The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
In this story I’ve borrowed a few guest characters from The
Rifleman’s five year television run.
In (season three) we met North Fork’s new school teacher, Stevan
Griswald. A man with strict expectations of the children under
his tutelage. However, he learned a lesson that his eastern
style of teaching did not work well with the children of the
west. And that some boys will defend their fathers
unquestioningly. Mark also learned the unfortunately
consequences of playing hooky from school.
In Death Never Rides
Alone (season five), we’re introduced to Johnny Drako, a
long-time friend of Lucas McCain. Drako was a known gunslinger,
who was always within the law when his reputation was forged.
Drako was looking for a nice, quiet place to live and figured
North Fork would suit him, just fine; specially since his friend
called the town home. However, events beyond his control made
him see the impact his arrival would have if he stayed and he
decided to leave town. The character of Johnny Drako was
portrayed by Lee Van Cleef.
In my mind’s eye, I always believed that one day, Drako would
return to North Fork, after lying low and letting others gain
their reputations; his own would simply fade into history. Thus
was the idea for my story The Return of Johnny Drako.
This story takes place after the series ended its television
Other characters not recognized from The Rifleman are from my
own overactive imagination.
A Father’s Fear
The morning sun had just begun to illuminate the landscape when
Lucas McCain yawned and stretched his arms as he walked from the
bedroom he shared with his son to the front room of their home.
A noise to drew his attention to where he saw his fifteen year
old son, Mark, sitting, working on his homework by the light of
the lantern at the table.
“Son, I thought you did all your homework Friday night?” Lucas
asked as he unsuccessfully tried to stifle another yawn and
button his shirt.
“I did Pa, this is just some extra credit work Mr. Griswald
offered to us,” Mark replied as he returned his attention to his
“Why didn’t you work on it before now?” Lucas asked, surprised
his son had waited until the last moment to finish his
“I tried, but guess I was trying too hard and couldn’t come up
with the right answers. And we’ve been working so hard over the
weekend in clearing those trees and pulling the stumps that I
kind of forgot about it. When I woke up a little while ago…the
answer hit me. Actually, it felt more like the answer woke me
up. I wasn’t even thinking about it,” Mark answered as he
continued to write. “Oh, coffee’s ready and there’s some oatmeal
on the stove, Pa.”
“Okay son, as long as it’s just extra credit work.” Lucas turned
and walked into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and spoon
out a bowl of oatmeal.
Lucas returned to the table and sat across from his son. As he
ate, he looked at his boy; remembering how it wasn’t that many
years before that Mark was reluctant to do any of his homework.
Recalling all the hours he had spent with his boy going over his
studies to make sure he’d done them properly and not
half-heartedly, if at all, and helping his boy to understand his
math problems – Oh, the hours he had spent helping his son. An
smiled played across Lucas’ face as he remembered.
Mark looked up and grinned when he saw his Pa divert his eyes.
“Pa? You thinking about Ma?” Mark hesitantly asked.
“Why do you ask?”
“You just had that look in your eyes,” Mark replied.
“Not really thinking of your Ma, but in a way, yeah. I was just
remembering all the times I had to convince you to do your
homework properly and now you’re at the top of your class.”
“There’s not that many in my class for me to get too swelled of
a head at being at the top…” Mark casually replied.
“Still, I know it would please your Ma to see you now. Just to
know that one of her dreams for you was coming true.”
Mark put down his pencil and folded his assignment before
placing it in the front of his American History book. He stood
from the table and walked to put his breakfast dishes in the
sink. Mark returned to the table and stood behind his Pa, he
leaned over and wrapped his arms around his Pa.
“Pa, don’t sell yourself short. It was one of your dreams too.
Thanks for putting up with me all these years.”
“Well, if I could have traded you in for someone who wasn’t as
troublesome, I would have,” Lucas said as he gave his boy’s arms
“Oh Pa, just think of all the ‘fun’ you would have missed out
on. All the extra ‘quality’ time we got to spend together,”
“Alright, alright, smarty-pants. Just get to school already.”
“But its not even seven o’clock yet. Just let me get the dishes
done and I’ll head out.”
Mark returned to the sink with his Pa’s dishes and washed them
and set them out to dry. He dried his hands, walked to the table
and picked up his books before he headed out the door to saddle
Blue Boy. He climbed into the saddle and walked Blue Boy back to
the house and stopped by the porch one last time to say goodbye
to his Pa, before riding to school.
“Mark! Don’t forget you’re to meet me at Micah’s after school.
Lou and Drako have invited us to supper tonight at the hotel.”
“Oh, I almost forgot about that. Glad I didn’t make plans to go
fishing after school,” Mark replied with a sly grin on his face.
He looked back over his shoulder to see his Pa pointing his
finger and heard him say, “Git!”
“Come on Blue Boy, let’s ride,” Mark called as he stepped into
the saddle and rode from the ranch.
Lucas smiled as he watched his teenage son ride away; he felt
blessed with the life the two of them had created in the rough
New Mexico Territory.
“Yes, Margaret, you’d be really proud of our son,” Lucas spoke
in comment to his deceased wife. Unbelieving it had already been
eight years since her death and five years that he and his son
had chosen to call North Fork their home.
That afternoon, Stevan Griswald walked past Marshal Micah
Torrance’s office and bumped into Lucas McCain as he stepped out
without looking to see if anyone was passing the office door.
“Afternoon Lucas. How’s Mark doing this afternoon? I hope he’s
feeling better?” Stevan asked after realizing who he’d bumped
“Feeling better? Did Mark get sick at school today?” a concerned
“No, he wasn’t at school, Lucas,” Stevan answered as he felt a
cold chill develop in the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t
believe that Mark would skip school to play hooky. It had been
several years since the last time, but on that day Billy Davis
had also played hooky. (Events happened in the episode, The
“Stevan, Mark left home this morning as usual. I checked his
homework Friday evening and made sure he was prepared for class
last night. Not that there’s that much reason for me to check
his work any more. This morning he was working on an extra
Concern crept into Lucas’ voice; it wasn’t like Mark to play
hooky from school, not after the consequences of his first
attempt years before. “Were any of Mark’s friends not in school,
“Mark was the only one not at school today.” Stevan stated.
“Lucas, I’m sorry I didn’t think anything about him not being at
school. He’s been such a good student that I just presumed he’d
come down ill over the weekend and you’d kept him home;
especially since neither of you made it to church yesterday.”
Looking back into the Marshal’s Office, Lucas called out to
Marshal Micah Torrance and Deputy Johnny Drako, “Did either of
you see Mark today?”
“No Lucas,” was the reply from both. Micah and Johnny stepped
from their desks and walked out the front door.
Johnny inquired, “Something wrong?”
“Stevan said that Mark wasn’t at school today,” Lucas replied.
“Not at school? I thought you were to meet him after school to
have supper with Lou and me tonight,” Johnny commented.
“I am, we are,” Lucas answered a little insolently. “I don’t
understand why he’d play hooky today. He was prepared and
looking forward to getting to school when he left the house this
“They why wasn’t he there?” asked Micah.
“Micah, I’ll head over to the fishing pond and see if he spent
the day there.” Lucas’ temper was starting to rise as he thought
on this sudden about-face in his son.
After not finding any sign of Mark at the fishing pond, he rode
to Billy Davis’ house, then to Bobby Hamilton’s, and then
Freddie Toomey’s. All three boys said the exact same thing. They
were surprised that Mark wasn’t at school today. Freddie
suggested for Lucas to check out their old club house, at the
back of the livery. He explained that when they had their club,
it was only for boy’s who lived in town, but maybe Mark had
snuck in there to hide.
“Only town boys?” Lucas asked.
“Well yeah, Mr. McCain,” the blonde headed, freckled faced
teenager responded. “We made that rule a long time ago, when we
was little. But we always allowed Mark to come as a guest
whenever he had to stay in town because you had to help out the
Marshal. Gee, it’s been so long ago that I kind of forgot about
the club house.”
After checking the club house and everywhere else that he could
think of, Lucas returned to the Marshal’s Office.
Johnny pulled up in front of the Marshal’s Office and
dismounted, as the sun dropped further in the western sky.
“Lucas, just came from your place. Thought if Mark had played
hooky, he’d of been home by his normal time. Didn’t see any sign
of him. I’m sorry,” Micah offered.
“Micah, I just don’t understand. Where can he be?” Lucas asked
as he slammed his fist into the door jam looking out into the
street of North Fork.
Johnny Drako entered the office and after tossing his hat upon
his desk he turned to his friend and explained he had searched
the town and questioned anyone he encountered regarding the
whereabouts of Mark McCain. “I’m sorry Lucas…”
A father’s fear surrounded Lucas as he watched the citizens of
North Fork going about their business as if nothing happened.
Women chatted among themselves while the men tipped their hats
in passing as they drove their teams or rode their horses along
the main street of town. Life continued on for everyone else,
but for Lucas time seemed to stop… because his son was missing.
The sun had set and word continued to spread throughout North
Fork regarding the disappearance of Mark McCain. Numerous of the
men in town stood outside the Marshal’s Office wanting to offer
assistance should the marshal decide to form a search party.
“Men, there’s not much we can do in the dark; we’ll head to
Lucas’ at first light tomorrow. Return to your homes and get a
good night’s sleep. Meet back here before sunrise,” Micah
announced. “And remember men, I want everyone to have packed
basic medical supplies in their saddlebags before you return in
the morning. Better to have and not need…” Micah’s voice quieted
at hearing footsteps behind him.
Johnny placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder and turned him towards
the hotel. “Come on Lucas. Let’s get something to eat. I’m sure
Lou has a room at the hotel for you tonight.”
The former gunslinger was showing a different side of his
personality that many didn’t realize existed; except for his
closest friends, as he escorted Lucas McCain across the main
thoroughfare of town and into the hotel.
Lou Mallory, owner of the Mallory House Hotel met the two men at
the staircase that would lead them to the second floor. The
woman looked from Lucas to Johnny, before turning to climb the
steps after seeing Johnny Drako motion with his chin to ‘go on’.
Lucas stayed in the room Lou had given to him, but he didn’t
sleep...couldn’t sleep. He sat down in the chair by the window
and pulled out Mark’s picture from his wallet.
“Mark, where are you boy?” Lucas asked as he rubbed his thumb
over the picture.
Regret started to seep into his consciousness because it had
been several years since that particular picture had been taken;
it had only been a couple of years after they had settled in
North Fork. In the ensuing years, Mark had grown up, matured,
become a son that a father could be even more proud to have
working by his side.
“Mark, you’ve changed so much since this picture was taken.”
While Lucas was upstairs, Johnny Drako and Lou Mallory sat at a
table in the kitchen of the hotel.
“Johnny, where could Mark be?” the red-headed woman asked. The
depth of her feelings towards the young lad increased the
intensity of her Irish brogue.
“I don’t know Lou. From what people around town said, and from
what I know about Mark, this is totally out of character for
him, with the one exception when Stevan first arrived as the
“Lucas just looked so…” Lou’s eyes held the compassion she felt
for the man.
“You care about them?” Johnny hesitantly asked.
It hadn’t been too long since he returned to North Fork and
decided to make it his home as well as to if see he really liked
this strong-willed woman who had struck him senseless. He liked
her fiery temperament, but began to doubt himself as she sat
across the table from him, he knew that she and Lucas cared for
each other, but said only that they were friends. He wondered
just how ‘friendly’ the two had become after he had left town.
“Johnny, Lucas and I are just friends, and only friends. That
cowboy was my first true friend when I came here. While some of
the town felt ready to string me up…”
“String you up?” Johnny asked as his right eyebrow rose.
“I knew the railroad was coming through North Fork, and I made
many a shrewd business deals before they found out and the
Jackman’s kidnapped me.” (Refers to events that happened in the
season five episode entitled Lou Mallory.)
“And…” Johnny encouraged, his curiosity piqued.
“Johnny, a good friend is all Lucas McCain will ever be to me.
Ye on the other hand…” Lou stated and blushed. “And as a good
friend, yes, I’m care about him… That boy means so much to him.”
“They both mean a lot to this town,” Drako offered. “When I was
asking about town today, there was genuine concern and worry in
the people.” After he took a final sip of coffee in the cup he
held in his hands, “Well, I best get to bed if we plan to meet
up at Lucas’ first thing in the morning.”
“I’ll be praying for ye, all,” Lou quietly spoke. Not a
God-fearing woman who would quote scriptures; she would more
likely quote her long deceased father, but deep in her heart she
sensed prayers would be needed.
Picking up his hat from the table, Johnny Drako left the kitchen
via the back door and headed to the room he kept at the local
It was a large turnout that greeted Lucas as he walked from the
hotel the following morning. They mounted and rode out of North
Fork as the sun was just starting to rise, painting the horizon
with rich colors that did nothing to brighten the mood of one
worried father. The posse took the long way to Lucas’, not
wanting to disturb any trail Mark might have left by taking the
direct route. Once at Lucas’, they spread out, breaking into
smaller groups and heading down different trails and
cross-country as they began their return trip to North Fork;
each looking for any sign that Mark might have encountered
trouble as he rode to school. Unfortunately, the road back to
North Fork was well traveled and Mark had been missing for
The men continued to search behind every boulder, up every hill,
behind every tree, and down every ravine. Caves and crevices
were searched in hopes the boy would be found. No longer were
they convinced Mark would be found somewhere along the road;
they expanded the areas they searched, venturing farther and
farther from North Fork. Voices echoed across the land as the
searchers yelled Mark’s name, quieting to listen for a response,
before calling the boy’s name again.
The sun was already starting on its downward path when one group
of searchers decided to back track as a vague memory pulled at
one of the riders. After stepping from his horse, the man pulled
his rifle from its scabbard and fired three shots into the air,
signaling he’d found something. Lucas and Micah, as well as
other searchers, rode hard towards the man as he stood there,
books in hand waiting to return them to Lucas.
Fearing Mark might have been thrown from his horse, Lucas
demanded the searchers spread out to examine the ravine and
follow it both directions.
Placing a hand to his friend, Micah spoke in the voice of
reason, “Lucas, if Mark had been thrown, where’s BlueBoy? You
know that horse wouldn’t leave Mark, and if he did, the horse
would have returned home.”
Reasonable thinking was difficult for Lucas, his only thought
was of his son.
“Where is he, Micah?” Lucas’ voice pleaded.
“Unfortunately, with all of us clamoring to answer those rifle
shots, we’ve disturbed the tracks in this area.”
“But we know Mark was here, right?” asked one of the searchers.
“Do we?” Johnny Drako quietly asked himself. Years of living
life witnessing the cruelties of man, the deputy sensed that
Mark McCain wasn’t missing on his own accord. Johnny knew that
Lucas’ reputation could have a bearing in the fact the man’s son
was missing. How many people out there could be out for revenge
for Lucas having killed a member of their family?
The sun had set as the stage arrived in town, much later than
usual. In the rough territories, stage schedules were known to
be a rough ‘guestimate’ of the time it would take to travel
between one town and another. Weather and road conditions as
well as outlaws could affect any stage run. Once the final
passengers stepped down, collected their luggage, and proceeded
to the Mallory House Hotel, Ralph and Sam pulled the stage
around to the back side of the one medical clinic in North Fork.
Sam handed Ralph his shotgun as he stepped down from the stage.
He walked to Doc’s back door and knocked. A few moments later,
Doc opened the door and gave a questioning look at the shotgun
rider standing before him.
“You got a sick passenger?” Doc Burrage asked.
“Doc, we found a body, about six miles out of town on the road
from Mescalero,” Sam stated as he turned back to the stage,
trying to keep anyone else from witnessing the tears falling
down his face.
Ralph breeched Sam’s shotgun before he set it on the seat and
stepped down from atop the stage. Both men walked to the back of
the stage and unstrung the leather covering of the stage boot.
They pulled out a body securely wrapped in a blanket and carried
it into the doctor’s office and placed it on the examination
table. Both men turned to leave.
“Six miles outside of town you say?” Doc absently asked. “Sam,
do you knows who it is?”
Sam was so choked up his voice was barely audible when he said,
“Excuse me?!” Doc Burrage replied in disbelief.
“See for yourself,” Ralph quietly answered as they continue to
leave the clinic.
After leaving the clinic, Sam retrieved the mailbag from the
boot and dropped the pouch off at the general store while Ralph
drove the stage to the livery. Neither man felt like making the
rest of their run that night as they unhitched the four horse
team and turned them loose in the corral in back of the livery.
“Guess we can head out early in the morning before the next
stage arrives to take them folks to their destination,” Sam
stated as they wiped down the leather harnesses.
“You want to sleep in the livery or in the stage?” Ralph asked
as he climbed to the top of the stage and pulled their bedrolls
from under the seat they rode upon.
Dumbfounded, Doc looked at the blanket-wrapped body lying on the
examination table. He stepped to the window after hearing horses
outside and saw the somber group of searchers return to North
Fork. He watched Johnny and Lucas separate from the group and
head for the hotel; and Micah returned to the Marshal’s Office.
Doc left his office and followed Micah.
“Doc, we didn’t have any luck finding any sign of Mark other
than his schoolbooks.” Micah stated as he poured himself a cup
of coffee after seeing Doc entering. He set the pot back on the
pot-bellied stove that stood in his office. “Don’t understand
where that boy could be. Just not like Mark to run off like
“Micah, you don’t have to worry about looking for Mark any
more,” Doc replied. “Now, before you say anything…” Doc raised
his hands in an effort to stop Micah from saying anything, “Sam
and Ralph brought a body in to my office just a little while
ago. They said… They said it was Mark.”
The only sound in the office was the tin coffee cup hitting the
floor and the coffee splashing out of the cup.
Still not in full control of his faculties, Micah stammered, “M…
“I’d like you to be there when I unwrap the body and… and help
me make a positive identification.”
Micah struggled to believe what Doc had said; his mind went
“Micah, I… I can’t tell Lucas, until… unless I’m sure.”
“And you want me there?” Micah asked, still trying to comprehend
“I need you there. I don’t think I can do it alone,” the doctor
Micah stood on the opposite side of the table as Doc began to
untie the ropes that securely held the blanket around the body.
The blanket was removed to reveal the boy’s head, neck, and
arms; both men gasped at the bruises that were evident on
practically every inch of the boy’s exposed skin. His clothes
were dirty and torn; and underneath all the dirt, they saw Mark
McCain lying on the examination table in front of them.
Doc unfastened what few buttons remained on the boy’s shirt,
revealing more dirt and bruises of varying colors across the
teenager’s chest and abdomen. Even knowing it was futile; he
pulled out his stethoscope and placed it to the boy’s chest,
just in case, by some miracle the boy could still be alive and
in a coma instead of dead. He pulled the ends of the stethoscope
from his ears and shook his head as he hung the instrument
around his neck. He didn’t wipe away the tears that unashamedly
fell down his face.
“I hate this part of my job,” Doc Burrage mumbled. “Children
ain’t got no right to die before their parents. Especially this
“He didn’t die,” Micah’s voice reflected his anger. “Not looking
like that.” He absently pointed to the various bruises. “Someone
did this to him! Someone beat this boy to death.:
“I’ll need to perform an autopsy to confirm that.”
“An autopsy?” Micah asked, unbelieving. “This boy was murdered!”
“Micah, if he was beat to death, there will be trauma inside the
body to reflect that as the cause. It is possible that he died
of natural causes…”
“It’s the beating and being left out there that caused his
death!” argued Micah. “There’s no way that boy died of natural
Taking a calmer tone, Doc Burrage replied, “Micah, just because
a child was beaten, doesn’t mean the beating caused the death.
As a lawman I’m sure you’ve seen children beaten by their
“You’re not considering that Lucas did this?!” and astounded
“No, I’m not. I’m just stating that some parents and legal
guardians do beat their children and the children don’t die from
the beatings. I have to see what damage was done, on the inside,
to know for certain if the beating caused the death, or
contributed to it somehow. Or if Mark died from natural causes…”
“Ain’t nothing natural about a boy, on the cusp of becoming a
young man, dying; alone! Looking like that!” again Micah pointed
“We need to inform Lucas,” Doc offered. “You coming?”
Micah nodded and struggled to pull himself together as tears
continued falling down his face. Both men regained their
composure as they slowly walked to the hotel to inform Lucas.
Lou Mallory stood behind the counter in the lobby when Micah
asked what room Lucas was in.
“Johnny went up with him to room ten,” Lou replied. “Micah?
“Not now, Lou,” Micah answer.
They entered room ten, closed the door behind them, and told
Lucas the news. There was no other way to ease the news, than to
come right out and tell Lucas. In blind disbelief, Lucas pushed
the men aside, threw the door open, and ran down the steps,
jumping two at a time. Running through the lobby and across the
street, Lucas had one goal, to prove the men wrong. As he ran to
Doc’s; Johnny, Micah, and Doc followed at varying distances
Lucas threw open the door to Doc’s office and saw the lifeless
body on the examination table. The proud father took maybe three
steps inside before sheer, utter hopelessness gripped his being
and he collapsed to his knees, pounding the floor with his left
fist, yelling “Mark?!” as tears fell.
Doc ordered Micah and Johnny to get Lucas to Sweeney’s bar and
“Get him drunk!”
Micah and Johnny half carried, half led Lucas to the saloon; the
whole way Lucas kept crying, “Why?”
Those inside the saloon as Lucas, Micah, and Johnny arrived
quickly left as they overheard what had happened. The patrons
started to spread the word around North Fork of the tragedy and
that Micah and Johnny had Lucas at Sweeney’s. The town’s banker,
John Hamilton, and livery owner, Nils Swenson, immediately
headed for the saloon after they heard the news. As they
entered, they witnessed that no one but the two lawman, the
barman, and the grieved father were inside, and none had a dry
After hearing the news, Stevan Griswald ran to Doc’s office; he
had to see for himself. He knocked on the door and Doc opened
it. Doc stepped back to allow Stevan inside, then Doc closed the
Tears started falling down Stevan’s face as he slowly walked to
the body. He pushed a lock of hair from Mark’s forehead and then
placed his hand on Mark’s shoulder and gave it a pat.
“Mark, I am so sorry. You were my most promising student. How
I’ve enjoyed watching you grow up these past years.”
Stevan turned and left Doc’s, he gave a brief nod in thanks for
allowing him a few moments in private. The school teacher walked
home and sat down in a chair within the front room of his home.
Hugging his arms across his chest, he cried until he thought he
couldn’t cry any more. But then, more tears fell as he thought
to himself, ‘If this is how I feel, I can’t imagine how Lucas is
feeling right now.’
Those with Lucas at Sweeney’s were hoping to help the man drown
his pain, but they were all equally hoping to dull their own.
Each knowing the price they would pay in the morning from a
hangover, but not caring at the present. They quietly sat and
kept vigil over Lucas. No one spoke. Each reflected back on the
inquisitive, trusting boy who was growing into such a fine young
man; a young man with such a promising future.
‘Who had Mark trusted this time?’ each one asked themselves.
When Lucas would lament on his failure as a father, Micah was
the only one to find a voice to tell the distraught father there
was never a better father than Lucas McCain; there was no other
man who could have been a better father to Mark.
“A better father?! A better father wouldn’t be sitting here…
mourning the death of his son. His body…” Lucas broke down,
folding his arms on the table and lowering his head to rest on
As Lucas continued to sit in a stupor of shock and grief, Micah
sat and pondered over his cup of coffee, wondering about the
man-hunt that would ensue when they hunted for the person
responsible for the death of Mark McCain. He wished he could
drown his sorrows as the others were, but he had to keep a clear
mind and when he couldn’t take any more…
The lawman felt the need to do something. He couldn’t bring
himself to just sit around and watch his friend suffer in front
of him. He wanted to, no… He had to find out why this happened
and who did it?
Driven by his lawman’s instincts, Micah left Sweeney’s and
located the stage beside the livery; and that Ralph and Sam were
sitting on bales of hay in front of the livery doors. One was
absently whittling a piece of wood while the other was flipping
his knife, end over end to the ground, picking it up and
flipping it again.
“Sam, Ralph, need to talk with you,” Micah stated as he
approached. “Doc told me you found Mark’s body outside of town.
I wanted to thank you on behalf of Lucas for bringing the boy
Neither man said anything; their only response was a shrug of
“I need to ask if you can you take me there?” Micah asked. Both
men looked at the marshal in surprised shock. “I need to see
where this happened. Maybe there might be a clue...” Micah
“Sure Micah,” Ralph said as he got up off the hay bale.
Sam and Ralph pulled two of the stage horses from their stalls,
bridled them and hopped on them bareback, and rode with Micah
out of town; they took it slow in the dark, even with a full
moon shining across the landscape. Ralph and Sam dreaded
returning to the location where they had found Mark. But they
understood why Micah needed to see where it had happened. Both
men pulled their horses to a stop about a hundred yards from the
Many of the town’s people ended up at the church, asking God to
accept Mark’s soul into the Kingdom of Heaven and to grant Lucas
the strength to live, without his boy. They prayed to Our
Heavenly Father to ease Lucas’ suffering and pain. Others asked
for God to let them bear some of the burden instead of Lucas.
People also gathered in small groups outside the church, some
were at the hotel restaurant, but all were talking. Remembering…
Remembering Mark. Sharing stories of Mark. Crying for the loss
of Mark. Asking how Lucas would survive without Mark?
Doc pulled himself together; he locked the door to his clinic
before he started to prepare the body for the autopsy. He eased
the remains of the tattered shirt that Mark wore from underneath
the body. Even though the boy could no longer feel any pain, Doc
treated Mark’s body reverently. He’d known Mark to be a slight
boy all his life, but was amazed he was even thinner than he
remembered; wondering how Lucas could not see his son wasting
away in front of his eyes regardless of the growing muscles. Had
Lucas been working the boy so hard, he hadn’t recognized he
needed to feed the boy more?
The physician shook his head as the removal of each article of
clothing reveal more injuries Mark suffered prior to his death.
He pulled off Mark’s boots and socks and set them aside. Next he
unfastened the boy’s pants and pulled them off. Doc Burrage
pulled a white sheet over the naked body upon hearing a slight
knock at the back door to his clinic.
Slightly opening the door, he wasn’t surprised to see Grady, the
town’s undertaker standing in the light cast from inside.
“May I come in? I came to help prepare Mark for burial,” Grady
Doc motioned him in before he closed the door behind the stately
clothed in black gentlemen, wearing a long waste coat.
“I can’t release the body for burial, just yet.”
“Must you perform an autopsy on one so young?”
“I need to determine if this was murder,” Doc Burrage answered.
“How could the death of Mark McCain being anything but murder…”
The undertaker stopped talking as Doc returned to the body and
removed the sheet.
“Does Lucas know the boy was beaten so…” the man gulped.
“Lucas saw the body, but I don’t know how much sank in. Grady,
would you stay? I need a witness to what I’m about to do…
Someone to corroborate my findings.”
The undertaker nodded.
After completing a thorough external examination, the evidence
pointed that the boy had died from a viscous blow to the head.
Through his tears Doc wondered, ‘Who could have been this cruel
to a fifteen-year old boy and why?’ As he collected warm water,
soap, and several rags, the doctor’s mind drifted, ‘Could it
have been someone from Lucas’ past seeking revenge?’
As the doctor and undertaker continued bathing the naked body,
Doc finally looked past his grief and his doctor’s instincts
came to a stark realization, that not only was the body severely
bruised, but there were other injuries and some of these
injuries were old, not just twenty-four hours olds, but weeks
and maybe months old. Doc re-examined the body with this
realization in mind. This boy had been whipped, numerous times
across his back. A few of the marks were fresh, but many were in
various stages of healing or healed and left scars. This boy had
suffered broken bones and injuries that Mark never did. And the
broken bones would not have been easy to be hid, they would have
had to be set.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing,” Grady finally asked as the
evidence presented itself without commentary.
With the body clean, Doc looked at the boy’s right arm, and he
smiled at what he didn’t find… The arm didn’t have the
birthmark. Doc opened the boy’s eyelids and discovered this boy
had blue eyes and Mark’s eyes were brown.
Doc said aloud, “”Grady, this boy looks so much like Mark they
could practically be twins.”
“Doc?” inquired the undertaker with a grieving smile upon his
“This boy… This boy ain’t Mark McCain.”
“And you’re sure?”
“By all that is holy! Grady, our prayers have been answered!”
“If this boy isn’t Mark, then who is he?” Grady asked, knowing
he still had an obligation to bury the body.
“Lucas…” breathed Doc Burrage. “Good Lord, I’ve got to tell
The undertaker watched as Doc unlocked the front door and ran
down the boardwalk to saloon. Pulling out his tape measure, the
undertaker measured the body and jotted down the information in
his notepad in order to make sure the size of coffin that would
be required. Once done, he closed the clinic front door and
pulled the sheet over the body before he left via the back door.
Doc stopped at the double, swinging doors into Sweeney’s hoping
to see Micah and motion him to come to the door. But all he saw
was Drako, Nils, and John Hamilton; they were all sitting around
a table with Lucas’ head down on it. The sheer number of beer
mugs on the table gave a good indication as to just how drunk
his friends were getting Lucas and themselves.
Lucas slurred his words as he sat up and spoke, “I was
s-s-supposed to be there to protect him. He was s-s-supposed to
grow up, get m-m-married, have a f-f-family of his own. I
promised Margaret. Oh God, I p-promised Margaret… Why God? Why
my boy? A parent never should outlive their child. What d-d-did
I do wrong?” and fell forward again to rest his arms and head on
Johnny saw the doctor standing at the doors and motioned for Doc
to enter. “C-come on in Doc, join us-s-s,” Johnny hollered as he
too was slurring his words. Doc walked to Lucas and placed a
hand on his shoulder and forced the grieved father to sit up.
Doc witnessed Lucas’ devastation first hand; the look on Lucas’
face was of a man destroyed. The rancher’s eyes glazed over and
unfocused, his inability to sit up straight and steady gave a
good indication he was drunk. Tears streamed down Lucas’ cheeks
before dripping to his shirt or the table top, as Lucas’s upper
body swayed in his chair.
With his face being forced to look at the doctor, for a brief
moment, Lucas’ eyes focused on Doc and he asked, “Doc, tell me…
h-how did my boy die?” before the moment of clarity passed.
“He didn’t. Lucas, that boy, he’s not Mark.” Doc looked around
the table to see if his words registered on his friends; Drako,
Nils, and John were almost as drunk as Lucas.
“Doc, don’t lie to me. Just tell me how.” Lucas’ friends had
gotten him so drunk he couldn’t comprehend what Doc was telling
Without any choice, Doc back handed Lucas across the face,
bringing a hint of fire to the father’s eyes. Ignoring Sweeney
shocked yell, “DOC! Leave the man alone! His son is dead Pete’s
Sake!” Doc stared into Lucas’ eyes, grabbing the tall rancher by
the front of his shirt, he shook him and spoke with
determination, “Lucas, listen to me. I don’t know who that boy
is in my clinic…” Doc’s arm pointed towards his clinic, “but I
do know he’s not Mark!”
Doc turned to Sweeney and yelled, “Sweeney get me some coffee
over here! We need to sober them up!”
An angered Sweeney brought the coffee pot and cups over to the
table. “Doc, why put Lucas through sobering him up? Let him
forget his pain tonight and sleep it off. Morning will be here
soon enough. Let him grieve.”
“Sweeney, we need to sober them up, all of them. Mark’s still
missing. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say? That boy
in my office… That boy isn’t Mark!”
Lucas looked up, his head swaying, “Not Mark?”
“Yes, Lucas.” Seeing the confusion in the father’s face, Doc
clarified, “That boy is not Mark.”
Micah lit the lantern he’d brought with him before he looked
around after they arrived at the scene. He asked Ralph and Sam
to tell him exactly what had happened, how they found Mark’s
body and where it was lying. Ralph stated they had stopped
because one of the passengers had started to feel faint due to
the heat and dust. Figured to let all of them out, stretch their
legs and get a breath of fresh air.
“There’s a small pool of water and shade over there,” Ralph
pointed to where he had sat for a spell before he looked over to
see a body lying under the brush.
Sam continued with how he had turned the body over and seen it
was Mark McCain. They made all the passengers get back in the
stage and pulled a blanket from the boot and wrapped the body.
They carried it and put the body in the boot for the trip to
“And you found the body here, at the base of this rock
outcropping, under these bushes?”
“Yeah, Micah, you can still see the imprint in the dirt of where
we found the body,” Ralph stated.
Micah looked up and began to formulate… something. He just
didn’t know what, yet.
“I just don’t get it boys. Mescalero is the opposite side of
North Fork from Lucas’ place. What would Mark be doing way out
here if he was heading to school? We found his books north of
town, just doesn’t make any sense to find his body out here…
this far west,” Micah stated, not really talking to anyone.
Micah walked the area, looking for signs, any sign that would
give him a clue as to what happened. Micah walked a short ways
from the road to the small spring. He stopped and picked up a
hat lying in some cat tails. ‘Mark’s hat,’ Micah thought to
himself as he saw the hole in the crown. He ran his hand over
the hat wishing it would offer him some clue as to why this had
Micah turned the hat over and looked inside. Written inside the
crown was the name Tim and in the band, Micah saw a scrap of
paper. He pulled the piece of paper and saw hand writing; he
opened the note and read.
‘My name is Tim. They’re maykin’ us to werk in the mine. Pleeze,
On the back side of the note was a drawing.
Ralph saw Micah returning to the horses, carrying a hat and a
piece of paper, “Micah, what’s up?”
“Sam, Ralph, let’s get back to town, now!” and extinguished his
lantern before mounting his horse.
Micah returned to town and headed straight for Doc’s house. He
pounded on the door until light from a lantern shown in the
front room window. A sleepy Doc answered the door.
“Micah, what are you doing here so early?”
“Doc, I need you to examine that boy again and tell me that he
really is Mark. I don’t think he is.”
“Micah we know he’s not Mark,” Doc answered.
“You know? How?”
“Micah, come on inside,” Doc said as he stepped back from his
door to allow Micah to enter his home and then closed the door
behind him. “Micah, I was bathing the boy to prepare him for the
autopsy. He had suffered too many injuries that Mark didn’t. Too
many wounds that were more than twenty-four hours old. I
examined him more closely and his eyes were the wrong color and
he didn’t have Mark’s birthmark.”
“Where’s Lucas? Does he know? How’s he taking this?” Micah
urgently felt the need to know.
“It’s going to take a while to get everyone sobered up, Drako,
Nils, and John sure did a number on Lucas and themselves. When I
left Lucas at the hotel he understood what I was saying, but
couldn’t walk a straight line. I put him to bed myself at his
room at the hotel. So how… how did you find out the boy wasn’t
“Doc, I had Sam and Ralph take me to where they found the body.
Found a hat that had the name Tim marked in side. This note was
in the headband.” Micah handed the note to Doc.
“Working them in mines? Where?” Doc asked as he returned the
note to Micah.
“Don’t rightly know. I thought it was more important to confirm
that the boy wasn’t really Mark and make sure Lucas knew. Once I
get back to my office, I plan to check the map and see if I can
figure out this drawing, I’m sure it’s some kind of map.” Micah
turned to leave Doc’s.
“Micah, it’s going to be a while before Lucas and the rest are
ready to head out on any kind of a search party for Mark,
mid-morning tomorrow at the earliest. Why don’t you try to get
some sleep, while you’re able? Think we’re all going to need our
wits about us to figure out what really happened to Mark.”
Mark’s wrists and ankles bore chains as he was shoved to the
floor in the shack.
“You’ll be sorry you ran away boy. Just wait until Garrett
decides what he wants to do with you!” the man growled.
“I didn’t run away! You kidnapped me! What do you want with
me?!” Mark screamed after the man as he locked the door, turned,
and walked away from the shack, playing with the whip in his
Mark pounded the locked door with the side of fisted hand,
yelling, “Let me out of here!” Each time his hand pounded on the
door the chain swung and the shackles bit into Mark’s wrists.
Realizing the man wasn’t going to return, Mark shuffled to the
wall and slid down to sit. For a few moments he tried pulling at
the length of chain that ran between the shackles around his
“God, please let Pa find me,” Mark said as he wrapped his arms
around his legs and lowered his head to his knees. The heavy
chain that connected the shackles around his wrists, pulled at
his lower arms.
From the back of the room Mark heard a voice call, “Tim, that
“I’m not Tim, my name’s Mark.”
“Tim quit joshing me. Did you get word to anyone? Did ya find
anyone? Are they gonna come for us?”
“But I’m not Tim! My name’s Mark, Mark McCain,” he pleaded. “I
live in North Fork.”
A small boy came from the shadows to stand in front of Mark. He
knelt down next to Mark and looked at him. “Gee, you sure do
look like Tim,” the boy said. “But you don’t have all the
bruises Tim had. Look at your hands, they’re clean, too.”
“What… what’s your name?” Mark asked.
“They call me Dodger,” the boy answered.
“Yeah, because I can dodge around the rocks and get to the
silver quicker than anyone. That and me being so small and all…”
“How old are you?”
“I don’t really remember. They don’t celebrate birthdays around
here. All we do is work down in the mine.”
“Mine?” Mark gulped.
“Yeah, the silver mine; Garrett, Brophy, and Mays, they keep us
down in the mine pulling out silver for them. They have us set
the dynamite, they blast it, and then we lug out the fill and
“How long you been here?”
“Not as long as some of the others, but longer than most.”
“How many others are here?”
“In this shack, there’s six of us, including you,” Dodger
answered. “Don’t know about the other shacks.”
“You’ll see tomorrow when they take us to the mine,” Dodger
“Where are the others from this shack?” Mark asked.
“Eating. I’m on food rations because Mays thought I helped Tim
Mark felt even more dejected as the young boy sat down next to
him. He reckoned the boy couldn’t be more than thirteen years
old, curly blonde, but dirty hair and pale skin. His hands bore
scratches under all the dirt. His dirty clothes hung off his
frame, clothes that were too large to start.
Mays returned to the shack that evening, he unlocked the door
and motioned for Mark and Dodger to get up.
“Boys, on your feet. You get the fun of working tonight down in
the pit,” Mays played with the whip in his hand. “You best bring
us a good haul tonight or you’ll suffer some lashings.”
He pulled Mark’s hat off and threw it to the floor; then he led
the boys to the pit, pushed them into the tunnel, and chained
and padlocked the door to the tunnel behind them.
“See you in the morning,” Mays laughed as he walked away.
“Brophy, you keep Tim under chain all the time. Whether he’s in
the mines or the shack, I want him chained! I can’t have him
running away again. If he’d gotten to that… that town, North
Fork, and told anyone what’s happening out here, we’d be behind
bars. You keep him chained!”
“Garrett, I don’t think that boy is Tim,” Brophy stated.
“What?! I tell you, he’s just playing you for the fool you are.
Believe me, he’s Tim. All he did was wash up, steal some clothes
and that horse.” Garrett said with disgust in his voice. “Just
what are you doing?”
“I’m taking him his supper. He must be hungry,” Brophy’s voice
quieted to a whisper when he saw the fury in Garrett’s posture.
“No. He doesn’t get fed until I say he does; just punishment for
running away. And don’t let me catch you sneaking him any food
“Garrett, I tell you, that’s not Tim.”
“Okay, how come you’re so convinced?” Garrett asked, disgusted
at the man standing in front of him. He viewed Brophy as a
weakling, but someone who had a way with him when it came to
children, as if he was still one himself.
“Garrett, how many times you beat that boy, or Mays whipped that
boy? When was the last time you saw anything but fear in Tim’s
eyes? That boy is too defiant to be Tim. Maybe he is this Mark
McCain… like he claims to be.”
“Tim wasn’t too scared to run away now, was he?” Garrett slammed
the door behind him as he left the office, indicating the
subject was closed.
Garret was a hefty-set man in his forties, who stood just over
six feet in height, with a narrow nose and narrower eyes that
gave him a pinched face expression. He enjoyed throwing his
weight around while intimidating any who opposed him. He was a
user, a user of people. He used people to get whatever he wanted
and threw them away without a second thought when they were too
tired to continue, there were always others to be used.
Brophy stood at maybe five feet, nine inches tall, with sandy
colored hair that hung over what his mother called his cherubic
face. Though he was in his mid- to late twenties, he could
easily have passed for an older teenager.
Mays’ height and age was somewhere between his two cohorts. He
had wavy black hair and his build gave the appearance he’d done
heavy lifting work throughout his life. If his muscles and
callused hands didn’t intimidate someone, the way his dark eyes
bore into the person he looked at would make the strongest of
men think about cowering.
As Mays walked away, Dodger picked up a pick ax and handed it to
Mark. He picked up the shovel and lantern, and headed deeper
into the tunnel.
“Come on Mark. Mays doesn’t give idle threats. He’ll use that
whip and smile when he does.”
Wearing the chains around his ankles, Mark was forced to walk in
short, unnatural steps, and careful not to trip over the cart
rails on the ground. They reached the end of the tunnel and
started digging. They dug for hours, pulling some silver out,
but more dirt fill than anything, and put it into the mine carts
a bucket at a time. Sweat poured down both boys the longer they
worked; their muscles ached and their breathing became labored.
The boys were stopped for a breather when they saw a light from
a lantern coming towards them and they heard a voice calling,
“Tim, Dodger, times up. Push that cart out with you.”
The boys put their tools in the cart and started to push it
along the tracks. Mark groaned with the effort, his muscles
ached and he felt so tired. Worse was the sweat stinging his
skin where the shackles had rubbed his wrists raw.
“I’d like to see a grown man push this all by himself,” Mark
mumbled under his breath, his eyes held daggers for the man with
the lantern and the whip.
As the two neared the opening, the more they were forced to
squint their eyes as the morning sun shone into the opening of
Brophy held a rifle on the boys and pushed them towards their
shack as Mays walked away. He unlocked the door and pushed Mark
and Dodger inside, and locked the door behind them.
Mark walked to the bed that Dodger said was to be his. As he sat
down, he started rubbing his wrists; the shackles from the chain
were rubbing his wrists raw. The other boys in the shack circled
around the bed.
“Tim, please tell us you got word to someone,” one of the older
“Gordon, he ain’t Tim. His name is Mark McCain,” Dodger stated.
“Leave him be. Mays had us down in the pit all night.”
Andy asked, “You mean you got a last name? None of us have last
names. No body wanted us.”
Dodger climbed into the bunk above Mark. As much as Mark wanted
to sleep, his eyes scanned the room and his roommates. The boys
were anywhere from eight to fourteen years old, and as varied in
appearances as boys could be. Each boy looked at Mark while
standing scattered around the bunk, waiting… for what Mark
Mark surmised Gordon wasn’t that much younger than he was, with
curly red hair and a dirty freckled face, arms, hands, and
clothing. He looked at all the boys who were with him and
realized how dirty they all appeared.
Mark felt he had just fallen asleep when the door banged open
and a deep male voice yelled, “Get up you worthless brat!”
Mark opened his eyes to see Mays standing in front of him,
reaching for the chain between his ankles. Before Mark could
react, Mays had pulled him from the bunk and he fell in a heap
on the floor. “Be thankful Garret’s letting you eat before you
go back into the pit.”
The man threw a plate with what appeared to be an unappetizing
mixture of food on the bed.
“Back?” breathed Mark.
“You’ve ten minutes to eat, if you ain’t finished, ain’t no skin
off my nose,” Mays stated as he left the shack.
“Mark, just eat. It may not look good, but food is food,” Gordon
“Yeah,” the boy named Andy stated. “If ya don’t eat it, they may
not give ya any supper tonight.”
By the time the boys returned to the shack that evening, Mark
was in an exhausted sleep before his body settled on what passed
as a mattress on his bunk.
Doc Burrage was waiting in the restaurant as Lucas came down
from his room later in the morning. Lucas held his hand up to
Lou as she gaily greeted him, she was happy to have heard the
news that the dead boy was not Mark.
“Lou, please, just quiet, my head feels swollen ten times over,”
Luca stated as an apology.
As he entered the restaurant, he saw Doc and asked, “Got
anything for this headache?”
“Only after you tell me how you feel,” Doc replied.
“My head hurts is how I feel!” Lucas answered tartly.
“Lucas, you know what I mean. Are you in control of your
faculties enough to help Micah look for Mark?” Doc stated as he
walked to the side table and picked up a cup and the coffee pot,
pouring a cup for Lucas.
“I don’t know how I feel, Doc. I feel as if I’ve been the though
the valley of hell in seeing my boy lie bruised and dead in your
office. Then you tell me that that boy wasn’t Mark. For a
fleeting moment I felt relief, but then I realized that my boy
is still missing. How am I supposed to feel? Is that what you
wanted to hear?” the rancher asked as he slowly slipped his tall
frame into a chair around the table, hoping to move gently
enough so as to not make his headache any worse.
“Honestly Lucas, I’m happy to hear what I just heard. If you had
told me you were fine, I would have stopped you from helping
Micah.” Doc offered Lucas a cup of coffee as he returned to the
table. “Here drink this, I asked Lou to make sure she made it
double strong. Help you get a jump on Drako, John, and Nils in
It was lunchtime when Lucas entered Micah’s office. As he
entered, he saw Drako lying on the chaise, hat pulled over his
“Morning LucasBoy,” Micah quipped. Drako jumped at Micah’s
“Give a man time to sober up Micah,” Drako grumbled, “Before you
go greeting someone so cheerfully.”
Micah gave a sheepish grin towards Drako. Thankful he wasn’t
suffering through a hangover like the rest, but still worried
over the fact that Mark was missing.
“So, where do we start to look for Mark? Doc said you had a lead
in finding him,” Lucas stated.
“Lucas, sit down. Johnny, sit up,” Micah ordered. “When the
stage came in, they also brought the mail pouch. I didn’t get
around to looking at it until this morning. There was a flyer
stating that a number of boys have been disappearing from
various towns. Most of the boys are orphans or boys that have
been in trouble with the law in their home towns. Don’t have
parents that care much about them. These boys were supposed to
be sent to a work camp, funny thing is, some of them didn’t
arrive and others disappeared once they got there. There’s an
unaccounted number of boys missing. I’m thinking the boy that
Sam and Ralph found might have been one of the missing boys.”
Micah walked to the potbelly stove and picked the coffee pot up
to refill his cup, before proceeding.
“I sent a wire to the agent who issued the flyer since he was
looking in on these work camps, letting him know about what
“Some boys could have just run away, not wanting to work,”
Johnny offered as he accepted a cup of coffee from the marshal.
“Too many boys missing for that to be the case,” replied Micah.
“You think whoever has these missing boys, took Mark?” Lucas
“That’s what I’m thinking Lucas. The way I figure it, if that
boy ran away from them and they just happened to come across
Mark… They probably wouldn’t have taken the time to realize he
wasn’t their boy, like…”
Micah refrained from saying what he was about to. No sense
dredging up the memory of Lucas on his knees, thinking that Mark
lie dead on the examination table at Doc’s.
“So how do we find them?” Drako asked as he poured himself a cup
“Received a wire back from the agent, name’s Wiseman, said he’d
be here late this afternoon or evening with some news.”
“So I’m just supposed to sit here and wait for some stranger to
show up before I can go looking for my boy!” Lucas yelled at
Micah. From the corner of his eye he saw Drako cringe. “I’m
sorry Johnny. Just makes me furious, knowing my boy’s out there
somewhere and there’s not a damn thing I can do to find him.
Don’t even know where to begin.”
“Lucas, I went with Sam and Ralph last night to the spot where
they found the boy; I looked around and found a hat. I presume
it was the boy’s. It had a note in it and a drawing. Just been
trying to figure out what the drawing is supposed to be,” Micah
They were still studying the drawing and the map on the wall
when Doc came into Micah’s.
“Lucas, I know it might be asking a lot of you right now… But, I
thought the rest of us should attend the boy’s burial. Grady
finished the coffin and everything is ready at the cemetery.”
“Doc, just give me a moment,” Lucas replied.
“Take your time Lucas. We all understand what you’ve been
through and no one expects you to be there.” Doc turned and
walked out the door.
“I think I should. There for a few hours… I thought he was my
Micah, Johnny, and Lucas left the Marshal’s Office and headed to
the cemetery, with Lucas walking between the two lawmen.
It was a simple ceremony. Nothing was known about the boy, but
many remembered their pain from the night before and felt the
boy shouldn’t be buried with no one caring.
They were returning to Micah’s office from having supper at the
hotel when a stranger rode into town and stopped in front of
“My name’s Joseph Wiseman, I think you were expecting me?” he
stated as he stepped down from his horse.
“Come on into my office,” Micah stated has he walked into the
office, once inside, introductions were made.
Lucas assessed the stranger who sat on the other side of the
office. The man stood tall and lanky, with black hair and brown
eyes; the man’s skin appeared bronzed, but not from years of
weather. Lucas surmised the man had some Indian blood in his
The men listened for over half an hour with Wiseman telling them
the facts. Too many boys had disappeared over the course of the
last year and a half from facilities responsible for taking care
of orphan boys or facilities that were supposed to offer
structure to troubled boys.
“I took this job earlier this year. I’m responsible for
inspecting the living and working conditions of these
facilities. Let me tell you, they could sure use some major
improvements.” The contempt in the man’s voice was powerful.
“Some are worse than slave camps, forcing the boys to work doing
jobs in conditions most men wouldn’t tolerate. I’m here to see
that there’s change to protect these children.”
“So how did you find out there were missing boys?” Lucas asked.
“Part of what I do is talk to the boys who live there. I’ve come
to find out that I can’t always take the words of those who run
the camps, like my predecessor did. Some of the children told me
of friends who were shipped out as disciplinary problems or boys
who… vanished overnight. Others told of men coming and taking
some of the boys away. I looked over the records at some of
these facilities and things just didn’t add up. I’ve asked the
army to come into some of the places and shut them down. The
boys that were at some of the worst have been sent to true
orphanages, where the people running them will see that they get
three square meals a day and are able to continue their
education. Other places, that weren’t so bad, have new people
overseeing how they function or the people were already trying
to enforce a change for the better. Regardless, they know that
I’ll be around and I won’t hesitate to close any that I feel are
When Wiseman paused, Drako asked, “So you mentioned men coming
in and taking some of the boys. You think the boy we buried
today might be one of your missing boys.”
“I have a feeling he might be and from what your Marshal said in
his wire, I think your missing boy might be with whoever is
taking the boys,” Wiseman stated.
“Before we buried the boy today, we were looking at a drawing we
thought might have been his. Trying to figure out if it would
lead us to my boy, and maybe these others?” Lucas stated.
Micah handed the note containing the drawing to Wiseman. After
reviewing the map and turning it around to look at it from
various angles, Wiseman stated, “Men I think I have a good idea
where the boys might be. I grew up around the Capitan Mountains
and this here, looks close enough to one of landmarks that I
know I can’t be wrong.”
“I suggest that we prepare everything we’re going to need
tonight and then get a good nights sleep and head out in the
morning. If that’s alright with you,” Micah offered in an
attempt to defer to the man.
“Marshal, seeing as how one of your own is missing, I’ll accept
any assistance the law has to offer. I won’t stand in the way of
your doing your job. As long as you’ll be there to back me up if
necessary,” Wiseman stated.
“Don’t you mean, ‘when’ necessary?” Drako asked.
Lucas, Micah, Drako, and Wiseman, loaded up the supplies they
needed on two pack horses and headed North. They traveled a good
distance that first day out and made camp next to a brook.
Drako started the conversation once the evening meal was eaten
and dishes were cleaned and put away.
“Wiseman, you said you grew up around the Capitan Mountain
“Yeah, lived in a little town we called Capitan. Maybe only
twenty-five families lived in the area. I worked along side my
Pa until he passed, when I was fifteen. No one else in town had
need for another mouth to feed, so I was sent to a place that
was supposed to take care of me. Turns out it was nothing more
than a work camp. Spent the next three years there, until I
turned eighteen, then they threw me out. Told me to go make it
on my own. See, that’s why I’m so passionate about protecting
the children who get sent to these establishments. Some are
really there for the children. But others… I get so mad when I
visit some of these places, as I said earlier, some are worse
than slave labor. They don’t care if a child gets hurt or killed
because they know there’s an ample supply to replace them. That
or you have men who come in, offer money for the boys and then
take them as cheap laborers. And you pray that it is for cheap
“What do you mean?” Lucas asked.
“Mr. McCain, there’s a seedier side of man that some of these
children get sold into. In the dark corners of some towns, there
are men who satisfy their demented needs by using… There’s no
other way of saying it, but they use the boys as if they were
prostitutes… prostitutes working in some whorehouse. The boys
become play toys for the men. I’ve never encountered it, and I
pray I never do, but there are other men at the agency who’ve
seen it first-hand and told me how disgusting it is.”
“You can’t be serious?” Micah doubted.
“I am serious. If I were you, I’d pray my son was taken by
someone looking for cheap labor.”
As the group settled into their bedrolls, Lucas came to loathe
the man who rode with them, loathed him for what he implied. He
understood the man was out here working for the good of the
children involved, but for those missing… Lucas couldn’t help
but quake at the thought of his son being forced into such
misery. He firmly believed in the bible, yet Lucas couldn’t
believe man could be so...sadistic.
It was lunchtime, on Sunday, when Mays and Garrett returned to
the shack. The men roughly pulled the sleeping figures of Mark
and Dodger from their beds.
Brophy stood at the door, with a rifle in hand, motioning for
the rest of the boys to leave the shack.
“Tim, get up now! You still owe us extra time in the pit for
having run away and making us trail after you,” Garrett stated.
Mark and Dodger got to their feet and stood in front of the men.
“We worked overnight in the mine that night and the next day,”
Dodger dared say before he was backhanded by Garret.
“I told you before, my name’s Mark McCain!” Mark yelled at them.
Garrett turned and thought nothing of backhanding Mark across
the jaw hard enough it knocked him to the floor. “Boy you watch
how you talk to me! Any more outbursts like that and I’ll make
you pull a double shift for a week or better yet, I’ll let Mays
take the whip to your backside.”
Mark slowly climbed to his feet, wiped the back of his hand to
the corner of his mouth and saw blood on his hand as he pulled
it away. He stood defiantly in front of Garrett. “I tell you
again, you better let me go. My name’s Mark McCain and there are
people out looking for me.”
Garrett back handed Mark again. This time, striking his cheek
bone, again knocking him to the floor. He picked Mark up from
the floor and pushed him towards the door. Garrett rushed Mark
so fast down the steps, he fell to the ground. Mark got to his
feet as quickly as possible.
“I don’t care who you’re pretending to be. You work. If you work
good today, maybe I’ll let Brophy feed you tonight. Maybe I’ll
have you go hungry for a while longer, take some of the starch
out of you. Now get moving!” He gave Mark another shove forward.
“Better yet, Mays!”
As Mark turned to follow the others he felt the sting of the
lash strike his back, dropping him to the ground.
“That’s just a taste of what you’ll get if you don’t change your
attitude!” boasted Mays as he coiled the whip.
All six boys were ushered into the pit to start working. Mark
and Dodger both felt the pains of hunger while they were
working. Eventually Mays returned and pulled the others out, but
told Mark and Dodger to keep working.
“Mark, I wouldn’t push them any more. Just do as they say.
There’s been boys that have worked here, they pushed Garret and
Mays and we never seen them again,” Dodger pleaded.
“Dodger, we need to get out of here. All of us.”
They continued to work until Brophy came and returned them to
“What about food?” Dodger asked.
“Sorry boys, not tonight,” Brophy replied. Turning to Mark he
stated, “Listen, I realize that you’re not Tim, just do as they
say. I’m sorry.” He turned and left the shack, locking the door
Mark followed Dodger to the bunkbed where he sat down.
“That’s good ain’t it?” Dodger asked as he reached for the bowl
and towel setting on the bunk.
“What’s good?” Gordon asked.
“Brophy said he knows Mark ain’t Tim, and I’m sure he’s the one
who left this bowl of warm water and the towel.”
Dodger dipped the towel into the bowel and squeezed out some of
the water before dabbing at the single lash mark on Mark’s back.
“That don’t look as bad as they done to Tim,” Gordon offered
upon hearing Mark’s gasp as the water stung as it penetrated the
Morning came and Brophy brought a few dried biscuits and jerkey
for Mark and Dodger, apologizing that he couldn’t bring more.
They quickly ate what was provided as all the boys were led back
to the pit at the end of the tunnel.
As they were working to haul fill dirt to the cart, Mark
discovered a crevice in the wall; he looked through it and
thought he saw faint light off in the far distance. The crevice
would be wide enough for the others, but quite a tight fit for
Mark. Being the oldest and having spent a number of summers
working alongside his Pa on their ranch, even though he was
slight of build, he still was developing strong muscles across
his back and his chest.
“Guys come here!” Mark called.
When the other five were circle around him, Mark told them of
“We need to get out of here and that crevice is our best
chance,” Mark told them.
“But Mark, if they find us trying to escape, they’ll beat us,”
Dodger quietly said. “And if we run, you won’t be able to keep
up with us, with you having that chain between your ankles.”
“I know,” Mark stated as he looked around. “Gordon, bring me
that pick ax. We can try using it to break through the chains on
Gordon swung the pick ax at the chain links close to Mark’s
ankles. It took a while, but he eventually struck through and
broke two of the links, thus allowing Mark to be able to run at
Dodger asked, “What about the chains on your arms?”
“Can’t take the time now. I just pray that Garrett and Mays
don’t come looking for us any time soon,” Mark replied while he
stood to his feet.
Mark insisted the other boys head into the crevice first. He
felt relief as each boy turned sideways and disappeared through
the opening. Mark turned to extinguish the lantern; he threw it
against the wall, shattering the glass chimney. Momentarily the
room was brightly illuminated as the kerosene dripping down the
wall caught fire from the wick. After the flame died, Mark
forced his way into the crevice. It was a tight fit for him. He
felt the edges of the rocks scrape deep against his back and
chest, tearing his shirt, as he forced his way through and
Gordon pulled on his arm to help him along. He felt relieved
when the crevice opened wider to allow them to walk without
their shoulders striking the walls. Under their feet, the ground
inclined as they made their way to the opening and hopefully to
freedom. At the far end, it took both Dodger and Gordon to help
pull Mark through another tight squeeze before the crevice
opened up into a cavern. Once in the mammoth opening, Mark
quietly called to the others.
“We’re here Mark. What do we do now?” Gordon asked.
“We keep walking and we’ll make our way to that spot of light up
“It’s an awful small opening,” Andy pleaded. Being the youngest,
he was just too tired to care how he sounded.
“Maybe it’s just a distance away,” Mark stated as he ignored the
shackles and chain and lifted the young boy to his hip to carry
Andy wrapped his arms around Mark’s neck and nestled his head on
“Let’s get moving, guys,” Mark stated as he took another step
Brophy returned to the tunnel to get the boys out for the night.
As he walked deeper into the tunnel, he realized that he should
have heard noise from their pick axes and seen their lantern
glow by now. But he thought to himself that it had been sometime
since he had refilled the lantern they left with the boys, so he
hoped that maybe the lantern had burned out and possibly the
boys were taking the chance in getting some much needed sleep.
Soon, he came to where the boys had left their shovels and the
pick axes. He found the length of chain that had bound Mark’s
ankles. As he turned to leave he spied the broken lantern
against the wall. He ran back to the building the men were using
as their living quarters.
“Garrett, they’re gone! All of them!” Brophy shouted as he
entered the shack out of breath.
“What do you mean, gone?!” Mays hollered.
“They’re just… gone. I went to get them out and all I found was
the tools. Not a sign of them anywhere.”
Garrett, Mays, and Brophy returned to the tunnel, each one
carrying a lantern. As they approached the work sight, they saw
the tools on the ground as well as the length of chain. This
time with more light, they saw the foot prints and followed them
to the crevice.
“Damn!” Garrett exclaimed. “That last dynamite blast must have
opened up that crevice. There’s faint daylight at the other end.
Get to the horses! We have to get those boys back!”
As the three returned to where their horses were stabled,
Garrett yelled to Brophy, “You stay here and watch over the
others! Don’t need to lose everyone! Make sure every shack is
locked!” With that, Garrett and Mays left the encampment.
The cave and tunnels the boys were in, finally opened up to the
outdoors. They walked out and looked around, using their hands
to shield their eyes from the light of the sun. After being in
the dark for so long, even a sun that was setting for the
evening was too bright.
“Mark, where do we go from here?” Andy asked. Being the youngest
and smallest of the group, he took Mark’s hand in his and didn’t
“Well, I know when they brought me here, we were traveling
North. That means my home’s to the South. While the sun’s
setting, we just need to keep it to our right. We’ll stop for
the night when we find some shelter.”
They walked several hours even after it was too dark to
logically continue, but the boys were driven to get as far away
as possible. They found a small stream surrounded by an
outcropping of rocks as well as bushes and trees that would
afford them a little protection from being seen. The boys ran
and laid down at the edge of the stream and drank their fill of
Mark, saw his reflection in the water and realized how filthy he
was. He submerged his whole head underwater and started rubbing
his face and his hair. The cool water stung at his wrists, but
the longer they were underwater, the better they started to
feel. Since his shirt was already in tatters, he ripped the
shirt tail off, dipped it in the water, and used it to clean up
the scratches on his chest. Reese came over to Mark and cleaned
the scratches on Mark’s back.
Mark walked over, sat down and leaned back again a large tree.
Andy and Cooper laid down on either side of Mark, resting their
heads on his thighs as they fell asleep. The others lay down in
the tall grass and soon, all six boys were asleep.
Mark was awakened by the throbbing in his wrists and his back
and chest, and from the hunger in his stomach. He opened his
eyes and saw the sun hadn’t risen for the morning. Andy and
Cooper were still curled up next to Mark. He crawled over to the
stream and took a long drink, hoping it would satisfy his
hunger. Mark crawled back to the others and sat down, waiting
for them to wake. After waking for the day, the boys continued
The men from North Fork were at the start of their third day of
heading north towards Capitan.
Micah was trying to keep Lucas reined in as they broke camp.
“Lucas, let Wiseman lead the way. He knows this territory. Once
we have Mark in sight then you can do what you want. I know this
is hard on you LucasBoy. It’s just as hard on me… the not
“Micah, I just feel that we’re close to Mark. Something about
today just feels different,” Lucas stated. “I don’t know how
else to explain it.”
Drako answered, “Maybe it’s just you getting your hopes up.
Lucas, I know how you feel about the boy, but we still don’t
know how this is going to end. I’m praying that things turn out
“It has to turn out all right,” declared Lucas as he signaled
his horse into a lope.
The boys continued their southward trek. They stopped when they
came to a wild patch of blackberries; Mark and the others
stuffed their faces. It was past noon when Mark called for a
rest as they came to a thick stand of trees. They all collapsed,
thankful for the brief respite. Mark woke abruptly, unsure what
had made him wake. As he looked around, he realized that he and
the boys had dozed off. He listened intently in an attempt to
identify what had startled him awake. The noise sounded again,
it was a horse snorting its nose.
Mark crawled towards the noise, praying that maybe, maybe it was
his Pa. Mark quickly backed up when he saw Garrett and Mays
sitting on their horses. He turned and crawled back to the
others as quietly as possible. Shaking each one awake, making
sure his hand was over their mouth to keep them from yelling. He
held his index finger over his mouth and motioned for them to
follow him as they half-ran, half-crawled their way through the
As bad luck would have it, the trees gave way to a clearing wide
with grass. Knowing they had no choice, they started running for
the other side and Mark made sure the smallest had just made it
to the next tree line praying Garrett and Mays hadn’t heard
their made dash through the woods and across the opening. As
Mark turned to follow the boys, he saw the mean ride through the
tree line and realized the men saw him.
Having raced their horses across the opening, the men grew
frustrated when the trees on this side proved denser; forcing
Garrett and Mays to jumped from their horses and leave them
The boys ran without thinking where they were going. All they
knew was, they needed to get away. The trees gave way and the
boys found themselves looking out over an overhang. They looked
down to see the river rapids, down the steep fifteen foot
Mark motioned and pushed the boys to run parallel to the edge.
Soon the trees that offered them some shelter stopped. Mark told
the younger boys to head back into the woods.
Turning to the oldest boy, Mark stated, “Gordon, I want you to
take Andy, Cooper, and Reese back into the woods. Make your way
back to Garret’s and Mays’ horses. Ride and head South, you’ll
have to come to a road soon and then follow it to whatever town
it takes you to. Dodger and I’ll keep drawing the men after us,”
Mark spoke as everyone was struggling to catch their breath.
Gordon declared, “I’m the oldest after you, Dodger’s too young
to help you!”
“Gordon, as the next oldest, it’s your responsibility to get the
younger boys out of here. And besides, Dodger is quicker than
you, and probably even me. We can tease the men, let them see
one of us and then disappear, only to have them see the other.
We’ll do our best to lead them away from you and the boys.
Gordon, you have to,” pleaded Mark.
Dodger and Mark watched the four boys return to the woods. They
waited until they heard Garrett and Mays break through the tree
line and they started running again. Yelling as the carried out
their charade, leading the men to believe the other boys were in
front of them.
Gordon and the three younger boys made their way back to where
the horses were left behind. As they stepped from the woods they
saw four men standing by the horses and heard one state, “Micah,
we have to be close.”
The boys turned to run back into the woods, but not before
Johnny Drako had spotted them. “Lucas, this way.” Johnny dropped
the reins and ran into the woods, chasing after the boys. It
didn’t take long for Johnny to catch up with and coral them. The
boys were exhausted and couldn’t go too far, too fast. He
ushered the boys back into the clearing.
Lucas met Johnny as he came from the woods and looked at the
four boys standing between them.
“Boys, don’t be scared. We’re here to help you,” Lucas stated as
he knelt in front of them.
Andy, Cooper, and Reese tried hiding behind Gordon, all were on
the verge of tears.
“Please trust us,” Lucas continued. “This here is Marshal
Torrance and behind you is Deputy Drako. This man is Joseph
Wiseman. My name is Lucas McCain.”
“You Mark’s Pa?” Andy asked as he peeked around Gordon’s legs.
“Yes, I’m Mark’s Pa. You’ve seen Mark? Where is he?” Lucas
“Mr. McCain,” Gordon stated. “Mark and Dodger were leading
Garrett and Mays along the hill above the river so we could get
“Which way son?” Micah asked. All four pointed west.
Lucas and Johnny jumped back on their horses and rode around the
trees. They arrived in the opening to see Mark swing the length
of chain hanging from his wrists, striking a powerfully built
man in the face, knocking him to the ground, unconscious. They
saw Mark run and follow another boy along the rise, above the
river. They watched as another man, a heavier set man continued
to chase after the two.
Lucas yelled for Mark, but realized he probably couldn’t hear
him over the rushing water of the river. Johnny and Lucas
dismounted their horses. The footing was too treacherous to
continue to ride. Lucas had his rifle aimed, but he was forced
to pull his rifle up as they watched in horror when the man
caught up with Mark and tackled him to the ground and the
momentum of his hit took both of them over the lip of the
Dodger turned at that moment to see his new friend being
grappled and taken over the embankment into the river, he
Lucas and Johnny ran to the edge and slid their way down to the
riverbank below. Johnny approached the man, as he lay on his
back across a log, evident that his neck had been broken in the
fall. Lucas turned around and yelled over and over for Mark.
They ran downstream, following the river for about a half mile
before they saw Mark struggling to pull himself out of the
As they ran forward, they saw him collapse and roll onto his
back, the river still tugging at his legs, trying to reclaim
him. As he lay on the ground they saw his chest heaving in an
effort to catch his breath, exhausted from all his efforts. He
didn’t even react as Lucas knelt beside him.
Mark began to struggle as he felt hands grab hold of his biceps,
he yelled, “NO!” as he began kicking with his feet.
Lucas held him in his arms, pleased that Mark open his eyes.
Unbelieving at first, then recognizing his father’s voice
telling him everything was going to be okay. He opened his eyes
and allowed himself to be pulled into his father’s chest and
listened to the strong beat of his father’s heart. Relief
flooded through Mark as he allowed the exhausting darkness
pulling at him to finally claim him.
Worried when his son went limp in his arms, Lucas called his
After pressing his index and middle fingers to the boy’s jugular
vein, Johnny said, “He’s alive, probably exhausted, Lucas. His
heartbeat is strong.”
Being unconscious gave Mark time enough for his breathing to
return to normal; Lucas watched his boy as his eyes started to
flutter. Lucas grew appalled at the shackles still around his
boy’s boots; and grew livid at how raw his boy’s wrists were
because of the shackles and chain he still wore. Assessing the
dark bruise across his boy’s cheek bone, the black eye, and
abrasions across his shirtless son’s chest, Lucas was thankful
the one man was dead and wished the other the same fate.
From above they heard Micah yell down to them. “LucasBoy, how’s
As Johnny answered, “He’ll be okay. Find some way for us to get
back up top,” he saw a small face peering over the edge.
After a few minutes, a rope was thrown down. Lucas had tied the
rope around Mark’s chest as the boy regained full consciousness.
Knowing there was no way to keep the rope from the abrasions on
his boy’s back and chest, Lucas apologized to Mark.
“I’m sorry son. This is going to hurt some, but once you get up
top, Micah will remove the rope.”
Mark nodded and inhaled deeply.
“Micah!’ Lucas yelled. “Haul away!”
Lucas and Johnny watched as Mark was pulled up and over the edge
of the embankment. The rope came down again. This time Johnny
was pulled up and finally Lucas.
As he reached the top, Lucas saw Mark and five other boys
sitting on the ground around each other. Wiseman stood behind
the boys, keeping an eye out for anyone approaching.
“Mark, you care to introduce me into your new friends?” Lucas
asked as he knelt down next to his son.
He pointed to each one as he introduced Dodger, Gordon, Andy,
Cooper and Reese to his Pa and the others.
Lucas reached for Mark’s arms and assessed the damaged, raw
wrists. “Micah, you have any way to get these off Mark?”
“I’m afraid we don’t. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until we
get to a town with a blacksmith to get those off him. I’m sorry
They walked back to the clearing to get the man the boys said
was Mays. Micah and Wiseman had encountered the man and after
dragging him a short distance, Micah handcuffed him to a tree.
The man was just getting to his feet as the group approached.
Drako and Torrance had their guns on him.
They forced Mays go down the embankment in order to retrieve
Garrett’s body and then watched as they had him bury the body
With Mays as their unwilling guide, the group returned to the
mine site. Brophy immediately threw down his rifle when he
realized there was nothing he could do. He obeyed and unlocked
the two other shacks. Each shack had housed six boys. Wiseman
was appalled at the conditions as he walked through each shack
and the building that served as the dining room and kitchen.
Disgusted at the lack of basic necessities, but then these men
weren’t supposed to be guardians to any of the boys.
The five boys and Mark all looked exhausted, Micah suggested
they return to their sleeping quarters and get some sleep.
Lucas followed Mark and the others as they returned to the shack
that had been their ‘home/prison’. He watched as they crawled
into their bunks and fell asleep. Lucas stopped by each bunk and
pulled the thin cover from the foot of the bunk over its
occupant. He stopped where Mark’s slept and sat on the edge. He
pushed Mark’s hair from his forehead.
Johnny entered the shack a while later carrying a set of bolt
cutters he’d found in a tool shed.
“Lucas, maybe we could use this to get those shackles off Mark,”
Having unsuccessfully tried to wake Mark, they went ahead and
cut the shackles off while he slept. Afterwards, Lucas and
Johnny left the shack. They decided to check out the mine where
the boys had said they had been forced to work. Before entering,
they lit two lanterns and walked in. They came to the end of the
tunnel and saw the length of chain that had obviously been on
the shackles around Mark’s ankles.
Lucas knelt and picked up the chain. He turned it over and over
in his hand. Johnny saw the anger growing in Lucas’ eyes. The
former gunslinger, current lawman knew he needed to temper the
rage that was growing, before Lucas did something he would live
“Lucas, it’s done, it’s over with. Your boy is safe,” Johnny
said as he took the chain from Lucas and threw it away. “Your
boy’s alive and safe. Don’t do anything to jeopardize your
future with him.”
Sensing a cooling of the rage within his friend, they left the
tunnel and went to check in on the other boys. They’d seen
Wiseman and Micah shepherding the boys from the other shacks
into the building that served as the dining area.
They walked in, hearing Wiseman telling the boys that their
nightmare was over. He was going to make sure they were returned
to a life befitting boys their ages. They no longer were going
to be forced to work in the mine; however, they would ultimately
have to go to school. That statement brought a concerted moan
from the group.
“Now boys, we ask that you return to your beds and get a good
sleep tonight. The doors on your shacks will remain unlocked.
Marshal Torrance and Deputy Drako will see that no one hurts you
tonight,” Wiseman spoke.
Lucas returned to the shack where Mark slept. He laid his
bedroll out on the floor next to Mark’s bunk. As he lay down, he
saw Mark’s hat sticking out from under the bed. He pulled it out
and ran his fingers over the whole in the crown. He eventually
hung it on a nail protruding from the post of the bunk bed.
Though he wanted to stay awake in case any of the boy’s woke
during the night, Lucas was soon asleep himself.
He woke in the morning to find Mark awake, sitting cross-legged
in the bunk, and rubbing at his wrists.
“Morning son. How’d you sleep last night?” Lucas asked as he
rose to sit on the bunk with his son.
“Don’t remember sleeping. Seems like I just laid down and then I
was awake. I still feel so tired.” Mark tried stifling a yawn as
he said, “Thanks for getting the shackles off.”
Upon hearing his son’s stomach rumbling, Lucas said, “Let’s get
you some breakfast, you and the others slept through supper last
“What about them?” Mark asked as he looked around the room.
“I’ll ask Wiseman to come back to be here when the others wake.”
With the remainder of their supplies and with what they found in
the ‘kitchen’, they had enough food to make an adequate
breakfast for the group.
Micah commented, “Those boys eat as if they hadn’t eaten in a
week and they ate pretty good last night.”
“That’s probably a real true statement,” Wiseman answered.
“Knowing how easy it is to get boys, those men probably didn’t
provide anything really substantial them. Though, I’m sure they
When the last of the boys could eat no more, they had Mays and
Brophy harness the horses to a wagon and loaded the boys inside.
Gordon, being the oldest, next to Mark, smiled when Johnny asked
him if he’d ever driven the team, he eagerly climbed up to the
seat and reached for the reins. A couple of the other older boys
were allowed to ride double on the pack horses. Dodger rode
double with Mark on Blue Boy. Mays and Brophy were made to walk
behind the wagon, with their hands tied in front of them. To
make sure they didn’t get away, Wiseman tied a rope around their
waists and then to the back of the wagon and then back to their
The ragtag group rode into the town of Capitan. Wiseman was
surprised at how the town had grown and appeared to have
prospered from when he had last been there. It was a booming
town, complete with a sheriff and a doctor.
They left Brophy and Mays with the sheriff, leaving Micah and
Wiseman to explain what happened. After leaving the Sheriff’s
Office, Lucas and Johnny made sure their first stop was the
hotel, where each boy ate their fill of a late lunch. Lucas
asked the hotel manager about getting baths for everyone. The
man disappeared and shortly, an elderly gentleman who said he
was an attendant led them down the hallway and showed them four
different rooms. Each room had a partition down the middle and
on each side was a large bathing tub. The smaller boys could fit
two inside the tubs. The boys took long, hot baths with plenty
of soap and water. As Micah, Johnny, Lucas, and Mark sat on the
benches out in the hallway, they couldn’t help but smile and
laugh at the sounds emanating from behind the doors; all the
laughter and the splashing. It was obvious the boys were
By the time each boy was done bathing, those from North Fork
grinned at the ‘pickled prunes’ standing in front of them and
being fussed over by several women from the town. Having heard
the new, the town’s people were donating plenty of nice
hand-me-down clothes for the boys.
The last to bathe were those from North Fork. Lucas heard a few
ouches and moans from the other side of the partition, where
Mark was bathing. “You okay Mark?” he asked.
“I’m okay, just didn’t realize how much this soapy water would
sting, but the hot water sure feels good to my muscles,” Mark
answered as he relaxed back into the tub.
While they were bathing, the attendant tried to air out and
clean up their clothes, the best he could.
Leaving Lucas and Mark alone, Micah, Johnny, and Wiseman ushered
the boys to the doctor’s office. Each boy was looked over and
injuries tended too. Most of the injuries were minor, cuts,
bruises, but a few had welt marks on their backs from lashings.
After stepping from the tub and drying himself off, Lucas
dressed and walked to the far side of the partition. He leaned
against the partition and folded his arms across his chest in
seeing his son with his arms hanging over the sides of the tub,
his head hung down in sleep. Lucas shook his head as he
straightened himself and walked to the edge of the tub, reached
down and gently shook his son awake.
“If you stay in there any longer, you’ll be a shriveled prune,
son. Come on now, wake up.”
“Pa?” Mark queried as he roused.
“Finish rinsing yourself off and get dressed. The attendant said
Johnny bought these for you.”
“Ah Pa, the water feels too good to get out,” moaned Mark as he
wiggled in the tub.
“All the more reason for you to finish, get dressed, and then to
“Don’t you think I’m a little too old for you to be standing
over me and watching me bathe?” Mark blushed as he asked the
Seeing his son’s cheeks flush, Lucas answered, “I’ve seen and
bathed that bare butt of yours on many occasions.”
“Yeah, but that was when I was a kid.”
“A kid, eh?”
“Yeah, I’m almost a man.”
“Then as ‘almost a man’, get a move on before I decide to haul
you and your bare butt out of that tub,” teased Lucas as he
turned to walk out of the bathing room.
Mark and his father patiently waited on the bench in front of
the doctor’s office until the last of other boys had been
checked out. Mark knew the boys had been in the mine a lot
longer than him and had suffered so much more.
Lucas stood next to his son as the doctor applied a salve to
Mark’s wrists and wrapped a thin bandage around them. Next, the
doctor applied the salve to the scrape marks on Mark’s chest and
“Mr. McCain,” beckoned the doctor. “Have you seen this?”
Lucas stepped to behind his son and forced himself to temper his
anger upon recognizing the tell-tale sign of a whip lash.
“It was only once Pa, to prove a point.”
“Prove a point? In God’s name, what reason does a man have to
“Because he could,” answered Mark. “He didn’t need a reason, so
much as to prove to me, and the others, who was in control. As
much as it hurt me, the guys said it was pretty mild compared to
what their friend Tim suffered.”
Speaking to Mark the doctor stated, “Here, take this salve with
you and each night before bed, I want you to unbandage your
wrists and rub this salve on them, as well as the scrape marks
on your chest. Your Pa can rub this on your back and then he can
lightly bandage your wrists again. You should be all healed
within seven to ten days.” He gave Mark a pat on the back of his
As they were getting ready to leave the doctor’s office, the
doctor spoke, “Mr. McCain, I’ve informed the lawmen who rode
with you, as well as Mr. Wiseman that all the boys’ injuries
will heal, in time. I plan to work with Mr. Wiseman to see that
these boys go to good homes and schools. That they get a second
chance at a life all boys should have. This town’s grown and
changed in the ten years since Joseph left. And I hope it’s been
for the best.”
“Here you go boy,” Micah came in and handed Mark a new shirt he
had just purchased at the General Store. “Oh, I see you already
have a new shirt.”
“Thanks Micah, Pa said Johnny bought me this one, but I’m sure I
can use this one,” answered Mark.
“Come on boy, let’s go home,” stated Lucas.
“How long will it take us to get home?” Mark asked.
“About three days,” Johnny answered.
“There are a lot of people who are going to be happy to see you
alive when we get home,” stated Lucas before he bid goodbye to
“Pa, what about the guys, I mean…” Mark hesitantly stated.
“We’ll talk later,” Lucas answered.
Mark was sprawled in the bed in the hotel room with his hands
behind his head, fingers interlaced, “Pa, about the guys…”
Walking over to sit down on the edge of the bed where his son
rested, Lucas began, “Mr. Wiseman was searching for them as part
of his assignment to evaluate the facilities where they lived.”
“They weren’t supposed to be with Garret and Mays?”
Lucas shook his head no, “No son, they weren’t. Some of them
should have been in orphanages and some should have been in
facilities for troubled youths.”
“Where will they go now?”
“Wiseman and the doctor will see that they are adopted or placed
in proper facilities to help them.”
“I’m glad, Pa. The guys are a good group, they didn’t deserve
what happened to them,” Mark answered, attempting to stifle a
“None of you did, son. None of you did,” Lucas said as he pulled
the blanket over his son’s chest as the boy’s eyes closed.
Having bid a mixed-emotion goodbye to Wiseman and the boys, the
group from North Fork was just one day away from returning home
as they made camp for the night.
As Mark laid out his bedroll next to his Pa’s he asked, “Pa,
back in Capitan, you said people would be mighty glad to see me
alive. What did you mean by that?”
Lucas patted the ground next to him and asked for Mark to sit
down. Micah and Johnny watched as they drank from their coffee
cups, realizing the discussion that was about to happen.
Lucas put his arm around Mark’s shoulders and proceeded to tell
him how Sam and Ralph had brought a body into town the day after
he had disappeared. How the boy had looked so much like Mark
that everyone believed the dead boy was Mark. Lucas was quiet
before he told his boy of how devastated he felt when he entered
Doc’s office and thought he’d seen Mark lying dead on the table.
How do you tell your child you thought he had died and how the
boy had died; how his whole world crashed around him in his
“Mark, when I thought it was you lying there, I felt worse than
when your Ma died. Guilty because… well, because I hadn’t been
there to protect you. It wasn’t until hours later that Doc
Burrage discovered the truth and came to tell me.” Lucas didn’t
go into the details of how battered and bruised the boy had
Mark remembered back to the night when he’d heard the rifle
shot, ran to the barn, and thought he’d seen his Pa lying dead
on the ground. He remembered the cold knot that grew in the pit
of his stomach, how he’d thrown himself to the ground crying,
“PA!” over and over. But, just a few short moments later, his Pa
had him wrapped in his arms and carried him to the house. It had
been Henry Trumble and not his Pa who had lain there dead. Mark
thought to himself, that had only been a few moments for him, he
couldn’t imagine the hours his Pa had endured, not knowing the
truth. (Refers to events in the second season episode, entitled
Mark felt his Pa tremble as he sat there quietly. He realized
his Pa was reliving the memory of thinking his boy was dead.
“But Pa, it wasn’t me. I’m here. I’m alive,” Mark said quietly
as he looked to his Pa.
“I know you are son. It’s a memory that will ease in time. Just
having you here beside me will help.” Lucas leaned over and gave
his son a kiss on the top of the head and pulled him closer.
“The dead boy had to be Tim,” Mark quietly stated. “When Garrett
and Mays took me, they kept calling me Tim. Even when I reached
the mines, everyone kept calling me Tim, at first. The boys
realized I wasn’t him real quick and Brophy was the only one of
the three men that eventually figured it out. Mays and Garrett
wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell them I wasn’t Tim.
Garrett gave me this bruise and black-eye when he back handed me
after I yelled at him, trying to get him to understand.” Mark
grew quiet as he remembered his own memories, causing him to
shiver a little.
Micah chimed in. “Mark, you know how much you mean to your Pa.
Well the rest of the town kind of feels the same way. When we
thought you were dead, it was like a little piece of each one of
us died.” Then trying to lighten the mood, Micah continued, “We
can laugh about it now, but… I’ve never seen your Pa so drunk
before. Drako, Nils, and John Hamilton did a good job in getting
him drunk, as well as themselves. You should have seen them with
their hangovers the next day.” Micah laughed at the memory.
“Don’t remind me Micah,” Drako said as he shook his head before
drinking coffee from his cup.
“Drunk?” Mark asked with wide eyes looking from his Pa to
“We were only following Doc Burrage’s orders. He told us to take
your Pa to Sweeney’s and get him drunk. Honest!” Drako said as
he held up his hand as if he was swearing on the bible.
Mark shook his head as he tried to imagine his Pa staggering
through the streets of North Fork, drunk.
Micah stoked the fire one last time before they crawled into
their bedrolls for the night. As they pulled their blankets over
their shoulders, all but one thought on a father’s worst fear
and how they would have handled the situation. Lucas was
thankful his worst fear was a nightmare that he gladly woke
from, this time.
The sun had just set when the group arrived in North Fork. The
stopped at the livery and asked Nils to put their horses up for
the night. Before they left, Nils gave Mark a big hug and told
him how good it was to have him home. They walked over to the
hotel and entered the restaurant. Lou was taking an order when
she saw them. She immediately ran over and gave Mark a kiss on
his cheek and the biggest hug of his life, practically squeezing
the breath out of him.
“Lou, if you don’t let the boy breathe, you’re going to squeeze
him to death,” Johnny chastised her.
“Well, I’m just so happy to see him. He gave us all quite a
shock. And besides, I missed him,” Lou replied.
“Well what about the rest of us?” Micah chimed in. “We’ve been
gone quite a while tracking Mark down and rescuing him.”
“You know what I mean,” Lou replied, letting her Irish come out.
“Just the same, I’m glad to see all of ye home, safe and sound.”
Lou showed them to a table and told them their meal was on the
house. Before he sat down, Johnny gave Lou a quick kiss on the
As they were eating, many of the town’s folks peeked in the
window or actually entered into the hotel lobby and looked
through the archway into the dinning area. Everyone wanted to
see for themselves that Mark McCain was, indeed, alive and well.
Before dessert arrived, Stevan Griswald entered the restaurant
and joined the group for coffee. As he drank, he couldn’t remove
the smile from his face as he watched Mark devour a second piece
of apple pie.
The following morning, Lucas woke and looked to the second bed
in room only to find it empty. He briefly washed and hurriedly
dressed before heading downstairs to the restaurant. Not finding
Mark inside, he asked Lou if she’d seen Mark.
“He was here earlier,” Lou commented.
“Did he say where he was going?”
“No, but he looked like he was heading for Micah’s.”
Lucas left the hotel and walked to the Marshal’s Office. Upon
entering he asked if either man had seen his son.
Micah shook his head no, while Johnny nodded.
“Would you mind telling me where?”
“Lucas, he was headed towards the cemetery.”
“And you let him?” Lucas demanded.
“I followed and watched for a while, but felt I was intruding. I
figured once you woke for the morning you’d be here soon
Taking a deep breath, Lucas headed to the cemetery. As he
arrived he listened as he heard his son speaking.
“Tim, you’d be happy for the guys. We didn’t tell them you had
died. I guess it would be better for them to think you had found
my Pa and the others, and were at a home as happy as the ones
they’re going to get.”
Mark picked at a blade of grass while he sat, leaning against
the blank grave marker.
“I’m happy for the guys too, but I’m feeling a little…”
“How are you feeling – guilty, son?” a concerned Lucas asked.
Mark turned has his father’s shadow fell across him.
“I guess a little guilty,” answered Mark.
Mark shrugged his shoulders and said, “Tim didn’t get a happy
ever after ending.”
“Maybe not the kind of ever after that seems right, but he’ll be
remembered, by you and the others. As long as you remember him
for what he did and why he did it. He did have a hand in the
happy ever after for the others.”
Considering his father words, Mark said, “They didn’t kill him…
you know… Garret and Mays.”
“How do you figure that?”
“Well, not directly. I mean if Garrett and Mays had killed him,
they wouldn’t have insisted in taking me and calling me Tim. And
I don’t think Brophy was strong enough to kill him.”
“Did you speak with Doc this morning?”
Mark nodded, “He said Tim died from a blow to his head and based
on what Doc said Micah told him, he was probably so weak from
all the beatings and lack of food, that… he fell and struck his
“I didn’t want you to know,” Lucas stated, he had feared what
would happen if his son knew the full truth in the amount of
trauma Tim has suffered; Lucas’ gentle son, so much like his
“I kind of guessed it from what the guys said, and I told Doc I
had to know. He didn’t want to…”
“But he did.”
“Yes sir. I kinda didn’t give him any option,” Mark answered.
“Let’s go home. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Lucas had talked with Doc Burrage after Mark had gone to sleep
the night before and Doc had told him about ‘survivor’s guilt’
that was being discussed in the ever growing field of
psychiatry. He hoped his son wouldn’t need to see a specialist
to get through the next few days or weeks. Ultimately, Lucas
knew this wouldn’t be the only conversation with his son in
order to help him come to terms with what he had experienced and
been told. Regardless, Lucas McCain knew he would be there
whenever his son was ready to continue talking, and if his son
needed to talk with someone who specialized in helping people to
understand their feelings, so be it.
With his arm placed across his son’s back and his hand resting
Mark’s shoulder, father and son walked to the livery and
prepared to go home. Lucas wondered what would today or even
tomorrow bring… Over the past few days, he witnessed fleeting
glimpses of additional maturity in his son, yet he also saw a
lost innocence in the boy for all that he had suffered and
‘God, just watch over him, that’s all I ask,’ Lucas prayed as he
saddle Razor and watched his son saddle BlueBoy.
NOTE: I have taken liberties in the medical community in
referring to Survivor’s Guilt, though not officially
acknowledged until the 1960’s, I’m sure that some physicians
realized their patients were going through something after
surviving something horrible where others died. As a side note,
the field of psychiatry was recognized in 1808.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch