The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 23 - Wanted Dead, Not Alive!
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret stopped in the doorway of the barn and blew wisps of hair out of her eyes. “Oh no,” she groaned. “Darn cow!” She was all set on milking the temperamental animal, and now the cow had escaped…again. Neither she nor Lucas had been able to determine just exactly how she was able to accomplish such a feat. “Clementine!” Margaret called as she lifted her skirt and started through the field where the cow loved to graze. “Where are you now?”
 
The wind blew, causing Margaret to tighten her hooded cape tighter around her. “Oh Clementine!” She hollered louder. Margaret was so intent in looking for the cow that she didn’t see the rock in her path. She fell flat on her face with an “oof.” Margaret stood up and brushed herself off. This time, she shouted even louder for the cow. “Come on, I need milk!” Margaret called out.
 
Then she heard the bell. Margaret turned to see an old friend bringing the cow toward her. She shaded her eyes and looked up into the friendly face. “Oh, hello Mr. Stevens! How are you?”
 
“Fine…fine…” Mr. Stevens looked down at the cow. “Just fine, but uh…it looks like you’ve had better days.”
 
“Oh, yes sir!” Margaret answered, reaching for the rope.
 
“I’ll get it.” Mr. Stevens started walking back toward the ranch. “Don’t tell me your husband put a pretty girl like you to work with the cattle.”
 
Margaret chuckled. “Oh, no sir! He’s out of town…had to go hunting for more venison. His last trip was interrupted.” Margaret could still remember the conversation they had on his hunting trip. He had planned to go two days earlier, but since he had still been coughing from his recent cold, Margaret insisted he stay home for a couple more days. Lucas, of course, declared that he was a grown man and couldn’t stay home with just a little cough, but Margaret folded her arms and narrowed her eyes into tiny slits. Lucas decided that postponing his trip a couple more days would be a lot easier than going a round with his wife.
 
“And he left you here all by yourself?”
 
“Well…Ann and Hal are across the road. I’ve been taking meals with them since he left yesterday. He’ll be back late tomorrow.” Margaret stopped walking and folded her arms. “Say, where have you been? Don’t recollect seeing you around in a while.”
 
“I’ve been a way for quite a spell,” Mr. Stevens answered. “I had to settle some affairs back home. My Ma died.”
 
“Oh. I’m so sorry!”
 
“Well…she’s been sick for a long time. I’ve been expecting it.” They walked in silence. “It’s good to see you and Luke are finally settled.” Margaret nodded. “How’s married life?”
 
“It’s wonderful,” Margaret answered with a slight blush.
 
“Oh…Newlyweds. I reckon the newness will wear off. Coursin’…you and Luke have been sweethearts for many years. As I recall, you’ve been together since you were in diapers.”
 
Margaret giggled. “I guess you’re right, sir.”
 
“Margaret…” Mr. Stevens stopped her. “You’re a grown woman now. You don’t have to sir me anymore.”
 
“Well, I…I suppose that would take some getting used to. After all, I’ve sirred you now for twenty-two years.”
 
“I’m nigh forty. I was only 18 myself when you were born.” Mr. Stevens stopped outside the barn. “I can milk her for you.”
 
“Oh no…That won’t be necessary!” Margaret started to take the rope.
 
“Now I insist…I never did mind doing something nice for a pretty lady.”
 
“Alright.” Margaret smiled at him. “As long as you agree to come inside and have a piece of cinnamon bread and butter. Both were made fresh this morning.”
 
“This morning?” Margaret nodded. Mr. Stevens scooted his hat back on his head. “Land sakes, child…what time did you get up this morning?”
 
“I’m a rancher’s wife.” Margaret turned and went back inside to prepare his snack.
 
As Mr. Stevens sat eating it, Margaret asked, “Will you be going into town soon?”
 
“I’ve lots of supplies to pick up.”
 
“Oh. I’m needing a few things at the store and was wondering if I could ride in with you. Ann’s…not feeling well and Hal doesn’t want to leave her.” Margaret took a sip of her coffee. “I would drive myself in, but Hal refuses to hitch the team and Luke’s ordered that the team horses wouldn’t do well with a saddle on them.”
 
“I…doubt Luke would approve of your going into town alone anyhow.”
 
“He’s let me before,” Margaret answered. “Only I doubt he’d appreciate me going alone when he’s out of town.”
 
“Alright.” Mr. Stevens stood up. “I’ll take you, young lady.” He picked up his hat at the door. “My wagon’s just over the rise. While you’re getting ready, I’ll fetch it. I left it there when I saw your cow a wondering around.”
 
Margaret turned from the sink and looked at him. “She was on the road?” Mr. Stevens nodded. “How odd…”
 
“Not really. Cows can be unpredictable at times.” Mr. Stevens nodded at her as he opened the door. “Well…I’ll be by for you in a bit.
 
***
 
“Margaret!” Julie hurried up to her as Margaret started into the General Store. They hugged. “I didn’t expect to see you in town today…especially with Luke gone.”
 
“Nor did I expect to see you with Abe gone.” Margaret folded her arms. “I thought Abe had grounded you to the house until further notice.”
 
“I simply HAD to get out of the house! I had shopping to do, and nobody knows exactly what I want except me!” Julie smoothed her skirt. “And before you start asking, I have my husband’s permission. He’s down the street at the blacksmith’s.”
 
“Oh? I thought he went hunting.”
 
“He’s not ready to let me out of his sight for that long yet. For some reason, he doesn’t trust me to let Laura do ‘most’ of the work. He’s even keeping her out of school until I get back on my feet, as he calls it.”
 
The women giggled. “Are we still having Sunday dinner at Emily’s Sunday?”
 
“Yes!” Julie declared. “Right after ch…” Julie stopped talking as someone walked up to them. “Hello, Marshal.”
 
“I’m surprised to see you ladies in town alone,” Tom King declared as he took a step closer to them. His voice was intimidating, and Margaret felt goose bumps all over her body as he stared at both of them.
 
“Well, my husband…” Julie started, but Margaret held up her hand to stop her.
 
“How do you know we came in alone?”
 
“Oh no no no…” King pulled out a cigar from his jacket and slid it between his lips. “You see….I happen to know, Mrs. McCain…” King looked at Margaret. “That you didn’t come into town alone.” He turned and looked at Julie. “Who’s your friend?”
 
“Mrs. McCain,” Margaret answered curtly. She didn’t like the tone in his voice or the look on his face.
 
“Not THAT friend…” King took the cigar from his mouth and pointed toward Mr. Stevens. “That one…”
 
“He’s an old friend.” Margaret looked King up and down, then started to turn away from him. King reached out and grabbed her arm. Margaret looked down at the hand on her arm, as did Julie.
 
