The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
Prior to reading this story, I recommend the reading of my story
The Final Witness and the watching of The Rifleman, episode “Gun
The timeline of this story is immediately following Gun Shy.
Lucas sat back in his chair in front of the fireplace and
watched his teenage son pull items from his carpetbag, he smiled
as Mark set aside the apples and oranges; it felt good to have
his son home.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, you wouldn’t have been hungry,”
Mark gave a short laugh and continued to unpack.
“But you sure would have been warm in those in California!”
declared Lucas, after his son pulled out a set of long
underwear. Lucas inhaled and slowly exhaled his cigar, gathering
his thoughts. “You know son,” Lucas stated as he reached behind
the chair he sat in and said, “the only thing you forgot was
your twenty-two,” as he pulled out his son’s rifle.
Mark half-smiled and answered, “You know I didn’t forget it,
Pa.” He hesitated, before continuing. “You know… what you said
about a rifle not having a mind of its own…” Mark rested his
hands on top of his carpetbag while he looked to Lucas for
re-assurance. “I knew you were right… I mean, inside of me. I
just didn’t want to believe it. I guess it was easier to blame
the rifle. But… I know now. I guess its all part of growing up.”
“Everything is, son,” Lucas replied. Knowing the past few hours
still weighed heavily on his son, Lucas offered, “Why don’t you
leave that for morning?”
Mark nodded and bid goodnight to his Pa. Upon hearing the
bedroom door close, Lucas started to put Mark’s rifle back from
where he had pulled it, but something inside Lucas told him,
‘no’. He stood, twenty-two in hand, walked over to the door, and
placed his son’s rifle next to his Winchester.
A rightful feeling came over Lucas that this was where the rifle
belonged. He regretted the hard lesson and the pain it caused
his fourteen-year old son, but he knew his son would be stronger
in the long run; because of what happened.
Lucas blew out the lantern in front of the window, turned, and
walked into the bedroom.
A rooster’s crowing woke Lucas the following morning, after
swinging his legs over the side of his bunk and sitting up; he
opened his eyes wider at see his son’s bunk empty. Lucas
listened and settled back when he heard the sounds of an ax
splitting wood. After dressing, Lucas walked into the front
room; while buttoning his shirt, he looked towards the stove
when he smelled the aroma of fresh coffee.
As he walked to the door, Lucas noticed his son’s twenty-two
wasn’t where he placed it the night before. Stepping across the
threshold and onto the porch, Lucas greeted his son for the
“Morning, Pa. Didn’t mean to wake you,” Mark replied as he set
another piece of wood on the chopping block.
“You didn’t,” Lucas answered as he stepped from the porch and
stopped next to his son, “Bernice’s boyfriend did.” Lucas
pointed as the rooster crowed again. “Here, I’ll take the ax,
while you stack the wood.”
Lucas balanced the ax in his hands and gave it a mighty swing,
bringing it down on the piece of wood, and in one effort, split
the wood in two. He bent over to pick up another piece of wood
and saw his son’s rifle leaning up against the porch post.
Absent-mindedly, Lucas smiled, his son had chosen to move on
with his life; knowing a rifle was a tool, and it was the person
wielding it, who defined the weapon – not the other way around.
After splitting wood for about fifteen minutes Lucas declared,
“I think we have enough to last us for the rest of the week. Why
don’t you go see if Bernice and the other hens laid enough eggs
“Sure Pa,” answered Mark as he stacked the remaining wood in the
woodbin next to the house.
Mark was only a few yards away from the porch when Lucas asked,
“Didn’t you forget something?”
A curious Mark stopped and turned around; his expression
indicated he didn’t understand what Lucas was asking.
Lucas walked over and picked up his son’s rifle, and carried it
to him. “It’s a tool Mark. You’re old enough, and you know the
repercussions of its improper use, but now you need to learn how
to keep it at hand.”
“Pa, I’m just going to the barn,” explained Mark, pointing
towards the barn.
“And if a coyote made its way inside through that broken board
in back, that you haven’t gotten around to fixing, and it
decided to curl up and sleep… Son it’s a tool. Keep it with you.
Next time we go to town, I’ll buy you a scabbard to attach to
BlueBoy’s saddle, for when you’re out on the ranch.”
Mark took his rifle from his pa, he didn’t know what it was that
he felt, but carrying it with him and the responsibilities that
came with it, he realized were a big step in his growing up.
After breakfast was eaten and dishes washed and put away, Lucas
saddled the horses in preparation of riding to town.
“I thought we were working around the ranchhouse today. We kind
of got behind on our chores,” stated Mark as Lucas led Razor and
BlueBoy from the barn.
“I want to ride into town to… Well, I’m sure Micah has plenty of
questions for me about what happened at the hotel last night.”
As Mark climbed into the saddle he asked, “Are you sure you
don’t want to check in on Miss Lou and see if she’s wearing… I
mean… recovered after the shock of last night, having Vantine
threaten to kill us and you shooting him in the lobby…”
Looking to his son Lucas answered, “Now that you mention it, we
might want to check in on Lou. I think you also need to repay
the money she loaned you.” He raised his eyebrows in askance.
“Sure Pa,” replied Mark as he signaled BlueBoy into a trot, to
keep up with Razor.
Father and son were on the outskirts of town when Mark halted
his horse, “Pa, about last night.”
Lucas reined in Razor and turned to face his son, “What about
“Pa, I know I said I hated your rifle and I know I felt sick
just by looking at it.” A sense of guilt swept over Mark. “I’m
sorry I hurt your feelings when I said I wish I hadn’t been
“Mark, I know it was your hurt talking,” acknowledged Lucas.
“But… I don’t understand, how…, if I hated it so much… I mean…
it was so revolting to me… just the idea of touching it…” Mark
crinkled his brow at remembering.
“Son, I think I understand what’s gnawing at you. You had the
“Courage?! I was scared to death,” interrupted Mark.
Placing his hand to his son’s shoulder, Lucas continued, “You
had the courage to face your fear, because there was a greater
danger at hand, had you not acted. I think your subconscious
knew it was a choice between the lesser of two evils. Hate the
rifle and do nothing… or accept the fact the rifle could save
all three of our lives…” Lucas answered.
“Four, if you counted Shorty,” Mark gave a half-hearted laugh at
remembering the dress merchant and the striped nightgown and
nightcap he’d worn as he came down the stairs.
“Son, you’ve taken a huge step forward in growing up, and I
don’t expect you to understand everything that’s happened. The
past few days won’t be easily forgotten, so I want you to talk
with me when things don’t seem to make heads or tails anymore.
Promise?” Lucas inclined his head forward.
“Promise,” Mark answered with a smile.
Lucas turned to greet Lou as she entered Angus’ gun shop and
greeted the McCains, “Good morning, Lucas, Mark. How are ye this
Lucas couldn’t help smiling at her bright Gaelic brogue,
“Morning, morning he says.” Lou humf’d and placed the back of
her balled fists on her hips. “Tis a glorious morning and all ye
can offer me is – morning.” Lou crossed her arms as she finished
speaking, in an effort to express her displeasure at the brief
“Miss Lou, Pa was…” Mark quit talking as Lucas elbowed him in
“He what?” Lou asked.
Knowing his original thought could really get him in trouble,
Mark answered, “I was going to say, you just surprised Pa, he…
we didn’t expect to see you in the gun shop. We were going to
stop by to see how you were doing after Pa gave his statement to
“Is that right?” Lou asked.
“That’s the truth, Lou,” answered Mark.
“Then why are ye in here and not over at the Marshal’s?” asked
“My boy here needed a scabbard for his rifle. Angus, I think
this one will do the job, how much?”
Lucas paid for their purchase as Mark carried the scabbard
outside and positioned it under the stirrup and attached it to
his saddle. Lou exited the gun shop as Lucas held the door open
“Then ye’ll be by for lunch this afternoon?”
“Lou, I was reminded by my boy this morning that we have plenty
of chores that need to get done. I’m glad you saved us the time
from stopping in at the hotel. We’ll see you Sunday? At church?”
“Sunday. Sunday!” declared an upset Lou as she left the two
McCains watching her walk across the street.
“Mark,” Micah called as he came up behind the McCains, “you
better come see me when you want to know anything about women.”
“Micah,” declared Lucas.
“Don’t Micah, me. I heard what happened last night and I saw the
dress Lou was wearing, too. And you barely give her the time of
day this morning?”
“I’ve a ranch to run…” answered Lucas.
“Mark, come see me…” again Micah teased. “Well, LucasBoy, what
brings you to town this morning if it weren’t to check to see
how Lou is faring after last night?”
“Thought you’d want my statement regarding Vantine and what
happened last night, to put it in your report.”
“Sure you can help fill in a few of the missing pieces.”
After giving his statement, Lucas and Mark remounted their
horses. As they approached the Mallory House, both waved when
they saw Lou standing on the porch, only to see her turn and
“I think Micah was right,” teased Mark. “Pa, you should at least
stop in and have a cup of coffee or something…”
“And what do you know about ‘or something’?”
“Nothing…” answered Mark. “Only I need to stop in and repay Lou
the money she loaned me. You coming?”
As the days and weeks passed Lucas enjoyed working their ranch;
and watching his son improve his skills using his twenty-two to
hunt rabbits or to scare off the occasional coyote that crossed
“Mark, wake up!” hollered Lucas as he served up a plate of
scrambled eggs for his son’s breakfast.
“Is breakfast ready?” greeted Mark as he entered through the
“I thought…” Lucas paused as he looked from his son to the
“You thought what? That I was still in bed?”
“Pa, if you’d like, I can try to come up with a good excuse to
stay home from school,” teased Mark.
“I can honestly state that I don’t miss those days. Have a seat,
your breakfast is ready.”
Lucas held Mark’s plate while his son finished washing and
drying his hands. Lucas served a plate of scrambled eggs for
himself and followed his son to the table.
“So, today’s your last day of school and tomorrow starts your
“Bet you’ll be happy to have your full-time partner, back,”
“Now that you mention it, the work’s become a lot easier to do
since you started growing up. Why don’t we wait until Monday to
start our summer chores, you can spend the weekend hunting or
fishing,” suggested Lucas.
Mark hesitated as he lifted a forkful of eggs to his mouth, “Are
you sure you’re feeling well? Not like you to procrastinate.”
“I’m not procrastinating, I’m just giving you a few days to
recover from all the time you’ve spent at school, before the
easy work begins…” teased Lucas.
“Would you like to come hunting with me, tomorrow?” inquired
“No, tomorrow’s your day,” replied Lucas grinning as he knew his
son was growing up.
“Well, how about joining me for some fishing after church on
Sunday?” Mark asked.
“Okay, son. Sunday.”
Saturday morning, Lucas waited on the porch until his son was
out of sight, over the hills that surrounded their homestead. He
stepped inside their home to place his coffee cup in the sink
before he returned outside to start chopping and stacking the
firewood. Lucas took a break; he drank from a tin cup at the
water well when the riders rode in from the far side of the
“Good afternoon,” greeted Lucas as the Mexicans settled their
“Good afternoon,” replied one of the riders. “You live here?”
the man asked.
“Yes, I own this land…” replied Lucas, wary of the ragged
appearance of the men in front of him.
“That is where you are wrong, Señor. You are a squatter!”
declared a better-attired man.
“Mister, I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but
I’ve owned this land for over four years,” declared Lucas as he
regretted his rifle was so far away from him. “I’ve a title of
deed recorded in town at the land office.
The Mexican nodded his head and several of the riders dismounted
from their horses and rushed Lucas, preventing him from reaching
With two strong Mexicans restraining Lucas, their leader
“This land is not yours, Señor. It was not yours to purchase. It
belongs to my people.”
“You’re loco!” declared Lucas, only to have the leader throw a
punch into his midsection.
Lucas struggled to catch his breath.
“You have one week to gather your belongings and leave.”
“And why should I?”
“Because Vicente Silva says so,” declared the man, as he threw
another punch to Lucas’ stomach.
“Silva, it takes a ‘big’ man strike another, especially when
he’s being restrained,” taunted Lucas, winded from the punches.
The man threw another punch, striking Lucas across his left
“I am not Silva, but I do take my orders from him. And Vicente
Silva wants his land back.” Signaling for his riders to mount
up, they dropped Lucas to the ground. “One week, that is all the
time you have remaining. Do not waste Señor Silva’s leniency by
The Mexican mounted his horse, signaled his riders, and rode
Lucas stood to his feet, angered that the men thought they could
come in and take his land.
Later that afternoon, Mark called to his Pa as he rode into the
yard, holding up the two rabbits he’d shot, “Pa! Look what…” his
words trailed off when he saw shiner developing under Lucas’
left eye. “Pa, what happened?”
“I tripped, that’s all,” replied Lucas as he reached for the
reins to his son’s horse.
“Tripped, on what?”
“I wasn’t watching where I was going and tripped over the rake,”
“The rake, but I put it…”
“One shot each, you’re getting better,” Lucas stated after
looking over the rabbits he’d taken from his son.
“Yeah, well, I remember the first few rabbits, and you almost
broke a tooth when I didn’t get all the lead out,” remembered
“How many shots in total?” Lucas asked.
“Three, I shot a little in front of the first one. Guess I was
too excited and wanted to get a jump on it,” boasted Mark.
“Come on, let’s get these skinned and soaking.”
Lucas chose not to tell Mark of the strangers, he figured there
was no need as long as they were working the ranch together; his
boy would be near him at all times. After enjoying Sunday
afternoon fishing, Lucas and Mark returned home, to enjoy a
supper of their day’s endeavors. While eating, their
conversation turned to their plans for the week, checking
fences, clearing the debris from one of the ponds, the general
work required of a working cattle ranch.
“Pa, you’ve been talking about replacing the roof on the barn…”
“Why don’t we save that for later in the week, let’s make sure
everything out on the range is in good order. Besides the order
I placed for the boards won’t be ready from Toomey until at
A week of hard work had passed and the warning had slipped from
his active thinking since no further incidents had occurred.
Stepping to the front porch, Lucas called out his son’s name,
“Mark!” Upon not hearing a response, Lucas headed to the barn
and called his son’s name again.
From outside, Lucas heard the riders approach, and the warning
returned; he cautiously looked out the barn door. With his rifle
at the ready, Lucas stepped from the barn, “Get off my land!” he
declared, twirl cocking his rifle.
With a pathetic laugh the leader replied, “I warned you the last
time, this is not your land. And, since you did not take Señor
Silva’s warning, maybe you’ll take mine,” the Mexican declared.
“You’re not scaring me off my property,” Lucas retorted, his
anger seething in his words.
Due to the number of horses milling about, Lucas didn’t hear the
Mexican approaching him from behind, and their shadows were to
his back. The Mexican raised a small log from the chopping pile
and swung it down towards the back of Lucas’ head. Lucas saw
something in the face of the man next to the leader and shifted
his weight to the right; he bore the brunt of the strike on his
Trying to keep a grip on his rifle, Lucas pulled the trigger;
the bullet struck the ground in front of the horses, causing a
few to rear and shy sideways. Lucas felt the fire in his side as
a bullet penetrated his skin, pushing him backwards and to the
The Mexican, who initially struck Lucas, kicked him, forcing the
rifle from Lucas’ grip.
Lucas attempted to ignore the fire in his side as he crawled to
reach his rifle; the leader of the group jumped from his horse
and kicked Lucas’ rifle further away, while pointing his own
handgun at the wounded rancher.
“Better think again. Oh, and if anyone asks you can tell them
that Gabriel Sandoval was here,” the man stated. “Not right for
a man to not know who shot him.”
Lucas looked up to see the crooked grin and gold teeth within
the man’s mouth.
“Take this as your last warning, leave this land. I gave you one
week,” Sandoval stated as he remounted his horse and motioned
his men to circle up. “Tomorrow Señor McCain, tomorrow there
will be no more time.”
Lucas watched the gang ride away before he gathered his strength
to pull himself across the ground to the front porch of their
home. After resting a few moments, Lucas stood to his feet by
pulling himself up one of the front porch posts; unsteadily he
entered their home and headed for the kitchen.
Mark rode BlueBoy into the yard between the barn and house, and
noticed his pa’s rifle lying on the ground near the sawhorse,
but no Lucas in sight. Surveying the land around him, Mark
slowly dismounted his horse, drawing his rifle as he did. He
noticed the chickens were strangely missing from the yard, and
as he continued to look around, he found an impression in the
dirt of someone having lain, and dragged themself across the
ground to their home. Mark ran to the porch, he stopped when he
saw the blood pooled on the step, “PA!”
Dropping his rifle, Mark ran inside and couldn’t believe he was
seeing his pa standing at the sink, blood soaking the side of
his shirt, again.
“Pa?! What happened?” Mark asked as he ran to help support
“Pa, can you ride? Or should I hitch…”
“Get Razor…” Lucas stated as he wrapped the makeshift bandage
around his middle.
A few minutes later, Mark helped Lucas into the saddle, and
grabbed Razor’s reins.
“I can ride,” Lucas stated and let out a groan.
“No Pa, you hold on, I’ll get you to town.”
Mark put his foot into his stirrup but stopped, turned, and ran
towards the sawhorse; he picked up his pa’s rifle from the dirt,
ran back to the front porch and picked up his own rifle. Once
both rifles were secured in their scabbards, Mark swung into the
saddle and lead Razor in a race to town.
As he reached the middle of town and slowed the horses, Mark saw
Doc Burrage exiting the General Store, “Doc! Pa’s shot!” Mark
didn’t notice their friends and neighbors stop what they were
doing and stare as he continued on to the clinic, stopping both
horses at the hitching rail.
Mark helped steady Lucas down from his horse and allowed a
weakened Lucas to lean on him as they entered the clinic,
followed closely by old Doc Burrage.
“Lucas, lie down and let me examine you,” stated Doc as he
stopped in front of a cabinet before proceeding to the
“What happened?” inquired Micah upon entering the clinic.
“Micah, men…” Lucas tried to explain; he cringed and let out a
groan as the doctor examined the wound.
“Out! Out!” demanded Doc, not taking the time to turn around to
address those to whom he spoke. “I’ve a patient who needs my
full attention and I don’t need your distraction.”
Lucas no longer had the strength to fight to stay conscious as
Doc Burrage placed a cloth laced with ether over his nose, “Just
breathe in Lucas, just breathe in.”
Looking backwards over his shoulder, Mark allowed Micah to lead
him from the clinic.
“Mark,” Micah stated for a second time. “What happened? Did you
see who did this?”
“No. I wanted to surprise Pa this morning… I got up early to go
check the weanling herd and I returned home… Micah, it’s like
Dan Maury all over again. Pa’s rifle and no Pa... The blood…”
Mark didn’t take his eyes off the clinic door as he spoke.
“Boy, he’s long dead…”
“I know that Micah, it’s just…”
“Micah!” Lou called as she ran from the hotel. “What’s this
about Lucas being shot?!”
“That’s all we know. Lou, why don’t you take Mark to the hotel,
get him something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” answered Mark, as Lou placed her hand under
his arm, to lead him away.
“Hungry or not, ye have to eat,” Lou answered in her own
Mark sat at the table in the kitchen, while Lou went about
fixing him a sandwich to eat. Time passed agonizingly slow as he
listened to the clock on the mantle ticking off the time. He
startled in his seat when Lou placed a plate with a sandwich and
a glass of milk in front of him.
Mark pushed the food away, with his elbows on the table; he
rested his forehead upon the heels of his hands and cried.
“Mark, ye have to eat. Ye have to keep up ye’re strength. Tis
what ye’re father would want.” Lou hoped her words would
comfort; she couldn’t believe it had only been three weeks since
the last time Mark had sat at the same table, and cried.
“Lou, how could this happen, again?” asked Mark, looking up and
wiping his tears from his face. “Four years ago, I arrived home
to find Pa shot. It’s so… surreal.”
“Lucas will pull through this time, just like the last time,”
“Last time it was an outlaw gunning for Micah. This time… All Pa
said was ‘men’ when I asked him what happened.”
“Men?” queried Lou.
Both turned when they heard a brief knock and the back door to
the kitchen opened, “We’re going to head to your place,” they
heard as Micah entered.
“I’m coming with you!” declared Mark as he stood, knocking his
chair over backwards.
“No son, you’re staying here, for when your pa regains
consciousness,” replied Micah as he righted the char.
“But I can track, just as good as Pa can,” pleaded Mark.
“Ye know ye’re father would have Micah’s hide if’n he knew ye
went on a posse,” Lou offered.
“But I can’t just sit here! Last time I was only ten, I’m almost
fifteen. Micah please, let me do… something.”
“You’ll do something by staying in town, out of trouble,”
ordered Micah. “I’ve a small posse and we’ll follow the tracks
as long as we can.”
Later that afternoon, Doc allowed Mark into the room where Lucas
slept, “I’ll only let you stay here for a few minutes. He’s
still sedated, so he won’t know you’re here.”
“Will he be okay?” asked Mark.
“In time... With proper restraint, he’ll be just as good as
Mark sat on the edge of the bed, and listened while Doc
continued to explain Lucas’ condition.
That night, as he laid in the bed in room five at the hotel,
sleep didn’t come easily to Mark; while staring at the ceiling,
he focused on the word Doc Burrage said, “He won’t be awake
tonight, son. He lost a lot of blood. The good news is, the
bullet missed his vital organs… but it still did a fair piece of
damage. It won’t be until the morning before he regains
consciousness from the ether…”
As exhaustion and emotions took their toll, Mark tossed and
turned while his dreams replayed the various times of him
finding his Pa shot… The Sheltons… Dan Maury… Charlie Gordo, and
Andy and Jax… His dreams changed to just a few weeks before…
showing his friend Charlie lying next to the buckboard. Again
Mark’s dream changed… he strained to see… his dream was out of
focus, but he could make out a man approaching, but in front of
the man, he saw a child’s hands trembling with a Colt
Peacemaker, he heard a gunshot, and eventually saw a man lying
on the ground, blood staining the front of his shirt. Mark
startled awake, and tried to understand the last scene of his
dream, aloud he stated, “I shot…someone?” and looked at his
A confused Mark walked from room five, down the back staircase
and into the kitchen. He read the clock on the mantle, “four,
From the cold box he pulled out a pitcher of milk and poured
himself a glass; after returning the pitcher to the cold box, he
sat at the table and tried to remember the last part of his
dream, it was in a barn… some of the barn looked familiar, but…
After setting the empty glass in the sink, Mark pulled out a
sheet of paper from the desk in the corner of the kitchen and
Going home to do a few chores. Tell Pa I should be back before
Mark rode BlueBoy into the front yard as the sun crested the
hills to the east of their homestead. He sat in the saddle and
remembered the first time he found his Pa shot in the yard, when
Dan Maury came after Micah. He remembered his father’s haunting
words from a few weeks prior, “This boy is dead.” Mark shivered
as his guilt returned. Mark stepped down from his horse, dropped
his reins, and walked over next to the sawhorses; the tools his
Pa had been using were still where he last used them. They had
been so tired from working to replace the barn roof that Lucas
suggested they leave them until morning.
Looking down at the ground, Mark couldn’t tell which hoof prints
might have belonged to those who shot his Pa versus Micah and
the posse. Mark walked back to BlueBoy and led him into the barn
where he unsaddled him and turned him loose in the corral.
Mark started gathering the tools and returning them to their
storage location, “No sense leaving them out to get rusty,” he
commented as he sensed rain would soon arrive.
At the well, Mark lowered the bucket and pulled it back up,
setting it on the edge of the well to unhook it, before he
carried it into the house. From under the kitchen sink, he
pulled out a scrub brush, knelt down, and started cleaning the
blood from the floor.
On the porch, Mark rocked back on his heels, feeling satisfied
about the job he had accomplished. He just hoped none of the
blood would leech back to the surface. Picking up the bucket, he
tossed out the water and returned the bucket to the well.
Mark turned and looked to the barn as he remembered his Pa’s
words regarding the broken board. He walked into the barn and
collected a hammer and the bucket of nails. He walked over to
the back wall and began to repair the broken board, as he’d
promised he would. Putting his tools away, he turned and looked,
and again, he wasn’t able to shake the sensation that he should
remember his dream. ‘The dream’s familiar, but still…’ Mark
walked about the barn, stopping in different locations, trying
to make sense, perplexed on why the barn in his dream didn’t
look the same as where he stood. ‘Why would I be dreaming of a
child’s hands holding a Peacemaker?’ he thought to himself.
“I wish Pa were here,” Mark said aloud.
Mark walked to the barn door when he heard riders arrive.
“You boy, you live here?” called someone within the group of
riders. Mark observed their dirty clothes, and the thinness of
their sweated horses.
“Yeah,” Mark warily answered, as also he noticed some of the men
wore double bandoliers, crossed across their chests.
“Where’s yer pa?” asked one of the men, with a thick Mexican
From the pit of his stomach, Mark began to feel that he
shouldn’t have come home, and replied, “He’ll be back from
checking our weanling herd any minute.”
“I know differently,” stated a rider who maneuvered his horse to
the front of the group of riders. Mark noticed this man was
better dressed than the rest and his horse appeared better
fleshed than the other horses. “Not easy to ‘ranch’ when you
have a bullet in your side.”
Mark regretted forgetting his father’s other words, ‘Mark it’s a
tool…you need to learn how to keep it at hand.’ Instinctively,
Mark reacted, he ran towards the barn, trying to get to his
saddle, and his rifle.
“Stop him!” Sandoval yelled.
One of the men spurred his horse forward, following Mark into
the barn, knocking him to the ground. Another man jumped from
his horse and ran inside. Mark scrambled to reach his rifle, but
couldn’t get there before the other man did.
“Hey boss, da keed got a rifle.” The Mexican laughed as he
pulled Mark’s twenty-two from the scabbard. “So, ya tink ya
coulda stop us wi’ dis?”
“You better leave!” yelled Mark.
“Leave?! But we just arrived,” the leader boasted as he walked
into the barn and pulled Mark to his feet. “Your Pa must not
care for you that much, otherwise he wouldn’t have left you here
alone. I gave him fair warning.”
“Warning… warning for what?” Mark asked as a sense of panic
swept over him.
“To leave this land.”
“Who are you?” Mark dared ask.
“We’re Silva’s Gang,” answered one of the Mexicans.
“You’re Gabriel Sandoval,” Mark stated, without meaning to say
“Boss, dey’s heerd of us, don heer!”
“But, since you’re still here, and it looks like your Pa didn’t
take us seriously, you’re coming with us. One way or the other,
your Pa will understand this land will be ours.”
“With you?” Mark struggled to pull away from the outlaw holding
him. “You best let me go!”
“Go?!” Sandoval grabbed Mark by the front of his shirt and
pulled him to within inches of his face. “I gave your Pa fair
warning to leave. He chose to ignore me… So…, he will learn the
consequences of refusing Vicente Silva.”
Lucas woke the morning after his surgery to find Micah sitting
in a chair across the room, leaning back with the front two legs
of the chair off the floor.
“You feeling up to answering some questions?” asked Micah as he
rocked forward and sat on all four legs of the chair, upon
seeing his friend’s eyes open.
“A group of Mexicans came, demanding I leave. Said they were the
rightful owners of my property,” Lucas answered. He groaned as
he tried to sit up in the bed.
“Did you recognize any of them? Did they give you any indication
who they were?” Micah queried.
“The man said his name was Gabriel Sandoval,” Lucas stated.
“Sandoval! Damn it Lucas! He’s second in command of Vicente
“Silva, why…” Lucas started to ask.
Micah continued without hearing Lucas, “I’ve received bulletins
from the U.S. Marshal Service on them. They stay more up north,
never ventured this far south. Lucas they’re a mean mob. Was
yesterday their first visit?”
“No, they showed up a week ago.”
“A week ago!! Why didn’t you come tell me right away? I could
have wired the army for help.”
“I don’t need the Army’s help. Besides, I’ve been able to hold
off others who’ve tried to take my land.”
“But none the likes of Silva. Lucas they give the homesteader
three chances to leave; and then all bets are off.”
Both turned to look at the door, upon hearing it open.
“Good morning, Lucas,” Lou gaily greeted as she carried a tray
of food into the room. “I hope ye’re hungry, I’ve fixed ye a big
plate of hotcakes and sausages, and… Micah, I didn’t know ye’d
be back so soon.”
“Just taking Lucas’ statement. We searched the ranch and found
some tracks, but we lost their trail about ten miles out of
town. Well Lucas, you rest easy, I’ll wire the army.”
“The Army? Why would ye be wiring the Army?” Lou inquired as she
set the tray on the table in the room.
“It’s nothing for you to be concerned about Lou,” Micah
answered, not wanting to cause any alarm. “Be seeing ya LucasBoy.”
“So, how’s Mark this morning?” asked Lucas as he slipped his
legs over the side of the bed. “Surprised he wasn’t sleeping in
my room overnight.”
“Oh, he wanted to, but Doc Burrage wouldn’t let him. I gave him
a room at the hotel for the night,” answered Lou. “He wrote me a
note this morning that he was going to the ranch to do a few
chores and planned to be back before lunch.”
“He what?! Alone?!” Lucas declared as he tried to stand from the
“DOC!!” Lou yelled as she tried to support Lucas when his knees
Doc Burrage and Micah entered the room, both demanding to know
what Lucas thought he was doing.
“Mark’s at the ranch!” Lucas stated as he struggled against his
friends returning him to bed.
“I told the boy to stay in town, and out of trouble,” Micah
“That was yesterday afternoon, when ye were going to the ranch
with the posse,” replied Lou.
“Let me up!” demanded Lucas. “Micah, you said the third time,
all bets were off!” he pleaded. “Sandoval said today there would
be no more time! Micah, they’re planning to return today and
Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to talk Lucas out of
returning home, Doc Burrage wrapped the bandage around Lucas’
middle even tighter.
“I should wrap this so tight that you can’t breathe… But I know
you Lucas. One way or the other, you’re leaving my clinic.
Micah’s getting the horses ready and Lou’s in my office packing
some additional bandages for you.”
“Horses?” Lucas asked to see if he had heard the doctor
“You don’t seriously think you’re going after Sandoval, alone!”
“One way or the other, Doc,” Lucas replied, using Doc’s words.
An out of breath Dave Merar entered the clinic, calling for
“I’m here,” called Micah as he entered the clinic a few moments
behind the rancher.
“I heard Lucas was shot,” Dave stated.
“He was, yesterday. Doc says he’ll recover.”
“Was it Silva’s gang?” Dave inquired.
“Yeah, Gabriel Sandoval was leading them. How do you know about
“One of my hands, Rupert Kopp, he lived up north before coming
here. He had a few run-ins with the gang with his previous
The rancher looked around before he asked, “Do you know where
“Out a Lucas’ place. We’re getting ready to ride to go get him.”
“Micah, Rupert and Hal Cagle were checking fences, Rupert said
they saw at group of Mexicans riding, and swore Mark McCain was
“Where?!” demanded Lucas as he stepped from the back room.
“Half way between here and my place,” Dave answered.
“Dave, who’s left at your ranch?” Micah asked.
“Just my misses, my boy, and a few hands, the rest are out
branding. You don’t think they’re on their way to my place?”
“We ride,” Lucas demanded as he put his hat on his head and
grabbed his rifle from Lou.
Lucas, Micah, and Dave Merar rode hard towards the Merar Ranch,
as they approached they saw evidence of Sandoval and his men
having visited. Mrs. Merar was helping a limping ranch hand
across the yard, towards the bunkhouse. While several men lay
sprawled on the ground, Dave Merar stopped next to Rupert Kopp,
who was tying a tourniquet around his left thigh and Micah
stepped down from his horse next to Hal Cagle as he sat up on
the ground, pressing his hand to his right shoulder.
“Hal, did you see Mark McCain?” Micah asked.
“Lucas you can’t seriously be thinking of riding after them
alone?!” demanded Dave Merar upon hearing Lucas turn his horse
“It’s not your son those men have,” Lucas answered as he kicked
Razor and rode away, looking down at the tracks the gang left.
“LUCAS!!” Micah turned from tending to the ranch hand and
yelled. “WAIT FOR THE ARMY!!”
“God have mercy on those who took Mark, if any harm comes to
that boy,” Merar stated as he turned his attention back to
“You call that measly ranch big? Who’s the biggest rancher
around?!” Sandoval demanded as he pulled Mark down from his
“I ain’t telling!” answered Mark, struggling to keep to his feet
as the man pushed him backwards.
“Brave are you? We’ll see how brave you really are.” Turning to
call to one of his men, “Ramone, what do you know about this
town, this North Fork?”
“Boss, lots of small ranches and a few big ones… That one should
have been big.”
Turning back to Mark, “I’ll ask you one more time, who’s the
biggest rancher around?”
Mark gritted his teeth and refused to answer and for his lack of
cooperation, Sandoval pulled the boy towards him, and fiercely
backhanded him across his face. Mark’s head whipped sideways and
he immediately felt the burn as his blood rushed from the
ruptured capillaries and filled the site, he felt blood
trickling from the corner of his mouth.
Without warning, Sandoval pushed Mark to the ground and stepped
over the boy, cursing in Spanish.
A strong hand grabbed Mark’s shirt collar from behind and yanked
him to his feet.
“Get wood for fire!” the Mexican demanded.
After Mark collected the wood and started the fire, another
Mexican handed him all the canteens, demanding he fill them with
“No!” Mark replied as he dropped them to the ground.
Sandoval pulled his weapon and pointed it at Mark, who took
several steps backwards. “You will do as you are told, when you
are told. There will be consequences for any refusal.” Sandoval
cocked the hammer of his weapon, and tapped Mark on his chest.
“Now… go… fill… the canteens.”
Mark picked up the canteens from the ground, with a big Mexican
carrying a rifle following behind him, he made his way to the
nearby creek. As he twisted the top of last of the canteens, he
felt a swift kick to his back, pushing him into the water and
heard the Mexican laughing.
“Get up!” the Mexican ordered and pointed his rifle towards the
angered, soaking wet Mark.
Upon their return to camp, Mark set the canteens where the
Mexican told him and watched as the others ate from various cans
of food. He tried to get close to the fire, only to be pushed
out of the way by the big Mexican who had followed him to the
creek. The man nodded with his head, indicating the direction
Mark should, “Take care of the horses,” the man ordered.
The sun was setting as Mark shivered upon unsaddling the last
horse, as the temperatures dropped. He returned to the camp with
BlueBoy’s saddle blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He found
a secluded spot he hoped would shield him from the evening
breeze and fell asleep. As tired and as worried as he was about
his Pa, the snores from the Mexicans kept him from falling into
a deep, restful sleep.
Mark heard, “Wake up!” and bolted wide-awake at feeling
something wet poured on him, followed by a swift kick to his
ribs. “Get more wood,” the Mexican demanded.
Mark sat up and scrunched his nose at smell of the rank coffee
soaking into his shirt, he tried to ring it out the best he
As the Mexicans ate their breakfast, Sandoval tossed Mark
several pieces of beef jerky and said, “Once you’ve ate, saddle
the horses, and don’t think of loosening any of the cinches… One
loose cinch and there will be consequences.”
Sandoval motioned for all his men to mount as he stood in front
of Mark. “Now, I’ll ask you one more time, who has the biggest
ranch in this area?” His hand rested on the butt of his weapon.
“Oat Jackford,” answered Mark.
“And his ranch is?”
“TAKE COVER!! Be careful with your shots men!” Oat ordered as
the Mexican gang bore down on them, firing as they charged into
the branding camp. “They’ve got Mark McCain with them!”
Oat dove for cover behind a large, fallen tree and heard several
of his men cry out after taking bullets. As the Mexicans circled
their camp and continued to fire, he and a few of his men
carefully selected their targets and each one prayed their aim
to be true. He noticed one of the Mexicans had a firm hold of
BlueBoy’s reins and directed where they were going. Oat took a
good long look at Mark, his disheveled clothing and the deep
bruise across the boy’s cheek; he wanted to be able to tell
Lucas everything he could about his son.
Lucas halted Razor and stepped from the saddle; he examined all
the footprints in the dirt and determined he was still on the
right track. Lucas heard riders approaching, raised his rifle
and ran to hide behind a tree, he hoped and prayed it would be
Sandoval; so he could rescue Mark.
“Troop halt!” Lucas heard. “In the camp, we know someone is
there. Come out with your hands raised!”
Lucas stepped from behind the tree, his arms out to this side,
rifle in his left hand.
“Who are you?” asked the man with captain’s bars.
“Lucas McCain, from North Fork.”
“What are you doing out here, alone?” asked the captain.
“Trailing Sandoval and his gang of outlaws,” Lucas replied as he
lowered his arms.
“One man, against all them? How can we be sure you’re not trying
to meet up with them?” asked the lieutenant who sat on a horse
next to the captain.
“Do I look Mexican to you?” Lucas clutched his rifle in both
hands. “They were here last night, and if I’m right, their trail
leads to Oat Jackford’s ranch.” Lucas pointed in the direction
the outlaws rode as he walked to his horse.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Captain, don’t get in my way,” Lucas replied.
“Your way? Mister we’ve been on the trail of Sandoval and his
bunch for the past two weeks. If you think you’re going after
him, you’ll be interfering with official government business.”
“I don’t care whose business I’m interfering, they have my son
and I aim to get him back.” Lucas’ tone of voice dared any man
of them to stop him.
“Mr. McCain, I’m sorry for your loss,” the lieutenant stated.
“You talk like my boy’s dead.”
“He might as well be,” declared the lieutenant. “They don’t keep
“Well, for two days they have. And, Lieutenant…”
“O’Haver, sir. And this is Captain Wilcox, this patrol is out of
“I don’t care where you’re from, Lieutenant O’Haver, the longer
you keep me from following those tracks, the longer those men
will have my son. Either you join me, or you stay out of my
Lucas signaled Razor into a trot, before he signaled him into a
“We can’t let him go alone,” commented Captain Wilcox.
“You can’t be serious?!”
“Lieutenant, he found them before we did… Motion the patrol to
move out and follow Mr. McCain.”
The army patrol, twenty strong, followed after Lucas McCain.
Lucas and the soldiers follow Sandoval’s tracks straight to
Oat’s branding camp. Upon cresting the rise, Lucas kicked Razor
into a gallop.
“Oat, how many were killed?” Lucas hollered as he pulled Razor
to a halt.
“Luckily, none. Three took minor wounds that need Doc; I sent
Sam Montgomery into town. Lucas, your boy… they have him.”
“You saw him?” Lucas asked, desperate for answers.
“I presume their leader kept him front and center, letting
everyone know they had a hostage. Lucas, they ain’t treating him
good. From what I saw… now Lucas, your boy’s still alive,” Oat
stated, he saw Lucas’ temper change. “Lucas, who are they?”
“Vicente Silva’s men.”
“Sir,” Captain Wilcox stated as he approached the portly
rancher. “Which direction did they head?”
“Well they sure the hell didn’t go in the direction to came
“Oat, which way?” Lucas asked, turning the rancher by the
shoulder to face him.
“Northeast Lucas, they headed Northeast.”
Lucas, and the patrol, left Oat and his ranch hands and followed
On his third night of captivity, the men found a large,
abandoned bunkhouse up in the hills to make their camp. Using
provisions on the shelves, the Mexican ordered Mark to fix a
stew; while tending to it in the fireplace, he watched as the
Mexicans sat throughout the building, passing around and
drinking from several bottles of whiskey. Realizing these men
were nothing without Sandoval around, Mark contemplated his
possible escape. Mark cringed as the one Mexican who always
kicked him approached; without a real plan, a determined Mark
grabbed the stew pan and threw it and its hot contents towards
the man, causing him to scream in pain. Mark ran out the open
door, towards the line of horses, he heard an outlaw from the
building yell, “Watch the horses!”, causing him to change course
and decide it would be best to try to get away by the river they
had crossed a quarter of a mile from their hideout. Besides, a
swim in the river would wash away some of the stench from days
of coffee grounds being dumped upon him, and the dirt and sweat
that accumulated as they rode.
The drunk Mexicans were slow to give chase, but Mark didn’t slow
down. As he rounded a large boulder at a bend in the path, he
ran into a horse ridden by Gabriel Sandoval returning to camp.
Pushing himself away from the horse, Mark jumped over a shrub
bush on the opposite side of the path. Mark thought he caught
his foot within the bush, when, without warning, he felt his
right leg pulled against its forward movement and yanked
backwards; and as his leg reached its full extension, Mark felt
and heard a loud pop from his knee, as he fell to the ground.
Pulling his knee up to his chest Mark saw the lariat around his
ankle and struggled to loosen the loop. Sandoval spurred his
horse sideways, pulling Mark’s leg again, causing him to cry out
in pain. The Mexican leader continued to drag Mark back to camp.
Sandoval pulled Mark to the front door of the bunkhouse and
threw the lariat to the large Mexican, “I told you to keep an
eye on him.” Stepping down from his horse, he walked to Mark and
hauled him to his feet. “I warned you about consequences.”
“I won’t help you anymore!” Mark dared reply, trying to balance
himself by holding onto Sandoval’s wrists as the man held Mark
off the ground.
“Whether you want to or not, is of no concern of mine. You will
help us as you did this morning.”
“I won’t!” declared Mark.”
“Would you like a matching bruise to the one upon the right side
of your face?”
“You’re gonna kill me anyway, why wait?” Mark asked, believing
that Doc Burrage had been wrong when he said Lucas would
recover. Mark worried why his pa had not found him.
Dropping Mark to the ground, Sandoval laughed. “No, not yet… In
due time… You’re still of great value to us.”
Mark woke to a foot nudging his arm, he bolted sideways in
anticipation of an imminent kick; Sandoval smirked at the boy’s
reaction, “Get up and get the horses saddled.”
“Where is everyone?” Mark asked upon seeing they were the only
“You don’t need to worry about them, you best worry about
“I told you I won’t help you anymore!” declared Mark.
“Boy, and I told you there would be consequences. Maybe I kill
your Pa and then kill you.”
“You mean he’s still alive? You’ve seen him?” Mark desperately
“Now, that’s more like it. Get up and saddle the horses!”
Mark walked across the floor, sorely limping and hoping he
wouldn’t fall. He held onto the front porch post as he stepped
to the ground. Once he made it to the barn, Mark headed straight
for his horse and saddle.
“My horse first,” Sandoval stated as he entered the barn. “I
ain’t that stupid, boy.”
With the outlaw watching his every move, Mark complied. He hoped
and prayed his pa would soon find him.
At mid-morning, Sandoval motioned Mark to dismount and stand
where he was. The outlaw led the two horses into a thicket of
trees, and returned a few moments later, “Walk.”
“Where?” Mark asked.
Sandoval pointed up a small rise in the land. Mark continued to
struggle to walk, tripping over the uneven ground as they walked
through the stand of trees that lined the hill.
As they entered a clearing, Sandoval told Mark to halt. “See
that fallen tree over there, go sit down next to it.”
Mark thankfully sat down on the ground, and began rubbing his
knee. Sandoval’s shadow cast downwards over Mark as the outlaw
reached for and pulled Mark’s arms behind him; Mark struggled.
“What are you doing?” Mark wanted to know.
“Setting a trap.”
“A trap… PA! PA! IT’S A TRAP!” screamed Mark before Sandoval
“Keep it up boy and you’re sure to draw your pa here. And just
to make sure you don’t get away…” Sandoval pulled out another
length of rope and bound Mark’s ankles together. “You’ve been
most… hospitable in your assistance today…Niño.”
Mark struggled against his restraints, but ultimately gave up
when he realized it was no use.
Lucas and the Army unit followed the tracks leading from Oat’s
ranch and the following morning found the abandoned bunkhouse.
“Well, it looks like they spent the night here, Captain,”
Lieutenant O’Haver stated, as they looked the building over.
As the soldiers stepped from the bunkhouse, they watched as
Lucas stepped from the barn, looking down.
“McCain, what do you see?” Captain Wilcox asked.
“Tracks, the main bunch; and a second set of tracks heading a
different direction. These tracks are from my son’s horse,”
Lucas pointed out.
Without any warning, a soldier cried out as a bullet struck him.
Rifles from the hills surrounding them sounded as Lucas and the
soldiers realized they were in a trap. Running for cover, the
group returned fire. The sounds of weapons’ fire lasted for a
quarter of an hour before they heard the sounds of horses racing
“Hold your fire men!” yelled Captain Wilcox as he stepped into
“Who all’s injured?” yelled Lieutenant O’Haver.
“Just Jenkins, took a bullet in the shoulder,” replied a
“Lieutenant stay here with half the patrol, I’ll take the other
half and follow that group.”
“I’m going after my son,” Lucas declared.
“Mr. McCain…” O’Haver answered.
“I’m not one of your soldiers,” replied Lucas.
“I was going to say, give us a few minutes for our corpsman to
tend to Jenkins. Since you know your son’s horse’s tracks, we’ll
follow your lead.”
“You believe he’s still alive?” inquired Lucas, remembering the
day before when the Lieutenant had implied Silva’s Gang didn’t
“We’ve not found his body, and there’s no reason for them to
separate, unless your boy was alive.”
Lucas and the soldiers followed the tracks and halted when the
trail changed, Lucas saw two horses being led away, by one set
of footprints. He read the footprints coming back and two sets
of footprints continuing. As they stood, discussing the possible
implication, they came under fire in a poorly planned ambush.
With training and discipline, they managed to ride past it
without any further injury. Lucas continued to follow the
footprints while the soldiers followed the horsemen.
Lucas set his rifle down as he knelt beside the tree where he
found his son lying, bound and gagged. He tried to ignore the
condition of the clothes his son wore, filthy and tattered in
“Mark? Are you alright?” Lucas asked as he untied the gag. As he
did, he saw the bruise upon his son’s cheek.
“I am, now that you’re here,” replied Mark.
“Are any of the outlaws here?” Lucas asked as he removed the
rope around his son’s wrists.
“The others were missing this morning, Sandoval was the only one
at the bunkhouse.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“He left me here sometime late morning. Pa, he said he was
setting a trap for you? Why?”
“They want our land.” Looking at the abrasions around his son’s
wrists Lucas became infuriated. “Did they hurt you?”
“Not really,” answered Mark, and exclaimed in pain when Lucas
pulled his legs around so he could untie them.
“What hurts?” asked a worried Lucas.
“My knee, I twisted it pretty good yesterday.”
“I can sort of walk, but it really hurts. Pa, if you hadn’t
found me…” Mark was unable to voice his fears.
“Don’t think about that. Just stay put, I’ll see if I can find
something to use as a splint,” replied Lucas.
Lucas stood and went in search for a couple pieces of wood he
could use to support his son’s leg, until they could get him to
“Big man,” called Sandoval as he stepped out from behind a large
Lucas realized how foolish he’d been, leaving his rifle next to
his son, he’d let his guard down after being relieved at having
found his son.
“What do you want?” Lucas demanded.
“To see you dead, so we can take your land; and return it to its
“I told you before, I legally own my property.”
“White man’s law, not law of the land.” Sandoval leaned back
against the tree. “You come all the way out here, all alone,
looking for Niño. Shame, no one knows where to look for you when
you don’t return. Tisk, tisk, tisk,” Sandoval proclaimed.
“The Army knows where I am,” replied Lucas.
“Not anymore. My men will soon dispose of them,” Sandoval
replied as he drew his weapon.
From the corner of his eye, Lucas saw something move.
Instinctively he turned and ran when he heard, “PA!” and saw his
rifle flying through the air. With Sandoval firing, Lucas caught
his rifle and made a diving roll to the ground, and from the
point of his hip, he began firing, striking Sandoval multiple
times, spinning him to the ground. As the outlaw fell, the
impact caused his gun to discharge.
From behind him, Lucas heard his son cry out in pain.
“Mark!!” With his rifle in his hand, Lucas ran towards where
he’d last seen his son. “Mark! Where are you?”
“I’m over here Pa!” Mark hollered in reply.
Lucas found Mark leaning up against a tree, holding his right
leg off the ground, tears falling down his face, and cradling
his upper left arm.
“I don’t think it’s too bad,” Mark answered while blood seeped
between his fingers. “Pa, I feel funny…” Mark’s one good knee
started to buckle and Lucas guided his son to slide down the
tree to sit upon the ground.
“Just breathe son, breathe in and out. Let me see.” It didn’t
take much for Lucas to rip open his son’s shirtsleeve, relieved
to see the bullet had only deeply grazed his son’s arm. “Good
news is it’s only a flesh wound.”
“Flesh wound?” asked Mark.
While looking at the injury to his arm, Mark began to feel
queasy; he couldn’t prevent the dry heaves as his stomach began
rolling. Lucas helped him to his hands and knees, and supported
his son, offering words he hoped might comfort his boy.
Once the heaves stopped, Lucas helped Mark sit back down. “Just
breathe in and out. Just keep breathing deeply, son.”
Mark finally opened his eyes, and looked into his Pa’s face, as
his gaze drifted down, Mark saw the red staining his pa’s shirt,
exclaimed, “Pa, you’re bleeding!”
“It’s nothing,” answered Lucas as he tended to his son.
“Nothing… nothing…” Mark whispered and quieted as he tried to
Returning his attention to his Pa, Mark said, “Pa, Sandoval shot
“No son, not this time,” Lucas replied.
“Where he shot you before? You opened your wound again?”
“I’ll tend to it once I’ve taken care of you.”
“PA!” Mark pointed and called out as he saw Sandoval rise to his
Lucas pushed his son down, to lay flat on the ground, he reached
for his rifle, twisted, and rapidly fired his rifle, striking
Sandoval several more times, only this time Lucas aimed for the
middle of the outlaw’s chest; Lucas wasn’t about to give the man
a another chance. He walked over to where the man laid, pulled
the weapon from the man’s hand and threw it away. He knelt down
and closed the man’s vacant eyes, after making sure the outlaw
“Mr. McCain!” called the arriving Lieutenant O’Haver, who
motioned for his men to halt. “Are there any survivors?”
As Lucas stood to his feet and walked towards Mark, “Just my
son. Where’s your corpsman?”
“Sergeant Keith, front and center!” ordered the Lieutenant. As
the sergeant approached, the lieutenant pointed towards Mark’s
location, the men watched as the boy tried to sit up.
“What of the ones you went after?” Lucas asked as he stepped
aside to allow the Sergeant room to examine Mark.
“The captain and the rest of the patrol have them in custody. He
ordered me back to make sure any others didn’t circle back and
try to return.”
Double clutching his rifle, Lucas pointed, and said, “One
tried.” He relaxed his guard as he accepted the fact the others
would help keep the area secure until they could get Mark back
“Sergeant Keith, once you’ve tended to the young man, see to his
father,” ordered the Lieutenant.
“My son is more important,” stated Lucas.
“To you he may be, but to me, you’re equally important.”
Realizing Lucas wouldn’t easily cooperate, the lieutenant
stated, “Mr. McCain, don’t make me declare martial law.”
The lieutenant motioned for Lucas to take a seat near his son.
Lucas knelt next to his son and watched the Sergeant tend to the
“Little green around the gills there, aren’t ya. Well, don’t
worry, I’ve not met a man who’s died from an itty, bitty flesh
wound like this,” this Sergeant spoke with a thick Texas accent.
“Just keep breathing in and out, son. It’ll help calm your
nerves,” answered Lucas.
“I’ve got something here that’ll help with that too,” Sergeant
Keith stated as he pulled out a flask from inside his shirt.
“I don’t think so,” Lucas responded, his eyebrows arched.
“Uh, right. Little too young for this.” The sergeant slipped his
flask back into his shirt and hollered. “Private Draeden, bring
me a canteen of water!”
After watching his son take a long drink from the canteen Lucas
asked, “How did you wretch your knee?”
Mark didn’t answer, he looked away.
“Son? Answer me,” ordered Lucas, with his hand, he gently moved
his son’s head to look at him.
“I didn’t exactly… I tried to get away yesterday. Pa, I know in
the past you’ve told me to cooperate, and you’d find me. But you
were at Doc’s and when you didn’t find me that first day… I… I
didn’t think he or Micah would let you come after me… or…”
“What happened when you tried to run away?” asked Lucas,
understand his son’s reasoning.
“I would have gotten away if Sandoval hadn’t returned when he
did. I thought I could get away from him, only he managed to get
his lasso around my ankle as I jumped over a bush, and he yanked
my leg out from under me. After I fell, I tried to loosen his
lasso, but he drug me back to their camp. Pa, I’m sorry… I just
wanted to get back home.”
Lucas heard the guilt in his son’s voice.
“Don’t be so hard on the young man,” Sergeant Keith stated.
“Takes gumption not to be scared out of your wits, and to be
able to think about an escape.”
Lucas stood upon hearing horses arrive, but relaxed when saw the
rider was in uniform and yelling, “Lieutenant!”
“Report, corporal,” ordered Lieutenant.
“Found these two horses in a thicket of trees about a half mile
“That’s BlueBoy!” hollered Mark as he pointed to his horse.
“Lieutenant, the bay belongs to my son,” answered Lucas as he
walked over and took the reins from the corporal.
“How much longer until the boy can ride?” the Lieutenant asked.
“Any time,” answered the sergeant.
Lucas helped Mark to his feet, “Think you can ride?”
“How else are you going to get me back?” Mark asked. With his
pa’s help, he hopped over to his horse.
The Sergeant came up behind Mark and asked, “Need some help?”
“No sir,” Mark answered and gave a brief laugh.
“Son?” Lucas queried.
“Been a long time since I’ve done what I’m about to do to get in
the saddle,” replied Mark.
The sergeant stayed just behind Mark, in anticipation of the boy
needing help. He crossed both his arms after watching Mark grab
the pommel of his saddle with his left hand and the back of his
saddle with his right hand, and began hopping. With just the
right timing, Mark pulled himself up as he jumped; his left foot
landing securely in his stirrup.
Lucas saw Mark wince as he hung his left arm at his side, and
stood in the stirrup, without swinging his right leg over the
back of his saddle.
“Would you like some help now?” asked the sergeant.
“Yeah, I guess now would be a good time for a little help,”
“Sergeant, I’ll lift his leg over the top and you help him bring
it down on the other side,” suggested Lucas. He waited for the
sergeant to walk to the other side of BlueBoy before he started
to lift Mark’s leg over the back of his saddle.
The Lieutenant knew the boy was clinching his teeth in an effort
not to cry out because of the pain in his leg, he saw it
reflected in the boy’s face.
As his son deeply exhaled, Lucas stated, “I’m sorry son, it
couldn’t be helped,” and he patted his son’s left thigh.
Mark nodded in reply.
With Lucas riding Razor on one side of Mark, and the sergeant
riding on the other side, they supported Mark between them for
the ride to the North Fork.
Lucas was thankful his boy was asleep in the saddle when they
arrived in town.
“Here,” the sergeant called to Lucas. “I’ll support him and you
just give him a gentle nudge to slip him from the saddle. I’ll
keep him from banging his right knee.”
Lieutenant O’Haver forced open the door to the clinic as Lucas
walked to the where the sergeant held his son; together they
carried the sleeping Mark into the clinic.
As Doc Burrage unbuttoned Mark’s filthy shirt, Lucas became
appalled at the bruises and abrasions to his son’s torso, “My
God son, what did those men do to you?”
“Lucas, I’m sure the boy will be stiff and sore.” Doc poked and
prodded Mark’s ribcage. “But I don’t believe anything is broken.
He’s just bruised.”
“When can I take him home?” asked Lucas.
“In the morning. I want to examine him once he’s awake.” Turning
to Lucas, “Now, let me see how much damage you did to yourself.”
After checking Lucas’ gunshot wound, Doc shook his head. “Don’t
know why I even bother. Let me clean this up, and re-bandage
“Doc? I hear Lucas…” Micah stated as he entered the clinic to
see Doc re-bandaging Lucas’ midsection.
“Did you find Mark? Is he okay?” Micah asked.
“We found him. Doc wants him here for the night,” Lucas replied.
“You too. Neither of you are getting out of this clinic until I
examine you one more time.”
“What happened to the boy?” inquired Micah.
“Wretch knee, bruises and contusions, and a bullet graze across
the arm,” Doc answered.
“Bullet? They shot him?” an appalled Micah asked.
“We don’t have to worry about Sandoval anymore. He’s paid for
what he did to Mark.”
“I hope he’s dead,” Doc commented.
“Lucas are ye okay? Is Mark with ye?” Lou anxiously asked as she
entered the clinic.
“In the back room,” answered Doc. “He’ll be wanting a hearty
breakfast in the morning. But right now, I prescribe his Pa to
join him in sleeping. It’s the best medicine for the two of
“Doc, it’s not too late that a good friend can’t stay and visit
with me,” Lucas answered.
“Ye? Ye?!” Lou’s posture became defiant as she placed her fisted
hands on her hips, “Ye, the one who barely would give me the
time of day after I was nearly killed by that madman Vantine,
and ye think I’m here to visit with ye?” Lou announced with her
strong Irish brogue.
“Now Lou, admit you were genuinely concerned about me,” Lucas
“I’m concerned about ye only because of Mark.”
“Only because of my son… And it was my son for whom you
purchased that… um… dress,” Lucas couldn’t help but ask.
“Ye’re impossible!” Lou declared and crossed her arms.
“As I said, my patients need their rest,” Doc motioned for Micah
and Lou to leave as he escorted Lucas to the room where Mark
For three nights, Lucas watched as his son experienced a
restless sleep, but as he would sit down on the side of his
son’s bunk and place his hand to his son’s shoulder, Mark would
eventually settle into a quieter sleep. During the days, they
talked of what happened or of work necessary around the ranch,
all the while, Lucas assessing his son’s mental condition. Even
with a sprained knee, Lucas allowed Mark to ride out with him,
doing something to help keep him from dwelling on the past; and
better for Lucas to keep an eye on his son. Lucas had hoped
tonight would be the night his son would be able to sleep as he
blew out the lantern on the wall outside their bedroom door.
However, as Lucas prepared for bed he noticed Mark began
experiencing an even more troubled sleep.
Mark startled awake to find Lucas sitting down on the edge of
“I’m sorry Pa, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Mark commented as he
scratched at the bandage around his arm. He tried to slow his
breathing as he realized he was safe, at home.
“You didn’t wake me… Doc said if you woke during the night, you
could have some of the medicine, to help with the pain…”
Mark started rubbing at his knee, “It’s not really a pain.”
“Is your knee bothering you?” asked Lucas.
“No sir, I…”
Lucas felt concerned for his son, and the ordeal he’d gone
through at the hands of Gabriel Sandoval and his men.
“My dream was so vivid, but now…” Mark stated as his eyes
settled back on his pa.
“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Lucas.
“Pa, parts of my dream were of Sandoval… and the others,”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Sandoval and him trying to
take our property after their first visit.”
“You mean when you weren’t watching where you were going and
tripped over the rake?” Mark sheepishly asked.
Lucas nodded, “Son, I know if I’d of told you up front, you
wouldn’t have come home and been here when they returned.”
“Pa, I know you were only trying to protect me. But… by keeping
that news from me… Pa, I’m not a little boy anymore.”
“I know son, I guess I’m not really sure how to be a father of a
young man… It may be difficult for me to learn to let you in on
my grown-up concerns, but… I promise I’ll try my best.”
“I know, but it’s strange…, it seems like…”
“Like what,” prompted Lucas.
“Well, when we first arrived in North Fork, there was Mr.
Jackford, and then there was Mr. Packer and Mr. Prescott. And
now Mr. Silva. They were all trying to take our land from us; we
must have the best property in the whole territory.” Mark smiled
at the thought.
Lucas half laughed at his son’s description, yet he still had to
ask, “Was that what had you worried in your dream? The
possibility of us losing our home?”
“No sir…” Mark quieted his voice when he answered.
“Do you remember any more of your dream?”
“Pa, I know I promised you I’d talk to you… when things didn’t
seem to make heads or tails… but, you were still unconscious at
Doc’s. Part of the reason I came home that morning was to figure
out another dream I had.”
“What’s troubling you son?”
“Pa, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I think I know… Do
you remember when you were going to testify against Sam
Lucas thought back in his effort to remember, before he
eventually said, “Yes.”
“Did I… did I kill Brad?” Mark hesitantly asked.
The events flooded back to Lucas’ consciousness. “Why would you
ask that?” he asked not wanting to confirm what happened.
“Because I keep having dreams about a child’s hands holding a
Peacemaker and the gun firing… Please don’t lie to me. I can
accept I had a hand in killing Charlie… but… there was something
else… I… I killed Brad, didn’t I?”
Lucas regretfully nodded, “After I found you, I heard the shots
and thought Brad had killed you… the gun’s kickback threw you
backwards and you struck your head. I held you in my arms, and
when you came to you asked me if I got him… I looked over and
saw the blood on the front of his shirt. I knew you had killed
him, because my shot struck him in the back of the shoulder.
Son… I wanted to protect you from the grief I knew you wouldn’t
be able to understand. I thought you wouldn’t remember any
“I didn’t… at least not until after Charlie. Pa, I’m not upset
you didn’t tell me the truth back then, but now that I know the
truth, it sure makes a lot more sense,” answered Mark.
“What does?” Lucas asked.
“Why I hated your rifle so much. It wasn’t just seeing Charlie
lying there… Pa, when Fred and I fought over your rifle and it
fired… I saw my hands, these hands,” Mark held his hand in front
of him, palms up, “and afterwards I… I heard your voice, and I
saw a child’s hands… and I couldn’t shake the image… After
Charlie’s funeral, I kept seeing those same, small, hands…”
“But you didn’t shoot Brad with my rifle,” answered Lucas.
“No, but I guess, knowing somewhere in here,” Mark tapped the
side of his head, “that I had previously killed a man, and
knowing that I helped cause Charlie’s death, even though it was
an accident, it all jumbled together to make me hate your
“Mark I’ll not understand how your mind managed to put all the
pieces together…” Lucas admitted.
Mark looked to Lucas, and Lucas saw something else in his son’s
eyes, he wasn’t scared, and the confusion that was upon his
son’s face earlier was gone.
“Pa… Is that why you were so reluctant to buy me a rifle and to
teach me how to use it? You thought I’d remember killing Brad?”
“It was a small part of it, but over time, the memory got pushed
aside and I forgot about it as well. I just truly hoped that by
the time you were grown enough to understand the
responsibilities that come with owning a weapon, we wouldn’t
still be relying on having to carry guns around all the time.”
“But rifles will always be needed for hunting? I mean, it’s not
like we can go to Milly’s General Store and asked for her for a
cut of prime beef for a steak or for chunks of stew beef, or for
a plucked chicken for cooking. And what about rabbit meat for
your wilderness stew… We’ll always need rifles.”
“You’re right, son. And, I’m impressed with your abilities when
it comes to hunting. Pretty soon, you’ll be as good as I am.”
“There is one problem, Pa.”
“What’s that?” asked Lucas.
“My rifle, Sandoval and his men took it. I can get a job in
town, to earn enough money to buy a replacement.”
“No son, it wasn’t your fault you lost it. I’ll purchase you a
new rifle once your knee is fully healed.”
“Pa, thank you for letting me know the truth.”
“And you’ll remember our promise, any time you need to talk…”
“I will. And Pa, maybe, if it’s okay, I think I could use a
little of Doc’s medicine, just to help me sleep.” Mark slipped
back under the covers before Lucas handed him the glass of water
laced with a small amount of laudanum. Lucas helped support Mark
as he drank the full glass.
Lucas set the empty glass on the table at the head of his son’s
bed before he walked over and sat on his own bunk; he watched
over his son as his breathing slowed, indicating he was in a
“Margaret, I hope I’m ready for whatever our son’s future
holds…” Lucas whispered as he lay back on his bunk.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch