The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Lessons of Death
Written by Klara's Boy

The knocking was first not loud enough to wake Micah. But eventually the Marshal opened his tired eyes. However a second later jumping out of the chair behind the desk and grasping the Colt in front of him was just one thing. He threw a fast glance at his pocket watch: it was just several minutes after 9 o'clock in the evening. Micah frowned. Lucas was not supposed to get back from lunch at the hotel before 10 o'clock. But then who …
 The knocking was a smidgeon louder this time.
 “Who´s there?”
 Micah aimed his Colt at the door.
 “Just a humble servant of our Lord. Please open up. I would like to ask for a favor.”
 “Who are you? What do you want?”
 Micah took a deep breath and cocked his gun.
 “Please open up. I am alone and would like to talk to you for a moment …please.”
 “Stay where you are. Don't try anything stupid.”
 Cautiously Micah walked over to the door and opened it. Fresh night air streamed into the office. Micah was surprised. First he thought a young boy was standing in front of him. But then he noticed the grey beard in the haggard face of the person that had knocked against the door. The man was appalling gaunt and emaciated. His small eyes lay deep in their sockets. A worn-out cowl made of grey fabric covered his meager frame. A grungy hat completed his paltry outfit.
 Micah looked around. The stranger was obviously alone. There was no sign of danger on the empty streets of North Fork. Micah tried to calm himself.
 “What do you want, Mister?”
 The tiny monk bowed slightly.
 “I am Brother Brian, a preacher and unworthy servant of Jesus Christ. Three days ago I heard that you had Pima-Todd, the famous Indian fighter and scout in your custody. Is that true?”
 “Well, back shooter, rustler and robber would be a more appropriate description of the man in my cell. But you're right, he's here. I don't suppose you are a friend of his?”
 “Well… in a way I am. You see, many years ago I went west and tried to do, what the Almighty ordered me to do. I brought his word to our pagan brothers, the Apaches. Back then they were still in the hands of Evil. So they captured me and were about to prepare for me a martyr's death. But God sent Pima-Todd. The man convinced them to release me. He saved my life.”
 “Never occurred to me that that murderer would also have his good sides. Anyway tomorrow morning he will be sent to Yuma and most probably to the gallows. Do you want to make him confess his sins, padre? I am afraid that could take ages.”
 The tiny preacher smiled humbly.
 “I would be most happy if I could do that. But with your permission I would like to comfort him and invigorate his faith in our Lord. Maybe I can repay my dept that way.”
 The tiny man bore an odd resemblance with a scarecrow. Micah however was still highly suspicious.
 “Do you carry any guns, padre?”
 Again the preacher smiled and pulled an old book out of the pocket.
 “I never travel without the most powerful weapon in the world. That is all I need.”
 “Well, in that case you won't mind if I search you. No offense but I can't be careful enough, padre.”
 “Of course, Marshal. Anything you say. But I have never touched a gun in my life and I never would. Sadly the devil finds many ways to make men use his tools of death.”
 “Well, you're right about that, padre.”
 After searching the man, Micah holstered his gun and led Brother Brian to the cell.
 “Well, here he is, padre. I hope we will appreciate your efforts. But I kinda doubt that, I must confess.”
 In the cell, a shabby man was snoring. His black hair was long and tousled. Obviously he hadn't shaved or bathed for quite a while. His plaid shirt and his buckskin pants were dusty and sweaty. Pima-Todd had a massive frame, muscular arms, big hands and long legs. The place where his left ear was supposed to be was disfigured by a conspicuous scar, covering parts of his cheek.
 “Hey, Todd, there is someone who wants to see you. You might even benefit from that.”
 When Micah and the preacher entered the prisoner opened his eyes and was about to say something, but the tiny monk, making the sign of the cross, was quicker.
 “The Lord may protect you. I am Brother Brian. Do you remember me?”
 Pima-Todd was suddenly wide awake. He sat up, scratched the back of his head and grinned, showing his yellow teeth.
 “I sure do, Brian, I sure do. How could I forget you? That's what I call a surprise, yessir. I never would have thought that you had the cuts to cross my path again. Well, I am pleased, much pleased indeed.”
 Brother Brian took off his squalid hat.
 “I hope I can improve your situation, Todd. The good Marshal here permitted me to pay you a visit and proved himself a true Christian that way.”
 “Mighty obliged for that, yessir.  Who would have thought …?”
