The Rifleman
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The Battle Within A Young Gun
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

Chapter Nine — Gun Play

Upon waking, a hangover cure was the first order of the new day. Doc Battle was in good shape as he only had a few, but Lucas and Will weren’t used to drinking and they felt it bad. Simon mixed up a concoction of aspirin and bicarbonate of soda along with some lemon juice to help them get over it. Lucas only let Will give him back the fifty dollars he staked him with and assured him that he deserved something for winning out over Masterson. It was long past noon before they got to feeling better. Simon cooked up a breakfast of Mexican style eggs and tortillas, the seasoning of which had a soothing effect on their stomachs.

“Simon, that was great, thanks for knocking the cobwebs from our heads! I feel so much better, how about you Will?" Lucas reached over for one last tortilla.

“Whatever that drink was, it sure took my headache away fast, thanks Doc.

“You boys should lay off the alcohol for a few days, let your systems rest up. We’ll need our strength if we are going to ride out to Lone Pine, Vicki is expecting us. I told her we may be a while if we got to having a good time in town. Lone Pine is only a mining settlement. We built a small house and Vicki prefers to stay there most of the time. She used to travel with me, but it got old for her. She has a great husband and lives a sheltered life in the hills. I want you to see the countryside Lucas, I love it, heat and all. But I also enjoy Yuma, this place affords me plenty of time to relax as I get older. The prison has a hospital and they gave me a place to do my research. More people can come to me here than I can get to riding about the territory anymore. We’re getting old Lucas, we have to think about preserving our energy more now.”
 
“That’s very true. I hired Will here to help keep the ranch going. I can still do a good day’s work, but I’m slowing down. Mark has grown up and is in Oklahoma starting college. I have great hopes for that lad Simon. He wants to write and be an engineer. I’d say that’s very ambitious. And that makes me happy, it sure was hard to keep him focused when he was young. He has a very active mind, always asking questions and making philosophical observations. You want to know what he said back when you rode off from North Fork?”

“You bet. He took a shinning to Vicki, I remember that much.”
“Yah, he said, “It sure makes life worth living don’t it Pa?” The next thing was, “That Vicki, why does she have to be almost 16 years old?” Lucas and Simon both had a good laugh.

“I felt something powerful that day Lucas. Mark was right. We were always dealing in death in the old days, I’m not proud of that. I wanted to kill that murdering Lobo ranch hand. I was about to as I walked up on him. He would have killed me. But I realized that he was nothing but a dumb animal. If I could knock some sense into him, he might just be able to change as I had, maybe do somebody else a favor one day. Long before we shot it out, I promised Vicki and her mom to never resort to violence again. But when those guys posed a threat, I couldn’t let you walk out that door alone.”

“You saved my life by pushing me aside Simon. I’ll never forget that. I felt a powerful change come over me when you let that man live. I’ve been a different man ever since. I was wrong to treat you the way I did, I’m guilty of dealing in death same as you.”

“I don’t blame you for hating me. I was a horrible person in the Oklahoma days. We were all desperate to make a living. I didn’t value life or my conscience. When I recovered from the wound from our gunfight I came to hate myself. Maybe it takes a brush with death to convince some men, I was one of them.”
 
“And all that time afterwards I had you figured for dead. Part of the reason I reacted as I did was the shock of seeing you. I didn’t even give you a chance. You must have knocked some sense into me first that day, in more ways than one.”

“Perhaps you’re right, but you are a brave and honest man McCain. You never knowingly killed anyone that you didn’t think was trying to kill you. I know you saw me kill many innocent ranchers and steal cattle, I’m no longer afraid to face that truth. I was arrogant and stupid to challenge you. I should have left you be once I knew how you felt about working with me again. To tell you the truth, I actually did like you back then, but my fool head wouldn’t let me, I was egotistic about my gun, my reputation, and the list of  guys who I outdrew. It was ego that made me taunt you and you are faster than I am.”

“I don’t know about that Simon, but I was on edge and ready to defend myself. I’m sorry it happened, but you forced me into it. Looking back, we could have made much better friends than enemies. Right now, I’m just thankful that we are here and able to talk about it. I think God makes things happen to us for a reason. I’ve had problems trying to reckon with those reasons, but now we both can understand why we had to change.”

“Your bullet almost killed me. But by surviving, it saved me. We both lost our wives to the fever. They were both angelic women. And they both made us change, whether we wanted to or not.  I haven’t remarried either Lucas. I’ve been too focused on my work, same as you. When I saw your boy in North Fork that was all I needed to know about you.”

“And……. I know all I need to know about both of you!” exclaimed Bat Masterson, entering the room with surprise. “I have been listening to this entire conversation. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Good morning Gentlemen!” Bat sat down at the table all dressed up in his riding clothes. “You can continue, Simon, sorry to interrupt.”

“I think we were about to finish with that. Lucas and I are on very good terms, I just want him to know that he has nothing to be ashamed of. We both understood most of this then, and we certainly understand it now! We ultimately learned to give up on hatred and that is what counts.”

“Well put Simon.” Lucas agreed. “I feel like a great weight has been lifted. And I wanted Will here to see us meet like this. You know, he’s had to learn a similar lesson. But I’ll let him tell about it when the time is right.”

“I was about to suggest that we take our guns out to the shooting range and have us some fun my friends. I feel a need to spin my chambers, if you know what I mean.” Bat said, breaking up the serious talk. “I have some very special targets. It seems my bartender friend here in town has a surplus of shot glasses. He saves them for me after they see service too long or get chipped and such. Once in a while I like to take them out and finish them off. I’ve got plenty of .45 rounds. Lucas, you got enough for your rifle?"

“I always have a box with me of course, but I’ll get some more, must be a gun shop nearby.”
 
“The general store will have what you need. He’ll give me a deal, one of the benefits of being a lawman. What kind of weapon do you have Will?” Bat inquired.
“A .45 wheeler, nothing fancy. I don’t carry it around much, but I know how to use it.”

“Well then, that makes three of us with a .45 and Lucas with a .44-.40 Winchester, a model 1892 if my eyes don’t deceive me. And that lever of yours is quite unique. How did you come by that? Masterson moved towards Lucas with great interest.

Lucas handed the rifle to Bat. “I modified a rifle myself during the war after I cut up my hand trying to rapid fire my Henry. I asked the fort’s blacksmith if he could help me enlarge the hoop. It didn’t take much more thought to put a screw through it that hits the trigger. I just couldn’t get used to using my big old fingers once I hurt them. After the war, I decided to keep the design on my new Winchester, I love the feel and sturdy action. I have a gunsmith in North Fork that has Winchester make levers for me now.”

“That’s a great story Lucas. You should capitalize on your design. Have you ever been approached by John Browning or Winchester?” Bat was now cocking the rifle and feeling the balance. “The action is very loose, you must wear it out often.”
“Yes, I take it in for a refit about once a year. The lever eventually bends and wears out at the pivot. But it’s well worth it when you need to spray some lead. And it’s probably the reason I’m still here drawing air.”

“How many men would you say you have killed with this firearm Lucas?”
“I lost count a long time ago, but I can tell you it is well over 50. If you want to count the wars and other guns, why it must be over a thousand. And how many times I should have died, let’s just say cats envy me! Killing only brings me sorrow Masterson. But fate has made me face death so often that I no longer want to know the total.” One death I can say was the most tragic. It was a small boy, a friend of my son. It was an accident when they took my rifle from inside the house without my knowing it. They wanted to play with it and it went off, wounding the boy. There was nothing we could do for him. Mark took a long time to get over that. But he learned a healthy hatred for guns that time. I don’t blame him for wanting a different kind of life after what I’ve put him through.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I can see you’ve had much more experience with death than I. Oh, I killed plenty in my early days during the Indian and railroad troubles, but after that, when a threat comes my way, I seek to use my cane first. This knob has crowned many a numb skull, knocked a gun out of hundreds of hands, and the point has put plenty of men on the floor screaming. I am guilty of practicing with this sweetened .45 more than killing with it. I do love target competition though. I think we are in for a grand ole time!” Bat looked over to Simon. “You up for some shootin’ irons Battle? We haven’t done this for over a year.”

“In honor of Lucas and Will, We shall all go out and see how triggers can shatter jiggers! I want to see Lucas shoot them shot glasses out of the air!”
“I believe this will be better than any contest I ever officiated. We have three of the best guns known and for all I know, a fourth. Let us be off gentlemen.
Will looked over at Lucas as if to say he didn’t belong in this company. “Well, go on Young Gun, get your iron out and show it off. This, my friends, is a well schooled shooting man if there ever was one” Lucas was getting good at keeping Will from feeling out of place. Will was uneasy after all the intense conversation from such high level shooting legends. He didn’t want to talk about his past and Lucas wasn’t going to make him. But he took everything he learned to heart, just as Lucas wanted him to. No matter what happened from here on out, the trip was worth it.

The men made their way to the general store and on to the shooting range with great excitement. Each of them anxious for their own reasons, but united in their appreciation for one another. Bat and Will took the box of shot glasses out to the target area to give Lucas and Simon a few minutes to chat by themselves. This gave Bat a chance to pry into Will’s story, ever curious as he was. Will went over the incident with Hank on the ranch and how Lucas rescued him from prison. He spoke of Ann, the cattle drive, and Jack Donaldson.

“That’s quite a story you have there mister Fulton. I felt something about you when we met last night. That Lucas McCain is a great judge of character. I think I can tell a lot by how a man plays his cards, but you fooled us all.”

“Yah, I’m good at fooling people alright. It’s hard to feel right around good people when you have a story like mine. Lucas goes a long way to make me see the light. Sometimes I wonder if I’m worthy of his teachings. But just as I start to feel down about myself, he seems to know it and puts me at ease. He is a miracle in my life and a big brother to me. I’m going to stick by his side and make that ranch grow. I owe him my life.”

“I’m glad to hear that. You have our respect. Simon will love what you have told me, If Lucas isn’t telling him right now. All three of us are the type to want to help a man rather than put him down. You just relax and we’ll be in for the time of our lives.”

“That makes me feel real good mister Masterson, I really like you, Simon too. All three of you are cut from the same cloth. I hope I can live up to all that I’m learning from you guys.”

“You will, I can tell. This is just the start of something big, I have a sense about fate, and I’m feeling it heavy today.”

“Speaking of learning, could you show me a thing or two about how to handle that cane?”

“I’ll do better than that, I’ll give you one. They get stolen and break on me once in a while, so I had some extras made. Now that things have settled down, I don’t need them as much. And I can teach you some boxing and wrestling moves if you like. We have professionals at my club in Denver. We may all see it together one day if my plan works out.”

“Plan? What have we gotten ourselves into now?”

“I’m getting bored with cards and roulette. Shooting and boxing are my real passions. I’m thinking of putting on a show at my Olympic Athletic Club. A gunslinger demonstration so to speak. Much like my wife knows the theater, I know what people want to see. Lucas is better known than he can imagine. He may not want to brag, but his reputation goes way back and has been passed around every circle in the west. Simon and me? Well the same goes for each of us. We can all make some good money and even retire from what I want to do.”

“That’s unbelievable! I hope Lucas will agree to it.”

“Promise me you’ll let me approach him in my own way.”

“You got it Mister Masterson.”

“Good, let’s get back and spit some lead.”

Bat did have a great sense about each man. He had a notion more than a plan, but it was so engrained in his nature to act upon his hunches. The one thing each of these men knew well was the power of name recognition. Bat knew how to capitalize on it.

The shot glasses didn’t stand a chance. They each stood back and at the drop of Bat’s Derby, started to fire. Speed and accuracy were present in each man’s hands. After a few rounds of mass destruction, they went to placing the glasses further away and took turns trying Lucas’ rifle. Bat also had a Winchester with a standard lever. Lucas had the best eye and Bat took second place at the long distance shooting. Simon wanted to see Lucas show off, so he started throwing the jiggers higher and higher into the air. Lucas hit every one. Finally, Will took over at throwing as Simon and Bat tried their hand at it. Each man had his own talent to show off. Bat was the fastest at the draw. Simon was rusty but still accurate and Lucas outdid them all with his rifle. Will wasn’t trying to be fancy but did his best when they went for accuracy rather than speed with the revolvers. He felt lucky enough to have won at poker and didn’t want to risk doing the same with the guns. But he was faster than average, there was no doubting that. Bat was the most practiced at the handgun and it showed.

After the gunplay, Bat took everyone out for dinner and another night on the town. It was then that he spun his web and lured Lucas into his plans for greatness. The idea was intriguing to Lucas, and to Will’s amazement, he agreed to take part.
“I can see myself having a good time with this Bat. I have won some small competitions over the years. I enjoy the art of marksmanship as much as any man. But the winter weather is coming soon, and we all know what that means.” Lucas didn’t like the cold.

“I understand Denver winters quite well of course. This time of year I tend to stay on the road, mostly in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories. That is the main factor in my being here now in fact. What I propose we do to get started is to have a small demonstration here in Yuma. They have a festival at the prison yard on a regular basis and we can be assured of some interest. Our names are well known and word of this going around will give us much publicity for greater efforts next year in Denver. That is where some bigger money can be made.” Bat puffed away at his cigar and motioned to the waiter for more drinks.

“I am concerned about the gunfighter reputation though. I will only do this as long as we shoot at targets and do not concentrate on a mock gunfight. Is that clear?” Lucas gave Bat his most stern look.

“I can understand that. The three of us have lived long with having to look over our shoulders for the next challenger. But you know, those days are coming to a close. We are among the last of a breed. We have more to fear from the reporters and novel writers today. If we do this right, then we can leave this world with most people knowing the truth about us rather than becoming an urban myth. We all suffer from that as it is. Wild Bill and ones like him can carry the torch for the thrill seekers. All I want to do is show people that we can do what is said about us. If you have read about me, then you know I haven’t had many shootouts because I made sure the whole town saw me practice. Precious few have ever tried to match me, and most of those lived to cry about it.”

“I’ve met some of those guys in the Santa Fe Big House!” Will chimed in.
“I bet you have. I’ve put many a scoundrel in that palace of ill repute, and, in this Yuma hothouse. I’m worried more about them looking for me some day than I am of any young guns seeking to prove themselves.”

“I used to be one of those young guns. Lucas saved me from going down that road. Now I figure one good gun deserves another.” Will leaned back in his chair and grinned towards Lucas.

“Will and I sort of saved each other back then. Simon had his part too. I think we’ve all learned from our gun experience as well as survived it. I wish I could say more of the men I’ve faced survived, but we do what we have to do. I just don’t want to encourage any further loss of life. ”Lucas felt more assured about Bat’s intentions now.

“What do you have to say Simon? Does this idea appeal to you?” Bat asked
“I fear more from my reputation I suppose. I don’t have the time to get heavily involved with any time consuming show due to my research and medical practice, but I can help out with having a demonstration here in town. Everyone’s known I can shoot for a very long time in these parts. As long as we’re safe about it, I’m in.”

“Well then Gentlemen, I think we can have a go at this idea, I’m excited. We have two weeks until the festival. That gives you guys time to visit Lone Pine. I can make arrangements with the mayor and the prison officials. And I will need to see about where exactly we shall do this and the targets."

"We’ll have to get back to the ranch after this. I’m asking a lot of my neighbors as it is. But I like the idea of setting the record straight. By the end of winter, I hope the ranch can tolerate my being away more often. I will look forward to seeing Denver next year. And by that time, I’ll be wanting to visit Mark in Oklahoma.

“I can see how it can all work out. I might like to visit North Fork at some point this winter. I was planning on spending some time in Santa Fe. Emma has booked some shows there. How would you like that Lucas?” Once again, Bat’s mind was churning on the possibilities.

“I have just the friend that wants to meet you Bat, you’re on! And they like shootin’ matches in North Fork. Santa Fe is probably a good place, but you would know more about that.” Lucas was starting to get the feeling.
“Outstanding! It’s time to retire from this steakhouse. We have a saloon to warm up next. Poker anyone?

A life changing day once again transpired for the legendary gunfighters. Two weeks seemed like a long time. Will and Lucas did not plan on being gone that long, but this was a very special opportunity. Lucas now had the same sense of destiny that Bat did. A telegram to Sam sewed things up for the extended visit. Will began to ponder what being away so long would mean. He had much more important concerns on his mind than gunplay, he missed Ann.

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 10 — Lone Pine

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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