The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Secrets
Written by Deanne Bertram

Lucas and Mark McCain, Micah Torrance, and Johnny Drako stepped from the Mallory House restaurant into the darkness of the night when a stage entered the town of North Fork and stopped in front of them.

“Little late for a stage run,” Johnny commented.

“Wonder what they’re doing here so late? The regular stage arrived earlier this afternoon,” Mark replied.

“We’ll find out soon enough, son.” Lucas said as he placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.

They waited for the three passengers to exit the coach and claim their bags and trunks from atop the stage.

“Good evening gents. Welcome to North Fork.” Micah said, as the men turned to enter the hotel.

“Good evening, ah Marshal. Unexpected to have you meet us here. My name is Samuel Avery, this is my associate Seth Brody, and this other gentleman is opposing counsel, Frederick Burris.”

“I’m Marshal Micah Torrance,” and then pointing to each one as he introduced them, “my deputy, Johnny Drako,  and Lucas McCain and his boy Mark, they own a ranch just outside of town. What brings you gents to North Fork?”

“Is there somewhere that we might talk, Marshal? We need to discuss a situation and bring it to the attention of your town council.” Samuel Avery stated.

“Well Lucas is the President of our town council.” Micah answered. “We can go into the hotel, get you checked in, and then talk in the restaurant.”

Mark watched the three men go up the stairs as his father, Micah, and Johnny assisted in carrying the trunks to their rooms.

Mark observed the three men, Sam Avery was somewhat tall, but not quite as tall as his Pa, and heavy set, probably about 45 years old. His eyes were narrow set, under black, bushy eyebrows. Seth Brody was about as tall as Johnny Drako and skinny, he looked like he was only in his early 20’s. His face and hands looked weathered, as if he should be out in the saddle, not in a suit.  Mark also noticed he didn’t look comfortable in the suit he was wearing. Frederick Burris, was quite the sight. Mark couldn’t guess at his age. A very petite man and the hat he wore, over emphasized how small of a man he was. He walked stiffly, as if it would lend height to his frame.

As they returned to the restaurant and sat down around a large table, Drako was the first to ask, “So what do three lawyers need to discuss with our town council?”

“This ain’t no conversation for a boy, get him out of here.” Brody stated, irritation in his voice.

“I don’t keep things from my boy.  He has a right to know what affects this town, Mister. I’m the one who’ll decide if he stays, so you can just hold off giving orders when it comes to my boy.” Lucas said with a defensive tone to his voice.

Avery motioned for Brody to leave, “Brody, if you can’t keep your tongue civil, you can just leave.” Brody left the room, as he reached the archway, Mark noticed he stopped and raised his hand to his side, as if there should be a gun and holster on his right hip. “Mr. McCain, I offer you my apologies for my associate’s comments.”

Frederick Burris started to answer Drako’s question. “Have any of you heard of Dak Yates?” He watched as they nodded that they had. “Well, he was captured and is to stand trial for murder and robbery.“

“How does this affect North Fork? Heard tell he was captured outside of Lubbock, Texas.” Micah stated.

“Gentlemen, Mr. Yates is my client.” Avery stated. “As you are aware of his reputation this far away from Texas, you can only imagine his reputation in Texas. A change of venue was granted for this trial.”
 
“Chance of venue? What’s that?” Mark asked.

“Mark, a change of venue means to hold the trial in a different town. A town that might not be as prejudiced against the outlaw.” Micah answered.

“Yes,” Avery continued. “It was a long time coming to an agreement between counsels as to where we would hold the trial. My client will arrive here in three days. He’s being escorted by a number of Texas Rangers, to make sure he gets here safe and sound. We’ll require the use of your jail and I presume you have a location we can use for the trial?”

Burris interjected, “We’ll also need to reserve rooms in the hotel for the judge and the witnesses we’re bringing in.”

“Short timing, but I think we can see to those arrangements,” Drako commented. “Who’s supposed to preside over the trial?”

Burris answered, “Judge Jarod Martin, from Lubbock. He’s scheduled to arrive tomorrow.”

Johnny commented, “I know the judge, he’s a fair man. Quite respected in the legal community. Most outlaws don’t want to see the inside of this courtroom.”
 
“Gentlemen, tomorrow’s going to come soon enough. My boy and I need to get back home. Micah, I’ll return to town tomorrow after Mark and I finish our chores. Nothing we can do in town until the noon stage arrives with the judge. Why don’t you and Johnny make arrangements with the rest of the town council to have a meeting, say an hour after the stage arrives.”

Lucas and Mark left the restaurant for a second time that evening. The mounted their horses in front of the Marshal’s office and headed home.

“Pa?”

“Yes Mark.”

“The one called Brody… I, I don’t think he’s a lawyer.” Mark stated.

“Just what makes you say that? Mr. Avery introduced him as his associate.” Lucas said.

“That’s just it; he left us to think that ‘his associate’ would mean that he’s a lawyer. When Brody was trying to get me out of the room, he just didn’t sound like a lawyer. Also, the way he carries himself, before he left the room, I think that he actually wanted to pull a gun, only he wasn’t wearing one.”

“Mark, you don’t need to dream up trouble when there’s nothing there. Let’s get home boy. We’ve a lot of work to do in the morning before coming back to town.”

*****

Members of the North Fork town council were already waiting in the hotel restaurant when Lucas and Mark arrived in town. They stopped at the livery and asked Nils if they could leave Razor and Blue Boy there, not knowing how long they’d be in town. They unsaddled their horses and put them in stalls for the day.

As they left the livery, the noon stage arrived, followed by two riders wearing Texas Ranger badges, rifles held ready on their thighs. The stage pulled up in front of the hotel. An older gentleman was the first to step out of the stage. He carried himself with an air of authority as he walked into the hotel. He was followed by three other men who appeared to be business men. Yet, it was these three men who constantly looked around, as if in fear. They quickly collected their bags and entered the hotel.

Seeing the stage arrive, Micah Torrance and Johnny Drako left the Marshal’s office and headed for the hotel, meeting Lucas and Mark out front as the stage pulled away.

As Lucas was about to enter the hotel, he turned to Mark, “Son, you best wait out here. I know you want to know what’s happening, but this is a special meeting of the town council. Not sure how these new arrivals would take to a 16 year old in attendance. Why don’t you help the Rangers take their horses over to Nils.” Lucas turned and followed Micah and Johnny into the hotel.

*****

Mark turned and addressed the riders. “Good Afternoon. If you’d like, I can show you over to the livery where you can leave your horses.”

“We appreciate the offer, but we’ve not been dismissed yet,” said one of the two Rangers as they dismounted. “You live here in town?”

“Na, my Pa and I live outside of town, we’ve a cattle ranch. My name’s Mark McCain.”

“Nice to meet you,” said the first rider as he extended his hand. “My name’s Kaleb Martin, this here’s my brother Keifer.”

As the second rider offered to shake Mark’s hand, Mark saw that both men looked alike, as if seeing two pictures side by side. And it wasn’t because both men wore black hats and tan dusters.

“Pleased to meet you.” Mark answered. “So you just have to wait?”

“Yes Mark,” Keifer stated. “Until the Judge dismisses us, we still on duty.”

“Is the Judge your Pa?  I notice you’ve the same last name.” Mark stated.

“You weren’t introduced to the judge, how’d you know his name?” Keifer asked, a little concerned in how a boy knew information that shouldn’t be common knowledge, at least not yet.

“Those three attorneys who came in last night. Said Judge Jarod Martin would be arriving today and Dak Yates would arrive in three with Rangers as escort.”

“Yes, Mark, the Judge is our father. We’re assigned as his guard as well as protection duty for the three witnesses that arrived with him.” Kaleb answered.

“They didn’t say anything last night about the witnesses coming today.”

“Well, we didn’t tell anyone when the witnesses would arrive or how they would be arriving on purpose. It was for their protection. You said three attorneys?” Keifer asked.

“Yes, the first one is Sam Avery, then Seth Brody, and Frederick Burris, if I remember their names right.”

“Brody ain’t no lawyer.  He does the grunt work for Sam Avery.” Kaleb said, shaking his head. “Well at least we know he’s here.”
 
Then from the hotel a distinguished voiced called, “Rangers, Report.”

“Boy, that means us. Mind looking after our horses for a spell?” Keifer asked as he and Kaleb handed their reins to Mark and stepped on the porch to enter the hotel. “Would you take our mounts to the livery? I’m sure we’ll be able to find it once the Judge is done with us.”

“Sure.” Mark replied.

*****

The three witnesses were assigned rooms and immediately went upstairs. The Judge and the two Rangers followed Micah, Johnny, and Lucas into the restaurant where introductions were made all around.

The Judge laid out a schedule of events to begin the following day. Jury selection would start, first with members of the town council answering questions proposed by the attorneys, then if the jury box was not fully filled; then members of the town would be interviewed.

Arrangements were made for securing the jail, escorting the prisoner between the jail and trial location, as well as securing the safety of the witnesses.

The discussions continued until early evening when the Judge called for a closure to the meeting so folks could go about their evening meals. Lucas excused himself from the group and left the restaurant to find out where his son spent the day.
 
Lou Mallory was behind the hotel counter as Lucas walked up.  “Lou, might you happen to know where Mark is? Didn’t think the meeting would take so long.” Lucas asked, as he ran his fingers through his hair before putting his hat on.

“I believe he’s spent the day helping Nils out over at the livery. You plan to have dinner at the restaurant?”

“Not tonight Lou, Mark and I need to get home. Thanks anyway.” Lucas turned and left.

*****

Lucas walked into the livery to see Mark and Nils involved in a game of checkers, obvious that Nils didn’t have a chance to win the game.

“Hey Lucas, you here to rescue me from your son? He’s won every game so far,” Nils said as he started to get up.

“Not yet, you two go ahead and finish. I’ll saddle Razor and Blue Boy, and then if you need rescuing, I’ll see about it.” Lucas grinned as he saw the expression on Nils face, indicating he really wanted to be done with the game and not suffer another defeat. Mark started to get up to help his Pa, but Lucas motioned for him to sit back down and continue the game.

*****

As father and son rode home, Mark was eager to ask questions about the town council meeting and the upcoming trial of Dak Yates, however, he had learned over the years that when his Pa was in “that” mood, it didn’t do Mark any good to push for answers. So they rode in silence.

As they got home, Mark told his Pa that he’d take care of the horses and took the reins and led the horses to the barn. Mark also hoped that by the time he returned to the house that his father would be in a better mood for talking. Mark took the time to do a good currying of the horses, cleaning the bridle bits, and wiping down the saddles before putting everything away.

As he turned from closing the barn door, he thought he saw the silhouette of a person standing up on the hill, but as he tried to focus his eyes on the exact location, he couldn’t make anything out. So he went on to the house and said nothing. Mark chalked it up to the sun light fading and shadows moving across the landscape.

*****

Dinner was over and Mark had just put the last of the dishes away. He turned and watched his Pa sitting in his chair, reading from the Bible. “Pa, I’m going to go ahead and turn in for the night. Good night.” He waited, but received no response from his Pa, so he turned and went to bed.

*****

The sun rose on a beautiful summer morning. A gentle rain had fallen overnight, leaving a sweet smell of freshness in the air, as well as puddles on the ground, Mark realized as he walked from the house to the barn. Mark turned the horses out in the paddock and threw out hay to keep them occupied while he cleaned their stalls. He fed the chickens and collected any eggs to take to Lou for her restaurant.

As he returned to the house, he placed the basket of eggs on the porch and stopped to pick up some firewood from the wood pile. His gaze drifted to the hillside again, thinking he almost saw someone. ‘Boy, Pa would just say I’m daydreaming,’ he thought to himself.

Lucas was just setting a stack of flap jacks on the table as Mark walked in to hear his Pa yelling, “Mark, rise and shine, time for lazybones to get out of bed.”

“Pa, I’ve been up for a while.” Mark laughed as his Pa quickly turned around, seeing his son entering the kitchen after wiping his feet at the back door.

“Sorry, guess I’m just a little distracted.”

“That’s okay. You want to talk about it?” Mark asked.

“No, not yet. I’ll know more later today. Mark I want you to stay here today. There’s plenty of work for you to do around the ranch. There’s just so much going on in town, I’d prefer you just stay at the ranch.”

“Yes sir.”

Breakfast was eaten in silence. Mark saddled Razor and had him waiting as his Pa finished getting dressed for the interview of prospective jurors.
 
“Mark, I’ll be home when I can.”

Mark handed Lucas the basket with the eggs. Lucas mounted Razor and rode at a leisurely pace to North Fork. Mark turned, walked into the house and started to clear the table and get dishes done.

***** 

Jury selection started at 8:00 o’clock sharp. Some of the questions asked were mundane and others were quite pointed. The attorneys’ for both sides trying to find people who would be sympathetic to their clients. As Avery and Burris sat behind their respective tables, Seth Brody was not present.

As president of the town council, Lucas was the last person interviewed and the final member of the jury seated. It was well after 4:00 o’clock when jury selection was completed. Everyone else was excused. Judge Martin kept the jurors for a while longer to give them instructions; they needed to select a jury foreman before the trial started. Without any hesitation, Lucas McCain’s name was at the top of everyone’s list. With that done, Judge Martin released the jury with instructions to return no later than Noon the following day.

*****

Lucas headed to the Marshal’s office before leaving town. Lucas told Micah and Johnny of those seated for the jury and him being made foreman.

“Now Lucas, I do wish there were some way you could of gotten yourself out of the jury. I just don’t like it.” Drako was saying as he paced the floor, walking from the door to the cells, then to look out the windows.

“Johnny, it’s a privilege to be part of a jury. Why should I have tried to ‘get out’ of it?” Lucas replied.

“Lucas, I know of Dak Yates. Him and his gang both, are mean ones. Most of his gang was either killed when they captured Yates or they’ve already stood trial and are waiting for the gallows. But I know they didn’t get them all. I’m just worried about what happens during and after the trial. North Fork could really use you and your rifle.” Johnny explained. “I also know Judge Martin and if you had told him about your abilities with your rifle and that at times you’re our acting Marshal, I’m sure he’d of let you off.”

“Lucas, Johnny’s right. I know this town is going to be filled with Texas Rangers and they’ve been given special permission to operate outside of Texas, but still, you know this town and her people. Johnny and I sure could use you.” Micah said as he poured himself another cup of coffee.

“Micah, Johnny, I know what you mean, but I also have a duty to this community to sit on this jury.   Besides, Johnny, with you as Micah’s official Deputy, there’s not much need of me to be acting Marshal.  Listen, I need to get home. I kind of left Mark out of my thinking, with all that’s going on. We rode home in silence last night and this morning…” Lucas turned and headed for the livery to get Razor for the ride home.

Johnny and Micah looked at each other then watched Lucas walk to the livery. Both knowing that their comments didn’t ease the concerns Lucas was already feeling.

*****

As Lucas McCain rode out of town, a person, dressed in black, entered the hotel via the back door. The person was led upstairs to the judge’s room by Kaleb Martin, where they knocked and waited for permission to enter.

 “Enter,” came from behind the door.

They entered and closed the door behind them. While waiting for the Judge to turn his attention from paperwork on the desk, they both removed their cowboy hats. The judge turned around in his chair and made a motioned for the two to have a seat. Kaleb went to sit on the bed next to his brother. The smaller figure leaned against the edge of the desk, while the judge leaned back in his chair.

“Glad you made it to town. Any problems getting here?” Judge Martin asked addressing the newcomer.

“No sir. Rode in quiet, just like you had hoped. No one paid any attention to me, ‘specially with everyone paying attention to you and the Rangers being in town and talking of the upcoming trial. Done some looking around the town,” the person spoke. “So, do you think anyone on the jury might be at risk?”
 
“Well, from the make-up of the jury, most live here in town, or if they live out of town, they don’t have anyone that could be used against them, except one,” Judge Martin stated.

Keifer continued, “Everyone who lives out on ranches has plenty of hands to help guard their property and families, except Lucas McCain. He and his boy, Mark, only have each other. Occasionally they hire on an extra hand, but right now, there’s no need.”

“Sir, do you really think that those remaining from Yates Gang who got away would be bold enough to try something in North Fork? Can’t see them doing anything without a real leader. Yates’ being captured was like cutting the head off a snake and that snake didn’t have two heads.”  The person asked.

“I wouldn’t put it past them. If Yates arrives here safely, you can bet they’ll bide their time and pull something here,” Judge Martin answered.

“So what’s my assignment, Judge?”

“Kaleb or Keifer will take you out to the McCain Ranch, I want you to keep an eye on their place, without them knowing it. McCain’s a tall man, about six foot, five I’d say. Carries a .44-40 with him all the time. Easy to identify him. His boy’s about 16 years old, maybe about your height.”

“Listen, we’ve heard talk of Lucas McCain and his abilities with his rifle. They call him the rifleman,” Kaleb said. “Just keep out of sight.  We don’t want him accidentally shooting you. Just keep a look out for anyone who doesn’t fit in. If you get too concerned, grab the boy and head for town. This is a small community, so any of Yates Gang should stick out like a sore thumb.

The three stood and left the room. There was a brief discussion on who would stay behind to keep guard on the judge and the three witnesses. The newcomer left the hotel via the back door, mounted a horse and rode to the outskirts of North Fork and waited for Keifer Martin to exit the hotel from the front door and to get his horse from the livery and lead the way to the McCain Ranch.

*****

Lucas arrived home to find Mark had finished his chores and was already fixing a dinner of smoked ham and fried potatoes.
 
“Evening son,” Lucas stated as he set his rifle down in its holder next to the door and placed his hat on the table next to his chair. “Dinner smells good. Thought tonight was my night to cook.”

“It was, but I know how concerned you’ve been about the trial and all, so I thought I’d surprise you. It’ll be done in just a few more minutes.”

Mark pulled the top off the skillet and stirred the ham and potatoes one more time. He quietly set the table, then spooned dinner into a serving bowl and carried it to the table. Lucas joined Mark at the table and said grace.

“Mark, I owe you an apology. I’ve just had a lot on my mind with the trial coming to North Fork. I’m sorry for shutting you out last night and this morning.”

“That’s okay Pa, I understand. I knew you had your reasons and needed some thinking time.”

“Still, I should have talked with you night or at least this morning,” Lucas declared. With a little more upbeat tone to his voice, Lucas continued, “They sat the jury today and I was elected the foreman.”

“That’s great Pa!” Mark stated, but restrained himself after seeing the still worried expression on his father’s face, “But there’s something more than just the trial, isn’t there?”

“I’m starting to understand my nervousness a little more. There’s been something nagging at me and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I spoke with Micah and Johnny before heading home today. I’m concerned for you Mark. I’m the only one on the jury who doesn’t have someone else to look after their family while I’m on the jury. If something were to happen while I’m at the trial…. Micah and Johnny will be busy in town... So, you’ll be here alone and …” Lucas didn’t know exactly how to continue or what he really wanted to say to his boy.

“Pa, I’ll be okay. I can do my chores in the mornings and head to Nils in the afternoons, if it would make you feel better?”

 “It would, but there’s too much going on in town, too many strangers are expected, I’d prefer you not come to North Fork while the trial is in session. Guess that goes to prove that you are growing up. I remember all the times when you begged me not to leave you with Hattie or Millie, now you’re offering to stay with someone just to make me feel better.” Lucas smiled and then took a sip from the coffee cup he’d been holding in his hands for a while. “There’ll probably be a lot of strangers coming into town to see the trial and I’m sure not all of them will be honest folk. No, you best stay here. I’ll be home each night.”

*****

While making his last round of North Fork for the night, Johnny Drako saw a figure exit the hotel and keep to the shadows and leave town. Quietly he ran back to his horse and followed. He saw the rider stop and wait on the outskirts of town. Shortly another rider approached, then the two rode. Johnny followed them as they took the road to Lucas’ ranch. From a stand of trees he watched as one rider returned to the road to North Fork. Johnny took the road to the McCain’s, a short distance away he dismounted and tied his horse in a ravine, then he walked closer to the McCain’s place, trying to stay out of site, yet looking for the person that stayed. He watched and waited.
 
 The crescent moon was still in the night sky when Johnny Drako heard the unmistakable sound of a rifle being cocked from behind. Slowly he stood, raised his hands, and waited for the other to make a move. He felt his gun being lifted from the holster and barely heard the footsteps backing away.

“Turn around slowly, without trying anything,” the voice said, lowered to almost a whisper. “Take off your hat.”
 Johnny obeyed, he turned around slowly, trying to make out who held a rifle on him.

“Johnny Drako! Do you realize how close you came to taking a bullet? Man, what are you doing out here?” The voice asked, taking on a more feminine tone, as the person approached Johnny, offering his gun back to him.
 
“I know you?” Drako asked.
 
Before answering the question, the person took off their own hat and gave a big smile, “Guess you’d recognize me better if I were still wearing skirts and pigtails, that and had the twins standing in front of me.” The figure tossed their rifle to Johnny. He looked the stock over carefully, recognizing the distinct emblem.
 
“Khalyn, Khalyn Martin?” Johnny asked with an incredulous look on his face. “What are you doing out here and dressed like a boy?”

“Johnny, hand me back my rifle and stop gaping your mouth,” Khalyn answered.  Then pointing to the deputy badge that Johnny wore, “So, you’re a deputy now. Heard tell you settled down, just a little. What are you doing out here?”

“I asked you the same question. Lucas and Mark McCain are good friends of mine. I saw a figure exit the hotel, keep to the shadows, then meet up with another rider outside of town. With the upcoming trial of Dak Yates, I figured no good could come it. So I followed. Now answer me my question, what are you doing here?”

“The Judge asked for me to meet him in North Fork. Figured I could help out, behind the scenes. Not all of Yates Gang is accounted for. From those jurors selected the Judge figured McCain’s boy would be most at risk. So I’m here to keep an eye out, without anyone else supposed to be knowing.”

“Glad the Judge realized the risk, but why not tell the McCain’s? They’re good people. Why not tell me and the Marshal?”

“Johnny, the Judge isn’t sure that there is a risk on the boy, but just in case, that’s why I’m here. You’ll have your hands full, if those left loyal to Yates try anything in town. I’ll keep to the hills here watching over the boy. If nothing happens, no one needs to know I was here. If the Yates Gang is around, they’ll be watching you, your Marshal, and the Rangers. No one will pay mind to a ‘tom-boy’ out riding around. This is the way the Judge wants it Johnny. You best get back to town, and remember, no one can know I’m here.”

“Just when did you get rid of the skirt and pigtails? You were such a cute little girl growing up.” Johnny said with a wide smile brimming on his face.

Speaking through her embarrassment, “Johnny you knew Kaleb and Keifer taught me how to shoot and to ride. Why you, yourself, gave me some pointers about using a rifle when I was first learning. It was only because of Aunt Liza that I stayed in skirts as long as I did. She passed when I was 16, guess it was a few months after the last time we saw you.  About a month later, I decided to cut my hair. Pa was furious when he saw it, well then he found out about everything else, me riding and shooting. But then the boys insisted I show Pa how good I was with the rifle. The three of us had a shooting contest, Pa knows how good the boys are, so he knew they weren’t pulling any of their shots to make me look better. So he simmered down a little.”
 
“So how is it you’re here helping out? Why not one of the Rangers?” Johnny asked.

“About two years back, the boys were out riding back from Odessa, and they got pulled into a case, by accident. Johnny I’m sure you heard the story…” Johnny had heard tell of the case and how if a stranger hadn’t happened along, both boys could have been killed. He’d heard tell that the stranger didn’t even hang around to give their name.
 “Pa wanted to keep it a secret that I was actually riding with them and it was me who helped the boys, he realized then how much of an asset I could be behind the scenes. So no one but the family knew, so every now and then, with the Judge’s approval, I help out.”

“So you were the stranger.’ Johnny said, while shaking his head. “Before I go, one last question. You still that good with a rifle?”

“From what I hear, only that boy’s father is better than me. I’d rather not have to find out though. I’d rather just sit out here with nothing more to do than track the sun and moon.” With that, Khalyn headed back into the darkness and moved to her observation spot to keep an eye on the McCain Ranch.

Johnny returned to North Fork.

*****

When Lucas arrived in town the next day, Micah and Johnny had posted “No Guns” signs equal distance all around the building housing the courtroom. Anyone going to the courtroom or anywhere near the courtroom had to turn in their guns.
 
Lucas didn’t care to be so far from his rifle, but he knew he had no choice. He walked into Micah’s office and handed over his rifle.

“Morning Micah, when is Yates supposed to arrive this morning, Micah?” Lucas asked.

“Anytime now LucasBoy, anytime. Can’t say I’m eager to have him here, but Johnny and I’ll have plenty of help with the Rangers that are coming as well. You best get over to the courthouse, can’t have the foreman arriving late.” Micah said as he was signing in the gun of the next person in line.

***** 

Dak Yates arrived in the company of four additional Texas Rangers. A single Ranger rode into North Fork followed shortly by a buckboard driven by one Ranger with Yates handcuffed in the back. Two Rangers rode to the side and behind the buckboard, rifles at the ready. A riderless horse was tied to the back of the buckboard. The group stopped in front of the courtroom.  Yates was hauled out of the buckboard and led inside. One Ranger stood guard out front, while the other three took care of Yates. Once Yates was in courtroom, a Ranger exited and with the Ranger who stayed out front, took all the horses to the livery.

 *****

The courtroom was packed, standing room only. Judge Martin called the trial to order and the first motion made was by the defense to request the jury be sequestered. This threw the courtroom into rampant discussions. Judge Martin banged his gavel in an attempt to bring the courtroom back to order. Judge Martin motioned for both counsels to approach the bench.

“Mr. Avery, this is a highly unusual request. Why sequester the jury? We already moved the trial location at your request.” asked the Judge.

“My client deserves to have a fair trial and that includes no outside interference of the jury. There are so many people visiting this town because of the trial that anyone could try and sway a juror.”

“I object, these jurors should have been informed in advance of this request so arrangements could be made. We have to put all twelve up at the hotel. How do you accommodate them?” Mr. Burris argued.

“I’m tempted to allow this request, however, we need to address this now, before we continue any further,” Judge Martin stated as he motioned the counselors back to their seats. “Marshal Torrance are you present?” Seeing Micah stand up, he continued, “Marshal, I need for you to take the jury to the deliberation room for the time being. “ Turning to address the jury, “You are to stay in the room until I request your attendance. Marshal once the jury is in their room, I want you and your deputy to make arrangements at the hotel for the jurors. Right now, the Rangers can be moved out of the rooms that had been reserved for them and over to the livery. Rangers get Yates back to his jail cell. Afterwards, you’re to then see to assisting any other guests to other arrangements. This trial is in recess for two hours.”

Micah and Johnny escorted the jurors to the deliberation room.

Lucas, Stevan Griswold, John Hamilton, and Oat Jackford stood to the side of the room as Judge Martin entered the room. None had a happy look on their faces as they knew what all being sequestered would mean. Other jurors were trying to address the judge, asking exactly what sequestering meant.

“People, I understand your frustrations , but Mr. Avery’s request is a valid and legal request. I have no choice but to honor his request. All of you will be allowed to write notes to your families and I’ll make arrangements to have them delivered this afternoon, but for the duration of the trial, you must stay either in this room, the courtroom, your hotel rooms, or the restaurant. Even the restaurant will be closed to outsiders when you are present. I am sorry, but that is my decision.” With that, Judge Martin turned and left the room.

“I don’t like this!” Lucas stated as he slammed his fist down on the table top. His concern for Mark was becoming even more real. Who knew how long the trial would last. Would any remaining members of the Yates Gang try to make trouble?

“Lucas, I’m sure Mark will be okay, I can have one of my men head over to your place to help Mark, as well as keep an eye on the place,” Oat Jackford offered. “Put your note to Mark with mine, I’ll have Mason head on over. Your boy knows him.”
 
“Thanks Oat, I just wish I would have known about this yesterday.” Lucas complained.
“Don’t we all.” Stevan Griswold added.

***** 

The last note that Johnny Drako had to deliver was to Oat Jackford’s place. He waited for Mason to come in from the range so he could personally hand him the note that Lucas had written for Mark. Johnny explained why Oat had offered Mason to help out at the McCain’s Ranch.

“Mason, you need to keep a good eye out. I don’t trust that there won’t be trouble the longer this trial goes. You know how Lucas feels about his boy. Don’t let anything happen to him.” Johnny said.

Johnny waited until Mason was ready to head off to Lucas’, then he returned to town. Assured that with two people now keeping an eye out for Mark, he’d be alright, if the Yates Gang did make an attempt on Mark.

*****

Back in town the trial was back in session. Seth Brody was still nowhere to be seen, in the courtroom or in town. After both counsels gave their opening arguments, the trial started in earnest. As each witness took the stand, they were sworn in “to solemnly tell the truth” before they sat, next to the judge’s bench.

The day was long and tiring for the jury. Lucas was forcing himself to pay close attention to what was happening in the courtroom, questions asked and how they were answered. He tried to not let his attention drift to thoughts of what was happening outside.

The first day finally came to a close. Micah and Johnny escorted the jurors back to the hotel for the night. Saw to it that each one entered their room without making any contact with anyone else. Micah waited at the top of the staircase, while Johnny went down to talk to Lou who watched the procession from the front desk.

“Lou, you’ve one hour to finish serving everyone currently in the restaurant. We’ll bring the jurors in at that time. The only talking is to take their food orders, nothing more, no questions about the trial.”

“But Johnny, that’s not fair.” Lou complained. The Irish in her was extremely inquisitive.

“I know how hard it’s going to be for you, but this is the way it’s got to be. There’ll be plenty of time once the verdict is reached that you can gossip.” Johnny couldn’t help the smile on his face as Lou turned, getting her Irish up and walked into the restaurant.
*****
As the jurors finished dinner, Lucas heard multiple gun shots coming from outside of Sweeney’s saloon. As he stood up to leave to offer Micah and Johnny any assistance, he was stopped by one of the Rangers.

“I’m sorry Mr. McCain, but you’ve got to stay inside.” His eyes pleaded that Lucas obey him.
Lucas turned and walked back to the table and sat down. Everyone around could see the frustration plainly on Lucas’ face. Lucas being so close, but unable to help.

*****

Dusk was falling as Khalyn watched the McCain’s place from her hiding spot and saw a single rider coming down the road.  The rider fell backwards out of the saddle and then Khalyn faintly heard the rifle shot.  It had come from a long distance off. She scrambled about, looking to see where the shot came from. There was no movement, nothing to indicate the exact location of the assailant. All she could do was watch, wait, and hope the shooter would show himself. As the last light from the sun faded, the rider didn’t move from where he landed. Khalyn decided that she needed to get to the McCain’s ranch. Unsure who the rider was, but knowing his death didn’t bode well for the McCain boy.

Khalyn made her way to the back of the house to find the bedroom window ajar. Quietly she opened the window wide enough for her to enter the darkened room. Once inside, she noticed the door from the bedroom to the front room was open. Khalyn walked to behind the door, looking around, trying to figure out how to get the boy’s attention, to make him come into the bedroom so she could talk with him, without anyone on the outside seeing a second person in the lit front room. Before she could come up with a plan, a shadow fell across the doorway and the boy entered the room.

“Mark, don’t be scared.  I’m here as a friend.” Khalyn spoke with a firm gentleness in her voice.

Mark turned around quickly at the sound of the voice. Surprise was evident on his face. His fists were clenched, ready for a fight. “Who are you?” Mark asked, seeing a person about his size coming from behind the door. Hat pushed back on their head, wearing a dark shirt and pants, and hands held out to the side, palms up.

“Mark, I’m a friend. I need to get you out of here, for your own safety.”

“If you’re here as a friend, why not knock at the front door?  Why sneak in?”

“Because I couldn’t risk anyone seeing me. There was a single rider on his way down the road. Someone killed him a while ago.”

“Pa?!” Panic welled inside Mark.

“Boy, I’m sure it weren’t your Pa. The rider wasn’t tall enough and the horse had too much white to be your father’s horse.”
 
“How do you know my Pa?” Mark asked.

Khalyn made sure to not put her left hand anywhere near her holstered gun, no need making the boy any more frightened than she was sure he already was. “Mark, listen to me. I’ve been watching your place since last night. I need to get you off your ranch and away from the Yates Gang.”

“Why should I believe you? You could be one of them.”
 
“Mark, if I were one of them, I’d already have my gun drawn and not having this conversation. The Judge sent me here. “ Khalyn paused, hoping to see that Mark was believing her.  “Look, I’m going to leave by the window, but I need for you to trust me. The shooter is probably watching the house. Go about your final chores of the night. Go into the barn and saddle your horse, when you leave the barn, blow out the lantern. Get back in the house, blow out all the lanterns in the front room, light the bedroom lantern, wait for a few minutes then blow it out. I then want you to sneak out the window, keep close to the buildings, then lead your horse out of the barn and quietly ride and meet me at the small pond, the one with the two grave markers, one says unknown, the other says Tip Corey. Can you do that boy?”
“Why should I trust you?” Mark asked, again, not believing that this wasn’t a trap.

“Mark, my name’s Khalyn Martin. If your Pa ain’t home by now, that means they’ve sequestered the jury. I’m here with the Rangers and the Judge wants you safe.”
 
“Kaleb and Keifer?” Mark asked as he saw Khalyn nod. “So, if I do as you say, where do we go from there?”

“I haven’t figured that one out yet. If it was someone from Yates’ gang who killed that rider, I need to keep you safe and taking you into town won’t help right now. I’m sure whoever it is, is watching the road. It’s been a while since Yates was captured and by now his gang has picked up more members that we don’t know about, so that means you need to come with me.” Then noticing the single rifle by the front door, “If it will make you feel any better, bring your rifle and ammunition.”

Khalyn climbed back out the window and returned to the stand of trees to get to her own horse. She watched as Mark walked from the house to the barn. He stayed inside long enough to feign working on chores, the lantern in the barn went dark. Then he walked back to the house, extinguishing the lantern next to the front door. The front room lantern went dark, then a light shown in the bedroom. After a few minutes the light was extinguished. It was dark enough without a moon that Khalyn couldn’t see Mark climb out the window and run to the barn. There was no movement or sound. All Khalyn could do was fervently hope that Mark made it out of the house and barn and was enroute to their meeting spot.

*****

Mark quietly led Blue Boy from the barn, rifle in hand. In effort to muffle any sound, he had tied burlap sacks around Blue Boys hooves. He walked his horse quite a distance away before he got in the saddle. He continued to keep Blue Boy at a walk as he rode to meet Khalyn.

He arrived at the pond, he got down from his horse, dropped the reins, and as he walked over to the grave markers he removed his hat. Mark quietly talked to the crosses, apologizing for having been a while since he’d come by, pleased to see that the flowers he had planted so long ago were still blooming.

Mark turned as he put his hat back on. Standing next to Blue Boy was Khalyn, holding her hat as she waited, her horse a short ways off.

“Didn’t want to disturb you Mark. Was he a good friend of yours?”

“No, only knew him for a few hours...” Mark let his explanation fade into silence.
“Mark, I’m sorry.” Changing the subject, “See you were thinking before you left your barn. Good idea about the burlap.”

“Didn’t want to take any chances. Also, I brought a few provisions from home… So what do we do now?”

“We need to figure out a place where we can stay for a few days, without anyone finding us. I figure the trial couldn’t last more than two more days, then maybe a day for the jury to deliberate. I can’t risk any of Yates Gang finding you. They’d hold a mighty powerful trump card over your Pa. We can’t have Yates walk. Took the Rangers way too long to track and capture him. We lost a few good men…”

Mark heard the sorrow in Khalyn’s voice and he tried to assure her, “My Pa wouldn’t let a killer get away, he’s a good man.” Mark kept quiet about how in the past his life had been threatened against his Pa by outlaws.  “He believes in justice. Corey tried to get my father to give up on his principles, even at the risk of Corey killing him, but he couldn’t, Pa just couldn’t.” Mark was quiet, hoping that Khalyn would understand what his Pa stood for. “There’s an old line shack out by on our northern range, we could wait there. It’s got a small paddock for the horses.”

“Mount up boy, lead on.”

They rode quietly, keeping their horses at a walk, both keeping an eye out on their surroundings. Pausing every now and then to listen for anyone following them. The only sounds they heard were the leaves rustling in the trees, and an occasional coyote or owl. It was close to dawn when they finally reached their destination. They unsaddled their horses and turned them out in the paddock. They walked into the shack carrying their bedrolls.

“You said you’d been watching our place for a couple of nights, was your first night the night the jury was selected?” Mark asked.

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Only that I thought I saw someone watching our place the night before that; the night that the lawyers came to town.” Mark replied.
 
Hearing this revelation caused Khalyn concern, she now knew that the Judge was right in sending her. What was Yates’ gang already planning in order to get Yates back? Whoever it was, was it the same person who killed the rider the night before?

“Boy, why don’t you try to get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.”

“Khalyn, if you’ve been watching our place for a couple of nights, you probably could use sleep more than I right now. I can stand watch.” Mark suggested.

 “Okay, I really could use some flat out sleep. Don’t build a fire in the stove, don’t need to signal no one that we’re here.” Khalyn said as she laid out her bedroll, took off her hat and boots then pulled the blanket up over her shoulders.

It was well past noon before Khalyn woke. She saw the boy standing, rifle in hand, looking out the window. “All’s quiet Mark?” And Mark nodded. “Get your bedroll out and get some sleep.”

Khalyn watched as Mark lay down and fell asleep. She left the shack to investigate their surroundings and to formulate the best way to defend their location should the Yates Gang track and find them. Khalyn returned to the shack an hour later.  She sat in the open doorway, rifle across her lap, and watched.   Mark was just starting to wake as she pulled a couple cans of beans from her saddle bag. She opened one and handed it to Mark.

“Sorry we have to eat it cold. You any good at setting rabbit snares?“ After eating, Mark and Khalyn left the shack and went to set some snares.

*****

Around mid-day, the second day of the trial saw the jury being escorted from the courtroom to the deliberation room as the opposing counsels wanted to argue certain legal points in front of the judge without the jury being present.
Impatience was wearing on Lucas as they waited. Oat Jackford tried to ease Lucas’ growing fears. They’d all heard the peacefulness of North Fork broken throughout the night. Oat was trying to tell him how good of a hand that Mason was turning out to be. Quite different than the arrogant boy who’d arrived in North Fork two years previous, acting as if he was better than anyone else. Oat had finally given in and gave the boy a job on his ranch, hoping he could turn the boy around. He was exceedingly pleased to see the improvement in Mason’s attitude since he’d struck up a friendship with Mark, shortly thereafter. Remembering a few weeks back, when he’d been out checking his cattle and came upon the boys sitting under a tree, seen the boys reading the Good Book when Mason said they were going to go fishing.

Lucas remembered back to the first time he’d met Mason. He didn’t want Mark to have anything to do with the young man, but Mark always had a way of seeing the ‘good’ in people, even if they didn’t see it in themselves. It wasn’t long before Mason was answering people, ‘Yes ma’am’ or ‘No sir, helping out around town when he wasn’t needed out at Jackford’s. But then Lucas’ thoughts returned to Mark and how was he getting along at the ranch, was he okay?
Lunch was delivered to the jury while they waited. Shortly after lunch was finished, the jury was ordered back into the courtroom.

*****

Khalyn and Mark returned to the shack after setting the snares and waited.

Mark couldn’t stand just sitting in silence, so he struck up a conversation. “So how long have you been a ranger?”
“I’m not a ranger, my brothers, Kaleb and Keifer, are the rangers in the family.”

“You not old enough to become a ranger then?” Mark asked, thinking the young man in front of him wasn’t as old has he thought he was.

“No Mark, it’s not that I’m not old enough. They just don’t let women become Rangers.” Khalyn looked at Mark to see the surprised expression on his face.

“You’re a girl? But you dress like a boy, ride like a boy, and your hair...”

“Mark, that’s how I can fit in best, it’s a simple disguise, one without trying. No one pays much attention to a boy riding into town on a horse. If I came into town with my hair, long like a girl and wearing a dress, well, I couldn’t just ride into town now could I?”

“But don’t you miss being a girl?” There was a sure look of confusion on Mark’s face. Here he’d spent this whole time thinking he was riding with a boy not too much older than himself, and it was a young woman! She knew how to ride. Mark had friends who were girls that knew how to ride, but they always reminded Mark in one way or another that they were girls. He’d seen women in town wear pants, but you always knew they were a woman. This young woman wasn’t filled out with curves like most of the young women in North Fork. She also wore a holster and gun down her left leg and carried a rifle. Everything she did, wasn’t “girl-like.”

“Guess with older brothers, seven years older, they got to do more than sit home doing needle point. I always wanted to have the fun like they did. Kaleb and Keifer realized how much I hated wearing skirts, so whenever Aunt Liza went into town or away to visit her family, they’d teach me. First it was just how to ride. When I was fourteen, they taught me how to shoot, first it was just empty cans, then I’d go hunting with them. I enjoyed that more than being the ‘young lady’ my Aunt Liza tried to teach me to be. Oh, sure, I know how to curtsey and be a young lady, when it’s required. With the boys as my teachers, I got pretty good with a rifle, holding my own when it came to rough-housing with them, and riding. The judge wasn’t none too pleased, but he finally accepted it. Even surprised Johnny Drako during one summer when he stopped by. If Aunt Liza ever found out about me riding and shooting, she never said anything. She passed on about four years back.”

Khalyn was quiet for a few minutes, and then asked, “What about you and your Pa, just the two of you?”

“Yes, it’s been just the two of us for about ten years now. Ma passed when I was six. We left Enid, Oklahoma shortly thereafter and after a few years of us moving from one town to the next, Pa taking on one job or another, trying to get up a stake for our own place again, we finally settled in North Fork. You didn’t say anything about your own Ma? How she felt about you taking up such stuff.”

“Never knew her. She passed giving birth to me. She’d been sick for a long time while carrying me. When Ma took sick, Pa sent for Aunt Liza to come live with us and help out. She ended up staying on, raising me and helping to raise the twins.”

Both were quiet for a long time, both thinking of their own sorrows.

“My brothers say your Pa’s pretty good with a rifle, say he’s called the Rifleman.”

“Oh, he’s good with the rifle. When we first arrived in North Fork and after Micah became Marshal, he’d help out whenever Micah needed someone to be a deputy or acting Marshal when he had to leave town. All that was before Johnny became Micah’s official deputy. Pa’s taught me how to shoot, only I had to learn there was a responsibility to owning a rifle, first. Pa wouldn’t buy me one just because I wanted one since all my friends had rifles, I had to understand and respect what it meant to own a weapon. He also said he didn’t want me to have to grow up before my time.”

“Sounds like the same conversations my brothers had with me.”
 
“When I was growing up, I daydreamed about growing up and becoming Micah’s deputy, that is, becoming his deputy someday after Pa had taught me to shoot. Guess seeing my Pa help Micah out all the time, and now Johnny, it’s not quite the same as in the dime-store novels. But we do need lawmen out here, as much as we need good preachers. I remember one time I asked my Pa if we’d ever get a real, full-time preacher to come to North Fork?”

“How’d your Pa answer that question?” Khalyn inquired, realizing there was more to this young man than most people probably realized.

Mark took a moment to remember back, “He said ‘Yes, North Fork is just bad enough to need one and good enough to want one’.”

Both fell into silence as they remembered their own growing up time.

“Mark, what say we go check your snares. Beans aren’t quite as filling as a good rabbit.” As they checked the snares they did find one rabbit. Mark made quick work of skinning and gutting the rabbit. Khalyn make a small campfire not too far away from the snare.

“What about the smoke being seen?” Mark asked.

“That’s why I set it here, the leaves in these trees will help to diffuse the smoke, shouldn’t be that much anyhow.” Khalyn placed the rabbit over the small fire and waited.

*****

The afternoon of the third day of the trial, the town had been quiet for the morning and Johnny Drako decided to head out the Lucas’ place to check on how Mark and Mason were getting along. He knew Lucas was on pins and needles not knowing anything about how Mark was handling his Pa not being home.

Johnny wasn’t too far from the ranch house when he saw a body lying on the side of the road. He jumped down from his horse, ran to the body, and turned it over to see it was Mason. Johnny checked his pockets and found he still had money in his inside vest pocket, as well as the note from Lucas to Mark.

Johnny ran back to his horse and raced on to the McCain’s. He found the place quiet and then noticed the front door standing wide open. He stepped down from his horse, drew his gun and walked to the porch. Quietly he entered the house to realize that no one was home. He ran to the barn, no Blue Boy. The team was also missing. Johnny ran to the back side of the barn, saw the busted paddock railing, looking to the horizon, he saw the team horses eating grass up on the hill. He yelled Mark’s name. No answer. Johnny ran back to the house. He checked the stove and found it cold to the touch, it hadn’t been used today. Figured it has been a couple of days since the fire in the hearth had been lit. He wrote a note for Mark. As he turned to leave the house, he noticed that Mark’s rifle was missing from its stand next to the door.

Johnny left the house and scanned the landscape hoping to see Khalyn. Asking himself, “Where’s Mark? Where’s Khalyn? Are they okay?” Johnny got back in the saddle and rode. He stopped and picked up the Mason’s body, slung in over the withers of his horse, and then Johnny rode back to North Fork.
Johnny entered North Fork and headed to the backside of the doc’s. He didn’t want anyone to see him arrive with the body.

*****

Both counsels had presented their closing arguments, when the judge called the third day of the trial to an end. The judge declared the trial in recess and that the jury would begin deliberations at eight o’clock the following morning.

*****

Johnny returned to the Marshal’s office to find Micah just returning from taking the jurors to the hotel.

Both the Martin brothers were coming from the back of the jail after seeing Dak Yates taken care of for the night.

“Micah, we got problems.” He motioned for the twins to close the door to the jail cell area.
“What’s the problem?” Micah asked.
 
“Mason is dead and Mark’s missing. I went out to Lucas’ place this afternoon, figured he’d like to know that Mark was okay. He’s not been there at all today. Mason never made it to Lucas’. Found him dead on the road out there.”

 Johnny pulled the note from his pocket and showed it to Micah and the Rangers. “Boys, Khalyn’s missing too.” He said as he turned to twins.
 
“What are you saying?” Kaleb asked.

“Look, I know that Khalyn’s been out watching over Mark since that first night you arrived. I spotted one of you and her leaving town and followed. You boy’s sure taught her good, she got the drop on me and told me not to let anyone know that I knew she was here. First time anyone’s gotten the drop on me. But this is different. Mark’s not at the ranch and the door was forced open. Who knows how long!”

Micah got up and started pacing. “Just who is Khalyn and what is a ‘she’ doing watching over Mark?” A little miffed that something was happening that he wasn’t aware of, especially when it came to keeping Mark safe and the fact the person involved was a girl!

Keifer answered Micah, “Khalyn’s our sister and that’s how the judge wanted it.” Hoping that the Marshal would accept his answer.

“We have to tell Lucas and the Judge, he can declare a mistrial.” Micah stated.

“No we don’t tell them. This trial has to come to conclusion. The jury starts deliberating in the morning. So far no one knows about this, so the jury hasn’t been influenced. We’ll tell them as soon as the jury announces their decision and sentence is passed.” Keifer demanded.

“Boy, it’s your sister out there!” Johnny barked at Keifer.

“Don’t you think I know that! Yates has robbed and murdered too many innocent people and too many Rangers lost their lives bringing him to trial. I can’t stop the trial just because my sister is out there and might be missing. Anyway, if Mark is missing, she might be tailing them. You don’t know what’s happened and we can’t jump to conclusions. We tell no one!” Sorrow was evident in Keifer’s eye as he realized what he was saying and what it meant.

*****

Morning dawned for Mark and Khalyn on the fourth day of the trial. Khalyn decided that today they would return to the McCain ranch to stock up on a few more provisions. As they crested the hill overlooking the ranch, they saw three riders coming out of the house. Mark didn’t recognize any of them as being his Pa or anyone from North Fork.
“Mark, we’re getting out of here, now!” They wheeled their horses around only to find out that they had been spotted and the three were giving chase.

*****

 After two and a half days of listening to testimony and looking at the evidence presented, the jury began their deliberation.

*****

Neither Mark nor Khalyn felt they could make it to North Fork with the riders chasing after them. Mark led the way to a cave he knew about on the ranch. A place that would be easy to defend, yet difficult to assault. Before they could reach the cave that Mark had hope would protect them, their chasers were gaining ground. It was getting too risky to continue as their pursuers were firing their guns at them.

“Mark, that ravine down there and then the rock outcropping, it’ll have to do!” Khalyn called as they rode. They rode down the ravine and up the other side, stopping their horses behind a large outcropping of rocks that they could climb to get the upper hand. They reached a vantage point that would allow them to take cover and still protect themselves, rifles in hand, just as their pursuers reached the ravine. Khalyn fired the first shot, striking near one of the riders.

“That’s just a warning shot!” Khalyn yelled. “Ride on out of here and no one gets hurt.”

“We want the boy, give us the boy and we might just let you live!” one of them yelled.

“Khalyn, I know that voice.” Mark stated. Khalyn looked at him, the expression on her face asking “who?” “I think that’s Seth Brody. He came into town with the lawyer’s. Your brothers said he does the grunt work for Mr. Avery.”
Bullets started to ricochet off the rocks near them and sent rock chips flying, a number of them hitting Mark, drawing blood.

“So they got a crooked lawyer too. Figures!” Khalyn returned her attention to their pursuers. Another shot rang out from below, but it was too wide to pose a risk to either Khalyn or Mark. “Mark, I’ll keep their attention here. I want you to ride on out of here. Head into North Fork, tell your Marshal and Drako, and my Brothers. I’ll keep them busy so they can’t give chase to you.”

“Khalyn, let me stay. I can help.” Mark pleaded.

“Mark, no one knows where we are. You and I talked the other night about how your Pa feels about you and these kinds of situations. Keep your rifle for hunting game, not men. You’ll grow up soon enough.” She was sincere, she truly understood the bond between Mark and Lucas, and was ready to respect Lucas’ wishes.

Mark waited next to Khalyn, waited for her to send him away. He looked around, trying to see how best he could help her, without her knowing.

“Mark, get ready to run. NOW!” Khalyn started firing, slow and accurate. Shots aiming to keep Brody’s and his cohorts’ heads down. Hoping to give Mark time to get away. One of Khalyn’s shots ricocheted and struck one of Brody’s men. He dropped his gun and grabbed at his head, groaning as he fell to the ground. The other continued to fire wildly, after a while his gun and belt were empty. He reached for the other’s gun. Khalyn fired a shot that struck the man in the hand. He pulled back, waiting for the inevitable.

Mark was on Blue Boy and riding. He started towards North Fork and then once he knew he was out of Khalyn’s sight, he circled around. He knew a way to get to the other side of the outcropping where Khalyn was holed up. As he approached, the gun fire had stopped. To Mark’s horror he saw Brody crawling and gaining an advantage over Khalyn. The angle Brody was crawling was out of Khalyn’s sight. Mark knew he was too far away to yell. He kicked Blue Boy and rode fast, as he started climbing he saw Brody fire a shot striking Khalyn in the back. He saw her fall to the ground and drop her rifle. Brody got to his feet and walked over to her.

“Where’s the boy?” Brody demanded as he kicked Khalyn in the ribs, turning her over to face him.
Khalyn struggled to get to a kneeling position, grabbing her ribs. “He’s gone. He’s safely out of your reach. Soon everyone in North Fork will know what you and Avery were up to.”

“Avery? It weren’t Avery, he don’t know anything about this. See he don’t even know that Yates is my brother.”
 Brody let out a wicked laugh. “Avery thinks I’m just a punk, he’s full of himself. Thinks he’s such a great lawyer. Regardless, my brother ain’t going to swing. That boy’s my ticket to get my brother out of jail.”

Mark had just arrived, overhearing the entire conversation, and now he had the advantage over Brody, if only he could pull off his bluff. Could he make Brody believe that he would pull the trigger? Even though he wasn’t sure he could do it himself.

 “Brody, drop the gun!” Mark yelled, as he stood, cocked his rifle, and came out into the open behind Brody.
“Boy, you best drop your rifle or your friend here is dead.”

Mark gave his best bluff by speaking slow and deliberate, “Move your hand one inch and I pull this trigger! My rifle’s at the ready! Care to bet on your own life?”

“Matt, take the kid out!” Brody yelled, but received no response. “MATT!”
 
“BRODY, DROP YOUR GUN!” Mark yelled one more time.

Brody turned quickly and brought his gun up to fire at Mark. Mark didn’t think, he just reacted. He fired his rifle, striking Brody and knocking him down. Khalyn reached for Brody’s gun and pulled it away from him. She then grabbed her own rifle and stood, wobbly.

Both stood and stared at Brody, lying on the ground, reaching for his shoulder, screaming in pain and he cursed. Cursed better than any sailor could, Mark thought to himself.

“Mark, get some rope, we’ll tie him up.”
 
Mark ran to Blue Boy and brought him back to where Khalyn’s horse waited, he returned with his saddle bags and rope to tie Brody’s hands. He checked Brody’s wound and found it was just a deep crease to his shoulder.  He then turned his attention to Khalyn, set his saddle bags down next to her and pulled out an old, clean shirt and clean rags to use as a bandage. He wrapped the back of her shoulder as best he could, to try to stop the bleeding.

“How bad is it? Does it hurt bad?” Mark’s voice was comforting, he wasn’t panicking as Khalyn had half expected.
“I’ll be fine. Let’s get him down and check out the other two.”

Mark assisted Brody in getting to his feet, and then followed him down to the ground. Mark kept an eye on Khalyn, making sure she didn’t need any help. A couple of times her footing slipped, but she never fell.

Mark tended to the wounds on the other two outlaws, then got Brody in the saddle and tied his hands to the saddle horn. The other two were treated the same way. After getting the three in the saddle, Mark ran back to get Khalyn’s horse and Blue Boy. Mark assisted Khalyn to get in the saddle.  They followed their prisoners and headed back to North Fork.

*****

It was noon time when the jury announced they had come to a decision. The jury was led back into the courtroom. Lucas stood as he was addressed by Judge Martin.
 
“I understand the jury has come to a decision. Is it unanimous?”

“Yes sir, your honor,” Lucas answered. “We gave all the evidence due consideration and it is the finding of this jury that Dak Yates is guilty of all the charges.”

“Your son’s dead McCain! He’ll be dead before nightfall!” Yates screamed as he tried to bully his way past the Rangers.

The courtroom exploded into wild conversations as people heard Yates threat and knew that no one threatened Lucas McCain’s boy.

Judge Martin was banging his gavel, yelling the courtroom to return to order. Ordering the Rangers to restrain the defendant.

“Order, I’ll have order in the courtroom!” Judge Martin yelled. “This court is still in session. Anyone who does not return to their seat will be held in contempt of court!”
 
Finally the courtroom was quiet. “It is the decision of this court that Dak Yates has been found guilty of robbery and murder. You shall be transported to Yuma prison where you are sentenced to hang, until dead!” Judge Martin banged his gavel one last time, indicating the trial was over.

“You’ll never hang me! Try and my gang will tree this town like no other town’s been treed before!” Yates continued to yell. Finally one of the Rangers pulled out his bandanna and gagged Yates. Handcuffs were placed on Yates and he was forcefully restrained and carried by six Texas Rangers back to his jail cell.

Lucas could barely contain himself. This outlaw had threatened his son and he had been stuck in a courtroom, unable to protect his boy.
 
Judge Martin ordered all spectators out of the courtroom. Turning to the jury, he excused everyone, but asked for Lucas to stay.

“Judge, that man just threatened my son, I’m leaving. I’m going home where I should be. With all due respect,” Lucas answered.

“Mr. McCain, as a father myself, I understand your feelings, but I order you to not leave this room.”

Lucas turned slowly and faced the judge, fire burned in his eyes. Lucas stared at the judge, pointing his finger getting ready to speak, when two rangers and the Marshals returned to the courtroom. They saw the two men having a contest of wills. Who would win?

Kaleb and Keifer looked at each other then Keifer broke the silence, “Pa!”
 
Both men turned and looked at those standing just inside the doorway.

“Pa, its Khalyn, she and Mark McCain are missing.”

Fury was evident in Lucas as he tried storming back to Micah and Johnny. Demanding answers!

“Lucas, Johnny went to check on Mason and Mark at your place yesterday afternoon. Johnny found Mason dead on the road. When he got to the ranch, Mark and Blue Boy were missing. Your front door had been forcibly entered.”

“Mason’s dead and Marks been missing for at least a day and you’ve said nothing? What kind of a friend are you?” Lucas yelled, his blood was boiling. He tried to push past them. Kaleb and Keifer restrained Lucas.

“Mr. McCain, it was my decision,” Keifer pleaded. “We didn’t even tell our father that our sister was missing. We couldn’t, we needed this trial to end without a mistrial being declared. We needed for Yates to be found guilty or not guilty of the crimes he was accused of committing, without outside interference.”
 
The judge was struggling past his own pain in realizing what his boy had said, “Mr. McCain, it was my decision to have my daughter keep an eye on your place and your boy, just in case those remaining from the Yates Gang tried something. If you’ll regain your composure, we’ll ride to your place and then set out in search parties to look for them.”

Lucas yanked his arms out of the grasp of the two Rangers who held him and grabbed his rifle from Micah. “I ride as soon as I get my horse. I’m not waiting for anyone else to protect what I should have protected all along! Believe me, if anything has happened to my boy, I will hold each one of you personally responsible.” There was no doubt about the volume of anger held within Lucas’ voice. All he heard was his boy was missing.

Everyone exited from the courtroom and ran to the livery. Horses were saddled in record time. The group was ready to leave town when Toomey yelled and pointed towards the hotel.

Lucas turned to see a small group of riders entering town, heading for the Marshal’s office. The front three riders had their hands tied to the saddle horns, slumped and defeated as they rode in their saddles. Blood was evident on each one. The two riders in the back had their rifles at the ready on their knees. Lucas saw the nearest of the two back riders looked as if he was using his rifle to keep him straight in the saddle, he saw the bandaging around the shoulder, he couldn’t see the red of blood on the black shirt. The last rider rode a little behind the rest, Lucas noticed the blood on the left sleeve and the face, and then he realized… “Mark!”

Lucas jumped down from Razor and ran to Mark as the group stopped in front of the Marshal’s office. Close on Lucas’ heels were Micah and Johnny, guns drawn, leveled at the three prisoners.

Kaleb, Keifer, and Jarod Martin were immediately at Khalyn’s side, helping her down from the saddle.

Mark stayed in the saddle, rifle still on his knee, not ready to relax his guard. Slowly he realized his Pa was standing beside Blue Boy. “Pa, I’m okay.” Mark turned from his father and watched as they carried Khalyn into Doc’s office. He then watched as Micah and Johnny cut the prisoners’ hands loose and motioned them into the jail with the other Rangers following, rifles pointed at the outlaws. Mark accepted his Pa’s help as he got down from his horse; he turned and melted into his father’s embrace.

“Mark, you’re bleeding, let me get you into the doc’s.” Lucas tried pushing Mark to the doc’s, but Mark wouldn’t budge.

“Pa, Khalyn needs the doc worse than I do. Brody shot her in the back.” Mark turned his head to see the door to Doc Burrage’s office close. “You can take care of me Pa. These were just from rock fragments from ricochets.”

Nils, Toomey and a few other people were there to take care of the horses as Lucas led Mark over to the hotel. Lou had seen the commotion in the street and was just getting to the door when Lucas entered with Mark. Seeing the blood on Mark’s cheek and sleeve, and the pain in Lucas eye’s she led them upstairs to room five. Lou returned downstairs to get some alcohol and bandages. While she was out of the room, Lucas helped Mark take off his shirt. Mark placed his hat on the night stand as his father grabbed the water pitcher and a wash cloth to clean Mark’s wounds. Lucas tended to Mark in silence, afraid he couldn’t contain his emotions if he spoke. Lou returned to the room and quietly stood beside Lucas, handing him the alcohol and bandages as he asked for them.

After Mark’s face and arm were tended, Lucas motioned for him to lie down in the bed. Mark was practically asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Lucas removed Mark’s belt and boots, and then pulled the covers over his son.

Lucas sat on the edge of the bed and watched his son sleep. He watched his son’s chest slowly rising and falling in a steady rhythm. He saw his boy’s face soften, indicating he was in a peaceful sleep. Lucas felt Lou’s hand on his shoulder and then heard her voice softly in his ear, “Lucas, I’ll go get you something to eat. Stay here with Mark.” Lou turned and left the room.

Shortly there was a knock on the door, Lucas didn’t turn his attention from his son as he answered, “Enter.”

“Lucas Boy, how’s Mark?” Micah asked as he and Johnny entered the room.

“Sleeping now. A couple of those wounds on his arm are deep. I think the doc should look at him.” Worry was evident in Lucas’ voice.

“Once he gets done tending to the girl, he’ll be over here Lucas.” Johnny answered.

“Girl? What girl?” Lucas turned and looked at them.

“Lucas, the other rider who came in with Mark was the judge’s daughter. She’d been keeping an eye on Mark. Judge’s orders, I couldn’t tell you.” Johnny stared at the floor as he spoke, knowing his secret had hurt Lucas.
“How long have you known about someone else watching over my boy?”

“I found out accidentally, the night after the jury was selected. Lucas, she kept your boy safe. If it hadn’t been for her, it might not have been only Mason that I found dead out there yesterday. Lucas you couldn’t have done anything more to protect Mark once you were on the jury. I had hoped by having the girl and Mason at the ranch, Mark would be all right.

“Lucas I told you before that I knew the judge and that he was a fair man. If I hadn’t known the girl was out there, I would have kept better tabs on Mark.” Johnny paused, trying to understand the expression on Lucas’ face. The expression that said, ‘We were friends and how could you have kept this from me?’ “Lucas, it’s not just the Judge, I know the whole family, the twins and the girl. They believe in the law and the Good Book… It was the Judge who realized that Mark might be at risk.”

Johnny continued to talk, hoping his words would lessen Lucas’ anger, but he knew he needed to say more. “Lucas, only the judge knows who I really am. Oh, they all know I’m Johnny Drako and my reputation. But see there’s more to it.” Johnny hesitated before he continued to tell his other secret, “See the judge was married to my sister.”
 
Johnny let his comments sink in. He knew Lucas was in pain; seeing his son injured and knowing his friend had kept him in the dark about the true risk to his son and the plans that were made in an attempt to keep him safe.

“Lucas, I trust that family as much as I trust you. I just hope in time you can come to trust me again.” Johnny turned to leave the room, unsure if he should really be there.

“Johnny, the girl? She’s your niece? How bad is she?” Lucas had stood and walked to Johnny, placing a hand on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze, hoping it would convey his forgiveness to Johnny.

Johnny turned and did see forgiveness in Lucas’ eyes. “We don’t know yet. Doc’s working to remove the bullet as we speak.”

“Well since Mark’s probably going to sleep for a while, let’s go down to the restaurant. We can talk without waking the boy.”

Lucas kept his hand on Johnny’s shoulder as they left the room; in his other hand was his rifle. Never again did he plan for it to be out of his reach. Micah closed the door behind them as they walked down the hall. They entered the restaurant and Lou put them in a quiet corner, away from anyone else. Lou served them all coffee and then sat down with them.

“Johnny, you must be pretty torn up, choosing between our friendship and your niece.” Lucas commented. “I’m sorry, I was only thinking of myself. I wasn’t hearing that anyone else was at risk.”

“Niece?” Lou asked.

“Yes Lou. That girl and the boys are all that I have left, other than memories, to remind me of my sister. She was married to the judge.” Johnny explained.

“You never said anything about family.” Micah said.

“I’m kind of the black sheep of the Drako family. When Sarabeth married, Jarod was a prominent attorney. After the boys came along, I felt it was best for them to not know I was their uncle. I knew how Sarabeth felt about my reputation. Oh, she loved me as her little brother. Then Sarabeth became pregnant with Khalyn, she was so sick most of the time, towards the end, the fever hit. The doctors said probably both of them would die. Sarabeth was dead when the doctor pulled the baby from her womb… Jarod brought in his brother’s widow to take care of the girl. As they grew up, I was just became a friend of the family. I never went looking for trouble, you know that Lucas, but once I got my reputation as a gun fighter; others just had to know if I was really better than them. Those kids didn’t need to know about me being family. I’d visit every now and then, as they grew up. Pleased when the twins became Rangers. Surprised when I found out the girl was such a good shot.” With a hint of a smile on his face and a laugh in his voice, Johnny continued, “That girl can probably give you a run for your money in a shooting contest Lucas.”

 *****

It was getting close to dinner time when Doc Burrage and the Martin’s entered the hotel lobby. Lou called to them, then got up and walked over to escort them into the restaurant. She informed a couple of guests at the hotel waiting in the lobby that the restaurant would be closed for the night. They could get some sandwiches over at Sweeney’s bar or the café down the street.

*****

Lucas asked Doc if he weren’t too tired, could he take a look at Mark’s arm. Lucas said he felt a couple of the wounds could sure use stitches.
 
“Sure Lucas. I’ll follow,” Doc replied.

Lucas and Doc entered Mark’s room, the boy was still asleep. Doc Burrage gently removed the bandaging, got out a needle and suture thread, and proceeded to put a couple of stitches in Mark’s arm. He re-wrapped the arm and placed it back under the blankets. Mark never woke.

Doc and Lucas returned to the restaurant.

“Doc, how’s Khalyn doing? Is she going to be alright?” Johnny asked.

“Johnny, the girl’s going to be fine, given time. She’ not going to be able to use her right arm for a while, at least until the shoulder muscle heals,” Doc answered. “Mark did an excellent job in getting her bandaged to stop the loss of blood... I remember one time I asked Mark if he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up? With all the time that boy’s stepped up to take care of his Pa, he’s a natural.” Doc Burrage reminisced.

Lucas commented as he recalled the conversation, “I believe at that time, Mark said he wanted to grow up to be my partner at the ranch.”
 
After dinner, conversations continued to wander aimlessly for the rest of the evening. Everyone had questions, but the only two who could answer, were sleeping. Doc finally excused himself; he wanted to check on Khalyn one more time before he turned in for the night.
 
He saw the expression on Judge Martin’s face, “Judge, let the girl be tonight. She’ll be fine. You and your boys just get upstairs and get some sleep. And that’s an order.” With that Doc left the hotel.

“Lucas Boy, why don’t you head upstairs and get some sleep yourself,” Micah stated has he set his coffee cup down on the table. “We all best get some sleep, once those two are able to answer questions tomorrow; I expect we won’t get much time for making up for lost sleep.” Micah tipped his hat as he stood up and walked out of the restaurant.

Lucas and the Martin’s walked upstairs to their respective hotel rooms. The witnesses had left on the afternoon stage to return to their own homes and it was no longer necessary for the jurors to stay at the hotel, making rooms available for Kaleb and Keifer.
 
Johnny escorted Lou to her home on the back side of the hotel. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as he turned to leave. “Johnny, I’m here if you need to talk.” She was excited to know he had family, but didn’t want to push the issue, just yet.

“Lou, I appreciate it. Maybe once everything settles down and returns to normal, we can have a picnic lunch and talk.”
“I’d like that Johnny. Good night.”

Johnny turned and left. He walked to his own apartment above the saloon.

Lucas entered the hotel room, saw that Mark had rolled over onto his right side. Lucas set his hat and rifle down on the dresser. He turned down the lamp before he removed his shirt, belt, and boots and lay down on top of the blankets, curled up next to his son. As he settled in, Lucas felt Mark lean into him as if he was a little boy again, wanting the comfort of being close to his Pa.

*****

The sun was just starting to shine through the hotel window when Lucas woke and realized Mark had slept through the entire night. Lucas understood his son was growing up. How many times in the past had Lucas needed to calm his son because of a nightmare after a tragic experience? How long had it been since the last nightmare? Lucas felt Mark starting to wake. He rolled out of the bed and walked to the water pitcher, poured some water in the basin and washed himself before dressing again.

“Pa?” Mark was starting to sit up in bed, stretching his arms, and trying to stifle a yawn. He brought his arms down and started rubbing the bandage on his upper left arm.

“Does it hurt son?” Lucas asked, watching his boy from the mirror.

“A little, itches more than anything.” As Mark came fully awake, “Pa, what about Khalyn?”

“Doc said last night that she’d be fine. It’ll take her a little while to recover.” Turning to face his son, “Do you want me to order room service or do you want to get cleaned up and eat downstairs?”

Mark gave a little jump as he got out of bed and walked over and stood next to his Pa, “I think downstairs would be fine Pa. Give me a few minutes.” Mark washed himself and then turned, he saw his belt and boots next to the bed, but didn’t see his shirt, “Where’s my shirt?”

“I think Lou took it last night to see if she could get the blood out of it. Let me go downstairs to see if it’s dry.” Lucas returned to the room, a brand new shirt for Mark in hand, courtesy of Mrs. Donner over at the general store.

*****

Micah and Johnny were waiting in the hotel lobby when Lucas and Mark came downstairs. Both were carrying on about how they probably should retire. Seeing as how a mere boy and girl were taking the law into their own hands or maybe, those youngsters should be arrested for interfering with duly authorized lawmen.

“Now Micah,” Mark started. “We were just protecting ourselves, honest. Khalyn sent me to go get help…, I couldn’t leave her alone,” Mark added as he saw the expression on his Pa’s face after blurting out how he had put himself into more danger. Again, Mark had disobeyed an order meant to protect him.

 Micah and Johnny burst out laughing as they heard desperation in Mark’s voice at the thought of being thrown in jail, especially when he knew who was already in there. And they saw the expression on his face as he looked up at his Pa.
“That’s okay Mark, as long has you’ve learned your lesson,” Micah stated as he pointed and shook his index finger towards Mark. Johnny and Micah left to take breakfast to their prisoners.

Lucas put his hand on Mark’s shoulder and motioned for him to continue on into the restaurant and took a seat in the far corner. Alice came in to take their order. Mark ordered oatmeal and a large glass of milk. Lucas ordered the same, except coffee.

Surprised, Lucas asked, “You okay Mark?  Usually you order a big breakfast when we’re eating at the restaurant.”
“I’m okay, just not that hungry this morning.”

“You should be considering you slept through and missed dinner last night.” Lucas didn’t push his son any more, when he saw Mark wasn’t quite his normal self.

Shortly after they finished eating, the Martin’s came down for breakfast and joined them.

“Keifer, I owe you an apology for my actions yesterday. I had no right to treat you like I did, especially since I now know what you had at risk.” Lucas said.

“Apology accepted Mr. McCain. Let’s just focus on getting these two healthy.” Keifer said as he looked over at Mark and then glance out the archway, hoping the Doc would arrive shortly to state his sister was doing okay.

Doc Burrage entered the restaurant a few minutes later and to everyone’s surprise, he was walking with Khalyn beside him. Her right arm was in a sling and she still looked a little pale, but she was walking on her own. Her brothers stood up from their chairs so quickly, they knocked them over backwards. Both rushed to stand on either side of their sister as she walked to the table. As they approached, Mark stood and held a chair out for Khalyn.

Johnny and Micah finally joined the group after making sure their prisoners were fed their breakfast and after making arrangements for the prison wagon to transport the prisoners to Yuma.
 
“What’s going to happen to Brody and the others?” Mark asked. “Did you know that he and Yates were brothers?”
Everyone looked at Mark. Questioning whether they heard correctly.

“Oh, it’s true. He admitted it while he had a gun on me,” Khalyn added.

Judge Martin then asked, “Do either of you two care to explain everything that happened?”

Mark and Khalyn took turns telling their story. Answering various questions asked as they continued. Towards the end Mark got very quiet. His Pa felt he was holding something back, something he wasn’t ready to say in such a large group. Lucas reached over and placed his hand on Mark’s arm, “Son, take your time, we’re not pushing you.” Mark got up and excused himself. He quietly walked out the front door. Concern showed on Lucas’ face.

 “Mr. McCain, go talk with your son. I think you alone need to listen to him. I can tell the Judge the rest of the story.” Khalyn said as her eyes followed Mark out of the room.

*****

Lucas followed Mark as he entered the church. Mark removed his hat and sat down in the back. Lucas saw his son sitting, looking… ashamed. Lucas removed his hat as he entered.

“Mark, want to talk about it son?” Lucas asked as he sat down next to Mark and put a comforting arm around his shoulder.

 “Not yet, Pa.”

“Son, I know how much you liked Mason as a friend. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you.”

Mark waited a few minutes, and then continued. “Pa, maybe we should talk. I don’t want to keep this bottled up inside me. It hurts too much as it is.”

Lucas listened as Mark told his father of his feelings and why he was ashamed of himself. In how turning his rifle on another person, he had just reacted, he hadn’t even thought about pulling the trigger. He, a boy, was just trying to bluff an outlaw. How he saw Brody turn, raise his gun, and next thing he knew, he’d pulled the trigger.

“I wasn’t even aware that I had pulled the trigger until he was on the ground,” Mark stated, his eyes never leaving the floor of the church.

Mark said he felt ashamed of all the times when he was younger that he bragged or was proud that his Pa was so good with the rifle and that he had killed an outlaw. He said he truly understood why the gun should only be used as a means of last resort. But he knew that there were times when the gun was necessary and couldn’t be avoided.
 
Mark went on to say, “The only reason I don’t feel any worse than what I do, about what I did, was because I didn’t taken someone’s life. I can’t imagine what I would be feeling if I had killed Brody.”

“Mark, I understand how you feel. Every time I’ve taken another’s life, I’ve always tried to find comfort in the Good Book and ask God for forgiveness. Every time you’ve been present, I’ve regretted it because I felt I was making you grow up sooner than you should. Afterwards, I wanted you to understand how it pained me to take the life of another.  I wanted you to see that it wasn’t easy dealing with my emotions, my conscience afterwards. I wanted you to understand it’s not as the ink and paper make it out to be a glamorous life written about in dime-store novels. It’s real, the people are real, and death is final.”
 
As Lucas spoke, Mark turned and looked at his father. Lucas saw there were tears in his boy’s eyes.

“If you like, we can just sit here and when you’re ready, we can go home.”

“Pa, I think I’d like to sit here for just a while. But, I think I need to have private conversation with God.” Mark said.
Lucas stood up to leave his son to his conversation.
 
“Pa? Thank you for listening… and understanding.”

“It’s all part of being a father.” Seeing his son needed more, “I do love you, Mark.”

Lucas left the church and walked to Micah’s.

As Lucas arrived, the other Texas Rangers were leading their prisoners to a wagon; they were heading out to Roswell to meet up with the prison wagon traveling to Yuma.

Lucas took a seat in front of the Marshal’s office next to Micah, after a while both had their chairs leaning back, Lucas enjoying his cigar, and talking about how Mark was growing up.

“Lucas Boy, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark chose to become a lawman one of these days. After you and Mark left, the girl told us of some of the conversations she had with Mark while she was hiding him. Didn’t realize he looked up to me and Johnny so much. Knew how much the boy looked up to you…” Micah stated, looking out the corner of his eye at Lucas. A pride was welling in his own chest.

“Well, I don’t know if that boy will ever choose on his own.” Lucas stated, remembering all the conversations he and Mark had shared over the years about what Mark was going to be when he grew up, a writer, a surveyor, a doctor, a mind reader, and now Micah was proposing a lawman. “I think events will decide for him. I can only pray that I’ve given him the guidance he needs.” Lucas’ gaze eventually drifted to the church, to finally see Mark walking towards them, still scratching at the bandage on his arm. Lucas noticed the smile on Mark’s face and the ease of his stride. He knew his boy had come to peace with himself over the events of the past several days.

The McCain’s stayed in town for one more night.  Lucas was needed to help out as an ‘acting deputy’ in order to get North Fork to return to the quiet, peaceful town they loved. That evening, they enjoyed dinner with the Martin’s and were informed they would be heading back to Lubbock, Texas in the morning.

Before desert arrived, Judge Martin presented Mark with a Texas Ranger badge. “It may not be ‘official’, but we know you have the heart of a Ranger, Mark. And it’s a small token from me to say ‘thank you’ for saving the life of my daughter.” He glanced sideways to his youngest, before proceeding, “It was supposed to be the other way around.
“Thank you, sir. Well, it did take both of us to bring them in.” Mark said with a smile on his face.

*****

The following morning Lucas and Mark McCain waited in the lobby of the hotel to say their final goodbyes to the Martin’s. Mark stood, gaping his mouth a little, as he saw a pretty young woman in a simple blue, floral dress with a white shawl over her shoulders, come down the stairs; only to realize that it was Khalyn, after he saw the twins behind her carrying their luggage. Mark removed his hat before his Pa could do it for him.

As the men shook hands, Khalyn gave Mark a small kiss on his cheek, “Mark, that’s for coming back and saving my life,” she whispered in his ear. “The Ranger badge was from my father and my brothers, this kiss was from me.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard you call him ‘father’, every other time you’ve called him ‘the Judge’,” Mark commented.

“He’s always my father, but it’s easier to call him ‘the judge’ when I’m wearing pants. I treasure calling him ‘father’ when I’m dressed as his little girl.”

“Guess you do know how to be a young lady. I’m sure your Aunt Liza would be proud of you,” was all that Mark could say before he became too embarrassed to continue.

There was a smile on Judge Martin’s face as he overheard the exchange.

Johnny Drako and Lou Mallory walked up to the group, arm in arm, Johnny stating, “Khalyn, I must say I like you better in a dress. You remind me a lot of your mother.” Then to the rest of the group, “Tell you what, next time I’m near Lubbock, I’ll stop by and say ‘howdy’,” as he shook hands and said goodbye to the Martin’s.
Khalyn stepped up and gave Johnny a kiss on the cheek, “I hope you do more than stop by to say ‘howdy’, Uncle Johnny.”

Taken back, Johnny stammered out, “You know?”

The Judge answered the question, “I thought it time they knew Johnny. I’ve seen the change in you while I was here in North Fork. I know how you loved Sarabeth so I agreed, when they were little, to keep your secret.  I saw no reason to keep it a secret any more. Tried telling them last night, seems they already knew. When Sarabeth was starting to get sick, she kept a journal for each one of them, explaining everything. I knew about the journals Sarabeth kept, but I never read them, they were for the children.”

The stage arrived and the boys handed the luggage up top as the Judge and Khalyn boarded. Kaleb and Keifer untied their horses from the hitching post and mounted, Kaleb had Khalyn’s horse tied to his. They waved as they rode out of North Fork.

Lucas and Mark left the front of the hotel and headed to the livery to get their horses and head home. As they stopped back in front of the Marshal’s office, Johnny offered, “Lucas, I’ll be out to help you later this afternoon with any chores that need to be done, seeing as you look to be one arm short of a good hired hand. “ A grin escaped his face and Lou slapped at his arm, telling Johnny it was no laughing matter, in her best Irish brogue.

“Now I don’t know Johnny, seems to me like the boy conjured up more ways to get out of taking care of his responsibilities at the ranch while his Pa was fulfilling his civic duties and all. Young man goes gallivanting off, saving a damsel in distress, when he should have been home tending his own business.” Micah added in, “Why should Johnny have to give up a perfectly good day spending time with Lou just to help get Mark out of trouble?” There was a sly grin on Micah’s face as he spoke and watched Lou’s cheeks blush.

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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