The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
The stage arrived in town and stopped in front of the Marshal’s
office, announced outlaws had robbed the stage and its
passengers about five miles from town.
Mark exited the general store and saw the stage arrive. He ran
over to Micah’s and as he entered he heard Micah talking to the
Chuck Shepard, the stage coach driver.
“It’s going to be a small posse going after those outlaws, most
folks are at the county seat enjoying the fair and rodeo over in
Little Butte and Drako’s delivering a prisoner to Roswell.”
Mr. Shepard saw Mark standing by the door and inquired, “Mark,
what about your Pa? Would he be available to ride? We had twenty
thousand dollars on this run, plus what ever the passengers
“Sorry, Mr. Shepard, but Pa’s up in Santa Fe and won’t be back
until the beginning of next week.”
Micah asked Mark to ride out to Dave Merrar’s ranch while he
headed over to Oat Jackford’s place.
“But Micah, most of the ranchers and their crews are at the fair
competing in the rodeo. Mr. Jackford only a left skeleton crew
to run his place. I’ll get who I can from Mr. Merrar’s, I know
he didn’t go this year.”
Mark was only able to bring Mr. Merrar and two other men.
“Don’t know that a posse of four is enough.” Micah stated as he
shook his head.
“Micah, there’s five of us.” Mark answered.
“Mark, your Pa would have my hide if I let you ride with us
after those outlaws.”
“If Pa were here, he’d ride. You hurt North Fork and you hurt a
McCain. You hurt one McCain, you hurt us both. Micah, I’ll be
seventeen in a few months. Besides, all of you know I’m just as
good a tracker as my Pa is and I’ve heard over the years each
one of you complain you’re no where near as good at tracking as
my Pa. You need me. I promise I’ll follow your orders, but you
need all the riders you can get,” Mark stated with conviction.
“Well Micah,” Tony Jepsom stated. “The boy… Mark is right about
his abilities to track.”
Micah looked to Merrar, wishing for someone else to say no, as
well. Dave just gave him a look to say, ‘The boy is right’.
Seems more people in North Fork were noticing that Mark was
growing up and no longer the little boy they all so fondly
Micah walked to the gun rack and pulled down a rifle.
“Here Mark, you’re going to need something stronger than your
.22 since you’re coming with us,” Micah stated.
Though he wanted to, Mark refrained from jumping up and down. A
child would have done that after getting his way, but this
wasn’t a moment to be a child. This was a moment for Mark to be
a man. As he took the rifle from Micah, he opened the breach and
inspected the firing mechanism. Next Mark played with the lever
action and noticed how smooth it operated. Then he butted the
rifle to his shoulder a couple of times, determining if the
stock was the right length and if he could properly sight down
the rifle. The rifle fit Mark almost as good as his own. He
played with the balance of the rifle as he noticed that it was
heavier than his.
“Thank you Micah,” Mark said as he stepped back in line with the
others to be properly deputized by the Marshal.
Micah hesitated for a moment as he went to place the deputy
badge on Mark’s shirt. “Boy…, guess I shouldn’t call you that
anymore. You’ve proven so much lately that you’re becoming a
man.” Micah’s fingers fumbled a little as he finished pinning
Mark noticed Micah’s eyes were glistening more than usual.
Micah stepped back, requested they all raise their right hand
and administered the oath to faithfully execute the duties of
this office. They all swore to uphold the letter of the law.
Micah deputized Nils Swenson to keep watch over North Fork until
Johnny Drako returned. As Micah wrote a note to Johnny, Mark
wrote a note for his Pa.
“Nils, when my Pa gets back from Santa Fe, if we’re not back,
would you give him this note? Please?”
“Sure Mark. I’ll see that he gets it,” Nils replied
Dave Merrar, Tony Jepsom, and Rick Youngston proceeded to the
general store to stock up on supplies and packed them on a horse
they borrowed from Nils.
The posse mounted their horses, with Mark staying towards the
back of the group, in charge of the pack horse. As the posse was
preparing to leave, Lou ran from the hotel. She was momentarily
speechless as she saw Mark wearing a deputy’s badge.
“Micah, you can’t be serious. He’s just a boy,” Lou complained
as they rode past her.
Mark halted Blue Boy next to Lou, “Lou, would you tell my Pa…”
Mark kicked Blue Boy to catch up with the others. He couldn’t
bring himself to say what he wanted to. Partly because he felt
the tears welling in his eyes and partly because knew he
wouldn’t be able to speak without his voice breaking.
The posse rode to where Mr. Shepard stated the robbery happened.
Rick took the lead rope for the pack horse as Mark stepped down
from his horse to search the ground and started tracking. In the
beginning their trail was easy to follow from the saddle, the
outlaws were running their horses flat out. After an hour or so
of tracking, Mark saw that the outlaws had reined back their
horses. He stopped and dismounted Blue Boy, knelt down and
examined the tracks.
“Micah, they’re starting to think instead of just running,” Mark
said as he remounted Blue Boy and proceeded. The posse came to a
small river and Mark kept everyone back until he could decipher
the trail. “It’s safe to water the horses now; they didn’t
double back from here.”
The posse rested and allowed their horses to drink. Mark handed
Blue Boy’s reins to Tony. The others dismounted and watched as
Mark walked along the banks of the stream, trying to figure out
which direction the outlaws took. It was evident they didn’t
cross the river from where they entered.
The others were standing by their horses when Mark came running
back to the group, arriving out of breath, calling out, “Micah,
they headed upstream about a half mile and then headed west.”
Mark grabbed Blue Boy’s reins and quickly got in the saddle,
only to hear Micah say, “Mark, you take a break first. We’re not
leaving here until you catch your breath and take a good drink
from your canteen and refill it.”
From the tone of Micah’s voice and the fact that no one else had
started to get in their saddles, Mark new better than to argue.
Besides he had promised Micah he would follow orders.
Once Micah was convinced that Mark was recovered enough from his
efforts, they followed the trail again.
The sun was starting to set when Micah called for a halt to make
camp. Mark took a rope from the packhorse and strung it between
two trees and then helped tie out the horses. Micah and Merrar
proceeded to make camp and fix dinner, while Mark, Tony, and
Rick took care of the unsaddling the horses; and taking them to
a nearby stream to water them.
Once all the horses were back at the picket line, Mark took time
to pick out all the hooves of the horses, no sense having one
come up lame because of a stone bruise. After he was done, he
returned to join the others around the fire.
As he approached, Micah handed him a plate with some beef jerky,
beans, and biscuits and asked, “What took you so long boy?”
“Took time to clean out the horses’ hooves, Micah.”
“You doing some thinking, too?”
“Yes sir,” Mark said as he took his plate from Micah.
Mark sat down and ate his food. It was a quiet camp that night.
No one wanted to say anything they felt would put any more
pressure on Mark. After Mark finished eating, he proceeded to
collect up all the dishes and took them to the stream to wash.
Over the gurgling of the stream, Mark heard the faint sounds of
a harmonica playing ‘Red River Valley’. The song was such a
lonely tune and for a moment Mark felt alone, he missed is Pa.
As he walked back to camp, he saw that it was Rick who was
playing. Mark put the dishes back in the sack next to the pack
Micah called out, “Mark, I’ve already got your bedroll laid out
over here. Come on, time for us to get some shut eye.”
Mark walked over to lie down next to Micah. He pulled off his
boots, set his hat down next to him, and pulled the cover over
his shoulders. Soon, he heard the sound of snoring from the
others. Mark felt tired, but was too keyed up to sleep. His
thoughts drifted to his Pa, ‘Wonder what Pa is doing right now?’
‘Is this how Pa felt every time he was on a posse?’
After not being able to fall asleep, Mark got up and walked over
to the fire. He sat down and stared into the flames. He kept
going over in his mind all the lessons his Pa had given him on
tracking and trailing. Mark prayed he wasn’t forgetting anything
that would end up harming any one of them. His eyes drifted to
the heavens and he watched as a few stars shot across the sky.
In the distance, he heard a wolf pack howling to each other.
Finally, Mark realized that he really did need to get to sleep,
and maybe this time, he would be tired enough that sleep would
come as he returned to his bedroll.
Mark thought he no sooner had fallen asleep when he felt a hand
on his shoulder and a quiet voice, gently calling him awake.
“Morning Mark, breakfast will be ready in a few minutes. We’ll
eat and then be ready ride by the time the sun comes up,” Merrar
said as he knelt next to Mark.
“Okay, Mr. Merrar, just let me help saddle the horses,” Mark
replied as he started to pull his boots on.
“Mark, Tony and Rick have already taken care of that.”
“But?” Mark started to say.
“No Mark. I know you want to feel you’re doing your fair share
of the work and believe me, you have the hardest part right now,
tracking. I heard you being restless last night and you didn’t
settle down to get to sleep until well after midnight. I asked
Micah to let you sleep a while longer, so don’t go getting
“Yes sir,” Mark answered.
Just before noon, Mark stopped the posse.
“What’s wrong b… Mark?” Micah asked.
“Micah, you’re too set in your ways, if you want to keep calling
me boy, its okay. You call my Pa LucasBoy all the time and he
doesn’t mind, so why should I mind if you call me boy?” Mark
answered with a grin on his face. He realized it wasn’t a
reflection of his age, but rather a term of endearment.
Mark knelt down and re-examined the tracks and pushed his hat
back on his head as he started to look from side to side.
“Mark?” Merrar asked.
“If I read these tracks correctly, they’ve met up with two
others. So, now there are five of them together.”
“Damn!” escaped Rick’s lips.
Micah called for camp for the second night. After dinner and
dishes, Mark returned to lie down next to Micah.
“Mark, how are you holding up? You want to talk?” Micah asked as
Mark sat next to him and pulled off his hat.
“I’m doing good Micah. Just nervous,” Mark answered, as he
played with his hat. His eyes were staring off in the distance.
The others were close enough to hear the conversation.
“Nervous? About what?”
“Am I remembering everything Pa taught me? Am I reading the
tracks correctly? Can I really lead us to those outlaws? It’s
one thing to have Pa right by my side and confirming that I’m
reading the tracks right. This is totally different, to be on my
own. Pa always made it look so easy and…” Mark let his voice
“Mark, you sure are your father’s son,” Micah stated with a
laugh. “Your Pa made everything look easy, except when it came
to raising you. I think that has been the hardest part of his
life. Taking care of you, providing for you, and protecting…”
“I know Micah. I’ve already been wondering how he’s going to
react when he gets back home and finds out I’m with the posse.
But Micah, if he didn’t want me to use my skills for tracking,
why did he teach me?”
“Get some sleep Mark. We’ve another long day ahead of us
“Good night Micah.”
It wasn’t long before Mark was sleep in his bedroll, tired from
too little sleep the night before; and it didn’t help that Rick
was trying to lull him to sleep by quietly playing ‘Shenandoah’
on his harmonica. Micah smiled over at Rick, knowing and
thankful for what he was doing.
