The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

Micah's Story
Written by Klara's Boy

This story is dedicated to Cowgirlatheart and Brooke.

***
The man examined carefully the right foreleg of his horse. The animal was uneasy and exhausted, nickering nervously.

“Yeah, I know, the rain is coming in fast, my girl. But how on earth could you lose a shoe? Now we are in a tight spot. We better hurry. I sure like water but that would be too much.”

Heaving a sigh the man mounted his beautiful horse and looked up to the sky which was covered with heavy clouds. Distant thunder could already be heard behind him.

“Two more days … then we will be in North Fork, my dear.”

***
“You´re Jim Thorwald?”
“Well, mostly they still call me The Shiloh-Kid because it was during the war, when I …”
The old man in the brittle rocking chair shook his head.
“I am gonna call you by your real name for two reasons, Thorwald:  the war is over and you sure are no kid anymore. I hear you are hiring out again.”
“You have good ears.”
The old man in the rocking chair next to the bar gave the gunman a disapproving look.
“The Good Lord doesn't take too kindly to men killing their fellow men for a living.”
“Even The Good Lord can't blame a man for doing what he is best at, I reckon.”
“That´s right, you are the best, aren't you?”

Thorwald was a slender man in his late forties, wearing a buckskin jacket, a fancy white shirt, army pants and a dark sombrero. A beautiful Colt 45 was holstered at his right side.

“The Mexican you sent to me said something about 150 dollars.”

The old man in his rocking chair nodded.
“After the job is done, the money will be waiting here for you. You can trust me, you know that.”

The gunfighter walked closer. The sun drew his lean shadow against the dirty wall of the cantina.

“In my profession a man has got a choice:  he can lead a long and happy life and die in bed, surrounded by his mourning grandchildren or … he can start trusting people. By the way … nice place you got, mister. I trust it was not too expensive?”

Thorwald looked around. The dilapidated cantina in the middle of the stony desert was almost empty: only two drunken Apaches were sitting at a table on the other side of the room, mumbling strange words in their native tongue. They didn't seem to be bothered by the relentless heat, the appalling tang and the pesky flies circling around the dirty dishes. Several empty and broken bottles covered the grubby floor, attracting giant cockroaches. The owner of that bedraggled place remained motionless in his rocking chair.

“Don´t try to be funny, Thorwald. This is the seediest place west of New York, run by a world-weary man, who is no good anymore. Those two injuns over there are my best customers at the moment. They are always welcome tough I normally can't stomach such filthy pagans. But sometimes even a worn-out old man is still able to come up with a surprise. Just turn around.”

The gunfighter moved his head and looked at a man who emerged slowly out of the little larder behind the bar. The stranger was a younger fellow, maybe thirty years old, dressed completely in black. The old man in his rocker grinned for a moment.

“You know each other?”
Thorwald smiled, showing his white teeth.
“We sure do. Ain't that a surprise? Howdy, Walt. Long time no see. You look great.”

The younger man walked up to Thorwald, looking into his green eyes. His glance was full of hate.

“I´ve been thinking that I never would catch up with you, Shiloh. But thanks to this old fool, we meet again.”

Thorwald seemed a little embarrassed.

“You don't hold a grudge against me, do you? Well, I don´t think you would be that touchy, Walt.”

Walt's right hand moved to his belt, where his gun stuck.
“You ran out on me, Shiloh. You took off with my share of the bounty after we had brought Francis Romano in. 500 dollars are a lot of money. For almost one year I have been after you. But today we will get even.”
Thorwald crossed his arms, still smiling, while Walt stepped slowly aside, trying to get the sun behind him. The older gunfighter seemed totally unimpressed by the deadly wrath of his opponent.

“If you allow me to play a hunch I would say you wanna have your share right now. That's what mother has always wanted us to be: fair and square. By the way, have you seen mother lately?”

For a moment Walt seemed to turn into a boy once more, as his voice became strangely soft, almost weak. His clean shaven face turned crimson.

“Ma passed away last June. I was there, holding her hand. There was no money left to pay a decent doctor to save her, so she died rather painfully, I can tell ya. The next morning I buried her right next to Pa. I put flowers on their graves but they wouldn't take.”

His older brother was stunned. His arms were still crossed but his smile froze. For a moment an excruciating twinge of real remorse seemed to torture his mind.

“Much obliged, Walt. I really mean it, yessir. Well, I must say I'm proud that at least one of us shows enough decency to …”
Walt drew his Colt with lighting speed, but before he could pull the trigger, three bullets hit his chest.

When the smoke cleared away the rickety man was still sitting in his rocker, totally unfazed by the tragedy. Not even the boozed Apaches had lifted their heads, still muttering hardly understandable words in their native language.

“That´s what I call a family reunion, Mister Thorwald.”
The pale gunfighter starred down at Walt's body as he slowly holstered his Colt.

“So, that´s why you summoned both of us, ain't it? To see who of the Thorwald brothers would be faster. You knew it would come to this.”

The hard-boiled man rose from the rocking chair, now smiling and rubbing his frail hands.

“I have been right all along:  you are the best. That demonstration was pretty impressive, I gotta admit. Now we can talk business, Mister Thorwald. How about a drink? It's sure hot today, wouldn't you say? The way I see it, a nice tequila wouldn't hurt any of us. I always keep some bottles away from those filthy pagans. Tame injuns the damned government call them nowadays. I can't wait to see the day when all those lousy pagans gonna be civilized … or dead, whatever comes first.”

Big Flies were circling over the bar as the killer emptied his shot. The tequila was burning in his throat like fire. For a moment little stars were dancing right in front of his eyes. But then Thorwald turned very serious.

“So, what is this all about? The Mexican you sent was not exactly what I call explicit. But that least he was sober enough to deliver your offer. What do you want from me? Something big I reckon?”

The old man with the cold smile filled the glass up again. The tequila was … unusually strong to say the least. For a moment, Thorwald felt some bile rising in his neck and the crazy stars returned.

“Playing hunches again, Mister Thorwald?”
“They are hardly ever wrong …”
“Are you prepared to kill another man?”

Thorwald´s eyes became small while he pulled out his beautiful Colt to reload it. Empty shells rained down, almost hitting Walt's body.

“That´s what I normally getting paid for and I always see the job through. Otherwise I wouldn't be here and … still alive.”

The old man nodded contently. Then he filled the glass a third time.

“Ever heard of a man by the name of … Micah Torrance?”

***
“Look, Pa!”
“What is it, son?”
“There are fresh tracks over here, leading towards the rise, Pa.”

Lucas frowned and dismounted. His son was right. Last night heavy rain had made the ground awfully soggy, so the tracks were clearly to see. Three horsemen had been heading for the ridge. Behind those grassy hills the main part of his stock was grazing. Lucas and Mark had tried to bag a couple of wolves which had harassed his cattle during the last nights but now the rancher decided to follow the trail of the three human trespassers on horseback.

Lucas got on his animal and pulled the Winchester out of the scabbard.

“Let´s take a look!”

Mark nodded. He knew the expression on his father's face: Lucas was sensing danger. While they rode on, Lucas kept his eyes on the ground. Studying the tracks in the brown quagmire, Mark noticed an interesting detail.

“One of those horses lost a shoe, Pa.”
“That´s right, son. From now on you stay real close to me. Maybe they are just harmless drifters but we ought to be careful. You understand, Mark?”

Mark nodded. The boy grew worried himself. After half a mile they arrived at a giant outcrop which was surrounded by thorny scrubland and old trees. The narrow path leading around the mighty rock was hard to overlook. Growing anxious about his cattle, Lucas took the lead and drove his horse over the muddy bedrock. His rifle was ready to fire. Normally he would have sent his son back to the ranch but dangers could also lie in wait along the way home. Besides … Mark was no kid anymore.

A little bird flew up, leaving the vast scrubland in a hurry.

Lucas was well aware that the place was ideal for springing an ambush, so he was extra careful. His eyes were …

“Pa!”

The attack happened so quickly that Lucas was unable to turn fast enough in order to protect his screaming son who was mercilessly pulled out of his saddle by strong arms.

“Mark!”

A Colt was cocked.

“Better drop the rifle, mister! Won't do you any good anyway.”

***
“`morning, Milly. Nice to see the sun again after all the rain, ain't it?”
Micah was in a cheerful mood, enjoying the fresh air, but the young woman didn't even answer. She hurried over to her store, hardly returning the Marshal's greeting.

“What´s the matter, Milly? Is something wrong?”
First Milly continued her walk but then she became slower. Eventually she stopped and turned around, facing Micah. Her pretty face was pale. A little tear was running over her tender cheek. Now Micah was worried.

“Milly, what happened?”
“Never mind, Micah, it's just …”

Micah stepped nearer. Deep inside his heart, he was really fond of the distraught girl, in a very special way. He never would have mentioned it to anybody but he loved her as the granddaughter, he never had. Seeing her crying made him anxious. His voice was soft and soothing.

“Well, if there is a problem, we should take care of it together, wouldn't you say, gal?”

Milly sobbed. She looked lonely and desperate, kinda … helpless.

“Perhaps you are right, Micah. Have you heard? What they did in Silverton three days ago?”

***
Lucas was utterly helpless. One of the attackers was holding Mark, aiming a gun against the boy´s right temple. Mark was trembling and moaning while blood was running over his forehead, coming from a deep laceration he had suffered when he was brutally pulled from his nickering horse.

Another man, a blond fellow armed with a pair of guns had picked up the rancher's rifle, admiring it for a couple of seconds.

“Yes, Mister Spears! I was right all along! It's Lucas McCain himself! We got him! At last we got him!”
“You´re sure, Robert?”

The young man nodded eagerly, displaying the famous weapon.
“Just look at this wonderful rifle, Mister Spears. There is no other gun like this one. It´s the one with the special trigger they kept talking about in Yuma. I didn't believe it. But now …”

Lucas interrupted the young man.
“What is this all about, mister?”

The attacker holding Mark was an elegant man with a thin mustache, wearing an old duster, a red shirt, stained paints and muddy boots. He was still pressing the muzzle against Mark's head.

“Allow me to introduce myself, Mister McCain. My name is Simon Spears and that is my right-hand-man Robert, a good boy. We are highly interested in your cattle. We were just about to drive some of your calves away when we saw you coming over the ridge. So we figured it wise to hide our horses behind those bushes over there and lie in ambush here.”

“Let my boy go, Mister Spears.”

“Sure, anything you say. I am mighty fond of kids by the way.”

The elegant bandit released his grip and Mark hurried over to his Pa. Spears holstered his Colt. Lucas was covered with sweat, since there was nothing he could do. The other outlaw was much younger, maybe eighteen years old, blond and lean. He aimed the Winchester at Lucas.

“Let me tell you something, sodbuster. In prison I heard that you shot a man called Cole Jackson around here. That happened about five years ago. You remember him, sodbuster?”

The young rustler´s youthful voice was dangerously soft and serene, making Lucas hesitate before answering.

“Jackson attempted to murder a Mexican family who tried to settle here, Robert. I came just in time to prevent it. But what's that to you?”

Slowly the Robert stepped closer, still threatening Lucas with his own rifle.
“You see, sodbuster, he was my Pa. You shot my Pa just because of a punch of stinking greasers. Now you will see your son die right in front of your very eyes … and after that I will finish you off. I have sworn to kill you with your own rifle.  Now I'm gonna do it and I'm gonna enjoy it.”

Robert's eyes were those of a madman. His eyelids were slightly trembling, while he starred at the captive rancher. Now his voice turned raspy, low and full of hate.

“Nobody … hurts my family and lives, sodbuster.”

Lucas hugged his bleeding son, trying his best to protect him.
“You can't do that! Please, you just can't do that. Not my boy!”

Spears grinned, sweeping the sweat from his forehead. Obviously he was quite fond of Roberts's determination.

“I am deeply sorry, but I promised Robert. Killing his old man … well, he took it kinda personal, I reckon. As a matter of fact it made me bitter too, since Cole used to be such a good friend of mine. It's just seemly to take care of things now. That's why I brought Robert along so he can fulfill his solemn vow to avenge his father. After that we will take enough of your cows to start all over again in Mexico.”

“You ain't gonna see Mexico again.”

A third man had emerged silently out of the tense bushes, he had been hiding in. He was a grey-haired man in his fifties, short and portly. His right hand rested at the holster at his right side.

For a second Spears and his younger companion were stunned. But then they swung around simultaneously, trying to take on the stranger. Spears tried to draw his gun but it was too late. The stranger's Colt spit fire and lead. Spears didn't stand a chance. He got hit twice before his sidearm was out. The rustler could not even scream when the bullets pushed him back against the rock behind him.

That very second Lucas lunged forward as fast as he could. His powerful right fist hit Robert's chin the same instant his left hand clasped the rifle. Lucas jumped back and before the young killer could react, the mad rancher had turned the muzzle against his opponent's chest.

“Nobody … hurts my family and lives.”

Robert's blue eyes were wide, showing not only madness anymore but panic and surprise. The vengeful outlaw opened his mouth, trying to say something, maybe begging for his life. In an instant Robert realized that his end was …

Lucas pulled the trigger.

***
“Missus Romano told me this morning, when she did her shopping in my store. Money had been stolen in Silverton. At least, that's what the wife of a wealthy farmer claimed. There was no clue about the thief. But then they arrested that young man … I don't know his name, but because he was a stranger without any friends who would stand up for him … they found him guilty.”

Micah was listening to Millie's story.  He knew Silverton. It was a wild, violent town, about 40 miles away. Billy the Kid had been hiding from the law there for quite a while before returning to Fort Sumner where Pat Garret finally caught up with him. Silverton's inhabitants were believers more in bullets than in words. So he didn't find it hard to guess, what Milly was so upset about.

“People there are not much for law and order at least not in a way we would appreciate, but …”

“Micah, they broke him out of prison and took him to that tree and … “

The woman started crying again, being simply too upset about the injustice. Micah was glad that they had gone to his office in the meantime. The busy street was no place for such a conversation. But here they could talk freely and without any disturbance.

“All just because he was a stranger, Micah. The day after that hanging the farmer returned home from Santa Fe. It came out that he had taken the … stolen … money with him to buy tools. So, the young outsider had died for nothing … for nothing!”

Micah tried to comfort the young woman. But it was to no avail.

“Well, Milly, there is nothing we could do about it now. But I can promise you this: as long as I am responsible for North Fork, there will never be something like that around here.”

For a moment, Milly raised her head. Suddenly she felt a strange kind of anger and disappointment about Micah's reaction to that dreadful incident.

“How can you be so sure?! As a lawman you ought to know how low people can sink. Without you and Lucas … who knows, what could happen even here …”

Micah remained silent for a moment, as his eyes turned cold and hard. Then he shook his head. He was an over-the-hill man, a former drunk, a left-handed cripple, not good with a handgun anymore, but in that very moment, not even the President of the United States would have questioned his authority. His old fingers touched his black vest.

“There will be no unlawful hanging in this town, as long as I am wearing this badge.”

For a moment Milly stopped sobbing.

“What are you talking about, Micah? How could you such sure about that?! Not even …”

“Let me tell you a story, gal …”

***
“You are alright, mister?”

Calmly the stranger approached, holstering his gun. While hugging Mark, Lucas eyed his savior.

“We sure are, mister, thanks to you.”
The stranger looked down on the bodies. Robert was lying face-down in the mud, while Spears was still leaning half-upright against the rock, starring into the cloudless sky. The stranger touched his victim's shoulder, making the corpse drop to the ground. Now Spears was lying spread-eagle next to his young friend.

“I am glad I could help. Are you hurt bad, son?”
Mark was still heavily breathing but he pulled himself together. There was no danger anymore.
“I am alright, mister. Thank … thank you …”

Lucas lowered his rifle. He could hardly believe that he and his son were still alive. He had faced many outlaw in his days but Robert had been worse … a demon despite his youth, his innocent face, his serene voice. When the rancher and his rescuer shook hands, Lucas realized how strong the man's grip was.

“The name is Miner, Samuel Miner.”
“My name is Lucas McCain and this is my son Mark.”
Miner nodded contently. He looked old and weary but the elegant way he handled his gun revealed that he was a professional gunman, maybe the fastest ever.
“Pleased to meet you, Mister McCain. By the way … you are pretty handy with that rifle. I have always admired men, who can shoot like that.”

Lucas looked down on his son, who was still pale and bleeding on the forehead, but was unhurt apart from that.

“How can I ever repay my debt, Mister Miner?”
“By telling me where I can find the nearest blacksmith. Emily lost a shoe two days ago.”
“Emily?”
“Beg your pardon, mister. Emily is my horse, the finest animal ever born by a mare. I left her over there between the trees in safety when I came across those rustlers.”

Mark and Lucas exchanged glances.

***
Micah had taken his seat behind the desk. Out on the street people were moving around as usual, but Milly didn't pay any attention to anything else but Micah's story. Never before, she had been alone with the old man that long. His calm voice and lined face revealed his great deal of life experience. Deep in her soul Milly was feeling how her affection to the old man was growing, as Micah began his story.

“I was married once, Milly.”
The young woman was utterly taken by surprise.
“Really? I had no idea, Micah. Nobody has ever told me. You were really hooked? Who was …”

“Her name was Elizabeth Cook, the prettiest girl in Montana Territory. I wanted to make money to … well, to impress her and her parents. To court such a woman can be mighty hard for a young fellow when has not a single cent in his pocket. It's also a matter of pride to impress a bride, you know.”

Milly, although still sad, couldn't help sniggering.
“Sorry, Micah, but it's … well, kinda hard to picture you as a young … heartthrob.”
“Do you want to hear the story or not, gal?”
“Sorry, of course I would love to. Go on, please.”

“Well, I was young and strong and … maybe even a little taller than today. I was not afraid of hard work so I started out as a cowhand. Montana was a wild and untamed country in those days, I can tell you. Being a cowboy was a pretty rough business back then. We once even lost a herder and two horses during a stampede. But that was nothing compared to …”

Micah stopped. For a moment he hesitated. It was hard for him to find the appropriate words.

“It was a hard work, gal. Cattle … well, they are such dumb animals, not to mention dangerous. We boys had a saying: it's no use trying to understand them, just rope and brand them.”

Milly nodded. She seemed to have forgotten her grief for the time being. Obviously Micah was a good storyteller.

“Yes, when he was young my father used to work as a ranch hand too. One day a horn broke three of his rips and cracked his shoulder.”
Micah was glad, that the tender dame had at least an impression about the hardship a poor cowboy had to endure.

“Then you can image that it was important to have men around you that you can count on. We were a great bunch:  three or four young fellows.  Especially … well, there was one young fellow.  We all just called him Rico, that's Spanish for “The rich one”. He was anything but rich but he used to say that every man who has a reason to smile is rich. And since he smiled almost all the time despite the hard work, he earned himself that name. Rico was an orphan from somewhere in the South.  He was so young and lively, never uttered a bad word, never swore or drank. He loved all kinds of animals, too. Once he even saved a calf from getting stolen by a Cheyenne. I figure you would have liked him, too.”

Milly smiled for the first time on that day.
“What happened to him, Micah? Are you still in touch with Rico?”

Micah lowered his glance. Bad recollections tightened his tongue.

***
Lucas, Mark and Miner headed home for the ranch, leaving the bodies behind. Lucas had to notify Micah about the killings as soon as possible. When they came out in the open, Lucas noticed a swift movement on an oblique rock about 60 feet away. The rancher stopped his horse and pulled the Winchester out of the scabbard. Miner reined his mare next to Lucas.

“What is it, Mister McCain? Anymore trouble …”

Lucas fired a single shot. After a couple of seconds a furry carcass rolled down the rock and disappeared in the high grass, never to rise again. Lucas smiled, as he ejected the empty shell.

“That was one of the wolves we were after in the first place. A shrewd old fellow, but he won't bother my cattle anymore.”

Miner nodded. After a moment he drew his Colt with lightning speed and fired three more shots. A painful howling was the answer. A grey body, even bigger than the first one, jumped snarling out of the grass and dropped back into a muddy buddle. The angry howling died away fast. Only the fresh grass was still moving for five more heartbeats. Miner holstered his gun, while his mare seemed totally unfazed by the dangerous beasts.

“That was the second one, probably the female. She was about to attack us. Wolves have tight family bonds, risking their very lives in order to protect their kin or to take revenge for their pack. But you are right, Mister McCain. A man has to protect what's his. Sometimes it's a pity tough.”

Lucas didn't say a word. He just put his Winchester back into the scabbard. As they rode on Mark turned around in his saddle, looking back to the rock.

“He is so fast …”

***
“It was just a small herd, we were responsible for, maybe not more than nine cows and three steers. The cattle belonged to a man, who wanted us to call him The Boss, just The Boss. He was only a couple of years older, but he was the meanest man, you could imagine. When one of us made a mistake of failed his expectations, he used his whip to teach him a lesson. This whip … was more feared than any gun, I can tell you.”

“He was such a tyrant? Why did you do anything against him?”

Micah closed his eyes. His memory was clear, painfully clear.

“The Boss was … well, he was not like any other man. We didn't know anything about him, not even his real name. But he had that way with people … I can't hardly describe it.”

“Did you get rid of him?”

“Rico was the one, who felt his whip the most. The Boss always took it out on the boy. Today I am so ashamed that I didn't do anything to help my friend. One day, Rico tried to run away, on foot. Of course he did not stand a chance. The Boss caught him in no time and tracked him back to the camp at a river where we were watering the stock. Then The Boss said just one sentence: Deserters and rustlers have not right to live anymore.”

“How could he say such a thing …?”

“Then he calmly took that noose and laid it around Rico's neck. A few seconds later Rico hung from that giant tree. That's when I ran back to the chuck wagon to get a gun. I found it and pulled the trigger. I hit The Boss in the back. He was dead in an instance. Another cowboy jumped forward and cut the rope. We managed to save Rico. The boy recovered surprisingly fast. After a few minutes of heavy breathing he was even smiling again. We decided to break camp and to leave that place as fast as possible.”

“What did you do with The Boss?”

“We left the body to the coyotes and the vultures and never looked back. Nobody dared to say anything but we all felt that the curse was taken from us. But that night the Cheyenne jumped us. Twenty or thirty warriors hit us like painted demons. The hail of arrows … the shots … it was …”

“I have always thought that Indians never attack at night.”

“They surely taught us different that night. For hours he heard their hellish battle cries, their war chants. An arrow missed my head only by inches. Although we kept shooting all the time they managed to steal or slaughter most of the cattle. All that remained was an old cow and a young bull. It the morning we drove those animals to North Dakota and sold them to a wealthy farmer for 26 dollars. Afterwards we split the money fair and square. First I didn't wanna take my share, thinking of it as blood money for shooting a man in the back. But Rico convinced me to take it anyway. He reminded me of Elizabeth and that we would need every cent to create our future together. I gave in and then we split up. When saying farewell Rico hugged me and promised me that he would repay his debt one day. I have never seen him again.”

Milly was still fascinated by Micah's absorbing story and almost sad that it was already over.

“So you returned to Montana to marry you sweetheart. How romantic. Where is she now?”

Micah shook his head. His voice was soft and full of painful love.

“Elizabeth died … under tragic circumstances. I once told Lucas the whole story and I don´t think that I have the strength to do it again. But there is always her picture in my heart.”

Micah bowed slightly forward over the desk.

“I swear to you that there will be no unlawful hanging in North Fork as long as this badge is pinned to my vest.”

“Because of a young man called Rico, you saved from being lynched a long time ago.”

“That´s right, gal.”

Milly got up.  There was nothing more to say. She had to get back to her store but her sad heart had found comfort. At the door she turned around.

“You know, I never knew my grandfather but I like to think of him … never mind. Thank you for your story.”

She left the office and crossed the street. Micah smiled. He understood.

***
Sitting at the porch the old man looked around, enjoying the nice view and the warm sun. Mark came out of the house and joined him. A white bandage covered his wound.

“You are really mighty fast on the trigger, Mister Miner. You must be the fastest gun I have ever seen.”

The grey-haired man turned and looked into the boy's eyes, smiling.

“Yes, you have to be, if you are responsible for cattle, Mark. Those cows and bulls, they are not just animals, son. A healthy calf, that is a piece of god's grace, granted to you to treat it the best you can. It's the same with horses. Emily is most precious horse you can think of. Your father was right to kill that wolf today in order to protect his herd. I have been a cattleman all my life and I can tell you: as long as you can call a herd your own just as your father, you are in God's grace. I started out as mere cowhand myself …”

Lucas left his barn, holding a horseshoe.

“I just found a single one that was not totally rusted. When we come to North Fork, we go straight to our blacksmith to have it nailed to Emily's hoof. I will pay for the job. That's the least I can do in order to thank you for saving my son, Mister Miner.”

Miner smiled and stood up. Obviously a bond was starting to grow between the two men.

“That´s just fine. But come to think of it … maybe there is something else you could do for me, Mister McCain.”

“Name it.”

“I haven't eaten for two days, to be honest. A man gets kinda hungry riding trough this rough country. Maybe you can fix me a little something, before we go to town. I hope it's no inconvenience, but …”

Lucas nodded, putting the iron on a barrel in front of the porch.
“Sure! Mark, go to town and get Micah up here. Tell him what happened. In the meantime I'm gonna fix supper for all of us.”

Something in the rancher's words made Miner turn his head.

“Micah? Micah Torrance is the Marshal here? That cannot be! Are you serious?”

Lucas nodded.

“Yes, he is the best lawman, a town can have … and my best friend.”

The old man laughed, looking up to the Rifleman's flabbergasted face.

“Well, he is the reason I came to North Fork in the first place. Micah and I are old friends. We were in the cattle business once, back in Montana, maybe thirty years ago.”

Lucas was stunned. He mustered his guest once again. Miner was about Micah's age, only a few inches taller. Maybe they could even have been brothers. Mark was as surprised as his father.

“Really? You know Micah?”

“I sure do, boy. I heard that he live in these parts today but I had no idea that he is the Marshal. Well, he always had a special taste for justice … I can tell you. Micah used to be a mighty good cowhand. I would be so pleased to meet him after all those years. I still him owe him, yessir.”

Mark too was growing found of their visitor. His wrinkled face and his clear eyes had impressed the boy, who mounted his horse.

“Well, in that case I gonna tell him, that a surprise is waiting for him up here. I will be back soon, Pa.”

As the boy rode off, Miner smiled pensively.

“Mark is a mighty fine boy, I gotta give you that, Mister McCain.”

Lucas´ eyes followed Mark galloping away, heading straight for the town. When the boy was out of sight, he turned to his quest.

“Well, I hope you like potatoes with your steak, Mister Miner.”

The portly man with the lined face nodded, showing a hungry smile. Lucas pointed to the barn.

“Well, I reckon I have to get some potatoes out of the barn. When Micah and Mark return the meal will be ready.”

***
Mark and Micah arrived at the ranch, as the sun was slowly sinking in the West. The wind had become stronger, maybe promising new rain for the next days. When they dismounted, Mark was obviously anxious to reunite Micah with his old friend.

“Pa! Mister Miner! We are back!”

No answer came. The place looked kinda empty, lonely … deserted.
Micah looked around suspiciously, waiting for a sign, but there was just silence. The old lawman frowned. Out of mere instinct his left hand touched his gun. Something was wrong, dead wrong.
“Maybe they are in the house. Take a look, Mark. Be careful, hear?”
When Mark ran over the porch into the house, Micah's worried eyes were checking the surroundings.

“Lucas Boy …?”

***
Missus Romano returned to the store.

“I am sorry, Milly, but I forgot to get some more thread for my new dress earlier today. I am still so upset. Well, no wonder …”

Milly smiled understandingly. She liked the old lady. The old widow was one of her best customers, maybe a little vain and talkative, but always nice and …

“Isn’t it just awful what happened in Silverton? I just can't get my head around it yet. Maybe because I still can't help thinking about my dear Francis …”

Milly had heard the rumors that Missus Romano's son Francis had been hunted down and killed by two bounty hunters some months ago, somewhere in California perhaps. But there was no sure evidence. The old woman had never given up hope to see her poor Francis again although he had allegedly been a rustler and thief with a price on his head. Now her grief broke free again. So much bitterness was in her weathered voice. The terrible incident in Silverton was almost too much for her.

“May I never see the day when something like that happens in our peaceful town, Milly.”
“It won't happen here, Missus Romano.”

The grey-haired widow with the sad eyes frowned. Her gloved hands began shaking.

“How can you be so sure, Milly?”
The young woman didn't look up. Her voice let on her new confidence in law and order.
“We have Micah Torrance.”

For a moment Missus Romano didn't know what to say. She opened her mouth to disagree but Milly didn't let her.

“That would be four cents, Missus Romano.”

***
Mark left the house in a hurry.
“They are not in there, Micah. Maybe Pa has …”

But Mister Miner was already standing in front of the house, facing Micah. The two old men were starring at each other without a word, without a movement. Mark froze instantly.

“Mister Miner! Where have you been? Where is my Pa?! Mister Miner …?”
Micah's face was calm, serene, without any expression. But after a moment his lips showed a sad smile.

“So, Miner is your name, hm? I recognized you in a heartbeat.”
The stranger shook slightly his head. His hands were pressed into his broad hips, only inches away from the gun at his side.
“I don't allow scum like you calling me by my real name. For you am I still … The Boss.”

Mark was taken by surprise. The boy was growing upset, knowing all too well how fast the man was with his Colt. Mark stammered as he started to realize that things were not as they had seemed.

“But … but … this is Micah Torrance, Mister Miner. He is your friend. I have figured you would be …”

Without moving his head towards the boy, Miner sighed.

“I am sorry, Mark, but I lied to you. I came here to get even with the man, who left me for dead on the plains thirty years ago. But unlike your revered Marshal here, I will give him a chance to face me. Do you still remember what I once told you, Torrance? Deserters and rustlers have not right to live. And you are also a back shooting coward to boot. Today I caught up with two other rustlers and helped to get them killed. You will be the third.”

There was no hate in Miner's voice, only a terrible kind of … patience. Micah remained motionless. He knew a professional killer, when he saw one. Without his powerful shotgun he couldn't stand a chance against a fast revolver, but his eyes showed no fear whatsoever.

“How did you get away back then? I have a right to know, Miner.”

“Yeah, I figure, a man has a right to know at least that, before he is gonna die. I came to in the evening. You know what woke me up? Not the pain in my shoulder, but the thirst. I was so terribly thirsty. It was such a hot day. Somehow I managed to get up on my feet and started growling to the river. I just drank and drank until I lost conscience again. The next morning, I heard steps. A young Cheyenne had spotted me lying on the banks. He thought I was already dead, so he became careless, when he pulled out his knife to take my scalp. Well, that was his last mistake. After killing that injun I took his mustang and somehow I mounted up. But out on the prairie I became so thirsty again.”

“You were lucky that day.”

“You can say that again, Torrance. After endless hours of suffering I came across a wagon train heading west. They just happened to have a doctor with them. That old sawbone was handy enough with a knife to get that lead out of my shoulder. He called me a medical miracle because I had lost enough blood for two men. For four days I was between life and death. Their preacher was already preparing a touching sermon for my funeral. But I recovered and ended up in California. I ran a saloon there, got married, went broke, married again… until the day, when I heard from a young no-good drunk called Romano that you were still alive and the Marshal around here.”

Micah was still totally unexcited, even when he heard the familiar name.

“Francis Romano? Yeah, his mother is still part of our community.”
“That´s what that young gun told me. The next day he ran into a couple of bounty hunters. A sum of 500 dollars can be quite a temptation for such murderers, I guess. Can't say, that I was exactly heartbroken tough.”

“You have no heart, Miner.”

Now tears were gathering in Mark's eyes. The situation was desperate. His last hope was ….
“Where is my Pa?! What have you done to my Pa?!”

“When he went into the barn in order to get some potatoes for supper, I followed and took care of him in there. Don't worry! He will live … I think. It sure was not easy to hit the head of such a huge fellow. But he is simply too dangerous with his rifle. I could not let him interfere in order to save his best friend from my revenge.”

Micah turned slowly his head into the direction of the barn. The door was ajar.

“I personally see to it that you hang if Lucas McCain was hurt bad.”

Miner didn't say anything anymore. His right hand was touching the Colt at his side.  The silence was more terrible than any noise, any shooting, any screaming Mark had ever heard. Now, the boy couldn't stay back anymore. He stepped off the porch, tried to get between the two enemies.

“But Mister Miner, I thought we could be friends. You saved my life today.”

“Stay where you are, Mark! There is no way you could stop me from doing what I came for!”

***

Lucas McCain was dead. At least he felt that way. It took him a couple of minutes to realize that dead men felt no pain. So, the excruciating ache that tortured his head showed him that there was still some life in him. He opened his eyes, but only silent darkness was around him. Blood was tripping over his burning face. He was lying on the ground between the hay balls. When Lucas tried to move he noticed that his hands were tied to his back. Even his strong legs were …

“Mark …”

That was the only thought in his mind. Where was Mark? What happened? Mister Miner? What about Miner? What happened? His world was now just weakness, loneliness, pain … and breath-taking fear. He had to get up, get his rifle and then he would take care of things as usual. But again the cruel pain made him feel awfully dazed.

So he sank back to the ground. His smarting face touched the dry hay. Maybe he could cry for help, maybe he could …

That very second Lucas heard the shots outside: one, two … and after a pause … a third.

***
Milly looked outside the window. Again dark clouds were gathering in the south, bringing rain, maybe even a heavy thunderstorm. She was still thinking about Micah´s story. She felt a strange kind of deep love for the old lawman. He was part of her family … together with the other man she liked to think about, a towering rancher, feared and respected by all outlaws, loved by his friends. Maybe one day they would become a real family.

Milly smiled gleefully.

***
Lucas tried desperately to get up but to no avail. He was too weak, too torpid. But now he heard fast steps approaching. The door of the barn was opened in a hurry. The next second, he felt arms around his shoulder.

“Pa! Are you alright? Pa!”
“Mark …”

The rancher's bloody face was covered with kisses. He still felt dizzy but now …

And then there was Micah at last, smiling, freeing Lucas from the ropes around his sore arms and legs, helping the giant man to get up.

“How´re you feeling, Lucas Boy?”
“What happened, Micah? Where is …?”

Micah turned to Mark, touching his shoulder, smiling proudly.
“Miner won't bother you again. Mark took care of that. You did good, Mark, really good. Your own grandpa couldn't be prouder of you than I am, son.”

Mark, although still mighty worried about his beloved father turned crimson.

“Well, I just happened to see that horseshoe on the barrel in front of the porch. I just took it and threw it …”

Micah kept on smiling. He still could feel his gun's recoil in his left hand.

“That was in the nick of time. Without you hitting him with that iron, I never would have outdrawn The Boss. He sure didn't count on that, I reckon. But now we better get your father to Doc Burrage. You gonna need a few stitches, Lucas. But in a few days you will be as good as new, I am sure.”

Lucas was still leaning against the wall of the barn, hurt and bleeding but happy like never before in his life. After a few minutes they left the barn, leading the wounded rancher carefully to the buckboard. When Mark ran into the house to get some blankets, Micah discovered the famous Winchester hidden behind the well. He picked it up to return it to his friend as soon as possible. Then he walked to the body that was lying peacefully in the sun. Somehow Emily had broken loose. The beautiful mare was standing next to her master, touching his bloody chest gently with her mouth. Micah caressed the horse's long mane, talking softly to the faithful animal.

“We will take care of you, don't you worry. Maybe, … just maybe I can persuade Mark to take you in.”

Knowing Mark's penchant for horses, Micah had the certain feeling that persuading the boy wouldn't be much of a problem. Then Micah looked down on the dead killer. A deep wound over Miner's eyebrow showed where the horseshoe had hit him.

“Well, Miner, seems to me, that Mark did find a way to stop you after all …”

***
Milly was so excited and full of joy. He had put on her finest dress for the occasion. The rescue of Lucas and Mark and Micah … that promised to be quite a feast. She remembered the moment when they came to town four days ago. Her heart trembled, when she saw Lucas hurt so badly. But with Burrage's help, the rancher had recovered surprisingly fast. And tonight they would all celebrate in the hotel.
Today there would be …

The door of her store was opened. Milly turned around. A customer, she never had seen before walked it.  He was tall and handsome, not the youngest man around but still pretty attractive. The rugged fellow tipped his dusty hat, smiling politely.

“Please excuse my intrusion, ma'am. Would you allow me a question?”
“Sure, mister.”
“I am a stranger in these parts. Is it true, that a man called Micah Torrance is responsible for law and order in this nice little town?”
“Yes, that's true. He is the best lawman, a town can have … and my best friend.”
“Was there any trouble lately in connection with Mister Torrance?”

Milly grinned full of cruel satisfaction.

“If you leave North Fork heading north, you will pass by a rather quiet place with many engraved stones. That's where a fine gentleman by the name of Samuel Miner is staying … permanently … after trying to murder Mister Torrance.”

The lean stranger frowned. But then he started smiling again. He stepped closer, looking into the young woman's pretty eyes.

“Well, that sounds like quite a story. Why don't you tell me more about that, ma'am? An exciting story out of the mouth of such a beautiful lady would make the afternoon most pleasant.”

***
The sun was burning even hotter than usual. The desert seemed to tremble in the heat. Not even the Apaches had turned up for a bottle of fine tequila and so the old man was kinda lonely sitting in the rocking chair. Then, he saw the horseman approaching over the barren ridge. The old man rose from his seat, covering his eyes. The rider dismounted in front of the seedy cantina where an undecorated grave could be seen.

“Still something left of your special tequila?”
“Sure, Mister Thorwald.”

After having that fiery drink, the gunman looked around. Something was bothering him. The crazy stars turned up again in front of his blood-shot eyes, dancing to a mute melody in his head.

The old man filled his glass again, anxious for the report.

“I reckon you are here to collect your reward?”

The killer shook his head. His voice let on his impatience. Flies were still circling in the dry air over the bar. Somewhere in the stony desert, a hungry coyote howled.

“Keep it! I want a favor instead.”

“A free bottle of my precious tequila?”

“I want you to take care of Walt's crave when I am gone. At the moment I am on my way to my parent's farm. I just gotta go there after all those years. Maybe I can even make the flowers grow on their graves. I know, it sounds weird, but sometimes a man starts thinking. Walt was right. Mother was right! I have been wrong all my life by hiring my gun out, hunting people. Maybe it was the war that turned me into the man I am. At Shiloh I saw so many unspeakable atrocities … and now it's enough. I gotta change everything when I return home and start all over again … but … but … never mind.”

The old man was surprised by the gunman's behavior but he nodded. Again the lonesome coyote howled somewhere in the rocky hills.

“Alright, Mister Thorwald, if that's what you want. I will take care of your brother's grave, you can rely on that. I reckon his name on a decent stone would have a nice touch. But now I am waiting for your report. What happened in North Fork? Did you find Micah Torrance?”

“First of all, you have to answer my question. How did you learn about Miner´s plan to kill Torrance?”

The old man lowered his glance. After a few seconds he had gathered enough strength to explain.

“About two months ago, Miner came here on his way from California. He didn´t recognize me. That was my luck otherwise he would have killed me without hesitation. After a while he was heavily drunk. He kept on talking about thirst, how much he hated thirst. He was … well … kinda obsessed by drinking. Not even those filthy pagans can swallow that much in such a short time. No wonder, he could not memorize my face after three bottles of my wonderful tequila. Then he started bragging, that he would shoot a man in North Fork, who once had made him suffer from such terrible thirst. After a while he revealed that man's name to me. I was horrified. Then he started shooting around. Even in his sorry state he was a dead shot. I knew that Torrance could not stand a chance against a foe with such a deadly hate in his heart and with such a fast gun in his hand.”

Thorwald nodded. He thought about the charming lady he had met in North Fork, the beautiful owner of the store. After Thorwald had been asking the right questions, she couldn't stop gabbling about her best friend's gruesome past as injun-fighting cowboy in Montana and his exiting rescue a couple of days ago. Well, being a lonely woman, she was not exactly taciturn after a few tasteful compliments from a handsome stranger…

“Show me your neck. I wanna see it. I wanna know! I want the truth!”

The old man's thin fingers pulled slowly away the filthy scarf he was wearing around his unshaved neck. Right above his Adam's apple a long ugly scar could be seen.

“That´s why I sent you to North Fork to back up Micah, Mister Thorwald. Only you were good enough to stand up against Miner. I promised Micah in Montana that I would repay my debt some day. Did I?”

“Well, you can rest assure, mister: Micah Torrance is safe and sound and Miner is dead and buried.”

The former cowboy smiled, obviously satisfied with the outcome. He filled the glass one more time.

“I sure am mighty glad to hear that. But you really ought to accept my money, no matter what really happened in North Fork. You might need it for rebuilding your home. Maybe you gonna find a nice woman someday and then you're gonna need every cent to create a future together. A close-knit family would really make a new man out of you. I can see that now.”

Thorwald swallowed that last drink like water. That time the crazy stars didn't turn up in front of his weary eyes. Instead the former killer was thinking about a deserted farm with two graves nearby, that was waiting for him somewhere.

“You are right. There is one important thing I learned in North Fork. Micah Torrance has such a family. With a family like that, a man doesn't need any other backup.”

The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents



Site Map
around The McCain Ranch