The Writer's Corner
“Long ride to North Fork”
Written by Klara's
his office´s door of and stepped out on the almost empty street,
listening to the blissful silence. He always enjoyed the last
minutes of the day when the sun finally sank and the cool breeze
brought some refreshment after a hot afternoon. Following his
daily routine Micah walked slowly down the street. Once in a
while he stopped and checked if the doors of the stables were
properly locked. Everything was alright only in Sweeney´s saloon
some boisterous cowhands kept exchanging anecdotes about the
tough life out there on the plains with the cattle. When the sun
was gone he reached the last houses in the outskirts of North
Fork. Everything was peaceful, only a crying baby could be heard
behind a lit window on the second story of a building on the
left. The grandfatherly lawman smiled: the little son of the
Garners was growing fast indeed. Micah took a deep breath and
decided to head back to his office and have dinner.
That was when he heard the stranger approaching. Micah turned
and saw a rider slowly entering the quiet town. In the dim light
it was impossible to make out any details. Micah frowned and
paced carefully back into the shadow of the next house in order
to avoid being a good target. After a few moments however it
became plain that the stranger didn´t pose any threat. The man
on horseback was a tall fella, lean and rugged. His tensed
posture revealed that something was not right about him. While
he was pressing his left hand against his right shoulder he
clung to the reins of his obviously exhausted animal. The
newcomer was an aged and haggard man, maybe in his seventies,
wearing a shabby coat, a grey shirt and pants that were covered
with fine dust up to his knees. After cautiously stepping out of
the dark, Micah faced the man who stopped his nickering horse
right in front of him. Now the Marshal could finally see the old
man´s half-closed eyes and sharp cheekbones. The experienced
lawman turned immediately suspicious.
“Evenin', mister. You ran into some trouble?”
The rider slowly raised his head with a painful effort and
looked down on the Marshal.
“Howdy, sir. I reckon you can call it that. Back in ...
Albuquerque some drunken injun didn´t like the way I refused his
plea for some cash to buy himself some more booze. When I rode
off he drew a gun and nailed me. First I figured it was not that
bad ... but now ... not even at Chickamauga I... felt that
rotten. I figure you folks have a ... doctor here... in your
charming little town... sir?”
Micah shook his head in disbelief. Something sounded definitely
mighty fishy about that whole story.
“Albuquerque you say? You wanna tell me you came all the way
with that lead in your shoulder? What´s your name, mister?”
The wounded man straightened himself while he pressed his right
palm down on the saddle horn.
“Woodson ... Henry Woodson from Alabama... now how about that
Micah looked around but the anguished old-timer was alone. He
came closer and took the rein of the sweat-covered animal. Now
he could see that Woodson´s shirt was soaked with dark blood
around the right collarbone. Woodson moaned when the horse
started moving again. Micah led the animal down the dark street
until he spotted Burrage´s house. Despite the pain the stranger
proudly refused Micah´s helping hand and dismounted on his own.
Heavily panting Woodson leaned against the damp flank of his
mare, while the lawman hurried over to the door and knocked. All
the time Micah was thinking where and when he had heard the name
Henry Woodson before.
The rabbit scurried over to the thorny bushes but the keen eyes
of the towering man sitting at the campfire had already spotted
the animal in the bright light of the moon. Lucas put the cup
away and stretched his long legs. His saddle sore hips were
still smarting a little after the long ride.
“How about some roasted hare, son?”
Mark, who was already lying on his bedroll, took the hat off his
face. The boy grinned and nodded.
“Why not? Would make a nice dinner when we come home, Pa.”
Lucas got up and took his Winchester. The cool air here at the
riverside was a welcome break after a hard day of travelling
through the parched land.
“I will be right back, son. In the meantime you might wanna put
some more wood on the fire. It´s gonna be a chilly night. You
don´t want to return to school running a fever, now, do you?”
Mark watched his father vanishing in the dark going after that
rabbit in the copse. The boy was now almost 16 years old but the
long ride home to North Fork had taken its toll even on him
despite his youth. It sure had been nice meeting the other
cattlemen in Santa Fe and discussing the politics in Washington
with them but now he was longing to get home as soon as
possible. One wealthy rancher from Texas had offered Mark a
well-paid job as cowhand on his huge estate near Austin but Mark
had refused after a moment of thinking about that generous
proposal. No, North Fork was his home and no matter what some
rich fella from Texas promised he would never leave his father.
Deep inside Mark was proud about his steadfast refusal. He
smiled as he got up and put another dry stick on the fire to
keep the aromatic coffee boiling. The biting smoke made his eyes
watery and he started him coughing. Yes, it was really time to
get home at last and...
Mark whipped around but his burning eyes made it tough to see
where that husky voice had come from. After a moment of eyeing
the surroundings he made out a man standing under the weathered
rocks at the riverbanks. It was a burly and uncouth fella in his
early twenties, wearing a black hat, a leather vest and black
pants but his massive paunch covered the buckle of his belt. He
was armed with a Colt 45 holstered at his right side. The
strangely uncanny appearance terrified Mark instantly. The
pot-bellied stranger seemed to sense the boy´s fear and raised
his left hand to calm him as he came closer. Despite his
unattractive looks the man´s tone was amicable and soothing.
“No need to get scared, friend. I just could not help seeing
your fire from the ridge and I would not refuse a cup of that
coffee if that´s possible. I haven´t had any for quite a spell.
I can pay.”
Mark stood up and watched the fat man casually approaching,
using a narrow path through the lush thicket, that grew
alongside the mighty river. The boy desperately tried to stifle
a twinge of panic. Suddenly he felt terribly lonely but he did
his best to show good manners.
“Please... of course ... sir... help yourself.”
When the bloated man reached the small fire his glance
scrutinized the boy for a couple of seconds.
“Much obliged, friend. I came a long way straight from the
Singer´s place but that should not bother you. I understand you,
I really do and I would have joined in if you had told me
The stranger kneeled down and took the pot off the flames to
pour himself some of the steaming coffee into the tin cup Lucas
had placed next to the blankets. Mark was not sure what to do.
The stranger got up and took a sip. His full cheeks were covered
with a thin layer of dust and sweat. He looked and smelled as if
he had spent the last night in some gutter behind a saloon.
While he slurped the hot brewage the man looked around and
pointed to the horses that were grazing nearby.
“As far as I know you are on your own, friend. What do you need
two horses for? Where did you get the other one? Doesn´t matter
to me though...”
Before Mark could say anything the man drew his gun and aimed it
at the terrified boy.
“Hand it over...”
Burrage professionally examined the badly swollen shoulder while
Micah wiped away the fresh blood that kept oozing out of the
festering wound. Henry Woodson was lying on his back and bit his
lips in pain but after a couple of minutes Burrage smiled in
relief and started washing his bloodied hands.
“You sure have been real lucky, mister. That slug is right there
under the skin and didn´t even hurt a vein. It could have been
much worse. We’ll have you fixed up in no time, you´ll see.”
The injured man was apparently not only worried about that ugly
hole in his shoulder.
“First I thought it was not that bad but I could not stop that
bleeding, no matter how hard I tried. My dressing was too loose
I suppose. I can pay you for your efforts, doc, you´ve gotta
Woodson grabbed Burrage´s wrist and shook it firmly to get his
“You hear? I´ve plenty of money. Just get that lead out of my
flesh. Make that pain stop, I beg you.”
Micah threw the soiled dressing into a bucket under the bed and
tried to calm the anxious stranger although the Marshal was
still not sure about the story he had heard earlier.
“Our good doc´s services ain´t that costly. You rest easy now
and let him work in peace. If it wasn´t for him I would not be
around anymore myself and that goes for many folks in these
parts as well.”
Woodson groaned and closed his eyes in sheer exhaustion. His
wrinkled face was terribly pallid and his feeble voice was not
more than a whisper.
“Three days ago I went to see that sawbones in Silverton but he
told me that he would charge me $30 for cutting that bullet out
and I didn´t have that kind of money back then. That's sheer
robbery, that´s what it is. That´s what you get for serving your
country on the battlefield. Not even the surgeons at Chickamauga
were that heartless. But now I can pay, I promise, I can pay,
just help me.”
The physician exchanged a swift glance with the Marshal before
he began to clean his instruments. Burrage was far too
experienced and hard-boiled to get annoyed by that constant
pleading of his desperate patient. Micah on the other hand was
still sorta musing. While he was getting the scalpels ready
Burrage started a casual conversation to distract the old lad. A
nice talk was always helpful. The war was maybe not the best
topic for some chat but he had to go along with it.
“So I understand you fought at Chickamauga, mister?”
Woodson lifted his head and nodded with pride. Micah noticed
that the memory of that gruesome carnage back in 1863 seemed to
give him new strength. At least he was not longer babbling about
the expenses. He moved his right hand up to his temple and
performed a formal salute.
“I sure was, doc. I served in the 45th Alabama under General
Bragg, that miserable fool. Everybody loathed that varmint. But
we kept fighting anyway. We sent General Thomas running for the
hills, yessir! I once even had that so-called Rock of
Chickamauga in my sights but I hung fire. A humble corporal from
Alabama could have changed the war in our favour, yessir. I
could have made history.”
Burrage grinned and took the little bottle with the chloroform
out of the cupboard on the wall. Each time he came to use it he
thanked The Almighty for that priceless invention.
“Such are the fortunes of war, creating kings and beggars. As a
matter of fact we´ve something in common there, mister. I was at
Chickamauga as well.”
The grizzled soldier opened his eyes in disbelief before he
“You were? Well, it´s a pleasure meeting an old comrade here in
North Fork. I´m mighty glad making your acquaintance, sir. Now I
know that I´m in good hands. That is a better sedative than any
whiskey or some of those newfangled pills, doctors sell for a
fortune nowadays. Medical care is usury these days. I realize
that you´re not like that. I´d be honoured even if you cut off
one of my legs, yessir.”
The seasoned physician walked over to the bed and readied
himself for the surgery.
“It is my considered opinion that that won´t be necessary. Soon
you will be on both of your legs again, mister. Yes, I was at
Chickamauga too. Only... I was at the other side, wearing
“What do you mean... mister?”
Mark stepped back in horror and raised his arms. The Colt was
aimed directly at his chest. The porky man dropped the still
half-filled cup, causing a loud clattering noise on the rocky
ground at his feet before he cocked his gun. The barrel gleamed
in the shine of the fire as the fat fella´s small eyes narrowed
into slits, making him even more look like a disgusting pig.
“You know what I mean, my young friend. Get one thing straight:
I ain´t playing games. Hand it over or I shoot you right here
and now. You figure I´m gonna go back to that old fool ever
again? I aim to go back to Sacramento from here and for that I
need it so for the last time: give it to me!”
Mark´s throat was tightening up so he could hardly breathe. The
aghast boy would never have thought that his demise would look
like that. It sure was a cruel world.
“What are you talking about, mister? I don´t understand.”
The grinning stranger stepped closer until the muzzle of his gun
almost touched Mark´s shirt. The faint boy sensed the foul
breath blowing straight into his pallid face.
“If you play any tricks with me I kill you and look for it
myself. You´ve time to tell me until I´ve counted down to one so
you better make up your mind fast, you little fool: five ...
“You ain´t getting down to one, mister.”
The man turned his round head and spotted a towering figure
between the trees amidst the copse. Lucas swung his rifle around
and stepped closer with the utmost caution, ready to fire. His
threatening voice made it very clear that he would do anything
to save his son´s life.
“Drop that gun. I won´t say it again, mister...”
Lucas was approaching cautiously, step by step, ready to release
a hail of lead. His cold glance seemed to pierce the repulsive
critter whose goofy grin froze for an instant while he nervously
rubbed his sweaty shirt. His double chin wobbled while he
“So that´s why they are two horses, hu? Doesn´t matter to me
though! If I´ve got to I get rid of both of you just to get back
what´s mine. Nobody´s gonna stop me, hear? Nobody!”
Lucas stopped and pressed the butt of the rifle firmly against
his right hip. In the bright shine of the fire the bloated man
was a formidable target but he was apparently too stupid to take
that into account when he made the fatal mistake. Despite his
considerable weight the stranger jumped surprisingly fast aside
and aimed his gun at Lucas but before he could pull the trigger
three deafening rifle shots cut him down. Pushed back by the
impacts of the bullets the man collapsed with a piercing scream.
For a couple of heartbeats there was still life in him. Looking
like a grotesque turtle that had been turned around the mortally
wounded man tried to get up again. His fingers still held the
gun but his attempt to lift it was futile. With his stumpy legs
still kicking the would-be killer moaned for the last time
before he sank back into the sand never to rise again.
Lucas, engulfed in grey gunsmoke sighed in relief before he
hurried over to his son who buried his face in his father´s
shirt. Lucas gradually lowered the Winchester until the muzzle
touched the shaft of his boot. His soothing voice revealed his
unconditional love for his only child.
“Are you alright, Mark?”
The sobbing boy nodded before he turned around and looked at the
corpse. The danger was over.
“Who was he? What was he talking about, Pa? Was he just loco?”
Lucas let his left hand glide gently up and down his boy´s back
to comfort him.
“I´m grateful that I didn´t follow that rabbit through the
bushes when it got away from me so I returned just in time. You
are still alive and that´s all that counts now, son.”
“How is he, doc?”
Micah had waited outside during the whole surgery. Burrage left
the building, toweling his hands with a white cloth. The canny
physician closed the door behind him and nodded, satisfied with
the outcome of his work. No wonder everybody in the territory
respected and even loved him for his tireless efforts to keep
folks healthy and sound.
“He is sleeping now. That bullet had been fired from a greater
distance so there was not much power in it anymore when it hit.
That made my work much easier. In two or three days he´s gonna
be on his way again. Those rebels are one tough breed I´ll say
that for them. They gave us a bad time more than once before
they finally realized that they were licked. Much obliged for
your help though.”
Micah shrugged pensively. The full moon was up and all of North
Fork was asleep.
“That´s just fine. As soon as he gets to I intend to ask him a
few questions with your permission of course. I heard that name
of his once before but I´ve no idea when and where. I just can´t
get it out of my head. It really bugs me and reminds me that I
am getting old after all.”
After inhaling the numbing scent of the chloroform for over an
hour Burrage took a deep breath. Again the crying baby could be
heard far away. Micah and Burrage were evidently not the only
ones who didn´t get much sleep that night. But the Garners were
very caring and loving parents.
“You figure our soldier boy is wanted for anything?”
The tired lawman shook his head, still at a loss, growing slowly
but steadily sullen. Such nagging slips of the memory were a
disturbing sign that age was catching up with him and he was not
exactly fond of that notion. Was it already time to retire?
“No, I would know that. It goes with the badge to recognize the
regular outlaws but there is something strangely familiar about
that tough critter. I just can´t recall when I saw him the last
“You just keep an eye on him, doc. We don´t want to lose him
after all, do we?”
“Still no clue...”
Lucas closed the empty saddlebags and shook his head. It had not
been too hard finding the dead man´s horse that had been hidden
behind the rocks near the water but there was nothing that
disclosed a single hint about that maniac´s identity or
purposes. The Rifleman caressed the animal´s neck and turned to
his son who was still kinda pale after that nightly shock.
“Are you sure? He really did say something about the Singer´s
Mark was still bewildered but he did his best to remember all
the things that man had said to him.
“Yes, Pa... he mentioned an old fool he didn´t want to go back
to and that he would have joined up with me for some reason. It
didn´t make any sense at all. What are we gonna do now, Pa?”
Lucas looked over to the crest. The moon was still up and lit
the path that was leading up to the rise.
“I´ve never been there before but I heard once that a family
called Singer actually lived up there. Old Man Singer runs a
small farm not too far from here somewhere behind that ridge
over there. I understand that he is a nice and honest fella. I
figure it´s the best we drop by and ask what that was all about.
Maybe they can tell us more. When we come home we´ve got to
report to Micah anyway.”
Mark was not too fond of that unpleasant idea. Again he wished
nothing more than being at home.
“You don´t mean to get that heavy body across that saddle? I
don´t fancy the idea of touching him. He was gross enough when
he was still alive and now that he is dead ... what I want to
say is: let´s bury him and head on home. Back in North Fork we
tell Micah and everything´s gonna be fine.”
Lucas kept contemplating about that proposal while he heard the
distant howling of a lonely coyote in the rocky hills somewhere
in the North. The dead man´s horse snorted nervously and again
the big hand of the rancher calmed down the uneasy animal while
he made up his mind.
“That fella, whoever he was, was not loco. He knew exactly what
he was doing. You´re right about one thing though: there is no
way we can get the corpse to that farm. We bury that fella as
soon as the sun is up and then we notify the Singers about his
death before we ride on home.”
“Is he already awake?”
Micah was glad that he met Burrage in front of his house. It was
early in the morning and the sun was about to rise but Micah
didn´t look as he had slept at all. Burrage shook his head.
“You better leave the corporal alone for now: he is still
drugged. Don´t worry, he won´t go anywhere. The wound was not
too serious but he lost a lot of blood on his way here. I know
that incompetent doctor in Silverton all too well. As strange as
that may sound: Mister Woodson was sorta lucky to be broke
otherwise that butcher there would have made it even worse. But
now he´s gonna be alright. I sure do hope they got that varmint
who took that shot at him. Nailing such an old man who was not
even armed just in order to get some money for booze is just
about the lowest thing a man can do.”
The old Marshal wanted to say something but then he felt a
little stupid about his obsession to find out more about that
mysterious patient. He tried to get used to the fact that Henry
Woodson was just a harmless drifter who had run into some bad
luck. That was all to it, simple as that. There was no need to
be that stubborn so he asked a question to change the topic.
“I had no idea that you fought at Chickamauga as well, doc.”
Burrage looked at the man with the badge as if that question was
an insult but then the physician sighed. All of a sudden his
usually light-hearted and optimistic disposition seemed to have
“It was actually at Chickamauga when I took a personal oath to
myself. I swore to become a doctor to do my best to ease human
suffering in case I survived that carnage...”
When Mark saw the Singer´s place for the first time he realized
once again how much he missed his own home. The seedy farm
consisted of a dilapidated house and two small stables. Five or
six hens were searching for food between the ramshackle huts. A
pig was feasting on potatoes in a dirty fodder rack. The farm
was located in a parched valley between the rocky hills. Mark
and his father looked down on that desolate place from the
ridge. Dust was drifting in the warm wind. Lucas seemed to be
uncertain what to do but then he grasped the reins of the
unknown man´s horse tighter and drove his heels into the flanks
of his own, leading the animal with him. After a moment of
hesitation his worried son followed him. The two riders directed
their horses down the stony crest and soon they reached the
Singer´s place. Lucas looked around but he couldn´t see anybody.
The farm looked deserted. Only the pig welcomed them with a
sullen grunting. Lucas reached back and pulled his rifle out of
the scabbard, just in case. Suddenly he regretted his decision
to come here but then his need to know more about the nightly
attempt on his son´s life got the better of him.
“Howdy! Anybody home?!”
For some reason Mark was tempted to ask his father to remain
silent to avoid attracting unwanted attention. The anxious
rancher turned in his saddle but still no human being could be
“We´re weary travellers and would like to ask a few questions!
Lucas waited for a couple of seconds before he dismounted. His
eyes were moving from one side to the other. No sound could be
heard except for the grunting of the pig behind the oblique
“Wait here, son. I better take a look. Stay with the horses.
Don´t go anywhere until I´m back.”
Mark nodded before he also got off his nickering horse and kept
the reins in his hands. Lucas casually stepped around the corner
of the barn but still there was no sign of the family. Only a
big dung heap
was rotting in the sun, spreading a very unpleasant smell all
over the place. Broken tools were lying on the ground near a
wood pile. The rancher´s forefinger touched the trigger of the
rifle as he kept sneaking forward, avoiding to step on a branch.
Something was definitely not...
Mark´s frantic scream made the rancher turn around and ran back
to the horses.
Micah let himself sink into the chair behind his desk and opened
his top drawer. It couldn´t hurt to take a look at the old
posters anyway. But before he took the pile out to check the
ugly mugs on the yellowed papers he randomly looked out of his
The old lawman froze for a second and closed the drawer. He knew
that that day would eventually come. The dutiful man with the
badge got up and walked over the counter where he kept his
double-barreled shotgun. That fella who was just riding into
town out there looked like regular citizen but Micah knew
better. He opened the shotgun and pushed two shells into it. He
was well-aware that even the meanest killers respected the
devastating blast of that murderous weapon. Torrance remembered
however that there was one gun outlaws feared even more: a fast
rifle with a big loop. And that was the very moment when Micah
missed his best friend´s help the most.
Mark was lying on his back in the dirt while the horses reared
in panic. Their trampling hooves raised a cloud of dust. Lucas
fired within a heartbeat. The bullet shattered the handle of the
axe the old man was swinging and knocked the rusty weapon out of
his hands. The attacker lost his footing and dropped to the
ground, yelling something in a language Lucas could not
understand. Mark, desperately panting, was still struggling
getting up but after a moment his father´s strong arm pulled him
back on his feet. The shrieking man was lying on his right side
and stared at the towering rancher who kept aiming his rifle at
the would-be murderer. Lucas stepped in front of his son in
order to protect him. He didn´t want to kill the old man unless
he was forced to. That scary critter was apparently drunk. Lucas
had never seen such a wretched and sickly looking fella before.
“Easy now, mister. Don´t move. The next slug will go right into
her head if you try something like that again. Do you
understand? We came here only to ask you a couple of questions,
The attacker, an unshaven and filthy man, was wearing a patched
shirt and dusty pants. Strangely enough he seemed not to be
intimidated by the rifle trained at him. The old fool appeared
however absolutely terrified of Mark. He pointed at the pale boy
and kept screaming like a madman.
“Das ist er! Das ist der Junge! I muss ... ihn umlegen sonst tut
er es wieder! Julie! Hilfe! Er war es...“
Lucas frowned and exchanged a quick glance with his son who was
also at a loss. Lucas carefully stepped closer but kept the
muzzle of the Winchester still pointed at the stranger.
“I can´t understand you. Can´t you speak English? What is this
all about? Answer me, mister!”
The bony man tried to crawl back, still yelling something that
didn´t make any sense at all. It became plain that he had lost
his mind. Nothing what Lucas said to keep the situation under
control did any good. That was the moment when another voice
could be heard, a very different one.
“He can´t understand you. He only speaks German anymore. I´m
sorry, sir. Please put that gun away. We won´t harm you.”
Lucas and his son turned and opened their mouths in awe. A young
girl had appeared out of nowhere, standing right behind them.
She was very tiny and slim. Her straight brown hair was dirty
and unkempt but her hazel eyes were full of calm composure. The
girl´s green dress was dusty and torn. She was not older than 15
years but despite her youth and frail frame she had the aura of
a fully-grown woman. Lucas lowered his rifle. The confused
rancher was totally taken by surprise.
“What did you just say, ma´am?”
The girl came closer hastily rubbing her filthy hands in her
brown apron to clean them but to little avail. Her timid glance
revealed that she was actually ashamed of all that dirty mess
she was living in. The foul stench of the rotting dung heap
behind the barn was still in the air.
“My name´s Julie Singer and that´s my father, Peter Singer. He
just called for help because that boy of yours reminds him of
something terrible that happened to us only two days ago. But
it´s clear that there is a serious misunderstanding. Please
excuse that rough welcome, Mister McCain.”
Lucas eyed the young woman furiously. Still he was mighty
distrusting. The axe, lying on the ground was still in reach of
that deranged fella with the crazed glance.
“How come you know my name, girl?”
Instead of answering right away Julie hurried over to her
heavily panting father who was still unable to get up. Mister
Singer´s bloodshot eyes were still wide and showed how alarmed
he was. Only after some calming words his daughter whispered in
his ears he managed to stand up at last.
The old man rushed over the dead man´s horse and grasped the
reins of the uneasy animal.
“Das ist Simon´s Pferd! That is his horse! Wo ist Simon? Where
is he? Wo ist mein Junge?”
Julie turned and faced Lucas whose rifle was still trained at
the agitated farmer who kept yelling mere syllables with a
grating voice. Mark had remained silent throughout that
upsetting encounter. He realized that Julie seemed as if a
terrible inkling came over her before she faced her guests.
“Where is the man who rode that horse? Did you run into him on
Lucas put his arm around his boy´s soldier and nodded, lifting
“We sure did. He tried to kill my son for no reason and he would
have nailed me too but I was faster with this. But before he
died he said something about your place and that´s the reason
why we dropped by. What you are doing out here is not my
business but as soon as my son gets in harm´s way I become kinda
keen on explanations as you might figure. So for the last time:
how come you know my name? And who was that fella we buried this
morning? Speak up, girl!”
Julie´s eyes became wide as she gazed at Mark. She looked as if
she felt personally responsible for that attack last night. Her
shy tone revealed how shocked she was about the horrible truth.
“What´s your name?”
“Mark, ma'am, Mark McCain…”
“I´m truly sorry, Mark. I would have never thought that he would
go that far. I´m glad you´re alright. Although we don´t know
each other yet I feel that my family did you a great injustice.”
The bewildered boy shivered despite the blazing heat. He had
never heard a girl talking like that. There was definitely
something about that young woman. Lucas however didn´t seem that
fond of her. Julie could feel that hostility as well. The man
with the rifle was in no mood for any games so she straightened
herself and gave him the explanations he was waiting for.
“Four years ago my father had to see the doctor in North Fork
and you were there too, Mister McCain. You were busy loading
some barbed wire on your buckboard. Well, that´s when I heard
your name and learned about your reputation with that rifle of
yours. Too bad you were not here two days ago. I saw you with
your rifle when your Marshal arrested a bank robber before we
Lucas tried to remember. Yes, about four years ago he had helped
Micah to arrest William “Wild Bill” Saxon when he made an
ill-fated attempt to get rich in an unlawful way. Saxon had been
more a reckless bully than a killer, just a short-tempered kid
with a gun who had chosen the wrong company. It had not been too
hard to disarm him after the first shots had been fired. Sadly
one of Hamilton´s tellers had caught a bullet during the
shooting. Later Saxon had been sent to the territorial prison.
Too bad: with the right guidance he could have been a useable
Mark butted in. He just had to since he felt the strangest
mixture of feelings rising in his soul.
“Why did your father attack me with that axe? We´ve never met
Mister Singer before.”
Julie nodded sadly and looked over to her father who was leaning
against the fence, still gasping for air. The old fool lifted
his head when he heard his name and again he seemed to be ready
for a new struggle. Lucas noticed his crazed temptation to put
up a fight once more and lifted his Winchester, a silent warning
not to do anything stupid. The softheaded man babbled something
in German that sounded like a swearword but Lucas didn´t listen
to his pointless mumbling. Julie tried her best to take the edge
out of the dire situation. The embarrassed girl mustered all her
strength to answer.
“Two days ago my dad was chopping wood out here in front of the
barn. That´s the only chore he can do anymore since that …
ailment in his head has grown that serious. He used to be a
decent fella but now he´s just the shadow of the man he once
was. You know my father came over from Germany more than 25
years ago and started a new life here in America. Sure, he once
ran into some trouble with the law but that was long ago and
from that on he was the finest gentleman you can imagine.”
Mister Singer moved his head from one side to the other and
stared into the cloudless sky. His bony chest under the torn
shirt was moving and anybody could count his ribs under his
tanned skin. Julie needed a pause before she could keep on
talking about his tragic fate.
“Eventually we had to sell our ranch since he couldn´t run it
anymore and so we settled here. Today he often can´t even recall
my name or his own anymore. He´s like… some violent baby and
needs a lot of love and attention. Sometimes I feel like his
mother and not like his daughter.”
Lucas´ wrath was gone within a second. Now he felt truly sorry
for Mister Singer. No wonder that farm was such a filthy mess.
That lady with the dirty hair had been trying her best to run
that place but without some more support it must have been a
hellish situation. Lucas felt awful for yelling at her like that
earlier. Whatever had happened at the river it was certainly not
“What else happened two days ago, Missus Singer?”
“One hour after sundown a masked stranger appeared with a
Winchester in his hands. He forced my father and me back into
the house and took all our savings. He could have killed us
easily but then he settled for just our money. The terrible
thing about it: that outlaw with the black cloth over his face
was just a kid. It was plain to see that he was not much older
than you and me, Mark.”
Mark guessed the rest of that sad story right away as if he
tried to impress her with his quick-wittedness. He would have
jumped at any occasion to have a conversation with her.
“So that´s why your father was so riled up when he saw me here
with the horses. He probably figured that that outlaw had
returned. And your rifle just increased that impression, Pa.”
Lucas could not believe it. He needed a moment to grasp that
explanation but he felt that his son was right. But there was
still one thing he was unsure about.
“That bloated man who attacked us last night at the river was
surely no kid, Missus Singer.”
Julie kept explaining things although she obviously felt a great
deal of pain in her heart.
“No, that was Simon. An hour after the robbery he returned from
the field and saw what had happened. He took the old gun my
father had kept under his bed and saddled our only horse to
retrieve our money. Simon had never been any good with a gun but
he promised that he would get our savings back, no matter what
before he followed that thief into the darkness. I reckon he
mistook your son for that young outlaw. Simon had never been
very bright to say the least.”
Lucas turned and glared at the dead man´s horse. For a moment he
could see the pot-bellied maniac again, collapsing in the hail
of bullets. There was suddenly a ghastly notion on his mind that
he made him almost afraid of asking his last question. He did
his best to make his tone sound friendly and soothing well aware
that Julie could have been his own daughter so he wanted to go
easy on her.
“Julie, please tell us: who was Simon?”
Julie looked over to the farmer who was still hugging that fence
post in order to stay on his bare feet.
“Simon was my brother…”
The handsome newcomer in the three-piece suit turned around and
when he recognized the Marshal a wide grin appeared on his lips.
The stranger politely tipped his bowler hat and bowed slightly.
“Mister Torrance… it is such a pleasure. You are just the man I
wanted to meet on my journey to Santa Fe. I am exceptionally
glad indeed that you are still in charge of law and order around
here. North Fork sure has changed for the better during the last
years as I realized when I came in.”
Micah kept his right forefinger on the triggers of the powerful
shotgun under his arm while he cautiously approached the smiling
fella who took one of his leather gloves off to shake hands with
the law. Micah ignored that friendly gesture and came closer.
“That´s right and we still don´t put up with the kind of yours,
Saxon. So you better get back on your horse and ride on. You
would be bored anyway in these parts. You wouldn´t even like the
brand of whiskey they sell here these days. You had your fill of
our whiskey long ago and there is no need to taste the new
brands so you better leave town now, unless you want a taste of
my buckshot again.”
William “Wild Bill” Saxon was not too impressed by the deadly
weapon that was pointed at him.
“Please, Mister Torrance, there is no need for that. Sure, I
wear a gun again but I would never use it around here. I am a
different man now. Did you not get my letters from prison?”
The suspicious lawman stepped closer, not paying attention to
the folks who gathered around them. He was all the more
concerned about the beautiful Colt 45 that was holstered at
Saxon´s right hip.
“I did. I received three letters on each anniversary of your
arrest. I´ve kept them all together with the envelopes but I
still don´t believe what you wrote in your cell about… living
down your past.”
Saxon was a strapping fella in his thirties looking like some
wealthy business man from the East. He evidently enjoyed the
attention the lawman´s suspicion had gained him among the
“But it is true indeed, I can assure you. Getting arrested by
you and Mister McCain was the best thing that had ever happened
to me. The time in prison kept me from following further down
the wrong road. That is the very reason why I came here to visit
you. I wanted to express personally my thanks to you. “Wild
Bill” is now a figure from the past. You are looking at a
newly-hired detective, working for Cooper&Smith in Santa Fe now.
Quite remarkable how things can turn out, isn´t that so?”
Micah was not too happy about the many curious men and women who
came closer to catch a word the two former enemies spoke. Such
unpleasant encounters always attracted a lot of attention.
“Cooper&Smith? Never heard of them. You´re making that up, ain´t
Saxon laughed and took off his hat, another attempt to appear as
refined and honest gentleman.
“You really ought to read the newspapers as well, Mister
Torrance. Cooper&Smith are well-respected and honorable lawyers
from Chicago who intend to open a new office there and I will be
their first agent in Santa Fe. That is my second chance and I
intend to make the most out of it, sir.”
Micah finally lowered his shotgun and shook his head in
“So you´ve really changed, hu? You work for some lawyers? That´s
mighty hard to believe with such a past. I wonder what strings
you pulled to get such a job.”
Saxon smiled again and headed back to his animal, a beautiful
brown stallion. He felt very clearly that with Micah around
ex-convicts ran out of their welcome rather quickly in North
“Mister Cooper is in need of somebody like me who knows that
land and the lowlife around here. His trust means more to me
than the money I will earn working for him and his partner. And
now if you excuse me: duty calls and I want to be in Santa Fe as
soon as possible. Whenever you need a good attorney at law you
know now where to find us. It was indeed a pleasure meeting you
After mounting up the dandy tipped his hat again to say
“Please be so kind and give my regards to Mister McCain as soon
as you see him. So long, sir.”
“Are you ready, son? We better get going now. It´s still a long
ride home, remember?”
Lucas was still flabbergasted about the story he had heard here.
After slipping his Winchester into the scabbard he looked once
again at Peter Singer who was now sitting on the bench in the
shadow of the barn. The retarded man had started carving a new
handle for his axe and wasn´t paying any attention anymore to
his visitors. Perhaps the farmer had already even forgotten
about them. Simon Singer had surely been a mean very unpleasant
character but he had tried to help his kin by getting their
money back. Lucas sighed. Life could be so cruel. As soon as he
would be in North Fork again he would notify Micah about that
robbery to issue a warrant. He could not help feeling awful for
killing Simon Singer and justice had to be served now more than
ever. But who was that masked kid who was responsible for all
that tragedy? The rancher felt a great deal of guilt as if he
had actually helped that unknown thief to escape. Lucas looked
around, turning in his saddle. Where was Mark? After a few
moments he saw his son following Julie into the ramshackle
house. The boy showed a mighty peculiar behavior since he had
met that gal with the dirty apron. Lucas was pretty annoyed by
“Mark! Hurry it up! We need to tell the law what had happened
“Just a minute, Pa!”
Mark was amazed that the dark and smoky room was actually pretty
tidy and clean. Julie had really done her best to keep her home
comfortable. But no matter how much that girl had cared for her
deranged father, the interior showed clearly how poor the
Singers actually were. Mark gazed at the few pieces of furniture
in the stuffy chamber: just a small table with two old chairs,
two beds and a closet. Julie turned around and looked into
Mark´s big eyes.
“What is it, Mark? There is something you wanna tell me, ain´t
Mark hesitated but then he nodded vaguely and took his dusty hat
off. No matter how miserable the life of the Singers was: he was
still just a guest under their oblique roof. It was not easy
finding the right words but he just could not leave without
“Julie, there is something you ought to know. I didn´t tell my
Pa but you´ve got a right to know.”
The young woman stood there in the gloom of the small chamber
and tilted her head in a way Mark had never seen before. He
thought of all the pretty girls back home he had been
interesting in but now they all appeared so… childish and
immature to him with their silly giggling and never-ending
laughing about pointless gossip. Julie however was a true lady
despite her smelly hair and her dirty outfit. And she was way
smarter and tougher than any other girl Mark had met so far.
“Something about my brother, I suppose?”
Mark was kinda glad that it was much cooler in here than
outside. That helped him making his point.
“That´s right. Before he got shot he told me something about
Sacramento. He was kinda obsessed of going there. Actually his
last words were about some plan of going there but I´ve no idea
Julie turned away and walked over to the table. After sitting
down she closed her watery eyes. The tone in her shaky voice
revealed that she had expected something like that but the
disappointment was very painful after all. Her long fingers
started to play with the white tablecloth with the pink roses
embroidered on it. That lovely tablecloth was a like a reminder
of a better life.
“You don´t need to go on. I knew it. When he rode off going
after that kid I had the hunch we would never see him again.
When Pa was still sane he and Simon had once made a trip to
Sacramento to sell some of our cattle. That was when we still
owned that ranch in California. Simon had fallen in love with
that place and always dreamed of living in Sacramento, starting
fresh all over again, with or without us. If he had caught up
with the real outlaw he would have taken our savings and would
have gone straight back to Sacramento without even looking back
once. He was always only interested in his own benefits, never
wasting a thought about our father. In fact you´re really lucky
that you´re still alive. Simon had always been a nasty and
unstable character. I liked to pick on folks who seemed weaker
than he was. But your father sure was a bit more than he could
Mark needed a moment before he understood that back-handed kind
of treason within that family.
“You mean he would have left you here all alone? Does Mister
Singer know about all that?”
Julie pressed her long and dirty fingernails into the fabric on
the table, still fighting her tears.
“His son meant the world to him although Simon did little to
earn that love and trust. Even if I told him he would never
believe that Simon would have run out of him like that. It would
break his heart, perhaps even deal him the last blow. Please
leave now, Mark. Your father is waiting for you. He is a good
man and I envy you for his love for you. You must never
disappoint him, you know that.”
Mark looked down and saw a fat cockroach running over the tip of
his left boot. The boy lifted his other foot and crushed the
insect. Was all that misery reason enough to run out on one´s
family? He sure had a lot to think about now on his way home to
North Fork. For now all he could do was nodding in heart-felt
compassion before he put his hat back on. Suddenly he felt
terribly sick and not just because of the stench of the rotting
dung heap behind the barn. That gross smell remembered Mark of
the revolting stench that would-be murderer had on him. He
realized that it had been a mistake to tell Julie about her
brother´s devious plan to betray his family. Without saying one
more word he turned around and headed for the exit in a hurry.
He had to get out of there right now.
Julie´s tender voice stopped him in his tracks. The girl got up
and walked over to him. Her old shoes made the boards of the
floor crack as she came closer. Now their faces were only inches
“Thanks for telling me about Simon´s plan to hightail it with
our money. You were right: I needed to know. It´s easier now to
deal with that loss. I know it was not easy telling me and I
Mark wanted to express that it was alright and that he was sorry
about Simon´s death after all and that he would do his utmost to
catch the real thief and bring the savings back under all
circumstances but he couldn´t because his lips and hers…
Lucas snorted impatiently and used his left sleeve to wipe the
salty sweat off his forehead. His nickering horse under him was
already uneasy as well. What on earth was taking that boy so
“Feeling better already, Mister Woodson?”
Burrage walked over to his patient who was sitting in a chair
near the bed and checked the fresh dressing around the man´s
shoulder. The former rebel grinned despite the still smarting
tissue around the wound. Woodson placed the now empty water
glass on the table after drinking up.
“Much better, doc. I would have never figured in my wildest
dreams that I would be that grateful to some doggone Yankee one
day. No offence meant, sir.”
Burrage smiled. The physician was obviously satisfied with the
healing progress. Almost no blood had reached the top layer of
the white fabric and the festering had stooped too.
“None taken, rebel. Maybe we bluebellies are not that bad after
all. It was sure a good thing that Marshal Torrance brought you
straight to me. And yes, I sure appreciate your prompt payment.
If only all my patients were that eager to pay even before the
Woodson nodded pensively and bore himself some more water. The
temperature was soaring.
“Yes, your Mister Torrance is certainly a good man and it was a
stroke of luck that I met him.”
Burrage seized the opportunity to find out more about their
“Have you two met before at some other place?”
“Can´t say that I´ve although I wouldn´t have mind running into
him earlier. Say, I heard some turmoil out there on the street
while I was sitting here. Was anything wrong?”
Burrage matter-of-factly shook his head.
“No, it was nothing of importance. Marshal Torrance just made
sure that a critter who had once been interested in making a
withdrawal at our bank without having an account there left
town. As you said: we could not wish for a better protector of
law and order around here that´s why he gets re-elected every
time. If it wasn´t for Torrance I would be way busier around
Burrage walked over to the cupboard to get some more of those
“Are you a family man, Woodson? Should we notify any kin about
what had happened to you?”
The former soldier closed his eyes as if that question had hurt
him deep in his soul. It took a moment before he could reply. He
tried to make his raspy voice sound firm but too little avail.
“No need for that but thanks anyway. I appreciate your concern.
No, my wife ran out on me a long time ago. Claire went back to
her folks in Kentucky. We never had any kids so you can say I am
free as a bird. Sometimes it´s a little lonesome living like
that but I can put up with that. No, I am not made for settling
down somewhere. And to be frank: I´ve never been too fond of
Burrage let two pills drop into a glass filled with cool water
and waited until that bitter beverage against the pain was ready
for drinking. While he stirred the medicine with a small spoon
he was wondering why the old man had sounded as if he had been
The hooves of the horses sank deep into the fine sand between
the rocks of the narrow arroyo, making the journey home even
more wearying. When the two riders finally emerged they were
once again greeted by the merciless sun. There was no real
protection from the heat on those exposed plains that lied ahead
of them. Mark opened his canteen and quenched his thirst for the
third time within an hour. There was unspoken tension between
father and son, something that had never occurred before. Mark
craved something or wished to talk about a matter that was new
to him, wished to hear his father´s opinion about a certain and
unfamiliar topic. Lucas felt that it was best to leave the boy
to his thoughts but after more than three hours of silently
riding side by side Mark was still musing about what he had seen
back there at the farm and Lucas felt the urge of finally
breaking the silence between them. After soaking the upper part
of his shirt with lukewarm water out of his own canteen Lucas
directed his exhausted horse to his son´s side. The time for
frank talking had finally come and the rancher was sorta curious
about Mark´s thoughts.
“What´s on your mind, son? Is there something you wanna talk
about? I´m all ears.”
Mark seemed to be thankful for that question and he took a deep
breath. He hoped that he wouldn´t make a complete fool out of
him. Sometimes frank talking between men was sure not easy.
“From here it´s only two hours more back to North Fork, ain´t
that right? Well, it ain´t not such a great distance and I was
thinking. I mean, Julie´s farm ain´t that far away and maybe she
could drop by once in a while if that was alright with you, Pa.
It sure must be awfully lonely at that God-forsaken place and
maybe we could even use an additional hand. She seems to be much
stronger than most men and she would be of great help. I am sure
she would enjoy it and you always told me that we should give
folks a hand to move up in life and go places. Wouldn´t you
Lucas couldn´t help smiling. That boy was trying anything to
stay in close touch with that remarkable gal, even if that meant
giving her a job on their ranch. Yes, Mark was no child anymore
after all. So he figured it was best to take it easy by not
putting any more pressure on the troubled youngster.
“Well, I must confess you´ve got a point. I would not mind
welcoming her to our family and she might like living closer to
North Fork. Maybe she could even become our third partner. Of
course she would have to wash up before moving in but I am sure
you would not mind giving her a hand there.”
The laughing father reached over to his son and touched
playfully his blushing cheek.
“Sorry, I am just teasing you. Well, as dedicated she is to
Mister Singer I kinda doubt that she would be prepared to leave
him, no matter how good the pay would be. You know now how sick
he is. Apart from that I would not mind if you saw her again
under better circumstances. As soon as we catch the real thief
you can bring her the money back. Simon Singer was dead wrong
but at least he tried to do the right thing going after that
lowlife and we have to give him credit for that although I admit
that that´s anything but easy after seeing him aiming his gun at
Mark preferred to remain silent. He lowered his head and felt
miserable again. He was now sure that had come to hate that fat
man for his terrible treason. After another hour the two riders
reached a fork in the road. Lucas stopped his horse and looked
up to the scorching sun. The high trees around were moved by a
gentle breeze and father and son enjoyed the cool shadow under
“Mark, you ride straight to our place and see if there is any
fixing to do. Check out our cattle and prepare some food for
supper. I go to town and see Micah. I am sure that we can catch
up with that thief pretty soon. Hopefully there is still
something left of those savings when we do.”
“Alright, Pa. I am sure glad we´re home soon.”
“So am I, son, so am I.”
That was the moment when Mark spotted the broad drag mark in the
fine pebbles on the path ahead, only a few meters away leading
into the tense bushes. The yellow grass was trampled and there
was definitely something large and heavy under those trees,
hidden behind the huge roots.
“Look, Pa, over there...”
The rancher frowned and raised his head. His son was right:
there was something big lying within the dried vegetation near
the side of the dusty road. Lucas reached back and pulled his
rifle out of the scabbard before he cautiously dismounted. Lucas
looked around but there was no sign of any danger. The big man
walked deeper into the high grass, always on the alert until he
reached that mysterious object. Lucas froze when he spotted a
pair of black boots with the tips on the ground.
“Stay behind, Mark!”
Lucas kneeled down and turned the body gently around. The dead
man was wearing a fancy suit but the blood still coming out of
three bullet wounds had soiled the fine fabric of his white
shirt. The lifeless but handsome face looked kinda familiar but
he couldn´t say who that man was.
Lucas was terrified. He would have never expected to stumble
across a murder scene so close to North Fork. Now there was
another reason to see Micah as soon as possible. He got up and
looked around but he could not make out any more tracks. All he
could do now was get to North Fork and return with the law.
Lucas turned around and hurried back to the horses. He felt very
tired all of a sudden. It sure was a terrible day. The rancher
left the copse and ran over to his animal. Mark had also
dismounted in the meantime and kept eyeing the surroundings. But
everything was peaceful.
“Pa, what is it?”
His father shoved the rifle into the scabbard and turned to his
“There is a dead man covered with grass behind these trees and
somehow I think I´ve seen him before. Forget about that thief
for the time being. We´ve got to find a killer now.”
“No need for that, sir. I´ve never left.”
Lucas and Mark turned their heads. The long barrel of a
Winchester was pointed at them, sticking out of the bushes only
a few meters away. It was the perfect place for an ambush.
Without saying a word Lucas slowly stepped in front of his son,
covering him with his own body. Before he could do anything a
hand separated the thin branches and a slender figure appeared,
still keeping the gun on them. Lucas bit his lips. The murderer
was not older than 18, slim, not too tall but with a charming
smile on his youthful face. The black scarf with two little
holes in it around the man´s neck gave Lucas a hunch.
“Why did you kill him, mister? For money?”
The youngster came closer, never taking his blue eyes off father
and son. The unknown criminal was wearing a checkered shirt that
seemed to be at least two sizes too big for him and pants still
stained with the traces of his latest crime. But the fresh blood
didn´t seem to upset the lad in the slightest.
“Sure, I can use any cent I can get. That fancy city slicker
just made the stupid mistake to go for his gun when I stopped
him here but I blew him right off his horse. He had looked so
classy so I sorta had figured him loaded but he wasn´t after all
which I noticed when I went through his pockets. He must have
spent all his money for that suit of his. So I just took his
horse and hid it behind the rocks.”
Lucas realized that the killer appeared kinda curious about the
two travellers he had in his sights. That was perhaps their only
chance for survival now. The assassin could pull that trigger at
a moment's notice but he still gazed at the towering rancher
with a strangely playful interest. Especially the butt of rifle
that was sticking out off the scabbard had caught his attention.
“You don´t happen to be Lucas McCain, sir? That big loop there
on your shooting iron makes me think since there is only one man
who carries such a trick rifle. So I want an answer right here
and now, sir: are you Lucas McCain, the one I´ve heard all those
great legends about?”
The young man tipped his brown hat and smiled at Lucas as if
they had been old friends.
“Yeah, you´re that tall sodbuster people talk even in Texas
about. To be honest I´m mighty happy to meet you out here. I
wouldn´t have gone to town to see you but this here is way
Lucas was not sure what to do. The mean young man looked
reckless enough to kill both of them without any qualm so it was
all about winning time now.
“I figure you already have some money that doesn´t belong to
you. I can´t think of anything lower than robbing a defenceless
old man at his farm, taking all his savings.”
The kid was utterly surprised and opened his mouth, showing his
beautiful white teeth.
“You heard about that?”
“We sure did. We just come from the Singer´s place. You´ve got
no idea what you´ve caused back there, mister. Drop that gun and
come with us. I promise you that the Marshal and I will see to
it that you get a fair trial. I´m convinced the judge will go
easy on you considering your age.”
The young killer finally lowered his Winchester and scratched
the back of his head. He looked kinda ashamed like some unruly
child who had been caught stealing candy in a store.
“I must confess I do feel a bit sorry what I did to that
stinking fool but I assure you I was in desperate need for
money. You´re right though: I´m gonna do differently with you
since we both know how to handle a rifle and I sure do love
challenges. Robbing some softheaded dog was no challenge at all
but gunning Lucas McCain in a fair fight sure is, yessir. Too
bad we´re a little short on witnesses here on the road but that
is fine with me. I wanna warn you though that I´m real quick
with my 44-40. That poor fella under the tree was also pretty
fast but not as fast as me... just ... pretty fast.”
Lucas had never faced such a situation. The robber was only a
little bit older than Mark but there was absolutely no doubt
that he was already a full-fledged outlaw. Whatever happened:
Lucas had to protect his boy, no matter what. And Julie had to
get her money back if that was possible.
“A fair fight? I would have never thought that would be your
style. For the last time: hand that gun over and don´t start any
more trouble. You´ve done enough harm. I won´t say it again,
The expression in the vicious lad´s eyes changed and his still
child-like face turned crimson in anger. His shaky and rattled
voiced showed that Lucas had touched a sore spot.
“Don´t ever call me son again, sodbuster! You´re not my father!
Get your rifle and face me!”
He looked as if he felt like shooting the rancher outright but
that fit of rage only lasted for an instant. The assassin turned
to Mark who still was too scared to say a word.
“Stand aside, friend. I wouldn´t want you to catch a bullet.
You´re the only witness who´s gonna confirm my claim later. Who
would have thought that I would run into Mister McCain while
waiting out there? After gunning you down I´m gonna take your
canteens too since staying out here all day makes a fella
awfully thirsty. But come to think of it... there is something
else that just came to my mind and I´ve gotta say it troubles me
a little bit, it really does and I´m awfully sorry about that.”
“And what might that be?”
“I just figured that I´ve gotta kill your boy after all. It´s
just too bad but a fella in my line of work can´t use a witness
who could cause trouble back in town. Can´t exactly afford that
right now, nosir.”
Lucas looked over his shoulder and beckoned his distraught boy
to take cover behind his horse. Then he slowly pulled his own
rifle out of the leather. He knew what he had to do and he felt
terrible about it. With his gun in his hand he turned around and
faced his grinning opponent who had the considerable advantage
of the sun in his back. The kid slightly spread his thin legs to
gain a better footing on the sandy ground, showing that he was
experienced enough when it came to a gunfight. Lucas swung his
rifle around, cocking it. The rancher felt a twinge of anxiety
but he didn´t show it.
The kid on the other hand was apparently enjoying himself, happy
to face a challenge with so much at stake. All hope for a
peaceful settlement was gone.
“Your money and water, your horses, your life and that of your
boy... it´s all or nothing this time, sir.”
Lucas nodded using the only thing he knew to make that
self-confident enemy make lose his cool.
“All or nothing... you´re right about that, son. Wait until your
father learns about all this, son.”
Instead of another outburst of rage the killer lifted his
Winchester and let his right forefinger glide to the trigger. A
gentle gust of wind played with his black hair and for a moment
a terrible silence was around them. Mark closed his burning eyes
in sheer horror while he pressed his face into the sweaty fur of
his animal. His silent prayer was interrupted by the calm voice
of the challenger.
“The time has come to show some valor, sir. All or nothing,
remember? Go for it, McCain.”
Only a second later the deafening blasts out of two rifles tore
the silence. Mark screamed when was pushed back by the abrupt
movement of the spooked horse. The desperate boy lost his
balance and dropped to the stony ground. His back hit a sharp
rock and a wave of excruciating pain ran through his ribcage. He
looked up and saw that the air above his head was filled with
“Can I talk to him now, doc? I´ve got to see him.”
“Sure, Micah, but take it easy. He is still pretty weak.”
Micah entered the room and promised to make it short while
Burrage left, figuring correctly that it was the best to leave
the two men alone. The former rebel was again sitting in his
chair, snoozing. The heat had taken its toll on him but he was
on the on the road to recovery. He somehow looked even ten years
younger. When the Marshal came in the veteran lifted his head
“Howdy, Mister Torrance, it´s always a pleasure seeing you. What
can I do for you, sir?”
Micah humbly took off his hat as if he had come to a preacher to
confess some sin.
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is something I would like to
talk about. Mind if I sit down?”
Woodson rubbed his sore shoulder and invited the gloomy lawman
to take a seat. Micah still had no idea how to start so he
figured it would be the best to ask an initial question to break
“Your name is Woodson, Henry Woodson from Alabama?”
“You worked as an attorney at law once, a long time ago. Ain´t
that right? Because today a former outlaw passed through North
Fork. After serving his time he now works for some honorable
lawyers in Santa Fe. That made me think and finally I remembered
where we met before.”
Woodson rubbed his sore shoulder. That pesky itching under the
thick dressing was a sign that the healing process had already
started but that was not the only thing that bothered him. As
fond he was of the protector of law and order, he wished that he
would go away and leave him alone. There was no need to bring it
all up again. For a moment he was tempted to get up and leave
the town for good. But then he lowered his glance and faced the
facts. There was no use running away.
“There must be some mistake, Mister Torrance: as I told your
good doctor, I´ve never laid eyes on you before I came here with
that doggone lead in my body. But... you´re right about one
thing. Yeah, a long time ago I was a lawyer. I was never any
good but at least I tried to bring each of my cases to a good
end for my clients. Often that didn´t work out and a couple of
folks went to prison or even to the gallows because the other
side had the better arguments. I don´t fancy thinking back and
remembering all my failures.
Long Ride to North Fork - part 2
These stories are based on the TV series
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents
around The McCain Ranch