The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Deadly Letter
Written by Klara's Boy

The man stopped his horse and turned around in the saddle, looking back. The wagons were heavy so the going was tough on that broken ground. The rider smiled anyway. A new life had begun. The land was wide and free, ready for pioneers who had the guts to conquer it and were handy enough with their tools and guns. He looked ahead. There, between the tense brushes and the crippled trees was the river. Today they would cross over and tomorrow the trek would set off into the vast prairie, going straight south into the best land, The Good Lord in His mercy had ever created.

Yes, Mister Küster was a lucky man. He smiled gladly, when he drove his black horse further to the water. For a moment he allowed himself to cast back his mind. Pictures of his old parents he had left behind in Germany many thousands miles away came to mind. He had promised them that he would make a fortune in the New World. Then he would come back and lead them into their new home across the Atlantic Ocean, to paradise.

The other side of the river was only 50 feet away. The lush grass over there was so high, that a man on his horse could easily disappear … or hide in it. When Küster even heard a wild duck somewhere in the bushes over there he murmured a few words in his German mother tongue, a dear memento of his home land so far away.

“Was für ein herrliches Land.”

But then he remembered that he was now an American citizen and pioneer, part of a young nation's hope and so he repeated the sentence proudly in his new language:

“What a wonderful land.”

The duck could be heard a second time. The four covered wagons had come up now. The oxen were slow and surly but amazingly strong and persevering. Mister Küster rode back to the second wagon.

“Alright … everything?”

Surely his English was not yet perfect, but the young woman on the wagon appreciated his concern. She smiled when she answered, accentuating each word.

“Yes, Mister Küster … everything … is … alright … thank you.”

Mister Küster nodded. The young lady's smile was also something that filled his heart with joy. She had joined the trek a couple of days ago and …
„Shall we cross over now, mister?“

The sweaty man who was driving the first wagon seemed a little worried about the river's current. Küster turned his horse around and nodded again. His hand pointed over to the other side of the river.

“Ja, we go … now … yes …”

Then he rode back through the tense brushes at the banks right into the cool water. The ford was maybe 20 inches deep. The duck on the other side welcomed Küster. Small birds flew up, trying to hide between the bushes. Küster looked around for a few seconds then he lifted his hat and waved to the trek.

“It is good. You come … now!”

Küster saw the heavy wagons breaking through the green bushes. He heard the hooves of the sluggish oxen on the stones. Then he saw the pretty woman in the second wagon again, the woman whose beautiful eyes had captivated his heart. He was determined to court her and surely she would say “yes” when he would propose to her … in their new home somewhere out there. Yes, Mister Küster was without doubt a lucky man. Again the duck could be heard … louder this time.

Küster was still smiling when two sharp arrows pierced his chest, throwing him off his black horse. His body plunged into the cold stream. So he didn't have to hear the blood curdling war cry out of more than twenty throats, the shots, the panic screams of a terrified woman. Countless hooves galloped over his body but he didn't feel anything anymore, not even when seconds later brutal hands grasped his blond hair and jerked his head out of the bloody water. The long blade was sharp as a razor so taking the beautiful scalp was just a matter of seconds. All that didn't reach his senses anymore. Yes, Mister Küster was indeed a lucky man.

***

“Lucky …”
The old sergeant looked down on the arrow-ridden body at his feet.
“What do you mean by that, sergeant?”

The grizzled man looked up, gazed into the grey eyes of his superior. The young lieutenant was strapping, good-locking and naturally arrogant. So it was no wonder that the bearded sergeant didn't think the world of him. West Point graduates were all the same to him. Somewhere between the giant rocks a hungry coyote was howling. The sly animal was obviously eager to continue his bloody meal.

“Lucky, I said, sir. I mean that this man was killed instantly and not taken alive. That's what I meant with … lucky, sir.”

The young lieutenant with the thin moustache and the grey eyes didn´t answer. More than twenty-five bodies, mutilated and scalped, were covering the sandy ground of the narrow canyon. The whole company had been slaughtered two days ago in that trap but the young officer was tough enough to stand the gruesome sight. Though the sand beneath his dusty boots was soiled with dried blood, pieces of torn uniforms and empty shells he didn't let on any sign of sorrow or grief, when he turned to his men, a reconnaissance patrol of twenty inexperienced soldiers.

Only the grey-bearded sergeant was a veteran, allegedly wounded during the siege of Petersburg many years ago. The old man shook his head. It was clear that he considered his self-opinionated superior a mere nuisance so he turned around and headed to the end of the canyon where the air was more breathable. Again the young lieutenant tried to say something, maybe even bark a harsh order, but then he decided to remain silent. All the other soldiers were obviously terrified by the carnage. None of them was older than twenty-two, and the cruel fate of their comrades had turned them very pallid. Suddenly the lieutenant felt very lonely among his despondent men. They were mere strangers to him, not friends or brothers in arms. But he was responsible for them. Leading such a patrol was never an easy task. He holstered his revolver and tried to analyze the situation in a military manner as he had been told in West Point.

Well, they had carried out their order: search for the missing company. That was the only thing that really mattered. The circling vultures had shown them the way. But there was one more thing to do.

“Any sign of the major?”
A tall corporal with freckles around his nose sighed, full of anxiety and apprehension.

“No, sir, Major Franklin is not among the dead. Seems that he was captured by the hostile injuns, sir.”

“No, I've just found him, sir!”

The sergeant emerged behind a huge rock near the end of the narrow canyon. The officer frowned. His face seemed to be hammered out of stone.

“You found the major?”

The scared cheeks of the old veteran were grey, when he nodded vaguely.

“What´s left of him, sir.”

The lieutenant started walking to the rock, but the old man made a knee-jerk movement to stop him.

“Don´t go there, sir. I beg you. That is not longer Major Franklin over there. You would not recognize him, sir. That is just …”

The young lieutenant gave him a withering glare. For a moment he hated the old man. He envied him for his calmness, based on experience and military instinct, for the popularity he enjoyed among the young troopers. But still he was in charge and he knew what was necessary. He knew his duty and he cursed it.

“We have to bury him, sergeant. Major Edward Franklin was my friend and what´s more, he was my superior officer. I have to pay reference to him. Have I made myself clear, sergeant?”
“Sir, please, listen to me. Don't go there ….”
“Have I made myself clear, sergeant?”
“Yessir …”

The sergeant walked slowly back to the rest of the column while his superior headed for the rock, passing two dead horses and a burnt wagon that had once carried ammunition and other supplies. Now two men were still tied to the charred wheels. They had not been so lucky …
The old man looked around, seeing all the pale faces of his young comrades, covered with dust and sweat. He liked those young fellows. All of them could have been his sons or even grandsons. Vultures were still circling over the barren hills. The veteran sighed. He walked through the soft sand over to his nervously nickering horse and slowly he pulled a half-filled bottle out of his saddle bag. He knew that he would need it in a few moments, hoping that it would be enough …

After two minutes the lieutenant returned. The old sergeant didn't even have to look into his grey eyes to know that his superior was now another man, still strapping and handsome but with a mind that had changed completely, that had gone dark forever, never to lighten up again. When the officer tried to say something about the state of Franklin's body the bearded sergeant handed him the whisky.

“Sir …”

The lieutenant took the bottle without hesitation or thanks and drank hastily. The sergeant didn't smile, was still utterly serene and silent, however deep inside he welcomed his superior to the army.

“Now you know what being a soldier is all about, my boy.”

***
Three cans were sent flying up into the air by three rapidly fired shots. Lucas smiled contently. For that day, his practice was over. It was a hot afternoon and his thirst grew worse. When he walked over to the well he noticed two silhouettes against the cloudless sky up on the ridge. Lucas shadowed his eyes. Yes, now he could see those strangers. Two unknown horsemen had appeared on the ridge behind the house, slowly approaching the ranch. Lucas put on his shirt and eyed the visitors. The first was a wintry-looking old man, wearing a black hat, a grey jacket and black pants, riding a buckskin stallion. But Lucas´ attention was caught by two distinctive features the man was wearing: a black patch over his left eye and the badge of a US Marshal on his weathered leather vest. The old lawman's voice was gloomy and dark, raspy and calm.

“Howdy, mister.”
“Howdy, Marshal. What can I do for you?”
“The name is Blaine, Daniel Blaine. I am responsible for the territory west of here. I still don't know what the Good Lord was thinking when he created that hellish land, but I am the law there. Especially in Silverton I have serious problems with scum of the worst kind. That's exactly where I caught up with this fine gentleman here three days ago.”

He pointed to the second rider. That man was considerably younger and obviously an Indian. His dark skin seemed to shimmer in the bright sun. His braided black hair was falling over his narrow shoulders and covered the upper part of his slim body. He was wearing a round hat, decorated with small feathers and colorful pearls. His white shirt and his pants were adorned with several Indian patterns. His hands were cuffed in front of him, holding on to the saddle horn. Lucas starred into the face of the warrior. The man's glance was showing no sign of fear, remorse or despair. Lucas needed a couple of seconds to figure out why those small eyes over the sharp cheek bones seemed so threatening: the man's eyes were rather dark, but undeniably … blue.

Marshal Blaine was obviously unimpressed by the eyes of his captive. The grizzled lawman had a cruel, unforgiving glance himself. His uncanny charisma was that of a relentless killer, who just happened to wear a badge. With such a cruel streak maybe he was indeed the right man for a lawless city like Silverton. Noticing the rancher's concern he disdainfully smiled at his prisoner.

“You don't have to worry about nothing, mister. The very moment he tries something he will be dead. I would shoot him without a qualm like the dirty dog that he is. This damn injun has killed a man in Silverton in cold blood. Now I am bringing him in. The only place for such a stinking redskin is the deepest cell in Yuma, or the highest gallows anywhere. I intend to stay here at your place and have a little chow, if you don't mind. I can pay, mister …”

“McCain, Lucas McCain.”

Now Blaine was obviously stunned for a moment. His broad-shouldered figure straightened up in the saddle. He even managed to smile in a respectful way.

“Now I know why I heard rifle shots back there. You are the rancher they call The Rifleman. It's an honor meeting you, Mister McCain. I heard a great deal about you. I certainly did.”

Lucas nodded politely although he started to worry. He was not sure what those visitors could mean to him. He overcame the temptation to look into those blue eyes again.

“Be my guest, Mister Blaine.”
“Much obliged, yes sir. Much obliged indeed.”

The lawman dismounted. When standing on the ground Lucas noticed how big and impressive Blaine really was. The lawman was almost as tall as Lucas himself but much stronger, with massive arms and big hands. His prisoner looked like a mere boy compared to him.

“Let´s go, redskin. Move before I shoot you off your horse. I mean it and you know it. Tonight I intend to leave you in custody in North Fork for a couple of days … if you are still alive by then, that is.”

The lawman's right hand moved down to his hip, where a massive Colt 45 with an ivory grip was holstered. There was no doubt that he knew how to use it.

The Indian remained motionless for one more instant before slowly dismounting, too. Still he hadn't spoken a word. The Marshal showed again his disdainful smile. Lucas took his rifle. He was glad to feel the cold steel of the barrel in his sweaty fist. The three men entered the house.

***
The horse was breathing hard when galloping over the meadow. Mark hurried home. It had been a successful day at school. The teacher had been impressed by the boy's presentation about General Sherman ´s campaign in Georgia. Besides he was hungry. Surely his Pa had already … two unknown horses were standing in front of the porch. Apparently his father had welcomed visitors. He stopped his horse and dismounted.

“Pa?”

Mark entered. His eyes became wide. His father was in the company of two men, he had never seen before. One of them, a giant fellow with a black eye batch turned his head.

“What have we here? Your boy, Mister McCain?”
Lucas turned and walked over to his son, putting a hand on his right shoulder.

“Yes, that's my son Mark, gentlemen.”
The fearsome man with the badge on his vest and the hand at the Colt by his side nodded.

“A mighty fine boy. It's sure nice meeting you, Mark.”
Only now, Mark noticed the second visitor: a man in cuffs, an Indian with dark hair and … blue eyes. Before Mark could say something, Lucas smiled.

“I hope you are hungry, Mark. How was school?”
“Fine … just fine, Pa.”

***
“And then, the teacher said that the other boys should consider my speech as example, how a presentation about the history of our nation is all about.”

Lucas just proudly smiled but Mister Blaine was obviously impressed by the story.

“Yes, Mark, Sherman is one kind of a man. He has a great name. One day you will also have a name, just like him … or your father, the man with the rifle.”

The dinner had been tasty and Mark could have been satisfied with the outcome of the day. But still he was … timid. The uncanny appearance of the old man with the eye batch gave the meal a strange atmosphere. But even more was Mark curious about the second visitor. Still the captive remained mute and unconcerned, had hardly eaten anything. His blue eyes were half open. At times he seemed to drowse or to … pray silently to his gods. For what? To gather strength? What for? Escape? To kill his guardian? Mark tried to pluck up all his courage and asked.

“What´s … what's your name, … sir?”

For a moment, there was an awkward silence. Blaine turned crimson and before Lucas could say something, the one-eyed lawman balled his right fist.

“Don´t call this stinking redskin “sir”, boy. It's even a disgrace to breathe the same air with this drunken dog. He is nothing but a pagan, a ruthless murderer and he will stand trial for it.”

Lucas's eyes turned cold.

“That´s enough! No matter what this man has committed: he is a guest under my roof, just as you, Mister Blaine. As such he has a right to be respected. Is that clear?”

Blaine was stunned. Apparently he was not used to such objection. But before he could react the captive lifted slightly his head. His blue eyes were open for a long moment, starring at Mark.

“Tomóbi …”

All three was surprised by the clarity of the voice, by this one simple but unknown word, by the mere realization that the mute Indian could speak. Lucas was the first to react.

“What did you just say, mister?”

The Indian slowly turned his head to the rancher. His voice was deep, cold, clear and threatening, but also charming and full of dignity.

“My name is Tomóbi. That the word my people use for “sky”. I got this name because of the color of my eyes. I am Tomóbi, Mister McCain and am grateful for your hospitality and the food. You are not like the other white men, I know. When the time comes, I will spare you.”

Before Lucas could answer, the prisoner turned to Mark who was starring at the Indian with his mouth open.

“I thank you for asking for my name, Mark. It shows that you respect a warrior. You have honored my name by asking for it. I consider you as fellow warrior despite your youth. Our good Marshal here is right: the gods will grant you a great name too.”

Blaine's hand had moved down to his gun. The mere sound of the man's clear and deep voice had terrified him.  Even Lucas's mouth was open in awe. This time Mark was the first one to react.

“Your people?”
“The Comanches …”

***
Milly was almost finished. It was surely no particular pleasure to darn Micah´s old pants. But she did it for two reasons. First the old man was grateful for that kind of support and he was generous: being prepared to pay three dollars he provided Milly an extra income. But the more important reason was that she liked the seasoned lawman. Now the last hole was mended at last. Milly put the garment aside and sighed. He was glad to call Micah Torrance a friend. That night she would return the pants and use the opportunity to have a nice talk to her … beloved grandfather. The young woman smiled.

***
When two horsemen appeared at the end of the street, Micah frowned. One of them was an Indian with long black hair. The other was …
“Howdy , Marshal. The name is Blaine, Daniel Blaine, coming from Silverton.”

Micah was stunned, when the one-eyed lawman dismounted and shook his hand. Silverton: the very name of that lawless territory made Micah glad that destiny made him Marshal in a peaceful town like North Fork. On the other hand he appreciated the opportunity to meet his colleague, who was brave enough to take things into his hands in this god-forsaken land west of North Fork.

“Micah Torrance, pleased to meet you, Mister Blaine. What can I do for you? I can't help noticing that you are traveling with company, Mister Blaine.”

The giant man nodded and pointed to the brave, who was again a mute monument of dignity and disdain for the white man's world and what it stood for. The one-eyed lawman's voice showed how important this Indian was to him.

“Mister Torrance, this captive is hereby committed into your custody for the next two days. By then I will be back with reinforcement as well as some other outlaws to return to the prison of Yuma, where justice will be done.”

Micah smiled.

“Will be a pleasure to be of any assistance, I am capable of, Mister Blaine. I am sure glad that Silverton has now …”

“Much obliged, Mister Torrance. Get off your horse … Sky.”

The captive was looking curiously around before dismounting. The street was not particular busy that day. For a moment the shadow of a disdainful smile appeared on his narrow lips. Then he turned and looked at Micah's face. The old man froze. Those eyes …

***
Lucas was furious. For an hour he had been busy rummaging through all his drawers. Mark grew more and more curious about that strange behavior.

“Pa, I know it's not my business, but …”
“That´s right, Mark, it has nothing to do with you!”

Mark was astonished by the sharpness in his father's voice. For a moment Lucas kept on rifling through the documents he had found in his drawers. Piles of paper were already littering the floor. But then Lucas stopped and looked up, heaving a sigh.

“Sorry, son. I didn't mean to be mad at you. But it is very important to me to find a certain letter.”

Mark was obviously surprised.
“I reckon it is not one of Mum's old love letters?”

“Surely not! Please leave me for a moment. I will tell you all about in due time. But now I have to find that particular letter. I know I still got it! It must be here somewhere!”

Mark nodded. He knew his father well enough to realize that leaving him to his secret doing was the better choice, so the young man left the house. But after a few more seconds the rancher opened an old book that was stored on a dusty shelf. A yellowed piece of paper dropped out.
“I have got it! At last! Now he will tell me what happened! He will!”

He took his rifle and stormed out of the house. Mark looked at him when he mounted his beautiful horse and galloped away at breakneck speed,
heading for North Fork.

***
Micah had a great deal of experience with outlaws, dangerous as they come. But the Indian back there in the cell made him mighty uncomfortable.
Those blue eyes …

Blaine had left hours ago for Santa Fe in order to line up some support and so Torrance was alone with the responsibility of guarding the Indian. Normally he wouldn't have mind since such a duty was part of his job but on days like that Micah felt tired, worn out, not good any more. The age had slowly but mercilessly sunk into his bones. He longed for relaxation, for retirement, for peace. On days like he felt so lonely, so terribly lonely. So seeing his best friend heading for his office made him happy for one moment but the he saw Lucas´ cold eyes. Something was definitely wrong.

“Micah! Is he in there?”
“Sure, Lucas Boy, but what …”
“Open up! I must talk to this Comanche!”
“But …”
“Now!”

“Sky” was already standing at the bars, as if he had waited for the infuriated rancher. His voice was calm, serene, even polite but let on a strange form of …. deadly superiority, despite the massive bars only inches in front of his face.

“Mister McCain. What a nice surprise.”
“We will see about that! Your name is … Tomóbi! Is that correct? Is that your name? Tomóbi?”
“That is correct, Mister McCain.”

Lucas showed a devilish grin. Whatever it was that made him angry, it was something very personal.

“In this case this might be of interest to you. I have found a letter at my home, a letter from an old friend of mine, long dead and gone. I will tell you all about it and if my suspicion proves to be correct, you will hang.”
The blue-eyed captive smiled in cold expectation for the story of that mysterious letter. Lucas took the paper out of the breast pocket of his white shirt. His other hand was still holding the rifle.

“My friend was an officer in the army. We marched four years side by side during the war. We saved each other's life more than once, I can tell you. My own brother could not be closer to me. After Appomattox he remained a soldier, became even an officer. I was there when he received his promotion. We celebrated together. Years later he sent me this letter, telling me that he was planning a campaign against your people.”

“So?”

“Just days before he set out to lead his men against the Comanches, he told me in this letter some details about the planned campaign. He mentioned a trusted Indian scout he believed he could rely on. He mentions that Indian's name right here … your name!”

Now Micah, who had stayed silent so far, stepped closer and looked up to the towering man.

“Are you sure, Lucas?”

“It says right here! Only days after sending this letter the whole command was slaughtered. Soon rumors came up that the troops were lead into an ambush … by an Indian scout, whose body was never discovered among the other dead, because he had worked for his fellow Comanches … because he was a traitor! You were that scout, responsible for that defeat, Tomóbi! You murdered Major Edward Franklin!”

Micah was stunned by that harrowing story. Only Tomóbi stayed motionless, untouched, cold.

“I told you that I respected you, Mister McCain. Therefore you deserve the truth, being the fellow warrior I see in you. Yes, I lead the company into that canyon, where the war party lied in wait. It was over in just a couple of minutes. I personally took Major Franklin's scalp, while he was still alive. I can still hear his scream. Your dear friend was not much of a warrior after all, I must tell you.”

After a terribly silent moment Micah outstretched his left arm.

“Gimme your rifle, Lucas. He is my prisoner. He is gonna stand trial and he is gonna pay. Don't do anything stupid now otherwise I have to arrest you, too. There will be no unlawful killing, as long as this badge is pinned to my vest. You know that, Lucas. Please, hand over your gun now.”

Without taking his hateful eyes of the fearsome enemy, Lucas vaguely shook his head. His face was sallow. His cloved fingers were dangerously near the rifle's trigger.

“I won't do anything against the law, Micah. I want to see him sentenced and executed for that murder.”

Knowing his friend's violent temper, Micah was not yet satisfied.
“He will! He is gonna pay for his betrayal! I will personally see to it. But now I have to ask you to leave. Please, Lucas Boy, go now.”

While starring into those narrow blue eyes, Lucas remained surprisingly cool. Only his glance revealed his deadly hate. It was clear that Major Franklin had been very dear to him.

“Micah, I am gonna stay in town as long as this traitor is in your custody. If you need a hand in order to send him to the gallows I insist that you let me know. You will find me in the hotel! Normally I would stay here with you but I can't stomach being near this criminal. I might lose my temper after all. And the hangman has gotta make a living too. As soon as you need me, call me. Understood?”

“Maybe you should go home. Mark will be waiting and …”
“Understood?!”
“Understood  …”

***
“Marshal …?”

“What do you want?”

“Just to have a word with you, Marshal, if you don't mind.”

Micah sighed and looked outside. The sun had already sunk and few people could be seen on the street. Never before the darkness had seemed so intense, so impenetrable. The moon looked down on him like a grinning skull, pale and … patiently waiting. Micah frowned. He took the revolver that was placed in front of him on the desk and holstered it. Then he walked over to the cell. “Sky” was sitting in a corner of the cell, resembling with his tense black hair a crow that had hidden his head under a wing. He didn't look up, when Micah stepped in, approaching the bars.

“What is it?”

“I want to talk to you. I want you to understand. You wear the silver badge. You are a war chief among the white men. You will understand what I did.”

“I am no chief and I will not understand your treason. There is nothing we have to talk about.”

Now the Indian slowly rose. He stood up and walked over to the bars. Now the two men looked each other into the eyes. Being a professional lawman Micah forced himself to stay calm.

“Hear me, chief. My father was a great brave, a Comanche. My mother was a woman from your tribe. He gave me her blue eyes, so I got this name you hate so much: Tomóbi. I have a name, I am proud of. When I had seen 17 years, I went hunting to provide food for my family. When I returned our village was destroyed. White men had come and burned it, killed every man, every woman and every child.  I swore revenge and went to the village of the white man to learn the name of the white war chief, who had taken my family’s scalps. I found him at a place called a fort. He was always with many of his soldiers so I could not kill him. But I could see that he was still proud of the scalps he had taken in our village and his tribe was proud of him, praising him as a great brave. I could see from a distance that one of those scalps was different, not black but brown and curly.”

“Your mother's scalp, I reckon.”

“You say it, Marshal. So I swore to get near that white chief and when he needed a scout I came to him and signed a paper they gave me. After some time I gained Franklin's trust and so it was easy for me to lead him into the ambush, my brothers had prepared for his soldiers. I took Franklin's scalp and I was proud of it. A couple of days ago I also killed a man in Silverton, a drunk and former lieutenant who had served under Franklin and had helped burying the remains of his company.”

Micah looked down, shaking his head. Now the situation was even more awkward. Still he could hear his best friend's voice.

“I want to see him sentenced and executed for that murder.”

Treason was treason and murder was murder. There was no excuse. And there was no doubt what the verdict would be. And still …

Tomóbi was well aware of the old man's thought. The treacherous Indian even smiled. His prisoner's voice was more fearsome than ever.

“I don't care, if I hang. But I want you to understand, why I did it. That is all that's important to me, because I respect you, Marshal. That's why I didn't tell Mister McCain. His hate is too strong. He would not understand. He loved his friend too much. Franklin was an honorable warrior in his eyes.”

Micah felt again old and weary. He longed more than ever for his retirement. And he felt lonely, so terribly lonely. He lowered his head, trying not to let on any of his torturing feelings.

“Well, Tomóbi, I am sorry about what happened. But there is nothing I can do for you. No jury would ever understand your reason.”

“Of course they will not understand. They are no warriors. They know nothing about honor and respect.  My mother told me all about honor. A white woman who had become a Comanche to get killed and scalped by white men.”

Micah looked up.

“Tell me more about your mother, Tomóbi.”

***
Fists were hammering against the door. Lucas was awake at once and jumped right out of his bed in the hotel room, his rifle in hand. A female voice could be heard from outside.

“Lucas, come quickly!”
“Milly? What happened?!”
“It´s Micah, Lucas! Hurry!”

***
“You have been lucky, Marshal. Only a minor concussion. In a few days you will be …”

Lucas stormed into Doc Barrage's room. Milly followed with eyes red from tears.

“What happened?! How bad is it?!”

Micah was sitting on the bed, while the physician kept on bandaging the old man's head. Micah's wrinkled face was ghastly pale.

“I am sorry. Lucas, I am getting too old for this job. He called me to the cell and asked for something to eat and when I turned around he must have jerked my gun out of the holster and then … I don't know. Milly found me lying on the floor when she brought my pants. I told her she would find you in the hotel and now …”

Lucas had obviously a hard time to keep his wild temper under control. For a moment he felt like grasping Micah's collar. Their friendship was in real danger to find a violent end in a fist fight.

“You let him escape? How could you, Micah? Any idea, where that traitor might have gone?”

Awfully tired Micah shook his head. He was but a shadow of the man he used to be.

“I am sorry, Lucas. I only know that he took my gun and the keys and that he stole a horse and that he is free as a bird now. If I could I …”
“Maybe you are right, Micah! Maybe you are too old for that line of work. We gotta catch up with that murderer right now as long as the trail is still hot.”

Doc Burrage was calm and composed as always. He had seen too much in his life to get riled up anymore.

“No dice, Lucas. There is no use following him in the dark. You never can catch up with a Comanche on horseback. He will ride into the desert and maybe he will join other Injuns, maybe even other Comanches. As soon as he finds some other warriors he can respect he will join up with them, to make a name for himself. Maybe he will assume custody over a younger brave to teach him the best ways to fight his enemies.”

***
Mark could not sleep. He was worried. Obviously his father had decided to stay in town after finding that mysterious letter. But why? Was there any serious trouble with Mister “Sky”? Mark decided to get up and have a drink of water. That very moment his father returned. Mark could hear Lucas approaching the ranch on horseback.

“Pa!”

Mark ran out of the house to welcome his father but …

The man dismounted right in front of the porch. His dark face showed a charming smile and his blue eyes were sparkling.

“I greet you, Mark. I told you that I respect you so I came to take you with me. Together we go where the best fight is. I will make sure that you will earn a great name. Not long ago we talked about names and the gods, remember?”

Mark could not react. He was totally taken by surprise. Once again “Sky” flabbergasted him.

“I can't come with you, mister! I have to wait for my father.”

“I know. He would love to take my scalp so you better hurry. I am your guide from now on.”

“No!”

As scared he was, Mark knew that he had to buy time. There was no way, he would follow the Indian. Tomóbi kept on smiling. Maybe he was even fond of the defiance the young “warrior” showed. He stepped closer and put a hand on Mark's left shoulder.

“It´s true: you are the son of your father. The gods will …”

That very moment a second horseman could be heard approaching the ranch. Tomóbi turned and drew Micah's Colt out of the holster. The rider galloped with breakneck speed to the house.

“Pa!”

Lucas McCain drove his heels brutally into his horse's flanks. The Comanche lifted calmly the Colt and cocked it. But before he could fire at Lucas, Mark jumped forward and grasped his arm. The bullet went up in the night sky. Tomóbi swore in his native tongue and pushed Mark aside. The boy lost balance and dropped to the ground. Before he could get up again, Tomóbi had taken aim again and …

Even for the Rifleman it was not easy to hit a target from the back of a running horse. But he saw his son in the hands of the man he hated so much. Seemingly without aiming he fired. For seconds the darkness was torn by the muzzle flashes of five shots. And then there was that scream, a loud scream, barely even human and then a body dropped to the porch and then Lucas swung out of the saddle and stormed to his son.

“You´re alright, Mark?!”

“I am alright, Pa. Are you?”

“Just fine, son, just fine! I am so glad I came just in time! Oh son …”
Tomóbi was lying on his back. He tried to move but sank back on the porch. Quickly Lucas bent forward, took Micah's gun and threw it far away into the night. Then he looked scornfully down on the dying man. For a moment a distant memory came up, showing the powder-covered face of the trusted friend next to him, when their company was marching into Rebel artillery fire at Gettysburg.

“That is for Major Edward Franklin and for the other soldiers, you betrayed.”

Tomóbi smiled. His dark face was blood-stained. His hands were cramped, pressed against the wounds in his chest. Three dark spot were quickly spreading over his white shirt.

“If you only knew, white man. But you are good with that rifle. You are a great warrior. You could even be one of us.”

“I have nothing in common with you.”

“You know what it means …. to hate. That makes us … brothers. But you can … do … me a … favor.”

His raspy voice became weak but still, there was superior dignity in it. For a moment Lucas felt a twinge of curiosity in his mind. Even in his last seconds Tomóbi could come up with something totally unexpected.
“What do you mean by that?”

“Say thanks to … your friend … the Marshal. He is a good man … better than you think. He has honor. He is a warrior. He knows it all … now. I told … him all before he let me … he shall tell  … you, why …”

Tomóbi´s head sank to the side. Lucas lowered his rifle. Mark was alright and that was the main thing. After a moment Lucas bowed forward and closed the dead Comanche´s blue eyes. Marks voice was still a little shaky.

“What did he mean by that, Pa?”
“I don't know, son. But I intend to find out.”

***
In his rage, Marshal Blaine bore a strange resemblance with a wounded grizzly.

“Let´s go through this most regrettable matter once more, Mister Torrance. The prisoner asked for something to eat, but when you turned around, he took your Colt, stole the keys and clubbed you. Am I right?”

Micah, still with his head in a bandage, vaguely nodded. He had aged considerably during the last two days, remaining almost silent during the whole interrogation. The one-eyed lawman sighed and didn't pay any attention anymore to his miserable colleague. Outside the Marshal's office half a dozen stern-fazed deputies was waiting for the return of the boss. The three heavily armored wagons the men were guarding attracted some attention of the good people of North Fork. Before Blaine left to rejoin his posse he turned to Lucas.

“You are a fine fellow, Mister McCain. If you ever feel the wish to serve as a deputy in Silverton, you know where to find me.”

Lucas nodded knowing that he never would come near Silverton if he could avoid it. Blaine left the building and mounted up, leading his posse out of North Fork.

Then the street was empty. Making sure to be alone and undisturbed with the old man, Lucas closed the door. Then he turned to Micah who was still oddly calm and resigned.

“There is one thing, I did not mention in my report to Blaine. Shortly before that traitor died he told me to thank you. I am not sure what he meant but I have reason to believe that you also deliberately left something out in your report, Micah.”

“I have no idea, what you are talking about, Mister McCain.”

“I would have bet 100 dollars that you would come up with such a lame excuse, Marshal. Tomóbi called you a good man, even a warrior. He claimed that you knew some kind of truth. Mighty strange for a criminal talking that way about a lawman, wouldn't you say?”
Now Micah lifted his aching head. His wrinkled face was a mask of sorrow and pain.

“You know everything there is to know about that jailbreak. I am an old man, good for nothing anymore. Are you implying that I am also a liar? You better leave now.”

Lucas took his rifle and again his fingers were near the trigger. He hated this conversation but he had to know the truth.

“It was not a jailbreak at all, wasn't it? You released that traitor on your own. The so-called escape was all set up! You gave him the key yourself! He just clubbed you to make that cooked-up story believable. Am I right?”
This time, Micah remained silent. It was obvious, how deep the humiliation was. After a moment he nodded. Lucas was stunned. He expected something like that but the confession was too much for him after all.

“But why …?”

Micah sank back into his chair. For a moment he seemed to become so frail that Lucas grew seriously worried about his friend's health.
“Do you know how it feels to be really lonely for years? How it is not to have a family. No, you don't! You have Mark. I have nobody anymore.”

Lucas tried to say something but he decided to let Micah speak.

“You know that I was married once. After our wedding my sister in law decided to get married too. But she was not interested in any man around back there in Montana so she joined a trek heading to Texas where she hoped to find a husband and settle down. That was a pretty rough country back then. The sad part about all that … Elizabeth and I never saw her again. There was never a letter or anything. We never learned anything about her fate down there.”

Micah´s voice was nothing more than a whisper.

“When I talked to the traitor in his cell he revealed that his mother had been killed by a company of cavalry commanded by your friend Franklin a couple of years ago. That's why Tomóbi led the soldiers into the trap in the canyon. It was all about taking revenge for his beloved mother.”
“What?!”

Micah paused, fighting back his tears, before he continued.

“Before being captured by the Comanches Tomóbi´s mother had been white. He told me her real name: Martha Cook.”
Lucas was not able to close his mouth. He could not believe it. Micah remained motionless in his chair. But now his voice regained its old strength.

“I just could not let them hang my own nephew …”

***
Milly was quite satisfied. The apple pie looked delicious. She cut it into a couple of slices and put it into her basket. Knowing Micah's penchant for pie she walked over to the Marshal's office. On her way she kept thinking about that bloody incident: a jailbreak leaving Micah hurt followed by a killing at the ranch. Feeling bad for the old lawman she hoped that a little treat would cheer him up. But when she reached Micah's office she looked through the window. What she saw stopped her in her tracks: Lucas was hugging Micah like a son would hug his old father. Being full of love for both men, her first notion was to step in and ask what …

But then she decided not to disturb the two friends in such a precious moment.

***

Mark was busy with his homework, when his father arrived at the ranch in the evening.

“Pa!”

Lucas walked in, put his rifle in the corner and sat down in his chair. For a couple of minutes he remained silent. First Mark did not dare to disturb his thinking but then he grew curious again.

“Is everything alright, Pa?”

The rancher nodded. He lit a cigar and covered himself in a tense cloud of grey smoke. Then he looked at his son.

“I just learned today how important is to understand your friends and forgive them. Sometimes it doesn't seem right, what they do, but there is always a deeper reason for most things in life. That's what true friendship is all about, I reckon: understanding.”

“Sure, … Pa.”
“Son, I just like to tell you, how much I love you. I guess, I don't say that often enough.”

Now Mark smiled. When the big man turned sentimental, he became kinda cute.

“Well, I love you, too, Pa. You know that.”
Now Lucas got up and walked up to his son, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder.

“And now, I would like to know something else: how did you know about your mother's secret love letters?”

The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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