The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
This story borrows several characters from various episodes
during The Rifleman’s five year run.
In One Went to Denver,
we’re introduced to Tom Birch only find out that Lucas McCain is
a long time, good friend, but we also find out that Birch is an
outlaw. Birch planned to use his friendship with Lucas as a
cover, in order to rob the North Fork bank. (Bits n Pieces:
Actor Richard Anderson
portrayed Tom Birch. Richard Anderson went on to portray Oscar
Goldman in the Six Million Dollar Man Series.)
In Meeting at Midnight,
we’re introduced to Tom Benton, who was Lucas’ captain during
the war. Tom Benton is currently a U.S. Deputy Marshal and
working undercover to reclaim stolen money. (Bits n Pieces:
Actor Claude Akins
portrayed Tom Benton.)
All other characters, other than those recognized as original
Rifleman cast members, are from my overly active imagination.
This story would take place between seasons four and five.
One Came From Denver
It was a late August afternoon when Lucas and Mark McCain, Oat
Jackford, and a few other ranchers, returned to North Fork from
Las Cruces after selling a combined herd of beef cattle to the
army. Everyone was in a good mood during the trip home, even
though they were all tired from countless hours in the saddle,
sleeping on the hard ground, and losing out on sleep when
required to ride night watch. Even old Oat couldn’t help the
smile on his face as he watched the McCains ride side by side.
Oat remembered back to the first time he’d met Lucas McCain,
considered him a trespasser after he had purchased the Dunlop
Ranch. Lucas had stood up to Oat and bested a number of his top
hands, in addition to the rancher in order to claim the ranch as
his own. It had taken a while, but eventually Oat came to
consider Lucas a good friend, wasn’t too easy for anyone to
break through the exterior gruffness that was Oat Jackford.
Over the years, Oat had come to admire Lucas, not so much for
his prowess with the rifle or even as a fellow cattle rancher,
but for his dedication to his son. Oat had a belief of what was
right and wrong according to ‘his world.’ Lucas’ belief was
firmly established in the bible and he raised his son that way.
Oat approved of the young man Mark McCain was becoming.
The small group had been gone for about two weeks and everyone
was eager to get back home, to wash the trail dirt off their
hides and more importantly to sleep in their own beds. No more
bedrolls, no more sleeping in the saddle. And they were even
looking forward to eating home cooked meals.
“So you can’t wait to get home, young man?” Oat called out after
hearing Mark’s comment about looking forward to really getting
out of the saddle. “Thought you wanted to be a cattle rancher?
Why on some of the biggest Texas cattle drives you’d be gone for
months at a time. Drovers would follow the Chisholm Trail,
they’d head out from San Antonio, Texas and push all the way up
to Kansas City, Kansas. Lucas you’re letting this boy get too
“Sure, I want to be a cattle rancher,” Mark tried to explain.
“But that doesn’t mean I can’t look forward to sleeping in my
own bed, does it?”
Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at Mark’s comment, and he was
laughing along with them. At fourteen, Mark knew he wasn’t full
grown, but the men with his Pa gave him the respect as if he
was. He’d held up his fair share of the required work, all
without any complaint and Lucas was proud of his son.
After saying goodbye to the others on the outskirts of town,
Oat, Lucas, and Mark continued to ride into North Fork. Oat
stopped his horse in front of the Sweeney’s, the only saloon in
town, and invited the McCains to join him.
“Not this time Oat,” Lucas answered.
Giving a jovial smile, Oat turned his horse to the hitching rail
and waved goodbye as Lucas and Mark rode on to the North Fork
“Pa, why not let me make the mortgage payment this time and
deposit our share from the herd? I know how anxious you are to
get to Micah’s and catch up on what’s been happening while we
were gone,” Mark offered.
“Okay son. After you pay on the mortgage, just ask John Hamilton
to deposit the rest of the money into our savings account,”
Lucas spoke as he handed the envelope to Mark. He stretched tall
in the saddle, hearing and feeling the bones of his spine pop,
before he proceeded to ride Razor to the marshal’s office. Mark
dismounted Blue Boy and stepped to the boardwalk, and watched
his father slowly dismount from Razor and walk just as slowly
into the Marshal’s Office. Mark wrapped the reins around the
rail and walked into the bank.
Upon entering the bank, Mark was slightly overwhelmed with how
busy it was, especially after several weeks with only a few
other people as company, so he just stepped to the side to wait
his turn. As he waited, he recognized Jacob Preston standing off
to the side, waiting for his own father to finish a transaction
with the teller.
“Hey Mark, welcome back! How was the cattle drive?” Jacob called
over as he walked towards his friend, extremely eager to hear
all about the trip.
Since he and his parents had arrived in North Fork, Jacob had
come to admire Mark and lived to hear Mark’s stories about
living on a working ranch. Jacob had grown up in St. Louis and
had never been exposed to the kind of country surrounding North
Fork. He’d only read and daydreamed about the west through Dime
Store Novels. The Prestons had moved to North Fork for his
Jacob so much wished that he could be a part of the adventures
that Mark had experienced, to truly be a part of the wild west.
He hoped that with his friendship with Mark, his own parents
would agree to let him take up horseback riding and become a
“Long and dusty!” Mark said as he realized and tried to brush
off some of the trail dirt from his shirt and pants. Mark
slightly begrudged his friend’s chipper voice, because he felt
tired and dirty, and dirt had made its way into places where
dirt had no business. “But we received more than a fair price
for our cattle.”
“Wow. I wish Ma and Pa would let me have some fun like your Pa
“Like his Pa does what?” asked Jacob’s father as he approached
Mr. Preston was a stout man, and the mustache he wore made his
face more animated as it moved while the man talked.
“Just wishing I could learn to become a real cowboy like Mark.
His Pa lets him ride horses and work the cattle. He gets to have
all the fun.”
“Jacob, you know how your Ma feels about you taking such risks.”
“But they’re not risks, they’re fun,” pleaded Jacob.
“Mark, just how much fun did you have on the cattle drive?” Mr.
Preston asked with an inquisitive expression on his face. He’d
seen Mark trying to brush off his clothing.
“Well it was fun being out with my Pa and the others, but
sitting in the saddle all day long, getting covered dirt while
riding drag, riding night watch, and then sleeping on the hard
ground…” Mark started rubbing his backside a little bit.
Mr. Preston laughed, “Well, one boy’s daydream is another boy’s
hard work. Mark, where’s your Pa, I don’t see him.”
“He’s waiting for me at the Marshal’s Office. He said I could
deposit our earnings from the cattle.”
“Well, I better let you step up to the counter. I shouldn’t keep
you from the mighty important business you have.” Mr. Preston
motioned for Mark to step to the counter as the Prestons waited
against the back wall for him.
As Mark finished his transactions and turned to walk back to the
Prestons, he didn’t notice the three men entering the bank,
drawing their guns as they pulled bandanas up over their faces.
Mark flinched when he heard a voice gruffly call out, “Don’t
move! Move, ye’re dead!”
One outlaw held his gun on the bank customers and started
pulling down the window shades, another pointed his guns at the
tellers, the third slipped his handgun into his holster as he
came around the counter and started pulling money from the
teller drawers and putting the money into his saddlebag. He
turned his attention to the safe, “Now ain’t that hospitable,
leaving the safe open for us…”
“Now folks, don’t do anything stupid, and you’ll all make it out
of here alive,” barked the robber who’d drawn the blinds.
One of the bandits nervously kept moving both his guns around,
pointing at various customers. He stopped as his eyes came to
rest on Matthew Preston. He put one of his guns back in his
holster before he reached for Jacob, grabbing him by the arm and
pulling him to his side.
“PA!” squealed Jacob as he reacted to the pressure on his arm
and the force of being pulled.
Mr. Preston tried to prevent the robber from harming his son,
only to take the butt of a pistol to his head. With his hand
going to his head, Jacob’s father fell to his knees. Mark
started to walk backwards but came against the counter, staring
in disbelief at what was happening.
The robber who had taken the money from the drawers and safe
threw the saddlebag to his partner closest to the door. Then, as
he ran around the counter, he grabbed hold of Mark’s arm,
motioning for him to start moving towards the door.
The robbers ran from the bank, motioning for the boys to get on
two of the horses tied in front of the bank. Guns were still
pointed to the open bank door and anyone who happened to be near
the bank entrance.
As a patron started to go for his gun, the last robber to leave
the bank shot at him, missing by barely an inch. The outlaw
yelled, “Stay away or the boys are as good as dead!” as he ran
and jumped in the saddle. The group recklessly rode out of town
like the devil himself was after them.
Lucas and Micah were talking over coffee when they heard gun
fire from outside. Both ran from Micah’s office, Lucas stopping
by Razor to pull his rifle from the scabbard before proceeding
in the direction of the commotion.
Town’s folks were coming out of the bank yelling, “The bank’s
Micah and Lucas arrived in front of the bank to see the riders
racing from town. Lucas stopped in the middle of the street,
raised his rifle, took aim and prepared to fire. Just as he
pulled the trigger the town’s banker, John Hamilton, pushed the
rifle barrel up into the air.
“John, what are you doing? Those men just robbed your bank!”
declared Lucas, upset at his shot being spoiled.
“Lucas, I couldn’t take the chance you’d hit Jacob or Mark.”
Lucas heard the fear in John’s voice. Lucas looked from the
direction the riders took and back to John still not
comprehending the implication of the banker’s words.
“Hit Jacob or Mark?” Lucas turned around to see that Mark wasn’t
one of the people who had exited the bank. Nor was Blue Boy
still tied in front of the bank. Reality started to sink in as
he understood what John had said, as he watched the outlaws, and
his son, ride away.
“Lucas, they took Mark and Matthew Preston’s boy, Jacob,” John
Lucas looked towards the bank and saw Matthew Preston exiting
the bank, blood trickling down the side of his face; a look of
rage in his eyes.
Micah yelled out for anyone interested in joining a posse to
meet him in front of his office in fifteen minutes; everyone
present offered their assistance. As the prescribed time neared,
a group of people stood in front of the Marshal’s Office.
“Folks, please!” Lucas tried yelling above all the voices. Micah
fired his shotgun to get everyone’s attention.
“Men I need to properly deputize each and every one of you
before we head out. We’re doing this by the law!” Micah
“Micah, we can’t all go!” Lucas said with a fire in his voice.
There was uproar from the crowd, every man wanted to help
retrieve the money and rescue the hostages.
“Men listen! They have my son and Matthew’s. If we go out after
them as a mob they might just kill the boys. Right now we have
to be smart. Ride smart. Think smart. And ride fast. A few
riders can make better progress than a large group,” Lucas
called to those who surrounded him and the marshal. “I
appreciate that everyone wants to help, but we don’t know who
these men are and for our boys’ sake…” Lucas faltered.
He’d helped Micah so many times in the past to trail after
outlaws, but this time, it was personal; his son was in danger.
He wanted to be out there trailing his boy right now, but he
needed to make sure his friends didn’t put either boy in any
more danger than absolutely necessary.
Micah hollered for Eddie, the telegraph operator, as he saw the
man step from his small office. “Eddie, send a wire to all the
surrounding towns. Let them know our bank was robbed and the
culprits have two boys as hostages. Include that we don’t know
the identity of the robbers.”
“Sure Micah,” as Eddie ran back inside the telegraph office.
“Now, we’re going to need to pack up supplies so we can track
after these men,” Micah said, he was preparing to deputize
Lucas, Oat Jackford, Matthew Preston, and Frank Toomey.
As they were walking to Micah’s office Matthew informed them,
“Micah, I’m no good in the saddle. I’d only hold you up. Please
choose someone else. I’m best here looking after my wife. I
can’t leave her, with Jacob ...”
“Okay, Matthew. Who else can I deputize?” Micah asked Lucas.
Before he could answer, Lucas saw a face from the past step off
a horse in front of the livery. “One moment Micah, I’ll be right
Lucas ran to the man standing in front of the livery, he was
watching all the commotion as people were packing horses.
“Tom, Tom Benton?!” Lucas called.
“Lucas, good to see you!” The man returned an expressive
greeting to Lucas as he turned around to shake Lucas’ hand, his
smile disappeared from his face as he saw the worried look on
the face of his friend. “Hey Lucas, what’s wrong?” Benton asked.
“I need to ask you to come over to marshal’s, we’re putting a
posse together. Outlaws hit the bank a little while ago; they
took Mark and another boy.”
”You’re Mark?” Benton asked.
“I’m with you, Lucas.”
Tom Benton fell in step beside Lucas.
As Lucas entered Micah’s, with Tom right behind him, they walked
in to hear Matthew Preston informing Micah he thought one of the
robbers was Collie McBride. “I thought I recognized it might be
him as they entered, before he covered his face.”
“Just how do you know Collie McBride? He’s a mean one. Heard
tell he once rode for the Clanton Gang years ago.” Micah asked.
Matthew told his story, “It was back before Meredith and I were
married, Collie had tried for Meredith’s attention, but she saw
the mean streak in him and refused his advances. He’d killed a
man who stopped and talked with her one day. He had quite a
jealous temper back then. He stood trial. I was on the jury.
Afterwards, I kind of was smitten myself with Meredith. A year
later, we were married… Didn’t realize he’d be out of prison.
Guess once Meredith and I were married, I put it all out of my
memory, until today.” Shaking his head, Matthew stated, “Shocked
to see him here in New Mexico Territory. ”
“Why would they take two fourteen year old boys after robbing
the bank?” Jackford asked.
“Collie must of seen me, thought it a way he could get even with
me. Jacob was standing next to me. I don’t know why they took
Mark.” Concern hung in Matthew’s voice.
Micah went on to talk, “Men, for right now, let’s play this
quietly. We’re not one hundred percent certain that Collie
McBride was involved, so until we know for sure, this is just
between us. If word gets out that we know who we’re tracking, it
might put the boys in more danger.”
Everyone was in agreement.
Nils Swenson and Bill Sweeney led the two pack horses to the
front of the marshal’s office and waited. The small posse
saddled up to set out in search of Mark and Jacob, and the
outlaws. Frank Toomey took the lead to one packhorse while Oat
Jackford reached for the other.
They were already in the saddles, when the banker reached for
Razor’s rein, “Lucas, I don’t really care about the money, it’s
just paper. Bring those two boys home safe.”
With a nod, Lucas turned, and followed as the posse rode out of
Trailing the outlaws across the well-traveled road was slow
going. If it weren’t for the fact that Mark was riding Blue Boy,
Lucas wasn’t entirely sure he would be able to follow. The last
time Nils set Blue Boy’s shoes, he used bar shoes on the back
‘At least Mark is smart enough to ride off the road every now
and then to leave tracks,’ Lucas thought to himself.
It was well after dark when they stopped for camp. Lucas was
lost in his own thoughts; wanting to keep after the men, but
realizing it was fool hardy to continue on at night without any
moon to light their way.
Lucas tried to keep his mind from wandering, worrying, he turned
to Tom and asked, “Tom, what brought you back through North
“Just passing through on business,” Benton said, gazing into the
fire over his cup of coffee. “As a special marshal, I go where
I’m needed. No place to really call home. Couldn’t pass up
seeing you again especially after I realized how close to North
Fork I was going to be.
“Hey, your marshal didn’t give you any grief about helping me
escape with that prisoner after I left town, did he?” Benton
Lucas remembered back to the last time U.S. Marshal Tom Benton
was in town; tracking down stolen money. He’d pretended to be a
drunk to get thrown in jail for disorderly conduct, trying to
meet up with the outlaw Micah already had in jail. Lucas,
feeling sorry for his former Captain convinced Micah to let him
out and Lucas would be personally responsible. Lucas had planned
to ‘sober’ up his former captain when Tom told him the truth,
and Tom ended up in a fist fight with Lucas, and Micah threw him
back in jail with Lucas’ blessing. Later Lucas had helped Tom
‘escape’, only he’d not had a chance to tell Micah the truth,
before both of them were locked in the cell, and Tom threw Lucas
the keys to the cell as he ran away.
“Oh, he gave me grief,” Lucas was glad for the distraction in
talking about their last meeting in North Fork. “Every time I
entered his office for the next few weeks he drew his shot gun
on me, professing to not have anyone in jail for me to bust
out.” Lucas smiled as he remembered those days. “So this
assignment doesn’t require you to be ‘drunk’?”
“Na, no real assignment this time. I’m meeting up with another
marshal; just waiting on word from him. I’m glad for a little
down time. So, here I am. I’m here for as long as I can Lucas.”
The men turned in for the night; however, sleep did not come
easily for Lucas.
Lucas was up before the first light of sun teased the sky the
following morning, had coffee made and waiting as the others
roused from their bedrolls. His friends noted the strain of his
face and the slight slump of his shoulders. Nothing was said as
camp was quickly broke and they rode, following the trail
towards the hills.
The bank robbers rode for the hills southwest of North Fork,
hoping to lose the posse trailing after them once they reached
the hard pan and ultimately through the canyons. They continued
to ride, stopping only long enough to rest the horses and grab
some cold grub, until sun down the next day.
When they reached the mountains, they were looking for a certain
landscape formation that marked the entrance to a canyon, one
that would take them to meet up with the others.
As the three robbers finally arrived at the camp, they pulled
their hostages from the horses. Motioned them to a tree, tied
their hands behind their backs, and pushed them down to the
ground. Mark noticed that there were only two other men present
as the robbers walked towards the camp fire.
Mark looked from Jacob when he heard a man’s voice yelling,
“What the hell?! Why did you bring them here?!”
Mark recognized the voice. He knew it from a few years back. He
watched the man walk over to the others, cringed when he saw the
fire illuminate the man’s face, confirming Mark’s fear.
Mark’s mind raced, ‘He’s supposed to be in prison!’
Mark lowered his head, hoping the man would ignore them and
thus, not be recognized.
“Collie, what do you mean bringing them to camp? What are we
supposed to do with them?” the man angrily shouted.
“I got a score to get even with his Pa.” Collie pointed to
Jacob. “Been a long time…”
“A Score?! You bring them here because of a score?!”
“His old man sent me to prison, heard later he’d married my
girl,” Collie countered.
“Because you got sent to prison and couldn’t keep a gal you
bring a kid here? What about the other one?”
“I don’t know, Rowdie grabbed him.”
Rowdie quipped, “He grabbed a kid, seemed like a good ideer at
the time, so I grabbed the other. Kept the posse off our tail
so’s we could get away.”
“Posse! Get away! What did you do?!” the man demanded even
“We robbed a bank, got close to three thousand dollars,” Rowdie
“Three thousand dollars when we’re waiting for close to one
hundred thousand? How stupid! I’ve planned this since I got out
of prison and now you jeopardize everything by robbing some
small town bank and kidnapping a couple of kids?” Turning from
the men in front of him, the man started to walk away, but
hesitated. “Which town?”
“What does it matter, they can’t trail us through that hard
pan,” Collie replied.
The man turned his attention to the third rider, “Well
half-breed, maybe you’ll tell me, who’s idea it was to rob a
bank and which town.” He stared into the dark, cold eyes of
Coltrane Walker, part Indian, part white man.
“Collie wanted some spending cash. The closest town was North
Fork,” he said without emotion.
“NORTH FORK!” The man whipped his head around and looked at the
Mark had tried to make himself as small as possible and was
startled to be hauled to his feet, his hat ripped off his head,
and found himself looking straight into the eyes of Tom Birch.
Upon recognition, Birch pushed Mark backwards in his anger. With
his hands tied behind his back, Mark couldn’t catch his balance
and fell hard to the ground. He tried his best to keep the pain
he felt from his wrist to himself as he landed against the
downed tree he had previously been resting against.
Turning back to the men, “You idiots! Do you know who’s kid he
is?” Not waiting for anyone to answer, “They call his Pa the
Rifleman. You damn idiots!” Birch walked back to the fire and
punched Collie in the face with a resounding right hook.
“What’s the big deal?” Collie yelled, rubbing his jaw as he lay
sprawled on the ground.
“Big deal?!” Birch took a deep breath and continued. “Only that
his Pa is better with his modified rifle than ANY man is with a
six-gun. I know that boy’s Pa. I spent three years in prison
because of his Pa! He’ll search to Hell and back to find that
Birch stormed out of camp, angered that his plan was at risk by
kidnapping Lucas McCain’s son. He yelled to the fifth man,
“Porter, keep an eye on things here. I’m going for a walk.”
The men ignored the boys and settled down around the fire.
Collie slowly looked around before he spoke, “Don’t see what the
big deal is, we got the cash and we got away. Ain’t no posse on
“Stow it, Collie,” Porter stated.
“Porter, all we do is wait and wait,” Rowdie answered in
disgust. “All he is, is talk. He keeps talkin’ about that money
but we don’t do nuthin’. We got three thousand dollars.”
“And three thousand dollars split five ways is?” Porter asked.
Walker watched as Rowdie thought on the question.
“You know I ain’t got no learning. It don’t matter. What matters
is we got money now,” Rowdie finally stated.
“Yeah, you got the money now, but what about them two boys? What
about their family, if not the posse?” Porter asked.
“I told ya, there ain’t no posse. With them two,” Collie stated
as he nodded his head in the direction of Mark and Jacob, “ain’t
no way no posse is going to come after us.”
“You so sure?” Walker finally spoke.
“Sure as the sun’s gonna set tonight,” Collie answered.
While Jacob tried to find a comfortable way to sit, Mark kept
trying his bindings, seeing if he could get himself untied,
ignoring the ache in his left wrist from being pushed down.
“How’re you doing Jacob?” Mark asked, seeing the distress his
friend was experiencing.
“I’m okay, just, that…. I… I hurt, Mark. Never been in a saddle,
let alone for two whole days. Every muscle in my body aches.
And… it hurts to sit.”
“Sorry, but it won’t get any better for a while, as long as they
keep pushing the horses,” Mark replied.
“Who are they? That mean one recognized you and… he knows your
“His name’s Tom Birch. Him and my Pa were best friends when they
were younger. Three years ago, Birch came to North Fork, tried
to be all polite to my Pa, but he was really planning to rob the
bank. Pa went to town to try and stop him. The rest of his gang
was killed, but Pa couldn’t bring himself to shoot Birch, he
ended up going to prison.”
Both boys were quiet for a spell.
“Mark, do you think they’ll find us? I mean, your pa?”
“My pa? Your pa will be part of the posse, too,” Mark answered.
“No, not my pa; not unless they’ll let him come with them in a
buggy.” Jacob answered quietly, “Pa can’t ride either.”
“Jacob, it doesn’t matter, your ma needs someone there to help
her until we get home. And… Birch was right, my Pa won’t rest
until he’s found me, and that means finding you too. Jacob,
let’s just try to go to sleep. That’s the best thing we can do
for right now.”
The sun had barely set when Jacob was first to fall asleep,
under sheer exhaustion. Sleep wouldn’t come to Mark, thinking of
his Pa out there tracking him, worrying… Eventually, Mark gave
into the fatigue and stopped struggling against his restraints
and fell asleep.
The small posse from North Fork rode on even as the tracks were
getting harder to follow as they encountered the hard pan. Lucas
was ever so diligent in looking for any sign that Mark might
They finally made camp for a second night. Toomey set out to
picket the horses with the help from Oat Jackford. Lucas, Micah,
and Tom talked while setting up the campfire.
“Micah, what I don’t understand is why do they still have the
boys? Why haven’t they turned them loose? If it were a matter of
just taking hostages to get clear of town, they should have let
the boys go first night.”
Lucas was growing frustrated, having to go so slow to make sure
they kept on the trail and didn’t miss any signs. He was also
growing despondent with worry; worry can wear down a body
already depleted by physical exertion and lack of sleep. Both
marshals knew the signs and watched their friend’s internal
battle; what he wanted to do versus what his body needed.
“LucasBoy, why don’t you lie down and get some sleep. You’re
worn out and won’t be any good to Mark when we catch up with
those thieves if you don’t sleep.” Micah hadn’t answered Lucas’
questions, because for now, there were no answers.
“Lucas,” Benton spoke. “Micah’s right. You get some sleep and
we’ll all be ready to ride in the morning, at first light. No
one slept well last night with you pacing about. Either you lie
down and rest or I’ll tie you down.”
Soon, Toomey announced that coffee, beans and biscuits were
ready for eating.
The next morning both boys awakened and saw that the outlaws
were already up for the morning. Porter and Walker were sitting
by the fire drinking their coffee and eating their breakfast.
Collie and Rowdie were tending to the horses.
Birch walked over to the boys. “Good morning boys. How’d you
sleep last night?”
Neither boy answered.
“Now Mark, that’s not very polite. Seeing as how your Pa and I
are such good friends,” Tom Birch stated.
“I don’t think my Pa would consider you a friend anymore,” Mark
“You know,” Birch stated as he leaned down and sat back on his
heels. “Collie just might have stumbled into a better plan for
us by bringing you two boys here. We can use you against the law
of any town we plan to rob. Two innocent boys held hostage by
the Birch Gang. What lawman would risk injuring you? I’m sure by
now that word’s gone out to all the nearby towns to be on the
lookout for you. Yes sir, you’ll fit perfectly into my plan.”
“You better just let us go, Birch. You know my Pa, he won’t rest
until you’re dead if you harm either of us.”
“Either of you? You think Lucas McCain would consider him
special enough to risk going up against me?” Birch asked,
nodding his head towards Jacob.
“Doesn’t matter, me or Jacob, my Pa will hunt you down. He’ll
put you back in prison where you belong!”
“Belong? Why Mark, they let me out of prison. Said I’d served my
time, got time off for good behavior. I was a model prisoner.”
Birch’s voice teased with laughter.
Birch stood up, quite tired of dealing with the impertinent
Mark. “Walker, get these boys some food so we can break camp.
We’re heading out in thirty minutes; can’t take a chance that
McCain won’t be able to track us through that hard pan.”
“I said there ain’t no posse,” Collie called out as he threw the
remnants of his coffee to the ground.
“Posse or McCain alone, I want us moving in thirty minutes!”
Walker brought two plates bearing food over to the boys and
untied their hands. As Mark rubbed at his raw wrists, Walker
quietly spoke, “Don’t push him boy. Don’t know what he’s got in
for your Pa, but if you know what’s good for you.” After looking
over his shoulder and seeing the look Collie gave him, he stood
up and walked away.
The Birch gang broke camp and rode. The first town they came to
was Hazelton. They stopped in a thicket of trees next to a creek
a mile or so from town.
Birch started giving orders, “Porter, you and Walker stay here
with the kids. Collie, Rowdie and I will ride into town. We’ll
be back by nightfall.”
As the three left for town, the other two men motioned for Jacob
and Mark to step down from their horses and unsaddle them. “Get
them picketed!” Porter yelled. “Then take care of our horses.”
Mark went about unsaddling Blue Boy, ignoring his own wrist
after noticing the trouble Jacob was having in trying to
unsaddle the horse. He called over, “Lift the stirrup up and
hook it over the saddle horn. Unwrap the leather on the cinch,
then pull the saddle off. Be careful, it’s heavy.”
Mark could see that Jacob was having difficulties in just
walking as they carried their gear to a nearby fallen tree.
Jacob’s legs felt like they were on fire and his seat bones were
“Jacob, just keep walking around. I know it hurts, but keep
moving, that will help loosen your muscles. I’ll take care of
the other two horses, just stay off to the side while I tie up
Blue Boy and that roan.”
“Mark,” Jacob quietly talked. “I’m scared. What do you think
they’ll do with us?”
“I don’t know. Just don’t think about it and do as they say.”
Mark replied as he worked on taking care of the horses.
Jacob continued to step around; hoping that Mark would be right
and the pain would go away. ‘How mean and cruel to put someone
who’s never ridden before, in the saddle for this length of
Porter yelled over, “Go get some firewood. We’re going to spend
the night here. Don’t try nothing boys, I wouldn’t think twice
about pluggin’ ya.”
Mark and Jacob did as they were told and soon they had a small
fire blazing. Porter and Walker sat next to the fire, Mark and
Jacob over by the saddles. Night had settled by the time Birch
and the others returned.
Collie hollered for the boys to take care of the horses. After
several hours of sitting, Mark could see that Jacob was having
even more difficulties than before.
“Jacob, just hold the horses, I’ll take care of unsaddling them.
Just try to keep stepping in place.” There was genuine concern
in Mark’s voice for his friend.
“Boys, this is going to be our lucky day. The news is all over
the place about those kids,” Mark heard Birch saying.
“What do you mean?” Porter barked back.
“No one knows who took ‘em. Well, why not send the law on a wild
goose chase. Distract them from our real goal. We’ve got a few
more days before our big payday. Collie, Rowdie and I will take
one of the boys into town with us while we rob the bank. There’s
so much talk in town, that just seeing the boy will prevent the
law from coming after us.”
“So, which one do you take?” Walker asked.
“Keep the McCain kid here, I have other plans for him,” Birch
As with the previous nights, Mark’s and Jacob’s hands were tied
behind their backs before the men returned to the camp fire to
sleep. The boys did their best to find a comfortable position to
sleep, huddled next to each other hoping to keep warm during the
cool desert night.
Morning dawned; Mark woke first to see Walker kneeling over
Jacob. As he looked again, he saw that Walker was untying the
ropes that bound Jacob. Jacob slowly sat up, rubbing his wrists.
Walker then turned to Mark, “Well Mark, maybe you was wrong
about your Pa. Surprised he hasn’t caught up with us. Maybe he
ain’t the great tracker I heard he was,” and then he untied
“He’s out there, just you wait and see.” Mark tried to sound
mean and slightly yelped when Walker pulled the rope away.
Pulling Mark’s arm forward, Walker looked the boy in the eye.
“You best take it easy in trying to get out of those ropes,”
Walker stated. “Don’t need the skin around your wrists to become
After the boys ate, Walker hauled Jacob and Mark to their feet
as Birch called over, “Saddle them horses and be quick about
it”. Walker shoved the boys forward and watched them walk away,
one limping painfully.
As Mark saddled the horses his thoughts drifted to the
half-breed, Walker. One moment he sounded so concerned for their
well being and the next, he was just plain mean.
As much as Jacob was hurting from so much time in the saddle,
Mark knew that keeping Jacob moving was the key to getting over
being sore, but making Jacob also do the physical labor of
saddling wouldn’t help, so he told Jacob just to hold the
horses. Once the horses were saddled, both boys stood off to the
side and waited.
Birch went over to kick Rowdie awake, only to realize that he
was too drunk to ride. ‘Must of hid a bottle.’ “Walker, change
of plans, you ride!”
Birch motioned for Jacob to mount up, as he, Collie, and Walker
climbed into their saddles.
As they entered Hazelton, Birch stopped at an alleyway, “I’ll
cover you from here.” Looking Jacob in the eye, “Boy if you so
much as sneeze a warning, I’ll plug you out of the saddle. You
just sit outside and hold the horses until these two come out of
Birch stayed on his horse, pulled his handgun from his holster,
and waited. Collie, Walker and Jacob rode on to the bank. Collie
and Walker stepped down from their horses and tossed their reins
to Jacob. Walker hesitated next to Jacob, motioned for the boy
to bend down, said something in his ear. Then they casually
walked into the bank.
A few minutes later they were running from the bank, jumping on
their horses and grabbing the reins from the boy, as they
wheeled their horses into a gallop. Gun fire erupted as the
townsmen came out from the bank firing their guns at the
robbers. As Birch rode out from the alley, his horse collided
with the horse Jacob was riding. Jacob’s horse veered to behind
Collie’s horse and was struck by a bullet meant for the outlaw’s
horse. The horse collapsed with Jacob trying desperately to hold
on to the saddle horn. Jacob was slammed into the ground with
the horse pinning him down. Without a backward glance, Birch,
Collie, and Walker rode on.
The men from Hazelton ran to the fallen rider, lying motionless.
“It’s just a boy!” called one of the men. Several men worked to
pull the boy’s leg out from under the dead horse as the sheriff
Looking the boy over, questioning himself if this was a ‘boy
outlaw’ or one of the boys from North Fork.
“Someone go get Doc!” the sheriff ordered.
After the child had been carried to the boardwalk, the sheriff
stayed behind to examine the scene. As he walked around the
fallen horse, he realized the cinch had been cut. Looking at the
evidence the sheriff thought, ‘So regardless, the boy wasn’t
going to get away.’
Someone else was yelling, “Hey they’re getting away! Let’s go
“NO!” the sheriff yelled, daring anyone to challenge him. “If
this is one of the boys from North Fork, then the other one is
in even greater danger. We’ll wait until the boy wakes up, find
out who he is then, AND ONLY THEN will we go after them.”
After the doctor quickly examined the fallen boy, he motioned
for one man to gently lift Jacob into his arms and carry him to
the doctor’s office.
The three outlaws returned to the riverbank, quite pleased that
there was no posse on their trail.
Birch yelled for Mark to grab the horses and take care of them.
“Where’s Jacob?” Mark asked as he realized Jacob was not with
Rowdie walked over to Birch and asked, “Shouldn’t we saddle up.
I’m sure that posse will be after you.”
“You lousy drunk!” Birch voice with disgust. “Do you see any
posse after us? No? Why not? Because by now they realize who
that boy is. Stupid fools, shot the boy as we were riding out.
Do you think they’re going to risk the life of that one by
Fear froze Mark. ‘The men of Hazelton had killed Jacob?! What
does that mean for me when Birch takes me along for the next
Doc Hastings stepped into the front of his office after a more
thorough examination of Jacob.
“Well Doc?” the sheriff asked.
“The boy’s gotten a broken arm and ankle, probably a concussion.
I need to set the breaks, but I thought you might want to see
this,” as he handed a folded piece of paper to the sheriff.
“Found it in the boy’s shirt pocket. Mighty interesting
The sheriff opened the piece of paper and read:
T. Benton, U.S. Marshal,
Tom Birch – job – NF boy
Payday is as feared
‘T. Benton, Tom Birch, Payday, Walker? What the hell’s going
on?’ Sheriff Peyton thought as he turned to the doc, “Doc, we
keep this note to ourselves. Have no idea what this note’s
about, but maybe, if this boy is one of the boys from North
Fork, then it might be, the other boy has a silent protector out
The sheriff folded the note and placed it inside his vest
pocket. He walked outside and sat down on the bench in front of
the doctor’s office, mulling over the events of the day;
fretting that he should be out there tracking those outlaws, but
not wanting to risk the life of an innocent boy.
Time seemed to stretch forever as the posse from North Fork
entered the town of Hazelton well after sundown. As they passed
the saloon, they heard the usual shouting and piano music. They
saw a few people enter and leave the hotel. The riders stopped
in front of the sheriff’s office. Toomey and Jackford stayed
with the horses while Micah, Lucas, and Tom entered the office.
Upon entering, they saw a man sitting behind the desk, his head
down on his forearms.
“Excuse me, we’re looking for the sheriff,” Micah stated.
The man, startled from his sleep, sat up, wide-eyed awake; on
his shirt hung a deputy sheriff badge.
“Yes sir, yes sir. You looking for Sheriff Peyton? I’ll go get
him, be back.”
They watched as the young deputy ran from the office. He ran
down the street, to the doctor’s office. Soon he was back out on
the street, talking to a man, and pointing in the direction of
the sheriff’s office. The other man, with a star on his vest,
nodded his head and walked up the street.
Returning to his office, the Sheriff stated, “I’m Sheriff Peyton
and my deputy says I’ve two marshal’s looking for me?”
“I’m Marshal Micah Torrance, that there’s U.S. Marshal Tom
Benton, and this here is Lucas McCain. We’re from North Fork.
Been tracking three outlaws who robbed our bank and took two of
“Well, I think I can tell you that you’re on the right track.
Our bank was hit this morning. Two outlaws entered the bank, a
third waited in an alley. They did have one boy with them.
Unfortunately, one of our town folks shot his horse out from
under him as they were riding out of town. Got pretty banged up.
We didn’t realize it was a boy until we got to him.”
“One Boy?” Lucas said. ‘Which one? What happened to the second
boy?’ fear gripped Lucas’ core. “Where’s the doctor’s office?”
“I’m not taking you anywhere right yet, Mr. McCain. Pretty sure
that this boy was one of your boys. But before I take you to see
him, maybe one of you can answer this here note. It’s addressed
to T. Benton. Care to explain?” He pulled the folded note from
his pocket and handed it to Benton.
Tom read the note and his only comment was, “Damn.” Tom handed
the note to Micah. Micah read the note and handed it to Lucas.
“Tom? Micah?” Lucas asked, seeing both his friends in deep
thought and he himself was trying to understand the cryptic
Tom walked over to the door, told Jackford and Toomey to head to
the hotel, they were staying put for the night. Then he closed
the door and slowly turned to face Lucas, Micah, and the
“I don’t rightly know exactly where to begin,” Tom stated.
“At the beginning would be a good point,” Lucas stated, no sense
of humor was implied.
“Okay. I wasn’t just passing through North Fork, I am sort of,
but… I’m on assignment with Coltrane Walker, he’s the marshal
that I’m supposed to meet up with. We heard rumors that there
might be an attempt on a special stage run, carrying one hundred
thousand dollars, headed to San Diego. Rumors started just a few
weeks after Tom Birch got out of prison.”
“Tom Birch out of prison!” Lucas exploded.
“Now hear me out Lucas. Birch was released early, by the prison
committee, for good behavior. We assigned Walker to infiltrate
Birch’s gang once we heard the rumors. This note being from
Coltrane, he at least can help keep an eye on Mark.”
“Like he kept an eye on Jacob?!” Lucas yelled as he slammed his
fist into the doorjam to the jail cells. “Tom, how could you
have kept this from me?”
“Lucas, I didn’t know the two cases were related until I saw
that note. You folks were talking Collie McBride…”
“Collie McBride?” Sheriff Peyton inquired. “That name sounds
familiar.” He searched his stack of wanted posters and pulled
out one for McBride. “Wanted Dead or Alive, well at least we
know who hit our bank and some of banks in the surrounding
towns. Tom Birch, what’s he doing teaming up with a low-life
Benton went on to say, “I think it’s the other way around. Birch
is famous for big jobs. McBride is pulling small jobs to
distract us from their real goal.”
“Real goal?” Lucas asked with his brow raised.
“That large shipment of money is coming through this territory
in the next few days. Specifically through Hazelton.” Turning to
look his friend in the eye. “We have to play this even smarter
than ever before.”
There was turmoil in Lucas’ eyes as he turned to the Sheriff and
asked, “Can we go see the boy. If it’s Jacob, we’ll need to send
word to his family that he’s safe.”
“And if it’s Mark?” Benton asked.
“It’s not. Trust me… I’m sure Tom has other plans for Mark. If
he is after that shipment, he wouldn’t risk Mark on a fool-hardy
The four somberly walked out the sheriff’s office and over to
the doctor’s. They entered the office and Sheriff Peyton led
them to a second floor room. As the door was opened, Lucas could
see it was dimly illuminated by a lantern on the wall. He walked
over to the boy lying in bed; his breath caught when he saw the
bruises and scrapes on the child’s face. Saw the casts on his
arm and leg. Saw that it was indeed Jacob Preston.
Doc Hastings entered the room behind them. “He’s sleeping
peacefully right now. Is he your boy?”
“No, but I know him and his family. When can we send him home?”
“I could release him tomorrow. However, you need to take it slow
getting back. I recommend by buckboard or wagon.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Micah answered.
They left the building and returned to the sheriff’s office. As
much as he was relieved that the boy wasn’t Mark, he dreaded the
fact that Tom Birch had his son.
Upon their arrival back at the sheriff’s office, the sheriff
walked them through exactly what had happened earlier in the
day. Including him finding the cinch to the boy’s saddle had
been cut, ending with finding the note.
“Who would have cut the cinch?” Micah asked.
“Don’t know, but it was definitely cut, it wasn’t worn out,”
Sheriff Peyton answered.
“So what do we do now?” asked Lucas as he sat down on the edge
of the desk, trying to comprehend everything that had unfolded
in front of him.
“Right now, I say we go to the hotel and get a good night’s
sleep. In the morning, we’ll make it look like we’re taking up
the trail again. Let them think their plan is working, that we
don’t know the real reason they’re here. Let’s get some shut
eye,” Benton suggested.
Micah and Lucas walked to the hotel and up to their rooms. Tom
stopped first at the telegraph office.
Before entering his own room, Tom knocked on the door to Lucas
room and announced, “Lucas, it’s Tom.”
As Tom entered, he could see the pain in Lucas’ eyes, the
heaviness in his body.
“Lucas, I sent a wire, I’m going to re-route that stage and have
them send a decoy our way. I can’t risk the stage run coming
through here, now that it’s confirmed that Tom Birch is after
Lucas rose to his feet and started pacing again, “And just what
happens to Mark when Birch realizes the stage doesn’t have the
money. I don’t trust Birch not to hurt Mark, just because he’s
my son and he and I were once friends. I’m not going to have you
put Mark in any more danger!” Lucas’ voice raised in a display
“The order has already been given regarding the stage. I’m
sorry. Give me tonight to come up with a plan to get Mark back.
I promise you Lucas, we’ll get him back.”
A slightly defeated Lucas sat back down in the chair, “I just
don’t understand. Why is he keeping Mark? He loved Margaret at
one time… How could he do this to her son?”
“Lucas, Mark is as much Margaret’s son as he is yours, and Birch
holds you responsible for him going to prison. Him holding Mark
is his trump card, his ace in the hole. Listen, I know Walker.
He took a huge risk to get that note to me.” Benton continued to
plead on behalf of Walker.
“Thanks Tom, you’d better turn in if we’re heading out early
Lucas continued to sit in the chair and look out the window
towards the hills; praying that God and Walker would watch over
Jacob struggled to open his eyes in the morning; he heard voices
encouraging him to wake up. As his eyes came into focus, he saw
Lucas McCain sitting next to him on the edge of the bed with
Marshal Torrance and another man standing just inside in the
“Morning Jacob. Don’t need to ask how you’re feeling. You got
pretty banged up yesterday. We’re getting ready to head out to
look for Mark. Before we do, can you answer a few questions for
Jacob nodded his head and said, “Mr. McCain, I’ll try.” His
voice was weary and scratchy.
“Before you begin,” stated Doc Hastings as he entered the room.
“Let him drink this.”
The doctor handed a glass of water to Lucas. Lucas took the
glass in his left hand, and with his right hand, he raised
Jacob’s head from the pillows, holding the glass for the boy to
At this point, Micah took over the conversation, “Do you know
who took you?”
“Uh huh, the man who grabbed me in the bank was Collie McBride.
The one who grabbed Mark, they called him Rowdie, don’t know if
that’s his first or last name.”
“What about the third man from the bank?” Micah queried.
“He’s a half-breed, named Coltrane Walker.” Tears began
streaming down Jacob’s face as he continued, “They made us ride
all the time, it hurt to be in the saddle so long. Don’t know if
I want to be a cowboy anymore.” Pain from his physical injuries
were expressed in Jacob’s eyes, it could be heard in his voice
as he lowered it to barely a whisper.
Lucas was surprised to hear that Tom Birch wasn’t involved in
the hold up in North Fork, he looked at Micah.
“Jacob, did you meet up with anyone else?” Lucas asked.
“Yea, we met up with two other men, one called Porter, and then
the boss. Mark said you know him,” Jacob spoke as he looked to
Lucas. “Tom Birch… He was mean. That first night when we met up
with him, when he realized it was Mark that the men had grabbed,
he hauled him to his feet and then threw him to the ground.”
Jacob continued quietly, “Because I hurt so much, Mark did most
of the work the men told us to do. He looked so tired the last
time I saw him.”
Lucas patted Jacob’s shoulder and told him to take it easy; he’d
soon be back home with his ma and pa.
Before they could leave the room, Jacob spoke up again, “Mr.
“The half-breed, the one they called Walker…” Jacob hesitated
trying to remember exactly what he wanted to tell them. “When we
got to the bank, he apologized to me and then he put something
in my pocket. Said it was important…” Jacob reached to his
pocket, he hadn’t realized he was no longer wearing his own
clothes, but a night shirt, “Guess I must of lost it when I
fell.” There was disappointment on Jacob’s face.
“Jacob, the doctor found the note,” Benton told the boy.
“What was he apologizing for?” Jacob asked as he looked to the
“I think it was Walker who cut the cinch on your saddle. He was
apologizing in advance for any hurt it might cause you,” Benton
“Why’d he cut the cinch?”
“To get you away from the outlaws and make sure that note got to
me. See Walker’s a U.S. Marshal, not an outlaw,” Benton said as
he turned to leave the room.
“But what about Mark?” Tears were freely flowing from Jacob’s
eyes as he spoke those words. The words hung unanswered in the
air as everyone looked towards Lucas before diverting their
The following morning, the posse from North Fork joined forces
with a posse from Hazelton, less two riders. Toomey and Jackford
were making arrangements to take Jacob back to North Fork and
Sheriff Peyton had assembled a small group of deputies at the
jail in the morning.
“So, how do we proceed? How do we track them?” the sheriff
asked, looking to the marshals.
“Right now I’d say they probably headed back to the hills or
hiding in the woods, waiting for the right time.” Benton
replied. “More importantly, waiting for us to leave town and
then for the stage to arrive.”
“We need to head out towards the hills and look for Mark’s
horse’s tracks, two normal and two bar shoes in the back. My
boy’s horse started a heel crack and our blacksmith set special
shoes for him until it grew out.”
The posse headed out. Before noon, they found the spot they were
looking for; obvious signs of a recent camp fire and indentation
of men sleeping in bedrolls. As they continued to search the
area, they found an area of trampled grass where horses had been
picketed, including Blue Boy’s hoof prints, and then Lucas saw
etched in the dirt nearby -- MMc. “Mark!”
The morning after robbing the Hazelton bank, the outlaws
relocated their camp a distance from the outskirts of town,
opposite from where they originally were staying. Walker kept
his horse near Mark, seeing the boy unsteady and practically
asleep in the saddle. Soon he hollered for the others to hold
up, “Let’s take a rest, the boy needs it.”
“What’s wrong with him?” Birch yelled as he turned his horse
around to see Mark hanging his head, Walker reaching a hand to
the boy’s shoulder to keep him in the saddle.
Birch dismounted and ran back to Mark, just as he slipped from
the saddle. Neither man could catch the boy before he fell to
“What happened?” Birch asked as Walker carried Mark over to a
small stream and laid him down next to it.
“You been pushing us all hard, he’s just a kid. He ain’t been
eating much, just a little bit of jerkey and water. What do you
expect?” Walker replied as he led the horses to the stream and
dropped the reins, allowing them to drink.
“I told you to feed him,” Birch barked.
“You can lead a horse to water…” Walker retorted.
Walker strode back to where Birch was standing over Mark and
knelt down. He saw a change in Birch’s demeanor. Birch was
scared, scared for the boy.
Still in the saddle Collie yelled, “Birch, you going soft on
“No!” Birch removed his bandana, dipped it in the water and ran
it over Mark’s forehead and face.
Birch returned his attention to Mark as he began moaning and
started to open his eyes. At first his eyes were seeing far off
in the distance, then Mark’s eyes focused on Birch and were wide
with fear. He tried scrambling away from the two men, only to
have Birch put a restraining arm on Mark.
“Easy there boy. We’re going to rest here for a spell. Don’t
need you falling out of the saddle again,” Walker spoke.
“Mark, when was the last time you ate?” Birch insisted as he
offered Mark a canteen of water.
“That’s not what I asked.” Seeing he wasn’t going to get
anywhere, Birch insisted, “Then at least you’ll drink,” as he
held out a canteen.
Mark pushed the canteen away. But Birch demanded.
Mark took a few sips and pushed the canteen away again. His
stomach began flip flopping from lack of food, and nerves. He
immediately turned over and started dry heaving. He hadn’t eaten
much of anything since that second day, and nothing since Jacob
hadn’t come back.
“Birch, this ain’t good.” Mark felt the gentleness in Walker’s
hands as he supported the boy. He heard concern in the man’s
voice. The outlaw, he cared more than Birch and Birch knew both
his parents. Mark’s thoughts were lost as he continued to heave.
“What do you want me to do?” Birch demanded and stormed away.
Collie tried to get Birch back to the job at hand, “We’re
supposed to hit that stage tonight. Don’t go soft on us!”
Birch stopped and watched as Walker half-carried Mark to sit
down under a shade tree and walked back to his saddle bags,
pulling something out, then returning to Mark and telling him,
Walker returned to the group as they were talking among
themselves, planning out what they thought would be a brazen
After eating a little bit of the dried bread sopped in water,
Mark knew he needed to get away. But, what would they do to him
if he did get away and they caught him? If he didn’t try, how
would they use him in their next robbery? His mind drifted from
one thought to another, not quite putting coherent thoughts
completely together. He just knew he had to escape. Yet, all he
could do was curl himself into a fetal position on his side and
fall asleep. As he listened to the murmur of the outlaws’
voices, he remembered his Pa saying to him from so long ago, ‘If
ever you’re taken from me, just do as they say, wait for me,
I’ll be there to rescue you. I promise.’
Holding his throbbing left wrist and wrapping his arms across
his middle, Mark quietly cried, “Oh Pa,” as his eyes closed.
It was late in the evening when the men cinched up their horses,
one hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money and each one was
eager to score that kind of cash.
As the others were breaking camp, Walker went to wake Mark;
motioned for him to follow. As they went to the horses Walker
quietly started speaking, “Mark, I need you to listen good. I’ll
protect you as best I can, but….” Then Birch was hollering for
them get in the saddle.
The outlaws arrived to find the town quiet, peaceful, asleep;
oblivious to what was about to happen.
Birch and Walker took positions in two different alleys that
afforded them vantage points over the livery and sheriff’s
office. Birch insisted that Mark ride with him by grabbing the
reins to BlueBoy’s bridle.
Porter, Rowdie, and Collie headed for the livery, the only place
large enough to hide a stage over night. Quietly they opened the
doors and crept inside. All had their guns drawn and carried
extra saddle bags. Collie picked up an ax that was hanging on
the wall, before he climbed aboard the stage. Collie made two
swings at the padlock on the strong box, before it broke. Collie
opened the lid as Porter and Rowdie climbed up.
“Empty! The box is empty!” Collie yelled.
From out of the darkness a deep voice boomed, “Drop those guns
boys, you’re under arrest!”
Gun fire swiftly erupted within the confines of the livery. By
the time it was over, two outlaws lay dead on the ground and the
third hung dead over the side of the coach, and three law men
walked from the shadows, unscathed. The Hazelton lawmen had
returned to town under the cover of darkness.
From his hiding spot, Lucas watched six riders venture into
town, three separating off, three proceeding on. Two ventured to
an alley the opposite side of the street from him. One appeared
to be about Mark’s size. ‘Mark!’ Lucas heart leapt.
Lucas quietly crept through the darkness following the single
figure that had chosen to walk on the same side of the street,
watching as he finally stopped with his rifle at the ready.
Lucas waited. He was close enough to smell the sweat and cigar
smoke that clung to the man’s clothes as it wafted in the
“Turn around slowly and drop that rifle!” Lucas demanded as he
cocked his rifle, quite audible in the quiet of the night. The
figure dropped the rifle, put his hands up, and slowly turned
The unmistakable sound of gun fire coming from the livery
momentarily distracted Lucas. The man in front of him pushed the
barrel of the rifle away as he threw a blow, striking Lucas in
the jaw, knocking him backwards. The man knelt and picked up his
rifle and ran out into the street.
Startled by the force of the blow, Lucas shook his head and was
shortly on the outlaw’s heels; rifle at the ready. From the
shadows of the alley on the opposite side of the street, a flash
from the muzzle of a gun briefly illuminated the shooter’s
location. Lucas felt fire tear along his side as the man in
front of him raised his rifle in order to return fire.
“No!” Lucas yelled and pushed the man aside.
“Damn you!” Walker yelled as he fought to regain his balance.
The two men stood facing each other, their eyes daring the other
man to move first.
“To hell with you!” Walker called as he turned to run to the
alley, followed one step behind by Lucas McCain.
The two men arrived to find the alley vacant. The sounds of
horses running faded as the riders raced away and shouts of town
folks running into the streets, demanding to know what had
happened to disturb their sleep.
Micah, Tom Benton, and Sheriff Peyton ran from the livery
towards the direction of two figures standing in front of the
alley. Micah and Benton saw the pained look on Lucas’ face as he
turned around at their approach, then Micah noticed the blood
seeping between Lucas’ fingers as he held his hand to his left
“LucasBoy, you’ve been hit!” Micah declared.
“I’m alright Micah, just a scratch.” Pointing his rifle towards
the half-breed, Lucas continued, “You’re under arrest for bank
robbery, kidnapping and anything else I can get the law to nail
to your sorry hide. If Birch harms one hair on my son’s head,
I’ll kill you too.”
“Lucas!” Benton exclaimed. “He ain’t an outlaw! He’s a lawman!”
“Birch isn’t getting away from me. This time, I’ll kill him!”
Lucas ran to his horse, before he mounted he grabbed a shirt
from his saddle bag and stuffed it inside his shirt, hoping it
would stop the blood. Blocking out the pain from his side, Lucas
climbed into the saddle, turned Razor and raced from Hazelton.
Benton and Walker ran to their horses and followed Lucas out on
Birch’s trail. Micah and Sheriff Peyton stayed behind to take
care of the three dead outlaws.
Without a word between them, the three rode as fast as they
could with only a partial moon out. The sky was just starting to
turn pink indicating that the sun would soon crest the horizon
when Walker, and the tracks, led them to the stream where the
Birch gang had stopped earlier.
The sun lit more of the landscape as it rose; Lucas was the
first to find the fresh tracks leading away towards the canyons.
“Benton, over here, we’ve got tracks to follow.”
“They could be a diversion,” Walker stated.
“You’d say anything to keep me from going after your boss,” spat
Grabbing McCain by the arm, Walker forced him around, “Like
Benton said back in town, I ain’t an outlaw. I’m a duly
deputized United Stated Marshal. I was undercover!”
“Right, robbing banks is part of your job description, in
addition to kidnapping and trying break a child’s neck,” Lucas
continued in anger as he jerked his arm from the man’s grasp.
“McCain, I had to act quick to get the boy away from Birch. Had
it been your boy, I’d of done the same thing. Listen, either you
work with me and we get to your boy quicker or you fight me and
we risk letting Birch escape and God knows what he’ll do with
your boy. It’s your choice.”
Standing next to the distraught father, Benton stated, “Lucas
he’s telling the truth. Walker’s our best chance to getting
Birch… and Mark.”
The sun’s position in the sky indicated it was late in the
afternoon when they stopped to more closely inspect the tracks
they were following. The group heard rocks falling from above
when a single rifle shot rang out, ricocheting off a rock near
Walker. The men drew their weapons and aimed up the canyon wall.
“Lucas back off! I got your boy up here with me!” Birch yelled
down from above. “Any one of your shots could ricochet and
strike the boy. Won’t be on my conscious!”
“Birch, you better let him go! You hurt him in any way and I’ll
kill you!” Lucas yelled.
“Lucas, for old times, just let me ride out of here. I’ll let
Mark go once I know you’re not trailing me. I’ll head to Mexico.
You’ll never see me again!”
“Tom, I can’t! You’re wanted by the law!” Lucas yelled in
Birch continued to push Mark forward. They were leading their
horses through the tricky incline, raining rocks down on their
pursuers, who scrambled to get away from the rock fall.
Once they reached the top, Birch motioned for Mark to get back
in the saddle, but before he mounted his own horse he sent a
cascade of rocks raining down on the small posse.
Lucas and company lost precious time as they waited for the rock
fall to stop after seeing Birch and Mark safely reach the top.
They followed, carefully picking their way up the incline over
precariously perched rocks and weakened footing along the narrow
path. Once at the top, they remounted their horses and followed
The trail they followed led in and out of canyons, each time one
canyon broke off into a side canyon they were forced to stop,
trying to discern in the hard pan any hoof prints. Several times
guessing wrong and finding themselves at a dead end, forced to
back track their own trail.
Lucas grew more angered as Birch continued to hold his son
“I swear I’ll kill him,” Lucas stated as they stopped to give
their horses a breather.
“Lucas, you have to stay within the law,” Benton answered.
“Don’t go throwing your life away over a low life like Birch.”
“It’s not your son he’s holding hostage!”
“No… no he’s not,” Benton answered at a loss for words.
“For now, we’ll keep to his trail and pray he let’s Mark go
before he hits Mexico,” Walker stated. “Once your boy is safe…”
“Safe! He’s had plenty of time to turn Mark loose!”
Both lawmen looked at each other, trying to come up with a way
to keep Lucas from killing a man in cold blood.
The sun had finally set when they came out of the last canyon
into the flat lands. In the far distance, they spotted what
appeared to be a camp fire.
“He couldn’t be that bold,” Walker stated. “He’d have to know
we’d see it.”
The three rode towards the fire. They dismounted a good distance
from the campsite, creeping quietly, they approached weapons at
the ready. The fire was starting to die out, allowing the
darkness to envelop the camp when they decided to make their
move. In the fading light, they had seen what appeared to be two
figures under bedrolls. Walker crawled to the nearest and pulled
the blanket away only to find scrub bushes revealed, giving the
indication of a body lying underneath the blanket.
Lucas ran to the other bed roll; fear welled in Lucas as he
reached the bedroll, ‘Was this a trap? Was this a diversion?’ He
pulled the blanket away to see Mark lying there; bound and
“Benton, in here. I’ve got Mark!” Lucas pulled his son into his
arms. Thankful his boy was safe. A startled surprise appeared on
Mark’s face as he accepted his Pa’s strong embrace.
Benton was at Lucas’ side, knife out, cutting the ropes that
bound Mark’s hands and feet. Lucas was untying the gag that was
tied through Mark’s mouth.
After a few minutes of just holding his son, Lucas eased his
grip and asked, “Son, are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
“I’m fine Pa. Just tired.” His mind then turned to Jacob. “Pa,
Jacob… they said he was killed.” Tears started down Mark’s face
when he remembered his dead friend.
Lucas answered that Jacob was going to be alright and was, by
now, close to being back in North Fork. Lucas was doing his best
to calm his son down.
Mark’s eyes widened in fear when over his father’s shoulder, he
saw Coltrane Walker bring in wood to stoke the fire.
“PA! He’s one of the outlaws!” Mark pointed. “He was with the
others when they robbed the bank in North Fork… and took Jacob
A hearty laugh emanated from Tom Benton, “Mark, I’d like you to
meet Special U.S. Marshal Coltrane Walker. He was undercover,
infiltrating Birch’s gang.”
“He… He’s a marshal?” a perplexed look appeared on Mark’s face
as the fire roared back to life. He looked back and forth
between the two lawmen, his eyes finally stopping on his Pa’s
smiling face, nodding in agreement.
Walker strode over to Mark and extended his hand. “Please to
meet you ‘official-like’ Mark. Sorry, I couldn’t tell you
sooner.” His voice held regret over his deception to the child.
“I did my best to keep you and Jacob safe, when I could.”
After shaking hands, Mark averted his eyes from Walker, and in
doing so noticed the blood on his father’s shirt. “PA! You’re
“It’s nothing son, Birch nicked me back in Hazelton.”
Mark tried to get out of his father’s embrace, but Lucas would
not let him go.
“Pa, you need to get your side looked at.” Hearing the tone in
Mark’s voice, Benton walked over and pulled Lucas away from
Mark, ripped open Lucas’ shirt and pulled out the shirt he had
stuffed inside, to see the real extent of his injury.
“Lucas, you trying to kill yourself? Nick my a…,” biting his
tongue in the presence of Lucas’ boy. “This is a might bit more
than a nick.” Turning to Walker, “Go get the horses, we’re
making camp here for the night.”
Walker turned and left the camp, only to return a short time
later with three horses in tow. “Mark, where’s your horse or did
Birch take it.”
“BlueBoy’s over in the thicket over there, hobbled. Birch said
he knew my Pa would find me, and…”
Benton removed his saddle bag and walked to Lucas. Mark took the
bandages and wrappings that Benton offered. He spent the better
part of ten minutes cleaning the blood from around the deep
crease, positioning the bandage, and then wrapping his Pa’s
midsection. All the while, pleading for his Pa to sit still;
Lucas complaining all the time that his son’s ministrations
“Pa, either you sit still or I’ll have Marshall Benton hog-tie
Lucas finally sat still and let Mark finish. As his boy worked
on him, Lucas saw dark circles under his son’s eyes and noticed
that Mark seemed even slighter of frame than usual, gauntness
outlined his face.
“Thanks Marshal Benton,” Mark spoke as he handed the unused
medical supplies back to the marshal.
“Mark! Your wrists!” Lucas exclaimed as he reached for his son’s
raised left hand.
“Ow!” Mark yelped as his father took hold of his wrist.
“What happened?” Lucas asked.
Benton and Walker approached the father and son.
“Mark, you did more than rub your wrists raw from the looks of
this one,” Walker stated. “Mr. McCain, if I may?”
Still wary of the man because he’d ridden with the outlaws who
had kidnapped his son, Lucas only allowed the man to examine
Mark’s wrists after Tom Benton insisted.
“Tom, bring me a canteen and I’ll clean out the boy’s wrists,
and bring me those bandages the boy didn’t use on Lucas.”
Mark grimaced as the water stung his wrists, not wanting to look
at his pa, he kept his eyes focused on Coltrane Walker’s
After gently applying wrappings to the boy’s raw wrists, Walker
stated, “The good news is your left wrist isn’t broken,
hopefully its just sprained. How long’s it been painin’ you?
Since you fell off your horse?”
“Fell off his horse?!” an appalled Lucas demanded.
“No sir, that first night at Birch’s camp… when he picked me up
and threw me back to the ground,” Mark answered, averting his
eyes from the lawmen surrounding him.
“You sit there and rest,” Walker stated as he stood and walked
away from the father and son; ignoring Lucas’ muttering of “I’ll
For the group, Walker had warmed up some provisions he’d carried
in his saddle bags and served Mark a larger portion than he gave
the three men. “Boy you eat all that food. You need it.”
“I’m not that hungry Marshal Walker.”
“You may not be that hungry boy, but you need to get your
strength back. I worried about you.” Walker sat down
Indian-style a few feet away and ate from his own plate. He
pointed towards Mark and ordered, “Eat!”
Lucas watched, understanding now, why Mark looked so tire and
gaunt. He knew how Mark could be and remembered the times in the
past, when Mark was too scared or worried, that he couldn’t
bring himself to eat.
Walker saw to it that Mark ate all the food that was given to
As the two lawmen checked the horses, Mark and his Pa continued
to talk with each other for quite a while.
“Tom, you need to keep a tight rein on McCain. Even though we
got his boy back, he’s still looking for blood,” Walker quietly
“I know. I’m hoping in the morning, that he’ll be more inclined
to forget about Birch.”
“You really think he will?” Walker asked.
“If he thinks going after Birch could jeopardize his boy’s
health he would.”
“And how do we do that? I can’t harm that boy, he’s been through
too much as it is.”
“We lie, tell Lucas we need to get his boy back to town and have
the doc look at his wrists. Maybe you can hint they’re worse
that you thought?” whispered Benton.
After cleaning up from supper, Benton and Walker placed their
bedrolls on the other side of the fire. They saw Mark hang his
head and heard him say to his Pa, “I’m sorry Pa, for putting you
through all this worry.”
“Son, there’s nothing for you to be sorry about. This was
“But you two used to be good friends.”
“Son, listen to me. My friendship with Birch ended when he
abused my trust three years ago, when he tried to rob the bank
back home. I couldn’t bring myself to shoot him then, but
“But Pa…, he didn’t hurt me…, I’m okay.”
“Mark, he did hurt you, but I thank God he didn’t hurt you worse
than he did.” Lucas’ eyes still held the images of ‘what could
Benton started talking, “Well Lucas, we’ll get you and Mark back
to Hazelton tomorrow and then Walker and I will head out after
“What for?” Mark innocently asked.
Walker answered, “Seems he still has some money that doesn’t
belong to him.”
“Oh, that.” Mark started chuckling.
“What’s so funny son?” Lucas asked.
Looking to each man who sat around the fire, Mark kept laughing
about his secret.
“Only that the outlaws left a kid in charge of the horses all
the time and they weren’t paying attention to me, so I kind of
‘stole’ the money back.” Mark reached for his saddle bag that
he’d planned to use as a pillow, and dumped the money onto the
ground. “There’s another saddle bag on BlueBoy, unless Birch
Walker and Benton started bellowing in laughter.
“Well I guess there was a thief among thieves... Lucas, I
thought you were raising this boy to be a good, upstanding
citizen. I’ll have to keep a better eye on you, boy,” Benton
tried to say through his laughter.
Ultimately, the conversations started to wane when Mark could no
longer keep his eyes open and fell asleep, closely followed by
Mark heard voices talking as sleep lost its hold on him, “If we
have to, we’ll tell him about the boy’s wrists…” Benton stated.
Mark looked to his wrists and then to his pa still sleeping in
his bedroll. Slowly he stood up and walked to the two lawmen,
sitting on their heels next to the fire.
“What about my wrists?” asked Mark.
“Mark, didn’t know you were awake,” Walker answered.
“There’s nothing really wrong with your wrists that time won’t
heel, but knowing Lucas as I do, I feel he might still be
wanting Birch’s blood. We decided the best way to get Lucas off
Birch’s trail would be to tell him your wrists are worse off
than they are.”
“But he needs medical attention to his side,” Mark queried.
“If he didn’t go see the doc in Hazelton right after it
happened, do you really think he’ll willingly go now?” Walker
“I guess you’re right.” Absent-mindedly, Mark rubbed the
bandages around his wrists. “But I don’t like lying to Pa…”
“You won’t be lying Mark, I’ll do it,” Walker announced.
“Do what?” Lucas asked as he woke.
“Check the boy’s wrists and rewrap them. Couldn’t really tell
how badly they might have been injured using the campfire, but
once the sun is up, I’ll be able to see if they’re worse than I
While Benton prepared their morning coffee, Mark sat next to his
Pa while Walker unwrapped his wrists. Lucas gasped when he saw
the damage inflicted upon his boy, they were a lot worse than he
“How do they feel, son?” Lucas asked.
“They ache. I’m sorry, I should have listened and shouldn’t have
tried to get out of the ropes,” Mark stated, his eyes cast down.
He inhaled sharply as Walked poured more water over the wounds
and rubbed his fingers in an effort to clean any remaining grit
out of the damaged skin.
“Mr. McCain, they look worse than I expected, the longer your
boy spends out here and away from proper medical care… Infection
could set in…” Walker announced.
“Lucas, we need to get your boy back to Hazelton, and then both
of you home,” Benton stated as he stood over the three.
“Okay,” Lucas answered.
Benton smugly smiled, he knew his friend so well.
As Walker stepped into the doctor’s office back in Hazelton, he
smiled as he heard the verbal battle occurring up stairs. As he
took the stairs, he listened as the one they called Micah
threatened to hog-tie Lucas to keep him still, lest he break
open the stitches the doctor had just finished putting in his
side. Walker stopped in the doorway and looked into the room to
see Benton leaning against the window sill. Micah was standing
at the foot of the bed, pointing a finger at Lucas, and a
bright-eye Mark sitting on the edge of the bed his father was
lying in, trying hard not to laugh.
As he continued to watch the scene, Walker realized how much
their bathing the night before had helped alleviated the
weariness they all had felt. He held a laugh inside upon
remembering hearing the boy’s moans of pleasure as he stepped
into the tub filled with hot water and the splashing that soon
sounded as the boy industriously set about bathing himself.
Shaking his head, he remembered Lucas asking the boy ‘How much
longer?’ and Mark’s reply, ‘Pa, it’s been three whole weeks
since I’ve had a bath this good! That shower in Las Cruces
didn’t take off half of the dirt I was wearing, and I’ve been
gone two more weeks since then.’
‘Kid’s bouncing back better than I thought he would.’ Walker
said to himself, and then spoke aloud as he stepped into the
room, “Mark, seems your Pa has a real stubborn streak about not
wanting to stay put.”
Mark couldn’t hold himself any longer and burst out laughing,
falling backwards upon the bed where Lucas laid. His laughter
was infectious and soon the room was filled with laughter from
everyone, except Lucas who was moaning from the effort of trying
to keep from laughing.
Later than night, everyone enjoyed a good meal at the Hazelton
restaurant. Mark ate everything that he was given and even the
extra helping Walker had given him of mashed potatoes, and two
pieces of apple pie. After the waitress had cleared the table of
dirty dishes, the group continued to talk over coffee. Lucas
noticed that Mark was struggling to keep awake and soon his head
was down on the table, resting on his arms. Lucas started to get
up in order to take his boy to their hotel room, only to feel a
gentle hand placed on his shoulder.
Benton stood by his side, “Lucas, lead the way, I’ll carry the
As carefully as if Mark were his own, Benton picked Mark up in
his arms, one arm under the boy’s shoulders the other under the
boy’s knees, allowing the boy’s head to rest on his shoulder,
and carried him to the McCain room and placed him in the bed.
“See you in the morning Lucas.” Tom turned, closed the door, and
walked to his own hotel room.
Upon hearing the door close, Lucas sat on the edge of the bed
and began to remove his son’s boots, belt, and shirt. “I’m sorry
Margaret,” Lucas whispered as he saw his son’s ribs protrude and
the boy’s bandaged wrists. He lowered and shook his head in
Lucas, Mark, Micah, Tom Benton and Coltrane Walker sat on their
horses in front of the doctor’s office. The doctor wasn’t happy
that his older patient was planning to ride home, but with
tighter bandaging around Lucas’ middle and a promise of taking
it easy, the doctor finally agreed.
“Just keep the boy’s wrists bandaged until you get back home,
same for your side. No need to expose yourselves unnecessarily
out on the trail,” Doc stated.
“You’re sure he’s going to be okay?” asked Lucas.
“At first sight, I was concerned about his wrists, but the
injuries aren’t as serious as I originally thought. Just keep
them clean and dry until your own doctor can assure you,” Doc
gave one last instruction
“Guess that means I can’t do the dishes while were going home.”
Mark’s eyes teased.
The small group turned their horses and rode for home.
It was late three days later when they arrived back in North
Fork. Micah called over to John Hamilton as he was stepping out
of the hotel. “John, think I have something here that belongs to
John took the saddle bag from Micah and looked inside to see the
stolen money returned. Micah followed John to the bank to make
sure it was placed safely in the vault.
Tom Benton insisted that both Mark and Lucas spend the night at
the hotel. He wanted Doc Burrage to see Lucas first thing in the
“Tom that’s not necessary, I’ll be fine.”
“If not for you, then for your boy,” Walker stated.
“We look out for each other.” Lucas smiled as he looked over to
Mark, he was concerned but didn’t feel the doctor in Hazelton
would have put his son’s life in jeopardy. “We’ll head on home.”
“Not on my watch! Just march yourselves into the hotel!!”
ordered Benton. “I’ll tend to your horses.”
As well as Mark knew to obey that tone of voice when his father
used it, Lucas still tried to avoid the order, finally he
Within minutes of entering their hotel room, Lucas and Mark were
settling down, when Lucas heard a noise outside in the hallway.
He opened the door, rested his hand against the doorframe, only
to see Walker sitting in a chair, leaning back against the wall,
cigar in hand, rifle in his lap.
“Coltrane, what’s this all about?” Lucas asked as Mark stuck his
head under his father’s arm to look out into the hallway.
“Well, I heard you threatened a number of times with being hog
tied in order to stay put, and it didn’t seem to work, so’s now,
I’m sitting here to make sure you stay put.” He took as long
drag on his cigar and blew smoke into the air.
“All right, all right. I know when I’m bettered,” laughed Lucas
as Mark stepped back into the room allowing Lucas to close the
It was late-morning when Lucas was awakened by a knock on the
hotel room door. Looking over to the other bed, he saw his son
still asleep. Lucas threw off the covers and walked to the door
and opened it to see Doc Burrage standing in the hallway, bag in
hand. Coltrane Walker was where he sat the night before. Lucas
took a few steps back to allow Doc Burrage to enter, followed
closely by Walker and Benton.
As he sat down on the bed, Lucas held his arms out to his sides
so Doc could unwrap the bandages. After a few minutes of poking
and prodding, causing Lucas to wince, despite his best efforts
not to, Doc Burrage replaced the bandage and re-wrapped Lucas’
Bluntly Doc said, “You’ll live.” With a gentler tone he asked,
“Lucas, what about Mark? Benton and Walker told me that he
didn’t take any harm that they knew about other than his wrists.
But Walker also told me the boy didn’t do much eating while
Birch had him.”
“I know he’s exhausted. Two weeks on the trail, barely home and
then kidnapped and gone for over another week. Coltrane’s been
stuffing the boy with food every chance he got since we found
him. I made sure I kept an eye on him while riding home and
called for a rest if he seemed to be tiring.” Surprised his son
was still asleep, he commented, “He slept clean through the
night, let me wake him.” Lucas quietly walked over to Mark’s
side and gently shook his shoulder, calling for Mark to wake up.
Lucas pulled the blankets from Mark, to see that his son had
only stripped his shirt, belt, and boots off before collapsing
asleep, face down, in the bed. Lucas still grieved over the
prominence of Mark’s ribs and spine showing beneath his son’s
skin. ‘He’s lost too much weight. I’ll get him beefed up once we
get home,’ Lucas thought to himself.
Mark was reluctant to open his eyes, but finally, with the firm
tone of his father’s voice, he knew he had no choice.
“Morning Pa,” Mark answered in a sleepy voice before he yawned.
Feeling the weight shift from the edge of the bed, Mark rolled
over to his side, sat up, and swung his legs off the side of the
bed; surprised to see more than just his Pa in their hotel room.
While Doc Burrage, poked and prodded Mark, listened to his heart
and lungs, Mark asked, “Doc, how’s Pa?”
Doc unwrapped the bandages around Mark’s wrists and closely
examined the injuries. “I think your wrists will be fine in a
few weeks. Keep them wrapped, but I want you to put this salve
on them nightly and re-wrap them. In the mornings, you can wash
them, and bandage them again, but don’t use the salve. Just at
“Doc, tell me about Pa?” Mark quietly asked again as Doc
finished wrapping his wrists.
“He’ll be okay, Mark. Your Pa just needs to take it easy, as Doc
Hastings prescribed. He did a good job stitching him up. I’ll
take the stitches out, if he don’t bust ‘em, in a week or so.”
Doc said as he continued to look Mark in the eyes. “However, my
prescription for you is to eat!” Doc saw the expression on
Mark’s face as the boy looked to his Pa. “I’m sure you’ll see
that he takes it easy when you get him home, boy. That’s all he
needs, besides having you back home.”
“When can I take him home?” Mark asked. Seems the son was taking
on the fatherly role.
“Later today. Plenty of people want to see that you’re safe and
sound back in North Fork. Now Mark, I’m sure you want to know
Mark’s eyes lit with anxiety as he waited for Doc Burrage to
continue. “He’s got a broken arm and a fractured ankle. They
should be healed in another month or so.”
“What about his other injuries?” Mark asked.
“Other injuries?” The question surprised Doc Burrage.
“The, being in the saddle for so long and not knowing how to
ride, injuries?” Mark said with a sheepish grin on his face.
“Oh, those, well… I slathered some salve on his ‘pride’ and told
his Pa to continue to use it until the ‘injuries’ were healed
and use some liniment on the boy’s legs. He’s recovering from
those well enough.”
Looking to Lucas, “Pa, do you think I can ride out to visit
Jacob and his family this morning? I just want to make sure he’s
going to be alright.”
Doc answered before Lucas could reply, “That won’t be necessary
Mark, they’re downstairs waiting with Micah. They’ve been
waiting since breakfast. You two practically slept the morning
away. It’s almost lunch time. This town’s been hustling and
bustling while you two lazy bones slept.” Doc gave a gentle
laugh as he put his instruments away.
“Lucas, before you and Mark head home, we do need for both of
you to stop by Marshal Torrance’s and give us your statements to
place in our reports,” Tom Benton requested.
“Okay, we’ll be there this morn… this afternoon.” Lucas said
while correcting himself after looking out the window and seeing
the sun almost at its zenith.
“Marshal Walker, how do you explain your being an ‘outlaw’ in
your report? I mean, robbing a bank and kidnapping…” an
inquisitive Mark asked as he stretched his arms out wide and
reached for his shirt hanging at the foot of the bed.
“Well, that does take some creative writing on our part. I’ll
probably get a good chewing out from my superiors, but in the
end, they’ll understand.” Walker replied with a grin on his
face. “And seeing how a young ‘thief’ ‘stole’ the money back and
it was safely returned to its rightful owners, I think I’ll be
“Don’t forget, we prevented them from getting the money transfer
that was on the stage coach,” Benton announced.
Mark asked the question no one else had, “What about Birch, you
still going out after him?”
Both Marshals looked at each other, and then to Lucas, before
Benton replied, “That’ll be up for our superiors in Washington
to decide. Right now, we hope he’s headed for the border. Doubt
he’ll show his face around this territory any time soon.”
Everyone left the room to allow Lucas and Mark to wash up and
get dressed. Lucas was pleased to see how Mark was handling the
aftermath of his kidnapping.
Father and son walked down the stairs, across the hotel lobby,
and entered the restaurant. Meredith and Matthew Preston rose
from their chairs, Matthew and Lucas shook hands; while Mrs.
Preston gave Mark a gentle kiss on the cheek. Jacob sat in the
wheel chair, with a big smile on his face at seeing Mark.
Mark went to sit next to Jacob. Neither said a word, yet, there
was a quiet understanding between the two. They had survived
“Mr. McCain, I want to say how sorry I am for the anguish that
Collie McBride caused you and Mark,” Mrs. Preston started to
“Meredith, you’ve no need to apologize or to accept blame. The
real blame lies with Tom Birch and if he ever interferes with my
family again, the law won’t have time to see that he comes to
justice,” Lucas said with a serious expression on his face. He
shot a warning look at Micah, indicating ‘don’t say one word.’
“Lucas, not sure I can repay you for risking so much to save my
son’s life. Now don’t interrupt me. On top of it all, I do have
a favor to ask of you and Mark.” Matthew continued as he looked
at his wife, “Seems that as much as we’ve tried protecting our
boy in this new territory, that maybe we were a little too
overly protective. Now what I have to ask, has to wait until
Jacob’s recovered, but I’d like to ask, if you have the time,
would you and Mark be willing to teach Jacob how to ride and
become a ‘real’ cowboy?”
“Boy would I?” Mark quipped before anyone else could say a word,
as his eyes sparkled in anticipation.
“Mark,” Jacob spoke up. “Just promise me that you’ll take it
slow and easy, not sure I can sit through these injuries again.”
He shifted a little uncomfortably in the padded chair.
Everyone laughed, including Jacob.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch