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Father's & Son's
Written by Klara's Boy


“I gotta say, you did good today, Virgil, real good! I'm sure proud of you, boy! Real proud!”

The old man took another piece of wood and threw into the fire, contently smiling. A burst of sparks was flying into the dark. A cool breeze blew the smoke out of the cave into the nightly desert.

“Thanks, sir! No wonder! I sure had a mighty fine teacher, you know.”

There was a moment of awkward silence between the two men. Only a hungry coyote on the prowl was howling at the brook somewhere up in the rocky hills. A lonesome owl answered. The old man frowned and after a second he grasped the boy's collar and shook him hard, almost violently.

“That´s utter nonsense and you know it, kid!”
He looked straight into Virgil's dark eyes. Sometimes the old man was kinda hair-trigger.

“You learned from the best, boy. Always remember that. You learned from the best … from me!”

The prickly man released the collar and then both of them shared a hearty ripple of laughter. There was clearly a strange understanding between them despite their obvious differences. The voice of the old man with the bearded face sounded deep and somber and fitted well with his gloomy appearance. Virgil on the other hand was not older than 16 years, tow-headed and light-hearted.

Still grinning gleefully, Virgil listened to the sounds of the night, enjoying the refreshing wind after the relentless heat of the day. Then he rubbed his left wrist, which still showed ugly scratches.

“Generally I don't like chains but sometimes they come in handy. Didn't expect it would be so easy to throttle the guard with it to get the key and the guns. You figure they found the bodies yet, Captain Sobel?”

“No way! Nobody will search the ravine. There are too many bushes down there. It will take quite a while, till the law will be notified. They figure us still on our way to Yuma! Those damned fools!”

He starred into the fire, his shoulders hunched. Suddenly the cold seemed to penetrate his torn shirt.

“But I don´t intend to go there again, Virgil! Still can't lie on my back at night. Never knew a whip can hurt that bad. 3 years … but never again! Not even during the war I felt as miserable as in Yuma!”

The life of three incautious guards was a price he was more than willing to pay in order to stay free. Sobel took another billet of wood to keep the fire going. Then he bowed forward.

“Well, I guess you deserved the prerogative to decide where we are going now, Virgil!”

The boy was amazed but he was anything but a chucklehead. Maybe he had been thinking about several options already. Looking at a cheering crowd through a noose had little appeal to him.

“Begging the Captain's pardon … but I have a suggestion. When I was five years old, my old man traveled with us through a backwater town called North Fork, about 20 miles from here. Nice place. No law around there as far as I know. It should be easy for us to jump a farmer and provide us with fresh horses, food, money and maybe some more guns. What do you think, Captain Sobel, sir?”

The old man silently contemplated the idea. After a minute he looked up to the star-carpeted sky.

“20 miles away, you say? Why not? Maybe we should head for that town right now while the way is still lit up by the full moon. Then we should reach it at dawn, I guess. Will you find the way at night?”

Virgil nodded eagerly. He felt a great deal of pride about the trust, Sobel placed in him.

“I sure will, Captain Sobel, sir! No problem! Our horses had their rest. They will do, yessir!”

“That´s my boy. I´m proud of you, son. You will go places. I sure wish you would have been with me at Fredericksburg when we were marching up that hill. We would have licked those Rebs for good.”

The former officer reached behind, pulled a dead guard's Colt out of its holster and checked once more the bullets in each chamber, while the lonesome coyote was howling again in the shrubs.

“But first and foremost don't you forget the rule I told you about, boy. You remember the rule?”

Virgil grabbed his own guns and aimed them simultaneously at a briar about thirty yards away.

“I sure do, Captain Sobel, sir! The most important rule is always: No witnesses!”

Sobel pushed his weapon back into the holster and closed his eyes. He grinned complacently. Obviously he was the best teacher. The smart boy was almost like a son to him. Sobel nodded.

“No witnesses …”

***
Micah felt his age. I was hard for him to get up in the morning, especially when he had dreamed about his wife passed away a very long time ago. He felt the overwhelming urge to get a shot of whisky. Then she shook his head. The sun was up already promising a hot day. He got dressed and as he left the office, he spotted immediately a horse he had never seen before in front of the saloon. It was always advisable to keep informed about strangers who rode into town that early, so he went back into his desk and took his trusty shotgun. He sighed. Better safe than sorry.

The saloon was empty except for an unknown fellow who was leaning at the bar looking outside the window. Micah frowned as he entered. For a moment he studied the man´s face. It seemed vaguely familiar but Micah was anything but sure. He needed to learn more about that stranger.

“´morning, Mister.”
“´morning, Marshal.”
“New in town?”
“Just rode in a couple of minutes. Looking for somebody but he ain't here … not yet anyway.”

The stranger was a lean man in his late twenties. He was clean-shaven and well-dressed: under a brown hat well groomed auburn hair could be seen. The man wore a black jacket, white shirt and trousers a working man would have never chosen. On the left side of his belly a beautiful Colt 45 with a shiny ivory grip was holstered. Standing motionless at the bar and never taking his eyes off the people on the street outside, he reminded Micah of a spider in her nest lurking for the next fly.

“Who are you looking for? Maybe I know the name, Mister. We can …”
“None of your business, Marshal.”
“It´s my town. That makes it my business. Who are you?”
“You´re right, Marshal. It's your town. But it's still not your concern. I will do what I came for. After that you'll never see me again. I give you my word, Mister Torrance.”

For a moment Micah was baffled. He arched an eyebrow and stepped closer.

“How do you know my name? We have met before, Mister?”
“In September 1878 in El Paso. You tried to stop me when the Sanchez brothers called me out on the street. I'm kinda disappointed, Marshal. I would have thought you would never forget a face.”

“Buchanan? Tom Buchanan? It can't be! Is it really you?”
“That´s correct. We meet again. May I invite you for a drink? It’s been a long time!”

Micah needed a few seconds to regain his self-confidence. Suddenly he felt very hot … and lonely.

“I remember now. The six Sanchez brothers were a mean bunch … but … what are you doing here?”
“Well, Marshal. I guess I might as well tell you, since I have nothing against you. I understand that you are a decent man and a proper peace officer. Sorry about your arm by the way. But I digress. After El Paso I went up north to Tennessee since I had received message from my beloved father that he was suffering from consumption. I came just in time to promise him to care for my little brother.”

“Seems like quite a story. But why don't we sit down, Tom?”
“I stay right where I am, Marshal. Don't try to order me around! No offence …”

Buchanan took a sip form his whisky while still starring out of the window.

“Well, my brother was never any good. No matter how hard I beat him each time he went out of line, he made nothing but trouble. Unfortunately I also taught him how to use a gun. I paid dearly for that mistake. About five months ago he got himself killed in a shootout. That's why I am here today.”

He took a deep breath before he continued. The haunting memory seemed to torture him severely.

“It´s true. Tim was wild, often reckless. Maybe it was my fault. I had been far too meek on him I gotta admit. He let no opportunity pass to get into a scrape with the law. Dad however had insisted that I should replace him … and mother who had succumbed to cancer during the war. And I always keep my promises. Our family had always been close. Very close indeed.”

Micah felt a strange feeling rising inside of him. Was it compassion?

“But nobody had the right to shoot Timmy. Last week I heard that I might find his murderer around these parts. Now I am waiting for the man. He will walk right into my lap. I'll be ready for him.”

Micah's fingers moved closer to the trigger of his double barreled weapon.

“If you intend to gun down a man in cold blood, I have to take you in. As I said, Tom: this is my town.”
“And as I said before I have nothing against you otherwise you would be already dead by now.”
“You are lucky that there are no charges against you, Buchanan. I would not hesitate to …”

The stranger’s voice was disquieting calm when he interrupted Micah.
“I consider myself a fair man, Torrance. Therefore it will be a fair fight. You can count on that. It's more than the killer gave Timmy. I have killed eleven men so far. It will be a dozen pretty soon. But neither you nor your lovely shotgun will stop me. Nobody will. Do you understand? Nobody.”

“I will if I have to. I am responsible for law and order in these parts, no matter what!”

Looking down on Micah Buchanan allowed himself a ghost of smile, a dismissive smirk.

“Remember the Sanchez brothers? My Colt was empty before the first of them fell to the ground.”

***
Lucas was standing on the highest rung of the ladder replacing some shingles of the barn that were damaged during the last thunderstorm. In a few hours Mark would return from school. So Lucas had time enough to prepare lunch. The morning air was crisp and …

“Better come down, Mister.”

Lucas turned around and froze. Two men, guns in hand, were standing in front of the ladder. The older one had already taken Lucas rifle, which had been leaning against the wall of the barn. Lucas was totally taken by surprise.

“Who are you?”

“Come on down! Now!”

Lucas had to obey. Deep inside his mind he started praying. The two men sure looked dangerous.

The older fellow with the grey beard smiled charmingly as he answered Lucas´s question.
“Well, allow me to introduce myself: I am Captain William Sobel of the 69th Pennsylvania and that's my aide Virgil. The Almighty took my own son away from me a long time ago but he sent Virgil to me instead. He is a mighty fine boy. Ain't that right, Virgil?”

The young outlaw grinned, still holding his both guns he took from the dead guards.

“I try to be, sir!”

Lucas was livid.

“What are you doing here, Mister? How dare you …”
Lucas attempted to step forward but the former officer fired a quick shot into the ground right in front of Lucas´ feet.  Lucas tried to calm himself. Playing for time, he looked straight into Sobel´s cold eyes.

“What do you want from me, Captain?”
“We are looking for money, food and fresh horses. We had a hard ride last night. And of course I have to thank you for that fancy rifle of yours. Never seen anything like it! But now you have to excuse me. I will search the house for any valuable things. Virgil will take care of you in the meantime. Nothing personal, you understand. We are just trying to stay away from the rope. Virgil!”

Lucas knew that he didn't stand a chance against two armed killers who had nothing to lose. While Sobel was walking into the house Virgil cocked one of his revolvers.

“I hope you find something to bite, sir! I am so hungry I could eat a steer all alone, sir!”

Sobel didn´t even turn around when he was stepping calmly over the threshold.

“Just remember the rule, Virgil! Always mind the rule …”
“I sure do, sir!”
Lucas swallowed. Was that really the end? So sudden? So cruel? So meaningless?
“What rule?!”
“You see, the Captain taught me an important lesson a long time ago.”
“What lesson?!”
“Never leave a witness behind. Alive that is. The Captain is a very experienced man, you know!”

He cocked his other gun and aimed it at Lucas chest. Lucas face was a sweat-covered mask of despair and horror.

The shot was terribly loud. An invisible giant fist hit Virgil right between the shoulders. For half a second he seemed to fly with his arms spread. The young man was already dead when his body dropped hard into the dirt and the echo of the report of a rifle far away could be heard.

Lucas jumped back and ran as fast as he could for cover behind the barn. He almost tripped over his blow which happened to be standing in his way. Never before, he had felt such horror. Lucas kept on praying! He needed a weapon! Anything! Then he remembered Virgil's guns. He needed the Colts to defend himself. He had to stay alive. He had to fight … for Mark. He headed back to the body of the young killer but it was too late. When Lucas set out to leave his cover behind the building he saw Captain Sobel rushing out of the house.

“Virgil …?!”
In an instance the outlaw spotted Virgil’s lifeless body. Sobel's eyes were wide with terror and surprise. Then he noticed Lucas trying to get a hold on Virgil's guns. Sobel fired instantly a shot against the desperate rancher. The bullet grazed Lucas´ forehead, leaving a bloody scratch. Lucas fell screaming to the ground, holding his head as he rolled around helplessly. Lucas tried his best to stay conscious. Sobel fired once more but this time he missed. The bullet only stirred up some dirt just inches away from Lucas´ kicking legs.

“What have you done to my boy!? What have you done?! Virgil! Son! Virgil!”

But before he could pull the trigger again, Sobel received a massive hit in the belly. Dropping his smoking gun, the former officer fell to the ground. After a moment of gathering his strength he somehow managed to get up once more. The bandit stumbled over the steps of the porch. He pressed his left hand against the terrible wound below his rips when he continued running. A few more steps and … he collapsed. But he was still alive, attempted to crawl, gasping and screaming. After some ghastly seconds more it was finally over: his left shoulder blade seemed to explode when the bullet hit it.

***
The man smiled. He hadn't lost his touch in all those years. His right hand was caressing the massive barrel of his Sharps 74. He never had been a loving man but he sure was found of that rifle. He picked up the three empty 50-caliber shells. Then he pulled a yellowed photo out of the breast pocket of his shirt. It showed a bearded sergeant in the distinctive uniform of a Union sniper, carrying proudly an older Sharps-model. At the lower margin of the picture a few letters read: “2nd United States Volunteer Sharpshooter Regiment, Virginia, 1864”.

“You taught me good, Dad, really good. Thanks, Dad. You were a mighty fine teacher.”

He man smiled again before he put the photo back into his pocket.
Then he got up and pushed his Sharps gently into the scabbard that was hanging at his horse’s side. He mounted up and left silently the ridge while the man whose life he had just saved was fighting to get up on his feet.

***
Mark had have a successful day at school. The teacher had openly admired his knowledge about fractions. Now Mark was heading home. He was hungry and a little tired. But when he arrived at the ranch he suddenly knew that something was wrong. Terribly wrong! Two bodies were lying between the barn and the house. Mark dismounted and looked around. There was blood all over the place. Even at the porch and …

“Pa …?!”
No answer
“Pa …?! Where are you!? What happened …?”

Lucas stepped slowly out of the house. His forehead and his temples were covered with a white dressing. His movements were not as agile as usual but he could talk. He even managed to smile.

“It´s alright. I am alright! Don't worry, Mark!”
Mark had never been so stunned.
“Pa, what happened …?”
“I am not quite sure yet but I can tell you that: I've been more than lucky today, son.”

Without any further word Mark rushed to his dad and hugged him. His dad was safe and sound and that was the main thing, no matter what had happened that morning.

Even Lucas saw no sense in holding back his tears while he was holding his sobbing boy.

“God heard my prayers, Mark …”

After putting the killers´ bodies on the wagon father and son headed for North Fork to see the Marshal.

***
After his talk with Buchanan in the saloon Micah had felt very exhausted. Without having any lunch he had walked back to his office for a nap. When he woke up after several hours he noticed that a deputy had placed some sheets of paper on his desk without disturbing his sleep. When flicking through those documents Micah noticed a new wanted poster. Micah frowned when he took a look at the two faces on it.

“That´s just great. Just great! First Buchanan and now …”

At that moment Lucas and Mark arrived in front of his office. When Micah was looking at the two bodies on their wagon he knew that he could spare the work of nailing the poster at the board of his office.

***
“And you didn't see anything, Lucas Boy? Are you sure? No hints of any kind?”
Lucas shook his head once more.
“I told you everything I know, Micah.”

Micah was obviously far from satisfied but he sure was glad that his friend was still alive.

“Well, you better see Doc Burrage. I take care of things here. Sobel and his… aide rode together, so they will be buried together. I'll see to it that the undertaker will be notified.”

Micah accompanied Lucas and Mark on their way over to the Doc's place.
Micah smiled on his way back to his office. He felt better now. He remembered why he liked the job of a Marshal after all. There were always surprises: good ones and …

“Don´t turn around, Torrance. Drop that lovely shotgun of yours and stay out of my way. I told you: I have nothing against you. So don't make me shoot you. If you don't interfere, you will live to see the light of another day.”

Micah froze when he heard the familiar voice right behind him.

“Buchanan …”
“That´s correct.”
Micah knew that he had to act. He raised his shotgun while he was spinning around. But a second before he could pull the trigger, Buchanan had drawn with lightning speed. A bullet grazed Micah's right shoulder. His shotgun flew right out of his hand and landed in the dust of the street.

Buchanan grinned.
“While you’re at it … would you be so kind to get rid of your revolver as well, Marshal?”

As if he had all the time in the world Buchanan watched Lucas hurrying out of the Barrage's house. He wasn't even impressed by the fact that Lucas was wielding his rifle.

“I told you, Torrance: nobody will stop me. I'll now do what I came for.“
Then he holstered his Colt 45 and stepped out on the street to face Lucas McCain.

***
“Who are you, Mister? Have you shot at our Marshal?”
“Your Marshal is fine. I have nothing against him as I have repeatedly told him. It´s you I am after. Your name is Lucas McCain, ain't that right?”
Lucas, rifle in hand, hesitated before nodding.

While holding his bleeding shoulder Micah cried out a warning.
“Look out, Lucas Boy. He is the fastest gun I ever saw! He means to kill you!”

Always keeping his eyes on the mysterious stranger Lucas stepped slowly forward, ready to fire.

Buchanan simpered boastfully.
“I saved your life today, Mister McCain. I was the one who killed those men that were harassing you at your ranch. I am quite a marksman you gotta admit. But you don't have to thank me. Saving the neck of such a wretched sodbuster such as you is nothing I am proud of. A man should be proud of his enemies. I consider shooting those criminals as mere target practice, nothing more.”
“You shot them? How …”
“My father served as one of Berdan's sharpshooters during the war. He taught me good. Not only to handle a rifle but also a handgun. I promised him on his deathbed to take care of my little brother Tim. I always keep my promises. That's what I keep telling Mister Torrance.”

Lucas grew impatient.
“What is this all about, Mister?”
“I rode in today but I got tired of waiting for you in the saloon all morning so I went looking for your ranch. I found it just in time and took care of things. When I came back the nice bartender at the saloon confirmed that the ranch was yours. All I had to do was waiting for you here in town, sodbuster.”

“Why are you here, Mister …?”
“The name's Buchanan, Tom Buchanan. You killed Timmy a couple of months ago. I saved your life so I can kill you myself, sodbuster.”
“I killed your brother, you say? Where …”
“You shot him when he was robbing a stagecoach on the road to Santa Fe.”

Lucas eyes became small.
“I remember. I happened to be riding up the road when I heard the shooting. When I told your brother to drop his gun he attempted to take a passenger, a young lady hostage. So I killed your brother in order to save the woman. Have you considered that?”

“I don't care, sodbuster. Have you anything more to say?”
“The Marshal has never been able to figure out the identity of the outlaw since there were no clues. Now the mystery is solved at last. Get out of town, Buchanan. You rescued me today. I have no intention to shoot you.”

Buchanan showed his dismissive grin.

“Don´t overplay your hand, sodbuster. There is no way your rifle can be as fast as my Colt.”
“Prove it.”
A short burst of gunfire was the answer.

***
Buchanan was deeply satisfied. He knew he had only fired once but he was pretty sure he had hit his target. For a moment he felt a great deal of joy and relief. He had fulfilled his promise. He thought of the faces of his brother and his beloved Dad and … he was pleased. In fact he had never been so happy in his life. He closed his eyes.

But then something strange happened to him. His knees seemed to lose their strength to keep up his body. When he was struggling to stay on his feet he noticed that he had already dropped his beautiful Colt 45. His right hand was instead pressing against his chest. Buchanan felt something warm running over his fingers. He wheezed heavily since breathing became very painful. A split second later he knew that he had been wrong about that rifle, dead wrong. But there was no more time left to think about that fatal mistake. His pale face hit the dirt of the road.

***
That evening two wounded men and a musing boy were sitting together and had a luscious dinner at the hotel. Mark was looking at the sling on the Marshal's arm.
“How´s your shoulder, Micah?”
“Well, I had much worse, Mark. How is your head, Lucas Boy?”
“It´s still there and I'm glad for that. Why are you so taciturn, son?”
Mark had been very silent indeed throughout the evening. There was something he was mulling over.

“Well … I was thinking … Mister Buchanan didn't care about the fact that his younger brother had been an outlaw. He still wanted to take revenge for his death. Why? How could he love a criminal?”
His father, still wearing the fresh bandage, Doc Burrage had wrapped around the upper part of his head, pondered for a moment.

“Well … Mark … there is often also something good in bad men. Even such a ruthless killer like Sobel loved his stepson. They are all human beings with a soul. Sometimes even such evil men need somebody they can take care of.”

Micah nodded.
“You see, Mark, having a family you can rely on is such an important thing for all men that even such outlaws crave somebody they can love.  You can rely on your father and that's the most important thing in the world. Many men would envy you for that. You're are lucky having such a father. ”

“Well … Micah … I am lucky having such a son.”

The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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