The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 96 - Battle for Burns Flatt
Written by Deanne Bertram

Upon hearing the news that the wanted poster for Lucas McCain wasn’t valid, Turpin argued with the Elk City Constable.

“It says he’s wanted in Oklahoma!” Turpin pointed to the poster lying on the desk.

“That’s what it says, but I tell you it ain’t valid. Look it don’t even state what he’s wanted for or the amount of the reward,” Constable Gerard replied.

“You don’t waste paper printing wanted posters. You trying to keep the reward for yourself!” Turpin accused.

“If I was, I’d ask you to bring in this McCain and I’d put him in jail. I tell you, I’ve never seen this poster in any of the official publications. Just let the man go before he decides to press charges against you for kidnapping and unlawful restraint.”

“I’ll take him somewhere else. Another town, a bigger town with Lawmen who’ll do their job,” Turpin proclaimed.

Turpin folded the poster and stuffed it in his pocket.

“Do what you want old man. You’re still gonna get the same reply.”

Cursing the constable and angered over not getting the reward he had banked on, Turpin missed the two men entering the jail while he walked over to the saloon. Ordering a bottle of whiskey, he grabbed at the glass and bottle and began his attempt to drown his misfortune. Muttering over the lost reward, he poured a glass and hurriedly gulped its contents down before he refilled the glass.

The evening wore on as patrons came and went; two men entered and sat at a table close to Turpin and listened to his mutterings, with curiosity. The taller of the two men stood, walked over, pulled out a chair, and without waiting for an invitation sat down.

“I ain’t in no mood for no company,” Turpin growled.

“I’m not offering company. I’m offering a business proposal. Couldn’t help but overhear part of your predicament.”

“What’s it to you?”

“Let me introduce myself. My name is Aaron Holden and my associate,” Holden paused and pointed to the man sitting at the other table, “is Myron Lantree. We might be able to turn your luck around.”

“You figure you can make this wanted poster good?” Turpin pulled the folded piece of paper from his pocket and tossed it on the table.

Holden picked it up and unfolded the heavily worn and tattered piece of paper.

WANTED

Lucas McCain
aka The Rifleman
Oklahoma Territory

“It doesn’t have a reward listed,” Holden mused aloud.

“No, but you don’t put out no wanted posted without there being a reward! Tried to tell that to the Constable.”

“How much you figured this Rifleman is worth?”

“Least two hundred.”

“What if my associate and I paid you a ‘finder’s fee’ and took McCain off your hands? I presume you’ve got him holed up somewhere outside of town.”

“Yeah, didn’t wanna bring him to town and have someone else try an’ claim my money,” Turpin slurred his words.

“So do we have a deal?” Holden pulled a wallet from the inside pocket of the jacket he wore and counted out two hundred dollars in twenty dollar bills.

“The constable said the poster weren’t worth the paper it was written on… Why you give me two hundred dollars?” Turpin asked.

“We have our reasons.”

Licking his lips as his eyes enlarged, Turpin nodded his head and reached for the money.

Holding the money back, “You’ll be obliged to take us to your camp?” asked Holden.

“Shore, shore, my horse is right outside.”

“Let me inform my partner. We’ll be with you presently.”

Holden returned to Lantree’s table and collected his hat.

“Why’d you give that bum all our money?” Lantree demanded.

“Because he won’t have it for too long. Listen, we need to find a replacement. Why not take this McCain? That bounty hunter is so drunk he won’t know what hit him before he hits the ground. Why do you think Gerard told us about him?” Holden pointed his thumb over his shoulder, pointing towards Turpin.

*****

“I told you I wasn’t a fugitive from the law,” Lucas proclaimed when Archie Turpin returned from town and removed the gag from his mouth.

“Shut your yap! I ain’t traveled all dis way ta not see a profit,” Turpin grumbled. “My new friends paid me two hundred to take ya off my hands.”

Lucas looked up and tried to warn Turpin of the two others who rode into the camp with him, Lantree had already drawn and fired before Lucas could get a word out. Having been shot in the bank, Turpin fell at Lucas’ feet. Lantree slid down from his horse, returning his handgun to his holster, before he retrieved the money from Turpin’s coat pocket.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Lucas demanded.

“A business transaction, pure and simple. Only we didn’t care to take on a third partner,” Holden declared.

“Then you’re going to kill me too?” Lucas asked as he struggled to his feet.

“No. Aaron, he might just be what we been looking for. You’re what six, six?” Lantree stated as he approached Lucas.

