>The Rifleman - The Margaret Years - Fan Fiction

 


 

The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 16 - The Truth / The Wait
Written by Michelle Palmer

Her own footsteps echoed on the stairs as Margaret hastened down them as quickly as she could. The door opened the instant her feet touched the floor. Snow fell from Peter’s hat as he stood in the doorway. “Jason, we need you!” Peter’s voice trembled as he spoke. His hands were shaking from the ordeal he had been through. But she sensed there was more.
 
Margaret felt as if her heart stopped inside her chest. She grasped the banister and closed her eyes. “Lucas…” She whispered the words. The thought of something happening to Lucas was more than she could bear. She didn’t want to know the truth, yet she did. As she spoke his name, she prayed it wasn’t him that put the sadness in Peter’s eyes. She prayed it wasn’t any of their family either. But then she realized that no matter what she prayed, it was someone she loved.
 
“No,” Peter answered as he hurried to steady her before she fell to her knees. “Lucas is fine.” Margaret felt relief overwhelm her, but only for a moment as Peter said, “It’s Abe.”
 
Margaret stared into Peter’s eyes. She saw fear and sorrow there. “Is he…”
 
Peter turned to Jason. “You should go now!”
 
“Anybody else hurt?” Jason holstered his gun and grabbed his bag.
 
Peter shook his head. “Not hurt, Doc…Dead.”
 
Jason froze. Margaret let out a gasp. Which one of their loved one’s was dead? Surely not her brother! Surely not…“Who?” She heard her voice ask the question, but she felt it was someone else asking.
 
Peter lowered his head and allowed a sigh to escape him. When he lifted his head back up to Margaret, his eyes were filled with tears. “Matthew Williams.” His voice broke at the end.
 
“Oh my Lord and Savior!” Margaret pressed a hand to her chest. She tried to allow herself to believe it. She silently asked God to stop the racing of her heart. She wished her knees would stop shaking. “You sure?” Of course that was a stupid question, but Margaret knew of nothing else to ask.
 
“Yes.”
 
Margaret reached for Lucas’ coat and put it on. “He’ll need me…” Without waiting for Peter or Jason, she hurried across the road.
 
Peter turned and looked at the prisoner still sitting in the chair. Billy Jo began laughing. “Dead…” He laughed. “Your brother…the Marshal…Ha ha ha!!!” His laughter was sickening. Peter rushed over to him and smacked him hard across the face. The slap didn’t even seem to faze him. “Hey, wait ‘til my partners get done with ya!” He spat out the words in anger.
 
“Your partners are both being held prisoner by the deputy!” Peter slapped him again. “I hope you all rot in…”
 
“Ain’t no deputy gonna hold us!” Billy Jo declared.
 
“Well…” Peter put his hands down on the arms of the chair Billy Jo was sitting in. “Well then…We’ll just have to kill you!” Peter grabbed the front of his shirt. “And let me tell you something…if my brother dies, so help me, I’LL KILL YOU!!! I’ll kill all three of you with my bare hands!”
 
“McCain!” Deputy Black stepped into the room. “He has the right to a fair trial!”
 
“Did he give my brother a fair trial? Did he…” Peter stopped when Deputy Black lifted his hand.
 
“This man had NOTHING to do with your brother being shot, Peter!”
 
“He was part of it…same as them! This man is in as deep as the others, as far as I’m concerned!” Deputy Black untied the man and kept his gun cocked. “Mark my word, Deputy…my brother dies, and so help me…”
 
“Your brother needs you right now. I suggest…”
 
“Who’s going to help you with the…” Peter started.
 
“I am,” Scott answered as he came inside. “Deputy, I’ll help you get them back to town.”
 
“That’s not necessary,” Deputy Black declared.
 
“Oh, but it is.” Scott came to stand before the deputy. “I’ve some unpleasant news to deliver so I’ll just ride along with you a ways.”
 
“Since the Marshal’s dead, I’ll be the one to do the unpleasant task!” Deputy Black flashed Scott a warning.
 
“Now, let’s just get one thing straight, DEPUTY!” Scott got right into his face. “I…” Scott’s voice broke. He had to close his eyes to regain his composure. “I’ve known that Marshal my whole life. He was much more than a Marshal to me. He was a friend. We grew up together, and no deputy who’s been here for less than two months is going to break the news!” Scott turned to Peter. “Come on. Let’s go check on Abe.” Scott paused at the door. “Just give me ten minutes. Then I’ll be ready to ride.”
 
***
 
Margaret stood with Lucas just inside their bedroom door. Jason worked his jaw in frustration and shook his head. Slowly, he stood and turned just as Peter was walking inside with Scott. “It’s not good.”
 
Margaret grasped Lucas’ hand as her eyes filled with tears. “Can you save him?”
 
“The bullet’s pretty deep. He’s lost a lot of blood and is very weak. I need to operate, but he couldn’t last through the surgery.”
 
Lucas’ eyes filled with tears. He grasped Margaret’s hand tighter and swallowed hard. “Just what are you saying, Doc?”
 
“I’m saying…” Jason’s own eyes filled with tears. He paused for a moment before he continued. “I’m saying that I think you should send for the family. They should say goodbye.”
 
“Jason!”
 
Jason shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m going to try a transfusion and then operate if there’s no other choice, but…the chances of him surviving are…” Jason shook his head and sighed. “Not good.”
 
Lucas just stood frozen as he stared at Abe. Slowly, he walked to the bed and sat down. Margaret watched with desperation as Lucas lowered his head to Abe’s chest and sobbed. “I’ll do it…” Jeremiah started rolling up his sleeve. “I’ll give you the blood you need.”
 
Slowly Lucas stood up. “I can…I want…”
 
“No.” Jason shook his head. “With your recent illness of malaria, I don’t want to take any chances. I think your brother will be our best option. Jason turned to look at Scott. “You should send for the family.”
 
Scott turned and hurried from the room. Margaret walked over to Lucas and laid her hands on his shoulders. “Come on, Luke…” She whispered softly. “I’ll make you some tea.”
 
“No…”
 
“It’s better if you leave,” Jason said softly.
 
Lucas nodded. He wiped a sleeve across his face but it did little good. Margaret made him a cup of hot tea then sat him at the table. After he took a few sips, she took his hand, bowed her head, and prayed.
 
***
 
Julie paced back and forth at the main house as she rested a hand on her bulging belly. “Where could they be?”
 
“I’m sure they’re fine,” Tiffany McCain declared again as she picked up Baby Willie and walked to the rocking chair. “You know how those brothers are…get to talking and lose all track of…”
 
The door opened suddenly. Scott hurried in and took off his hat. “Ladies…”
 
Tiffany stood from the chair. The look on Scott’s face told them his news wasn’t good. Scott nervously toyed with his hat. “Well…it’s all over…”
 
“What?” Julie hurried toward him. “What’s all over?”
 
“A group of outlaws arrived at Luke’s ranch. We had a small…battle with them.” Scott lowered his head. “The Marshall…” He swallowed hard. “He’s dead.”
 
“Oh no…” Julie whispered. The other women closed their eyes in sadness. Even the children stopped their play at the news. Julie turned to look at her children. “Laura…would you…”
 
“No.” Scott held up a hand. “I think Laura should hear this.” He looked down at his hat. “It’s Abe…”
 
Julie clutched the back of her chair as her knees grew weak. “Is he…”
 
“You should come. Jason told me to fetch all of you at once to…” Scott wiped the corner of his eye. “…to say…”
 
“NO!” Julie held up a hand. “I will NEVER say such a thing to my husband.”
 
“Is he going to die?” Laura suddenly asked as her eyes filled with tears. “Am I gonna lose another Papa?”
 
Emily hurried to Laura and took her sister in her arms. “NO!” Emily squeezed her tight. “NO!”
 
“He’s been shot…in the chest. Jason said he’s weak and he may not survive surgery.”
 
Julie hurried to get her coat. “Tiffany, you and Em stay here with the children please?” Tiffany nodded. “If he’s too bad, I’ll send for you.” Julie turned to Laura. “You and Emily come…he’s your brother too.”
 
“I’ll go hitch up the buckboard. The snow’s coming down hard. Do you think you can make it to the ranch alone? I’ve another visit to make.” The look on Scott’s face told everyone how unpleasant the visit he had to make would be.
 
Julie nodded. She grabbed Scott’s hand. “Tell Mrs. Williams that we…” She stopped and turned away. The truth was, she could be joining Miriam Williams’ status very soon…as a widow.
 
***
 
Lucas sat on the bed and spoke softly to his brother. Peter and Jeremiah stood close by while Margaret tried to keep herself occupied fixing supper. Jason walked over to the bed and checked Abe once more. Finally, he stood, turned, and shook his head. “It’s not good. He’s getting weaker. I’m afraid…” Jason stepped toward the brothers. Lucas stood and walked over to them. “I have to operate.”
 
“You said it would kill him,” Lucas stated.
 
“Yes.” Jason sighed. “But I have to try!” Lucas turned from the brothers and heaved a deep sigh. “Luke…It’s his only chance.  The transfusion isn’t helping.”
 
“We should wait for Julie. She should have the chance to…” Lucas put a hand to his mouth. “To say…”
 
Margaret, who had been listening at the door, slowly walked into the room. “Luke…if I was Julie and I knew Abe had a chance with surgery, I wouldn’t want Jason to wait. Let him try…”
 
Lucas looked toward his brothers. They both nodded their heads in agreement. Lucas turned back and walked over to the bed. He sat down and picked up Abe’s hand. “He’s more than a big brother to me. At times he seemed more like a second father…” Lucas gave a short laugh. “He gave me as many whippings as my Pa. He’s always trying to straighten me out….So you see…this is hard.”
 
“Luke…we won’t consent if you don’t,” Jeremiah said quietly. “But he deserves the chance to live.”
 
Lucas closed his eyes as he pressed a hand to Abe’s cheek. “Alright. Operate.”
 
Jason hurried forward and asked Peter to stay. “I want everyone else out.” Jason watched Margaret hurry to Lucas and coax him from the room.
 
***
 
The wagon hardly had a chance to stop before Julie jumped down. Emily and Laura were close behind. Julie didn’t even pause, but rushed inside. She froze when she saw Margaret holding a weeping Lucas close while Jeremiah and Peter held their hands in silent prayer. “Oh no!” Julie cried. “Oh please…no!”
 
Lucas lifted from Margaret’s shoulder while Peter and Jeremiah stood up. “Jason’s operating. We wanted to wait until you got here but…” Lucas stopped and shook his head, unable to say anymore. It was obvious to the three who had just entered that Abe’s condition was very bad.
 
“Then he’s alive?” Lucas nodded. Julie clung to Laura as they wept together. Then she grabbed Emily. Forcing Emily and Laura onto their knees, Julie began crying out to God. “Oh God, please…Please save him! Oh God, I need him so bad…I just can’t bear the thought of going on without him!” She prayed, pleaded, and begged for a long time as tears fell down her face.
 
Margaret, Lucas, Jeremiah, and Peter all kneeled and joined the group. Their lips moved in silent prayer as Julie’s prayers shouted through the house. They prayed for God to guide Jason’s hands as he operated. They prayed for Abe’s body to be strengthened so he could live through the surgery.  They prayed for God’s will to be done.
 
When Jason opened the door fifteen minutes later, he saw the family gathered in prayer. Tears filled his eyes. While operating, he had the feeling he wasn’t alone – like someone’s hands were guiding him. Now he knew he wasn’t imagining things. There was someone else in that room. He was more powerful than Jason and had guided his hands during the surgery. All throughout the surgery Jason too had prayed hard for God to guide him. “Thank you, Jesus!” Jason breathed.
 
Everyone in the group turned from their kneeled positions to look up at Jason. Jason sank down in a chair and allowed tears to fill his eyes. “He’s alive. And I must say it’s not because of anything I did. Our God has a lot to do with that.”
 
Julie began weeping as she threw a hand to her mouth. “Thank you, God!” Julie wept as she clung to Margaret. “Oh, thank you, God…”
 
“Yes, thank you, Jesus,” Margaret prayed beside Julie. The other’s started praising God too.
 
“Now hold on…” Jason bent down in front of Julie. “I do give God all the credit, and he deserves the praise, but I can’t give you false hope. Abe’s still in bad shape. I don’t know if he’ll last an hour or even five minutes…he’s that close to death.”
 
“Can…can I see him?” Julie asked as Lucas and Margaret helped her to her feet. Jason nodded as he held out his hand to her and led her toward the bedroom.
 
The rest of the family continued to pray.
 
***
 
Scott mounted his horse and sat still as he stared down at the saddle horn. He felt the tears come. It brought a bit of relief to the heavy burden that had been boiling inside him since Matthew was killed. As he slowly started riding from the house, he could still hear the wails from within. Mrs. Williams was seven months pregnant with the child they had prayed for so long. Their only son, Johnny, was trying to be strong. He was now the man of the house.
 
Scott paused outside the Marshal’s office., The town would never be the same….nobody could ever replace Marshal Williams. Scott slowly dismounted his horse and walked into the jail. Deputy Black was going through the desk of Marshal Williams. “What do you think you’re doing?”
 
“My job,” Deputy Black answered.
 
“Just because the Marshal’s dead don’t mean you’re now Marshal. You…”
 
“He’d want it that way,” Deputy Black declared. “Said I’d make a good Marshal someday. You tell the widow?”
 
“Mirriam is the wife of one of my best friends!” Scott declared. “She’s distraught.”
 
Deputy Black shrugged. “It’s a risk you have to take when you sign up for this job.”
 
Scott hurried forward and grabbed his arm. “Don’t you even care? A good man was gunned down tonight and you don’t even CARE?”
 
Deputy Black silently looked down at Scott’s hand on his arm. Scott calmed and removed it. “How’s McCain?”
 
“Don’t know. I’m on my way back there now.” Jason looked toward the cells. “How’s the prisoners?”
 
“Killed one of ‘em,” Deputy Black answered. “The other two are asleep.”
 
“Killed? Who? Why?”
 
“Simmons…he tried to escape.” Deputy Black lifted some papers onto the desk. “Well, I’ve work to do, Gibbs.”
 
Scott stepped from the jail scratching his head. He had a bad feeling about this. Something smelled rotten, and he wasn’t quite sure what it was.
 
***
 
Julie had crawled up into the bed beside Abe. She spoke softly to him as she sobbed beside him. Her hand lightly brushed his bearded face as she spoke. In time, she fell into a troubled sleep.
 
In the other room, the adults slept in the chairs or at the table while Laura fell asleep in Lucas’s lap. Lucas had continued to speak softly to her. They needed each other more than ever now. He hated the fact that he could lose a brother, but he hated even more that Laura may lose the second father she had. The small child had already been through so much. She’d lost her father, then her mother, then her home. Now with Abe so close to death…
 
Lucas finally fell into a troubled sleep.
 
***
He was dressed in black and stood in the doorway. A smile played at the corners of his mouth. Lucas stood up from the chair and shook his head. He grabbed the only thing he knew he could use, and that was his rifle. Lucas shouted for him to leave. He shouted, but no words escaped. The black figure shook his head, his eyes gleaming pure evil. Lucas cocked his rifle, this time he shouted for him to leave again; and again no words came. The man again shook his head. He wouldn’t leave.
 
