The Writer's Corner
Written by Klara's Boy
The fire was slowly going out. The four men sitting around it
seemed tired and worn out, but when hoof beat approached the men
grasped their guns, jumped up and starred into the night, ready
to take on any adversary. After a few seconds however they
relaxed and lowered their weapons.
“Rest easy, men, it's just Ben. It's really about time.”
A young man reined his horse and dismounted. When he stepped
towards the fire one of the waiting man greeted him.
“Welcome back, Ben, took you long enough. I am glad you did it
without getting your head blown off. That would have been quite
“Bad weeds grow tall. No need to worry, Jake. Is the coffee
“Help yourself, Ben. After that I am eager to hear your report.”
Ben, a buck toothed boy with freckles and a snub nose, was
obviously unsure what to say while enjoying his coffee.
“Well, you were right about the name of the town, Jake. It's
North Fork, alright. Nice little town. And there is the bank
too. The manager's name is John Hamilton. Looks like a typical
clerk. Won't give us any problems, I guess. The way I see it,
butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.”
“You did fine, just fine, Ben. I am proud of you, my friend. Any
Ben scratched his head before taking a sip. Then he sheepishly
“Just a pretty old marshal, Micah Torrance. Carries a
double-barreled shotgun but is clearly over the hill. I think we
can handle him easily. But frankly … we ought to reconsider the
plan and maybe … chose another town. There are other banks, you
know. Jake, I don't mean any disrespect but I have a bad feeling
about that one.”
For a moment Jake was slack-jawed before starting to grin.
“Well, Ben, I can't talk for the boys here but I for one ... I
am quite positive that we can take on a lonely old man. What do
you say, boys? Would you be hard-boiled enough to master your
fear when push comes to shove?”
The other three men, heavyset hulks in their prime just laughed.
Jake was obviously satisfied about his choice to hit the bank of
North Fork. He was a grizzled outlaw, lean and dressed in black,
self-confident and disingenuous, an experienced gunfighter who
knew perfectly well how to use the two Colts 44 hanging at his
sides to achieve his goals. Jake had shown to his young friend
on more than one occasion how ruthless he could be. Ben on the
other hand could have been a choirboy, blond and simple minded,
anything but eager or ambitious. He was not even evil or
iniquitous, only inexperienced and uneducated, therefore easy to
manipulate. He had joined the gang in order to gain protection,
recognition and maybe some money to start a new life after being
driven away from home by his abusive father, a heavy drinker.
Now the young man was carrying the Colt, Jake once had presented
him as a gift and as token of his esteem. The old outlaw's
friendship was the only thing Ben valued since it gave his life
a certain meaning.
The other three bandits standing at the fire were brawny goons,
rough-hewn and implacable, maybe brothers, since they bore a
strong resemblance with their full beards and bushy brows. They
didn't talk much but their fearsome appearance and their guns
spoke loudly for their nasty disposition. All things considered
Ben's meek traits seemed strangely incongruous among those
“Jake, I am serious. North Fork, that's the town where that man,
Lucas McCain, lives. That's exactly why I do have a very bad
feeling about your plan, sir.”
Jake showed a presumptuous smirk.
“Now you have us even more scared, Ben. Who's that fella?”
“Have you ever heard about the … Rifleman, Jake?”
The grizzled bandit stopped grinning. He didn't even notice his
own knee-jerk reaction: his right hand moved down to his
“What did you just say? The Rifleman?”
Ben nodded eagerly. For a moment the boy hoped that Jake would
call off the planned undertaking. Maybe McCain's reputation
could make him go in another direction. For a heartbeat the
grey-haired killer was clearly on unsure footing, showed even
signs of anxiety.
“I heard about that sodbuster back then in Yuma. No man with a
Ben interrupted his boss.
“Any men with a handgun who was foolish enough to go against the
Rifleman never went anywhere after that except to the
Jake seemed to contemplate. But then he sneered. His anxiety was
“Well, I'd say … this is one more reason to pay North Fork a
The old man on horseback was waiting, looking down the grassy
hill. Impatiently he pulled his pocket watch out and sighed:
half an hour late. Then he noticed a movement downhill. A second
rider, a young man, approached, beginning the ascent on a
buckskin horse. After a few minutes he reined his horse in front
of the old man, grinning, tipping his hat. The man on the top of
the knoll remained motionless, giving the young man a hairy
“You´re pretty late, Larry. I am not in the habit of paying for
“Sorry, my dear sir. Came as quick as I could.”
Larry grinned, obviously enjoying himself. He was barely older
than 19 years, blond, lithe and lissome, sweaty and dusty.
“I found him. He is a well-respected citizen in a town nearby.
Everybody there knows him.”
“What´s the name of the town?”
Larry gazed up to the relentless sun covering his eyes while his
horse was whinnying loudly.
“Well, ain´t it hot today, my dear sir? I intend to visit the
nearest saloon after our meeting in order to get myself a cool
beer. But being an honest man I don't wanna do it on the nod …”
The old man hesitated for a second before taking a small pouch
out of his breast pocket. He looked at it before reluctantly
tossing it to Larry who caught it in the air.
“15 dollars as agreed, Larry. Now, what's the town's name?”
