Fanfiction story based on the television show "The Young Riders".
|Retribution and Renewed Hope
Disclaimer: The characters of “The Young Riders” were created for television by Ed Spielman. The series aired on ABC TELEVISION from 1989 - 1992. This story takes place after the episode “The Man Behind the Badge”.
The town was finally returning to normal after the upheaval caused by Van Dorn and his men. Marshal Sam Cain was almost completely recovered from his leg wound, and most of the damage done by the “protection committee” had been repaired. There was even a rumor that a new tailor would be opening shop soon. Sweetwater was once again a peaceful, friendly little town.
“I told you before to stay out of my store,” Bill Tompkins’ yell shattered the stillness of the early morning.
Buck stood at the door to the shop and sighed. “I know, and I’m really sorry, but Emma asked me to pick up some items for her.”
“Why did she send you?” Tompkins demanded curtly.
Buck shrugged. He’d asked himself that same question the whole ride in, and still hadn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. He had decided that he wasn’t going to argue with Mr. Tompkins because it didn’t do any good. “You’ll have to ask her. She insisted that I had to be the one to do this. I came early so as not to bother anyone. Please, Mr. Tompkins, I don’t want any trouble. I just want to pick up the items on this list and go home. I promise not to bother anyone.”
Tompkins glanced around his nearly empty store. He decided to grant the boy’s request this one time, but made a note to have a little talk with Teaspoon Hunter about Miss Shannon’s choice in errand boys. “Alright, but make it quick.”
“Yes, Sir,” Buck replied releasing the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He didn’t like coming here anymore that Tompkins liked having him here. He still couldn’t figure out what he had done wrong that Emma felt she needed to punish him. Any of the other riders would have been a better choice. Heck, even Ike would have met with less resistance. He took out the list Emma had given him and began gathering the items written there. As he worked, he realized why it had to be him – Emma was planning a surprise of some sort. He could tell by the things he was buying. He grinned when he realized it was most likely something for Ike’s birthday, that’s why Ike couldn’t come.
Buck worked quickly and was soon finished. As he placed the last item on the counter, Doc Burke entered the store. He was talking to a man a few years older than Buck. There was something familiar about him – something familiar and unsettling.
“I can’t believe you never told me,” the man said angrily. “You know how long I’ve been looking for him!”
“First of all, I couldn’t tell you anything because I never had a name,” said Doc. “Besides, it can’t be him. It must be someone with the same or a similar name. This man is not a cold-blooded killer, Carson. He’s a good man.”
Buck stiffened. He quickly paid for the items he’d gathered. “Thank you, Mr. Tompkins,” he said. He collected his purchase and turned to leave – making sure to keep his face away from Doc and his companion. He desperately hoped he had misunderstood the man’s name. He slowly made his way to the door.
Doc Burke escorted his friend over to the counter. “Bill, I’d like you to meet an old, old friend of mine. This is Carson Hawkin. He’s thinking of starting a general store back home. I figured you’d be the best person around to give him some advice.”
Buck stopped at the door and took a quick glance at the man. He almost dropped his package. It was really him; he was here, and Buck knew the real reason why – he was here to kill Sam.
As Buck packed his purchases in his saddle bags, Doc Burke left the store. He nodded to Buck and headed back to his office. Buck quickly finished his task and hurried after the doctor. “Excuse me, Doc,” he said. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation as you entered Tompkins’ store. Was your friend talking about Sam?”
Doc turned to face Buck. “What makes you ask that?” he asked suspiciously.
Buck hesitated just a second before offering his explanation, “When I first left my village, I got caught in a surprise snow storm. I somehow managed to find my way into a barn. I got really sick. I would have died except the owner of the barn took care of me. He kept me alive and to repay him I went to work for him.”
Doc nodded as Buck spoke. A look of sudden realization spreading across his face, “That explains why you’ve always seem familiar to me. You were his little lost puppy.”
It was Buck’s turn to be surprised, “Sir?”
Doc explained. “That’s what his mother called you when I got to the house after he drug me out in that blasted blizzard. I only saw you that once. I gave him some medicine to give you, told him to keep you warm, fed, and let me know if you didn’t get better by the end of the week.”
“Oh,” said Buck suddenly realizing that Doc was most likely the only reason he was still alive.
“This still doesn’t explain why you’d think he was talking about Sam,” Doc said.
“Mr. Hawkin told me that the reason he helped me was because I reminded him of himself – being on my own at such a young age. Turns out I was around the same age he was when his father was killed. He told me about how his father was gunned down in front of him by a hired gun named Sam Cain. He vowed that no matter how long it took he was going to find him and make him pay. Someday he was going to kill him.” Buck stopped speaking as he remembered the anger he’d felt coming off the man as he had spoken.
“That’s the same story I was told, but it can’t be Sam,” Doc started.
“It is,” said Buck. “He told us about it a few days ago. The fires that were getting started before we knew who was behind everything, caused him to start remembering his past. He decided he needed to share the things he had done with Emma. It was seeing the boy that made him stop.”
Doc stared at Buck in shock. “You think he’s serious about trying Sam?”
Buck nodded. “We need to stop him. He’s not fast enough. You think you could talk him out of trying?”
Doc shrugged. “Probably not. He’s been looking for this guy since he was ten; that’s over half his life. I’ll give it a try though, and let you know what happens.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Buck said as he returned to his horse and headed toward the station. He had been so concerned about Mr. Hawkin and Sam that he didn’t notice the man standing in the shadows watching him intensely. The man that he should have known would be there if he’d thought about it.
Buck woke up a few hours later. It was hard to move because of the way he was tied, but he finally managed to maneuver himself from lying face down on his stomach until he rested on his right side. He was on the floor of what appeared to be a hotel room. His hands were tied behind his back and then secured to his feet which were also bound together. There was a rag stuffed in his mouth so he couldn’t call out. His head hurt and he thought his left shoulder might be injured. He tried to remember how he’d gotten here. He had been on his way home when he had been yanked off his horse and clubbed with the butt end of a rifle. If the face he was remembering was the right one, he was in serious trouble.
The man was the reason Buck had ended up at the mission instead of just staying on the Rocking H Ranch with Carson Hawkin. He’d been the foreman. He’d also been in charge of training the horses until Buck had managed to tame a wild stallion the man had been working with for weeks. The man had been furious when Buck had managed to ride the horse after working with it for only one week. It only made matters worse when Mr. Hawkin had given Buck the horse as payment for the job. Buck groaned as he realized that was how this man had recognized him – his horse, Warrior Spirit.
Buck was trying to work his hands free when he heard footsteps in the hallway. He turned himself back onto his stomach and did his best to look like he was still unconscious. He heard a door open, then voices.
“Jackson, you’re an idiot!” Carson Hawkin said as he knelt next to Buck. “I told you I gave him the horse legally years ago. He’s gonna have the papers unless he’s a bigger fool than you are.”
“It ain’t right,” Jackson grumbled. “He don’t deserve to have that animal.”
“I disagree,” Hawkin replied, “and it was my animal to do with as I pleased.” Buck felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He did his best not to flinch at the pain the touch sent coursing through his body. All of a sudden, the tension of the ropes lessened and his legs fell free. Then he felt someone gently untying him.
Carson Hawkin rolled Buck unto his back, removed the rag from his mouth, and helped him sit up. “Sorry,” he said. “Some people just have trouble letting go of their anger. I hope you won’t make a big deal out of this.”
Buck carefully moved his left arm and rubbed his sore shoulder. “I can let it go, this time,” he said solemnly.
“Good,” Hawkin replied. “I’d hate to have to waste my hard earned money bailing him out of jail.”
Buck nodded. He glanced at Jackson. There was a deep seeded hatred smoldering in his eyes. It was caused by more than Buck being the one to tame Warrior Spirit. It was akin to the hatred Tompkins had of all things Indian. “Why doesn’t he like me?” Buck asked, “And don’t tell me it’s because of Warrior Spirit. He didn’t like me before that ever happened.”
Jackson started to speak, but Hawkin cut him off with a glance. “He don’t like you because you came between us,” he explained with a sigh.
Buck looked puzzled, “What?”
Hawkin continued, “After my father died, he stepped in and showed me how to run the place. He was like a father to me; I think he was afraid I’d start thinking of you as a son. Jackson’s always been a bit closed when it comes to sharing outside the ‘family’ as he calls us. That’s why I sent you away- to allow you to grow-up and come back to prove to him you were worthy of being included in our family. I was a bit surprised and hurt that you never even wrote.”
“You sold me,” Buck pointed out coldly. “One minute I was walking down the street with you at my side, the next you were taking money from some lady all dressed in black. I never figured you’d want to hear from a piece of old property. The nun who bought me told me that wasn’t true; that you’d only done it because you knew that I wouldn’t leave owing you the money you paid out saving my life before, and you were scared I’d get myself killed. I wanted to believe her more than anything, and when my horse was brought there with instructions that I was to be allowed to keep it and you would pay any expenses, I did believe her. So I wrote. She sent it to you and I never got any response. I made it a point to tell her she was wrong and refused to write again. It might not be much, but I do have my pride.
“She kept insisting that I was wrong about you so Ike and I even went by when we left the school. He” – Buck indicated Jackson who was standing passively letting all the hatred he possessed show as he stared intently at Buck – “told us we weren’t welcome. He had a shotgun with him so we didn’t argue.”
Hawkin looked up at Jackson, “That’s the day you asked about the horse after all those years?”
Jackson simply nodded.
“You took the letter too, didn’t you?” Hawkin asked.
Again a nod and a slight evil grin.
“You’re such an idiot, Jackson,” Hawkin repeated. “I’m not sure why I keep you around.”
“Because you need me if you’ve got a prayer of ever killing Sam Cain,” Jackson snarled. “You need me to keep you focused.”
Buck looked from Hawkin to Jackson and back again. He thought carefully before speaking. “He’s not the same man,” Buck started.
“That ain’t what you told the doctor,” Jackson snapped. “I heard you tell him it was the marshal that done it.”
Buck nodded. He needed to explain this carefully. “It was the same person, but he’s not the same man.”
“What kind of injun nonsense is that?” Jackson growled.
Buck sighed. He needed to get Hawkin away from Jackson. “Can we go somewhere we can talk alone? I need you to meet someone. What I’m trying to say will make more sense after you do.”
Hawkin nodded and stood. He helped Buck to his feet. “Stay here,” he said to Jackson. “You can make your plans and we’ll talk when I get back.”
Jackson started to object, but changed his mind when he saw the look in Hawkin eyes. He wasn’t in the mood for arguing. He watched them leave. God how he hated that no account half-breed; he was always getting in the way and messing things up.
After a quick stop at Doc Burke’s office to check on Buck’s shoulder, Buck and Carson left for the way station. They arrived just as the others were finishing up lunch.
“What took you so long, Son?” asked Teaspoon as they dismounted. He noticed the bruise on Buck’s face and asked, “Tompkins give you some trouble?”
“No, Sir,” replied Buck. “I ran into my old friend here, Carson Hawkin. We spent some time talking.
“You hungry?” asked Emma as she stepped outside.
“Yes, Ma’am,” answered Buck. He took his package from the saddle bag and gave it to her. “Here’s the things you wanted me to get for you. I’m sorry for the fuss this morning. I understand now.”
The others all gathered around and stood waiting.
Emma just smiled, “Thank you. Why don’t you and your friend wash up and come get something to eat?”
As they walked past Ike, he glared at the man with Buck. He grabbed Buck’s arm, *What is he doing here? Why are you even talking to him? Didn’t he hurt you enough the last time?*
“I’ll explain later,” Buck whispered. “It’s not what you think.”
Teaspoon witnessed the exchange and asked, “So, Mr. Hawkin, you planning or staying in Sweetwater long?”
“Just passing through,” replied Hawkin with a smile. “I have some business to tend to and then I’ll be heading back home to my ranch near Platte City.
As they settled at the table, Emma asked, “Mr. Hawkin, how do you know Buck? He’s never mentioned you before.”
Hawkin grinned. “That don’t surprise me. He tends to keep things close.”
As the laughter faded, Hawkins continued, “Anyway, about seven, eight years ago I found him half dead lying in a horse stall at my ranch.” He went on to explain how he’d nursed Buck back from death and Buck had worked for him a few months before going to the mission school to obtain an education.
The other riders all listened to the story with interest. “Why didn’t you go back once you left the mission?” asked Lou. “It sounds like the perfect place for you and Ike to find a job.”
*We went,* replied Ike. *We weren’t welcome. In fact we were lucky to get away in one piece.* Ike just glared at the man sitting next to his best friend. *He left out the part about selling Buck to the nuns!* He’d had enough; he stood and started to walk out of the room.
“Ike, wait,” Buck called. “It’s not like it looked. He did it to save me.”
*From who?* demanded Ike.
“Jackson, my foreman and guardian,” said Mr. Hawkin. “He resented Buck’s ability with animals and my interest in his well-being. Jackson tried to kill Buck more than once so I sent Buck away to keep him safe. I was still learning how to run the place so I needed Jackson to help with both the ranch and some other business I needed to tend to. Heck, at the time, I wasn’t much older than you are now, and Jackson treated me like a son.”
Ike looked at Buck. *That true?*
Buck nodded. “He’s the man who chased up off when we stopped by.”
Ike started to protest this description of what had happened, but changed his mind when he saw the look on Buck’s face. No need to bring up painful memories and share them with everyone. It was bad enough for Buck that Ike was there to see what really happened. He came back and sat next to Buck. *I’m sorry.*
“That’s alright,” Buck said. “We may have a problem though.”
“What’s that?” asked Jimmy.
“Jackson is in town with Mr. Hawkin. He’s here to help with the business he has.”
“That’s right,” said Hawkin. “He may try and cause trouble for Buck with the local law. He’s gonna claim that Buck stole the horse he rides. You still have those papers?”
Buck nodded. “I keep them safe just like you told me. They’re never too far away, but not in my saddlebags.”
“Good boy,” said Hawkin. “Now, is there some place we can go have that talk?”
“You two stay here and finish eating,” said Emma. “We’ve all got other things to do.” She stood and ushered everyone outside.
“Thank you, Emma,” said Buck.
”You’re most welcome. You come up to the house and let me tend that eye when you’re finished here.”
She smiled at him as she shut the door behind her.
“You wanted me to meet them because they’re his friends, didn’t you?” Hawkin asked.
Buck nodded. “They all care about him, especially Emma. I care about them. I can’t let you do this.”
“How do you plan on stopping me?” asked Hawkin stiffening.
Buck shrugged. “I don’t know. I was hoping to get you to change your mind. Anyone else I’d just kill them, but. . .”
“You can’t kill me because I saved your life,” interrupted Hawkin.
Buck nodded. “That’s also why I can’t let you try.”
“What?” asked Hawkin.
“If you call him out and he wins, I’d be obligated to avenge your death. Sam’s my friend. I don’t want to have to choose.” Buck paused. “Besides, like I said before, he’s not the same man. The man that killed your father disappeared shortly after that happened. He saw you and realized what he’d become. He didn’t like it so he changed. Killing him won’t bring back your father, but it will make you the same type of heartless person he was – is that really what you want?”
Hawkin shook his head. “Jackson keeps telling me I’m not really a man until I make him pay. That’s what he meant by I need him to keep me focused. I’d have given up long ago if he didn’t keep reminding me.”
“Why would he care? Did he ride with your father?”
Hawkin nodded, “They were like brothers. Sort of like you and Ike from what I’ve seen.”
“Then why didn’t he go after Sam himself?” Buck asked. “Why insist on you doing it?”
Hawkin shrugged. “I guess he wanted to give me the chance to prove myself a man.”
“I bet he’s seen Sam draw,” Buck said.
Hawkin nodded. “Told me he’s pretty fast.”
“He is,” replied Buck. “So why encourage you to. . .” Buck paused and looked at Hawkin eyes wide as he realized what was really going on. “He wants you dead,” Buck said.
“You’re crazy,” said Hawkin. “Why would he want that?”
“So he can have the ranch,” said Buck. “You said so yourself earlier. He’s made himself indispensable and he ran me off when he thought you might take me in permanently. He’s goading you into a showdown you can’t win so he can have the place. He probably feels he deserves it for putting up with you all these years.”
Hawkin glared at Buck. “You got no call to say those things. He’s been good to me. He took care of me and my mother; showed me how to keep the place going. Without him I would have lost it years ago. I probably should have given a part of the ranch to him, but . . .”
“It didn’t feel right,” Buck cut in. “You can tell he’s no good. You don’t really trust him anymore than I do. The plan he’s coming up with is one that has him helping you kill Sam, isn’t it? He’s figuring out where to hide to get off a clean shot, undetected.”
“I bet he doesn’t plan on shooting Sam,” Buck said. “He wants to make sure you die so he can take over. He . . .”
“That’s enough,” yelled Hawkin. “I won’t stay here and listen to you bad mouth him anymore than I’d listen to him talk about you. I told you before he’s been like a father to me.” He stood. “I’m going back to town. I’ll agree to wait a few days, watch this marshal of yours and see if I agree that he deserves to live. I’ll even let you know my decision before I do anything, but I don’t want to see you anymore.” He stormed out of the bunkhouse, throwing the door open so hard it bounced shut and open again, and rode off in a huff.
“Everything alright?” asked Teaspoon as he stopped the door from banging shut a second time.
“No,” said Buck. “He’s going to get himself killed and I don’t know how to stop him.”
“Talk to me,” said Teaspoon as he joined the younger man sitting at the table. “Maybe I can help.”
A few days later, Doc Burke got a message to Buck that Hawkin had decided Sam needed to pay for his crime. Since Same couldn’t do anything until Hawkin made a play or caused a problem, he needed a plan. So the morning after Buck got word about Hawkin’s decision, he sent word to Sam asking if they could meet. Now, Buck sat in Sam’s office with Doc Burke, Teaspoon, and Sam. “It’s not him,” insisted Buck. “Jackson is still playing with his head. He’s got him convinced the only way he’ll ever get over feeling like he let his dad down is by killing Sam. I’ve got to get him to talk to me.”
“That won’t help,” said Doc. “He’s still upset about you accusing Jackson of wanting to kill him. He’ll shoot you before you get a word out of your mouth.”
Buck sighed. “I need to do something. I can’t just let him die.”
“Maybe I can help,” said Sam.
“How?” asked Teaspoon. “By calling him out early?”
“By controlling where we are,” said Sam. “If I can set the spot, it will limit where this Jackson fella can hide.”
“How does that help?” asked Doc.
“If Jackson has a limited number of choices, we can cover them,” explained Sam.
“But you still have to draw on Mr. Hawkin,” said Buck. “I can’t let that happen.”
“Hear him out,” said Teaspoon. “I bet he has that covered.”
Buck looked at Sam.
Sam continued, “I agree to meet him, but insist on a time and place where innocent people can’t get hurt. You and the other riders stake out the only areas Jackson can hide. We work out a signal to let me know he’s been captured, and then I try to talk him out of the shoot-out. If I can’t, I shoot him it he leg.”
“What if he shoots you?” asked Doc.
“Hopefully, you fix me up,” said Sam with a slight grin.
“No,” said Buck. “It’s still too risky. One of you could still die.”
“I can’t guarantee I won’t,” agreed Sam, “but I can promise you Mr. Hawkin won’t.”
“That’s not good enough,” said Buck. “If you get hurt, Emma will be real upset.”
“It’s the best I can do,” said Sam. “The rest is up to you and the others.”
Two days later, as most people were sitting down to their evening meal, the riders were quietly working their way through all the available ambush spots. Sam stepped out of his office and headed toward the agreed upon spot. As he walked down the street, he looked for the agreed upon sign. Each place had a rider, but no flag.
The setting sun was beginning to cause the buildings to cast shadows across Sam’s path. He approached the edge of town where the empty tailor’s shop stood. This was the last place someone could be hiding. Buck was carefully searching all the available spots where a person could hide himself and still have a view of the street. Hawkin was already standing at the end of the street. Buck was certain he was the real target so he didn’t bother with places that didn’t offer a shot at him. He moved quietly to the roof, knife in hand. He was beginning to wonder if he was wrong about Jackson – could the man really want to help Hawkin. He’d just about given up when he found Jackson hiding behind the tailor’s new sign. He stalked his target with a stealth born of hunting for survival. Just as Buck was about to spring, Jackson turned, jumped up and grabbed Buck’s arm. They fell to the ground wrestling for control of the knife. Finally, Jackson knocked the knife from Buck’s hand. He kicked Buck in the stomach driving the air from his lungs. As Buck lay gasping for breath, Jackson picked up the knife and plunged it into Buck’s side. “That ought to slow you down enough for me to finish with Carson. I’ll be back for you after you’ve watched him die because you couldn’t protect him.” He chuckled to himself as he envisioned what he had in mind for Buck, “I plan to make you suffer.”
He turned his back on Buck and went back to his post. He picked up the rifle and waited.
Buck fought off the pain and dizziness. He needed to end this now. He pulled his revolver from its holster. He pushed himself into a sitting position, offered up a quick prayer, and fired. Then he collapsed onto the roof, and waited to die.
The gunshot brought all the other riders out of hiding. Hawkin looked in the direction of the sound. Sam was already headed toward the store. “Someone get Doc,” he yelled. “He’s in my office.” He made his way up the ladder in the back alley to the roof.
He reached Buck just as Hawkin reached the top of the ladder. “Hang on, Buck. Doc’s coming,” Sam said. “Don’t you die on me. Emma would never forgive me. Hang on.”
Sam sat with Buck’s head cradled in his lap. He was doing his best to apply pressure to the knife wound.
“You,” Buck whispered, “alright?”
“I’m fine,” said Sam. “Don’t try to talk.”
“Mr. Hawkin?” Buck managed to say.
“I’m fine, too.” Hawkin said as he sank down next to Buck and took over the job of applying pressure to the wound.
He looked past Sam to where Jackson’s body lay. It was all too obvious who Jackson had been gunning for. “I’m so sorry,” Hawkin said. “I let him talk me into . . .”
Sam nodded. “You stay here with Buck. I’m gonna go hurry Doc.”
Sam eased Buck’s head to the ground. “I’ll be right back. Don’t you dare die on me. Understand?”
Buck offered a slight smile.
Sam ran to the front of the store. “Get Doc up here now! Buck’s hurt bad!”
The morning sunshine on his face woke Buck. He slowly opened his eyes and shifted his body. The pain in his side helped him remember some of the events of the previous evening.
“Don’t move,” said Emma. “You’ll start bleeding again.”
“Sam?” asked Buck.
“He’s fine. I made him go get some rest,” said Emma. “He’s been sitting here for the last two days waiting for you to wake up. He feels responsible.”
Buck smiled weakly as he took in the information about being out for two days. “Mr. Hawkin?” he asked.
“He’s fine too. He asked me to give you this letter and to tell you that he’s really sorry. He left town last night as soon as he knew you’d survive,” said Emma. “He told me that he’d been away from his place to long and it was time to go home and stay there.”
Buck took the offered envelope.
“I’m going to go tell Ike you’re awake. I had to send him out with Sam,” said Emma. “I’ll see about getting you something to eat, too.”
“Thank you,” said Buck.
“No. I should thank you,” said Emma. “I’m not sure I could have stood losing Sam.” She stood, kissed Buck on the forehead, and left the room.
Buck watched her leave and then opened his letter.
I am sorry to have put you through this. I should have listened to you. As I watched Sam Cain work at saving you life, I realized you had been right. Killing him would only make me into something I hated.
Thank you for saving me from myself. I can never repay you, and understand completely if you wish to have nothing more to do with me.
If you can bring yourself to forgive me, I would be honored to call you friend. You are welcome at the Rocking H Ranch anytime.
Buck smiled as he opened his medicine bag and took out the piece of paper he kept there. He opened it at smoothed it out. He laid the letter on top of it – the bill of sale for Warrior Spirit – and folded the two of them together before carefully placing them back into his place for special things. He decided that someday, when he was tired of the Pony Express, he’d take Ike to go visit. Ike would like the Rocking H Ranch, and Carson Hawkin would like Ike. It was nice to have hope for the future.