The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The White Dog
Written by Klara's Boy

The blonde boy under the grey blanket opened his eyes and smiled when he watched his friend approaching. The green hill was steep here and when the older man arrived he needed a moment to catch his breath while he pressed his palms onto his knees. He looked down at the pale face of the kid who was not older than 17 years. The boy slowly turned his head.
"You've got him?“
The man with the sweaty forehead hesitated for a moment before he vaguely nodded.
“We sure have. He ran out of bullets and now we've got him. How're you feeling, Billy?”

The boy closed his tired eyes and needed a few seconds to gather his fading strength.
“A little … strange. It's not that bad, I reckon. It's just that burning in my belly that really bothers me. My father once told me that that is not exactly a good sign.”
Instead of an answer his friend stepped closer and gently pulled the blanket away. The white shirt under it was soaked with blood that slowly ran out of two bullet wounds right under the ribs. The man didn't let on anything and put the blanket swiftly back on, trying to spare his injured friend that terrible view. He even managed to smile.
“Don´t tell me that those few scratches can hurt. As soon as we are finished here, we get you to town to some old sawbone and in two days you will be after the girls again, Billy. The one with those cute freckles seems to like you, I reckon, the one from the post office. And next week I'm gonna come over to your place for Thanksgiving. I hope your mother still knows how to bake.”

Billy grinned although he had a hard time fighting the burning pain in his stomach. He tried to raise his left arm but he was already far too weak. However his youthful voice was still clear and full of life.
“Yes, she will make some of her famous apple pies, you know, those fine apple pies with the apples from our garden and you can …”

His head sank to the side right in the middle of the sentence. The man just stood there and tried not to think of the kid's mother back in Houston, standing on the beautiful porch while the tiny branches of the old apple trees were gently moved by the summer wind. After fighting the unbearable anguish in his heart he bowed forward and tenderly closed the kid's eyes before pulling the blanket over his handsome face. Then he turned around and walked over to one of the horses that were standing in the shadows of the grey rocks nearby. He took a rope from one of the saddles while his lips murmured only one word.
“Apple pie …”

He kept silently repeating that single word while his strong fingers formed the noose. For a moment he felt revoltingly sick but that unpleasant sensation in his throat was over after a few heartbeats. When he was finished he walked down the hill with calm determination. It sure felt good to sense the knot of the noose in his palms. The other members of the posse, rugged fellas with dirty faces, looked into his teary eyes that revealed his murderous purpose.
“Alright, boys, tie his hands up and get him to that tree over there.”

***

There was one thing Lloyd Coe loved about running a swing station out there in the desert: that very special kind of blissful silence. Nobody ever disturbed his peace and since the last Apaches were all sent to some swampy reservation in Florida at last there was no danger anymore that anybody would burn down his place down one night and ran off his cows. Right now the air in the small but clean and tidy room grew stuffy as the sun came up behind the barren ridge. “Lloyd ´s Palace” was well-known around those parts. The passengers of the stagecoaches always looked forward reaching it because the water there was cool and the food not too bad. Coe pulled out his precious pocket watch he once had pilfered in New York when he had worked there as clerk in a small hotel. The stagecoach was not due before noon but as far as he knew the drivers the stage would not arrive before early afternoon. There was still time for a nap and then … that was the moment when the door was opened and a single man entered the dark room. The lonely traveler was slender and tall, with black hair and a thin moustache. He was wearing a brown suit, a white hat and black pants. He looked around before he went over to the bar. Coe chuckled. Although he was a loner by nature he occasionally enjoyed meeting new folks out here.
“Morning, Mister. The name's Lloyd Coe. Welcome to my palace. It once belonged to the Emperor of China but it was a bit too fancy for him so he sold it to me pretty cheap and that's why I run it now and that's the Gawd´s truth.”

The traveler nodded and smiled, well-aware that some lonely folks out there saw it as their duty to entertain their guests with crazy stories.
“The Emperor sure had a poor taste. I like it here. And I was wondering if I could find something to eat in these parts, Mister Coe. I would not deny a juicy steak to be honest.”

Again Coe showed his boyish grin while cleaned his hands in his white apron.
“Steak is my specialty. That old devil Geronimo actually gave up the fight when they promised him one of my steaks in return and that's also the Gawd´s truth. Please take a seat at one of those tables in the meantime and make yourself comfortable.”

The stranger took off his hat, obviously thankful for the friendly welcome.
“Alright then: I want you to cut that meat into two halves: one is for me and I want it well-done with potatoes, the other one stays raw and bloody, just as you cut it fresh out of the steer. That piece is for my girl. The name is Brewer by the way, Wes Brewer, from Tennessee.”

Brewer broke out in laughter. The stranger obviously amused him.
“I say one thing, she sure has a strange taste, Wes. No offence though, my friend. Is the lady still somewhere out there? She ought to come in. In here is room enough for the three of us and a little female company is a nice change.”

Mister Brewer stepped back and let out a sharp whistling sound towards the entrance of the house. A second later a white head with pointy ears and a long snout appeared in the door frame. The big dog appeared timid and suspicious but then it ran over to his master wagging its bushy tail. Coe was surprised but then he laughed again.
“Well, in that case I understand of course. While your half of the steak is frying I will check out if I can find some bones for your girl, without charge of course. That is most beautiful lady that ever came over my threshold since Missus Lincoln paid me a visit once while her husband was busy fighting some minor war in the East as far as I know. I never figured out who won at the end.”

While kneeling on the floor and stroking the dog's white fur Brewer smiled as the animal's tongue kept licking his sweaty face.
“One more thing, Mister Coe. How far is the nearest town? My horse is already pretty tired and I would like to avoid another long ride today.”

Coe kept watching that lovely scene before he seemed to contemplate.
“Only about six miles to the South, a nice little place with friendly people.”
“I suppose it has got a name.”

That was the moment when Coe noticed something strange about his guest: the man was not carrying a gun which was definitely not common in that territory. Suddenly, without any real reason, he felt mighty uneasy about that fella with the white dog. Coe frowned before he answered Brewer's question.
“North Fork … it's called North Fork, sir.”

***

Micah turned the key in the lock. The hinges seemed to cry out for oil when he pulled the cell's door open.
“Can I let you out now or are you still not sober, Meagher?”

The seedy man in the cell was a burly fella, maybe in his forties, but he looked considerably older with his grey hair and the countless wrinkles under his blue eyes, traces of an unstable and violent life. He slowly got up and carefully rubbed his smarting head while he staggered over to the bars. Micah didn't step aside.
“That´s the last time, Meagher. I don't want any more trouble with you and your gambling and drinking. You still have your wife waiting for you. You ought to remember that.”

Meagher looked up and straighten himself despite his agonizing hangover.
“Yeah … that was the last time you locked me up, Marshal, I promise you that. I don't like it here, not at all, no sir. I spent too many nights in too many prisons and I still don't grow fond of it.”

Micah resisted the eerie glance of his prisoner.
“I know you can't stomach me, but I can live with that. You used to be a decent fella once, but now you are nothing but a miserable drunk. Your daughter would be ashamed of you if she could see her father in such a state. We all have to deal with tragic loses, you're not the only one.”

Meagher took off his black hat and let his dirty fingertips glide over the dusty fabric.
“She was only 9 years old when that scarlet fever reduced her to nothing. Mary was all I got. I had nothing before the war and now it's the same again. I am back where I once was only even worse.”

Micah shook his head. Suddenly a painful image appeared in his mind, like a shameful vision of his own past. Micah saw himself lying in the dirt of the street again, tortured by nausea and a horrible headache, far too drunk to get up until he felt gentle hands on his shoulders and heard the calm voice of a man over him, a towering man with a rifle, offering him a cup of coffee.
“There is still something in you, something that gives me hope that one day you're gonna see what really counts in life and that's surely not booze. I know that, maybe better than you think. I've been through that myself a long time ago. Getting rid of the bottle for good is the hardest thing a man can face and somehow I believe you can do it and soon.”

The overweight prisoner leaned against the iron bars of the cell as if he was too weak to stay on his feet. His breath was disgustingly warm and heavy, the remands of last night in the saloon. His reddened face was unshaved and revealed how exhausted the man actually was. Meagher´s left temple was still swollen where Micah had hit him with the barrel of his shotgun to knock him to the ground. The tired jailbird stared through the bars of the door.
“Have you ever seen a burning city, Torrance? I have. I was there when we burned Atlanta and Savannah to the ground. I was one of those laughing Yankees with the torches. Nothing has changed I tell you, except for those pesky nightmares, that keep returning.”

Micah finally gave way and pointed to the door.
“But there is a difference after all. You have Norma now. She is a good woman and she needs you, now more than ever. Just remember that. And now get out and go home.”

Meagher didn't answer but put his hat back on and left the cell on stiff legs. His stained vest and his filthy pants left the stench of sweat and cheap booze in the small room. At the exit of the Marshal's office he stopped and turned slowly around, looking at Micah who had followed him.
“My gun …”

The Marshal hesitated but then he opened one drawer of his desk and took the Colt and the holster out. Even the old leather seemed to have the stink of liquor on it. Meagher stretched out his right arm and for a moment there was a threatening silence between the two men. Micah sighed and finally handed Meagher his property. The prisoner grinned as he wrapped the gunbelt around his massive belly.
“Much obliged, Torrance …”

***

“So, if I aim to sell my cow for $30 and the buyer wants to pay 10% less so how much do I get at the end.”
Mark was still busy with his homework when Lucas finished his coffee.
“Not enough if you consider how much work it takes to raise cattle, son.”

Mark was no child anymore: he was already 16 years old and knew very well how hard the life of a rancher could be. But his father had managed to sell twenty heads to a big cattle company in Santa Fe last week and he was still happy about the good price. Now Lucas was about to ride to town and get that money to the bank. Hamilton had offered to grant a greater interest rate for his account. Lucas got up and took the saddle bags with the money.
“I´ve to go now, son. I will be back as soon as possible. Remember I promised Micah to have dinner with him so it can take a while so don't worry. You stay here and keep doing your homework. You still need a lot of practice if you intend to pass the exam.”

The boy gave his father a sad glance, the kind of glance all youngster know when they want something really bad.
“Are you gonna help me when you come home just in case I don't figure those stupid calculations out, Pa.”

Lucas stroke Mark's fine hair. There was no way he could resist those eyes.
“Provided you try hard enough on your own, son.
“I will, I promise.”

Lucas took his rifle on his way out and enjoyed the warm sunshine on his face when he walked over to his horse that was already saddled and waiting. He pushed the Winchester into the scabbard but before he could mount up he heard an unfamiliar noise behind him, a deep growling, not too loud but still threatening. He turned around and spotted the white dog standing in the shadow of the barn. The surprised rancher gulped. He had never seen such a dog before: white as snow, big and with powerful jaws. Mark ran out of the house to tell his father the good news.
“I got it, Pa. The right solution is $27! You're right: that's not much for a fine cow. That buyer must be some shabby crook, don't you …”

And then Mark spotted the beast as well. For a moment father and son stared at the ferocious animal and the rancher's hands slowly glided over the flank of his horse to the butt of the rifle sticking out of the scabbard.

“No need for that, sir. Harriet would not harm you. She is just suspicious about strangers and I can say that I blame her. Down, girl!”

Lucas and Mark watched the smiling man who appeared behind the dog, leading a buckskin horse, a fella wearing a brown suit and black pants. The dog reacted immediately to that order and lied down with his red tongue hanging out of its mouth. Lucas relaxed a little but he pulled out the Winchester anyway although he realized right away that the stranger didn't carry a gun. I sure felt good to feel the barrel on his palms, just in case.
“Who are you, Mister?”

The man took his hat off and nodded politely.
“I am sorry for trespassing and I hope you accept my apologies. My name is Wes Brewer and that's my girl. She is the best friend a man can have. I am on my way to that nice town called North Fork. It should be nearby but I am not too familiar with this territory. Would you be so kind and tell me how to get there, sir?”

Lucas was still not convinced. He stayed right between Mister Brewer and Mark, covering his son with his own body, ready for anything. Nobody would ever harm Mark without paying.
“You´ve business there?”

Brewer came a little closer and the dog stayed put but never took an eye of the worried rancher.
“I made some money working for a railroad company in Santa Fe and I plan to settle down somewhere. Why not around here? Sitting at a desk and pushing pencils all day is not exactly my plan of making a living in the long run.”

Lucas was not sure what to say. Brewer looked like a true gentleman but experience had told Lucas that such visitors could mean trouble before long. Mark on the other hand was not that skeptical.
“Harriet is an unusual name for a dog, don't you think, sir?”

Brewer kneeled down and let his big hands gently glide over the dog's neck.
“You see, son, the only book I ever read was “Uncle Tom's cabin” and I thought naming my dog after the author was a nice idea.”

Harriet barked which sounded like a confirmation while she kept wagging her long tail. Now Lucas smiled at last and lowered his rifle. Somehow he grew kinda fond of Wes Brewer. The way he had petted the dog's fury head revealed that he was in fact a caring man.
“Alright, as a matter of fact that's where I'm heading myself right now. You can come with me, if you like, Mister Brewer.”

Harriet walked over to Mark and started licking the boy's hand. Mark kneeled and felt the dog's tongue playfully gliding over his cheeks which made him laugh. It looked like the start of a friendship. The man got up and smiled gratefully again before he shook the rancher's hand. It was the firm grip of an honest gentleman and Lucas hoped that his unexpected visitor would like North Fork and really settle down in the neighborhood. Brewer put his hat back on.
“Much obliged, Mister …”
“McCain, I am Lucas McCain and that's my son Mark.”

Lucas shoved the Winchester back into the scabbard and so he didn't notice the concerned expression in Brewer's eyes that was like a tiny glimmer of fear.

***

The grey smoke of the burning buildings was drifting like a black shroud over the destroyed city, rising higher and higher until it became an unnatural cloud that plotted out the sun. Shots rang out, houses collapsed, and the heat of the flames was unbearable. Even the air seemed to be on fire. Desperate women kept running through the streets, trying to get away and save their families while crazed soldiers on horseback kept riding up and down, yelling like mad demons straight out of hell. Hell had indeed come to earth to haunt the living. There was only one person who didn't move an inch in all that bloody chaos: a little girl standing in front of a blazing tree. She even seemed to admire that terrible view. Then the girl turned silently around, still with her blackened doll in her tiny arms and stared at the Lieutenant. Her soft glance revealed an only question:
“Why?”

The officer came closer and reined his nickering horse. His animal reared in panic as he saw the girl's face clearly through the dense mist. The Lieutenant regained control over his horse and galloped over to her while his cheering comrades kept on throwing torches through windows, completing their hellish work of destruction.
“Mary! Mary! I'm coming for you! Everything will be alright, I promise!”

He was still feeling the piercing heat of millions of glowing sparks on his skin when he heard that voice, that annoying voice at his left side. Somebody grabbed his arm. That voice seemed to become louder and louder while the suffocating smoke burned in his teary eyes.
“Wake up, Matt, you're dreaming again. Wake up! Stop screaming! Wake up already!”

The haunting visions were gone at once when Meagher stared to the ceiling of the small room, feeling terribly sick. His wife shook her head before she left him. Without offering any help she walked over to the table where a new dress was waiting to get finished. He closed his blood-shot eyes again as if he could not stand seeing the woman. After catching his breath he got up and poured a whole pot of cold water of his grayish hair that was sticky and smelly. He needed all his strength to keep himself from sinking back into bed again. He silently murmured a wicked curse about that doggone Marshal and his doggone cell. His deep voice was hoarse and smoky like it always was after waking up.
“I need a drink. I need it bad. My mouth is dry. Gimme some money.”

The woman didn't say anything but kept on sewing.

***

Everything was peaceful and quiet in town. Micah stepped out of his office and walked down the street, being greeted a couple of times by folks he had known for years and he enjoyed being respected that way. The people of North Fork sure appreciated his service and thanked him each day being just smiling at him. That badge was a great but rewarding responsibility. Then he saw the towering rancher dismounting in front of the bank.
“Howdy, Lucas Boy. I hope you're hungry already. I sure am.”

Lucas grinned contently as he took the saddle bags and pulled his rifle out of the scabbard.
“Howdy, Micah, yes, the invitation still stands of course. But let me just get that money over to Hamilton and I'm with you right after that.”

Micah nodded and looked at the well-filled saddle bag on his best friend's shoulder.
“Allow me to come with you. It's an honor protecting a wealthy rancher and his property.”

Lucas gently punched into the old man's shoulder, showing how fond he was of the old peace officer.
“I can't tell you how much appreciate being protecting by the best lawman in the territory. I've got some news as well: I brought a newcomer with me. He used to work for a railroad company and now he would like to settle down around here. I would not mind that for sure. He seems to be a fine fella and it would be nice having such a neighbor who could help North Fork grow. We kept talking about that on our way here and Mark also seems to like him. His name is Wes Brewer.”

Micah shrugged. That name didn't mean anything to him.
“As long as your Mister Brewer knows how to behave himself here, that's fine with me. Where is he?”

Lucas pointed over his shoulder at the livery stable on the other side of the street.
“He is in there taking care of his animal. As a matter of fact I'd like to introduce you to him. That way he learns right away to respect the law in North Fork.”

The two friends walked over to that building and the warm smell of horses welcomed them at the big gate. That very moment Wes Brewer came out. When he saw Micah approaching in the bright sunshine his eyes turned wide and he opened his mouth in horror. Out of a reflex he raised his arms and stepped back.
“Torrance …”

Micah looked up and his eyes became wide too when he recognized the aghast stranger.
“Dave Harkey …”

Without any qualm the Marshal pulled his gun out of the holster and cocked it. Brewer was obviously terrified and stretched out his empty hands.
“I am unarmed, Torrance! I don't carry a gun! Please don't shoot!”

Lucas was alarmed as his friend took aim with cold determination. All of a sudden, that was not Micah anymore, not the Micah had had known for years, not the honest protector or law and order, but a relentless killer. Lucas realized that he had to do something or Brewer would be a dead man.
“Have you gone crazy? You can't do that, Micah! What on earth are you doing?!”

Torrance stepped forward without taking his eyes off the newcomer. His voice was terribly serene and sharp and thin like a blade.
“You stay out of this, Lucas. He is mine.”

Brewer teetered backwards, looking around in sheer desperation for some cover. Maybe he indented to run back into the stable in order to save his life. Micah came closer, still aiming at the stranger's chest. Lucas didn't know what to do.
“Micah! What has gotten into you? He is unarmed! Don't do it!”

The old man kept on walking very slowly, as if he was enjoying what he did.
“Yeah, he is unarmed, just like the nine cowboys he murdered in cold blood. And when they were armed they got it in the back just like Mister Logan. I've been waiting 15 years for that moment. Do you remember Billy Longson from Houston, Harkey? I was there when he died just before we put that rope around your neck. But this time nobody's gonna save you.”

Lucas lifted his rifle. He hated to do that but he simply could not think of anything else to keep his friend from making a fatal mistake.
“I will! No matter what that man once did, you can't shoot him just like that. You must follow the letter of the law.”

Finally Micah stopped in his tracks, only four yards away from his aim. Very slowly he let the gun sink and took a deep breath before he slightly nodded.
“You´re right, Lucas Boy. Shooting him here would only soil our clean street. You're one lucky man, Dave. That's the second time somebody keeps me from killing you.”

And then the men heard that deep snarling that came out of the barn. Harriet lunged forward and positioned herself between her master and the lawman, ready to attack. Her white fur was standing up and her sharp teeth were barred. Lucas grew more and more anxious but he forced himself to stay calm and take the edge out of that dangerous situation. Shooting a man was one thing, fighting a ferocious beast that defended that man was something else again.
“We better leave now, Micah. I'm still hungry and so are you, I reckon.”

Brewer cautiously kneeled down and started caressing the head of his faithful dog.
“Mister McCain is right. I want no trouble. Whatever I did in my life, I left it behind me. I just came here to spend the night and ride on tomorrow. I am a different man now, Torrance. There is no Dave Harkey anymore. My name is Wes Brewer now, you understand that? The old times are over.“

Lucas tried to say something but Micah shook his head.
“You don't carry your revolver anymore, Harkey? Do you figure that not even the lowest varmint would ever shoot an unarmed man, that that's the moral of those without moral? Yeah, perhaps you're right, Harkey. That just makes you even lower than the lowest.”

Micah holstered his gun at last. Although the sun was burning down on him he felt an icy shiver running down his spine. His eyes were still full of contempt and hate, but his voice was now that of an ordinary Marshal, protecting his community.
“I want you out of town tomorrow, Harkey. I might change my mind after all and you won't be that lucky a third time.”

***

After finishing his homework Mark got up and walked over to the shelf. There was that thick tome, covered with a fine layer of dust. Mark took the book and left the house. It was a lovely day. The cows were grazing in the sunshine and some calves were chasing each other over the pasture. He sat down on the porch and admired the cover and the fancy letters on it that formed the title.
“Uncle Tom's Cabin”.

Before he started reading about the tough life in the Old South he thought that it must be fun playing with Harriet after school if Mister Brewer allowed it. The boy had never seen such a beautiful dog before and he liked the idea that Mister Brewer could soon buy a ranch nearby. Mark kept reading until he the red sun sunk behind the green hills. It sure was a good day.

***

While sitting at the table and waiting for their meals, Lucas could not stand the awkward and highly unpleasant silence anymore.
“What just happened over there, Micah? I've never seen you acting like that.”

The old man seemed strangely quiet, almost as he was ashamed of himself. He didn't answer right away but seemed to listen to the noise in the background. The other guests at the tables all around him were discussing the beef market, the latest news about the government in Washington and other topics. Finally he lowered his head and started his explanation.
“That man you came in with is not Wes Brewer or whatever he calls him now and no matter what he told you. 15 years ago, I worked as an ordinary cowhand for Mister Thomas Logan, a wealthy rancher in Texas. After three months differences over water rights and rustled cattle between him and some neighbors turned into a war. The other side hired all the mean gunfighters and killers they could possibly get and the pay sure was good. They were led by a young outlaw from Tennessee named Dave Harkey. He murdered everybody who worked for our side, not asking any question, without any qualms. There was much at stake and I was right in the middle of it. We resisted and organized ourselves but we could not prevent the last killing. When our good Mister Logan was shot one night from behind while he was working in his own barn we … well …”

Lucas noticed how hard it was for Micah to remember that sad story but he sensed that it brought also some relief to the old man's troubled soul.
“Well, one day me and six other cowboys chased Harkey and a couple of his men into a canyon and started a siege. It was a long and bloody fight and one of my friends, his name was Billy, was shot and killed. When we finally caught Harkey I wanted to make him swing. I wanted to see him hang bad. I made the noose myself. It was for Logan and Billy and all the others he had murdered.”

Lucas leaned back and opened his mouth in surprise. He would have never expected such a grim confession. But before he could butt in Micah continued.
“Yes, I know that was not right but at that time it seemed like the thing to do. In the nick of time the US Marshal from Dallas turned up with a whole army of deputies, sent by the governor and cut the rope. We were lucky that he let us leave as we explained to him the whole situation. Later I learned that Harkey had killed that Marshal during a jail break and had escaped. I led a posse that tried to hunt him down but he was lucky and got away. Later I read about his deeds in Kansas and Missouri where we was selling out his gun again. Then we heard nothing about him anymore and there were rumors that he at last had been killed in Wichita by some bounty hunter. I never saw him again until today out there on the street …”

Lucas had listened carefully without interrupting his friend a single time. It was hard to say something that made sense after hearing that story. He still had a hard time accepting the fact that that nice fella with the white dog had once been such mean gunfighter and backshooter. It sure was a pity. Lucas needed a while to find the right words to comfort Micah.
“Well, Micah, I can't say that I like what I heard and saw today but in a way I understand you now. You got carried away by your hate and it's human, I reckon. Wearing that badge still doesn't change the fact that you are still just a man with feelings. Those feelings might be wrong but I know them myself. As far as I'm concerned I'm gonna be happy when Harkey leaves and never comes back and that's all to it. To me you're still the best Marshal a town like ours can have no matter what happened that long ago. And all other folks around here would agree with me.”

Micah seemed to give some thoughts to the rancher's words before he lifted his head. He reached over the table and gratefully touched his friend's hand.
“Thanks, Lucas Boy …”

***

Harriet sensed that her master who was sitting on the bed with his shoulders hunched was highly anxious. Harkey started caressing the white fur between her ears while he was deliberately torturing his soul with bad memories, gruesome memories about blood and money, cattle and guns. The tiny hotel room on the second story was almost dark but blissfully silent. The moon was already up and clouds were driven by a strong wind over the black sky, promising rain in the next days. There was a lot Harkey wanted to tell his mortal enemy out there, that former cowboy who once put that rope around his neck but he felt that it was way too late and the old man wouldn't listen anyway. Finally Harkey turned around and took his saddle bags that were lying next to him on the blanket. He opened it and took an old book out. He opened it gently as if it was a treasure and read the few hand-written lines on the first page, a token of a love long gone. His voice was nothing but a silent whisper.
“I will never forget that moment when you offered to teach me how to read and write with this very book, Martha. You changed my life in a heartbeat. This book changed my life, back there in Wichita. Thanks for this wonderful present and for anything else, Martha, my dear.”

***

“Some more coffee, Lucas Boy?”

The old man was still happy that his best friend had followed his invitation to come over to the Marshal's office to have a cup of coffee with him after dinner. It was a peaceful evening and the streets were already almost empty. Only a few fellas were still gathered in the saloon and the wind carried their laughter over here. Lucas took his rifle and got up, putting his hat back on.
“No thanks, Micah. One more cup of your black rattler poison and I can't sleep all night. But it sure was great spending that evening with you. We're gonna repeat that soon. Besides, Mark will be already waiting for me. Tomorrow we aim to brand some calves and build an extra fence. During the last nights we heard a bunch of coyotes in the hills behind our corral.”

Micah understood of course and accompanied his friend to the door. That was the moment when the shots rang out somewhere out there, tearing apart the silence of the nightly town. Micah frowned and listened. Something was definitely not right. Lucas went over to the window and pulled carefully the white curtain aside.
“What´s going on? Some drunken cowhands having fun?”

Micah turned around and grabbed his loaded shotgun that was leaning against his desk.
“Doesn´t sound like that. I better have a look. You're coming with me?”

Lucas slowly opened the door and eyed the dark street both ways. Then another shot was fired somewhere to his left but he couldn't see anybody. Lucas grew worried. After a pause another shot could be heard.
“Let´s go and find out. I cover you.”

Micah's instinct warned him that that would become a troublesome night after all and out of a reflex he cocked the murderous weapon in his hands. The two men left the building and hurried down the dusty street watching out for any sign of danger. The town was silent again, maybe too silent. The pale moon gave only a little light and so Lucas kept pointing his rifle into any direction just in case. Micah continued turning around as he walked down the street, ready to fire. He smelled gunpowder drifting in the air but the show seemed to be over.
“Whatever it was, we missed it.”

Lucas didn't answer. He had noticed a feeble movement in the darkness in front of a house. He stepped closer and saw a moaning figure lying there near the stairs. A man tried to get up, panting heavily. Lucas opened his mouth in surprise when the fella turned around and looked into his eyes.
“Micah, over here!”

The old Marshal hurried over but when he recognized the blood-stained face of his mortal foe he stopped in his tracks.
“What´re you doing out here, Harkey? I thought you gave up carrying a gun? What was that shooting all about? In any case you come with me now. You're under arrest.”

Lucas had grabbed the wounded man's arms and pulled him up.
“Easy now, Micah. Let him talk first. What happened here, Mister? You're hurt bad?”

The former killer needed a couple of seconds before he could answer.
“You have to help me! Harriet was hit, I reckon! I heard her whine when she ran off down the street! She must be hurt. I gotta find her! She is all alone somewhere!”

Lucas looked around. The street was empty and peaceful again and nobody could be seen, especially no dog. Then he faced the wounded man again. There was a deep scratch on Harkey´s forehead where the bullet grazed him but it was not too serious. Harkey was indeed a lucky man.
“Start at the beginning. What happened here?”

Now the stranger had calmed himself and was able to talk about that mysterious shooting.
“I really don't know exactly, Mister McCain. I was walking my dog when suddenly somebody shot at us. A bullet knocked me to the ground. Harriet was also hurt and I told her to get herself to safety. She ran off and I lost conscience for a minute or so. I need to find her.”

Micah pointed his scattergun at his foe and for a split second he felt the deadly temptation to drop the hammers to finish it once and for all. His boss had also been shot with a shotgun in that barn, back there in Texas. But such a foolish action would have cost Micah the one thing he held dearly in his life: the friendship of the tall and righteous man standing there right by his side as he always did when trouble was brewing. Micah straightened himself and lowered the twin muzzles of his gun, fighting to keep his hate at bay.
“Forget about your doggone cur for a moment. I want to know where those shots came from.”

Harkey raised his right hand pointed to a narrow side alley at the other side of the street that was totally covered in darkness. Lucas and Micah looked into that direction before they exchanged a worried glance. Micah pressed the butt of his gun firmly towards his shoulder.
“Alright, Harkey, you can go and look for your dog or see the doctor or whatever pleases you. I don't care what becomes of you and your stupid cur. But I've to go and see for myself who is over there. Innocent folks might get hurt. But whatever happens tonight: I want you out of town in the morning and I advice you never to come back ever again. That's my final warning.”

Lucas wanted to say something but he decided to keep his mouth shut. Micah was in a dangerous mood and that made him unpredictable. Micah raised his scattergun a little more and started walking over to that narrow gap between the houses that looked like a murky cave. When he crossed the street he kept turning his head into all directions, ready to blast anybody.
“You´re coming, Lucas or do you prefer enjoying the pleasant company of that fine gentleman who is supposed to make North Fork grow?”

Lucas hesitated for a second and sighed before he looked into Harkey´s worried eyes.
“I´ve to go and give the Marshal a hand. But you really ought to see our doctor. That wound requires some stitches, Dave. Doc Burrage´s place is right up there on the left side, near the saloon. You can't miss it on your way out of town.”

***

Mark put finally the book aside. His eyes were already burning. The boy was touched by the first five chapters and the deep meaning behind that text. That Missus Harriet Beecher-Stowe surely knew how to put feelings into words. He now understood better why his father once had fought in that gruesome war to free other men. He remembered the teacher's long explanations about the Gettysburg Address and those simple phrases came to life once again. The sleepy boy felt a great deal of pride about his father's bravery and commitment. But where was Lucas? He should have come home by now. The boy listened but there was no horse approaching. After a while he pulled his blanket away and walked barefoot over to the door. He slowly opened it and stepped out on the porch. The starry sky and the cool night air welcomed him as he stared into the darkness. Even the coyotes were silent tonight. Mark took a deep breath and sat down. And waited …


***

“Hold it right there, gentlemen …”

Micah and Lucas froze in their tracks. The sound of a Colt being cocked a few yards behind them kept them from turning around and facing the enemy. Despite of all their caution and experience they had walked right into that ambush. The high stacks of full grain sacks in the murky shadow behind the house had provided enough cover for the fella whose voice was deep yet shaky.
“One stupid thing and you both get it, I mean it. I killed so many people during the war, two more don't matter none to me. Get rid of that rifle, sodbuster. And you drop your shotgun and your sidearm as well, Marshal. I would appreciate that very much.”

Micah and Lucas exchanged a desperate glance but then they decided to follow that deadly order. When the guns hit the dirt, a giant figure stepped out of the shadow, aiming his Colt at the two men.
“Now get over there to that wall. Start walking I tell you! Move!”

Micah and Lucas went over to the building a few yards away and slowly turned around. Now it was all a matter of buying time. Maybe they could reason with that man. But when Micah recognized the reddened and unshaved face of the boozed-up bully in the moonlight he knew that they were in deep trouble.
“Matt Meagher, I should have known. Too bad you didn't mind my advice about getting straight.”

Lucas looked over to his rifle that lied in the dust, so near and yet out of reach before he addressed the fat man's massive silhouette.
“I reckon there was a really important reason for shooting at an unarmed man and his dog?”

Meagher grinned and shook his head. The smell of his breath was even more revolting than ever.
“Don´t even think of your rifle, sodbuster. Won't do you any good. As a matter of fact I had a reason for shooting at that dog on the street, alright. When I was 13 years old I once jumped over somebody else's fence to take a closer look at his beautiful horse without planning to pay for it. Sadly that farmer's dog got me before I could make it back and that brought me to jail for the first time. I still have that bite mark on my leg. There is nothing I hate more than those stinking curs. Well, at least I managed to lure you out of your rat hole, Torrance, so we can get even at last.”

With the Colt still trained on the two men Meagher swiftly lunged forward, picked up Micah's revolver and shoved its barrel between his belt and his unwashed shirt. Then he eyed Lucas who still was trying to figure out a way to get a hold on his Winchester.
“Maybe I let you live, sodbuster. You've got a boy who would be heartbroken and I was once a family man myself. But as for you, Mister Torrance … that's the moment I've been waiting for. To be honest: I considered killing you right there in your office after you let me out of that cell when you handed me my gun. But I didn't have the guts. But this here is way better. You told me that you could live with the fact that I don't like you. Seems to me you were mistaken there. You aunt gonna shut the door of a cell behind me up ever again, Mister Torrance, sir, and I aim to make sure of that.”

Micah lowered his raised arms. Strangely enough he still didn't appear to be too afraid.
“Pull that trigger and you're gonna hang, Matt, you know that.”

Meagher slowly lifted his cocked gun and leaned casually against the wooden wall of the house behind him, taking his time and enjoying that moment of cruel satisfaction.
“So what? I've got nothing to lose anymore. Killing you at least makes the gallows worthwhile. Hell can't be possibly worse than those nightmares.”

Lucas thought of kicking the gun out of the madman's hand but the former officer was still too far away. There was nothing he could do. Now fear sank in and for a moment Lucas saw the beloved face of his son who was waiting for him at the ranch. I had to try anything to save himself otherwise Mark would be all alone in this terrible world.
“Listen to me, Meagher. We still can work that out together.”

The attack came out of the dark alley. Harkey was surprisingly fast and grabbed Meagher´s arm, trying to shake the gun out of his hand. His voice revealed all his hate.
“What have you done to my dog?!”

Matt Meagher cursed as Harkey wrestled him but the injured man stood not chance against the drunken fella who was much heavier and stronger in his rage. A second later the bully's powerful left fist hit Harkey´s face with full force, pushing him away before Lucas could do anything to help him. Harkey staggered back, trying to stay on his feet while the drunken man jerked Micah's Colt out of his belt. And then the shooting started. Blind in his fury Meagher fired both revolvers at the same time, seemingly without aiming. The gun flashes of the two Colts lit up the narrow space between the houses.
“Now I get you all, you doggone rebels! You're goners, all of you!”

Two bullets hit the walls behind Lucas, ricocheted off and flew over his head, missing his temple only by inches. The helpless rancher could do nothing but letting himself drop to the ground, desperately trying to find some cover in that mayhem. Micah however was not fast enough and felt suddenly a searing pain in the upper part of his left arm where a bullet left a bloody mark. Lucas heard his friend's scream somewhere at his right but he could not see him. Three more deafening shots rang out. But that was the moment when the towering man heard the call.
“You rifle!”

Lucas rolled around while a slug stirred up the dust right next to him. He looked up and saw Dave Harkey tossing the Winchester to him. Lucas caught it in midair. As fast as he could he rolled around once more to get himself into position. The drunken man was standing only a few meters away engulfed in a grey cloud of gunsmoke and aimed his Colt at Micah, who was lying on his right side, unable to defend himself. Meagher´s ugly face was a grinning mask of contempt.
“I told you, Torrance, you would never lock me up ever …”

Lucas fired three times, four times, five times. Empty shells rained to the ground as he felt the recoil in his palms. The killer yelled when he was forcefully pushed back against the wall by the impacts of the shots. For a seemingly endless instant he stood there with his eyes closed and his arms widely spread. Two smoking guns dropped into the dust. Meagher´s legs finally gave in. He collapsed without a single sound. It was all over when his heavy body hit the ground. Lucas panted heavily while he got up and hurried over to the wounded Marshal who had passed out.
“Micah! Are you alright?!”

The old man groaned and when opened his eyes he saw the bloody stain on his white sleeve.
“I reckon so. That sure was close. Thank God he was far too drunk to aim properly. Thanks for your help, Lucas Boy.”

While he carefully helped Micah up on his feet the rancher smiled.
“Don´t thank me. Thank Mister Harkey. Without him you would be dead by now and so would I.”

Both men turned around, still breathing hard and … then they watched the former outlaw holding his chest as he was sinking on his knees. Lucas could not believe what he saw. Harkey´s face hit the sand.
“No!”

Lucas ran over to the fallen man and turned him gently around. Harkey was still conscious but terribly pale. His vest was soaked with blood. Lucas lifted him up and held him in his arms. Harkey grinned sadly.
“Looks like he got me after all. I would never have thought that I would get myself killed trying to save a Marshal one day. Would you believe that? I reckon my great luck finally ran out tonight.”

Micah stepped closer, holding his bleeding shoulder, totally at a loss. He exchanged a swift glance with Lucas who was obviously shocked. Micah nodded thankfully.
“You saved all of us. I don't know what to say, Dave. Is there anything I can do for you?”

The dying man looked straight into Torrance's eyes and his lips trembled when he made his last wish.
“I want you to take care of Harriet as soon as you find her. She is such … a good girl and now she is all alone. I know I may not deserve that but would you do me that favor? I beg you. I know it's not easy after all … that happened once … I want you … to know … how sorry I am … “

Lucas shook his head in order to calm the fatally wounded man whose weak breath turned into a silent moaning. The rancher fought his tears while he remembered Mark hugging that white dog.
“There is nothing to be sorry about anymore, Wes. We will always remember you as Wes Brewer. My son and I will take good care of Harriet. I promise you that.”

Micah kneeled down and took his former enemy's hand.
“She will have a good life here in North Fork, Wes, don't you worry.”

Brewer's weak smile showed how thankful he was. There was a great joy in his eyes, a great relief that took the sting out of death.
“See, North Fork is such a nice … town with a good man wearing that badge. She is gonna like it here and so I … would … have …”

People, alarmed by the nightly shootout, rushed into the gloomy alley and suddenly Lucas and Micah were surrounded by worried men and women staring at the lifeless body in the shadow of the building, asking questions, calling for Doc Burrage but Lucas and Micah didn't pay any attention to them, not yet. The only thing that counted was the last wish of the dead man, Lucas was still holding in his arms.

***

“Anything?”

Mark dismounted in front of the ranch and walked over the house where his worried father was waiting. The desperate boy just shook his head and Lucas was sure that he could see tears in his son's eyes.
“No, I and some other kids were looking all over the place again after school but Harriet has vanished into thin air. We've no idea where else we should be looking for her. It's a pity, it sure is. I was really fond of Harriet, Pa. It could have been so wonderful with her and Mister Brewer.”

Lucas lowered his glance and gave up all hope of finding the white dog ever again.
“We did all we could, I'm afraid. Anyway: how was school?”

Mark entered the house and while he readied himself for making lunch he told his father about his lessons.
“The teacher said that if I get any better he's gonna give up his job and I can take his place when it comes to teaching math.”

Lucas felt a great deal of pride about that success but then he noticed that Mark wasn't even smiling about that rare praise of his teacher as he normally would have been. Other thoughts were clearly on the boy's mind. The father decided to give it one more try to find that dog although he didn't believe in it. Before lunch was ready the troubled rancher heard the noise of an approaching wagon, becoming louder and louder. Lucas stepped out on the porch and spotted a little buckboard coming closer, driven by a homely and elderly woman in a black dress. He could not help feeling uneasy when he recognized her. Missus Meagher hadn't attended her husband's funeral the day before and he still had no idea how she felt about his violent death in that dirty alley. The Meaghers had always tried to avoid a close bonding with the rest of North Fork, living in the outskirts of the town. They were not exactly known as friendly neighbors. Now the buckboard stopped and Lucas´ eyes became wide because on that wagon between the two tiny pieces of luggage there was …
“Harriet!”

Mark stormed out of the house and hugged the dog who greeted him by licking his face as she did once before. A thick bandage covered the animal's fury neck but Harriet seemed alright. The woman turned around on her seat, still holding the reins of her horse and smiled.
“Harriet? Is that her name? I had no idea how to call her.”

Mark's cheeks were suddenly covered with tears of joy.
“Where did you find her, madam?”

Norma Meagher was a portly woman, definitely not pretty, with a wrinkled face and a double chin but her smile was charming in a very special way, like that of a caring grandmother. Lucas wondered how long that poor woman hadn't smiled.
“I found her in front of my house in the morning after the night Matt had been shot. She was bleeding and had collapsed, totally exhausted. I had no idea where she came from but I took her in and took care of her wound. It looked worse than it really was. It was actually fun working as a nurse again. But I still have no idea where that stray is from.”

Lucas felt the urge to explain everything but suddenly it didn't seem important anymore. His throat was tight and he needed all his guts to look into the woman's old face.
“Missus Meagher, I honestly don't know how to put that but I wanna tell you straight how sorry I am. I had to do it otherwise your husband would have shot all of us and who can say how many more folks would have been hurt that night. You gotta believe me. I understand that Matt had been a good man and I'm sure you miss him. He sure had his mistakes but I think he was a loving husband.”

The lady needed a few seconds before she answered. She only opened her small purse and took a handkerchief out to dry her eyes. Her voice was deep and lacked any emotion.
“Don´t try to sugarcoat things, I loathe that. There is no need to apologize, Mister McCain. There was no love lost between me and him. He treated me like a slave when he was drunk and in a way I've to thank you. I know that sounds hard but you actually freed me from a tyrant that night. I had to sew dresses to make a living and he took all the money I earned to the saloon, leaving me all alone. After such a marriage a woman tends to lose all kind feelings and toughen like a piece of old leather, especially after burying my only daughter. Somehow I'm sure that that dog was sent to me by Mary from heaven to keep me company and that’s a great comfort.”

For a moment Lucas remembered his own marriage and the anguish about his late wife was back again. All the sentiments were back in an instant.
“Are you sure?”

The widow looked pensively to the East. The sun was warming her shoulders and gave her new energy, something she had longed for over years.
“Sure I'm sure. I made up my mind. And I'm not lonely anymore. I've got Harriet now. I always wanted a dog but he would have never allowed it. That dog is the start of a new life and I intend to enjoy it. It's about time to see other folks somewhere else, that's why I'm leaving. I already sold my house and that old crook Hamilton was pretty generous.”

Mark was still caressing the dog's white fur. He sensed that that poor woman deserved the joy and love Harriet could give after all those years of so he did his best hard to hold back his tears.
“Where are you heading now, Madam?”

It turned out that Norma Meagher was not all that tough and hard as she pretended: she handed the sobbing boy her handkerchief. It was a simple gesture but it meant a lot.
“I still have two younger sisters in Santa Fe who will take me in and my brother in law is a doctor. I will work for him and start all over again. You don't need to worry, son. Harriet will have really good life, I promise you that. My folks live in a big house with a large garden. She will like it there. If you want me to I can write how we're doing in Santa Fe, son.”

Mark looked over to his father who finally smiled at him.
“We have to tell Micah right away. He was running up and down the street all night and all day looking for Harriet. I have never seen him that anxious.”

Now the widow could not help laughing and it was as if the ice around her heart was melting.
“No need for that. When I left town I paid him a visit to say farewell and you should have seen his face when he spotted Harriet on my wagon out there on the street. Burrage was with our good Marshal, just busy changing his poultice. Still with the loose bandage around his arm Torrance stormed out of his office and Burrage could not hold him back. Micah almost arrested me for kidnapping a dog but I escaped at the end. But now I think it's really time to say Goodbye. See ya.”

Lucas and his son shook the lady's soft hand.
“So long, madam. I'm sure you will be happy with your family.”

Mark hollered after her as the buckboard continued its way into a better future.
“Make sure you write as soon as you can, please!”

Father and son watched the wagon until it had disappeared behind the green hills.

***

When the pretty waitress carried the empty dishes away Mark took out the letter again. While they were waiting for the dessert the boy started reading the lines out loud again for his father and the gleefully grinning Marshal: about Norma's arrival at Santa Fe, about the first days at work and of course about Harriet who kept playing all day in the garden. But the most amusing part of the letter was about that crazy swing station master at “Lloyd ´s Palace” who had insisted on cutting Missus Meagher´s steak into two halves as soon as he had laid eyes on the white dog at her side when the lady had been passing through on her way to the big city.

Soon the dessert came and Mark put the letter back into his breast pocket. Micah hesitated for a moment though. When he took the fork the old man murmured a hardly understandable word.
“Apple pie …”

Lucas frowned. For a moment he was worried about his best friend's concerned glance. Maybe the pain in the wounded arm was back although it was healing nicely thanks to Doc Burrage´s art.
“What did you say, Micah?”

The old man looked up and smiled before he finally enjoyed his dessert.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, Lucas Boy ...”

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