You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer
The Sidewinder — Episode 158
With fall quickly approaching, Pa and I had been busy cutting firewood. He was expecting a cold winter for some reason…something about aches and pains…so he wanted to make sure we had plenty stored up. I raced back to the house, having forgotten to fill up the canteen that morning before setting out. From the look on Pa’s face, he was pretty sore with me for forgetting such an important task. I can only imagine that what he thought when he realized it was empty; he probably shook his head at how absent-minded I was. I reckon I could blame it on the heat…or on the fact that he had told me to do about ten things at once that morning – but I figured it was better if I just didn’t make any excuses and took the blame.
As I rode Blue Boy into the yard, I noticed the strange horse tied up outside. I wasn’t quite sure what that was about, but when I walked up onto the porch, I realized that someone was in the house. The door was a jar, and I DO remember closing it this morning before we left because Pa yelled at me for leaving it open and had watched me close it. I paused and cautiously poked my head in. Seeing nothing, I slowly proceeded to enter the house.
"Just hold it there!” A voice sounded in the quiet house. I froze when I heard the voice. “Drop the canteen!" I did as told. "Hands up...easy!" The voice demanded. I raised my hands in the air. "You Lucas McCain's kid?" I nodded. "Where's your Pa?" The voice sounded very angry. I must admit that I was scared. \
I started to answer. "Ahh...He's..."
"Don't cross me kid! I said where's your Pa?" The voice sounded even angrier now.
"He's...he's...in town at the hotel," I lied. There was no way I was going to tell him where my Pa was. “Who are you?” I dropped my hands and turned. I was surprised to see a boy my age standing there. The boy had a load of trail dust on him and was holding a six shooter.
“You’ll find out soon enough!”
“What do you want my Pa for?" I stammered. I was still in shock at the sight I was looking at.
“For murder,” the boy answered simply.
Murder? Why would a KID come looking for my Pa, for murder? It didn’t make any sense! I watched as the boy h holstered his gun, turned around, and walked out of the house.
I stared after him. I was confused at what had just happened here? Who was this boy? Who’s murder did he think my Pa had committed??
I stood in the doorway and stared at the dust – that was the only thing left to show that he had been at our ranch. I wondered what to do. Of course I had to tell Pa. Pa would want to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible – he’d ride into town and….
I jumped on my horse and hurried back to tell Pa what happened. “Pa, there’s someone at the house who pulled a gun on me!” I shouted as I jumped off my horse.
“Pulled a gun on you?” Pa was a bit shocked at the news.
“He’s no older than I am! He’s just a boy!” I declared in a worried voice. “He said he wants you for murder.” Pa got the strangest look on his face – I could tell he was upset that someone had pulled a gun on me, but when I said murder, Pa’s face changed even more.. I told him I’d sent the boy to the hotel. “Pa, he’s packing his own gun. What’s it all about?”
Pa was clueless, and worried. “I wish I knew, Mark. I wish I knew.”
“He can’t be older than me, Pa! The way he looked, it almost looked like he want to kill you.”
Pa hurried to his horse. “I don’t know, son.”
My eyes grew big. “Where you going?”
“To town. That’s where you sent him, right?” Pa asked.
Pa turned to me. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Just finish the wood, son. I’ll be back. You just keep working.”
“But Pa?” I tried to ask something, but the thought died on my tongue.
Pa’s hand froze on the saddle horn. He didn’t turn as he answered. “It could just be some misunderstanding.”
“I’m going with you!” I shouted.
“NO!” Pa shouted back as he gave me a stern look.
“But Pa, I…”
“Mark, I want you to stay here.” He mounted the horse then looked down at me. “I’ll be back.”
Pa turned his horse to leave. “P-Pa?” Pa turned. “Be careful… ”
Pa shook his head slightly. “I just want to talk to him.” I watched him leave then looked down at the ax. I went back to work.
But every second, my thought was in North Fork. I wondered if the boy had met Pa on the road. I wondered if he drew on Pa. I wondered about a lot of things. More than anything, I wondered why a boy would come looking for my father, for murder.
I worked as hard as I could, but every now and then I paused and sent up a prayer to God for Pa’s safety.
Over the years, I’ve watched Pa talk to lots of different people about all sorts of problems. I watched him help men bitter to the point of wanting to commit cold-blooded murder. I’ve watched him hold little boys as they cried over the loss of their fathers or mothers. I’ve watched him take young men under his wings. But then I thought about this kid. Somehow, it felt different. I saw something…something inside him that I could never possess.
When the wagon was full of firewood, I tied Blue Boy to the back of the wagon and rode back to the ranch. Pa wasn’t back yet and I must admit I was worried. I started unloading the firewood.
Then I watched as the kid who had lit out of here seeking my father rode into the yard. I watched as he tied his horse to the hitching post, grabbed a gun from his saddle bag and walked over to me. I knew I was in danger.
“I thought you were in town,” I said as he walked toward me.
He looked really ugly at me. He tried to look really tough as he spoke. “Now, don’t tell me you’re scared too.”
“I don’t expect so,” I answered. He didn’t look nearly as scary as he acted.
Suddenly, he told me something…something that made me understand just how serious this situation really was. “I slapped your Pa’s face today, boy. In front of people too. He wouldn’t shoot it out. He's lily livered, boy.....just plain lily livered!"
That made me mad! Who did he think he was? I knew my Pa would never gun a kid – it wasn’t in him! "You don't know what you're talking about!” I yelled. I wondered…if he knew how many gunfighters and outlaws Pa had killed with that rifle – would he change his mind?
This kid threw the gun he had in his hand on the ground. “Pick it up!” he ordered.
I stared down at the gun, then up at him. “What for?” Was this kid loco?
“I can get even with one McCain just as good as another,” he stated angrily. There was so much vengeance in his voice. I simply stared at him. “Pick it up!” he ordered again.
I looked at the gun again. I wasn’t sure what to do. This was the first time someone had ever called me out. I couldn’t trust those eyes…that voice..it held so much hatefulness…so much…it was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on… “Where’s my Pa?”
“Drinking coffee to settle his nerves. Pick it up or I’ll kill ya.” I just stared at him as I wondered how to get out of this mess. I knew Pa wouldn’t want me to pick up a gun – he had always hoped I wouldn’t have to use a gun in defense of myself. But just then, this kid drew his gun and pointed it at me. “Pick it up!”
I hesitated, but bent down and picked it up. “I’m not allowed to use a hand gun.” He told me it was about time he did. He started giving me instructions. He told me we’d turn around. Then he’d count to ten. Then we’d turn and shoot. That was enough for me! This was a kid – a kid who obviously had a lot of pent up anger. The whole thing sounded stupid – so stupid that I threw the gun down. “I’m not gonna…have a gunfight with you or anyone else!” I declared.
The kid smirked at me. “Just like your Pa, ain’t you, boy? Now, when he gets here, I want you to tell him what happened. I’ll be waiting for him inside.” I watched as he walked inside our house to wait for Pa.
I just stood in the yard staring at the closed door. I couldn’t believe this kid! If ever there WAS a way to get Pa to fight him, it was by threatening me…but I’m afraid that he didn’t try hard enough. I wondered where Pa was. I knew he’d know what to do…
Pa raced into the yard about that time. I hurried up to him. “Where is he?” Pa asked. I told him he was inside. I also told him what this kid had done. Pa looked toward the house. I wondered what he was going to do. Pa silently motioned toward the house. I nodded in understanding as he motioned for me to get ready to grab the kid from behind when he came out.
“Maule? Maule, you hear me?” Pa called. He said he heard me. “Alright, I’m waiting for you outside.”
“That’s good enough for me!” Maule cautiously opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. Pa was standing off of the porch. Maule turned toward Pa and I grabbed him from behind. He struggled as I held him tight. Pa grabbed his gun out of his holster then grabbed his arms. He sure wasn’t happy as he squirmed around trying to get lose.
I ran to the barn and got some rope. “Alright, tie his hands!” Pa ordered as Maule continued fighting.
“What’s this all about, Pa?” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you all about it later, Mark,” Pa answered. “Just get his hands tied.”
“McCain, I’ll get you for this!” Maule yelled as he started to kick. “I’ll get both of you for this!”
Suddenly, his foot kicked backwards, hitting me right in the face. Pa grabbed him by the neck as I reared back in pain. I shook my head as the earth spun. The kick had been blunt and I felt blood oozing from my lip. Pa pushed him up against the wall. “Don’t you EVER kick my SON again!” Pa demanded through clinched teeth.
“You’re hurting me!” Maule yelled. “Let go!”
Pa kept a firm hand on the back of his neck as he led Maule to the empty wagon. His teeth stayed clinched as he spoke to Maule in a very even voice. “Don’t you DARE try anything on me, boy, or you will find yourself flat on your back and CRAWLING to town!” He squeezed a little tighter. “Now, get up there!”
As soon as Maule was in the seat, Pa told me to hand him another piece of rope. “What you gonna do? Hang me with it?” Maule asked.
Pa didn’t answer. He bent over and tied his feet up. “You’re treating me like a pig!” Maule declared.
“You smell and look like one right now!” Pa sneered back at him. “Not a sound! It’s a long way to the ground.” Pa turned to climb up on the wagon.
“Pa, I’m going with you!” I started to climb in the back.
“I can handle this, Mark,” Pa answered.
“But Pa, I…” I started.
Pa turned and pointed a finger into my face. “Mark, I said I’ll handle this! Don’t you DARE backtalk me!” He lowered his hand. “I’m not in the mood.”
“What are you going to do, Pa?”
Pa looked up at Maule. “Throw him in jail.”
“But, Pa, he’s only a kid!”
Pa turned and looked at me. I understood the look. I was only a kid and there were two occasions where I spent some time in Micah’s jail. Before he left he said,“Tend to your chores, boy. I’ll be back.” Pa started to step up onto the wagon. He turned and pointed at me. “Don’t leave this ranch, Mark.”
I stood there and stared as they rode away. I could not believe Pa was leaving me out of this. Pa always tried to help people who needed it, and this boy needed help. I didn’t know what his story was – or even his situation – but I DID know that he had a deep hurt…he had to with such much hatred at his age!
I slowly turned and walked toward the barn to work on my chores. I sighed as I picked up the pitchfork. Slowly, I turned and walked toward the door. There was something…something about that boy – I could just feel it. I felt a strong connection with him and I didn’t know why. I stared down at the road…
By my age, I had gone through some pretty tragic experiences, and I suppose that I could have fallen at any time…but Pa was there keeping a close eye on me. He talked me through my pain. He never left my side until I found myself on the other end of it. Maybe this boy didn’t have a Pa to make sure he made it through the rough days in life. Maybe some recent tragedy had made him angry…
But still, what did it have to do with my Pa? Why did he want to kill my Pa? He said he wanted to get even – what did he mean by that? I didn’t know, but I DID know I had to find out.
“Don’t you dare leave this ranch, Mark.” Pa knew me so well. The tone of his voice was a stern warning. I knew I’d be in for a great deal of trouble if I were to leave, but I also knew a boy was in trouble. And at the moment, I felt I was the only one who could help him. I knew what it was like to be his age – to have gone through some dark struggles, and I knew he’d be more apt to listen to me then some grown man he had it in for.
I looked toward Blue Boy and sighed. I closed my eyes in regret for what I was about to do. I scribbled a note out on the kitchen table to Pa. “I’m…sorry, Pa…” I sighed. “I hate doing this, but I have no choice. “ Then I jumped on my horse and raced toward town.
When I got there, I saw Pa’s wagon in front of Micah’s jail, so I rode around to the back and listened.
"All this trouble you're causing...you think I shot your Pa purposely, don't you?" My Pa’s voice sounded.
"I was eight when they brought my father home. It took me more then a half day to dig the grave.” I sucked in my breath as he spoke those words. “And when I got done, the only thing I could do to keep from bawling all the time was to take his gun and learn to use it. For a year I had to use two hands. And then another year until my thumb got big enough to cock it. I practiced night and day, McCain, for three years more. I can shoot and I can shoot in the dark, and I mean to pay you back for what you did." I felt sorrow as I listened to his words.
"Did you know your Pa was in the act of robbing a bank?" He said he knew he was robbing a bank. “He was running with the money. I just happened by between him and his horse. He took a shot at me. And he would have shot at me again - there was nothing I could do.”
Maule said it made no difference. “When he was alive he was good to me. Maybe you don’t understand, McCain, but he was my Pa!”
“I understand.” I knew this boy had been deeply hurt. “If I don’t swear out the charges, will you be willing to go back home and forget about the revenge?”
I held my breath, but knew what the answer would be. Because I began to think like Maule…If I was Maule and I had lost my father, outlaw or not, I would have been deeply hurt. I knew enough about myself to know that the only reason I’m still the strong man I am today was because my Pa was constantly there reading the Bible to me and helping me. Maule didn’t have that. In fact, I began to wonder if he even knew what a Bible was. I wondered about his mother. When did she die? How old was he when tragedy had hit his life? These were questions I had to ask. Only I could ask them. Only I could get through to him.
Maule didn’t disappoint me. He declared he’d come back and kill my father. I heard the hurt and resentment in his voice, and I felt no anger towards him – only sorrow…a deep, deep sorrow that I longed to take care of somehow, someway…
Maule continued to yell. He promised to get even with Pa someday. “Let’s go get a cup of coffee, Lucas Boy,” I heard Micah say as the sound of keys rattled as he hung them back on the wall. “Maybe by the time we get back he’ll be ready to talk like a man.”
I snuck around to the side and poked my head around the corner. Pa and Micah walked toward the saloon. In another moment, I saw Lou leave the jail as she made her way back across the street. This was my chance – my chance to help Maul like Pa had helped so many other people before.
I watched Pa and Micah walk into the saloon. Then I watched Miss Lou disappear into the hotel. I slowly stepped up onto the boardwalk and walked into Micah’s office. This Maule kid was sitting on the cot in his cell looking very defeated. I slowly walked up to him. He reached down as if to unholster his gun as he stood and turned toward me. He closed his eyes as he realized he didn’t have his guns with him. “What do you want, kid?” His voice sneared as he looked me up and down.
I felt a chill go through me. His eyes were hard and his mouth pressed downward in a hard frown. His hands clung to the bars of the cell so hard that I thought they’d break in two – though I wasn’t sure which would break: the bars or his hands…I returned his hard stare as I spoke, making my voice sound confident. “First of all, stop calling me kid. From what I hear you’re the same age as me.”