The smart boy enjoyed teasing his partner.
“You really wanna know, sir. You strike me as someone who wants
to settle a score, ain´t that right? Well, that's what I am
normally getting paid for: providing information for people who
have killing on their mind. Am I right?”
The old man didn't dignify that statement with an answer but
Larry kept on swanking.
“That´s an exciting feeling. I've always enjoyed that. It's
almost like pulling the trigger myself. Maybe one day I will
work for Pinkerton. I got the talent for that line of work,
though I am much underestimated at times. Maybe it's time to
make a living out of it in an official way. Do you know what I
His client remained motionless. His hands were calmly resting on
his saddle horn but his eyes glare daggers at Larry.
“The name of the town? Stop needling me. I am not exactly famous
for being a patient man, Larry. And you are about to harsh my
mellow. You would not like that.”
“North Fork, about 10 miles from here, straight to the south.
You can't miss it, my dear sir.”
The client frowned, seemed to contemplate. Then he allowed
himself a smile.
“You did fine, Larry, real fine.”
Larry didn't care for the threatening sound of his client's
“When I'm paid, I always follow my job through. Seems to me that
I have to refresh your memory: my last client was so satisfied
with my service that he recommended me to you. That's the soul
of my business: the satisfaction of my customers.”
The old man was unimpressed.
“Well, I heard that after receiving his money you went straight
to his victim and warned him about your client's intentions …
for a little price of course. That way you earned yourself a
pretty penny from both sides.”
For a moment the sleazy snitch seemed embarrassed, even
“I figure you as far too clever to believe such stinking lies. I
would never turn on my clients as long as they pay me as
handsomely as you did, my dear sir.”
“You´re the without any doubt the most barefaced liar I've ever
met. Now you will forget that you have ever laid eyes on me,
understood? You have never heard of me.”
“Of course, my dear sir. Discretion is part and parcel of my
“Sure. I´ve already forgotten how you look like, sir.”
“That´s the way it´s supposed to be. Now beat it, Larry. We will
never see each other again.”
The snitch smiled and put the pouch into his shirt's breast
pocket. Then he respectfully tipped his hat and turned his horse
in order to ride down the knoll. That very moment, his client
felt compelled to remind him once again about his promise.
“Not a word to anyone. Got that, Larry?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Have it your way, Larry.”
Without hesitation the client drew his revolver and pulled the
trigger. The bullet hit the informer in the back, throwing him
out of his saddle. With arms widely spread the young man dropped
to the ground, gasping and screaming. For a moment he was lying
on his face then he tried to get back on his feet. His client
calmly cocked the gun and took aim. When Larry looked up, the
old man fired a second shot, killing the young man instantly.
After the smoke had cleared the murderer dismounted and walked
down to the body. With the tip of his right boot, the turned
Larry around. He bowed forward and took the pouch out of the
“Any physician can tell you that too much beer is unhealthy
anyway, Larry. And don't you forget: not a word to anybody.”
“Hurry Mark, Micah will be here any minute.”
“Ready in a minute, Pa.”
Lucas was in front of his barn, chopping wood while Mark was
preparing the meal. It was a hot day and the rancher was
enjoying a short break. Today Micah would join them for lunch
and Lucas was looking forward to have a nice talk with his best
Suddenly Lucas noticed a movement from the corner of his eye. He
looked up and saw a rider approaching the ranch. Lucas frowned.
He had never seen the man before so he put the axe aside and
made sure his rifle was in reach.
The stranger was a slender man, almost as towering as Lucas but
much older. The most prominent features of his weathered face
were a grey moustache and high cheekbones. He was wearing a
leather jacket, a red shirt, a black hat and grey pants. At his
hip a long barreled Colt with a beautiful ivory grip could be
seen. His charisma was that of a man who had kept authority over
other people. Maybe he was a former officer or retired
politician. When he reached the house, he tipped his hat.
“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind telling me where I might find
the town of North Fork?”
“Not at all, mister. You just follow the street down the hill.
It's just a couple of miles. But you look weary. You would be
more than welcome to join us for supper.”
“No thank you, mister, but I would be grateful for a drink of
water. The heat sure takes its toll on me.”
“The well is over there. Help yourself.”
“Much obliged, sir.”
The stranger dismounted from his grey mare. His smooth
movements, though slowly and tired, were still indicating the
strengths that once had made his impressive body resilient and
vigorous. Without any further remarks the reticent man led his
horse behind the barn heading for the well. But Lucas had no
opportunity to ask further questions because a second rider
approached. This time it was Micah Torrance. The old Marshal
smiled when he dismounted.
“Is lunch ready, Lucas boy? I could eat a buffalo all by
“I hope so. How are you, Micah?”
“Can´t complain, Lucas. In town things are alright.”
“I am glad you could arrange it, Micah.”
“Grateful for the hospitality, Lucas boy.”
“You should come up here more often. You're always welcome.”
That very moment the aloof stranger returned from behind the
barn. His black hat, the sleeves and the upper part of his red
shirt were soaking wet in order to cool him for at least a few
“Much beholden, sir. I have to leave now. So long.”
“Don´t mention it, mister. So long.”
But when the old man was about to mount he noticed Micah's
presence. The Marshal was utterly bowled over.
With one foot in the stirrup he angular stranger frowned in
disbelief. His dark eyes widened.
“Micah … is it possible? I can't be …”
“Yeah, it's me …Tom.”
Lucas had never seen Micah act so spontaneously. Micah stormed
forward and hugged the other man. For a moment Lucas was
flabbergasted. After some seemingly endless seconds the two old
men looked each other in the eyes. Micah was almost sobbing for
“15 years. It must be 15 years by now. Wouldn't you say, Tom?”
“Make it 17 years, Micah. I would never have thought that I
might find you here. Still wearing a badge, I see. Years have
been pretty friendly to you, you old no-good rustler. How are
you doing, you old horse thief?”
“Don’t use such names, Tom! Lucas might get the wrong
impression. I am a much respected citizen in these parts. And I
would like to be reelected next year, you know!”
Still hugging the much bigger man, Micah turned to Lucas, who
was still rather bewildered.
“Lucas, I want you to meet Tom Tonoson. I used to be his chief
deputy a long time ago. He taught me everything a lawman has to
know. Back in the days …”
The towering stranger was laughing. All his dignity displayed
only minutes ago had vanished.
“I hope the invitation is still standing, Mister …”
“McCain, Lucas McCain. Of course it is still standing. Micah's
friends are also my friends.
The three men went inside, greeted by the delicious smell of
“Do you remember how it was back in Salinas? There was that
claim jumper hiding in the mine firing at any man who was
foolish enough to come into rifle ranch. What was his name
“John Harriot. He was a fast gun but against us he didn't stand
a chance, Micah. Nobody had the guts to get him out of there but
when we arrived at the scene …”
“… the matter was settled within ten minutes.”
“Make that five minutes.”
“Let´s agree on seven but not one single second more.”
During the meal Micah and Tom kept on refreshing their memories
about staggering adventures, wild shootouts and ruthless
criminals long gone and buried. The whisky Lucas had served kept
the tongues wet and so the atmosphere was hilarious at least for
the two buddies.
Lucas and Mark were the hosts but they had hardly the
opportunity to utter a word in order to join the conversation.
Of course Lucas was happy for Micah for having such a pleasant
reunion but at the same time he felt a galling feeling rising
deep inside his heart. Was it jealousy? He used to be Micah's
best friend, but now he felt that that friendship was about to
enter a new stage. The unexpected arrival of the mysterious
guest had Micah turned seemingly at least 20 years younger.
“Tom, can you still hit a coin thrown into the air?”
The old man shrugged smilingly.
“Well, I am totally out of practice, I am afraid.”
That was the only time Tom addressed his host who was a mere
mute during the whole meal.
“But I heard a great deal about your shooting skills, Mister
McCain. The man they call the Rifleman. I wonder if you are as
good as I used to be. What do you think, Micah?”
“I would hate to live on the difference.”
Lucas smiled politely but at this point the guest was starting
to test his patience. He caught himself looking for a plausible
excuse to get rid of Tom Tonoson. But he was well aware that
Micah could take amiss any sign of impoliteness towards his old
boss. So Lucas decided to wait and play his part as fifth wheel
in that fold. Mark on the other hand seemed to be fascinated by
the stories, the two old men kept exchanging. This time the boy
didn't even point out that his father's shooting skills were
second to none. He was obviously charmed by the overwhelming
charisma of Micah's friend.
“You were really that good with a gun, Mister Tonoson?”
“I sure was, son. Sadly there are not many men left to confirm
Micah let out a ripple of laughter.
“You know, Lucas, Tom was famous for two things: his fast draw
and his success with the ladies. He was … well… a … “
“Why don't you spell it out, Micah … a philanderer. Yes, I was a
strapping guy. Wouldn't you agree, Micah?”
“Sure, but that ended in a heartbeat when you met that Mister
Grierson and his fetching daughter … what was her name again? I
am sorry but sometimes my memory lets me down lately, Tom.”
Suddenly Tom´s voice became deep and somber, almost gloomy.
“Cathy, Cathy Grierson.”
Micah couldn't help leering at his old friend before explaining
the fateful event to Lucas.
“Yeah, there was that stagecoach hold up and we turned up just
in time to stop those fellas. Tom here showed me how to deal
with four robbers at a time. Well, after an instant, there were
only two of them left. When we asked the passengers if they were
alright that lovely young lady and her father left the
Lucas smiled, anticipating the end of the story.
“Love at first glance I guess, Mister Tonoson.”
“More than that, Mister McCain, far more than that.”
Micah nodded eagerly.
“Well, the angelic lady changed Tom completely. After a couple
of weeks he gave up his job and left me in charge. He said I
knew enough to do the job on my own, without his guidance. That
made me very proud back then, I gotta admit. Tom gave up
everything and followed Cathy back to the East. Sure a shame
that I missed the wedding. Well, how is Cathy? Why didn't you
bring her along? I would have loved to see her again.”
After a painful pause Tonoson uttered a barely understandable
“Micah, Cathy died a long time ago.”
For an endless minute there was a mournful silence in the room.
Micah was the first to speak again. At one fell swoop all the
gleeful atmosphere was completely gone.
“Well, Tom, I don't know what to say. I cannot express how sorry
“It´s alright, Micah. I took me years to get over it. But I made
it. It was unbearable but I made it … somehow.”
“How did she …”
“She just perished. Not to matter. No need to talk about the
Lucas felt compelled to say something since he knew that kind of
sorrow all too well.
“And what did you do after your loss, Mister Tonoson?”
“My wife and I had put a considerable amount of money aside to
buy a new house in order a raise a family. Well, I used the
money to see the world. I bought a ticket and left for Europe. I
couldn't stand staying at home where everything reminded me of
Cathy. But Cathy was with me, everywhere I went.”
“Where did you go?”
“It´s not important right now. I … don't want to be a
disturbance any more. Micah, is there a hotel in North Fork you
Lucas and Mark got off their wagon in front of the blacksmith.
“You go ahead to the hotel, Mark. I'll join you there when the
horse has got its new shoes.”
“Everything alright, son?”
“Well, go ahead then Mark. I will be there as soon as possible.”
When Mark stepped out on the street he noticed Tom Tonoson
leaving the hotel. First Mark was not sure what to do but then
he walked up to the old man. Tonoson smiled when he saw the boy.
“Good morning, sir.”
“I must say, I like your town’s hotel. I have slept like a log.
By the way, Mark … I really enjoyed your lunch yesterday. I hope
you're also as talented at school as you are as cook.”
“I … try to be, sir.”
“That´s what counts in life, son. If you are prepared to study
hard and constantly broaden your knowledge I am sure you will go
places. Maybe you can even become a doctor some day. The
relationship between a physician and his patient is like no
other in the world. Always remember that, son.“
“I will, sir.”
While they were talking, Tonoson noticed a group of five
horsemen entering the town. A grizzled man, dressed in black and
armed with two Colts was calmly riding point on a buckskin
stallion. A blond boy with freckles and a snub nose was riding
right next to him, nervously peeking around. Three dangerously
looking goons with long beards were following them, covering
their leader from behind by slowly fanning out on the street on
their dusty horses. It was a well coordinated move, almost in a
military style. The bunch resembled a pack of hungry wolves
determined to bring down a moose. The former lawman frowned. His
right hand went down to the holster at his side.
“Yes, Mister Tonoson …?”
“I want you to take cover. Get into the hotel and stay there
until it´s over. I am afraid we are about to get into serious
“What do you mean, sir …?”
“Do as you're told. Hurry! They're poised to strike and ain´t
gonna be pretty.”
That very moment Mark noticed the strangers too. But being
curious he remained where he was. Tonoson stepped in front of
the boy, covering him with his own body. Now the riders passed
the former lawman, ignoring him. But Tonoson tipped his hat
their grey-haired leader, vaguely smiling.
“Hello, Jake Sterling. Long time no see. Heading for the bank, I
The outlaw turned his head and reined his horse. He gazed down
on Tonoson. After a few seconds of contemplating he recognized
his old foe.
“Tom Tonoson? You here? What …?”
“Yes, it's me, Jake. Let's settle things once and for all.”
There was no need for further conversation. Within a second both
men drew their guns and fired at each other without any
When the first shots rang out, Lucas stormed out of the barn
where his horse was about to get new shoes. While running he
cocked his rifle. He came just in time to watch one of the bank
robbers aiming at Mark. Before Lucas could fire, the killer
pulled the trigger. The bullet missed Mark's head only for
inches hitting a wooden post instead. Sharp splinters flew over
the boy’s head. Mark dropped to the ground. Lucas could not see
if his son had been hit since a tense cloud of grey gunsmoke
covered the shooting men. Tonoson kept on firing undaunted by
the bullets hitting the wall behind him missing him only by
inches. The old lawman was still trying his best to protect
Mark. The noise was earsplitting. Lucas lunged out in the middle
of the street, went down on his knees and released a hail of
lead. That way the bandits were caught in a deadly crossfire.
Their desperate attempt to escape proved to be futile. One by
one they fell off their rearing horses never to rise again. Jake
was the last one alive. The old bandit was already hit in the
left shoulder but he turned in his saddle and aimed his gun at
Lucas. However the furious ranger gave him no chance to shoot
anymore. Two well-aimed bullets knocked Jake off his whinnying
horse. Moaning and gasping he tried to get up but after a few
seconds he sank back into the bloody dust, surrounded by the
corpses of his comrades. With fading strength Jake turned his
head. Only ten feet away Ben was lying on his face, still
holding the smoking gun in his right hand. With breaking eyes
Jake starred at his young friend's lifeless body.
“Your bad feeling … you were … right about … the Rifleman … Ben
... I am … sorry ... didn't want that …”
When Lucas rushed over the street and kneeled next to his
beloved son, hugging him, Jake had already breathed his last.
When Mark and Lucas watched the bodies being removed from the
street they heard a familiar voice behind them.
“Lucas Boy …”
“Yes, Micah …”
“I am sorry. I should have … well, I was asleep in my office,
when Jake Sterling and his bunch arrived. I should have faced
them, not Tom. He is not wearing a badge anymore, I am. It is
all my fault.”
Lucas smiled, trying to calm Micah, knowing how dutiful the old
man normally was.
“There is nothing you have to apologize for, Micah. Mister
Tonoson recognized them when they rode in and took charge of the
situation. I understand now why you are so fond of him. He must
have been really a great role model when he was younger.”
But Micah was far from being satisfied.
“But Mark! I could never forgive myself if Mark was hurt because
of my laziness. It is my duty to protect the citizens, not
Tom's. How are you, Mark? What did Doc Burrage say? What about
The boy shrugged. Except for a few scratches on his temple and
his forehead he got out of the gunfight totally unharmed.
“I am alright, Micah. Don't worry. I just got hit by a few
splitters. Mister Tonoson protected me. Pity that you didn't
watch him during the fight. He drew his gun with lightning
speed. He is so calm and self-confident. I think I shall become
a lawman just like he is.”
Micah lowered his glance. Suddenly Lucas was aware of the fact
that his best friend was going through in a deep crisis.
“Micah, don't get upset. Every week Mark comes up with a new
idea about his dream job. I think there is no profession my son
hasn't considered yet.”
Micah shook his head. The hapless Marshal was deeply disturbed,
full of self-doubts and despair.
“Well, maybe you should persuade Tom to stay in North Fork for
good. Then you can vote for him. Why don't you put him in
charge, with Mark as his deputy? Maybe it's time for me to leave
the job to somebody who is … older than me.”
Micah turned around and headed back to his office, with
shoulders hung. Lucas tried to hold his friend back in order to
“Micah, please, nobody has said anything about replacing you.
Come on, you will always …”
But the old man didn´t listen. Lucas realized that important
changes were about to affect not only his own life.
As usual the saloon was empty after a shootout. Only a silent
figure was sitting motionless at a table, staring at the wall,
holding a shot of whiskey between the fingertips. Sweeney just
had brought another bottle. Lucas sighed before walking up to
the lonesome guest.
“Mind if I join you, Mister Tonoson?”
Like suddenly awoken from a beautiful dream the former lawman
“Not at all, Mister McCain. Sit down.”
Lucas put his rifle on the table and took a chair.
“Well, I just would like to thank you for your help this
morning. Without your support … who knows what would have
Tonoson shook his head. His dark eyes were lying deep in their
“I did nothing. I was just pretending to be a lawman again,
Mister McCain. That´s what I also told that Mister Hamilton when
he shook my hand to thank me. But I have to compliment you: your
reputation is richly deserved. You are even as fast as I used to
be back then before I met Cathy.”
Lucas felt very uneasy so he chose his words with extra care.
“I would love to hear about your travels. How did you manage to
end up in Europe anyway?”
Tonoson´s voice was calm and deep, warm and … strangely ominous.
“I got myself a ticket in New York and went onboard. It was an
icy evening and snow was falling. After arriving in Europe I
spent several months in France but I didn't like it there. That
strange language was not to my liking. And then somehow I ended
up in England. I found myself a job and made myself a living.
But I never managed to get my wife's face out of my head. I
still can hear her voice at the wedding when she whispered “I
do”. Nobody can fathom the insufferable pain I still feel inside
me after all these years.”
“I can. I lost my wife too, Mister Tonoson.”
“Really? Mark's mother? How did she die?”
“Well, she became sick when Mark was still almost a baby and …”
“Mister McCain, I am deeply sorry about your loss but my wife
was murdered and I didn't even notice it.”
“It was … murder?”
“I am not sure if a jury came to that verdict but I am firmly
convinced about that. I became very late aware of the fact that
my wife fell victim to a killer, but not too late.”
“Who did it? Maybe you should tell Micah the identity. Perhaps
we can …”
“There are only two men who know the killer's name: me and God.
And I am not going to change that. The murderer can't hide from
the both of us. I cut a special deal with the Good Lord: he will
help me to find the killer and in return I will fulfill His
will. So I can be sure to catch up with the killer. My only
comfort during the last maddening years was to meet Cathy again
some time. In fact it´s the only wish I have left in this
Then Tonoson seemed to come out of a haunting nightmare. He
looked up and grinned sheepishly. His deep voice changed its
tone once again becoming softer and smoother.
“My apologies. I forgot to ask how Mark is. I trust he was not
badly injured during the gun battle?”
“Mark is fine, thanks to you. Our physician took care of him
“It was good luck that the doctor was around, Mister McCain.”
Lucas nodded smilingly.
“Doc Burrage is a good man, the best doctor you can imagine. In
fact, I don't think that there is anybody around here who was
not saved by Burrage at least once. He cut a couple of bullets
out of me too, I have to admit.”
“Has Micah also gotten hurt in his line of duty during the last
“More than once, I can assure you. He has got a lot of guts.
Only a couple of years ago, this town was not as quiet and nice
as it is today. Today it's off limits to most of the gunmen
thanks to Micah. But before that Micah went to great lengths to
drive all kinds of scum out. It seems to me that you had trained
him very well. Therefore our citizenry owe you a great deal of
gratitude, Mister Tonoson. Me in particular.”
“I am glad that I could be of help.”
Lucas tried his best to cut into the topic as carefully as
“In fact, maybe you should have a private talk with Micah. I am
under the impression that he is … upset that he was not by your
side during the fight. Perhaps his self-confidence is now
“If you are trying to say that Micah is deeply ashamed because
of the fact that he was sound asleep while his friends had to
defend their town against the most ruthless gang of bank robbers
west of Chicago on their own… well, I inclined to agree with
him. We were lucky today, Mister McCain, very lucky indeed. Jake
Sterling was one of the most dangerous criminals I have ever
seen. And that means something, let me assure you. He used to be
an officer in the Army of Northern Virginia. It´s said that
after his younger brother's death at Chancellorsville he was on
the crazy side. After the war he gained quite a reputation as
rustler and bank robber. He killed two of my best deputies
during a meticulously planned holdup in Colorado many years ago.
Micah helped me burying them.”
Lucas grew indignant and shook his head. His right hand moved to
the rifle's butt.
“You better get two things straight, Mister Tonoson. First:
Micah is my best friend and I hate to see him in such a
miserable state. So I strongly urge you to help him. How is up
to you. Second: Micah is also the best Marshal a town can have.
There should be more lawmen like him. He surely deserves your
respect and your support. Just talk to him.”
Tonoson seemed to ruminate for a while.
“So, what are you trying to say is that the town has an
outstanding Marshal and an outstanding doctor. Ain´t that
“That´s right. Life around these parts wouldn't be the same
without those two men.”
Lucas got up and was about to leave the saloon when Tonoson came
up with a last question.
“By the way: How old is Mark?”
“Just turned 15.”
“My sons would also be at about that age.”
“My sons were murdered together with their mother, Mister
After cleaning the dishes Mark stepped out on the porch, where
his father was sitting, buffing a cigar and starring into the
summer night, which was hot and humid.
“What are you thinking about, Pa?”
Lucas looked up.
“I sure am glad that you are alright, son.”
“But … what do you think about Micah, Pa?”
“We were lucky today but I figure we have to keep an eye of
Micah and Mister Tonoson. The incident today has changed their
friendship fundamentally. Micah might be afraid that he has lost
his touch. He thinks he has embarrassed himself. He always has
tried to live up to his role model but now …. “
“ … now you are afraid that Micah my resort to his old most
trusted friend again … booze. Ain´t that right, Pa? It sure is
an iffy situation. Micah gotta find his pride again, I suppose.”
For a moment Lucas didn't know what to say. But then he nodded.
“One thing is for sure, Mark: you are no child anymore. I've
decided to spend the next two nights in town in order to keep …”
“… an eye on a bemused friend who is going through a rough time
because of another friend? Sure. I take care of things here,
“I appreciate that, Mark.”
After going to bed, Lucas thanked God that there was always one
person in his life he could rely on.
Tom Tonoson stepped out of the hotel. The night air was crisp so
he took a deep breath. A cool wind suddenly sweeping through the
street was an enjoyable change after the searing heat of the
day. Nobody was outside. Only two houses were lit: Doctor
Burrage´s home and the Marshal's office. Tonoson smiled. All was
“It´s all for you, Cathy.”
Micah was sitting at his desk, starring at the bottle right in
front of him, when he heard the knocking.
“Who is it?”
“Open up, Micah, it's me.”
“Let´s have a talk, Marshal. It's kinda urgent, I'd say.”
“Can´t you sleep, Pa?”
“That´s right, son. I have to go to town right now. I have a bad
feeling. Micah might be in trouble. If everything is alright, I
come right back. I promise.”
Lucas picked up his rifle and rushed out of the house.
“Take care, Pa …”
Micah did his best to control the paralyzing fear that arose in
his heart. A lean, menacing figure was sitting right in front of
him. That was not longer his best friend and role model but an
unearthly angel of death. Tonoson´s haggard face was just a
gloomy shadow under his black hat. The shadow was covering his
eyes completely. Micah had to gather all his strength to be able
“So, what is it you wanna tell me, Tom?”
“I have a confession to make, Micah. Does the name Larry Simpson
ring a bell?”
“No, I am afraid not.”
“Well, he used to work for me. A young promising man, smart as a
whip and money-grubbing. He acted as my snitch. His information
made me come here. You will find his body about 10 miles from
here, straight up to the north, on the top of a knoll. Larry
sure chose a really nice place to get himself killed.”
“His body …”
“When I didn´t need him anymore I shot him in the back. He was
unarmed to boot. Consider this my confession. I murdered a man
in cold blood. Seems to me you have to take me in so I can stand
trial. Ain´t that right?”
“I guess so. Tom … is that supposed to be a joke?”
“I won´t dignify that inane question with an answer, Micah. But
before you lock me up, I have a second confession to make. So I
guess it's the best I explain things to you.”
“I would be grateful for that, Tom.”
“Soon after the wedding Cathy told me that she was pregnant. You
can't image how happy we were. Everything was perfect. Two days
before labor set in, I brought my wife to a hospital in a big
city in the East. I have never seen such a dire place: dirt,
noise, unfriendly doctors and heartless midwives. I was so
worried but Cathy tried her best to comfort me. Everything would
be alright. After three days she was dead. She had been
expecting twins, two boys. When the midwives carried the covered
bodies away, something in me died too.”
“I understand that, Tom. But that can never be an excuse for
killing an unarmed man.”
“After a week of trying to commit suicide by drinking I decided
to start a new life and left America. When I arrived in England
I got the opportunity to work as orderly in a hospital. I was a
sign of God. I decided to help other people to bear their pain
and their fear. It was a ghastly job but I did my best to ease
the suffering by helping the physicians. Despite the horror I
carried out my duties the best I could. After more than a decade
in that English hellhole I befriended a young doctor with an
open mind for new developments. He gave me a book about medical
treatments. One of the chapters was about a Hungarian physician
called Ignaz Semmelweis.”
“Never heard of him, Tom. Sorry.”
“Semmelweis had died in an Austrian asylum about twenty years
ago. But he had been a misunderstood genius and a godsend. He
had discovered that many women giving birth perish because the
doctors often work with dirty hands. By washing your hands you
can save lives. It's just as simple as this. But most of the
doctors refuse to consider such safeguards due to their
ignorance and conceit. They ignore Semmelweis´ advice and women
keep dying. They had gotten rid of Semmelweis by declaring him
mentally ill so he could bother them no more. That's when all
suddenly became clear to me.”
Now Tonoson seemed to be little more than an unearthly specter,
a bloodthirsty creature made of darkness.
“If the American doctor in the East had washed his hands before
treating my wife, Cathy would be still alive together with our
sons. I still would be the happiest man under the sun. But that
obnoxious doctor had destroyed my existence back then.”
Micah was playing for time. He was the most lonesome man in the
world that very moment but he knew that something terrible was
about to happen and he had the duty to avert that no matter
“What happened after that, Tom?”
“After earning enough money to buy a ticket I returned to
America and started practicing with my gun. Larry just happened
to be my first victim. Jake was my second. Soon there will be a
“Tom, I am your friend and proud of it. Why didn't you tell me
the whole story sooner?”
“I didn't want you to warn my wife's murderer, Micah. As Marshal
and as his friend … you are obliged to protect him.”
“You aim to kill Doc Burrage!”
“I recognized him this morning, when he came to see after Mark
after the shooting. Larry had been right. Burrage is the man I
am after. That damnable sawbone wiped out my entire family
literally with his bare hands and he is still alive. Can you
image? He killed my Cathy simply by not using water and soap.
The most senseless death I can think of. However he is gonna die
in a more merciful way tonight.”
“I can´t let you do that, Tom. You know that. You better hand
over that beautiful gun of yours.”
The killer´s right hand was resting near the holster but he
didn't do anything but smiling.
“Here is your situation, Micah. I will now leave your office and
go over to Burrage to kill him. You only can prevent this by
shooting me. If you not I will certainly hang for killing two
unarmed men. Either way I win because I will see Cathy again. I
am looking forward to that, as you may figure. Under normal
circumstances I would shoot your reputable doctor without any
ado, but since he has already saved so many lives around here I
grant you the opportunity to rescue him.”
“You´re crazy, Tom. I haven't noticed yet but you are crazy.
Totally cracked up.”
“Let´s call it logical. What's the matter, Micah? You just have
to use your shotgun. But frankly I don't think you have the guts
to kill me in order to save Burrage. So I guess it will be the
gallows for me.”
Tonoson got up, a giant figure, uncanny and eerie, looming in
the dark, looking down on the fearful Marshal with invisible
“You used to be a top notch deputy but now you are just a
feckless Marshal. You became effeminate and spineless. I figure
without that sodbuster with his trick rifle you can't even
arrest a flea infested hobo let alone win a shootout. Without
McCain backing you up, you would be fair game for any third rate
gunfighter. You are a buffoon with a badge in a shabby town.
It's about time to prove equal to your task, I'd say!”
“Tom, don't force me to do it. You are my friend. You can't …”
“Enough with the begging, Micah. I taught you better than that.
In a minute Burrage will be dead unless you do what you are
getting paid for which in your case is definitely too much.”
Then Tonoson turned slowly around and opened the door. Cool air
streamed in. He calmly stepped outside and walked over to
Burrage´s house. Micah desperately grabbed his shoulder but
Tonoson spun nonchalantly around and knocked the much smaller
man into the dust.
“Get you shotgun and do what you have to do if you wanna stop
me, you dastard.”
“That´s far enough, Tonoson!”
The former lawman quickly turned his head. Lucas was standing in
the middle of the nightly street, the cocked rifle in his right
“I don’t´ know what's going on here but as long as I am around,
nobody treats Micah that way. Get your hands up.”
For a moment Tonoson seemed surprised but then he smiled at the
distraught man, who was lying at his feet.
“You may consider yourself lucky, Micah. Seems to me that the
sodbuster came to back you up once again after all.”
“Lucas, you have to stop him! He wants to kill Doc Burrage!”
Lucas frowned. The rancher was highly alerted since he was well
aware of his opponent's outstanding shooting skills and ruthless
audacity but nevertheless he was prepared to do anything to
defend himself and his friends.
“Doctor Burrage? Why? What's that supposed to mean? Answer me,
The vengeful killer was unfazed and smiled boastfully. His right
hand's fingers were gently touching the grip of his beautiful
“It´s all about Cathy … Cathy!”
With lightning speed the implacable lawman drew his Colt but
before he could pull the trigger, three rifle bullets threw him
to the ground. When Micah bowed over him, Tonoson was already
reunited with his beloved family.
“The years … creep slowly by, Lorena … Lorena … the snow is on
Micah was singing terribly off-key to his already half-emptied
bottle, when Lucas entered the office. Never before had the
rancher seen his friend in such a sorry state. Micah was barely
conscious; his blood-shot eyes were half-closed and watering.
His feeble hands clang to the glass on the table.
“The sun's low … down the sky, Lorena …”
The old man didn't react. Instead he kept singing although being
almost asleep. After a few seconds Lucas plucked up enough
courage to take a chair and sit down. Micah was still unable to
get his mind off the bottle only inches away from his sweat
covered face. Lucas had no idea how to comfort the lawman in
order to breathe new life into him.
“Micah, I had to do it. He threatened you and what's more … he
would have killed Burrage without a qualm. Would you like to be
responsible for Burrage´s death? It was the only way. Tom was
out of his mind. Sure, he used to be an honest man but the was
crazed. I had no choice. You know that.”
Micah looked up and shook his head, ironically smiling.
“Burrage was never in any danger, Lucas boy.”
The Rifleman was stunned.
“What do you mean, Micah?”
Instead of an answer the old man opened a drawer and took a
beautiful gun out. Lucas recognized the long barreled Colt
instantly. Micah was fighting his tears while he was gently
touching the elegant grip of the fancy weapon.
“It was not loaded.”
Lucas picked up the gun and checked the chambers, unable to
believe the statement. But it was true: not a single bullet was
inside. Micah balled his fists, feeling a sense of helpless ire.
“Can you believe that, Lucas? Tom fooled me. He wanted to trick
me into killing him. But if he wanted to take revenge for the
death of his wife … why …?”
Lucas put the empty gun down and interrupted Micah´s desperate
“I don´t know. Maybe he wanted to prove something. Maybe he was
for some reason able to forgive Burrage after all. In any case
he sure gave us a lot to think about. If his plan was to see
Cathy again, then he might be happy right now. If so we ought to
be happy for him too.”
“But why …”
Lucas realized that he had to get his listless friend out of the
desolation before it was too late.
“There is only one thing I know for sure! Maybe Tonoson was
indeed your best friend … but surely he was not your only
friend! Let me tell you that. Do you understand?”
Micah looked up and for a long moment he exchanged a long glance
with Lucas. Their eyes spoke volumes. Then a little miracle
happened: Micah shifted the bottle away, only a few inches but
the gesture was unequivocal. And then he even smiled, grapping
Lucas´ wrist, pressing it almost forcefully.
“Yes, I understand. Thank you, Lucas. Now I feel better.”
“So … no more of that appalling singing? Frankly I don't think
you should give up your day job as the best Marshal in the
territory in order to pick up singing. To be perfectly honest
your voice reminds me of a lovesick polecat in a bear trap. And
I put that in the most respectful way, Mister Torrance.”
Micah kept on smiling when they heard a quiet knocking.
A very familiar face appeared in the doorframe. Micah nodded
“Come in, Doctor. Sit down. Care to join us? We just had a very
important conversation. How are you?”
“Micah … Lucas … I just wanted to say how grateful I am that you
saved my life tonight.”
Micah stood up and placed his hand on the physician's shoulder.
“That´s what friends are for, Doctor.”
“Pa … I would like to ask you something?”
“What can I do for you, son?”
Once again Lucas was sitting on his porch, enjoying a cigar. The
night was noticeable cooler than the evenings before heralding
the oncoming fall. Clouds were covering the waning moon.
“Pa, do you think I would be a talented physician?”
Lucas smiled giving his son an adolescent son a friendly noogie.
“Not that again.”
“Pa, I am serious. Mister Tonoson once told that the
relationship between a doctor and his patient was like no other
in the world.”
“That might be correct, Marc, but it takes a lot of studying
before one can carry out that kind of work. And booklearning is
not the only thing. There is much more you would have to
understand about your patients. I am sure you realize that.”
Mark was apparently at a loss.
“Pa, why, do you think, did Mister Tonoson such a thing. I mean,
he seemed to be such a strong-arming man. He was so
stout-hearted and self-confident. He had worked in that hospital
in England helping other people. Then again he had no qualm to
put a bullet in that young man´s back. Do you think he was … you
know … mad?”
Lucas nodded without hesitation.
“Yes, in a way he was, I guess. I understand his feelings about
Cathy, though. I remember how I felt when your mother passed
away. I was so distraught. I hated the whole world. In such a
crisis you feel your life gliding out off your hands. From there
it is not unlikely for a man to become weird, even reckless and
brutal in some way. That's what happened to Mister Tonoson.”
“But why didn't that happen to you back then.”
Lucas looked into his son's eyes.
“Because I had someone who kept me going.”
These stories are based on the TV series
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
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