The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

The Most Amazing Man Episode 152
Mark’s story

I walked into the living room and picked up the rifle. Today was a special day. Today, Pa was going to help me learn to shoot. We had worked hard all day yesterday getting chores done so we’d have this day to learn. I rubbed my hand down the stock of the rifle. I grinned. But I couldn’t help remembering the words Pa had said to me last night…

***

We had been eating supper. “Pa,” I had said as I finished off my roast beef. “I know that Marty taught me to shoot, but I would love for you to work with me. Can we do it?”

Pa had nodded as he sat down his coffee cup. I watched as a slow, easy smile spread from ear to ear. “Mark, I’ve dreamed for that opportunity for a long time. I’m glad to see it’s going to come true.” Pa leaned forward and put a hand on my shoulder. “We’ll work on it tomorrow.”

I then gathered up the dishes and washed them while Pa went to sit on the steps with his cigar. As I came to sit beside him after the dishes were all washed, Pa turned and smiled at me. “You did my heart proud tonight, son.”

“By washing the dishes?” I asked. “I do that every day!”

Pa laughed. “No, Mark! For asking me to help you learn how to shoot. But uh…” Pa toyed with his cigar. “There are a few things I want you to know.”

I turned and looked at him as I raised my eyebrows and waited for him to speak. “A rifle is a tool like an axe or a crowbar. It doesn’t have a mind of its own.” Pa motioned toward the woodpile. “That axe…it just sits there in the chopping block until someone picks it up and starts to use it. It was made for chopping wood – and when it’s chopping, it’s doing its job. When it’s just sitting there, though, it has no use.” Pa leaned back on his elbows and looked up at me. “A rifle is the same, son. When my rifle just sits in there in the holder, it has no use. But when I pick it up and shoot it…it’s doing what it was designed to do.”

“I understand, Pa.” I nodded.

“Do you, Mark?” Pa turned over and studied me. “The person behind that rifle…they have to know exactly what they are doing. If you don’t pay careful attention, the axe can chop your foot off instead of the wood. Just the same, the rifle can…kill a person.” Pa raised an eyebrow. “It’s something you must hold high in respect. And if you don’t…just one time…it will be taken away from you.”

I smiled. “I understand, Pa.”

***

The door to the bedroom opened. I turned to see Pa buttoning his pants. “Son, it’s 5:00 in the morning. Why are you up?” He looked down at my lap to see me holding the rifle. Pa grinned as he kneeled down next to me. “I remember when you were four or five years old. I promised you I’d take you fishing one morning. When your Ma got up to start breakfast, she found you missing from your bed and became worried. I found you in the barn. You were sleeping in the hay with your brand new fishing pole in hand.”

I just smiled.

“Is this sort of the same thing?”

I nodded. “Pa, it’s not cause of the rifle. It’s cause we’re going to spend the whole day together…not working…but learning.” I smiled. “Pa?” Pa raised his eyebrows. “You think that…I mean could I…Oh Pa, will you let me fire your rifle?”

Pa laughed. “You sound like a boy on Christmas morning!”

“I was just thinking back to when I was ten years old…least wise…I think I was ten. Anyway, it was when Tim Elder was here. I watched from behind as you worked with him holding your rifle and shooting at some cans. You were so patient and proud. Well…” I lowered my head and shrugged. “…I reckon I might have been a little jealous. I so wanted it to be me behind that rifle. I wanted you to be proud of me like you were with Tim. I reckon I’ve been thinking on that most of the morning.”

I heard Pa smile. He stoked the fire in the stove and got it burning. Then he sat down and looked at me. “You know, son…My mind was thinking along the same lines. I imagined the day that I would be out there with my boy helping him learn to shoot with my rifle. I wondered what you would be like – how old you would be. I was sort of jealous in another way that…well…that it wasn’t you out there.”

I ran my hand up the barrel of the rifle and smiled. My heart swelled as I thought on what we would be doing together in merely a couple hours. “But first…” Pa said as he walked over to me and took the rifle. “You go on in there and get dressed. And then scurry on out to the barn and do your chores!”

I laughed as Pa swatted me on the back side. After dressing, I grabbed my hat and opened the door. I stood out on the front porch and wrapped my arms around the post as I peered laughingly over the land. The sun was just rising. I couldn’t see the sun yet, but God was giving me a beauty of a scene as the rays cast glows on the clouds. There were beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows that only God could paint.

I turned and looked toward the barn. I remembered a time when I was only ten years old. I had been learning a hard lesson. You see, I had made fun of some gauchos, and Pa punished me pretty severely. Then he announced the next day after school that I would be riding with the boy who was a little older than I am now. His name was Manolo, and we became friends. But I watched him die in front of my eyes. I remember the hurt and confusion I felt that day. Pa had told me that people who were different were good – at least that’s the way I had interrupted it; but in actuality, he meant that they were like us – good and bad. I had cried so hard. I had been begging for a rifle and Pa had said no firmly. But that day in the barn, I had come face to face with a test. Pa spoke words I had wanted to hear for so long.

“Now, about that rifle you want. It’s gotta be a single shot. I don’t want you to buy and ammunition. When you get a little older and want to shoot it, you come to me.” But Pa knew…and I knew…that I was mature enough to understand. Pa felt bad for me, and he was trying to help me feel better. We both knew what my answer should be. Oh, I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted, but I heard the grief in Pa’s voice. And I saw the truth in his eyes.

“Pa, I’ve been thinkin’. Maybe I better wait a while. Till I get older for the rifle. I’ll appreciate it more then.”

I smiled now at my answer. Pa had been so mature as he spoke through his tears. “Whatever you say, son.” But I saw the pride in his eyes. I had answered correctly. Just like today, my heart swelled as Pa put a comforting arm around my shoulders and we left that barn.

I took in a deep, cleansing breath as I stepped off the porch and walked toward the barn. I thought back, again, to last night and remembered Pa’s words. “A rifle is a tool like an axe and a crowbar.” I greeted Blue Boy and slipped him another sugar cube. I’m surprised Pa didn’t search me before I left the house like he used to when I was little. I patted Blue Boy’s head as I remembered yet another incident with a rifle. I had gotten Blue Boy after my father shot my other horse – the one my Uncle Johnny had broken for me. I felt so terrible and had begged him not to kill the horse with his rifle. My Pa’s cousin, Chuck, had lent Pa his own rifle.

The shot still rang through my head. I had become angry and went to stay with Chuck. Chuck felt Pa and I needed some separation while I worked through my anger. But he was healing my heart in unexplainable ways. Through his death, I was learning to live again. He had a colt there named Blue Boy and I had fallen in love with him. It had been a really sad time in my life. And as my great cousin lay in bed dying, I felt so very blue. That’s why I called him Blue Boy. We understood each other that day and it was my cousin’s dying wish that I take Blue Boy as my own.

I heard the door open as Pa came inside. “Well…for a boy who’s so excited about our father/son adventure, you’re being awfully pokey this morning!” Pa declared.

I smiled as I nuzzled my nose into Blue Boy’s neck. “I’m just remembering back, Pa.”

“Are they good memories, son?” I looked into Pa’s eyes and nodded. “They are GREAT memories, Pa!” I declared.

***

My heart jumped as I heard the door close behind us. We stepped off the porch together. Pa looked down at me and I looked up at him. I’d been waiting for this day for so long! Pa lay a hand across my shoulders and we walked slowly across the yard. I felt my heart racing as we walked a little past our house to the place where he and Tim had practiced that day. Now, I remembered another time when him and some Englishman…oh, what was his name?...did a series of contests while Pa tried to persuade the funny, little man NOT to go up against him.

We turned the corner. There it was. Cans were already sitting on the fallen log. There were fresh targets on the tree. I wondered when Pa had found time to get everything ready. Tears of pride formed in my eyes as I realized that Pa had been planning this long before I said anything. I almost wondered if maybe…just maybe…Pa had anticipated that he would be the one to help me take my first shot with my new rifle.

Tears of regret now filled my eyes as I remembered now…he wasn’t and I couldn’t take that back. Not ever.

“Okay son, I want you to hold your rifle up and take a shot. I need to get a jest of where we need to start working.” Pa folded his arms to watch me closely. I turned and spread my legs just a bit apart. Then I slowly aimed my rifle and got the tin can in my sights. I took in a deep breath, then let it out as I pulled the trigger. The rifle kicked me and knocked me back. I almost fell, the shot was so powerful.

I heard laughter from behind me. “Well, that’s one way to learn the lesson!” Pa declared. “You hold the rifle like that and you’re sure to give yourself a good beating!’ Pa worked with me for a long time that morning as we aimed the rifle. Pa stood behind me and positioned my arms. He never gave up. Over and over he re-positioned my arms. Over and over I fired my rifle. When he was finally satisfied, he handed me his prized rifle.

I stared down at it as I held it in my hands. It was so big…so special to my Pa. I’d held it before, and I always wondered if my finger would ever squeeze the trigger. I remembered back to our hunting trips. I remembered as Pa held the rifle with me and helped me pull the trigger. “Your big enough to do it yourself now, son,” Pa said close to my ear now.

I took aim at a tin can as I positioned the rifle just as Pa had taught me. I cocked the rifle and set my sights on the can. My hands grew sweaty as I slowly began to fire.

The tin can fell to the ground. I lowered the rifle and turned around. “Yeah! You did it!” Pa declared.

“Yeah!” I declared as we hugged. Pa pushed me away and I lifted my head up towards his. I saw pride shining in his eyes. “That’s my boy!”

Soon after that, Pa reached in his saddlebag and pulled out the lunch he had prepared that morning. We sat back against a tree and ate in silence as we both reflected on our own memories tucked deep inside of us. Finally, Pa stood and dusted off his pants. “Well…how would you like to go hunting today?”

“Yes sir!” I declared. I knew this would be our first hunting trip together as father and son both carrying rifles. Again, my heart swelled at the prospect.

***

The day had to end. I was a bit saddened at the end of the day as I sat on the porch thinking back to this day that would always be etched in my heart. Pa sat down beside me and watched me as I thought on it. “Thinking back?” he asked.

“No sir.” I turned and smiled. “I’m enjoying the end of a wonderful day.” Pa put his arm around my shoulder and smiled as he winked at me. “You know something, Pa…this is one of those days I’ll tell my children about.”

“Yes it is. And I’ll tell my grandchildren the same story. You know son, as you get older…these days will be further apart. That’s what makes them special – because when you DO get the opportunity to have a special day together, you cherish each moment even more.” Pa smiled at me for a few moments. Then he patted me. “Well, you better get that bath tub filled up, huh? We got church in the morning.”

I didn’t want this moment to end. I turned and smiled at him. Then I nodded my head. “Yes Pa.” I reached over and kissed him on the cheek. Pa turned and stared at me as he touched the cheek I had just kissed. I never did hear him say goodnight.

***

Monday afternoon, I rode back into town to get the supplies Pa needed from the General Store. He was aware school would be getting out about the time I rode into town, and reminded me that this was a working ranch and required the supplies to stay running.

But something happened between home and the General Store, and I’m not sure what it was. I went into the General Store and handed Myrtle my list of supplies I needed, but that’s about as far as I got. Because I suddenly noticed that the newest edition to my favorite magazine “Famous gunfighters” was on display. I picked it up and looked at it. Pa had given me exactly five dollars, and the supplies I was picking up would come to exactly $4.80. That presented a problem. This magazine was fifty cents!

I saw a picture of a man on the front. At the bottom, it read “Wade Randall…the Most Amazing Man.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed.

Myrtle sat the supplies on the counter. “You buying?”

I handed her the five dollars. “Sorry, Mark. You are thirty cents short.”

“Oh…” I started to open the magazine. “Just put the rest on the ledger.”

Myrtle folded her arms and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mark. Your Pa gave me strict orders not to charge anything else from you unless I had his written permission.”

“Since when?” I asked.

“Since you came in here last week and bought candy for all your school friends. He was pretty mad.”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “At you and me both! Boy…” I shook my head as I remembered. “I reckon folks clear in Talbot City could hear my Pa’s yelling when he got home that night. But uh…” I leaned over on the counter and smiled at her. “This is different. I would buy it except my allowance has been suspended until I can pay that little amount I charged off. That’ll be in two weeks, then I can pay you this twenty cents.”

“Thirty cents,” Myrtle declared.

“Huh?” She put a hand on her hip. “Oh yeah…thirty cents. Well?” I lifted my eyebrow and grinned at her.

She reached out and poked my chin. “You’re a cute kid, Mark; but sorry.”

“Then can I just stand here and read this…” I started.

“You don’t buy, you don’t read!” Myrtle declared. She handed me the twenty cents and pushed the packages to the front of the counter.

I turned and looked out the door. I had just seen Micah go into his office. “I’ll be right back.” I hurried across the street and walked inside Micah’s office. “Oh…uh…hello, Micah.”

Micah turned and nodded. “Mark.” He said as he poured a cup of coffee. “What uh…brings you into town this time of day?”

“Supplies.” I dug my hands in my back pockets as I slowly walked over to him. “Say Micah…” I looked to the door, half-expecting Pa to come in. “You don’t happen to have thirty cents I could borrow, do ya?”

“What’s it for?” Micah asked as he shuffled through a stack of Wanted Posters.

“Well…uh…you see, Micah Pa sent me into town for supplies and I found something else I needed to pick up but didn’t have the money for it. After the candy incident that happened a couple weeks ago…oh, I’m sure you heard about it…”

“Yes I did…” Micah declared as he sat down. “Everybody heard THAT explosion. I think it started with a loud ‘What’ and ended with a ‘How old is that boy anyhow?’” Micah leaned back in his chair. “So, I’ll ask you again…what do you need the thirty cents for?”

“Well, I…” I felt kind of silly asking out loud. Micah was right, after all. I was 14 years old. But still…all the other kids my age were still enjoying reading about gunfighters and stuff…”There’s this magazine about…”

Micah chuckled. “Wade Randall? The…uh…Most Amazing Man?”

“How did you know?” I asked then. “You have a copy?”

“No,” Micah chuckled. He reached in his pocket and dug out the money I needed. “But I suppose you can enjoy such imaginations for a couple more years yet. Some day you’ll look back and laugh at all the silliness of it all!” He held out the money and I started to take it. “Here, Mark.” He snapped his hand back. “But uh…let’s keep this between you and me. I don’t want your father getting wind of this. If he does catch you reading, you keep me out of it! I don’t want to be in the middle of the next explosion. I’m supposed to keep the peace – not cause the problems.”

“Yes sir!” I took the money. “Thanks, Micah. And uh…I promise as soon as I get the thirty cents, it’ll go to you!”

“Go on.” I started for the door. “But remember…keep me out of it!”

I hurried back across the street and slapped the fifty cents down on the counter. Then I picked up the magazine and slowly walked out of the General Store with my newly purchased magazine in hand. I opened the magazine up and started flipping through it. Suddenly, a headline caught my attention:

“Red Morgan is no longer the fastest gun around!”

I slowly walked out of the store and sat down on the step as I began reading the article:

For years, Red Morgan was deemed the fastest gun in Montana. But after a stranger rode into town and deemed to shoot Morgan down in the street, a new man now holds that honor. Last month, a man by the name of Wade Randall rode into town. By the time he rode out mere hours later, he was no longer a stranger – but a hero to those who played poker with Red Morgan.

Though several gunmen in the West hold the title of “fast gun,” there is apparently no one faster or more amazing than Wade Randall who was able to shoot Morgan down without a hitch. Johnny Drako, who also holds this title, was interviewed and had this to say:

“I don’t think anybody knows for sure who did the killing. From those I talked with, the details are debatable.” Drako was questioned on the rumors that he was stepping down from gunfighting. “I’m trying,” Drako declared. “And if Wade Randall has the sense, he’ll step down as well before he gets so far in he can no longer get out. It’s not a very comfortable place to be.”

It is rumored that Wade Randall has assisted in several gunfights where he only takes out those people deemed bad and a menace to society…

I smiled as I continued reading the article. I was impressed at the mention of Johnny Drako since it had been quiet recent that I had run into him myself. I smiled as I read page after page, not only about Wade Randal, but about other gunfighters.

Further on, I read another story about my new-found hero:

“No battle is too great for Wade Randal.” That was the title of the article. I smiled as I leaned back against the wall and started reading.

One evening, when Randall made an early camp, he wasn’t aware that there was danger lurking close by. But this danger wasn’t from a gunfighter, or even a woman. This current danger was the same that Eve faced in the garden of Eden…double! Randall reported that one evening, he leaned back against a tree to find two snakes slowly making their way to him. He could tell they were just about to go in for the kill when he slowly began lifting his holstered gun. “I knew I had only one shot in my gun that night. It was a safety precaution I used just in case any lonely travelers try to sneak up on me and grab my gun: if they miss on the first shot, I’ll be allowed to live.”

That particular evening, Randall watched closely as the two rattle snakes slowly made their way closer to him. One false move, and they would both move in for the kill. It took what seemed like forever to get his gun aimed. As beads of sweat broke out onto his forehead, Randall slowly cocked back the hammer on his six-shooter. When the heads of the snakes intertwined for a brief moment, he fired his shot. The two snakes fell dead…

My eyes grew wider and wider as I read story after story about him. I read about how Randall single handedly took down the Bolten Gang while riding through a sleepy little town in Montana. I even read about how he investigated a problem with the Pony Express. He found the man responsible for shooting down several riders and killed the man in a fair gunfight.

The final article’s closing paragraph stated this:

“I don’t want to take the credit for being the most amazing man. I’m just doing my part as a citizen to clean up the West. I want to make it better for future generations. There are many law enforcement officers who are doing the same thing. I do not get paid for it, nor do I deserve any of the praise. What I do is not worthy of glorification since it takes a man’s life. When you take a man’s life, you kill a little bit of yourself.”

I grinned as I stared at the cover and studied Randall’s picture. “Mark? Mark?”

Slowly, my mind came back into focus. I lifted my head to see Myrtle standing there with her hands on her hips. “Oh!” I quickly stood up. “Yes ma’am?”

“I said you better get your packages out of there. I’m closing up.”

“Closing up? But it’s only…” I stopped as I looked up toward the sky. Slowly, I took my pocket watch out and opened it. My eyes grew as big as saucers as I realized the time. I had been sent at 2:30. It was now…

“5:30?” I stuffed the magazine under my arm and hurried back inside. “Pa’s gonna explode again!”

Myrtle watched me with a frown as I hurried out the door. I stuffed the purchases in my saddle bags. Then I stuffed the magazine inside and jumped on my horse. “Thank you, ma’am!”

I rode like the devil for home. Blue Boy protested. It was way past supper time for him and he didn’t feel like running. “Now, you cooperate you!” I demanded as I bent over and gave him a sugar cube. I’ll feed ya the minute I get home! Right now I’m more concerned about my own hide!” I dug my spurred heels into Blue Boy’s flank and he raced off.

Pa was standing in the yard with his hands on his hips and a very mean look in his eye as I pulled up to the hitching post and dismounted my horse. I immediately turned toward him and sheepishly hung my head. “I…I’m sorry, Pa.” I said as I kept my head hung.

“Alright…where have you been, young man?” Pa yelled out.

“In town, Pa,” I answered quietly.

“Getting supplies this whole time?” Pa demanded to know.

“Well…I…I…Not exactly,” ‘I answered.

“Alright. Go to bed!” Pa demanded. “Go to bed right now!” I lifted my head to look at Pa. But I could tell now wasn’t the time for explanation.

I slowly walked into the house and did as Pa demanded. I laid still in my bed, not daring to move. It was a couple hours later when the sun was just beginning to sink behind the mountain when the door opened and Pa stepped inside.

“Mark, come out here, please. I wish to talk to you.”

I stood from my bed and made my way into the front room. I stood and waited for Pa to talk. He was looking out the window, his back toward me. “Have a seat at the table, Mark.”

I sat down. Pa turned and walked over to me. He slapped the magazine down in front of me without saying a word. I stared at it, then slowly lifted my head to look at him. “Does THIS have anything to do with your being two hours late?” Pa asked angrily.

I nodded. “Speak up, boy!” Pa demanded.

I swallowed hard before I answered. “Yes sir.”

Pa began pacing back and forth. “If I recall, you went into town with $5.00.” Pa rushed back to the table and planted his hands firmly on the table. “Is that right?”

“Yes sir.”

“And the things you bought came to a total of $4.80 according to the receipt I found in your saddle bag. Is that correct?”

“Ye…Yes sir.”

“So…you SHOULD have twenty cents in change.” I stayed silent. “Well?”

“I…should…Yes sir.”

“But you don’t!” Pa declared. He lowered his voice. “Do you?”

“No sir.”

Pa began pacing again. “Yesterday you were such a man. I was so proud of you. I remember looking at you, wondering where my little boy went.” I just stared down at the table as Pa rushed back over to me. “Well…I don’t have to look very far!”

I said nothing, but kept silent. “Today, you acted like the young man I’ve come to know. What I don’t understand is…” Pa put his hands to his hips as he walked away from me. “…what happened between here…” He pointed to the floor. “…and there?” He pointed outside.

“I…I…I don’t know, I guess.”

Pa ran a hand through his hair. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever understand teenagers!” He sighed. “As I thought on what to do with you tonight, I remembered back to when I was your age. I was a man one day and a boy the next. I bet I got more whippings at 14 then I got in all the years combined. There’s something inside us that fights against manhood. And the closer we get to it, the more we seem to fight it.” Pa turned back to me. “But that’s no excuse for your actions. Do you know that I needed those supplies to fix supper tonight? Well, do you?”

“No sir,” I answered. “I…I’m sorry, sir.”

“Alright. Where did you get the money?” Pa demanded then.

I closed my eyes and sighed. “I borrowed it from a friend.”

“A friend, huh?” Pa sat down at the table and glared at me. “What friend?”

“I…” I swallowed. “I can’t say. He…he swore me to secrecy.”

“Uh huh.” Pa nodded. “I’ve a pretty good idea what friend you’re talking about, and when I get done with him, he’ll be a grumpy ol’ man!” Pa picked up the magazine. “Son, do you know how long you have to work to make fifty cents? Then you go and spend it on this trash?”

“It’s not trash, Pa! These are true stories about…”

“Son, YOU could write them a letter and tell them all about a lot of men you killed and they’d print it…” Pa snapped his fingers. “…just like that! They print stories. They don’t check out to see if they are true or not.” Pa slammed the magazine down on the table. “And when you buy stuff like this, you are telling them it’s okay.”

I didn’t say anything as I listened.

“Mark…” Pa sighed. “Remember when Johnny Drako came through? Remember what he said before he left?” I nodded. “He said that he’ll find his peace the same place every gunfighter does. Many of these men have to die to run from the glorified heroes these so-called magazines have made them out to be.” I stayed silent. “Now…I don’t know if what you’ve read about your newest gun-fighting idol is true or not, but…”

“His name is…” I started.

“I don’t care what his name is!” Pa said. “And I don’t like to have my hard-earned money spent on this…this…” Pa threw the magazine down. “This is no good for anything – except kindling for a fire. I reckon that’s exactly where it’s going to go.”

I shot my head up. “But Pa! That’s like burning fifty cents! You might as well throw fifty cents into the fire!”

“I know.” Pa stood up. “Now go to bed.”

“That’s it?” Pa turned and raised an eyebrow at me. “I mean…that’s my punishment?”

Pa shook his head. “That’ll come…in time…” He turned from me. “Goodnight, son.”

***

I found out the next afternoon what Pa meant by “that’ll come in time.” When I got home from school the next day, there was a long list of chores waiting for me. The majority of them involved domestic things – things I hoped I would someday be able to leave to my wife. But for now, I had to do them. It took me all afternoon to get all the floors mopped. Because today – I didn’t get to use a mop. No…Pa made me use a scrub brush and that was hard, back-breaking work!

On top of all that, Pa made me do the cooking and dish-washing. But after a couple days of that, Pa finally put down his fork and declared, “I’ve a feeling I’m punishing myself more than you, so tomorrow night I’ll do the cooking!”

And, Pa still expected me to get all my extra studies done in the evening. By the time 9:00 came in the night, I didn’t care about anything!

Then another disaster hit on Friday. I was dog-tired and had my head in the palm of my hand while Mr. Griswald taught. “And don’t forget that your English compositions are due on Monday.”

My head bolted up at that announcement. I stared at him as he dismissed the class for lunch. Then I turned to Freddie. “What English Composition?” I whispered in a panic.

Freddie turned and stared at me. “The one he assigned on Monday, Mark. Weren’t you listening?” I closed my eyes and hit my forehead with the palm of my hand. “Oh…” I groaned. “I remember now, but it’s been a long week!”

“You better get started, Mark! Don’t forget we have that barn raising tomorrow. If your Pa finds out…he’ll make you stay home!”

“Yeah.” I gathered up my books. “I’ve been punished all week.” I stood up and slung my books over my shoulder. “I don’t much expect it to stop now.”

I walked into town and found Pa at Micah’s. I walked inside without saying a word and stood in front of him. “Well, you ready to go eat at the hotel so we can get home and work with the stock, son?” Pa asked.

“Pa…uh…I think there’s something I should tell ya.”

Pa looked at Micah as he straightened up in his chair. “Well…go ahead.”

“Well…ya know how hard I’ve been working and all this week…and with all that hard work, it’s just natural that I may allow a few things to escape my brain and…”

Pa interrupted me with a sigh. “Son…will you stop running around the barn and say it?”

“I just remembered that I have an English Composition due on Monday morning,” I answered.

“Oh.” Pa turned and looked at Micah. “And uh…just how long did you know about it, Mark?”

I sighed. “For about…a week, Pa.”

“I see…” Pa shrugged. “Well…it seems that you better just go on home and get started on it. When I get there, I’ll need your help with the cattle.”

“Pa…” I swallowed. “I can work on it Sunday.”

Pa had lowered his head, but at that, he bolted his head upright and narrowed his eyes at me. “That Composition will be done tonight!” Pa demanded. “You have the barn raising tomorrow and I don’t want to hear you moaning and groaning on Sunday afternoon that there’s no way you’ll get that done! So you’ll go home now and get to work.”

“Yes sir.”

I looked toward Micah who was giving me a sympathetic frown. “You’re dismissed.”

I turned and hurried out the door. When I got home, I sat down at the table and took out my writing tablet. I had been thinking all the way home on who I could write about. The subject matter had to be on a person whom I held high in respect. Naturally, Pa popped in my head first – but I’d written several on him. Then I thought about Wade Randall…if only I had met him! Why had Mr. Griswald put such a stipulation in the assignment? I wanted to write about him more than anything else in the world!

I sighed as I drummed my pencil on the table. I knew there was only one thing left to do.

The Most Amazing Man I ever Met
By Mark McCain

When somebody asks me who the greatest man I’ve ever met, there is only one answer. …
[Deanne, you KNOW essay writing is my weakness!!!]



I heard the door open and close just then. “Oh, hi Pa!” I smiled as I closed my writing tablet.

“Hi.” Pa grumbled as he held a sack in his hand.

“Well…it’s done!” I smiled. “It didn’t take that long once I figured out my subject matter.”

“Great.” Pa put the bag on the table and went to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“What’s this?” I could smell its contents. It was food.

“Your lunch,” Pa grumbled again.”

“What’s wrong with you, Pa?” I asked. “You sound like you just bit into a sour apple and swallowed the worm.”

Pa gave a short laugh as he sat down at the table. “Hm…close, son…very close.”

I opened the bag and smiled at what was inside. “Hey, now this is alright!” I declared at the hearty helping of beef stew that sat in front of me. There was also a helping of chocolate cake. “Thanks Pa.”

“Don’t think me…” Pa declared with a sigh. “Thank your friend!”

“My friend?”

Pa lifted the cup to his lips. “Women!” he breathed into the cup before taking a drink. I raised my eyebrows at Pa. “It seems that Lou was quite taken aback by the fact that I would send my growing boy home without a proper lunch. I told her not feeding you was one of the ways of punishing you and she proceeded to give me a piece of her mind.”

“Oh…” I laughed as I turned toward the cabinet and grabbed a fork. I felt Pa’s eyes on me. “Well…it’s like you said, Pa. She’s a red-headed-“

“Mark!” Pa warned. Pa sighed. “Hurry up and eat your food so we can get out and tend to the cattle.”

“Yes sir.” After I swallowed a bit, I shook my head and said…”But I sure do wish I had been there to hear Miss Lou give you and earful! Why you know, Pa…She’s the most cantankerous woman I ever met!”

“She’s still a lady, son…so talk respectfully.”

I laughed as I took another bite of my food and pictured in my head the scene that must have erupted in town after I left.

***

“May the peace of God be upon you and yours this week. Go in brotherly love and we’ll see you next Sunday.”

No sooner had Reverend Jamison said those words when Freddie jumped up and hurried over to me. “Mark, you must come with me so I can show you…”

“Now Freddie Toomey, what is this all about?” Lou declared. “The preacher just got finished talking about peace and patience!”

“Oh…I’m sorry, ma’am.” Freddie turned back to me. “But you’ve just gotta come see! You just gotta!”

I started to run after Freddie, but Pa caught me by the back of the neck. “Remember that you are in church, son.” I stopped and turned back to Pa. “And we have a special dinner Lou prepared for us waiting at the hotel.”

Freddie pulled on my arm. “Oh, but this will only take a minute! Honest!” Freddie declared.

“Freddie Toomey, you let go of that boy this instant!” Mrs. Toomey demanded from behind us. I breathed a sigh of relief as he let go and hurried over to his Ma.

“But Ma, I hafta show Mark who’s in town! I…”

“You’ll do no such thing!” Mrs. Toomey declared. “I have a roast in the oven and we’ve got to get straight home. Now, get going, mister!”

I laughed as Mrs. Toomey grabbed Freddie by the arm and dragged him out. Pa folded his arms and shook his head. “That boy sure does have a lot of mustered!”

“Yeah,” Micah declared as he laid a hand on my shoulder. “Just like this one.”

Pa laughed as he put his hand on my other shoulder and led me out the door. We made our way to the restaurant where Lou served us. As usual, she wanted to work on serving all the guests; and as usual, Pa took her arm and forced her to sit. “This is a day of rest!” Pa declared in an even voice.

“And I give most of my staff the day off!” Lou declared. “So they can be with their families and reflect on the Lord.”

“I’m sure everyone is well aware of the fact that you are here. If they need anything, they’ll ask.”

Lou did as Pa ordered and sat with us to eat. If you ask me, I think she enjoyed the attention Pa gave her as she sat with our group and ate quietly. Half way through our meal, a man walked in and declared, “Who do I see about getting a meal?”

Lou quickly stood up. Pa grabbed her wrist and raised his eyebrows at her. “I’ll be back. I promise,” Lou said as she slid her wrist out of his grip and flashed him a smile.

But I was too interested in the man who had walked in. I half stood from my seat as I watched him walk in and sit down. I think my heart skipped a beat as I just stared, my mouth gaping open. “Mark! Mark!” Pa pulled on me. “Sit down and eat!”

I allowed myself to be pulled back into my chair, but I still made no movement to put any food in my mouth. I stared as Lou laughingly talked with the man across the way. He took a cigar from his jacket pocket and stuck it in his mouth as he nodded his head and laughed at something he had said. Lou turned and hurried to the kitchen. I leaned forward on the table to get a better look. I wondered if it could really be who it looked like…

“Mark?” I suddenly felt something oozing on my sleeve. “Mark!” Pa chided me.

“Huh? What?” I turned and looked at Pa. Pa stood up and started wiping at his pants. I looked to see the full glass of water spilled on the table. I looked down at myself and found mashed potatoes and gravy all over my sleeve. Some of the water had hit my arm. “Oh…did I do that, Pa?”

“What has gotten into you, Mark?” Pa griped out as he wiped at his pants.

Just then, Lou walked out. She stopped dead in her tracks as she looked at Pa’s wet pants. She put a hand to her mouth and started giggling quietly so as not to disturb the other customers. “Don’t say it, Lou!” Pa ordered as he wiped at his pants.

I slowly picked up my fork and started eating as Pa sat down and picked up his own fork. Lou began wiping the water from the table. “Lucas, you’re a bit clumsy today.”

“It wasn’t me, Lou!” Pa declared. “It’s this little imp right here!”

“Pa, may I be excused?” I asked. I wanted to find out if this man was who I thought it was. And I had a pretty good feeling this is what Freddie was trying to tell me at church while ago.

“No,” Pa answered as he raised his eyebrows at me. “You may not be excused. You will sit there and eat your food and wait!”

“Yes sir.” I ate and listened to the conversation around me as I kept a keen eye on the stranger. As I was eating dessert, I watched as he stood up to walk out of the hotel. “Pa, can I be excused now?” I asked, suddenly interrupting whatever he had been saying to Micah.

“No!” Pa answered. “Just sit there, Mark. What’s got you so excited?”

I didn’t think now was the time to mention the fact that my new idol was right here in the restaurant – especially since it had caused me so many problems earlier in the week, so I didn’t answer. I let a loud sigh escape me as I watched the man walk up the stairs, back to his hotel room.

“So Mark, you got fishing plans this afternoon?” Micah asked me.

I turned and looked at him. “Well…I haven’t really thought about it much. I…”

“No. He’s still on restrictions from the stunt he pulled on Monday. I may release him tomorrow unless he gets into more trouble today.” Pa laid some money down on the table and stood up. “Let’s go, son.”

“Lucas,” Micah stopped him suddenly as He grinned. Pa looked down at Micah who was still sitting with Lou. “Uh…next time be aware that the…uh…facilities are back that way.” Micah pointed behind him.

Lou burst out laughing, as did I. Pa grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out the door. “These teenage years…you do things wrong and I get teased. I hope your next manhood mood comes on really soon because I’ve had about all of this I can take!” Pa grumbled as he climbed into the saddle.

Freddie raced up to me. “Hey Mark!” He stopped in front of me. “Did you see him? Did ya?”

“Was that really him?” I asked.

Freddie shook his head. “Wade Randall.”

I smiled. As I turned and looked up toward the hotel window. I saw him standing out on the balcony. He smiled and waved at me. “Wow! I sure would like to talk to him!”

“I talked to him last night while I was waiting for Pa to get done at the blacksmith’s. “ Freddie shook his head. “He sure was a dandy!”

“You…You actually talked to him?” Freddie nodded. “And…and was he REALLY the great man they say he was?” Freddie nodded again with a smile.

“Come on, son,” Pa ordered.

“Just a minute, Pa!” I held up a finger and turned back to Freddie.

“Now, Mark!” Pa demanded. I sighed as I mounted my horse and rode for home.

That afternoon was pure torture! Pa made me sit in my room all afternoon while he worked on his ledger. He said it would give me time to think. Oh, it gave me plenty of time to think, alright…I came to the realization that I had JUST MET WADE RANDALL!!! I gasped as I jumped up. I opened the door to the bedroom and peered out. Pa didn’t look up from his ledger. “Close the door, Mark. You can’t come out.”

“I…I just need something, Pa,” I announced in a quiet, calm voice.

Still not turning from his desk, Pa asked, “Oh, what?”

“My…my schoolbooks.”

Pa slowly turned in his chair and peered at me. “I thought you got all your homework done Friday evening.” I nodded. “Then why do you need your books?”

“I just…need the ledger, Pa. I thought of a few more things to write on my essay.” It wasn’t EXACTLY a lie…it was just stretching the truth – a lot! Pa turned back to the ledger. “Hurry up with it then.”

I hurried back into my room and sat on my bed as I began writing my new essay.

It was the easiest composition I’d ever written, and by the time Pa walked in, I was putting the finishing touches on it.

The Most Amazing Man I Ever Met
By Mark McCain

Who made it safe to carry the mail in Montana? Who brought in the Bolton Gang single handed? Who killed two rattle snakes with just one shell? Who all by himself faced a band of Cherakowa? Who… ?

Wade Randall, The Most Amazing Man. That’s what they call him in the magazines. A man who chooses not to seek the accolades so deserving. A man who wishes to see the West is a place where fathers and mothers can raise their children and be safe. Does he do it for money, no. Does he do it for the fame, no. Does he do it because it is right, yes.

Sometimes, it would be easier to just turn ones back and walk away, but that’s not the man I’m writing about. Wade Randal faces danger day in and day out, because it’s the right thing to. The words ‘turning’ and ‘walking away’ probably aren’t even in his vocabulary.

A man who will stand up for justice, he IS the most amazing man I ever met.


Then at 5:00, he sent me out to work on the evening chores. I sure was glad when Monday came. At least I’d be able to get all the details from Freddie!

But there was no time for talking. That afternoon, I had to spend time with Pa rounding up cattle. Then on Tuesday, Mr. Griswald handed back our graded papers. I looked down at my paper and smiled. An A+! I looked up at Mr. Griswald who had a big smile on his face. I knew he was proud of me.

The minute he dismissed us for lunch, I hurried out of school and raced to the restaurant where Pa told me to meet him for lunch. “Pa,” I called.

“In here, son!” Pa called. I hurried into the dining room and greeted Lou. I was about to show Pa the paper when he grabbed the hat from off my head and plopped it on the table.

“Oh…” I handed him the paper. “Look here, Pa! My first A+ on a composition!” I cried excitedly.

“An A+!” Pa declared as he studied the paper, not quite able to believe it himself. “This makes me very proud, son!”

I smiled. “Well thanks!” I sure was good to see that pride back in his eyes. I told him to read it. Pa looked at the paper and read the title. “The most amazing man I ever met…by Mark McCain.”

He turned and looked at me before he started reading. “Who made it safe to carry the mail in Montana? Who brought in the Bolton gang single handed? Who killed two rattle snakes with just one shell?" Pa turned and looked at me.

“Well, go on!” I urged. “You haven’t gotten to the best part yet.

"Who all by himself faced a band of Cherakowa? Who-"

Suddenly, I grabbed his arm as I watched him coming down the stairs. Pa turned and looked at me. He turned in time to see him coming down the stairs as he spun his gun.

“Who’s that?” Pa asked.

I stared at him as he went up to the desk. “That’s who!” I declared breathlessly.

“Who?” Pa asked.

I barely heard him. “Right!” I smiled as I stared at him. “Wade Randall…” I took the paper from him. “The most amazing man I ever met!” I breathed as he turned and waved at us.

I started to get up to go follow him, but Pa grabbed my arm. “Uh uh!” he said. “You have to have lunch!”

“Oh, but Pa!” I started to argue.

Pa turned and looked at Lou. He sat back in his chair and picked up his coffee cup. “Now Lou…this is YOUR territory.” Then he grinned as he allowed her to take over.

“Now, Mark…” Lou stated as she stood up and planted her hands on her hips. “The good Lord saw fit to give us a chance to eat three meals a day. You are a growing boy, and if you want to grow up to be as big and strong as your father, you must have your nourishment!”

“Oh Lou…I’m not a kid! I’m…” I stopped as I heard Pa chuckling into his coffee cup and shaking his head.

“Now, you see here Mark McCain! You will sit there and eat every ounce I give you…and so will you, Cowboy!” Pa lifted his head and raised an eyebrow at her. “You two have been living on bachelor cooking long enough! It’s time you allow a woman to fatten you up! You need meat on those bones! Why…you are nothing but skin and bones! I can feel the bones right through you!”

Pa breathed out slowly as Lou turned on her heels and went back to prepare our meals. “Uh Pa…how does she know that she can feel your bones right through you?”

Pa turned and glanced at me before quickly taking another sip of coffee. “Pa?”

“Nevermind, Mark.” Pa rolled his eyes. “Women!” he breathed.

I ate my lunch under Lou’s watchful eye. She asked me if I wanted dessert and I shook my head as I watched a people filter out onto the street where Wade Randall was. “Pa…please!” I begged. “I just can’t stand it anymore!”

“Alright, son…alright!” Pa finally answered. I stood and hurried outside. Pa and Lou followed close behind.

The crowd was mesmerized as they listened to Mr. Randall recount one of his stories…I didn’t get in on the first part!

“They tied me to a tree stump and just left me there. No guns, no boots, no hat, just left me there to die of sunstroke and ants and Gila monsters. And like a Sierra pine long I just kind of rolled around until I found the leavings of their fire. Then I blew a timber red and burnt my ropes off. Walked all that night, reached town by dawn. Had no time for sleep, had business to do. So right away got me some new guns, a fast horse, and took right out again. I caught the Bolton’s hiding in a shack. You know what I did? Covered up their chimney! And when they came out gasping, I got all four. Now how would you bring four mean gunslingers back to town alone, huh? Well, I tell you what I did. I hitched them to a wagon like a team of horses, and they drove me twenty miles and all their stolen loot. Then I gave them back to the marshal there in Butte. Folks, I’m here to tell ya that that was one fine, glorious day!”

I was impressed! He could even tell a good story! Boy, I sure hoped I’d get the chance to know him better!

I remembered a story I had read in the magazine the other day. Above the crowd, I shouted, “Would you tell us about Red Morgan, Mr. Randall?” He seemed hesitant at first. “Please, Mr. Randall!” I begged.

“Red Morgan…” he thought about it. “Well, that happened up in Serpent Bend Montana. It seems that Red took a good dislike to me because…well, folks got to saying that I was about as fast as him. Well, that didn’t sit too good with Red. One night I saw him cheat at cards and naturally I called him on it. We walked outside, cleared the street. We stood there looking at each other. He came at me…I came at him, each waiting for the other to make his play. I watched his hands and his eyes…and I saw him go for it, and he drew. I made my play.” He drew out his gun, spun it up in the air, and caught it. “Got him right through the heart.” My heart was beating fast by the time he got done with the story!

So you're the one who killed Red Morgan...huh?" a man from the crowd suddenly shouted.

"That's correct sir!" Mr. Randall declared proudly.

"Well that should make you as good as you've been saying, since Morgan was the fastest gun with in a thousand miles," the crude stranger declared. Mr. Randall told him he appreciated the compliment. I watched as the stranger pushed his way through the crowd. "It's no compliment! Morgan was killed in Serpent Bend alright, but not in town. The way I heard it they found him three miles out...with a bullet in his back! That makes you a liar and a murdering coward!" Mr. Randall told him he must have heard it wrong, that it happened just like he said. “Randall was my friend, and I swore that someday I would avenge his murder. I will. You shot him in the back...and tomorrow morning I'm going to shoot you in the front!"

I gasped! I couldn’t believe this man was being so rude to Mr. Randall! He’d never done anything to him!

Micah told the stranger that he didn't like that kind of talk. “My name’s Lovett, and there’s nothing you can do about stopping a fair fight. Is there? That is if he uh…fights fair…”

“If I think it’s wrong, I’ll stop anything I want to,” Micah informed Mr. Lovett.

“You trying to protect that murderer?” Mr. Lovett turned back to Randall. “You want the fight stopped, Randall?”

“Well naturally I want the fight stopped,” Randall answered. “For your sake, Mr. Lovett!” Mr. Lovett just laughed and said he’d take his chances.

“Here tomorrow morning at eight o’clock.” Mr. Lovett then turned and walked away.

“Wade Randall will be there!" Mr. Randall yelled.

I started toward Mr. Randall. “Mark!” Pa called from the porch. I turned and looked at him. “Let’s go get your hair cut.”

“I just want to talk to…” I started.

“Don’t back talk, son. Come on.” Pa put a protective arm around me as we started across the street. I looked up into Pa’s worried eyes but didn’t say anything.

Later, as we walked out of the barber shop, Pa looked toward the hotel. He scratched his chin as if he were deep in thought as he took a few steps forward. “Pa, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Wrong?” Pa turned and looked at me. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Oh…nothing, son…Nothing at all.”

We walked down the street towards the hardware store. I watched as Pa was mauling over something. “Pa, what are you thinking about?” Pa shook his head but didn’t say anything. “Is it this shootout? Don’t worry, Pa. Mr. Randall will get his man.”

Pa suddenly stopped and looked down at me. He folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “Is that all you have to say about it, Mark?” I averted my eyes, suddenly feeling ashamed for what I was thinking. “Mark, this isn’t a story from a magazine! A man is about to die tomorrow morning – and we don’t know which one. This is a senseless gunfight.” I hung my head as I listened to the disappointment in his voice. “Not long ago, son, you were struggling over the fact that men were taking their lives over such matters. Now you seem to welcome it.”

He started back down the street. I walked with him knowing he was leaving me to my thoughts. We spent most of the afternoon tending to chores. Since we were still in town at supper, Pa suggested we ask Miss Lou to join us at the hotel. She graciously accepted, which was no surprise to me.

I made sure to seat myself in a chair facing the entrance so I’d see when Mr. Randall came down. As I ate, I saw him standing in the doorway. I quietly asked Pa if I could ask him to join us for supper. He permitted me to, but gave me a stern look and told me not to ask him too many questions. “Yes sir,” I agreed. I stood. “Mr. Randall, would you like to come and eat with us?” He thanked me and said he’d like that.

Pa introduced us and he sat down. Pa offered him a drink, but Mr. Randall told us he never drank before a challenge. “Oh…I…I…I’m awfully sorry this had to happen in North Fork, Mr. Randall.”

Mr. Randall smiled. “Well it can happen anywhere. When you’ve faced the grim reaper as many times as I have. But don’t let my rough talk fool you. Killing a man is bad, son. You know that. According to the Good Book, when you kill a man you kill a little bit of yourself.” He looked at Pa. “Ain’t that right, Mr. McCain?”

“I’ve never heard it said better,” Pa answered. That made me feel even worse about what I’d said while ago.

Miss Lou told Mr. Randall about the composition I had written about him. “Would you like to read it, Mr. Randall?” I asked as I handed it to him. I’d sure be proud to have him read it!

Mr. Randall was indeed impressed! “I never had anything written about me before,” he declared happily.

Suddenly, the mood of the table changed as Mr. Lovett came in. He gave Miss. Lou his rent money. He looked at Mr. Randall. “I won’t be staying for the funeral in the morning.”

I stared at Mr. Lovett…I sure didn’t like this man – I’ll tell you that!

Mr. Lovett left, looking mighty satisfied with himself. “Well, I…I just remembered. I got some important work that has to be done. I guess I’ll just have to miss my dinner.” I stopped him before he left. I really wanted him to read my composition and asked him to take it with him so he could read it.

I watched him walk out, proud to know such a fine man! “If Mr. Randall’s only half as good as he says he is, I bet he can take on that Mr. Lovett,” I declared In fact, I had another idea. “You know Pa, I think I’m going to get a medal and give it to him.”

Pa surprised me a bit when he suggested I do it right then. I hadn’t even eaten half the food on my plate and Pa usually frowned on it. But I jumped on the opportunity and hurried out.

***
I hurried inside the hotel. “Pa! I got it!” I declared. I stopped, realizing Pa was no longer sitting in the restaurant. Lou stood and hurried over to me. Others turned and stared at me.

“Mark, this is a hotel!” Loud declared as she put her hands on her hips. “Must ye go runnin’ and yellin’ about?”

“I’m…sorry, Miss Lou.” She grabbed my hat and took it off my head. “Oh..sorry.” We walked into the lobby. “Where’s Pa?”

“He went upstairs.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He went up to talk to Mr. Randall.”

The news surprised me! “Oh, I’ll go up…”

But Lou put a hand on my arm to stop me. “No…No…you stay down here. He will be down in a bit.”

“But I-“ I started.

“Mark!” Pa called from the stairs. I turned and looked up. “She’s right, and you don’t argue!” Pa came to stand beside me as he looked at Lou. “She’s liable to bend you over her knee, and uh…I don’t think I could stop her. Maybe I should just let her… for good measure.”

Miss Lou gave Pa a curt nod. “Ye better believe it, Cowboy!”

I showed Pa the medal. “I was going to just take this up to him. Ain’t it fine?”

“It’s fine, son,” Pa answered absent-mindedly. “Leave it in his box so we can go home.”

“Oh, but Pa, I…” Pa turned and raised his eyebrows at me. “I sorta wanted to see the look on his face when I handed it to him is all.”

“I’m sorry, son. You have your orders.”

He’s right, I did. And I was expected to obey them. I turned and gave Lou the medal. “Now…as soon as he comes down…” I started. Lou nodded.

We rode home in silence. I could tell Pa was struggling with something. I left him to his thoughts. After we got home, Pa sent me to do my homework while he went to do the chores. By the time he got back inside, I was sitting by the fire. “It’s bout time for bed, son,” pa declared.

“Yes sir,” I stated as I stirred the fire.

Pa took out a cigar and lit it. He threw the match into the fire as he leaned back in his chair. “You were awful quiet on the way home tonight, son.”

“Well you too, Pa,” I replied.

“You still got Randall on your mind?” I didn’t like the way he asked that.

“Well, I wish you’d let me give him that medal in person instead of making me leave it at the desk,” I answered honestly.

“He didn’t want to be disturbed, son,” Pa tried to explain. He pulled my composition out of his pocket. “But he did ask me to tell you thanks for this.” I smiled. I knew he’d like it. Then Pa asked me a question. “Mark, what is it about this Randall that made you write this composition?”

I had done some thinking on the way home. I reckon Pa was right about that magazine. And from the way he talked, perhaps he did add some details to make a better story. "Pa...I know he exaggerates a little, but that doesn't matter. He's not like other men, he's sorta free and easy like a mocking bird, and he carries a code of right and wrong inside of him. I guess that's why he's so brave and cheerful."

Suddenly, Pa grew somber. "Suppose I told you he wasn't brave…or cheerful," he asked quietly.

I sighed, admitting to what I had observed earlier. “Well, I saw the way his hands shook too, Pa. But well, he knows he’s fighting for his life. That’s…That’s brave.”

“Yes it is, son,” Pa stated.

In that instance, I felt a bit of my manhood shining through. “And hopeless too, I guess,” I admitted. Then I went to bed.

I had just gotten under the covers when Pa opened the door. “Son, I’m going into town.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I…I have a few things to discuss with Micah,” Pa answered.

I immediately got out of bed. “Tonight?”

“Yes, tonight,” Pa answered. “You go back to bed. You have school tomorrow.”

“Oh, but pa! The shootout’s in the morning! I-“

Pa turned and put his hands on his hips. “Now Mark, you know better than that! I don’t want you missing school just to see two men shooting at each other!”

“Pa, what’s going on?” I could tell he was struggling with something, but I didn’t know what.

Pa sighed as he leaned against the wall. He opened his mouth to say something, then he closed it. He finally laid a hand on my shoulder. “Well…I guess I’m just trying to find a way to hold on to your boyhood a bit longer.” He smiled, then turned and walked to the door. “Mark, hurry with the chores in the morning. Then you ride into town and join me for breakfast at the hotel. We’ll…see about you getting to school late.”

“Really?” I asked. “You’ll REALLY let me watch?”

Pa smiled as he laid a hand on my cheek. “I thought I wanted you to grow up, but tonight has shown me that I’m not quite ready for that to happen yet.” He nodded. “Yes, son. You can watch. Goodnight.”

I laid in bed and wondered what Pa was talking about. He seemed so…torn between telling me something, or not telling me something. I wondered what secret he was hiding from me. I wondered…

I jumped out of bed as soon as the sun was up. I hurried through my chores, saddled Blue Boy, got my school books, and raced into town. When I got to the hotel, Miss Lou told me I was to go ahead and have breakfast without Pa. I asked her about Mr. Randall. His package was still in his box. I had hoped he’d get it last night. “Well…I…guess he needs his rest.”

“I’m sure that’s it, Mark.”

Suddenly, Mr. Randall came in whistling. He sure was happy! I loved seeing him brave and cheerful – perhaps Pa was wrong…Perhaps…

I followed him into the dining room as he passed Mr. Lovett. They stopped and glanced at each other – this was a reminder of what was about to happen in mere moments.

After Mr. Lovett walked away, I gave him the medal. He opened the box and picked the medal up. To Wade Randall, with admiration and respect, Mark McCain,” he read. He thanked me. “I’ll do my best to honor this.”

Micah came in then and gave Mr. Randall the bullets he had requested. I smiled as I thought on this. Micah had never “helped out” a man about to go into a dual on the street before. Micah seemed to be admiring him. I began to wonder about this.

I observed Mr. Randall during breakfast. He seemed so cheerful – more cheerful than anyone who was about to face a gun. I felt like I was watching something out of a magazine. When the actual duel started, Micah started counting the paces, but then Mr. Randall turned and put on the most magnificent speech of his life.

“Mr. Lovett, you never gave me time to tell you that I am the greatest marksman the world has ever known! I can shoot a single leaf from a tree, I can split a bullet on an upraised saber, I can create fire where there is no fire and once created it, I can put it out." Mr. Lovett didn't want to hear anymore talk; he wanted to get on with the gunfight. "Marshal.....do you mind if I demonstrate?" Mr. Randall asked. Micah nodded in acceptance.

“Let there be some fire.” The owner of the hardware store was just about to light a cigarette with a match when Randall shot it as he held it. The match lit and the man dropped it into a box full of straw, it caught on fire.

"Let there be some transportation!" Mr. Randall shot the board out from under the wooden box with the straw in it. The box then slid down a board.

"Now, what should I do Mr. Lovett? Shall I summons up the fire brigade?" Mr. Randall then shot at the bell several times that told the town there was a fire.

"There's no time you say? Mr. Lovett.....what shall I do? Shall I create the miracle of rain? Then let there be deliverance! Water come forth!" Mr. Randall shot three holes in the large barrel of water over the burning straw. He had put the fire out.

"And man...let there be jubilation." With that he shot at the flag hanging in front of the Cattlemen's Association and the flag unrolled, opening up. Mr. Randall sure gave a mighty fine exhibition. That was enough for Mr. Lovett, he couldn't believe his eyes. He turned and ran to his horse and then rode out of town as fast as he could. The crowd rushed over to Mr. Randall and congratulated him.

I watched this all with a keen eye and a sense of imagination. Pa walked up to me and studied me. “Well son,” Pa stated as he put a hand on my shoulder. “I guess he is pretty amazing at that.”

I turned to leave, but Pa stopped me. We turned to watch Mr. Randall make one final speech. Some of his words really got me to thinking. "It taught me that where violence is discussed, there violence grows. So on this day, Wade Randall.....probably the most amazing marksmen the west has ever known...is hanging up his guns. Never to shoot again."

He donated his guns to the North Fork museum. I listened with much interested. Then it was time for him to go. Before he left, he gave Pa his bullets. “Oh, here’s your blanks.”

“Blanks?” I wondered as I scratched my head.

“He’s the most amazing man I ever met too!” Pa declared.

I scratched my head as I thought on this. Then I realized something: he really was an amazing man! I hurried to my horse and rode out of town.

***

“Somehow, I thought I’d find you here,” Pa said softly as he sat beside me on the bank of the pond. “You never made it to school today.”

“No sir…I…I guess I didn’t,” I answered him. I turned and looked at him. “I just…had some thinking to do, Pa.”

“Is this a man leaving his boyhood behind type thinking?” I nodded. Pa drew his knees up to his chest. “I kinda figured.”

“Pa, I…I hope you understand that…well, that I don’t want to voice my thoughts right now. I’ve been holding onto these vivid imaginations of gunfighting and all for 14 years now. It’s one thing to allow them to die inside you, but…when you have to voice them out loud, it…well…it…”

“Don’t worry, son,” Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “I did it for you, you know.”

I smiled. “Not only for me, Pa. I suspect you did it for Mr. Randall too.”

“I reckon…” Pa stated. “I just…suddenly didn’t want to see you grow up. I wanted to give you one final show before your boyhood dream of gun fighting came to an end.”

“Oh…” I turned to Pa. “I can’t say that it won’t come back again before it’s buried, but…” Pa smiled. There were no words. We both knew this day would come. I studied the water. “Did you think I’d find out?”

Pa smiled. “Yes. My boy is way too smart to be fooled. I think Mr. Randall wanted you to know the truth too. That’s why he confessed at the very end…in his own way.”

I laughed. “Well…just the same, pa…I still think he’s an amazing man! He oughta go into the circus, what with those tricks and all! He could become…” I stopped. “Folks should be happy being who they are.”

“Do…you want to know who he really is?” Pa asked then.

We looked at each other. I smiled at him and he smiled at me. Pa finally slapped a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, son. Let’s go home!”

“Now Pa, about Miss Lou and this fattening up thing…” I started.

“Nevermind, Mark!”

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

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