The Rifleman
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Ties That Bind — A Rifleman Story
Written by Deanne Bertram

With a smug expression on his face, the heavy-set man sat behind an opulent wooden desk; the breadth of the man’s waist gave indication of the good life he lived while in his current position at the prison. The warden looked at the two men shuffling in to stand in front of him; while inside he laughed at their ill-fitting, county-paid suits that replaced the striped uniforms they had worn for the duration of their stay. Their sentences were based on convictions stemming from multiple charges, but for their arrogance and defiance of the law by assaulting a lawman, they faced the stiffest sentence, one that saw them spend the last five years in prison. Their time spent behind bars involved hard labor and hadn’t been easy on either of them; but the warden didn’t care, his crew knew how to break men’s spirit. But for all their suffering while incarcerated, the most visible torment happened during their arrest; for the rest of their lives, their faces would bear the scars from the gunpowder and salt, not to mention the five years of hatred they harbored towards the men who captured them. At the mercy of the guards, the two men had suffered in silence knowing they would eventually gain their freedom and revenge.

Holding two sheets of paper in one hand and a pen in the other, the warden looked around his office, allowing his eyes to drift from one framed newspaper article to another; articles in which he was a prominent figure. Behind him hung a newspaper with the headline, “Norman Michaelson, New Warden at Yuma Territorial Prison,” with a picture of him shaking hands with the Arizona Territorial Governor; behind them stood a contingent of armed prison guards.

Returning his attention to the two men standing before him, Warden Michaelson pompously stated, “You’ve paid your debt to society, for now.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked the older and shorter of the two men,

“I’ve seen the likes of you; you won’t stay out of trouble. Within a year, you’ll be back.”

“So you say,” the younger and taller of the two men muttered under his breath.

Michaelson dipped his pen in the inkwell and signed his name at the bottom of the release papers.

“Griggson, give them back their possessions,” instructed the warden, before he blew across the paper to dry the ink.

A burly guard standing to the side of the warden’s desk tossed two paper packages tied with strings towards the men.

“That’s all you had when you arrived,” the guard stated.

Satisfied the ink was dry; Michaelson folded the sheets of paper, slipped them into an envelope, and held it out for one of the men to take; the older man snatched the envelope from the warden’s hand and stuffed it into a pocket of the jacket he wore.

“In addition to that, the county owes both of you one hundred dollars for the work you done,” Michaelson stated as he set a metal box on his desk that he had pulled from his bottom desk drawer, and counted out the money.

“One hundred dollars!” declared the younger man. “Five stinkin’ years of hard labor and all we get is one hundred dollars?!”

“Your forgetting the room and board, and those suits?” asked the guard as he tipped his rifle towards the men.

“Be thankful you’re getting that,” the warden replied, having tossed the money to the other side of his desk, he leaned back in the chair. “Griggson, get them out of here.”

Griggson motioned for the other guard standing by the door to move the men.

As the second guard led the two men from the office, Michaelson looked to Griggson and stated, “They’ll be back… They always come back.”

After cutting off the end of the cigar, the warden placed it to his mouth, leaned forward, and waited for the guard to strike a match off the side of his pants and hold it out to light the cigar. He inhaled deeply as he sat back in his chair and slowly spun around to look out the side window in his office.

*****

Two guards closed and locked the gates behind the two former prisoners, when the younger man looked to the other and asked, “Pappy, what do we do now?”

“Now? We settle the score. No one kills two of my sons and gets away with it. For five years, Daniel Malachi has waited for this day,” Daniel Malachi looked down the road and began walking.

“We gonna get that marshal and that sodbuster!” Ben Malachi stated as his eyes lit with anticipation and followed his father.

“First, we’re gonna get rid of these stinkin’ prison clothes and buy us some guns and two horses… You best not lose that hundred dollars.”

*****

Lucas stood next to BlueBoy and waited for Mark to be released from school for the weekend, before the two of them proceeded to the hotel with plans to escort Lou to the train depot.

“Only a couple more weeks before school lets out for the summer, hey son?” Lucas stated as he held out BlueBoy’s reins.

“Yeah, I’m gonna miss it.”

“Miss it? You, missing school?” Lucas teased.

“Lucas, Mark is excelling in school and I’m pleased he has taken such an interest in learning about our Government,” Stevan Griswald stated after overhearing Lucas’ comment. “You’ll remember to study those chapters I suggested.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Griswald,” Mark stated with enthusiasm as he closed the flap to his saddlebag after placing his lesson books inside.

“Still can’t get over the fact you’re the same son who would try to come up with any excuse just to get out of going to school,” Lucas stated as Mark took the reins. “I’m proud of my son, Stevan; seeing him fulfilling his ma’s dream of a good education.”

“Good education? It’s more than just that… Lucas I’ve had to send for some college curriculum materials just to keep up with his eagerness to learn. Between him and Percy Bullock…those two boys are excelling more than I ever expected either of them to.”

“Hey Mark!” Percy Bullock called. “You coming?!”

“Can’t, Pa and I have plans tonight,” Mark replied and waved to his friend.

The small group looked towards where Percy prepared to mount his horse; Lucas grinned at how ‘Americanized’ the boy…, no… the young man had become over the past few years, though he ventured to think Percy would never lose his British accent. Lucas knew that Percy and his father had something to do with Mark’s desire to learn, and appreciated they could instill the love of books in his son.

“I’m sorry to have kept you,” Stevan replied.

“We have a few more minutes before we’re supposed to meet Lou,” Lucas answered.

“But I however, need to have a discussion with Freddie’s parents. If you’ll excuse me?” Stevan nodded goodbye and walked over to greet the arriving parents.

“Guess you’re glad that’s not you arriving?” teased Mark.

“What did… No, that’s between Stevan and Freddie’s parents,” Lucas admitted as father and son swung up into their saddles.

*****

“When are you going to be back, Lou?” Mark asked as he and Lucas stood next to the train.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t feel I should be gone more than two weeks tops. Considering how long it took me to get my hotel established, all by myself, I should be able to help Lynetta set up her hotel in Silver City in no time,” Lou answered.

“You know your friend from Denver?” Mark asked, knowing Lou had previously owned several establishments in the town.

“No,” Lou answered. “I know her from my homeland, Ireland.” Her eyes sparkled at the mention of her former country.

“Well, I’m sure that Mrs. Donner will keep as good an eye on your hotel as she does the General Store,” Lucas stated.

“I’m sure she will,” Lou replied.

“We’re gonna miss ya, Lou,” Mark stated.

“I’ll miss you too, Mark,” said Lou as she bent forward and kissed Mark upon the cheek.

“Marshal?” called out a young man stepping from the next train car, wearing the badge of a Deputy U.S. Marshal.

Micah assessed the young man, being in his early twenties, probably still wet behind the ears and barely old enough to shave, as he walked towards the young man and began a conversation.

Lucas handed Lou her luggage after she climbed the three steps to the passenger car level.

“Ye take care of Mark, ye hear,” Lou stated as she took her bags.

“And what about me?” teased Lucas.

“I think ye can take care of yerself, but just in case, do try to keep out of trouble?” pleaded Lou.

Lucas whispered, “Don’t I get a goodbye kiss?”

“And have the women of town gossiping about me while I’m gone?” Quietly she answered, “I’ll miss you too, cowboy.”

Lucas smiled as Lou turned and entered the passenger car. As Lou walked down the aisle, Lucas started to walk along the platform, intending to follow Lou until she took her seat, but stopped short as a man stepping down from the front of the train car drew his attention.

“Pa, what’s wrong?” Mark asked.

Micah bid goodbye to the Deputy U.S. Marshal, turned and looked the same direction, “Lucas!” he called with authority in his voice upon seeing Lucas’ posture.

“Merril!” Lucas yelled. “You were warned… the next time you showed your sorry carcass… Keep your hands from your six gun.” Lucas twirl cocked his rifle and motioned Mark to get behind him.

With very few people on the platform, the lever action was clearly audible to the stranger, who stopped and lifted his right hand far from his holster, “I don’t want no trouble,” the man called out, not turning around.

“You caused enough trouble just stepping off the train!” Lucas called out with eager anticipation in his eyes.

Mark noticed the man’s immobile stance, but with his knees slightly bent as if ready to jump away. Mark presumed the man couldn’t have been that much shorter than his pa, and maybe just a little bit larger in his build by the fact the man’s jacket stretched tight across his back. He wondered about the man’s past and why his Pa was acting in such a manner.

From inside the train car, Lou looked out the window in horror at the scene unfolding. She lowered the glass window and yelled, “Lucas!”

Trying to prevent any unnecessary bloodshed, Micah yelled, “McCain! Stand down! I’m the law!”

‘McCain?’ the stranger silently questioned.

The man dropped his carpetbag, and slowly lowered his gun hand as he turned around, calling out, “McCain! Of all the low down… sorry excuses for a human being. I swore the next time…” the man charged Lucas.

Mark jumped back as Lucas lowered his rifle and readied himself for the strike, while Micah readied his shotgun, and Lou screamed, “LUCAS!” The two tall men locked arms around each other and began laughing, the stranger picking Lucas up off the ground in a bear hug.

“Lucas McCain, never in my life did I ever imagine running across you again. My God, if you don’t look the same!” the man called out as he set Lucas to his feet and slapped him across the shoulder.

“Good to see you too, Jordan,” Lucas stated as he took hold of the man’s hand and began pumping it up and down; huge smiles spread across both men’s faces.

“McCain, a word with you?” Micah asked as he tapped Lucas on the shoulder with the barrel of his scattergun.

“Uh… Micah, I’d like for you to meet an old friend of mine, Jordan Merrill.” Lucas turned to his friend, “Jordan, this is Marshal Micah Torrance.”

“I should throw both of you in jail for disturbing the peace,” Micah threatened. “I should just for my sheer enjoyment.”

Lou closed the train car window, sat down in her seat, and crossed her arms, upset that Lucas had just played another stupid prank at the expense of her feelings. She was pushed back in her seat as the train lurched forward as it began its trek west.

“No need for that Micah,” Lucas apologized, “It’s just been so long since we’ve seen each other and the last time…”

“No need to go into all the details, Lucas,” Jordan stated. “Marshal, if we’re not being charged with anything, why don’t you join the two of us for a beer. This town does have a saloon? Right?”

“It sure does,” answered Lucas as he slapped his friend on the back. “Micah come on, we’ve some stories to tell.”

“Uh, Lucas, I forgot… You still need to ask Margaret’s permission, right?” Turning to the Marshal, “You won’t believe how well Margaret ‘wears the pants’ in their home. Lucas always saying he couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that, until he’d told his wife.” Turning his attention back to Lucas, Jordan teased, “Well, let’s get this over and done with; time to place another link in that ball and chain, Lucas. Maybe she…” Jordan stopped talking when he saw the expression Lucas wore, and saw him walk over to and place a hand on a teenage boy’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Mark… It’s just been a long time since Jordan and I have seen each other. We used to do stupid stuff like that all the time… And…”

“That’s okay Pa, as long as it was all in fun,” Mark stated as color started to return to his face.

“Jordan, I’d like for you to meet my son, Mark.”

“I’m sorry if we scared you, but it’s been a long time since your Pa and I’ve seen each other. Say, you wouldn’t mind running home and telling your Ma that your Pa and I are going to do a little celebrating at the saloon.”

“I…” Mark started to answer, but stopped, he didn’t know if he should tell the man, or his Pa should be the one.

“Jordan,” Lucas interrupted as he squeezed Marks’ shoulder. “Margaret died nine years ago. It’s just the two of us.”

“I’m sorry Lucas, I didn’t know.”

“That’s okay,” Lucas answered.

“Pa, if you want to catch up on old times… I can ride on home, I don’t mind. I can start on my chores and do my homework.”

“Are you sure?” Lucas asked, really wanting the time to catch up with an old friend.

“It was a pleasure meeting you Mr. Merrill,” Mark offered as he extended his hand. “See you later, Micah.”

Lucas, Micah, and Jordan watched Mark as he walked along the train platform, jumped to the ground, swung up into the saddle, and waved before he rode off.

“Lucas, I can’t believe it…”

“But?” Lucas asked when his friend didn’t continue speaking.

“He’s the image of Margaret,” Jordan commented.

“That he is. And every day I thank God for allowing him to be so much like her.”

“Yeah, one Lucas McCain is enough trouble,” Jordan teased before asking, “Hey, how old is he now?”

“He’s sixteen,” Lucas answered.

“And a half. That boy keeps reminding Lucas of that ‘half’,” Micah jested.

“As he should,” Jordan smiled, “Well, come on, let’s get to celebrating,” Jordan stated as he slipped between the marshal and the rancher, placing his arms behind their backs, and resting his hands on their shoulders.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Lucas asked as he turned and looked back to his friend’s carpetbag sitting on the platform.

“Oh, my bag!”

Merrill jogged to retrieve his bag before he returned to join Lucas and Micah for a visit to the saloon.

*****

Late afternoon had turned to evening and Micah had long excused himself from the saloon, stating, “I’ve a town to watch after,” as Lucas and Jordon continued to catch up on each other’s lives. As the two men talked, they were oblivious to the comings and goings of the other patrons in the bar.

Having discussed everything they could think of, Lucas finally asked, “Why’d you leave?”

“You know why I left.” Jordan stated as he set his empty beer mug down on the table.

“No, I don’t…”

“Lucas, I was accused of murder; I saw how everyone kept looking at me, even after I was acquitted.”

“That’s just it, you were acquitted.”

“Lucas, I just couldn’t stay any longer… I loved Penelope... Everything in Enid reminded me of her… And the stares from the people in town…”

“It didn’t matter to Margaret and me; we knew you couldn’t have killed her.”

“Two people out of how many…”

“There were twelve men sitting on that jury,” commented Lucas.

“Okay, so fourteen people believed me innocent,” Jordan took a drink from the beer mug he held in his hand before he continued. “And then there was the letter from my parents telling me in their eyes they had no son.”

“Jordan, we all have memories from the war we’d prefer to forget, your parents just couldn’t accept that you’d gone off to fight.”

“Yeah… in their eyes I had to be a troublemaker in order to want to go to war…” Jordan spoke as he motioned Sweeney for another beer. “A troublemaker and a murderer… My holier than thou parents…”

Jordan took a long drink from the glass Sweeney handed him.

Knowing the hell he had personally experienced upon his return home after the war, Lucas understood his friend better than most, as he watched him drink half the glass.

“They found Penelope’s murderer a few months after you left…”

“Didn’t do me any good…”

“If you had stayed…” Lucas tried to say.

“Penelope was gone. There was nothing to keep me in Enid and nothing for me to go back home to in Corydon…”

Wanting to change his friend’s mood, Lucas asked, “So, what brings you to North Fork?”

“Just passing through; got tired of sitting on the train, wanted to get off and stretch my legs. Then, someone called me out…” Jordan’s expression changed, his face carried a brooding, warning, “Lucas, if I hadn’t heard that woman and your marshal call your name…”

“You’re not the kind who could kill for no reason,” Lucas answered, remembering him for who he had been.

“Lucas, it’s been fifteen years. You don’t know me anymore…”

“Where are you heading?” asked Lucas, trying to change his friend’s mood.

“Silver City; believe it or not, I have a job waiting for me.”

“I’m happy for you. Say, if you have the time, why don’t you spend a few days with Mark and me? We’ve plenty of room at the ranch; I mean it’s not big, but its home.”

“You know Lucas; I might just take you up on that offer.”

“Come on, finish up that beer and we’ll get you a horse from the livery and we can head to the ranch. I’m sure Mark’s wondering when I’ll get home.”

*****

As Lucas and Mark worked their ranch over the course of the weekend, Jordan applied his strong back to help with many of their chores; three men working on some of the projects made the tasks a lot easier than it would have been had it been just the McCains. All the while, Lucas saw his old friend relax and ease into their comfortable life.

*****

After supper Sunday night, Lucas tended to the animals in the barn while Mark finished the last of his homework, and Jordan sat out on the porch, smoking a cigarette.

Setting his books aside, Mark stepped to the porch, and asked, “You and Pa know each other a long time?”

“I was transferred into his unit close to the end of the war. Afterwards, he sort of took me under his wing, like I was his little brother; we did a lot of traveling together.”

“Pa says you’re going to Silver City for a job, what kind of a job?” inquired Mark.

“Surprised Lucas didn’t ask me that question,” Jordan answered.

“Pa isn’t as inquisitive as I am. He says I get that from my ma. I take it you knew my ma?”

“Yes, I knew your mother. Lucas and I eventually went our separate ways, but one day, I happened into a little town in Oklahoma and saw this pretty, little filly of a gal; just my luck, after I bumped into her I saw the ring on her finger.”

“What happened?” asked Mark.

“I introduced myself and apologized, and then I found out she was married to Lucas and when she found out I was an old friend, she invited me home with her. You should have seen Lucas’ face when we came riding up the road to their home… He was all frazzled, couldn’t get you to quit crying.”

“Me? Crying? I don’t remember…”

“You wouldn’t. You couldn’t have been more than six, seven months old at the time, your pa, he insisted that I stay on.”

“Because you served together during the war?” asked Mark.

“Yeah,” Jordan answered with more of a defeat in his attitude.

Mark heard and saw the change in the man’s demeanor, “People say Pa had a hard time after the war, there were a few years where no one in the family saw much of him, but some say he raised all kinds of Cain.”

“We sure did…” Jordan answered as he pulled out another cigarette from his pocket and lit it.

“You were with Pa?” inquired Mark.

“Part of the time, I don’t think he’d like me telling those stories to you,” answered Jordan.

“What won’t I like you telling?” Lucas asked as he joined the two on the porch.

“Pa, Mr. Merrill was starting to tell me a little about the two of you… after the war.”

“He’s right, I don’t think you need to know about that,” Lucas voiced his disapproval.

*****

Lucas served breakfast Monday morning when Jordan stated, “I best be betting back on the train today. Lucas, Mark, I really want to thank you for your hospitality. You sure have the life,” and set his carpetbag by the front door.

“Do you have a set date when you’re supposed to be in Silver City?” Lucas asked.

“Not really,” Jordan answered.

“Then why head out so soon?” Lucas asked. “I mean, I’ve seen you change since you arrived at the ranch. You look relaxed…”

“You don’t need me hanging around here, getting in your way,” replied Jordan.

Mark spoke before Lucas could, “You’re not in the way, and it’s good for Pa to have someone besides me hanging around here all the time.”

“Mark, if Jordan needs to leave…”

“I really do,” the man stated as his eyes clouded over as if he remembered something from long ago.

“We’ll saddle the horses while Mark washes the dishes,” Lucas stated.

*****

As they neared the town, Lucas and Jordan waved to Mark as he turned BlueBoy from the path to head to the school.

“He’s a good boy, Lucas. You should be proud of the job you’ve done raising him.”

“I’m proud he’s my son, but believe me, there’s been times where I wanted to tan his hide if not rattle his throat,” Lucas fondly remember some of those trying times. “It wasn’t easy after Margaret passed… But we made a life, together.”

“That you did,” Jordon commented.

The two continued into North Fork, greeting the marshal as they halted their horses in front of the livery.

“Lucas, you saved me the effort of a ride to your place this morning,” Micah stated.

“What’s up?” asked Lucas.

“You received a wire this morning, and it’s pretty important.”

Lucas took the sheet of paper from Micah and read it.

“Trouble, Lucas?” Jordan asked.

“I don’t think so. I’ve been requested to the Territorial Governor’s Office for a meeting and I need to be there by Thursday. Jordan, this puts me in a real bind. Listen, why don’t you stay on at the ranch until I get back. There’s a lot of work that Mark and I were planning to do this week… I’ll pay you good wages for helping me out.”

“Lucas, I…”

“Jordan, I’m the President of North Fork’s Cattlemen’s Association and I have to go, there’s no one else. You yourself said you didn’t have any specific date to be in Silver City… Please, besides, I’m sure Mark would appreciate being able to stay at the ranch instead in town while I’m gone…”

Taking a few moments to think, Jordan finally answered, “Okay Lucas, I’ll stay.”

“Good, I need to send a wire to Franklin Galveston confirming I’ll be there.”

*****

Upon Mark’s arrival home, he was surprised to find Jordan Merrill coming down the steps of the porch and walking across the yard.

“I thought you were needing to leave,” Mark curiously commented as he stepped down from his horse in front of the barn. He looked around trying to find anything out of place that would indicate trouble. He remembered a few times from the past, times when his Pa’s life was in danger; Dan Maury, Billy St. John, and Mario Orsati…

“I was, but plans changed.” Jordan stopped at BlueBoy’s head. “Your Pa wants to talk with you inside. I’ll take care of your horse.”

Mark cautiously handed BlueBoy’s reins to his pa’s friend, and approached his home; the route up the steps was a curious one, as he tried to look in the front window without being seen, still unsure that everything was okay.

*****

“You get to meet the Territorial Governor?” Mark excitedly asked after listening to Lucas explain the reason for Jordan remaining, and his trip. “What are you going to tell him? I mean… How will statehood benefit the cattlemen in the territory?”

“Well, I know how I think statehood would benefit the citizens, but I hadn’t given thought on how it would benefit the cattlemen.”

“Looks like you need to do some studying,” teased Mark as he stood and walked into the kitchen to begin preparing to cook supper.

“I asked Jordan if he wouldn’t mind staying here at the ranch, there’s so much work we planned to do, this way you can stay here. Mark, I realize you’re growing up, but I just don’t feel comfortable with you staying all by yourself. Hopefully I’ll be back no later than Sunday night or Monday morning at the latest.”

“I understand Pa, besides, I like Mr. Merrill, and he’s a friend of yours… We’ll be fine.”

“I thought you’d feel that way,” stated Lucas and smiled in relief.

“Are you going to take the train or ride Razor?” asked Mark.

Either way I’ll be pushing to get there by Thursday. But if I take the train out Wednesday morning, I can help get some of the work around the ranch done tonight and tomorrow.”

*****

Wednesday morning Mark and Jordan rode into town to see Lucas off at the train depot.

“Wish I could go with you,” Mark stated. “I could get extra credit from Mr. Griswald.”

“You just pay attention to your school studies, if this trip had been two weeks later, I’d have no trouble taking you along on this trip.”

“I know, Pa. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip, when you get home.” Mark looked to the clock hanging on the station wall, “Sorry, but I gotta get to school.”

“Study hard,” stated Lucas as he hugged his son goodbye.

The train conductor called “ALL ABOARD!”

*****

The train to Santa Fe pulled into the station a little before suppertime. Lucas collected his carpetbag and his rifle before he exited the train, to be greeted by Franklin Galveston.

“Lucas!” Franklin called as he waved his hand over his head, trying to gain Lucas’ attention.

After acknowledging the man, Lucas made his way through the crowd.

“Glad you could come on such short notice, but Ross insisted in meeting with you before the others arrived,” Franklin greeted.

“Ross, that’s Territorial Governor Edmund Ross?” inquired Lucas as Franklin escorted him to a waiting carriage in front of the depot.

“Yep. I was telling him about your little adventure a few years back when Senator Borden stopped through North Fork, and you prevented that assassination attempt.”

“It wasn’t just me…” Lucas added, trying to deflect so much attention from himself.

“You and your marshal, but it’s part of Torrance’s job. You on the other hand… Let’s get you settled in your hotel room. It’ll be just the two of us for supper tonight.”

*****

Thursday morning, Franklin Galveston greeted Lucas as he entered the dining room in the hotel restaurant, where the two men discussed their planned meeting with the territorial governor.

As the waitress cleared the dirty plates from the table, Franklin looked at his pocket watch and stated, “We best get going. We’re supposed to be at Ross’ office by nine.” Seeing Lucas pick up his rifle, he added, “You best leave that in your room. You won’t need it where we’re going.”

Lucas began to protest, but finally agreed to leave his rifle in his hotel room when Franklin stated, “Ross’ security force won’t let you anywhere near him, if you carry that.”

*****

Lucas observed the Spanish influence in the architecture of the buildings while the carriage drove the men through town.

“Here we are,” Franklin stated as the carriage came to a stop.

*****

“Franklin,” Territorial Governor Edmund Ross extended his hand in greeting, “And I presume you are Lucas McCain?”

“Yes, sir, Governor,” Lucas answered.

“Please, call me Edmund.”

Lucas nodded.

“Won’t you have a seat,” the governor motioned for Lucas and Franklin to take a chair.

“Now Lucas, I’ve heard a great deal about you from Franklin as well as Senator Borden. Both speak very highly of you.”

“Thank you, but I’m just a rancher,” replied Lucas.

“You’re more than just a rancher; though I am disappointed you didn’t bring your rifle…”

“Sir, I thought it best if he left it at the hotel,” Franklin admitted.

“Well, I guess a few of my associates wouldn’t appreciate you bringing it… But still, to see the Rifleman’s rifle.”

“Edmund, my rifle is a tool and a tool only. I didn’t…”

“You’re right,” interrupted the governor. “My apologies. This is a tough territory and her people do what they have to do in order to live. I guess we should get to the reason why I’ve asked Franklin to bring you here.”

“I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and honestly, statehood means more for the individual citizens than it does for the cattlemen. We already have an association that does a pretty-good job in representing the needs of our members, whether they’re a large outfit like Franklin’s or a small outfit, like mine. A man should only hold as much as he can manage…”

Edmund raised his eyebrows and slowly moved his head back and forth.

“I told you Edmund, Lucas McCain is quite different from the majority of men. He’s self sufficient; I wish more of our members were the same.” Turning to Lucas, Franklin continued, “Lucas, as the discussion of statehood increases, there are others who are petitioning us to open up more land to the cattleman, driving off established and recent homesteaders alike. Demanding the federal government step in and stop the westward population expansion…”

“Since when?” a surprised Lucas asked.

“It’s going to be brought up at tomorrow’s meeting of the Associations,” Franklin stated.

“I knew some of the larger ranchers were impatient to expand, having too many cattle on too little range, but I didn’t know their demands…” acknowledged Lucas.

The three continued their discussions for the rest of the morning focusing more on how the ‘citizens’ would benefit from the implementation of infrastructure, better roads in towns, railroad spurs, more lawmen, and more schools.

“Lucas, I’m pleased to know there are civic minded people who think of others and not just themselves. It’s people like you, who will help convince others that statehood is a good idea.”

Lucas and Franklin left the office of the territorial governor and returned to the hotel.

As Lucas stepped from the carriage, Franklin stated, I’ll send my carriage to you around five this evening, we’ll have supper at my place where we can formulate an agenda to see that tomorrow’s discussions are in the interests of all.”

*****

Mark returned home from school Friday afternoon to find a note nailed on the door to the barn.

Mark,

Lost track of time and forgot to check on the pregnant cows we moved yesterday, should be back by 5:00.

Jordan

Mark led BlueBoy into his stall in the barn and began to unsaddle him, before proceeding to do his chores; cleaning the stalls for their horses, picking out the corral, feeding the animals, and milking the cows. With his rifle in one hand, Mark pulled out his pocket watch and grew concerned when he realized it was half past five.

As he looked at his watch, Mark also heard riders coming down the road; as he watched the three riders draw near, he paused by the water well, figuring they might be looking to water their horses.

The clean-shaven man in the lead was dressed in a grey traveling suit and a derby hat, he wore wire-rimmed spectacles, while the other two wore working vests over their shirts, leather chaps over their jeans, and cowboy hats; both also wore several day’s growth of beards and mustaches.

“Hello,” offered Mark as the men stopped their horses. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” answered the man wearing the derby, “Can you tell us if this is the residence of Lucas McCain?”

“Yes, sir, it is. He’s my pa,” answered Mark.

“Might he be home?” the man asked.

“No sir, he’s not here, right now,” answered Mark. “Your horses look like they could use some water, I’d be happy to draw a bucket or two…”

“Thank you, we’d be obliged,” stated the derby man as he stepped down from his horse.

Mark set he rifle against the stone and mortar wall so he could lower the bucket into the well.

The man’s companions followed suit as they too stepped from their horses.

“Boss, he’s not here,” whispered the nervous man to the left of the derby wearer; the man couldn’t have more than in his early twenties.

The man motioned for the other one to shut up, “We’ve come a fair distance to consult with him, will he be back soon?”

“I’m sorry,” Mark stated as he drew the first bucket of water from the well. “He’s up in Santa Fe; he’s meeting with the territorial governor.”

“We have to stop him,” the nervous man called out again.

“Stop him?” Mark queried, unsure what the man meant, and pulled the bucket over the edge of the wall.

Too late, Mark sensed danger as the third man approached him from behind and brought the butt of his gun down on the back of Mark’s head. Mark’s vision blackened as his fingers loosened their grip on the handle to the water bucket; he fell into its contents as the water splashed out of the bucket as it hit the ground.

“See if there’s a horse in the barn and get it saddled,” ordered the derby man.

“What for?” asked the man returning his gun to his holster.

“We’re taking him with us.”

“Why?” asked the man who had struck Mark.

“Do you think his father will continue to press for statehood, knowing his precious son is missing… Ever since Senator Borden survived his assassination attempt, Lucas McCain has become a vocal force behind the bid for statehood.”

“Why take him? Just kill him…” the man nervously spoke.

“Boyle, think man; if we kill him now, no one will know why. We take the brat with us and we get two for the price of one,” the man stated as he returned from his horse, carrying a length of rope he retrieved from his saddlebag.

“Is that what you’re planning, Hennessee?” the Boyle asked of the man wearing the derby.

“Epps is right. You have a problem with that?” Hennessee asked.

“No, no problem…” Boyle answered.

“Good, after helping Epps tie the boy across his saddle, get inside and stuff anything you can into those carry sacks.”

*****

“I still don’t understand why we don’t go into town,” Ben Malachi stated as he stretched out across the ground.

“And have everybody know were here,” Daniel Malachi answered.

“We’re free men. We got papers that say so.”

“And when they find Lucas McCain dead, and know we’re in town, they’ll figure we did it. Does that explain why?” Daniel retorted.

Daniel and Ben Malachi leisurely waited on the hill overlooking the road from North Fork to the McCain Ranch, until they heard a rider approaching.

“Pappy, there’s a rider coming,” Ben called as he scrambled to look over the rise.

“Is it him?” Daniel asked.

“Sitting that tall in the saddle; cain’t be none other,” Ben replied and looked as Daniel positioned himself to take a shot with the rifle.

“Just a little closer,” Daniel whispered and waited, he pressed his index finger firmer to the trigger. He exhaled and fired; a few moments later the rider fell from the saddle, his horse bolted sideways and galloped away.

Father and son returned to their horses, climbed up into the saddles, and raced them to the fallen rider.

Ben was the first to jump down from his saddle and approach the man on the ground.

“Pa, it ain’t him,” Ben stated after he turned the body over.

“What do you mean, it ain’t him?” Daniel Malachi asked. “Cain’t be nobody else his size.”

“It’s been five years, but I swear, this ain’t the sodbuster.”

After closely examining the body, the elder Malachi bemused, “Just like before… Drag him off the road and get in the saddle.”

“Whe’re we going?”

“To get The Rifleman,” Daniel stated, a vile smile spreading across his face.

*****

Upon their arrival at the McCain Ranch, Daniel and Ben Malachi found it in a state of disarray; and after a thorough search of the house and the barn, they found no sign of anyone around.

“What do we do now?” Ben asked as he stepped from the porch.

“Seems someone else beat us to him; found signs of a scuffle over by the water well, we’re gonna follow those tracks.”

“But who would have taken him, Pappy?”

“I don’t know, but I want to make sure McCain is dead.”

“And if he ain’t?” asked Ben.

“Once we catch up with them, we’ll make sure he never sees another sunset…”

“But what about the marshal?” Ben asked as a second thought.

“We’ll take care of him, after I get me a sodbuster.”

“What about supplies? Weren’t nothin’ inside…”

“You know how to hunt, I taught ya, you and both your brothers… We live off the land…”

*****

Hennessee motioned for the two other men to halt as they came to a small wooded area.

“What are we stopping for?” asked Boyle. “There’s still plenty of daylight…”

”There’s a cavern the other side of this stand of trees. We can make camp and have a fire with none the wiser,” answered Hennessee. “Drag the boy from his saddle and follow me.”

After tying their horses, Epps and Boyle pulled a moaning Mark from the saddle and followed Hennessee into the cave.

“Drop him over there,’ ordered Hennessee. “Boyle, unsaddle the horses and bring the gear in here, Epps, find some wood for a fire.”

Hennessee followed the two as they returned to the horses; he pulled down his bedroll and the carry sacks, and returned to the cave.

“I don’t understand how come we’re not heading to Santa Fe?” Boyle asked as he opened a can of beans and set it down on a rock next to the fire. “That’s where the boy said his Pa was.”

“Don’t you know nottin’?” Epps answered, disgustedly.

Hennesee answered, “In Santa Fe we’d be too close to the law… The others are waiting for us over by the Gila Mountains, we take the boy there, his Pa follows us, and both disappear… No one will ever find them.”

“But his Pa don’t even know we took him,” a confused Boyle stated.

“He will, in time.” Hennessee pulled off his derby and set it next to his bedroll; he held out his hands in front of the fire and regaled in the warmth as the temperatures began to drop for the night. “This gives us time to set our trap. A well thought out plan is better than a hurriedly conceived one.”

*****

As Mark struggled to regain consciousness, the buzzing in his head began to subside, allowing the pain across his ribs to be felt. He tried to remember as bits and pieces of what happened returned to his memory. Upon opening his eyes, everything looked blurry; he tried to raise his hands to rub at his eyes, only to realize his hands were bound behind his back. Shaking his head and blinking his eyes, Mark thought he heard voices; with all his concentration he finally focused his eyes and saw his three captors sitting around a campfire, eating.

“You best let me go!” Mark called out, regretting the volume of his voice as the ache in his head returned.

“Well looky, looky. Did you have a nice sleep?” Boyle tauntingly called out.

“Why did you kidnap me?” Mark asked in a quieter voice as Hennessee walked over to him and knelt in front of him.

“Don’t you know?” Epps asked as he walked over to stand next to his boss.

“If I did, I don’t think I would have asked,” Mark answered with a sarcastic tone to his voice.

“Cut him loose,” Hennessee ordered.

“What for?” Boyle answered as he walked to stand next to Epps.

“Unless you plan on hand feeding the boy…” replied Hennessee as he stood to his feet. His tone indicated he wasn’t thrilled with the cowboy’s inability to reason things out on his own.

Boyle pulled Mark to a sitting position, pushed him forward, and cut the ropes that bound his hands, “No funny stuff,” he said as he tapped the point of his knife to Mark’s jugular vein, before returning it to the sheath on the left side of his belt.

“I’m not hungry,” Mark’s tone voiced his disdain for the three men.

“Suit yourself,” Hennessee stated.

“Where are we?” inquired Mark as he rubbed at his wrists to alleviate the tingling sensation in his hands.

“You don’t need to know that,” Boyle answered, hoping to sound mean.

“I need to relieve myself,” Mark commented.

“Boyle, take the boy outside, but don’t let him get away,” Hennessee stated as he returned to the campfire.

*****

A few minutes later, with a revolver still pointed at his back, Mark returned to the cave to hear the end of Epps’ comment, “…about statehood.”

Thinking the men were in favor of statehood, Mark stated, “My Pa’s in favor of statehood. That’s why he went up to meet with the territorial governor, telling him how it will benefit the cattlemen of the area,”

“To hell with statehood!” declared Epps, jumping to his feet. “We don’t need the government telling us what to do! I’ve had enough of people telling me what to do and when to do it.” As he walked, he balled his hands in and out of fists and clenched his jaw as he ground his teeth.

“Statehood isn’t about the government telling…” Mark stopped speaking and realized that maybe he should have kept quiet.

The rough cowboy continued to approach Mark, causing him to back up until the cave wall prevented him from getting any farther. The cowboy pulled back his right arm and punched Mark across the cheek. As Mark staggered from the blow, the cowboy grabbed him by the front of his shirt and threw another punch into the boy’s middle, causing Mark to bend over and grab to his stomach. All the while, the big man ranted against statehood and those who stood for it.

Mark collapsed to the ground, coughing, as Boyle struggled to restrain his companion and pull him away.

“EPPS!” Hennessee yelled with enough authority to break through the man’s rage. Once he held the man’s attention, he continued, “You can have your fun, later. If the boy’s not hungry, tie him up for the night.”

Gasping against the pain, Mark resisted his arms being pulled and bound behind his back.

“Quit fighting or I’ll tap you over the back of the head again,” Epps cruelly commented.

With tears streaming down his face, Mark closed his eyes and mentally cried, “Pa, please find me.”

*****

Daniel Malachi followed the trail leading away from the McCain Ranch until the sun slipped behind the mountains to the west. The fact he could follow a trail surprised his surviving son. As they made camp, Daniel insisted his son scour up some firewood as he pulled out some dried jerky from his saddlebags. After satisfying their empty stomachs, they laid out their bedrolls and fell asleep.

The sound of nature was intermittently interrupted by sound of snores as father and son slept.

*****

With a throbbing head and sore ribs, Mark slept very little during the night on the cold, hard ground. He gritted his teeth upon hearing the others stir about their camp for the morning; quietly he prayed that somehow his Pa knew he was in trouble.

“Wake up boy,” Boyle stated as he used the toe of his boot to nudge Mark awake.

“I’m awake,” Mark stated.

The cowboy knelt down and pulled Mark to sit up; he untied the ropes that bound Mark’s wrists and ankles.

“Come along, you get to collect wood for the fire morning,” Boyle announced.

Boyle pulled his revolver from his pocket and motioned Mark to get to his feet. Unable to contain the groan as his muscles protested, Mark slowly stood to his feet.

“Get a move on, kid!” Epps yelled as he pulled on his boots.

Ten minutes later, carrying an armload of wood, Mark was pushed back into the cavern. He dropped the wood next to the fire as he fell to his knees.

“Uh, uh, I wouldn’t try anything,” Hennessee warned as he picked up a few pieces of wood and stirred them into the fire. “Epps has taken a distinct dislike to you, he might just get trigger happy.”

Hennessee set out a few biscuits and offered one to Mark.

“I told you, I’m not hungry.”

“Good, more for me,” stated Epps as he took a bite from one of the biscuits. “Your Ma’s a good cook,” he continued to talk and caught some of the crumbs before they fell on his dirty shirt.

“Don’t you talk of my ma,” Mark stated.

“Bet she’s purty, probably beside herself wondering where you are. Hey, where was she yesterday? She left her little boy at home?” Epps wickedly teased as he walked over to the camp fire.

“My mother’s dead.”

“Poor, little boy,” stated Hennessee.

“Stop it!” Mark yelled.

Angered by Mark’s outburst, Epps backhanded him across the face and ordered, “Don’t you raise your voice to me. You don’t give orders, you do as we say.”

Hennessee motioned for Boyle to move Mark to the other side of the cave.

“When do we head out?” Epps asked as his gaze followed Boyle and Mark across the cave.

“Why the rush?” Hennessee asked.

“The sooner we get back to the others, the sooner we can dispose of him and his Pa. ‘Sides, I don’t like the idea of the three of us alone tangling with his pa.”

“Relax, Harvey is smart. He wouldn’t have sent us after the boy if he didn’t have a plan.”

“I still don’t see why your brother didn’t send more men with us. Would have been better to kill him right out.”

“See that’s why Harvey is the boss. Kill the man in his hometown, everyone gets angry and demands to find the killers. Kill a man while he’s searching for his missing boy… He just doesn’t return and life goes on…”

“Still we were lucky his old man wasn’t home… Had you thought on how to get the boy if McCain had been home?”

Taking a moment to think, Hennessee called out, “Boyle, you and the kid saddle the horses. We leave in fifteen minutes.”

Even though these men were taking him farther from North Fork, Mark was thankful that this time he was allowed to sit in the saddle.

*****

As Saturday morning dawned, Daniel Malachi shook out his bedroll to cast off the water from the rain that had fallen on them during the night. He walked over and kicked his son awake, “Get up, we’re losing daylight.”

Once in the saddle, the son watched the father as the father watched the trail while they continued to follow their quarry. Several hours later Daniel motioned for a halt, and stepped from his saddle. Dropping his reins, he kept looking down as he walked around the wooded area.

Upon hearing Daniel call out, “There’s their trail,” and point at the ground, Ben asked, “Pappy, how’d you do that?”

“It’s easy,” answered Daniel. “Once you know what to look for. See these hoof prints… This one has a different shoe on the one hoof than the others; it’s the same three and one that was back at the sodbuster’s. There’s a broken twig on that tree over there.” Dropping to his knees, Daniel ran his hand over the surface of the ground. “They left their horses here and started walking that way, dragging someone…”

“The sodbuster?” an eager Ben inquired.

Ignoring his son’s question, Daniel stated, “And if my nose doesn’t know any better, I’m smelling remnants of a campfire.”

“Pappy, where are they?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions.”

*****

The two riders continued to follow the tracks and as the sun crossed into the afternoon sky, they stopped to water their horses and fill their canteens. Standing in the middle of the creek, the elder Malachi stretched backwards before he took a long drink. Wiping away the excess water from his chin with the back of his sleeve, Daniel stated, “We’re close, boy. We’re really close.”

“How can you tell, Pappy,” asked Ben, as he hung his canteen from the saddle horn.

As he stooped to refill his canteen, he replied, “I can feel it in my bones. Five years of awaiting, and today, I feel it.”

*****

The sun was close to setting when Daniel Malachi spotted a campfire in the distance.

“Do you think that’s them?” Ben asked.

“These tracks lead in that direction… Leave the horses.”

Father and son stepped from their saddles, pulled their rifles, and proceeded towards the camp.

*****

As they hid in the nearby underbrush and looked into the camp, Ben stated, “Pappy, the sodbuster ain’t in there. We came all this way for nothing…”

“Shut your yap!” hissed Daniel. “Let me think…” After scratching the stubble on his chin, he said, “You know, I remember that sodbuster having a brat, and I bet ya that’s him over there.”

Daniel pointed to the far side of the camp; he felt a sickening sense of pleasure as he watched a man backhand the boy several times. The big man dropped the boy to his feet and turned around to return to the fire. As the smaller figure collapse to the ground, the man called out, “Next time, do as I tell ya, if ya know what’s good for ya.”

Daniel realized the boy was bound hand and foot, as the boy drew his knees to his chest.

“What’s that matter? We’re after the sodbuster,” Ben stated.

“Ben, that sodbuster killed two of my sons… your brothers…” Daniel Malachi’s eyes showed fire and his voice spoke his anger. “I think I should repay him… an eye for an eye. I just hope those three don’t kill him first.”

A wicked smile spread across Daniel Malachi’s face as he continued to formulate his plan. After a few minutes he said, “You head back to North Fork and their ranch, keep an eye out for that sodbuster. He’s sure bound to come after his kid. Leave him a note; tell him his boy can be found in Pinos Altos. You get back here and we can still have our ‘fun’…”

“Why do I have to go after him, why can’t I wait for him with you?”

“He don’t know where his boy is, and that rain the other day would have easily washed away a two-day old trail. The sooner you leave that note, the sooner you get back here,” ordered Daniel. “Now get!”

*****

Sunday late afternoon, Micah stepped from the Marshal’s Office and greeted Amos, the telegrapher.

“Got the packet that came in on the afternoon train for you Micah,” Amos stated as he handed the brown paper packet tied with string to the Marshal. “Also, got a letter for Lucas; doesn’t surprise me Mark didn’t show up for church this morning, considering the circuit preacher wasn’t supposed to be here, but it’s strange he didn’t come into town yesterday to get their mail.”

“He and Jordan are probably trying to get everything done at the ranch, you know, before Lucas gets home. He probably forgot all about their mail, that or figured they could get it when Lucas returned.”

“He sure is growing up,” mused the telegrapher.

“Yes, he sure is.” Micah stated as he smiled, he thought of the young man as a grandson. “Thanks for the packet, Amos. If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be at the café eating supper,” Micah stated as he tossed the packet to his desk, turned around, and locked the door to his office.

Having enjoyed a steak for supper and a brief conversation with the Deputy U.S. Marshal, Micah hadn’t be able to draw out from the man why he continued to stay on in North Fork. Micah finally decided to put the deputy out of his mind and make his regular stroll through the town, ensuring all was secure for the evening.

After returning to his office and leaning back in his chair and starting to prop his feet upon his desk; the packet sitting precariously on the edge of his desk drew his attention. Micah sat forward in the chair and with one hand, he reached for the packet and with his other hand, he pulled out his knife and cut the string before he opened the wrapping.

Micah took time to review several of the new wanted posters before he found a bulletin issued from the various prisons relating to prisoners released. Micah couldn’t believe the names at the bottom of the list; Daniel Malachi and Benjamin Malachi and the date they had been released.

“Damn!” Micah exclaimed as he realized two weeks had passed since the father and son had been released. Micah reached for his scattergun and left the office.

“Micah, sorry, I didn’t see you,” John Hamilton stated as he steadied himself upon bumping into the marshal in front of the jail.

“No, I wasn’t watching… Say, would you keep an eye on the office for a little while?”

“Sure, but why?”

“I need to head out to Lucas’…”

“Micah, he left this last week, remember?” John spoke with a hint of amusement in his voice.

“All the more reason I need to get to his place and warn Mark and Jordan.”

“Warn them? Micah, what’s wrong?” asked John, all sense of humor vanished from his voice.

“The Malachi’s were released from Yuma two weeks ago. They swore revenge on Lucas…”

“And you! Micah, you can’t head out there by yourself!”

“I’m the law…”

“Then let me go get Nils to watch the office and I’m going with you to Lucas’,” offered John.

“You think I’m incapable of doing my job?!” Micah demanded to know.

“No, I know you’re capable of doing your job, it’ll be dark by the time you get there, besides the more eyes the better, in case they’ve planned an ambush.”

“I may be blowing this all out of proportion…”

“I don’t think you are… And with Lucas out of town, we need to protect Mark,” stated John.

*****

Micah and John rode to warn Jordan Merrill of the wire advising of the Malachi’s release. Even in the sun’s failing light, they raced their horses, knowing the urgency. They turned off the main road, and were a half mile from the ranch when they spotted the form of a man’s body off the road. Both men reined in their horses, stepped down and walked to the body.

As he turned the body over, Micah stated, “Its Jordan. Shot in the back.”

“How long ago…” John dared asked.

“Can’t be sure.”

“Mark…” breathed John as he looked in the direction of the McCain’s home.

“John, you take Jordan’s body back to town, I’ll head on to the ranch,” advised Micah.

“And what if they realized this wasn’t Lucas, and they’re waiting at the ranch to ambush the next person who rides in. They’ve killed two men thinking they were Lucas, they already feel they have cause to kill you.”

“John, I’ve a bad feeling… This didn’t happen today, or even yesterday… When Jordan didn’t return to the ranch, Mark should have come to town and he would have found the body.”

“You think the Malachi’s already have him? But why?”

“If they realize that wasn’t Lucas they killed, what better way to ensure Lucas would come after them…”

Micah climbed back into this saddle and with John Hamilton by his side, they raced the half mile to the McCain Ranch.

*****

“Mark!” Micah yelled as he reined in his horse in front of the house.

“Mark McCain!” John yelled as he reined in his horse in front of the barn.

“It’s too dark…” Micah stated in observation as he turned around in the saddle.

“Heaven protect Mark…” John commented.

“Heaven help Lucas,” Micah answered as he reined his horse around.

Before leaving Lucas’, they entered the barn and gathered the team horses and a coil of rope hanging on the wall. As they returned to town, they stopped to pick up Jordan Merrill’s body and tied him to the back of one of the horses. Upon arriving in North Fork, John took the body to Doc Burrage’s while Micah returned to his office to find the Deputy U.S. Marshal talking with Nils, waiting for him.

“Did you encounter any trouble?” the deputy casually asked as he stood to his feet.

The anger inside Micah turned on the lawman, “You knew something was going to happen and yet you didn’t warn me!” Micah reached for the man and shoved him, bending him backwards against his desk.

“Micah!” exclaimed Nils as he reached for Micah’s arms.

“What are you talking about?” the deputy nervously asked.

“Stay out of this, Nils. Mister, lawmen don’t come to North Fork for no reason, tell me what you know!” demanded Micah.

“I don’t know anything,” claimed the deputy.

“Then tell me why you’re here!”

“Just doing my job,” the deputy replied.

“Tell me, what job!” Micah stated has he position his forearm across the man’s chest and reached for his revolver.

“MICAH! You can’t be serious?!” declared Nils.

“Tell me why you’re here,” Micah ordered as he placed the end of his revolver to the deputy’s temple.

“Okay, okay… I’m trying to stay ahead of the Malachi’s. They swore vengeance on you and another witness. Denver sent me here… If I saw them, I was to send word. Besides, with me here, I’m sort of a… a… protection detail.”

“Then you failed your job!” Micah declared as he pushed himself back from the deputy, slipped his revolver into his holster, turned and walked to the rifle rack on the back wall in the office.

“What do you mean, I failed. Lucas McCain is up in Santa Fe and you’re here. And no one’s seen hide nor hair of the Malachi’s. They probably high tailed it to Mexico,” the deputy stated as he straightened the front of his shirt, swallowed deep in an effort to calm himself.

“Lucas McCain has a son and he’s missing. That body we brought in was a friend of Lucas’…a friend who was staying at the ranch with the boy while Lucas is gone. Someone killed him in cold blood. At their ranch, we found signs of a struggle and the boy was nowhere to be found!” Setting several rifles and shotguns on top of his desk, Micah pushed Nils out of the way, as he walked behind his desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out several boxes of cartridges and shells. Looking the deputy in the eye, he hollered, “Get the hell out of my town!”

“Mark’s missing?” Nils asked.

“You’re deputized,” Micah stated as he toss a rifle to Nils. “Get your horse, pack some supplies, and be ready to ride at seven tomorrow morning.”

“You gonna wire Lucas?” Nils asked.

“He’s already on his way home.”

*****

Daybreak was just painting the eastern sky as Lucas nervously sat on the train, waiting for it to pull into North Fork; without a conscious thought, his hand continued to play over the trigger of his rifle. The closer the train came, the more anxious Lucas became.

A clean-shaven, thin black man wearing the uniform of a conductor walked up the aisle calling, “North Fork, next stop.”

Lucas stopped the conductor and asked, “How much longer?”

“We’ll be in North Fork in about thirty minutes, sir,” answered the man.

Lucas was standing, carpet bag in hand, before the train completely stopped. He stepped from the train to be met by Micah, who hollered out “Lucas!”

“Micah, tell me, is everything okay?” Lucas’ intuition told him it wasn’t.

“Let’s get to my office,” Micah stated.

Upon seeing the frenzied activity in town, Lucas asked, “Micah, tell me…what’s wrong.”

“The Malachi’s…”

As Micah closed the door to his office, Lucas demanded, “What about them?” the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach grew while he waited for the explanation.

“They were released from prison two weeks ago.”

“They should have been hung for killing Henry Trumble!” Lucas stated. He couldn’t contain his emotions from the injustice that he felt had been served five years before.

“Lucas, we had no proof it was them. Sure there was circumstantial evidence, be there were no witnesses…”

“You and I know they killed Henry, thinking he was me!” Lucas’ words continued to voice his anger.

“I agree, but we couldn’t back it up with any proof. All we had was Sweeney’s and my testimony about the sons disturbing the peace and Stump’s killing, and their breaking out of jail after their father assaulted me… Your testimony regarding their resisting arrest in the mine helped seal their fate of prison. Besides, they swore revenge upon both of us for Stump’s and Judd’s deaths.”

“Do you have any proof they’re heading this way?”

“Lucas, Jordan’s dead.”

“Jordan’s dead? How?” Lucas asked.

“We found his body, last night, not too far from your home, just off the road. Now we don’t have proof that it was them, no one’s seen them around town.”

“Where’s Mark?!” Lucas demanded, he felt his knees begin to buckle as he steadied himself by using the front of the marshal’s desk, deep down he already knew the answer.

“Lucas, there were signs of a scuffle… He’s missing… I’ve formed a posse.”

“Missing?!” Lucas closed his eyes as he realized what had caused his agitation his entire trip home.

“I’ve already sworn in those men outside to ride in the posse. Hamilton’s getting the last of the supplies ready; we were planning to ride out of here in a few minutes.”

“I’ll kill them Micah, I’ll kill both of them…” hatred colored Lucas’ words.

“Lucas don’t talk like that, we’ll get Mark back. And I’d prefer to bring them in alive.”

“Only if they return Mark to me unharmed, and throw down their weapons…” Lucas coldly stated his conditions, knowing there wasn’t any chance that would happen. He turned to leave the marshal’s office.

“Lucas if you want to join the posse, you’ll have to do as I say.”

“You can wait for the posse if you want, I’m going alone.”

Lucas closed the door behind him as he left and headed to the livery.

*****

Lucas threw his dress jacket across a bale of hay before he began to saddle Razor, within twenty minutes of returning to North Fork, Lucas swung up into the saddle and rode to the Marshal’s Office.

“Men, I thank each and every one of you for wanting to join the posse to find my son, however, this is between the Malachi’s and me. I can’t ask for any of you to risk your lives.”

Lucas turned Razor and took from John Hamilton the rope to the packhorse’s halter, he signaled both horses into a gallop, as he began his search for Mark. After taking a moment to disband the posse, Micah followed the rancher to his home.

*****

Desperate to find his son, Lucas raced his horse over the terrain and home. Upon arrival, he stepped from his horse and scanned the ground for signs of the scuffle; his eyes locked on something near the water well. His son’s rifle lying on the dirt next to the upturned water bucket.

“Lucas, I’m sure the tracks were more obvious before the rains,” Micah stated as he finally caught up.

“Micah, how do I find him?” Lucas begged as the faint signs he began to follow faded.

“We can send wires…”

“Wires?! What good will that do Mark?” Lucas demanded to know.

Lucas and Micah both turned at the sound of glass breaking from the front of the house, both ran for cover as shots rang out.

“What do you want to do?” Micah asked as he peered around the corner of the barn.

“You keep them busy, I’m going around the back of the barn and into the house from the bedroom window. Hopefully I can get a drop on whoever it is.”

Micah fired a few rounds in an effort to keep their assailant’s attention from noticing Lucas as he ran between the barn and the house.

Lucas raised the wood and glass pane and lifted his long legs to climb through the window into the bedroom. With his rifle in hand, Lucas peered through the doorway and saw a figure crouched down next to his chair, revolver in hand. Taking one more step, the man at the window spun around as he heard a floorboard creek. Grimacing at the sound, Lucas was surprised at the speed in which the man stood, turned, and fired forcing Lucas to fire his rifle without taking the time to aim.

The assailant’s bullets struck the doorframe to the bedroom, sending splinters towards Lucas’ face. Lucas’ shots found their target, as the impact forced the man backwards through the front room window.

“LUCAS!” hollered Micah as he ran from the side of the barn.

“I’m okay! There’s just the one!”

Lucas was already kneeling next to the prone figure when Micah stepped to the porch, and watched as Lucas rolled the body over.

“Ben Malachi?” Micah breathed.

With his breaths coming in ragged gasps, Ben tried to laugh. “Sodbuster…”

“Where’s my son?” demanded Lucas.

“You may have killed me and my brothers, but Pappy’s out there,” Ben struggled to speak, “And once he gets your boy, he’s gonna kill ‘em.”

“Where is my son?!” Lucas demanded as he grabbed Ben by the front of his shirt, and raised his upper body off the porch.

“Pappy’ll get even with ya…” Ben stated before his eyes rolled back in their sockets and his body went limp in Lucas’ hands.

Lucas dropped the man to the porch and stood.

“Micah, how do I find Mark?” Lucas pleaded.

“I… I don’t know.”

Lucas re-entered his home and realized it had been ransacked and the cupboards in the kitchen were empty,

“Lucas, there’s a note,” commented Micah as he picked up a folded sheet of paper with one word written on the top, ‘McCain’

Lucas took the sheet of paper from Micah and opened it to read,

Want your kid? Come to Pinos Altos and die. Pappy’ll get him and both of ya are ded.

“Lucas, we need to go back for the posse,” stated Micah as he confirmed the man was dead.

“I don’t have time,” Lucas stated as he started to walk away, but after a few strides he turned to face the marshal and asked, “Micah, what did he mean, once Daniel gets Mark?”

“What? I.. I don’t know Lucas,” Micah replied as he re-read the note. “We need to get his body to town.”

“You do it and see that he’s buried deep, and don’t mark his grave. I’m going after my son.”

Lucas ran for his horse, grabbed the rope to the packhorse, and headed west.

“LUCAS!” Micah hollered.

*****

The door to Frank Toomey’s woodworking shop was open, allowing the wind to blow away some of the wood shavings and dust that accumulated on the floor. The heavyset man, straightened up from sanding the plank of wood intended for the top of the coffin, he stretched his back, backwards and saw the marshal leading a second horse with a body slung across the saddle.

“Micah?” Toomey called out as he ran over to help the marshal.

“It’s Benjamin Malachi,” Micah stated as he walked over to pull the body from the saddle.

“What about his old man?”

“Lucas is on his trail,” Micah answered and grunted as the full weight of the dead man pulled at his body.

The woodcarver helped Micah carry the body into the clinic and set it on one of the examination tables in the room.

“Micah, a moment?” Doc Burrage asked as the marshal and Toomey turned to walk out of the clinic.

“Doc, I’ll have the coffin for Merrill ready later tonight. I’ll work on one for this one tomorrow,” stated Toomey, who turned and crossed the threshold.

“What’s up?” Micah asked.

“I was preparing Jordan Merrill’s body for burial, and went through his possessions, to see if there were any papers of next of kin to notify…”

“Lucas said something about him having folks back in Corydon, Indiana…”

“Micah, that’s not what I was getting at. I found this inside his boot, he had a pocket stitched inside the boot.”

Doc Burrage handed Micah the sheet of paper, already unfolded.

“Mr. Merrill,

We have need of your specific talents to resolve a matter of great importance. If you are successful, you will be compensated double your price.

Make your way to Pinos Altos at your earliest convenience.”

“Lucas said he was on his way to a new job in Silver City,” Micah stated as he looked at the backside of the sheet of paper and thought a moment, “Pinos Altos…”

“It’s just outside of Silver City…”

The realization struck Micah that Lucas was in more danger than he realized, “Doc, Malachi stated his Pappy had Mark at Pinos Altos…”

“From that letter, you think Merrill was a hired gun?”

“It’s beginning to look like he might have been.”

“But Lucas was his friend,” declared Doc.

“Maybe he hadn’t been informed who his intended target was…” Micah removed his hat and scratched the back of his head. “I’m trying to figure out how the Malachi’s and Merrill figure into this… I mean, taking the boy when they swore vengeance on Lucas and me?”

Micah shook his head from side to side before replacing his hat.

“Are you going to wire Lucas?” Doc Burrage asked.

“Pinos Altos is almost as bad as Lordsburg. I wish there were some way I could warn Lucas.”

*****

Daniel Malachi began his crawl into the camp; he planned to do whatever was necessary in order to take the son of Lucas McCain hostage. As he crept closer, one of the men rolled over and woke to see the old man, holding a knife over his head as he prepared to strike. Boyle yelled as he fought Daniel Malachi, but the old man’s momentum drove the knife into the man’s chest. Hennessee jumped to his feet upon hearing the commotion, he reached down for his gun as Malachi pulled his revolver and fired, striking the man in the chest and spinning him around. Epps rolled sideways and fired blindly towards their assailant as he felt fire tear into his shoulder; he feigned death as he heard the man get to his feet. He dared open his eyes and saw the man walk over to the boy and heard him say, “Them three caused me a lot of trouble, but now… you’re with me.”

As the pain Epps felt in his shoulder eventually caused him to pass out, he didn’t see the fear appear in Marks eyes as he recognized the man who approached him.

“No!” Mark screamed in his mind as he struggled against his restraints and the man who pulled him towards the horses. Needing only as much time to saddle and bridle the boy’s horse, Daniel Malachi threw Mark across the saddle, “Stop your squirming else I hammer you over the head with the butt of my gun.”

Mark remembered the man who now was his captor; knowing he could kill in cold blood, he accepted the fact he had no other choice but to let Daniel Malachi tie him across the saddle. The horse followed where he was led, and regardless what Mark tried to do, he couldn’t find a comfortable position, and cringed at the continual jolting to his ribs and the ache in his head as he bounced along.

*****

Morning dawned as Epps stood unsteadily on his feet and walked to check on his companions, confirming both were dead. With his left shoulder drooping, he walked to the horses and struggled to saddle and bridle one. He grabbed the saddlehorn with his right hand and jumped to place his left foot in the stirrup and swing his right leg over the cantle of the saddle. He urged his horse in the direction of the Gila Mountains.

*****

Riding into the mining camp, Epps felt overwhelmed as the landscape towered above him, combined with being lightheaded from a loss of blood, the walls seemed to dance.

The canyon walls showed years of wear, from man and Mother Nature; areas blasted out to use as staging areas or blasted to remove large boulders to gain better access to the mine. Other areas bore indications of rockslides. Along one wall, a long slow grade, remnants of a cart path carved into the stone and dirt led to the entrance of one mine about seventy-five feet up the face of the wall.

*****

Outside Pinos Altos, in a long-abandoned mining office, a man who bore a striking resemblance to Hennessee sat on the front edge of a desk, and stated, “I have a backup plan.”

The man stood just under six foot tall, with a non-descript build and features, but he carried himself as someone with self-imposed importance; he could care less of what others thought, unless they stood against him. He chose not to wear a revolver at his hip, but carried several derringer pistols hidden within his clothes.

“Sperry, most of those who stand in favor of statehood only do so because they know others are in favor… What do you think will happen when their peers start mysteriously dying?” the man inquired of the other man in the office with him.

“Harvey, it could incense the people to be more vocal and drive them against us,” Sperry stated.

Sperry lounged in a chair on the other side of the desk, his leg hanging over the arm of the chair. For all practical purposes, he looked like he would be better suited behind a telegraph desk; compared to Harvey, Sperry was small and diminutive.

“But if they disappear and die, with no real connection… This territory is still uncivilized; bandits and Indians roam the country.”

“So what’s your backup plan?” inquired Sperry.

“A hired gun from Kansas,” Hennessee answered.

“A gunslinger?!”

“No, not a gunslinger, a hired gun.”

“There’s a difference?” Sperry asked.

“You might say so. Gunslingers are out to make a name for themselves and everyone knows about them. Hired gun on the other hand… Prefers that only his clients know about him.”

“So who is this… hired gun?”

“Jordan Merrill.”

“Never heard of him.”

“That’s why I’ve hired him. Bring in a known gunslinger and people will start deriving a conclusion. Once people start dying; however, my plan depends on Merrill’s quiet reputation. A friend of mine compared him to a ghost, and he is most cautious in who he chooses as clients.”

“When’s he supposed to arrive?” Sperry asked.

“His wire didn’t say.”

Harvey Hennessee and his brother, Roger Hennessee, had once before orchestrated the assassination of a political figure because of his favorable stand on statehood. Upon that failure, both bemoaned the increased support the movement gained and vowed that instead of the head, they’d go after the body, the little people.

*****

Epps sagged against the outer wall of the office and began beating the door. “OPEN UP!” he yelled.

“Harvey,” Epps called as the door opened.

“Epps, where’s Roger?”

All Epps managed to say was, “McCain found us, he killed your brother,” before he passed out from the loss of blood.

“Get him inside,” Harvey Hennessee called as others crowded into the doorway.

An hour later, Harvey Hennessee stood over the bed Epps laid in and watch one of his men cauterized the wound and finished putting a bandage around the man.

“He should be waking up soon,” the man stated. He walked away from the bed, with a severe limp, and headed outside to the horse trough and pumped water to clean his arms and hands. Upon his return to the bunkhouse, Hennessee stated, “Chandler, seems you haven’t forgotten what you learned in the war.”

“You help operate on as many people as I did, you don’t forget,” Chandler replied.

“Tell me, is he going to survive?” Hennessee asked.

“Only if he tells you what you want to hear,” Chandler answered.

The former Confederate army medical technician had spent too many years riding with Harvey and Roger Hennessee, and he knew how close the brothers were. Chandler didn’t give his patient much chance of survival after he woke.

*****

“You were supposed to protect him. See that he got McCain here!”

It took a few moments, but Epps was able to stand to his feet; he knew lying on a bed when Harvey Hennessee was irate was viewed as a sign of weakness.

“He wasn’t there I tell ya. He was already up in Santa Fe. We went ahead and kidnapped his kid, just like Roger said you ordered, and that would bring him here. He came after his kid all right, found us last night, just outside of Pinos Altos. He stabbed Boyle first and then he shot Roger. I fired at him and missed because he shot me.”

“Too bad he missed…”

“Missed? He shot me!” exclaimed Epps as he began to point to his shoulder.

Harvey pulled out his derringer and fired as he finished his sentence, “… your heart.”

“Get this mess out of here. Feed him to the vultures,” Harvey stated as he stepped over the dead man’s body. Knowing where his brother had planned to rest before coming into the Gila Mountains, Harvey ordered his riders to mount up, he was going to bury his brother and personally go after McCain. “Damn fool brother of mine. He was only supposed to keep an eye on McCain and report back here. Why’d he have to go and do a fool thing like kidnapping McCain’s kid?”

Chandler answered, “You always know how he was always trying to prove he was as good as you… He probably figured this would be one way to get McCain away from North Fork.”

“What about your backup plan?” Sperry asked upon closing the door as others dragged the dead body from the office.

Harvey Hennessee answered with a cold, calculating voice, “That was before McCain killed my brother. First we bury Roger, then we kill a sodbuster.”

*****

Harvey Hennessee and his men halted their horses as they looked upon the scene around the campfire, where the two men lay dead. The front of Boyle’s shirt was stained with his blood and he still laid on his bedroll. Roger Hennessee had collapsed face down a few feet from his bedroll.

Harvey stepped from his horse and slowly walked to his brother and knelt beside him. As he rolled his brother so he laid face up, Harvey looked into his brother’s vacant eyes, and closed them.

“Get busy and start digging,” Harvey ordered to the men who rode with him.

The rest of the men stepped from their horses and chose two different spots to bury the men.

Harvey watched as they finished burying his younger brother. After saying a few words over the grave, he turned and said, “And now for McCain, only he won’t be so fortunate to die quickly.”

Harvey returned to his horse and started following the trail heading south of Pinos Altos.

*****

The sun had set long before a frustrated Lucas halted Razor; without the light from the moon, he strained his eyes in an effort to see what lie ahead. Dejectedly Lucas stepped down from his horse and set about making camp near Pinos Altos.

An uneasy feeling settled over Lucas as he ate from a can of beans; wondering where or when Daniel Malachi would spring his trap. As his memory replayed his last meeting with the twisted mind of Daniel Malachi, Lucas worried if he would be good enough to save the life of his son. Five years in prison could have warped the man’s mind even more. Daniel Malachi had held his son for almost a week and had at least two days head start on him; and Lucas feared Daniel would take his revenge out Mark.

As he lay down on his bedroll, Lucas couldn’t shake the feeling that Mark was close by and in danger; but where? Lucas turned his back to the campfire and prayed, “Margaret, forgive me for not being there and allowing Mark to be placed in this danger.”

*****

Hennessee and his men spent the rest of the day following the tracks that ultimately led to a dilapidated, long-abandoned homestead; a main house, a barn, a bunkhouse, and several other buildings the men presume were storage shacks. Behind the main house, the land rolled towards a large stand of trees, and ultimately rose sharply towards a crag of boulders.

A winded Sperry ran across the open terrain and returned to where the others waited with their horses, “There’s only the two of them; they’re in the main house.”

“Where?” Hennessee calmly asked.

“Front left corner,” Sperry replied.

“No one kills McCain but me. Ya hear!!!”

Slowly the men spread out as they sought the best cover for their ambush.

*****

In the front room of the house, Daniel Malachi nervously paced back and forth, “Ben should be back by now.”

“Not if my Pa caught up with him,” Mark thought he said quietly enough that the man wouldn’t hear him.

Daniel stormed over to where Mark sat in a chair, his face mere inches from the boy’s face, “Your Pa may have killed two of my sons, but he won’t have the chance to kill Ben; he knows how to get in and out of places with none the wiser.”

“You know, you’re gonna get sent back to prison,” Mark stated.

“You’re wrong… the country out there… No one will think twice about one boy getting lost, his pa setting out to find him, and neither come back… No one will find your bodies. Just a simple tragedy.”

“You won’t get away with it, people will figure out the truth!” Mark angrily answered.

Daniel Malachi grabbed the front of Mark’s shirt and prepared to backhand him, when the window next to the chair where Mark had sat shattered as a bullet flew into the room. Daniel released Mark who fell to the floor and rolled closer to the wall, all the while searching for the safest place in the room. With his hands still tied behind his back, he crawled to hind behind a desk along the back wall of the room. Mark bit his lower lip to keep from crying out as his movement aggravated the pain in his ribs.

Daniel Malachi pulled out his revolver and broke out another window in order to return fire.

From outside they heard, “McCain, you’re a dead man!”

Daniel stopped firing his gun, and gave thought to what the man yelled. He realized the warning meant they thought he was McCain, without looking towards Mark he laughed, “They think I’m your pa. They think your Pa killed them others.” Daniel gave a vile, morbid laugh.

“McCain, it’s your choice how slowly you die!” Harvey yelled. “I’ve ten men out here with me. You’re the only one in there with a gun; how long do you figure to last? You can’t watch every room! What are you going to do come nightfall?”

“Boy, he’s making good sense,” Daniel stated and began to panic when he looked around and didn’t see Mark in the room, “Boy where are you?!”

Mark kept quiet and prayed this was all just a cruel nightmare, but in his heart, he knew he was in a life or death situation.

From outside Hennessee called out, “Men don’t waste your ammunition, wait till dark!”

Keeping his gun in hand, Daniel ran to the upstairs rooms, testing the doors before he closed them, thankful they squeaked as they moved. In the other rooms on the first floor, Daniel pulled down what remained of the window shades. Upon entering the kitchen, he noticed the square cutout in the floor, using a ring nailed to a board, he lifted the floorboards and found a ladder leading into an oddly configured hole. Carefully he slipped his gun into his holster before he stepped down the ladder. Upon reaching the bottom, the man struck a match and mumbled, “Ain’t a cellar, but maybe an escape tunnel?” Climbing back up the ladder he realized the tunnel headed in the direction of the trees out back. As he continued to look around the kitchen, Daniel walked over to a wall cabinet with the doors only hanging by their bottom hinges and pull a tin can from a bottom shelf and saw ‘Kerosene’ painted on the can. He shook the can and heard the liquid inside sloshing around.

Sparingly, Daniel started pouring the Kerosene on the floor; from the kitchen, through the foyer area, up the stairs, and into the front room. He threw the can to the other side of the room and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a match. Striking it on the wall, Daniel tossed the match and jumped back as the Kerosene burst into flames.

“Boy, it was nice knowing ya,” Daniel yelled and laughed as he ran to the kitchen and stepped to the ladder, closing the trap door above him before he climbed all the way down. He fumbled for a match to light his way, once it was struck, a few yards down the corridor he saw what appeared to be a piece of wood to be used as a torch lying on the ground. Before the flame nipped at his fingers, Daniel held it to the torch and prayed it would take.

The flame flickered at the torch as the torch teased Daniel that it would take. The tar around the ball of cloth at the end was so dried; the flame couldn’t catch hold. Dropping the torch and what remained of the match, Daniel felt along the rough honed walls and prayed there would be a way out.

*****

Smoke filled the room as the fire spread beyond where the Kerosene was poured; the flames furiously burned the old, dried lumber in the house. Mark started coughing as he looked out from under the desk and around the room to see his only exit blocked by a wall of flames. Fighting his rising panic, Mark stood to his feet and quickly ran to the nearest window. As he launched himself towards the window, he twisted so he would break the glass with the back of his shoulders. He closed his eyes as he felt the glass give way against his momentum.

*****

Hennessee walked to where a coughing Mark lay on the ground, having rolled off the porch.

“Who are you?” Mark asked as he struggled to rise to his feet.

“Someone who wants to see your Pa dead,” Hennessee answered and pulled Mark to his feet.

“Why?” coughed Mark.

“Where’s your old man?” Hennessee demanded.

“He’s not here,” answered Mark as another coughing fit struck when the wind started blowing the smoke from the expanding fire towards where they stood.

Hennessee pulled Mark farther away from the burning house, and pushed him to walk towards the barn. As they walked, he yelled for his men to surround the house and keep an eye out. “Don’t let McCain escape!”

Yanking Mark by the arm, Hennessee turned the boy to face him.

“Some brave rancher; sends his little boy out to face us,” Hennessee stated in disgust as he pushed Mark into Sperry.

“That wasn’t my Pa!” Mark retorted.

“Not your Pa?” taunted Harvey. “Listen to him, the son tries to save his pa,” Harvey continued to mock the boy.

“He wasn’t my Pa. Just you wait until my Pa get’s here.”

Sperry roughing spun Mark around and looked him straight in the eye, the two stood the same height, “Why should we?”

“He’s killed others for kidnapping me…”

“Maybe, but that was the past. He won’t survive to see another sunset, once he gets here,” Hennessee stated. “Get him to the mine.”

“Now that we have the boy…” Sperry began to speak.

“Why do you want to kill my Pa?” pleaded Mark.

“For killing my brother!” Hennessee stated as he towered over Mark.

“Your brother?” asked Mark.

“Yes, the man who wore the derby, he was my younger brother, Roger. I’m Harvey Hennessee.”

“But that wasn’t my Pa! My Pa didn’t kill your brother!”

“So you say.”

“But he wasn’t!” Mark pleaded, trying to get the men to understand.

The building started to collapse upon itself as the fire ate away at the old timbers.

“You best hope your daddy got out of there.”

“I tell ya, he wasn’t my Pa!” declared Mark.

“Maybe… maybe he wasn’t,” Hennessee stated and started to believe the boy. ‘He’s not grieving, if that were his pa…’

Aloud, Hennessee ordered his men to mount up and return to the mine.

“If that wasn’t his Pa, what about your backup plan -- Jordan Merrill? How do you know we’ve not missed his arriving?” Chandler asked as the joined the group.

“Gardner’s keeping an eye out for him in Silver City. He’ll bring him to us once he arrives. One way or another Lucas McCain is dead.”

*****

Traveling among the crag rock face along the entrance to a canyon, Lucas stepped from Razor to stretch his legs. Days in the saddle wore on the tall rancher as he trailed after those who kidnapped Mark. As he replaced the cap on his canteen, he heard riders approaching. As he looked over the edge, he spotted a dozen riders making their way along the floor of the canyon; he pulled back, but as he did, he recognized one rider in the middle, hands tied behind his back, the only one not wearing a hat. Even from the distance, Lucas saw the vibrant bruises on his son’s face. Steeling himself to be patient, Lucas returned to Razor, grabbed the reins and led his horse and the packhorse back the way they had come, and left them hidden in a stand of trees near the opening of the canyon.

As quickly as he could, Lucas quietly made his way back up to the rim of the canyon, keeping an eye out for any sentries posted as he followed the edge, searching to find where those riders were taking his son.

As he settled down above the mining camp, Lucas pulled back as the door to an office opened, he couldn’t hear what the man was saying but he understood the man’s body language as he pushed Mark from the office and pointed to the mine opening above them.

As the men piled from the mine office, Lucas struggled to understand why none of the men appeared to be Daniel Malachi, he thought, ‘Maybe he’s still inside?’

*****

“Harvey? Oh, I get it; no one will find their bodies.” Sperry stated as he marveled at the sheer ingenuity of the man’s plan as they stood on the porch to the office. “Who wants to dig through a cave-in to search for them…”

“Get the kid up there and tie him to one of the ore carts deep inside. Branson is already laying the dynamite and the black powder…” Harvey Hennessee stated as he returned to the office. “Once his old man arrives, we’ll seal their fate.”

*****

Using the shadows the sun cast to his advantage, Lucas carefully made his way down the face of the canyon wall, praying no one would notice him.

Half way to his goal, Lucas heard, “LET GO OF ME!” and looked in the direction of the voice to see two men pulling a struggling Mark towards the mine.

Lucas looked around and regretted he hadn’t seen the large crevice that blocked his path in getting to his son. Realizing the only way to get to his son was to finish climbing to the floor and start back up, Lucas abandoned some of his caution.

Once he was on the floor, Lucas didn’t needing any encouragement to run faster, until he heard, “It’s McCain!” and a shot ricocheted off the rock behind him, he crawled his way up the wall until he found a boulder to use for cover as bullets continued to strike the rocks around him.

Thankful he was safe from ambush from the opposite side of the canyon and below, Lucas returned fire and in time, heard two men scream as his bullets struck and they fell from their sentry posts. Lucas turned his attention to those above him when he heard a bloodcurdling scream, “NO!!” He looked up in horror to see another man pushing Mark off the ledge upon which he had stood. With his hands tied in front of him, Mark struggled to stop his downward descent as more rocks rained join in the rockslide.

Lucas fired his rifle, striking a sentry who peered over the top of the cliff. Lucas heard several other shots ricochet around him.

“He hit the black powder!” yelled the man who pushed Mark as he came running to the cart path.

Lucas fired another shot, striking the man and watched as the man fell into the slide as well.

Lucas tried to keep an eye on his son and at the same time avoid the massive rockslide cascading towards him. He picked a path and began to cross over, hoping to get to Mark and keep him from being pummeled at the bottom of the hill. As the rockslide passed, he felt the vibration through his boots and felt the pelting of dirt and stones against his clothes, but ignored them as he thought on how best to rescue Mark. Timing his actions just right, Lucas reached out and grabbed for Mark’s outstretched hands, but his son’s momentum pulled him into the slide. Father and son tumble down the hill, as the sounds of an explosion blasted from the opening of the cave above them, showering more rocks and dirt down on them. Father and son came to an abrupt halt at the base, only to have more debris bury them. Over the rumbling of the rockslide, Lucas heard Mark scream in pain.

In time, the only sounds Lucas heard was his heavy breathing and the debris settling over him. Using his anger, Lucas pushed at the rocks and dirt so he could extricate himself and get to his son. Upon digging around where he’d last seen Mark, Lucas found him unconscious, bruised, and bloodied; Lucas rechanneled his hatred to dig out his son. As he uncovered Mark’s waist, he found the reason for Mark’s final scream, a piece of wood had impaled the boy in the right side of his abdomen.

Lucas ripped open his own shirt and removed it. From his son’s abdomen, he pulled out the piece of wood before lifting him from the ground in order to tie his shirt tightly around his son’s waist, stuffing the shirttail into the gaping wound.

Lucas attempted to stand, only to realize his left leg wouldn’t bear his weight. With sheer determination, Lucas forced the pain from his mind as he struggled to get to the mine office.

Searching around, Lucas spotted a horse milling about. With slow encouragement, Lucas coaxed the horse to stand still long enough for him to catch the rope tied to its halter. Sorely limping, Lucas led the horse to his son, who began moaning.

Kneeling next to Mark, he lightly smacked Mark’s face, “Son, I need your help. You have to help me get you up on the horse.”

“Let me sleep…” whispered a semi-conscious Mark.

Lucas smacked his face even harder, “Son you have to wake up!”

“What?” Mark called as he opened his pain-laden eyes.

Lucas recognized the pain in his son’s eyes as they mirrored his own.

“Come on son, we can do this.”

Carefully, Lucas helped Mark to his feet, while he limped to get to the horse; Mark practically hung from his father’s arm. It took every ounce of strength for Mark to pull himself deadman fashion over the back of the horse. Lucas led the horse to a large rock he could use to help him get behind his son; he grimaced as he swung up to the back of the horse. With one hand steadying his son, and the other using the rope and halter to guide the horse, he returned to where he left Razor.

As he slid from the horse, Lucas felt Mark’s weight shift and could do nothing to prevent his son from sliding from the back of the horse.

Limping to his horse, Lucas pulled has saddlebags down and pulled out more rags to use as bandages for his son and to tie a splint around his own leg.

After slapping his son across the face to bring him back to a semi-conscious state, Mark weakly climbed into the saddle and slumped forward as he again lost consciousness. Lucas climbed into the saddle behind his son. He didn’t regret his rough treatment of his horse as he turned him for the nearest town with a doctor, Silver City. Lucas focused all his attention to saving his son’s life.

With an unconscious Mark sitting in the saddle in front of him, Lucas struggled to keep the boy in the saddle and guide his horse over the rough terrain. Hours passed and the sun began to set, before they reached Silver City; Lucas raced his horse through the town, coming close to knocking down people as they went about their own business and almost too late, tried to get out of his way. As he approached the town center, Lucas rein in Razor as he found the sign indicating the Marshal’s Office, and just beyond, he saw the sign, Battle Medical Clinic. Urging his exhausted horse on, Lucas stopped in front of the clinic, and balanced his son in the saddle while he climbed down.

Several people on the boardwalk ran over to help the stranger carry the unconscious boy into the clinic.

*****

As night settled over Silver City, two women stepped to the street from the boardwalk in front of the café. Both women were about the same height and build; one was a redhead with green eyes and the other a brunette with green eyes, and to hear them talk, anyone would recognize they shared a past from their matching Irish accents. Not quite halfway across the main street, they heard the sounds of a horse racing towards them, “Of all the stupid…” the brunette claimed, jumping out of the way. Upset at the rider’s careless disregard for the people of her town.

“Can’t be,” the redhead stated as she barely caught a glimpse of the riders racing past them.

“Lou, what are you talking about? Can’t be? Can’t be what?” the brunette asked.

“Lynetta, not what, who?” Shaking her head and giving the riders no more thought she finished by saying, “I must be missing home more than I thought.”

“Ireland?”

“No, North Fork,” Lou stated as she proceeded to cross the street.

“Ye have a beau!” Lynetta declared. “Ye didn’t tell me you have a beau.”

“No, he’s not my beau, he’s just a good friend.” Lou’s expression revealed she wished it to be more.

“And does HE have a name?” Lynetta asked, eager for news about her friend’s friend.

“Lucas McCain.”

“A Scotsman?!” Lynetta asked in surprise.

“No, not a Scotsman, a real American cowboy,” Lou spoke with a glowing smile as she wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and stepped to the boardwalk in front of the hotel.

“I want to hear all about your Lucas McCain,” Lynetta stated.

“Don’t you make anything more out of this, he’s true friend,” Lou answered.

“And true friends are the best kind to have…”

“Lynetta!” exclaimed Lou as she blushed.

“Don’t Lynetta, me. What would yer father say?”

“My father would say, ‘don’t count yer chickens before they hatch’. So don’t ye go marrying me off to Lucas!”

A few minutes later, as they started up the staircase in Lynetta’s hotel, Vicki Battle ran into the lobby, “Miss Lynetta!” she called out.

“Vicki? Child, what’s wrong?” Lynetta asked as she turned to face the young woman.

“I need daddy, have you seen him?”

“No, I haven’t. Lou and I just finished eating at the café and he wasn’t there.”

“Miss Lou,” Vicki continued to walking towards the staircase, “You’re from North Fork? Right?”

“Yes I am.”

“Do you know a Lucas McCain?”

“Why, yes”

“Yes, she does,” Lynetta answered coyly.

“Lynetta, it’s nothing like that,” answered a flabbergasted Lou.

Vicki quietly stated, “You might want to go to the clinic while I try to find daddy.”

“Those two on the horse…” Lou spoke as she started to realize her mind hadn’t played a trick on her.

“The boy’s hurt real bad and needs surgery, and I fear his father’s leg is broken. Please will you go there, until I can return with daddy?”

Lou didn’t wait to bid goodbye to her friend before she ran from the hotel, down the boardwalk, and across the street to the clinic.

Lynetta stepped to the lobby of her hotel and said, “Vicki, if I know yer father, he’s probably playing a game of chess over at Chad Riley’s General Store. Why don’t ye go back to the clinic and aid the McCains, I’ll go find yer father.”

“Oh, Lynetta, thank you,” Vicki gushed as she turned and ran back to the clinic.

*****

Sensing the urgency in Vicki’s search, Lynetta wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders before she left her hotel and made her way to the General Store. As she reached the front door, she tried to open it only to find the door locked. As she peered into the window, she saw the lanterns were extinguished, however, she noticed light from beneath the door to Riley’s living quarters in the back of the store. Stepping to the corner of the building and into the alley, Lynetta made her way to the back door entrance.

“Mr. Riley! Doc Battle!” called Lynetta as she pounded on the closed door.

“What’s all the ruckus about?” Chad Riley asked as he opened the door. The merchant was an older, heavy-set man, with a thick mustache and beard. Even with his store closed, he still wore his white apron.

“Doc Battle is needed at the clinic. From what Vicki said, it sounds like a matter of life or death,” Lynetta called out to the man sitting the other side of the chessboard.

The tall man stood, pulled on his jacket, and placed his hat upon his head.

“Chad, seems duty calls. We’ll pick this up where we left off… My turn,” Simon Battle stated as he exited the residence. “Miss Lynetta, why don’t you go on back to your hotel.”

Standing in the light cast from inside, Lynetta didn’t move as the doctor walked into the alley and turned towards the clinic.

“Would you like a spot of tea to calm your nerves, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” the merchant stated with a father’s concern.

“If you’d seen how desperate Vicki was…” Lynetta stated as she entered the residence to have the merchant close the door behind her.

*****

Lou entered the clinic, paused long enough to take a deep breath before she entered the door to one of the other rooms, “Lucas?” she quietly spoke.

“Lou?”

In front of her, Lou couldn’t believe the scene before her, Mark lying on the table, bruised and battered with Lucas’ bloody shirt tied around his waist. Lucas bore evidence of bruises and scrapes as well.

“What happened?” she barely breathed out.

“Mark was kidnapped. Lou, get me some more bandages.”

Lou set out to help Lucas as best she could until Vicki found the doctor.

*****

Turning at the sound of the bell indicating the opening of outer door; Lou looked into the front office and was appalled to see Vicki returning alone.

“Mr. McCain,” Vicki called. “Would you please help me? I need to get ready for when Daddy arrives.”

Lucas entered the front room to help Vicki while Lou worked to wash the dirt from Mark.

*****

“Who the hell do you think you are, racing through town like you did?” the marshal demanded as he entered the clinic. The marshal stood around six feet tall, with a slender build. He wore a long handlebar mustache that twirled upwards into ringlets at the end.

Vicki focused on what her father would need for surgery and continued to hand items to Lucas from one of the cabinets in the front room of the clinic.

“It was a matter of life and death,” Lucas answered, not taking time to turn and look at the marshal.

“I’ll take those Mr. McCain,” Vicki stated.

“I’ve got them,” Lucas replied and started to walk to the door to the room following Vicki.

Pulling his pistol and cocking the hammer back, the marshal stated, “You hand them to Miss Vicki. You’ll stand there and answer my questions.”

Lucas handed the medical supplies to Vicki and turned to face the marshal.

“Mister if my…”

“I’m the marshal of this town and you’ll answer my questions. Miss Vicki is capable of handling any trail hand brawl you and your friend go into.” The marshal tapped the barrel of his revolver in the palm of his other hand, indicating his disapproval of the tall rancher standing in front of him.

“That’s my son!” Lucas pointed towards the room as he started towards the marshal but backed down when the lawman swung the barrel in his direction.

“Have a seat, Mr. McCain.”

The marshal suspiciously looked the shirtless Lucas up and down, taking note of the dirt, blood, and scrapes along his torso and the splint around his leg.

“McCain,” Simon Battle stated in recognition as he entered the clinic and set his hat on a table inside. “Miss Lynetta said I had a gravely injured patient at the clinic… You don’t look like a matter of life or death.”

“Simon…” Lucas answered as he watched the big man enter the clinic.

“Daddy, in here. It’s Mark!” Vicki called out as she heard her father’s voice.

Simon Battle looked from Lucas to the closed door from behind which his daughter’s voice sounded.

Lucas stood up and pleaded, “Simon, that’s my son…”

Lucas prayed that the man understood from the few words he spoke that in his hands was the life of the only person in the world who mattered to Lucas. Without saying another word, Simon walked to the door, opened it, and entered the room.

“Lucas,” Lou stated as she exited the room and walked to stand next to the tall rancher and hoped her hand on his forearm was in some small manner, comforting. “He’s in good hands; Lynetta says he’s the best. Vicki said you could wear this.”

Lucas accepted the clean shirt Lou held out for him, but didn’t put it on.

Walking to the cabinet, Lou pulled out a bowl, a bottle, and some gauze pads.

“Lucas, let me tend to you,” Lou stated as she began cleaning Lucas’ wounds.

“I’m sorry, Mr. McCain, I’m Marshal Moores, I didn’t realize…” the marshal stated apologetically. “What kind of an accident were you involved in?”

“It wasn’t an accident, it was pre-meditated attempted murder.” Lucas’ emotions boiled over as he allowed the words to settle in the room.

“MURDER?!” exclaimed Lou, her Irish temper expressing her outrage.

Ignoring Lou’s plea, Lucas continued to explain Mark’s kidnapping and what he knew.

“Marshal, I’m not sure exactly what happened except I thought I was trailing after Daniel Malachi, and end up finding my son being held hostage by others…” Lucas tried to understand how the others came to have his son, but gave up. “They were waiting for me, and planned to dynamite a mine closed, with us inside…”

“Lucas, I don’t think any of those cuts will require stitches, so why don’t you put on that shirt,” suggested Lou, having gently bathed the ranchers chest and back, her cheeks flushed with mild embarrassment as she thought what the women of North Fork would think of her for her ministrations.

“Mr. McCain, if you can describe the area where you found your son, I’ll take a posse out and bring back anyone we find.”

Trying his best to remember, Lucas sketched out a rough drawing of the area where he’d found his son.

“Ye came all the way from there? With Mark?!” Lou asked, shocked at the distance they had traveled.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Marshal Moores stated as he turned to leave the clinic.

*****

“Vicki, what’s wrong with the boy?” Simon asked as he entered the room.

“Daddy, the bruises and contusions are mild, and I believe he’s severely sprained his left wrist, I don’t think it’s broken. He was impaled by something on the right side of his abdomen. Mr. McCain did a good job of stopping the outward blood loss. I’ve already prepared him for surgery.”

Removing his jacket, Simon Battle turned his attention to the young man lying on the operating table. The room was brilliantly lit with numerous lanterns set around the room in addition to the lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Vicki had draped two sheets over Mark, one covering his chest, the other covering his lower body, only his head and his abdomen were visible.

“Is he unconscious or have you administered the ether?” Simon asked.

“I’ve not begun administering the ether, wanted to wait until you arrived.”

“Good girl. Go ahead and begin.”

Waiting a few minutes to ensure the ether had taken effect; Simon began the operation. Delving deep into the boy’s abdominal cavity the doctor kept to himself his fears upon seeing all the dirt and splinters of wood in the wound.

Over an hour later, Simon rested, bearing all his weight on his hands upon the side of the table and hung his head.

“Daddy?” Vicki worriedly asked.

“He’ll recover,” answered Simon. “We’ll keep an eye on him for a while, before we advise his father of his condition.”

A tired Simon walked over to the sink and washed his hands as Vicki operated the pump handle.

“Was it that bad?” Vicki asked, trying to read her father’s expression.

“That boy is lucky that whatever impaled him missed any vital organs, but it did perforate his intestines, and there was a lot of dirt.”

“You’re worried about an infection?”

“I am.” Simon nodded. “Would you get me a syringe and the antibiosis serum?”

After handing the items to her father, Vicki stood by his side and watched as he administered the serum into Mark’s arm.

“Shouldn’t we let Mr. McCain know his boy is going to be alright?” asked Vicki. “I mean, he had a broken leg, and it needs treated.”

“Broken leg? Who has a broken leg?” Simon asked, not remembering any other patient.

“Mr. McCain, his leg was splinted when he brought Mark in.”

When her father didn’t reply, she continued, “Daddy, I know you’re worried because of your past with Mr. McCain, but I’m sure, if anything were to happen to the boy, he wouldn’t blame you. He’ll understand you tried your best to save his life.”

Simon extinguished the flames from most of the lanterns in the room and turned down a few others before he allowed his daughter to walk through the doorway before him. As they entered the front room of the clinic, Simon saw a red-headed woman curled up on the couch and in the chair he saw Lucas McCain, standing his rifle in front of him and resting his head on his rifle, eyes open but not recognizing.

“McCain,” Simon quietly called as he stood in front of the rancher.

“Lucas,” Simon called again and placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder, rousing Lucas.

“Simon?” Lucas asked.

“He made it through surgery. Vicki said your leg was broken.”

“Forget about my leg, just tend to my son,” Lucas replied.

“For the time being, I’ve done all I can for your boy. Now let me see your leg.”

Upon removing the splints supporting Lucas’ leg, Simon slit the jeans the rancher wore so he could get a better idea on how badly the leg might be broken. The doctor took his time manipulating Lucas’ leg and palpating the muscle.

“Well, I think you might have lucked out. I don’t believe it’s broke clean through, but partially fractured. You did a good job splinting it, and I think it would be best to keep it splinted.”

Retrieving supplies from another cabinet, Simon returned to where Lucas sat.

“I’ll wrap some padding around your leg first, that way the splints won’t rub your leg raw. You’ll still need to keep off your leg for a while.”

“I’ve a ranch to run, Battle.”

“Not for the time being… You have a son who you’ll need to take care of, first.”

Lucas’ eyes drifted to the room with the closed door.

“Lucas, I won’t lie to you. There’s still the possibility of infection, but the good news is, there was no damage to any vital organs. I sutured the laceration that I found in his intestine and did my best to find any other potential lacerations. I cleaned out the wound the best I could, but with the volume of blood he lost… I pray he has the strength to fight. It will take time, and he’ll need to take it slow in order to allow his body to heal.”

“May I see him?” Lucas asked.

“For a few minutes,” Simon nodded. “You can stay at the clinic tonight, I’ve an empty room down the hall.” Turning to Vicki, Simon stated, “Why don’t you wake Lou and get her back to Lynetta’s?”

“Yes Daddy.”

*****

As the sun crested the hills, announcing morning to the town of Silver City, Marshal Moores and a posse set out to the mine to find any survivors and bring back the dead.

Following the crude map Lucas drew, the posse finally arrived at the location of the mine. Moores shook his head upon seeing the devastation from dynamiting the mine and the rockslide it caused. The marshal couldn’t believe the McCains had survived.

“Men, search the ground and look for any dead bodies.”

The members of the posse stepped down from their horses and spread out in search of the dead or any survivors.

Moores walked into the main office and began searching through the desk drawers. After pulling out numerous sheets of paper and setting them on the desktop, the marshal sat down and began to read.

“Marshal?” called a man who stepped into the office. “We found a total of four killed by bullets and one more killed in the rockslide. The boys found a buckboard and a few horses and they’re working to harness the team and load up the bodies.”

The marshal nodded at hearing the report. Upon walking closer to the desk the man asked, “What’s all that?”

“Evidence,” replied Marshal Moores. “McCain thinks that Daniel Malachi had his son, but it’s worse than he ever imagined. These men are tied to an anti-statehood faction. These men have groups all over the state and from these documents, they’re well organized and are prepared to do almost anything to keep New Mexico from voting on statehood.”

“Statehood, I thought that was just a rumor…”

“Rumor or not, I can’t believe our luck in stumbling on these papers. We’ll take these back with us and forward to the U.S. Marshal Service.”

The marshal stood and organized the papers into several neat stacks, and finally into one stack.

“Hughes, get my saddlebags from my horse,” instructed the marshal.

*****

From where they sat in the café, Lucas McCain and Simon Battle watched the posse leave.

“You need to eat to keep up your strength to take care of your boy,” Battle stated as he told the waitress to duplicate his order for his companion.

“I can’t believe it’s been long enough for him to grow up like he has…” Simon stated as he tried to coax the rancher into conversation.

Simon finally allowed the big man sitting across the table from him to brood; he understood how grieved the man must be, because he’d feel the same way had it been his child lying in the clinic.

After they finished eating and the waitress removed the dirty dished, Lucas stated, “Simon, I don’t think I thanked you last night for saving Mark’s life.”

Knowing their past, Simon simply nodded. Even though they had come to an understanding four years prior, he knew apologizing didn’t come easy and now the rancher was beholden to him for saving his son’s life.

“Simon, those men…” Lucas sat forward in his chair and looked out the window to a group of riders trotting down the middle of the street.

Turning to look outside, Simon asked, “What about them?”

“Are they from Silver City?”

“I can’t say that they are; I don’t recognize them.”

“That paint…” Lucas was to his feet, rifle in hand. “I swear that’s one of the horses from the mine…”

Simon Battle was right next to the rancher, with his revolver in hand.

Simon and Lucas, forgetting the need for crutches, hurried along the boardwalk, one on either side, motioning for the citizens to get indoors. Lucas pulled back into one of the doorways as three of the riders stopped in front of the Marshal’s Office and three other continued to ride, eventually stopping in front of the clinic. The riders turned to look around before stepping down from their horses, pulling their handguns as they stepped to the boardwalk.

“HOLD IT! Drop your guns!” Simon yelled, making his presence known.

The riders ran for cover and began firing in Simon’s direction. Patiently, Simon chose his shots, striking one of the men with his first shot.

The big window in the front of the Marshal’s Office shattered from a shot fired from within. The three riders who dismounted in front of the Marshal’s Office ran for cover, away from their immediate danger. A temporary deputy continued to fire towards the three men, striking one who fell and didn’t move again.

With the remaining riders’ attention focused on Simon and the deputy, Lucas took the distraction to maneuver closer to the men. Lucas saw his opening and dispatched another man after rapid firing his rifle twice. The gun battle continued until only one man remained and neither Simon nor Lucas had a clear-shot at striking the gunman as he continued to fire. The sound of his gunfire changed from a revolver to a rifle, with several of the man’s shots coming close to striking within inches of where Simon stood, forcing him to retreat. Finally, the street was quiet.

After several minutes without any gunfire, Lucas demanded, “THROW YOUR WEAPONS OUT!”

The man threw out his revolver before he threw out his empty rifle. With his arms raised, the man stood from behind the water trough.

Lucas moved out into the open, “Keep your hands up and move this way.” He motioned with his rifle and continued to watch the man slowly walk away from the clinic. Out of the corner of his eye, to his left, Lucas saw movement and turned to look; giving the man the opportunity to lower his hands and draw a hidden derringer from his waistband and fire.

Upon hearing two simultaneous shots Lucas turned to look at the man, only to see the man standing on his toes, shoulders hunched, and his knees about to buckle. Lucas continued to look to the right when he saw Simon Battle walking towards him, opening the cylinder of his revolver, emptying the spent bullet casings.

“That’s two, you owe me, McCain,” Simon stated as he stopped next to Lucas. “Friends of yours?”

“No, I think that one’s the leader. They’re the men who had Mark.”

“Any idea what you did to piss them off?”

“I’ve never seen them before.”

From the left, Lucas realized a deputy had initially distracted him and allowed the man to pulled out his hidden weapon.

An eerie post-shootout quiet blanketed the street as one by one, people stepped from their hiding places. The deputy organized several men to make their way to the dead bodies, picked them up, and carried them to a building at the far end of town, with UNDERTAKER written above the door.

“Let’s go see Mark,” Simon stated as he allowed Lucas to use him as a crutch.

*****

“Daddy!” Vicki called out upon seeing her father enter the clinic. “What happened?”

“It’s all taken care of. How’s our patient?”

“I was just coming to get you and Mr. McCain. I think Mark’s regaining consciousness, but he’s calling out.”

Lucas entered the room to find his son mildly thrashing in the bed, moaning ‘No’, repeatedly. Lucas sat on the edge of the bed and attempted to restrain his son, anxious to see his brown eyes open.

Mark’s eyes bolted opened as he sat up and screamed ‘NO!’, thrashing his arms and striking out at his adversaries, struggling against Lucas’ restraining hands.

“Son, you’re safe!” Lucas called as he held Mark’s wrists.

Mark continued to fight the assailants he saw in his mind.

“Mark!” Lucas demanded.

Lucas sensed Simon standing next to him, and from the corner of his eye, he caught Simon preparing to smack his son across the face; he closed his eyes because he knew it was for the best. Lucas felt his son stop fighting and opened his eyes to find his son collapsing into his arms.

“Simon?” Lucas pleaded.

“Lay him back down. Let me look at his incision.”

A few moments later, Simon turned to Lucas and said, “He didn’t rip it open, thank God.” Turning to his daughter Simon stated, “Vicki, the antibiosis serum.”

“Simon, what about his wrist? You didn’t say it was broken.” Lucas asked as he gently placed his boy’s arm on top of the sheet, wondering if he had aggravated his son’s condition when he was trying to restrain him.

“Like you, it’s not broken, just severely sprained. I imagine it was bent underneath him at some point during the rockslide.”

As he began to administer another shot, Simon sensed the boy flinch as the needle pierced his skin. Simon gently pushed the plunger of the syringe and heard the boy start moaning, “Pa... Find me.”

Setting the syringe aside, Simon said, “Talk to him Lucas.”

Simon and Vicki stepped back to give Lucas and his boy some privacy.

The door to the room opened, “Mark!” Lou quietly gasped as she saw Mark’s eyes open into narrow slits

“Pa?” Mark called. “Find me… Please Pa.”

“I’m here son. I found you,” Lucas quietly replied as he swept his son’s bangs from his face.

“Pa?” Mark called again not trusting his ears, opening his eyes a little wider and tried to focus them. “Pa? Are you real?”

Lucas half laughed and smiled, “I’m real son. You’re safe.”

Mark opened his eye wide and called, “Pa!” He ignored the pain in his side as he sat up and wrapped his arms around Lucas and buried his face in his Pa’s shoulder. “Pa!” Mark cried, “You found me.”

Simon took Vicki by the arm and led her from the room, while Lou walked to stand next to Lucas and placed a hand on his shoulder.

*****

The Marshal returned to town in the late afternoon with five dead bodies in the back of the buckboard that followed the posse as they rode down the middle of the street. Others in the posse led several strings of horses.

Lucas and Simon sat in the Marshal’s Office and listened as the marshal identified the dead men as members of an anti-statehood faction that has been harassing the southwest territory of New Mexico.

“But I thought the Malachi’s had Mark,“ Lucas stated as he sat in a chair , crutches lying on the floor next to him.

“I can’t believe those men would have hired Daniel and Benjamin Malachi. I heard they were released from Yuma a few weeks back,” Marshal Moores asked.

Lucas nodded, “They were sent to prison five years ago after Marshal Torrance and I apprehended them.”

“But why would you think they had your boy?”

“We found Ben Malachi waiting in ambush when I arrived home. Before he died, he said his pappy was going to kill Mark in Pinos Altos and I trailed after them. They swore revenge upon Micah and me. Ben accidentally killed his brother when he tried shooting at me. We put Ben and Judd in jail and waited for the elder Malachi. He arrived and assaulted our marshal, and broke his boys out of jail. They came after me, but killed my hired hand instead. When we were trying to arrest them, Judd was killed. Daniel blamed me for both his son’s deaths.”

“They only got five years for murder?” Moores asked.

“We didn’t have any witnesses when they killed Henry Trumble and we couldn’t prove it was them. And now, a friend of mine is dead because of them, but again…” Lucas shook his head back and forth, knowing if the Malachi’s had been involved, there was still no proof against them.

“I don’t know how the Malachi’s got mixed up with these men…” Marshal Moores displayed the documents across the top of his desk. “Maybe your boy will be able to answer your questions,” Moores suggested.

“If he can,” Simon Battle stated as he sat on the edge of the desk in the Marshal’s Office. “I don’t want you pushing him to remember. He’s not a child any more, but with all he’s gone through, let him tell you in his own time.” Before Lucas could say anything, Simon continued, “Lucas, the good news is, the men who had him are dead and soon buried. Speaking of your Marshal Torrance, have you wired him that you’ve found your boy?”

Lucas indicated no by shaking his head back and forth.

“Come on, I’m sure he’s worried about the two of you.”

Simon escorted Lucas to Silver City’s telegrapher.

*****

Lucas returned to the clinic to find Lou still in Mark’s room.

“He’s not woke since ye left, Lucas,” Lou stated as the tall rancher entered the room.

“I am now,” a sleepy Mark stated.

“How are you feeling?” Lucas asked as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I hurt,” Mark answered as he moved his right hand over his abdomen. “How bad did I break my wrist?”

“You didn’t break it son,” Simon Battle stated as he entered the room. “Vicki diagnosed it as a severe sprain.”

“Doc Battle?” Mark asked.

“Hi Mark. Good to see you awake again. Are you hungry?”

In the lull of the conversation, all heard the growl from a very hungry stomach.

As embarrassment appeared upon Mark’s face, Lucas, Lou, and Simon laughed.

“I guess I don’t have to answer that question,” Mark sheepishly replied.

“Lucas, I’ll head to the café and place an order for supper, for all of us,” Lou stated as she stood to leave the room.

“Just a heavy broth for the boy…, and some bread. Nothing more substantial,” stated Simon.

“I didn’t think getting kidnapped would place me on bread and water rations,” teased Mark. “I didn’t eat much while those men held me.”

Mark’s statement was obvious to Lucas, though his son had always been slight of figure, his ribs showed even more than usual.

“Son,” Doc Battle stated as he sat down in the chair Lou had vacated, “With the surgery I performed on your abdomen, your system won’t be ready to handle anything heavier for a few more days. Maybe in a couple of days we’ll see how you can handle eating gravy and biscuits. But I don’t mind you eating frequently, you just won’t be able to digest a steak or vegetables right away.”

“Doc Battle, thank you for saving my life,” Mark stated. “But…”

“But?” Simon asked.

“When can I go home?”

Simon barely heard the pleading in the boy’s voice, but he saw it in the boy’s eyes. Though his father was by his side, he wanted to be surrounded by his family and friends in a place he felt safe… but still, the doctor wondered, would he still feel safe once he returned home.

“Give me a couple more days to make sure you’re healing, and then your Pa and I will decide,” Simon answered.

*****

After the group ate supper together, Lou insisted Lucas return to the hotel and sleep in a real bed, and maybe get a proper bath.

“I’ll head to the barbershop first thing in the morning and see about getting bathed there. As for sleep…”

“Lucas, I don’t mind you staying in the room down the hall, if you don’t care to sleep in a very comfortable bed, like they have at the hotel.”

Lucas agreed to continue sleeping in the room down the hall.

“Pa,” Mark stated. “Do you think the barber…” and ran a hand over his cheeks.

“You think your peachfuzz needs shaved?” Lucas laughed, his release of tension felt good. “I’ll ask him tomorrow.”

*****

Mark woke upon a firm hand being placed over his mouth and felt the cold steel of a gun placed against his cheek.

“Your Pa here boy?” Daniel Malachi asked, his face inches from the boy’s ear.

Mark shook his head.

“Don’t lie to me boy. I heard tell of a tall man bringing you to town. Where is he?”

Again, Mark shook his head. As he saw the increasing fury in the old man’s face he whispered, “The hotel. Doc told him he had to sleep at the hotel tonight.”

“Keep your mouth shut, you’re coming with me,” Daniel stated as he again poked Mark with the barrel of his handgun.

Mark grimaced as Daniel Malachi pulled him from the bed; Mark collapsed to the floor as he felt pain from his incision.

“Get up boy, or I’ll plug you right now!” hissed Daniel.

Daniel picked up some clothing from the chair and threw them towards Mark, “Get dressed.”

Less than three minutes after entering the boy’s room, Daniel Malachi pushed Mark from the clinic.

*****

A faint moonbeam streamed through the window when Lucas woke. Unsure, he looked around the room before he sat up and swung his legs from the bed. Bending his head forward and then left to right, Lucas tried to ease the tension in his body. He listened intently in an effort to determine what had woke him from a sound sleep. He could still hear the sounds from the piano and the rowdy men in the saloon, but he didn’t think that was the cause of his waking.

Reaching for the crutches on the floor, Lucas stood up and decided to check on Mark.

As he entered the hallway, he heard the sound of the back door closing.

From the office in the front of the clinic, Lucas heard the door open and boot steps on the floor.

“Lucas? What are you doing up?” Simon asked.

“Something woke me… You been in your office?”

“Yes, I was catching up on some reading. Why?”

“I thought I heard the back door close.”

Simon hurried and proceeded to open the door to Mark’s room when from outside they both heard, “I WON’T GO!” followed by a gunshot.

*****

Daniel Malachi pushed Mark through the back alley.

“Where are you taking me?” Mark asked.

“Some place where it can just be me and your pappy.”

“I WON’T GO!” Mark yelled and started to run.

Trying to ignore the pain in his side, Mark ran blindly down the alley, he tripped and fell as he heard the sound of a gun being fired behind him.

Surprised at how winded he was from what little running he did, Mark crawled around a corner and under a wooden staircase to hide.

“Boy!” hissed Malachi.

“FIRE!” Mark yelled. “FIRE!”

Mark heard the offkey sound from the piano as those in the saloon heard his frantic yell. Patrons spilled out of the saloon looking to see what was on fire.

*****

Daniel Malachi fired several more shots in the direction Mark had run, he turned the opposite direction when he heard the boy again yell ‘FIRE!’

The back door to the clinic opened as two tall men exited, one with a six-gun in his hand, the other with a rifle.

Daniel Malachi fearfully called, “Someone yelled fire!”

“MALACHI!” Lucas yelled and raised his rifle.

The old man fire a shot towards the two men before he ran away from the men. Turning, he lost track of where he was and ended up in a dead-end ally.

“Malachi! Throw out your gun! Give yourself up!” declared Lucas as he pulled back around the corner, Malachi having fired another shot at them.

“Where’s my boy? What’d you do with Ben?!” Daniel yelled in return.

“He’s dead Malachi. All three of your boys are dead.”

“Dead? My boy… My boy’s dead?” Daniel plaintively answered.

“Malachi, there’s no way out for you!” Simon hollered.

Neither man paid any attention to the running footfalls coming from behind.

“You’re all alone! Give yourself up!” Lucas called again.

The men waited as a crowd formed behind them. After a few minutes, a pistol flew though the air and landed in front of Lucas and Simon.

“Come out with your hands raised,” ordered Marshal Moores.

Shuffling his feet, Daniel Malachi walked out from the alley; his posture was of an old man totally defeated. Marshal Moores and his deputy approached the man and took him into custody.

“MARK!” Lucas hollered. Turning around, he called out, “People, my boy’s out here somewhere.”

The men in the crowd looked to each other, but no one knew exactly what to do, they started to mill about and return to the saloon, some upset on how there wasn’t a good fire.

“Mark!” Simon yelled. “Mark McCain!”

Both men turned when they heard from behind them, “Here I am.”

Lucas hobbled to where his son weakly stood using the corner of a building for support.

“Are you okay?” Lucas asked.

Mark nodded, he caught himself as he felt his knees begin to buckle.

“And how am I going to get the two of you back to the clinic?” Simon asked.

“Daddy, Mr. McCain can use these, while you help Mark.”

Vicki approached the others carrying the crutches Lucas had dropped in the hallway.

Lucas positioned the crutches under his arms, while Simon walked to stand next to Mark.

“We’ll take it slow and easy,” Simon stated. He knew the boy needed to walk on his own, yet he wanted to be close in case the boy couldn’t manage to walk all the way to the clinic under his own power.

*****

Mark heavily collapsed on the bed, unable to control his body. Lucas elevated his son’s legs to lie flat on the bed.

“Let me look at your incision,” Simon stated.

Simon pulled the shirttail from the boy’s pants and examined the wound.

“Well?” Lucas asked.

“It’s a little strained, but if he takes it easy, I don’t see any problem with it healing.”

“Doc?” Marshal Moores called from the front of the clinic.

“In here, Marshal,” Simon yelled in return.

“Mr. McCain, I presume that was Daniel Malachi?” the Marshal asked as he stepped into the room.

“Yeah, that was Daniel Malachi,” replied Lucas. “He came back and took Mark a little while ago.”

“I’ll charge him with kidnapping and attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. He’s not gonna get a chance to try anything else. I’ll need you and Doc to sign the papers, oh, and I’ll need the boy’s statement, too.”

Simon turned to look at his patient and stated, “That will have to wait until morning. He’s asleep and I want to keep him that way.”

*****

Mark woke to the sounds of a town coming to life, outside his door he heard his Pa talking with someone else.

“Pa?” Mark called out.

The door opened for him to see the marshal standing in the hallway as well.

“How’re you feeling today, young man?” the marshal asked as he entered the room.

“Hungry. I overheard you talking about the charges against Mr. Malachi?”

“We were son. But you don’t need to concern yourself with that.”

“Pa, I do.”

“Son,” Marshal Moores spoke. “We’ve enough witnesses against Daniel Malachi for kidnapping you last night and attempting to murder your Pa and the doctor. He’ll go back to prison for a long time.”

“You can add murder to the charges too,” stated Mark.

“You saw him kill Jordan?” Lucas asked.

“I saw him kill Roger Hennessee and another man named Boyle. He stabbed Boyle in the chest and he shot the other man with his gun. There was another man named Epps that he shot, too. They were the ones who kidnapped me from the ranch.” Mark quieted and closed his eyes to the memory.

“Mr. McCain it sure looks like we have a witness to a triple murder. He’ll hang for sure,” Marshal Moores happily declared.

“Does he have to hang?” asked Mark. “Can’t he just get sent to prison and never get out?”

“That’ll be up to the judge to decide,” answered the Marshal, I’ll wire Albuquerque and request a special judge be sent here. There’s a lot that needs to be seen by more than just us here in Silver City.

*****

Two days later the special judge arrived and after hearing Lucas’ and Simon’s testimony, he indicated he wanted to hear Mark’s account surrounding Daniel Malachi.

“I’m sorry, but I’d prefer to hear what the boy has to say without any outside interference. Just me and my assistant are allowed in the room with the boy,” Judge Scranton stated as Lucas insisted in sitting in the room with his son.

The judge firmly closed the clinic room door behind him. An hour later, the judge stood and as he turned to leave he said, “I’ll take under consideration your request against hanging.”

As he entered the hallway, Lucas stood from the chair next to the door.

“Mr. McCain, you have a fine son. Quite detail oriented. I’ve no doubt Malachi will never bother you or your son again,” Judge Scranton stated. “Good day.”

*****

The following morning, Simon Battle met Lou and Lucas as they entered the clinic, “Good news for both of you. I’m releasing Mark to return home today, but there’s one provision.”

Simon Battle had struggled against his own wishes to keep the boy in Silver City, but he saw the longing in the boy’s eyes to go home. He saw how their experiences were tormenting the boy and his father.

“One?” Lucas asked, “What provision?

“I want him sedated for most of the train ride home. Slip one of these packets into a glass of sarsaparilla and he’ll get sleepy within half an hour. Give him one more with supper.”

“Do you have some I can give to Lucas?” Lou teasingly inquired.

*****

Vicki entered the clinic and handed the train tickets to Lucas. Father and daughter followed father, son, and friend to the train depot.

“Lucas, here’s a letter to give to your physician when you get home. It’ll help him understand the restrictions that need to be placed on your son, and why.”

“Thanks, Simon. Maybe someday you’ll return to North Fork and we can try to repay you.”

“I’ll forward my bill to you, that’s payment enough.”

*****

Lucas entered his son’s room and announced, “We’re going home. Doc released you this morning.”

“Pa? How are we getting home?”

“Train tickets,” Lucas held up the tickets for Mark to see.

“Pa, I… What about BlueBoy? I mean, he’s out there… ” Mark stated.

“No he’s not, we found him mixed in with the herd of horses that were left at the mine… He and Razor are enjoying being stabled next to each other in the livery. I’ve already made arrangements for them to travel with us, in the livestock car.”

“Pa, I thought I’d lost him…”

*****

Settling into their seats, a porter returned with their orders for drinks, as Mark looked out the window, Lucas slipped the medication into his drink.

“Son,” Lucas stated as he held out his drink.

Mark drank almost a half of the glass before he rested his hand with the glass on his knee.

“Sure is different seeing the country from the train than from horseback,” Mark stated as his gaze returned to look out the window.

Keeping a close eye on Mark, Lou was first to notice the medication taking effect; she took the glass from Mark’s hand before it could fall to the floor and shatter.

“Lou, I’m sorry we kept you from finishing helping your friend,” an apologetic Lucas stated.

“Ye didn’t keep me from helping Lynetta, we were almost done when ye arrived.”

“Still… you didn’t need to stay on in Silver City; you have the Mallory House to take care of.”

“As a good friend informed me, Mrs. Donner would take as good a care of it as she does my General Store.” Becoming frustrated at the tall rancher sitting in the seat across from her, Lou remembered her parting statements to Lucas, ‘Ye take care of Mark’ and ‘Do try to keep out of trouble’ she chose her words carefully, “Lucas McCain, a good friend I am and as such, I chose to stay, to watch over the both of ye.”

*****

Lucas anxiously waited for Doc Burrage to come out from the room where Mark was being examined; if he hadn’t been on crutches he would have paced. He sat to the front of the chair when he heard the door to his room open.

Without saying a word, Doc Burrage entered Lucas’ room and began to examine his leg. Keeping a running commentary, Doc finally pulled the pant leg down over the splint.

“How you didn’t break that leg clean through is a miracle, from what I read in Doc Battle’s report.”

“Doc, enough about me, what of Mark?”

“Lucas, as you well know, his bruises and the contusions will fade over time, they already are. I say give him another week or so and the splint on his wrist can be removed, he’ll know how much he can or can’t use it; same as you and your leg. As for the stitches, they probably can come out by the end of the week. Sure, the boy will have a scar over his abdomen, but it’s just a scar,” answered Doc Burrage.

“Just a scar!” an angered Lucas declared.

“Lucas, you know what I mean; his being impaled could have been so much worse. If there had been any significant internal damage… Battle has a good reputation, and from what I’ve seen upon examining your boy and reading his report, he did the best job any doctor could do.”

Doc sat down across from Lucas and looked long and hard at the rancher.

“Lucas, you want to know what happened. I can see it in your face.”

“What happened is madmen kidnapped my son…” declared Lucas.

“We all know that, you want to know what else they did to him… Lucas, I’m your friend and I just want to warn you to tread easy with the boy. Right now, he can be emotionally fragile.”

“What do you mean, ‘emotionally fragile’, Mark’s a strong boy…” stated Lucas.

“Physically he’s strong, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have survived. What I’m talking about is what he thinks. If you demand for him to tell you everything and he sees your anger in response… you could push him to hide certain facts, just to keep you from getting so angry.”

“I have a right to be angry, those men kidnapped my son and almost killed him,” declared Lucas.

“Yes, you can be angry at those men, don’t push your boy… Let him decide when he’s ready to tell you.”

“He’s already gave his statement to the judge,” Lucas stated. Upon getting no response from Doc Burrage, he sat for a few minutes to consider the doctor’s words, “When can I take him home?”

“I’d prefer to keep both of you here, overnight. I’ll write out a list of instructions for you to get him through the rest of the week until he’s healed enough I can take the stitches out.”

*****

For three days and nights after their return home, Mark tried to push the events of his kidnapping out of his mind, focusing on the work required about the ranch. When he was in Silver City he dreamed about how good it would be to get home, but… Each time he dressed after waking or dressed for bed, the scar as well as the bruises and contusions over his body, not to mention the splint around his left wrist kept reminding him. His dreams continued to torment him as he relived his initial kidnapping and the argument that started the beatings, and his subsequent kidnapping by Daniel Malachi and… Mark woke in a fearful sweat when he felt himself falling; unsure and scared, his heart pumped faster. It took a few moments before he recognized he was home and his father slept in the bunk across the room. Mark placed his right hand to the scar on the right side of his abdomen as he grimaced upon standing. Stepping from their bedroom, Mark walked through the front room and stopped before opening the door; he looked to the two rifles in their stands, side by side, and picked up the smaller of the two before stepping to the porch.

Sitting on the porch with his rifle across his lap, Mark allowed his tears to fall as confusion muddled his thoughts.

“Mark?” Lucas called as he stopped at the threshold.

“Pa?” Mark acknowledged before he used the heel of his right hand to wipe the tears from his face.

Lucas picked up his rifle, and with an obvious limp, he stepped across the porch and stood next to his son.

“Are you okay son? I can get the medication…”

“I’m fine… Pa, I’m just confused.”

“I’m here,” Lucas stated as he sat down, stretching out his splinted leg, and placed his rifle across his lap.

It had taken great restraint on Lucas’ behalf during the three days they had been home to keep from demanding his son tell him what had happened, only because he knew his own hatred towards the men could hamper his son’s ability to put all that had happened to him behind him. Or worse yet, make his son think he was mad at him. It took time for him to agree with the sage advice received from Doc Battle and Doc Burrage, but he was thankful he listened.

“They came here looking for you, said they came to consult with you. I told them you weren’t home, you were on your way to Santa Fe… They seemed so nice… I drew water from the well for their horses, that’s when…”

Mark stopped talking when he couldn’t prevent his body’s reaction to remembering the first blow to the back of his head.

“Take your time son. It’s just the two of us…” Lucas encouraged.

“When I woke, we were in a cavern. I overheard them talking about statehood. I didn’t hear all of their conversation; and just had to go and open my big mouth.” Mark’s shoulders slumped in defeat after his admission, “Pa, I told them you were in support of statehood and so was I. I didn’t know they were opposed to it…that’s when the first beating happened.”

Mark wrapped his arms around his middle as he bent forward, almost resting his head to his knees and cried again.

Lucas used his left hand to rub his son’s back, “Son, I’m sorry… I…”

Mark sat up, “No Pa, you didn’t do anything wrong, you left Mr. Merrill here to help me.”

Mark’s eyes distanced themselves from seeing what was currently in front of him; he remembered his fears in hearing the gunshots and fearing his Pa dead when he saw the body. It was only a few moments later, when Lucas lifted him from the ground, that he realized it was Henry Trumble lying dead in the barn. His memory switched from being kidnapped by those against statehood to being kidnapped again by Daniel Malachi.

“How could he hate us so badly that he’d allow his sons to be killed,” Mark shut his eyes tight as he tried to understand.

“Who?

“Daniel Malachi…”

“Malachi, but I thought…” a confused Lucas stated, trying to follow his son’s explanation.

“Pa, I remember him from years ago, and you testifying against him and his son… He came to their camp; he killed the men who had me. At first, I was thankful he was rescuing me…” Mark hesitated while trying to remember. “But as he came closer, I realized, he wasn’t there to rescue me. Pa, I don’t understand…”

“Son, I’m not really sure I can explain it all to you. Daniel Malachi still hated Micah and me for the deaths of his two other sons.”

“But they didn’t have to die!” Mark declared.

“I know they didn’t, but they gave us no other choice,” Lucas voiced his hurt as he tried to convey to his son that sometimes death couldn’t be avoided.

Mark quickly stated, “Pa, I’m not saying what you did was wrong… They chose their actions…” Mark struggled to explain his feelings in a way his Pa could understand, “But now, all his son’s are dead and he’s going back to jail. How can a man raise his sons that way?”

Lucas shook his head; he knew his son’s emotions were complicated.

“And those other men, Pa, they came after Mr. Malachi and me... How can so many people want to see us dead?”

Lucas thought long and hard before he answered his son, “Mark, Daniel Malachi and his son, and the anti-statehood factions were two different events that…happened to collide at the same time. You need to separate the two in your thinking.”

Mark asked, “They were all out to kill us!”

“Son, I think, in order for you to understand, you have to try to separate the events.”

“How can I? I mean… I know you had a past with Mr. Malachi and I know why he hated you, but those others… Would they really have killed us, just for wanting statehood for New Mexico?”

“People will do whatever they feel necessary to keep their way of life. Our country has fought wars… against England and against herself,” Lucas stated.

“But which is right?” Mark asked.

“Right?” Lucas answered.

“Is it really so wrong for us to want New Mexico to become a state?”

“Mark I can’t answer that for you, you know my feelings on statehood, but you need to come to your own conclusion. Forget what those men tried to do… you know the history of this land from your school lessons. I’m here to listen to you and offer you guidance, but… I can’t tell you to believe that statehood is right or that it’s wrong… ”

The clock on the table in the front room read just past two o’clock when Lucas made a final suggestion, “Mark, I know you’re struggling with all the happened, and because you’re still healing and still hurting, you’re not able to reason clearly. I have a suggestion, why don’t you write out your feelings things start getting too much to think about.”

“Pa?” a confused Mark asked.

“Just listen… when you get to thinking about the Malachi’s, write on one sheet of paper your feelings. And when you get to thinking about statehood, write it down on a different sheet of paper… Right now, everything is jumbled up there. I’m sure your mind is racing from one moment to another; not allowing you to fully comprehend before the next image makes its presence known,” Lucas stated has he swept his son’s bangs back on his head. He knew his own confusion in trying to understand his son. “But, maybe, if you write out your feelings separately, on different sheets of paper, I’m sure you’ll find the answer that you seek and be able to put this whole thing into perspective.”

“Do you think so?” asked Mark.

“You won’t know unless you try,” Lucas stated as he tried to stifle a yawn.

“I’m sorry for waking you, Pa.”

“You didn’t wake me, my leg was itching, and I’ve wanted to have this conversation with you, about what those men did, but…”

“I heard Doc Burrage tell you not to push me… I hoped I might be able to put it aside on my own. Pa, maybe in the morning… can we ride to the pond? I want tell you everything.”

Father and son set their rifles inside the door as they stepped into their home and to their bedroom.

*****

Later in the morning Lucas woke to find Mark’s bed empty, as quickly as he could, he pulled on his jeans in order to go search for his son; he didn’t have far to go, just to the front room. The lamp on the table was turned down low and Mark’s upper body rested on the table, his head rested on his arms, which lay on top of several sheets of paper bearing his handwriting. Again, Lucas mourned the loss of his son’s innocence; Mark only wore jeans, and the fading bruises on his body and his face told only part of the story. Using the one crutch leaning against the fireplace, he left the house and crossed their yard to the barn, in order to start their morning chores and to get away from the reminder he had not been there to protect his son.

*****

Lucas returned to their home to find Mark in the kitchen, fully dressed, and cooking flapjacks. Looking to the table, Lucas saw it was set and the papers were not in sight.

“How are you feeling?” Lucas inquired.

“Last night helped, but I’m sure our talking at the pond will help even more,” Mark answered as he set two plates on the table.

*****

Mark picked up the dirty dishes from the table and walked to the kitchen sink, “Pa?” he asked.

“Yes,” Lucas stated as he came up behind his son.

“I don’t blame you for not being here… I mean, you couldn’t have known what was gonna happen.”

“I know.”

“Pa, I still love you,” Mark stated as a large smile spread across his face.

*****

After hobbling their horses and unsaddling them, Mark recounted his experiences at the hands of those against statehood and events surrounding his time with Daniel Malachis. As the story progressed, a fragment of a memory surfaced, “Pa, the other Mr. Hennessee, he and one of the others were talking about your friend, Mr. Merrill….”

“What about Jordan?” Lucas asked.

“Did he ever say why he was heading to Silver City?”

“He had a job.”

“I know that, but did he tell you what kind of a job?”

“No, and I didn’t ask. If he wanted me to know I’m sure he would have told me.”

“I think, maybe, Mr. Hennessee hired him…” Mark stated. “They were talking about waiting for Mr. Merrill. Pa, I didn’t get the feeling that it was because he was trailing after me.”

Lucas looked to his son, attempting to understand the implications of the words his son overheard.

“Pa?” Mark called for a second time.

“I guess I didn’t know Jordan as well as I thought,” Lucas quieted. Jordan’s words haunted him, ‘It’s been a long time, you don’t know me anymore.’

*****

Several weeks had passed and both father and son had healed from their injuries. The only visible sign indicating Mark had experienced anything other than a normal summer was his inability to be as trusting of people as he once had been when he was introduced to strangers in town.

While working around the homestead or out on the range, Mark had no qualms about removing his shirt in order to keep cool, however, if anyone besides his Pa was there, Mark kept his shirt on and the lower two buttons, buttoned.

When other riders would approach, Lucas noticed his son always looked to his twenty-two and forced himself to relax. Lucas chose not to say anything to his son, he knew this was something his son would have to work out on his own.

*****

The sun had set when Mark handed several sheets of paper to his Pa as he sat on the front porch, enjoying a quiet evening.

“What’s this?” Lucas asked.

“Pa, you were right, the writings helped me put everything into perspective.”

“I know, I’ve seen you change over the past couple of weeks. The biggest improvement was right after our talk…”

“I hope for the better?” Mark questioned.

“Yes, you’re returning to being the Mark McCain I raised.”

“Pa,” Mark hesitated to ask, “If I hadn’t been able to write these?”

“What are you getting at?” Lucas replied.

“If my writing this hadn’t helped me straighten out my thinking, could you still love me?”

“Mark, you’re my son. And I would love you, regardless.”

Mark smiled due to the love his father devoted to him, yet, he was saddened to know that not every father raised their son with such compassion and nurturing.

Mark sat down and said, “You should know, I came to my own decision and I want you to be the first to read.”

Lucas set aside his cigar, and using the lantern hanging on the wall behind them, he read his son’s inner thoughts. What he read surprised him, because he didn’t expect his son to have written an essay.

*****

EPILOGUE:

A month had passed and it was only a few weeks before Mark’s final year of school began.

“Mark, get a move on!” Lucas hollered as he hung his carpetbag from his saddle horn before he climbed up into the saddle on Razor.

“Coming!” Mark yelled in return as he ran from the house, carrying his carpetbag and placing his hat upon his head.

“The door?” Lucas asked.

“Oh, sorry, Pa.”

Mark skipped the step to the porch as he hurried to close the door in order to get to town.

“You’ve been talking about today for a whole week, and here you’re fixing to be late.”

“I’m sorry, Pa, I just couldn’t sleep last night and… We’ll I didn’t mean to oversleep,” Mark answered as he tied his bag to his saddle horn.

Lucas smiled at his teenage son; he was proud that Mark had received an invitation from Territorial Governor Edmund Ross to visit the Territorial Capital in Santa Fe to present the paper he had written regarding his desire to see New Mexico granted statehood.

“Do you have everything you need?” Lucas asked.

“Sure, I’ve packed my Sunday clothes, and other clothes to wear; I wish I could take my rifle with me,” Mark stated, still unsure in traveling such a distance.

Even with Lucas beside him, Mark held himself a little in reserve, not sure about meeting so many strangers after his summer experience.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate on this trip for you to take your rifle. And, I think you’re forgetting something,” Lucas suggested.

“Like what?” asked Mark.

“What about your paper, on the table in the front room?” Lucas raised his eyebrows in askance, slowly shaking his head from side to side.

“My paper!” exclaimed Mark as he jumped down from BlueBoy and ran back into the house.

Lucas watched and called, “Don’t forget to close…”

“…the door. I know,” finished Mark.

*****

Micah and Lou stood on the train platform, waiting to see the McCains off on their trip.

“Having second thoughts about your trip?” Lou asked as she watched Mark fidget.

“Not so much the trip, but… just the reason for it,” stated Mark.

“Mark, you know how busy the territorial governor is, and he’s excited to hear from others who share his viewpoint,” Lucas answered.

“I’m excited to meet him, but… I don’t understand why he wants to meet me and see my paper. I mean couldn’t you say you wrote it?“ Mark asked as he placed his paper in the inner pocket of his jacket.

“No son, you wrote it. Those are your words, your beliefs,” Lucas answered.

“But you feel the same way… Besides, no one would know any different,” replied Mark.

“Son, I thought you were excited about this trip?” Lucas asked, worried that maybe it was too soon. But Lucas also knew the best way to bring closure for his son was to make this trip.

“I am. I’m just not sure I’m ready for all those people up in Santa Fe,” answered Mark while remembering all the different people who were involved with his kidnapping.

“Mark, I’ll be right there with you, every step of the way.”

Lucas placed his hand upon his son’s shoulder.

“What I don’t understand is how he knew what I wrote?” Mark hesitantly asked.

“I had something to do with that,” Stefan Griswald stated with pride as he joined them. “Mark, with all you went through this summer, I am humbled you could write with such maturity and am honored you allowed me to read what you wrote. But… your words haunted me; I couldn’t get them out of my mind. So… I asked a friend of mine, who’s the editor of the Santa Fe Gazette, to read it and he chose to publish it as an editorial in the paper. He agreed your feelings would resonate with the citizens of New Mexico. When he told me what he wanted to do, I insisted it had to be printed anonymously; you’d been through enough, and I didn’t want to cause you any more hurt. And once the Governor read it, he demanded to know from my friend who had written such a passionate plea; he wanted to meet the person.”

“I just wrote what I believed, as a way to help me come to terms with what happened, there’s nothing special about that… I’m just a kid,” replied Mark.

“Mark, you’re not just a kid. You’re a young man growing up. You’re special, young people such as yourself need to voice your opinions, and the older generation, like me, needs to know you care. We need to listen because you are our future.” Mr. Griswald paused as he gave Mark the chance to acknowledge his underlying fears. Once Mark looked him in the eye, Mr. Griswald continued, “When school starts in a few weeks, I want a full report of your experiences at the Territorial Capital. Mark, I’m excited that one of my students will have such an opportunity to make their voice heard in such a setting.”

“I just hope they don’t think I want to become a politician,” Mark nervously commented.

“Why not?” asked Micah.

“You know I want to be a rancher, like Pa,” Mark boldly answered.

*****

“Welcome back, Lucas,” Territorial Governor Edmund Ross greeted.

“Governor Ross, I’d like for you to meet my son, Mark,” Lucas replied.

The governor’s face took on a perplexed expression as he looked to Mark. “And it was you, who wrote the editorial? I thought you might have been Lucas’ brother, I didn’t know…”

“Yes sir, only I didn’t write it as an editorial. I wrote it in order to get my thinking straight,” answered Mark as he remembered to remove his hat.

“Your thinking straight?” repeated Ross.

“It’s a long story, sir,” answered Mark.

“Well, as long as it was written… Please come in. May I offer you something to drink? Maybe a sarsaparilla for you and a brandy for you, Lucas?” Ross asked as he looked first to Mark and then to Lucas.

Both nodded their heads as the governor motioned for them to be seated in any one of the overstuffed chairs that set about his office.

“Matilda,” the governor called to a young woman standing next to a table with pitchers and glasses, “Please see to our guests.”

“Yes, governor,” the woman replied.

Lucas chose a chair to sit in and relaxed back into it, while Mark chose to sit in the matching chair next to Lucas, however, he felt overwhelmed by the fullness of the chair cushion and the richness of the fabric cover. The governor’s aide moved another chair in the room closer to where the McCains sat, before the governor was seated.

Matilda handed a glass of brandy to Lucas, a glass of sarsaparilla to Mark, and a glass to the governor, before leaving the room.

****

“Young Mr. McCain, are you in your next to last year or last year of school?” Governor Ross asked.

“I’ll be starting my last year in a few weeks, sir, but…”

“Don’t stop talking just because you don’t think what you have to say is important to me. I like to hear what all my constituents have to say.”

“I was just going to say that… even though I have another year of school, my teacher has sent away for more advance studies for me to learn from this past year.”

“Good, good, the more educated the people are, the better informed they can be to make their decisions.”

“Sir, if I could?” Mark was hesitant to ask.

“Go on,” Governor Ross stated as he offered a cigar to Lucas.

“Pa and I have an idea how statehood would affect the people of the territory, but… How would it affect you? I mean, you were appointed by the President…”

“Someone has been paying attention during school…” teased the governor. “You’re right, the position of a territorial governor is by appointment, and it would no longer exist, at least as it is currently fulfilled. If I wanted to run for Governor of the State of New Mexico, I’d have to run for election, just like any other governor. The people would have a voice in whether I would get the job or someone else.”

Lucas was impressed with the governor, how he really listened to what Mark had to say and answered the questions honestly and with great thought.

The group had lost track of time when the double doors to the office opened, “Governor?”

“Yes Wally?” Ross responded.

“You asked me to remind you about your dinner engagement with your wife,” Wally answered.

“Is it that late?” Ross asked in surprise.

“I’m afraid it is.”

“Well, one can get lost in time when listening to the voices of the people. Mark, Lucas, Wally will be by to pick you up day after tomorrow afternoon around noon. Tomorrow is yours to explore our town.”

*****

The following afternoon, a clean-shaven man, dressed in a suit jacket over a vest and jean, wearing a cowboy hat entered the busy outer office of the New Mexico Territorial Governor. As he looked around the office in search of someone, he unbuttoned his jacket, he allowed it to hang open and display the U.S. Marshal’s Badge pinned to his vest.

“Wally!” called out the Marshal when he couldn’t find who he was looking for.

As the skinny young man popped his head up from within a group of people surrounding a desk, “Mr. Langley,” Wally walked over to greet his old friend. “What brings you to Santa Fe?”

“An article that was printed in the Santa Fe Gazette; I heard the young man who wrote the story was going to be introduced to some of Governor Ross’ esteemed colleagues.”

“He is. He and his father arrived yesterday. Governor Russ has the town hall reserved for tomorrow afternoon.”

“What does Ross know about the young man?” Langley asked.

“He was surprised to find out how young the boy was; he met Lucas McCain and presumed that it was Mr. McCain’s brother who wrote the editorial, not his son.”

“I presume Ross hasn’t read this report,” Langley stated as handed a folder stuffed with sheets of paper to the governor’s aide.

“What’s the report about?” Wally asked.

“I think Ross had better read for himself.”

“Is he going to regret inviting the boy here to speak tomorrow?”

“No, but I think he better know just who this young man is; not just that his father is known as The Rifleman.”

Perusing the first few pages, Wally looked up, “This is an official report from the U.S. Marshals.”

“It is.”

“I think you better present it to Governor Ross.”

Wally escorted the Marshal out the door, down the hall and outside, to the garden, where Governor Ross sat enjoying lunch with a few friends.

“Excuse me Governor Ross,” Wally begged as he chose a moment to interrupt the conversation.

“Miller! Miller Langley, if this don’t beat all!” Governor Ross declared as he stood to greet his old friend. “Men, this here is U.S. Marshal Miller Langley, he was my first body guard when I was appointed Territorial Governor for New Mexico. Then they go and steal him away from me and assign him up in Denver. Miller, how have you been? Please join us for lunch.”

“Thank you, Governor,” Miller Langley stated as Wally brought another chair for the marshal.

As the luncheon broke up, and Ross bid goodbye to his colleagues and addressed Marshal Langley, “So Miller, what brings you back to Santa Fe?”

“I think you had best read this report before your get-together tomorrow.”

Langley handed the file folder and its contents to the governor.

“Is this something I should be concerned about?” Ross asked when he saw Confidential stamped on the first page.

“It just gives you a little more information regarding the young man who’s going to be speaking tomorrow. I’m fairly sure neither he nor his father would have explained this to you.”

“When do you need this report returned?”

“Tomorrow morning. My superiors would have my hide if they knew I let you read what’s contained within those pages, but I think you need to know.”

******

Wally preceded Mark and Lucas as they entered into the town hall filled to capacity.

“Who are all these people?” asked Mark.

“Just Senators, Representatives, and reporters,” Wally stated.

“Sir, I can’t,” Mark stated as he backed away from the doorway.

“Mark, what you wrote, it means a lot to me and I’m sure it will mean a lot for my contemporaries to hear it from the person who wrote it,” Governor Ross stated as he joined them.

“But, I can’t. Not in front of all those people. I didn’t know there would be this many.”

Lucas heard the fear in his boy’s voice and placed his hand to his son’s shoulder, “Son, you wrote in your paper that you could no longer be forced into silence…”

“But that was…”

“A lie?” Governor Ross asked.

“No sir, I didn’t lie. It’s just, I’ve never spoke to such a large group and it’s quite intimidating,” Mark replied, hoping they wouldn’t make him go through with the reading.

“I could read you paper, but it wouldn’t have as much of an impact on all those people, same could be said if your father read your paper. Mark, you had the courage to write your feelings and the courage to come all this way to meet me.” Knowing how intimidating all these influential people could be, Ross stated, “You want to know a trick I used, when I first had to start addressing large crowds?”

Mark nodded.

“Imagine every one of them out there wearing nothing but their longjohns. Some wearing white, others wearing red, and some… well, let your imagination decide,” the governor suggested.

The room quieted as Governor Ross, Lucas, and Mark walked across the stage, Lucas and Mark took two of the seats behind the podium and listened.

“I thank you all for coming on such short notice. I’m thrilled that so many of my contemporaries as well as my constituents chose to attend. As for those from the press, please accurately report what happens here today. As most of you know, we have a long battle ahead of us in this fight for statehood.

Those present acknowledged the governor’s statement by loudly clapping their hands.

The governor continued speaking after waiting for the room to quiet, “There are many levels upon which this battle will be fought, and as in any battle; there are people outside the political arena who are affected by our actions. Many of you read the editorial published in the Santa Fe Gazette last month…”

Another round of applause interrupted the governor.

“I was able to track down the writer and invited him to visit me. I wanted to know firsthand what inspired him to write such a passionate plea, possibly the desire to see better for his children, as he wrote.

“I will admit I was not prepared to meet the writer of the editorial. It shocked me to know that a boy… no, a young man could write so eloquently of his beliefs. Sitting behind me are Lucas and Mark McCain, from North Fork, New Mexico. You probably think it was the father who wrote the plea for statehood, and like me, you would be wrong.

“Gentlemen, I present to you, Mark McCain.”

The room quieted as Mark stepped to the platform. Stopping half way, Mark looked back to his father and was encouraged by Lucas’ nod of his head and the smile he wore.

“Thank you, Governor,” Mark stated as he pulled the sheet of paper from his pocket and turned to face the multitude of people in the room. As he stood there, he felt his throat tighten and looked to the side as someone set a glass of water for him on the podium. He quickly took a long drink in hopes it would settle his nerves. ‘Think of them sitting there, wearing nothing more than their longjohns’ repeated in Mark’s mind. Taking a deep breath, Mark raised his voice so he could be heard throughout the room and began,

“A little over one hundred years ago, the land we call America was nothing more than a colony under British rule. This so-called ‘territory’ strove to break away from a ruler her people thought oppressive, in order to form their own government. Fifty-six men, representing the original thirteen colonies, our Founding Fathers, wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence giving America her voice. Though they were bullied, and fought a war for their beliefs, they had the courage to stand up for their convictions.

“Do you remember The Declaration’s opening paragraph? When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“I believe the same holds true for the opposite reason. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to join a political band which will connect them with another… these people should declare the cause which impel them to become one… Statehood.

“Statehood is defined as the power or authority represented by a body of people politically organized under one government. But to me… statehood is a lot more. Some may call it a dream, but a lot of what America has endured started out as someone’s dream, and it eventually became reality, because people were willing to stand up for what they believed. Statehood means we would officially be a part of The United States of America and have a voice in the decisions affecting her people.

“Today, New Mexico is a part of the land we call America, but she’s nothing more than a territory, a side note when it comes to representation in Washington. But her people are more… Many of her people came West in the hopes of raising a family, or to get away from the reminders of the Great War that painfully divided our Nation, or to even strike it rich in the goldmines of California, but never concluded their journey. Regardless the reason why, these people heeded the call, “Go West Young Man.” The people of New Mexico consider themselves Americans. But because we’re a territory, are we considered second-rate citizens? Some of her people are second and third generation and have never been east of the Mississippi. Why shouldn’t we dream of being granted the full rights and privileges as a citizen of a State… One of the United States… The United States of America.

“There are people out there, who will stop at nothing to keep New Mexico and America separate; for whatever their reasons, they have forced oppression upon those who do not agree with them, with no compassion for the lives of others. They will do anything within their powers to prevent the people’s voices from being heard. Yet, as much as it hurts to speak up, one must stand for their own convictions when they feel they have been wronged. We cannot let these men bully us into submission, to give up on the dream. The people of this territory have a right to have their voices heard, without threat of losing their livelihood or even their lives.

“I’ve heard others say that people like me don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re just repeating words without understanding… We’re nothing more than sheep following along because we’re too stupid to understand! I object to being called a sheep. This is cattle country! So, if I don’t understand the truths of statehood, teach me…

“Tell me, is statehood an ill-conceived idea? How many other territories have joined the original thirteen colonies in declaring the desires of statehood? Just in this century alone, count them: Louisana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada, Nebraska, and last, Colorado. Why shouldn’t New Mexico join this roster?

“If you consider statehood for New Mexico an ill-conceived idea, would you dare tell our Founding Fathers their dream to form one sovereign nation was an ill-conceived idea? How many men lost their lives fighting during the Revolutionary War? How many men lost their lives fighting to keep American united during our most recent war?”

“As I have taken pen to paper, I’ve come to realize I can no longer be forced into silence… Too many people have lived and unfortunately died for this dream, and others… others have suffered to an extent no one ever should have to suffer through, just because of their dream.

“The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States begins with, ‘We the People’, regardless of what anyone thinks, I’m one of The People… I dream, one day… that New Mexico will be granted statehood and OUR voices will be heard; as we are given the right to help choose a path for this great country, the right to send people to represent our visions, and the right to make our voices heard. My words are not to declare independence, but to declare, I have a right to be heard, for my voice to count! Maybe not in my lifetime, but I dream one day, that maybe… maybe my children will see this dream of Statehood for New Mexico come true.”

Mark paused as he finished reading from his paper. He looked at those in attendance and said, “The governor stated this is a battle, and in any battle there are casualties… I pray the only wounds inflicted are from words… There’s an old school rhyme, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.’ Instruments of war shouldn’t be used to fight this battle. The people need to have a voice and if the majority says yes, then the powers that be need to draft and send a referendum to Washington. However, if the majority says no, then it won’t happen, not today. But that doesn’t mean it will never happen. The only way it will happen is for brave people to stand against the bullies and protect their weaker neighbors, but also, the educated people need to explain the benefits of statehood in a way that everyone will understand; not just in lawyer speak. The people need to understand the value of statehood; and how it will help them, not that this is just something that you people want. The people of New Mexico need to want it too. As I think about what Governor Ross stated earlier and as I’ve rethought what I wrote, I’ve come to understand that politicians can be just as wrong as the bullies, if you can’t explain to the regular people what it means to be a State.”

Mark stepped back from the podium and started to walk to where Lucas stood, while those present silently considered the words spoken and the person who had spoke. He stopped mid-stride when he heard one chair scrape along the floor followed by the sound of a single set of hands clapping. Mark looked across the sea of people and in the far back of the room saw one person standing and clapping with fortitude; his eyes were drawn to others, as more people stood to their feet and began clapping their hands, he tried to understand what was happening.

From behind him, Mark saw the Territorial Governor clapping and walking towards him. The man paused only long enough to place a hand on Mark’s shoulder and return him to the podium.

“Gentlemen, please…” Ross called out as he motioned for the people to take their seats. “As I said earlier, I know a number of you read the editorial in the newspapers several weeks back, and were as moved as I was, but never could we imagine these words were written by someone so young. I’ve had the pleasure to host Mark McCain and his father, Lucas McCain, for the past few days and I stand here to announce, I am humbled by the character of this young man.”

Lucas walked to stand next to his son as the governor continued, “Lucas McCain was in Santa Fe to talk with me about statehood and the benefits for the various Cattlemen’s Associations. Unfortunately, as young Mr. McCain alluded to, there are those who stand against our bid for statehood and they sent forces to silence Mr. McCain, only they were too late and encountered his son. It was only yesterday that my aide brought to my attention certain information. Belatedly, I have read reports and I can’t believe someone who has gone through such an experience, could still be passionate about his beliefs. I’ve not told the McCains that I know about the events from this summer, until this moment.” The governor turned to look at Lucas and Mark in apology, before he returned to address those present.

“I tell all who will hear me, those who consider what happened to Mark McCain, a means to an end and justified… If any of you remain alive, YOU CANNOT HIDE!” The governor emphasized his point by pounding his fisted hand upon the podium. “You will not oppress those who truly understand the call for freedom. Justice will be served! You may have initially intimidated this young man by your actions, but ultimately, you failed! This young man had the courage to speak up; he wanted his voice heard, if only as a way to help him deal with his fears. Well, hear me now! We have heard his voice because of his teacher’s belief in his student. I say, if this young man has the courage to stand up and let his voice be heard, then those in this territory need to stand up to demand our voices be heard in Washington, just as our Founding Fathers demanded their voices be heard in England.”

Those who had sat down as Governor Ross spoke, stood and clapped in a renewed show of their support.

Looking to Mark, the governor asked, “If I may use your words?”

Mark shrugged his shoulders.

The governor turned to address those in the room, ”I stand here, not to declare our independence; I stand here declaring the right to be heard as a citizen of the State of New Mexico! We will press on, in our continued push for statehood!”

The room shook from exhilaration as those present cheered and clapped their hands even louder.

Territorial Governor Ross stepped from the podium and motioned for Lucas and Mark to accompany him. Outside the meeting hall, as they entered his carriage, the governor stated, “I hope you understand why I divulged what I did.”

“Not really…” replied Mark.

“Son, as I said, I am humbled by your character. After reading the marshal’s report, your words haunted me even more. Your survival speaks volumes to the strength of your father and the young man he’s raised you to be… You are the future of those who will see this territory into statehood. May I ask, did your father help you write any of what you wrote?”

“Seems that question would have been better asked before I spoke in there,” answered Mark.

Lucas rebuked Marks’ statement by calling his son’s name, “Mark!”

“No Mr. McCain, your son has every right to make that statement. I guess I should have at that,” replied the territorial governor.

“The only help Pa gave me was the suggestion to write it, as a way to help clear up my confusion… to not allow my being kidnapped to muddle my beliefs in my stand on statehood, sir,” answered Mark.

“Well, just let me know whenever you’re ready to go into politics. You have the making of a fine politician, if you can rouse those people to such frenzy.”

“Sir, I think your words had a lot more to do with that,” commented Mark.

“But your word were the heart, I just gave them the shove to realize what they needed to do. So, you’ll remember my offer, I’ll introduce you to some of the most influential people to help get you started,” offered the governor.

“Thank you sir, but…”

“But what?” the governor asked once Mark didn’t continue.

“But, I think back there is the closest I ever want to come to politics, unless it is to stand up and vote.”

Governor Ross laughed at Mark’s statement while Lucas slowly shook his head and placed his hand at the base of the back of Mark’s neck and shoulder and gave him a firm squeeze, the facial expression he wore stated, ‘when we get home’.

*****

The following morning, Wally, the governor’s aide, met Lucas and Mark at their hotel, “Are you sure you can’t stay longer?” the man asked. “The governor wants to personally introduce the two of you to some of his peers.”

“Please tell the governor, we really need to get home. We’ve a working ranch that’s been neglected far too long,” replied Lucas as he closed his carpetbag.

“If that’s the case, I’ll make your apologies. Please, the governor has offered the use of his carriage for your trip to the train station.”

*****

With the sun setting on the right side of the train, Mark watched the landscape fly past the windows.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Lucas stated to his daydreaming son.

“Just thinking on my report to write for Mr. Griswald; he’s not going to believe how we’ve lived for the past few days,” Mark’s eyes shined at the memory.

“Would you want to live in the city?” Lucas hesitantly asked.

“Pa, for all the fancy carriages and hotels…”Mark’s eyes shone as he remembered all the sights and sounds, “it was nice, a fun place to visit, but…” Mark’s expression changed, a look of longing appeared on his face, “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than our home. I can’t wait to get back. To get in the saddle and race home.”

Lucas smiled; he yearned for the same.

***********************************************************************

Cast of Characters

Bloodlines
Daniel Malachi - patriarch
Ben Malachi – surviving son
Judd Malachi – killed in the salt mine (in reference only)
Stump Malachi – accidentally killed by Ben who was shooting at Lucas in the saloon (in reference only)

Death Trap
Simon Battle – doctor
Vicki Battle – daughter

The Assailants
Senator Borden (in reference only)

Ties That Bind
Boyle – associate of Roger Hennessee
Chad Riley – owner of the General Store in Silver City
Chandler – med tech during the war – with Harvey Hennessee
Edmund G. Ross – Democratic Governor appointed by President Grover Cleveland.
Epps – associate of Roger Hennessee
Franklin Galveston – President New Mexico Cattlemen’s Association
Griggson – prison guard
Harvey Hennessee – conspirator against statehood, older brother of derby wearer
Jordan Merrill – old friend of Lucas, turned gunslinger
Lynetta – Lou’s friend in Silver City
Marshal Moores – town marshal in Silver City
Miller Langley – U.S. Marshal
Norman Michaelson – prison warden
Roger Hennessee – derby wearer and kidnapper
Sperry – Harvey Hennesse right hand man
Wally – Territorial Governor’s Aide

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

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