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The Next Step...
Chapter 107 - The Four Guns of North Fork
Written by Deanne Bertram

The Friday afternoon train was full of visitors arriving in North Fork, more than any other time; Seth pushed his hat back as he answered question after question about restaurants and lodging. As the final passengers stepped from the train, Seth did a double take, at first not believing his eyes as Ethan Lane and his wife, Annie, and their children, Seth Edward and Marissa, walked towards him.

“You’re the last people I expected to see step from the train. Why didn’t you wire that you were coming?” Seth asked. “Lilah’s going to be so pleased to see all of you.”

“We gonna cheer for you Grandpa!” declared Seth Edward as he jumped up into his Grandfather’s arms.

“Wait a minute! What do you mean, cheer for me?” Seth asked.

“Father, it’s in all the papers, The Four Guns of North Fork,” Ethan answered as he produced a copy of one of the newspapers.

“He didn’t,” anger edged Seth’s voice upon reading the advertisement.

“Who didn’t,” Annie asked.

“I’ll see you to the house, but then I need to ride to Lucas and Mark’s,” Seth announced.

*****

“HE WHAT?!” yelled Lucas, loud enough to practically be heard all the way in North Fork.

“That was about my reaction,” answered Seth. “We can always refuse to go.”

“Has there been an influx of people in town?” asked Mark.

“Yeah, there were an unusual number of people getting off the train today.”

“And I’m sure it will continue tomorrow, right up to our one and only performance,” commented Mark.

“Only one?” asked Lucas as Mark handed him back the paper.

“Right under The Four Guns of North Fork it boldly states, one performance only.”

“Well, do we go through with it?” asked Seth.

“We could always forget to take our guns with us,” replied Lucas.

“Like that would ever happen. People know us. When are we ever without our rifles?” asked Mark.

“Mark that’s not the point,” Seth replied.

“I know what the point is, but I can’t see us disappointing family. Can you, Pa? Seth said Ethan and his family were here to cheer us on,” stated Mark.

“Guess not, but just wait until I get my hands on Cody.”

“Pa, keep your temper, you’re talking with lawmen present,” teased Mark.

“Are your ribs going to be healed enough?” asked Seth.

“I’ll see Doc Burrage tomorrow morning and ask that he wrap them, again.”

“Wrap them again?”

“I sort of unwrapped them the other night, the bandaging was bothering me,” Mark sheepishly replied.

“What did Johnny have to say?” Lucas curiously asked.

“I didn’t tell him, yet,” Seth answered.

*****

Johnny’s reaction was the same as Lucas’, angered that Cody would have gone behind their backs.

“Johnny, he’s a showman. What else was he supposed to do?”

“He could have accepted our answers!”

“Well, Lucas and Mark are up to going through with this, as it is only one show.”

“One show, and how many outlaws will come to town after one show?”

“How many outlaws have come to town before? Johnny, we’re trained lawmen, maybe this will prove our reputations and the outlaws won’t want to try us…”

*****

Saturday dawned with excitement in both the McCain homes, the children were eager to get dressed and help with chores before the big event; the only thing the boys regretted was taking a bath before heading into town.

While the twins were drying off Josh stated, “Still wish we had a tub room like our other Grandpa and Grandma.”

“Keep wishing,” Mark replied. “You just get to your bedroom and get dressed.”

“Where you going?” Eli asked upon seeing Mark head for the kitchen back door.

“Outside to take a shower. Go get dressed,” was Mark’s response as he pointed back to the boys’ bedroom.

“Yes sir,” all three boys answered.

*****

There was just as much eagerness at Milly and Lucas’ home when it came time for the boys to bathe.

“You know, maybe we should look into building on a tub room,” Milly suggested.

“A tub room?” Lucas asked. His question was more a question to see if he heard his wife’s suggestion correctly.

“And why not? We’re not that far from the turn of the century and tubs in home are becoming the normal.”

“Next there’ll be outhouses inside.”

“Pew!” Levi answered as he stepped from the bedroom and heard Lucas’ comment.

*****

Having stopped by the clinic for Thadd to re-wrap his ribs, Mark pulled the team to a stop outside the show grounds, surprised at how much they had expanded the arena for additional spectators.

“There they are Pa!,” Zach yelled and pointed to where Lucas, Milly, and their family were waiting.

“Pa? Since when do you call me Pa?” asked Mark, surprised his son didn’t call him Papa.

“We’re six, we’re not little babies anymore,” Josh answered.

Mark guided the team to his family and tied the horses to one of the shade trees, after helping his family down from the buckboard.

“Well,” Johnny Gibbs called as he and his family joined the McCain’s. “Who’s going to be the victor today? You both have some stiff competition with Annie Oakley and Frank Butler.”

“Uncle Johnny, does it really matter who’s best?” asked Mark.

“Brother, we were roped into this event, but it will be fun seeing how we measure up,” commented Lucas.

*****

The crowd filled every seat in the arena and leaving many others standing, waiting in anticipation to see the world famous Buffalo Bill Cody, Frank Butler, and ‘Little Miss Sure Shot’ go up against ‘The Four Guns of North Fork’. The crowd excitedly talked of the North Fork Lawmen as they placed wagers openly against all participants.

Regardless of whom the crowd was there to see, they enjoyed the whole performance, so far.

The roustabout had staged the arena when Buffalo Bill Cody rode his white horse into the center of the arena and raised his arms, motioning for the crowd to quiet.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS! We now have come to what you have all come from near and far to see.”

The crowd cheered forcing Cody to wait until they quieted, before he continued.

“Never before has the Wild West met such formidable gunmen. We’ve met outlaws and military marksmen, but never have we had the opportunity to match our own abilities against lawmen the likes as those who call North Fork and New Mexico their home.”

The crowd cheered again.

“Last week, I proposed our little shooting match and I received a resounding refusal by all four. Maybe you can help convince your esteemed representatives of the law to agree, today.”

Quietly a chant started in the crowd, and gained momentum and noise as others picked up the chant, stomping their feet, clapping their hands as they called out, “Four Guns of North Fork! Four Guns of North Fork!”

Johnny Baker jumped down from the railing and ran to where Cody had stepped down from his horse; he took the reins and ran with the horse to the end of the arena where the gates opened and two people walked out and across the grounds. The woman wore a buckskin skirt and a long-sleeve blouse with medals across the front, and she carried a rifle. Next to the woman walked a man, wearing a fringed buckskin jacket over military pants and he too carried a rifle. They walked until the woman stood between the two men in the middle of the arena. Cody’s hand was on the butt of his holstered handgun and the other two held their rifles in their crossed arms.

The crowd quieted to a small murmur, wondering if there really would be a show.

“Buffalo Bill Cody!” was yelled from somewhere in the crowd. “You throw down a challenge?”

“That I have!” Cody yelled in reply as he tucked his thumbs into his gun belt and rocked back on his heels. “Are the lawmen of North Fork brave enough to accept my challenge?”

A small portion of the crowd started laughing when they heard a young girl yell out, “My Pa’s the best shot in the world!” only to be countered by a young boy yelling out, “No he ain’t, my Pa is!”

One by one, four men made their way from the stands, climbed over the railing and jumped to the floor of the arena. The crowd silenced, in hopes of hearing the acceptance of the challenge. The four men stood together in a circle before they formed a line, shoulder to shoulder, and stride for stride, they crossed the ground, stopping about thirty feet away from the others.

“So are you here to accept my challenge?” Cody called out, loud enough for the crowd to hear.

The four men let their weapons do the talking, mindful of the setup of the arena and the targets in relationship to the crowd. Lucas and Mark dropped to their knees, firing their rifles from their hips taking out the targets on the outer portion of a large wheel. Johnny and Seth pulled their guns from their holsters and fired at several of the bottles sitting on a railing. Not wanting to be out gunned, Buffalo Bill Cody pulled his gun from his holster and fired at the smaller targets sitting on the railing, while Annie Oakley and Frank Butler fired their shouldered rifles from a standing position, towards targets on the inner portion of the wheel.

By the time the first barrage of gunfire stopped and the smoke cleared, the crowd was on their feet, cheering, yelling out the name of the gunman who was their favorite.

The seven gunmen cleared their rifles or holstered their handguns before they met in the middle of the arena and exchanged handshakes.

“You gave me a scare, wasn’t sure if you would be willing to go through with this,” Cody stated.

“We almost didn’t,” answered Lucas.

“What changed your minds?”

“If we beat you, maybe we’ll be able to prevent outlaws from ever wanting to try their guns in our town,” answered Drako. “But mind you, we’re not doing this for our reputations; we’re doing this because of the people.”

Roustabouts reset the targets and one by one, the seven marksmen struck target for target, round for round. As the demonstration progressed, the challenges became more difficult, from stationary targets shrinking in size to moving targets. The crowd continued cheering, but eventually, Buffalo Bill and Seth were the first to miss their intended targets in the same round, followed in the next round by Johnny. Two rounds later Frank Butler missed his first target. Six rounds later, Lucas and Mark still stood with Annie Oakley.

While the roustabouts attempted to figure out new targets, Buffalo Bill strode back to the middle of the arena, arms raised to quiet the crowd.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think you’ve all gotten your monies worth out of today’s performance.” Cody paused allowing the crowd to cheer. “I must declare, I was not prepared to call a draw today, at least not with three still standing.” The crowd cheered again. “The best has met the best and all three are entitled to be considered the best!”

The sharpshooters all returned to the center of the arena and bowed to the crowd. Slowly the crowd filed from the show grounds, excitedly talking at having witnessed such a great show.

***

Lucas was the first to notice Mark leaning against side of one of the trailers, hand to his side, as they waited for their families, “Son, are you okay?”

“I think I need to have Doc look at my ribs again, that last shot I took, my rifle felt funny with its recoil. I caught myself in the ribs.” His pain was evident on his face as he pressed his hand to his side.

“So you’re saying that had there been one more round, Lucas would have stood alone with Annie?” Johnny asked.

“That’s not what I’m saying, I’m just saying, it was going to take a lot of concentration for me to shoot again,” replied Mark.

“Mark, why don’t you head on over to Doc’s, I’ll tell Hope and we’ll be over as soon as we can.”

“It’s not like I rode Rainmaker, Pa. I can wait for the family. I think Hope would be more upset if I headed on over without her.”

*****

“I don’t think you did any more damage, just take two of those pain pills tonight and tomorrow, if you need to tomorrow night, that’s okay too,” Thadd replied after rebandaging Mark’s ribs, for a second time that day. “Just take it easy, please?”

“I’ll try,” answered Mark as he buttoned his shirt.

The Next Step — Bittersweet

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

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