The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Blood Money
Written by Klara's Boy

“It hurts …”
“I bet it does …”
“Please … your bullet … it must have shattered my collarbone.”
“Well … that´s the spot I aimed at in order to knock you out of the saddle, Bruce. Sorry about the hard fall. The ground is quite rocky out here. Let´s get this over with. I tell you what I know and you are welcome to add any information I might need, alright?”
“My shoulder … it hurts so badly.”

“I get you to the nearest town as soon as possible. But before that you have to tell me, what exactly happened after your heist, Bruce.”

“Promise …?”
“Sure. I am a man of principles. Let´s see … after the holdup you split up. I caught up with you, but your brothers are still at large. My question is: when and where do you intend to meet again?”

“Yes, we want to meet … please, you have to take me to ...”
“I promised you, didn´t I? Please tell me where your rendezvous point is. Come on, Bruce. Otherwise I fear you might bleed to death, and we don´t want that, do we? Would you kindly tell me what I want to know?”

“Yes … we will meet on the second of March … at the Cougar´s Rock, 10 miles outside that town … south of that town, about 100 miles … to the south … Cougar´s Rock, that where we planned to meet again … I swear… it´s true … on the second of March … Burt told us that he knew the place … it was Burt´s idea …”

“See? It´s not that hard, is it? Now tell me the name of that town with that … Cougar´s Rock. I have never heard of it before. What town? Come on, Bruce. After that I take care of you.”

“You promise …?”
“I promise. You can trust me. Do you know what trust means? What´s the town´s name?”

“North … North Fork … I swear … North Fork …“

“Thanks. That´s all I need to know. I´ll take you to the nearest town now.”

“Yes … I need a doctor …”

“I don´t think you will need a doctor when we arrive, Bruce. You see: As I said I am a man of principles and my most important one is: always pick the easiest way to collect 500 dollar.”

“Please … no … I am …”

A rifle shot released the victim from his excruciating pain.

***
Three rapidly fired bullets sent three cans flying high into the air. Lucas was satisfied. Even for a master like him it was no easy task to hit such small targets posed on the fence more than 50 feet away. While he was reloading his weapon he noticed a horseman approaching the ranch. Lucas decided that he had enough practice for today. When he entered the house he was greeted by the lovely smell of the delicious meal, Mark was preparing.

“Well, I hope lunch is ready, son. It looks like we gonna have a guest today.”
“Lunch will be finished in a minute, Pa!”

The rider´s buckskin mare was walking slowly. When the man arrived he raised his right arm, showing his empty hand. Lucas returned the greeting looking at the stranger. The man was in his forties, not a giant but of a massive stature, wearing a brown jacket, leather cloves and a wide-brimmed hat. A well trimmed beard, already starting to turn grey was covering his prominent chin. The man was armed with a Colt 44 holstered at his ride side.

“I hope you don´t mind the intrusion, mister …”
“McCain, Lucas McCain.”
“My pleasure, Mister McCain. I couldn´t help seeing your place from up the hill. I would like to ask you a question.”
“Sure, but why don´t you join us for lunch? My son Mark is just preparing the meal.”
“I don´t mean to cause any inconvenience, Mister McCain.”
“Not at all.”
“In that case, I am much obliged. I haven´t eaten for two days. I really had a hard ride.”
“Be our guest, mister …”
“Kaufman, Daniel Kaufman from Colorado. At your service, Mister McCain.”
“Mark! Get one more plate ready! Mister Kaufman will join us.”

Gratefully smiling the stranger dismounted and followed Lucas into the house.

***
“Well, Mark, I consider myself an honest man and as such, I say this was the best steak, I´ve eaten for a very long time. You do have a mighty fine son, Mister McCain.”

Lucas grinned. He liked his guest. Kaufman was polite, humble and gentle. His voice was full and deep, his smiling heartwarming.

