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

Chapter Seven — Train of Destiny

A massive thunderstorm threw darts across the open desert sky as Will studied the passing landscape from the window of the train. The sound of thunder reminded Lucas of cannon fire. He heard plenty of that during the Civil War of course. He also knew the trains during the war. On more than one occasion, he was one of only a few survivors of an entire unit massacre and the rail was the only way home. Other times, destroying the rail was the best way of winning a battle. Will knew trains also, but for completely different reasons. Hank and the boys robbed them and he took part. There wasn’t any massacre, but people died. And that is how he was transported to the prison after the trial in Martinsville eight years ago. Both men were greatly relieved over the way Walt Donaldson chose to not make any trouble. In fact, he was quite easy to get along with at the saloon the night before. If money could only help them think the same about Jack. Both men had gun fighting and death on their minds from the past, on their way to meet one of the best gunfighters from the Rifleman’s past. Funny how his last name was Battle. Will wondered if that was his real last name. Lucas knew it was.
The past caught up to Lucas many times since he left Oklahoma. Now he was traveling west to catch up to it. Ever since he laid eyes on Simon Battle in the Doctor’s office that fateful day, he couldn’t get the past out of his mind. He was so sure that he was looking at an evil man, yet he went away changed forever and friends with him. It was a point of forgiveness that he’d never felt before and it happened in an instant during a gunfight. No gunfight could ever help him find that same forgiveness for himself. Perhaps by spending some time with Simon, Lucas could understand how he was able to live with his past. He knew the obvious answer. It was his daughter, Vicki, that gave him something to live for. Mark was just as important to Lucas. Now that Mark was gone for even a few short months, the old demons seemed to be haunting Lucas once more. He felt much of the same responsibilities for Will as he did for Mark. Even more, he felt it for Ann. He couldn’t take hurting either of them. And he couldn’t help but feel selfish for putting Will and Ann into this trouble in the first place. If it hadn’t been Jack, somebody else would have eventually come along to torture Will. And Will had other demons from his robbery days, even worse, from Hank.

“Will thought hard on some of the same concerns as the two sat silent watching nature’s battle wage in the sky. So much change in such little time sure had a way of storming up a man’s mind. Finally, it was too much and Will had to say something.

“Lucas! Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“As long as it’s not about gunfights or cattle. What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve been thinking pretty hard over what happened the last few days. I didn’t think much about it before I hit Jack, but afterwards now, I’m really bothered. Do you think that I can fit in after what I’ve done in my past? Am I ready to be out of prison like this?  I know I want to be, but is it fair to you, Ann, or anyone else? I mean, if I’m destined to bring more trouble to any of you great people then I don’t want to stick around. Maybe I need to move on, somewhere nobody knows me. You must know how that is. You left your home and came to North Fork. No one knew you.”

I guess we think alike Will. I’ve been wrestling with the idea that it’s not fair of me to put you or Ann into this situation. Maybe I didn’t realize how worrisome this could become. It seems as if you are going through a similar point in your life that I went through in Oklahoma. I realized that if Mark was to have any chance at a normal boyhood, it would have to be somewhere new. But, on the other hand, it’s not a perfect answer. I thought I was going to be safe in North Fork, but trouble often found a way to haunt me. I would never have looked to run into Simon Battle, but there he was. Maybe God brought us together for a reason on that day. Maybe the same for you and Jack. Right now, I’m still searching for some of those answers you must be thinking about. That’s part of why we’re going to see Simon and his daughter, Vicki. I need to see the change that has come over them. It’ll do you some good too I think.”

“I don’t ever want to go away. I love what’s happening for all of us up until now. It can be a good life. But I could never forgive myself if I cause something bad to happen. You have to promise me you’ll let me know if it’s time to leave. I can’t tell you that I’ll know for myself. The more I fall in love with Ann, the less likely I am to see straight. And the more likely I am to defend her honor. That scares me Lucas, it could have cost us much more than money this time.”

“You’re right. It could cost someone their life. I had to learn that every time my past put Mark in danger. Many times, it was simply by walking down the street with him by my side. We’re still here to talk about it though, we must be doing something right, or the Good Lord would surely have one of those bolts of lightening strike us here and now!

“We’ll find a way Lucas, I feel better now. Much obliged Big Brother.”
“And thank you Will. You may not realize it, but both of us are growing up, still to this day. I don’t think a man ever quits growing up. We have to learn to put trust in what we set out to do. If we allow ourselves to be filled with doubts, then the whole plan comes down like a house of cards. Speaking of which, I’ve got a deck in my bag, you want to play some poker to pass the time? You never know when we’ll come across old Bat Masterson. I hear he is the best, at both guns and poker.”

“Sure I do. I used to play a lot. When Hank was around, and we were on the run, it was all we had to do most nights. You really think we could meet Masterson someday?”

“The way my life’s going, I expect to.” Lucas laughed as he brought out the cards. I hear Bat travels all around these parts looking for action. I read where he likes to be in Colorado most of the time, but we’ll see what Simon has to say about it soon enough.”

The train sped on through town after town on the way to Yuma. Will had never seen such dramatic scenery. But soon, the terrain turned to wide open desert with miles of sand and cactus. The heat was awful, even though they were used to it at home. They were now well into Arizona territory, some of the driest land in the world. On past Tucson was a whole lot of nuthin’. Lucas wondered just what it was that made Simon want to come out this way. The Gila River gave life to a number of outposts along the rails, but none of the stops did anything to quell the boredom of the long hot ride.

“I tell ya Lucas, I never felt this pent up in my prison cell, I hope we get there soon.”

“Me too! I’m not used to this constant motion. It makes it hard to read, sleep, or do most anything. No wonder there’s so many legends of gunfights in these parts. I’d prefer to travel by horseback to the north of here if I had to do it again. There’s more mountains to contend with and it takes much more time. Still, I loved to wander that way when I was young. I don’t know if I can still do that today though. I’m getting’ on towards fifty years old now. Time has come for me to see the land from a seat rather than a saddle I reckon.” It wasn’t all that long ago that most people wouldn’t go more than twenty miles from home. Now it seems so many are on the move.”

“Yah, I wonder if they’re all looking for the same kind of answers we are. One things for sure, there’s little answer for this heat. Do you think they will ever think of a way to cool it down inside these passenger cars?”
“That may be a question for Mark. Right now, it’s hard for me to imagine what it would take, other than to ride in one of those fancy box cars with the big ice cubes.”

“They seem to think more of the dead meat than they do of the living passengers don’t they? Say, do you think they would let us ride in one of those box cars?”

 Will started to get excited about this idea.

“I don’t know, probably dangerous inside one of them things. They might just let us go inside one for a spell when we come to the next stop. Can’t hurt to ask. Better keep this to ourselves, we don’t want everyone else to get the same idea.”
The next time the train came to a stop, Lucas asked the conductor. He was reluctant to say yes, but as long as they kept silent about it, he gave them a short tour of a refrigerated box car. “As you can see gentlemen, it would be too cold to be in here for long. But I like your idea. If we started to letting everyone in these things, why then the ice wouldn’t last very long and the beef would spoil. The railroad goes through a lot of expense makin’ ice for these cars.” And the people of Yuma want good beef at a fair price like everyone else.”

“It sure takes a lot of effort moving food around and such.” Will commented.
“It takes just as much effort to grow it in the first place, wouldn’t you say Will?” Lucas replied. “Why, I’d say we all have something to work for over food, unless that is, one decides to steal for it.”

“We used to have plenty of train robberies in the past, but things have settled down now that the law has gotten stronger. And it’s hard to run very far in this barren country. It’s been over three years since I had any trouble on this train. Guys like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp keep those outlaws scared to mess with us any more. A real Godsend I tell ya.” The conductor motioned for the exit and the three men walked back out into the hot desert sun.

“That name of Masterson sure goes far and wide.” Will exclaimed. “You ever meet him?”

“Quite a few times in fact. He’s for real, I know that. Most folks have to read about him, but I am a lucky one. I get to hear it from the man himself. He’s even worked for this railroad in the past. If you ask me, there’s none better, on a cattle drive our dealing with outlaws. Why he was just on this very train a little over two weeks ago. He may still be in Yuma for that matter. Look for him in the gambling halls, you’ll be bound to run into him. But make it soon, man likes to travel you know.”

“Thanks mister, you sure did us a favor in more ways than one. Now I have two reasons for going to Yuma.” Lucas patted the conductor on the back and offered him a cigar.

“Hey, thanks, you guys are welcomed to take another tour next time we stop, but there’s only one more before Yuma. I bet you like hearing that, makes me want to sing. But I’ll spare you, I get enough strain on my voice from shouting on this hellbound train. Say, what’s your first reason for going to Yuma, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“You ever hear of a doctor named Simon Battle?”

“Most everyone around Yuma knows about him. He’s saved many lives. He discovered something about the fever, made him famous.”

“You don’t say! I knew him a long time ago, before we knew what the fever was. My wife died of it many years ago. They thought it was small pox.”

“You’re not sick are ya? The conductor looked a bit puzzled.”

“No, nothing like that. I need to see an old friend.”

“That’s good. Say, if you knew Battle, why he was a gunfighter back then, so the legend goes.”

“Yup, that’s the connection. We’re on a train of destiny.”

The conductor fumbled in his pocket and drew out a folded sheet of paper. He looked down the list until he came to the name McCain. He thought and mumbled for a minute.

“Lucas McCain, that sounds familiar, you from around Santa Fe are ya?”
‘That would be close, North Fork.”

“Hmmmm, folks sometime mentioned a man called The Rifleman. That you?”

“I don’t like to brag, but I’ve been called worse.” Lucas smiled.

“You’re not looking for trouble are ya? I don’t like the idea of that, no sir.”

“There was a time when that would have been true friend, but now I am looking forward to knowing this man all over again. We started in to writing letters back and forth, now I have the time to come out this way and see what he’s up to. He’s been my way before, over ten years ago. But I knew him long before that.”

“Got’s to be a whole lot of destiny on this train, and I get to see it all. You fellas better get something cool to drink before we get under way, I’ve got to check over some things before we get rolling. Great to meet you guys, let’s talk some more at the next stop, I’ve got a very special box car to show you!”

“That’ll be our pleasure mister, you sure learned us a lot as it is. You oughta write a book someday!” With that Lucas and Will went on their way for a drink, and much more to talk about. “You see how it is Will? One has only to ponder the heat, and the next thing you know, well, just look at all we found out. Something told me to take this trip, and even though it started out with trouble, we have overcome. Do ya feel better now?”
 
“Traveling is starting to seep into my blood Lucas. You never cease to amaze me.”

“You keep asking questions, there’s no telling where they’ll lead. We might just meet Bat Masterson because of that last one, and all we were thinking about was getting out of the heat.”

At the next stop, Lucas and Will were treated to an ice cold beer. The conductor kept himself a small reserve for just such occasions. “You’re gonna make me run out of cigars mister!” Lucas lamented with glee. “Thanks for the ride.” Several hours later, Yuma was the end of the line. A very welcomed end indeed.

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 8 — The Gateway Country

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

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