Julie spun around. “You take your hand off of her NOW!” Julie hissed.
 
King slowly removed his hand. “I want some answers, and don’t you get smart with me.” He shoved his cigar toward Mr. Stevens as he stood outside the livery waiting. “I want to know who that man is and I want to know now.”
 
Margaret stood to her full 5’6” height and lifted her head as high as it would go. Then she glared steadily into his eyes. “And I told you all I’m going to tell you. He’s a FRIEND!” Margaret started to walk away. “And I suggest in the future you speak a bit more respectfully to me, Marshal. Were my husband here, you would be flat on your back right now.” With that, Margaret and Julie turned to go into the store.
 
“I’ve seen that man before,” King declared. “I suggest you cooperate with me unless you want to end up in jail for not cooperating with a law officer.”
 
Margaret and Julie looked at each other, then went inside. Abe soon came in to fetch Julie, who was still a bit shaken by their encounter. Abe questioned her on it, but she shook her head and told him she’d tell him later. She thought getting him out of town before telling him would be advisable. Margaret was shaken as well, but she didn’t allow it to show.
 
As she stepped out onto the porch, she saw the Marshal sitting at his desk through the open door of the Marshal’s office. He was going through Wanted Posters. “Margaret, we can take you home,” Abe suggested.
 
“Oh no…Mr. Stevens brought me in. He’s heading back that way so I’ll just get a ride with him,” Margaret answered.  She smiled at Abe and Julie.
 
“Yes, I saw him at the livery! He’s been gone for quite awhile.” Abe smiled. “Very well,” Abe answered with a nod of his head and put his arm around Julie’s shoulders to turn her toward the buckboard.
 
“Margaret…you should go find Mr. Stevens now. Perhaps you should hurry along home,” Julie suggested, her voice still nervous.
 
“I’m almost done.” Margaret turned back toward the store. Her eyes paused as she looked toward the Marshal’s office again. He was still shifting through wanted posters. Margaret hurried back into the store.
 
Mr. Stevens returned to fetch her as she was finishing up her purchases. He carried the box to the waiting wagon and helped her up into the seat. Margaret was quiet, trying to decide on whether or not to talk to Mr. Stevens about the incident that had happened earlier. Finally, she made her decision.
 
“I saw Abe at the livery,” Mr. Stevens began the conversation. “Did something happen to him while I was gone? He seems weaker…and is walking with a limp.”
 
Margaret sighed. She didn’t feel it was her place to inform Mr. Stevens of what had happened during his absence, but she did need to warn him. “Yes. He’s actually doing better than he was. He’s getting better every day.” Margaret folded her hands and put them in her lap. “Abe was shot…on Halloween.”
 
“Shot? Where? Why?”
 
“Some outlaws were at the ranch. Lucas had gone into town to get the Marshal and doctor after a wounded man showed up in our barn and while he was gone, the outlaws came. I guess Abe came into town to get the doctor and found out, so he thought he’d ride out to see if he could help.” Margaret sighed. “He was shot twice…one of the shots hit him in the chest and he almost died.”
 
“Everyone else okay?” Mr. Stevens asked then.
 
“I’m afraid not…” Margaret hesitated as she glanced at Mr. Stevens from the corner of her eye. She knew Matthew Williams had been a friend to many people. Mr. Stevens had ridden with him on a posse many times. “The Marshal was shot as well.”
 
“Hurt bad?”
 
“Worse…” Margaret hesitated.
 
She felt the horses slow as Mr. Stevens pulled back on the reins. “Dead?” Margaret nodded. “Dear God…”
 
“I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have been the one to tell you. If only Luke were here…” Margaret allowed a few moments of silence as the shock sank in. “I’m afraid there’s more. Our new Marshal…He saw you ride in and says he’s seen you before.”
 
“Who is he?”
 
Margaret straightened on the wagon seat. “Tom King.”
 
Mr. Stevens shot his head around and stared at Margaret. “King? From Oklahoma City?” Margaret nodded. “I’m afraid that he has…”
 
Suddenly, they heard a horse quickly approaching them from behind. Turning in the seat, they both saw Marshal King quickly riding toward them. “Hold on, Margaret!” Margaret grasped the seat and braced for the wagon to jolt forward. He took off at lightning speed and raced the horses down the road as hard as he could. The Marshal drew his gun and shot toward the wagon. Margaret heard Mr. Stevens let out a groan and saw blood instantly appear on the shoulder of his shirt. Margaret grabbed the reins from him and raced the horses down the road as fast as they would go as Mr. Stevens grabbed his shoulder.
 
“Are you hurt badly?” Margaret asked as she slapped the reins.
 
“It’s just a flesh wound, I think,” Mr. Stevens answered as Margaret continued racing the horses.
 
Margaret heard a cry behind her and turned to see that the Marshal had fallen from his horse. The horse took off back towards town. King picked up his hat and slapped his thigh with it.
 
Margaret raced the rest of the way home. She stopped the wagon in the yard. “I should get out of here. No need to endanger your life,” Mr. Stevens stated as he jumped down and started to help her down.
 
“Endanger my life?” Margaret folded her arms as she stood on the ground. “Why? What’s this all about?”
 
“I should go,” Mr. Stevens turned to get back onto the wagon.
 
“NO!” Margaret reached out and grabbed his arm. “You’re going to come inside and let me take care of that wound.”
 
“Margaret…”
 
Margaret shook her head as she gave him a shove toward the house. “Just get inside so I can clean it.”
 
“Your husband wouldn’t approve.” Margaret ignored him as she pushed him toward the house. Mr. Stevens was soon sitting down at the table. Margaret poured some water into a bowl from the bucket she had filled that morning. She grabbed a cloth and came over to the table. Mr. Stevens painfully removed his arm from the sleeve to allow her to clean it. He winced a bit.
 
Margaret silently worked for a few moments. Then she asked, “Why is he after you?”
 
“I got in a sticky situation years ago back home,” Mr. Stevens answered. “This man I hated…was shot in the back. Everyone knew I hated him, so I was automatically blamed.” Mr. Stevens paused as Margaret continued cleaning. “A few years later, I was found innocent of the charges, but I suppose some of my Wanted Posters were still in circulation.”
 
Margaret smoothed some ointment on his wound then tied a bandage around it. “Well just tell the Marshal that…”
 
But Mr. Stevens shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s not that easy, Margaret. You see…King’s a hard man to convince. I’ve had run in’s with him before, and he’s only interested in one thing – money.”
 
“But if your innocent and he kills you…” Margaret started.
 
“It would be murder,” Mr. Stevens nodded. “I’m afraid he’ll get away with it. You see, since my poster’s out there, they’ll chalk it up to an unfortunate mistake. I tried to run and he killed me.” Mr. Stevens slipped his arm back into his shirt. “And Margaret, he intends on killing me. I’ve not heard of him bringing in wanted men alive.”
 
They heard a horse gallop up to the house. Margaret hurried to the window and pulled back the curtain. She let the curtain drop back into place and quickly turned around. “It’s the Marshal!”
 
“I should go.”
 
“No.” Margaret grabbed his arm and led him to the back door. “You stay out there until I get him inside. Then you run down to the clump of trees on your right. In the middle – behind those trees – there’s a small cave. You hide in there. I’ll bring you something to eat later.”
 
“You can’t do this, Margaret!” Mr. Stevens argued. “I can’t allow you to…”
 
“GO!” Margaret ordered as she gave him a shove out the door and quickly closed it. She hurried to the table and got rid of the evidence that he was ever there. Margaret heard the knock on the door and looked around to make sure everything was set right. Then after smoothing her skirt, she opened the front door. “Marshal,” she nodded as he stood in the doorway.
 
“You know you can go to jail for harboring an outlaw?”
 
“Mr. Stevens?” Margaret asked with shock in her voice. “I’ve known him my whole life. He’s never had any trouble that I know of!”
 
“Killed a man in cold blood.” King pushed her aside and stepped into the house. “Where is he?”
 
Margaret allowed the door to close with a bang. “He’s not here.” She saw Mr. Stevens running for the clump of trees through the lace curtained window. She had to distract the marshal. “Would you like some coffee?”
 
“There’s only one thing I want, Mrs. McCain.” King threw his hat on the table and followed her toward the small kitchen. Margaret hated having this man in her home, but had to give Mr. Stevens enough time to hide. “I know he’s here. Where is he?”
 
“I told you,” Margaret answered as she calmly poured two cups of coffee. She forced her hands to stay calm as she lifted the cups from the counter and turned to face him. “He’s not here.” She held out a cup of coffee for Mr. Stevens.
 
He stared down at the cup. His teeth clinched together. “I know he’s here. That’s his wagon outside.”
 
“You’re welcome to check, Marshal, if that will satisfy you. Check anywhere you have a mind to.” Margaret set the cups down on the table and went to open her bedroom door. She held her hand out to invite him in. “Go ahead. And while you’re checking, check the barn and the other outbuildings as well. Check the outhouse if you’ve a mind to. I assure you…he’s not here.”
 
King looked passed her into the bedroom, then shook his head. “I think you’re right. He’s not here. Where’d he go?”
 
Margaret folded her arms and lifted her head high. “I want you to leave my home, Marshal. NOW.”
 
“I’ll leave when I get my answer.”
 
“No, Marshal,” Margaret declared as she stuck out her chin. “You’ll leave now.” He just stared at her. “Marshal, I assure you my husband is not a man you want to mess with, and if you lay ONE hand on me, you will find out just what I mean.” She took a step toward him to show him she wasn’t intimidated. “Now, get out of my house.”
 
“I could arrest you for aiding and abetting,” King warned her.
 
“I have three brothers-in-law and one brother who will come after you if you do.”
 
The Marshal grabbed his hat off the table and walked toward the door. “You’re making a big mistake. He’s a cold blooded murderer, and he must be arrested.
 
“You planning on arresting him, Marshal?” Margaret asked as she rested her arm on the open door and glared at him as he stood on the porch. “Or killing him?”
 
The Marshal put his hat on, then angrily touched his hat. “I’ll be back.”
 
“Good day, Marshal King.” Margaret forced herself to stand in the doorway as she watched him mount his horse. He turned his horse toward her and gave her another hard look. Then he turned his horse toward the road. Margaret watched him ride out of the yard and back towards town.
 
After she was sure he was gone, Margaret closed the door and leaned her back against it. She closed her eyes and allowed her tears to come. She had been frightened of the Marshal. Margaret hugged herself, wiped her tears, then took down the shotgun. She put two shells inside. If he did come back, he’d have men with him. She knew Lucas wouldn’t approve, but she would not give this man over to be murdered. She would fight with everything she had.
 
Margaret went outside and grabbed the horses’ lead rope. After stopping them outside the barn, she unhitched the horses from the wagon. Taking the harnesses off the horses was hard and thirsty work, but she did it. She took the horses inside the barn and gave them some hay. Then she went back inside.
 
Hal and Ann would expect her over for supper. She walked across the road, thinking that telling Hal about what had happened would be a good idea. But Hal wasn’t there. Ann said he had some sick cattle and had to leave in a hurry. Margaret could tell Ann still wasn’t feeling herself. This had been her third miscarriage, and the doctor had informed Ann that she should not try for another. Each miscarriage sent Ann in a depression, and each time she had more trouble getting out of it. Margaret mourned for her friend who wanted so badly to be a mother.
 
Margaret worried about Mr. Stevens being in hiding for so long. She visited with Ann for a bit, then excused herself. Ann said she would just go to bed anyhow.
 
Margaret walked back across the street. She gathered up some meat and bread, then wrapped it in a napkin. After stuffing it in the pocket of her apron, she picked up the bucket and headed down toward the creek.
 
Margaret sat down on the bank of the creek and stared into the water. After looking around in every direction, she determined that nobody was watching her. Then she slowly and carefully made her way to the cavern. “Mr. Stevens?” Margaret called from the mouth of the cavern. Mr. Stevens appeared. “I’ve brought you some food.”
 
“Margaret, I can’t stay here. You’re endangering your life keeping me here.”
 
“You aren’t safe anywhere else,” Margaret assured him. “After its dark, I’ll bring you some blankets. I don’t think they’d try anything when it’s dark.”
 
“They?”
 
“The Marshal said he’d be back. I’m sure he won’t be alone.”
 
“Oh.” Mr. Stevens sighed. “Margaret, you can’t…”
 
“It’s done. There’s no looking back now. Lucas will be home tomorrow sometime. I’ll tell him everything tomorrow.”
 
“He’s going to hate me for putting you in a situation like this.”
 
Margaret smiled. “Well…my husband does tend to speak first and think later…I’m sure he’ll be plenty angry with me for helping you…but in the end, he’ll understand.” Mr. Stevens raised his eyebrows as he took the food she held out to him. “I assure you, Mr. Stevens, that Luke’s bark is worse than his bite.”
 
“Well, pardon my saying so, Margaret…but I’ve a feeling those who face his rifle may think differently.”
 
“Well…” Margaret motioned toward the cave. “You stay in there. I’ll bring you some blankets later if I can.”
 
“Thank you.” Mr. Stevens reached out and took her hand. “You’ve…turned into a fine woman, Margaret. I’m proud of you.”
 
Margaret smiled, then turned and slowly walked out of the clump of trees as if she were just enjoying the crisp winter air. She sat back down just in case anyone was watching her. Margaret breathed in deeply, smelling the air. She forced herself to sit on the bank for fifteen minutes, then slowly stood and dipped the bucket in the creek. Slowly, she made her way back toward the house.
 
Margaret’s casual actions were indeed necessary, because she was half-way back to the house when King walked up to her. “I was wondering if maybe that outlaw came back and kidnapped you.”
 
Margaret forced herself to keep her casual stance as she continued walking. “Just fetching some water from the creek.”
 
“You know where he is, don’t you?”
 
Margaret stopped and turned to face him. “Marshal King…It seems we’ve already had this conversation.”
 
“You’re lying to me!”
 
“I never lie! Everything I’ve told you is the truth!” Margaret declared.
 
“You don’t know where he is?”
 
Margaret started walking again. “My answers are the same as they were before, Marshal.”
 
“That’s not an answer, Mrs. McCain.” King grabbed her arm and stopped her. “Do you know where he is?”
 
Margaret halted and looked down at his hand on her arm. King slowly removed it. “I’ve said all I’m going to say. I’ve already told you that you can search my house and my out-buildings. You can search the whole ranch if you’ve a mind to!”
 
“And I won’t find him anywhere?” King looked hard into her eyes.
 
Margaret turned her head sideways and looked up toward the house. She let out a loud sigh. “Marshal, if you were being hunted down to be shot, would you stay around somewhere you could get caught, or would you run far away?”
 
“Alright, Mrs. McCain. I’ll go for now.” King tipped his hat and hurried away. As Margaret made her way up to the house, she again saw him race from the yard.
 
After getting inside, she set the bucket down and went to open the front door. She shivered as she stepped out onto the porch. Yes, she decided she was definitely being watched. Margaret scanned the hills and valleys, but saw nobody. Yet, the chill that ran up her spine told her he was still there…watching…waiting for her to make her move.
 
Margaret shook her head. It would get cold tonight and there was no way she could get blankets to Mr. Steven’s safely. How would she ever…Then an idea came to her. Maybe…just maybe…it just may work! Margaret headed out to the barn and worked diligently at hitching up the horses to the wagon. She was doing real man’s work as she filled the wagon with hay. At the bottom of the wagon sat blankets and other supplies she had recovered from a trunk in the barn. She also had a note, warning Mr. Stevens the house was being watched.
 
Margaret drove the team out onto the range. Hal had fed the cattle that morning. They didn’t need fed again, but she had to get those things to Mr. Stevens. She drove the wagon along the range and dumped pitch forks full of hay along a path. She made sure to have enough hay to dump some along the trees. The sun had gone down. She threw the blankets and other supplies down along the clump of trees. Then she got back up on the seat of the wagon and slowly drove back up to the house.
 
***
 
Sleep didn’t come to Margaret that night. She had checked the doors several times to make sure they were locked before crawling into bed. Sleep was impossible, though, as she thought about someone just staring at the house. Margaret got up and paced the floor. She couldn’t turn any lights on, because that would alert whoever was watching her house that something was indeed amiss. So instead, Margaret tossed and turned in her bed, wishing Luke was there so he could take care of the situation.
 
She was glad when the time finally came for her to get up and start her chores. She quickly dressed and put the coffee on, then she went to the barn and milked the cow. She fed the animals and gathered the eggs. Then she walked back into the house and closed the door.
 
Margaret had just finished breakfast when she heard a rider coming into the yard. Margaret cringed when she realized that it was again the marshal. She took the shotgun off the hook over the mantle, then walked over to the door. She didn’t hesitate as she opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. The shotgun was aimed at the Marshal. She didn’t say a word as she just stared at him.
 
“What’s this?” King asked as he slowly raised his hands. “You taking me hostage?”
 
“No, I’m protecting myself.”
 
“I was hired to protect you, Mrs. McCain,” King smiled
at her.
 
“You weren’t hired to harass me, Marshal. That’s what you are doing…harassing me!” Margaret held her head high and kept the shotgun pointed at him. “I’ve told you the man you’re looking for is NOT here. I’ve asked you to leave twice. You’re trespassing.”
 
“Mrs. McCain, I’m the marshal!”
 
“You have a warrant?” King’s eyes narrowed as he looked her up and down. “No? You have proof that I’ve broken any law?”
 
“No warrant, and no proof of any law being broken.” King took a step toward her. Margaret raised the shotgun. King immediately froze. “Alright…just…just calm down now, Miss. You may shoot me if you aren’t careful.”
 
“I WILL shoot you!” Margaret declared. “My brother taught me how to use this, and I assure you I don’t miss what I shoot at.”
 
“Well now…” King chuckled. “You are a different kind of woman.”
 
“Any woman on a ranch or a farm has to know how to shoot a gun, mister. We have to kill the varmints when our men are away.” Margaret shoved the rifle toward his horse. “Now, get on your horse and ride on out of here.”
 
“I just…”
 
“My husband will be back sometime today. You can come back tonight and talk to him. I’ve a feeling he’ll have a few things to say to you after he learns how you have harassed me.” Margaret continued holding the shotgun on him.
 
“You’re making a mistake, Mrs. McCain.” King turned toward his horse. She kept the shotgun on him as she watched him turn his horse and ride off their land. Only after he was down the road did Margaret slowly lower her shotgun. She turned and hurried back into the house. Her hands shook as she sank down into Lucas’ leather chair. Then she put her face in her hands and wept. “Luke…Oh Luke…Please hurry back…” Margaret cried. Holding that shotgun on King was hard. She couldn’t kill a chicken, much less a man. She knew that. Margaret wrapped the blanket that Lucas had used in his chair a few days before around her. Then she put it to her nose to smell it. It smelled like him. “Hurry home, Luke. I need you.”
 
***
 
Lucas stopped his horse when he saw a huge crowd gathered outside the Marshal’s office. He stepped off his horse and hurried up to the group with rifle in hand. “What’s going on now?” Lucas asked Scott Gibbs who stood in the middle of the crowd.
 
“He’s getting a posse together to go after an outlaw.” Scott turned and stared at Lucas. “You’re not going to believe who it is!”
 
“Who?” Lucas asked as his eyes widened a bit.
 
“Ned Stevens.”
 
“Ne…” Lucas looked up at the Marshal and then turned back to look at Scott. “You serious?”
 
“He has a wanted poster on him. Killed a man in cold blood several years ago. Didn’t even bother to change his name.”
 
“Matt never said anything about it. If he was wanted, Matt would have known!” Lucas declared.
 
“There’s a rare wanted poster on him.”
 
“Mr. McCain!” Tom King called out in the crowd. “I want you on the posse!”
 
“What’s this all about?” Lucas asked as he pushed his way through the crowd and went up the steps to talk to King. “I’ve known Ned Stevens my whole life!”
 
King pulled the Wanted poster from his pocket. “I assure you, Mr. McCain, he’s a wanted man.”
 
Lucas looked the poster over. He saw the picture and the description, but he still couldn’t believe it! “Where’d you get this?”
 
King took the paper from Lucas’ hand and shoved it back into his pocket. “I have a habit of collecting wanted posters, Mr. McCain. Now, will you ride with me?”
 
Lucas turned and looked over the crowd. “I’ll ride with you.”
 
“We’ll leave in a half hour.”
 
Lucas went back down the steps. “Scott, I want you to ride out and stay with Margaret.”
 
“You think she’s in danger?” Scott asked. Lucas hesitated in answering. “Luke, Ned’s always been kind to us! He’s not going to turn on us now.”
 
“We can’t take that chance. We don’t know what this is all about.” Lucas sighed. “I have to find Ned and get his story. I just can’t believe…” Lucas took off his hat and smoothed his hair back. “Look…I’m going over to the store and get some supplies. You take the meat and ride on out to the ranch. Don’t leave her until I get there.”
 
Hal, hearing the conversation, came forward. “You might have Ann stay with Margaret as well. I’m going to ride.” Hal shook his head. “I came in to get the vet. I’ve been tending to some sick cattle and didn’t even stop by the ranch to check on things. Luke…I’m sorry.”
 
“Sick cows?”
 
“It’s under control now, Luke. Nothing to worry about.” Hal sighed. “I hated leaving Ann alone in her condition…I…”
 
Lucas turned to look at Scott. “Get going, huh? I don’t like Margaret staying out there by herself without a man around.”
 
Scott nodded, then went to do as Lucas asked.
 
After getting the supplies he needed, Lucas rode out with the posse. According to the Marshal’s briefing, Ned Stevens was last seen out by the ranch. Lucas knew Steven’s place was just past their ranch. They’d start by checking every inch of Ned’s place just in case he was hiding there.
 
***
 
Margaret hurried to the window to look out when he heard a horse approaching. She saw Scott ride into the yard and hurried outside. “Scott!” Margaret froze on the porch, realizing she was being too anxious. She didn’t want the man watching the ranch to get suspicious. Margaret smiled as she reached out and took his hand. “Good to see you!” She hugged him. She couldn’t keep her shaking at bay. Scott pulled away from her and looked into her face.
 
“Margaret, what the…” Scott started, but he stopped when he saw the warning look in her eyes.
 
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” She asked as cheerfully as she could.
 
Scott stepped into the house with her and closed the door. He looked down and saw the shotgun sitting by the door. “Alright, Margaret, what the hell is going on here?”
 
Margaret hugged him. “Oh Scott…It’s been awful…just awful…”
 
Scott grabbed her shoulders and stared into her face. “What is it? What’s happened?” Scott took the shot gun and put it back on the hooks above the fireplace. Then he took her arm and led her to the table to sit down. “Talk to me, Sis.”
 
“Scott…the Marshal’s after Ned Stevens!”
 
“I know,” Scott answered. “He just rode out with a posse looking for him. Luke sent me out here to…”
 
“Luke?” Fear was in her voice. Her eyes grew wide as she jumped up from the table. “Luke came back?”
 
“Yes,” Scott answered. “He rode into town a while ago. King asked him to be on the posse.”
 
“Oh no!” Margaret clinched her hands together. “Scott, NO!” Panic was in her voice. Anytime Margaret panicked, people worried. She only panicked when she was very afraid. “Scott, Mr. Steven’s is…here!”
 
“WHAT????” Scott jumped to his feet. The chair fell backwards and hit the floor with a bang. “What do you mean…”
 
Margaret hurried toward him and slapped a hand over his mouth. “The house is being watched. You can’t yell!”
 
“Margaret, there’s a wanted poster on Ned. He’s wanted for murder…Dead or Alive.”
 
“I know…I know!” Margaret slapped her thigh. “Scott, he’s innocent!”
 
“Are you hiding him?” Scott accused as he folded his arms and cocked his head to one side.
 
Margaret turned from him. “I rode into town with him yesterday. The Marshal saw him and said he looked familiar. Then as we were coming home, the Marshal started chasing him.” Margaret turned back to look at her brother. “Scott…the Marshal was trying to kill him…He was shooting and one of the shots hit Mr. Stevens in the shoulder. Something happened…” Margaret shook her head. “I don’t know…the horse spooked or something…and he fell off his horse so we got away. We came back here and I cleaned up his shoulder…it was just a flesh wound.” Margaret paused to take another breath. “Scott, he told me he’d been cleared of those charges…that he was found innocent, but apparently there were still some Wanted Posters floating around. I couldn’t let him…”
 
“Where is he?”
 
“What are you going to do?”
 
“I’ll take him into town and explain to the Marshal…”
 
“NO!” Margaret shouted.
 
“Margaret Mc…” Scott started in a stern voice.
 
“Scott, I don’t mean to defy you but…There’s more I should tell you.”
 
“What?”
 
“The Marshal’s the type that doesn’t bring wanted men back alive. He kills them.”
 
“Margaret, are you sure about all this?”
 
Margaret nodded. “The Marshal’s been here three times. The third time I met him on the porch with the shotgun.” She could tell right away that Scott didn’t approve. “He’s been harassing me! I never lied to him, Scott. I told him Mr. Steven’s wasn’t here. He’s not.”
 
“But you said…”
 
“I have him hiding in a cave. I had to sneak him some food and blankets last night…I…won’t tell you how, because you wouldn’t approve. Oh, but Scott, you’ve got to warn Luke!  The Marshal wants to kill Mr. Stevens!”
 
“Alright. I want you to take me to Ned.” Margaret hesitated. “Honey, I won’t turn him in. His wound probably needs cleaned again, though, and it’s getting colder out there. We’ll bring him in here. I’m here. He’ll be safe.”
 
“Oh, but Luke…the Posse…” Margaret started.
 
“Margaret…I think we should stay here with Ned.”
 
“But I think we’re being watched, Scott. As soon as we bring him out in the open…”
 
Scott had forgotten about that. He went to look out the window. “What makes you think the house is being watched?”
 
“I can feel it…Someone’s out there watching…just waiting for some clue as to where he is. What if he has orders to kill? They’ll shoot him down, Scott.”
 
“Margaret, where is he?”
 
“Scott…”
 
“Margaret?” Scott lifted his eyebrows and pressed his lips together. Margaret had seen that look before.
 
“He’s hiding in a small cavern in that clump of trees by the creek. Oh, but Scott…”
 
Scott shook his head. “I’ll get him here.” Scott went and lifted the shotgun off the hooks. “Don’t leave this house, you hear me?” He handed Margaret the shotgun. “Lock the door behind me. I’ll be back.”
 
Margaret watched Scott mount his horse. He went to the barn, then rode his horse down onto the range. She watched Scott ride around as if he were checking on the cattle. Then he stopped near the clump of trees and went to get a drink of water from the creek. Scott walked around as if just relaxing. Finally, he disappeared in the clump of trees. If she didn’t know better, she would say he was just relaxing while checking cattle.
 
Margaret began pacing the floor wondering how Scott was going to handle getting Mr. Stevens up to the house. She then watched Scott leave the cavern, mount his horse, and ride up to the house. Margaret gasped as she watched him get off the horse. She hurried to the front door and opened it, not saying a word until the door was bolted shut. “Mr. Stevens!”
 
Mr. Stevens had Scott’s coat and hat on. From behind, a stranger could tell no difference. Mr. Stevens hurried over the fire and shivered as he warmed his hands. He was shaking and appeared a bit feverish. Margaret hurried up to him and helped him shrug from his coat. She saw that the wound was bleeding again and immediately started unbuttoning Mr. Steven’s shirt. After sitting him in front of the fire, she took the old bandage off. “It needs cleaned again.”
 
“It’s so dark in that cave that I must have bumped it. I felt it in the night.” Mr. Stevens shivered while Margaret worked, trying to get warmth to enter back into his body. “Scott told me about the posse. I’m sorry I got you all mixed up in this.”
 
Margaret paused in her task and looked in his eyes. She smiled as she shook her head. “Don’t be. How many times have you helped our families when we were in need? Mr. Stevens, we could never pay you back for everything you’ve done over the years.”
 
A knock sounded on the back door. “Margaret, let me in.” Margaret hurried to let Scott in. Scott took some deep breaths. “I think you’re right, Sis. I think there IS somebody out there.”
 
“He saw you?”
 
“I saw something flashing near the road.”
 
“Oh Scott…what do we do?”
 
Scott took out his gun from the holster and went to stand at the front window. “He’ll probably go for the posse now. He knows I came in while ago.”
 
***
The posse rode out of town where King stated he must be hiding. Lucas rode past his own ranch, wishing he could stop by and check on things. But he couldn’t leave King. He had a funny feeling in his gut, and he wasn’t sure what that feeling meant…yet.
 
The men dismounted when they got into Stevens’ yard. King ordered everyone to take a portion of his house and fields and search it from top to bottom. Lucas kept an eye on King the whole time he searched, but there was nothing. Lucas checked all around for tracks, but assured King that Stevens hadn’t been there since yesterday. The tracks he had found were old and used. “He may be hiding out,” King declared. “We’ll start knocking on doors and searching houses.”
 
“Now, wait a minute!” Lucas shouted. “We don’t even know he’s aware you have a Wanted Poster on him!”
 
“He knows,” King nodded.
 
“We can’t just…”
 
“Now look!” King shoved a finger toward Lucas. “I’m the law! If I say we go searching through houses, we go looking through houses!” King looked around. “Okay, let’s mount up. I’ll give you all assignments. And if you find him…don’t hesitate to shoot. I won’t ask any questions.”
 
“What the hell are you talking about, King?” Lucas glared at him. “You can’t kill him! You don’t even know…”
 
“Now look here, McCain, I’m the law here! You are just my deputy. He’s a wanted man – dead or alive. He’s better off dead instead of taking up room in my jail and…”
 
Lucas grabbed his shirt “And WHAT???” His teeth clinched together. Fire was in his eyes, and he was so angry he could choke this so-called Marshal! “That wanted man, as you call him, has been my friend my whole life! He’s NEVER done an unkind thing…NEVER lifted his hand against another…AND, he’s always helped everyone in times of need! I’d like to hear his side of the story before…”
 
“We aren’t the judge!” King shouted at Lucas.
 
“You aren’t going to let him get to the judge, are you?” King glared at Lucas. “ARE YOU????”
 
King shoved Lucas hard. He looked around at the men gathered around him. “NOW LOOK, MEN! THIS STEVEN’S HAS A PRICE ON HIS HEAD FOR ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!” King paused to let that news sink in. “You can do a lot with one thousand dollars.”
 
“Don’t listen, men!” Lucas shouted then. “I think I’m beginning to understand.” Lucas twirled his rifle and glared at King. “…because King here…he only sees one word on that wanted poster: ‘DEAD!’” Lucas grabbed King by his shirt again. “Isn’t that about right?” King said nothing. Lucas let go and turned back toward the men. “And if you think you’ll see a penny of that thousand dollars, you can think again. Because I guarantee you that if one of you kills that man, King will find some excuse why you can’t have that reward money, so he can keep it for himself.”
 
The men were silent as Lucas spoke. Lucas looked each man in the eye, then turned to face King. “Do I have that about right?”
 
“Luke’s right,” Hal declared as he stepped forward. “I don’t want anything to do with killing a man who’s been a friend to me my whole life either.” Hal took off his deputy’s badge and threw it on the ground. Lucas followed suit.
 
“Wait a minute!” King yelled. “Wait a minute!” The other men followed suit. All six deputy badges fell into the dirt. Lucas walked to his horse. “You’re just like your wife, McCain…stubborn!”
 
Lucas paused his foot in the stirrup and stared at his saddle as the words sank into his head. Slowly, he lowered his foot and turned. His rifle was quickly recocked. “WHAT…ABOUT MY WIFE???”
 
“Your wife helped Stevens escape. She knows where he is. I tried to get her to talk but…” That’s as far as King got. Lucas hurried up to him and punched him. King fell to the ground.
 
Lucas dropped to his knees and punched King hard again. He grabbed King by his shirt. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY WIFE???”
 
“Luke!” Hal hurried forward and put his arms underneath Lucas’ shoulders to keep him from punching King again. “Luke, stop it!” Lucas thrashed around, trying to get out of Hal’s grip. “You’re not going to solve anything if you kill him!”
 
“He’s a fighter…just like his wife too. She pulled a shotgun on me. She sure warned me about you…” King slowly stood up and wiped away the blood that trickled from his mouth. Lucas continued to struggle in Hal’s embrace.
 
“You better shut your filthy mouth before I let him kill you!” Hal warned. “Now…get out of here! Get out of Enid!”
 
“I’m not leaving. I’m the Marshal.” King picked up his hat. “And if you try to get in my way…I’ll kill you!”
 
“As a member of the town council, I’ll assure you that we’ll have a meeting first thing tomorrow. And I’ve a feeling you will no longer be in our employment. So you might as well pack your bags!” Hal sneered. The fight had left Lucas, so he eased up on him. Hal turned toward the men. “What do you say, men? How will you vote?” One by one, the men turned and mounted their horses. Then they rode away.
 
“You’re scum!” Lucas shouted. “SCUM!” Lucas straightened up. “Hal, let’s go check on our wives.” The two men mounted their horses and rode away, leaving King in the yard staring after them.
 
***
 
Margaret heard horses ride into the yard. Scott motioned for her to stay still in the chair where she sat. He went to the window and peaked out. “It’s Luke and Hal,” he announced as he unlocked the door. Margaret closed her eyes as relief flooded her, but she didn’t stand. She wasn’t sure what news they were bringing, but they were safe!
 
Margaret stood when she heard footsteps on the porch. Lucas stopped in the doorway. His eyes met Margaret’s, and then slowly slid to Ned Stevens. “So…you are guilty of aiding and abetting,” Lucas mumbled when he saw Stevens sitting in the chair. Margaret didn’t say a word, but simply stared at her husband. “Well…it seems I can never go hunting without you finding yourself in some sort of trouble, my dear wife.” Lucas forced a smile to play at the corners of his mouth.
 
“It’s seems I’ve done a bit of hunting myself,” Margaret said quietly, her voice shaking, as she started toward Lucas.
 
Lucas closed the distance between them and hugged her. He lifted her off her feet and kissed her cheek. “I was so worried when King started talking about you…Did he lay his hands on you? If he did…I’ll kill him!”
 
Margaret shook her head. “That’s not important now, Luke.” She touched his face. “What happened?”
 
“I found out King’s set on killing Stevens.” He stepped away from Margaret and went toward Stevens. “Is it true? Did you kill a man?”
 
“Lucas!” Margaret gasped. She ran and grabbed his arm. “Luke, he’s been found innocent! He’s not guilty of…”
 
Suddenly, the front door burst open. Everyone turned to see King standing in the doorway. His gun was drawn. Stevens slowly stood up. “You are all under arrest,” King announced. Lucas grabbed Margaret and pulled her behind him. “Now…get out of my way.”
 
Margaret tried to get from behind Lucas, but he held her tight. “Stay there, Margaret!”
 
“Lucas, I…”
 
“I said stay there!” Lucas ordered harshly. “And keep quiet!”
 
“Lucas, you should let her speak!” Scott suggested. “You may be interested in…”
 
King waved his gun toward the door. “All right, Stevens…outside!”
 
Stevens looked toward Lucas and Scott. “I’m sorry…” He started toward the door.
 
“No! He’ll kill you!” Margaret shoved Lucas aside and broke away from him. “Don’t!” She stood in front of Stevens. “You can’t kill him! You’ll hang for murder!”
 
Lucas reached out and grabbed Margaret’s arm, but Margaret shook it off. “No! You’re going to listen to me, Lucas McCain! All four of you!” The men – even King – were frozen by Margaret’s actions. Margaret continued standing in front of Stevens. “He was found innocent of murder…several years ago!”
 
“You’re lying!” King accused. “You’re just trying to get him off. Well, it won’t work.”
 
King reached out to grab her and throw her out of the way. Lucas raised his gun, but Margaret’s tongue stopped him. “You EVER touch me again and I’ll use that shot gun myself!” There was challenge in her eyes. Lucas was surprised at her behavior, but in a way he felt proud of her. “Now then…” Margaret swallowed hard. “I have EVERY intention of standing here in front of you until you get on your horse and ride out of here. This man is INNOCENT!”
 
“Is that true?” Lucas asked Stevens.
 
“It’s true,” Stevens answered. “And if you will wire Topeka, they will tell you it’s true.”
 
“Well…I guess you got your answer,” Lucas declared. “I suggest you do as Stevens suggest.”
 
“It’s a trick!”
 
Lucas folded his arms. “I don’t think you can afford that gamble…can you?”
 
King looked defeated. He holstered his gun and turned to leave. “Wait a minute…” Lucas came up to him. “King, if I EVER…EVER…hear that you have touched my wife…I’LL KILL YOU!” Lucas opened the door. “Not, get out of here!!!” Lucas gave King a hard shove. He fell off the porch. “And don’t you EVER set foot on my property again!”
 
Lucas stood in the doorway and watched King ride from the yard. Then he closed the door and turned around. “After tomorrow, we’ll need a new Marshal.” Lucas planted his hands on his hips. “Perhaps you would like the job, Margaret.”
 
“Lucas McCain…”
 
Scott chuckled. “I think I’ll get on home to my wife. Luke…” Scott slapped his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on her.”
 
“Scott…” Margaret warned him.
 
“Wait until you hear this story, Luke!” Scott declared.
 
“Goodbye, Scott,” Margaret waved him away.
 
They watched Scott walk out the door. Lucas turned his attention back to Stevens. “Maybe you should stay here tonight.”
 
“No…I think I want to go home.” Lucas scratched under his nose as he looked toward Margaret. “King would be a fool to kill me now.”
 
“Alright.”
 
“You should ride into town and let Jason look at your arm,” Margaret suggested. “I cleaned it, but he may want to clean it with something stronger…to make sure you don’t get an infection.”
 
“Margaret…all I want to do tonight is get home and go to bed! Sleeping in that cave of yours wasn’t too comfortable…even after you snuck me that…” Stevens stopped, realizing he had said too much.
 
“She did what?”
 
Margaret quickly turned from Lucas’ hard gaze. “Would you like a cup of coffee first?”
 
“No…I think I just want to go. “ Mr. Stevens picked up his hat. “Oh Margaret…the next time your cow gets loose, don’t count on me bringing it back…not after all that trouble it got me.” They smiled at each other. “Margaret, where’s my team and wagon?”
 
Margaret smiled bashfully. “Well…your team’s in the barn.”
 
“You mean…you unhitched the team by yourself?”
 
Lucas and Hal both looked toward Margaret. “Luke…” Margaret cleared her throat. “Perhaps you should help him.”
 
Margaret busied herself with getting the coffee on and starting supper. She figured Lucas would be powerful hungry when he came back inside. She was in the middle of supper when she heard the door open and close. She listened as the rifle went into its holder. Then she heard his feet walk across the floor. She turned when he didn’t say anything. He stood, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and his eyebrows lifted. “Well?”
 
Margaret walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him. “Luke…I wish I could tell you I was as brave as I acted, but I wasn’t.” She lifted her head up and rested her chin on his chest. “The truth is….I was terrified.”
 
“Mm hm…” Lucas bent down and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. “I tell you what…we’ll talk at supper. Right now, I want a bath!”
 
Margaret smiled as she watched him walk off.
 
***
 
After Lucas blessed the food, he asked Margaret to begin explaining. Margaret promised him she would give him every detail providing that he listened, and didn’t say a word until she was finished. Lucas grunted a few times, then finally promised he would let her say her piece.
 
Margaret told him the whole story as gently as she could. She saw several emotions cross his face as she explained. When she finally finished, Lucas remained silent. He took a long drink of coffee, wiped his mouth, then sat back in his chair. Margaret felt like a schoolgirl about to get her knuckles rapped as he studied her intently. After a long silence, Lucas cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose you made any dessert?”
 
“Is that all you have to say?” Margaret retorted.
 
Lucas scratched under his nose. “Uh…no. I’ve plenty to say and that’s for sure!” Lucas stood with his coffee cup and walked into the kitchen. After filling it, he leaned against the counter and took several sips. “Margaret, you did so many things wrong that I don’t even know where to begin!” Lucas said finally. “You could have gotten yourself arrested or killed!”
 
“Luke…”
 
“First off, I told you to stay at the ranch. You said you had plenty to keep you until I got back. Second off, you should have never tried out-running the Marshal. Suppose he would have caught up with you?”
 
“Luke…”
 
Lucas held up his hand. “I stayed quiet while you said your piece, so you stay quiet while I say mine!” Margaret clamped her mouth shut. “Now then…you bring him back here and HIDE him…that’s aiding and abetting. You unhitch the horses…hitch the horses back up…fill the wagon with hay…and ride out onto the range when it’s dark. Do you know how many dangers are out there? Did you even think of taking the shotgun? Did you?” Margaret looked up at him. She stood from her chair and started to answer him, but Lucas again held his hand up for her not to speak. “Then when the marshal comes back the third time, YOU HOLD A SHOTGUN ON HIM? HAVE YOU TOTALLY LOST YOUR MIND???”
 
Lucas took another sip of his coffee and turned around. “Are you finished?” Margaret finally asked.
 
“For now,” Lucas answered with a short nod.
 
“Luke, Mr. Stevens would have died if I hadn’t done those things…all of them!” Margaret argued. “As for the shotgun…well, I wasn’t going to stand here and let some big-shot Marshal from Oklahoma City think he could come in my house and intimidate me! I just wasn’t going to put up with it any longer!” Margaret stuck her chin out. “So if you want to bend me over your knee…I’ll be willing, but NOT SORRY!”
 
Lucas kept his back toward her, but she saw his head lift. He turned around and tried to keep the grin from teasing his lips. “Margaret Ann McCain…” He sat his cup down and walked up to her. “Maybe I oughta just bend you over my knee…” He wrapped his arms around her waist and twirled her around until she was sitting on the counter. Then he kissed her cheek. “But I’m so damn proud of you.”
 
“Lucas McCain!” Margaret gasped.
 
Lucas chuckled. “I think you’ll do just fine being married to a rancher.” He kissed her other cheek. “As a matter of fact…I’m wondering what other gifts you possess that I don’t know about.” He kissed her solidly on the mouth. Margaret giggled as she put her arms around his neck and kissed him back. “It’s like my Pa always said about women.”
 
“Oh?” Margaret raised an eyebrow. “What did your father always say about women?”
 
“They were born with a weapon. A tongue that can tame the west faster then…” Lucas chuckled as he hugged her to him. “But…” he shook a finger at her. “Don’t you EVER do anything like that again, ya hear?”
 
“I promise…As long as nobody gets themselves into trouble ever again!”
 
Lucas groaned.
 
***
 
The whole town was buzzing with news of what had happened the day before. Every man, woman, and child had shown up. Abe was feeling just a little guilty, saying he should have escorted Margaret home himself. Lucas simply put his arm around Margaret’s waist and pulled her against him. “And let her miss out on all that fun?” Lucas asked. “She wouldn’t have had it any other way!”
 
“Ah!” Margaret playfully smacked him.
 
There were about twenty men in all who kissed their wives, then made their way across the street. The street was lined up and down with men, women, and children who were dressed for the special occasion. They watched as the men went up the steps and into the Marshal’s office. Clapping and laughter soon rang out as Tom King was escorted out – Lucas had one arm and Scott Gibbs the other. Peter McCain followed close behind with the bag he had come into town with. Behind him was Ned Stevens. He held a pile of Wanted Posters in his hand. After the men physically put King on his horse, Stevens threw the wanted posters onto the street in a pile, then he struck a match and lit the pile of papers.
 
“King…” Stevens said as the crowd cheered. “Don’t you ever set foot in our town again! We’ll do our own cleaning…our own way!”
 
Then Lucas gave the horse a hard slap on the rump and watched as the horse raced out of town. The people cheered. They had all been nervous about the new sheriff and wanted a celebration after watching him leave. Lucas smiled as he walked over to Margaret and put his arm around her. “I don’t think he’ll be back!”
 
“Not with an exit like that,” Lucas declared. “He’d be too ashamed to ever show his face around here.”
 
“Someday he’s going to get his own self killed,” Margaret mumbled. Lucas turned to look at her. He saw the relief in her eyes. He kissed her cheek.
 
“Well…it looks like we’ll need a new Marshal now,” Ned Stevens declared.
 
Lucas and Scott looked at each other. He motioned for the men to get in a tight circle so he could talk to them about an idea. Finally, Lucas turned around. With a wide grin on his face, he said…”Mr. Stevens…how many people have you taught to shoot…taught right from wrong…and helped over the years?” Ned shrugged. “How many of us are better because you gave us a little push?”
 
Ned looked around. He saw that gleam in many eyes. “Just what are you saying?”
 
“I’m saying,” Lucas answered. “That we were looking too hard for a Marshal. He’s been right here…living in the community all along.”
 
“Oh?”
 
“Mm hm.” Lucas nodded. “You.”
 
“No Luke…”
 
“Just say you’ll take the job.”
 
Ned looked around at the hopeful pair of eyes. Using his good arm, he took the gun out of his holster and swung it around a few times. After re-holstering it, he said…”You all willing to follow the law the way it should be followed?”
 
“Yeah!” shouted the crowd.
 
“You McCain brothers willing to go to jail if you get drunk and raise cain?”
 
“Oh yeah!” Peter declared. The crowd laughed. “Because jail is nothing like the hell I’ll get when I get home!”
 
“Peter McCain!” Tiffany declared.
 
“Amen, brother!” Lucas declared.
 
“Lucas McCain!” Margaret declared.
 
The crowd laughed. Molly, who ran the restaurant in the hotel, then spoke. “Let’s have a celebration! It’s all on the house tonight. Order whatever you want.” She started down the street.
 
“Oh, does that include the spirits?” Scott mumbled as the men started toward the hotel.
 
“Scott Gibbs!” Amanda declared.

The Margaret Years — The Horse

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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