The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Love of a Father
Written by Klara's Boy

The man was a rugged fella in his forties. A wild and unkempt black beard covered his chin and his full cheeks. He was wearing a green shirt and brown pants and at his hip a rusty gun was holstered. While he kept the reins of the team that consisted of four mules in his right hand he took the last mouthful of the cheap liquor before he dropped the empty bottle into the sand. The man looked up the burning sun: only half an hour more. He could not wait to reach the swing station and get off the wagon to stretch his stiff legs. He turned his head to his right side: his young companion was soundly asleep, with the white hat pulled over his lean face. It had been a long day: shipping ten barrels of salted beef through the desert was not exactly an easy job but the payment was good. The massive wheels of the heavy wagon left a deep trail in the sand. Giant rock formations framed the lonesome route of the men, tiny lizard ran over the red boulders and at some place, in the gloomy shadows under the majestic cliffs, some thorny bushes managed to survive. Suddenly the sleeping man felt a violent push in his ribs that woke him up immediately. He lifted his sweaty hat and looked around.
“What is it, Jonathan? Are we already there?”

The man with the black beard pointed to a ridge on the right. The young fella turned slowly his head and what he saw up there made him come to his senses in a heartbeat: a dozen threatening silhouettes had appeared up there out of nowhere. The young man could see their long black hair waving in the warm wind, their sturdy ponies and the rifles in their hands. He turned pale and grabbed the shotgun that was lying on his knees. His trembling voice revealed his panic.
“Mescaleros! Do you think they are after us?”

Jonathan didn´t answer. He let his whip glide through the air and a moment later the mules started to run like hell. The first shots rang out when the Apaches left the ridge and gave chase. Again the whip hit the back of the exhausted mules. The wagon left a huge cloud of yellow dust while it rushed forward. Jonathan tried to stay calm as he felt each stone the wagon rolled over in his bones.
“Keep your cool, my friend. We are almost there. In the meantime see if you can hit one of them.”

Driven by terrible fear the young fella lifted his shotgun and aimed at the brave that had almost reached the wagon. He could see the brown face of the attacker, could see the flying mane of the running pony that carried the enemy closer and closer. He pulled the trigger and a moment later the Mescalero dropped with a wild scream to the ground. Jonathan grinned as he swung the whip again.
“Well done! Keep up the good work! We make it! You´ll see!”

And then the two men saw the buildings of the swing station about half a mile ahead, the most beautiful view in the world. Jonathan murmured a silent prayer as the bloodcurdling hollering of the Indians got louder and louder. He pulled out his pistol and handed it over to his scared friend.
“We are almost there! Keep shooting! And try not to hit your own toes. That hurts!”

The young man´s trembling hand took the gun and after aiming carefully he fired but this time he missed. Now the Mescaleros were only a few meters away, closing in fast while they kept firing their rifles in full gallop. Jonathan could feel the searing pain when a bullet left a deep wound on his left shoulder. He gasped for air as he could feel the warm blood soaking his sleeve. His companion fired again and his time the horse of a brave collapsed and vanished in a large cloud of dust. Jonathan tried not to pay any attention to the pain in his arm and kept the mules running …

***

“What can I do for you, Mister Hopper?”
Mister Hamilton, the banker showed his most charming smile. Ron Hopper was one of the wealthiest ranchers in the whole territory, an elderly gentleman who owned a couple of hundreds heads having the well-known “H”-brand on their hides, and had about three dozen hard-working cowboys under his strict thumb. He was now 58 years old and still nobody to mess with.
“I am here to make a withdrawal, Hamilton, about $1000 ought to do it.”
Hamilton hurried over to the safe and counted the required sum. Then he returned to his customer.
“Here you are, Mister Hopper. As always it´s a pleasure doing business with you, sir.”

***

Lucas stopped the buckboard in front of the Marshal´s office and let his son get off. Micah was already waiting with his fishing rod over his shoulder. Lucas smiled when he saw his best friend.
“Howdy, Micah. Is all set for the big catch?”
The old lawman grinned as he nodded.
“I hope your fine son won´t get all the big ones this time as he did last Sunday.”
Mark took his fishing rod and the basket with the hooks and the bait off the buckboard.
“Tonight I am gonna bring you a trout as big as a whale, Pa.”
Lucas proudly put his hand on his son´s shoulder. Sometimes he enjoyed making fun of Micah.
“Just don´t make our good Marshal too jealous. In the meantime I will be on ranch and take care of the cattle. See you two later. And try not to be too disappointed again, Micah.”

Lucas politely tipped his hat to Mister Hopper who just stepped out of the bank with a bag of money under his left arm that he handed over to one of his cowboys before mounting his white stallion.

***

Lucas caressed gently the head of the new-born calve that was lying in the lush grass next to his mother, a fat and healthy cow. After a long winter it was a pleasure to see young life again.
“You are a beauty, yes, you are, my dear.”
He noticed the rider only when the man stopped his grey horse right behind him.
“I really envy you, Monsieur McCain, I really do. North Fork is lucky to call you its citizen.”

Lucas swiftly turned around and looked up. His rifle leaned against a tree a few meters away and for a moment the rancher cursed himself for being so careless. But the man on the horse didn´t seem too menacing. It was an old and sickly looking fella, wearing a checkered shirt, black gloves, an old coat with a couple of holes in it and dirty pants. A scrubby hat covered his haggard and unshaved face. The stranger gazed at the Winchester and grinned.
“No need to get worried. I never carry a gun and even if I did … I would never stand a chance against you. I never did and I never will. The name´s Pierre Rouchon. My folks came over from France in 1849 when our dear king was overthrown. I reckon you remember me: Pierre Rouchon, at your service.

Lucas never took an eye of the stranger while he walked over to the tree and took his rifle.
“I hope I don´t break your heart when I tell you that I have never heard of you, Mister … Rouchon.”

For a moment the man seemed to contemplate and then he slowly dismounted. When he was standing on the ground it became clear how tiny and slim he actually was. Lucas eyed the stranger suspiciously. Rouchon looked almost like a disfigured child as he politely took off his dusty hat.
“You have everything a man can wish for: a big ranch, a wonderful son, a loving wife. I really envy you. How is Margaret by the way? I trust she is well? May God always protect your family.”

Lucas felt the urge to hit the man´s ugly face that now showed an oblique grin.
“My family is not your concern and if you don´t tell me what you want, I have to ask you to leave my land right now. Who are you, Monsieur Rouchon?”

The ugly man stepped closer and now Lucas could smell the unpleasant breath of the raunchy visitor.
“You ask who I am. That´s your right, I reckon. Well, I have to refresh your memory, I am afraid.”

Very calmly Rouchon pulled his left glove off and then the right one and now Lucas could see something that made him open his mouth in surprise and horror: both forefingers were missing.
Wagner looked at his mutilated hands and nodded grinningly.
“Maybe now you recall what you once did to me, Monsieur McCain …”

***

The shadow under the old oak trees was a blessing on such a hot day. The cool wind at the creek refreshed Mark who watched the line of his fishing rod carefully.
“Did you see Mister Hopper coming out of the bank when he left town, Micah?”

The old man prepared his hooks with extra care. Somehow his friend´s taunt that morning had hurt his pride and so he was determined to beat Mark this time. He just had to.
“Sure, he made another withdrawal to pay his cowboys I guess. He really pays his hands well.”

Mark was again in a pensive mood while we kept a watchful eye on the clear water.
“Pity!”
“What is a pity, Mark?”

Mark was careful to pick the right words. There was something that bothered him.
“Well, he is the most respected man around here. He even made my Pa a generous offer to buy our ranch but Pa refused naturally. Someday I can´t help wondering how Mister Hopper became that rich. We are not poor but my father will never manage to become as wealthy as he is.”

At last Micah´s bait was ready for action and he just knew that the largest trout was already his.
“Well, there is a difference between him and your father, Mark. Anything Hopper does is only to gain even more money and more power. There is nothing wrong with that. Our country needs men like him who build our wealth and earn us some respect back in the East.”

Mark frowned. There was a deeper sense in Micah´s words but he could not yet grasp it.
“And what about my father?”

Bees were flying from flower to flower and somewhere in the tree a bird sang his beautiful song.
Micah let the hook dive into the creek and sat down next to his young friend.
“Your father is even more important.”

Micah waited with his answer. He knew that the biggest trout was waiting just for him and his bait.
“All he does he does for not for money but for you, Mark.”

***

Lucas shook his head while the terrible memory that had been dead and gone haunted him again.
“What do you want from me now, Rouchon?”

The stranger´s voice was hoarse and thin but sharp as a blade and as painful.
“I want you to feel it for once in your life. I want you to feel the humiliation. Yes, I am an old man and if the doctors are right I have only a few more months left. Money doesn´t mean anything to me, I have nothing to lose and that makes me so dangerous. Yet I have you in my mutilated hands now. The big sodbuster people call the Rifleman is at my mercy and you will pay for what you did to me. You could kill me so easily with your bare hands but my hands are much stronger right now.”

Lucas had never felt so embarrassed. If the old man was right it could spell his doom.
“I ask you again: what is it, you want from me?”

Rouchon knew that he had the upper hand and he enjoyed it. His haggard face had turned crimson.
“I am sorry about your wife´s death. May God bless her soul. But that doesn´t change my purpose in the slightest. I want you to tell your son that whole story when he returns. I want to see the disappointment in his eyes when he learns about the truth about his father´s real character.”
Lucas grabbed the dirty collar of the man´s coat and pulled him up to his face.
“You are crazy. I see it now. You are just mad.”

Despite the firm grip Rouchon managed to grin and his little eyes glittered in a strange way.
“No, I am just a man who wants his justice. I will get it. If you don´t do it I will tell the folks in town, I will tell the papers and I can prove my words just by showing my hands. I just can´t lose.”

Full of disgust Lucas tossed the sleazy man away and Rouchon landed on his back. For a moment it seemed that his meager body would just fall apart by the violent impact. While he got back on his feet he looked over to the grassy hill where a rider appeared in the sunshine.
“There he comes. Now you are gonna do it. Or I will tell him and my hands will speak for me.”

When Mark arrived Lucas was terrified. The whole situation was a nightmare but he forced himself to stay cool. Mark dismounted and presenting three fish tied together by their tails.
“Look Pa, I just caught them within 20 minutes. You should have seen Micah. He called the whole thing off and went home and … howdy, sir, welcome, sir. What can we do for you?”

The ugly man with the emaciated face took his hat off politely and showed an uneasy grin.
“Good day to you, son. May the Lord always protect you from the pagans. I am here because I had to remind your beloved father of an old story and I want you to listen very carefully.”

Mark looked to his father who was obviously highly upset and full of disdain and yet the towering man seemed utterly helpless. Mark had never seen his father like that and so he got mighty worried.
“A story? What about, Pa? And who is that gentleman here?”

When he heard his father´s trembling voice the story became alive in front of Mark´s inner eyes and he could actually see what had happened 13 years ago in the desert far away.

***

Another bullet shattered the window as the men ducked behind the table. Shards flew through the room. Jonathan was leaning against the wall, still pressing his right hand against the bleeding arm.
“It doesn´t look too good. Soon they will come through that door and for that unpleasant situation just keep the last bullet for yourself. The gentlemen out there seem upsettingly angry to me. At least we can say that we meet our maker in the desert, as good old Moses did but in a different way.”

The frightened man next to him looked up and faced his wounded comrade.
“Spare me your silly jokes. I only took that job to earn a little money for my family. My wife is pregnant and in three weeks my child will be born. What should become of my family if they massacre us? We gotta to get out of here. I have to get back to Margaret. She needs me.”

The third man who used an overturned bed as makeshift cover shook his head.
“They have surrounded us: I figure there must be at least 30 of them outside, scattered all over the rocks and they would never let one of us leave alive. They just stay there until we ran out of bullets.”

Lucas McCain, the towering fellow with the pale face was obviously losing his nerve.
“But why? We did nothing to them! O please God I don´t want to die in some godforsaken swing station in the desert! I want to see Margaret again! I want to see my baby!”

Then all of a sudden the constant hail of bullets and arrows ceased and it was silent in the stuffy room. Only the heavy breathing of the men trapped inside the building could be heard. After two minutes four Mescaleros appeared on their horses, riding slowly down the rocky ridge and stopped right in front of the house. Their leader was an old man with a grim face, wearing a leather shirt and a precious bracelet made out of white beads. He was carrying an old muzzle loader in his left hand. A white handkerchief was tied to the long barrel of the gun. His voice was raspy and deep.
“We want to see the big man! Come out! We will not shoot! We talk!”

Jonathan managed to smile despite the pain. He was a brave man who remained serene under all circumstances. Even now Jonathan had not lost his sense of humor.
“If I am not much mistaken he means you, Lucas. Maybe a nice chat with the Big Chief is what we need right now. So please be so kind and ask the gentleman out there what we can do for him.”

Lucas McCain shook his head almost paralyzed with fear. Cold sweat was running over his forehead.
“There is no way I go out there! I am not crazy! That is a trap! Can´t you see?!”

The four Mescaleros appeared like statues out there in the bright sun, as they remained motionless on their horses. The third man behind the bed who ran the swing station slowly got up and looked out of the shattered window. Then he took a quick sip out of the small bottle he carried in his black vest and pointed at the four enemies in front of the besieged house.
“No, I don´t think so. I know that fella. That is Nanake. He leads that band of Mescaleros and is respected for his dignity and wisdom. I saw him before a couple of times and even sold some cows to him. If he really wants to talk, we ought to listen. Nanake knows what the word “honor” means what is more than you can say about many white men here in the territory. So we better obey.”

Lucas could not believe his ears. His mouth was dry and his thirst tortured him.
“Why don´t you go out there and talk to him? He is your friend, not mine.”

Jonathan gathered all the remaining strength in his body and got up, smiling encouragingly.
“It is you he is just dying to see, Lucas. Go now. Nice as we are we cover you from here.”

The bearded man leaned against the table and pressed his hand against his deep wound.
“I know how you feel, pal. I can tell you: I experienced such situations before and I still have the tip of an arrowhead between my ribs. But right now you have to forget your fear and at least make an attempt to get us out of here. Maybe that injun will listen to reason. And just for the record: if I don´t see a doctor soon, I am afraid I can bid my arm farewell. The bleeding has not stopped yet and I get weaker the longer we stay here. So it´s up to you, Lucas: do your best to save our miserable lives.”

Again Nanake´s commanding voice could be heard from outside.
“The big man is a warrior. He killed one of my brothers when we came after the wagon. He should come out now. We will not kill him! We talk! Come! Nanake speaks, a chief of the Mescaleros.”

Jonathan nodded weakly and despite the throbbing pain he smiled at Lucas.
“See? He already loves you. Maybe he even didn´t even like his brother and wants you to marry his pretty sister. Apache women are not exactly ugly and Margaret wouldn’t mind I am sure.”

Gathering all his courage, Lucas got up and walked slowly to the door that had suffered greatly from the impacts of bullets during the last hours. He hands trembled when he opened it. He stepped out and in his mind he repeated the first line of the Lord´s Prayer. Jonathan and the owner of the place exchanged a silent glance and cocked their guns. They could not hear what Nanake had to say but the whole conversation lasted only two minutes. Lucas returned and stormed into the house. He ran over to the man behind the bed and hit him brutally without saying a word. The surprised man fell to the floor and dropped his gun. Lucas was too fast to give him any chance for resistance. He pulled the owner of the swing station up and dragged him to the door. He was greeted by the hellish hollering of the Apaches. Jonathan could not react. All had happened too sudden. He saw how the Apaches tied the screaming fella´s hands and took him away to the ridge. After a few moments all was silent again. With his gun still in his hand the bearded man stepped forward. Lucas entered the house again and had a hard time staying on his feet. He lifted his head and looked at his distressed friend who could not say a single word. A warm gust of wind entered the house through the broken windows.
“I had to do it, Jonathan. They wanted Pierre and now they have him. Nanake promised us our lives for that and now we are safe. They ain´t gonna bother us anymore. We can go home.”

Jonathan stared up to the empty ridge. The Apaches were gone. Not a sound could be heard out there. After the constant hail of arrows and bullets the silence of the desert was almost spooky.
“But … why, Lucas? Why?!”

Lucas let his shaking body sink on a chair. He was too worn-out to stay on his feet.
“Nanake told me that that crook had kidnapped three Mescalero girls and sold them as slaves to the Mexicans two years ago. They had attacked a Mexican farmer last week and had found one girl still alive and so they learned about the whole thing. Now they are gonna make Pierre pay for that deed.”

Jonathan approached the door and felt the sunshine on his burning face. The two men were all alone now. Nanake and his braves were gone. The bleeding fella slowly turned around and faced Lucas who was still sitting there. Lucas raised his arms in desperation. Talking cost him a lot of strength.
“I don´t want to get slaughtered for the crime some other man committed. Not now! I just need to see my wife again. Do you understand? You have to understand me. Now I can get you to a doctor.”

Jonathan lifted his pistol and aimed it at McCain´s temple. Suddenly his once friendly voice was full of deadly disdain. The massive barrel of the weapon shimmered in the sunlight.
“You handed a white man over to the dirty redskins, you damn fool. My mother was murdered by Kiowas seven years ago and I buried what was left of her next to our destroyed cabin. And now a dirty little coward betrays our race just to save his own sticking hide. For that you ain´t gonna see your beloved Margaret ever again, you yellow traitor. I take care of you right here and now.”

Despite his exhaustion Lucas reacted faster than the wounded man could pull the trigger. He let himself drop to the ground and rolled over until he could reach Rouchon´s gun that was still lying next to the bed. As Jonathan´s bullet hit the wall he grabbed the gun and fired. The sound was like roaring thunder in the small room. Jonathan screamed as the bullet hit his heart and pushed him back. Lucas closed his eyes and a moment later he heard the heavy body collapsing somewhere near the table. He could not hold his tears back while the tense gunsmoke engulfed his pallid face. He was still crying when he slowly got up and walked to the door. His legs were shaky and his arm hurt from the drop. He didn´t look back. There was only the face of a beautiful woman floating in his mind. It kept him from losing his sanity that very moment. When he stepped out he felt the hard wood of the porch under his dirty boots. In the red shine of the sun that was sinking as a fiery ball behind the majestic rocks the tall man hobbled over to the well and quenched his tormenting thirst.

***

Lucas´s glance was full of hate as he turned towards Rouchon.
“That´s it! Yes, I did it! I handed you over to the Mescaleros because I was forced to do that.”

Mark didn´t say a thing. It was all too much. Rouchon´s bony face showed no expression. Even his sadistic grin had disappeared. Finally he was the first to speak again.
“When they dragged me to their camp Nanake told me that he will make sure that I won´t ever fire a gun again so I would have to starve in the afterlife, never able to hunt and fill my hungry belly. So he ordered a young brave to take a knife and cut my fingers off. I fainted and when I woke up again it was night. I was lying out in the open under the stars, with my hands tied behind my back. I knew that they would torture me to death the next day. But I was in luck. The young pagan who had to guard me had found the bottle with liquor in my vest and there was still enough left to make him drunk. I tricked him to come closer and kicked his head as hard as I could. He collapsed without a sound and I managed to grab the hunting knife in his belt. Despite the pain I could free myself. The whole village was still asleep and so I managed to sneak over to the horses and escaped.”

Mark´s voice was a mere whisper. Somehow he had no strength to look into his father´s eyes.
“And then?”

The old man took a tiny bible out of his dusty coat and held it up in the air.
“Later I went back to the Louisiana and worked as a preacher like my father before me. Whenever I had to write anything I called a little slave boy named Nero and he gave me a hand, literally. Nero was a good boy. One day he showed a newspaper with a short article about a small town called North Fork and I recognized you immediately, Monsieur McCain. I strongly believe in God and I had to come here to reveal the truth because God is the truth and I serve Him with all my power. Before I left my doctor told me that there is something wrong with my heart and my lungs. I often cannot sleep at night because of the pain in my chest. But it is a great comfort to know that I serve the truth about the real character of a respected man who handed over a white Christian to the red devils.”

Mark shivered. He turned to the man who was only two inches taller than he was. He looked into Rouchon´s small eyes and his youthful voice was very calm and serene.
“I believe every word you say … sir and that whole story just reminds me that all I want is to become a man just like my father is … sir. Now go away, far away.”
Obviously Rouchon had not expected such a reaction. His bewildered glance moved over to Lucas.
“You heard my son. I tell you for the last time to leave our property and never come back.”

Rouchon hurried back to his horse and without a word he mounted up. But before he could drive his heels into the animal´s flanks his whole body became stiff as his breath turned into a painful wheezing. For a moment he tried desperately to hold on to the reins but when the horse made a nervous movement his fingers let go and he fell out of the saddle like an empty sack. Lucas ran over to him and turned him around. But it was too late. Mark was stunned as he kneeled down in the grass. Lucas let his palm glide over the open eyes of the dead man.
“I am afraid truth was too hard to handle for him after all, son.”

***

The Marshal´s voice revealed how sullen he was.
“So you have no idea whatsoever who that man was, Lucas-Boy?”

The rancher shrugged and shook his head. He didn´t like such questioning at all.
“He just told me that he was a preacher looking for truth in order to serve the Lord. That´s all.”

Something was no right here and the experienced lawman sensed it.
“He asked for the way to North Fork and before he could ride off he feel dead off his horse? Just like that? And on his way here he happened to lose his forefingers also just like that.”

Mark butted in almost too hastily.
“Well, he looked pretty sick after all. I guess there was something wrong with his heart.”

Micah got off his chair and pressed his palms against the desk in his office.
“Alright, although I have my problems buying that funny story I take care of things and notify the undertaker. And later it´s only polite manners that you two invite me for dinner tonight.”

Lucas exchanged a certain glance with Mark.
“Dinner? Well, sure, Micah. It just so happens that we plan to have fish tonight.”

The old Marshal grinned full of determination.
“Outstanding! That way I come to eat my trout at last.”

Lucas frowned and put his hand on his son´s shoulder.
“Your trout? As far as I know you didn´t catch a single one. Mark is the master of the bait here.”

Micah pointed proudly to the shiny badge on his vest.
“I represent the law in North Fork and I decide that all fish in the creek are mine anyway. The problem is that only Mark catches them. Go home and prepare dinner before I arrest both of you.”

Lucas and his son obeyed that order of the law and left the office. At the door Lucas turned around.
“7:00, don´t be late or we eat your precious trouts without you, Mister Torrance.”

The End

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

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