The Next Step...
Chapter 121 -
Written by Deanne Bertram
Sitting behind his desk
in the Marshal’s Office, Drako listened as John Hamilton placed two stacks
of money on his desk, “This here is the money that you brought back with the
outlaws, and this here is the money that was left behind. Money that Mark
said might be counterfeit.”
“Counterfeit? That’s a
Federal offense,” Micah stated as he walked over and began to compare bills
from the two stacks.
“I brought Lucas to town,
like you asked,” Reese Randall stated as he entered the Marshal’s Office
with Lucas McCain on his heels.
Reese Randall pointed his
gun towards the open jail cell while Johnny Drako handcuffed each outlaw
before he allowed them to step into the office area. Pulling his own
weapon, Drako pointed for the three men to take a seat in the chairs in
front of his desk.
Lucas held tight to his
rifle, not taking his eyes off the three men as they sat down. Lucas sat on
the edge of his son’s desk while Reese sat in the chair behind the desk.
Micah sat in the chair at his desk. Drako reholstered his Colt .45 before
leaning against the edge of his desk, crossing his arms.
“I want to hear the
truth, and only the truth,” Drako began.
The three outlaws
squirmed in their chairs, not saying anything.
“You abandoned Dohrn and
allowed us to catch up with him. He’s currently buried in our cemetery.
Things would go mighty easier on you if you talk.”
“We ain’t got nuten to
say,” mumbled one of the men.
“Nothing?” asked Micah.
“Robbery is one thing, but counterfeiting, that’s a Federal offense boys.
I’ve confirmation that an agent of the Secret Service will arrive on the
train tomorrow, and I’m sure he’ll be interested in confirming the
difference between the money you boys just ‘happened to forget’ and the
money we recovered in your saddlebags.”
Micah returned to his
desk picked up the three wanted posters and walked to where the outlaws
sat. “I say this bears an uncanny resemblance to you,” as he held the
poster in front of the first outlaw. “Oren Roberts, wanted on bank
robbery.” Micah moved to the middle outlaw, “Hall Pickett, another bank
robber.” And finally, to the third outlaw, “Will Latimer, you must have
been Dohrn’s second in command, bank robbery and assault.” Micah took a
couple of steps towards Lucas and handed the posters to him.
As the interrogation drug
on, with no real information being divulged, Lucas found it difficult to
sit, listen, and do nothing. Without any warning, Lucas was quickly to his
feet, and kicked the chair out from under the nearest of the outlaws as he
balanced on the two back legs of the chair. With his rifle firmly gripped
in his left hand, Lucas’ knee pinned the man down, and with his right hand,
he held the man by the front of his shirt.
“Wait ‘til my lawyer
finds out what you dun!” declared Latimer. “He’ll have a field day suing
the law of this town.”
“I’m not the law!” Lucas
declared; his eyes held warning to the man. “Now, either you start talking
or I’ll let my rifle do the talking instead.”
“Oh, I can’t, can’t I?
These fine lawman have wasted enough breath trying to get some answers to
their questions.” Lucas spoke calmly and deliberately. “You don’t know who
I am, do you?”
“Some sodbuster,” laughed
“You heard of The
Rifleman?” Lucas asked as he held his rifle in front of the outlaw’s face.
“The Ri-Rifleman?” gulped
the man. His demeanor changed from one of smugness to one of fear.
Lucas nodded slowly.
Lucas pulled the man to
his feet as Reese set the chair on its four legs. The outlaw grabbed the
arm of the chair and lowered himself to sit down.
The three outlaws didn’t
move their eyes from the towering figure of Lucas McCain, as he quietly
spoke, “Now that you know who I am, care to guess our marshal’s name?”
Slowly they shook their
“You ever heard of Johnny
Drako?” asked Reese Randall.
The expression on each
man’s face showed they knew exactly who stood before them, leaning against
the desk, arms refolded.
“Maybe we should have
introduced ourselves before you began your interrogation?” Micah spoke,
unable to keep the laughter from his voice.
Lucas hid the smile on
his face behind his hand, as he recognized the consternation on Drako’s
The outlaws divulged all
the details of the counterfeit operation that they knew; Tecumseh would
leave for a while and come back with a bunch of fake money.
“What about Tecumseh’s
brother?” Lucas asked.
“What about him?” Roberts
“He part of your gang?”
“Not while Tecumseh was
alive. He never said why, but we know there was bad blood between the two
of them,” replied Roberts.
Pickett chose to talk,
“We met up with him once. He brought news that the law was setting a trap
“And that’s bad blood?”
“Nah, had something to do
with Tecumseh’s wife, before she left him. But I never seen two brothers
get into such an argument and fight. Hallelujah lit out the next morning.
A few days later, Tecumseh’s wife up and left.”
In an attempt to direct
the interrogation back to the case at hand, Drako asked, “Where were did
Tecumseh meet with the counterfeiters?”
“There’s a small mining
community call Jarilla Junction,” Latimer stated.
After the outlaws
returned to their cells, Lucas declared, “I’m going after Mark.”
Reese objected, “But
you’re not a lawman.”
“And you’re not his
father!” scowled Lucas as he turned to face the deputy.
“Don’t Lucasboy me.
Mark’s out there alone, believing he’s with an agent of the Secret Service.
You know Mark, he’s too trusting; and this time it’s going to get him
“Lucas,” Drako simply
spoke, looking straight at his friend. “You don’t know that.”
“If Dohrn really was an
agent of the Secret Service, why would he have warned his brother about a
trap? Can you honestly stand there and tell me Mark’s not in danger?”
“We’ll go after him,
together.” Drako turned to the others, “Reese, you’ll stay here as backup
for Micah. If there is counterfeiting involved, the federal government will
take charge of these three, meaning this case truly belongs to the U.S.
Marshals. You’ll be in charge of watching over MY town, and keeping her in
one piece until Lucas and I return.”
“Just the two of you,”
Reese queried, unbelieving the risk these two were willing to take.
“No different than the
two of us going after those three,” countered Drako.
“But there were only
three,” proclaimed Reese. “You have no idea how many or who all is
“You have your orders,”
Drako declared, placing his hat to his head. “Lucas you ride home and let
your families know. We’ll meet back here by one o’clock. Micah, will you
arrange provisions for us at the general store?”
“And what will you be
doing?” asked Micah.
“Saying goodbye to my
wife and family.”
Lou closed the front door
to their home behind her as she followed her husband to the porch.
“Johnny, ye’ll be
careful, won’t ye?”
“You know I’m always
careful, besides, your ‘cowboy’ will be with me,” answered Johnny, knowing
there was still an affection his wife held towards Lucas McCain.
“Ye’ll see they both come
back safe to their families?” pleaded Lou.
“And what about me?”
Johnny asked as he wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist.
“If ye see them both
home, that means ye’ll come home safe… to me.” With worry in her heart, Lou
kissed her husband goodbye.
Lucas, leading the
packhorse, and Drako left North Fork and their families behind as they set
out towards Jarilla Junction and parts unknown.
While riding their horses
and giving them a breather, Drako stated, “I wish Mark hadn’t just up and
left with Dohrn. Damn! What was that boy thinking?”
“I know… I know… It’s
just…” Lucas started to answer.
“He’s your son. And one
man…” Drako didn’t need to have Lucas answer, he understood how his friend
felt. He worried on his own, should the boy be harmed; he had helped shape
Mark McCain’s path as a lawman.
The landscape the
threesome surveyed was barren, only the scrub brush and boulders broke up
the endless dirt that stretched between where they stood and the old mine
buildings; which they were sure housed the gunrunners’ operation. Though
the day was cool, a nervous sweet beaded their foreheads.
“It has to be them. I
just wish we could get closer to those buildings and get a look inside…”
“With those guards on the
lookout, who else could it be… That and what Mark found out in Jarilla
Junction, there’s been plenty of freight coming in and out of this place.
Could only be the gun runners,” replied Books.
“Well, since this isn’t
my case…´ stated Dohrn. “Mark, how do you suggest we make your arrests?”
“Guess gun running would
fall under the auspices of the U.S. Marshal’s Service.” Hesitating and
looking at their surroundings, Mark continued, “I’d say wait until
nightfall. The owner of the saloon stated he’s kept them well stocked with
liquor. Pray they get drunk enough that the three of us can get the upper
hand?” Mark wished he felt as confident as he words, but that wasn’t saying
much. He’d heard his own voice quiver.
The three slipped back to
where they left their mounts, and waited for the sun to set.
As Lucas and Johnny
neared Jarilla Junction, they encountered a man struggling to drive a
buckboard with a broken wheel.
“Looks like he could use
some help…” suggested Johnny.
“Drako, we don’t have
“Lucas, who else is going
to happen along to help?” Johnny raised an eyebrow to emphasize his point.
While pointing towards
his friend, Lucas stated, “But the minute he’s helped…”
“We’ll be back on Mark’s
The man appeared fearful,
holding a leather case tightly to his chest, as Johnny and Lucas approached
“Seems like you need a
friend,” suggested Drako.
“A f-friend? You’re not
outlaws?” the man timidly asked.
“No we’re not outlaws,”
“I’m thankful you
happened along then…, they struck my employer… and I barely got away with my
life. I… I… I thought you might have been a couple of them come after me.”
“No sir. We’re not
outlaws,” Johnny confirmed, he opened his jacket, showing his badge.
“If you’d like, we can
help you unhitch your horse and get you to Jarilla Junction. That’s where
The man clutched the
leather case again, and looked around. “Well…”
“Your options are pretty
slim…” offered Drako.
The man stepped down and
watched as the two men from North Fork unhitched his horse.
As Drako offered to help
the man up on the horse, Lucas said, “Here let me take the bag for you.”
“No!” the man quickly
exclaimed, clutching the bag even tighter. “Uh… I don’t mean to be so rude,
but these are papers that are valuable to my employer.”
“He’ll give them back to
you as soon as you’re up on the horse,” Johnny stated.
The sun had set by the
time they saw their traveling companion safely to what served as a small
hotel in Jarilla Junction, Johnny and Lucas headed to what appeared to be a
“How long do you think
it’s been since it’s been used?” asked Lucas, as he ran his fingertips along
the edge of the dust covered desk.
“Never, least not since
I’ve been here,” stated a voice behind them, causing them to quickly turn
around. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Marshal Drako from
North Fork and this is Lucas McCain, a member of my posse.”
“Mighty small posse, just
the two of you?” queried the small man, wearing a light-weight, leather
apron over his white shirt and black pants. On his face, his nose held up a
set of spectacles.
“The rest of the posse is
waiting for us, we helped a stranded traveler into town,” Lucas offered.
“The town got a sheriff
or a marshal?” Drako inquired.
“We got Abernathy, he’s
as close as we got to the law. Big man, bout as tall as you, but a lot
bigger around the middle, if you get my meaning,” the man answered while
looking to Lucas.
“Where is he?” Drako
“He don’t come into town
until late night, that’s when any trouble starts.”
“Trouble?” asked Lucas.
“Sure, miners come to
town with their findings, and a lot of them trade it in for liquor and get
“And how is it the jail’s
never been used?” asked Drako.
Oh, no one wants to go up
against Abernathey; once he arrives, trouble sort of… dies down.”
“You seem to know the
comings and going on around here,” Lucas stated. “Any chance you know about
a counterfeiting operation?”
“People making fake
money,” answered Lucas.
“With the gold around
here; who needs fake money?” the man stated as he turned to leave.
“Why didn’t you ask about
Mark?” asked Lucas as the door closed behind the little man.
“If he’s using an assumed
name, I don’t want to risk blowing his cover. Let’s say we grab a room at
that hotel for the night.”
“Johnny, I told you the
“Lucas, I know, but
without a moon… Let’s survey the town in the morning, listen to see what we
can find out before we go traipsing across the territory.”
“We’re already doing
that!” deadpanned Lucas.
After the last shot was
fire, and clutching his arm, Mark entered the clearing declaring, “You said
you never killed anyone who didn’t need killing.”
“Well, ya ain’t dead are
ya?” Books opened the cylinder to his Colt, allowing the spent cartridges to
fall to the ground. “Sides, you moved into my line of fire.”
Books turned, pointed to
prove where his next shot struck. Mark saw one more outlaw lying sprawled
on the ground. Books gruffed, “You got your target,” using his gun to point
towards the man Mark had shot, “and I got mine.” Books curtly nodded his
head to emphasize his point.
“Guess I owe you thanks,”
Mark gratefully commented. After examining his injury, he rub his bloody
hand across his pants.
“You don’t owe me
anything except keeping my helping you, out of your report.”
“Books, if that’s the way
you want it, you’ve got yourself a deal…”
“Deal!” Books replied as
he accepted Mark’s extended hand and gave it a gruff downward thrust.
Dohrn joined them and
inquired, “What do we do now?”
“Search each building to
locate the guns and ammunition,” suggested Mark. The three split up, with
only the lanterns hung in front of the buildings to light their way, they
were still wary of any outlaws who might be in hiding.
Mark searched what served
as the livery and found several horses and a buckboard they could use to
transport weapons and ammunition, but no boxes. He exited the livery and
rubbed his injured arm when he heard Dohrn yelling. Mark started running in
the direction; and soon was joined by Books. Yes, Mark had been right in
his earlier assumption, when need be, the big man could run.
The three nearly collided
as Dohrn came running out of a small building, “In here, you’re never gonna
Books and Mark followed
him back inside.
Taking off his hat and
scratching his head, Books stated, “That ain’t a gun.”
“What is it? asked Mark
holding the lantern high.
“A counterfeit printing
press,” Dohrn answered.
“The counterfeiters were
in cahoots with the gun runners?” asked a confused Mark.
“No, I think we’re back
on your original case,” Books replied. “I ain’t seen any boxes in any of
the buildings I’ve searched.”
“Well, then what cargo
has been coming in and out of here?” Mark inquired.
“I found crates in a back
room that could have held the press, looks like they shipped it in pieces.
There’s also boxes of paper and jugs of ink, and several cutting boards.
And some boxes I didn’t open yet.”
“But what about the gun
runners? Books, you said…” Mark started to say.
“I know what I said, and
I guess I heard wrong.”
“It is a capital mistake
to theorize before you have all the evidence... It biases the judgment,”
“What’s that supposed to
mean?” Books sourly asked as he stared at Dohrn.
“Just quoting something
written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”
“If you two are through…”
Mark interrupted, realizing Books’ irritability was growing.
“Well, at least we have
the press and the…Damn!” Dohrn exclaimed as he opened the top of the
“What’s wrong?” asked
Mark, bringing his rifle to bear, fearing an outlaw had come into the room
“The plates are missing,”
“The plates? Oh, the
engraved plates…” replied Mark. “If it’s any consolation, I found a
buckboard and a team of horses you can load all this stuff onto.”
“Us? What about you?”
Books gruffly asked.
“This is back to being a
case for the Secret Service, and besides, did you forget you shot me in the
arm?” Mark asked jovially.
“Didn’t seem to stop you
from lifting that lantern a few minutes ago,” boasted Books.
“Okay… okay. WE” Mark
emphasized, “can load all this stuff up and take… Just where do we take
“Jarilla Junction for
starters. If they have a telegraph, we can wire my superiors and let them
know the case has been cracked,” Dohrn quipped.
“Cracked?” Books asked.
“That’s the latest
terminology meaning the case has been solved,” Dohrn replied.
Books sourly stated.
“I only want to know
about him if he’s related to this case. Otherwise, shutup and start helping
to pack,” Books ordered.
Several hours passed
before they had everything loaded in the buckboard.
Before heading to Jarilla
Junction, Mark asked, “What about them?” pointing to the dead bodies
scattered across the ground.
“Guess we shouldn’t leave
them out in the open like that,” Dohrn commented.
“Well, you two ‘lawmen’
can take care of them. I’m gonna sit down and open then here bottle of
brandy and enjoy relaxing.”
Mark and Hallelujah stood
and watched as Books held true to his words. Shaking their heads, the two
lawmen wrapped the dead bodies in sheets.
“My turn to sit and
relax,” commented Dohrn after Mark suggested rounding up the horses and
tying the bodies across the saddles.
“Relax? We’ve lost
daylight. We can’t leave them lying around,” Mark complained.
“You’ve got youth on your
side,” Books declared as he handed Hallelujah the half-empty bottle.
“What about him? He
can’t be that much older than me?”
“No,” Dohrn snickered.
“But I’ve been on the run for quite a spell. You know, the life of an
outlaw? You’ve been sleeping in a nice comfy bed…”
“Not since I met up with
you…” Watching the old man pat his holster Mark stated, “Okay, I’ll round
up the horses, but it’s more than a one-person job getting them across the
Having spent the morning
in the saloon, Lucas and Drako swung up into the saddles and started to race
their horses from the town. Halfway down the rutted road, they rounded a
turn, and pulled their horses up short; in front of them was a wagon being
driven by an unshaven burly, older man, followed closely by another unshaved
man leading a string of three horses with bodies draped across, and in the
rear, “MARK!” Lucas declared and urged Blade into a lope.
Lucas turned his horse
around to walk next to his son.
“Pa, what are you…”
commented Mark, as he tried to stifle a yawn.
“Trailing after you. You
take these two and these… all by yourself?” Drako asked, pointing to the
bodies, he took the rope to the two horses and bodies that Mark led.
“I’ll tell you once we
find Abernathy,” Mark answered.
“He’s probably asleep
still, but it looks like most of your ‘prisoners’ are in need of an
undertaker, more than a jail cell,” teased Lucas.
“We need someplace secure
to lock up this equipment… Mr. McCain, I presume?” answered Dohrn.
“Lock up equipment? And
just who are you?” asked Drako.
“Johnny, I’ll make full
introductions after we get these bodies to an undertaker and those crates
locked up,” answered Mark.
“What about these two?”
“We’re not under arrest,”
a humorless Books answered.
A half hour later, Mark
had introduced his Pa and Marshal Drako to his traveling companions.
“So you’re Hallelujah
Dohrn. This is one set of lawmen you won’t slip away from,” Drako boasted
as he stared the man down.
“Johnny, he’s not an
outlaw,” replied Mark.
“Boy, he’s a known
outlaw, with a wanted poster out on him,” declared Drako. “Do you know how
many lawmen he’s managed to embarrass by slipping away?”
“Excuse me, Drako, but it
seems you don’t take this young man seriously,” Books interrupted, standing
to his full height. “He IS a U.S. Marshal, and I can vouch for what he’s
saying about Dohrn, here.”
“Well, excuse me if I
don’t take your word on it either. Though you don’t have any posters out on
you, your reputation far…”
“MY REPUTATION!” Books
roared. “Ain’t no worse than…”
“QUIET!” yelled Mark,
attempting to prevent any possible bloodshed. “Gentlemen, please. Johnny,
I know this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but you don’t know all the
facts, and besides, we solved the case.”
“The case? What case?
You let a known outlaw convince you to do his bidding in trying to take down
his brother’s gang! You’re blind to the truth!” Drako spoke, unbelieving
“Yes, we took down the
gang, but it wasn’t my brother’s gang. They’re still out there somewhere,”
“They’re locked up back
in North Fork, where you will be too,” Drako seriously stated.
“Johnny, he’s not…” Mark
tried to explain.
“Mark,” Lucas tried to
While at the same time,
Drako walked over and stopped a few feet from Mark; while pointing a finger
towards Mark he said, “Now look here…”, while pulling his handgun with his
“JUST SHUT UP! Now
listen to me,” Mark declared as loud as he could. “Johnny, put your gun
away. I know you won’t believe the truth until you see it for yourself; so
for the time being, Hallelujah is in my protective custody.”
“Yes, in the custody of
the U.S. Marshal Service. And Books here; thought he was leading us to a
gun running operation and ended up leaded us to the counterfeiters. And
since there is no wanted poster on him; as far as I’m concerned, he was
“Mark,” Lucas tried to
“Those five at the
undertakers were all that remained of the counterfeiters. We got everyone,”
“Except for the leader,”
“How do you know he isn’t
among the dead?” asked Lucas.
“The plates are missing,”
“Dishes…” Drako stated.
Mark took a deep breath
and answered, “The engraved plates the outlaws used to make the counterfeit
money. We found the press, and their supplies, and money they printed, but
not the actual plates. That’s what we have locked up.”
“And since there are no
plates, that tells me the leader got away with them,” Dohrn stated.
“Johnny,” Lucas cleared
his throat. “That stranded traveler we brought to town yesterday… He was
mighty peculiar about me taking that case of his…while you helped him get on
the horse. He said it was important papers for his employer, but now that I
think of it, it felt like more than paper to me.”
Mark and Hallelujah
quickly looked at each other, both thinking and asked the same thing,
“Where’d you leave him?”
“The hotel, down the
road,” answered Lucas.
Mark and Dohrn left the
others calling their names as they ran from the jail.
“When did he check out?”
“Earlier this morning, he
left after getting a buggy from the livery,” nervously replied the woman
standing behind the counter; alarmed at the appearance and demeanor of the
two men standing in front of her.
Mark bumped into his Pa
as he and Dohrn ran from the hotel.
Grabbing hold of his
son’s arm, Lucas reined him in and asked, “Mark’s what’s going on here?”
“Pa, you yourself
suggested it; the man you helped yesterday… has to be the leader of the
Upon releasing his son’s
arm, Lucas noticed the blood on his hand, “Mark!”
“I’ll be back!” Mark
yelled as he swung up into the saddle and followed Dohrn.
Books, Drako, and Lucas
stood and watched the dust settle as the two riders raced their horses from
“If you don’t mind, I
think I’ll take my leave,” declared Books, setting his hat to his head he
stepped from the boardwalk.
“I do mind. You won’t be
going anywhere until I get my questions answered.”
“Marshal Drako, it takes
a lot to rile me, and the number one thing that riles me is people not
trusting my word or...”
“I don’t care,” declared
Drako. “Until that boy gets back…”
“You don’t get it do
you,” Books stated, stepping back to the boardwalk. “He ain’t a boy. He’s
a man, doing a man’s job. You and his Pa come here thinking he needed
looking after. Worse yet, you don’t trust his word… as a lawman.” Books
jabbed his index finger into Johnny Drako’s chest.
flabbergasted at the man’s comments.
“You know, when I first
met him, I wasn’t exactly sure he’d be up to the job at hand, but the way
he’s handled himself and this job, says a lot for his character. You insult
him, when you call him a boy. I’ll admit that first night I called him a
boy, he sure looks it, but he doesn’t handle himself like any boy I’ve ever
met. And I’ll not have anyone try to put him down. Especially you standing
there, wearing a badge yourself.”
“I’m not putting him
down. I’ve known him for better than ten years…”
“Then its time you
realized he’s grown up and deserves to be treated with more respect that
I’ve seen you give him.” Books arched his eyebrows and walked away. “I’ll
be at the hotel. Tell Mark I’ll be wanting to shake his hand and say
“Of all the nerve,”
mumbled Drako as he watched Books walk away.
“You know, he’s right,”
admitted Lucas. “I thought I had gotten used to the idea my son was a grown
man…” Lucas pulled off his hat and scratched his head. “But dang it, if I
didn’t fall into thinking he was a little boy who needed my protection,
again. I receive word my son’s left town with a known gunfighter and all of
a sudden, I think he needs my protection, even when he wrote the man was an
agent of the Secret Service. I began thinking he was too trusting again. I
shouldn’t have come after him, like he wasn’t capable of doing his job.”
“Lucas, WE shouldn’t
have,” agreed Drako. “Do you think he’ll forgive us?”
“This isn’t exactly like
what happened with Rigby and Dahl…” answered Lucas.
“No, but still…should we
wait here or return to North Fork?”
“I think as long as those
crates remain in the jail, we need to stand guard over them,” answered
Lucas. “But in the mean time, let’s get something to eat.”
“You’re not going after
him? Drako asked.
“I want to… I really want
Crossing the rolling
hills of the landscape, Mark and Hallelujah followed the dead-end road to
the next town. The sun was close to setting; and Mark and Hallelujah felt
they were close to catching up with the counterfeit operation’s leader. As
they rounded a bend in the hills, they came upon a horse and buggy; they
dismounted their horses with weapons at the ready.
“This horse is spent,”
declared Mark upon examining the horse.
“He can’t be too far
away, can he?” Dohrn asked innocently.
“I don’t know, but he’s
leaving a trail that even a blind man could follow…”
Leading his horse, Mark
trailed after their quarry, followed by Dohrn.
The sun had finally set
when Dohrn declared, “He couldn’t…” as a small campfire came into their
“If he’s a tenderfoot, I
wouldn’t doubt it,” Mark incredulously answered.
The two walked closer and
observed only one person in the camp, “Hello in the camp!” Mark hollered.
Neither could prevent the
small laughter upon seeing the man startle and scramble towards a large
“Just two weary travelers
looking to share a campfire for the night,” called Dohrn.
Mark and Hallelujah
walked into camp, weapons holstered.
“Can we picket our horse
with yours?” asked Dohrn.
“I… I lost my horse…” the
“Mighty rough country to
lose your horse. Guess you should be lucky we happened upon you,” Dohrn
stated, and tried to prevent the smile from spreading across his face.
“Where’re you traveling
to?” asked the man.
“Where ever you are,”
“Me?” gulped the man.
Dohrn continued, “See, if
my friend and I are right, you have something that we want in that leather
bag of yours.”
As Mark moved his hand,
the man stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, declaring, “Don’t kill
me!” Mark reached into his back pocket and pulled out his badge, and
proceeded to pin it to his shirt.
“Should have known…” the
man stated as he dejectedly sat on the ground. “Should of kept going
instead of letting them other two take me to that mangy town. It was all
supposed to be so easy, make a little money and spread it around…”
“Living outside the law
is never easy,” Dohrn rebutted.
“Hallelujah, I’ll go back
and get his horse. If that’s okay with you,” Mark stated before he swung up
Day was breaking over
Jarilla Junction when Lucas and Johnny felt relief at the sight that greeted
them as they stepped to the boardwalk. Two weary riders, one leading a
horse and buggy with the occupant asleep in the front seat, his hands cuffed
“Could you use some help,
Marhsal?” Drako asked.
“Sure. If they have room
in the jail for our prisoner,” answered Mark as he tossed the rope hooked to
the horse’s bit. Mark was about to asked a question, but stopped when
Johnny stepped to the buggy and led it away.
“I vaguely remember a
telegraph office,” commented Dohrn. “Need to send a wire to my superiors in
“Probably wouldn’t hurt
to send one to Denver, too,” Mark added and yawned.
“Looks like both of you
could use a nice hot bath and a good meal,” Lucas stated as the two riders
stepped from their horses.
“Now that you mention it,
Mr. McCain,” answered Hallelujah as he scratched at the short growth of
beard on his face.
With an even scragglier
looking short beard, Mark ran his hand across his chin and said, “Didn’t
realize it had been so long.”
“Tell you what, the two
of you send your wires and get a shave and a bath, Johnny and I’ll meet you
at the café across the street and buy you breakfast,” offered Lucas. “I’ll
take care of your horses. Oh, Mark, you might want to send a wire home,
just a suggestion.”
Though both felt
refreshed after their showers and shave, they struggled to keep their eyes
open while the waitress took their orders.
“Welcome back, Marshal
McCain, Agent Dohrn,” greeted Books as he joined the group sitting at the
“Least it looks like
someone slept in a nice bed last night,” teased Dohrn. “You know Mark, I
might just take you up on your original offer.”
“What offer was that?”
asked Lucas, as Mark again yawned.
“To come back to the
respectable side of the law. Give up being undercover,” Dohrn replied.
“You really are a Federal
Agent?” asked Drako.
“For the past ten years.
I told Mark that the Secret Service was the only agency who would take me,
and ended up undercover in an effort to bring my brother and his gang in.”
“What about Latimer
saying you tipped them off to a trap?” Drako inquired.
Dohrn sat back in his
chair as the waitress refilled his cup of coffee. “Oh, well, a little
subterfuge. Tried to convince my brother a trap was being laid in one town,
hoping he’d choose a different town, one where we really were laying a
“What happened?” asked
“He didn’t show up in any
town. For some reason he and his gang disappeared; didn’t hear anything of
them for six months.”
“Bet that went over well
with your superiors,” commented Mark.
“Yeah, his vanishing went
over like a lead balloon. But at least during those six months, things were
The fivesome briefly
chatted while eating their breakfast. As the waitress removed the empty
plates, Johnny asked, “So Marshal McCain…”
“What’s got into you,
Johnny? Since when am I Marshal to you?” asked Mark, as he leaned forward
in his chair.
Johnny cleared his throat
before he spoke. “It was pointed out that maybe I don’t give you the
respect you’re due. And I admit, I know you’re grown and a U.S. Marshal,
but sometimes, it’s hard to change old ways of thinking because you’re so
“Son, Johnny and I
realized, we probably had no right in trailing after you. It’s just I was
fearful that you’d been duped by a gunslinger. You’re my son… Can you
“I guess so…” Mark
stopped, not knowing what to say. He was tired and hadn’t thought about why
the others were in Jarilla Junction.
“So, Marshal McCain,”
Books spoke. “If you’ll hold to your end of our deal… I’ll take my leave.
It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
Mark stood as Books did,
and offered his hand, “There’ll be no mention in my report. Thanks for your
“Agent Dohrn, Marshal
Drako, Mr. McCain.” Books tipped his hat as he bid goodbye.
“No mention?” inquired
“Reputations and all…you
know,” laughed Mark.
“You could leave us out
of your report as well, Mark,” suggested Drako.
“What and miss the fun of
writing how you almost helped the counterfeiter get away with the plates.
No way…” teased Mark, yet he couldn’t prevent the yawn.
“When was the last time
you slept?” asked Lucas.
“Maybe two days ago?”
Mark answered looking to Dohrn as he too began yawning and nodding in
“If you’ll allow a town
marshal and his posse to guard your prisoner and contraband, you can catch
up on your sleep,” suggested Drako.
“Sounds like a good
idea. I don’t know if I could sit my horse,” Dohrn answered.
“What about your arm,
Mark?” asked Lucas.
“Oh, the barber patched
me up, but once we get home, I plan to have Doc Burrage look at it.”
The following morning,
Mark woke with a start, and immediately relaxed after he remembered where he
was. Stretching, he reached for his boots, pulled them on, grabbed his hat
and rifle, and left the room.
Johnny Drako greeted.
“Now let’s not start this
again. Johnny, I didn’t think anything about you two being here. And
honestly, I’m glad you are. It felt good to just let go and sleep last
Hallelujah Dohrn as he walked into the jail.
Lucas watched with
amusement the three lawmen in the room with him.
“You’ll be happy to know
you received a response to your wires…” Lucas stated as he handed out the
coffee cups and filled them.
“North Fork? Doesn’t
make any sense to have to take Moneymaker to North Fork,” Dohrn stated,
looking at the telegram he held.
“Maybe this will make
sense, Tom Benton is to meet us in North Fork and take custody of your
prisoner,” answered Mark as he finished reading his telegram.
“Oh, Mark, there is one
more wire for you,” teased Johnny as he handed the folded sheet of paper to
The train was at the
depot when Lucas, Johnny, Mark, and Hallelujah, along with their prisoner
and cargo crossed the railroad tracks and entered North Fork.
Johnny addressed the
small group, “Dohrn and I’ll see his prisoner to the jail. Why don’t you
meet us there once Doc’s had a chance to look at your arm. Lucas, I presume
you’ll want to…”
“Come on Pa, I know
you’re anxious to hear I’ll survive,” teased Mark.
As they stopped their
horses in front of the clinic, Mark asked, “By the way, you don’t happen to
know what today is, do you?”
“From the looks of the
church, I’d guess it’s Sunday.”
Milly drove the buckboard
containing her family from the church into town, to join Lou at the Mallory
House restaurant for lunch.
“Ma?!” Hope called,
reaching her left hand to Milly’s upper arm, while pointing with her right
hand to the two horses tied in front of the clinic.
The children in the back
of the buckboard stood and started calling “Pa!” or “Papa!”
As she climbed down from
the driver’s seat, Milly warned all the children to stay put until she and
Hope came back.
“No butts!” Hope stated,
pointing to her own children as she stepped to the ground.
The two women entered the
clinic to be greeted by Sarah McCafferty, “They’re in room, two. It’s just
a minor wound, Aaron cleaned and rebandaged it.”
The door opened just as
Milly was about to knock.
“Well hello there!” Lucas
greeted his wife by wrapping his arms around her waist and picking her up.
“Welcome home,” Milly
greeted and kissed her husband.
“If you two lovebirds
will move out of the way, I’d sure like to see if my wife is on the other
side of the doorway,” taunted Mark.
Lucas didn’t set Milly to
her feet until Mark could see Hope anxiously waiting for him.
“Do I get a welcome home
kiss?” Mark asked.
Hope was quickly into his
arms, “Are you okay?”
“Just a graze, I moved
when I shouldn’t have. Doc said it would heal in a few more days.”
The McCains stepped from
the clinic and were excitedly greeted by their children.
“You gonna have lunch
with us?” the chorus of children asked.
“Sure!” beamed Lucas.
“I need to stop by the
Marshal’s Office, can I join you in a little while?” asked Mark.
“You won’t be too long,
will you?” asked Hope.
“I hope not,” answered
Mark entered the
Marshal’s Office to find Tom Benton already inside and taking a report from
Hallelujah Dohrn, while sitting at his desk.
“Since when does the
Secret Service report to the U.S. Marshals,” asked Mark as he removed his
hat and walked to his desk, and sat on the edge.
“Since his skills are
being wasted with the Service, after a month-long vacation to visit his
family, he’ll report to me,” answered Benton.
“Now hold on!” answered
Dohrn. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
“No!” declared Benton.
“I’ve already talked with your superiors. It’s one thing for a brief
undercover investigation; it’s totally uncalled for the way they kept you
out in the cold.”
“Welcome to the family,”
“Now, you on the other
hand…” Benton stopped writing and pointed the end of his pen towards Mark.
“Going off like you did with a known outlaw?”
“An Agent of the Secret
Service,” corrected Mark. “At least I didn’t fake my death…”
“This time,” Benton
completed the statement. “So be thankful you’re not facing a suspension.
But next time…”
“Next time, I’ll continue
do my job as a U.S. Marshal… period,” Mark stated, letting his boss know
that he did what he needed to do in order to get the job done.
interrupted. “We were reminded by … a… a stranger, that the Marshal here is
a grown man, doing a grown man’s job. And we should treat him as such.
Besides, we both trained him to be the type of lawman he is. We only have
ourselves to blame if we don’t like how he does his job.”
“Then, Mr. Lawman, I’ll
look forward to reading your report, tomorrow,” Benton stated as an order,
not a request.
“Yes sir. Since it seems
you have everything in order, I’m going to go enjoy some time with my
family, before I writing.”
“See you later, Johnny,
Mark left the office with
a grin of satisfaction on his face.
The Next Step —
A Brave Man Chooses to Act