rifles. One of North Fork’s finest, Mayor Hamilton nailed his target too. John was a long time student of Lucas McCain and had kept his skill well over the years. He also had a quality rifle that he knew well. Any of the contestants had the option of using one of three new Winchesters provided by the maker. A booth was presently selling the same model just outside the range entrance. Aubrey and Ann joined the rifle competition. They were among five women contestants. Ann was the only one to qualify. Demonstrating her skills came naturally, after all, she had the same instructor as Mayor Hamilton.

When the first rounds came to a conclusion, the top ten pistol and rifle finalists were chosen for the next day. Bat was the only one to place in both. Everybody had a great time and only a few fights broke out in the various establishments around town. No one was jailed and the coffers were filled to overflowing for the local businesses. Even better things were in store for the big show tomorrow.

Bat and Lucas were treated to a dinner in their honor. The McCain and Bard families sat at tables in front of a large array before them. The many guests were treated to steaks and special dishes prepared by both establishments and volunteers. Sweeney had been making a bundle on whiskey and beer sales, so he decided to provide free beer for the meal. There were speeches and announcements to be made. Lucas introduced Aubrey and announced their intentions, promising that the date would be announced very soon. Many were hopeful of being able to engage Bat at cards for the evening, he told them he might try to return to town later, but that he needed to go back to the ranch for a spell. Only a select few were invited to attend the planned game at the lodge. He assured the rest that at the very least he would stay up late with them tomorrow night.

After several hours of enjoying the party, the wagons were loaded and ready to return to the ranch. The crowd waved as the caravan made its way out of town. That did not stop the people from carrying on though, the barrooms were open all night. The card tables were packed and Sweeney had his hands full well into the night. Lou’s hotel was a busy place at all hours, she was exhausted. Her food and drink supplies were running low, but that didn’t stop patrons from wanting more than she had.

The wagon ride to the McCain ranch was a quiet one. Their ears rang with enough gunfire and conversation for a lifetime. The smell of gunpowder didn’t just hang in the air in town, it was on everyone’s clothing, hair, and some said they could even taste it. Lucas told of how it was like that in the war. They got used to it and were rarely able to bathe. Bat commented that while hunting buffalo he would go for weeks smelling like his rifle and his prey.

Once settled at the lodge, Ron got an impression of what Bat was talking about. This could be a life changing experience in anybody’s book. Most of the men were in town and only the family and few friends were present. Ron joined Bat, Lucas, and Will on a short walk outside to have a talk. The tension was there, but Ron was already making up his mind to cooperate.

“Well Ron, here we are, this is our happy home.” Lucas took off his hat and wiped his brow. “We work hard every day and we play even harder.” Lucas gave him a big smile.

“I’m very impressed Lucas. This is beyond anything I have ever seen.” Ron feasted his eyes on the stables and corrals. Even Lucas was amazed that they existed on his once modest ranch.

“We need to talk this out Ron, now that we are away from town and in private. Of course we are not happy about what we have found out about you, but at the same time, it is part of the game. You are only doing what comes natural to you and likewise for us.” Lucas put his hat back on and pointed towards Will. “You take my man William here, for instance, he was once in a tough scrape. I won’t go into the details for now, but let’s just say he needed help. I was the only one around who could give him a chance. He took it. Now he is all but in charge around here. This came to be before our returning him to his hometown of Dallas. When we got there, we were made aware of his legitimate right to become part owner of that cotton farm. It is his legacy through inheritance. Why? Because his mother and father were brutally murdered by your man Carlson. His older brother became a hardened criminal and wound up dead in the same scrape he was in. So whatever inconvenience we have become to your people in New York is of no concern to us. We only want to be part of what is rightfully William’s. And Sarah Cockrell doesn’t deserve to be taken in by this ugly affair either. We turned the tables on Renfro and Carlson just as it should be, pure and simple. Does all of this make sense to you sir?”

“I know about most of this, I won’t lie any further to you good people. I must confess to being part of a large New York Mob. My life has been a terrible thing as far as you are concerned. It has taken meeting you to make me understand. If you have been to New York, perhaps you can understand how I came to be.” Ron seemed nervous but also honest in his response.

Bat chose to speak up. “That is precisely why we intend to offer you a chance Fitch. Our trip to New York had an enlightening affect upon us. We had to learn your game hard and fast. My days with the railroad taught me plenty about your kind though. The only chance you may have at changing your ways is for you to be away from your element. We need to know more about what we are up against. It’s not our intention to be a threat to your New York people. If we were to merely do away with you, then that would leave your Mob thinking we were even more dangerous. There must be some way of reaching a practical solution and exist in peace with each other. If not for the awful way William was led to become involved, we would never have clashed with your people.”

Ron kicked at the dirt and looked up to the evening sky. “I respect what you’re saying Masterson. As you might figure, I haven’t been exactly in good standing with the law. I guess I really walked into it with this one though. I thought I would have an adventure by coming out West. But I didn’t know you guys would be so good at what you do. So it may take me a short while to get used to dealing with your kind, but I’m willing to do what you ask.”

“I believe you.” Bat reached out and the two men shook hands. This went on to Lucas and Will as well.

Will had to have a say also. “Mister Fitch, or whoever you are, I won’t hold this affair personal with you so far. We don’t really know each other. I hope that will change now. My feelings in all of this have been to seek forgiveness and fairness for everyone involved. This entire business was offered to me, I didn’t go seeking it. But the responsibility falls upon me now and I have accepted it. It’s bigger than any one of us or we wouldn’t be here right now. All I ask is that you do your best to help us, work with Bat and Lucas here, they are the best this world has to offer. You won’t regret it.”

“That is becoming more and more apparent William. I’m truly sorry for what has happened. Carlson is a very ruthless man. He may have softened in his later years, but we knew of him for a long time. When he first came to New York we didn’t know it was because of the murder of your parents. I have only recently learned of it myself. I have known Renfro only briefly, but I can tell you that I don’t like the man. Both he and Carlson are not much of a danger to you any more, as long as we know where they are. It’s impossible to tell you that they won’t send somebody else once they discover I haven’t done my job, but we can do our best to stop that from happening. We have much to discuss before deciding what our best plans might be. I can assure you that with what I know, you men can achieve what you wish. It may take some fancy doing, but I do know the right people.”

Bat made a few suggestions. “I think one of the first things we should do is contact our friends in Fort Worth and make sure Carlson and Renfro can no longer have communications with the outside world. Ron, you should tell us about how you were even able to make contact with them. Secondly, we should make accommodations for you here and see that you have what you need to stay here after this weekend is over. We have plenty to do in the coming weeks.”

“Alright, I’ll tell you how we made contact. It was through one of the prison guards. It wouldn’t do any good to tell you his name, they would only get to another one. But there should be a way to eliminate the problem. They let me see Renfro in person though. He talked to me under the guise that I was his brother. That man will stop at nothing to lie and manipulate people. He must have assistance from the outside and plenty of money stashed away.”

“That we are sure of. His tentacles stretch all the way to New York!” William added.

“That they do.” Ron smiled and looked Bat right in the eye. “I can send a few telegrams and ask for more time from my friends in New York. They hopefully would understand that I need to wait for a better circumstance or some such excuse. That way we can deal with the Fort Worth problem without being in a hurry. I think Carlson is of little concern. He is so broken up about being where he is. Renfro is the one we must keep a close watch on. It may be impossible to completely stop him. There are more where I came from.”

“Why did they choose you?” Bat kept the same eye to eye contact.

“Where I come from, I’m known as the best. I’m personal friends with the man you shot on the fishing boat, Lucas. I’m involved financially with the organization and have killed many in my duties. Like I said, my lying is over. I have plenty of money and I’m away from the world I know. What I see by coming here tells me that I need to change. What you have here is paradise compared to the mean life we lead in New York. I want out. I hope you can understand that. I want you to be able to trust me. On the other side of the coin, once they realize that I’m gone, they may send somebody after me!”

“Bat chuckled, that would be ironic. Maybe we should fake your death. Start thinking of another name! Do you really want to be a rancher?”

“I can say yes to that, but you know already I don’t know enough to even fake it.”

“You are a tough guy Ron, I think you can learn.” Lucas patted him on the back. If things work out, you are welcome to spend time with us and I can assure you that a fine education is in your future.”

“It’s my hope that I can earn your trust then. Everyone knows me as Ron Fitch as it is, I think I’ll keep that name. They can try to come get me if they want. They would only meet with the same failure I have. And I know most of them. I think we have much to benefit from each other men. Count me in!”

“Very good Fitch.” Bat motioned towards the lodge. “We have a poker game waiting for us. That is the battle that hopefully never ends. If we could only keep our devious ways confined to the great art of the games of chance!”

“Don’t you guys want to take my guns?” Ron asked.

“Nope”, Lucas replied. No need. We all know how to use them. We must start out with trust in both directions. We’re not out to make you a prisoner Friend, we need an ally. I hope you understand if we keep a close eye on you for a spell. But it’s up to you, just know we have guns too. All of us know how to use them in more ways that one.”

“Exactly Lucas.” Bat added. “I found out a long time ago that the time guns spend in the holster have much more influence than the brief times when they are fired.”

“I think I know what you’re saying. You have nothing to worry about. I’ll put them away voluntarily while I’m here. Ron felt so much better now. It would take time, but he was confident that he was doing the right thing.

The rest of the evening was spent playing cards. As time went on, people started showing up from town. They couldn’t help themselves knowing that Bat was at play. The lodge came alive with a party for the ages. Lucas welcomed many more of his friends than he intended and he wound up playing bar tender most of the time. Spirits were high as things came to a close. Rest was of more importance than usual for the coming big day.

The Rifleman's Serenade — North Fork's Finest

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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