The man stepped further into the room. Lucas shot the rifle, but the bullet went right through him. It didn’t even faze him. Lucas stared at the figure in front of him. It was at that moment that he realized he was fighting something evil…He was fighting death!
 
Death took another step toward the door where Abe laid. Peter and Jeremiah both stood in front of him, but death pushed them out of the way and took another step forward. He put his hand on the door and began turning the knob.
 
Suddenly, a woman stood in the doorway. She was dressed in white and held out her hand. Looking death straight in the face, she shook her head no. Death took a step backward. He pleaded silently with his hands, but the figure in white shook her head no again. She waved her hands above her head and lifted her head in determination. Death’s eyes grew wide. Around him, people were on their knees in prayer. Death fell to his knees in agony and cried out in pain. Then he was gone. The only thing left of him was the black hat he had worn.
 
***
 
Lucas jolted awake and sat up straight. He gasped, causing Laura to wake up suddenly. “Luke? What is it?” Laura asked.
 
“I don’t know, Rose Bud,” Luke answered. “It’s something…” Lucas lifted her to the floor and stood up. He hurried to the bedroom and opened the door. Julie was still sound asleep beside Abe, but Lucas allowed a smile to cross his face when he saw Abe awake. “Hey everybody!” Lucas let out a big whoop as he hurried into the bedroom. “Well Abe, you ol’ rascal you!”
 
Abe held a blank stare on his face. Julie startled awake and lifted beside him. “Abe?” She stared at his face. “Oh Abe!” Julie kissed him softly. “You’re going to be okay! You’re going to be okay!”
 
Abe was overwhelmingly surrounded by his family. He moved his eyes, staring at each smiling face that bent over him.  He gave a hard swallow. “Jason…I came to tell you Charlie’s sick…”
 
“Oh Papa Abe!” Laura clung to him and cried. Abe groaned, but when Laura tried to lift from him, he slowly folded his arms around her tighter. “Oh, I thought I’d lost you for good!”
 
“What does a man have to do to get some food around here?” Abe asked quietly.
 
Julie laughed and kissed him soundly on the mouth again. Margaret giggled. Emily rolled her eyes. “You just have to ask!” Margaret and Emily folded arms around each other’s shoulders. “Come on! Let’s prepare breakfast!”
 
Jason shooed everyone out of the room so he could examine his hungry patient. Abe didn’t remember much about what had happened. He remembered going into town to get Jason for Charlie, but he couldn’t remember anything after that. Julie didn’t want to stay away from Abe for too long. Margaret and Emily insisted she sit and rest, especially after they saw her rub her belly again.
 
Jason finally came from the room and shook his head. “I don’t understand! I just don’t understand!”
 
“What?” Julie asked, concern returning to her face.
 
“That man…He was shot in the chest and almost died…should have by all rights…and he’s now trying to get out of bed…insists you can’t keep a McCain in bed for a meal!”
 
Relieved chuckles sounded through the room. “Well!” Julie dipped some oatmeal in a bowl. “I reckon I’ll just see what I can do about keeping him still!”
 
As Julie walked by, Jason took her arm to stop her. “Julie, we’re far from out of the woods. He’s still very weak and very sick. I don’t want him moving around at all. He may eat a few bites, but he’s in a lot of pain and will probably sleep more than anything else. I’ll have to keep a close eye on him. He could develop a number of infections and I’ll have to keep the wound very clean.” Julie nodded in understanding. “He can still take a turn for the worse.” Jason shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to give you false hope.”
 
“I understand.”
 
Margaret walked up to stand beside Lucas. She wrapped her arm around his waist and looked up into his face. “You’re worried.” Lucas nodded. “So am I.” Lucas looked down and kissed her. “He’ll take Matthew’s death pretty hard. They’ve known each other since they were in diapers.”
 
Margaret chewed on her lip as she turned to Jason. Jason sat down his empty plate and stood from the table. “Emily and I should go. I’m afraid we have a lot of sick people to tend to.” Margaret nodded. “I’ll be out to check on him every day. If there’s any change…” Margaret nodded again.
 
No sooner had Jason and Emily left did Scott ride up. He was relieved to hear Abe was doing somewhat better. Margaret sat him down at the table and gave him a plate, then excused herself. She wanted to check on Julie and Abe. Scott waited for the bedroom door to close before he spoke. “I talked to Mrs. Williams.” He shook his head. “She took the news really hard. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.”
 
“Reckon we’ll need a new Marshal now.” Lucas shook his head. “I can’t imagine anyone other than Williams as Marshal.”
 
“How about Black?”
 
“Black?” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “No…I don’t reckon Black’s cut out for such a job.”
 
“He thinks he is. Seems to be settling in quite nicely.” Lucas cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes at Scott. “Says he’s assuming the position as Marshal.”
 
“He’s assuming too much!” Lucas shook his head. “Two months ago he was working part time at the livery cleaning up manure! He doesn’t know the first thing about…”
 
“Hm…Well, he’s killed one of the outlaws already. Said he was trying to escape.”
 
“Which one?”
 
“Simmons.” Lucas wrinkled his brow, deep in thought. “We’ll have Matthew’s funeral tomorrow.”
 
Lucas sat down his coffee cup and looked toward the bedroom door. “How do we tell Abe?”
 
“I…don’t know,” Scott answered. Then he looked around. “Brothers gone?”
 
“Went to feed the animals. They were tired of sitting around.” Lucas folded his arms. “Margaret’s coughing some. Jason left some medicine to give her…told me to keep a close eye on her.”
 
“She’s strong.” Scott smiled.
 
“Yeah…Well, I’ll see you at the funeral tomorrow.” Scott nodded.
 
***
The night passed slowly. Lucas cleaned up the guest room, telling Margaret he didn’t want her to see it in the state it was after the killing of a man. Jeremiah made the decision to go home and stay with the women while Peter stayed. Lucas tossed and turned for a long time. He remembered back to all the times he’d joined his brother and Matthew in play or hunting. He still remembered laughing when Matthew was elected Marshal. It was something he found hard to believe at the time.
 
Margaret was laying on a cot beside Lucas  and sensed his agitation. She turned to face him. “It’s nearly two in the morning,” she mumbled as she pointed to the clock the moonlight was shining on. “Storm’s finally over.”
 
“I know. I guess I’m just thinking and…remembering.”
 
“Matthew?” Lucas nodded. “I worry for his wife.”
 
“I keep telling myself that they knew the risks when he signed up for the job, but then I wonder if we really think about the risks. His son was always so proud of him…I just…don’t know how…”
 
Margaret lifted and leaned over toward his cot. She kissed his cheek. “He’s in Heaven. He’s safe.”
 
“Little comfort to his wife and son and…” Lucas sighed. “Unborn child.”
 
“You’re worried about Abe too?”
 
“Yes. And Julie and our town…A town without a Marshal is in trouble.” Lucas smiled. “Go to sleep now, honey.” He closed his eyes and laid still, but he never went to sleep.
 
***
 
The next morning, Julie came from the bedroom to get breakfast. Margaret decided that was the opportunity to talk to her about Matthew’s death. “You have to tell him.”
 
Julie simply turned and looked toward the closed bedroom door. “I just…can’t.”
 
“He has to know, Julie.”
 
“I know.”
 
“He should know before the funeral.”
 
Julie concentrated on stirring the oatmeal. Without lifting her head, she silently asked, “Why? What good will it do? Telling him won’t bring Matt back, will it?” Julie lifted her head and stared into Margaret’s eyes. Margaret didn’t answer. “It’ll just give us a fight. He’ll want to attend the funeral and he can’t. When he’s better. I’ll tell him then.”
 
Margaret shook her head. “He’ll resent you for it, Julie. He will.”
 
“I’m his wife. It’s my decision.”
 
Margaret turned from her and flipped the pancakes. “Alright. It’s your decision.” Nothing more was said.
 
***
The ride into town was silent. Margaret had never seen the town so empty. She couldn’t keep her head turned from the Marshal’s office, and let out a gasp when she realized his name was no longer on the door. Inside the door stood Deputy Black. He wouldn’t be attending. He’d have to stay in town and mind his prisoners. Lucas said the judge would be coming through Monday. He suspected the two prisoners would be dead by sundown.
 
Margaret lowered her head as they approached the graveyard; she hated coming here.. As Lucas helped her down, she saw Miriam all dressed in black. Their son, Johnny, stood close beside her, it was hard to tell who was protecting who. Lucas took Margaret’s arm. Her other hand clinched her Bible to her chest. Slowly they approached Miriam.
 
The moment Miriam saw Margaret, she burst into tears and hugged her tight. Margaret whispered words of apology, but Miriam shook her head. “He was a good man, Margaret. He never hurt a person, and never let a person hurt another. Why, he’d throw his own brother in jail if he had to…threw your husband in jail a few times for getting out of line…He died doing what he loved – protecting the citizens of Enid.”
 
“It was us he was saving,” Margaret mumbled. “It sort of makes me feel respons-“
 
“NO!” Miriam held up a hand. “The only one’s responsible for my husband’s death is…” She paused. “I was wondering if you and Luke would accompany me to the restaurant after the service. There’s something I should talk to you about.”
 
“Of course.” Margaret smiled. “Anything we can do to help.”
 
Miriam nodded. She pressed a hand to her swollen belly. “I’m sorry for this child. He’ll never know his father.”
 
Reverend Gentry stood up and opened his Bible. Margaret looked around at the crowd gathered. Never had she seen so many people in the little graveyard. It seemed every citizen of Enid had come to pay their respects. The preacher spoke, and allowed others to speak as well. Margaret held tight to Miriam’s hand as she went forward and picked up the handful of dirt. “Ashes to ashes…and dust to dust…” It was hard, but Miriam slowly allowed the dust to fall onto the casket of her deceased husband. Tears filled her eyes.
 
Up to this point, Miriam had been so strong. “Oh…I…I can’t…” Suddenly, she started to go limp. Margaret cried out to Lucas who was there in an instant. Lucas caught Miriam as she fell and carried her to their wagon. Jason was there in an instant with smelling salts. After he revived her, he ordered her to the hotel for a good rest.
 
Only after Jason had examined her did he allow Margaret and Lucas to enter the hotel and sit down beside her. She motioned for Lucas to sit on her other side. Then she swallowed and spoke. “About two weeks ago, Matt came home in an agitated mood. Something was really bothering him. I tried to get him to talk to me but he wouldn’t. He said it was a case he was working on and it would be better in time. The next day he came home and told me he felt he had made a big mistake, but he didn’t tell me what that mistake was.”
 
Miriam took a swallow of the tea Margaret held up to her before she continued. “One day, he came home and told me that Johnny Morgan had drawn up a will for him. A Marshal should have a will, I know…but…I suppose he never wanted one. I found this odd that he had done it at a time he felt he had made a bad mistake.”
 
“Did he say anything more on what was bothering him?”
 
Miriam nodded. “Our last evening together. Johnny had just gone to bed. I was mending and Matt came home late. He was really agitated. He took a drink of whisky and that’s something he never did around me. I immediately got concerned and begged him to tell me what was going on.” Miriam gasped as she grasped her belly.
 
“Maybe we should come back later…” Lucas started.
 
“No.” Miriam shook her head. “I have to get this out.” She took a deep breath before she spoke. “Matt said his mistake could cost him his life. I asked him what mistake he was talking about, and he simply answered, ‘Trusting someone I shouldn’t have trusted.’ He was cursing and pacing the floor. All night he just paced and ran his hands through his hair. He was so agitated. He said he couldn’t get out of it – that he had been threatened. Then he ordered me not to ask any more questions.” Miriam lowered her head. “He…left shortly after that. I never saw him again.”
 
Lucas looked up at Margaret. “Are you worried that had something to do with his death?” She nodded. “But one of the outlaws shot him.”
 
“It’s woman’s intuition.  In my heart…I know there’s more to the story.”
 
Lucas lifted his eyebrows. Miriam laid back on her pillow and took some deep breaths. “I…think you should send the doctor in here now.”
 
Margaret and Lucas stood to leave. “Margaret…you stay.” Margaret looked toward Lucas and motioned for him to go on. Miriam took Margaret’s hand. “I’ve a feeling I’ll need a midwife.”
 
“But it’s too soon!” Margaret shook her head.
 
“No matter…” Miriam smiled. “I’ll need ya just the same.”
 
Jason came in and examined her. He frowned at his discovery. “Miram…you know it’s too early.”
 
Miriam tried to keep the tears from coming, but her efforts came up short. “I know.” She pressed her lips together as a contraction ceased her. “I believe Matt needs some company.”
 
“No…” Margaret shook her head as she grabbed Miriam’s hand. “You mustn’t…”
 
“It’s too late.” Miriam smiled. “It’s too late…”
 
***
 
Margaret fell into Lucas’s arms and cried two hours later. The ordeal was over. The baby was gone. “It was a little girl, Luke. She’s gone to heaven to be with her father.” Lucas held Margaret while she cried. “Luke…It’s almost like that’s what Miriam wanted…”
 
“Maybe the thought of having his baby now was just too much for her…” Lucas mumbled. “How’s she doing?”
 
“As well as can be expected. Jason’s letting her hold the baby for a bit. She said she looks just like her father.”
 
“Will there be a funeral?”
 
“No.” Margaret shook her head. “She’s just requesting that Jason have her buried beside her father.” Margaret hugged Lucas. “Oh Luke…it’s just so sad!”
 
“I know.” Lucas put his arm around her shoulders.
 
They walked out of the hotel. “I guess it’s over.”
 
“The trial’s Monday. I hope we can put this all behind us then.”
 
“What about what Miriam told you, Luke?”
 
Lucas shrugged as he led her down the boardwalk. “I’m afraid those secrets may have died with Matt. I’m not sure who he had trusted that…” Suddenly, Lucas stopped walking. He turned and looked toward the Marshal’s office. Margaret saw a confused expression come over him. “Honey, you go on and sit with Emily a spell. I’ve something to check on.”
 
“What is it?”
 
Lucas motioned for her to go on, but never took his eyes off the Marshal’s office. “I’ll come by for you in a bit.”
 
“Luke?”
 
“Never mind, Margaret. Just wait for me at Emily’s, please.” Margaret studied him, looked toward the Marshal’s office, then nodded her head.
 
Lucas made his way across the street. When he came in, he found Deputy Black sitting behind Marshal William’s desk. “Came to check on the prisoners,” Lucas announced.
 
“Don’t reckon I need the help of a…”
 
“…concerned citizen,” Lucas answered. “Now that we don’t have a Marshal…”


Deputy Black threw down his pencil and stood up. “McCain…there’s something you and your kin don’t understand. I’M the Marshall now!”
 
“And there seems to be something you don’t understand…” Lucas leaned across the desk. “Matt’s making you deputy doesn’t make you Marshal because he died.”
 
“I’m standing in until I’m officially elected in.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas folded his arms. “I’d like to talk to the prisoners.”
 
“How come?”
 
“They have a right to visitors, don’t they?” Deputy Black nodded his agreement. “Well?” Deputy Black held out his hand. Lucas looked down at his rifle and frowned. “You intend on doing this by the book, huh?” He handed Deputy Black his rifle. Deputy Black unlocked the jail door and let Lucas go in. Lucas walked up to the closed cell. He waited for the door to close and lock before he spoke.
 
But first, he folded his arms and looked both men up and down. “Alright…who shot Marshal Williams?”
 
“Well now…” Billy Jo grasped the bars to the cell and chuckled. “What if I told you it was me.”
 
Lucas grasped him by the shirt. “Don’t get smart with me!” He shoved Billy Jo, causing him to go backwards and hit the wall. “I want to know WHO!”
 
Billy Jo looked around the cell. “I don’t believe he’s anywhere in this cell today…check back tomorrow.”
 
Lucas snarled. “I’ve given my only warning!”
 
“Alright, sod buster…” Parker grasped the cell bars and leaned forward. “If you want the answer to that question, be in the court on Monday. I’m…sure you’ll want to see me hang.” He chuckled. “But unless that brother of yours rolls over and croaks, I don’t reckon you’ll see that.”
 
“Why did Black kill Simmons?”
 
Parker laughed. Billy Jo joined in with him. “Well now…” He shook his head as he crossed his arms. “Billy Jo…Seems to me this here sod buster might just be smarter then we give credit…You reckon he suspects the truth?”
 
“I reckon so…” Billy Jo leaned forward. “You just ask Black in there why he killed Simmons. I guarantee you it won’t be the truth.”
 
“Because he was trying to break jail?”
 
“NOPE!” Billy Jo popped his ‘P’. “Like I said…you’ll find out Monday.”
 
Lucas cocked his head to one side. “Why are you waiting until Monday?”
 
Parker laughed. “Well now…you’ll find out then.” He continued to chuckle as he went to sit down on his cot. Lucas turned and walked to the jail door. He banged on it as he continued to glare at the two outlaws. Deputy Black let him out and handed Lucas his rifle.
 
“So…I heard tell you killed Simmons.” Lucas propped his foot up on a chair and leaned forward. “How come?”
 
Deputy Black clinched his jaw as he looked Lucas up and down. “Like I told your brother-in-law…because he tried to escape.”
 
“Hm…” Lucas nodded. “I’m sure.”
 
“Now what’s that supposed to mean?” Deputy Black asked as he jumped to his feet and put his hands on his hips.
 
“I mean this…Those two men in that cell BETTER be alive to stand trial Monday. If they aren’t…” Lucas lifted his rifle. “You’ll be sorry.”
 
“Now hold on just one…”
 
“By the way…why’s the Marshal’s name off the door?”
 
Deputy Black put his hands on his hips and leaned forward. “He’s dead. Don’t reckon he’ll need his name there anymore.”
 
“I see…” Lucas angrily walked toward the door. Then he spun around and pointed a finger at the deputy. “You’re a snake! I’ll see you in court…DEPUTY!”
 
***
 
It was growing colder and dark as Lucas and Margaret rode home. Margaret knew Lucas was chewing on something that didn’t sit right with him. The muscle in his neck clinched like his jaw. He didn’t say a word to her. Finally, Margaret spoke. “Luke?” Lucas grunted for her to go on. “I’m worried about Abe and Julie.”
 
“Oh?”
 
“I tried to convince Julie to tell Abe about Matthew’s death but she wouldn’t do it. She’s afraid he couldn’t handle it right now. I think she’s making a mistake and…”
 
“It’s none of our business, Margaret. That’s between Julie and Abe.”
 
Margaret pressed her lips together and stared at him in surprise. Lucas must have realized the way that sounded. He turned and looked at her. “I’m sorry, honey. Of course Julie should have told him but…I guess she’s trying to protect him. He’s weak, and it wouldn’t take much to put him in distress again. He and Matthew were close growing up. I suspect he’s going to take the news hard.”
 
“Tell me what’s wrong, Luke?”
 
“I can’t.”
 
“Why not?”
 
Lucas pulled back on the reins as they pulled into the yard. He sat still in the seat and looked down at the floor of the buckboard. “Margaret…I suspect there’s more to what happened in our front yard Wednesday then meets the eye. I think I’ll know more Monday.” He lifted his head to look at her. “Until then…I’d rather not talk about it. Okay?”
 
Margaret nodded. Lucas climbed down from the buckboard and took her hand to help her down. Julie came from the house. “Well…I cooked supper and was hoping you’d be back in time to enjoy it.”
 
“Jeremiah here?” Julie nodded. “How’s Abe?”
 
Julie lowered her head. “He’s had a rough day, Luke. The pain…it’s bad. Jason just left here. Gave him some medicine to make him sleep.” Julie’s eyes filled with tears. “I can hardly stand seeing him like this.”
 
“Does he know about Matthew?” Margaret asked. Lucas put a warning hand on her arm and shot her a disapproving look.
 
“No.” Julie turned on her heels and hurried back inside.
 
“Margaret McCain…” Lucas warned as he lifted his eyebrows.
 
“I’m sorry. I just think he should be told is all.”
 
“And I told you that it’s none of our business.”
 
“He’s your brother!” Margaret argued.
 
“Yes. But he’s Julie’s husband. He’s her responsibility now.” Margaret nodded that she understood. Then they went inside.
 
***
 
The weekend passed by slowly. Lucas woke up Saturday morning to the sound of his brother’s cries of pain. He could hardly stand to hear such a big, strong tough man crying so deeply at the pain he was feeling. As he was coming out of the bedroom, Julie hurried in and begged him to go for the doctor. Lucas quickly dressed and did just that.
 
Jason shook his head and said the pain medicine would do little to help him at the moment. The best thing for him was to sleep. Julie didn’t know how much more she could take of listening to his cries. Jason worried about Julie’s health and insisted she go home and spend some time with her children. Julie argued for a long time, but finally gave in as she realized her children needed her. They didn’t understand at all what was going on.
 
Lucas and Margaret stayed with Abe all weekend. Lucas didn’t want to leave Margaret alone for too long with Abe because Abe would try to get up when the pain got bad. He was out of his head most of the time.
 
Sunday was easier for Abe. Margaret read the Bible to him. She and Lucas had a short worship time with Abe, and it seemed to have a calming effect on him. Abe mumbled that he wanted Julie, and Margaret promised she’d be there the following day.
 
Abe rested until just after lunch. When he awoke, he screamed cries of pain once again. Lucas shed tears as he held his brother down in the bed until the medicine put him to sleep. Then he sat with him some more.
 
By bedtime that night, Lucas and Margaret were both exhausted. Neither of them had gotten a decent sleep since this whole ordeal had started. They both fell exhausted on their cots that night, but Abe’s pains wouldn’t allow them to sleep. Margaret kept the coffee on as Lucas once again spent a sleepless night trying to keep his brother still and helping him through the pain.
 
Of course, they worried about Julie. When she showed up on Monday morning she looked refreshed. Tiffany had insisted on coming with her to help out during the hard times. Lucas nodded his approval, but warned that Abe was still in a great deal of pain. Julie assured him she could handle it.
 
The trial would begin at nine o’clock. Lucas allowed Margaret to walk him outside. She straightened his string tie and kissed him before he mounted his horse. “I hope you find the answers you’re looking for,” she stated. Lucas nodded then rode away.
 
Tiffany looked up from kneading bread as Margaret slowly closed the door. “Everything okay?”
 
“No,” Margaret answered as she watched Lucas ride out of sight. “Everything’s a mess. I pray this trial will put some end to the chaos.”
 
***
 
Lucas wasn’t surprised at the number of people who showed up for the trial. Marshal Williams was well liked. He was always a kind, generous man and a great husband and father to boot. He had everything a man could want. Lucas knew that if these men were found guilty, they would be strung up before the gavel hit the stand.
 
The two acused men walked into the courtroom. As Deputy Black led them up to the front, Billy Jo paused in his steps and grinned at Lucas. He gave Lucas a wink and a nod. “Get movin’!” Deputy Black demanded. “And remember what I told ya!”
 
Lucas looked Deputy Black up and down as they passed. He was curious as to just what he had told Billy Jo. He didn’t have time to think on it as Peter pulled him down beside him and Jeremiah. Scott sat down behind Lucas. The judge called the court to order.
 
Lucas watched as Billy Jo stood and was called to the stand. The judge listed the crimes he was being tried for. Then he began his questioning. “On the afternoon of October 31, 1866, did you have anything to do with the killing of Marshall Williams?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“How can we be sure?”
 
“I was tied up nice and snug in the house across the street.” Billy Jo snickered. “I had nothing to do with the Marshal’s death.
 
“What about the death of Pete…uh…Gavens?”
 
Billy Jo smiled. “Well now…Pete Gavens…That would be my partner’s handy work…Harold Parker.”
 
“Do you know who killed Marshal Williams?”
 
“I surely do.”
 
“And how did you come upon this information?”
 
Billy Jo looked straight at Lucas as he answered. “Simmons told me before he was shot in cold blood.”
 
“In cold…” The Judge shook his head. “Did Simmons kill the Marshal?”
 
Billy Jo sat straight up in his seat. “Nope.” Mumblings suddenly erupted from the crowd. Lucas looked toward Peter and lifted his eyebrows. “Oh, he SAID he killed him alright when he was at the house…bragging to Parker. But the truth was he had nothing to do with the killing. But he saw the whole thing.”
 
“And who DID kill the marshal?” Judge Blankenford was getting a bit irate in Billy Jo’s running around the truth.
 
Billy Jo grinned as he winked at Lucas. “The man who killed the marshal is right here in this court room.” Billy Jo grinned. “In fact, the man who killed Marshal Williams is the same man who killed Simmons.”
 
More mumbling sounded. Billy Jo grinned. “Yes sirree! The man who killed Marshal Williams was…Deputy Black himself!”
 
Lucas stood and turned to look at the crowd. His eyes focused on Deputy Black. Anger seethed inside him. “Mr. McCain, I order you to keep your seat!” The judge banged his gavel to silence the crowd. He turned back to Billy Jo. “Sir, would you mind telling me just how exactly you came upon this information?”
 
Billy Jo nodded. “It was after we left the ranches. That deputy there…he was leading us. Simmons got mad because Deputy Black wasn’t walking slow enough. He told Deputy Black that he knew the truth about the killing. He was really smug about it. Then he told us that the deputy turned on the marshal and said, ‘It’s time. It’s now. Say goodbye.’ Then he pointed the gun straight at the Marshal and fired.”
 
“And you believe it?”
 
“Yep. I believed it because I saw Black shoot Simmons.” Billy Jo nodded his head. “Simmons was shot and killed right there. Neither of us wanted to die that way so we kept our mouths shut…until today.”
 
The judge whipped off his glasses and narrowed his eyes at the defendant. “Is there any proof that what you say is true?”
 
“My word ain’t good enough?” Billy Jo started laughing again.
 
“Now mister, I’m warning you for the last time…”
 
“No proof.” Billy Jo leaned forward. “Lessen you wanta ask Deputy Black just how much he wants to be marshal.”
 
“I see.”
 
Lucas suddenly stood up. “Judge, may I approach?” The judge nodded. Lucas hurried up to him. “Judge, my wife and I had a conversation with Mrs. Williams yesterday that I think you should hear.”
 
“Well, I’ll be happy to hear her story. Just bring her by…”
 
“No, Judge…” Lucas shook his head. “You see, the day of the funeral, she gave birth to their second child. The child died. She’s in no…”
 
Suddenly, the door opened. Lucas turned to see Mrs. Williams standing in the doorway. Her head was held high and her shoulders straight. “Never mind, Mr. McCain. This is one story I want to tell.”
 
Lucas hurried toward her and lifted her in his arms as she was about to fall. After sitting her in a chair close to the judge, the court listened as she retold the information she had told Lucas and Margaret. The judge thought on everything that was said. After Mrs. Williams finished her speech, he ordered two men to help her out. Lucas turned and looked at the judge. “I think Deputy Black should be locked up until we can investigate these allegations.”
 
“Mr. McCain, what Mrs. Williams told us doesn’t point a finger at the deputy.”
 
“Yes sir.” Lucas nodded his agreement. “But with all due respect, sir…Deputy Black was the only other one there.”
 
“Just a minute, Mr. McCain. Let me finish with these men first. Billy Jo Lee, you have heard your charges. I can’t hang you because I can’t prove you have murdered anyone. More than likely, you are innocent of any murder charges as far as this court is concerned. But, you did take one Ann Dodd hostage, and you were involved in the killing of Peter uh…” Judge Blankenford looked at his paper. “Peter Gaven. You are therefore being held in jail, and will be transported to the state prison as soon as I can arrange it where you will serve not less than five and no more than ten years in the prison.”
 
Judge Blankenford turned to the second man, Harold Parker. “Mr. Parker, you have been found guilty of cold-blooded murder. You are accused of shooting Peter Gaven in the back and leaving him to die. Then later you broke into the Mr. McCain’s house where they were caring for him and shot him in cold blood. How do you plead?” Harold Parker didn’t say a single word. “Don’t you have anything to say before I pass sentence? “ He continued to stay silent. “Very well. You are also accused of shooting Abraham McCain twice. Is this true?”
 
Still, Parker didn’t say a word.
 
“You know you’re putting the noose snug around your own neck by staying silent.” Judge Blankenford sighed. “Very well then. Can you give me any more information on the murder of Marshal Matthew Williams?”
 
Judge Blankenford tapped his gavel on the desk as mumbling began. “I have no choice, then, but to order you guilty of these crimes. I sentence you to hang by the neck until dead. And because I believe in giving a man time to make peace with his maker, I’ll give you one more day. The sentence will be carried out at dawn tomorrow.”
 
Lucas turned to see Deputy Black stand up and make his way toward the prisoners. This whole time the deputy had been silent. “Where do you think you’re going?” Lucas asked gruffly.
 
“To escort my prisoners back to jail.”
 
“Just a minute now.” Judge Blankenford motioned to Peter and Jeremiah. “You two men see they get back to jail safely. Deputy, you have heard some accusations today. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
 
“Only that I don’t recall going on trial,” Deputy Black answered.
 
“Very well, sir. But Mr. McCain here has requested you be held in the jail along with the prisoners until I can set up a new trial for you. What do you have to say?”
 
“Nothing.” Deputy Black turned and glared at Lucas. “He’s upset because Williams was his friend. He can’t stand that I’m now Marshal of this here town. I…”
 
“No.” Judge Blankenford shook his head. “Until this is investigated further, you will not be allowed to work as deputy or marshal. I ask that you turn in your badge and go to the hotel. You will stay there until this can be further investigated.”
 
“Judge, I think it’s best if…” Lucas started.
 
“You are not in charge either, Mr. McCain.” Judge Blankenford pointed his gavel at Lucas. “And you McCain’s may THINK you are can run this town, but let me assure you are NOT! I don’t think Deputy Black will try anything because he knows he’ll be declared guilty of murdering the marshal and strung up quickly.”
 
“Judge…If you allow me to leave here without clearing up my good name, I may be lynched anyhow! McCain here will see that happens!”
 
Judge Blankenford shook his head. “No sir, it won’t. Because I want this to serve as a warning to one and all. If any harm comes to Mr. Black before his accusations are investigated, you will be immediately tried and convicted of murder. Do I make myself clear?” Mumblings of agreement was heard around the room. “I ask that you be escorted to the hotel and locked in your room until further notice. Mr. McCain, your brothers will stand guard on the prisoners until we can straighten this all out.”
 
“Yes sir.” Lucas grabbed his hat and rifle and assisted Peter in getting Black to the hotel where he was securely locked in.
 
***
 
 
A knock sounded on the door late that night. Lucas rose from the cot he had been sleeping on and hurried to answer the knock. “Peter?”
 
“You should come. Parker’s asking for you.”
 
“What’s he want?”
 
“He said he’ll only talk to you.”
 
Lucas nodded then hurried to get dressed. Margaret stood from her cot and questioned Lucas on what was going on. Lucas simply told her he had no idea then hurried from the room. Julie came out from the other bedroom then. She also wondered what was going on. Peter told Lucas he’d stay with the women and help when Abe’s fits of pain returned. Then Lucas hurried out the door.
 
When he arrived at the jail, Jeremiah escorted him into where Parker was. Parker had his head in his hands and looked rather frightened. “I had to talk to you, Mr. McCain.”
 
“About what?” Lucas sat down in a chair outside the cell and waited for him to speak.
 
“A man…when he’s looking death in the face…can see things from a different light. I’m afraid, and I don’t guess it matters one way or the other if you know it. I was drunk and stupid when I lost my money. Then I was in so deep that…”
 
“What do you want?” Lucas interrupted his confession. “Just tell me.”
 
“Had a visitor.”
 
“When?”
 
“Tonight. You interested in knowing who was outside my cell window two hours ago?” Lucas nodded. “It was Black.”
 
Lucas suddenly lifted his head slightly and raised an eyebrow. “He’s locked up in the hotel.”
 
“No. I’d say he’s on his way to the Widow Williams’ house by now. He said he’d help me escape if I promised to help him. Said all he needed was half that ten thousand dollars. He thinks I know where it’s at.”
 
“Do you?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“What did you tell him?”
 
Parker shook his head. “I’m not stupid, McCain. I know he would kill me the minute he got me out of here. I also know that I can’t stand by and watch a nice lady get herself killed.”
 
“Just spill it!”
 
“He said he bribed the Marshal.  Had something on him and he was using that to keep his job. He told the Marshal it was only a matter of time before he killed him and took over his job as acting Marshal. There’s a newspaper article on something he did a long time ago. Black told me he wrote a couple notes, threatening the Marshal. He figures they’re somewhere. Said since I was now about to hang, I could be his ‘partner’ and…”
 
Lucas shook his head. He didn’t have time for all that. “He’s going over to find the paper?”
 
“Looked for it all day, day before yesterday. Never found it here, so he figured…” Lucas stood and hurried from the jail. Jeremiah watched him, asking him what was wrong, but Lucas didn’t have time to explain. He jumped on his horse and took off for the Williams house.
 
***
 
She heard a noise. If she didn’t know better, she’d say it was her husband returning from his nightly rounds, but she knew better than that. Miriam called out to her son, but he was sound asleep. As she quietly got out of bed, she walked over to her bureau where Matt had always insisted she keep a loaded gun. He said she never knew when someone would come in who had a grudge against him.
 
Taking the gun, Miriam made her way to the bedroom door. She was still very weak from her recent ordeal of burying her husband, and then their baby daughter. Her heart was heavy. If it wasn’t for Johnny, she’d probably just allow death to take her to her husband. But her son deserved life with a mother at least.
 
She heard more noise coming from the front room. As she cracked the door open, she saw someone stooped over her husband’s desk. He was shifting through papers. Miriam pointed the gun at him as she opened the door. “Alright…whoever you are…”
 
The man straightened and slowly turned around. Miriam sucked in her breath. “So…it WAS you!” He started forward. “Stay right where you are!” She held the gun tighter. Hot tears filled her eyes. “How could you? He helped you when you had no place to go! He brought you into this home and fed you. He gave you a job…”
 
“It’s because of that that I killed him!” Black took a step forward as he held up his hands. “I found out your husband wasn’t as clean as you all think he was. I saw a way to get his job…his life…The perfect life…” Black snarled. “HA! He’s been living a lie!”
 
“What ARE you talking about?” Miriam shook her head. “My husband’s never done a bad thing in his whole life!” She shook the gun at him. “You took him from me! You took him from my son and daughter! You have robbed me of so many things!” She shook the gun at him as more tears streamed down her cheeks. “WHY?”
 
“For power…and money…” Black shrugged. “You see…when your husband was seventeen years old, he killed a man.”
 
“What?” Miriam rolled her eyes. “Is THAT what this is all about? You blackmailed him because of THAT?” She shook her head. “I knew all about it…Maybe I should have told him I knew, but I knew! I knew it before I even started courting him. It didn’t matter. He was a seventeen year old kid who made a mistake. He paid for it dearly when he spent that year in jail with those men who beat him every day. He came back a changed man.”
 
“Just give me the gun. You can’t kill me…” Black held out his hand. “Just give it to me.”
 
“No! No! I’m going to KILL you!!!”
 
“Ma?” Suddenly, her son was there. She turned for only a second, but it was long enough for Black to take the gun. She let out a scream and fell to the floor. Johnny ran to his mother’s side. “Don’t kill her! Please!”
 
“I’m sorry, son. I have no choice.” Black lifted the gun toward Miriam and readied it. “Say goodbye.”
 
“NO! NO!” Miriam began screaming as loud as she could. She lifted her hands to shield her face and closed her eyes. “Oh God…PLEASE NO!”
 
A gunshot rang out. Miriam stopped screaming and jerked. Her eyes opened as she stared at Black who had a pained expression on his face. The gun fell from his hand and he fell to the floor. Miriam sat there shaking from head to toe. Her mouth gaped open as she stared down at Black’s lifeless form. Then she slowly lifted her eyes and looked into the eyes of Lucas McCain. Smoke was coming from the barrel of his rifle.
 
Suddenly, her son was in her arms and she was shaking so badly she could hardly stand it. She began sobbing uncontrollably. Lucas bent down and smoothed her hair. “It’s over…” He whispered the words softly. “It’s all over.”
 
“I don’t understand!” Miriam screamed. “I don’t understand why he killed my husband!” Her tear streaked face turned to look at Lucas. “He said he was bribing Matt because he knew about the man he had killed when he was seventeen. It was self defense and everybody knew it, but they gave him a year in jail since they were…” She stopped, knowing Lucas already knew the truth. “Why would he allow…”
 
“There’s only one thing I can think of that would get me to allow a man to bribe me.” Lucas stood and walked over to the desk. There was a locked compartment that Black had been trying to pry open. Lucas shot the lock off then opened it. There he found what he was looking for. He opened the first letter. “I know about the bank you robbed. I know about the man you killed. If you fire me, as you said you would, your wife and son will be told, and the town will be told. You will lose everything you’ve worked for. I will tell everyone what you’ve done, and I will make sure you never work again.”
 
“He threatened us?” Miriam sat down at the table and put her face in her hands. “I killed him.”
 
“No…” Lucas shook his head. “No you didn’t.”
 
“I did. I should have told him I knew. Everybody knew about his past but nobody told him. They were afraid he’d feel ashamed…he wouldn’t want to act as Marshal anymore so we all stayed silent…” Miriam looked up at Lucas. “Our silence…killed him.”
 
***
 
Lucas couldn’t go inside just yet. It had been an exhausting night. Tomorrow morning, he’d have to witness a hanging that he wasn’t sure should actually happen. After all, Parker could have stayed silent and allowed Black to kill Williams’ wife. He could have gotten away to Mexico before anyone even knew anything was wrong. Lucas tied his horse to the hitching post and made his way to the barn to do some thinking.
 
Margaret wasn’t sleeping. She paced the room as she listened to Abe’s cries of pain again. Julie and Peter tried to calm him. The medicine was no longer helping him, and she could feel Julie was very strained under the pressure. Margaret went to the window and watched Lucas step down from his horse, then led it in to the barn. Margaret went and put on her boots, then she bundled up and went out to the barn.
 
When she first opened the door, she didn’t see him anywhere. Then she saw him. He was sitting in an empty stall petting the barn cat. Margaret walked inside and kneeled down in front of him. She didn’t say a word but reached out and stilled his hand. “It’s over.” Lucas lifted his head to look at her. That’s when Margaret saw his tears. “I killed him.”
 
“Black?” Lucas nodded, not at all surprised Margaret knew. “Then he DID kill Matthew?”
 
“He was bribing Matt for a secret that we all knew about. Nobody cared. It was obvious when he came back from prison that he was a changed man. There were only a few of us that knew of the trouble he’d gotten into robbing that bank and killing that man, but we figured he’d learned a lesson. Somewhere along the way others found out, but they wanted to spare him of any…shame.”
 
Margaret’s heart was breaking at Lucas’ sobs. He laid his head facedown in her lap and sobbed louder. “Our silence killed him.”
 
“No, Luke,” Margaret spoke softly. “Black killed him. He wanted his power…his life…He didn’t understand that you can’t get it that way. He didn’t know.” Margaret smoothed his hair as he sobbed. “I know he was a dear friend…” Margaret spoke softly, allowing all the hurt he was feeling to be cried into her lap. “I remember how he used to play with you…let you tag along with him and Abe even though you were little.”
 
Lucas lifted his head. “No secrets, Margaret. No secrets.” He put a hand to her cheek. “Promise me.”
 
“It’s always been that way…hasn’t it, Luke?”
 
Lucas hugged her. They held each other for a long time. In time, Margaret stood and held her hand out to Lucas.  Lucas nodded and stood up. They walked to the house arm-in-arm. Lucas stopped beside his horse. “I need to bed him down.”
 
“I’ll do that, Luke.” Peter said as he stepped out of the house. “You look beat. You should go to bed.”
 
Lucas nodded as Margaret led him inside and to the bedroom. Soon they fell asleep on the cots.
 
***
 
It was the following night as they lay in bed that Margaret suddenly remembered what had started all this. “Luke?” Margaret whispered as she turned toward her husband. Lucas mumbled. “Luke…the money…”
 
“Honey, you know I have the money safely locked in the box in the desk. Go to sleep.”
 
“No Luke…not OUR money…That man’s money…Mr. Gaven’s.”
 
Lucas sighed and turned to face her. “What about it?” he mumbled, still half-asleep.
 
Margaret propped her head up on her arm. “We never found it.” Lucas mumbled. “Well, he did something with it. He said something about saddle…” Margaret heard Lucas’ snore. She rolled her eyes as she lay down on the pillow. “A lot of help you are!”
 
Then she turned toward the window. She remembered back to that night when the wind had shifted and all their trouble started. She remembered seeing a shadow on the wall. “Luke…” Margaret turned, but it was useless. He was fast asleep. Margaret chewed on her lip as she stood from the cot and slowly reached for her robe. She walked toward the window as she slipped her robe on. It had been outside their own bedroom window. I wonder if…
 
Quietly, Margaret slipped from the bedroom. After closing the door behind her, she lit the lantern on the table and slipped out the back door. She went around to the back window and shone the light down on the ground. Margaret let out a gasp.
 
“It’s here!” She dropped to the ground and began shoveling the dirt away with her hands. Her hand brushed a leather strap. She began rejoicing at the thought that Mr. Gaven’s family would have money to help them after all! They’d have $10,000…
 
Margaret paused in her digging when she saw two booted feet beside her. Slowly, she lifted her head up the long legs to see fisted hands on familiar hips. Lifting her head up a bit more, she saw the annoyed expression on her husband’s face. “Margaret McCain, what are you doing out here in the middle of the night?” Lucas reached down and grabbed her arm to pull her into a standing position. She had every intention to answer him, but he suddenly began speaking before she could say another word. “It’s dark and cold…You are supposed to be getting plenty of rest so you don’t catch your death and you are out here digging in the dirt in the middle of the night? I’ve a good mind to…”
 
“LUKE!” Margaret hissed. Lucas stopped his scolding immediately when he heard the sharpness in her voice. “Now…if you will just give me time to explain…”
 
“Darn right you can explain! Start with what you are doing?”
 
“The saddle bags are…”
 
“Saddle bags? What saddle bags?”
 
Margaret rolled her eyes at her husband. “Well now…if you will just give me time to…”
 
The door opened. Julie stepped out onto the back porch and tightened her robe around her. “What’s going on out here?”
 
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out!” Lucas declared. He turned and looked at Margaret. Folding his arms he cocked his head to one side. “Well?”
 
“When Pete Gaven was in our house, he kept crying something about saddle bags. As I was laying in bed tonight, I got to thinking on it and remembered the shadow I saw Halloween Eve…remember Luke?”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Yes dear.” He turned and looked at Julie. “My wife had me chasing ghosts that night.”
 
“It WAS NOT ghosts!” Margaret declared. She bent down and pointed at the dirt. “He was burying the saddle bag under the window!”
 
Lucas kneeled beside her. He touched the leather strap then looked up at her with raised eyebrows. Margaret nodded and gave him an ‘I told you so’ smile. Lucas quickly began digging with his hands. He pulled out the saddle bag. “Well…what do you know…”
 
The women followed him inside and sat at the table as Lucas slowly opened the bag. There were several coins. “There must be close to $500 in cash here.” Lucas searched through the bag. At the very bottom was a sheet of paper. Lucas opened it up and read it. “It’s the bank draft.” Lucas lifted his eyes to look at the two women. “For ten thousand dollars!”
 
Margaret clapped her hands and giggled as she jumped up and looked over Lucas’ shoulder. Lucas pulled out another sheet of paper. “It’s a scribbled note. I can’t quite make it out.”
 
Margaret took the note from him and lifted it into the light. “To my lovely wife and children: If you get this, that means they killed me. Please use this money to better your life. Raise my children right, my love. Smile for them. I want them to see your beautiful smile. I came by the money honestly. Just this once, I wanted to do something right.”
 
“Well…” Lucas took the note from her and walked over to the desk. “Seems the mystery is solved.” He lifted another sheet of paper. “I’ll send this to his family in the morning.” The women watched Lucas lock the bank draft safely into his desk. “But for now…goodnight.”
 
He and Margaret walked back into the extra bedroom. After they were once again settled on the cots, Lucas chuckled.  “What’s so funny?” Margaret mumbled, half asleep by now.
 
“I must be rubbing off on you. You’re becoming a detective.”
 
“Hm…I think you have that a little backwards, my love.”
 
“Huh?”
 
Margaret giggled as she leaned into him and kissed him soundly on the mouth. She rested her hand on his cheek. “I’m rubbing off on you…and YOU will someday become a good detective.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “How do you figure that?”
 
Margaret snuggled down under the covers. “I’m a woman.”
 
Lucas lifted his head slightly off the pillow and looked her over a few times as he thought on that. “Yes you are…indeed…” Lucas bent over and kissed her cheek. Then as he softly chuckled, he lay down and went to sleep.

The Margaret Years — Margaret's Wrath

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

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