“What’s it to you?”

Without warning, Lantree threw a hard punch into Lucas’ midsection, knocking him backwards to the ground.

“I’ll do the asking of questions. From now on… You keep your mouth shut unless we give you permission to speak. Prove yourself in the arena and you might get to live. Disappoint us, and more than likely you’ll end up dead,” Lantree declared.

“McCain, I’d listen to Lantree, he’s the brawn end of our partnership. Me, I’m the brains and I can’t always stop him before he… acts.”

*****

Lantree and Holden rode with Lucas as their prisoner through a series of narrow canyons. Had he not been with the other two, Lucas would never have seen the entrance. Lucas had lost all track of time when they finally came around a bend and the canyon opened up to a small valley. Before them, stood a house, a couple of bunkhouses, several storage buildings and barns.

“Little late for visitors, ain’t it boys?” came a deep feminine voice. The light from the lanterns inside the building illuminated her silhouette. Upon being hauled off his horse and pushed to the porch, Lucas noticed the woman wore a red satin dress, which she amply filled out.

“Miss Mable, we’re sorry about the hour, but it couldn’t be helped. We hope that we’ve found the right man to suit your needs,” Holden answered.

“Bring him inside.” Miss Mable turned and without waiting for the others, retreated into the house.

With his hands tied behind his back and a gag in his mouth, the men push Lucas into the house, a six-shooter poked into the small of his back.

The room was richly decorated with thick curtains and deep, colored upholstery on the furniture. A few bookshelves lined one of the walls with some books standing on end and others lying on their sides. The carpet was plush, as it quieted the sounds of their boots on the floor. Opposite the desk where the woman walked to, Lucas noticed a large mirror in a gold, gilded frame.

“So, promising. Nice and tall. Welcome to Burns Flatt,” Miss Mable stated as she rubbed at her chin, and sighed as if in anticipation of the man standing in front of her. Putting her hands on her hips, “Untie him and have him remove his shirt,” Mable instructed as she walked around Lucas and looked him up and down.

Lantree cocked the hammer of his weapon as Holden cut the ropes. Lucas didn’t hesitate before he threw his shoulder into Lantree and grabbed for the man’s gun. Lucas didn’t duck fast enough before Holden had his weapon drawn and brought it down on the back of his head.

“DON’T DAMAGE MY PROPERTY!” was the last Lucas heard before he blacked out.

*****

Mark arrived in Elk City just before noon on the twenty-seventh of January. He took time to curry Rainmaker at the livery before he headed to the hotel.

After looking at the register, the man behind the counter commented, “Mr. Jones, there’s a doctor down the end of the street if you need your hand looked after.”

“Guess I should have someone look at it,” Mark replied as he looked at the dirty, bloody bandage around his left hand. “Which way?”

The clerk handed Mark the key to his room, “Out the door, turn right, last door on the left.”

“Thanks.”

Mark left the lobby with his saddlebag slung over his shoulder, his Pa’s rifle slung over the crook of his left arm, and his own rifle in his right hand.

*****

Mark was greeted by a middle-age, portly looking man, wearing spectacles half-way down his nose as he entered the doctor’s office. Mark held up his hand and followed the doctor as he motioned for Mark to an examination room.

After removing the crude and filthy bandage, Doctor Brubaker commented, “Pretty minor injury for such a messy bandage,” as he examined the injury. Peering over the rims of his glasses, the doctor tried to assess why the charade.

“I’m told you can be trusted,” Mark hesitated in asking.

“Depends on what I’m expected to keep a secret. Just so you know. If you’re an outlaw, I’ll fix up your hand, but that’s it.”

“And if I’m not an outlaw?” Mark asked.

“Not an outlaw…,” the doctor scoffed. “Ain’t nobody but outlaws come to Elk City any more. Any good, decent folk been driven off or are too scared to come to town anymore.”

“Then why do you stay? Why not pack up and head to Sayre?”

“Sayre? You know Sheriff James?”

“The man I met wearing the badge was named Gusstafson…” Mark worriedly answered, wondering if the others were skillfully laying a trap or was he already in it?

“James Gusstafson. He’s married to my sister; been trying to get me out of here for quite a while. I would, only there are a few decent folks around here that still need a good doctor.”

“He said you could be trusted,” Mark said again.

“I can.”

“I need to leave something with you,” Mark stated as he reached for his saddlebag.

“I don’t have a safe,” Doc replied.

“As long as your desk can lock, I guess that’s good enough,” Mark replied as he pulled out his journal. “I can’t leave this at the livery with my saddle, nor can I leave it in the hotel. If this town is as corrupt as I’ve been informed, this journal…”

“What are you hiding?” Doc Brubaker asked.

“Doc, I’m not an outlaw…” Mark stated, handing the journal to Doc.

“You wear a badge?” Doc Brubaker asked, looking over the top of the rims to his glasses.

Mark nodded.

“They only sent one man to help clean up this town?!” Doc Brubaker’s voice elevated, and quickly lowered to a whisper, “I had hoped the Army might come in.”

“I’m not here in any official capacity, but I can’t just walk away and leave what good folks there are, in trouble. Let me ask you, have I jumped straight into the fire. ”

“That pretty well sums it up,” replied Doc Brubaker.

“I also would like to leave this rifle in town. Can your gunsmith be trusted?” inquired Mark.

“I was curious about the double rifles. Sure he can be trusted, but I wouldn’t let on to him that you are the law.”

Realizing he needed an excuse, Mark broke off the firing pin to his Pa’s rifle; effectively disabling it from possibly being used against him. Finally, he allowed the doctor to re-wrap his hand.

“You take care of yourself. I’ll do my best to help you.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

*****

Upon leaving the doctor’s office, Mark located the gunsmith and left his Pa’s rifle for repair.

“I got a number of other weapons that were here before you… Could take me three to four days to get the firing pin fixed and make sure it’s working properly.”

“That’s fine. Been looking to spend some time out of the saddle anyway and Elk City seems just the right place.”

“And your other rifle?” the man asked as he eyed it still in Mark’s hand.

“It’s fine.”

“I can always clean it up for you, compliments of the house. Since I won’t be able to get the other back to you so quick…”

“No, I prefer to clean it myself. Never know when a body might need it…”

*****

For the next three days, Mark kept his true-identity a secret and learned as much about Elk City as he could. Regretting the delay this was causing him, but as a U.S. Marshal, he could not stand by and allow good, God fearing people to suffer.

*****

After retiring to his room and having kicked his boots off, Mark crawled into the hotel bed and slept so soundly, that he didn’t hear the door to his room open, let alone the quiet footsteps of the man who walked across the floor in the early morning hours. Mark’s eyes bolted open with fear as a hand was placed across his mouth, “Easy there Mark, it is me,” came the quiet voice that belonged to the hand, “Sam Buckhart.”

As rationale thinking returned to Mark’s mind, he took the time to confirm the voice as his friend, U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart. Mark’s taunt body relaxed as he tried to slow the rapid beat of his heart.

“I presume Tom Benton sent you to help me find my Pa?”

“Find Lucas? He’s missing?”

“I’ve trailed him this far… If you’re not here to help me, what are you doing here?” Mark asked.

“I’m on assignment. Mark, you’re being watched in this town.”

“That’s what I had hoped for,” Mark replied.

“This town and Burns Flatt are full of outlaws. What are you up to and how did Lucas end up missing?”

“A bounty hunter took him before Christmas.”

“Christmas? That was over six weeks ago?” Sam stated.

“I know, I’ve been in the saddle since the day after he turned up missing.” Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Mark continued, “It was a ruse from so long ago. Micah and the Marshal up in La Mesa, Wyoming put out a wanted poster on Pa. It’s not valid…”

“But how did you end up here?”

“It said Pa was wanted in Oklahoma. I presume this bounty hunter Turpin found it and is trying to claim a reward. Elk City is the largest city he’s been through in the territory.”

“Turpin is dead,” Sam stated.

Not believing, Mark asked, “What are you talking about?”

“That bounty hunter was killed not quite a week ago. I buried him out on the trail.”

“Killed… If he was killed, where’s Pa?”

“Mark, if Lucas was with Turpin, then he has been pulled into a terrible situation, the reason that I am here. And the only way he is going to get out, is for you and me to think rationally and on our feet.”

“I know some about missing men, that’s why I came in here without wearing my badge. I was hoping if I can catch up with Pa, then together, we can help deal with whoever is responsible.”

“There are too many men in the camp for the two of you to handle,” Sam answered.

“But you make three?” Mark asked.

“Mark this situation is bigger than your looking for your father. This bounty hunter was last seen in the company of two men I’ve been trailing after. I followed their tracks only to find the man dead and evidence of someone who put up a struggle. I now believe that man was your father. And if that is the case, I fear your father has been taken to Burns Flatt and that place is a stronghold all its own.”

“Then let’s go!” Mark stated as he jumped to his feet.

“Mark, from what I’ve learned, this camp is run by a woman who has a flair for the ancient world. At Harvard I learn of the Roman Gladiators and evidently the men who are taken are made to fight in her arena.”

“Fight?” the word died on Mark’s lips. “Sam, if they have Pa, then I have to get inside. I have to make it so they take me too.”

“No, your father would not hear of it,” Sam replied.

“He’s not here, besides, I’m your superior…” replied Mark, knowing full well his pulling rank was dirty handed.

Knowing both McCain’s as well as he did, Sam realized now was not the time to argue with Mark. Better to stay close where he could keep an eye on Lucas’ son versus alienating him and forcing him to go it alone.

“Tell me what you want me to do,” Sam answered.

“I’ll get into a brawl in the saloon tomorrow afternoon, if you indicate the men who killed Turpin are present.”

“Why not today?”

“Today is Sunday… At least it will after the town wakes,” answered Mark, raising his eyebrows.

*****

Mark stood at the far end of the bar, casually drinking from the beer mug in his hand. In the reflection of the mirror, Mark watched Sam give him the signal and pointed out the two men he had been trailing as they entered the saloon.

Flipping a couple extra coins on the bar, Mark turned to leave, bending down to pickup his rifle, he deliberately bumped into a patron stepping to the bar, “Watch where you’re going!” Mark demanded.

“Watch it yourself,” the man replied.

With the speed of a rattlesnake, Mark reacted as the man threw a punch in Mark’s direction. Mark ducked and landed a hard punch of his own along the side of the man’s ribcage. The man bellowed and dove for Mark, catching him in a bear hug and lifting Mark off the ground. Mark used both hands and boxed the man’s ears. The man dropped Mark as he reached for his ears, to ease his pain. Upon gaining his balance, Mark threw a right hook landing solidly on the man’s left jaw and quickly backed away. Again, the man charged for Mark, who readily sidestepped his opponent but landed another punch to the man’s ribcage as he fell past Mark.

As the fight continued, the man did manage to land a few punches to Mark’s jaw and a couple to his ribs. The patrons inside the bar were readily enjoying the brawl, yelling encouragement with a few placing side bets. The disappointed in the room was staggering when Mark landed just the right punch and sent his opponent to the ground, unconscious. Standing, both hands to his knees, heavily breathing from his exertions, Mark accepted the congratulations and offers for drinks on the house.

The bartender handed Mark a full glass of beer as a skimpily dressed, young woman wrapped her arm around Mark’s right arm. Pulling a handkerchief from between her breasts, she dipped a corner of it in Mark’s beer before dabbing at the blood coming from the corner of his mouth.

“Ow, that stings,” complained Mark.

“Cowboy, you take out Goliath there singlehandedly and complain about my ministrations to cleaning your wound…” the woman’s voice purred.

“The name’s Joel Jones. Maybe I should have let him beat up on me a little more,” Mark stated as he sipped from the glass of beer. Remembering to play his role, Mark’s gaze traveled from the woman’s face, pausing as her bosoms lifted with her deep breath.

“I can fulfill all your pleasures, and ease your hurts a bit too…” she spoke as she leaned against Mark.

From the corner of his eye, Mark saw one of the men approaching. Pretending not to notice, Mark rested an elbow on the bar, leaned close to the woman, “You are quite…” Mark whispered in her ear.

“Hazel, leave us,” the man demanded as he pushed Hazel aside.

“Mister, I don’t know who you are, but the woman and I are having a conversation,” Mark stated as he stood straight, his posture daring the man to fight.

“I’m not here to fight you. You two can talk later. Right now I have a proposition for you.”

“A proposition? Ain’t that some kind of grammar ya learn in school,” Mark wily asked.

Figuring Mark wasn’t that well educated, the man corrected, “I would like to talk with you about a business arrangement.”

“Do I get paid for this… arrangement?” Mark asked.

“Let’s go into the back room and talk.”

The man stepped away from the bar, turned and walked through the doorway, encouraging Mark to follow him.

Setting his beer mug down, Mark picked up his rifle from leaning against the front of the bar and followed the man.

*****

Mable tried to hand Lucas a drink as he relaxed back on the couch in her office.

“Well Doc?” Mable asked after he had finished wrapping bandages round Lucas’ ribs.

“He won’t be able to fight in your next tournament,” Doc stated as he stood. “That’ll be fifteen dollars.”

“Fifteen, that’s robbery!” Mable declared.

“You want my services, you pay my price.”

Sashaying to her desk, Mable opened a drawer and pulled out a moneybox. She let those present in the room know her displeasure as she counted out the money.

“I just may have to find another doctor to fulfill our requirements,” Mable stated as she turned her back on the doctor and walked to her desk. “Leave us!” she demanded as she flipped her hand over her shoulder.

Holden closed the door after the others left Mable’s office.

“That means you too, Aaron,” Mable ordered.

Sulking, Holden left the office, slamming the door behind him.

“It’s so hard finding good help,” Mable stated as she stood from her desk and proceeded to sit down on the couch, next to Lucas. “Now, you’ve done quite well for yourself in the arena the last four times. And, you’ve made me very, very rich.”

“I’ve done what I’ve had to do in order to survive. The men talk, if a man doesn’t fight, you order his execution,” Lucas stated as he placed his hand to his side, as if it would take away some of the pain.

“Execution is such a graphic word. But you,” Mable leaned into Lucas. “I can make your life easy or I can make your life… end. It’s your choice.”

“I just want out of here and to get back to my home,” Lucas stated, looking straight ahead.

“Home? I take it you’ve family… and a wife…”

Mable opened her hand for Lucas to see his own wedding band. The wedding band Turpin had taken from him their first meeting.

“Yes, I’m married to a woman I love.”

“We’ll see about that. In time…”

*****

Mark returned to his hotel room and closed the door behind him. Sitting down at the foot of the bed, Mark worried about his Pa, and how all of this was going to pan out.

“Enter…” Mark called upon hearing a knock on the door.

“You were pulled away before we could finish our conversation…” Hazel entered the room carrying two glasses and a bottle. “I thought we could celebrate your win over Goliath. Have our own private party.”

“Hazel, I’ve spent too many days in the saddle and taking on that gorilla… I’m plumb tired…”

“Men say my hands work magic in nursing the weary traveler… or fighter…”

“Not tonight,” answered Mark.

“You don’t know what you’re missing…” Hazel sorrowfully answered while approaching Mark. Hazel knew how to move her body to tease a man.

“If you’ve been with one woman, the next…” Mark answered and quickly ducked as Hazel threw the bottle towards him.

“Ewwwwwww, MEN!” Hazel yelled as she turned and slammed the door behind her as she left the room.

*****

After seeing Lucas returned to one of the bunkhouses, Mable called Holden into her office.

“Well, Lucas is unable to fight for a few days; I need someone new, exciting, and just as crafty…”

“There’s a young poke in town.”

“I don’t want young, I want STRONG,” Mable stated wrapping her arms around herself.

“Strong? You asked Goliath about his black eye?”

“This young man you’re talking about took on Goliath?”

Holden nodded.

“Bring him to me.”

*****

Even though he heard them enter his room, Mark found himself being roughly rousted from bed, “Jones, get dressed! Time to meet your new employer.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“Either that or you meet the undertaker…” Lantree snickered.

*****

Holden and Lantree led Mark into the dimly lit office.

“You’re the scrapper who took down Goliath?” Mable asked as she stood from her desk.

“What’s it to you?” Mark answered.

“A man with your talents can… let’s just say bring a new breed of money into my fights.”

“Money’s money,” stated Mark.

“Good looks, very muscular arms...” Mable stated as she ran her hands down Mark’s upper arm, squeezing his arm in admiration. “Remove your shirt.”

“Do as Miss Mable says,” Lantree barked and jabbed his handgun in Mark’s back when he didn’t move.

“Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed by little ole me,” Mable added a little southern accent to her voice.

“You want my shirt off...”

Receiving a stronger jab in the back, “Mind yourself in front of Miss Mable.”

“Oh, I do like a man who knows how to give a woman a treat,” Mable whispered as she stood in front of Mark.

Mable reached up toward the first fastened button on Mark’s shirt and started to unbutton it, lingering before moving down to the next button. She pulled up on the shirt to unbutton the last button. Letting the shirt hang open, Mable sighed as she looked at the sinewy muscles across Mark’s chest.

Running her hands across his chest, Mable pushed Mark’s shirt off his shoulders, as she walked around to his back, lingering her fingers as she toyed them over his bare skin.

Mark remembered Marnie’s warning of a spider and her web; he couldn’t help his revulsion at the way this woman was treating him. ‘Like a prize breeding bull,’ slipped into Mark’s consciousness and he could not prevent the shudder that coursed through his body.

“Oh, you’ll more than do,” Mable whispered in Mark’s ear. Turning to Lantree, “Take him to Bunkhouse B.”

*****

“He’ll do?” Holden queried. “And just how will he do?”

“Don’t tell me you’re getting jealous, Aaron?” Mable asked.

“I just don’t like you getting so involved with these men,” Holden stated, pulling Mable into his arms and burying his face at the base of her neck. Mable tilted her head backwards and to the side; allowing her long blonde hair to fall off her shoulders, revealing the cut of her dress and exposing plenty of cleavage. Holden breathed in deeply of her perfume.

“Haven’t you noticed the men are bringing escorts and the women are getting interested in the fighting? They’re even betting.” Pushing Holden’s head away from approaching her breasts, “We need good looking men in the arena. Lucas will do once he’s healed, but we also need to address the other women who are coming… Some of the women go for mature men like Lucas… Others… let’s just say young, vibrant women need young, vibrant men.”

“And you being a young and vibrant woman?” Holden asked and pulled Mable closer, if it was even possible.

“You’re the only one man enough to bed me. But keep up this jealous streak and I might have to train one of my gladiators in just how to please me when I take him to bed.”

“Mable, don’t make threats you can’t keep.”

“Threats? Who said anything about threats, my love…” Mable playfully removed Holden’s jacket and lingered even longer as she unbuttoned his shirt. “That Jones might be well built, but you know there’s just something about you that he’ll never measure up to…” Mable twirled a lock of hair from Holden’s chest around her finger.

*****

“Thompson, just what’s this all about?” Holden asked as he blew smoke from the cigar he was enjoying into the air.

“I gotta see Miss Mable.”

“You don’t get it. Miss Mable doesn’t want to see you. You’re just supposed to clean up the bunkhouses, the arena, and this office, behind the scenes.”

“I know and I done that. But she’s gotta know…”

“I gotta know what?” Mable asked as she walked up from behind Thompson and ran her hand over the top of his head, pushing his engineers hat off.

“Oh, Miss Mable, please don’t do that,” Thompson begged, grabbing for his hat.

“What do I need to know?” Mable femininely asked as she sat on the edge of her desk.

“One of the new men…” Thompson stopped talking as Mable leaned forward to scratch at her ankle.

“What about one of the new men?” Mable asked.

“I don’t think he is who he says he is. I worked the trains and he ain’t no drifting cowboy. It’s been a long time ago, but I swear he’s the same man I saw. For two days I been thinking on this.”

“Same man you saw? Who? Where? When?” Mable raised up, her interested piqued, and stood to her feet.

“Now it’s been nigh on eight years, but I remember lawmen,” Thompson fretted.

“LAWMAN!” Mable declared. Her eyes expressed her anger towards Holden. “You bring a lawman here?!”

“Lawman? Thompson, you’re a drunk!” Holden declared.

“I weren’t a drunk back then. But I remember him, his name, McCain, same as the tall man.”

“McCain? You think he’s related to McCain?” Holden asked.

“I never saw the tall man before he arrived here, but the one calling himself Jones I heard him say he came here from New Mexico and I remember the lawman from New Mexico.”

“Oh, you…” Mable dared Holden to say anything. “If Jones is a lawman, this McCain… Then his first fight will be his last fight. If he manages to win his match, you’ll see that he doesn’t live to see dawn.”

“What about the other… Your Lucas?” Holden asked.

“Imagine the fun I’ll have, watching him watching his son die…”

“Mable,” Holden stated as he came to stand behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “You’re enjoying this as much as a cat toying with a mouse.”

“Toying is so much more fun…” Mable whispered. “Now, get the arena ready. We’ve a fight to put on tonight. Oh, and keep them two separate.”

“McCain ain’t been out of the bunkhouse since Doc left,” Holden answered.

*****

Lucas had endured, but at a cost, an eye practically swollen shut and badly bruised ribs. As uncomfortable as he was, he tried to sleep and not think about the pain.

*****

One of the hands entered the bunkhouse and declared, “Listen up!! Tonight’s combatants are, Washburn, Pulaski, Howell, and McCain!”

Lucas closed his eyes and sighed deeply as a he pushed the vision of Milly further from his thoughts.

*****

Not a vacant seat remained around the arena, men and women alike brought the house to capacity, many dressed for a high social occasion. In the middle of the arena, Mable began announcing to those present, “Not all of our gladiators are big men. Same as in Roman times, we have gladiators of various sizes. Various levels of training. As fighting skills increase, so does the reward and the gladiator’s status. So, ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, I present to you the feather-weights!”

Mark watched from the sidelines and thought ‘black widow, indeed.’ Mable was dressed in another low cut dress, black with sparkles and a red belt around her waist. Mark noticed the easy smile she held on her face as she exited the floor. From behind, Mark felt a set of strong hands push him into the arena as another man eagerly entered the arena from the opposite side; both stripped to their waists. Mark was curious about the wrapping around his opponent’s hands while he danced about the floor, jabbing his fists into the air.

After leaving the arena floor, Mable maneuvered next to Lucas, intently watching his expression. Mable wickedly delighted in the anticipation, as ‘Jones’ turned around to keep an eye his opponent as the man danced around the floor. Holden prevented Lucas’ attempt to bolt forward and yell, by pulling his gun, “I wouldn’t if I were you McCain.”

“So what Thompson told us is true? Let’s see if the son is as good as the father,” Mable purred, teasing Lucas.

The crowd started yelling, encouraging the fight to begin. Everyone present saw that Mark’s opponent was a scrapper; and to Lucas he appeared to be someone who enjoyed fighting on the bowery, be that east coast or west coast. Even though he wasn’t overly tall, he had weight behind him.

The women present began to take notice of Mark, as tall as his opponent but… One of the women reached out to the shirtless Mark as he passed in front of her. Mark was oblivious to the woman’s actions as he attempted to evaluate his opponent.

Mark’s opponent was the first to throw a punch, Mark had seen it coming and was able to step aside, barely evading the blow to his cheekbone. Mark felt the air push against his cheek as the fist missed. Raising his own fists in a defensive posture, Mark saw an opening and threw a jab towards the other man’s exposed ribs.

“Ow!” roared from the crowd as fist on flesh sounded throughout the room.

Both fighters landed punches and both fighters caused their opponent to miss. Those present were thoroughly enjoying Mable’s newest gladiators.

From the sidelines, Lucas tried his best to think of a way for him to protect his son.

*****

Mark was growing tired, each punch he landed coursed through his arm and into his chest. With each punch missed, Mark felt the waste of his energy. Worse was each punch that his opponent landed. As with Goliath previously, Mark saw his opening and landed a lucky punch knocking his opponent off his feet. The crowd yelled wildly. Mark stepped back as the man tried to crawl to his feet. The crowd started yelling for Mark to ‘kill him’. The mere thought of the brutally these people expected was sickening. It only took a few more moments before the man’s arms gave way and he dropped to the ground unconscious.

*****

Lantree entered the arena with his weapon holstered and tossed a towel to Mark, and pointed the direction for him to exit the arena. Upon reaching the sidelines, two other men took positions on either side of Mark.

“You stay put, we’ve a surprise for you… later,” Lantree spoke.

*****

Mable assumed her position in the middle of the arena, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit this evening and all the previous matches?”

The throng yelled “Yes!” as cheers echoed through the room.

“Since no one brought from their own stable any man for this a match, our final battle this evening pits my current champion against one of my own who has displeased me.” Turning around with her arms held wide, “Let the battle begin!” Mable declared and quickly left the floor.

*****

Each man standing next to Mark grabbed hold of one of his arms while Lantree whispered, “One move and you’re dead, not to mention your papa.”

Mark cringed upon seeing his Pa’s eye swollen shut and the discoloration along his ribs. Mark recognized the man who stood opposite his Pa, ‘Goliath’.

Even in as much pain as he had to be, Lucas fought for his life, because he realized his and his son’s lives depended upon him winning this fight and staying alive.

*****

The crowd roared, giving Mark the distraction he needed to break away from those standing guard over him after he watched his father fall to the ground and struggle rise. Goliath threw several savage kicks to Lucas’ ribs and one last stomp on Lucas’ leg. Running across the floor, Mark jumped on the fighter’s back and wrapped his legs around the man’s waist. His arms held a death lock around the man’s neck. The fighter spun around as he threw his elbows backwards, striking Mark hard in the ribs. Each time, Mark struggled to take in a breath and keep his arms’ grip. The man continued to spin around as his vision started to fade and he lost consciousness. Mark didn’t have time to react as his weight caused the man to fall backwards, collapsing on top of Mark. Mark’s head struck the ground causing his vision to become blurry, but he struggled to remain conscious.

Lucas and Mark were oblivious to everything happening outside of the arena as men started yelling and women started screaming. The crowd broke and ran in every direction. Lucas managed to drag himself over to where Mark lie and pulled his son out from underneath the unconscious Goliath.

Shaking his head to help regain his senses, Mark looked to Lucas, “Pa, are you alright?”

“I’ve been better, son.”

The room had quieted when Mark finally looked up to see men wearing badges surrounding the spectators and competitors alike. They both heard, “I’m looking for Lucas or Mark McCain.”

Weakly Mark called out, “Over here.”

A corridor slowly appeared through the throng and Mark recognized a few of their rescuers walking towards them, Tom Benton and Coltrane Walker, in addition to Sam Buckhart.

“Unhand me!” Mable called as another deputy escorted her to the arena floor.

Lucas gave a brief laugh followed by a groan as even that little movement agitated his ribs, he collapsed to lay flat out on the floor.

“Pa!” Mark called out. “Tom, get a doctor in here! Pa’s beat up!”

*****

The rescuers loaded Lucas and Mark in the back of a wagon and with Tom Benton volunteering to drive the buckboard; they were made ready to travel.

Before leaving Tom hollered, “Coltrane, I want names and addresses from everyone present. Figure out who were spectators and who were running the fight. Separate the fighters and I’ll be back once Lucas and Mark are tended to.”

Tom rein slapped the horses to get them moving as they proceeded to Elk City and Doctor Brubaker’s clinic.

*****

“Your father will be okay, but he’s going to be sore for quite a long time. He received at least three broken ribs on his left side, and his ribs on the right are bruised. His left leg is fractured so he won’t be walking for a while. I’ve sedated him; he should sleep through the night. Now, what about you?” the Doc Brubaker asked.

“Just been used as a punching bag, though not nearly as bad as my Pa,” Mark answered as he looked to the room where his pa slept.

Once Doc Brubaker saw for himself that Mark was telling the truth, he released Mark from the clinic with orders to head to the café for a bite to eat.

Mark stepped into the telegraph office first.

Milly and Hope McCain
North Fork, New Mexico

Pa sends his love /stop/
So do I /stop/

Mark

Not realizing anyone was behind him, Mark startled when he heard, “Not mentioning Lucas’ injuries?”

“Tom, no. I’m sure they’ve been worried enough. No need to add to it.”

“Your call,” Tom replied.

“Tom can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, Mark,” Tom answered, curiously.

“What is today? I’ve totally lost track of how long I’ve been gone from home.”

“Today’s February fourth.”

Mark took a moment for the date to sink in, “I’ve been gone for almost seven weeks?”

“Yes,” Tom replied as he put a hand to Mark’s shoulder. “I can’t wait to read this report.”

“Report? But…”

“Mark, whether you realize it or not, we’ve been trying to bust Mable Kargen for years. Never were able to get a man in here. So you might think you were just trailing after Lucas, but considering how this excursion ended, you’re considered -- on duty the whole time you’ve been trailing Lucas.”

“Thanks,” said Mark a little sarcastically.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to write your report while you’re heading home. I’ll see that two train tickets are sent over to the hotel. Once the doc says Lucas is ready to travel, you two can get out of here.”

“Tom, how did you get here? I mean…” spoke Mark as they stepped from the telegraph office.

“After you disappeared,” Sam stated as he stood from the bench out front. “I rode hi-tail for Sayre. We were already working this case when you showed up, and Tom was waiting for my signal once I found a way inside... I know that I should not have allowed you to become involved, but I saw no other way to get inside their camp.”

Shaking his head, “Can’t you write the report?” Mark asked of Sam.

“I will write my part, but you need to fill in the blanks and your own observations.”

As the threesome headed to the café’ they heard Doc Brubaker call out for Mark.

“Think you’ll be wanting this later tonight.”

“Thanks doc,” Mark answered as he gladly accepted his journal.

“I hope you have some notes in there to help you write your report, Marshal McCain,” Tom smiled as he slapped Mark on the back. “Come on, I know you have to be hungry.”

*****

Throughout the night, Tom Benton and the others rounded up any known outlaws unfortunate enough to have not left Elk City and handled arrangements for their transportation to whichever jurisdiction had warrants out for their arrests. Those who hadn’t heard the news gave up their weapons upon seeing the sheer number of U.S. Marshals and Deputies throughout the town.

*****

The following morning, Mark was present when Tom read the charges against Mable. Tom had put the ‘constable’ in one of his own cells, pending formal charges being filed against him. Looking at one of the pictures on the wall, Mark recognized the map of the Oklahoma Territory and his attention drifted from the conversation.

The Next Step — Reunited

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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