The Writer's Corner

The Return of Johnny Drako
Written by Deanne Bertram

This story borrows several characters various episodes during The Rifleman’s five-year run.

 

In “Death Never Rides Alone” (season five), we’re introduced to Johnny Drako, a long-time friend of Lucas McCain.  A known gunslinger, who was always within the law as his reputation was forged.  Drako was looking for a nice, quiet place to live and figured North Fork would suit him, just fine; specially since his friend called the town home.  However, events beyond his control made him see the impact his arrival would have if he stayed and he decided to leave town.

 

In my mind’s eye, I always thought that one day, Drako would return to North Fork, after lying low and letting others gain their reputations; his own would simply fade into history.

 

In “Old Man Running” (season five), we’re introduced to Samuel Gibbs; an elderly man looking to Lucas McCain for protection, all the way from Bensonville, Oklahoma.  He declared the Sherman Brothers were after him for killing one of their own.  Angered the man had the nerve to ride to his property and bring such trouble to his doorstep, Lucas ordered the man to leave; he had no right being there.  Before leaving, Gibbs quietly stated he thought he had the right to see the boy.  Lucas fired his rifle into the air as a warning; informing the old man, his next shot wouldn’t be wasted.

 

Upon arrival in town, Gibbs asks Marshal Micah Torrance to validate his ‘Last Will and Testament’, leaving all his worldly possessions to his grandson, Mark McCain.

 

Later in the day, Mark and Lucas arrived at the hotel where owner Lou Mallory informed, “It’s about time the rest of the McCain Clan arrived.” –

 

“Why, he’s your grandpa!” Lou declared when Mark asked about the signature in the hotel register he had been shown.

 

At this time, Lucas McCain was forced to admit to his son, something he never wished to divulge, there had been a chance that Margaret Gibbs McCain, loving wife and mother, could have survived, had the medication arrived in time.  However, Samuel Gibbs never returned with the medicine until well after his daughter had died; and Lucas and Mark had left Enid, Oklahoma.  Lucas blamed it on the fact his father-in-law was addicted to drinking.  He’d used the money to drink instead of purchasing the medicine.

 

Later that evening, while still in town, Mark snuck into the hotel, determined to see this man gone.  But first, Gibbs acknowledged his part in causing the death of his daughter, Mark’s mother.  He stated he only wanted to see the boy, and beg for his forgiveness.

 

“FORGIVE YOU?!” Mark incredulously asked, his voice filled with hatred and disbelief.

 

Mark refused to forgive and as father and son drove from town to return home, Mark told his Pa he had gone to see Samuel Gibbs and why.  When asked if he had forgiven his grandpa, Mark replied, “I didn’t think you’d want me to.”  Lucas realized he’d placed an unfair burden on his son, and decided to ‘see to’ the Sherman Brothers.  It was a ‘family issue’ and shouldn’t fall onto the shoulders of North Fork’s marshal.  And, it was unfortunate for the Sherman Brothers that they had followed Samuel Gibbs to North Fork and didn’t know the reputation of the man’s son-in-law.

 

“I don’t hate you Samuel,” Lucas tried to explain afterwards as he, Micah Torrance and his son stood at the hitching rail in front of the Marshal’s Office and had watched the old man walk towards them under the night time sky.  “I just can’t forgive you.”

 

“The good book states that not hating is the first step to forgiving,” Gibbs replied.  His voice as weary as the heartache he felt.

 

As Gibbs returned to his horse in order to leave town, Lucas turned to his son and stated, “You want to forgive him.”  “I do Pa,” was his answer.  A heavy weight lifted from an old man’s shoulders when he heard Mark McCain call, “Mr. Gibbs…  Grandpa?”

 

In The Indian (season one) and in The Raid (season one), we’re introduced to Sam Buckhart, a full-blooded apache Indian, previously educated at Harvard University, and a U.S. Marshal.

 

Throughout the five-year run, John Hamilton appeared in various episodes as the President of the Bank of North Fork.  Also, Nils Swenson ultimately ended up as the town’s blacksmith and owner of the livery.  (During one episode, Nils Swenson was referenced as the town’s animal doctor, wonder where that one came from?)  In season five, we met a red-headed Irish woman, Lou Mallory, as the new owner of the Madera Hotel, renamed the Mallory House.

 

The Return of Johnny Drako

 

Morning came early to the McCain Ranch.  There were a few chores left to do before father and son left to go for the planned day of fishing.  As Lucas stretched his tall frame in preparation to get out of bed for the day, he called over to Mark, “Son, time to wake up if you want to do any fishing today.”

 

Not hearing Mark stir, Lucas looked over to his sixteen year-old son’s bed; Mark wasn’t in his bed and the covers turned down, still rumpled from sleep.  Lucas stood up and began to dress for the day.  He walked into their living room and realized Mark was not in the house.  As he approached the front door, he could hear the sounds of someone chopping wood outside.

 

“Morning son, what’s got you up so early?” Lucas asked as he finished buttoning his shirt and stepped to the porch.

 

“Morning Pa.  Just wanted to get a jump on chores so we could spend more time fishing today.  It’s been a long time since we planned a fishing trip together,” Mark answered, his eyes shown with anticipation.

 

Lucas took the ax from Mark and motioned for him to start stacking the wood.  Having chopped and stacked all the wood, both returned to the house carrying an armload of wood for the fireplace and kitchen stove.  Lucas proceeded to start fixing breakfast and suggested it would be best for Mark to make his bed.

 

With breakfast eaten, dishes washed, and put away, father and son headed to the barn to saddle their horses and head out on their day together.

 

Lucas silently rode next to his son, lost in thought in that it had been ten years since the death of his beloved wife.  He remembered back on the life they had recreated, traveling until Lucas found a location he felt comfortable enough to call home.

 

*****

 

They’d been idly fishing for a few hours and the fruits of their effort shown quite a bit of success.  Lucas allowed his eyes to look towards Mark and noticed that his son wasn’t paying attention to his line as it began dancing in the boy’s hands.

 

“Boy, better stop daydreaming and land that fish,” Lucas teasingly called over to Mark.  When Mark didn’t seem to hear his pa, Lucas called a little louder, “Mark!”  His tone of voice brought Mark’s attention back to the present.  After Mark hauled in the fish and unhooked it, Lucas queried, “You looked to be in a different part of the Territory there.  Where were your daydreams taking you?”

 

“Pa, I was just thinking,” Mark quieted, not sure, how to say what he’d been thinking.

 

“Care to talk about it?” Lucas queried.

 

“I had a dream last night….  I dreamed of Grandpa, I mean Mr. Gibbs.”

 

Lucas could only answer, “Go on.”

 

Slowly taking a deep breath, Mark continued, “Pa.  I met him for the first time last year when the Sherman Gang was after him.  I’ve been thinking for a while, our first meeting, that I remember, shouldn’t be our last.  He’s a part of my family.  I know you can’t bring yourself to forgive him for what he did in not helping Ma but…” Mark looked to his Pa before he continued.

 

“I’ve also been dreaming about Ma. Wondering what was she like as a young girl?  Do I get my daydreaming from her?  Everyone I’ve met who knew Ma always says I remind them of her and how much I take after her.  I was wondering, Mr. Hamilton is heading East in a few weeks to visit his sister and if he agreed to look after me, could I take the train back to Oklahoma and visit Grandpa for a couple of weeks?  Things here on the ranch are pretty slow right now and….” Mark stopped, waiting for his Pa to say something.

 

“Mark, that’s an awful responsibility to ask of Mr. Hamilton.  And I don’t know if I like the idea of you traveling that far without me.”

 

“Pa, I can’t and won’t ask you to take me.  I just feel I need to make this trip.” Mark’s eyes pleaded with his Pa.

 

“Alright, first we’ll wire to see if your Grandpa is up to taking you on for a few weeks.  Then we’ll ask Mr. Hamilton if he would mind being your chaperone on the train and see that you get off safely in Oklahoma City.”

 

Lucas knew his boy was growing up and it was only natural he would want to find out more about his Ma than what his Pa could tell him.  But still, to travel all the way back to Oklahoma…

 

*****

 

Two days later, Lucas was in town and checked with the telegraph office to see if they had received a response to the wire he had previously sent.

 

“Sure, right here Lucas,” Amos stated as he handed the folded sheet of paper to the tall rancher.

 

Taking a deep breath, Lucas secretly prayed that Samuel would not want to have Mark visit.

 

Lucas McCain

North Fork, New Mexico Territory

 

I would be honored to have Mark visit /stop/

I’ll keep him safe while he’s visiting    /stop/

 

Samuel Gibbs

Bensonville, Oklahoma

 

‘Guess I’ll be spending a few weeks alone,’ Lucas quietly mumbled to himself as he placed the wire into his back pocket.  Double clutching his rifle, Lucas led Razor to the Marshal’s Office.

 

*****

 

“Are you sure you’re ready to let the boy go so far without you?” Marshal Micah Torrance asked.

 

“No,” replied Lucas.

 

“Then why do it?” Micah asked.

 

“The boy wants to know more about his Ma than what I can tell him.  Maybe if Margaret and I had grown up together, I could answer his questions…”

 

“Why don’t you go with him?  Things should be pretty quiet around here…”

 

“I can’t… Too many memories.”

 

“Then I guess we’ll be playing plenty of games of checkers to pass the time,” Micah answered as his eyes sparkled, understanding his friend’s discomfort.

 

*****

 

Faster than either was ready for, the day of Mark’s departure arrived.  Lucas and Mark stopped at Mr. Hamilton’s home, on the edge of town, picked him up in the buckboard, before proceeding the rest of the way into North Fork.

 

“Lucas, I appreciate the ride,” said John Hamilton as he climbed onto the seat of the buckboard.  Having taken the banker’s carpetbag, Mark moved to the back so Mr. Hamilton could sit next to his Pa.

 

“No problem John, considering you’ve got the harder end of the deal, making sure Mark behaves himself on the stage to Roswell and then for the train ride to Oklahoma City.”

 

“Just wish the train left from North Fork directly,” John answered.  “Don’t really look forward to the dusty and bumpy ride cross country.”

 

“Too bad, they had a problem with that section of track,” Lucas ruefully answered.

 

As they began to board the stage, Lucas spoke to Mark, “Son, this is going to be harder on me than anything.  I know you’ll carry yourself as a gentleman, behave, and not give Mr. Hamilton any grief.  I expect nothing less from someone who’s sixteen years old.  I look forward to hearing some of the stories that Sam tells you about your Ma and compare them to my memories from when I was courtin’ her.” Lucas thought of his dear Margaret.

 

Lucas handed Mark’s bags up top to the shotgun rider.  He turned and faced his son, gave him a hug and watched his boy climb into the stage, his .22 rifle in hand.  Lucas mused how much his boy was really taking after him.  After a brief handshake, John Hamilton climbed into the stage, the door shut, and the driver rein slapped the horses to get them moving.

 

Lucas watched the stage until long after the dust settled to the ground.  “Lord, please watch over him.”

 

*****

 

In anticipation of the ride to Roswell being uneventful, Mr. Hamilton left Mark to his thoughts.  He knew this was an entirely new adventure for Mark, going to meet his Grandpa again, and such a long trip without his Pa.

 

They transferred to the train in Roswell.  As the train roared along, Mark remembered some of the times he and his Pa had taken the train for various trips.  He regaled in telling Mr. Hamilton about Nathaniel Cameron, and the stories he told involving the Younger Gang and then how the train was taken over by the gang of Walt Ryerson, when a swarm of grasshoppers caused the train to breakdown, and how Pa got them out of that situation.

 

Mark also talked with Mr. Hamilton asking him questions about his childhood back East and if he thought his sister would ever reconsider returning to North Fork.  Several days passed quickly and soon the conductor was announcing “Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Next Stop.”  The train whistled as it drew nearer to the town and soon it was time for Mark to leave Mr. Hamilton.

 

The train slowly pulled into the station, brakes squealing as the wheels protested slowing down, and it stopped with a jolt.  Mark collected his bags and his rifle, shook Mr. Hamilton’s hand, and bid North Fork’s banker goodbye.

 

Mark stepped from the train and inquired of the Station Manager, “Sir, where do I go to catch a stage to Bensonville?”

 

The Station Manager pointed Mark in the right direction.  After paying for his stage ticket, Mark seated himself on the bench in front of the office and waited; soon he was lost in thought again, nervously wondering, ‘It’s been a year and the first meeting was under difficult circumstances.  How will this meeting go?’

 

Mark reluctantly became aware of someone asking him if he was bound for Bensonville.  “Yes sir, just a moment, let me get my bags.”  Mark picked up his bags and climbed into the stage for the final part of his journey to reunite with his Grandpa and, hopefully, to learn more about his Ma.

 

*****

 

Samuel Gibbs anxiously awaited the arrival of the Oklahoma City stage.  He paced back and forth, nervously looking down the road for the first sign that the stage was drawing close.  The stage was already an hour late, as he grew increasingly impatient.

 

“Is it usual for the stage to be this late?” Gibbs testily asked the attendant.

 

“Sir, there are times when it don’t git here until after dark.  You expecting somebody important?” the attendant asked.

 

“Yes, my grandson; been ni’ on a year since I last seen ‘im.”  Then Gibbs heard the unmistakable sounds of the stage finally coming into town’ running horses and the jingle of the links in the harnesses, the driver calling to the team to ‘whoa’.

 

The stage pulled up in front of the depot and stopped.  Without waiting for the coach to stop rocking, two businessmen departed and claimed their bags.  Samuel watched as a smaller hand reached from the dim interior of the coach and rested on the open door for balance and a young man stepped down, turned around to grab his bags down from the driver.

 

“Mark?” Gibbs asked tentative, as he watched the young man reach for his bags.

 

“Grandpa?!” Mark called after he turned around and dropped his bags, and gave his Grandpa a bear hug.

 

“Boy, it does my eyes good to see you again.  My heart swelled with pride when I got the telegram from your Pa a few weeks back.  I’m surprised he let you come.”

 

“Grandpa, this was something he knew I needed to do.  I’m growing up and I have questions that he can’t answer.”  Gibbs looked at Mark.  “Grandpa, I’ve been dreaming a lot about Ma.  Pa can tell me about stuff starting after the day he met Ma, but I want to know what Ma was like as a little girl.

 

“I know our last meeting was strained and we eventually parted with an understanding, but I want to know you too.  Your blood flows through me as well as does my Pa’s.”

 

“Well, come on along boy and I’ll take you to the farm.  We got a lot of talking to do,” Gibbs stated as he smiled that his grandson as really walking beside him.

 

A smiling old man led his grandson to a mismatched team of horses hitched to a buckboard.  He set the boy’s luggage in back and waited for him to climb to his seat before he stepped to the wagon wheel to sit down on the seat.

 

From inside the Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff and the town’s doctor, two friends of Samuel Gibbs, raised their coffee mugs in a silent toast to their friend as he sat taller in the seat and drove the team from town.

 

*****

 

While visiting his Grandpa, even without his Pa suggesting, Mark made sure to offer any help around the farm and did any chores that he could.  Mark also spent time hunting for rabbits with his Grandpa.  Even though his Grandpa’s hands weren’t quite so steady, seemed he let Mark do most of the shooting, they still managed to bring back dinner every time they went out.  He enjoyed talking to his Grandpa, he listened intently as he heard stories about his Pa when he was courtin’ his Ma.  He listened while Samuel told of how their love blossomed and how he came to see a gentler side of the ‘wild’ Lucas McCain he had heard about.

 

Mark quietly giggled to himself and couldn’t believe Samuel when he described how nervous his Pa had been on the day he married Margaret.

 

“The boy couldn’t tie his tie straight if his life depended on it,” Samuel stated as he remember the day his daughter because the responsibility of someone else.

 

The image Mark kept of his mother changed, from having a sad feel to it due to her death, to one of being happy.  He started to daydream and remembered her singing as she did chores around the house.  He remember times when his mother struggled to teach him his alphabet.  Not that Mark wasn’t intelligent, but as a four year-old boy, he wanted to be nothing more than a rancher; just like his pa.  But, throughout their talks, the subject of Samuel Gibbs’ drinking and its consequences was never discussed; Mark didn’t think it was proper to ask why and Samuel was thankful he didn’t have to explain; he didn’t even know himself what originally drove him to the bottle.  The only thing he remembered was the starkness as he sat in the bedroom where his daughter had died and knew it was his fault.  That was the last day he ever touched the stuff.

 

*****

 

Mark had been with his Grandpa for almost ten days and was counting down the days until he returned home to his Pa, yet, longing for this time with his Grandpa to last as long as possible.  Mark was just about finished with the chores in his Grandpa’s barn when he heard a loud noise just outside the door.  He tentatively looked out the door -- How many times had his Pa warned him about stepping into something because he didn’t look before he acted.

 

Mark was shocked to see his Grandpa leaning against the barn, hand clutching at his chest, struggling to keep on his feet and struggling even harder to breathe.

 

“Grandpa, what’s wrong?” Mark yelled as he ran over to his Grandpa, trying to help support the man so he couldn’t crumple to the ground.

 

“Get… the wagon…  boy…” and Gibbs collapsed.

 

Mark raced to the side of the barn where the team had already been hitched in preparation of heading into town for supper.  He brought the team around to where his Grandpa lay on the ground.  Mark fought back tears as he struggled to get his Grandpa in the back of the wagon.

 

The trip into Bensonville was the hardest the horses had worked in years.  Mark didn’t spare the team in his effort to get his grandpa to town.  He pulled them up hard in front of the doctor’s office, both protested by throwing their heads up.  Ignoring the dust that swept over them, Mark yelled as he jumped down and ran to the back of the wagon to get to his Grandpa.  Many of the town’s folks came out of their homes and businesses to see what was causing all the commotion.  Some of the men ran over to help Mark get his Grandpa out of the wagon and carried him into the doctor’s office.  Someone else ran to the Sheriff’s office.

 

Mark stood just inside the door as the doctor examined his Grandpa; the doctor didn’t bother with unbuttoning the man’s shirt; he just ripped the shirt open, popping off the buttons.  He pulled a small bottle from one of the cabinets in the room, and shook out a pill, to which he forced into Samuel’s mouth.  He lifted Samuel’s head and offered him a glass of water.

 

“Come on Sam… drink this,” and poured the water into Samuel’s mouth; it was only a voluntary reflex that initiated the swallow.

 

The doctor kept shaking his head as time passed; he continually repositioned his stethoscope to Samuel’s chest.  Finally, he turned to Mark and said, “I’m sorry son.  He’s gone.”

 

Tears streamed down Mark’s face the whole time the physician hovered over his grandpa.  Upon hearing the word, he sagged to the floor, the Sheriff came up behind him, placing a hand under Mark’s upper arm, and led him to sit down in a chair.

 

Mark kept shaking his head and saying “No, No, No.”  Sobs wracked his body as grief overwhelmed him.

 

Mark heard a woman’s voice came up behind the Sheriff, but didn’t hear what she was saying.  “Here,” as she handed him a bottle of brandy.  “Get some into the boy.  I know he’s probably never had a drop of liquor in his life, but it will help with the shock.”  The doctor’s wife turned and ushered everyone else out of the room and the building.

 

The Sheriff poured a small amount of brandy into a glass and strongly suggested Mark to drink.  Mark coughed and sputtered, he was unprepared for the effects as it burned his throat as it went down.  An involuntary shiver coursed through his body as his grief compounded with the feeling of being alone.

 

After a few minutes, Mark lifted his head and saw the doctor placing a white sheet over his Grandpa’s body, stopping just short of his chin.  “Why? I don’t understand?” he asked, not knowing what he was really asking.

 

The Sheriff spoke, “Mark, we were looking forward to having supper with you and Samuel tonight.  We haven’t had a chance to meet yet, I’m Sheriff Daily.  The doctor and I consider…ed your Grandpa a good friend.  We knew for some time that his heart was getting weak.  Probably the strain and guilt he placed upon himself after your Ma died.”

 

Mark’s eyes shot up, these people were strangers to him, yet they knew what happened to his Ma.

 

At this point the doctor continued, “Mark, it was only a matter of time before his heart gave out.  I’m truly surprised he lasted this long.  His mood lighten tremendously when he received the telegram from your Pa.  He was so looking forward to spending time with you, getting to know the young man you had grown into.  I’m glad he got to spend what time he did with you.”  The physician continued, “Mark, the burial arrangements have already been made, your Grandpa saw to that some time back; he didn’t want to be a burden on any of his family.  We’ll have the funeral later tonight.”

 

The Sheriff led Mark to the buckboard and drove back to his Grandpa’s farm.  Without much conscious thought, Mark collected his gear and let the Sheriff drive him back to town.

 

During the funeral, Mark was numb to everything and everyone.  He didn’t remember much about his Ma’s dying and her funeral, he had only been six years-old at the time.  He knew of other funerals back home, but this was family…

 

He struggled to focus on the people, less they think him inconsiderate.  The town’s folks were polite and compassionate towards him.  After the services, Mark was escorted to the hotel where a room had been made ready for him.  A few of his Grandpa’s closest friends tried to keep Mark entertained for the evening in a private room off to the side of the hotel’s restaurant.

 

Finally, Mark couldn’t take any more, he stood up to politely excuse himself and returned to his room.  Mark closed and locked the door behind him, fell face-down on the bed and cried.  Curling to his side, Mark clinched the pillow tight to his chest and eventually fell asleep.

 

The next morning, he heard several knocks on the door, but wasn’t ready to answer.  He wanted to be alone -- No, he wanted to be in his father’s arms.  To hear his father’s voice comfort him.  By evening, Mark had cried himself out and felt emotionally numb.  He walked out of his room and went downstairs, pausing in the lobby.

 

The hotel owner’s wife met him at the front counter.  “Good evening Mark.  Are you hungry?”

 

“Yes Ma’am,” he quietly said as he allowed the plump, elderly woman to lead him back to the kitchen.

 

“Sit here, you don’t need to have all those prying eyes on you; so far from home and no one to wrap their arms around you.  Would you like a steak and some potatoes?”

 

“Yes please,” Mark answered.

 

Mark ate, but he didn’t taste the food, in his grief he knew he wasn’t doing justice to the meal.  After eating, he walked over to the Sheriff’s office.  As he stepped through the door, the Sheriff started to talk, “How you doing boy?” Mark shrugged his shoulders; it was all still so unreal. “Son, the stage to Oklahoma City comes through tomorrow morning and we’ve taken a collection and purchased you a ticket to start you on your way home.”

 

“Sir, I have money, it’s not necessary,” Mark countered.

 

“Son,” the sheriff placed his hands on Mark’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eye, “It’s the least we can do for the only grandson of Samuel Gibbs.  Please, let us do this for you?”

 

Mark nodded.

 

*****

 

Mark spent one last night at the hotel in Bensonville.  The stage arrived early in the morning.  Mark stepped into the coach, took a seat in the corner, sat back, rifle by his knee, pulled his hat down over his eyes and tried to block out the other passengers.  The others were quite content to carry on their own business and not pay attention to their fellow traveler.

 

*****

 

Mark arrived in Oklahoma City and headed for the train station.  He purchased a ticket to Roswell, closer to his home, and his Pa.

 

For most of the trip, Mark either slept or was lost in his own thoughts as he blankly stared out the window to the passing landscape.  The lush greens of the plains turned to muted greens as they passed.  Not even the conductor calling “Roswell, New Mexico, Next Stop!” lifted his mood.  Soon he was on the stage headed to North Fork.  He didn’t recognize any one else on the stage, so again, he pulled down his hat and shut out the world.

 

*****

 

The stage arrived in North Fork late in the morning.  Mark picked up his rifle, stepped from the coach, and collected his bags.  He didn’t expect to see his Pa, in his grief he’d not sent a telegraph to tell his Pa what had happened, he didn’t know exactly what he should have written, even if he had remembered to send a wire.  It didn’t bother him that no one was there to greet him, since no one in North Fork was expecting to see Mark return so soon.

 

Mark slowly walked through town to the livery and saw a young boy he didn’t know tending some of the stock, “Where’s Nils Swenson?” Mark asked.

 

“He left to go to the parsonage.  They were having troubles with their buckboard,” the boy answered.

 

“Would you tell Nils that I borrowed his horse, I’ll return it later, I need to get home.”

 

“And just who do you think you are?” the boy asked.  “It’s my job to watch after the place until Mr. Nils returns.”

 

“My name’s Mark McCain, Nils won’t mind.”

 

“Oh, you the Rifleman’s boy.  I guess it’s okay,” was all the boy said.

 

Mark quickly saddled one of Nils’ horses, hooked his bags over the saddle horn, and slipped his rifle into the scabbard, mounted and rode off.

 

*****

 

For Lucas, it sure seemed like forever that Mark had been gone; it had been too many years since Lucas had been alone.  He thought on how his son had been gone almost two weeks and should return in a couple of more days.  Mark had been right, things were quiet around the ranch, too quiet.  Lucas eagerly anticipated the arrival of the wire informing him when Mark would return.  But still, he worried, he knew where his son was, but longed for his son’s safe return.

 

Lucas was out fixing the paddock fence on the side of the barn when a small group of strangers rode up.  As they reined in their horses in front of the barn, they pulled their guns on Lucas.  Lucas looked to his rifle, but realized it was too far away.

 

“What do you want?” the tall rancher asked, insult over the men’s action flashed through his eyes.

 

“We’re looking for a place to stay for the night and this looks to be a right hospitable place,” replied a man who evidently was the leader of the group.

 

Lucas viewed the tall Mexican with a hint of disgust, and was even more disgusted with the assortment of men who rode behind the man.

 

“You might as well head on out of here, I’m not interested in putting up your type,” Lucas replied.

 

“Sir, do you know who I am?”  The man paused to see if there was any recognition in the eyes of the man who stood before him.  “No? My name is Manuel Sebastian Ortega.”

 

“Your name means nothing to me,” Lucas replied, not bothering to hide his disgust.

 

“My men and I will stay here until night.  We need a quiet place to rest and hide from the law.”  Ortega walked over to where Lucas’ rifle leaned against the barn and picked it up.  “Fancy rifle, what would you do if I said it was now mine?”  Before Lucas could reply Ortega snapped, “Mister, I get what I want and no one stands in my way!”

 

Turning to yell to one of his men, “Johnson, get the horses in the barn, no sense letting anyone who happens by see a group of strangers on the property.”  Ortega turned to Lucas, pointing his own rifle at him, and motioning for him to proceed to the house.

 

All five outlaw’s headed into the house with Lucas leading the way.  They rifled through all the cabinets, putting supplies in their saddlebags.  It was just early afternoon when sounds of a rider could be heard coming across the bridge behind the homestead.  Ortega motioned for Lucas to get up and head out the door.  As they walked across the porch, shock coursed through Lucas, though he didn’t recognize the horse, he knew the rider.  ‘Mark! What was he doing back? He’s not due back yet!’ were the thoughts that agonizingly ran through Lucas’ mind.

 

“You know the rider?” Ortega asked; as they watched the horse and rider slowly trot towards the house.

 

Lucas’ mind raced, ‘Do I tell them the truth and put Mark in more danger or do I lie and hope that they’ll let me send him on his way?’

 

“I asked you once, do you know him or is he the law?” Mark wasn’t close enough for Ortega to realize the rider was a boy.

 

Lucas turned to Ortega “Let me go meet him and send him on his way,” Lucas said, hoping his voice did not give him away.  His mind was still racing, unsure of how these events were going to play out, if he could keep his son safe.

 

Ortega walked over to the side of the barn, raised Lucas’ rifle and fired.  Mark fell out of the saddle, landing in a heap on the ground.  The horse stopped a few feet away and proceeded to munch on the grass at its feet.

 

Rage erupted from Lucas’s throat, as he screamed, “NO!”  He charged Ortega, grabbing for Ortega’s throat.  Ortega threw several punches at Lucas, knocking him to the ground; the two fought and struggled as Lucas regained his feet, lowered his shoulder and charged Ortega, knocking both to the ground.  With a blind fury, Lucas fought with a rage he had never felt before.

 

Upon hearing the rifle shot, Ortega’s men ran from the house, scattering throughout the yard and watched.  They started yelling and cheering Ortega on, thrilled to have the distraction of a fight.

 

No one paid any attention or noticed the solitary rider getting to his feet, blood streaming from a wound on the side of his head.  Mark saw the fight his father was in and ran to the horse to get his rifle.  Slowly he made his way to the corner of the barn; he had to help his Pa.  He’d never fired his rifle on a human being before, but that was far from his conscious thought.  Mark, laid on his stomach, took careful aim and fired, striking one of the outlaws in the shoulder.  The man screamed and yelled before he fell to the ground, writhing in pain.

 

Before Mark could fire again, the remaining outlaws, realizing they were too exposed, ran for cover.  Mark fired again, striking the water well.  He saw his Pa on the ground, the other man fiercely kicking him in the sides; he took aim at the man.  The first time Mark realized someone was approaching him was when he noticed a shadow fall over him, he tried to get up and run, but he was too slow, two of Ortega’s men grabbed him by the arms and picked him up.  Mark kicked and struggled to get out of their grips.  They drug him over to where his Pa lay still; blood trickled from the corner of Lucas’ mouth, his eyes closed, and the bruises were already starting to show on his face.

 

Ortega turned his back to Lucas, went over and picked the rifle up again, and watched as his men brought a fighting hellion towards him.  As they approached, Ortega took a minute to laugh, “It’s just a boy!”

 

“Boy, stop your fighting now!  What’s your name boy?”  Ortega asked.  Mark refused to answer.  “I take from your not answerin’ me, that this here’s your Pa.  Am I right?”  Again Mark gave them no satisfaction of an answer.  Ortega walked over to Mark, looking him straight in the eye and said, “Either you answer me or I’m going to shoot him dead right where he lays.  Now, are you going to answer me or do I use his rifle to kill him?”

 

“My name’s Mark McCain and that’s my Pa!” he said, with vengeance.

 

“McCain!” the others started whispering among themselves, before one yelled, “Ortega, they call a man named McCain the Rifleman.”

 

“The Rifleman,” Ortega took a moment and carefully looked at the rifle in his hands.  Running his hands over the wooden stock and lifting the looped lever.

 

“So boy, you and your Pa, the Rifleman.  Ain’t this just a treat.  I get to kill the Rifleman.  Manuel Sebastian Ortega gets to kill the Rifleman.”

 

Mark screamed, “NO!” and started to struggle even harder, one of the men had relaxed his grip on him and he was able to pull away.  He kicked the other one in the shin and was free, as the man grabbed for his hurting shinbone.  Mark tried to scramble from the men; however, another outlaw was close-at-hand and soon Mark was in his clutches.

 

The man took pleasure in beating Mark.

 

“Big man, can… only… feel… good… beating… someone… smaller,” Mark gasped to say as the man stood back to admire his handiwork.

 

This infuriated the man even more.  With the next blow, Mark fell to the ground.  The man started savagely kicking Mark across the ribs and as well as catching him in his thighs.  The last thing Mark saw as he curled into the fetal position was Ortega aiming his father’s rifle and firing at Lucas as he lay motionless on the ground.  Mark’s world went black as a kick to the head sent him unconscious.

 

The outlaws left Lucas and Mark for dead.  Before leaving, they took both McCain saddle horses, the horse Mark borrowed from Nils, as well as their rifles.  With that, the gang was gone.

 

“Why leave?” asked one of the outlaws.

 

“And if someone else rides by and sees those two bodies out front and us in the house?  There ain’t been no kid around the last day we watched the place.  Just how do we explain ourselves?  Huh?  Best we leave,” Ortega replied.

 

*****

 

It was a little past one o’clock in the afternoon when a solitary rider rode into North Fork.  Those who turned to look at the rider noted he had a presence about him, sure, confident, yet his eyes could look right through the soul of a man.  Most people hurriedly turned back to their business.

 

The rider stopped his horse in front of the Marshal’s Office.  Stepping from his horse, he cast his eyes slowly taking note of each person who stood or walked near him.  Setting his right hand on the handle of his Colt pistol, he stepped across the boardwalk and entered the office; pausing when he heard a brash, Irish woman’s voice addressing the Marshal.

 

“Micah, Nils told me that Mark has returned.  No notice, no nothing.  Borrowed a horse and rode to the ranch.  He didn’t even stop by the hotel to say hello.”

 

“Now Lou, can’t say’s I see anything wrong with that.  You know the conflict Mark experienced when he first met Samuel Gibbs, and then finding out he was his Grandpa, and hearing Lucas tell how he could of saved Margaret’s life,” Micah paused.  “We don’t know what happened while Mark was with his Grandpa so give him some time to talk to his Pa.  I’m sure they’ll be in town soon enough.”

 

“Uh hum.  Excuse me, but I was ju…” a steely voice said from the doorway.

 

“Well, Johnny Drako, long time.  What brings you back to North Fork?” asked Micah as he strode over to shake Johnny’s hand.

 

“Just passing through and thought I’d stop -- See how this quiet, sleepy little town’s been doing since I left,” replied Johnny.

 

“Oh, Johnny, you remember Lou Mallory, owner of the hotel?”

 

“Why sure do, just don’t remember you being a fired up lass.”  Johnny strode over to take Lou’s hand and placed a kiss upon the back of her hand.

 

“Well, a gentleman.  All I get around here are cowboys and marshals.”  Lou tried to make light of the situation, she remembered the man, and his reputation, from his previous visit to North Fork.

 

The three of them laughed, uneasily.

 

“Honestly Micah, I was just passing through and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop out by Lucas’ and say hello.  I stopped here first to let you know I’m around,” Johnny said.  “I hope no trouble followed me this time.”  He too remembered his first and last visit.

 

“We were just talking about Lucas…” Micah started, choosing to ignore Drako’s last comment.  He knew it wasn’t the man’s fault that three men seeking to make a name for themselves had caused havoc in town.  However, they hadn’t counted on their old friend Drako standing with a sodbuster and the marshal.

 

Lou interrupted, “We were talking about Mark!”

 

“Now, Lou, simmer down.  Why don’t you take Johnny over to the hotel, check him in, give him a room, and feed him a decent meal,” suggested the Marshal, hoping to distract Lou and give Lucas and his son time together before Lou demanded they head out to find out why Mark had not sent a wire.

 

With that, Johnny extended his arm, as a gentleman, for Lou to take.  “See you later,” she stated as she turned to take Johnny’s arm and walk to the hotel.

 

*****

 

Johnny spent a several hours talking with Lou, he was just as intrigued by her strong will as he was upon his previous visit, and the Irish lilt of his voice brought a smile to his face.  Finally, the conversation returned to Mark McCain, Johnny stated he wanted to get out to see Lucas, and yes, he’d check on Mark to see the boy was okay and report back to Lou that evening when he returned to the hotel.

 

“Maybe we can have supper together?” Drako suggested as he placed his hat upon his head.

 

“I know a fine restaurant,” Lou teasingly stated as she and Drako exited the restaurant within her hotel.

 

Johnny left the hotel, approached his horse, tightened the cinch to his saddle, mounted, and rode out of town.

 

“Yep, peaceful,” Johnny thought to himself, “Just the way I like it.”

 

*****

 

Without any urgency, Johnny rode for the McCain Ranch wondering what kind of a reception Lucas would give him this time.  His mind replayed his first meeting with Mark McCain, inviting him into the saloon as the boy peered at him as if he had been an animal in a cage at a zoo.  He wondered if the boy had remembered his comment about the best thing he could do if he ever picked up a gun, was to put it back down.  How many times had Johnny Drako wished he’d never picked up the Colt pistol, thinking it necessary, and began practicing a fast draw.

 

As a teenager, he’d seen plenty of pictures of men wearing their holsters strapped low on their hips, and so he chose a similar holster for himself.  He was twenty years old when a man bumped into him, yet Johnny immediately apologized, he’d been raised that way to forgive a man for any transgressions.  However, the man who was a fault demanded satisfaction after thinking he could take the kid.  Drako tried to talk his way out of facing the man, but the man was insistent while slowly making his way to the street.

 

“I can shoot you just as good standing on the boardwalk as I can in the street,” the man taunted.

 

Without knowing any other way out, Drako stepped to the street, his right hand held a short distance from his holster.  He’d read accounts of shootouts in various periodicals and heard people talking about the aftermath, but what exactly happened, he didn’t know.

 

Without conscious thought, Drako saw something different in the man’s eyes.  His hand immediately slipped to draw his Colt and he watched as the man crumpled to the ground.  Looking down, Drako saw the thin whisp of smoke coming from the end of his weapon, before he returned his weapon to his holster.

 

“HOLD ON THERE!” yelled a man running down the street, wearing a badge indicating he was the town’s lawman.

 

“Sheriff!  He was called out!  The other man drew first!  I seen it all!” hollered someone standing along the boardwalk. “I don’t believe it, Johnny Drako outdrew Cord McGee!  McGee’s the fastest gun in the territory!”

 

“Was the fastest gunman,” Johnny thought to himself as he continued to look at the dead man lying in the street.

 

From that day forward, Johnny Drako’s destiny was written, defend his life by being quicker than any man who chose to champion someone Drako had previously killed or who looked to make a name for themselves that they could outdraw the gunslinger, Johnny Drako.

 

*****

 

The site that greeted Drako as he arrived at the McCain homestead was shocking; from upon the hill he saw two bodies lying in the yard.  He spurred his horse forward to see what he feared, Mark and Lucas lying in the dirt, both unconscious, both bleeding from vicious wounds.  Upon closer inspection, Johnny noticed the red on the front of Lucas’ shirt.  Johnny ran over to his friend, bent over and tried to determine if Lucas was breathing; barely felt the rise and fall of the man’s chest.  He ran over to Mark, checking for any signs of a gunshot, other than the crease across his forehead.  “Thank God for small favors.”  Johnny made quick work of bandaging Lucas before he harnessed the team and hitched them to the buckboard.  He loaded Lucas first into the back of the buckboard.  All the time Johnny was man-handling him, Lucas was quiet, not a moan or a groan.  Johnny returned to lift Mark into the back of the wagon, and laid him next to his Pa.

 

Mark felt someone picking him up, and groaned at the pain inflicted upon his battered body, before the darkness enveloped him again.

 

Climbing to the seat, Johnny raced the wagon team back to town.  Yelling as he reached the outskirts of town “GET THE DOCTOR!  GET THE DOCTOR!”

 

Johnny harshly hauled the horses to a halt in front of Doc Burrage’s as the town’s folks came running to see the cause of the commotion.  “It’s Lucas and Mark!” Johnny yelled as he jumped into the back of the wagon.  “Help me get them inside.”

 

Micah ran towards them as people from town carried Lucas and Mark from their buckboard into Doc’s office.

 

“Doc,” Johnny started, “Lucas has a gunshot wound to the chest.  I checked Mark over and other than the crease to his forehead, he ain’t been shot, but someone’s used him as a punching bag.”

 

Doc Burrage motioned for the men to take Lucas into a different room; a room specifically set up for surgery.  As Lou entered, Doc told Lou to attend to Mark, he’d be back as soon as he could.

 

Lou couldn’t help the tears streaming down her face as she tended to her good friend’s son.  Johnny brought over a basin and pitcher filled with water while Lou pulled rags from a cabinet.  Lou gently washed the dried blood from the corner of Mark’s mouth and his temple, while Johnny unbuttoned the boy’s shirt and removed it to see the bruises forming on the skin over his ribs and back.  Mark moaned as they laid him back down.

 

“Johnny, check in the cabinets over there, Doc has to have some witch hazel,” said Lou.

 

“Witch hazel?” asked Johnny.

 

“Don’t tell me ye never got into fights and yer ma didn’t lessen the bruising with witch hazel,” replied Lou.

 

*****

 

Sometime later, Doc Burrage stepped out from the side room, exhausted, not knowing if he’d done enough to save a man’s life.

 

Lou asked, “Doc?”  Her attention returned to Mark as he started to moan and shift on the examination table.

 

“I don’t know Lou.  By all rights, Lucas should be dead. I don’t know what’s keeping him alive.  That bullet did a lot of damage once it pierced his skin.  It collapsed his lung.  He was a shot at close range… too close.”

 

Fighting through the dark fog, Mark only heard bits and pieces of the conversation, but the words he did hear, “Lucas” “Dead”.   Mark returned to the darkness as he mind cried “NO!”

 

*****

 

While Doc Burrage fought to save the lives of father and son, Johnny returned to the Marshal’s Office telling Micah of the scene at the McCain’s ranch.

 

Anger in Drako’s voice, “Who could do this…to Lucas, let alone to the boy?”  He slammed his fist against the door jam.  He allowed the guilt to fester, that he had spent so much time in town talking to Lou.  Berating himself, that if he had left when he should have, he could have stopped the assault.

 

Before Micah could speak, the telegrapher ran in, “Micah, this just came in from the Fort.

 

Micah read the telegraph aloud.

 

All Towns

 

“Be on the lookout” stop

“Ortega Gang, possibly heading your direction”       stop

“Alert Army if help is needed” stop

Colonel Jacob Emerson

Fort Santa Fe, New Mexico

 

“Ortega Gang, I thought they stayed in Texas.  Micah, I’m heading back to Lucas’, maybe I can follow the tracks.  You send a telegraph back to the Army and tell them to get here, pronto.”  Drako’s words pierced through the shocked quiet of the office.

 

“You can’t be serious, the Ortega Gang?” Micah asked.

 

“Can you think of anyone else who would be so ruthless?”  Johnny raced the buckboard and team back to Lucas’ unhitched and turned the horses loose.  He mounted his own horse, which hadn’t strayed the whole time Johnny had been in town, and started tracking.

 

*****

 

Mark regained consciousness Sunday morning, two days after the attack.  He struggled to sit up and eventually to get to his feet; every muscle in his body screamed in pain.  With the shades drawn and the lantern turned down low, all he saw was his father’s body lying on a bed on the other side of the room.  A white sheet pulled up to his chin.

 

Mark had no more tears.  Anger, hatred, vengeance, raw emotions took control of his very core.  Mark left the doctor’s office and staggered to the general store.  He forced his way into the store through the front door.  From a stack of shirts, he pulled one out and slipped it on and buttoned it before took down a rifle and some ammunition.  Left a note that read,

 

Took a shirt and the Winchester, as well as ammunition.

Put it on my account.

Mark McCain

 

He walked to the livery stable, saddled a horse, and led it to the street.  Mark struggled to get in the saddle; his ribs ached and his vision blurred until he could sit up and take a deep breath.  But even breathing caused him pain and increased his anger.

 

Church was letting out for the morning and the people began walking back to their homes.  Usually the children would be laughing and running in front of their parents, but the congregation Mark blurrily witnessed was somber.  Mark waited, still trying to clear the haze from his mind when he saw Micah and Lou running towards him.

 

“Just what do you think you’re doing Mark?” hollered Micah as he neared.

 

“I’m going after those murderers.  You can’t stop me!  Don’t even try!” Mark angrily yelled back.  “They killed Pa and you’re doing NOTHING!”  He reined the horse around and rode out of town as quickly as he could.  Mark returned to the ranch and saw the signs of the fight in the dirt, the spot where his Pa laid as the outlaw fired a bullet into his chest.  Saw his hat on the ground, he stepped down from the horse and picked it up.  Taking a few steps, he saw the blood on the ground from where his father had lain.  Pushing any thoughts except vengeance from his mind, he found the tracks leading away -- leading south.

 

With cold determination, Mark returned to the saddle and followed the tracks.

 

*****

 

“Micah, I’ve never see the boy so…” Lou spoke but couldn’t come up with the word she wanted to say.

 

“Dead?” asked Micah.

 

Lou shivered at the very reference to the word, “He thinks Lucas is dead…”

 

“For all intents and purposes, he might as well be…” Micah stated in defeat.

 

“MICAH!  Ye have to stop him!” ordered Lou.

 

“How do you expect me to do that?” Micah’s tone was testy.

 

“Yer the Marshal.  Ye have to follow him.”

 

“Lou, those two mean more to me than any family, but I’ve a town to protect.  This could just be the distraction the Ortega Gang is looking for to draw the only law away from North Fork before they hit.”

 

“But Lucas… and Mark!”

 

“Just pray that the boy encounters Johnny Drako before he finds those outlaws,” Micah stated as he started to return to the Marshal’s Office.  Angered that Lou hadn’t realized how torn he was over the decision he had made when he allowed Johnny Drako to return to Lucas’ home to see if he could trail Ortega and his men.

 

“Ye think Mark could actually find them?” a scared Lou inquired, wringing her hands in front of her.

 

“Lucas is the best tracker I’ve ever known and he’s taught that boy everything he knows.  What do you think?”

 

*****

 

Micah looked up from the paperwork he held in his hands to see Nils Swenson, Frank Toomey, and John Hamilton standing in front of him.

 

“Deputize us, Micah,” John stated, holding his rifle in both hands.

 

“What do you mean, deputize you?”

 

“We know you’re not going after Mark because you’re worried the Ortega Gang will strike North Fork,” Toomey stated.

 

“So, if you deputize us,” Nils explained.  “We can watch North Fork and you can get Mark back here.”

 

“We can set up guards around town and send word to the outlying ranches,” John stated.  “We’ll take care of North Fork, she’s our town too.  You need to get Mark, for Lucas’ sake.”

 

*****

 

Lucas remained unconscious for a several more days, from a combination of his injuries as well as a reaction to the ether, and laudanum laced water Doctor Burrage forced him to drink to keep him from feeling any pain.  He was oblivious to Micah or Lou sitting next to him, talking to him, trying to lead him back to them.

 

Lucas heard a voice, soft, feminine, soothing, “Lucas, you’re not really trying.”

 

“Not trying what?”  He wanted to retreat from the voice, from the pain he was sensing.

 

“Lucas?” the woman’s voice asked.

 

A woman in white stood a short distance in front of Lucas… she looked so familiar.  Her voice…  Her eyes…  They reminded him of…

 

“Margaret?” he dared ask.

 

“Yes my love.  I’m here,” said the vision.

 

“Margaret, you’re back.  I missed you so much,”  Lucas stated, his mind delirious with his body drenched in fever, but he longed to hold the woman who stood in front of him.

 

“I’ve missed you too,” Margaret replied.

 

“I can wait until we get married tomorrow,” Lucas smiled as he looked to his bride.

 

“No Lucas.  Our time was long ago.”

 

“I don’t understand… I thought you loved me.”  Lucas stated.

 

“I do, I always have.  But…  Now is your time with Mark.  We’ll be together, some day.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Lucas commented.

 

“Lucas, you must get well.  You must fight.  You have to live for Mark.”

 

“Mark?”

 

“Lucas, our boy.  Your son.  He needs you, you can’t leave him alone.  I had no choice, but you have to fight to live for Mark.”

 

“Fight to live for Mark.”  Lou heard Lucas whisper as she wiped the sweat from his chest.  “Fight to live for Mark…”

 

****

 

The following morning, Lucas fought against the surging pain as he began to regain consciousness.  Doc Burrage was at his side when he asked, barely in a whisper, “Mark?”

 

“He’s alive Lucas,” Doc said, and then to himself, ‘at least he was the last time I saw him.’

 

For the few brief minutes that Lucas was awake throughout the following days, Micah, Lou, and Doc were able to come up with excuses as to why Mark wasn’t there.  Though his strength was fleeting, when he finally could stay awake without fighting the urge to return to the darkness, Lucas demanded to know the truth, he’d heard what the others had said, but something wasn’t right...  “Mark’s dead and buried!  Tell me the truth! I have to know the truth!”

 

“Lucas, believe us, please, Mark survived the attack, though it might be better if he were dead,” Micah quietly said to Lucas.

 

“What do you mean?”  He struggled to sit up and pain coursed through his body.

 

Doc Burrage demanded that Lucas lie back down before he decided to hog-tie him, but instead he handed Lucas a glass of water laced with laudanum.

 

“Lucas, lie still and I’ll tell you,” Micah felt he best tell Lucas now, Doc nodded, whether Lucas was strong enough to hear the news or not, he needed to know.

 

“Lucas, it was Johnny Drako who found you and Mark and brought you to town.  Johnny left that night to track them down, after we received the wire from the army informing us Ortega’s Gang was in the area. Two days later Mark regained consciousness.  We tried to stop him, but the look in his face, it wasn’t Mark, he looked… hollow.  We couldn’t stop him.  I wanted to follow him from your place, but I have a town to protect.  I feared what Ortega and his men could do if I left town.  Eventually, Hamilton, Toomey, and Swenson asked me to deputize them.  By the time I got to your place, the tracks were washed away by the rain…”

 

Not knowing if Lucas was strong enough to hear or understand, he continued, “We sent word to every town and to Fort Santa Fe, announcing he Ortega Gang was here.  And… that two would be trailing them, separate or together, we didn’t know.  Lucas Boy, we tried all that we could do.  All we’ve been doing since I returned was watch over you, pray that you’d recover and pray for their safe return.”

 

Lucas begged for the darkness to take him again.  The pain from his injuries was intense, yet the pain for his son was stronger.

 

*****

 

It had been almost a week since Mark left North Fork when he finally caught up with the Ortega Gang.  His father had taught him how to track through some of the most difficult terrains; quietly riding, studying the tracks, and anticipating those he followed to try to hide their tracks.  At times, their trail was loud, other times they took great pains in an attempt to hide their route, Mark saw through it all.

 

Mark felt vindication was near when he heard sounds of drunken men arguing, he was blood hungry as he crept neared.  As he looked down from the rock outcropping overhead from where Ortega and his gang made camp, he felt hatred the likes he had never felt before.  It drove him to continue, hatred for those who had killed his father, hatred burned deep inside, he’d done nothing but eat, sleep, and ride but for hatred.  Gripping his rifle close he looked down the barrel, shifting the tip of his rifle to find the one man he desperately wanted to find.

 

Making sure his rifle was loaded; he breathed deeply, steady, ready to kill once he found his intended target.

 

Without any noise, a shadow crossed his vision from behind, ‘How could I not have heard the person approach?’ he asked himself as a hand went across his mouth and a strong arm wrapped around his shoulders and brought him to his feet; feeling foolish that he still had not tripped the safety of his rifle.

 

An intense voice quietly demanded near his ear, “Mark do not struggle.  Be quiet.  It is me, Sam Buckhart.”  Sam waited until he felt Mark relax.  He released Mark and motioned for him again to be quiet, but he did not relinquish his grip on Mark’s rifle.  “Let it go.”

 

Torn between his vengeance and the cold eyes of the U.S. Marshal standing before him, Mark allowed the rifle to slip from his hands.  Buckhart motioned for Mark to follow him.

 

Sam led Mark to a location a distance away.

 

“We knew someone was tracking us, but not who,” Johnny Drako said, smiling and rolling a cigarette as he knelt next to a small fire.  The smile left Johnny’s face and he dropped the cigarette when he saw the look in Mark’s eyes.

 

Johnny had faced pure evil before, but never had he witnessed the look on Mark’s face -- death looking for vengeance.  Mark stood between both men; his posture daring either of them to say anything -- He waited, his hands balled into fists, his breath slow and measured.

 

“Well boy,” Mark heard the words Sam said, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

 

“I’m going to kill those men, the men who killed my Pa.”  Mark’s voice was low and monotone.  Emotionless wouldn’t have described Mark’s voice, as both men listened.

 

Sam and Johnny looked at each other, ‘killed Lucas’, they had word that Lucas lived.  Didn’t the boy know?

 

“Mark, your father is alive.” Sam said matter-of-factly.

 

“No! I saw him lying there, dead.  They had a white sheet over him.  I heard them earlier say he was dead.”  Mark’s eyes grew cold as he envisioned the scene again.

 

“Mark, you suffered a severe beating and you weren’t in your right mind,” Johnny said as he reached for Mark to make him sit down.  “Mark, you need to return to North Fork.  Leave this to us.”

 

“NO!” yelled Mark, jerking his arm from Johnny’s grasp.

 

“Mark, we’re fixing to meet up with the Army later today and attack Ortega and his gang in the morning.  Sam’s been trailing the main part of the gang and I just met up with him yesterday as I tracked Ortega here. This gang will either be dead or in our custody tomorrow.”  Johnny tried talking reason to Mark.

 

“Dead, they’ll be dead by nightfall!  I’ll kill them all!” Mark’s anger had control of his mind and he wasn’t thinking rationally.

 

“Mark,” Sam tried to see if he had any better luck in getting through to Mark.

 

“NO!  My Pa always sent me away when everything was about to go to hell!  I’m not a child to be protected…..  THEY KILLED MY PA!  I’VE NOTHING ELSE TO LIVE FOR!”

 

This time Johnny grabbed Mark, held strongly to his upper arm and covered his mouth.  “Hush boy, your yelling ain’t going to help us any.”  Even though they were quite a distance away, he knew how well a shouted voice could travel in the cool crisp air of the approaching night.

 

“Mark, Listen to me.  Your father is alive, I promise, but he’ll skin me alive if we let you go through with your vengeance.  You have to listen to reason.”  Johnny held Mark even tighter, Mark didn’t notice the tingling in his arm as his blood circulation slowed due to the pressure of Johnny’s hold on him.  “Mark, it’s not just the five or so that were at your ranch, they’ve met up with the rest of their gang. A lone boy can’t take on the entire gang.”

 

“I’m not a boy!” declared Mark.

 

As Johnny and Sam tried to make Mark come to his senses, a Cavalry unit quietly arrived.  The Lieutenant watched and waited as the scene unfolded.  He recognized U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart and Johnny Drako, but the boy.  ‘What was a boy doing here?’ the Lieutenant didn’t voice.

 

Finally, Mark relaxed when he his brain acknowledged the soldiers.  Johnny let him go.  “Mark, we have a plan, see, we didn’t lie, the Cavalry is here.  Mark, let us do this the right way.”

 

*****

 

They observed a cold camp that night.  Johnny and Sam took turns keeping an eye on Mark, just to make sure he didn’t slip out while others were sleeping.  As destroyed as Mark looked now, at least it was only a look.  If he took a man’s life in vengeance, with the hatred he was feeling, his life would be destroyed when he return home, to his father.  Even worse, they feared what would happen if they had to return to North Fork and presented Lucas with the dead body of his son.

 

Before dawn, the soldiers, Johnny, Sam, and Mark moved into position.  The outlaws were starting to rouse from their sleep.  Someone yelled, “Law!” and the bullets started flying.  One outlaw after another fell and soon, those who weren’t on the ground wounded or dead, had their hands up in the air.  Mark watched and waited, alive at the sight of the outlaws dropping.  It was Mark who saw a single figure slip out of the camp and into the rocks, realizing no one else noticed; he double clutched his rifle and followed.

 

As he neared the man,  he recognized the rifle the man carried.  ‘Pa’s.’  Mark followed the man over the boulders and across the crevices.  He caught up with the man as he stopped to size up a chasm, “ORTEGA!” Mark yelled.

 

Ortega looked over his shoulder; slowly he turned to face his pursuer.  “Well, if it isn’t the hellion.  So…what are you going to do now?  Kill me?  Go ahead boy, take revenge on me.  We’ll see who’s quicker with the rifle.  See if your Pa taught you good enough.  Are you man enough to kill?”

 

Ortega started to raise Lucas’ rifle.  Mark saw it and started to raise his own rifle when he heard a single shot from behind followed by another shot and ricochet.  Mark didn’t turn to see who fired; he intently watched Ortega’s body spasm and the man’s face lost all color.  Mark saw the small spot of blood on the outlaw’s shirt start to spread out across the man’s chest.  He watched Ortega drop to his knees on the ground in front of him; dropping Lucas’ rifle at his feet, the man’s eyes rolled backwards into his head before he fell backwards into the chasm.

 

Mark stood there; the pain he felt was acute, but it wasn’t a physical pain.  It was more an absence of pain and hatred.  Sam ran to Mark’s side and after he picked up Lucas’ rifle, he tried to turn Mark, but Mark wouldn’t budge.  “Mark, you do not need to see this anymore, let’s get you home.”  Sam forcefully led Mark back to the others.

 

A small contingency stayed behind to bury the dead, while another group of soldiers were ordered to take their prisoners to Yuma Prison to await trial.

 

*****

 

The Lieutenant and a few others planned to accompanied Mark, Sam, and Johnny back to North Fork.  As morning dawned, they headed out.  In Mark’s lap he carried his Pa’s rifle; running his hand over the wood stock he hoped to feel something...  Before leaving the outlaws’ camp, he had located Blue Boy and Razor, along with Nils’ horse, in the outlaws’ herd.  Mark rode Blue Boy and led the others home in silence.  ‘What kind of a home was it going to be without Pa?’ he continued to ask himself.

 

Mark barely acknowledged Johnny or Sam as they forced him to eat each time they stopped or made camp.  He refused to accept their words that his Pa was alive.  He knew better; he’d seen it for himself.  Mark felt numb to the world, first the death of his Grandpa and now the death of his Pa.  The outlaws were dead or in prison.

 

‘What do I have to live for?’

 

*****

 

The small group arrived back in North Fork late in the evening.  The soldiers proceeded in to town to send word to the Fort, while the Sam, Johnny, and Mark stopped on the outskirts of town.

 

*****

 

Lucas had recovered just enough for Doc Burrage to allow him to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant, felt getting the tall rancher out of his office would do the man some good.  However, Lucas was still too weak to do much on his own and without word on Mark, his friends weren’t sure that he would want to live.  Micah, Lou, and Doc kept him surrounded and supported at all times.

 

Supper was about finished when Micah looked up and took note as the soldiers entered the hotel.  The Lieutenant immediately came over to Micah after seeing his badge.  “Marshal Torrance?  I’m Lieutenant Preston, from Fort Santa Fe.  I’m here to report the capture of the Ortega Gang.  We accompanied Marshal Buckhart and Johnny Drako back here.”

 

Lucas immediately asked, “What of the boy?” as he attempted to stand.

 

“Sir, we left him at the cemetery,” Lieutenant Preston innocently answered.

 

Lucas’ world crashed around him.  He sagged back into his chair.

 

The lieutenant continued, “Said he wanted to look for his father’s grave, said he wanted to be alone.”

 

The words slowly penetrated the fog of Lucas’ grief, “He said...  You said, ‘He said.’  He’s alive?” Lucas dared ask, dared pray he heard the soldier’s words correctly.

 

“Yes sir.  Buckhart and Drako kept trying to convince him the whole way back here that his father was alive.  He wouldn’t listen.  I’ve never seen someone so young look so…  Do you know if his father is alive and where he might be?  I don’t think that boy will believe until he sees for himself.”

 

“I’m his father!” Lucas struggled to stand up.

 

“Soldiers, get in here and assist Mr. McCain to the wagon, we’re going to take him to see his son,” the lieutenant yelled for his men.

 

Even with assistance, Lucas struggled to get into the buckboard he had ridden in from the doctor’s office to the hotel, his friends wouldn’t let him walk even that short of a distance.  Impatient at their insistence that he ride again, he wanted to run to his son, hold his son.

 

As the buckboard approached the cemetery, Lucas saw Johnny and Sam standing at the entrance.  Between them, facing the head stones, was a smaller figure, shoulders slumped, head down, ‘Mark’.  Lucas’ heart leapt.

 

Johnny and Sam heard the buckboard approach and taking Mark by the shoulder, turned him around.

 

‘He looks like a ghost.  What happened?’ Lucas asked himself.

 

Johnny forced Mark’s face to look up, to see that his father was alive.  Lucas struggled out of the wagon and slowly walked unaided to his son.

 

“Mark?”  Lucas’ voice begged his son to see him.

 

Mark did look up and saw a tall man walking towards him.  He closed his eyes, fearing his brain was playing a trick on him.  As he opened his eyes, he saw the figure taking slow, unsteady steps the figure continued to approach, on either side soldiers stood at the ready in case he strength faltered.  Soon, in front of him, alive, was his Pa, life started to return to Mark’s eye.  Yet, he couldn’t move, couldn’t will himself to take even the smallest of steps to his Pa.  He wanted to run to and hug his Pa, but his guilt stopped him, all that he had felt over the past week or so…  He wanted to kill those men…  It would have been in cold blood.

 

“Pa?” Mark dared to ask as tears formed in his eyes.

 

Lucas finally stood close enough to his son that he wrapped his arms around him.  “Let it out son.  Let it all out.”   Lucas felt the grief and relief flood through his son’s body as he wrapped his arms around Lucas’ waist and began crying.

 

The soldier’s returned the group to the hotel; everyone let Lucas and Mark walk inside alone, they realized if they followed, they would be intruding.  Micah and the soldiers headed to his office.  Johnny tapped Lou on the shoulder and asked if she’d accompany him out to the boardwalk.

 

“Well, Miss Mallory, since your eyes seemed to sparkle in the presence of a ‘gentleman’ and since you have nothing more than cowboys and marshals around here, what would you say if I decided to stay around.  I was thinking as much as North Fork has grown recently that maybe Micah might be inclined to take on a deputy.”

 

“The citizens of North Fork would be happy to see Micah have a deputy,” Lou replied.

 

“No I wasn’t’ talking about the citizens of North Fork, I was talking about ‘one’ citizen of North Fork.”

 

For the first time that anyone knew, Lou became speechless.

 

*****

 

As Mark assisted his Pa to sit down at a table and then took his own seat, he waited for his Pa to say something, anything, something to let him know the nightmare was really over.  As time passed, Mark couldn’t take the silence any more.  “Pa, I’m so sorry... I wanted to kill those men.  I thought you were dead.  All I could feel was hatred, I wanted revenge.”

 

“Mark, revenge is a powerful feeling.  I know I’ve felt revenge many a time in my life.   It can drive a man insane if they don’t temper it.”  Lucas couldn’t imagine what it would do to a boy. “Why didn’t you wire you were coming home early?  How could you go off on your own after those outlaws, you’re only sixteen?”

 

“Pa, I came back here early because I had no more reason to stay in Bensonville.  Grandpa died while I was there, his heart gave out.  I know I should have sent word when I was coming back, but I was lost and trying to understand my grief.  I mean, it’s not like I’d known Grandpa Gibbs my whole life…  I needed to talk to you.  I came home and found those outlaws beating you.  Then they found me.  I saw the one called Ortega aim your rifle to your chest and pull the trigger.  I heard Doc say you were dead.”

 

Mark’s voice then took on a cold chill as he slowly said, “I wanted to avenge you, but…”

 

“But what son?” Lucas put a hand on his son’s arm.  He could ignore his own physical pain, but the emotional pain he was feeling in seeing his son this way was almost too much to take.

 

Mark’s words continued to haunt Lucas as he spoke, “I trailed them.  I trailed them like you tried trailing Benjamin Stark, his brother Noley, and Cougar.  When I found them, all I wanted was blood -- their blood.  Their blood at my hand...  Later, I stood there right in front of Ortega, he had your rifle.”  Mark’s words then seemed to soften as he continued, “As I stood there, I heard your words; you never wanted me to know what it was like to take the life of another.  I remembered how you felt when you told me that Cougar had been killed.  Pa, I wanted to, but I couldn’t.  Ortega was ready to pull the trigger on me when Marshal Buckhart shot him.

 

“All the way home, the Marshal and Johnny kept trying to tell me you were alive.  There were so many times in the past when I was afraid, fearing someone was going to kill you, but I always sensed you were alive.  This time, I… I felt alone...”

 

“Mark, anger and hatred can cut one off from those who care.  I’m glad to hear that you couldn’t pull the trigger.  I’m glad Sam and Johnny brought you home to me.”

 

Mark and Lucas spent the night talking in the hotel room Lou had set aside for them.  As they came down to breakfast in the morning, Lou could see life returning to Mark’s face as father and son slowly walked into the restaurant.

 

Micah and Johnny soon joined them, Johnny sporting a Deputy badge on his vest.

 

“Micah what’s this?” Lucas inquired.  His voice bore a strength that came with his son’s return.

 

“Well Lucas Boy, seeing as how Doc says it’s still going to be a while before you’re one hundred percent recovered, and you might have your hands full in dealing with Mark, I felt I needed some assistance in keeping some of these young desperadoes in line.”

 

As Micah walked behind Mark, he tussled Mark’s hair.

 

Johnny quickly added, “That and remember the last time I was here, I said I wanted to live in a quiet place, no other place is as peaceful.  Last time anyone’s tried challenging me was here in North Fork.  My name’s fading from memory as others make their name with the gun know.”  As Lou entered the room, “Maybe now I might be wanting to be doing some ‘sparkin’, seems there’s this beautiful Irish voice that’s taken my fancy.” A smile crept over Johnny’s face.

 

Lucas looked over his coffee cup in surprise, yet there was a mischievous gleam in his eyes.  He knew that Johnny and Lou would make a better couple than he and Lou ever would.  After Mark’s accident, Lou and Lucas had decided just to be friends, good friends.


Johnny looked to Mark and asked, “So, how’s North Forks number one desperado doing today?”

 

“I’m doing better.  Doc looked me over last night, said I was doing well in starting to heal from my injuries, and I didn’t do any more damage.  I should make a full recovery.”  On a quieter note Mark said, “Pa and I spent a lot of the night talking.  Just having him close has made me feel a whole lot better.

 

“Johnny, I don’t know what to say… Thank you for not letting me….” Mark stopped, he averted his eyes.

 

“No need to thank me son.  Your pa means the world to you.  I count your pa as a good friend, I knew you were struggling with some mighty powerful internal demons and with your pa not being there, it was up to me to see you back on the right path.”

 

Doc Burrage and Sam Buckhart came in and joined the group.  Doc told everyone, “Now that Mark’s home, I think I’ll let Lucas go home this afternoon, but with one warning.  He’s to take it slow.”  Doc’s eyes stared directly at Lucas, daring him to disobey.  “The best medicine is for a father to be with his son.”

 

Lou returned with breakfast for all. As she set the tray down on the table, Johnny walked over to Lou, grabbed her around the waist and gave her a kiss on the cheek and she stated, “Well I never…” as the sound of laughter filled the room.

 

***********************

 

Nathaniel Cameron & Walt Ryerson and referenced events are from the episode, The Grasshopper

 

Benjamin & Noley Stark & Cougar and referenced events are from the episode, Trail of Hate

 

Mark’s accident was a reference from the episode, Requiem at Mission Springs

This is a story based on the TV series “The Rifleman”

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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