“I’ve lived a lot more than you, kid,” Maule answered shortly as he continued giving me a hard stare that I suspect he thought would scare me. I just stared back as I spoke again. “Second of all, I just want to talk. ”
Maule’s eyes softened just a bit, but he quickly turned from me. “Just go away, kid!”
“My name’s Mark!” I announced loudly.
“I want to know why you are so dead-set on killing my Pa?” I asked then.
“Because he killed my Pa.”
I nodded. “I heard tell your Pa didn’t give him much choice.” Maule didn’t answer, but kept his back to me. My voice softened. “I’m sure you loved him though.”
“Love?” Maule turned and shook his head at me disgustingly. “Yeah…”
“What about your Ma?” I asked then.
Maule turned around. “What about her?” he repeated in a loud voice. I took a step back at the sound. “She’s dead.”
“My mother died when I was six.” I kept my voice low and gentle as I stood at the bars. “I remember some about her.”
“Just go away, kid!” Maule’s voice had died down quite a bit as he slowly sat on the cot.
“She had small pox. She was sick for days. When she died…” I leaned against the bars and looked toward Maule. “When she died, part of me died too.” I grew quiet as he lowered his head.
There was a silence in the air as Maule stood up. He walked to the wall and looked up out the window. “I never knew my mother.” I heard him sigh. Suddenly, he turned and hurried back to me. “So don’t you talk about mothers! My mother left when I was three years old! She didn’t care!”
“She died, but…what’s the difference?” Maule declared. “Pa said she got pneumonia one day and was dead the next…”
“I once felt that way. That my Ma left me… It took time, but Pa reminded me that she didn’t leave of her own accord. God called her home. I still miss her.”
”Don’t matter what you felt, she left and other said it killed my Pa.”
“Because her death drove your father to robbing banks? Is that it?” I asked in a hard tone of voice. “Because if that’s what you are thinking, you are wrong! The only person to blame for what happened to your father is your father.”
“Why, you sure have a lot of nerve!” Maule declared through clinched teeth. “Yes sir, you sure have a lot of nerve! What do you care anyhow? You have your father! The perfect Lucas McCain – the Rifleman whom I’m sure does no wrong!”
“He’s not perfect, but he lives close to the Good Book.”
“It’s just a book.”
“It’s the Bible. It’s God’s Word!” I tried to explain.
“Shut up about it! Where was God when my Pa lay dead on that street? Where was he when your father pointed that mean ol’ gun of his at him and pulled the trigger? You answer me that…You just…” Maule suddenly turned to me. His voice lowered. “…You answer me that.”
I stayed silent. I had opened up some old wounds that had been closed for a long time. Maule sat down on the bed and lowered his head. I watched as he propped his elbows on his knees and pressed his hands to his forehead. I wanted to keep him talking. Pa said that sometimes talking was the best thing for healing a soul.
“I’m sure he was there, but the question you should be asking is, was your father listening to God? Or had he shut God out?”
“God’s just something people use to make themselves feel better. Where was God when I was left without folks at the age of eight?”
“Your father died when you were eight?” The only response I got was a nod. “There was…nobody to take care of you?”
Maule ran a hand through his hair. “We moved from place to place. My Pa…being an outlaw….he couldn’t afford to stay in one place for very long. Before we left Oklahoma City, someone told me that my folks were the happiest couple when they got married. My Pa had hopes to start a ranch. But then…” Maule sighed. “…a disease took every living thing he had and left my folks dirt poor. They couldn’t afford to hardly feed me, much less buy warm clothing for the winter. That winter was really cold and…my Ma got really sick…and she died.”
“It hurts not to remember her.” I didn’t ask, because I knew it did. Sometimes I’d hurt something awful, then Pa and I would sit down and remember everything about Ma we could think of.
“My Pa died that day, the day he buried my mother. It’s the only time he ever….he ever…” his voice died
“Ever…what?” I coaxed him to speak. “Cried?”
My answer was a swift nod of his head. I watched as he allowed himself to go back to that day.
“Pa wasn’t there very often. He left and stayed away for a long time. Then he’d come back and bring me all sort of things. That’s all I remember…We had nothing – then suddenly, we had a lot…”
“Oh.” I was beginning to understand that his father turned outlaw to take care of Grid. I began to wonder just how much his father was there. Grid slowly lifted his head and stared at me. “Your father did love you.” Grid looked away, but I saw a look of sadness on his face.
He stood and walked back toward the wall. He planted his hands on his hips and kept his back toward me. “It’s none of your business!” he shouted. But I heard fight in his voice – not against another human being, but against his very mortality…and against the memories that plagued him every day.
From the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing in the doorway. I turned to see Pa with his eyebrows lifted. I put a finger to my lips and motioned for them to leave. They must have heard part of the conversation, because without a word, they turned and left. I leaned against the wall and folded my arms. “When I was twelve, we had a bad disease hit our cattle. It was the worst case of hoof and mouth this country had ever seen. There wasn’t enough cattle left in all of Northern New Mexico to fill up a barn. I saw the worry in my father’s eyes. I saw a sorrow there – for the first time, he wasn’t sure how he was going to take care of me.”
Grid turned and stared at me. Something deep inside him made him come sit on the cot. I cleared my throat and sat down in a chair. “I watched Pa struggle with this. When it was time to eat, he’d eat little and make sure I got plenty. Then one day…” I lowered my head. “One day, he told me he was going away.” When I lifted my head, I saw Grid staring into my eyes. I saw a deep, deep sadness there. “He left for nearly two…three months. He never told me where he was going or wrote while he was gone. I thought, no, I grew to believe that my Pa no longer loved me. How could he when he just up and left. . I had always come first.”
Grid lowered his head. “Your father didn’t turn to robbing banks.” I heard the shame in Grid’s voice.
“No…But he could have…You see, I am my Pa’s weakness. Hurt me and you hurt him…He’d do anything to save me – anything…” I allowed my voice to die. I looked up at Grid. “I feel there’s a lot we have to talk about.”
“You’re just doing this so I don’t kill your old man!” Grid suddenly yelled. “Well, you let me tell you something…” He pointed at me. But his voice died. It didn’t hold the same fight that it once held. “Admit it, McCain…you wouldn’t be nice to me if you weren’t trying to save your Pa’s life.”
I thought on how to answer that question. I decided to do as I had always been taught – tell the truth. “Alright.” I cleared my throat and stood up. I wrapped my fingers around the bars and put my face as close to his as I could get. “That is part of the reason. Wouldn’t you have done the same for your father?” I just stared hard at him. “But there’s another reason, Grid. I see something in you that…could have been me if I had lost my father. I want to help because…well…my Pa says I have my mother’s soft heart.”
Grid suddenly broke the stare and leaned his forehead against the bars. I could tell he still wanted to fight, but he didn’t know how – or what to say…”We could…continue this conversation somewhere more private. I’d like to talk more.” I turned. “If I can convince my Pa and Micah to release you, will you promise not to kill my Pa?”
“For a week?” I hurried back to the bars. “Will you give it a week? And during that week we’ll talk and…and hang out and…maybe you can walk with me and see what a normal 14 year old boy’s life is like? Will you?”
Grid turned from me. “Just go away, Mark! Just go away!”
“I want to help you!”
Grid spun around. “I don’t WANT your help! ” He stopped.
“You are full of anger and vengeance…Your afraid to feel anything else…” I started.
“I’m not afraid of anything!” Grid shouted. “I’ve been on my own since I was 8 years old! Nobody ever asked me if I liked it or not – nobody ever cared!” Again, his voice died down to a regretful, mournful tone. “I don’t need you to care.”
“You’re afraid of the truth. You are afraid to feel anything toward another human being, because if you stop and listen to me…you may find that…that you missed out on so much and maybe…just maybe…that you aren’t the man you think you are.”
I turned and started for the door. I was all the way across the room before I heard him call, “McCain!” I stopped and slowly turned to look at him. “I’ll give it a week. Come next Saturday, I’ll…” he lowered his head. “I’ll come gunning for him again.”
I walked outside and looked around, but I didn’t see Pa. I ran across the street to the hotel. There, I saw Pa, Micah, and Lou sitting at a table. Pa sat down his cup. “Mark, I could whip you for what you did!”
I looked straight at Pa as I spoke. “Micah, I want you to release him.”
“You what!?” Pa’s voice sounded harshly as he flattened his hands on the table and pushed himself up to his tall 6’5” frame that towered over me.
“I…” I suddenly didn’t feel as confident anymore. “I want Micah to…to…release Grid.”
“Mark, he wants to KILL me!”
“He told you that?” Pa asked then as he looked down at me through narrow slits in the eyes.
I looked away. “Not exactly.”
Pa sighed. “EXACTLY what did he say, Mark?”
I sighed as I dug my hands into my back pockets of my pants. “He said…that he’d give it a week. I’m going to keep talking to him and helping him.” I lifted my head up and looked Pa squarely in the face. “Pa…” I swallowed as I spoke the next words. “…I’m asking you to trust me.”
Pa sighed, but shook his head. “Son, I…I just don’t think that…” he stopped.
“I’ve watched you with people, Pa. I’ve watched you put your blind faith in them. I’ve watched you believe in people that didn’t even believe in themselves. You’ve put many back on the straight and narrow and…”
“…and many in their graves – after I trusted them,” Pa reminded me sternly.
“But you became wiser on the other side of it, Pa. That’s how we gain wisdom – by learning. Pa, I know it’s hard to explain, but I…I trust Grid. I don’t think he’d hurt me, and I don’t think he really wants to hurt you…not really.”
“Are you saying that he wouldn’t have killed me a while ago if I went through with the shootout?” Pa asked then.
“No sir, I’m not saying that at all…I’m saying that it’s not you he wants to kill.”
Pa turned and looked at Micah. With a sigh, he asked…”Who then?”
“It’s not a who…it’s a what, Pa. I’m not quite sure yet, but…but we did some talking and I think if I keep talking to him I’ll get to the truth. He has so much anger inside him, Pa.” I still saw the hesitation in his eyes. I know my next words were a low blow, but I had to use what ammunition I had. “…If you had been killed when I was eight and I found myself wondering the country looking for the man responsible, wouldn’t you want somebody to help me?”
Pa sighed. He again turned and looked at Micah. “Now…that wasn’t fair, son.”
I shrugged, but stayed silent. “You or Micah can stand outside the hotel room or wherever when we talk, Pa…all I’m asking is to let me do this – I want to help him.”
“This is really important to you, isn’t it son?” I nodded. Pa sighed. “Alright…”
Pa held up a hand to Micah to stop him. “Guess this is one of those moments where I have to do some learning…learning to trust my son, Micah.” He never took his eyes off of mine as he spoke. “I do trust you, son. It’s Grid I don’t trust. ” He put a hand on my shoulder. “Micah, let him out.”
“Lucas Boy…” Micah started in an uneasy tone.
“I said let him out, Micah!” Pa’s voice was solid and final. Micah didn’t say another word as he turned and walked out of the hotel and slowly across the street. Pa put an arm around my shoulders. “You know I should punish you for disobeying me, and I still may…but I’d rather see that you were right.”
I smiled as I looked up at Pa. “I am.”
Pa and I waited outside Micah’s office on the street. Grid stepped into the doorway. He stared hard at Pa. A chill suddenly rushed through me as I watched the look on his face. “What about my guns?” Grid asked without taking his eyes off of Pa.
“I’ll hold onto them,” Micah answered. “You…DO still want to kill Lucas?” Grid nodded. “Then I guess you know you can’t have them – not yet.”
“I’ll get some more!” Grid declared.
“And I’ll throw in jail the man who gives guns to a 14 year old kid when he wants to use them for the purpose of killing a man!”
I cleared my throat and stepped forward. “Let’s go to the hotel for lunch, Grid.” Pa started to walk with us, but I turned and held up a hand. I looked into his eyes and he hesitated with what I was asking, but he finally stepped back with a shake of his head. Grid and I walked across the street. Lou walked up to us as I asked for a table.
“Why don’t you take a bath first?” Lou asked. “We have a bath room at the head of the…”
“I ain’t taking a bath! I came here to eat!” Grid answered.
“Lou, he’s a guest. We’ll treat him like any other guest.” I said this firmly as I looked at her.
Lou stared into my eyes, but I didn’t flinch. Finally, she impatiently slammed down her pencil onto the book. “Follow me please.” She led us all the way to the back of the restaurant and seated us at a table. “Now, what can I get you?”
“I want a steak,” Grid declared harshly. “With that, I want some mashed potatoes and green beans.”
Lou folded her arms. I put a hand to my mouth because I knew what was coming. I’d seen her do it to many kids…and men…when they spoke to her that way. “Didn’t you learn any manners?”
“Lou…” I warned.
“No ma’am…” Grid said those words sarcastically. “Just bring me what I ask for.”
Lou folded her arms and stared at him. She kept a firm, stubborn expression on her mouth. Neither said anything for several moments. I cleared my throat. “You might want to ask nicely or she’ll pick you up by your collar and throw you out. I’ve seen her do it before.”
Grid looked up at her. “And I want coffee with that!”
Lou slapped the writing pad down on the table. I put a hand to my face and slid down in my chair. She had no idea what she was getting into. “Young man, I have many different kinds of people come into my establishment. I have gentlemen, ranchers, gun-slingers, outlaws, and ill-mannered children.” She put her hands flat on the table and bent in close to him. “They all learn quickly that they better talk nicely to me and with manners if they wish to eat my food in MY hotel. Otherwise, I throw them out – and if ye don’t think I can, just…try…me…”
“Grid, I’m really hungry! Just do as she says.”
Grid glared at her, then stood. “I don’t need your food! I’ve gotten along 14 years without it!” I watched him storm out.
“Miss Lou!” I sighed and shook my head. Then I hurried out. Grid hadn’t gone far. I watched as he stood by his horse. I hurried over to him. “Where are you going?” I asked suddenly.
“To get something to eat!”
“Wait! I’ll go-“ I started.
“I’ll be back. I’m not a liar. I’ll keep my word,” Grid stated. I opened my mouth to speak.
Suddenly, Pa came forward. “Mark, stay here,” he ordered. Grid turned and glared at Pa. Then he turned back to his horse, mounted, and quickly rode away. I stood in the street and watched him leave.
Pa sat down his fork and sighed as he rubbed a hand against his forehead. “Son, please eat your food.”
“I’m just not hungry, Pa.”
“You’re worried about Maule, aren’t you?” Pa asked.
“Mark, he was very rude to me and you know I don’t-“ Lou started.
“You should have given him a break!” My voice was harsh and I knew it. “He’s not your run of the mill kid, Lou. He’s rough and…”
“Mark!” Pa sharply interrupted me. “You do not speak to her that way!”
I sighed. “I’m…sorry.” I turned to Lou. “I apologize, Lou.”
“It’s okay, Mark.” She slowly sat down her coffee cup as she stared over my shoulder. I jerked around to see Grid standing in the doorway of the hotel. He tossed his head toward his shoulder to motion for me to go with him. I turned and looked at Pa who hesitated. Then he nodded for me to go.
I followed him outside. He sat down on the steps and dug a cigar from his pocket. I watched silently as he struck a match on the post and lit the cigar. “How long you lived here?” His voice was still gruff.
“We moved here when I was ten. After my Ma died, Pa left Oklahoma. He couldn’t stand to live there anymore – all those memories…”
“I thought your Ma died when you were six.”
“She did,” I answered. He turned and looked at me. “We were wayward wonderers I guess you might say. We eventually made our way down to Texas. Then after Pa wore out his welcome there, we went to Wyoming for a spell. We were pretty happy there until…” I lowered my head. “An angry man came to the church yard one Sunday afternoon and killed my Pa’s best friend – a deacon of the church…”
Grid’s head shot up. “How can you believe in God after all that happened?” Grid shook his head. “I don’t understand you people! You’ve lost so much yet…” He again killed the thoughts going through his mind.
“It’s because of God that we manage to survive these times.”
Darkness was settling in North Fork. I watched as Grid took lazy puffs off his cigar and thought. “I found my mother’s Bible in a trunk one day. I looked through it and realized she had read it every day. She even had things marked in there. Things about how good God is, that he answers prayers, and that he always takes care of us.” Grid slowly lifted his head from the post and narrowed his eyes at me. “Is that why my folks are dead? Because He cares for us? Because he takes care of us?” Grid slowly shook his head.
“The way my Pa explains it…and I’m figuring it out for myself…is that God gave us a gift – free will. He allows us to make our own decisions. He allows us to make our own mistakes. God didn’t tell your father to rob that bank. He didn’t tell your father to try to shoot my Pa. Your father freely made those choices.”
“What about my mother?” Grid took a puff off his cigar. “Was it free will that gave her pneumonia? Was it free will that caused her death? Well, was it?”
I shook my head. “No, Grid. It wasn’t.” I sighed. “It’s what happens after that though…after your mother’s death, your Pa had two choices – to go on living…or to die. He chose to live, but he chose to die.” I leaned my head against the post and closed my eyes. “I often wonder…what choice my Pa would have made if…if he didn’t have me to live for. It scares me to think.”
“How come?” Grid asked as he narrowed his eyes at me.
“Because…” I shrugged. “Before he and my Ma were married, I’ve heard tell he was pretty wild. I know he moved on for me.”
Grid stood. “Maybe I wasn’t good enough for my Pa! Maybe he didn’t think I was worth living for like your Pa thought of you.”
I stood up and put my hands on my hips. “Your father made a bad decision, Grid…Let’s just leave it at that.”
“Mark,” Pa stood in the doorway. “We need to get going, son. Church comes pretty early in the morning.”
I didn’t want to leave him like this. I didn’t feel asking Pa’s permission would yield pleasant results, so I took a deep breath and said, “We have a cot in the barn. You’re welcome to it.”
Grid threw his cigar down and turned away from me. “You can work to earn your keep.” I turned to Pa. “Alright, Pa?”
I saw the muscles in Pa’s jaw clinch. I knew he didn’t like my inviting him. Finally, his expression softened and he nodded. “He’s welcome to stay…as long as he earns his keep.”
Grid didn’t say a word as he gave me a nod and jumped on his horse. I watched him ride out of town. When we got to the ranch, Grid was unsaddling his horse. I watched Pa go toward the house. I handed Grid the reins to our horses. “You can help me with chores in the morning.”
I walked him through the chores I did on Sunday morning. It was mid-afternoon before we returned to the ranch. Grid was nowhere in sight. I feared he wasn’t going to stick to his end of the bargain after all. But as I was finishing up my evening chores, Grid came into the barn and picked up the pitchfork to swap out the barn. We silently worked together. Then I said goodnight and went to bed.
“Alright if I stay out of school today, Pa? I want to spend more time with Grid.”
Pa nodded. “He’s welcome to eat breakfast if he wants, son,” Pa said the next morning. I walked outside and found Grid currying the horses. “Pa said you’re welcome to breakfast.” Grid nodded as he walked inside with me. Pa said blessing as usual, but I noticed Grid was uncomfortable with it.
After breakfast, we saddled our horses and rode fence line most of the morning. At noon, we sat under a tree and began eating our sandwiches I had packed that morning. “Bet you don’t get many visitors when you’re riding fence line this far from the ranch.”
“Not many,” I answered as I took a bite of my sandwich.
“My kind of place…secluded – away from people.”
“What’s it like?” I suddenly asked. Grid turned and looked at me. “I mean…being on your own…what’s it like?”
I watched Grid’s face soften as he suddenly thought about it. “Well…I reckon it gets sort of lonely sometimes.”
“You know how to read and write and such?” I was supposed to go to school today, but Pa let me off the week since I was trying to talk with Grid. Grid answered my question with a nod. “You go to school?”
“Kid, I didn’t spend a day in school my whole life!” He threw the remainder of his apple in the grass. “That’s kid stuff and when you’re on your own, you ain’t got not time for kid stuff!”
“Then how’d you learn to read?” I asked.
“Taught myself.” I looked up at him. “When Pa was gone, I stayed at the house by myself…neighbor folks looked in on me. I started looking at books, then I figured out the alphabet and letters and such from old schoolbook in the trunk. I learned myself how to read and write and add…that’s about it – and that’s about all I needed!”
“Folks just…let you stay there by yourself?” I asked then.
Grid took out a cigar and lit it. After taking a long puff off of it, he nodded. “I reckon they knew what my Pa was. They left me be…Said I’d turn out to be just like my old man someday…Even after he was kilt, nobody bothered with me.”
“You dealt with that too?”
Grid’s eyes stared blankly off into the fields. “I was looking at my Ma’s Bible when two men rode up. They had a third horse with my Pa slumped over it. They said, ‘Boy, yer Pa was caught robbing a bank.’” Grid took another long puff off his cigar. “Later I found out the man’s name who killed my Pa. “’He’s dead.’” Grid turned and looked at me. “They said it just like that. Then I watched them walk away. I stared down at the Bible still in my hand. I slammed it shut and threw it in the dirt where it belonged. I remember…” Grid swallowed. “…Remember blood dripping onto the ground under the horse. I watched it drip…drip…drip…”
“Did you cry?”
“I…I don’t remember.” Grid stood and walked away a bit as he spoke. “Took me a whole day to dig that grave. My hands were blistered and sore. I didn’t even make a cross – didn’t even have it in me. After I finished, I walked over and picked up my Pa’s gun. Pa was too busy to ever teach me, but I learned myself. I practiced…and practiced…and practiced…Every day, that’s what I did. Way into the night.”
“How did you eat and keep a roof over your head?” I asked.
“I didn’t.” He shook his head sadly. “Eventually they came and took everything away. They told me I had to leave so I did.”
“No place to lay your head at night? No bed to sleep in?” I mumbled.
“A wayward Wonderer…Six years of wondering around. I’ve been to lots of places…seen lots of people…got better and better with the gun.” Grid pulled bullets from his pocket. “I would do odd jobs to earn enough money for food supplies and bullets. Then I’d move on…”
“Eight years old…” I mumbled. “I was hardly allowed from Pa’s side when I was that age. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be all on your own with nobody to tell you what to do…tell you when to go to bed or what to eat or make you go to school…”
“Yeah?” Grid turned and glared at me. “Weren’t no fun! I’ll tell ya that! It’s no fun to have nobody to tell your troubles to or…” He stopped, suddenly realizing he was showing his emotions – emotions he wanted to remain buried. He slapped a hand on his thigh and turned from me. “I turned out alright, kid. Nobody tells me what to do – I don’t take orders from nobody!”
“I noticed that back in town.” I stood up from my spot under the tree and walked over to him. “You might actually get to liking people if you put out some effort.”
“I don’t want nobody to like me, and I don’t want to like anybody!” Grid yelled. “Now…let’s get back to work.”
“You’re not afraid of anything, are you Grid?” He froze in his tracks as I spoke. “Least wise, you aren’t afraid of anything that shoots bullets. But you ARE afraid. You are afraid of loving, because you think you’ll lose whatever you love. So if you just keep those feelings buried deep, nothing can hurt you.” I folded my arms and stared at him. “You are so very, very wrong, Grid. Without love, you’re dead inside. That’s what your problem is.”
He didn’t say anything. I mounted my horse and went back to work. We got back to the ranch late that afternoon. Pa went to the door of the house and watched us go into the barn. Grid had been quiet most of the afternoon. He only spoke when he needed to and even then, he kept his answers very brief.
Pa walked to the door of the barn. Grid turned and saw him standing there. “I’ll go wash up outside,” Grid said as he rudely pushed past my Pa.
Pa folded his arms as he walked inside. “I want to talk to you, Mark.” I didn’t like the tone in Pa’s voice.
I continued unsaddling my horse as I spoke. “Yes sir?”
“Stop what you’re doing and turn around now, son.” I slowly turned to face him. “Now, I’ve agreed to letting him out of jail, and I’ve agreed to his sleeping here in the barn, but I don’t much care for the fact of you going off with him all day without a word to me!”
“Pa, I told you this morning we were going to ride fence!” I declared.
“No, son. You came into the house this morning and said YOU were going to go ride fence, and you rushed out before I could even turn and say anything.” I turned back to unsaddle my horse. “I’m still your father and I still have a little control over you, Mark. I…”
“Pa, Grid’s the same age as me and look at him – he doesn’t have anybody to tell him what to do or-“ I started.
But that angered Pa. He turned me back toward him and I watched his face redden as he lit into me. “Now see here, BOY, if this is the way it’s going to be, I’ll send Grid on his way right now! You will not talk disrespectfully to me!” Pa shouted.
“Pa, I wasn’t being disrespectful, I was just stating a fact. Grid’s had no one. He doesn’t remember what it’s like to have someone who cares about him.”
I saw Grid walk up behind Pa just then. I straightened up as Pa turned. He gasped when he almost ran into Grid.
I knew our conversation wasn’t over. I knew Pa didn’t quite understand what I was trying to do and maybe I didn’t either. But I just had to try. I watched Pa walk back to the house. Grid stared at me from the doorway. “You see…I don’t have that problem.” I watched him lay down on his cot and sigh.
“I reckon Pa has supper ready. He expects hired help to eat with us,” I said from the doorway.
“I’m not hungry,” Grid said.
“You have to eat, Grid. It’s not healthy for a body to…” I stopped. “Well, if you get hungry, let me know.”
“I’ve been taking care of myself for quite awhile!” Grid declared. “Don’t need no wet-nosed little kid to tell me what to do!”
I started out the door. Suddenly, I turned back to him and shook my head. “Must make you feel powerful to hate people so much. Just because your father made some bad choices, don’t take it out on everybody else.” Then I turned and hurried to the house.
Pa sat down at the table and waited while I washed up. He said our morning blessing then we started eating silently. I felt something between us, but I wasn’t sure how to get rid of it at the moment. “I know you hate him,” I finally said.
Pa dished out some spuds onto his plate and handed me the bowl. “I don’t hate him, Mark. I hate what he is and what he’s doing to you.”
I took a bite of my spuds before saying anything. “He’s not as tough as he acts, Pa. He’s just had a lot of hurt and…and pain in his life. I feel so sorry for him…He’s turned against God, Pa.”
Pa’s head jerked up. He gave me a sorrowful look. I reckon my voice did sound sad and regretful. Pa nodded slowly. “Many men turn from God when things get rough. It’s…it’s sad, but it’s the way they learn to get by, son.”
“But you always told me, Pa, that God is the only thing that can get us through in the really tough times…I mean when we feel alone, we’re not – God’s there.” I took another bite as I thought on all he’d told me. “He said he was reading his Ma’s Bible when they brought his Pa’s body home to him. He dropped it in the dirt and never paid mind to it again. His Pa turned outlaw when his Ma died…He…he hates God, Pa.”
“I’m sorry, son.” Pa sighed as he took another bite of his food. “Mark, this is another growing up time for you. You’re learning how low a man can go. A man turns against his own to cope with his pain…a man turns from God, blaming him for choices we make…Most of the men I’ve had to shoot – I’d say that’s where things started to go wrong. Either they never knew God or they turned from him.”
When I was finished eating, I started cleaning the dishes. I walked to the open door and stared toward the barn. I wondered how I could reach him – what could I say to make him understand that God was there, and that people were good and love was solid…At the moment, I knew there was nothing I could say.
The next morning, I started out for the barn when there was a knock on the front door. When I opened it, I saw Grid standing there with the milk and eggs. “I thought I’d do your chores for you this morning, Mark.” I held my hand out to take the eggs. Suddenly, Grid looked over my shoulder. His expression had been half-pleasant, but it had suddenly turned cold.
I turned to see Pa standing behind me. He wiped his hands on the dishtowel. “Come on in and join us for breakfast, Grid.” Pa gave him a forced smile. “Here, I’ll take those eggs.” Pa stepped forward and took the eggs from Grid. “We’re having fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. We have plenty for you.”
I turned back to look at Grid. “Well?” He nodded and came inside to sit down. But when he saw me go to the basin to wash up, he stood and went over there. Then he turned and sat down again.
After the food was blessed, we started eating. I raised my eyebrows as I watched Grid eat hungrily. “How often do you get a good meal?” Pa asked gently.
“Not too often,” Grid answered shortly.
Pa turned to me. “You best get to eating, boy. You’ve got school.”
“But Pa, I was staying out this week while Grid’s here! I-“ I started.
Pa shook his head. “You’ve got school, boy. Yesterday morning, you asked me for the day off and I agreed. YOU got it in your head to take the week off…Not me.”
“But-“ I started.
Pa held up a hand. “It’s final.” He gave me a warning look. I looked toward Grid who had a strange look on his face. “I’ll send Grid into town for some supplies. You don’t mind doing that, do you?”
Grid stared from me to Pa, then back to me. “You mean…you would allow me to go into town for supplies after all I’ve done to you?” Pa nodded. Grid looked down at his plate. “Mr. McCain, I’ve been thinking about something…and I wonder if I can ask you some questions.”
“Of course,” Pa answered.
“When your wife died, Mark told me you were grieving but…” Grid took a bite of his eggs as he gathered his thoughts. “…but you didn’t act the same was as my Pa.”
“Is that when he turned outlaw?” Pa asked gently. Grid nodded. “Well son, I suppose we all act differently. I had Mark to consider.”
“What if you hadn’t had Mark?” Grid asked then.
Pa looked down into his cup as if the answer to these perplexing question was in there. “I don’t know, Grid. I wish I could say I’d stay close to the Good Book and allow it to heal my heart, but I can’t do that.”
“Why’d my Pa have to go and turn outlaw when you just started over like you did? Can you answer me that, Mr. McCain?”
Pa raised an eyebrow and looked at me. “I’ll do the dishes, son. You go get ready for school.” I knew that was a hint Pa wanted to have a heart-to-heart with Grid. I was surprised at Grid’s sudden change, but pleased at the same time. I heard Pa softly talking. Every once in a while, he’d stop and allow Grid to ask questions. I picked up my books and they both turned to me. “I’ll see you at noon, son.”
I nodded. When I looked at Grid I saw relief on his face. It still held a lot of confusion and hurt, but for the first time there that hint of relief. I wondered what that meant, but I .knew I had to go to school. As Pa quietly talked to Grid, I turned from the door and watched for only a moment. Pa paused in the conversation and looked at me. “Goodbye, son.”
The morning passed quickly. When I got back home, Pa was in the house eating a sandwich. “How was school, son?” I told him it was fine as usual. “This afternoon, Mark, I would like for you to go work on that brush down by the canyon in the North pasture.”
I sat down and took a bite of my sandwich. “Where’s Grid?”
“In town. He had a long list of things to get for me.”
“What did you talk about this morning?” It had been on my mind all morning.
Pa carefully sat down his sandwich. He wiped his mouth. “Son, if you are hoping that Grid and I are friends and settled all our differences, you’ll be disappointed. You see, Grid had a lot of questions – questions only a father who’s been through what his father went through can answer. That’s what we talked about, and he’s asked me to keep those things private.”
“So he’s not gonna kill you?”
Pa turned and looked at me. “Son…I don’t know. He’s very angry and very confused. He will be for a long, long time.”
I nodded my understanding and went out to do my job. When I came home later that afternoon, I saw Grid pulling up in the wagon. He jumped from the seat. “Mark, you wanta give me a hand?” We worked together until we got everything unloaded. By that time, Pa came to the door and announced supper was ready. We washed up by the barn then hurried inside to eat.
By the end of supper, I noticed a more peaceful look on Grid’s face. He had silently been listening to me and Pa talk. We talked about my day at school, chores I needed to do, and Pa’s thoughts on how bad things would get this winter. After supper, I did the dishes then walked out to the barn before starting on my homework. I found Grid laying on the cot. “You and your Pa always talk like that?”
“Like what?” I shrugged.
“Like your best friends…like you are partners.”
“We are partners, Grid. We run this ranch together. It’s always been like that.”
I sat down on the cot as Grid sat up. “No matter how long Pa would have lived, it would have never been that way with us.” I stayed silent and allowed him to talk. “Your Pa is okay, Mark.” Suddenly he stood up and walked across the barn. “But I got along fine without one, you will too.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked suddenly. I stood from the cot but stayed beside it. “Didn’t you and Pa have a long talk this morning?” Grid nodded as he lit a cigar and took a puff off of it. “Doesn’t that change things? I mean…doesn’t it make you understand my Pa ain’t bad?”
“He killed my father.” Grid didn’t look at me. He sighed. “He killed my father.” He took a long, silent puff off his cigar. He never turned to look at me. “Well, you got homework to do.”
I stared at his back for another minute, then silently turned and went into the house.
As I laid in bed that night, I thought on his words and wondered what I could say to him. The answer was nothing at the moment…I slowly drifted off to sleep.
The remainder of the week found us in a routine. Grid did the morning chores then joined us for breakfast. He engaged in conversations with Pa while I went to school. He watched the way Pa and I interacted with much interest. I saw the questions in his eyes, but he never asked them. As the week passed, Grid took on more and more chores. He listened as Pa and I taught him about ranching. I grew excited, hoping he’d decide to settle down and take up the occupation himself.
But when his questions were answered, he would go off by himself. He took special pains not to get personally involved in our affairs. I watched his face light up with excitement over something; then just as quickly, it would die as he remembered his fear of allowing someone to care for him or vice versa.
Friday afternoon, I joined Pa at the hotel for lunch. I had been thinking on something all morning and finally decided I wanted to do it. I broached the subject after our food came. “Grid’s been working really hard this week, Pa.” Pa nodded. “He’s really done a lot of work. Freed you up a bit for spending more time in town with Miss Lou…” Pa cleared his throat and gently shook his head. “…and he’s learning the trade really good.”
Pa sighed as he picked up his coffee cup. “Alright, Mark. I’ll bite. What do you want?”
“I would like to ask him to stay on permanently as our work hand.”
“I see.” Pa swirled the coffee around in his cup.
“Well…you said yourself, Pa, that this winter’s going to be a hard one. We’ll need an extra hand to help with the cattle and such…” Pa sat back in his chair and studied me. “Well, you said yourself, Pa, that he’s working mighty hard! Why, right now he’s at home fixing fence posts!”
“You uh…know what tomorrow is.” Pa raised his eyebrows as he looked at me. I nodded, but didn’t voice my answer. “And he’s made no indication that he’s changed his mind.”
“Oh Pa…do you really think he wants to kill you?”
“Like you said, son…it’s not me…exactly…he wants to kill.” Pa leaned forward on the table. “Son, that ‘thing’ he wants to kill is still inside him. He…” Pa stopped. “Alright. You can ask him.”
I jumped up excitedly. “I can? You really mean it?” I slowly sat back down at the table. There was something else I wanted to ask. “Pa, I was wondering about something else.”
“I want to buy him a…gift – something to thank him for all he’s done this week.” I took a deep breath. “I thought on getting him a…Bible.”
Pa smiled. “I think that’s a good idea, son.” He slapped a hand on my back. “We’ve been talking a lot and I sense maybe he’s ready for that step.” Pa dug in his pocket for some money. “Why don’t you go get it and give it to him tonight?”
I thanked Pa and hurried out of the restaurant to do just that.
I waited until after supper that night to give him the Bible. After the dishes were done, I picked the Bible up and slowly walked to the barn. As I opened the door, I found Grid sitting up on the side of his cot staring down at his hands. I slowly walked over and sat down. “You look deep in thought.”
“There’s a lot for a man to think about.” Grid sighed. “Tomorrow’s…Saturday.”
“We’ve talked a lot this week.” Grid nodded. “You and my father have talked a lot this week.”
“I respect your father, Mark. He’s a good man. You are very…” Grid sighed deeply. “…very lucky.”
My next words were spoken softly. “If you respect my father, then how could you ever kill him?”
Grid rubbed his hands together. Then he took a hand and pressed it against his forehead. He looked up at me as anger shown on his face. “HE KILLED MY FATHER!” Grid answered loudly. “Your father is the REASON I was left alone!”
“You don’t believe that, Grid…Not anymore…” I shook my head.
He said nothing, but I saw the answer in his eyes. I also could tell he was beginning to like me. I saw a small hint of a smile cross his face. Then it quickly disappeared. I suddenly remembered the gift. “I got you something.” I handed it to him. “You’ve worked so hard this week. This is just a small gift for you for all the hard work you’ve done.”
Grid took it from me. “Nobody’s ever…given me anything, Mark. Nobody ever cared. I…” Grid swallowed hard as he rubbed a hand over the package. “I came here to kill your father and you took me in. You’ve been so nice to me and now…now you’ve given me a gift.”
“Go ahead…open it.” My heart beat hard as Grid slowly opened the package. His hands froze as the paper fell away to reveal the Bible. I watched his eyes turn to a haunting look. His hand shook as he gently rubbed it over the black leather. He slowly lifted his head up to mine. “It’s a Bible.” His voice was a mere whisper. It broke at the end.
I waited for him to open it so he could read what was inside, but he clutched it with both hands and pressed it to his chest. I watched as his hands shook even harder. He said nothing, but continued clutching it to his chest. Slowly, he lowered it back to his lap. Then I watched as one lonely tear slid down his cheek and dropped onto the leather covering of the Bible. He quickly turned from me and laid down on the cot as he again pulled the Bible to his chest.
I stood up, suddenly realizing he needed to be left alone. I silently walked to the door. Then I turned. “I asked Pa and he said it’s okay if you stay on as our hired hand. I’d like you to stay.” Grid made no movement, nor did he say a word. I walked out of the barn, closing the door behind me.
Pa looked up from the chair where he was reading as I walked inside. “How did it go?”
“I’m not sure.” I walked over and sat down beside him. “Pa, he clutched it to his chest. I watched a tear slide down his cheek. I was hoping it would make him happy…”
Pa nodded. “Time will make him happy, son. I think he’s remembering back. Just give him time to heal.”
I nodded as I stood and walked to the bedroom. “Pa?” Pa turned and looked at me. “He respects you. He told me so. But at the same time…”
“He despises me?” Pa asked. I nodded. “Goodnight, son.”
The next morning, I woke as the sun shined through the window. Quickly, I stood and began dressing for the day. Today was Saturday. It had been a week since Gride rode into town, and today was the day he swore he would come gunning for Pa. Pa sat on his own bed. As he put his boots on, he looked up at me. Both of us wondered what today would hold.
We walked out into the front room. “I’ll go start the chores, Pa,” I said as Pa walked to the kitchen to start breakfast. “Should I let Grid know breakfast will be ready soon?” Pa nodded.
I walked out to the barn where Grid had been sleeping the last several nights. Slowly, I walked inside. “Grid?” I called as light flowed into the barn. “Grid, it’s-“ I stopped as I looked down at the empty cot. A folded note sat on the cot.
I hurried to the barn door. “Pa! Pa! Come quick!” I yelled.
Pa rushed out the front door. “He’s gone, Pa! He’s gone!” I announced. I pointed to the cot where the note still sat. Then I rushed over and picked up the note. I sadly shook my head as I read his words.
I’ve been thinking about the things you said to me this week. It is time for me to move on. Your father is safe.
I handed Pa the note. “I thought I was getting through to him, Pa! I thought I had convinced him to stay!” I turned to saddle my horse.
“What are you doing, son?” Pa asked as he came up behind me.
“I’m going after him!”
“No. You’re not,” Pa stated firmly as he turned me around.
I turned back. “Pa, he can’t run out like this! He can’t just leave!”
Pa turned me around and grabbed my shoulders. “Mark, he’s made his choice,” he stated firmly
“No! He made the wrong choice, Pa! He needs us!” I shook my head.
Pa lifted his head and raised an eyebrow as he stared into my eyes. “He made the wrong choice for whom, Mark? For himself…or for Mark McCain?” I shook my head and tried to turn back to my horse. Pa held firmly to my shoulders and shook me gently. “He’s gone, son…He’s gone. You have to let him go.”
“He has so much bitterness…Pa, he was starting to open up! How can he just leave?” I stared into Pa’s eyes, suddenly needing answers.
Pa sighed. He put an arm around my shoulders and led me to a bench. As he sat down, he spoke. “Mark, he’s been on his own since he was eight year old. He’s learned to take care of himself. This boy you defended isn’t a boy like you…He doesn’t NEED us, son. He’s learned not to need anyone. If he’s ever to figure this out – to figure out where he fits in, he’s got to do it in his own way.”
“But he could have done it here, Pa! He could have stayed with us and worked.”
Pa shook his head. “No son. He couldn’t because he could never give me the respect he claimed he had for me. I killed his father, Mark. There is nothing in this world that can take that fact from him. Son, a week ago he would have done ANYTHING to kill me. Today he walked away because he knew he couldn’t do it anymore. But…” Pa nodded toward the cot. “He’s not out there alone. And unless I miss my guess, he’ll never be alone again.”
I suddenly looked at the crate beside the cot. The Bible I had given him was gone. I slowly stood up and walked over there. I rubbed my hand against the top of the crate as I once again remembered the look on his face as he held it in his hand. I picked up the note and slowly walked toward the door. “You think he’ll be okay?”
Pa walked up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders. “What I think, Mark…is that you were there when he needed you. You must now let go and let God take over his healing. Grid will have to decide for himself what to do with his life.”
“A wayward wonderer…” I whispered softly.
“What?” Pa asked as he looked down at me.
“You reckon we’ll ever see him again?”
“It’s not likely, son,” Pa said softly as he squeezed my shoulders. “A boy…man like him, he’ll probably put as much distance between me and himself as he can.”
I slowly turned and looked up at Pa. “Doesn’t it bother you?”
“No.” Pa sighed. “Because I know…that if someone had been responsible for the death of someone I love, I would want as much distance between us as possible.” Something in his eyes bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
“He didn’t even thank me.” I looked down at the letter again.
“He thanked, you, Mark.” Pa took the letter from me and read it again. “The only way he knew how.”
The next day when we went into town for church, Micah asked about Grid. He said Grid had never picked up his guns. Pa and I looked at each other, a bit shocked, as we wondered what this meant.
So if it’s a happy ending you want, I don’t know that I can give one to you. You see, things don’t always turn out the way we want them. And for a long time, every time I walked into the barn and looked at the cot I thought about Grid. I thought about the haunted look on his face as I handed him the Bible, and I thought about the words he spoke to me in the silence of the night. I will never forget the way he looked as that one lonely tear slowly trickled down his cheek and hit the Bible with a quiet ‘drip.’
Will I ever see him again? I don’t know…only time will tell.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Sixteenth Cousin
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch