The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Making Room II
by ~anonymous

Chapter 7

Mark’s mind was racing. He had to get out of this….but how? The men gagged him. All they had to do was knock him out again and this time, he was sure he wouldn’t be waking up. He really didn’t want to die. Had he survived everything in the last year just to die like this? He pictured his father desperately looking for him. Perhaps he’d never find him. If it was going to end this way, maybe that would be best. He’d rather have him never know what really happened rather than find his broken body in a canyon somewhere. As the men drug him outside and slung him on his horse, he prayed silently. He was grateful that he was conscious anyway. It was bitterly cold and he was shivering violently. It was hard to ride Blue Boy with his hands tied. As the men lead him away, Mark became very aware of everything around him…how the cold air felt like needles in his lungs, how quiet things were in the snow. His teeth were chattering. He bit his tongue. He didn’t want to give these men the satisfaction of hearing him freeze. His mind drifted to the 17 years he’d spent on this earth. Almost every single memory included his father. Mark closed his eyes as he remembered all the times he’d been there for him. He knew he’d never believe Mark had written that story. Maybe he’d even figure the whole thing out. Yes, Mark was sure he would. Then he wouldn’t stop until he’d made Russell and James pay with their lives. Then what? Tears filled Mark’s eyes as he pictured his father all alone in the ranch house surrounded by nothing but memories of the son he loved so much. Would he even have the will to go on? The horses slowed down and eventually came to a stop. Mark looked up and saw that they had reached their destination.

The men dismounted and pulled Mark off his horse. They cut the ropes from his hands and removed the gag from his mouth. Mark immediately began to fight, but one man grabbed his wrists and the other his ankles. They dragged him to the edge of the canyon. They were about to toss him over when the sound of gunfire pierced the air. Mark fell to the ground as the men holding him were hit by bullets. Mark looked up to see James running towards him.

“You alright, boy?” James said as he bent over Mark. Mark couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Wha…what are you doing?” He gasped.

“Look…I don’t have much time. Listen, you’ve got to get out of here and fast. Russell will be close on your heels…and mine. Once he finds out your alive he’ll head to your ranch first thing. He won’t hesitate to kill you or your father now.” He added.

“You mean, you’re going to let me go home?” Mark asked in amazement.

“We are about 200 miles west of Northfork. It’s that way.” James pointed. “Can you find you way back?”

“Yes…I think so, but…what about you?” Mark asked.

“I’m heading in a different direction. Russell will still try to kill you…and me, too, for that matter. Go on…get going before I come to my senses.” James helped Mark off the ground. He mounted Blue Boy and looked over at James. He didn’t know what to say.

“Ride hard.” James said as he rode away. Mark pointed Blue Boy toward home, kicked his heels and rode as fast as he could. He had no coat or hat and he was freezing, but he didn’t dare stop anywhere. All he wanted was to get home.

Lucas stepped outside waiting for the first light of dawn. Those first golden streaks across the sky were his sign to mount up and start his daily search for Mark. He no longer slept...not really. Only when his exhausted body betrayed him did he fall into fitful slumber. He would often awake with a start, surprised and angry that he had slept at all. It had been four days now...four days with no sign of his son. Nils had gone back to town. He had a business to run. Micah was in and out of the ranch house. Lucas didn't even try to keep up with his comings and goings. If Micah wasn't there by dawn, Lucas left without him, the dull aching in his head and heart propelling him forward. They had run out of places to look and Lucas racked his brain everyday trying to think of where he could possibly be. His intuition knew something sinister had happened, he just didn't know what. He closed his eyes as he leaned his weary head against the house. It was so cold, and he was wearing his winter coat. Mark didn't even have that small luxury. Who could survive four days in the snow without even a coat? He tried to keep the terrifying possibilities out of his mind but they crept in just the same. What if he never found him? Or even worse...what if he did but was too late? What if his lifeless body was lying out there now, covered in snow? He squeezed his eyes shut harder to block the horrifying image and instead he pictured Mark's dark eyes and his easy smile. Lucas' love for his son was beyond measure. Life without him would be unbearable. Wherever Mark was, he had to be all right. Lucas couldn't accept anything less. As he opened his eyes, he saw faint light in the eastern sky. That was good enough.

Micah caught up with Lucas later that morning. He had searched with him everyday Mark had been missing but Lucas refused to wait on him. Micah's heart was especially heavy this morning as his hope of finding Mark alive diminished everyday. He wasn't sure how much longer Lucas could hold on. His best friend's face was as somber as it had been when last summer when Mark was feared dead. After searching even farther beyond the perimeter of where they had looked the day before, they headed back towards the ranch. The snow had let up somewhat but the air was still as icy as ever. The closer they got to the ranch, the slower Lucas would ride. Finally, when the sun was almost behind the mountains and the ranch loomed in the distance, he suddenly pulled on Razor’s reins and stopped. Micah turned around and saw his face darken inside the hood of his coat.

“I can’t do it, Micah.”

Micah swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “You can’t do what, Lucasboy?”

“I can’t go back to that house again…not without Mark.” His voice broke.

“Lucas…” But it was no use. Lucas had covered his eyes with his hand and began to cry. Micah was quiet for a few moments.

“We’ll go into town then.”

Lucas thought for a moment. “No….no, I have to stay here. I have to wait for him…” His voice trailed off into tears once more.

“Come on, Lucasboy. We’ll go back and get some rest and food. We’ll look again tomorrow.”

Honestly, he couldn’t think of a place they hadn’t already looked, but he would keep going as long as Lucas needed him. They rode slowly towards the ranch. As they began getting closer to the house they were met with a very odd sight….a horse was coming towards them, saddled and bridled, but with no rider. Suddenly, Lucas’ breath caught in his chest.

“Blue Boy!”

He shouted as he rode towards him and grabbed his reins. He began looking around to see if Mark was nearby when suddenly Micah grabbed Lucas’ arm and pointed toward the ranch house. There was a dark figure lying on the ground between the house and the barn. Both men mounted their horses and galloped towards it as quickly as they could. As they got closer, Lucas recognized the outline as Mark. He was lying face down on the hard ground and Lucas rushed to his side and gently turned him over but he was unprepared for what he saw.

“Oh my God…”

His heart shattered when he saw his son’s face. He was unconscious but even more worrisome than that was his color. His face was bluish and ice had formed around his eyes and nose. Lucas felt a weak pulse in his neck and a small flicker of relief passed through him.

“Micah! Help me get him in the house.”

Micah took his legs and Lucas wrapped his arms around his son as gently as he could. They laid him on his bed, but Lucas shouted to Micah “Set up the army cot in front of the fireplace. Hurry!”

Chapter 8

Lucas cradled Mark’s face between his hands.

“Mark! Mark, can you hear me, son?” There was no reply. Lucas placed his cheek against his son’s face. He was so cold.

“Mark, please….” Lucas pleaded, but there was no response. Seeing him like this broke something in Lucas. He was dressed in the same thin shirt and work pants he’d had on when he disappeared. He had no coat, nothing at all to keep him warm. Lucas began looking him over to see what damage had been done. There were no bullet holes, but he did have a large bump on the top of his head. He gently found Mark’s hands and was horrified to see they were purple and swollen. He pulled off his icy boots and socks and saw that his feet were in the same condition. He gently wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close, trying to warm him as much as he could. He was so cold, it was like holding a corpse. This thought made his face crumple and he buried it in Mark’s hair. Micah came in and together they moved Mark to the cot in front of the fire. Once he was there, Lucas began removing his icy clothes and threw several quilts over him. Micah rushed to get Doc Burrage while Lucas stayed by Mark’s side, rubbing his cheeks and arms over and over to try and get him warm. After several minutes, Mark began to shiver uncontrollably. After what seemed like ages, Micah returned with the Doc. Lucas moved over to let Dr. Burrage examine Mark.

“Warm some water on the stove, but don’t let it get too hot.” He said as he looked over Mark’s frostbitten hands and feet. He listened to his heart and lungs and then lifted his eyelids to check his pupils.

“Do you know how long he was exposed?”

“Doc, I have no idea. When we got back from looking today he was lying on the ground out there. But tell me….is he going to be okay?” Lucas’ eyes were pleading with Doc to give him hope.

“It’s too early to tell just yet, but you’re doing all the right things. Let me check that water.” He put his elbow in.

“That’s just about right. Now we’ve got to soak his hands and feet to thaw them out. It could be mighty painful for him, but it has to be done.”

Lucas nodded slightly. How much pain, he wondered. He dreaded seeing his son in pain. They divided the water into two pots and then Lucas gently sat Mark up and leaned him back against his chest and he wrapped his arms around him. They placed his feet into one of the pots of water and his hands in the other.

“Can you hold him there for a while, Lucas?”

He nodded. He would hold him as long as he needed to. They had to change the water several times. Mark was still unconscious, but after awhile, he began to twist his head back and forth and cry out in pain. Lucas held onto him the best he could but eventually he was thrashing about and screaming. Micah had to hold his feet down in the water while the Doc held his hands.

“Doc, do something!” Lucas shouted as he tried to hold it together.

“There’s nothing I can do, Luke. In his weakened condition, I’m afraid to give him anything sedating right now. The movement is actually good for him. It will help his circulation.”

“But he’s hurting!” Lucas shouted.

“I know that and I’m sorry, but this is what it takes to make him well.”

Mark began moaning. “Pa…Pa! It hurts!” He shouted.

“I’m here, son. I’m right here.” Lucas tried to soothe him. If only he could take the pain instead. He’d do anything to make that possible…but it wasn’t. The time inched by.

“No…no, I won’t do it! No!” Mark began shouting. Lucas looked at Micah in bewilderment. He had no idea what he was talking about.

“It wasn’t me, Pa! I’m sorry…I’m sorry!” Lucas put his hand on Mark’s forehead and smoothed back his hair like he’d done when he was younger. Finally, Mark let his head rest back on his father’s shoulder. Lucas spoke softly into his ear.

“Shhh…It’s okay, son. It’s okay. I’m here. I love you and I’m not going anywhere. We’ll get through this together.” His Pa’s voice and hands seemed to calm him somewhat. After several more minutes, Doc finally spoke…

“I think we can let him lie back now.” Lucas got up gently and laid Mark down on the cot and kneeled down beside him. They took his hands and feet out of the water and Doc examined them.

“I’m going to bandage these like burns, because that’s pretty much what they are. The important thing now is to keep them dry and warm.” Lucas nodded. He was looking at Mark’s face. It seemed pale now instead of blue and he was trying to open his eyes.

“Mark? Can you hear me, son?” Mark winced and then nodded slightly.

“I’m so sorry about the pain but we had no choice. Do you understand?” He pleaded. Mark nodded again. Doc placed a mug of hot broth in Lucas’ hand.

“See if he can swallow some of this.”

Lucas lifted Mark’s head and held it to his lips. He managed to get a few sips down. He tried to speak.

“Pa…those men. From the paper….”

The words sliced through Lucas like a knife. “You mean James and Russell?” Mark nodded. The room began to spin. Lucas cursed himself. He should’ve known. He let Mark lie back and then stood up and walked across the room. He turned toward the wall. How could he have been so stupid? He had known those men were up to no good. How could he have let Mark just walk into that situation when it had been so clear to him that it was a bad idea? He remembered the argument he’d had with his son and how he’d gone against his better judgment so Mark could learn for himself. Had he only known that the lesson was going to be this hard, he would have never….Micah interrupted his thoughts.

“Lucas, don’t do this to yourself.”

Lucas spun around. “How can you say that when you know I let Mark walk right into this?”

“You didn’t know what those men were up to. We still don’t. Mark may not even know what he’s saying right now.”

Lucas walked back over to his son’s side. Micah brought him a chair. He sat down and looked at Mark’s face. He had fallen into a restless sleep. Doc came over to talk to Lucas.

“Luke, I need to talk to you about a few things.”

Lucas looked up sharply. “What is it? Is there something else wrong?”

“No, not exactly but his condition is serious. We’re also dealing with the bump he took to the head. Right now I can’t be sure which is causing his symptoms. Most likely it’s a combination of both. Then there’s the frostbite. We’ve done all we can right now, but I’ll have to keep an eye on it. If gangrene sets in, I may have to amputate.”

Lucas’ eyes widened. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You mean Mark may lose his hands or feet….or both?”

“It’s possible, Lucas. I just don’t know yet.”

Despair filled his heart as he considered this possibility. Everything Mark loved to do involved using his hands or feet. Riding, ranching, playing guitar, and of course, writing. He looked back down at Mark. The quilt had slipped a little and he pulled it back up around him. Doc put his hand on Lucas’ shoulder.

“You should get some rest, Lucas. Mark is going to need you to be strong. I know you’ve hardly slept these past few days. Go lie down and I’ll stay up with him.”

“I’m staying right here.” Lucas said without taking his eyes off his son. He placed a gentle hand on Mark’s forehead. Doc knew it was no use in arguing. He simply shrugged and walked away. By early morning, Lucas was practically falling asleep in the chair. He finally allowed Micah to set up the other cot next to Mark so he could be close to him. He awoke several hours later to the sound of Mark’s voice.

“Pa?” He said softly.

Lucas sat up abruptly. “Mark! Son…how are you feeling?”

Mark looked at the white bandages on his hands. “Pa…what happened? How long have I been like this?”

“Mark you were missing for four days. We rode in yesterday and found you lying in the yard practically frozen. Can you tell me where you’ve been?”

Mark’s eyes closed for a moment and he seemed to be thinking. “Oh Pa…you were right all along.” He whispered.

“Right about what?” Lucas asked.

“About James and Russell. They came here to get me to sign my name to an article they had written against statehood. They said it was part of my contract. I refused and they left, but then some men knocked me out and took me to a deserted cabin somewhere.” He began coughing.

“Mark…take it easy, son.” Lucas tried to get him to lie back down.

“No Pa I have to….” He said between coughs.

Lucas held a cup of water to his lips. After drinking Mark tried to go on.

“The next day James and Russell came to the cabin and held a gun to my head. I didn’t want to sign it, Pa, but I had no choice. Afterwards, they were going to kill me anyway. Said that had been the plan all along. They were going to make it look like an accident. Something about me being a minor.” Mark lay back and rested for a moment. He took another drink of water.

“They were about to toss me in a canyon when James came back and shot them. Said he couldn’t let them kill me. Said for me to ride hard to get home, that Russell would be after you, me and him, too.”

“So you rode here all the way in the snow?” Lucas asked incredulously.

“I had to warn you…” He had another coughing spell. Lucas gave him more water. “Russell will be coming here to kill us.”

“Mark, take it easy. It’s going to take time for you to get well. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Russell and James.” Lucas said as a shadow fell over his face. No one harmed his son and got away with it.

“No, Pa. Not this time. This is my fault. I’ll be the one to handle it.”

“Mark, you aren’t to blame for this and you are in no condition to handle anything.”

“But Pa…” Mark began but Doc Burrage interrupted him.

“Boy, I need to examine you and you need to be quiet. Think you can handle that?” Mark nodded. Doc was known for his tough exterior, but everyone knew it was just his way. Lucas talked to Micah while the doc was busy with Mark.

“Micah, what do you make of this?”

“I don’t know Lucasboy, but I think Mark is still in a lot of danger. What do you know about these men?”

“Just that I didn’t trust them from the beginning. They own the Albuquerque paper but they didn’t seem very professional to me. I told them Mark was only 17, but it didn’t seem to bother them.”

Doc stood up. “Well, boy, you have some fluid in your lungs. Not very surprising with what you’ve been through, but we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t turn into pneumonia. I’ll come back tonight to check you again. That alright with you, Lucas?” Lucas nodded. “In the meantime, keep giving him some of that broth. If holds that down alright, he can have some solid food this evening.”

“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate it.”

Doc stood up to leave. “Don’t know what I’d do without you McCain’s to keep me busy.” He shook his head. “Send for me sooner if you need to….especially if you see signs of fever.” Lucas nodded. Micah pulled Lucas aside.

“Listen, this Russell is likely to be headed here right now. You can’t care for Mark and be on guard. I want someone else out here until this thing is over with. Or maybe we should move you both into town.”

“No, Micah. We can’t take him out in this cold. Not now.”

“Well, then Johnny or I will be here.”

“Thanks, Micah.”

Chapter 9

That evening, Micah and Doc Burrage both came by to check on Mark. He had kept down the broth and was given the go ahead to eat some of the stew that Lou had sent. Lucas had to feed him, though.

“Well this brings back old memories. Just don’t spit this back out all over me like you did back then.” Lucas said, trying to lighten Mark’s mood a bit. Mark smiled briefly. After he ate, Doc removed the bandages and checked his hands and feet. There was no sign of infection, but he knew they still had a long way to go. He began wrapping them up again.

“Doc? How long will I have these things?”

“Well, I don’t know Mark. Your frostbite was pretty serious….especially in your hands. It may be a while.” Mark just sighed.

**************************

A week later, a somber Micah came from town with the latest copy of the Albuquerque Morning Times. Mark was able to get up and walk to the kitchen table with Lucas’ help. When he saw the article with is name underneath it, he shoved it away in disgust. Lucas picked it up and began reading. The more he read, the angrier he got.

“Son, even if you hadn’t told me what happened, I would still know you didn’t write this and so would anyone who knows you.”

“Well, James and Russell were just hoping that my name and your reputation would be enough influence. This was their plan all along. I was just stupid enough to fall for it.”

“Mark, we all make mistakes. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“No, Pa…you were right from the beginning. You knew I was making a mistake. I said I wanted to find out for myself and I guess I did. I found out that I’m not as smart as I think I am.” He looked up at his father. “I’m sorry, Pa. I got you mixed up in this and now people who read this will think…” He paused for a moment and looked down at the floor with tears in his eyes. “They’ll think I betrayed you…and I guess in a way, I did.” The thought of this was enough to make the tears spill down his cheeks.

Lucas bent down and placed his hands on both of Marks’ shoulders. “Look at me, son.” Mark reluctantly met his father’s gaze. Lucas looked him in the eyes. “You need to get this thinking out of your head right now.” He said firmly. “You didn’t betray me and I’m not concerned with what everyone will think. I am concerned with you getting well and bringing these men to justice. Do you understand?”

“But Pa…this isn’t your problem, it’s mine.”

“Lucas,” Micah interrupted, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s something else.” Lucas looked bewildered. “Look at the story beneath the one with Mark’s name.” Mark gasped as he read the headline…

“Co-owner of Newspaper Found Dead” and then underneath it, in smaller print “Landers vows to find the men responsible for the death of his partner”.

Lucas looked up at Micah. “The placing of this is no accident. He’s sending us a message. He killed James and wants to make sure we know about it. It’s a threat, pure and simple.”

“But…how….” Mark didn’t know what to say.

“Lucas, you two can’t stay here. It’s not safe.” Micah stated.

“You’re right, Micah. He could be out there right now, watching and waiting for a moment he can get to Mark.”

“You both better stay in town for a while. Lou will put you up at the hotel, then you and I can figure out our next move.”

“You mean, the three of us.” Mark interjected. Lucas and Micah exchanged a knowing look, but didn’t say anything.

“Pack up and I’ll escort you both to town.” Was all Micah said. Once they got there, Micah wanted to get a few men together to ride around the countryside, looking for any trace of Russell. Lucas was torn.

“Micah, you know I’d go with you, but…” Lucas began.

“Think nothing of it, Lucas. You can’t leave Mark’s side when there’s some crazed lunatic out there who wants him dead.”

“Thanks for understanding Micah. I want to catch this guy more than anyone, but I don’t trust anyone else to protect him like I can. I’d be a nervous wreck. I’d be no use to you.”

“I know. You stay here and take care of Mark. We should be back by dark and I’ll let you know what we find.”

*****

Once they were set up at the hotel Robert Garrison, the town lawyer, came to discuss their options. After reading a copy of the original contract, he shook his head.

“This contract is not binding. Most importantly, you’re underage and legally unable to give consent. Also, the wording here is dubious to say the least. I don’t think there will be a problem.”

“But the article is already printed. The damage is done.” Mark said, frustrated.

“Well, we can demand they print a retraction. This could go very badly for them.” Robert replied.

“But Mr. Garrison, if they weren’t afraid to print this in the first place, what makes you think they would print a retraction?” Mark asked.

“Hmm… you have a point.” Robert replied. He paced around the room, deep in thought. Suddenly Mark put threw up his hands.

“Why didn’t I think of this before? It’s perfect.” Mark smiled for the first time in days.

“Think of what?”

“The Roswell Dispatch” Mark replied. “I could write an article that tells the whole story, implicating Russell in all of it. I know Mr. Edwards would print it, I just know it!”

Robert and Lucas looked at each other. “We’ll have to see what Micah thinks, Mark.”

Mark was already hobbling over to the desk for his journal. “What are you doing?” Lucas asked him.

“I’m getting a head start on my story.”

“But you can’t write with those bandages on your hands.” Lucas said, confused.

“No” Mark said with an impish grin, “But you can.” Lucas gave him a look. “All the great writers have secretaries, you know.” Mark said.

Lucas groaned. “Glad to see you have your sense of humor back, son.” But he could tell that Mark was only half joking.

Chapter 10

Micah returned from his ride with no sightings of Russell. He had spread the word around town for everyone to be on the look out for anything unusual. Mark and Lucas had sworn out a warrant for his arrest on the charges of kidnapping and attempted murder, but he seemed to have disappeared. No one in Albuquerque had seen him after the Dispatch printed Mark’s story. A few weeks went by and Doc Burrage had removed Mark’s bandages. He declared his feet to be healed, however he still had limited use of his hands. Lucas knew that this wasn’t over….that if Russell were still alive he was still very dangerous. He knew that he was just waiting for them to be lulled into a false sense of safety. Even now, Lucas wouldn’t leave Mark alone for any amount of time. Although he rode out with Lucas everyday, he made sure he stayed out of open country and never more than several feet away. The slightest sound made him jump and several times Mark had to bite his tongue to keep from saying anything. After all that had happened, he couldn’t blame his father for being afraid for him, but he still felt ultimately responsible. He was hoping they would ride into town today so he could visit Grid. He felt he’d neglected his friend lately with all that had happened, but Lucas wasn’t so sure.

“I don’t know, son. I think going into town may be a bad idea.” Mark rolled his eyes but didn’t let Lucas see.

“Pa…we can’t live like this forever. Russell is long gone or dead by now….probably killed by whoever he was working for to begin with.”

“That may be, son, but until we know for sure, I’m not letting you out of my sight.” Lucas said. He heard Mark sigh softly and he stopped Razor and looked at his son.

“Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too. But you have to understand…I can’t lose you again.”

“I know that, Pa, but please…can we at least go into town and have dinner? I just feel so…restless.”

Lucas thought to himself. What could it hurt? They were probably safer in town than out here. It was the ride home after dark that bothered him.

“Listen, Mark. I’ll make you a deal. We can go into town, have dinner and visit Grid but we’re going to stay the night in the hotel.”

A huge smile lit Mark’s face. “Well, that’s just fine, Pa. Let’s go!”

Mark was off before Lucas could even respond. They rode to the ranch, packed a few essentials and headed to town. On the way there, Mark was almost his old self. He talked and talked about the paper and writing and his latest plans for the ranch. Lucas realized just how much he’d missed this and soon he was laughing and talking along with him. But about halfway to town, he stopped suddenly and lifted the rifle he had let rest over his lap while he and Mark were talking.

“What is it, Pa?” Mark asked quietly.

“I don’t know. I thought I heard something.” Lucas said as he looked around. Mark was disappointed. Things had almost felt normal for a while.

“It’s probably the wind, Pa…blowing ice off the trees.”

“I don’t know.” Lucas said dubiously. “Come on…”

They continued into town, but quietly this time. Once they arrived, Mark went to see Grid in his room at the hotel. Lou had converted an old storage closet off the lobby into his room so she could be close during the day. Mark walked in and saw Grid was sitting up in the bed.

“Hey Grid, how’ve you been?” Mark said as he sat down next to the bed. He patted his friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I haven’t been in to see you in a while. Things have been….” He looked out in the lobby at his Pa talking to Lou. “…difficult.” He looked back at Grid. He wondered if he knew what he was saying. He thought he saw a flicker of interest in his eyes, but he wasn’t sure.

“I guess I got myself into more trouble. I’m pretty good at that, huh?” Grid tried to smile. Why was it so hard? He wanted to let Mark know that he understood…that he cared, but he couldn’t speak, only move his lips wordlessly. Mark went on to tell the entire story to his friend. He didn’t know why, but it made him feel better to talk to someone, even if that someone wasn’t able to respond. When he finished he sat quietly for a moment and looked around the small room. Tears filled his eyes as they fell on the first article he’s had printed….the one about last summer. Mark had brought a copy over as soon as he had one and read it aloud to him. He’d then left it on the nightstand so Grid could have his own copy. He wanted him to know how much he appreciated what he’d done. Grid had insisted on coming with him to find his Pa and he knew that if he hadn’t, he probably wouldn’t have survived. Grid was wiser in the ways of the world and his survival had greatly depended on that wisdom. In the end, they had both survived, but in different ways. Grid had not recovered as well as Mark from their head wounds. He was unable to walk or talk. No one knew exactly how aware he was, if at all, of his surroundings. Mark prayed every day for his full recovery. He was never going to give up on him. He tried to pretend otherwise, but deep down, he knew it was his fault…it was all his fault.

“I’m so sorry, Grid.” Mark said as he stood to say good-bye, the tears spilling down his cheeks. “I wish it were me.”

After Mark left for the dining room, Grid sat and thought about what Mark had said. The visit had made him very tired, but he struggled to stay awake. He wished he could help, but what could he do? He wished he could tell Mark that it wasn’t his fault that he was like this…that he wasn’t sorry he’d gone after him to find Lucas. He also wished he could help him with his latest dilemma, but he was so, so very tired….

Grid awoke with a start. What had shaken him so? He looked around the room. It had grown dark and a dimly lit lantern sat on the nightstand. He realized that some men were talking quietly outside his door. Lou had gone to dinner with Lucas and Mark and there was no one tending the desk. The door was cracked so he could hear their voices, but couldn’t exactly understand what they were saying. He could sense from their tone that they thought they were alone. He started to drift back to sleep until he heard something that made him jump. It was the men…one of them had said “McCain.” He listened again, more closely.

“ you’ll go to the ranch” and “Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be soon enough.”

Grid’s mind whirled. His keen senses told him that these men were here to harm Mark. He opened his mouth and tried to call out for anyone…anyone who could help him warn his friend, but nothing came out…only useless silence. He heard Lou walk up to the desk and ask if they had a reservation. He heard them make friendly small talk with her as if they really were just harmless cattlemen on their way to Santa Fe. He heard Lou tell them they were in rooms 10 and 11. He heard them laugh as they shared some kind of joke. He heard everything except his own voice, which he was desperately trying to make work.

Chapter 11

The next morning Lucas and Mark had breakfast in the hotel dining room before heading back home. Both had slept pretty well for the first time in weeks and almost seemed relaxed. Deep down, Mark felt a twinge of fear that once they got back home, away from the safety of town, that things would be different again. He knew that what they were going through wasn’t good for either of them. He also knew that they couldn’t go on like this forever. Something had to give. But for now, they were both lingering over breakfast, determined to make the normalcy last as long as possible. Lou saw them and walked over to say hello. She looked exhausted.

“Good morning, Lou.” Lucas said as he drained his second cup of coffee.

“There’s not much good about it when you’ve been up half the night.”

Lucas raised his eyebrows. “Something wrong?”

“It’s Grid. He was awake most of the night…very agitated. He hasn’t been like this before. It was almost like he was in pain, but I couldn’t tell where.” Mark frowned.

“Really? He seemed pretty calm yesterday. I even sensed some improvement, like he might’ve understood some of what I told him.”

“Well, whatever it was, he’s sleeping now. Doc gave him an injection early this morning. I just hope when he wakes up, he’s in better spirits. Poor thing…I hate to see him hurting.”

Lucas patted her hand. “I know.” He said quietly. “Let us know how he’s doing later, okay?” She smiled.

“I will.” He turned back to Mark.

“Well, son I guess we better get going. Ranching doesn’t leave much time for playing city slicker.” Mark forced a smile but deep down, he almost dreaded going back. He hated feeling this way. He loved ranching and he loved their home. He just didn’t love seeing Lucas so…. terrified. If there was one thing that frightened his father, he knew it was the thought of losing him.

“Sure, Pa. Let’s go.” Mark said as he stood up. Lucas gave him a knowing look. He knew, like always, what Mark was feeling and he placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“This won’t last forever, son. I promise.” He said quietly.

“I know, Pa. I understand.”

**********************

As they rode up towards the ranch, Lucas noticed something wasn’t right. It wasn’t until they rode up to the house that he figured out what it was. Someone had been there. He motioned for Mark to get down.

“Stay here and stay low. I’m not going far.”

Lucas bent over to inspect the tracks on the ground. Two horses had ridden up, approached the house and left. He inched closer to the house, rifle cocked and ready in his hand. He cautiously approached the door of the house and opened it. Not much was disturbed, but to Lucas’ trained eye it was apparent that someone had been inside it. He quickly went back to Mark.

“Son, someone was here and went inside the house. I’m riding you back into town and coming back with Micah to track him down. This has gone on long enough.” Mark was surprised by this turn of events. He really didn’t expect Russell to make an appearance.

“We don’t need to waste time going to town. Let’s just track him down from here.”

“Absolutely not, Mark. This man wants to kill you. He has nothing to lose by doing so. I can’t track him and keep you safe at the same time.”

“But Pa, I’m 17 years old. Don’t you think it’s time?”

Lucas looked unnerved. “Time for what?”

“To let me help you.”

“Mark, you are still recovering and it’s out of the question. I need to focus on finding Russell and I can’t do that if I’m worried about you.”

Mark sighed. He knew he was fighting a losing battle. “Okay, let’s go.”

Lucas handed him his .22. “Here, take this. I don’t want to leave you in town unarmed.”

They rode back to town with Lucas as guarded as ever. When they got there Lucas took Mark back to the hotel.

“I want you to stay here until I get back. Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir.”

“I mean it, Mark. You don’t leave this hotel for any reason….any reason at all.” The look in Lucas’ eyes told Mark not to challenge him on this. “I’ll be back as soon as I can and God willing we’ll have Russell with us.”

“Alright.” Mark looked in his father’s face. “Be careful, Pa.” He said in a shaky voice.

“I will, son. I promise. This will be over soon.” And with those words, he went to track the men who wanted to harm his son, which, unbeknownst to him, was exactly what Russell wanted him to do.

*********************

After Lucas left, Mark felt helpless. He was worried about his father and felt completely responsible. He went in to see Grid who was still sleeping. He spoke softly.

“Grid, if anything happens to him it’ll be my fault.” Mark covered his eyes with his hand. “Oh God, don’t let that happen.” Finally he got up and walked into the dining room for some coffee. Lou brought him a cup.

“Do you want some lunch?”

“No…no thanks. I can’t eat right now.”

“Mark, I know you’re worried but you need to eat. Let me bring you something…please.”

“Fine.” he relented. “I’ll have a sandwich.”

“….and soup.” Lou declared. Mark looked up.

“and soup.”

Lou walked back to the kitchen and Mark tried to figure out how he was going to eat when his stomach was in knots. He tried to think of what else he could do to pass the time without breaking Lucas’ order to not leave the hotel. He peeked into Grid’s room and saw that he was awake so he sat down for a few minutes. It was clear that whatever had been bothering Grid the night before was still bothering him. His brow was creased and he was trying to talk.

“Grid, take it easy. What’s the matter? Are you in pain?”

Grid shook his head and weakly lifted his arm in an effort to point. Mark didn’t understand.

“You want me to get Lou? Or Doc Burrage?”

He shook his head again. Mark was at a loss. “What is it? I want to help but I don’t know what to do.”

He heard Lou calling his name from the dining room. “Mark! Your lunch is here. Where did you go?”

“Look Grid, I’ll be right back.” Mark stood and as he walked towards the dining room a very strange thing happened. Mark’s mind was focused on his father, his friend and how he could help but suddenly he heard a very distinct sound…one he hadn’t heard for a while. A very familiar voice called out his name. Was it possible? It sounded like---

Mark turned towards the sound of his friend’s voice but as he did, he saw a strange man at his back in the process of pulling out his gun. Without thinking, Mark did what he’d seen his father do many times. He reached out and knocked the gun away and the man fell to the ground. They struggled until Lou’s screams brought Johnny running out of the marshal’s office. When he saw what was happening, he pointed his gun at the man and said

“Mark, get up. I’ve got him.”

Chapter 12

Mark’s mind was racing. His hands were hurting badly as he tried to process what just happened. Grid had spoken his name…someone had tried to kill him….

“Mark, you alright?” It was Johnny’s voice.

“Yeah, yeah I’m okay.” He turned to Lou. “Lou…Grid…he spoke.”

“Are you sure?” She asked.

“Yes! He warned me about him!” Mark said as he gestured towards his would-be attacker. Lou ran in to check on Grid.

He whirled around to face the man who had tried to kill him. “Who are you?” He demanded. “Are you working for Russell?”

“He’s a guest here at the hotel…” a voice said. “He and another gentleman. They said they were on their way to Santa Fe.”

“Well I think we know the truth now. Were you at the ranch last night?” Mark asked as he looked at the man, enraged. He still said nothing. “Were you?” He yelled.

“Let’s get him over to the jail and he’ll talk…if he knows what’s good for him.” Johnny said as he cuffed him. “The odds are not in his favor. Come on.” The group headed towards the door. Mark hesitated at the door for a brief moment, Lucas’ words about staying in the hotel echoing in his head.

“What is it?” Johnny asked.

“Nothing.” Mark said as he stepped over the threshold. Somehow, he knew Lucas would understand. He and Mark dragged the man into Micah’s office. Nils and John Hamilton soon joined them. Johnny pushed the man into a chair.

“Okay, start talking. Why did you try to attack Mark?”

The man turned away. Mark tried again.

“You work for Russell.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“He told you to kill me.” The man looked at Mark in disgust.

“Don’t be so naïve. If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead right now.” He sneered. Mark was confused.

“Mister, pointing a gun at someone’s back isn’t exactly a friendly gesture.”

“No, not exactly.”

Johnny was getting irritated. “Look, stop playing games and tell us what’s going on. Were you at the McCain ranch last night?” The man shook his head.

“Well who? Your partner?” The man shrugged. He said nothing. Mark was losing his patience. He grabbed the man by the collar. “I said who? Who was at the ranch?”

“Calm down, Mark.” Johnny said. “He’ll tell us. Won’t you?” The man shrugged again.

“Brent was there. I stayed in town. My orders were to take you to Russell.”

“But where did your partner go?” The man smiled.

Mark felt his stomach drop. “Is that who my father is chasing now? Was this whole thing a trap?” The man said nothing, just had a sly smirk on his face. Mark was getting angry.

“Where is he leading him? Where?” He yelled.

“To his grave, that’s where.”

Suddenly it all made sense. Someone had gone to the ranch to lure Lucas into tracking him and leaving Mark alone. The other man was supposed to take Mark at gunpoint. They were all meeting up with Russell who was planning to kill them both. Johnny practically had to hold Mark back. He’d never felt anger like this. An understanding for the times Lucas had lost his temper worked its way into Mark’s heart. Thankfully Johnny was level-headed.

“What’s your name?”

After a pause the man answered “Carl Rutledge”

“Okay, Carl Rutledge…it’s in your best interest to cooperate with us.”

“I’m a dead man anyway. I failed and Russell doesn’t allow for failure.”

“Well, then you have nothing to lose.”

After some thought, Randy answered “I’ll take you to Russell if you promise me protection.”

“What kind of protection? You’re going to jail either way.”

“Protection from Russell and the hangman.”

Johnny looked at Mark. He didn’t like it, but what else could he do? He gave a slight nod.

“Okay, let’s get going.”

Mark walked over to Johnny. “I’ll get my horse ready.”

Johnny looked skeptical. “I don’t know, Mark. I really think you should stay here.”

“No way. Out of the question. This is my fight. We can either go together or I’ll go alone, but I’m going.”

Johnny could see the determination in Mark’s face. “Okay.”

They saddled up and got ready to go. “Here.” Johnny handed Mark a rifle. “Here, you can borrow this. You’re not going out there with a .22.” Mark accepted it gratefully. He turned towards the hotel.

“We’re leaving in 10 minutes.” Johnny said.

“I’ll be right back.”

Mark walked into Grid’s room. He was sleeping again and Lou was watching him closely.

Mark swallowed hard. “How is he?” Lou turned.

“He’s better. I assured him that you were safe and then he calmed down. He fell asleep about ten minutes ago. He’s just exhausted from last night.”

“Did he say anything? I mean…anything else?”

“No…not yet.” Lou turned. “Ya goin’ with Johnny?” Mark nodded.

“I won’t be a fool and try to stop you this time, but you better come back in one piece.”

“I will.” Mark whispered. Lou stood and put her arms around him. “Lucas will be alright. He always is.”

Mark couldn’t answer, but he prayed that she was right.


Making Room III

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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