The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Rifleman's Serenade
Chapter 4 - North Fork at the Ready
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

July was getting on and the town was buzzing over the upcoming gun show and sharp shooting contest. It was agreed upon that Bat and Lucas would compete but the prizes would only go to those finishing best other than them. If anyone should be able to beat Bat or Lucas, it would mean a special prize, one thousand dollars and an engraved Winchester rifle. A rifle and five hundred dollars would be first prize otherwise. Bat was to compete in the pistol competition and Lucas at the rifle. The sharpshooting competition was to start on Saturday and the finalists would be part of the show on Sunday.

Target practice was very interesting on the first day. The paper was making the first announcement that morning but many locals already knew to be there. Wes gave Bat and Lucas a good show and was quickly able to split a few of the sideways cards. Lucas showed off his turnaround ten split with rapid fire ease. It was becoming second nature to him now. A bit of Annie Oakley had rubbed off on him in New York. It was a hot day so the men worked fast and tried to stay in the shade when they could. The guns got hot quick and took a longer time to cool down. They let some of the people watching try their hand at splitting the cards. A few lucky hits were made, but most agreed that it was a tough thing to do. This was a good idea and it meant more talk of the difficulty as the two weeks before the show wore on.

Bat continued to show up in town each evening to play cards and talk with anyone who came along. Lucas and Dillon joined him on a few occasions. Will and Sam decided to stay at home and keep a watchful eye on the ranch. The digging was well underway and the bricks and concrete were due soon. Mark was more anxious to get the pipe though. It was going to take some figuring and fooling around to get this part of the construction completed and it had to be in place to some degree before the bricks could take their places. They figured to lay a pipe from the bottom as a drain and run it to a lower spot in the field nearby. This would be much easier than pumping the water out.

Plumbers were not a common trade and those that did such work were hard to find. Bat suggested that they ask the railroad people if they could be of service. Sure enough, a man and some special tools could be hired for a fair price. They had plenty of pipe for repairs on the engines as well as a few valves and fittings. They started to fashion a firebox similar to the smokehouse routing some rows of pipe to heat the water through. A well pump strong enough to push the water at a rapid enough rate to make it practical to fill and heat the sauna was on order. The drain plumbing would have to wait for completion of the digging. The railroad man was promised some time in the sauna when it was ready.

Meanwhile, work on the wedding dress was a challenge for the ladies, even Sarah. She ordered special fabric from her Dallas source and Vanessa wanted to use something she knew about from back east. It stopped short of an all out argument though. Aubrey put her foot down and decided on the Dallas fabric and some lace from back east. The Dallas fabric actually originated in New York, as most fabric did. Ann knew enough to stand back and let the others have at it. Ruth did some hand stitching at times but left often to keep an eye on her boys. The ranch was a big place and they had horses to run off on. Emma did her best to keep the peace with the others as the decisions were made. Her experience with costuming proved valuable in that she knew how to keep a certain balance to the design. Once things started to take shape, it was just as Aubrey wanted it. She only ruffled a few feathers as she guided the process to her final desires.

By the middle of the first week, the gun range was a busy place. The lawmen made their appearances and hung out most of the day with the many enthusiasts wishing to practice. The temptation to win the contest was great and each day the crowd grew bigger. Before the weekend, people were starting to camp outside of town due to the lack of hotel space. Lou and Sweeney had more business than they could handle, as did everyone in town. Wes was becoming concerned due to the many strangers arriving daily and the growing number of hip worn pistols in view. He had several extra deputies sworn in to keep watch, making a total of five men on duty other than himself. Bat and Lucas did patrol when they had free time. Micah wanted to take part but Lucas made him rest during the first week. He couldn’t walk far and was still interested in watching Mark and Will work on the sauna.

The ditch for the drain turned out to be more work than they bargained for, but they managed to find a low spot that kept the ditch from becoming too deep. Mark’s surveying experience came in handy for this. He had to make several changes in direction to cut over 50 feet of distance and follow the lower ground. It had to be a bit deeper than the sauna to allow gravity do the work, but once the land started to slope down it wasn’t so bad. Mark also designed the brickwork so a few rows would be above ground. Most of the plumbing work was complete by the end of the week, but the well pump was yet to arrive and the drain was still in progress.

The second week brought a much bigger crowd and anticipation grew rapidly. On Wednesday, Will and Mark brought Micah into town and they stayed in his old place as they needed to. Work on the sauna was put on hold as most everybody was in town and very busy. Food serving became a huge chore, the ladies from the ranch were glad to lend a hand with Lou and some of the other proprietors of North Fork. The town had never seen such a large influx.

It was a hot and bustling day on Thursday as the stage arrived just before noon. The passengers seemed normal enough, two women and two men. Nobody batted an eye as a tall dark cowboy, a bit too well dressed, stepped down onto the dirt main street. A father, wife, and daughter went on their way to the hotel leaving Jacoby Cicero by himself to survey the town. Jacoby was a New York mobster by trade. For this mission he was to go by the name of Ron Fitch. He looked enough like a cowboy, he had rough hands and a chiseled face. His clothes only slightly smacked of the eastern style but his speech was not as conforming. He wanted to take a few days to get to know the town. He had just been to Fort Worth, Santa Fe, and now he arrived at his final destination, North Fork. He tried to speak like a Texan but time did not allow him to master that. He also thought he could shoot well enough to win the sharp shooting competition. But his real targets were sitting with Micah at the practice range.

Perhaps enough time had passed for Lucas and his clan to relax about dangers from the recent times in New York and Forth Worth. Certainly their attention was focused on the matters at hand. Lucas had enough positive experience with the gun shows and was growing in his confidence with an audience. Bat always had it in his nature to keep a lookout but he too was absorbed in the moment at hand and didn’t sense any need to be suspicious. This was dangerous enough by itself, he didn’t need to lose his edge. There was a general concern in everyone with this growing crowd and interest over guns, but nothing could prepare them for the lurking human hunter seeking William Fulton and Lucas McCain. It was simply business to eliminate Will, but it was revenge that brought interest in Lucas. Fitch knew that Masterson could be hard to deal with but if he got a chance at him too, well all the better. If he could pull this off and make it back to New York there would be great wealth waiting for him. There was a lot of money lost when Carlson was forced to leave the organization and the man on the boat who was shot in the hand wanted Lucas dead most of all.

The shot glasses were shattering in the afternoon heat as Ron Fitch walked up to the front of the crowd at the range. He had two brand new Colts and a very fancy black leather gun belt in plain view. He looked every bit the gun toting cowboy from Texas.

He studied the people and learned quickly who his targets were. He didn’t need to look far to see Lucas and Bat as he had seen many photos from the newspapers and they were obviously the center of attention. It took him a short while to identify Will because he wasn’t publicized, but Quentin Renfro gave him a description and a rundown on how he behaved. Ron surveyed the group of men sitting in chairs just behind the shooters and listened closely until he heard Micah say something to Will and he heard the name. He thought this was going to be an easy job, only the get away could pose a problem if he wasn’t careful.

Ron felt comfortable to join in on the target shooting after an hour of watching. He asked if he could have a turn at the card shot and struck up a short conversation with Lucas before joining in. He was welcomed with enthusiasm as he talked a good line about having just been in Fort Worth and even made mention of the Luke Short affair.

Ron could draw fast and Bat took great notice of his pistols. Ron hit three out of ten attempts on his first round at the cards. Lucas performed his quick turn around card shot and hit all ten. This was his final turn for the day and Ron stood by amazed at what he saw. Most of his experience was with a hand gun, but he made an attempt with the rifle in effort to fit in with the real cowboys he was surrounded by. Nobody challenged him about being from Texas on this first day. It was too busy and a festive time to say the least. In one short afternoon Ron had found his marks and made an inroad to being friendly with his prey. He was now entered in the contest and looked forward to the gun show. Later that evening he found the boys all playing cards at Sweeney’s and joined in for a rousing good time. It seemed too easy to fit in and the advantage was all his at this point.

Will kept a busy schedule between the ranch and going into town. Ann went with him to help with the food preparations and took some target practice as she was to perform with Aubrey during the show. She had a horse riding competition that would require her and Will to leave right after the gun show. She had much to get ready and Flash needed a workout every day. They used their new wagon for the trips into town. Spirit was not getting enough riding time and Will was concerned. Ann worked with Flash early in the mornings then had one of the hands work with him in the afternoons. Spirit didn’t miss Will as much as Will thought, he had a new partner to court. Freedom and Spirit needed no nudge in order to get along. Will figured the two Saddlebreds knew they were meant for each other. Hopes for an offspring were high but only time would tell.

On Friday morning the action at the range was very busy. This was the last day for the stars of the show to practice and there were way too many contestants for all of them to have a turn at the range. Many had taken to a makeshift range outside of town. This went largely unsupervised and there was concern for everyone’s safety. Ron tried to stay close to Lucas and managed to get a little preferential treatment as a new found friend. Ann and Aubrey brought some lunch to the range. Ron struck up a short conversation when Ann offered him a sandwich.

“Well thank you my dear. That’s very nice of you, I sure am hungry!”

“You’re most welcome sir, my name is Ann Fulton.” Ann offered her hand to him.

Ron took her hand in his and kissed it politely. “My name is Ron, Ron Fitch. You must be Will’s wife, I have heard only great things about you.”

“It’s nice to know I am being talked about so highly!” Ann chuckled. She couldn’t help but notice the fabric in Ron’s shirt and vest. It struck her that it was unusual of him to be wearing such fine threads.

“I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know your husband and the rest of the showmen since arriving yesterday. I’m from the Fort Worth area, I have a ranch there.”

“Oh you do! I’ve been there. Quite a big place, have you lived there long?”

“About ten years, my family migrated from New York. That’s where I grew up.” Ron thought it better to lie about someplace he knew about. Renfro tried to give him enough information about ranching in Fort Worth to know what he was talking about, but he was among some very savvy cattle people.

“Are you involved with the longhorns or have you one of the newer breeds?”

“Ron hesitated, “Well I have had mostly longhorns in my experience, but we are trying to raise a small herd of other breeds as we want to keep up with the trends.”

Ann thought this a curious answer but kept it to herself. “I see, we have had our times with the longhorns as well, especially back when the fever made things hard on us. But my father saw the future was in the Herefords long ago. We specialize in high quality meats now. It’s much more profitable too.”

“I see. That makes me want to move even faster on the upgrading of our herds. Your father is most wise my dear!” Ron looked a little uneasy as he realized he had just been upstaged by this clever woman.

“Why thank you Mister Fitch, I know you will do well with whatever breeds you choose.” Ann took another gaze at his outfit and made a note to ask Sarah about that type of fabric. She also found it strange that Ron had no hint of a Texas drawl. But his New York response did explain that. She found him friendly enough, but went away a little suspicious. A cattleman should be more than willing to talk about his stock in detail and Ann knew that the longhorns had been on their way out as the main breed of cattle for many reasons. So Ron was not as aware as she expected him to be. She stayed by Will a short while and watched Ron shoot. He was good, but he did not handle his gun in true cowboy fashion. “It must be the New York boy in him.” She thought.

None of the other men seemed to notice these things in Ron. Most were too busy with the commotion to bother to challenge him about anything he said. So far, it was smooth sailing except for that brief moment with Ann. Bat was more impressed with his clothing than suspicious. He was naturally fond of a smart dresser. Somehow talk of cattle did not manage to come up as guns were the topic of the day. At the poker game that night Ron gave Bat a bit of trouble by winning several large hands.

That same evening on the ride home, Ann brought her suspicions up to Will.

“What do you think of that Ron Fitch dear?”

“I don’t know, seems a nice enough guy, handles his gun a little strange for a cattleman but other than that he can hit the targets as good as any, why do you ask?”

“It’s just that when I gave him his sandwich today he was at a loss for words when I tried to make conversation about cattle. I mentioned the Herefords and asked him about what breeds he had experience with. All he seemed to know about was longhorns and even then he avoided talking in detail. I don’t think he knows cattle. He also said he had migrated to Texas from New York. And the fabric in his clothes seems out of place. Too fancy for any Texas cowboy I ever did see!”

Will laughed at her mimic of a Texas Drawl. “You are quite the detective dear. Are you sure about this? I wasn’t worried about him until you just mentioned New York.”

“I know, maybe I am a worrying woman, but he just struck me as out of place.”

“Don’t ever take these feelings for granted Ann. Lucas and Bat both know better. They’re too wrapped up in the goings on to take notice like you did. Anything can be a danger at times like these. If Ron is a phony and he comes from New York then we better be sure of this. And we better be ready because it is too easy for the bad guys we just stepped on to want revenge. Of course they would want me out of the way.”

“Oh Will, it seems as if we will always have to look over our shoulder for this kind of thing.”

“I’m just glad you took notice dear. It may be nothing. Why would he admit his tie to New York if he was from there and looking for us?”

“It may be as clever as not mentioning it. I don’t trust him Will.”

“I’ll bring it up to Bat and Lucas tomorrow, early.”

“Make it real early! You go back into town and see to it very early in the morning!”

“The competition begins at nine, and I expect they will want to be there for the start. It’s going to take all day and part of tomorrow I reckon. Lots of people signed up as we expected. Even the ten dollar entry fee didn’t shy anyone away.”

“And I suppose there could be more than one out after us to boot. Maybe I’m just too worried, but I am going with you in the morning. We’ll all have our eyes open.”

“If I get any suspicion at all, I’ll say something. We won’t let this guy out of our sight.”

“Maybe Lucas or Bat can think of a way to get him talking and see if he is for real. I’m not sure I want you to be there tomorrow now that I’m thinking about this. Are you taking part in the contest?”

“I’m signed up, but I was thinking about bowing out to make room for somebody else. There’s too many as it is. I have nothing to prove. We’ll decide tomorrow morning.”

“I know we should all be there for the show on Sunday, but maybe we should just be lost in the crowd tomorrow. Let Ron deal with the real detectives.” Ann looked on towards the roof of the lodge as they approached the McCain Ranch. “We should stop in and see if there’s supper still on. I don’t want to cook tonight.”

“Good deal! I bet there’s a big steak just waiting for us. We could bunk here if you want to.”

Ann balked at that. “We go home to sleep dear. I’ve got to see Flash in the morning for one thing. I can’t let him get lazy right before the show. But then I want to get back to town early with you. What to do?”

“Let’s eat and think on it. I guess we can go home and take care of things there first. We can make it to the range in plenty of time. What about riding Flash to town? He needs to see a crowd anyhow.”

“There isn’t enough room there to tie him up and I don’t want to risk leaving him alone there. You go ahead on your own and I’ll catch up to you later. Some of the men are going to watch the contest and I can go with them.”

“We have it figured then. Fitch isn’t going to try anything this early. Am I ever hungry!” Will slapped the reins and before they knew it they were at a table eating steaks.

The Saturday morning sun arose bright and hot. Will was on the road to town by half past six. The wagon rolled right along with little vibration. Will realized how spoiled he was becoming with this thing. In less than an hour he was knocking on Lucas’ hotel room door.

“What’s going on here?” Lucas exclaimed at the unexpected rousting.

“We need to talk Lucas. Ann had a conversation with Ron Fitch yesterday and now she suspects that he’s not a cattleman.” Will filled Lucas in on the details as he finished getting dressed.

“I can see how she would think something’s wrong. I’m afraid we may have let our guard down with this guy. I never thought to challenge him on his story. Didn’t seem polite and he handles his gun as you say, but he is good at it. I don’t suppose it would do any harm to lure him into a conversation and see how he responds. We should let Bat in on this of course.”

“My very next thought Brother! I hope there’s nothing to this, but we all agreed to be careful, didn’t we?” Will slapped his hat back on and they went to get Bat.

“Once again Gentlemen, Ann may be the real sharp shooter of our bunch! I have been noticing Fitch’s manner and finding it a bit strange. I too never thought to question his ranching claims. He has perhaps gone out of his way to get chummy with us hasn’t he? Bat was almost dressed and breakfast was the next order of business. Let us ponder our next move over our morning fare. I have an idea brewing that may help us find out if he is real or not. I can start in on our stories about Renfro and the scam. Perhaps we might see him in the dining room and we can confront him there.”

“That’s a good angle Bat. Try to lead him into describing his part in the ranch system there. He won’t last long with what we know of the place. Maybe he’s one of Renfro’s stooge ranch owners and doesn’t know anything about the business.” Lucas realized that they had the upper hand as far as knowing the area.

It makes sense that Renfro would try to infiltrate or even eliminate us. It would seem too obvious, but then what do any of those jailbirds care? I’m more concerned that he’s been sent here from New York. They’re a vicious bunch and have a score to settle with us. Of course, Carlson and Renfro are part of that. We don’t know a thing yet, but thanks to Ann we have been woken back into reality. Bat took up his gun belt and cane as they departed for downstairs.

Upon arriving in the dining room they saw Fitch at a table by himself. It was natural for them to join him. Ron didn’t suspect a thing as they ordered their meals. The hot coffee was strong and Ron sipped it carefully while the others took a healthy gulp.

“What’s the matter there Ron? Coffee in Texas isn’t that strong?” Lucas taunted him.

“Well, not mine anyhow! I prefer a shot of whiskey to spark my mornings.” They all chuckled a bit and made more small talk before Bat found a way to speed things up.

“Say Ron, you’re from Fort Worth, maybe you know something about a guy we are involved with. You had to read the papers a few months ago. Ever hear of a lawyer there, Quentin Renfro?”

“Why of course I know of him. Just about the whole town does. What of it?”

“Then you know he is in jail over one of the largest ranch and farm scams of all time.”

“That’s common knowledge, yes. What are you getting at?”

“Nothing really, I just wonder if you know how we are kind of responsible for putting an end to the scam and how we had just been there earlier this year.”

“Well, I’d be a liar if I said no to that. How could I read the papers and not know?”

“I figured you might. I just wanted you to hear it straight from us because rumors are flying around town as it is. It’s really quite a colorful story. Would you like to know some of the details that may not have made it into the papers?” Bat smiled as he saw Ron’s face relax after what seemed an inquisition.

“I’m not a seeker of thrills, but you can tell me a little. I don’t see much other than the paper when I’m out on the ranch.”

“Out on the ranch. That sounds so comforting. Does your family have a large spread?”

“Almost twenty thousand acres. As far as the eye can see so to speak.”

“Ah, once was a time when I wanted such a piece of land. I bet that’s great, being out there with all that cattle. We saw a great deal of that country when we were there. Did you read where literally hundreds of farms and ranches were secretly owned by Renfro? Must have been shocking for you!”

“Yes it was. Those of us who work hard to do things right have been greatly damaged by that. We paid our taxes and didn’t get any sweetheart deals by knowing the right people. Makes me mad, it does.”

“As it should. You see, I think you can tell us something very useful about this business. We tried to keep William here a secret all that time we were in Fort Worth. In fact, we haven’t told much of anybody about his part of the story since we’ve been back to North Fork. So what I would like to ask you is, did you then or do you now know about William’s part of the case?”

“Why no, I haven’t been told a thing. All I know is the little bit I have heard in the few days that I have been here. Nothing really, he works with Lucas does he not? And he’s married to Ann. You guys have been very friendly to take me on so quickly about such things.”

“Not a problem Ron. We just figured that if you did know something then our secret may not have been so closely guarded.”

“I see. So William is somehow involved and you feel better now knowing that a poke like me hasn’t heard anything about that. Gentlemen, I can assure you that I haven’t heard a thing. Your secret is safe as far as I am concerned.”

“That’s good to know Ron. I appreciate it. Let me fill you in now about what went on. Maybe it can help you somehow when you get back home. Where did you say your ranch was?

“I didn’t. It’s on the southwest side of town about 20 miles away, nothing special really. My family migrated there from Upstate New York about ten years ago on advice from a friend. We bought in on the place and now own it all. The Longhorns have been good to us. And we treat them good too.”

“I bet that you do. So here goes Ron…… Bat went into a brief version of the story about the cotton farm and Will’s family history, winding up with the trip to New York and the incident on the fishing boat.

Ron acted dumbfounded by the entire thing. It was as if he wanted a piece of Carlson and Renfro as well. “William, you are to be commended for your actions and you have had such a rich blessing in having these two men by your side. I hope it all turns out for the best.”

“Thank you Mister Fitch. I’m glad you see it our way. William motioned for the waiter to bring a round of whiskey from the bar. “I want to buy us a round to get things off to a good start this morning. One jolt shouldn’t hurt our aim!” Everyone laughed and Bat passed some cheroots around.

“How many head would you say are on your spread Ron? Bat bit off the end and lit his smoke.

“Oh last I saw there were about forty five hundred. It varies of course.”

“Do you have any Hereford in your stock? We find them much better to deal with and the meat is so tender.” Lucas added.

“Most of my experience has been with the Longhorns. But we do have a small herd in the process of development. I’m not around that much, my brother is in charge. But I do believe there are some Herefords involved.”

“They are so much more docile than the Longhorns. Do you have any Buckleys to go with them? We find them most comforting as companions for the Herefords.” Bat looked over at Lucas to see the smirk on his face.

“I suppose we might. Brother Calvin would know more about that. Buckleys you say?”

“Yes, they are an old breed that came over from Europe years ago. All tan except for a black spot or two.”

“Well, I don’t recall such a beast, but if they are required for the Herefords, then we must have some.”

Bat loved it when a plan came together. He once again nodded to Lucas and they brought the conversation to a close. “We best be getting our guns and making our way to the range. We have about a half hour before we get started.”

Ron pulled out his pocket watch and confirmed the time. Bat noticed an emblem on the cover, silver on gold. It reminded him of something he may have seen in New York. “Right you are gentlemen, I will join you there in a few minutes then.” Ron excused himself.

“Well my friends, I know all that I need to know, how about you?” Bat tapped his cane and smirked.

Lucas laughed out loud and slapped Bat on the back. “Buckleys! How about that!”

“That man is no more a rancher than I am a cotton farmer!” Will was about in tears over the scam. “You took a chance though old boy, what if he had known you were pulling his leg?” Will couldn’t stop laughing.

“I expect he might. He knows he is under scrutiny by now. All he has to do is find some unsuspecting neighbor and ask about Buckleys. He’ll know soon enough. He’s obviously been told a great deal of what to say. His big mistake was getting too friendly with us. If he’s out to get us, and I suspect that he is, then he should have remained part of the crowd and shot us when he got his chances. As it is now, I would bow out of this game if I were him.”

I’m wondering if he’ll even show up at the contest. I bet he’s buying a train ticket as we speak! Will was almost in tears still laughing.

“I think we better go and be ready to shoot it out with some real gun fighters boys. Those targets aren’t getting any bigger!” Lucas made a motion to the exit. They went to their rooms and made their final preparations.

“I’m not going to shoot Lucas. I’m bowing out.” Will exclaimed back in Lucas’ room.

“What do you mean? You can’t quit, we haven’t even started yet! People are expecting you to be there.” Lucas heaved his rifle onto the bed and gave Will a stern look.

“Ann and I decided we should be in the crowd to keep watch. It won’t be good if all of us had our backs turned.”

“Well I ain’t running scared Will. I want you there. At least take a few shots and lose like a man.”

“You know I can shoot better than that. I just think it would be best if I let somebody else have the fun and I can keep an eye out. You never know what a guy like Fitch or anybody else might try.”

“I understand where you’re coming from but I’m not so sure I like it. We have plenty of men on duty as it is. Come on Will, make a show of it. Maybe you won’t last so long, there are some pretty good shots entered.”

“Alright, you know how to get to me Brother. But if I do seem nervous, please forgive me. The thought of mobsters trying to kill us can be just a bit troubling.”

“I fully understand. I have the same thoughts and it was hard at any of the shows. But we’ve made a spectacle out of ourselves and it’s all part of it now. We’ll talk with Bat more and be ready for whatever comes our way. Now try to relax and let’s get to the range.”

The Rifleman's Serenade — Entered

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents

Site Map
around The McCain Ranch