The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 15 - A Stranger in the Storm
Written by Michelle Palmer

There was something strange in the air that night. Margaret couldn’t put her finger on just what it was about the night she didn’t like, but she felt shivers travel up and down her spine as she wiped down the counters and table of their little ranch house. Lucas was already seated outside on the porch smoking his cigar, and Margaret joined him as she had many nights before.
 
“It…sure is quiet tonight,” she mumbled as she folded her arms across her middle and let out an involuntary shiver. Lucas slowly blew the smoke from his mouth and turned to look up at her. “Eerie, actually.”
 
She sat down. Lucas loosely draped an arm around her shoulders and looked up at the sky. The stars were shining, but there was a smell in the air that reminded Lucas of spring rains. “Perhaps the weather is about to change.” Lucas raised his eyebrows as he watched Margaret struggle with something. Her eyes scanned the land. “It IS Devil’s night, Margaret,” Lucas reminded her.
 
“Don’t call it that! You know I hate it when you call it that!” Margaret turned to him and folded her arms. “There’s something else this night is, Lucas McCain, and you didn’t even remember!”
 
“Oh?” Lucas kissed her cheek. “Has it been two month already?” Margaret smiled as she turned her face toward his and kissed him. Then she shivered again. “It’s more than that though, Luke…I just feel so…eerie.” Lucas scanned the land, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly, a flock of birds squawked as they flew overhead. A horse neighed in the corral. Some wild animal made a loud noise as he hurried from the yard.
 
Margaret shivered again. “It’s just the animals feeling a bit unsettled, Margaret. They can usually sense the weather changing is all.” Lucas stood up and pulled her to stand right beside him. “What do you say about turning in? I’m pretty beat.” Margaret nodded. “I’ll just go bed down the stock and then I’ll be in.” Margaret stood on the porch and watched Lucas go into the barn. He threw his cigar down as he walked toward the barn.
 
When Lucas left the barn, he was surprised to see Margaret still standing on the porch. He slowly ascended the steps and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Honey, are you okay?” Margaret nodded. “Come on. Let’s go to bed.” Lucas walked inside, but Margaret continued to stand out on the porch. She turned her head from side to side to scan every inch of the land. There was nothing there, but she had a feeling something was there just lurking…watching…waiting… “Come on, honey.” Margaret turned at the sound of her husband’s voice and walked inside.
 
***
 
She’s not sure what woke her exactly, but she knew it was sudden. She had fallen asleep beside her husband without too much trouble and slept peacefully until now. A sound in the dark…a change of wind…or maybe a stillness on the earth that hadn’t been there before…Whatever it was made Margaret suddenly sit up in bed with a start. She could hear the wind howling through the empty trees outside her window.
 
The night before, it was the stillness of things that had irritated her; but now it was the sound of the whistling wind that irked her a bit. She suddenly felt like they weren’t alone. Was it just the weather? Margaret could hear thunder in the distance. Was the approaching storm making her jumpy, or was it something more…something dark?
 
Slowly, Margaret laid back down in the bed and cuddled up closer to her husband. Whatever it was didn’t seem to be having any sort of effect on her husband as he snored softly beside her. Margaret rolled her eyes and shook her head.
 
But suddenly, she sat straight up in bed. She had heard a noise. At first, she thought maybe she had been imagining things, but then she heard it again. The noise was coming from the other side of the wall! As the wind howled, the moon kept going in and out. Margaret imagined it was being hidden by clouds the wind was brining in with it. When the moon did shine, it did nothing to help Margaret’s already frigid nerves. The only thing it did do was cast eerie glows across the room. The wind, she knew, could play tricks on one’s mind, causing one to see things that weren’t really there.
 
Suddenly, the wind let out a loud howl. A whistle filled the room as the wind whipped through a tree and blew the clouds away from the moon. As the moon returned its light onto the ranch house, it cast eerie glows across the bedroom. The wind blew a branch, and the bright moon made the branch look like a gigantic hand that was reaching out to grab her.
 
But the wind wasn’t the noise Margaret had heard. There was another noise…sort of like someone was knocking on her window.
 
There is was again! Margaret turned in bed. Her eyes grew wide as she stared toward the window. Suddenly, a shadow reminding her of the form of a human being shone through, but quickly disappeared when the moon again disappeared. Margaret shot a hand to her mouth and let out a gasp.
 
“Lucas!” Margaret called out in a shaky voice as she shook the sleeping form beside her gently. “Luke, wake up,” Margaret hissed.
 
“Hm? What?” Lucas mumbled as he turned his head toward her.
 
But he wasn’t awake. “Luke, there’s someone outside!” Margaret continued to whisper. She didn’t want to alarm whoever was outside their window.
 
“What?” Lucas mumbled louder, still refusing to open his eyes.
 
Margaret shook him harder. “I said there’s someone outside our window! I just heard something.”
 
Lucas groaned as he pressed the covers up around himself and snuggled down into his pillow. “Honey, it’s just the wind…” Lucas mumbled as he tried to go back to sleep.
 
“No Luke!” Margaret gave his shoulder a hard shove. Lucas popped one of his eyes open and groaned. “I’m telling you, Luke, there’s somebody out there!” Margaret insisted impatiently.
 
“Oh Margaret…” Lucas slowly sat up as he yawned. “Are you sure you aren’t imagining things? The wind can play tricks on you and…”
 
“Luke, it’s NOT the wind! I’m telling you, there’s somebody out there!”
 
“Okay, okay…” Lucas groaned as he threw back the covers and stood up. Then he started toward the window.
 
“NO!” Margaret leapt forward and grabbed his arm, pulling him back down onto the bed with such force that he toppled backwards. “He may see you!”
 
“Oh Margaret, now calm down.” Lucas held out a hand toward her. “I’m just going to look out the window.” Lucas again stood as he shook his head in disbelief. Margaret was on her knees on the bed as she watched Lucas go towards the window. Lucas looked one way, then the other. He scanned long and hard, then turned and shrugged. “There’s nothing there.”
 
“Luke…” Margaret started again. But she stopped and allowed her eyes to silently plead with him.
 
Lucas ran a hand through his hair as he sighed. “You…want me to go look around outside, don’t you?”
 
Margaret grasped her hands in front of her. “Please?” She nodded her head.
 
“Alright.” Lucas chuckled. “As long as it means I can go back to sleep when I return without any more interruptions!” Lucas groaned as he went toward the bedroom door.
 
“Take you rifle!” Margaret called out.
 
Lucas smiled and shook his head. “I wouldn’t go out there without it. Just stay here, honey. I’ll be right back.” Margaret stood from the bed and reached for her robe. She hurried to the bedroom door and watched as Lucas picked up his rifle and opened the front door. Margaret shivered when he disappeared out of sight.
 
She stood in the darkness alone. A strange, fearful feeling overwhelmed her and she felt a big shiver make its way through her body. The moon suddenly disappeared as the wind once again picked up and began blowing harder. It whistled through the trees, sounding like some wild animal trying to break into the house.
 
Suddenly, Margaret heard a loud slap against the bedroom window. “LUCAS!” Margaret screamed. “LUKE, COME QUICK!”
 
Lucas hurried back inside. He rushed toward the bedroom. “What is it?” He paused as he put a hand on her shoulder.
 
“It’s out there…” Margaret’s voice was just a bit louder than a whisper as she nudged her head toward the window. “Listen…”
 
Suddenly, the slap was heard again. Lucas shifted his rifle and let out a low chuckle. “Honey, it’s just a branch from that tree you insisted I keep outside the window.”
 
“No!” Margaret shook her head. “There’s some ONE out there!” Margaret insisted.
 
“Honey, I…” Lucas sat his rifle on the bed and mumbled under his breath as he pulled his jeans and boots on. “Alright, I’ll go take another look.” Margaret grabbed hold of his hand as he stood from the bed. Lucas tried to shake it off, but she wouldn’t let go. He laughed softly. “Well, if you want me to go look, you’re going to have to let go.” Lucas turned and struck a match, then lit the lantern. After picking up the lantern, he again started toward the front door.
 
But then he paused and turned to look at Margaret. Her eyes held fear. He held out his arm as he spoke to her in a soothing voice.  “Come on and sit down here at the table. Light the lantern until I get back.” Margaret nodded and did as he told her to without saying a word. She knew there was something out there, and she would be furious if he came back without finding something.
 
Margaret had the lantern up the whole way as she drummed her hands on the table and stared at the door. The seconds seemed to last an eternity. Finally, she stood and started pacing back and forth waiting for something…anything…
 
Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer. Margaret hurried to the window and looked outside. She saw Lucas coming back toward the house, still looking from side to side. She turned as the door opened and tightened the robe around her. The temperature was rapidly falling. The wind was growing stronger and colder. Rumbles of thunder could be heard as the wind pushed the storm closer and closer to the ranch.
 
Lucas sat his rifle back in its holder and went to build up the fire in the fireplace. He didn’t say a word as he worked. “Well?” Margaret finally asked.
 
Lucas didn’t answer until he had the fire going strong. Then he turned and looked at her. “Nothing, Margaret.” Margaret opened her eyes wide, and Lucas knew she was about to fight him on that conclusion. He hurried over to the table and blew out the lantern. “Come on. Let’s get back to bed.” He took her hand and led her back into the bedroom.
 
“Is the door locked?” Lucas nodded. Margaret took off her robe, but continued to stare at the closed door. She knew there was something out there. It wasn’t her fault that Lucas hadn’t found it, and nobody could tell her there wasn’t something out there to find. She suddenly turned her head toward the window and shivered. She just KNEW someone was watching her! She just knew it!
 
“Margaret?” Margaret jumped as she turned and looked at Lucas. Lucas chuckled as he held the covers up. “Come on back to bed now.” Margaret hugged herself as she looked back toward the window. “Come on,” his voice spoke firmly.
 
Margaret sat down on the bed and allowed Lucas to drop the covers on her lap, but she didn’t lay down. “Luke?” Lucas lifted his eyebrows in the darkness and waited for her to speak. “Luke, something woke me. The moon was shining and I…I saw a shadow.”
 
“It’s just the darkness, honey. The wind helps play tricks and…”
 
“NO!” Margaret crossed her arms. “I’m not a little girl who’s scared of the dark, so stop treating me as such! I saw the shadow of a person! He was looking right through that window!” Margaret pointed toward the window. “I swear it, Luke!”
 
“Alright, alright, honey!” Lucas forced her to lay down beside him. He pulled the blankets over her and kissed her softly. “Now, just lay down there and go to sleep.” Margaret’s eyes still held fear. “I’ll keep watch. I promise.”
 
Lucas waited a few minutes, calmly smoothing her hair and speaking softly to her. He was worried because he knew Margaret didn’t scare easily. When he was sure Margaret was asleep, he stood from the bed and walked toward the window. The wind had picked up even more and the moon had completely disappeared. He could hear soft drops of rain hitting the window. He turned back and looked at his sleeping wife. “What did you see, Margaret?” He whispered the words softly as he turned back toward the window. “Just what is out there that has you so spooked?”
 
***
 
The first thing Margaret noticed when she woke up the next morning was that she was alone in the bed. Margaret shivered and pulled the blankets tighter around her, but this time she was shivering because it was cold. As she stretched long in the bed, she listened to the rain as it poured outside her window. The wind was still blowing strong, which caused strange tapping sounds on her window. Darkness surrounded her as she lay alone in the bed, and it didn’t look like they’d see any light on that morning. Suddenly, she didn’t want to be in the room alone.
 
Margaret jumped from the bed and hurried to the closet for her heavier robe. After putting on some socks, she slowly walked over to the window and looked out, but all she saw was darkness as the rain came down even harder. “Luke?” she called as she turned from the window. But she got no answer.
 
Margaret hurried to the bedroom door and opened it. There was no sign of life in the front room either. Margaret shivered again, this time from the eerie feeling she felt coming over her. She turned and looked at the fireplace, but the fire had burned down to almost nothing. “Luke?” Margaret called a bit louder this time. There were only so many places he could be in this small house, and apparently he wasn’t in any of those places.
 
Margaret shivered again as she slowly walked toward the front door. Her hand reached out for the doorknob, but then it paused when she noticed that it was still locked. Margaret’s eyes grew wide as she stared at the locked door. He couldn’t have gone outside! “Luke…” she whispered this time.
 
Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Margaret let out a scream as she brought back her elbow hard against the person’s gut. She heard the grunt as she and spun around. She froze with her hands above her head, ready to fight her attacker. Suddenly, two strong hands grabbed her wrists. “Whoa there, young lady!”
 
Margaret’s eyes focused on the face in front of her. Slowly, her hands were released. She pressed a hand against her beating chest as she laid her head against Lucas’s broad chest and let out a few short gasps. “Lucas…Luke…” She couldn’t say much more than that.
 
“I’m sorry.” Lucas tried to keep from laughing. “I went out back to see if I could see any sign of anything being disturbed.”
 
Margaret slowed her breathing down. “And?”
 
“Nothing,” Lucas answered as he shook his head. “There is absolutely no sign that anyone was here.”
 
“But Luke, I told you…” Margaret started in an irritated voice.
 
Lucas held up a hand to hush her. “I believe you, honey. I believe you.” Lucas shook his head. “Look…” He sat against the table and folded his arms across his chest. “Today is Halloween. It’s very possible that you saw some teenagers out mischiefing last night. Why, I can remember going and looking in windows on mischief night when I was a kid.”
 
“THAT late at night?” Margaret shook her head. “It had to be one o’clock in the morning.”
 
“I know, honey. But there’s no one out there. I promise.” Lucas leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “Now, how about fixing your hard working husband some breakfast?” Margaret turned and walked toward the kitchen. “Listen, I’m going to go out back for a minute. I’ll be right back.”
 
Margaret nodded as she turned back toward the kitchen. Just then she realized they were out of eggs. “Oh Luke…” But Lucas was already gone. Margaret sighed as she walked to the front door and opened it. The rain was pouring, but she really needed some fresh eggs for breakfast. The chickens had refused to give her any the night before. Margaret let out a little sigh as she slipped into her boots, gathered her basket, and wrapped a shawl around her head to keep from getting soaked.
 
The grey sky forced a gloomy darkness to stay among them, but it was light enough for Margaret to look over the land. She paused when she was half-way to the chicken coop and looked up toward the hills behind their house. That same feeling of eeriness came over her. She felt as if they were being watched. “Get a hold of yourself!” Margaret chided herself. “There’s nothing out there! You are just letting the fact that it’s Halloween get to you!” Margaret walked into the chicken coop and greeted the chickens as she hurried to the roosts. She was happy to find they had managed to give her a few eggs this morning. “I’m sure you are hungry. I’ll feed you just as soon as…”
 
Margaret stopped speaking, and her hand remained frozen on an egg in the roost after hearing the noise through the rain. What was that? Margaret’s heart skipped a beat as she looked toward the barn. Was she allowing her imagination to run away with her again? But just as she was about to go back to her task, the noise came again, and this time it was louder. There was DEFINITELY something…or someone…in the barn! The noise sounded like a moan. “Luke?” Margaret called out, hoping it was just Lucas. But she got no response.
 
Margaret sat down the basket and walked out of the chicken coop. The moan sounded again. Margaret took a few hesitating steps toward the barn as her heart again began pounding. “Lucas, is that you?” She stopped when she realized the barn door was open. It flapped around in the strong wind, and the rain beat against it like it was beating against her. “Lucas, are you in the barn?”
 
She got no response. Cautiously, Margaret pressed a hand against the handle and pulled slightly. The door flew open. Margaret took another step into the barn and scanned it. Another moan sounded. This time, there was no doubt it was a human moan. Just then, Margaret’s eyes focused on something on the floor of the barn. Margaret’s hands flew to her mouth. Her instincts kicked in as she hurried inside.
 
“LUCAS!” Margaret screamed as she fell down beside the crumpled mass. “Lucas, come quick!” Lucas still didn’t appear. Margaret saw the blood coming from the man’s back. She pressed a hand against his back and lifted it. He was indeed bleeding badly! Margaret turned the man over to get a look at his face. He was a stranger, and Margaret couldn’t help but to be just a bit relieved about this. But suddenly, she wondered who he was and if he had a family. “God…help us!” Margaret prayed as she laid the man’s head in her lap.
 
The thought that this could have been the man watching her crossed her mind, but Margaret had a feeling this man was an innocent victim of someone else out there. She suddenly felt very fearful. She HAD heard something last night! Was this man trying to wake them so he could find refuge from whoever was chasing him? Were the men who caused this man’s hurt still out there? Were they watching her right now?
 
“Margaret!” Lucas hurried into the barn. “What the…” Lucas froze when he saw the wounded man’s head laying in Margaret’s lap. Slowly, he kneeled down beside her. “Who is he?” His tone quickly changed from shock to concern.
 
“I don’t know, but he’s hurt Luke.” Margaret lifted her head as her eyes filled with tears. “We’ve got to help him! He’s dying.”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas hesitated. He had no idea what this man’s story was. He feared that bringing this wounded man into the house could cause her trouble. “Honey, this man is shot. We don’t know…”
 
Margaret read his thoughts and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter, Luke! He’s a man and he’s hurt. He needs our help.” The couple locked eyes. Margaret again shook her head. “It doesn’t matter if this man is good or bad. He’s a human being, Lucas.”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas worried that bringing this man into their house could put her in grave danger. But when he saw the pleading in her eyes, he handed her his rifle and lifted the man over his shoulders. Margaret led the way into the house and quickly threw things from the cot still set up in the extra bedroom. Lucas threw the man down on the cot and the man let out a grunt. “Go lock the doors, Margaret,” Lucas ordered as he started unbuttoning the man’s shirt. “And put on some hot water.”
 
Margaret hurried to obey. She built up the fire in the stove and filled her biggest kettle with hot water. The rain continued pouring. Margaret threw wood into the fireplace as she shivered. The flames danced and the room grew brighter. Margaret hurried back into the bedroom. She saw Lucas examining the wound in the man’s back. “How bad is it?”
 
“It’s bad,” Lucas answered. He lifted his head up to look into Margaret’s eyes. “It’s really bad, I’m afraid.” Lucas sighed. “He was shot three times. He’s still carrying a bullet.”
 
“Can you…” Margaret swallowed hard. “Can you get it out?”
 
Lucas stood and hurried to the window. He thought as he put a hand to his mouth. “We need Jason.”
 
“Luke…how?” The weather was so bad, it would be difficult to get into town right now. Not only that, but the men who shot him were more than likely still out there somewhere. Margaret knew Lucas would never leave her alone under such circumstances. There were too many unanswered questions.
 
“I’m afraid we can’t.” Lucas turned from the window. “Whoever did this…is still out there. I can’t leave you alone.”
 
“Hal’s just across the street,” Margaret suggested hopefully.
 
“No…I can’t even leave you alone that long.” Lucas walked back toward the cot. “Is the water ready?”
 
“I’ll see.” Margaret hurried from the room. As she lifted the hot pot from the stove, she heard a loud groan from the bedroom.
 
“What’s your name?” Lucas asked as he bent next to the man’s ear. The man tried to speak, but he was too weak. “Tell me your name.” But the man merely shook his head.
 
Margaret quickly sat the pot down on a nearby table and hurried back for the medicine box. She also got a knife and sat it on the fire to sterilize it. She and Lucas both knew getting the bullet out would be the man’s only hope. “Luke…” Margaret hurried back into the room and bent down next to him. “I’m preparing things for you to remove the bullet.”
 
Lucas’ eyes grew wide as he looked up at Margaret. “Honey, I can’t…”
 
“You have to, Luke! He’ll die very soon if you DON’T!” Margaret insisted.
 
Lucas looked back down at the man. “But I could kill him if I try…where the bullet’s at can…”
 
Margaret took his hands. “No, Luke. You must have faith. God’s right here with you. Believe, Luke.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Alright. Get all the lanterns in here so I can have as much light as possible.” Lucas started rolling up his sleeves. “I’ve only done this once during the war. I’ll do my best.”
 
The man let out another groan as he swallowed hard. He licked his lips and motioned for Lucas to bend down next to his mouth. “Saddle…saddle…”
 
“What about the saddle?” Lucas questioned.
 
The man lowered a shaky hand to his pants and tapped the pocket. Lucas stuffed his hand in the man’s pocket and took out a piece of paper. It had a woman’s name on it with an address. Lucas looked up at the man. “For her…for…” Suddenly, his eyes grew wide. “No…no!” He waved his hands around. “Parker…Parker…” Then his eyes closed.
 
Lucas bent his head down to the man’s chest. “Luke?”
 
“He’s asleep…just asleep.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “It’s better this way. He won’t feel it.”
 
Margaret ran into the other room and got the knife and alcohol. Then she sat down beside her husband and lifted the lantern up so he could begin the process. As Lucas worked, beads of sweat broke out onto his face. “You okay?” Margaret lifted a hand and wiped sweat from his face. “I’m praying for you, Luke.”
 
“It’s not too deep.” Lucas grunted as he worked. “Just keep praying, Margaret.”
 
Margaret silently spoke to God, asking Him to guide Lucas’ hands. Finally, Lucas held up the bullet. Margaret closed her eyes in relief and sat down the lantern. “He’s bleeding awfully bad, Luke.”
 
“I know.” Lucas started wrapping the bandage around the stranger. “He’s going to bleed to death if we don’t do something…I need to get Jason out here somehow or he’ll die for sure.”
 
Margaret stood and hurried to the window. The cold rain was still pouring. She chewed on her lip, trying to decide how to broach the subject of his leaving her to go for the doctor. She knew he wouldn’t want to do it, but this stranger needed help. Slowly, Margaret turned around. “Luke…I want you to go for Jason.”
 
“Margaret…”
 
Margaret held up her hand. “You go on across the street and tell Hal I’m here.” Lucas shook his head slowly. “Luke, I’ll have the shotgun. The doors will be locked…I won’t let anyone in here…” Margaret clinched his upper arms. “You’ve GOT to go, Luke!”
 
Lucas remembered back to the recent range war he and Margaret had gone through. He knew Margaret was no ordinary woman. She could take care of herself, and he knew she would never forgive him if he refused to go and that man died. Lucas had a feeling the man would die anyhow, but he didn’t have the heart to tell Margaret that. He wondered if he was saving an outlaw, but even that required too much time and thinking. Finally, Lucas nodded his head. “Alright, honey. You stay here. I’ll go for Jason.”
 
Lucas hurried into the front room and took the shotgun from the hooks. He put two shells in it and handed it to her. “You keep this beside you at all times. If trouble comes…”
 
“I know how to use it, Luke…and I will if I have to.”
 
Lucas laid a hand on her cheek and looked into her eyes. “I think you would at that.” He kissed her. “You might warm up some of that chili from last night. We’ll be mighty hungry when we get back.”
 
Margaret nodded, but said nothing when she saw the hesitation in his eyes. Margaret lifted his rifle from the table and handed it to him. Then she reached up and grabbed his hat. She placed it on his head and kissed his cheek. “You should get going.” She took the shotgun from him and held it tight. She didn’t dare tell him just how cold the steel felt in her hands. She didn’t dare tell him just how much it hurt to hold the thing.
 
Lucas gave her a slight nod then turned and hurried out the door. Margaret locked the door behind him then leaned against the door. “God…help him…” Margaret prayed quickly, then hurried into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee.
 
***
 
Ten minutes passed.  The man in the bedroom continued to moan in his sleep while Margaret nervously paced back and forth and drank her coffee. One hand held the cold steel barrel of the shotgun. Margaret went to look out the window. She gazed through the pouring rain but saw no sign of Hal.
 
She turned from the window and walked toward the fire. As she stoked it, she bit her lip, wondering where Hal could be. She knew Lucas had asked him to come over right away, and she knew Lucas wouldn’t have left if Hal hadn’t been able to do so. Slowly, she walked toward the door of the extra bedroom and looked in on their guest. He was still sleeping. Margaret took a sip of her coffee as she continued to hold the shotgun, wondering what the problem was.
 
Then she heard it. A sharp, loud knock sounded on the door. Margaret didn’t hesitate to hurry forward, happy that Hal had finally arrived. Now she would feel safe again. Slowly, she sat down the shotgun and peered out the window. Her breath caught in her throat when she caught sight of three strange men standing on the porch. They all had gun belts strapped on, which was nothing too odd out in this country, but she had a bad feeling about them. When she didn’t answer their first knock right away, they knocked again, only this time it came a louder.
 
Margaret hesitated, hoping they would go away when she didn’t answer. But then a strange fear rushed over her. If she didn’t answer, perhaps they would just barge in. No, she’d rather try to get rid of them peacefully if she could.
 
Margaret’s hand reached for the shotgun. She lifted it toward the door, then she forced her shaky voice to speak. “Who…who is it?”
 
“Just needing a place to stay until this rain let’s up,” a man’s voice answered.
 
Margaret tried to think fast on a reason they couldn’t stay. There weren’t too many folks around here who would leave three strangers outside on a day like this. Margaret knew she couldn’t let them know her husband wasn’t there. Finally, she answered them. “I’m sorry…you can’t stay here. Th…there’s sickness!”
 
Margaret paused, waiting for the man to respond. Distant thunder sounded, indicating the rain wouldn’t be ending anytime soon. Finally, the man spoke. “What sort of sickness?”
 
Margaret tried to think fast. “Sm…small pox!” Margaret answered. “You best stay away.”
 
She could hear mumbling on the other side of the door. Finally, the man spoke again. “Now ma’am, we know your cause for hesitation. We saw your husband ride off in a hurry, and we’d like to talk to you about that.”
 
“I can’t let you in!” Margaret declared. “My husband…he gave me strict orders…He…he just went down the road a bit.”
 
Margaret wondered why Hal hadn’t come. She knew Lucas wouldn’t allow her to stay here by herself for so long knowing that danger could be close by. She began fretting. “You in there alone?”
 
“N…no,” Margaret answered then. “I have a friend in here.”
 
“Oh. Let me talk to him.”
 
Margaret chewed on her lip. Finally, she decided on a different approach. “Now look…I have a shot gun in here, so you just ride on out of here!”
 
“I see…” She heard the men mumbling again. “You don’t by any chance have a man with a bullet in him in there, do you?”
 
“Don’t know what you’re talking about!” Margaret answered as bravely as she could.
 
“Yeah…I kinda thought you did…” She waited, hearing more mumbling. “Alright, we’ll go for now…” There was another pause. “I’m afraid your neighbor won’t be able to visit you this morning. He has a headache.”
 
Margaret let out a gasp, but stayed silent. After no more words were spoken, she looked out the window again. She watched the three men turn and mount their horses. Then she saw them leave the yard. She let out a big sigh of relief, but had a feeling they wouldn’t stay gone. What did he mean by Hal having a bad headache? Had they done something to him? Margaret turned from the door when she heard the man moaning. She hurried into the bedroom to see the man thrashing around in the bed from side to side. She sat down the shotgun beside the bed and grabbed a hold of his arms. “Lie still,” she whispered.
 
“The saddlebag…” The man swallowed. “The saddlebag…”
 
Margaret shook her head, indicating she had no idea what he was talking about. “Just lay still,” she whispered again. “My husband’s gone for the doctor.”
 
The man suddenly calmed and looked up into her eyes. “He…left you here…here…” He groaned. His eyes filled with fear, and it was a look that made Margaret’s heart beat even faster. The man coughed and groaned some more. Margaret hurried from the room and got the bottle of whisky Lucas kept for such occasions. She helped him take a drink, and soon the man was asleep.
 
The silence was disrupted by a large clap of thunder. She ran to the window and scanned the back yard, but there was nothing there. Suddenly, she heard a crash. Margaret ran into the front room but nothing was there. She looked out the window into the front yard. Her eyes scanned over the land, but again she could find nothing.
 
Meanwhile, Hal was laying over there, possibly hurt! She had to find some way…
 
Suddenly, she began to wonder if sending those men away was the best idea. If she had allowed them inside, they would have found the injured man, yet out there they were probably waiting to bushwhack her husband. They surely knew something was going on!
 
***
Lucas shivered as he rode into town early that morning. The cold rain wasn’t going to let up, but it certainly wasn’t keeping the people away either. The boardwalks were full of men and women who were just beginning their errands for the day. Lucas made his way to the medical clinic at the end of the street. Dismounting, he tied his horse to the hitching post and hurried inside. Jason was just opening his office. “Luke?” Jason paused in his task with question in his eyes.
 
“Jason, we’ve got a wounded man at our place. He’s been shot.”
 
“Shot?” Emily stepped up to stand beside her husband. “What happened?”
 
“I’ve no idea.”
 
“You left Margaret alone?”
 
“No. I sent Hal over. He was headed across the road when I rode out. I don’t like it, Doc. He was shot four times.”
 
“Best go get the Marshal.” Jason turned to give Emily strict orders about staying inside while Lucas hurried to the Marshal’s office.
 
“I don’t care about that! I…” Marshal Williams stopped speaking abruptly to his deputy when Lucas hurried into the office. Lucas quickly told him what was going on. Marshal Williams hurried to strap on his gun. “Deputy, I want you to stay here and man the office while I’m gone.”
 
Deputy Black crossed his arms and stepped forward. “I think I should go with you.” His voice was cold and controlled as he spoke.
 
Marshal Williams paused in strapping on his gun belt. “I’m the Marshal and I gave you an order.”
 
“I…think you should remember what we talked about earlier, Marshal!” Detective Black grumbled.
 
Marshal Williams gave him a short nod. “I…will.” Then he hurried from the office.
 
Lucas watched him work his jaw as he mounted his horse. “Something wrong, Matthew?”
 
The Marshal paused with his foot in the stirrup and turned back to look toward his office. “No…” But his voice deceived him. “Let’s go.”
 
***
 
Margaret poured herself another cup of coffee. As she sipped it, she listened as another clap of thunder shook the house. Then suddenly, she heard noises on the roof. It sounded like footsteps! Then her head spun toward the back of the house where a tapping sound could be heard. She shivered as she slowly walked toward the window. Nothing was there!
 
Again, her eyes scanned the back yard. She could see nothing there. As she scanned the front yard, Margaret grew anxious. The footsteps could still be heard on the roof. Someone was up there, but she didn’t know who…or why…
 
Then they were gone. Margaret ran to the window to see a dark shadow disappear behind the barn.
 
She heard the man moaning in the bedroom. Margaret hurried in and laid a hand on the man’s forehead. He had a fever and was beginning to shake. “What’s your name?” Margaret asked gently.
 
“Pete…” The man wanted to say more but his teeth began chattering.
 
“Pete, what happened? Why were you shot?” Margaret pulled the covers back to check his wound. She cringed when she saw all the blood oozing out. She quickly ran for a basin of water. It was the last water they had! Margaret bit her lip, wondering what she could do. Hal may be out there hurt somewhere. Or worse, Ann could be in trouble!
 
“The…the…saddle…” The man mumbled again. “The money…my wife…”
 
The man groaned even louder as Margaret began cleaning his wound. She knew he would die soon if Jason didn’t get here. Margaret wrapped him in some new bandages then stood from the bed.
 
As she walked into the front room, she heard another noise and hurried to the window, but nothing was there. Margaret began to worry even more. She narrowed her eyes to look across the road, but she could see nothing.
 
Suddenly, the back door was kicked open. Margaret let out a cry and reached for the shotgun. She quickly hid behind Lucas’ leather chair as the man hurried into the room. From behind the chair, she could see the man. He had a beard and was holding up a rifle. The man walked into the bedroom where Pete was. “No! No! Oh PLEASE…” Pete begged for his life, but to no avail.
 
Margaret jumped when she heard the gunshot.
 
Then there was silence.
 
Margaret put a hand to her mouth to keep any noise from escaping. Tears filled her eyes. Pete was dead. She knew that much. She watched from behind the chair as the man walked out of the bedroom. Suddenly, two more men were there. “You found him?”
 
“He’s dead,” the shooter answered as he discharged the empty shell from his gun and loaded a new bullet into it.
 
“Did you get the money, Harold?”
 
Harold shook his head. “I didn’t see it anywhere’s. Could be that lady has it.”
 
“Harold, that’s Ten Thousand dollars!”
 
“I know how much it is!” Harold gruffed. “And I aim to get every cent of it back!”
 
“Where’s the lady?” One of the men looked around as if she would suddenly appear.
 
“I don’t know…Simmons, go check the barn!”
 
Margaret held tight to the barrel of the shotgun and watched as the men went into her kitchen. “Ah, she’s got some chili cookin’. She can’t be far. No woman would leave her house with dinner cooking.”
 
“She would if she knew there were three bad guys hanging around.”
 
“Nah…” Harold picked up the pan and made his way to the table. “Women are scared! They ain’t good for nothin’ ‘cept having babies and cooking…and some of ‘em can’t even do that right!” She couldn’t see them from the table, but heard Harold blowing on the chili then take a bite. “But now this woman…she sure can cook!”
 
Margaret didn’t know what to do. She knew they wouldn’t hesitate to kill her. She had to get out somehow. Suddenly, the front door opened. Margaret huddled lower, not wanting the man to see her. “She ain’t out there, Harold.”
 
“Any sign of the money?”
 
“Nope.”
 
Margaret pressed her head against the back of the chair and said a quick prayer for God to give her opportunity. Then she turned her head toward the door. It was standing open and she was right beside it. She heard the other man walk across the room and sit down. “Dig in. Chili’s real good!”
 
Margaret knew that the opportunity was now or never. She couldn’t exactly tell what the men’s positions were at the table, but from the sounds of their voices, they had their backs turned toward the front door. She prayed that was true as she crawled toward the door. She peaked her head around and saw that they were all engrossed in eating. Then she hurried out the door.
 
Margaret hurried into the pouring rain and ran from the yard as fast as she could. When she got to the road, she stopped to look down toward Enid, but saw nobody coming. Margaret hurried across the road into the Dodd yard. There she was able to see Hal’s still form lying on the ground. He was still out cold…at least, she hoped he wasn’t…
 
“Hal!” Margaret cried as she hurried to his side. The thunder boomed again. The rain was getting colder and the wind had picked up a bit. Margaret shivered as she turned Hal over. She hadn’t even been able to grab a coat in her escape.
 
Margaret saw the blood trickling down Hal’s forehead and heard his low moans. “Hal!” She turned and looked toward the house. She had to get to Ann! “I’ll be back, Hal! I’ll be back!” Margaret stood and hurried toward the house. “Ann! Ann!” She hurried inside, but saw no sign of Ann. Margaret continued calling her name as she ran through the dark house. Lightening lit up the foyer as she ran up the stairs. Finally, in the bedroom she saw Ann tied and gagged to a chair. “Ann!” Margaret ran to the chair and tried to undo the ropes, but they were tied too tight. “I’ll go get a knife!”
 
But at the top of the stairs, Margaret heard a noise as if somebody was there. “Harold said to check on the woman!” Margaret looked around for a hiding place and hurried back into the bedroom and under the bed. She listened as the men walked into the room. “Howdy there, ma’am. Good and tight, are ya?”
 
“I told ya she was okay!” The other man shouted.
 
“That durn woman has to be somewhere! Women don’t just leave good food cooking on the stove.”
 
“Well, let’s go see what this woman has in her kitchen!” Margaret listened as the men left the room and went down the stairs. She crawled from under the bed and hurried over to Ann. “Listen to me,” Margaret whispered as she kept an ear open for the men’s return. “We’re all in great danger! The man we found in the bar is dead…one of these men…Harold, I think…killed him. They’re sticking around for some money he had…ten thousand dollars…” Margaret put a hand on her friend’s. She could see the fear in Ann’s eyes. “Hal’s alive out in the yard, but he’s hurt…hurt bad…” Margaret lifted the shotgun up and looked at it. “I have to go warn the men…”
 
Ann shook her head. Her eyes begged Margaret not to go out there. “I must, Ann! The rain’s getting colder. It’ll start freezing soon, and I’ve GOT to get Hal to shelter! I’ll try to drag him to the barn. But I MUST warn the men!” Margaret’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh honey, I hate leaving you tied up like this but…we’re safer this way! I can’t let on that I’m here.” She heard a noise from the stairs. “I’ll get help as soon as I can!” Quickly, she hurried back under the bed.
 
“Still good and tight,” she heard the man grumble. “Well…we best get back across the road…Harold wants us there to help when the farmer brings back the Marshal.”
 
“I think I should stay here, just in case…” Margaret had hoped she could get Ann out of there too, but her hopes had been crushed. “You tell Harold I’m keeping an eye on the woman. Think I’ll go back down and check the kitchen again.”
 
Margaret soon heard the two make their way down the stairs again. She hurried from under the bed and out into the hall. From the top of the stairs, she saw the one man walk out the front door. The other man turned from the stairs and made his way toward the kitchen. Margaret hurried back into Ann’s bedroom and bent down in front of the chair. With tears in her eyes, she pressed her hands on top of Ann’s. Ann shed a few tears as well. Margaret could see the fear in her eyes. “I’ll be back for you…just as soon as I can,” Margaret whispered. “I promise. You just pray.” Margaret stood, and without another look hurried out the door.
 
Margaret made her way down the stairs, but heard the man grumbling as he left the kitchen. Margaret hurried into the living room and crouched down behind a sofa. The man came into the living room and sat down. She listened as he let out a big sigh and put his feet up on a table. She cautiously peaked around the end of the sofa and was happy to see that the man had leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Quietly, she crawled out of the living room. Without a sound, she carefully opened the front door and slipped out unnoticed.
 
Hal wasn’t where she had left him! Margaret’s eyes scanned the yard and she let out a gasp when she saw his crumpled body at the side of the house. He must have woke up and tried to crawl to the house when those men showed up. “Oh God, help me!” Margaret cried as she hurried up to Hal. “Hal!”
 
Margaret turned him over. Apparently the men had roughed him up a bit more. He was out cold again. Margaret turned him onto his back and put her arms under his shoulders. He was as big as Lucas and it was hard work for her to drag him to the barn. Margaret shivered as she tugged and pulled closer and closer to the barn. She prayed for God to keep blinders on the outlaws until she had Hal to safety. She prayed she would be able to warn Lucas and Jason before they returned to the ranch.
 
The rain had gone. In its place was cold, icy sleet and it poured, bouncing off of her and Hal as Margaret continued to pull him toward the barn. She grunted and pulled, but finally got him inside. She dragged him to the back, then ran to a nearby chest and found a blanket. She threw it over him, tucking it under him to keep him as warm as possible.
 
“It’s getting colder, and I’m sorry…” Margaret mumbled quietly as she continued wrapping the blanket around him. “I wish I could stay and help you and Ann, but I have to go to the road and watch for the men.” At some point, Hal had become half-conscience. He couldn’t speak, but merely shook his head for her not to leave. “I must! He’s my husband and I must warn him. If I don’t…” Margaret sighed and closed her eyes. “…they’ll kill him.” Margaret hurried from the barn without another word and went for the shotgun she had left at the side of the house. Then she started to the road.
 
She stopped and let out a quiet gasp when she saw the outline of a person through the sleet. Margaret let out a cry when she realized it was one of the men watching for her husband as well. She would have to find some other way to go warn them! Margaret hurried back into the yard and raced across the range as fast as she could. She ran for some time. The sleet poured down. She shivered, she was so cold; but she HAD to get to Lucas before he returned! Margaret ran until she felt she was about to collapse. She was soaked to the skin and shivering cold. The housedress she had on gave her little warmth from the freezing perception.
 
When Margaret felt she was far enough from the houses, she turned and ran out onto the road. She wasn’t sure how far up she had gone, but when she turned to look back towards the ranches, she couldn’t even see them. She held tight to her shot gun and ran again.
 
The sleet was still pouring. Margaret was shaking, she was so cold, but she ran some more. Then, she heard the sound of horses approaching. “Luke!” Margaret let out a cry as the horses came into view.
 
***
 
Lucas was hurrying toward his ranch with Dr. Jason Livingston and Marshal Matthew Williams when they saw the form of a person running towards them. “Now who would be out in this…” Lucas stopped talking when he realized it was Margaret. “Margaret!” All three horses stopped. Lucas jumped down and hurried to her. Margaret suddenly felt weak and started to fall to her knees, but Lucas caught her and swooped her up into his arms. “Margaret, what are you doing out…”
 
“Luke…Luke…” Margaret shook her head as she tried to calm her breathing. “Three men…” Margaret pressed her head against his wet coat. She shivered, her teeth chattering so hard she could hardly speak.
 
“She’s freezing! We must get her to shelter!” Lucas declared. “We’ll get her home and…”
 
“NO!” Margaret lifted her head from his chest. “Three men…They’re at the house…” Margaret swallowed hard. “Two of them are at our house, and one at the Dodd house…Ann’s…tied up and Hal…I got him to the barn, but when they find him missing…”
 
“Hal?” Lucas’s eyes held a deep regret. “I should have stayed until he made it safely across!”
 
“No!” Margaret shook her head. “Luke…they killed the wounded man and…hurt Hal something awful! He’s barely alive…Ann’s tied up and…and…Oh Luke…” Margaret burst into tears.
 
Jason hurried forward and took the shotgun she still had clutched in her hand. The Marshal came to stand beside the other two men. “Here, take her,” Lucas ordered Jason. Jason held Margaret while Lucas took off his coat and wrapped it tightly around her. “What do we do now?” Lucas’ voice held sorrow and worry. Having Margaret here complicated things, to say the least.
 
“We’ll have to take her with us,” Marshal Williams declared.
 
“NO!”
 
“What other choice do we have, Luke?” Jason shook his head. “I need to get to Hal…see how bad off he really is. God only knows if that man’s already discovered Hal in the barn. We don’t know who’s where or what’s what…”
 
Lucas ripped his hat off his head. “Damn it!” He slapped his hat on his leg. “I hate her being here, and you know that!”
 
Margaret lifted her head from Jason’s shoulder. “Luke, we have to help Ann and Hal!”
 
“Alright. I’ll put you behind me on the horse, but you will do exactly as I say, do you understand me?” Margaret nodded. “Margaret, the best way to keep me safe is to do exactly as I say…no matter what!”
 
“I understand, Luke.” Lucas mounted his horse, then Jason sat Margaret behind Lucas and helped her put the coat on. The coat did little good since she was already soaked through and through. Margaret could feel herself getting sick, but she wasn’t about to tell Lucas anything about that. She wrapped her arms around his waist. “The man at Ann’s was in the living room when I snuck out, Luke. There was another man…Simmons, I think they called him…at the entrance to our ranch. We have to go through the range to keep from being seen.”
 
“Alright.” Lucas patted her hand. “Hold on tight, Margaret.”
 
Margaret stifled a cough as she pressed her head against Lucas’ back and held tighter to him. Lucas dug his heels into Bullet’s flank and took off, the other two men following close behind, across the Dodd range.
 
They stopped a ways from the house. Marshal Williams looked up at the sky. “Still pretty dark,” he mumbled. “This sleet should be turning into snow soon.”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas dismounted and tied the horse to the tree. “Margaret, you stay in the saddle, you hear?” His voice softened as he looked up into her eyes. “Honey, no matter what…stay here!” He turned, paused, then turned back around. “Uh…if things get bad…you ride out and get help.”
 
Margaret nodded. “Be careful, Luke.”
 
Lucas, Jason, and Marshal Williams started toward the house. “Ann’s still in the house. We’ve got to get to her,” Lucas declared. They made their way to the back door. Marshal Williams looked in the window and saw nothing. He tried the door and it opened without any difficulty. He turned and motioned for Lucas and Jason to cover him while he went inside.
 
All three men were now in the kitchen. Lucas twirled his rifle, readying it to shoot at the first sign of trouble. Marshal Williams silently made his way to the door and opened it a crack. He nodded and cocked his pistol, indicating one of the men were in there. Silently, he counted to three, then all three men barged into the room. “REACH!” Marshal Williams ordered. The man dropped the glass he was holding and froze.
 
“Who’s there?”
 
“Turn around real slow and you’ll find out,” Marshal Williams ordered. “You make any sudden moves, and you won’t live to see who shot you.” Slowly, the man turned around as he lifted his hands up over his head.
 
Lucas hurried forward and took the guns from the man’s holster. “Alright, sit down!” Lucas ordered. He held his rifle on the man as he slowly lowered himself into a chair. “Start talking!”
 
“What do you want to know?” The man growled the question as he glared at Lucas and the marshal.
 
“Hold on…” Marshal Williams turned and told Jason to go get some rope. “I’m going to tie up my first prisoner.”
 
“Anybody else in here?” Lucas asked as he shoved the rifle in the man’s face. The man laughed. Lucas screwed up his face and pressed the barrel of his rifle into the man’s cheek. “I asked you a question!”
 
“If you’re talking about anyone on MY side, they’re across the street,” the man answered. Lucas moved the rifle just a bit away. The man looked Lucas up and down. “I’m guessing you’re the farmer who lives across the street.”
 
“Rancher.”
 
“Is there a difference?”
 
“I think so.” Lucas gave a slight nod. “Now, mind telling me what your friends are doing in my house?”
 
“Oh, I’ll give you a reason alright.” The man smiled. “Ten…thousand…dollars.” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Is that reason enough?”
 
“Where’d the money come from?”
 
The man chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I…” He stopped when he felt the cold metal of the rifle in his nose. “Alright…alright…”
 
Suddenly, the back door opened. Jason hurried in with the rope. “Everything okay?”
 
The Marshal grabbed the rope as Jason grabbed the man’s hands and pulled them tight behind him. The man flinched from the pain. Marshal Williams paused in tying the man’s hands to pull out his pistol and hold it against the man’s temple. “You have two guns trained on you, and if the good doctor doesn’t bring that woman down the stairs in one piece, we’ll pull both triggers.” He cocked his gun for good measure. “Now…is it safe for him to go up there?”
 
“I done told you those men are across the street!” Marshal Williams motioned for Jason to go to Ann. “Gambling.”
 
“Gambling?” Lucas questioned.
 
“That’s where the ten thousand dollars came from. We gambled for a long time. My friend, Harold…He is…what you might call an obsessive gambler. He owns a ranch near Topeka and was down here on business. He got a bit risky on his gambling and bet a lot of money. He thought he had a winning hand. Turns out…”
 
“So the other man won fair and square?”
 
“It appeared that way,” the man nodded. “But Harold seems to think Pete cheated.”
 
“Any proof?”
 
The man laughed. But he lost his smile when Lucas again pressed the rifle barrel in his nose. “Alright, alright…There’s no proof.”
 
Just then, Jason appeared in the door with Ann. Her face was tear streaked and her hair a mess. She had rope burns where she had tried to wriggle free. The moment she saw Lucas, she hurried forward and hugged him. “Luke…Oh Luke…Hal? Where is he?”
 
Lucas hugged her. “I was told he’s in the barn.” He looked at Jason who stood behind Ann. “You should get out there now.”
 
“What about those men?” Ann asked.
 
Lucas searched her face to make sure she was okay. “They’re across the street. Margaret’s out back on a horse.” Lucas turned and looked at Marshal Williams. “Marshal, I think the safest place is here…” Lucas paused.
 
“Right now, Luke, there is no safe place,” Marshal Williams agreed with his silent statement – that still, the women would be safer upstairs.
 
Jason kept a protective arm around Ann. “I think upstairs is safer for them then outside in the sleet, Luke.” Jason looked down at Ann. “I’m worried about Margaret. She’s been out there in this stuff without a coat for a long time. We need to get her in here.”
 
Lucas nodded and walked to the back door where Margaret was intently watching. He motioned for her to come inside. Margaret slid from the horse and slowly made her way inside. Margaret hurried past Lucas and ran to Ann. She could feel Ann’s shaking as she hugged her. “Is it safe to get Hal?”
 
Lucas nodded. “We’re going to try to get him now, Margaret. You get on upstairs and put on something warmer. Then I want you in bed under the covers. Jason will be up to check on you in a while.” Lucas looked toward Ann. “Ann, I think you should lay down as well.”
 
“No!” Ann hurried forward. “I must see Hal!”
 
“Ann, I…” Lucas stopped when he saw Jason raise a hand. “Alright.”
 
Ann hurried after Jason. Margaret looked at the man who was now tied snuggly in the chair. “What are you going to do with him?”
 
“Leave him here until we get the other two men,” Lucas answered as he took her arm. “Now, you get on upstairs.”
 
“What are you going to do now?” Margaret asked anxiously as Lucas led her toward the stairs.
 
“I don’t know. But you let us worry about that.” Lucas turned her face toward him and studied it intently. “You need to get out of those wet clothes and get under the covers, honey. I’m sure Jason will give you something warm once he gets back.” Lucas kissed her cheek. “Go on now.”
 
“Luke…” Margaret laid a hand on his cheek. “Be careful.” Lucas nodded. He turned and looked out the window that was right by the stairs, then quickly, he ordered Margaret to do as he had requested.
 
Once Margaret was up the stairs, Lucas called out to the marshal. Marshal Williams came into the living room. Lucas pointed out the front window. Marshal Williams sighed when he saw one of the men standing at the entrance of the McCain Ranch. The sleet had turned into snow and the sky had lightened a bit. “You think he knows we’re here?”
 
“I don’t know,” Marshal Williams mumbled. “You can’t see the barn from there, can you?” Lucas shook his head. “Well…you stand guard there. I’ll try to get out to the barn and help Jason get Hal in here before they figure out we ARE here.”
 
The man laughed from the kitchen where the door was propped open.
 
“They’ll never leave without their money!” the man declared with a laugh. “You won’t get them out of there alive.”
 
“That’s alright with me,” Lucas declared suddenly.
 
“Well, they have to come out sometime,” Marshal Williams declared. “They can’t just stay in there forever.”
 
Lucas turned and looked at the Marshal. “They’ll just be the two of us, Marshal. Jason will have his hands full with Hal.”
 
“I know,” Marshal Williams nodded. “But right now, there’s nothing we can do.” Marshal Williams turned toward the kitchen. “I’ll go help Jason get Hal in here.”
 
***
 
Abraham McCain took off his hat as he stepped into the clinic.  “Jason! Emily!” Abe grumbled as he shook the hat against his thigh. “Rain then sleet and now snow, boy but Charlie picked a fine day to get sick!”
 
Emily hurried from the back of the clinic. Her face held worry. Abe stepped forward when he saw the concern in her eyes. “Emily? Honey, what’s wrong?” He grasped her shoulders.
 
“Abe…Luke…He came in here and said they had a wounded man at their house. That was early this morning…He took Jason and the marshal with him and…and…they haven’t come back yet.”
 
“Did he say who the man was?”
 
Emily shook her head. “Only that he was shot. Abe, I’m worried!”
 
“Alright, you listen to me, Emily…I’m hitching up your buggy. I want you to ride it as fast as you can back to the farm and get our brothers. Tell them to get to Luke’s place as fast as they can. We don’t know what’s happening there, so tell them to be careful. Then you and the women stay put…” Abe put his hat on and started out the door. “Oh, and Charlie’s sick. You best bring some medicines that could help him. Julie thinks it’s his tonsils again.”
 
Soon, Abe had the buggy hitched up. He helped Emily into the buggy then set the horses in motion. After mounting his horse, Abe rode as fast as he could toward the McCain Ranch. Deputy Black watched from the doorway of his office, wondering what was going on.
 
***
 
Lucas turned from the front window when he heard the back door open. Marshal Williams and Jason grunted as they half-dragged Hal through the kitchen. “Marshal, watch the window. I’ll help Jason get him upstairs,” Lucas stated. Ann was crying as she followed behind.
 
Margaret hurried from the bedroom, now wearing a fresh gown and looking warmer. “I’ve turned his bed down,” Margaret announced as she preceded the men into the master bedroom. They laid Hal on the bed. Lucas motioned for Margaret to come out with him so Ann and Jason could get Hal undressed and comfortable.
 
“I thought I told you to get in bed,” Lucas reminded her gently as he led her across the hall and toward the bed. He lifted his eyebrows as she obediently got under the covers and stifled a cough. “I want you to stay in this bed and don’t move until I tell you to do so.”
 
“LUKE” Marshal Williams’ voice sounded from the bottom of the stairs. “Luke, get down here!”
 
Both bedroom doors upstairs opened at the same moment. Lucas readied his rifle as he turned and looked at Jason. Jason unholstered his pistol and moved to the top of the stairs. “Hal needs you,” Lucas pointed out.
 
“Not as badly as you do, Luke.” Jason lifted his six-shooter up in the air as they started down the stairs. “Ann’s getting him cleaned up. Only time will heal him.”
 
“What is it, Marshal?” Lucas and Jason moved to the window and watched as the two men stood at the road talking. “I’ve never seen either of them before.”
 
“Maybe they’re getting ready to leave,” Jason murmured. They watched the two men talk. One of the men was motioning angrily toward the road. The other man threw his hands up and turned back toward the house. Suddenly, the man still standing at the road turned and hollered at the other man. He came hurrying back as they both stared down the road. The three watched in horror as the two men lifted their guns and cocked it at some unseen intruder.
 
Then one man fired.
 
***

At the sound of the gunshot across the street, both Margaret and Ann came to the top of the stairs. “What is it?” Ann screamed. The men all stared at each other in horror. “What happened?”
 
“They just shot a rider,” Lucas answered. He turned back to the other two men. “We’ve got to get out there and find out who that rider was!”
 
Laughter erupted from the kitchen. Marshal Williams angrily turned and hurried into the kitchen. He grabbed the man by the back of his neck and squeezed. “What’s your name?” The man continued to laugh. “What’s your name?” Marshal Williams lifted the gun above the man’s head as if he were about to pistol whip him.
 
“It’s Billy Jo,” he answered.
 
“Well, BILLY JO…” Marshal Williams’ voice was cut off by a tapping at the back door. He continued to hold the man by the neck. “Jason…” Jason appeared in the doorway. “See who’s at the back door. Be careful.”
 
Jason kept his gun ready for action as he went to the window and peaked out. “It’s the deputy!” Jason hurried to let him in.
 
Deputy Black hurried inside. Marshal Williams didn’t act too happy to see him. “What the hell are you doing here, black?” His question took the men in the room aback. “I thought I told you…”
 
“I know what you told me!” Deputy Black shouted back. “But I just heard Abe McCain’s on his way here. His brothers are just behind me.”
 
“Abe?” Lucas hurried into the room. “When?”
 
“I heard tell he rode into town to get Dr. Livingston. When Dr. Livingston wasn’t there, Mrs. Livingston told McCain just what the problem was and he decided to check things out…just like a McCain!” Deputy Black shook his head. “I wasn’t sure what the situation was, so I decided to come the back way when I saw those two men at the road. I figured I’d check here at the Dodd Ranch first.”
 
“DEAR GOD!” Lucas cried. Slowly, he moved his head toward the front door. “OH DEAR GOD!!!” Lucas bolted toward the front door, but Jason and Marshal Williams both bolted for him. They each locked an arm under his shoulder and held him back. “That’s my brother out there! YOU LET ME GO!”
 
“Now, hold it!” Marshal Williams shouted. “HOLD IT!”
 
Margaret rushed down the stairs when she heard her husband shouting. Her eyes grew wide at the sight of Lucas. “What happened?”
 
“They shot my brother!” Lucas fought against the men.
 
“We don’t know that!” Marshal Williams retorted calmly, still keeping a firm hold on Lucas. “We don’t know anything yet!”
 
Lucas was fuming. He continued to fight. “You let me go! I can take one of those men out from right here!”
 
“NO YOU CAN’T! We can’t go into a situation blind like that!”
 
“LET ME GO, I SAID!!!”
 
“Now Luke, either you calm down or I’ll give you something to MAKE you calm down!” Jason shouted then. Lucas continued to struggle. “Margaret, go get my bag.”
 
Margaret turned to go back up the stairs, but her husband’s voice stopped her. “No.” He stopped fighting. “I’ll stay calm.” Jason held out his hand for the rifle and Lucas calmly released it. They let him go.
 
“Sit down, McCain.” Deputy Black motioned toward the table. “I have a question for you.” Jason hurried out to stand watch at the front window while Margaret moved to make some hot coffee for the men. Deputy Black pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to the Marshal. “Got a telegram this morning about three men chasing a forth man. They were last seen headed this way. According to the telegram, the man they’re chasing won $10,000 in a poker game. One of the bad men…a Harold Parker…He’s a big land owner in Kansas…Well, not as big anymore. He bet a big chunk of his estate against the game, he was so sure.”
 
Margaret turned from the stove. “That’s the same men. They killed the man they were chasing.” Deputy Black turned and looked at Margaret. “Shot him after they broke into our house across the street.”
 
“I hope you’re mistaken…” Deputy Black slowly stood. “The man they’re chasing has a wife and five small children.”
 
“He told me as much,” Margaret stated sadly. “But the way he talked…they had no money. How was he able to bet that much money against…”
 
“He didn’t,” Deputy Black answered with a shake of his head. “According to the information I was wired, the man only had enough money to make one more bet. This…Parker…was so drunk that he bet everything. There were a lot of witnesses who watched the game.” Deputy Black nodded. “They went to the bank and had this man draw up a bank draft in the amount of $10,000. It was a piece of paper – not a sack of money. And if the man’s dead, that money belongs to this man’s family now.”
 
“Alright…” Lucas stood as Margaret poured coffee into the cups. “Let’s get moving.”
 
“Luke…Marshal…You might want to see this!” Jason called from the front room. The men ran into the room and to the window. They saw that a man was being dragged into the yard. He looked to be having a lot of trouble walking. One of the outlaws shoved him forward.
 
“Do you know who it is?”
 
Jason turned as he nodded his head. “It’s Abe.”
 
***
 
There was no choice. They were going to have to storm the two men who were across the street, at least make them aware of their presence. A tapping sounded on the back door again. Deputy Black motioned for Margaret to get away then went to see who it was. “It’s Peter and Jeremiah McCain and Scott Gibbs!” Deputy Black opened the door to allow them in.
 
“We heard a gunshot and decided to come the back way,” Peter announced as they stepped into the kitchen. He looked from Lucas to Margaret. “You two okay?”
 
Margaret nodded as her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, but Abe’s not!” Margaret put her face in her hands and started sobbing.
 
“Margaret…” Lucas motioned for Jason to once again take his place at the front window and hurried over to Margaret. “I want you to go upstairs and stay there. You’ll be out of danger there.”
 
“What does she mean Abe’s not?” Peter asked suddenly.
 
Marshal Williams turned to look at the three men who had just arrived. “I think he’s shot. We saw them escorting Abe into the yard just before you rode up, but Abe wasn’t walking too well.”
 
“What’s going on?”
 
“We don’t have time to explain, Scott,” Marshal Williams quickly answered. “This man…” he motioned toward the man still tied in the chair. “…He’s the third man. We have two at the McCain house. I’m thinking they think Abe is Lucas…We have no idea what the situation is over there.”
 
“We can easily take that man at the road,” Jeremiah declared, coming in from the front room. “From the edge of the yard…He’d never know what…”
 
“And that…Parker dude…wouldn’t hesitate to take Abe!” Lucas shouted suddenly. “They killed the man they were after.”
 
“We have to do something!” Peter shouted. “Abe’s life is in danger!”
 
Suddenly, another shot rang out. In the quiet afternoon, it echoed through the land. All the men rushed to the front room while Ann and Margaret hurried to the stairs. “It came from across the street,” Jason announced. “And it came from the barn where they led Abe.”
 
“Alright…” Marshal Williams put his hat on. “Peter, Jeremiah…I want you to make a long circle and get around the back of the McCain house. Stay out of sight in the trees. Scott…Luke…I want you to go around the other way. You come up behind the house from the other direction.” Marshal looked at the Deputy. “We’ll give them ten minutes to get into place, then we’ll make our way out the front door. We’ll let him know we’re here.”
 
“What about me?” Jason asked.
 
The Marshal and Deputy looked at each other. “You stay here and guard the prisoner and…” Marshal Williams looked up at the top of the stairs. “Do what you can for the women. I think we’ll be needing your services once this is over.”
 
“Luke!” Margaret breathed.
 
“Matt!” Lucas warned.
 
“Let’s go.”
 
Margaret watched the men leave the house. Her eyes focused on Jason as he stood at the foot of the stairs. “How’s Hal?”
 
“He’s still out cold,” Margaret answered in a shaky voice. She was quiet for a moment. “Jason…”
 
Jason shook his head. “You just stay up there. Don’t come down. It’ll all be over soon.”
 
Margaret turned and walked back into the room where Ann nursed her husband. Ann had tears in her eyes as she continued wiping his face. “I wish he’d wake up,” Ann mumbled. “I need him.”
 
Margaret said nothing as she rested a hand on Ann’s shoulder. Her mind was on another man who was out in the gently falling snow. Finally, she swallowed. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”
 
Ann joined in with her as she rested her hand on top of Margaret’s. Together they asked God for comfort.
 
***
 
Gunfire suddenly erupted as the men waited among the trees in the backyard. Lucas looked toward the house before announcing that he would try to get to the house and find out what was going on. Scott grabbed his arm. “Marshal told us to wait.”
 
“Those gunshots tell me that the marshal and deputy both may be dead. I have to get up there…to see what’s going on.” Lucas turned to Scott. “Just cover me.”
 
Peter and Jeremiah watched as Lucas ran toward the house. “He’s a fool!” Peter grumbled. “Doesn’t like to take orders!”
 
But Lucas made it. He slowly raised his head to a window and looked in. He could see Abe on the floor. He wasn’t moving as a man stood over him. “I got ‘em!” Simmons declared as he hurried toward Harold Parker. “I got the deputy.” Lucas saw the deputy slowly make his way into the room. Blood trickled from a superficial wound on his head.
 
“Well?” Parker asked. “Where’s the marshal?”
 
“Dead,” Simmons answered. He laughed. “I got him good!” Lucas leaned his head against the window. The Marshal had been a good friend of theirs for years. He’d grown up with Abe. He was a childhood friend, and now he was dead.
 
“How’s the farmer?” Simmons asked then.
 
“Barely breathing,” Parker answered. “Durn fool…Trying to rush me like that…”
 
“What are we going to do now?”
 
Parker walked toward the window and shook his head. “I don’t know,” he answered with a sigh. “I just…don’t know.”
 
“We should move out!”
 
Parker turned from the window. “Not without my money!”
 
“We can’t stay here forever!” Simmons rushed up to Parker. “We’ve won! That man ain’t gonna use that bank draft. Your money’s safe!”
 
“That bank draft is somewhere…That woman has it!”
 
“That woman…Where is that woman?”
 
“Probably in town now,” Parker answered. “I don’t know how she got away without us knowing.” Parker wiped his forehead with his gun hand. “Well…no reason for us to stay here. I reckon we cen make our way across the street and check on Billy Jo.”
 
“Uh…Parker…” Simmons slowly walked up to him. “Boss, there’s something you should know about that situation.”
 
“Oh?”
 
“Yeah…uh…Thet deputy and marshal…they just come from across the street. There’s a man standing in the window guarding. I…think Billy Jo’s done captured.”
 
“Durn fool!” Parker shook his head as he slammed his gun against the wall. “Then we’re taking it back. I…” Suddenly, he turned and looked toward the window. Lucas gasped, realizing he’d been spotted. “Well now…what have we here?” Parker lifted his gun and pointed it right at Lucas. “Alright…” Parker cocked his gun. “Simmons…”
 
But Lucas ran around the side of the house before Parker could make his move. Lucas hurried toward the front of the house when gunfire erupted. Shots whizzed past his head. Finally, Lucas fell to his knees. “Alright, drop it!” Parker shouted. Lucas hesitated until he heard the cock of a gun. He dropped his rifle. “Stand up…slow…”
 
“Alright, you have four guns trained on you, mister.” Lucas had never been so happy to hear Peter’s voice before. “Luke, you’re a fool!” Peter declared as Parker continued to hold his gun on Lucas.
 
Slowly, Lucas turned around. He kept his hands raised as he stood up. “You have four guns trained on you, Parker. You better just give it up.”
 
“As soon as whoever has that bank draft hands it over,” Parker answered. “All I want is my money.” Parker shook his gun at Lucas as his face began to break out into a sweat. “I’ll kill him!”
 
“That’s alright,” Jeremiah answered for them. “You don’t have a chance, mister. Because as soon as you kill him…” Jeremiah put the gun to the back of Parker’s head. “We’ll kill you.” Parker hesitated. “And you know you don’t want to die.”
 
“You’re just a rancher…” Lucas said. “You’re not a gunfighter. If you weren’t a coward, you wouldn’t have shot that man in the back or when he was wounded…you wouldn’t have shot my brother or the Marshal…”
 
“Simmons did that!” Parker declared. “Simmons killed your Marshal and brother…not me!”
 
“Simmons is in our custody,” Scott declared from behind him. “And so is the other man. You will all hang for what you’ve done today.”
 
“I want my $10,000! I’ll leave as soon as you give me the bank draft.”
 
“We don’t have it!” Lucas shouted. “You don’t seem to understand that we don’t have it.” Lucas took a step toward Parker. “Go ahead…pull that trigger…kill me!” Lucas leaned forward. “I have a secret for you…I’M the FARMER who owns this ranch! You forced your way into MY house and that woman who’s missing is MY wife. She’s the best wife a man could have…snuck out the house when you were there…went around the back way and warned me you were here…” Lucas grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “That Marshal you killed is a good friend of mine…grew up together…” Lucas put his hands around the man’s throat and started choking him. “And that was my brother you may have killed.” Lucas’ face turned to pure hatred. “I’ll send you to hell…right…now…”
 
“Luke!” Jeremiah shouted. “Luke, LET GO!”
 
Peter hurried around and grabbed Lucas. Scott grabbed his other arm. “LET GO!” Peter shouted. “We’ll watch him hang! LET GO!”
 
Finally, Lucas came back to his senses and let go. Parker crumpled at his feet. Lucas turned from him and hurried back into the house. He rushed up to Abe and turned him over. There was a bad gunshot wound in his chest. Abe’s face was covered in sweat, and his breathing was heavy. Tears filled Lucas’ eyes. “Go get Jason!” Lucas shouted. “Hurry!”
 
Scott and the deputy ran to the front yard where Marshal Williams had been shot. Scott bent down and listened to his chest.
 
Silence.
 
Slowly, Scott lifted his head and looked straight at the deputy. “He’s dead.”

The Margaret Years — The Truth

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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