The Rifleman
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A Righteous Man
Written by Klara's Boy

"We got visitors, Pa ...“
Lucas lifted his head and stepped out on the porch. His observant son was right: two horsemen approached slowly the ranch in the bright sunlight, leading a third animal with them with a lifeless body across the saddle. Lucas shadowed his eyes against the blinding sun and now he recognized the one of the riders.
“That´s Micah. Looks like he ran into some trouble, son.”
Mark nodded suspiciously.
“Yes, but who is the other man?”

Lucas didn't answer but turned around and entered the house. His right hand grabbed the rifle. There was no sign of immediate danger but experience had told him to be careful especially when Mark was around. His boy was no kid anymore but … Lucas stepped out again with the gun ready to fire. The morning sun was spreading terrible heat over the green land and not a cloud was up that could have promised at least some rain. Lucas felt testy and for some reason his mouth was dry and not just because of the temperature. In the meantime Micah and his unknown companion had reached the ranch. Micah seemed tired but in a good mood, almost cheerful.
“Howdy, Lucas Boy, it's good to see you again. I bring a visitor and I am sure Mark will enjoy his company unlike that dead fella here who was unlucky enough to mess with him.”

Lucas eyed the other man: it was tall and noble looking gent in his late thirties, slender, with a trimmed moustache, a man of authority, armed with an old Colt 44 holstered at his right side, riding a black stallion with shiny fur. Lucas remained serious when he welcomed the old Marshal.
“Great to see you too, Micah. You had trouble out there?”
“You can call it that I am afraid.”
Micah dismounted warily with a painful sigh and now the Rifleman could see that a fresh poultice was wrapped around his left knee. Micah pressed his fists into his smarting back.
“The bullet just grazed my leg. I am afraid I am getting to old for that line of work.”

Mark walked closer and gazed curiously at the body over the saddle of the third horse.
“Who is that, Micah?”
Micah shook hands with his best friend before he answered the boy's question.
“That was Arthur-Claude Jenkins.”
For a moment Lucas was filled with horror and stared at the dead man whose brown shirt was blood-stained.
“Jenkins? That can´t be possible! Last time I heard about him he was in Las Cruces, gambling and drinking the town empty. He is the meanest rustler and horse thief in this country.”

Now the silent man with the trimmed moustache butted in. His voice was serene and deep.
“Was, Mister! I had the pleasure to put three bullets in him when he tried to kill Mister Torrance up there in the hills, about 10 miles from here. Seems to me that Arthur-Claude Jenkins was not that fast and tough after all. In any case: he won´t bushwhack no one anymore now. Tomorrow we bury him at the cemetery at North Fork where all those maggots belong. The West is no place for scum like that anymore, no sir.”

Micah turned around and gently touched the rein of the black horse, still avoiding putting too much weight on his injured leg.
“Come on in and feel at home, my friend. I am sure my Mister McCain will fix us a fine breakfast before we ride on.”

The stranger didn't answer and waited a moment before he dismounted swiftly while his black horse nickered nervously. Lucas watched the smooth movements of the man carefully. The fella walked over to the porch and reached his hand out. After a moment of hesitation Lucas shook it. The stranger didn't smile as he looked into the rancher's eyes. It was a frosty welcome. Mark sensed immediately the hostile tension between his father and the visitor. For a moment Micah's elegant new friend gazed down to the Winchester with the large loop, Lucas still held in his left hand.
“McCain is the name? I think I heard of you and your fast rifle.”
“Lucas McCain, that's right, Mister ….”

The stranger looked back to the lifeless body tied on the tired horse behind him. White foam covered its snout showing that it needed a rest badly. The man however seemed strangely proud of his human prey. For a moment he even appeared admiring the corpse.
“The name is Garrett, Patrick Floyd Garrett. You can call me Pat.”

Mark opened his mouth in awe.

***

“That was some piece of luck that you ran into somebody like Pat Garrett, before you caught up with Jenkins.”
Lucas finished his coffee after listening to the story of the shoot-out for the second time with all its exciting details. Micah, despite the stabbing pain in his leg was still in a cheerful mood after that dangerous adventure up in the hills.
“You got that right, Lucas Boy. Otherwise Jenkins would have nailed me like those two other deputies in Texas last year. But thanks to Pat here, that varmint will bother nobody anymore. Yes, with honest men like Pat around the West will soon be real nice place and I can finally retire. It's about time, I reckon.”

Lucas didn´t know what to say. The presence of the famous but stoic lawman made him feel more and more uneasy. And he was also worried about that injury.
“As soon as you arrive in North Fork Doc Burrage must tend to your wound.”

Micah looked down to the bandage. Dried blood had soiled the thin layers of fabric.
“It´s not that bad, don't you worry.”

Pat Garrett had remained silent during the breakfast but now he nodded slightly.
“Your Marshal is one tough man, I can tell you that. I know fellas half his age not half that good. North Fork is a lucky town indeed having someone like him in charge of law and order.”

Lucas filled his cup once again. The steam of the hot coffee warmed the air of the small room.
“You have business around these parts, Mister Garrett?”

The guest looked out of the window and feasted his eyes on the beautiful view for an instant.
“Not really, I just came back because I consider New Mexico my home, where my roots are. As a matter of fact I am pretty fond of New Mexico. I spent a great deal of my life here. I fell in love with this land when making a living as a buffalo hunter. Right now I work as a Texas Rancher but New Mexico is special in many ways. In any case I am glad that I came back here in time and met your Mister Torrance out there before Jenkins tried to use him for his target practice. Now Jenkins is dead and I am glad that the old times are dying with those criminals: this land needs peace to prosper and one day when I meet my Maker I will proud saying that I did my share to achieve that goal, yes sir.”

Mark brought a plate with some more fresh biscuits out of the kitchen. It was obvious that the boy had one question burning on his lips. After sitting down he could not hold back any longer.
“Mister Garrett … is it really true, sir … that you are the one who … I mean … did you really …”

Garrett´s voice was deep and sharp, full of undaunted self-confidence. He was no man to mess with.
“Yes, it´s true, son. I killed Billy the Kid. I shot that little rascal right into the chest in Fort Sumner without hesitating for a single second. Some folks still say I should have given him a fair chance but I was not prepared to take any chance. Not me. Yes, I sure killed him and freed that land from that scourge. The Kid was nothing but a ruthless killer and I took care of him and I am especially proud of it, yes sir.”

Suddenly the famous lawman put his empty cup back on the table and swiftly got up.
“ And now, if you don't mind … Mister McCain … I am off to North Fork and Mister Torrance will see to it that I get the bounty for Jenkins. I have $ 500 coming.“

Micah smiled despite the rude tone in Garrett's voice and Lucas was wise enough not to say anything. Micah was clearly fascinated by the appearance of his famed colleague.
“You are right, Pat. I can't wait to get home. I am pretty tired now: four days out there on a manhunt is a damn long time for an old man like me. Yes, it´s time to give up that badge and to retire, yes sir. Thanks for the breakfast, Lucas Boy. Mark still makes the best coffee in the territory.”

Lucas felt an uncertain relief when he saw the two men slowly riding off, heading for town, taking their precious trophy with them. For a moment he felt anger about Micah's close relationship with the killer of Billy the Kid, anger and yes, even jealousy.

***

Late at night Mark could not calm himself.
“Isn´t that something, Pa? Pat Garret as our guest in our house! He is so cool and elegant and upright. No wonder Billy the Kid didn't stand a chance against him.”

Lucas sat slowly up in his bed and pulled the blanket away from his bare chest. The night was too hot to find sleep anyway.
“You figure he is a hero?”

For a moment Mark turned unsure while the crickets out there continued their nightly concert.
“Why … sure. Didn’t you see Micah's expression in his eyes, when he called Pat his friend? I am sure Micah admires him as well. One day I want to be like him, like Pat Garret.”

His father frowned, turned his head and stared into the darkness but again he remained silent, fighting that uneasy feeling deep in his troubled mind. Mark was still looking for the right word to describe their visitor.
“Righteous: I figure that is the fitting word. Mister Garret is a righteous man.”

Yes, maybe that is the one thing Lucas didn't like about Pat Garret.

***

Lucas took his shirt off before he continued chopping wood in the bright sunshine. Salty sweat covered his reddened face and his sore shoulders. Lucas felt terribly tired already after a sleepless night and so he didn't notice the lurking shadow moving behind the barn, slowly coming closer without making a single noise …
Mark was still at school but he would return soon and … yes, that was just that moment when a rider galloped to the ranch. But it was not his son, it was Micah. The old man drove his horse over the field in a hurry. Lucas put the heavy axe aside and frowned, stretching his smarting back muscles. Something was not right. A minute later the Marshal stopped his exhausted animal right in front of the rancher and dismounted in a hurry although the bullet wound had not yet healed. Lucas managed to smile, wiping the sweat off his forehead.
“Howdy, Micah.”
“Lucas Boy, I've got to have a word with you, right here and now.”
“Sure, Micah, what is it?”

Micah's left hand rested on the gun that was holstered by his side. The rancher´s smile vanished in an instant. Micah was clearly troubled and alerted.
“Lucas Boy … what I want to know is this: does the name Kelly Stewart mean anything to you? Kelly Dean Stewart? I have to know.”
Lucas shook his head.
“No, can't say that I ever heard that name. Who is that man?”
For a moment here was an awkward silence between the two friends. Micah lowered his glance. Something was torturing him.
“Pat Garret told me … that you were once Kelly Stewart.”

Lucas could not believe his ears.
“What?”

Micah looked up into his friend's eyes.
“Yesterday when we arrived in North Fork Pat told me that he had recognized you right away on your porch. Back during the Lincoln County Way you were supposed to be The Kid's closest comrade, committing a couple of killings for him. He claims that he knew you instantly: towering fella with a rifle who never carries a handgun because he doesn't need one. Pat says you helped The Kid escape more than once with your Winchester, killing some deputies on the way, family men who only did their job. I can't believe that but … he swore it to me and he is a man of honor. He asked me what I knew about your past and I could not …”

Lucas stepped back, totally taken by surprise.
“Stop right there, Micah. I have no idea where Garret gets those crazy ideas but I cannot see how you can believe a single word of those lies. My name is McCain. You know that and I sure have never been to Lincoln before.”

Micah was clearly distraught, not knowing what to say or do.
“Nevertheless he considers pressing charges against you. He is not sure yet but at least he let me talk to you first. If you come in and stand trial I am sure the whole mess will be dropped in no time but …”

The rancher's face was yet again covered with sweat and now he felt anger, deadly anger.
“I am telling you: I have never seen Billy the Kid all my life. I am a humble rancher trying to make an honest living out her and I never shot anybody unless I had to. Micah, you have to believe me. I am your friend!”

Micah nodded but his voice was thin and revealed his desperation.
“Of course you are. I am gonna do whatever I can to help you but Garret is a highly respected lawman, a good friend of powerful men in the government and as you say: you are just a rancher … a rancher with a reputation.”

Lucas turned around in a hurry and buttoned up his dusty shirt. Infuriated he hurried over to the barn where his rifle was leaning.
“As soon as I am finished with that righteous lawman he will think twice before spreading stinking lies about innocent folks. I deal with him right now by shoving those lies back into his throat.”

“Won´t do you any good, sodbuster.”
Lucas swiftly swung the rifle around as he noticed the stranger next to the barn.
“Who are you, mister?”

The unknown visitor was dressed in a black suit, wearing an elegant bowler hat, a fitting necktie, a white shirt and fine leather boots giving him the distinctive appearance of a wealthy merchant from the East or even a well-respected lawyer. He was casually leaning against the wall of the building and raised his right hand as an informal greeting. Micah drew his revolver as quickly as he could and cocked it. The man with the bowler hat allowed himself a disdainful smile.
“No need for that, gentlemen. I don't carry a gun. I don't like guns, never liked them and don't believe in them either. I am sorry for trespassing though but fortunately for you, it gave me the opportunity for eavesdropping. Mighty interesting story, I must confess.”

Lucas looked around. There was nobody else in the vicinity but he remained ready for a fight.
“Is anybody with you, mister?”

The fella in the suit shrugged as if he was amused by the frantic reaction of the rancher.
“I always travel alone. And now you better listen. The half-witted Marshal over there is right: you don't stand a chance against Garret with all his connections to the governor and the rich cattlemen, even if you shoot him full of holes: that would not speak for you in court at all. You don't know if he has any evidence against you yet but showing him how good you are with that rifle by blowing his head off would not help your cause, that's for sure.”

Lucas pointed the Winchester at the man's chest. His forefinger touched the trigger.
“You´re right, you're a trespasser. What do you want?”

The fella took a white handkerchief out of his breast pocket and freed his round face from the fine dust on his full cheeks.
“I just came here for a drink of water as a friendly token of your hospitality, sodbuster.”

Lucas stepped closer and now the muzzle of the rifle almost touched the stranger's clean-shaven chin.
“I don't like that kind of talk, mister. I am telling you to leave my property right now.”

The man seemed totally unimpressed by that threat, never moving an inch.
“That´s the problem with your folks out here. You are nothing but fools. But I am in a generous mood today. I am gonna leave you now, thirsty as I am. As for you, sodbuster, you stay here and keep chopping your wood and let me take care of things. Gimme one hour. After that you can ride to North Fork yourself and see what you can do about Garret although I doubt that it's gonna be anything smart.”

Micah cautiously stepped forward until he was standing right next to his friend, still pointing his gun at the mysterious stranger.
“We all go to North Fork. I have no idea who you are and that matter with Pat is far too serious to leave it to somebody we have never seen before.”

The man grinned again, showing his white teeth.
“It sure is. Alright, have it your way. You can come with me but let me talk to Garret first. If I don't get through, you can try your luck with that fine trick rifle of yours, sodbuster.”

Lucas still didn't lower the Winchester. That hot day had turned into a crazy mess with unpleasant surprises.
“My reputation is at stake so for the last time … who are you?”
“The best friend a fool like you can have right now …”

***

“How long has he been in there now, Micah?”
Lucas kept pacing up and down in Sweeney's saloon without a break and the barkeeper was well-advised to remain a silent witness of that suspenseful scene. Micah looked through the dirty window up to the second story of the hotel on the other side of the street, also worried.
“Relax, Lucas Boy. It has only been ten minutes. We have to be patient.”

But that was the very moment when the angry rancher ran out of patience. He hurried over to the exit of the saloon, his rifle in hand.
“I have enough of that. I go over there and deal with things my way. I will teach Mister Garret some lessons he will never forget, government or no government.”
Micah shook his head.
“No need for that. Garret is leaving the hotel right now.”
“What?!”

Lucas watched the righteous lawman mounting his black horse and ride out of town without turning back. When he was gone he and Micah exchanged a surprised glance before they stepped out of the saloon. The two friends crossed the street, prepared for everything although the pain in Micah's knee was back now. Before they could enter the hotel however the smiling stranger met them.
“Everything is fine as I told you. He won't bother you anymore, sodbuster. I would be surprised if you saw him in this nice territory ever again. You see, Old Pat cannot stomach men who are better than he is. He knows that he would not stand a chance against your rifle so he resorted to slander, so typical of him. He is obsessed with being better than any other fella. If you ask me: he is just loco but one day he will pay anyway. Fools like that always pay at the end.”

Micah was stunned as he skeptically mustered the grinning man.
“You mean the whole story with Kelly Stewart was made up?”

The man headed over to his animal that was waiting patiently in the heat.
“There has never been a greater liar than Old Pat. I told him so up there in his room. He was pretty surprised to see me. You should have seen his face.”

Micah looked down to the end of the empty street just to make sure that Garrett had really left. North Fork. Deep inside he cursed himself for bonding with that crooked protector of law and order.
“How come you know him that well?”

The stranger stopped and seemed to contemplate for a second.
“It was just bad luck for Old Pat that he didn't get himself killed sooner, during the old days. He knows that he now just a relic of an era he helped to end himself by wearing that badge far too long. He would do just about anything to feel superior once more. You see, he might be walking around but he doesn't exist any longer and he knows that. Time changes but he can't change with it. Change can be hurtful and not everybody can deal with it.”

After a pensive pause he turned around and all the arrogance in his voice was gone all of a sudden.
“You´re also part of that era, Mister McCain, carrying your rifle, but you´re different. You have your son and that makes all the difference a man needs.”

Lucas was still not convinced. His voice was sharp and threatening. He felt the urge to punch the slick fella right into his face despite his help.
“What did you tell Garret up there? That I am not some … Kelly Stewart after all?”

The man mounted his little buckskin mare and took the reins into his small hands.
“No, he knew that anyway. His dirty lies just gave me the opportunity to blackmail him. If he doesn't leave you alone, I would tell the world what really happened that fateful night in Fort Sumner a couple of years ago: he lied about me as well, you know. No need to thank me though. I just helped for the fun of meeting Old Pat again, this time in broad day light for a change. I sure am glad that he has never been as good with a gun as he is with lies otherwise I would not be around anymore. ”

Before Micah and Lucas could say anything the stranger politely tipped his bowler hat.
“Gentlemen, I was a pleasure meeting you. But as far as I am concerned I am out of here. I go back to the East. Perhaps folks are not as stupid there to believe any story they are told … although I seriously doubt that. And what's more, in a couple of months I would love to witness that great event in New York. You will read about it in the newspapers soon provided you fools can read. Even the President will be there I hear. So long, sodbuster! Tend to your knee, Marshal, you're no kid anymore, you know … and neither am I.”

The childishly laughing stranger drove his spurs into his animal's sides and rode off, heading east. Lucas and Micah just stood there, unable to say a word while dense clouds of dust were drifting in the warm wind. Finally Marshall Torrance shook his head, feeling humiliation and disgrace.
“He is right. Can you forgive a stupid old fool for falling for lies about the best friend a stupid old fool like me can possibly have?”

Lucas felt how salty sweat was running over his forehead again and made his weary eyes watery but after a couple of seconds he managed to smile in relief.
“I reckon we both could use a cool beer now, Micah … but you pay.”

The old Marshal looked up and nodded.
“You bet I will.”

***

“It sure looks impressive with that torch and that crown. President Cleveland said in his speech that that new statue in the harbor is a symbol for what our nation stands for and welcomes all those huddled masses yearning to breathe free, Pa.”

Despite feeling awfully tired Mark was still studying each letter of that long article in the warm light of the lantern. Lucas had read that newspaper three times himself. There had been a couple of hundred thousand people in New York so it was unlikely that anybody had recognized the boastfully grinning stranger with the elegant bowler hat and the black necktie in the enormous crowd. The rancher thought of the noble and righteous politicians of all kinds at a unique occasion like that, holding speeches, shaking hands, kissing babies and telling the people all kinds of stories, stories folks wanted to hear, stories about change, stories not too close to the truth, only to serve somebody's selfish purposes. But then Lucas grinned as he sat down at the porch, enjoying the refreshing breeze the evening had brought and listened to the countless crickets in the bushes. It was at last time for his beloved cigar. If The Kid was really a friend of fools he would feel at home just about everywhere especially in the East where people loved to listen to crazy stories. And when they grey smoke engulfed his face he said silent prayer for the former outlaw who had saved him.

The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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