 Micah nodded and was about to go back to his desk.
 “Well, if there is nothing more a can do I guess I should leave you two alone.”
 Brother Brian's calm voice stopped him in his tracks.
 “Well, Marshal… as a matter of fact, there is one more thing you could do for us …”
 Micah turned around and looked straight into the barrel of the little Bull Dog revolver, Brother Brian had pulled out of his hat.
 “Drop your gun belt, hand over the keys for the cell and keep quiet. That is the only way you can avoid meeting your Maker right away.”
 While Lucas was still enjoying his steak, Mark had already eaten up his cake.
 “Well, son, since you're already finished, take Micah's lunch over to his office. Micah will appreciate that. ”
 “Yes Pa … say … is it true … what they say about that man in the cell …?”
 Lucas put his fork aside and was thinking for a few seconds.
 “Yes, I figure most of those stories are true. As far as I know, he was raised by Pimas, than he became a scout for the army since the Pimas are the archenemies of the Apaches. But he began also a career as professional gambler and after that he started rustling and … killing people. I heard that he once stole 20 cows after shooting two farmers in the back while they were eating lunch at their campfire. Seems to me that he doesn't care about his reputation as a coward. Well, after killing a gambler in Arizona, who had turned his back on him, he was sent to Yuma for a couple of years. When he was free again he came here together with two friends to rob our bank… well, you know the rest.”
 “Please tell me once again, Pa! The boys at school kept talking about the shooting all the time.”
 Lucas signed. He had told the tale at least a dozen times.
 “As you know I was in the shop buying those boots you are wearing when I heard the shooting in front of the bank. Todd's friends fired at me, when they tried to get to their horses. Well, they won't rob any banks ever again. And now you take that steak and get it over to Micah. He must be starving.”
 Mark got up, took the plate and headed to the exit of the hotel. At the door the turned around.
 “Thanks again for the new boots. They fit like a glove, Pa.”
 “You’re welcome, son. Hurry and tell Micah I will come over as soon as I am finished here. I just have to drink a big cup of coffee. If we want to stand guard all night, we have to be alert.”
 “Yes, Pa.”
 “How is he, Doc?”
 “Not too bad … a mild concussion I guess. He was lucky though. A blow to the head like that can a kill a man just as easy. Micah needs a lot of rest now. But he will be fine in two or three days.”
 Lucas was terrified. He talked very slowly when he bowed over his hurt friend.
 “Micah, can you hear me? How do you feel?”
 Micah was stretched out on the bed in Doc Burrage, a thick poultice over the back of his head.
 “What do think, how I am feeling, Lucas Boy? I fell for an underhanded trick of a phony preacher. And a vicious killer is free like a bird again.”
 The old Marshal was clearly exhausted and tried to hide his pain that was raging behind his swollen forehead. To the physical pain came the humiliation to boot. This was clearly a bitter pill to swallow.
 “They stole even my shotgun and some revolvers along with plenty of ammunition. And the Doc told me that my horse was also gone. I am too old for that kind of work, I guess. I am so tired now. Let me sleep, for God's sake …”
 Lucas was agitated like never before in his life.
 “Where do you think, they are going, Micah?”
 “Well, I guess they are heading right for the desert. Todd was raised there. He knows plenty of hideouts between the rocks. Even for a large posse it would be hard to follow him.”
 “Micah, what's with Mark? Where is my son? Have you seen him somewhere?”
 “Yes, I sent him over to bring you something to eat. Nobody has seen him since! Micah, tell me, what you know! Where can he be?”
 “Well, the last thing, I remember … no, I haven't seen him. You don't suppose they … “
 Lucas grabbed his rifle and stormed out of the Doc's house into the night.
 Micah sat up, looking even more off-color than before.
 “Lucas, you can't follow them in the dark!”
 The distraught ranger didn't even look back.
 “I have to! My boy got kidnapped by Pima-Todd!”
 A few seconds later the Doc and the Marshal could hear a rider galloping out of town.
 Micah tried to walk a few halting steps but then he decided to go back to bed.
 “Don´t even think about, Micah!”
 “What do you mean, Doc?”
 “If you attempt to follow Lucas in order to help him, you would fall out of the saddle within half an hour. You would just be a millstone around his neck. I just don´t know who I should feel more pity for: for the worried father or … Todd, when Lucas catches up with him.”
 Two hours after sunup a young coyote sidled up to the wild turkey that was looking for insects between the bushes. But the watchful bird noticed the inexperienced hunter soon enough. It took refuge up a sere tree, shedding some loose feathers. The bird watched the coyote vanishing in the desert, looking for easier prey. But the twig up in the tree exposed the turkey for a few seconds too long. Micah's shotgun roared. The echo was cast back from the brown scarps around. The bird dropped like a stone into the soft sand.
 The small group had hidden up on the top of a small mesa, over and over covered with bushes and rocks. From there the kidnappers could see any approaching pursuer from far away.
 During the meal Todd looked at Mark, who was squatting under a cactus without eating or saying a word. The events during the last hours had deeply disturbed the weary boy.
 “Well, don´t be so gloomy, kid. No harm done. It was just bad luck running right into us when we were leaving the prison. You ought to eat something, boy. We have still a long way to go.”
 Mark lifted his head.
 “Where are we going, Mister?”
 “You can call me Todd, just Todd. Well, I have figured it all out. We are heading to a Pima village high up in the mountains. The family of my wife still lives there. We will be safe there. You'll like it.”
 “You´re married … Todd?”
 “I sure am. I have two daughters, too. I am really fond of kids. You don't have to be afraid. As long as nobody tries to follow us, that is. It's a bitter thing to say but right now, I am afraid you are our life insurance.”
 “You mean hostage, right?”
 The scarred man seemed a little sheepish.
 “What an ugly word. You don't believe all the stories they keep telling about Pima-Todd, do you? I am not that bad. Just ask Brian over there. We shared a cell in Yuma for over four months. He is the best friend a man can have. He brought to North Fork two horses to allow us a fast escape. And then he had that marvelous idea of stealing that stupid Marshal's horse so you can accompany us, boy.”
 Mark looked at the silent preacher who was sucking on a turkey's bone. In broad daylight, his chin curtain beard and pallid face made him almost look like a grotesque twin of Abraham Lincoln. The haggard man, still wearing the worn-out cowl, didn't pay any attention to Todd or Mark.
 “I understand … you're a priest, Mister Brian?”
 Brian looked up after throwing the bone away.
 “Of course not. I don't believe in God or the holy virgin or anything like that. My father was a catholic clergyman tough. But he refused to recognize me as his son. My mother on the other hand made me go to college in Baltimore and to a university in Philadelphia. After that I became an actor. I worked for theaters in Washington and New York.”
 Todd clapped his big hands laughing.
 “And what a mighty fine actor he is, yessir. I still see that stupid Marshal's face, when he looked into that lovely Bull Dog revolver of yours. Priceless! You know, boy, Brian is a highly educated man. In prison he was in charge of the place where they keep all the books. And he was talking about that dead foreigner all the time. No wonder they called him Brainy Brian. He even tried to teach me reading and writing. But it was no good, was it, Brian?”
 Brian glared daggers at Todd. Both men had armed themselves in the office before taking off.
 “The … place with the books is called a library and the dead foreigner as you put it was called Shakespeare, the most esteemed author of all times. I just don't see why you are so proud about being illiterate, you fatuous bumpkin.”
 Todd tried to give his voice a conciliatory tone.
 “Reading just gives you headache. I still can hardly write my own name. Don't get riled up, Brainy Brian. I do appreciate what you have done for me. As I said, you´re a mighty fine friend. I never believed those inane rumors about you anyway …”
 Somehow Mark noticed a strange tension between the two men. There were so different in every way that it was hard to image that they could be actual friends. On the other hand opposites are known to attract. Mark couldn't help growing curious despite his desperate situation.
 “What rumors?”
 Todd shrugged simpering.
 “I don't even know if it's worth mentioning. Back in Yuma some inmates tried to organize a jailbreak. But several hours before the show should have started, the guards arrested the ringleaders. All the months of planning were for nothing. I spent three weeks in a dark cell together with three other guys while Brian was released ahead of time. After he was free again rumors came up that he had been a rotten fink, ratting on his comrades in exchange for his freedom.”
 Todd starred at Brian waiting for his reaction but the former actor left that story uncommented.
 “Well, as I said, that stories were straight out of the rumor mill. Nothing but yakking, I'm sure.”
 Mark looked at the tiny man who sat on a rock in the shadow of an old cactus, glancing impassively to the horizon. Under his garment one of Micah's Colts could be seen.
 “If you don't mind, Mister Brian … but why did you serve time in prison?”
 Brian shook his head. His doleful voice fit very well to his measly figure.
 “I was sentenced for peculation of 1200 dollars at a theater in New York. But I paid my dues. Yuma showed me what Shakespeare meant when his Lady Macbeth states: "Nougat's had, all's spent, where our desire is got without content.”
 Todd arched an eyebrow.
 “What´s that supposed to mean?”
 Brian heaved a sigh.
 “Crime doesn´t pay, I guess. You always end up empty handed. How right he was. Anyway, one afternoon I was bitten by a rattler on the way to our cell. Todd saved my life by tracking me to the doctor. That's the only reason why I came to North Fork to free that insolent deadhead.”
 Todd was seemingly unimpressed by that insult. Brian was obviously not afraid of the infamous killer. If there was a friendship between them it had to be a very odd one. Brian pulled out his gun and checked the bullets in the chambers. While doing so his hands were shaking.
 “But one thing is for sure. I will never go back to Yuma. I never knew that human beings could be so spiteful and vile. I swore to kill any man who tries to lock me up again.”
 He holstered his weapon and stood up, walking around to stretch his short legs. Mark didn´t want to but for a moment he felt sorry for the man. He looked like as he had some grave ailment.
 “You´re alright, sir? You don't look too good.”
 “The grub in the prison made me sick. After a few months I was prepared to do anything to get out of that hell hole, absolutely anything.”
 For a moment there was an awkward silence between the two men. It was broken by Todd, turning to his prisoner.
 “Where are my manners? I have not asked you for your name yet, boy?”
 “It´s …Mark, Mark McCain.”
 The disfigured man was startled for a moment.
 “You don't say! You don't happen to be the son of that sodbuster with the rifle who killed Gus and Frank when we hit the bank, do you? Well, no hard feelings. I didn't like those brutes anyway. Come to think of it your father did me a favor. Maybe I can thank him one time.”
 “My Pa will follow us with a posse and free me. You can bank on that, Todd.”
 “You will stay with us as long as I please. You can bank on that, Mark.”
 Todd got up and walked menacingly towards his hostage. A strange expression on his uncouth face alerted the boy.
 “Mark, I afraid you have something on your mind, something along the lines of running away. I want you to hold still now so I don't have to hurt you. Brian, grab him!”
 Brian´s surprisingly strong hands kept the screaming boy down while Todd tried to get a hold on his kicking legs.
 Lucas McCain was desponded. He followed the tracks as cautious as he could but he was well aware of the fact that the jail breaker would have enough opportunities to lay in wait. His rifle was always ready to fire. Lucas could only hope that the killer's first shot would miss. In the meantime the heat became unbearable.
 In the afternoon he reached a small mesa, covered with bushes and boulders. Lucas decided to ride up there in order to get an overview over the desert. When Lucas reached the top of the mesa he immediately noticed something strange lying in the white sand under the shrubs. He dismounted and seconds later he picked up two small items. At that point the anguished man started praying. He had never felt so frantic before.
 “I promise I find you, son! I'll find you. That's just as sure as the turning of the earth.”
 Then he put Mark´s brand-new boots into his saddle bags and mounted up. He left the mesa following the tracks.
 The kidnappers were ridding abreast through the bushes. Todd was leading Mark's horse by its reins.
 “You better don't try anything stupid, Mark. Running through this land barefoot is anything but pleasant. When I was as old as you, my father forced me to do that to harden me. After a mile you are willing to curse the day you were born. I hope you don't take amiss my measure of precaution.”
 Mark didn't answer. When his boots were violently pulled from his feet and thrown away, his hate towards the two men was sparked. He had loved those boots just because his father has bought them. The boy looked back hoping to spot his Pa in the distance following the kidnappers. But as far as his eyes could reach there was nothing but sands, rocks and desiccated vegetation.
 When they rode over a stark ridge that offered a wonderful overview over the vast landscape Todd pointed to a huge rock about 2 miles away that bore a distant resemblance with a human face with a giant nose.
 “See that rock over here? The Apaches call it “Bloody Nose”. About eight years ago, a wagon train pitched camp there, right under the rock, seeking shelter. They were five families heading for California. In the morning, the Apaches attacked. Three days later I lead a cavalry patrol there. I ain´t gonna forget the look on the face of that callow lieutenant when he saw the remnants of those who had not been lucky enough to get instantly killed. That shavetail was later sent back to the east due to his … mental problems. It was an awful mess, I can tell you. The reek of those rotting bodies was enough to change a man for the rest of his life. When we buried the dead I even noticed a badger feasting on a woman's flesh. It still makes me shiver. Can you image, Brian? A stinking badger eating a human being?”
 Brian was unimpressed. The actor seemed glum and thirsty.
 “How long until we set up camp for tonight, Todd?”
 “Two more miles then we reach a creek, nobody knows. It’s a fine place to spend the night, my friend. So there is no need to become salty.”
 “Sounds good to me.”
 “Does your stomach still bother you, Brian? Is that the reason why you're so chippy?”
 “That´s not your concern. I just intended to repay my debt yesterday. Maybe it was the last decent thing I could in this miserable life, using my artistic talent to make a difference. But now your stories just hack me off.”
 After a pause, the sick actor continued.
 “Doctors are not longer able to help me. Nobody knows how long I can go on. Sometimes at night the pain is maddening. I am not afraid of death anymore but your blather just keeps on needling me.”
 Todd nodded appreciatively.
 “Maybe you should really turn your heart and soul to our Lord. Maybe that will comfort you. It's of course only a humble suggestion.”
 Instead of an answer Brian's hand took the old bible out he had shown Micah. He locked disdainfully at the cover before throwing the book into a ravine.
 Mark was stunned but Todd just shrugged.
 “I understand you. I really do. If there was anything I could do for you I would do it. You know that, my friend. But in any case those boys back there in the dark cell in Yuma were worse off. One died in there and another one went insane. I can still hear the unintelligible words he was screaming all night long.”
 Brian was evidently on the edge.
 “Is there any way I can make you shut your big mouth, Todd?”
 “Well, maybe there is …”
 When Lucas McCain looked up he saw two vultures circling over the dunes. He felt a terrible twinge of fear in his heart. The lonely rider careered towards the point where the birds had apparently spotted a dead body. When he was close enough he dismounted and took cover behind a bush. Carefully he sneaked closer, prepared for everything. When he heard the squawking of the greedy birds he jumped up. A second later he lowered his rifle. The shriveled carcass of a bobcat died of exhaustion was rotting between the dunes.
 In the late afternoon they came to a narrow chine. At the bottom some lush bushes and green trees indicated the existence of water. A choppy breeze kept the temperature bearable. Between the rocks they soon discovered the creek Todd had spoken about. The three travelers dismounted in the shadow of a huge mesquite tree. Mark was still very reticent. Todd put his muscular arms around the boy's shoulders.
 “Are you still longing for your Pa? I am sorry but perhaps you should stay with me permanently, Mark. You can live with me and my family. I am a pretty good father, you know.”
 The homesick boy jerked himself free, almost crying.
 “You are not fit to hold a candle to my Pa.”
 Todd seemed disappointed when he attempted to placate his young hostage.
 “Don´t be so bitter. I can teach you some valuable lessons about life. Here is my first one: you have to differentiate between things you need and things that are expendable. If you find something no longer useful, you better get rid of it.”
 He turned around and pulled Micah's shotgun out of the scabbard. He checked the cartridges inside and smiled contently.
 “Take that shotgun for example. It's highly … let's say … expedient. So I better keep it.”
 Brian sniggered quizzically.
 "The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole.”
 For a moment Todd seemed to turn fretful but then he smirked.
 “That´s from that dead foreigner again, ain´t it? So I guess you mean I am a fool and you're not. Is that right? Aren't you … a little brash?”
 “In any case you don't strike me as somebody who could teach anything that counts, Todd. You can't even add one plus one, you conceited bumpkin.”
 “Well, let's see about that. Here is my second lesson, boy. Always keep smart people around you. They can come in handy. Take Brian for example. Such a sage fellow always comes up with pretty useful ideas. That can help you a lot, yessir.”
 Mark frowned. He didn't like the uncanny direction the conversation took.
 “There is always a drawback about such resourceful folks however. You never know what they are really thinking. Their mind always works and you can't tell what you might be up against. Maybe one day they even come up with dangerous ideas, with something you just can’t predict. And the next thing you know … they turn on you for some selfish reason that might serve their own purpose. I am sure that the spineless stool pigeon who revealed our plan of the jailbreak was such a smart fellow with a restless mind.”
 Brian grew even more vexatious. It was clear that he felt nothing but scorn for the man he had rescued.
 “I got my fill of that kind of talk. I should have let you rot in that cell in North Fork. That was the last time I stick my neck out for you, Todd. I thought I could ease my conscience by getting you out of prison but tomorrow we split up. I will go straight to Mexico and I hope I'll never see you again. Sooner or later you gonna end up on the gallows anyway. This is exactly what you deserve.”
 “So you are trying to say … we are no friends anymore? How can you do that to me, Brian?”
 His condescending tone infuriated the little man even more.
 “I get on my horse and we split right here and now.”
 “That saddens me. I really like you, Brian. In a way you have always been a role model to me. But don't let me stop you. I don't want to ride with someone, who doesn't wanna ride with me. But before you leave you might wanna help yourself with some water. It can be a long time before you find another opportunity to drink.”
 “I might have figured that out myself, thank you.”
 Muttering some hardly understandable words Brian walked over to the creek to fill his canteens.
 Todd turned to Mark again. The boy sensed something in the voice.
 “In some cases you have to … combine these two lessons. One lesson and another lesson … that equals two lessons, wouldn't you agree, Brian?”
 Before Mark could say a word or scream a warning, Todd aimed Micah's shotgun at Brian's back. Without any hesitation the sneering killer pulled both triggers at once. Brian didn't even hear his own death scream.
 While reloading the murderous weapon, Todd looked at the actor's shattered body that made the water run red.
 “Well, I can't read and write but how to you like my adding, Brainy Brian?”
 The Gila monster was looking for little birds and their nests in the midst of the blossoming cacti when it sensed the horse's hooves. Surprisingly fast the poisonous lizard crawled under a rock for cover.
 Lucas had to face it: since he had obviously lost the track many miles back the situation had become hopeless. He was all alone in a barren landscape that offered neither shadow nor water. Three of his five canteens were already empty. The exhaustion was beginning to take its toll. His senses were not as acute as usual. Salty sweat was blinding his eyes. So he noticed the four rifles pointed at him only when it was already too late.
 “But you didn't have to kill him. He turned his back on you. You didn´t give him a chance at all.”
 Todd pointed at the left side of his disfigured face where the white scar could be seen only too well.
 “I was once in a fight people might call fair when I was 16 years old. Here you see the result. I almost bled to death that night. I am still alive because of the fact that I take no chances. Here is my next lesson for you: never take chances, Mark! Others may prefer risks and open conflicts … but pretty soon they end up in a wooden box. There is nothing more despicable as stupid men. And being fair and square by giving the enemy an even chance is the worst form of stupidity. So you better bluff wherever and whenever you can. I may not be able to write my own name but I am much smarter than that well-educated fool over there. He is dead, I am alive. That makes all the difference! That is the most important lesson, boy! Never let somebody talk you into taking chances. Then you might grow old. At least I aim to see my grand children.”
 He took up the dead man's hat turning it gently in his giant hands.
 “I hope he will be happy with that dead foreigner he kept talking about. Besides … I never liked that snooty-nosed pipsqueak anyway.”
 Mark was still deranged.
 “There are not many people you like, right?”
 “Well, maybe you, Mark. I like the idea that we might become friends soon …”
 Mark looked at Brian's body, torn by steel buckshot.
 “I hope I will never be anything like you, Todd!”
 “As I said … I could be a good teacher. How about another lesson for you, boy? No matter how useless a man might be … there is always the opportunity to learn something new. His idea with the little revolver in the hat … that was mighty slick, yessir.”
 Mark's eyes examined the rocky hills for any sign of danger.
 “Where are we going now?”
 “We mount up and follow the creek upstream. After one more mile we reach a place the Apaches called “Deep Water.” Well, it's nothing more than a nice pond within a pretty grove but it's a good place for spending the night.”
 Mark grew apprehensive about hidden perils that could be hiding alongside the creek.
 “Apaches? Are they still around in these parts?”
 “While living with the Pimas I learned one thing pretty good… how to kill Apaches. But there is nothing to worry about as long as I am with you. I don't think there are any Apaches left around here.”
 “The white man knows the big rock over there?”
 Lucas looked in the direction the warrior pointed to.
 “Apaches call it “Bloody Nose”. We killed many white men there. Soon you will join them.”
 Lucas, exhausted and thirsty, looked up to the low outcrop where four Apaches had taken their positions aiming their rifles at him. Their leader was a white-haired man, wearing a dusty military jacket, a white loincloth together with brown pants and knee-high footgear. He was armed with a dated Winchester Model 1866 and a holstered Remington Model 1875. His wrinkled face and his dark eyes expressed only one feeling: hate towards the white invaders who were trying to steal his tribe´s land. The other warriors were much younger, well armed and able-bodied.
 Lucas knew that he stood little chance in an open fight. But he was well aware of the fact that showing any insecurity could be his undoing. So he took charge of the situation.
 “Yes, you can kill me. But I can fight. Watch this.”
 He spun around and fired three shots at a blooming cactus about 50 feet away with lightning speed. Three blossoms exploded sending torn white petals into the air. While the shots were still resounding from the cliff he turned to the impressed warriors.
 “Yes, you can kill me. But before I go to my ancestors I will take at least two of you with me. Great will the grief in the hearts of your women and your children will cry many tears. Besides … you Apaches are not my enemy. A white man is my enemy. He took my son away from me. I follow him and I will kill him.”
 The old Apache seemed to marinate over the odds. He felt his companions becoming impatient.
 “You are a warrior like us. I am the one they call Yacca. I am one of the Mimbreno-people. When I was young I fought alongside with our great leader Mangas Coloradas. We were free then. We killed many white men. Maybe we all die today. Maybe only some will die today. We will see.”
 One of the younger warriors chambered at bullet of his Winchester 73 but his father gently pushed the barrel of the rifle aside.
 “My sons may not kill this man now. Not before he speaks. The white man may speak now. Who is the man you are looking for?”
 Lucas looked the old man straight into his dark eyes.
 “He is known as Pima-Todd.”
 The old Apache exchanged glances with his sons who immediately lowered their rifles.
 Mark was exhausted, when he dismounted. His watery eyes hurt. Todd looked around prepared to react to any sign of danger. But he and his prisoner were alone. The wet sludge at the shore of the pond showed a great number of tracks of animals indicating that the lagoon was crucial for the survival of many species.
 “You go over there in the shadow, Mark. I'll take care of the horses. It will soon be dark.”
 Mark limped over to a rock and almost collapsed. He had no eyes for the strange beauty of the “Deep Water” surrounded by lush green bushes and high trees. The little oasis was like a tiny island in a sea of burning sand and rocks.
 Mark was disturbed when he examined his feet. His socks were torn, his balls and toes blood stained. Quickly he removed a long thorn from a heel. While Todd was watering the horses Todd turned his back on the distraught boy. So Mark used the opportunity to forget his pride and cried.
 Suddenly a huge shadow blotted out the sinking sun. Mark looked up and saw the towering figure of a man, holding a rifle. Mark's boots seemingly dropped from the sky landing right in front of his hurt feet.
 “Put these on, son!”
 Mark jumped up.
 Todd turned around … and froze. Lucas McCain was standing right in front of him, only 20 feet away, pointing his cocked rifle at the killer. After some endless seconds Todd put his hands up.
 “How did you find us? Nobody knows …”
 “I had a little help.”
 “Are you going to kill me?”
 “I leave that to hangman … unless you harmed my boy. In that case I will bury you right here.”
 The killer looked like a straightforward man who was deeply confounded.
 “What are you thinking, Mister McCain? Mark and I got along splendidly. Ain´t that right, Mark?”
 “Pa, don´t you believe him! He killed the other man, who got him out of his prison. He shot him in the back! It was horrible!”
 Todd shook his head disapprovingly.
 “Mark, how can you say such a thing? That saddens me. I really like you, Mark. You father might get a wrong impression about Pima-Todd.”
 Lucas stepped closer.
 “Get rid of your guns, Todd. I won't tell you twice.”
 Todd's left hand went down to the buckle of his gun belt and opened it carefully. Then he grinned.
 “You would not shoot an unarmed fellow, Mister McCain. Being fair and square, that's what I admire about a guy like you.”
 Lucas starred hatefully at the man who had caused such trouble and pain.
 “Save your talking for the jury when you stand trial!”
 The killer politely took off his hat and held it in front of his right hand.
 “At your service … sodbuster.”
 “Pa! Watch out! His hat …!
 Four rapidly fired rifle-shots told Todd his last lesson: never draw a hidden gun on Lucas McCain.
 “My heart is glad that you found your son.”
 Yacca pensively looked at Lucas who still was kneeling down, hugging his sobbing boy.
 “Thanks for your guidance. Without you I never would have found my way here. I am forever in your debt, Yacca.”
 Mark gazed at the smiling face of the old Apache.
 “The Indian helped you, Pa?”
 “He certainly did. Yacca is the best tracker you can image. Otherwise I never would have seen you again, Mark.”
 The wise Mimbreno glanced hatefully down on Todd's body.
 “Today I have three sons. I had five sons. Long ago this man lying there sold bad whiskey to our people. Many people became sick and weak. My oldest sons told that man to go away and to leave us alone. He killed them both. He shot my sons in the back. Now I have only three sons.”
 Then he turned to Lucas.
 “I know how it is to lose a son. So raise your son good. He will become a brave warrior.”
 Mark had calmed himself in the meantime. His Pa came to rescue him. That was all that counted.
 “Where are you going now, Mister Yacca?”
 The warrior shrugged wearily. He seemed to be at a loss. Not only about his own destiny.
 “In the north there are still places with water and grass no white man knows. We will go there. Maybe we can live there in peace. I don't know how long until the bluecoats will come there too.”
 Lucas nodded compassionately.
 “My heart wishes you luck, Yacca.”
 The two fathers shook hands.
 Mark was brooding over his homework, when he heard horses approaching the ranch. Glad about the distraction he opened the door and starred at the picturesque sight.
 “Soldiers are coming, Pa.”
 Lucas had already heard the noise. Together with his son he stepped out of the house.
 Three dozen cavalrymen were heading for Lucas´ home. The former lieutenant admired their well-fed horses and their unstained uniforms. The commanding officer, a strapping major with a trim moustache, lifted his right arm. The highly disciplined riders behind him stopped their horses at once. For a moment Lucas felt a great deal of pride about the fact that he too had once belonged to such a good-looking unit of fighting men.
 The officer dismounted and approached the porch accompanied by a much younger captain.
 “Good evening. I am looking for a ranger named Lucas McCain.”
 “You found him, Major.”
 “My compliments, Mister McCain. I am Major Harold, 4th Cavalry. This is Captain Woodrow, my second in command.”
 “That is my son Mark. What can we do for you, Major?”
 “We are entrusted with an important assignment: reconnaissance in the desert for three columns of cavalry which will follow us within two days. The marshal at North Fork told me today that you crossed that area last week pursuing a fugitive criminal. Is that correct, Mister McCain?”
 “That is correct, Major Harold.”
 “Did you notice any hostile activities?”
 “You mean Apaches on the warpath?”
 “You are getting my point, Mister McCain.”
 “Well, I was lucky. I didn't run into any raiding party, if that's what you mean, but when I caught up with the killer he was pretty scared. He told me about 15 or 20 warriors without women or children, heading straight south, probably to the Mexican border.”
 “Where is the man? Do you think it would be possible to ask him further questions?”
 “I am afraid you come too late. He resisted me and drew a hidden gun. But I was faster.”
 “That´s too bad.”
 “I have no reason to believe that he lied to me about the Apaches he had sighted.”
 “Anything else we should know about our enemy, Mister McCain?
 “Only that: you better be careful. The Apaches are fierce fighters, I hear.”
 “Thank you for the advice but this campaign will not last longer than two or three weeks. After that the Southwest will be pacified forever.”
 “Of course it will.”
 After the soldiers had left heading straight into the desert, Mark was remarkably contemplative.
 “What is it, Mark?”
 “Well, you told the officer that the Apaches are going south to the border. But Yacca told you quite the opposite. Isn't that … you know … telling a …?”
 Lucas felt rather sheepish.
 “Well, Mark, sometimes it is necessary to … adapt your answers to a specific situation. Not that you should to that but … once in a while there can be a … particular occasion …”
 Mark smiled.
 “… when fathers have to stick together. Is that what you mean, Pa?”
 Lucas nodded proudly, putting his loving arms around his boy's shoulders.
 “You´re right, son. Fathers gotta help each other. Now finish your homework.”
 “Right away, Pa.”
 Lucas lit up a cigar and looked at the marvelous sunset thinking about the other father.
 “Thank you for saving my boy, Yacca …”
 The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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