“You´ve got kids yourself, Mister Kaufman?”
“Sadly no … well, but I have two younger brothers. They were a pest at times when we were kids, I can tell you. But I love them just the same. Having a great family is the best thing that can happen to a man.”
“You wanted to ask me a question, Mister Kaufman?”
“Yes, actually two questions. First of all: is there a town called North Fork nearby?”
“Yes, you just follow the street down the hill. It´s just a couple of miles. You can´t miss it. And your second question?”
“I hear there is also a place called Cougar´s Rock around here. Is that right?”
“Yes, Cougar´s Rock is south from here, about ten miles. It´s called after a puma which was killed by an Apache chief in a bloody fight maybe hundred years ago. Do you want to go there?”
“As a matter of fact, I heard that some friends are going there for hunting. I intend to join them, since I haven´t seen them for years. They will come together tomorrow at that place as far as I know, so I better leave now. I´d hate to be late. My father always used to say: Punctuality is the politeness of kings.”

Mark laughed.
“That´s what my teacher always says when I … I mean, when some of the other kids are late for school.”

The brawny man grinned understandingly while pulling a little pouch out of the pocket of his vest.
“I hope five dollar square us up, Mister McCain. The steak was delicious indeed.”

Lucas shook his head.
“You were our guest, Mister Kaufman. I would never take money from a guest.”

Kaufman bowed forward looking Lucas straight into the eyes.
“Mister McCain, you are the friendliest man, I´ve met for a long time. Don’t insult me by declining my money. Maybe your son will need a pair of new books for school anytime soon. Education is very important in this world and bringing up a boy is not cheap. So it would be a real pleasure to me to repay my dept. Please don´t say no.”

“Well, there is surely no debt …but if you put it that way …”
Without any further words, Kaufman put the pouch on the table, left the house and mounted his horse. He tipped his hat to his host, charmingly smiling.

“So long. It was a pleasure meeting you. Maybe we will see each other again, Mister McCain. Mark.”
Father and son watched him heading south.
“He has good manners. Mister Kaufman is a real gentleman. Wouldn´t you agree, Pa?”
Lucas turned the pouch in his right hand, feeling the heavy coins in it.
“Such generous men are few and far between, Mark.”

***
Mark was on his way home from school. When he was riding through the narrow path surrounded by trees and tense bushes, he noticed a man he had never seen before. The boy stopped his horse. The stranger turned around and nodded. He looked weary and thirsty.

“Hello, boy.”
“You´re alright, sir?”
“I lost my horse a few miles back, boy.”
“I am sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“What´s your name, son?”
“Mark …”
“Alright, Mark, my name is Burt … and as a matter of fact, you can help me …”
The stranger pulled a Colt 45 out of his holster and aimed it at Mark.
“… by getting off your horse right now. Don´t try anything foolish. I hate shooting kids. But even a god fearing man such as me can do rotten things if he is forced to resort to them.”

Mark was frightened but he remembered what his Pa had told him: never to resist in such situations. So he decided to obey the stranger. No horse was worth dying for.

Mark dismounted and stepped aside into the thorny shrubs. The man nodded contently and holstered his gun. Then he took the reins. Mark was terrified. The highway man was slender and tall, wearing a dusty jacket, a red shirt and worn out pants. The crook smiled charmingly. Obviously Burt was pleasantly surprised about the encounter with the defenseless boy.

“This is really a beautiful animal, Mark. I am much obliged.”
“I raised it myself, sir.”
“Well, I appreciate that. It was very nice making your acquaintance. But now I have to leave you. There is place I have to go under all circumstances and I am already tardy. Thank you once again for your wonderful gift.”

Burt mounted up and looked into Mark´s eyes. Then he seemed to contemplate an idea.

“You know, Mark, now that you know my face … I don´t think it would be wise to let you go away and tell someone, maybe even a lawman. Of course I could make you swear no to tell anybody what happened here. But my motto has always been: better safe than sorry.”

Burt pulled out his Colt and aimed it at the boy´s head.

“You may not believe me but … I am really sorry that I have to shut you up permanently. It´s nothing personal I assure you. I understand that you´re really a fine boy, Mark. Actually I like children. Maybe one day I will have a boy just like you. I might even name him after you.”
Mark closed his eyes. When the first shot rang out, Mark fell to the ground hiding his face. But he felt no pain. A moment later he heard a second shot … and then … after a pause … a third one.

Mark fainted. Not even the heavy thud directly in front of him or the frantic nicker of his horse made him open his eyes.

After endless minutes he was brought back by a hand gently striking his cheeks.

“Come on, boy. No need to fall asleep. That brute won´t hurt you anymore …”

***
Lucas was riding to town to get some supplies when he heard three rifle shots coming from down the road. He frowned. His instinct warned him. He pulled his rifle out and spurned his horse. After a quarter of a mile he saw a movement between the trees along the road.

“Pa! I am over here!”
“Mark? You´re alright?”

Then very next moment the worried father noticed a stranger next to his waving boy. Lucas lifted his rifle, prepared to take on any threat.
“Don´t shoot, Pa! This man just saved my life.”

Lucas galloped at full speed to the trees and a few seconds later he swung out of the saddle right in front of his son. He kneeled at his beloved boy, looking into his watery eyes.

“Mark, what happened? I heard gunfire! Are you alright?”

But the sniveling boy was too worried to answer. Instead he just hugged his Pa. Nonchalantly the stranger lit a cheroot.

“Your son can count himself lucky, that I took care of things, mister.”
Lucas looked up. The stranger was a man in his thirties. He was of dark complexion, black hair and an angular body frame. Despite his smile his blue eyes seemed to stay cold. The man was neatly dressed: he wore a black jacket, blue paints, a white shirt and massive boots adorned with little beads. Lucas was highly suspicious and still prepared to do anything to defend his son.

“What happened here, mister?”
Still highly agitated Lucas rose and eyeballed the sneering rescuer, who was holding a large Winchester Model 1876, a powerful weapon built for hunting big game.

“I earned myself quite a pretty penny, mister. That´s what happened here. I can hit the right eye of a fly with my rifle let alone such a worthless rascal.”

Burt was lying right at their feet on the dusty road, starring into the cloudless sky. Blood was running out of three big bullet holes staining his red shirt. Mark, still trembling, pointed at the body.

“He first took my horse and then tried to shoot me, Pa!”
“He tried to shoot you? What man can possibly …?”
The stranger ejected an empty shell out of his Winchester.
“Your boy is right. I came just in time. The man over there used to be a member of the infamous Brooks Brothers. He was the third on my list. Now I am in for quite a sum, yessir.”

Lucas started trembling. His mouth became dry.
“Thank you, sir! Thank you … but what do you mean, mister? Who are you?”

“My name is Rafael Delgado. I am from Texas. That horse thief´s name was Burt Brooks. He and his two brothers robbed a bank in Colorado a month ago killing three guards and wounding a teller severely. I took up the chase three weeks ago. When I caught up with the youngest of them, he told me that the Cougar´s Rock was their meeting point. That´s where I ran into the second brother this morning. I was hiding behind a boulder and let him pass me. Then I placed my bullet right between his shoulders. He never felt a thing.”

“The second brother?”

“That´s right. I left him over there between the trees with my own horse.”

Mister Delgado pointed over his shoulder to the Mesquite trees where two horses were waiting. One was a buckskin mare carrying a dead body over the saddle. He turned, walked over to the animal, grasped the corpse´s bloody hair and violently lifted its head. Delgado´s well shaved face showed the pride of a successful hunter.

“That´s Bart Brooks. He used to be the oldest and meanest one of the family, that´s why he is worth as much as 800 dollar. There had never been a man more spiteful and dangerous. He liked to present himself as distinguished and bountiful gentleman and many people fell for his fine manners. I buried his victims in three different states. Well, I made sure he will never murder again.”

Mark´s eyes became wide when he saw the pale face of the dead man.
“No, that can´t be … that´s ….”

Lucas was stunned too.
“Yes, Mark … it´s Mister Kaufman. He was right yesterday. We meet again.”

***
Mister Delgado was taking a sip from the steaming hot coffee, arrogantly smiling.

“Are you now satisfied, Mister McCain? There you have all three of them: Bart, Burt and Bruce.”

After studying the mugs on the wanted posters Lucas signed. He looked at the man at his table, who was calmly smoking another expensive cheroot.

“I understand that you are not a lawman …”
“in a way, I am …”
“… but you´re a bounty hunter.”
The uncanny man puffed his cigar, sneering at the rancher whose son he had rescued from a killer named Burt Brooks.
“You have to do something for a living these days.”
“You hunt men for money.”

Delgado was about to say something but then he noticed that Mark never took his eyes of the large rifle that was leaning next to the table. The massive Winchester with the long barrel made his father´s famous gun almost look tiny.

“You like my Winchester, son? It´s the finest gun in the world. And I am the best shot you can image.”

“Well … my Pa is the best shot, I assure you, Mister Delgado.”
“Beg to differ … but I don´t think that a … rancher from a little hick town in the middle of nowhere can outshoot me. No offense of course.”
“But my Pa is …”
“Mark! I have told you a dozen times not to brag. There is always someone who is faster than you.”

“How true. Thank you for the coffee, Mister McCain. But now I have to bring those bodies to North Fork. The Marshal must confirm that I killed Burt and Bart. Burt will make his last journey laid over my horse and his older brother will travel on his own buckskin mare. After that I have a lot of money coming.”

Lucas swallowed. The cold voice of the bounty hunter made him shiver.
“Mister Delgado… I normally don´t stomach men who kill others like animals to gain a profit. But you saved my son´s life today. I am in your debt forever … more than words can tell. It will be dark soon. So I would like to welcome you as our guest. You can spend the night here. Tomorrow morning we will take my wagon to bring the two bodies to North Fork. How about that?”

Delgado smiled boastfully showing his white teeth.

“Normally I fancy hotel rooms … but I guess I can put up with a ranch for a night.”

***
The horse sniggered when the rider directed it carefully over the rocky path that lead straight over the ridge. After leaving the heights the rider galloped down the hill and headed for North Fork. The sun was sinking and wormed his wrinkled face. After a while the man noticed a ranch in the shadow of the hills. He frowned and stopped his horse. He was not too familiar with the area so he was wary. He dismounted and pulled out his Colt.

***
After tucking his son in, Lucas left the sleeping room. What a horrible day it had been! He almost had lost Mark. Despite the haughtiness he felt a great deal of gratitude towards Delgado. The bounty hunter was standing on the porch in the moonlight enjoying another cigar. He seemed to read a sheet of paper. When Lucas stepped outside the stranger folded it hastily and put it into his breast pocket. For Lucas the situation was awkward. He felt that Delgado would kill anybody without batting an eye as long as a corpse would bring money. For a moment he felt a great deal of disgust for the stuck up killer. He never could befriend him despite the rescue of Mark. The bounty hunter pulled out his golden cigar-case and opened it.

“Care for a cigar?”
Lucas shook his head. He still could not figure that man. Delgado lifted his right foot touching gently the shaft of his obviously pricey boot.

“I bought those excellent cigars in Santa Fe together with my footgear last time I got there. I intend to return to civilization as soon as possible … as soon as I have collected my harvest.”
“Your harvest …?”
“The bounty, Mister McCain. Burt is worth 500 dollar as was his younger brother. And good old Bart brings not less than 800 dollar. I am quite pleased with the outcome, very pleased indeed. But I am kinda happy that their father perished in prison a long time ago. The old Brooks had been one cruel man. Even for me it would have been tough to set a trap for him.”

Delgado buffed his cigar, starring into the night. He avoided any eye contact with Lucas.

“You don´t understand, why somebody can kill his fellow men for money, do you, Mister McCain? You might even feel like bunching me. Deep down you despise me for what I do, don´t you, Mister McCain?”

Lucas remained quiet. For a moment he saw the tears on his sobbing son´s face again. Then he eyeballed once again the face of the self-absorbed killer who plucked Mark from the jaws of death.

“No, I don´t despise you but I believe in law and order and not in manhunt. You didn´t even try to bring in one of your victims alive, did you? You murder just like the men you hunt down, for … blood money! Ain´t that right?”
“That´s right. But you wouldn´t grasp my motives anyway.”
“Try me.”

Delgado puffed his cigar before he answered with a question.
“Well, let´s see where we have to start. What´s the most important thing in life, Mister McCain?”

Lucas shrugged.
“It´s money for you, I guess.”

“No … it´s trust. Trust, I tell you! We could never build up any relationships of any kind without trust. Without trust no partnership, no friendship, no … family can exist. Trust is more binding than any contract the wisest lawyer can set up. Without trust there can be no society. We would fall back into the worst form of barbarianism. Our entire world would collapse.”

Lucas was stunned. He was something in the cold tone that made him listen very carefully.

“Alright … I agree.”

Delgado paused before he continued. His voice was like a steel blade, cutting into Lucas´ mind.

“My father was a wealthy judge in Austin, Texas. He wanted me to become a judge too. I was send to university to study the law. I liked it there. That way I learned a lot about all kinds of crime. Corruption, manslaughter, embezzlement, fraud … you name it. I saw what criminals can do. I saw honest people lose everything because they had trusted the wrong partners. Hard working men were driven from their homes by felons with or without guns. I saw it many times. I saw the tears of homeless children, starving in the arms of their desperate mother because the woman´s husband had been killed in a drunken brawl.”

“Your father was quite a man, I guess …”

“When I was 17 years old my father showed me his musket he had carried in the war and we had target practice. My father was the best man who ever lived. I loved him dearly. He spoke four languages fluently and had traveled the world. He had even been to Paris for several months. He always told me to distrust low-brow men. As a judge he knew the depravity of the common class. He knew the true character of the vulgar populace, I can tell you. He told me about the meaning of trust in a man´s life. My father explained anything to me about the abuse of trust too.”

“What happened to him?”

“One night he was shot in his own living room during a breaking-and-entering. The burglar was a goon who couldn´t even write his own name. But he was quicker on the trigger than my father. I found my father´s body lying next to the table, the pistol still in his cold hand. Two days later they arrested the murderer in a saloon, totally inebriated from the cheap booze he had bought with our money. I witnessed the hanging and felt a great deal of satisfaction. The night my father was murdered my hate was sparked. The odium in my heart keeps me going.  I made myself a rule to exterminate every evildoer and I am a man of principles.”

That moment an owl cried.

“Crime generally is not about the money alone, as you might think. Criminals do far worse:  they destroy the trust between men. Imagine a world in which no misdeeds would destroy the trust in your fellow men. It would be paradise. The real sin of criminals is the annihilation of trust. They destroy God´s paradise. They prevent us from living in heaven on earth.”

For moment Delgado´s composure, his haggard figure and his glowing eyes reminded Lucas of a picture of the Grim Reaper he once had seen in a newspaper.

“That´s why I hate criminals. Sadly I was not destined to become a judge. Maybe it was a good thing. Hate would cloud my judgment according to the written law. If I had my way I would send any criminal to the gallows regardless of his deed. Why? Because he betrayed the trust of his fellow men in some way. For that sin every lawbreaker should die. In a larger sense every petty malfeasance is a crime against mankind.”

“But …”

“The cold bodies of the brothers are already lying on your wagon in the barn, covered with blankets. Tomorrow we will bring them to North Fork and I will get my money. I need that blood money. I need it bad. Not for cigars or fancy boots as you might think. The real reason is not your concern. But my true reward is pleasure. I enjoy killing that scum. I love being an executioner… “

“How can you …”

“… and no common sodbuster will talk me out of it.”

“Listen, Mister Delgado …”

“Have you ever wondered why you´re still alive, Mister McCain? Yesterday a certain … Mister Kaufman paid you a visit, didn´t he. You let him into your house. You trusted him.”

Delgado spit the stogie out on the porch. Then he closed his eyes.
“You´re actually lucky, that you are still alive after that visit.”
Lucas´ lips were trembling. He suddenly turned very pale.
“He didn´t strike me as a vicious killer. He seemed to be a gentleman. He even paid for his meal.”

Delgado´s smile was cruel, cold and ironic.

“Well, here is the answer, sodbuster. Bart Brooks had never been a good shot. He had been craven. He always killed people who could not put up much of a resistance. Maybe he saw you with your rifle before and knew that you would defend your son fiercely.”

“I was indeed practicing with my rifle when he showed up.”
“Read the bible. Eve trusted the snake too. Good night, Mister McCain.”

***
The grey owl was satisfied. Four mice and a young rat had made the night hunt successful. Now the old bird sought refuge on a massive strut directly under the roof of the barn where it was protected against the chilling breeze. When it closed its big round eyes it was disturbed by a silent figure entering the barn. After a few seconds of listening for any sign of danger the man approached the wagon without a sound. He lifted the blankets and starred at the cold faces of the dead criminals. He signed and muttered a word. The owl looked down on him when he left the barn as silently as he came.

***
Mister Delgado couldn´t sleep a wink. He was used to elegant hotel rooms with soft beds. After an hour of tossing around he got up and put on his massive boots, caressing the fine leather for a moment. Then he took the sheet of paper out of his pocket and a further cigar. He left the house silently.

Cool night air welcomed him when he stepped out into the night. He looked up to the full moon. An owl made itself heard in the barn. Rafael Delgado smiled. Then he unfolded the yellowed paper and read it once more. While studying the words over and over again he lit a match at the wall of the house. The musing killer watched the grey cigar smoke soaring into the frigid air.

Then he heard the shot and felt the stabbing smart in his chest. He dropped to the porch, landing on his back, flipping over, quivering. For a moment Delgado was livid. He hated any disturbance while smoking one of his beloved cigars. When he tried to scream, the pain became unbearable and he lost conscience.

***
“Mark, stay down!”
Lucas had jumped out of his bed, grabbing his rifle. He looked out of the window for any sign of danger. All was quiet outside.
“Mister Delgado …?”

Lucas looked around. The bed of his guest was empty and the Winchester Model 1876 was still leaning against the wall. Carefully the rancher opened the door, locking around. Then he noticed Delgado lying on the porch. The bounty hunter was weakly moving, pressing his hands against his bloody chest.

“Mister Delgado. Can you hear me? Stay calm. I gonna get you inside the house. Just hang in there. You gonna be alright.”

Delgado groaned. Lucas lunged out of the house trying to help his wounded guest, to protect him against an unknown enemy. With his rifle cocked he kneeled next to the bounty hunter.

“Get up and drop your rifle, sodbuster.”

The voice behind him let Lucas froze. Then, playing for time, he slowly rose.

“Who are you, mister?”

“Never mind that! Get rid of your gun! Now!”

Lucas threw his rifle towards the door. From the corner of his eye he noticed Mark inside the house right next to the door only inches away from the rifle butt.

“Now turn around.”

Lucas obeyed and stepped backward, nearer to his rifle. Unbeknownst to the enemy Mark was squatting in the dark of the house, waiting for an opportunity …

A man emerged out of the dark behind the house, holding a Colt in his right hand. He was a burly fellow of advanced age, wearing stained pants, a checked shirt and a black hat. His wrinkled face was badly shaved. His hateful eyes mustered Lucas. For a moment the rancher was scared. But he didn´t let on any sign of fear.

“What do you want from me, mister? Who are you?”
The stranger cocked his gun and pointed at Delgado´s bleeding body.
“Are you a friend of this murderer, mister?”
Lucas hesitated before shaking his head.
“Then why do I find him on your porch?”
“That´s none of your business.”
“It is since two of my boys are lying in your barn. I was waiting for them at the appointed place but my sons didn´t show up. I figured they were waiting for me in North Fork. But I was wrong, dead wrong.”
“So you are Mister Brooks senior, aren´t you.”

The old man smiled, showing his brown teeth.

“The name is Bernhard Brooks, in former times called “Bloody” Brooks. During the war my outfit was the terror of those Yankees in Georgia and Tennessee. I used to lead a small guerilla unit behind enemy lines and we slaughtered more bluecoats then our beloved General Nathan Bedford Forrest on any battlefield. Once after a successful raid the general even shook hands with me to show his gratitude. That was quite a day, yessir. Maybe you have heard about me, sodbuster?”

“Can´t say I have, Mister Brooks.”

“Anyway …when I passed by your place in the evening heading back for North Fork I saw you standing on your porch talking to this man. Then I knew that I would never see my sons again. I know Rafael Delgado well and he knew my boys. As a matter of fact his beloved dad once sentenced me to prison. Some folks still think I died in there. Well, they couldn´t be more wrong.”

The eyes of the old man became wistful.

“The son of a judge working as a bounty hunter and killer, that´s what I call irony. He simply murdered my boys for blood money. Those splendid boys were slaughtered like cattle. I had always been so proud of them.”
Lucas felt anger growing inside himself.
“You might consider that your … boys were killers themselves. Burt for instance tried to shoot a kid in order to steal his horse not far from here.”

The old man tittered.

“Yes, Burt was always my favorite. He had a very practical way of thinking. Burt was the smartest of them while Bart was really wayward and capricious at times, not to mention very prudent, even gutless. And Bruce … he once killed an old clergyman just for his pocket watch. He came after his mother; God bless her. Do you know how it is to raise kids without a mother? It´s not easy I can tell you!”

The former guerilla waited for an answer but Lucas didn´t say anything, just starring at his enemy.

“Well, I was just about to set your barn ablaze when that low-down butcher stepped out of this house. I saw him lighting his cigar. That made him a nice target. Smoking can be a bad habit, I guess. Now you will die with him, sodbuster.”
“I didn´t harm your sons, Mister Brooks. I never …”
“You were harboring the man who killed members of the Brooks family. Nobody harms my family without answering to me!”

“One more thing, Mister Brooks: where is the money from the robbery you have committed in Colorado?”

“Not that you have to care about that … but the money is in my saddle bags. We decided to split it the whole sum of 12.000 dollar into equal shares at the Cougar´s Rock. That was Burt´s idea, by the way. But now it is all mine, I guess. And you ain´t gonna live to tell anybody, sodbuster.”

That very instant Delgado lunged up. With all the strength he had left in his haggard body he kicked his massive boots into the killer´s hollow of the right knee. Brooks screamed, spun around and fired a quick shot at the bounty hunter at his feet.

“Pa!”

Before Brooks could react, Mark had picked up the rifle with lightning speed and tossed it out to his father. Brooks cocked his Colt to kill Lucas but it was already too late. Being an old man, he was not fast enough. Without hesitation Lucas fired five shots. The massive impacts of the bullets jerked the screaming killer around several times. His Colt flew out of his hand. For a moment Brooks tried desperately to stay on his feet, gasping and groaning, pressing his fingers against his bleeding stomach. With eyes wide open the old bandit seemed unable to grasp the fact that his wicked life ended in a very sudden way. While he was staggering off the porch his mouth muttered one last word with low voice.
“A … boy …”
Then his body hit the ground raising some dust.

Lucas bowed over Delgado. The dying bounty hunter was smiling weakly, almost blissfully.

“Well, saving other people could become a nice habit, wouldn´t you say, Mister McCain.  And I was definitely wrong about your skills as rifleman, I can see that now. I wish I had not …”
“Don´t speak. We get you to a doctor.”
“Won´t do … any good anymore. But now you have to … the money … it´s all in the letter … you have to … please … I trust you … McCain … that´s why … I am so sorry … so sorry …”
“You don´t have to apologize for anything, Mister Delgado. You saved my son´s life once more and mine too.”
“The bounty … please … I trust you … I wanted to do it myself but now … you … I … trust …”

Then he closed his eyes never to open them again.

Mark hesitantly exited the house, picking up the sheet of paper that had fallen out of Delgado´s hand.

“Pa … you´re alright?”
“Sure … thanks to him and you, son.”

***
The owl was old and appreciated a peaceful hideout to spend the rest of the night. The shots had disturbed the shy bird. So it spread its wings and left the barn looking for a quiet place up in the hills behind the ranch. When it flew over the house it spotted two human beings hugging each other on the porch.

***
“Is everything alright, John?”
Hamilton nodded.
“I took care of everything, Lucas. You know, dealing with money is my specialty.”
Both men grinned.
“I contacted the bank manager directly so the family shall get the money within two or three days.”
“Thank you, John.”
The neatly dress bank manager smiled gleefully.
“Well, I guess it´s the least we can to for the late Mister Delgado. Hello Micah.”
Both men turned towards the entry of the bank office. The old Marshal seemed relieved and happy.
“Hello, boys.”
“How did it go, Micah?”
“Well, my colleague in Colorado will make sure that the loot will be shipped back to the bank within a week. In the meantime it stays in your safe, John.”
Lucas picked up his rifle and tipped his hat to his friends.
“Well, now it´s time to go back home.”
Micah smiled.
“Sure. Lucas boy. Take care. And be more careful about unexpected visitors.”

***
After sundown Lucas was enjoying his cigar out on the porch. After doing his homework Mark joined him.
“Pa … what did the letter exactly say?”

Lucas sighed.

“Well, the letter was from a destitute widow in Texas addressed to a friend of Mister Delgado´s father. The friend is an attorney at law in Austin. Her husband was murdered by the Brooks Brothers some years ago leaving her indebted with four small kids, one of them rather sick. To top it off an unscrupulous bank manager tries to drive the woman from her land, foreclosing a mortgage. So she begs for help in that letter but explaining at the same time that she had no cent left to pay the lawyer. The doctors for her child cost a pretty penny, you know.”

“That´s horrible, Pa. I feel so sorry for that woman.”

“Yes, life can be mighty cruel sometimes. Anyway, Mister Delgado killed the Brooks Brothers to make them literally pay for their crime. He wanted to send his bounty to that widow. That was his last wish. I am grateful that there was an exact address mentioned in the letter. But don´t you worry: Mister Hamilton took care of things and transferred the money directly to the bank account of the widow.”

“Will it be enough, Pa?”
“Search me. But it will be quite a help for that woman.”
“I never would have thought that such a conceited man would go out of his way to help a poor family. He was so full of himself and yet ....”
Lucas looked at his musing son.

“Despite the fact that he was ruthless killer he was a good man. I am glad that we came to know him. He did a lot for us.”
“Pa … is there any possibility that we … I mean … that we could become that poor and indigent?”

Lucas paused. He knew that the life of a rancher was subject to many rules. Living as a rancher meant dealing with many limits, dangers und insecurities. There was always the possibility that something could go wrong just like the night before.

“Well … Mark … let me put that way: as long as we have each other … I don´t fear anything.

Then father and son smiled while the owl could be heard in the barn.

The End

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

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