After Mark had fallen asleep, Micah got up and walked over and
knelt down next to Dave Merrar.
“The boy’s trying to take too much upon himself Dave. I’m
worried that, well… maybe I shouldn’t have brought him along. He
wants so much to prove to everyone he’s up to this. I’m worried
without Lucas here, he might keep too much inside. And if
something were to happen…”
“Micah, you know as well as I do that we needed his skills for
tracking. But I understand what you’re saying. Yeah, he is
growing up, but he’s not a full, grown man. I’d like to have a
few words with him in the morning.”
Micah looked at Dave, questioning.
“Micah, it would probably come better from me, seeing as how
close you are to his Pa and him. I’m not family, so he’d realize
I’m not just saying my piece. Hopefully he’ll understand that I
really mean what I’m going to say.”
“Okay, Dave. In the morning. I just hope he can sleep through
the night. If he keeps awake like he did last night, he won’t
last too long.”
Morning came early for Mark. He made sure he was alert to any
sound, indicating the others were rousing. He wasn’t going to be
caught sleeping again. He was a man and deep down, he felt angry
that Merrar and Micah had treated him differently than the
He sat up to find Tony and Rick pulling on their boots. Mark
quickly followed suit and followed them to tack up all the
horses and get the pack horse geared up. Mark spent some extra
time with Blue Boy, talking to him and apologizing for keeping
him away from home for so long. Tony and Rick left when Dave
Merrar approached and pointed a thumb over his shoulder,
indicating he wanted to talk alone with Mark.
“Mark,” he called.
”Yes, Mr. Merrar?” Mark answered.
“Can we talk for a few minutes?”
“Mark, I asked Micah if I could have a few words with you. We
all overheard your conversation before you fell asleep last
Mark finished tightening the cinch on Blue Boy’s saddle, then
turned and looked at Mr. Merrar.
“Mark, I just wanted to tell you how impressed I’ve been with
how you’ve handled yourself these past few days. Even though we
don’t know anywhere near as much in tracking as your Pa has
taught you, I want you to know you can talk with us. Ask us
questions, maybe by reasoning we can all come up with the right
answer. Guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t want you to
feel you have to bear the burden of leading this posse by
yourself. We’re here for you and if you have doubts, don’t keep
them to yourself, because they can only compound and make you
doubt yourself more, later. We won’t think any less of you for
asking our help or opinions. It takes a man to admit that he
doesn’t know everything and an even bigger man to ask for help.”
“Mr. Merrar, I appreciate what you’ve said. I guess down deep,
it comes to, I don’t want to disappoint my Pa.”
“Mark, right now, don’t worry about what your Pa thinks, there
will be plenty of time once those outlaws are behind bars to
find out what your Pa thinks. Just believe in everything he’s
taught you and trust your instincts.” Mr. Merrar put an arm
around Mark’s shoulders and led him back to the fire, “Come on,
we’ve got time for a quick bite of breakfast before we head out
At late morning, Mark halted the posse. “Micah, I think they’ve
split up. It appears that two headed northeast and three headed
west. I don’t know which group we should follow.” Mark realized
this was one of those times that Mr. Merrar had been talking
“Mark, can you tell which group had the original outlaws versus
the new comers? Did the newcomers split off from the outlaws and
maybe, they were just travelers sharing the same path?” Merrar
After looking the tracks over again, he answered. “There’s a new
comer riding with each group.” Mark had a confused look on his
face as he tried to understand why.
As the men discussed this new change of events, Mark stood to
the outside of the group. He knew part of their discussion
included, if they did split up, which group he would ride with.
Mark knew regardless, he would be with Micah.
It was decided that Merrar and Tony would follow the two tracks
heading northeast and Micah, Rick, and Mark would continue west.
Mark helped divide their provisions and then watched as Merrar
and Tony left the group.
The trail Merrar and Tony followed was quite obvious. It was as
if the outlaws didn’t care if they were followed. By night fall,
Merrar and Tony saw a body off to the side of the road they were
traveling. Based on the description Micah said the stage driver
provided, this had to be one of the outlaws.
“Guess we know who the new comers were,” Tony stated in disgust
as he rolled the body over. “One shot to the head.”
“The newcomer probably didn’t want to split the money among so
many,” Merrar stated.
They didn’t have time or the tools to dig a grave, but they did
find enough rocks to pile over the body. They made camp for the
night a distance away in a thicket of trees. Sometime during the
night a gentle rain shower fell.
Merrar and Tony started to follow the trail of their one
remaining outlaw. Before they had gone too far, Tony stated,
“Mark made it look so easy.”
“So once this one killed his accomplice, then he started
covering his trail,” Merrar replied. “And with that rain that
fell last night, it obliterated any trail for us to follow.”
When they returned to where they had left Micah, Rick, and Mark,
Merrar and Tony tried following their trail, but soon realized
it too had been washed away.
“I guess we should have paid more attention to Mark so we’d know
what we were trying to follow. That boy and his Pa both have an
innate ability to track. I hate to say it Tony, but I guess we
should return to North Fork.”
Merrar and Tony rode in silence, both dejected and feeling
Micah, Rick, and Mark broke camp Saturday morning and followed
the trail towards the mountains. Mark started doubting himself
and struggled to follow the tracks as they got harder to read;
partly because of the terrain and partly because of the gentle
rain shower from the night before.
“Boy, take your time. Just do the best you can.” Micah stated
after watching Mark for a few minutes.
“That’s just it Micah. I don’t know if my best is good enough,”
Mark pulled his hat off and slapped it against his leg in
“Mark,” Rick started. “Don’t get upset with yourself. You’re
four years younger than I am and I’m amazed that you’ve been
able to follow the trail this long. I lost being able to follow
it a long time ago.”
“Boys,” Micah interjected. “We’re not too far from Socorro, why
don’t we head there. Seems that’s the general direction this
trail is heading. And if they have a telegraph office, we can
send word back to North Fork letting them know you’re alright.”
“Micah, Pa wouldn’t be back yet. Do you stop and send wires home
when you’re leading other posse’s?”
“Mark’s right Marshal. We don’t know anything about this town of
Socorro. It could be a stronghold for the outlaws or at least
friends with them.”
“So just how would you two plan to proceed?” Micah asked, very
curious to hear what the two youngsters would come up with.
“We’ll,” Mark started. “You’re always telling me how much we’re
like a family. If we put away the badges and just go into town
as a Grandpa and his two Grandsons, we could check out the town
and just listen to find out any news.”
“And you think anyone would believe that you two are brothers?”
Micah laughed as Mark and Rick looked at each other. Both had
fair complexions and stood about five foot, ten, but that’s
where the comparison stopped. Mark had dark hair and eyes. Rick
had red hair, freckles, and green eyes. Mark was slight of build
and Rick was heavier.
Rick answered with a laugh, “Well, he didn’t say we were
brothers, we could just be cousins. Since we all have different
lasts name, our Ma’s could have been sisters; your daughters.”
All three burst out laughing.
“Mark, speaking of names, if anyone asks, I don’t think you
should use your real last name. Your Pa’s reputation and all…”
It was Saturday and Nils was hoping that Johnny Drako would
return to town, soon. He didn’t mind filling in for the Marshal
or the Deputy, but the longer both were gone, the more the
likelihood was that he’d have to be the one to give Lucas the
note from Mark. Nils didn’t even want to be in town when Lucas
Nils was just leaving the Marshal’s office to head over to Lou’s
for dinner, when he saw Drako ride up to the hotel. He went back
inside and pulled out the letter that Micah had written to
“Drako!” Nils yelled. “Man, am I glad you’re back in town.” Nils
ran over and stopped next to Drako as he stood on the front
“Nils, what’s happened? Why are you wearing a badge?” Drako
asked as he pushed his hat back on his head.
“Drako, you’re not going to believe everything that’s happened.
Micah gave me this here note to give to you upon your return.”
“Johnny, stage was robbed of $20,000, plus another $2,000 from
passengers. I deputized Nils to keep watch over North Fork,
until your return. I deputized Dave Merrar, Tony Jepsom, Rick
Youngston, and Mark McCain for the posse. Don’t know when we’ll
be back. We’ll wire you when we expect to return.”
“Now I understand why you’re glad I’m back in town. Lucas is
going to explode. Couldn’t Micah find anyone else other than
Mark for the posse?”
“Drako, you know the county fair and annual rodeo are going on
over in Little Butte this week. There weren’t anyone else. The
fair ends tomorrow and most people won’t be back until tomorrow
night or Monday. It’s been like a ghost town around here.”
“When are John Hamilton and Lucas due back from Santa Fe?” Drako
“Either tomorrow or Monday at the latest. Oh, and Mark left a
note for Lucas in case they weren’t back by the time Lucas
returned. It’s in the office. Sorry, Drako.” Nils removed the
badge and handed it back to Johnny, then hurriedly headed for
Johnny walked into the hotel lobby and then into the restaurant.
He barely removed his hat before Lou was calling for him.
“Johnny Drako, you go right back outside, get on your horse and
trail after Micah. He took Mark along on the posse, he deputized
him!” Lou’s eyes flashed with fire.
“Now Lou, from what Nils told me, they’ve been gone for four
days. Just how am I supposed to follow tracks that are four days
old?” Drako asked as he tried to quiet Lou.
“I don’t care. You just go out there and do it. Get Mark back
here and do it before Lucas returns!”
From in the lobby they heard a voice ask, “Do what before Lucas
returns?” They turned to see Lucas and John walk into the
“You’re back early,” Drako said, trying to stall for time.
“The meeting of the Cattlemen’s Associations ran smoothly and we
accomplished all our business, so John and I came home a day
early. We just got off the stage and figured to stop in for a
bite of dinner, before I head home to surprise Mark.”
Then looking to Lou and then to Drako, “So answer my question,
what were you supposed to do before I returned?”
“Lucas, I just got back to town from taking a prisoner over to
Roswell, so don’t blame me. I just found the news out, same as
“What news? Something happen to Mark?” Apprehension could be
heard in Lucas’s voice.
“Not that we know of. Lucas, you better come with me to the
office. I think it would be best if we spoke somewhere a little
Lucas and John followed Drako and Lou over to the Marshal’s
Office. Drako closed the door behind them.
“Now Drako. Out with it! What are you keeping from me?” Lucas
“I’m not keeping anything from you Lucas. Just felt it would be
better if the explosion happened here, instead of the hotel.”
“Explosion? Drako, you’re not making any sense. Spit it out.”
Johnny searched the desk and finally pulled an envelope from a
drawer and handed it to Lucas.
“I think it better if you read it from Mark.”
Lucas reached for the envelope. On the front, in Mark’s
handwriting, was ‘Pa’. He opened the envelope, unfolded the
sheet of paper, and read.
Please don’t be angry with me or anyone else. Micah needed help.
There were too few people in town for the posse and you weren’t
here to track. I’m with Micah, Dave Merrar, Tony Jepsom, and
Rick Youngston. I’ll try to remember everything you taught me.
Pa, please pray for our safe return.
I love you, Mark”
“Posse, I don’t understand?” Lucas sat down heavily in the chair
Drako pushed up behind him. John took the letter from Lucas’
hand and read it.
Lou started to tell Lucas what had happened. “Lucas, the stage
arrived early on Wednesday. They were transporting $20,000 when
it was robbed, as well as the passengers. Anyone who normally
would ride in a posse was over at the county fair and rodeo. And
you and John were up in Santa Fe. Micah was only able to get
Dave, Tony, and Rick for the posse. Nils told me he had heard
from Micah that Mark stated there would be five of them in the
posse. Said that with you gone, he was obligated to help track.
Lucas you know how well you’ve taught Mark how to track through
these years. They all agreed that they needed Mark’s tracking
Lucas sat in the chair, scared, his mind reeling as he
remembered posse’s he had ridden with, how rough they could be
on a man. He knew that Micah would do everything to keep Mark
safe, but things happen and this was just too small of a posse.
“Lucas, before he rode out, he tried to ask me to give you a
message, but… Well, it looked like he was about to cry and he
kicked Blue Boy forward to catch up with the others. Lucas, I’m
sorry,” Lou felt as if her heart was going to break just
watching Lucas sitting there.
Drako walked to Lou and whispered in her ear, “Darling, why not
head to the hotel. Give Lucas a little bit of dignity. John and
I’ll take care of him.” Drako escorted Lou out the front door
and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He watched her walk slowly to
Everyone in North Fork knew Lucas to be a strong, God-fearing
man. But everyone also knew he had one weakness, an Achilles
heel – Mark.
As Drako returned to the office, he heard John stating, “Lucas,
you knew this day would come. I mean, after all the years of
Mark watching you wear the badge, you helping Micah and now
Drako, riding posse, and transporting prisoners. And from what
you told me happened a few months back with Simon Battle and the
army, it was only normal that he would feel obligated to join
this posse with so few men in town.”
“I know John, it’s just that this time is different. When he was
with Battle, he was just there, he wasn’t… Then it didn’t really
matter if he was with the posse or not. This posse is relying on
his abilities. That’s a huge burden for a sixteen year old b… I
know, he’s not a little boy any more.” Lucas leaned forward,
placed his elbows on his knees and then lowered his head into
“Lucas,” Drako said. “Have faith in all you’ve taught him.”
Drako watched as Lucas sat back in the chair, scratched his
nose, then stood and walked to the pot belly stove and poured
himself a cup of coffee.
Drako continued, “You seem to be taking this better than any one
expected. Nils was so anxious to give me back the badge, it was
like it was too hot to handle, all because he feared your
reaction after reading that letter.”
“Johnny, I exploded a few months back when I found out that Mark
accompanied Battle and the soldiers to stop those outlaws from
robbing that Army payroll detail. After their return, Battle and
I were able to talk one night; and a lot of what he said made
sense. As I listened, I started seeing Mark not just as my
little boy, but as a young man. And since we got home, Mark and
I have talked a lot. I know he’s growing up and I have to accept
the fact that there will be times when I won’t be there to
protect him. I have to believe that I’ve taught him well enough
to live his life and pray that he’ll come home safe.” Lucas
walked to the window. “Strangers brought him back to me that
time. I just have to have faith that friends will do the same.”
Micah, Rick, and Mark rode into Socorro. To Mark it felt worse
than being in a ghost town. Though no one was out on the
streets, he felt eye’s burning holes in his back. He twisted in
his saddle looking one way and then the other. He heard laughter
and yelling coming from the saloon as the rode by.
“Boy, just keep your mind on our business and don’t go prying
into other’s affairs,” Micah called back to Mark.
“Yes, Grandpa,” Mark replied as he turned straight in the
They rode up to the livery and dismounted. A heavy set man
wearing a blacksmith apron greeted them. They were shown stalls
for their horses, where they unsaddled them. They took their
bedrolls and saddle bags and headed for the hotel.
Behind the counter was a bald-headed, little, old man, he
inquired how many rooms.
“We only need one room,” Micah answered gruffly. “If you got two
cots that’s fine, otherwise the young ‘ens can just sleep on the
floor.” Micah signed the register ‘Norman Carreway’.
Mark tried to hide a smile as he remembered Norman, Leotta, and
The man showed them to their room upstairs, towards the back.
Micah noticed they were close to the back stairs. They entered
the room and dropped their gear on the floor. Mark and Rick sat
down and flopped backwards on the bed.
“Ssshhh, boys.” He stood with his ear to the door, listening.
After a few moments he quickly opened the door. “Can I help you
mister?” He asked of the little, old man.
“Uh, No. Just wanting to make sure you’re satisfied with your
room,” he said as he cowered backwards.
“I’ll be more satisfied if you go get those two cots I paid
for.” Micah slammed the door closed.
Mark and Rick both slapped their hands over their mouths to keep
their laughter in.
Micah walked over to where the boys were sitting and whispered.
“Boys, seems like you had a darn good idea in not letting these
people know who we really are. You’re both going to have to play
your parts now. I’m a gruffy, old grandpa. You to need to be
leary of me.”
Shortly a light knock was heard at the door. Micah opened it,
saw the old man with two cots and allowed him inside.
“Mister, my two grandsons could sure use a bath. We’ve been
eating dust for almost a week now. You got tubs in this hotel or
do we go to the barber shop.”
“Grandpa, we don’t need baths,” Rick spoke up.
“Boy, its one thing to sleep next to you outside, it’s totally
different sleeping in a room. Why do you think I’ve bee riding
up wind of you both. You’ll take a bath or in the livery you’ll
“Yes, sir.” Rick said and lowered his eyes, trying to keep a
smile from his face.
After their baths, they spent the afternoon in the room,
Shortly before dinner, Micah woke both the boys and they headed
downstairs and out to walk the town. Micah stepped in to the
saloon, walked to the bar and ordered a beer. Rick and Mark
followed and sat down at a table. As Micah turned to walk to the
boys, the bartender yelled,
“Hey, he’s too young to be in here. Get him out of here.”
“He stays where I say. You have a problem with that, then get
the Sheriff,” Micah answered as he sat down.
Mark started to get up, but Micah motioned him to sit back down.
“But, I don’t want to cause no trouble,” Mark replied. Also
knowing how upset his Pa would be to find out he had spent time
in a saloon. He averted his eyes as a woman dressed in what he
felt was inappropriate clothing walked from the bar to the piano
player. Mark couldn’t believe the neckline of her dress or the
fact that her shoulders were bare, just straps going up and
over. And her legs… She smiled as she saw Mark blushing.
“We don’t let no one push us around. As I said, you stay where I
tell you to,” Micah replied.
A few minutes later the bartender returned with the Sheriff
“Mister, I’m Sheriff Cooper Dobbs. This here saloon don’t take
to children his age inside.”
“He’ll leave when I say he can,” Micah stated as he refrained
from looking at the Sheriff.
“Don’t think I caught your name,” the Sheriff stated.
“I didn’t give it.” Micah continued to play it cool and took a
drink of his beer. “We’ll leave when I’m done with my beer, and
not before then.”
After finishing his beer, Micah got up and motioned for the boys
to follow. They walked back to the hotel and sat down in the
chairs out front and watched the few people out on the street.
It was nearly seven o’clock when they walked to the restaurant
and had dinner before returning to their room for the night.
Micah was fast asleep in his bed. Soon, Mark heard Rick snoring
as well. Between the two of them snoring and Mark having slept
for a few hours earlier, try as he might, he couldn’t sleep. He
got up and quietly left the room and went downstairs.
He wasn’t halfway down the stairs when he heard voices talking.
Mark paused and listened.
“I tell you, I don’t like it.” Mark thought it was the voice of
the old man from behind the counter.
“Pate, how’d they register?” the voice asked.
“Norman Carreway,” Pate answered. “It’s just a harmless old man
and his two grandsons. What harm can they cause?” the other
voice stated. The more Mark listened, the more he thought the
second voice was that of the Sheriff.
“Harmless!” Sheriff Dobbs replied. “We need to make sure who
they are. All we have to do is…”
The voices quieted as the two men began whispering. Mark leaned
forward, hoping to be able to hear more of their conversation.
Before he could catch himself, his foot slipped off the step and
he fell down a couple of steps, landing in plain sight of the
Sheriff and the hotel owner.
Mark tried to get to his feet, but he didn’t get anywhere before
the Sheriff had him by the arm.
“Boy, just what are you doing? How long you been standing
there?” Sheriff Dobbs asked.
“I, I got thirsty, came down to see if I could get a glass of
milk,” Mark replied. “Sheriff, you’re hurting my arm.”
Pate and Dobbs stood with Mark in between them.
“Like I said, I don’t like it.” Pate spoke in a loud whisper.
“He had to hear you talking.”
“Boy, either you tell me what you heard or so help me….” Dobbs
“Honest, I didn’t hear you two talking,” Mark answered again,
trying to sound convincing, hoping they couldn’t hear his heart
“Pate, you get back to whatever it is you do. I’ll take care of
Realizing what the Sheriff meant, Mark started to yell. Before
he got anything out, the Sheriff had an arm around Mark’s chest
and a hand over Mark’s mouth. Mark tried fighting back by
kicking and struggling to get his arms free, but the Sheriff was
a big man.
Mark continued to struggle to get out of the Sheriff’s grasp as
he was carried to the Sheriff’s office. Mark saw a man inside
the office open the door as they approached the jail. Before he
knew it, the Sheriff shoved him into the office and Mark was
free, then everything went black.
It was a small group of town’s folks who attended Sunday
services in North Fork. There wasn’t a sermon given. Reverend
McCafferty felt it would best serve the people of North Fork to
sit in quiet reflection and pray for the safe return of the
posse. Mrs. McCafferty led the group in several appropriate
hymns. Afterwards, those in attendance, quietly left the church
and returned to their homes.
Micah woke, as he sat up in his bed, he looked over to where the
boys’ cots were. Rick was just rousing, but Mark’s cot was
empty. At first Micah thought Mark must have woke earlier and
just left the room to maybe take care of the horses, but then he
saw Mark’s hat was still by the cot.
“Rick, where’s Mark?” Micah asked.
Rick’s eyes flashed wide awake as he heard Micah’s question and
turned to see that Mark wasn’t in the room.
“I don’t know, he was here when we went to sleep last night.”
As they hurriedly dressed, they looked to see if Mark has left
them a note on the dresser. Finding nothing, they went
downstairs. The hotel owner was standing behind the counter as
Acting casual at first, Micah inquired, “My Grandson, he must of
gotten up early this morning. Did you see where he went?”
“No sir. You’re the first ones up this morning. Now he might
have come down when I was in the kitchen, but I didn’t see
anything,” the man stated timidly. “Can I get you anything for
“No.” Micah and Rick left the hotel.
“So what do we do, Grandpa?” Rick asked, with the emphasis on
“We look for Mark. First let’s start at the livery.”
They walked to the livery and found no one inside. The stall
that Blue Boy should have been in was empty.
Micah looked to Rick and stated, “This ain’t good. Let’s get to
the telegraph office. I want to send a wire.”
Mark regained consciousness and found himself slung over a
saddle with a burlap bag over his head. He hurt, the blood
flowing to his head from hanging upside down, made his head hurt
even more than just from the blow he had taken. His hands were
tied to one stirrup and his feet to the other. He heard two
other horses with him. Where ever they were going, they were
running the horses hard.
The horses finally stopped. Mark heard the men dismount and he
felt a knife cut the ropes around his boots and then his wrists.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and was pushed from the saddle. A
groan escaped Mark’s lips as he felt pain in his ankle as he hit
the ground hard.
“Well boy, how’d you sleep last night?” Mark knew it was the
Sheriff asking. He remained quiet as he was hauled to his feet,
the bag taken off his head, and he was pushed forward. Mark
struggled to walk as he limped forward. The dizziness he felt
didn’t help. Each time he slowed, he felt the jab of a gun in
They entered a small house. Mark was pushed to sit down on the
floor in a corner of the room. The Sheriff knelt beside Mark and
bound his hands. Mark lowered his head into his bound hands,
hoping the pounding in his head would soon subside.
Another man entered the room and asked, “Who the hell is he and
why’d you bring him here?”
“Couldn’t leave him in town to tell the others he overheard me
talking with Pate last night.”
The Sheriff reached into his pocket and pulled something out and
tossed it to the desk. Mark looked up as he heard the object hit
the desk and saw the sun coming through the window reflect off
the silver surface of the object. To Mark’s horror, he realized
it was the deputy badge he’d put in his back pocket.
“A deputy? He’s just a boy! You said others, what others?” the
man angrily asked.
“Him and another boy, probably a few years older than this one,
and a man claiming to be their Grandpa. They arrived in town
yesterday afternoon,” Sheriff Dobbs answered.
“Him, the law?”
“Naw, probably just members of a posse out searching for you and
those other two drifters you hired to rob that stage.”
“So, why’d you bring him here? He’s seen us now!”
“Jackers, I couldn’t very well keep him in town and we need to
find out what they know. Even if they’re just members of a
Mark’s mind was whirling. ‘How do I get myself out of this? Just
keep calm,’ he kept telling himself. Oh, how his head was
Just after church services, Eddie ran from the telegraph office
and barged into the Marshal’s.
“Drako, got this wire for Lou, but I don’t understand, it says
it’s from her Pa – Norman Carreway, but her ‘dearly departed
father’ has been dead since before she came to North Fork.”
Eddie exclaimed as he came to a halt and Lucas took the wire
from his hands.
Mallory House Hotel
North Fork, New Mexico
Daughter, unexpected delay in Socorro. Wish JD was here. Love,
Pa - Norman Carreway.”
Lucas looked up from reading the wire and said, “It’s not from
Lou’s father, it’s from Micah.
“Micah?” Eddie asked, a puzzled expression on his face.
“Eddie, this could only come from Micah. He’s letting us know
where they are. And I presume he’s asking for Johnny to join
“Lucas, if Micah’s having to be that cryptic in his message,
they must be in some kind of trouble,” Drako commented.
Lou almost ran into Eddie, just inside the office door, as she
ran into the Marshal’s office.
“Johnny, I saw Eddie over here. Is there news?” Lou asked.
“Yes, seems your ‘dearly departed father’ isn’t so dearly
departed,” Drako quipped.
“Johnny Drako, this is no time for funning me,” Lou cried.
“Sorry, Eddie brought me a wire he received for you, from ‘your
Pa’. Lucas figured it’s really from Micah, letting us know where
they are and asking for our help.” Drako handed the wire to Lou
for her to read.
The Sheriff hauled Mark to his feet, dragged him, and threw him
backwards into a chair.
“Now Deputy,” Sheriff Dobbs stated sarcastically, as he sat down
on the desk. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing in Socorro
and wearing a badge? Ain’t you a little too young?”
Mark stared at the man, defiantly and kept quiet.
“I asked you a question or didn’t your ‘Grandpa’ teach you any
manners when it comes to your elders?”
Mark continued to keep quiet.
Before Mark could react, Dobbs backhanded him. The side of
Mark’s face burned from the force of the blow and he felt blood
trickle down from the corner of his mouth.
“Now, one more time or your ‘Grandpa’ is going to have one less
grandson. Tell me what you are doing in Socorro?”
“We was in North Fork when the stage was robbed. The Marshal
stated he needed men for a posse, paid two dollars a day per
man. Grandpa thought, why not, free money,” Mark finally
“So they took a little whelp like you, thinking you’re a man?”
Dobbs gave a loud, hearty laugh.
“Most their folks were at some rodeo,” replied as he tried to
not let his temper show through.
“Why are you here in Socorro and not out with the posse?”
Mark was quiet.
“Boy, don’t make me back hand you again. I may just decide to
put a hole in your chest the next time,” Dobbs said as he drew
his hand back and put it on the handle of his gun.
“They’s followin’ the tracks and the tracks split. The Marshal
and others headed Nor’east and we were supposed to go with the
other group. Those we rode with weren’t so good at trackin’ so
Grandpa decided to come here. Said he wanted to get a beer and
sleep in a bed. That Marshal didn’t allow no drinking, threw
Grandpa’s flask away the first night.”
Lucas and Drako stocked up on provisions and headed out to
Socorro. They rode in silence. When they finally stopped for the
night, Lucas couldn’t keep his emotions inside as he allowed
himself to cry. Night was always the worst time for worrying.
Nothing else to keep one’s mind occupied and the ‘what if
scenarios’ grew harder to block out.
Drako looked up from his cup of coffee and saw their small camp
fire reflecting off the tears running down Lucas’ face.
“Lucas, we have to keep faith. Micah and Merrar will keep Mark
Once Sheriff Dobbs was done questioning Mark, he had Jackers
take him outside.
“Put him in the cold cellar for now. I’ll let A.J. decide what
to do with him when he get’s back.”
Jackers held a gun on Mark as he pointed the way to the cold
cellar and made Mark open the door. Ask Mark stepped over the
threshold, Jackers pushed him. In an effort to regain his
balance, Mark stepped hard on his already sore ankle and felt a
sharp pain. He couldn’t stop himself as he let out a yelp and
fell down the five steps. He tried to fight back tears as he lay
on his side. He heard Jackers laughing as he closed the door to
the cold cellar.
They searched Socorro until noon for Mark. After not finding him
in town, Micah decided it would probably be best if they left
town. They returned to their hotel room and gathered their
belongings, including Mark’s hat, and then returned to the
livery for their horses.
As they rode from town Rick asked, “Okay, so what do we do now?
How do we find Mark?”
“We wait for Drako to get here.”
“Micah, if those outlaws have Mark and get wind of that wire…”
there was fear in Rick’s voice as he spoke.
“Now I might be old, but I’m not senile. I made it cryptic
enough that if those outlaws find out about it, they won’t
understand. I sent the wire to Lou, told her we were delayed and
that I wished JD was here. I’m sure Johnny will figure out the
wire. Just hope Lucas hasn’t returned yet.”
They rode in silence for two hours before stopping. They’d found
an area where they could hide and not been seen from the road,
yet they could keep an eye on the road. Praying it wouldn’t take
Johnny Drako that long to arrive.
Johnny and Lucas were walking their horses when they spotted two
riders approaching them.
“Lucas, it’s Merrar and Jepsom.”
They stopped and waited for the men to reach them. Lucas
couldn’t keep the concern from growing inside of him. Where were
the others and Mark?
As they met up, Merrar and Tony dismounted their horses. Merrar
took time to tell Drako and Lucas what had happened while
tracking the outlaws and then having to split up, finding one of
the outlaws dead on the road, and finally losing the trail.
Drako told them of the wire they received from Micah. The four
mounted their horses and rode for Socorro.
The cellar was dark. Mark couldn’t see his bound hands in front
of his face. He crawled and felt around until he came to an
earthen wall. He tried to stand up, but soon encountered the
roof to the cellar. He figured the room wasn’t four feet tall.
Mark sank back to his crawling position and then sat down on the
ground and leaned back against the wall. He wasn’t sure which
hurt more, his throbbing head or his throbbing ankle.
Eventually, the coolness of the cellar and fatigue overtook Mark
and he fell asleep.
Mark wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed when he heard the
door open, yet no light entered. How long it had been dark, Mark
couldn’t tell. He heard a voice call down to him and then a
lantern was lowered through the entrance.
“Boy you better crawl over here to me. Don’t make me come get
Mark obeyed. As Mark crawled up the cellar steps, Jackers
grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet then pushed him
forward. Mark gasped as the pain shot through his ankle and he
fell to the ground.
From the dark, Mark heard Dobbs yell, “What the hell’s going on
Jackers? Quit pushing the boy around and let him walk.”
“I can’t walk!” Mark yelled back, fighting back the tears of
pain in his eyes.
For that, Mark received a swift kick to the ribs as he started
to push himself into a sitting position on the ground.
“What do you, mean you can’t walk?” Dobbs demanded.
“I’m not sure if my ankle is twisted or broken.” Mark spoke with
bitterness in his voice. He got angry as he felt another kick to
“Jackers, help the boy up and get him inside. NOW!”
Mark felt himself roughly hauled to his feet and then picked up
and slung over Jackers’ shoulder. How he wanted to beat the man,
but not at the expense of the man retaliating. He was carried
into the same room as before and dropped in the same chair.
On the table in the middle of the room, Mark saw stacks of
money. His eyes widened as he saw it all. Asking himself, ‘Is
that the money from the stage?’
“So you ever see so much money before, boy?” a man asked.
“N-no s-sir.” Mark stammered.
“Guess you’re wondering what we’re going to do with all this
“In time, boy, all in due time. Now, let’s see if you’ll answer
my other questions.”
Mark turned his attention back to the Sheriff.
“So, you and your Grandpa and your brother were riding with the
“We ain’t brothers, he’s my cousin,” Mark answered.
“Tell me your name.”
“Mark Davis,” he replied.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Don’t you think I’d know my own name?” Mark tartly replied.
“No, I was just wondering about the wire your ‘Grandpa’ sent to
North Fork. Sent it to a Lou Mallory. Kind of figured she might
be your Ma.”
“Well, she ain’t.”
“So who is your Ma?”
Mark’s voice got quiet as he said, “She’s dead.”
“Now, what about your Pa?”
“Why do you want to know?” Mark asked with a little more fire in
“Just answer my question boy.”
“No!” was Mark’s defiant answer and for that he receive another
backhanded blow from the Sheriff.
“Dobbs!” called a new voice, as a man entered into the room
behind Mark’s back. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“A.J., we caught this ‘deputy’ in Socorro. Said him and his
family were tracking Jackers with a posse from North Fork. Says
his name’s Mark Davis.”
The man stepped around in front of Mark.
“Deputy? Why he’s nothing more than a 16 year old boy!” A.J.
“So what if the Marshal from North Fork deputized me and my
Grandpa. They needed riders,” Mark replied.
“Mark, you might want to rethink your answers.” A.J. pulled a
cigar from his pocket, he leaned back and sat down on the edge
of the desk, and lit the cigar. He took one long draw and then
slowly blew the smoke into the air. Then looking directly at
Mark, he continued, “Considering I just finished spending a few
days with your Pa up in Santa Fe while he was at the Cattlemen’s
“Grayson, what does it matter if his Pa’s some big cattleman?”
Some else asked from behind Mark.
“Shut your mouth up!” Grayson yelled to the one standing behind
Then returning his attention and train of thought to Mark, “Oh
it matters, and not because his Pa is a cattleman. You see, this
boy isn’t Mark Davis. His name is Mark McCain and his father is
Lucas McCain, better known in this territory as the Rifleman.
Your Pa sure is proud of you boy.” He walked behind Mark and
bent over and spoke quietly in his ear. “Saw your picture in his
wallet when he went to pay for dinner one night. We spent a
couple of hours talking about ‘family’. Oh if he only knew the
truth. All the way home I was trying to figure out how to get to
him. Logically, I thought, it would be through his son. But how,
was my problem. Then I arrive here this morning and find that
you saved me all the trouble.”
Fear flooded through Mark. If these men knew who he was and who
his Pa was, what would they do with him? Then his thoughts
turned to Micah and Rick. Were they still in Socorro?
“The Rifleman?” the voice behind Mark questioned. There was fear
in his voice.
“You know Corbin,” Grayson stepped to the voice behind Mark.
“I’m getting tired of your whining.” Turning to Jackers, “Deal
Jackers pulled his gun on Corbin and motioned for him to walk
out the room. Mark watched them leave and thought Corbin
couldn’t be that much older than Rick.
“So, now, do you want to tell me the truth? Who were the two men
you were riding with?” Grayson asked.
“They were just men who volunteered for the posse,” Mark stated
with no emotion in his voice.
“If that’s the way you want to play it.” Then turning to the
Sheriff, “Dobbs, get his ankle looked after and then put him
back in the cold cellar. I saw him limping in here earlier.
Don’t argue! Take care of his ankle.”
Lucas, Drako, Merrar, and Tony would be in Socorro late the next
morning, but before then, they planned to stop for the night.
As they made camp, Lucas became more restless. He grabbed his
rifle and walked out of camp.
“Lucas?” Drako asked.
“I’ll be back. Just want to be alone to think.”
As Lucas strolled around the outskirts of the camp, he came
across tracks of two men and followed them. Quietly he came upon
the two men, crouched a short distance from the camp. Lucas
stood and cocked his rifle. In the quiet of the night, it was
loud enough that it accomplished what Lucas had hoped. He just
didn’t expect the results he got.
“Lucas?” a voice called out that sounded a lot like Micah.
“Micah? Or should I say Norman Ambrose Carreway?”
Micah and Tony stood at Lucas’ approach.
“Where’s Mark? Merrar said he was with you.”
“Let’s get to your camp and we’ll talk.”
“Micah?” Lucas asked with fear in his voice.
They walked into camp, Micah and Tony helped themselves to
“Mark disappeared Sunday morning. We stopped in Socorro for the
night. We pretended to be family and didn’t use our real names,
just in case. We woke up the next morning and Mark was missing
from the room. We searched the town, Blue Boy was even missing.
That’s when I sent the wire. LucasBoy, I’ve been kicking myself
over allowing him to join the posse. But we needed some one who
Lucas was standing next to a tree and slammed the side of his
fist against it.
“Lucas, don’t beat yourself up over this. We’ll get him back,”
Drako said as he came up behind Lucas and place a hand on his
“Micah, tell us about this town.” Lucas stated as he turned back
to the fire.
“That town just didn’t feel right. We arrived on a Saturday
afternoon and the streets should have been busy with people.
Mark commented on how it felt worse than a ghost town. No one
out and about but he said he felt eyes burning holes in his
The men continued their conversation in how to find Mark. They
planned to ride to Socorro, it seemed the only logical place to
start. Finally the men returned to their bedrolls.
Dobbs created a splint and wrapped Mark’s ankle. It still hurt
to walk, but at least he could walk. Mark spent the night in the
cold cellar again. When morning came, they pulled him out and
they mounted their horses.
When they stopped, Mark asked, “So what is it you want with my
“Just drink your water and be quiet,” Jackers replied.
“I won’t! Tell me what you want with me and my Pa!” Mark yelled.
“Boy,” Dobbs declared as he turned in his saddle. “Either you
keep your mouth shut or I’ll have Jackers gag you.”
Mark continued to ride in silence until they stopped before
dark. Jackers pulled him from the saddle and pushed him to the
“Jackers, treat the boy nicely. You don’t want his Pa upset at
you roughing up his ‘little boy’, now do you?” Dobbs stated.
“I don’t care who he or his Pa are. I don’t see why we’re
tagging him along. Dobbs, you should have gotten rid of him
before bringing him to the hideout,” Jackers snarled back.
“I for one am thankful that Dobbs was thinking, Jackers. See, I
have a new employer who wants the boy’s Pa dead and” before
Grayson could continue…
“If someone wants the boy’s Pa dead, why didn’t you kill him up
in Santa Fe?” Jackers asked.
“Because, there were certain stipulations as to how it was
supposed to happen. First, he wanted to know why the first
attempt failed. Second, McCain had to know who had ordered his
execution. My employer was quite upset with my predecessor.
Seems he’s waited over two years since the last attempt to kill
Mark listened intently to the men as they talked. They weren’t
trying to conceal their conversations and for that reason, Mark
knew he had good cause to be scared.
“I found out that my employer had previously hired an
international assassin. Based on what I found out, that boy over
there had a lot to do with Lucas McCain’s survival.”
“How do you know that?” Dobbs asked.
“I have contacts in the Denver Marshal’s office. Told them I was
investigating a story and needed to see the report that was
submitted. I won’t make the same mistake my predecessor did.”
“Who wants my Pa dead?” Mark yelled to the men.
A.J. Grayson turned and walked towards Mark and knelt in front
“You ever hear of Ralph Hayden?” Grayson asked.
“Seems your Pa shot him a long time ago. Since then, he’s spent
the rest of his life in a wheel chair. Day and night, he lives
to see your Pa dead.”
“Then he had to be doing something against the law and my Pa was
just defending himself or defending someone else.”
“Doesn’t matter to me. All that I know is Mr. Hayden has paid
good money and wants your Pa dead. He couldn’t believe when his
first assassin failed. Just how did you do it?”
“Do what?” Mark asked.
“Break through the hard shell of Mario Osati. Hayden stated he
came highly recommended and that he had never failed to complete
Mark didn’t hear anything else after hearing the name Mario
Osati. He remembered back to that day. He’d come home from
school at lunch to see a man that they had accepted as a friend,
holding a derringer on his Pa. Mark didn’t think, he only
reacted when he picked up his Pa’s rifle, yelled, and threw the
rifle to his Pa. He watched as the man his Pa had welcomed into
their home because he claimed he was an acquaintance of one of
his Pa’s closest friends back in Enid, fell dead. Mario had even
told Mark of the Society, back in the old country, and how, when
he was a boy, the Society had killed his father in front of his
When Mark’s attention turned back to Grayson, he was saying,
“Guess I could kill him twice. First by watching you die and
then for me to actually kill the Rifleman.” Grayson laughed as
he stood and walked away.
Mark’s mind started racing. They were planning to kill him in
front of his Pa and then to kill his Pa.
The posse from North Fork rode back to Socorro. This time, Micah
was wearing his badge as they entered the town, six strong.
Rifles at the ready on their knees. They stopped in front of the
hotel. As Pate was sweeping the porch, he looked up and his eyes
widened as he saw six riders in front of him, all wearing
“Now, maybe you’ll answer my question.” Micah said and he
lowered his scatter gun towards the hotel owner. “Where’s the
boy who came into town with me Saturday?”
Pate stood and stared, looking from one man to the next.
Johnny was the next to speak, “Mister, you better answer the
Marshal. You don’t want the boy’s father asking. If it comes to
that, I don’t think we’ll stop him.”
“I d-don’t know. Honest. Marshal, this town’s scared. We were
forced to accept Sheriff Dobbs and his gang. We’re scared in our
own homes. Ain’t nothing we could do. We had to do as they told
“Do you know who took him? Because I know for sure he didn’t go
willingly,” Micah stated.
“Dobbs took him. The boy over heard him talking that night.
Dobbs wanted information on you. I told him I didn’t like it. I
know they’re outlaws, but as far as I knew, you were who you
said you were. Then the boy, he came downstairs, and Dobbs
figured he’d been listening in. Boy tried to get away, but Dobbs
took him to the office. Last I saw, they had him slung over a
saddle and headed out of town. Probably taken him out to their
“Where does this Dobbs live?” Lucas asked.
“He and his gang stayed at a place about three miles from town,”
Johnny motioned, “Maybe you should show us the way.”
The posse followed Pate to the farmhouse. Upon arrival, Tony and
Rick stood guard over the hotel owner. Johnny searched the
farmhouse, while Micah and Lucas searched the barn. They were
walking around the barn, when they came to the cold cellar.
Lucas opened the doors and saw a body lying on the ground below,
as the sun shone on it like a spotlight through the open door.
Relief flooded through him as he looked down and saw the face
and it wasn’t Mark.
They re-grouped in front of the farmhouse. “Micah, there’s a
footlocker in one of the rooms, when I opened it, there was a
whole bunch of money inside. Guess these are the ones who robbed
the stage,” Johnny stated.
“Let’s bag it up and put in on the packhorse. No sense leaving
it hear,” Micah replied.
As they returned to their horses, Lucas took a moment to look at
the tracks and saw a horseshoe print he was all too familiar
with, Blue Boy’s. Lucas was thankful that he had insisted that
Nils leave the bar shoes on Blue Boy, even after the quarter
crack in his hoof had healed. He only prayed that Mark was the
one riding Blue Boy.
They followed the trail to where the outlaws had rested their
horses and then to where they had stopped for lunch.
“Micah, we can’t be but a few hours behind them,” Lucas stated
as they dismounted for the night. “But I don’t understand, we’re
heading back South. They rob the stage outside of North Fork,
head to Socorro, and now they’re heading back South. Just
doesn’t make sense.”
The posse rode hard and strong as the tracks led straight back
to North Fork.
As they entered the town, John Hamilton came running out to
greet them, stopping short when he realized Mark wasn’t with
them. Nils stopped at the livery door and watched the somber
group ride past him.
Dave Merrar, Tony Jepsom, and Rick Youngston headed back to the
Merrar Ranch for the night. Micah stopped at the bank with the
packhorse, asked John if he would put the money in the safe
until the Stage Company could send someone to collect it. Drako
headed to Lou’s. Lucas returned to the ranch.
Lucas rode to the barn, unsaddled Razor and slowly walked to the
house. He entered the darkened room, set his rifle in the stand
by the door, walked to the table and removed his hat and set in
on the table. He leaned over, rested both of his hands on the
table and lowered his head. Lost in what to do. Confused in why
the tracks led back to North Fork. Scared for his son.
He heard a match strike and saw a flame illuminate a small
portion of the room. The lit match was placed in the hearth and
slowly the fireplace came to light.
“Well, Lucas McCain. So pleased to finally meet you. Quite cozy
little home that you and your boy share. Too bad, after tonight,
it will be abandoned. Too bad, after tonight the legend of the
Rifleman will die,” Sheriff Dobbs said as he stood facing the
fire, watching as the flames grew.
Lucas heard the barrel of a handgun being spun behind him and
turned his head to see who was standing behind him.
“Who are you?” Lucas asked, trying to remain calm.
“Us? It doesn’t matter who we are, really. All you need to know
is that we are the one’s who will see you dead before sunset
“If you’re here to kill me, get it over with,” Lucas stated.
“Not, quite yet, Mr. McCain. See, our associate has been hired
to kill you, and it wouldn’t be fitting for me to take away his,
“Quit playing games!” Lucas demanded.
“Games? Believe me Mr. McCain, this is no game. Its life or
death, yours and maybe your boy’s.”
Lucas heart skipped a beat. Were these the men who had Mark?
Regardless Mark was being used as a pawn.
“Oh yes, we know all about your precious boy. See, before my
associate could kill you, he had to find out how the first
Continuing as if he didn’t hear Lucas, “The report your Marshal
filed up in Denver was quite interesting reading. We’ve taken
the liberty of removing your boy from the equation, for now,”
Sheriff Dobbs stated.
“You’re bluffing, my boy’s not been home.”
“True. He’s been up in Socorro with the posse, and now, he’s
close to home. Uh, uh, uh, Mr. McCain. I don’t like the look
that just played across your face. See, your little boy is our
guest, for the time being. There’s a note on the table. Read it
and follow directions. And I wouldn’t leave the house until
sunrise, if you want to see your boy alive again.”
Dobbs and Jackers got in the saddle and rode away from the ranch
Lucas didn’t sleep at all. He blew out the lanterns in the front
room and sat in his chair and watched out the window.
The sun was just starting to rise, when he heard gun fire
outside. Lucas grabbed his rifle and ran out the door. Johnny
Drako was coming from behind the barn, removing empty shells
from his gun and replacing them with bullets. Micah rode up with
Johnny’s horse in tow.
“Micah, Johnny, what the hell?” Lucas yelled as he ran to where
“Sorry, Lucas, but Lou didn’t like the idea of you being out
here all by yourself last night. Made me come and keep an eye on
your place. Micah saw me leaving town and came along for the
company. We saw a man, hiding behind your barn, gun drawn.
Honestly Lucas, he took the first shot. Do you know who he is?”
as they walked to the back of the barn.
“I’d say that he’s one of the outlaws who has Mark. Him and
another man were waiting for me in the house last night. Left me
instructions to follow this morning to get Mark back.” Lucas
didn’t say anything about the death threat against him.
“What do you have to do?” Micah asked.
“There’s a box canyon on the ranch. They want me there by noon
“Why?” Drako asked.
Lucas walked to the barn to get Razor ready.
“Lucas, why do they have Mark? Man, either you answer my
question or… LUCAS!” Drako yelled.
Lucas continued to saddle Razor as he spoke. “Drako, almost
three years ago, Mark and I welcomed a man into our home because
he said he was an acquaintance of a good friend of mine back in
Enid. Turns out he was nothing more than an assassin, hired to
kill me. Ralph Hayden still wants me dead and has hired someone
else to finish what Mario Osati didn’t. Only this time, Mark’s
life is at stake!”
“LucasBoy, let us come with you!” Micah pleaded.
“I have to do this alone Micah. I can’t risk it. Not with my
boy’s life at stake!” Lucas turned to mount Razor; not realizing
the hurt his words caused Micah.
The words stung Micah. He knew it was his fault Mark was
Lucas rode to the top of the box canyon, as directed in the
note. He pulled his rifle from the scabbard and rode with it on
In the distance, Lucas saw three riders sitting on horses. Two
together, one separate, waiting. “Hold it right there, McCain!”
the single rider called when Lucas got so close to them.
Lucas halted Razor. Of the two together, even though one had a
burlap sack over his head and his hands tied behind his back,
from the build of the rider Lucas knew he was Mark and the horse
he was on, Blue Boy.
“Let my boy go!” Lucas yelled back.
The outlaw next to Mark pointed his hand gun at Mark’s chest,
Lucas watched as he cocked the gun.
“See Mr. McCain, there are two of us, and even with your
reputation with that rifle, I don’t think you could shoot both
of use before one of us kills your boy.”
Lucas had to turn his head away from Mark to see the man calling
to him. They knew tactics of facing a single gunman.
“I’m sure Hayden is only paying you to kill me, let my boy go!”
“So you know who my employer is. Impressive.”
“Not so hard to figure out base on what the Sheriff there told
me last night.” There was pure disgust in Lucas’ voice when he
used the word Sheriff.
“Where’s Jackers?” Grayson asked.
“Seems he wanted to have a go at me this morning. Thought he
could take me, maybe earn the money for himself. Guess that’s
what he gets for thinking,” Lucas replied.
“No bother. Fewer people to split the money with,” Grayson
Mark sat in the saddle, listening to the exchange. Knowing one
of the outlaws was to his left. He’d heard the cocking of the
gun. He had to do something to save the life of his Pa. Mark
acted out of love. He pulled his legs up and launched himself
out of his saddle, towards the rider next to him, he felt the
impact of his shoulder against the man, and sensed they were
falling to the ground. As they hit the ground, Mark heard the
discharge of a gun and felt a searing pain into the side of his
chest. He heard the unmistakable sound of his Pa’s rifle being
fired. Mark felt the outlaw underneath him push him aside.
Then from a greater distance, Mark heard another rifle shot and
felt a heavy weight fall over him. Mark felt the weight being
lifted off his body, heard his father’s voice, saw the tears
falling down his Pa’s face as his Pa pulled the bag off his
head. Then Mark remembered no more, as his world went black.
Lucas’ attention was on Grayson when he heard the gun shot.
Lucas fired his rifle from his hip as Grayson looked to see what
had happened. As Grayson fell from his saddle, Lucas turned to
see Dobbs pushing Mark off of him and rise to his feet. Then
from a distance, Lucas heard another rifle shot and watched as
Dobbs fell across Mark.
Lucas yelled Mark’s name and ran to where he lay and pulled
Dobb’s body off of him. He saw the blood on Mark’s shirt and
prayed it was from Dobb’s. He knelt beside Mark and kept calling
his name. As he untied the twine around Mark’s neck and pulled
the bag from his head, he realized the blood stain on Mark’s
shirt had gotten larger. His boy had been shot. Tears were
streaming down Lucas’ face as he saw in his boy’s eyes that he
realized his Pa was there, and then they closed. Lucas removed
the gag from Mark’s mouth and pulled his boy up into his arms.
Johnny Drako rode up and brought his horse to a sliding stop as
he dismounted. Dobbs was still alive and had just reached the
gun he had dropped. He was bringing it around to aim at Lucas’
back, when Drako pulled his hand gun from his holster and fired
one more shot. Point blank, he didn’t miss his target, dead,
Drako turned around to see Lucas had laid Mark on his back after
untying the ropes that bound his hands. Watched as Lucas tore
the sleeve off his shirt, wadded it up, and pressed it against
the side of Mark’s chest.
“Lucas, did it go clean through or is the bullet…?”
“Drako, it’s still in his chest.” Then turning his face to the
sky, “God, please, let him live.”
Drako knelt beside Lucas, he’d removed his vest and wadded it
up. He gave it to Lucas to help stem the flood of blood from
Mark’s chest. He pulled off his belt, and with Lucas’ help, he
wrapped it around Mark and tightened it as much as he could.
“Lucas, get in the saddle, I’ll hand him up to you for the ride
“Johnny, what if Doc’s not in town?” fear resounded in Lucas’
“Lucas, Micah was taking the outlaw’s body from your place to
town. I’m sure if Doc’s not there when he arrived, he’ll of
gotten him there. Just pray that Doc is Lucas, just pray.”
Drako lifted Mark and helped Lucas get him positioned in the
saddle, in front of him. Knowing they had to get Mark to town
fast and that he would need both hands to keep an unconscious
Mark in the saddle, he tossed his reins to Drako.
As they rode to town, Lucas’ mind played over the times he had
ridden Mark in front of him in the saddle. Happier times. Times
before Margaret had passed. Then his boy had grown up and
insisted he could ride on his own. Lucas never imagined riding
Mark in front of him under these circumstances.
The people of North Fork stopped and stared at the riders racing
into town and stopping in front of Doc’s. It took all of Lucas’
effort to keep Mark in the saddle as Razor shied sideways at the
Micah opened the door and looked out at the sound of the
approaching riders. Grief was written all over his face as he
watched Johnny help Lucas carry Mark inside.
Doc didn’t say anything or ask any questions. He cut the belt
holding the pressure bandage around Mark’s chest and pulled the
bloody rags away. He cut away Mark’s shirt so he could examine
Mark started moaning and moving his head from side to side, “No,
they can’t. No, please don’t. You can’t!” he called.
Doc pulled out his stethoscope and listened to Mark’s chest. He
heard the steady beat of Mark’s heart and heard his left lung
was as clear as his right. Doc didn’t pay any attention to the
three men still standing in his office as he started to
administer the ether, he had work to do. He needed to get Mark
under sedation, needed to make sure he didn’t feel what was
going to happen next.
As Doc Burrage worked steadily with an extractor to locate the
bullet and remove it, Micah pushed Lucas to sit down at the
Doc’s desk. Micah sat on the corner of the desk as Johnny sat in
the chair by the door. Lucas folded his hands in prayer as he
bent his head forward, resting his chin on his thumbs and his
elbows on his knees, allowing the tears to fall from his eyes.
He watched as Doc took a knife and cut more into his son’s
chest. Then, he inserted the extractor again. Lucas closed his
eyes and prayed harder.
In time, Lucas heard the sound of metal being dropped in a glass
jar. He looked up and saw Doc Burrage preparing to thread a
needle, to begin suturing the hole the bullet had left and the
Once Doc was finished suturing the wound, he stepped to the sink
and began running water over his hands to remove all the blood,
as Johnny pumped the handle.
Drying his hands, he turned to Lucas, “Lucas, you can be
thankful he’ll pull through. The bullet struck a rib and
followed it around to his back. It didn’t pierce his lung. His
heart and lungs are all clear.”
“When will he wake up?” Lucas asked.
“He’ll probably start to wake around dinner time. Why don’t you
go to the hotel and get some sleep.”
“I’m not leaving him, Doc.”
“Okay.” Turning to the others, “Let’s carry him into the back
room. That way if I have any other patients…”
Gently, the four lifted Mark from the examination table and
carried him to the back room.
Lucas removed Mark’s belt and boots.
“Doc, take a look at his ankle, it’s been splinted and wrapped,”
Lucas called before Doc left the room.
Doc returned to stand next to the bed. As Lucas supported Mark’s
leg, Doc unwrapped it. After a few minutes he declared, “Lucas,
it’s not a clean break, but it is fractured. At least someone
was looking out for him before. Let me get a couple of splints
and I’ll rebandage the ankle.”
Finally, Lucas pulled the covers up over Mark. He held onto
Mark’s hand as he sat on the side of the bed.
Micah and Johnny left the room to give Lucas privacy in his
grief for Mark. They knew they needed to return get the bodies
of the men responsible for this. They also had left the horses
out there, including Blue Boy.
Shortly, Doc Burrage brought a bible from the church and handed
it to Lucas, then left the room.
Lucas was focusing so intently on trying to derive answers from
the bible, that at first, he didn’t hear Mark speaking. Lucas
brought his full attention to Mark, hoping he was waking.
But instead, he heard Mark say, “Just remember what Pa taught
me. Just have faith in what Pa taught me. Remember…” He repeated
the words over and over again. Then he was quiet.
Drako was sitting in the room with Lucas, the next time Mark
spoke, “Please God, just let me save my Pa. -- I have to save
him. -- They can’t kill my Pa, I still need him. -- God, please,
…give Pa the strength to live, if I don’t.”
Lucas lost all composure at hearing these words from his son. He
slipped off the edge of the bed Mark was lying on and fell to
his knees, hands folded, bowed his head, and he prayed.
Drako left the room in tears. He knew the bond that Lucas and
Mark shared was strong and knew that both would willingly give
their own life to save the life of the other. From what Drako
had seen, that’s exactly what Mark had tried to do earlier.
The sun had set the next time that Doc returned to the room to
check on Mark. As Doc lit the lamp he saw Lucas still kneeling
at the side of the bed, head resting on the bed, Mark’s hand in
his. Doc looked at Mark and saw him moving his head and his
eyelids start to flutter. Doc placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder,
which immediately brought him wide awake.
“Lucas, I think he’s coming to,” Doc quietly said.
Lucas got up to sit on the edge of the bed and looked at Mark as
he started to moan. Tears fell from his eyes as he looked to
Doc, his eyes pleading for something to take away his son’s
“Let him wake Lucas. If necessary, I’ll give him some
medication, but I need to see how much pain he’s feeling.”
“Pa?” Mark called out softly.
“I’m here Mark. I’m right here,” Lucas answered.
“Pa? Please, don’t be angry with me or anyone else. I had to.”
“Mark, I know.” Lucas asked.
“Micah needed help. There were too few men in town for the
“Mark, you’re safe. You’re home.” Lucas answered.
“The posse needed…”
“Mark, don’t worry about the posse. You’re home.” Lucas said a
little more firmly. Realizing Mark wasn’t really awake, he was
Mark’s eyes opened a little wider. “Pa… Pa?!” Mark called a
little louder and panicked.
“I’m here Mark.”
Mark turned his head to look at his Pa. “Pa? Those men? They
Mark tried to sit up, but in doing so, a groan escaped his lips
and Lucas pushed him back down into the bed. “No son, don’t try
to sit up.”
“Aargh… They were going to kill you. Pa, they were...” Mark
stated as he closed his eyes. Lucas saw tears seeping through
his closed eyelids. Mark kept a tight hold of his Pa’s hand as
he fought through the pain.
“I know it hurts. Do you want Doc Burrage to give you something
to ease the pain?”
Mark shook his head no in answer to his Pa. “I need to feel it
Pa. Just to remind me that you’re alive. That we survived.”
“Doc, he can’t do this to himself. Go ahead and give him
something to ease his pain.”
A few moments later, Mark felt a gentle prick in his arm, he
heard his Pa and Doc talking, but the words became muffled and
he was asleep.
Mark woke the next morning to find the sun streaming in the
room. As he looked around he saw Doc sitting in a chair, reading
“Doc, Pa? Is he okay? Please Doc, tell me they didn’t kill my
Pa!” Mark rapidly spoke as he tried to sit up in bed and fell
backwards from the pain, grabbing at the side of his chest.
“Don’t try to sit up boy. Your Pa’s alive and healthy. Don’t you
remember the conversation you had last night with your Pa?
“Last night? I don’t remember,” Mark answered and he struggled
to accept the pain he was feeling.
“Your Pa will be back in a few minutes. Here, let me give you
some medication to ease the pain.”
“No Doc. Please I have to know, don’t make me sleep. Is Pa
“Mark, yes, your father is okay and he’ll be even better when he
sees you’re awake. But first, this is for your own good. I won’t
put you to sleep this time, but this will ease the pain you’re
After Doc administered the shot, Mark relaxed back into the bed
and tried to remember the conversation Doc said he’d had with
his Pa. His mind drew a blank. He turned his head as he heard
the door open. He saw Lou enter the room first followed by his
Pa carrying a tray. He saw the tired look on his Pa’s face.
“Thanks Lou, I appreciate it,” Lucas stated. “Doc, how’s Mark
doing?” he quietly asked as he set the tray down on the desk.
Doc just grinned as Mark answered, “Why don’t you ask me?”
Lucas turned around quickly and saw Mark lying in bed, eyes
open, and a small smile on his lips, but he saw the paihn in
“Mark!” Lucas strode the bed, sat down, and pulled his son into
his embrace. Mark returned his father’s hug. Before Lucas
released Mark, he asked Doc to prop some more pillows behind
Mark so he could sit up in bed to eat his breakfast.
Lucas had just placed the tray on Mark’s lap when Drako came in
for the morning.
“So, how’s our young man this morning?” Drako asked as he walked
over, stood behind Lou, put his arms around her waist, and
rested his head down on her shoulder.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I’m finished eating. I’m
starving!” Mark exclaimed as he started eating.
“Well, that is a good sign Lucas,” Doc grinned.
Lou and Johnny left, once they realized that Mark was going to
Doc Burrage finished examining Mark when Lucas asked, “When can
I take him home Doc?”
“Not for a week I’d say. I want to make sure that bullet wound
is healing before I let him go home. He’s going to have to use
crutches to get around for about six weeks because of his ankle
and that’s going to put stress on his ribs. I’ll make
arrangements with Lou to have a room ready at the hotel for the
two of you this afternoon.”
Then turning to Mark, “Mark, I want you to rest here for the
time being, we’ll get the room set up for you and move you this
Lucas turned to Mark and said, “Mark, I need to tend to some
business at Micah’s office. Will you be okay here?”
Lucas walked into the Marshal’s office. Johnny Drako and Lou
were chatting as he entered. Micah was sitting behind his desk,
listening to the two.
“Micah, I want to prefer charges against Ralph Hayden. The last
time I let it go, because he didn’t succeed. But this time, his
hatred almost cost my son his life.”
“Lucas, that won’t be necessary,” Johnny answered.
“NOT NECESSARY! Drako because of him, my son is lying in the
doctor’s office, recovering from a bullet wound. In my book
THAT’S ATTEMPTED MURDER!” Lucas yelled as he leaned over the end
of the Marshal’s desk and pointed a finger at Johnny on the far
“Lucas, I’m not disagreeing with you. We received a wire. I’d
sent a wire to the Sheriff in the town where Hayden lived,
wanted to let him know about the assassination attempt against
you and how we had a number of dead outlaws because of him.
Seems Ralph Hayden died three days ago.”
“Lucas, you don’t have anything to worry about any more from
him. Just relax and focus on taking care of Mark. He’s going to
need you to get him through this experience.”
Lou walked over to Lucas and stated, I’ve a room already for
Mark and you, whenever you want to move into the hotel. Here’s
the key to room ten.
Lucas returned to the back room at Doc’s and found Mark
sleeping. Before he sat down in the chair, he brushed Mark’s
hair from his forehead with his hand. Mark started to rouse.
“I’m here son.”
Mark opened his eyes again.
“Pa, can we talk?”
“Mark you know we can always talk.”
Mark licked his lips as he tried to sit up. He fought back
against crying out from the pain. Lucas helped Mark sit up and
propped some pillows behind him, then rested him back into them.
“Mark, until the Doc says otherwise, if you need to sit up,
don’t do it all yourself. Ask for help.”
Mark averted his eyes from his Pa’s. “And don’t feel ashamed to
ask for help. Right now, it’s more important for you to heal
properly. Believe me, once that is healed,” Lucas said pointing
towards Mark’s side. “It’s only the beginning. Doc says you’ll
be on crutches for about six weeks with that ankle of yours.
Mark, I’m only stating facts, I’m not upset with you.”
“Pa, earlier, Doc said we talked last night,” Mark stated.
“I wouldn’t say we ‘talked’ last night. It was more a
re-affirmation that we were both alive. And then dealing with
the pain you were feeling. While you were unconscious, you said
some things that, well… I hurt for you. Then when you woke, you
were so worried about me.”
“I don’t remember any of it, Pa. Last thing I remember is
sitting on Blue Boy, listening to Dobbs and Grayson threatening
you. I knew I had to do something. Pa, I might be a young man
and all, but I still need you. There’s so much you haven’t
taught me yet. I still have a lot to learn from you.”
“Mark, I’m grateful for the distraction you caused when you
knocked Dobbs from his horse. It gave me the time to deal with
Grayson. Johnny took care of Dobbs. Mark… When I saw the blood
on your shirt…” Lucas faltered.
“Pa, Doc says I’m going to be alright.”
“Yes, but last night, while you were still under the effects of
surgery, you were talking about needing to do something to save
my life. I guess you were reliving those last few moments.
Then…” Lucas hesitated. “You asked God to give me the strength
to go on living if you didn’t.”
“Pa, I only did what you would have done, had the situation been
“I know son.” Then changing the subject, “Tell you what. Lou has
a room ready for you over at the hotel. How about us letting Doc
have the rest of his office back. Nils stopped me on the way
back here and said he’d put together a make-shift wheel chair to
get you around while in town. First, we need to get you get
dressed.” Lucas stood and walked to the desk and picked up the
new clothes he had purchased and handed them to Mark. At almost
seventeen, it had been a number of years since Mark needed
anyone to help get him dressed. But he was grateful for his
father’s assistance. “You can carry your boots, since you won’t
be doing any walking for a while.”
As they arrived in the hotel, Lucas looked up at the stairs,
wondering how he was going to get Mark upstairs in the chair.
“You can always carry me Pa.”
“No, Doc doesn’t want any pressure on your ribs until that wound
is healed. And carrying you, I’d put pressure on your ribs.”
“Not if you carried me piggy-back,” Mark had a smile on his face
as he remembered all the times when he was smaller that he’d
ridden aback his Pa.
Lou, Johnny, and Micah entered the hotel to see the two of them
laughing as they went up the stairs together.
As Lucas sat Mark down on the bed, he said, “Mark, I have some
chores that need to be done at the ranch. Lou said she and Alice
would keep an ear out for you if you needed anything. But more
importantly, Doc said you need to rest. So I want you to sleep
while I’m gone. I’ll return in time for dinner tonight.”
Lucas assisted Mark in lying down and then pulled the covers
During the days that week, while Lucas was out doing chores
around the ranch, many of the town’s folks stopped by to check
in on Mark. Lou made sure to tell everyone, if they stopped in
to talk with him, to keep the door open when they left, so she
could her Mark call if he needed anything. She’d put Mark in a
room towards the back where it would be a quick jaunt up the
stairs from the kitchen to his room. She kept most of the other
guests towards the front of the hotel, so they wouldn’t disturb
Mark when he was sleeping. When he wasn’t sleeping, his friends
would knock on the open door and enter his room.
Johnny made sure to stop by at appropriate times to assist Mark
in and out of the ‘necessary’.
Tony and Rick were some of the visitors who stopped in that
week. They talked of riding with the posse. Rick and Mark were
laughing as they told Tony how they’d pretended to be family.
Tony did the same thing they had done as he looked back and
forth between them. They talked up to the point where Mark went
missing. When Rick asked about it, Mark stated, “I think I’d
like to finish talking with my Pa about it first, before I talk
with anyone else. I know you mean well Rick, it’s just that, I’m
doing some growing up and not exactly understanding everything.
Pa and I are slowly talking about it at night. It helps to talk
about it a little at a time, instead of everything all at once.
I hope you understand.”
The look in Mark’s eyes was apologetic and the two understood.
One night after Lucas returned to see Mark to their hotel room,
he asked his Pa when Doc Burrage might let him go home.
“Doc’s coming tomorrow and if he likes how you’re healing, I’m
sure he’ll let you go home. And here I thought you’d be enjoying
staying in town all this time,” Lucas replied.
“It’s just not the same being stuck in bed. At least a lot of my
friends have stopped by to see me and we can talk or play
checkers to help pass the day. Mr. Griswald has even brought me
Lucas noticed that Mark’s voice grew quiet, “Son, is there
Mark told his Pa the only one he was disappointed not to see was
Micah. “Pa, I don’t understand why he’s not stopped by.
Practically everyone else has.”
Lucas thought long and hard before answering Mark. “I think he
might be feeling guilty over what happened to you.”
“But why? He wasn’t there when Dobbs shot me.”
“Mark, think about it. He was the Marshal in charge and he let
you, no, he deputized you to join the posse because I wasn’t in
town. He knew he needed a good tracker and you were the only
choice. If he hadn’t taken you on the posse, I think he feels
you wouldn’t have been shot.”
“But Pa, that’s not true. I mean, sure, those men wouldn’t have
kidnapped me in Socorro, but they could have still gotten to me
here in North Fork. Grayson was hired to kill you. He knew why
Mr. Osati didn’t kill you. He read the report Micah filed with
the Territorial Marshal up in Denver. Pa, I over heard them say
they were planning to kill you twice over. First when they
planned to kill me, knowing that it would kill you inside, and
second when they were to actually kill you,” Mark pleaded.
“You knew they were planning to shoot you and you still tried to
knock Dobbs off his horse? Why didn’t you just kick Blue Boy and
ride away? Why did you put yourself at such risk?” Lucas was
shocked to realize his boy had put himself in such danger.
“Because it’s what I’ve seen you do time and time again. You
stand up for those who can’t.” Mark lowered his voice, “Pa, you
couldn’t stand up for yourself because I was there. In the past,
your choices were limited when ever I was present, because you
were too worried about me. This time…, Pa, I knew their plan and
you didn’t, there was no way you could have saved me, if I
hadn’t acted. It was up to me to save both our lives. Pa, I did
it out of love for you.”
Lucas was taken back by the words Mark spoke. Realizing all the
times he had put himself at risk protecting North Fork, there
was a lesson that Mark had learned. Mark had learned to put
others ahead of himself. Lucas pulled Mark into his arms and
held him. He thought to himself, ‘Margaret, I can’t believe how
blessed we are to have such a son.’
The day had finally come when Doc declared Mark healed enough to
give up on the wheel chair and using his Pa as a pack mule, up
and down the hotel stairs. He brought a set of crutches and
handed them to Mark.
“Lucas, if he can get around in the hotel lobby and the
restaurant today, and maybe just a little bit out around town,
I’ll let you take him home later. Let’s give him some time to
adjust to using the crutches before you take him back to the
With Lucas standing behind him to begin with, Mark tried using
the crutches. At first he was wobbly on them, but soon, he got
the knack of balancing himself. Just that small effort tired
Mark. But, he also really wanted to go see Micah. With Lucas
following, he hobbled over to the Marshal’s office. The people
of North Fork stepped aside, smiled, and allowed Mark to pass.
As they reached the Marshal’s office Lucas opened the door for
him. Johnny got up and moved the chair he was sitting in so Mark
could get to the chaise. Mark sat down with a heavy plop. He
leaned over to set the crutches down on the floor and before he
knew it, he was asleep. After spending a week in bed recovering,
he tired quickly.
Lucas smiled and shook his head as he looked at his son. Lucas
closed the door to keep the sounds from the street from waking
Mark. He walked over and placed his son’s legs on the chaise. He
pulled a blanket from the back and covered his boy.
“Good to see the boy up and around Lucas.” Johnny stated with a
grin on his face and started to laugh at his own words, “Well at
least he was ‘up and around’ for a little while. I take it Doc’s
letting him go home today?” Johnny asked.
“Guess as soon as he wakes.” Then, broaching the subject he’d
hadn’t realized he’d been avoiding until his talk with Mark,
Lucas turned to Micah. “Micah, I know you’ve been feeling guilty
about what happened to Mark and maybe that’s why you’ve kept
your distance. Mark asked me about it last night. He said you
hadn’t stopped by all week while he’s been at the hotel. I just
wanted to let you know, there’s no hard feelings. Mark reminded
me that he was only doing what I would have done, had I been in
town that day. And as I told Johnny, when I found out you had
deputized Mark, I have to trust that I’ve raised him to do the
right thing. It’s just as his father…, realizing he’s becoming a
man is the hardest part. I want to invite you to dinner tonight,
just to make sure things are right between the three us.”
Lucas looked at Micah, saw the hesitation in his eyes.
“Micah, either you agree to come or I’ll have Johnny arrest you
for breach of promise.”
“I accept, Lucas. Mind if I ride out with you when you take Mark
“I was hoping you’d ask. Now, if you don’t mind watching him for
a little while, I have some shopping to do at the general store.
Seems we’re having company tonight.”
Mark was just starting to wake when Lucas returned. “Son, you
ready to go home?”
“Pa, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
“No problem, Mark. Gave your Pa and me a few moments to talk,”
Micah stated as knelt down and picked up the crutches and handed
them to Mark. “Come on boy, let’s get you home. This is a jail,
not a hotel.”
Micah escorted Mark to the buckboard and helped him get in the
seat. He placed Mark’s crutches under the seat. Mark wanted to
talk to Micah, but he didn’t know how to begin, so he just sat
in silence as his Pa climbed on board. Mark watched as Micah
walked to the livery. “Come on Pa, I want to go home.”
“First, we’ll wait for our guest,” Lucas replied.
“I asked Micah to join us for dinner tonight. While you were
sleeping, I told him of our talk last night. I told him I hold
nothing against him for what happened to you. But more
importantly, I think the three of us need to talk. We’ll be okay
Mark, this is just another step for the ‘both’ of us, learning
how to deal with your becoming a man.”
After dinner, Lucas, Micah, and Mark talked. Lucas and Mark had
talked throughout the past week about his ordeal, but to hear
Mark talking to Micah and explaining everything that had
happened, Lucas saw an air of maturity in his son. By the time
Mark finished his account of what happened, Micah realized there
was nothing for him to be forgiven for. They were family and
family sticks together. There was no reason for him to beat
himself up or keep his distance.
“Well, it is getting late, best be getting back to town. Lucas,
Mark, thank you.” As he stood to leave, Micah reached into his
vest pocket. “Mark, I think this belongs to you.” And he tossed
an object to Mark.
Mark reached out and caught it between both his hands. As he
opened his hands, he saw the deputy badge. “Micah, I don’t
understand?” Mark stated.
“Mark, it’s yours, I never took it back from you. As far as I’m
concerned, you earned it. I’d be proud to have you as a deputy.”
Lucas followed Micah out the door and pulled it closed behind
“I know LucasBoy. Any future posse, I’ll make sure you’re with
us.” Then stepping down from the porch and untying his horse,
“Lucas, you know that you and Mark are my family. I’d be proud
to have him follow in my footsteps.”
“I know Micah. I should have seen this coming. Thanks for all
the fatherly lessons you’ve given me while he’s been growing up.
Guess Mark’s proving that neither you nor I are too old to learn
Micah mounted and rode to town.
After seeing Micah out, Lucas returned to the house to see Mark
leaning into the crutches, in front of the fireplace, staring at
the badge. Lucas closed the door behind him.
“Pa, do you think he meant it?”
“I’m sure he did. He didn’t release you from the oath you took
when he deputized you to join the posse. Guess, I’m not the only
one who’s realizing you’re growing up. Come on, let’s get you to
bed, it’s past your bedtime.”
“Bedtime Pa? Don’t you think I’m a little too old to have a
“As long as I can swat your britches, you’ll always have a
bedtime.” With that, Lucas came up behind Mark and gave him a
swat in the britches.
“Understand, it’s always with love Mark.”
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch