The Writer's Corner
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
“You mean, you’re going to let me go home?” Mark asked in
“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,
“I can’t go back to that house again…not without Mark.” His
“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.
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!”
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
“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
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
“Mark? Can you hear me, son?” Mark winced and then nodded
“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
“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’
“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
“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
“So you rode here all the way in the snow?” Lucas asked
“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
“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
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.”
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,
“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
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
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
“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
“But the article is already printed. The damage is done.” Mark
“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
“No” Mark said with an impish grin, “But you can.” Lucas gave
him a look. “All the great writers have secretaries, you know.”
Lucas groaned. “Glad to see you have your sense of humor back,
son.” But he could tell that Mark was only half joking.
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
“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
A huge smile lit Mark’s face. “Well, that’s just fine, Pa. Let’s
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
“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
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.
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
“There’s not much good about it when you’ve been up half the
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
“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
“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,
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
“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
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
“Fine.” he relented. “I’ll have a sandwich.”
“….and soup.” Lou declared. Mark looked up.
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
“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
“Mark, get up. I’ve got him.”
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
“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
“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
“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
“What’s your name?”
After a pause the man answered “Carl Rutledge”
“Okay, Carl Rutledge…it’s in your best interest to cooperate
“I’m a dead man anyway. I failed and Russell doesn’t allow for
“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
“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.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch