The Writer's Corner
Hundreds of muzzleloaders were spitting fire, spreading death
among the approaching enemy lines. Cannons answered immediately,
obliterating whole units within seconds. Shrapnel balls and
bullets cut the attacking soldiers down like grass. The
deafening screams of the wounded men seemed to come directly out
of hell. And hell it was. The grey gunsmoke grew thicker by the
second, covering the vast meadow like a shroud. The vile stench
of blood and gunpowder almost suffocated the young officer who
had a hard time keeping his terrified men together. A rider on a
dark horse approached trough the mist, reining his rearing
animal right in front of the officer.
“Right there, captain.”
“Seems to me we are in for a heavy fight. The Rebs are trying to
flank us. They gonna hit us hard. Never saw them fighting like
this. You gotta hold the position otherwise Lee gonna break
through and occupy the hills behind the town. We can't let that
happen. Understood? Not another step backwards!”
“Reinforcement is on the way. Within an hour two more of our
corps will come up. Until then … hold at all costs. By the way,
we two are the last officers of this regiment still alive. So
make the best of it. I am counting on you. Deploy your men right
here. Don't let any of the Rebs through.”
“Gotta ride back to the Major for new orders. I'll be back as
soon as possible.”
A second later a cannon ball hit the captain, killing him and
his horse in a heartbeat. Stones and dirt rained down on the
soldiers standing by. Now the horrified lieutenant was the only
officer left, alone with an overwhelming responsibility on his
shoulders. But he refused to let on any sign of fear. He
beckoned to a meager soldier behind him who seemed to be
untouched by the gory bloodshed around him.
“You heard the captain! Deploy the men! We gotta hold till hell
freezes over. Help is on the way.”
“Yessir. By the way, what's the name of the town back there,
Three more cannon balls ripped the ground open, sending
screaming men flying through the air like leaves in a storm.
“What was that?!”
“The name of the town, sir! When this minor skirmish is over, I
would like to write my gal back home in New York about it. Id
hate to get the location wrong, you know, sir.”
“Gettysburg, I reckon!”
“Much obliged, sir! Martha will be pleased as punch!”
The man sighed but he knew that he had to do it. He was well
aware that the next minutes would change his life. He pulled the
Colt out of the holster and checked it a last time. The dark
brown buckhorn grips bespoke the high quality of the gun. Four
notches on the side revealed that it was in fact a deadly
beauty. The man whipped the sweat from his forehead. Calmly he
put the loaded gun back into the holster at his side, bracing
himself for the action he was forced to take. He looked around.
The street was empty so early in the morning. He shook his head
and took a deep breath. Then he headed for the bank.
Lucas stepped out of the Marshal's office, wearing the shiny
badge on his white shirt and carrying his trusty rifle. The
towering man looked nervously around. But everything was quiet.
People on the street were following their normal course of life.
Deep inside Lucas was glad that there was no trouble in sight.
Since Micah was absent for two more days he was in charge. The
old Marshal had traveled to Silverton, a little village 40 miles
to the West, to support an inexperienced lawman there. Now he
was already gone for almost a week. That was nothing unusual but
this time Micah had taken Mark with him. Since allegedly Billy
the Kid had once set up one of his hideouts near Silverton, Mark
had been eager to see that rough place so Lucas had reluctantly
given his approval for that journey. Now the worried father felt
uneasy, lonely and vulnerable.
To top it off he had plenty to do at the ranch. Two days ago a
nightly rainstorm had caused severe damage at the creek that ran
over his property. But his sense of duty forced him to spend as
much time as possible in town to keep the peace. Lucas closed
his eyes. Normally he would have enjoyed a cool beer on such a
hot day but he didn't feel like. He missed Mark so much. On days
like that the love for his boy was almost painful. But now was
no time for being sentimental. First Lucas had to buy some new
tools to repair the damage. But when he walked over to the bank
the stagecoach arrived, this time even on the dot. When the
doors of the stagecoach were opened Lucas grew curious about the
Lucas regretted that Micah was out of town since he instantly
knew that the two strangers would mean trouble. One of them was
slender fellow in his late forties. He was wearing a dirty white
shirt, an old leather jacket and a black hat but he was unarmed.
His hair was about getting white. Even his grey moustache was
In his company was a seedy woman, wearing a flower covered hat
and a black gown which seemed to be a little too narrow for her
wide hips. It was obvious that the years hadn't been too kind on
her appearance. In former time she must have been a pretty lady
but now she had gained weight. Her dark eyes showed no warmth or
kindness and her sharp nose gave her the eerie look of a hungry
hawk. The full cheeks were covered with cheap make-up. Lucas got
the impression that she was just a slovenly woman who tried
desperately to maintain her youthful look well aware that it was
to no avail.
Both travelers seemed weary and chippy. Especially the woman
with the well rounded face looked highly petulant.
After looking around, the man with the thin moustache walked up
to Lucas, tipping his black hat.
“Excuse me, sir. You don't happen to know where I might find
Mister Hamilton? John Hamilton? I understand he lives around
Lucas was highly alerted. His grip grew tighter around the
barrel of his rifle. But of course he maintained friendly.
“Yes, I do. Mister Hamilton runs our bank. As a matter of fact I
have to go there myself to make a withdrawal, mister. You can
come with me, if you wish.”
The stranger smiled gratefully.
“Excellent! Much obliged, mister. Florence, my dear, I figure it
would be the best if you wait in the saloon for me. You'll like
it in there among the other bar flies, I am sure.”
The woman glared daggers at her smiling companion.
“Sure, whatever you say. You always know what's good for me,
“And please do me the kindness and don't drink the place dry in
the meantime. It won't take long, darling.”
“If I do, I leave something for you, sweetheart. I promise.”
Her voice was surprisingly deep, raspy and full of hostile
irony. It was clear that they shared an uneasy relationship. In
any case, they didn't seem exactly like a newlywed couple on
their honeymoon. The stony-faced woman picked up her small
suitcase and headed for the saloon while Lucas and the stranger
walked over to the bank. Using his withdrawal as a pretext Lucas
was glad to have the opportunity to keep an eye on the man.
While they walked over the boardwalk the stranger eyed down on
“Do you always make your withdrawals with a rifle in hand? That
could cause a serious misunderstanding about your intentions in
“Well, Mister Hamilton is a good friend of mine. Don't worry.”
“It always pays to have friends, Mister McCain.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Your famous Winchester is a … dead giveaway, I'd say. With
friends like you, Mister Hamilton doesn't have to fear for his
security, I guess. Well, I have some important business to do
with him. I sure do hope he will hear me out.”
Before Lucas could learn more about the nature of that business,
they reached the entrance of the bank. The stranger bowed
“After you, Mister McCain.”
Lucas entered and saw Hamilton at his desk dictating a business
letter to one of his accountants, right under the beautiful
picture of Abraham Lincoln. When he saw the Rifleman he
interrupted and smiled.
“Hello, Lucas. Nice of you to drop by. What can I do for you?”
“I have to get some of my money, John. I gonna need a couple of
new tools. The thunderstorm two days ago caused quite a damage
at my place.”
“Sure, anything you say.”
When the stranger came in, he respectfully took off his hat,
looking around curiously. Lucas stepped aside.
“By the way, I brought you a new customer, John. This is …
sorry, I didn't catch your name, mister.”
Hamilton rose from his chair. His eyes became wide and his face
turned crimson in an instance.
“You don't have to introduce that … gentleman to me, Lucas. I
know him all too well. Get out!”
Lucas was totally taken by surprise. He had never seen his
friend so incensed. The stranger smiled while raising his arms
showing his empty palms, trying to smooth the banker.
“Keep your cool, John. Mister McCain might get a wrong
impression about me. I just came a long way to have a nice talk.
And to make you an interesting proposal about …”
Hamilton's fists hit the desk hard.
“There is nothing we should talk about. Get back where you came
from. Otherwise I have to be seriously worried about my
reputation with no-good scum like you around my bank.”
“Is this our last word? I mean, you are not …”
“Well, I can take a friendly hint. Mister McCain, it was a
pleasure meeting you. It really was. You’re a fine fella. So
Then the man left the office, seemingly unimpressed by the wrath
of the banker. When he was gone, Lucas turned to Hamilton, still
“Well, I never would have expected such behavior from you, John.
I am sure you have your reason for treating a future customer
the way you just did.”
Hamilton laughed ironically.
“Future customer, sure! The only customer he should become is
“What are you talking about, John? Who was that man?”
Hamilton tried his best to calm down. Suddenly he felt
embarrassed for losing his temper that easy. For a moment his
tongue became tight. After a pause he sighed.
“That was my brother Dave, the family's black sheep.”
Lucas was more than bewildered. Suddenly he felt hot … and kinda
“Your … brother? Well, I couldn't help noticing that you are not
on best of terms.”
John Hamilton was still fighting to not lose his temper again
and his voice was almost trembling.
“With Micah away you might wanna check the wanting-posters in
his office. I am sure you will find Dave's ugly mug on one of
them. Whatever the reward is, I double it.”
That very moment Sweeney came running. The bartender was covered
“Lucas! You gotta come quickly!”
“What is it, Sweeney?”
“It´s Billy Benson again. The boy is smashing up my whole place.
“Excuse me, John!”
Lucas left the bank and ran over to the saloon. He could hear
the rumpus already on the street. When he looked through the
door he saw a young man throwing a chair against the wall. The
mirror's shards were covering the floor. Three tables were
overthrown and empty bottles were rolling all over the place.
The stench of whiskey was filling the destroyed room.
With his rifle ready to fire Lucas carefully entered the saloon.
“Alright, Benson. That's enough! Drop the chair and come here!”
The violent man froze for a second, when he noticed the
Rifleman. Then he lowered the chair and smiled threateningly
making his youthful face that was disfigured with dozens of deep
small box scars even more daunting.
“Lookey here, if it isn't the big man with his big trick rifle.
A man with a big ranch, a big reputation. Me on the other hand …
I ain't got nothing. Kinda unfair, don't you think, sodbuster!
“That´s enough, Benson. I'll lock you up till you're sober
again. After that you have the opportunity to figure out a way
how you gonna pay for the damage you caused in here.”
Lucas stepped closer. Benson was a tall guy, infamous for his
short temper and his penchant for cheap booze. He lived
somewhere outside the town but it was the best to avoid his
company. With his sparkling eyes and his big hands, he even
impressed Lucas for a moment. The unruly goon lowered his
muscular arms, goggling viciously at Lucas.
“Well, you got that right, sodbuster. It's enough. I ain't gonna
take it anymore. But you take it … right now.”
Still grinning Benson slowly pulled a shiny knife out of his
“That´s for you, sodbuster.”
Lucas fired instantly and seemingly without aiming. The bullet
hit the broad blade, shattering it. The stunned troublemaker
screamed but before he could react, a powerful blow of Lucas´
right hand sent him to the wet floor.
“Yes … Lucas?”
“Get two more men and gimme a hand, will you?”
Even for four men, it was not an easy undertaking to track the
unconscious bully to the Marshal's office. While doing so, Lucas
was watched by a pair of dark eyes among the gathering crowd on
After locking Benson up, Lucas headed back to the bank only to
find it closed. When he gently knocked he heard a feeble voice
“It´s me, Lucas. I would like to have a word with you, John.”
After half a minute the distraught bank manager opened the door.
When entering, Lucas looked around. The office was empty.
Hamilton noticed Lucas frowning.
“I gave the staff a day off. They earned it. Besides … I didn't
feel like working today.”
Lucas felt uneasy. The unpleasant incident with Dave had shown
him how little he actually knew about the man he entrusted with
his hard-earned money, the man who was his best friend besides
of Micah. Hamilton sat down, starring at the wall.
“If you wanna talk about my brother, you could have spared
yourself the trouble of coming here. The bank will be open
tomorrow as usual anyway. Until then I am fine.”
Lucas shook his head. He had to unravel that mystery.
“Not the way I see it, John. I have to cheer you up a bit on
behalf of our citizens. In a state like that you might up mix
your deposits and many customers would lose their nest eggs.
Besides … I am supposed to be your friend, wouldn't you say?”
The banker managed to smile. His mind went back to the day when
Lucas stood by his side while worried customers were about to
storm the bank reclaiming their money.
“What was that din in the saloon about? I heard a rifle shot. Is
“Nothing special. Billy Benson was doing what he is best at. He
is sound asleep in a cell now and he will stay there for the
time being. At least until Micah returns.”
The banker bared his teeth.
“Billy Benson … another deadbeat, another needless existence.
Just like my brother. How many more are out there, bothering
hard-working men, making their life miserable?”
Lucas realized that it would take a lot of effort to make his
friend feel better. He put his rifle on the desk and looked into
“John ... to me and many others you are the very embodiment of a
noble gentleman. Talking like this about other people isn't your
style at all. You should not get used to it. So you better tell
me what's on your mind.”
John Hamilton sank into his chair, avoiding Lucas´ glance.
“I was six years old when Dave was born. My mother almost died
during the birth. I cooled her forehead while she was slowly
recovering. I never left her until she was well enough to get up
again. When Dave grew up he was nothing but trouble for our
parents. He was never any good. My mother often cried when she
heard about his foul deeds. To me it was a crying shame that the
child who had given her so much pain was nothing but a nuisance
to anybody. So I decided to make something out of my life.
Mother should to be proud at least of one of her children. I
swore to become the opposite of my brother. The way I see it we
all owe that to our mothers in order to repay them for the pain
they had to suffer in order to give us the precious gift of
Lucas was carefully listening. Now John's strange behavior
became more understandable.
“So your brother was a role model for you … in a negative way.”
“I tried my best to achieve the utmost. Now I am a bank manager.
I gained the trust of my fellow citizens and I can call honest
men like you my friends. I am rich in more than one way. Dave
has always been poor and always will be.”
“Well, isn't that a little too hard? After all he is your
John was now totally composed. Memory can be a man's personal
“Mum died from a heart attack after receiving a letter from
Dave. It said that food in prison is not as bad as people always
claim. And that he had already made a new friend in there.”
Shortly before midnight a stranger rode into town. He was a
burly man, almost obese, with a double chin and big hairy hands.
A white hat covered his bald head. In front of the saloon he
stopped his horse. Dismounting was apparently troublesome for
him due to his considerable weight. But before he could step
into the saloon he heard a voice behind him.
“Hello, Bud. It has been a long time. Last I heard you were in
Surprisingly fast the fat man spun around, his right hand on his
holstered gun. Again the voice could be heard.
“Still a little spooky, aren't you, Bud? Well, who could blame
you with such a past?”
“Dave Hamilton, is that you?”
“Sure, Bud. Nice to see you again. Still handy with a gun, I
The fat man smiled when he shook hands with the banker's
“I have managed to stay alive so far, Dave.”
“Enjoying a pretty good life as far as I can see. Planning to
The fat man shrugged. It was clear that the saloon attracted him
“For the time being at least. Maybe I even manage to earn a
little money. Beggars can't be choosers.”
Early in the morning, Lucas left the Marshal's office. Billy
Benson was still asleep. Lucas was well aware of the fact that
he needed some support so he walked over to Nils´ place. The
blacksmith was enjoying his breakfast when Lucas stepped in.
“`Morning, Nils. Are you quite busy at the moment?”
“`Morning, Lucas. No, can't say that I am.”
“You need to do me a favor, Nils. I am in a tight spot right
“Well, I would like to deputize you in order to keep an eye on
the jail if you don't mind. Billy Benson is still in there. Most
of the time he is sleeping but sooner or later he will get
hungry and suffer from a massive hangover. I must take care of
my ranch today but I will come back as soon as I can.”
“Sure. Anything you say. Just let me finish my breakfast. Gotta
keep up my strength, you know.”
“I owe you, Nils.”
“Not at all, Lucas. You are looking forward to seeing Micah and
Mark again, aren't you?”
“More than you can imagine, my friend.”
After pinning a tin star on the blacksmith's sweaty shirt Lucas
headed back to the Marshal's office to get his horse. When he
passed the saloon, he heard a voice from within.
“Mister McCain, care to join me for a drink?!”
First Lucas hesitated but then he entered. Sweeney was still
busy cleaning the place up after the rampage. Dave Hamilton was
sitting at one of the few tables left undamaged being in a
cheerful mood. Lucas was glad for the opportunity to have
another talk with Dave so he took a chair and put his rifle on
the table. The crook ogled at the famous gun again.
“I guess my brother was talking quite a bit about me yesterday?”
Lucas tried his best to stay diplomatic. After all it was not
his family and he was glad about that. For a moment his heart
reminded him once again how much he loved Mark.
“Well, you can call it that. He is not particular fond of you,
to be honest. But I reckon that's not exactly a family secret.”
That very moment Dave turned serious. His smile froze and for a
moment, Lucas felt sorry for the two brothers.
“Hardly. The point is … my brother is right about me. I never
was any good, at least in his eyes. I needed my freedom and saw
spending time at school as a waste. I settled with reading and
writing and that was about all. I never tried to change that. I
was proud about my life style.”
“You ended up in prison once.”
“That´s right. I had been drunk and broke into a house, got
myself a little money. Unfortunately the old lady who lived in
there recognized me afterwards during the trial.”
“Are you proud about that too?”
“No, but I don't try to hide it either. Because after that my
life became … stable, almost honorable. My cell mate was handy
with machines. He made me interested in technology. After
serving our time we started a small company as partners. As I
said, it pays having friends. But when things started to turn
out he was stabbed by a mugger. So I left again everything
behind. That's the way my luck runs. Each time I try to make
something useful someone comes along and destroys everything. So
I moved on. Finally I was figuring on settling around here,
building up a ranch or at least a little farm. That's why I
wanted to have a talk with John after such a long time.”
“You wanted to borrow money?”
“I was thinking about a regular loan with a reasonable interest
rate. I would have paid it back, of course.”
“What about your wife?”
“Florence? We are not married. We are … let's say … partners,
maybe friends. In fact she is the only person I care about. Come
to think of it … she is the only good thing that ever happened
to me. Without her, my life would really be worthless.”
Lucas frowned. Something was really awkward about the man.
“Well, that may be, but I was under the impression that she is
not extremely fond of you.”
“Florence is not good about showing her true feelings. She is
not interested in technological developments either. Last month
I told her about a fascinating article I read in a newspaper.
She interrupted me in order to get a drink. Sometimes she really
gets me riled up, I can tell you. But she is a good girl, tough
she enjoys henpecking me at times.”
“What was the article about, Mister Hamilton?”
“Oh … it was really intriguing, Mister McCain. There is that
gentleman called Bell, Alexander Graham Bell. He claims to work
on a machine that can send human voices over a great distance.”
“You mean like a telegraph?”
“Something like that but far more advanced. Instead of manual
signals over a wire you can actual hear a person speak which
such a machine. Your partner can be miles away and still you can
listen to him. You can hear what he is talking about even over a
mountain or across a town. Imagine the possibilities …”
Lucas found it hard not to laugh. The idea sounded too absurd.
Those fancy city slickers in the East were really … loony at
times. At the one end they had shiny shoes and on the other end
restless minds. But hearing a voice over a mountain … that was
definitely off the wall!
“Well, I gotta admit, that's hard to believe. A real voice …”
“Yeah, it makes you wonder what they will come up with next.”
Around noon an obscure figure slid into the shadowy yard right
behind the barn. From the near-by saloon laughter and a piano
terribly out of tune could be heard. The person in the dark lit
a match at a post and a moment later a cigar started glowing.
Grey smoke was rising into the air. The woman didn't look up
when Dave Hamilton joined her.
“Florence, darling, I was looking for you all over the place.
Where have you been all day?”
The woman was buffing her cigar calmly leaning against the wall
of the barn.
“Just thinking, Dave. I came to like this place. North Fork
isn't so bad after all, I gotta admit.”
Dave nodded. He looked up to the relentless sun, taking a deep
“Well, if that's the way you figure about it we really can
The portly woman smiled but there was no kindness in it, only
disdain and hatred.
“Well, I aim to settle here but surely not with you, Dave.”
Dave turned his head. For a moment he was stunned.
“I don't think I follow you, Florence.”
“Listen, you wretched deadbeat: after three years and after
hundreds of broken promises I am sick and tired of you, Dave.
Where is the money your brother would most certainly loan us to
start all over? Nowhere! Your brother kicked you out and I
surely don't blame him for that. We are at the end of the line.
You are at least. All you've come up with so far is just a bunch
of harebrained ideas. Do you still see yourself as the famed
inventor with his factory producing all that mechanical stuff
you keep talking about? You knew that would never work. Now we
don't even get the money for an ordinary farm where we can
settle. Do you really think I have ever respected you with
prospects like those? Did you really figure I gonna stay with
you until the devil gets blind? No way! I am not getting any
younger, you know!”
Again Dave seemed totally unfazed. With his hands in his pockets
he was leaning against the wall, seeking shelter from the
“How can you talk that way? When I teamed up with your late
brother to start a new life after jail, you …”
“Paul used to be a sorry excuse for a man, just like you.
No wonder you bonded so quickly back there in that cell. He
should have rotten in there together. Getting himself stabbed
was the best thing he ever did. But yesterday I met a real man,
a true marvel of a man.”
“What are you talking about?”
Florence kept on smiling derisively. She enjoyed herself
humiliating her companion.
“When I was in the saloon this morning a young drunkard started
smashing up the whole place. The towering man with the trick
rifle came in and set things right in a heartbeat. He was cool
like a skunk in the moonlight. I have never seen a man like him.
And that means something, let me assure you.”
“You mean Lucas McCain?”
“That´s his name. A wonderful fellow: handsome, spunky and most
important of all … a lonely widower. I did some research about
him. Some fellows around here are pretty garrulous, once they
see a new woman around. He has a ranch three miles to the North.
With a man like that at my side, I really have new prospects.”
“What makes you think he would be interested in you, my dear?”
“I have my ways, you know that.”
Nils entered the bank, proudly wearing the tin star on his shirt
and carrying the double barreled shotgun under his arm. There
were no customers around and so Abraham Lincoln was looking
contently into a quiet room. John Hamilton was studying one of
his ledgers, a giant tome full of numbers. When the portly
blacksmith entered Hamilton seemed almost glad about the
“Howdy, Nils. So it seems to me you turned out to be the
replacement for the replacement.”
Nils smiled. He was not the bravest man in the world but
aboveboard and reliable. Apparently he was proud about the
trust, Lucas had put in him.
“I just wanted to see if everything is alright in here. The town
is attracting strange people at times.”
“You don't know how right you are, Nils. Please stay focused!”
After Nils had left the office John was contemplating. Then he
opened a drawer of his desk and took a framed photo out. The
contemplative banker starred at the picture while his eyes
“He will not hurt you again, Mum. I promise you. He will not
hurt anyone again …”
Lucas stood at the shores of the creek, now a peaceful brook.
But three days ago, a heavy cloudburst in the mountains had
turned it into a torrential river, rooting out big trees and
washing away valuable soil. Now the sandy banks were covered
with dried mud, dirty rocks and broken branches. The stench of
dead fish, drowned animals and rotting grass was in the air.
The whole area was a terrible mess. It would take a long time
and a lot of work to set it right again. The rancher sighed. For
a moment he felt even tears coming up. Hurting his land was
almost as hurting himself. Mark would also be upset after his
return. When he was calculating the expenses he saw a horseman
riding up the shore, carefully leading his horse around the
boulders. Lucas was in no mood for a friendly conversation and
since he didn't know the man he took his rifle, which was
leaning against a rotten log. When he stranger stopped in front
of the lonesome rancher he starting grinning before exploding
“That's an absolute scream! I don't believe it! He was right!
Lucas McCain himself. After all those years … yessir. That's
what I call a surprise!”
Lucas was not exactly gleeful about the disturbance and the
senseless laughter got his temper up.
“I have no idea what's so funny, mister! I never saw before! Who
The man finally calmed himself. Still sitting on his horse he
lifted politely his hat and slightly bowed forward.
“I am the one who should kill you, Mister McCain …”
Nils returned to the Marshal's office. He felt weary and
thirsty. Although being the blacksmith, who was used to heat the
relentless sun had taken its toll on him. Wearing a badge was
quite a responsibility. He sank back into Micah's chair and
closed his eyes promising himself that the nap would only last
maybe ten minutes or maybe twenty or half an hour. But before he
could enjoy his forty winks he heard a deep voice out of the
“Can I have a word with you, deputy?”
Doc Burrage was still worried when he locked down on his patient
lying on the bed in his office. He was feeling her pulse once
again, when the door swung open.
“What is it, Doc? How is she?”
Doc Burrage turned around and eyed the intruder suspiciously.
“Who are you, mister?”
“The name is Dave Hamilton! This woman is my … fiancée. People
told me she was here! What happened, Doc?”
“Well, Mister Hamilton, folks found your fiancée lying on the
street. She had collapsed after leaving the saloon, obviously
drunk. Now she is coming gradually around. But she is in dire
need of a lot of rest after all. Her breath is still weak.”
Dave Hamilton took off his hat. His eyes showed true
apprehensiveness and fear.
“Is it something serious, Doc?”
“No, as far as I can tell. Not yet anyway! But I strongly advise
her to stop drinking and smoking. Her heart and her lungs need a
break. Her heart in particular worries me. Just a little
excitement right now could be too much. Next time she might not
get away that easy. Each shot of whisky can be fatal from now
on. Just keep that in mind and take better care of your lady.”
Still highly anxious Dave looked down on Florence's pale face.
“Well … in that case … could I have moment in privacy with her?”
“Sure, but only a few minutes. Your lady needs a lot of sleep,
After the physician had left, Dave kneeled next to the bed and
began gently touching her sweaty forehead. Florence weakly
opened her eyes recognizing the man, she loved to insult.
“Why did you come here? After all I said to you …”
Dave smiled sheepishly scratching the back of his head.
“Well, a man gets used to about anything. Even to slander and
constant humiliation, if it comes from a dogged woman like you.
And you are right. From now on I will do my best to provide for
you, I promise. We will leave as soon as you are well again.
Let's go to California together. Maybe ….”
“You still would do that … with me?”
“Sure, even a miserable deadbeat like me could bring home the
bacon in California, I am sure. Maybe we hit pay dirt over
there. And when we are rich we send my brother a letter that he
should pay us a visit. He will so begrudge us. I promise you we
will prevail this time, Florence.”
The pale woman nodded weakly and took her man's hand, caressing
“I was wrong about you. I can't believe I've needed such a long
time to recognize your true self. I'm so sorry, Dave …”
“So you’re with me again, Florence? From now on until the devil
“Yes, dear … I feel so embarrassed, what I said about that
sodbuster, that … Lucas McCain. I must have been out of my mind.
I was so blind about everything.”
Dave abruptly got up, suddenly getting somewhat edgy.
“Yes, about that … maybe we should hurry, darling. How much
money do you have left, Florence?”
Lucas swung his rifle around with lightning speed, cocking it.
Now he was prepared to shoot the fat man off his horse as soon
as he went for his gun. The barefaced approach of the bald
fellow made his blood boil.
“I say one thing for you, mister, you sure got nerve. But
killing me may not be that easy.”
The bloated man grinned, showing enough sense not to move his
right hand down to his Colt.
“Keep your cool, Mister McCain. I don't aim to see the job
through. That would be against my principles, you know.”
The rancher was totally bowled over. Still aiming at the
stranger his right forefinger was gently touching the rifle's
trigger. Just a little more pressure …
“Is that some kind of joke? If so it could prove dead funny for
The bald man shook his head, still smirking. He didn't seem a
“If you hear me out, I would explain things to you. My name is
Marlow, Bud Marlow.”
Lucas frowned. He grew more and more high-strung. Did he know a
fat man named Bud Marlow?
“That doesn't mean anything to me, Mister … Marlow.”
“I don't blame you tough I served under you during the war.
Well, I gotta admit I have rounded up a few pounds since then.
Do you remember that hot summer day in Pennsylvania? The whole
army of Northern Virginia hit us outside that nice little market
town called Gettysburg. Does that name ring a bell? I am rather
sure it does! Captain Carr got killed right in front of us after
giving you the order to hold the position. Well, those are the
fortunes of war, yessir! Remember?”
Lucas nodded and slowly lowered his rifle. Still he was prepared
to kill but now he realized that the stranger didn't pose any
immediate danger. At least he was an interesting character with
an interesting story.
“I remember. Carr left a widow and two little daughters behind
to whom I had to write after the battle. He was a formidable
officer. The army was blessed with such a man.”
“None better. After he was killed I asked you about the name of
the town so I could write my gal about it.”
Lucas was thinking hard but then he recalled the gory details of
that horrid day, the tense smoke, the bloodcurdling screams, the
roaring cannons …
“Yes, that rings a bell, Mister Marlow. But that doesn't answer
the question why you wanna shoot me right now.”
“Well, at least it explains why I don't wanna do it. A would
never harm a man who fought alongside of me. If you picture the
most depraved man The Good Lord in His grace has ever created
you get a pretty good impression about my personality. You may
not believe it but even despicable scum like me has his
principles. Besides ... I don´t figure, I would stand a chance
against your rifle. You got yourself quite a reputation, I must
say. So I better ride on now, never to return. Maybe there is a
way for a poor sinner just like me to make a living in Santa Fe.
Just for the record: when I returned home after the war, Martha
was already married to my cousin, a chicken-livered politician
from New York with quite a wealth. Well, it wasn´t love after
all between us, I guess.”
“I am sorry about that, Sergeant.”
Marlow shook his head musingly, scratching his double chin.
“That yellow varmint was the first man I killed as a civilian.
Anyway … it sure was nice seeing you again, Lieutenant. May the
Good Lord in His grace protect you.”
He was about to turn his horse but Lucas angry voice stopped
“Just a minute! Who gave you the order to kill me? And why?”
The obese man shrugged. Sweat was running over his round face.
Nauseated he looked at the mud-covered ground under the hooves
of his animal.
“What a stench! You really ought to do something about that
creek. The reek is pretty awful. The reason? Beats me. The idea
was to make it look like a deed of an unknown assassin who
disappeared as quickly as he appeared. A man like you is honored
with a lot of enemies, I guess. Many young guns would be more
than eager to make themselves a reputation by killing you,
Lucas lifted his rifle again, ready to fire. The coolness of his
former underling infuriated him. Just a little more pressure …
“But who? Who gave you the order? You are testing my patience,
Mister Marlow! Don't try any tricks!”
The killer looked straight into the rifle's barrel.
“I wouldn't pull any pranks on you, not me, no sir! The order
came from a sly fella in town I used to know in prison tough he
was never my friend. I would exactly trust him with my life. But
he handed me a neat little pouch with 20 dollars in it and told
me how to get here. He claimed it was his last money. Well, I
don't intend to give it back to him. I guess he ain't gonna have
the opportunity to spend it anyway.”
Lucas closed his eyes for a split second feeling a terrible
fatigue coming up. The fat man scratched again his badly shaved
face, looking down on the distraught rancher.
“I'll wager you are interested in his name, Lieutenant?”
“You bet, Sergeant …”
Doc Burrage was used to stubborn patients but now even he was
worried more than usual.
“As your physician I strongly advise not to take any unnecessary
risks, ma'am. Your heart should be properly examined by a real
doctor in the east, one of those new-fangled specialists.”
Florence was still exhausted but she was well enough to stay on
her feet. Her cheeks were red again and her dark eyes were
sparkling. Love had always been a great source of strength.
“I appreciate your concern, Doc, but now I gotta go. I thank you
kindly for your effort.”
Doc Burrage was far from being satisfied. He tried one last
attempt to make the sick woman understand her critical state.
“But you can´t be serious about going to California right now.
There is no way …”
“Sir, the first time in my life I really belong to a man. My
folks are all long dead and gone. Dave may not be the smartest
business man or the most talented farmer but he stayed with me
when he had every right to leave me behind. When I fainted back
there on the street I knew it was a punishment for being so
rotten. But he is a good man, a man a woman can count on. From
now on, everything will be fine. Maybe he will hit the stride
this time with all those machines I don't understand anything
“Suit yourself, ma'am. Just lay off the booze.”
Florence smiled. For a moment her face showed something of her
former beauty and graze.
“I promise you, Doc. I reckon I couldn't afford it anyway right
now. So long.”
The slender man was enjoying the cool air inside the barn while
was busy saddling two horses.
“Hold it right there, Hamilton!”
Dave turned around. The Rifleman was standing in the door of the
barn, a towering angel of vengeance, a dark shadow against the
relentless sun. His cocked rifle was ready to spread deadly
“Mister McCain … what can I do for you?”
“I am afraid, Marlow didn't see the job through. The next time
you send someone to do the dirty work you ought to pay him
Dave frowned, but then the crook continued saddling the horse,
calmly, without even breaking a sweat.
“I am afraid I am not well enough versed in the sense of humor
in these parts. Would you mind explaining you point, Mister
The Rifleman stepped into the barn, still aiming his Winchester
at the charming criminal.
“Aren´t you surprised to see me, Hamilton? I am supposed to lie
in front of my house by now, shot by an unknown killer. It sure
is a pity it didn't work out. Marlow showed enough sense to ride
on keeping your blood money. I am kinda surprised that you still
could spare 20 dollars. My death must mean a lot to you. Why?
Answer me! Why?”
Hamilton was unimpressed. He horse in front of him was loudly
“I don't have the foggiest idea what are you talking about. By
the way … Florence and I are about to leave North Fork, heading
for California. And who is that … Bud Marlow anyway you keep
“Somebody you know well enough to know his first name although I
haven't mentioned it so far. Let's go. Our prison is not as big
as Yuma but you will learn to love it until our Marshal is
Hamilton checked the girth a last time while the animal was
“Mister McCain, as I mentioned before, we are about to go to
California. A stay in your prison would be most inconvenient
right now. Florence and I are now officially engaged and we want
to start over again. Florence sold her precious pocket watch and
some other trinkets so we could afford these two old horses. She
even sacrificed four gold coins, the only heirloom from her
beloved brother, who shared a cell with me. I told you about
him. Paul had been quite a man, yessir …”
Lucas stepped forward. Now the muzzle of his Winchester was
almost touching Dave's sweaty shirt.
“I ain't gonna say it again, Hamilton. Hands up and don't try
That very moment a shovel hit his left temple from behind. The
blow was not powerful enough to knock him unconscious but still
strong enough to drop Lucas to the straw-covered ground. His
rifle fell to the floor but before Lucas could regain it Dave
had already picked it up and was aiming it at the torpid
rancher. Florence had emerged out of a dark corner between the
hay bales and cunningly used Lucas wrath to catch him unaware.
The fat woman was still week and heavily breathing but seeing
her lover in danger gave her the right amount of strength to
surprise the livid rancher. Dave nodded contently.
“Thank you, my darling. I knew I could rely on you. Get up,
Florence´s trembling hands dropped the shovel while she tried to
catch her breath. Her round face was again turning terribly
pale. She tried to say something but instead she just gasped.
Leaning against a hay ball she starred hatefully at Lucas who
had troubles getting back on his feet. His temple was hurting
bad. When he touched it cautiously he felt something warm
running down his face. But he didn't show any pain to his enemy.
“You didn't answer my question, Hamilton. Why?”
The killer gently caressed the butt of the rifle.
“I gotta admit: I have been admiring your Winchester all the
time. It sure is a beauty, yessir. 44-40, isn't it? I am glad I
could lay my hand on it after all. Do you remember my words,
sodbuster? Each time I try to make something useful someone
comes along and destroys everything. This time I simply couldn't
let that happen. I just couldn't! I had to get you out of my
way, since Florence grew fond of you. I can do without a lot of
things but not without her! I should have known about Bud. That
potbelly has always been a two-faced coward. Well, if you want
something done properly, do it yourself. Without you at our
heels we surely stand a chance. This time we gonna hit pay
“No, you don't, Dave …”
Three deafening gunshots rang trough the dark of the stable,
making the horses neighing in panic. Florence screamed and
jumped aside, hiding between the hay bales. For a few seconds
gunsmoke filled the narrow space. Hit by all three bullets Dave
Hamilton stumbled against the wall, dropping the rifle. He
opened his mouth in surprise starring at the lonely figure in
the door who was holding a smoking Colt in his right hand. The
crook was not able to grasp the situation when he recognized the
“You … but why … you are … I just tried … to … always tried …”
Then his lifeless body sank to the ground, leaning against the
wall, the eyes still open in astonishment. Slowly the savior
entered the barn, lowering the revolver.
“You´re alright, Lucas?”
“Yes, John, thank you. That was a close shave. Where did you get
that gun? It's not yours, is it?”
The banker handed it over to the man, he had just rescued. Lucas
looked at the beautiful dark brown buckhorn grips with the four
notches on it. Hamilton's voice was calm and serene.
“It´s Billy Benson's Colt. A couple of days ago, he pawned it in
my office in order to get 15 dollars for it. It used to be his
last and most precious possession. It reveals quite a bit about
his character that he spent the entire money in the saloon
before he started his rampage. Anyway, when I saw you riding
into town asking for Dave I knew there was serious trouble at
hand. How right I was. So I followed you and came here just in
time. He would have killed you without any qualm. Well, I made
sure he won't hurt anybody anymore.”
The rancher looked down on the dead body. Once again he felt
sorry for the two brothers.
“It was not just any man you killed, John. You shot your own
brother. What would your mother say?”
John's voice showed no sign of remorse or sorrow. Instead he
felt release and satisfaction.
“She would have pulled the trigger herself. He was my brother
but he never was much of a man, Lucas.”
That moment Nils came running into the barn, with his shotgun
already cocked, prepared to take on any enemy.
“What´s going on in here? Lucas! John! What happened?!”
The rancher turned around, returning the revolver to John.
“It´s alright, Nils. It's all over. John here just stopped a
vicious killer in his tracks together with his fine fiancée.”
When Lucas picked up his rifle he realized that there was a
second lifeless body lying between the hay bales.
After making his withdrawal at the bank Lucas walked over to the
hardware store. The very thought of the awful stench at his
creek made him cranky not to mention all the work he had to
organize somehow. To top it off his head still hurt even after
Doc Burrage had taken care of the wound. But all bad notions
were gone within a heartbeat when he saw two riders coming down
the street. One of them was an old man with a tin star on his
black vest and the other one ….
“Howdy, Pa! We're back!”
After dismounting Mark felt even a little embarrassed about
being hugged so tightly by his father in public. After all he
was not a little kid anymore. But it sure felt good being home
Micah was wise enough not to disturb the heart-touching scene.
He looked around, smiling contently: the town was as peaceful as
he had left it.
“So … Lucas Boy … was anything wrong while we were gone?”
Nils handed over the badge he had worn so proudly. But after all
he was glad that the responsibility was not longer his.
Micah showed an appreciatory smile.
“You did good, both of you. It makes the old heart of mine proud
having friends like you.”
Lucas smiled, holding his rifle. Mark one the other hand could
hardly wait to tell his father everything about the cave Billy
the Kid allegedly had sought refuge in when Pat Garret was
tracking him. But then Nils had to bring up one more thing.
“There is someone who would like to have a word with you, if you
don't mind, Lucas.”
All four of them entered the room with the cells. A young man
awaited them behind the bars. First Lucas was a little
“What is it, Benson?”
The brawny bully with the scarred face seemed sheepish but it
was obvious that he was trying to say something that meant a lot
“Well … Mister McCain. Sitting around here gave me a lot time
for thinking. It sure does. And there are things that can mighty
hard for a man. Well… and apologizing is one of them. I … just
wanna say how deeply sorry I am. I was out of my mind, pulling
that knife on you.”
“Why did you do it in the first place, Billy?”
“Well … I had no money, now real home, no family, never even had
much schooling, if you know, what I mean, sir. Finding a decent
girl with a face like this is also not easy. That gun was the
only thing I hold dear. My Dad gave it to me, when I turned
fifteen. I avenged his death with it. That was the first notch
on it. The point is … I wanna start a new life, sir. First of
all I wanna make sure you don't hold a grudge against me, Mister
“I accept your apology. But what are you planning about earning
The young bully was clearly at a loss. Starting an honorable
life was far from being easy.
“Search me. I surely wouldn't accept charity, that's for
certain. I just wanna replace the damage I have caused over
there in the saloon. What do you think, sir?”
Mark smiled. Of course he had already a pretty good idea about
his father's plans. Everybody deserved a second chance. Lucas
looked down on his beloved son, exchanging glances with him
before turning again to Benson.
“First of all … I figure in a very odd way you saved my life by
pawning your beautiful gun. And secondly I just might have the
job for you. And it gonna be anything but charity, let me assure
Then the rancher turned to Micah.
“Marshal, would you release this prisoner into my custody until
he is able to repay the damage? Sweeney would appreciate that,
Micah however was uncertain.
“Well, maybe it is unwise to release such an unruly individual
but considering the sorry state of your creek it might be highly
educational for him, I reckon. After that he will think twice
before breaking the law again. Listen, Benson, yesterday we
buried a man who had been a seedy rascal. He got killed by his
own brother. If you don't behave yourself I personally see to it
that you suffer a lot much worse. I hear there are still some
free cells in Yuma.”
The now docile bully was nauseated.
“I promise I gonna behave myself, Marshal! And I won't touch a
booze ever again. Last time I got drunk Lucas … I mean … Mister
McCain could have killed me easily. No more booze for me, nosir!
I am mighty beholden for such a chance, don’t you worry, sir.”
Nils and Mark remained silent, anxious to hear the reaction but
after contemplating for a few seconds Lucas nodded.
“Send him to my place tomorrow morning, Micah. See to it that he
have a good sleep tonight because he gonna need it. Once he is
finished with the work I have in mind for him, he will be a
mighty useful hand.”
After leaving the office Lucas and Mark headed for their
buckboard. Mark was still eager to tell his father anything
about the trip to Silverton.
“So, when Billy saw Garret's posse coming over that ridge he
rode up to that cave and found some cover behind that rock.
Then, when they were close enough, he …”
“Yes, Pa …”
“It sure feels good that you are home again, son.”
These stories are based on the TV series
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
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around The McCain Ranch