Welcome to The Writer's Corner
A Town Divided
Written by Morgan
The night was
young, and music and laughter could be heard coming from the
saloon in Copper Creek, Arizona. The pianist's fingers
gracefully danced on the keys as a saloon girl laughed at the
joke she had heard a hundred times that week. Another barmaid
brought a ranch hand a mug of beer while he considered calling
his opponent's bluff. Outside the saloon, a couple of men were
going at it, trying to defend what little of their honor was
The scene that could be observed in any saloon across the
territory continued uninterrupted for hours. The bartender
watched as men got too drunk, lost too much money, and fought
too long; but they'd recover enough by next weekend to do it all
“Three more beers, Charles.” A saloon girl said as she came up
to the bartender.
“You're doing pretty well tonight, sweetheart. Mind letting the
other girls in on your secret?”
“They can't help it if they don't “got it”.”
The bartender shook his head as he filled the glasses and handed
them over to the woman.
“I'd watch it, that head of yours is getting a little big.”
“And I'd watch it if you want me to come into work tomorrow.”
The woman turned away in a huff, leaving Charles to chuckle at
the saloon girl.
“Whiskey.” A man said as he put his glass on the counter.
“Don't you think you've had enough?” The bartender asked.
“Since when do you refuse business?”
Charles shrugged in response and filled the glass once again. As
he placed it on the counter, he saw yet another man walk through
the swinging doors. But this man stopped in the entrance, taking
in the scene before him… hand on his holster.
Slowly, heads began to turn as they felt the atmosphere in the
saloon begin to change. They all curiously stared at the well
dressed man as the pianist brought his playing to a stop.
“What's he back for?” Somebody whispered to the man next to him.
“Everyone except Packer, out.” The man calmly ordered.
Without hesitation, the large crowd made their way to the doors,
remembering the chaos this man caused the last time he was in
The man made his way to the bar, where the bartender was
beginning to clean up.
“That means you, too.”
“I won't cause you any trouble, Raymond. Let me clean this mess
“I said out.”
The bartender shook his head and begrudgingly headed for the
door leading to the back room.
“You know, Raymond,” the Bartender said as he turned around.
“One of these days someone's going to stand up to you, and
you'll get what you deserve.”
“Probably. Unfortunately for you, today's not that day, is it?”
The bartender shook his head in disgust and walked out the door,
Raymond's eyes following him.
“Where do you think you're going?” Raymond asked as he turned
around, stopping a man dead in his tracks.
“P-please, Raymond… I… I'll get you the money, j… just-”
“Sit down, Neff. You and I have some talking to do.”
Neff Packer¹ hesitantly sat down at one of the many round tables
and uneasily waited as Raymond made his way to the bar and
helped himself to a bottle of whiskey.
“You want something to drink?” Raymond offered.
“You're a hard man to track down, Packer. I've been looking all
over for you. I'd almost say you're hiding from me.” Raymond
paused as he walked towards Neff and took a seat across from
him. “Now why would a person like you be hiding from somebody
like me? We're good friends, aren't we?”
Neff nervously swallowed, eyeing the handgun Raymond now held in
“Such good friends, I didn't have to worry about you paying me
back. Because you promised to pay me back three times as much…
five years ago.”
Neff still remained silent, wondering what it felt like to be
“Where’s my money, Neff?” Raymond demanded.
“We… well you see, it wasn't my fault. Some things went wrong
and I couldn't keep the ranch and-”
“Yes, I heard about your little brush with the law.” Raymond
sighed as he pointed his gun at the ceiling and pulled the
hammer back. “I always knew you were a fool, Packer. I just
didn't expect you to go and do something as stupid as kidnap the
“But if it had worked out, I would've had the land I needed to
really make some money, and then-”
“But it didn't work out, Neff. And now your time is up.”
“Just give me some more time, Raymond. I promise, you'll get
“Like you promised to have it five years ago? I don't think so.”
Raymond slowly pointed the gun at Packer, who closed his eyes as
Raymond pulled the trigger.
...But all that was heard was a click.
“Would you look at that.” Raymond stated in a evil tone. “Seems
I'm out of bullets.”
“...What do you want?”
“If I killed you, I still wouldn't have my money back. But at
least some of my other… clients… would take me a bit more
seriously. However, I'm a reasonable man. I'm willing to let you
make this up to me, Packer.”
“I need a little help. I have some… business… to settle in North
“N-no, I can't!” Neff exclaimed. “They'd skin me alive if I
showed my face there!”
“You served your time, didn't you?”
“Well… yes, but Lucas Mc-”
“Lucas McCain won't have a chance to get his hands on you, I
“Neff, I lied. I'm not out of bullets. There's one in here…
somewhere.” Raymond said as he again pulled back the hammer. “We
can find that bullet, or you come to North Fork with me.”
“...McCain won't know I'm there?”
“By the time he does, it'll be too late. I've never broken a
promise, Packer. Which is more than I can say for you.”
“What exactly are we doing? Why does it have to be North Fork?”
“We just have to make some withdrawals from their bank.”
“Raymond, I can't go back to jail, please-”
“I thought I made myself clear. Shall I try pulling the trigger
“...Wh-when do we leave?”
“That's the spirit.”
Lucas looked up from fixing the corral post to see his son and
daughter-in-law riding double on Blue Boy, both soaking wet.
“What happened to you two?” Lucas laughed.
“Cassie thought it'd be… romantic, if we went for a swim.” Mark
briefly paused before going on. “Pa, shouldn't you be inside?
Doc sent you home no less than-”
“I'm fine.” Lucas insisted. “Romantic, Cassie?”
“That's not exactly how I remember it.” Cassie replied with
raised eyebrows. “Your son pulled me into the lake.”
“Well if you're going to tell him that part,” Mark began, “Why
don't you explain how I got into the lake in the first place?”
“It's not my fault you tripped over the branch.”
“It's just your fault I lost my balance.” Mark said as he
dismounted and began helping his wife down. “She shoved me in!”
“Like your Pa would believe that. A lady like myself, pushing
“Lady?” Mark teased.
A smile played on Lucas's lips as he watched Cassie chase Mark
up to their home, where the two of them disappeared inside. He
shook his head and chuckled as he turned back to the corral
“Was that Mark and Cassie?” Milly asked as she came out to the
Lucas stood and gave his wife a playful kiss.
“I thought he was taking her to town this afternoon.”
“He is, but I guess their picnic didn't exactly go as planned.
They came home soaking wet.”
Milly chuckled as she put her hands to her hips and looked up
the hill towards the younger McCain’s home.
“I hope they were laughing about it.”
“Oh, they were.” Lucas paused before going on.
“...Lucas, what are you doing out here? I left you on the porch
no more than fifteen minutes ago.”
“Milly, I'm fine.”
“Lucas, you were shot! You're going to make things worse.”
“Doing a little hammering isn't going to kill me.”
Milly let out a long sigh before giving in and changing the
“...It's good to see them laughing again. Even after they
resolved their disagreement this spring, they still seemed…
almost afraid to laugh. Did you ever find out what happened?”
“Mark just says they had some communication issues to work
through. Whatever it was, I'm glad they're past it.” Lucas went
back to his task as he continued. “Where's Lydia?”
“Rachael is putting her to sleep. I'm rather surprised at how
well she handles children. She's worked wonders with Lydia,
Madison, and Michael.”
“How's her attitude about school starting next week?”
“She hasn't talked about it. I think she's trying to forget
about it for as long as she can.”
“Remind me when we go into town Wednesday to pick up supplies
“...Lucas, have you thought about how long you're going to keep
her in school?”
“Until she finishes.” Lucas said in confusion. “Why do you ask?”
“I appreciate a good education as much as you do, I was a
teacher. Sometimes I wonder if she could learn better at the
ranch, if I provided her lessons. She has amazing potential, I'm
just afraid that if she's not engaged in her school work, it'll
be a waste to send her to school.”
“When Rachael suggested that last year, I was tempted to go
along with it. But we're here to help mold her as a person, and
help her develop character. Part of having character is putting
effort into things you may not particularly like. Since she's
sixteen, Rachael's not required to go to school by the town
charter, but I think in the long run, it will be best for her.”
Lucas paused before going on. “I appreciate your willingness,
Milly, but your hands are going to be full with Lydia anyway.”
“If you think it's best, then I have no qualms.” Milly gave her
husband a kiss on the cheek before heading towards the house.
“I'm going to start supper, it'll be ready in about two and a
“What are you making?”
“You'll see.” Milly said with a teasing smile.
“...Maybe I'll join Mark and Cassie in town…”
“Lucas McCain, you'll do no such thing!”
Lucas smiled back at his wife before she turned and walked
towards the house. He finished up the corral and put his tools
away before hooking up the team to the buck board for Mark. Just
as he was finishing, Mark and Cassie entered the barn.
“Thanks, Pa… but you-”
“It wasn't a problem. You two have an enjoyable evening.”
“Thank you, Uncle Lucas.” Cassie replied.
Mark helped his wife up into the buckboard before he went around
to the other side.
“Cassie, if he mistreats you in anyway, let me know.” Lucas said
with a smile.
“I don't think I'll have to worry about that, tonight, anyway.”
Cassie replied with a smile.
“See you later, Pa.” Mark urged the team forward as the couple
waved back to Lucas.
As they turned onto the main road, Mark stretched his legs out a
“I think he's up to something.”
“Why do you think your Pa’s up to something?” Cassie asked in
“I don't know, just something about him. He's been acting funny
“I don't think he has been.”
“You haven't lived with him for two decades.”
“I also don't have an overactive imagination.” Cassie readjusted
in her seat as she changed the subject. “When are you starting
on the barn?”
“I'm not, at least I'm not this year.”
“There's not enough in the budget. We didn't get a good enough
price for the cattle, and after everything that's happened the
last couple months… things are going to be a little tight.”
“Then why are you taking me out? Mark, I-”
“Cassie, our first wedding anniversary only happens once. We'll
make it through the winter fine, we just can't take on any big
projects for the time being.”
“I'd be just as happy having dinner at home-”
“I know, and that's part of why I love you so much. But this is
a special night, and I want us to do something special for it.”
Mark drove the team the rest of the way into town, where Mark
and Cassie enjoyed supper at the hotel. Afterwards, the couple
took a long walk around town, listening as the town settled down
for the night and the wildlife made itself more well-known. As
they were rounding a corner, Mark accidentally bumped into
“Sorry, I-” Mark stopped as he recognized his former classmate.
“Billy, how are you? Seems I never see you anymore!”
Billy nervously shifted his weight as he avoided looking
directly either one of them.
“Fine, sorry to rush, but I have some… some important business I
gotta take care of, and I'm going to be late.”
“No problem, stop by the ranch sometime.”
Cassie and Mark stared after the man in confusion as he briskly
walked past the couple.
“What was that all about?” Cassie asked in confusion.
“Who knows.” Mark shrugged with a laugh. “Knowing Billy, he’s
probably late for meeting with a special lady friend.”
“By his nervousness, I'd say you're probably right.”
A long while later, Cassie and Mark settled into their hotel
room for the evening. Mark had just turned down the lamp when he
and Cassie heard noise coming from the street below… a lot of
noise. Mark hurried to the window and pulled back the blind just
enough so he could see.
“I told you he was up to something.” Mark said as he motioned
for Cassie to join him.
Cassie looked out the window to see a large group of their
family and friends below, now beginning the chorus of “Let Me
Call You Sweetheart.”
“They didn't!” Cassie exclaimed as she walked away from the
window. “Mark, you better believe I'm going to have words with
“Come on, Cass. They respected our ages when we got married. Let
them have their fun.”
Cassie glared at her husband for a few seconds before finally
“Let me put something decent on before you open the window. This
whole tradition is ridiculous.”
Mark threw a shirt on as Cassie put her day dress over her
nightgown. The couple opened the window and listened as the
crowd below serenaded them.
After the third or fourth song, Mark decided it had go on long
“...Thank you all for your… “concern”...”
“Another!” Someone from the crowd shouted.
“If you'll excuse us,” Mark continued. “We'd like to celebrate
our wedding anniversary.” Cassie gave Mark an embarrassed stare
as the crowd began chuckling. “...You all may want to avoid my
wife for a few weeks…”
The crowd laughed and began to make their leave as Cassie gave
Mark a discrete pinch on the arm.
Mark shut the window before turning to his wife.
“What was that for?”
“You know very well what that was for, Mark Warren.”
“Everyone knows, there's no-”
Cassie walked passed her husband and got under the covers.
“Cassie, don't be mad.” Mark pleaded as he sat on the bed. “It's
a shivaree, everyone-”
Cassie turned over and couldn't help but let her laugh break
through her angry face.
Cassie wrapped her arms around her husband's neck and gave him a
“I still am going to have words with your father.”
“We both will… but that can wait until tomorrow.” Mark gave his
wife another kiss. “Happy anniversary, Cassie.”
Lucas got quite an earful from his wife, daughter-in-law, and
son; but in the end, they all couldn't help but chuckle a
August turned to September, Anna left for nursing school, and
Rachael began her second semester with Mr. Griswold. As Mark and
Lucas worked the cattle, Cassie and Milly prepared their gardens
for next spring, hoping they would have a little better outcome
than the previous year.
Late one afternoon, Lucas and Mark were working in the barn when
Rachael arrived home from school, waving a letter in her hand.
“Uncle Lucas, it came! He replied!”
“Slow down, Rachael.” Lucas said as he took Liberty's reigns.
“Uncle Dan, he wrote you back!”
Rachael jumped down from her horse as she handed Lucas the
“Uncle who?” Mark asked as he walked towards the two.
“Your Uncle Dan, one of my brothers.” Lucas replied as he looked
over the return address, then put the letter in his pocket.
“You mean you aren't going to read it?” Rachael asked in
“Later. Right now, well all have work to get to.”
“I'll let you know what he had to say.”
Rachael knew she was being told to get to her chores, and nodded
as she took Liberty's reigns.
As Rachael unsaddled her horse, Mark and Lucas mounted up to
head back out to the range one last time that day.
“What made you decide to write one of your brothers?” Mark
asked, a little shocked.
“Rachael, actually. It has been too long since any of us has
reached out to each other. I'm hoping we can leave the past in
“... I'm guessing Uncle Dan wasn't too happy about what Aunt
“None of us were, but the other three in the family decided to
“...Did you tell him about Rachael?”
“What do you think his response will be?”
“...I don't know, Mark. It's been over ten years since I've
spoken with him. Hopefully, he's changed.”
Mark could tell his Pa didn't want to talk about it anymore and
dropped the subject. After checking the cattle, they returned
home just in time for supper.
After the evening chores were completed, Rachael worked on her
homework while the couples sat out on the porch. Cassie and Mark
eventually made their way up the hill, leaving Milly and Lucas
“...Rachael said you got a letter from your brother today?”
“...Yes, I did.”
“She was quite disappointed that you didn't read it right away.”
“...Yes, she was.”
Milly waited a moment before hesitantly going on.
“Lucas, waiting to read it isn't going to solve anything. Worst
case, he feels the way he did before.”
Lucas sighed as he pulled the letter out and looked it over.
“I guess you're right.”
Lucas began to open the letter and read it aloud.
To be honest, I was shocked to get your letter. After what
happened, I never really expected us to talk again… let alone
hear you try to initiate our reunion. Yet I found myself reading
your letter, and am taken aback by how much I've missed. It
hardly seems possible for Mark to be grown and married… I guess
that shows just how old I'm getting. Rebecca just turned
twenty-one, and Lee's nineteenth birthday is just around the
corner in mid August. Then there's the rest of my children you
and your wife will have to meet. Hannah and I would love to
accept your invitation for Thanksgiving, and plan to arrive two
You may find this difficult to believe, but I am deeply grieved
to hear of the news of Klarissa. Regardless of her choices, she
was our sister… and I should have treated her has such. I am
glad to hear that you've opened your home to Rachael, and that
she is adjusting to life well. We are all looking forward to
meeting her, and properly welcoming her into the McCain family.
We'll have plenty of time to talk through our differences when
we arrive in New Mexico, but I do want to make it clear that I
am sorry for how I behaved myself during and after Klarissa's
ordeal, and hope you and Rachael both can find it in your heart
to forgive me.
We are looking forward to our visit, and I am looking forward to
putting the past behind us.
Milly watched as her husband looked off into the distance, a
frown on his face.
“...Lucas, isn't this good?”
Milly waited several moments for a reply, but her husband hadn't
Lucas shook his head and turned towards his wife.
“Sorry, Milly. What'd you say?”
“What's wrong with you? This is good news.”
“I… I know. It just brings back a lot of bad memories.”
“I know things can be difficult at times, but you can't wallow
in the past. What's done is done.”
“I know.” Lucas let out a long sigh as he stood. “I'm going on a
walk for a while.”
“Do you want some company?”
“...Not this time, Milly.”
Milly watched Lucas walk out onto their land before she went
inside their home to check on Rachael.
“How is your homework coming?”
“All I have left is this writing assignment, but I can't make
heads or tails of it. How am I supposed to know whether to use
“I” or “me?” It's not like anyone pays attention to it when
they're talking anyway.”
“Out here, people don't. But if you ever went out East, you'd
see that people take their speech very seriously. Let me take a
Rachael handed her book to Milly and she looked it over for
“Oh, this is quite easy.”
“Easy for you to say. You were a teacher.”
“Simply take out the other person's name and see if the sentence
Milly chuckled as Rachael gave her a confused stare.
“Take the first problem.” Milly began.
1. Mother made an apple pie for Alberta and __.
“We could say Alberta and I, but if we removed Alberta from the
sentence it wouldn't make sense. It would read, “Mother made an
apple pie for I.” But if we said, “me,” it would make sense both
ways. “Mother made an apple pie for me,” or “Mother made an
apple pie for Alberta and me.” Does that make sense?”
“...Yes… it actually does.” Rachael said with a smile. “Thanks,
“You're welcome. Don't stay up too late, you have a long day
Milly kissed the top of Rachael's head before making her way to
her bedroom. She checked on a sleeping Lydia before changing
into her nightgown and braiding her hair. Finally, she settled
into bed reading a book, waiting for Lucas to return.
Several hours had passed and Milly woke up when the door to her
“What time is it?” Milly asked her husband with a yawn.
“A little after midnight.”
“Midnight? Lucas, are you alright? “
“I am now.”
“What's going on?”
Lucas sighed before he began changing for bed, trying to find
the simplest way to explain this.
“...I had an old matter to settle with myself. I always felt as
though Dan, Joseph, and my father blamed me for what happened to
Klarissa. Until Dan’s letter, I didn't realize how much I blamed
myself. I always wondered if there was more I could've done… but
I didn't recognize that I thought it was my fault.”
“But Dan didn't say anything about it being your fault, and it
most certainly isn't.”
“I know that, now. But even though Dan didn't say anything, I
could still hear the arguments and accusations that happened the
weeks and months following Klarissa's leaving.” Lucas slightly
paused before going on. “But like you said earlier, we can't
wallow in the past… what's done is done. I'm looking forward to
Dan’s visit. It'll give us some much-needed time to catch up.”
“Have you heard anything from Joseph?”
“No… I was honestly lucky to get a response from Dan. I'll keep
trying, but I don't know if Joseph will ever come around.”
“This family isn't unaccustomed to seeing miracles take place;
it could happen.”
“Let's get things squared away with Dan, then we'll see about
“I know your relationships have been difficult, Lucas. But don't
ever undervalue the meaning of a brother. They're… not there
Lucas kissed his wife's forehead before they turned down the
lamps and crawled into bed.
“Unfortunately,” Lucas began, “No one ever is.”
A pretty young woman stepped off the train and looked around the
platform. Seeing that she seemed a bit lost, Micah made his way
“Welcome to North Fork, miss. Can I help you with anything?”
“Thank you. I'm looking for a Mr. John Hamilton?”
“He should be over at the bank. I can take you that way if you'd
“I'd be much obliged. Thank you, Marshal.”
Micah took the woman's carpet bag and offered his arm.
“Are you a friend of John’s?”
“He’s really a friend of my brother’s, but when it was mentioned
that I would be staying in North Fork for a short while, Mr.
Hamilton insisted he take care of all my arrangements.”
“John's never been anything short of a gentleman.”
When the two arrived at the bank, John quickly greeted them and
invited them back to the office.
“I hope your trip went well, Jana.” John stated as he offered
her a chair.
“Quite well, thank you. Though I will say it was quite a long
trip. Nevertheless, I'm glad to be making it on train rather
than in a covered wagon.”
“It amazes me how they continue making such progress on the
trains. I hear they're designing one to reach a speed of ninety
miles an hour.”
“I'll believe that when I see it.” Jana pleasantly laughed.
“Well I best leave you two to catch up.” Micah began. “It was a
pleasure to meet you, miss.”
“The pleasure was mine. Thank you for escorting me here.”
“My pleasure.” Micah tipped his hat at the lady before heading
towards the door. “See you later, John.”
“Why don't I take you over to the boarding house to get settled,
and then we can go to the hotel for an early dinner?”
John escorted the woman out of the office, and before long they
were sitting down in the hotel restaurant. They were there only
a few moments before Lou came up to the table.
“Well, John,” Lou began, “Aren't ye going to introduce me to
“Of course. Jana, this is Lou Mallory, she owns this fine
establishment. Lou, this is Jana Hendrickson, a friend of mine.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, I hope you enjoy your time here in
“I already am.” The woman replied with a smile. “The people here
are so friendly and welcoming.”
“Lou, what are you doing back here?” John asked. “Shouldn't
“I'm quite alright, thank you. I gave birth, I wasn't shot.”
“Congratulations!” Jana offered. “A boy, or girl?”
“A baby girl, Madison Rose.”
“A beautiful name.”
“Thank ye. Now what can I get the two of you?”
John and Jana gave Lou their orders, and she hurried off to the
“She seems like a pleasant woman.” Jana commented. “Although you
said she owned the hotel, but she just gave birth… is she… well,
I don't mean to be a gossip…”
“It's quite alright. She has run this hotel for probably five or
six years. She was married about three years ago, and her
husband is the deputy.”
“Quite a catch, seeing as how most men would make her stay
home.” Catching herself, Jana went on. “I'm sorry, I don't mean
“No apologies needed. Although North Fork is no large town, it
is something unique. Her people are open minded and typically
will accept new ideas. Some things take adjusting to, but
eventually they tend to leave their traditions behind.”
“Interesting, to say the least.”
“Now what brings you here? Your brother wasn’t very specific in
his last letter.”
“I asked him to not spread rumors until the engagement took
place. My fiancé used to live here and is going to meet me here,
then I'll travel back East with him to spend some time with his
“I'd say he's a pretty lucky fellow. What's his name?”
“Peter Gregoire… do you know him?”
“...The name doesn't sound familiar.”
“Well, it has been some fifteen years since he was here. Grew up
on a ranch a few miles out of town.”
“I wouldn't know him then.”
Conversation continued before Lou brought their meal out.
“Oh, and both of you are invited to Sunday dinner tomorrow
“Oh, I couldn't impose…” Jana began.
“Posh. You're more than welcome, and it's no imposition.”
“Thank you, Lou. We'll be there.” John paused briefly before
going on. “...Milly doesn't happen to be bringing one of her
apple pies, does she?”
“She will if Mark has anything to do with it.”
“Do you know how Lucas is doing?”
“Last I heard, he's being quite stubborn and over doing it. I
don't envy Milly’s predicament.”
“At least she has Mark to help her out.”
“We're all thankful for that. Well, enjoy your meals.”
As Lou began to walk away, Jana looked to John with another
“I don't mean to pry, but what's the situation with…”
“It’s alright, again, don't be afraid to ask questions. It's a
little complicated. first, I'll have to explain some family
relations. Lou is married to one of our Deputies, Johnny Gibbs.
Johnny’s late sister was Lucas's first wife. Lucas remarried
after having been a single parent for over a decade. A while
ago, someone came looking to kill Johnny Gibbs, but had no idea
what he looked like. Since Lucas is also a deputy, the would be
killer thought Lucas was Johnny and shot him instead. The
McCains have a stubborn streak for not taking it easy when they
need to, and that's what Lou and I were referring to.”
“And who's this Mark?”
“Mark is Lucas's son, Milly’s step-son; although they never make
the delineation. Milly lived here a long time ago, and even back
then she was known for her apple pie, which is Mark's favorite
dessert. It's somewhat of a running joke in town.”
“That is a bit complicated.” Jana chuckled. “But what a blessing
they enjoy, having so much family nearby.”
“It gets even more complicated when you add Mark’s wife into the
“How do you mean?”
“... It's probably best you understand before tomorrow
When Mark and Cassie arrived at Lou's the next afternoon, they
were immediately introduce to Ms. Hendrickson. Mark noticed that
Cassie took an immediate liking to her, and left the women to
chat in the kitchen.
Mark joined the men in the front room and followed the
conversations that took place. John and Ned were talking
business while Lucas and Johnny were talking about cattle.
Eventually Micah walked through the front door and took a seat
“Your Pa been behaving himself?”
“I wish.” Mark sighed as he shook his head. “We can't leave him
alone for more than five minutes before he's trying to fix
something around the property. I can't wait until he's fully
healed and we don't have to watch him like a hawk. He’s already
insisted on working the range a couple times.”
“At least he’s up and around.” Micah laughed. “Why don't you
pull out your uncle's checkers board while we're waiting for
“If you can handle me beating you again.”
“What's one more loss?”
As the afternoon continued, everyone enjoyed themselves, as well
as getting to know Jana. Lunch conversations mainly consisted of
Jana answering question of her upbringing and why she was in
North Fork, how long she would be staying, and so on.
Mark, however, noticed that Rachael remained fairly quiet
throughout the course of the afternoon. When the family arrived
home that evening, Mark was able to get a few minutes alone with
Rachael as they tended to the team.
“Everything alright, Rachael?”
“...Of course. Why do you ask?”
“Because you're too much like me for me to know everything isn't
alright. What's wrong?”
“I’m fine.” Rachael insisted as she took a harness off on of the
horses and turned away from her cousin.
Mark remained silent the rest of the time they were working
together, but he could see the tears welling in Rachael's eyes.
After they were done, Mark expected Rachael to go inside the
house, but she turned the opposite direction and began running.
Concerned, Mark started to go after her, but then he stopped.
Mark turned and went into his Parents’ home, where they were
talking to Cassie in the front room.
“We'll be in after a while,” Mark began, “Rachael and I are
going for a walk.”
“...Everything alright?” Lucas asked.
“I'm not sure… we'll be back in a while.”
Lucas nodded before Mark left the house and followed after his
cousin. It took a while to find her, but eventually Mark found
Rachael in a tree up on one of the hills. He climbed it, and sat
on a branch the opposite side of the trunk as Rachael.
“Nothing's wrong?” Mark asked.
There was a long period of quiet before Mark finally heard
Rachael beginning to answer.
“...It was a year ago today. My Pa had gone out to get drunk
again. So, like normal, I left the house after he did.” Again,
there was a long silence before Rachael continued. “... I often
wonder if he wouldn't have gotten as angry if I hadn't snuck out
that night. If I had stayed home like I knew I was supposed to,
maybe… maybe he wouldn't have killed her. But I came home and
found him yelling at her again. Shaking her. He lifted her off
the ground, and-” Rachael’s statement was interrupted by tears
that insisted on falling.
Mark waited for Rachael to go on, close to tears himself.
“...She didn't deserve to die. She was a wonderful mother. She
was a faithful wife. Everyone in town speculated on what her
life was like, but she wouldn’t even confirm her closest
friend's suspicions. On several occasions I came downstairs to
hear men offering to take her away, but she never once took
their offers. I know she shouldn't have made the choices she did
when she was young. But she loved me, and gave me as much
security and comfort as she could. She tried to raise me right…
and I wasn't usually the easiest person to raise. I'm still not.
But why did it have to be her? Why couldn't he have killed me,
instead? Why, Mark?”
“... I don't know why he had to kill your Ma, Rachael. But I
don't think your Ma wants you to feel guilty about it. I think
she's looking down from heaven, smiling at the person you're
becoming. The life you're making. I think she's proud of how you
deal with your pain. But there's nothing that says we can't miss
them. There's nothing that says we can't grieve. But your Ma is
in a better place, up there with my Ma, and-" Mark stopped
himself from mentioning his child. “...And so many other loved
ones. I know it hurts, Rachael. And there's a time to let
yourself feel. Just don't make yourself go through it alone.”
Mark slightly paused before going on. “...Why didn't you say
something to us?”
“I... I didn't want to upset your Pa. I know how close he was to
my Ma, and I figured that if he didn't have a day to remind him
of her… that… well, it would be better.”
“Rachael, we don't want you carrying a burden like this alone.
In time, you'll see that having a day to remember your Ma helps
“I think of her enough. Having a day just makes it worse.”
“I know it does, now. But ten years from now, you'll look back
and be thankful for a day that you can dedicate to her, and
remember her not by how she went, but by who she was as a
“Mark, do you still miss your Ma?”
Mark let out a heavy sigh as he looked up to the sky.
“I do. And for a long time it was hard not to get angry that she
was gone. Eventually, I had to trust that God let it happen for
a reason. Fourteen years later, I can see why.”
“Why did he take your Ma home?”
“Lots of reasons, but to name just a few, Pa and I wouldn't have
ever come to North Fork. Micah would still be a drunk-”
“A drunk??” Rachael asked as she climbed to the other side of
“It's a long story, ask Pa about it some time. Anyway, My Ma,
Milly, would have married someone who would have made her
miserable. Lou… would've either been run out of town or forced
into marrying into a rather unpleasant family. You wouldn't have
a life here; Laura would be in a horrible situation. Who knows
where the Osborne family would be. The list goes on and on… so
even though I miss her, I know she's in a better place… and God
needed to let her pass away to allow for a better plan.”
“Mark, do you think God has a… “better plan" for my life, too?”
“I know he does, or he wouldn't have let your Ma leave yet. Just
remember that she's smiling down at you, wanting you to live a
life looking forward. ...But there's always time for remembering
“Thanks for your help, Ned. Sorry to keep you from your rounds.”
“No problem, Mr. Miller. I have a mountain of paperwork to get
back to at the office, so I'll spend as much time on the rounds
as I can!”
“Tell your mother we said hello.” Mrs. Miller added.
“Sure thing. If the wheel gives you trouble again, you know
where to find me!”
“See you later, Ned.” Mr. Miller replied with a smile.
Ned sent his horse into a lope and headed back towards town. The
last place he had to check on was the Donalds’, where he found
Lilly playing in the front yard.
“Your Ma around?”
“No, she had to run an errand.”
“How about Emma?”
“She went with her.”
“How about one of your brothers?”
“Tim's around here… somewhere. You might check the barn.”
“...Thanks.” Ned shook his head as he walked towards the barn.
Tim stuck his head out from the hayloft.
“Up here, Deputy. Anything I can help you with?”
Tim suddenly grabbed a rope and swung down from the hayloft into
“... I take it everything's going fine out here?”
“No strangers stopping by?”
“No- well, unless you count that lady who's new in town. She
stopped by this morning and helped Ma with some stuff. She shore
“And a little older than you, isn't she?”
“...Well Ms. Jenkins is a whole ten years older than her
husband. But don't tell nobody I told you, else Ma will tan my
“That's a completely different situation, and I wouldn't say
it's an example you want to follow.”
“You have no fun, do you?”
“Keep yourself out of trouble, and be a help to your Ma.”
“I will. See you later, Deputy Osborne.”
As Ned rode away, he couldn't help but shake his head. He never
had understood children... even when he was a child himself.
Ned made his way back to the office where he found Micah sipping
“There you are,” Micah began. “I was just about ready to send a
search party looking for you. What on earth took so long?”
“The Miller's buckboard lost a wheel on the road and I gave them
a hand. I wasn't in any rush to get back, anyway.”
“I know. That mountain of paperwork keeps getting bigger and
bigger, and it's not going to just disappear. You can't put it
“I know…” Ned sighed as he sat at his desk. “Maybe I oughta get
“Considering the way you keep things “organized”, they'd quit
after the first day.”
“You're certainly one to talk.” Ned laughed.
“At least I can find what I need, when I need it.”
“So can I.”
“Oh really? How about telling me where the packet of wanted
posters that came in yesterday's mail is at?”
“That's easy, they're-” Ned stopped short as he realized he
really didn't have a clue.
Micah chuckled as Ned looked around the desks, in the filing
cabinets, and rummaged through all the drawers.
“What'd you do with it?” Ned finally asked.
“I didn't do anything. They fell off your desk and landed in the
waste basket.” Micah replied, pointing.
“You got lucky. Give me-”
“Marshal?” A man called as he entered the office. He wore jeans,
a plaid shirt, and vest; a bandana was tied around his neck, and
a gun belt rested on his hips.
“What can I do for you?” Micah asked.
“I'm afraid there's a bit of a situation down at your doctor's
office. The doctor asked me to get you.”
“Situation?” Ned asked.
“I better explain. My name's Greg Tucker, I'm on my way to
California and was cutting through some back roads when a heard
a gunshot and a woman screaming in the woods. Naturally I
followed the noise and found a woman fighting against a man. I
was able to knock the man out and tried asking the woman what
had happened, but she was too shook up. She just kept going on
and on about the man killing her fiancé... I found his body
nearby. I loaded it and the unconscious man into the back of my
wagon, and drove the lady and man to the doctor's office. The
man has yet to regain consciousness… but that lady… she's sure
shook up, understandably.”
“Let's get the body to the undertaker's, then we'll check out
the situation at the clinic.” Micah suggested.
The three men walked outside and Ned and the man began unloading
the body at the undertaker's.
As they laid the body on the table and the undertaker and Micah
saw who the dead man was, they were both taken aback.
“Neff Packer!” Micah exclaimed.
“What's he doing here?” The undertaker asked.
“Getting married, I guess…” Micah said as he shook his head.
“Lucky for us, Lucas didn't see him before the other man did.”
“What do you mean, Micah?” Ned asked in confusion.
“It's a long story, Ned. Some other time.”
The three men left the undertaker's and walked to the clinic,
where they found Jana sitting in the waiting room.
“That's her, the one I found.” Tucker said, gesturing to Jana.
“Jana, what happened?” Micah asked as he took a seat beside her.
“He killed him!” Jana cried. “He shot him in cold blood!” She
sobbed. “He killed my fiancé!”
“Who, Jana?” Ned asked. “Who did this?”
Ned and Micah stared blankly at the woman in front of them.
“...What did you just say?” Ned asked in bewilderment.
“Your brother-in-law killed Peter!” The woman continued to sob.
“Hold on, Ms. Hendrickson. The man that was in the back of this
gentleman's wagon was your fiancé?” Micah asked.
“Of course he was!”
“Miss, I hate to tell you this, but that man's name is not
Peter; it's Neff Packer.”
“I don't know what you're talking about, but my Peter is dead
because of Mark McCain!” Jana turned to Ned before going on.
“Your brother-in-law killed my fiancé!”
Micah and Ned looked at each other in confusion before Micah
finally said something.
“Ms. Hendrickson, this has been a long day, why don't-”
“You don't believe me?!”
“... I didn't say that. Why don't you try to calm yourself, and
then tell us what happened.”
“Marshal, the woman has obviously gone through a lot,” Tucker
began. “Why don't you let her get some rest, and then-”
“No, I want to make this known!” Jana declared. “I want you to
know what that sorry excuse for a man did!”
“...Just start at the beginning.” Micah encouraged, trying to
wrap his brain around the situation.
“Peter… he surprised me and arrived early. He took me for a walk
early this afternoon, and we were having… having a wonderful
time…” The tears continued to roll down Jana’s cheeks as she
tried to keep herself composed. “Then he showed up.”
“He?” Ned asked.
“Mark McCain.” Jana replied before she swallowed. “He started
arguing with Peter, and before I knew it…” Jana's sentence
trailed off as she continued to cry.
“It's alright, take your time.” Micah encouraged.
“...He picked up his rifle and… and he shot Peter! Peter
clutched at his chest, and before I knew it… he… he was… he was
dead. ... I tried running away, but Mark chased after me. He
grabbed my arms and I tried fighting him… thank God you were
there.” Jana said as she turned to Tucker, before continuing her
story. “He stopped Mark and knocked him unconscious. I don't
know what I would have done…”
“I'm glad I was there.” The man replied.
“Anything else you want to add?” Micah asked Jana.
“No… I just want to see that criminal pay for what he's done!”
“We're going to hear his side of the story, too.”
“All he'll tell you is lies!” Jana declared.
“You're not going to arrest him?” Tucker asked in bewilderment.
“I don't know what I'm doing.” Micah said. “Let me hear what he
has to say, first.”
“Micah, Ned, I'm glad you're here…” Doc said as he came into the
“We're aware of the situation.” Micah replied.
“Mark just woke up. I gave him a general examination, and it
looks like he'll be fine. I didn't want to ask any questions
until you were here.”
Micah nodded as he stood and began to follow the doctor.
“I'm going out where this happened to see what I can find.” Ned
“No, you aren't.” Micah firmly replied. “Whatever we do, we do
with someone else involved. You and I are too close to Mark to
investigate this on our own. We don't want someone to come back
and say we tampered with the evidence. Wait for me, and no one
leaves this office until I say so.”
The three nodded before Micah and Doc left the room.
When Micah entered Mark's room, he almost couldn't say anything.
He was hoping Mark would have a good explanation for the
scratches on his face and neck.
“Micah, what are you doing here?” Mark asked in confusion.
“...Just checking up on you. How do you feel?”
“The back of my head hurts, that's about all.”
“I don't really know. I was working at the ranch and I blacked
out all of a sudden. I must have lost my balance and hit my head
or something; it feels like someone dropped a pile of bricks on
“You don't remember anything else?” Micah asked.
“Funny, Micah.” Mark replied, assuming Micah was teasing Mark
about his memory.
“Seriously, Mark, you don't know what happened?”
“I'll probably figure it out when Doc let's me get back home.
Speaking of which…” Mark let his sentence fade as he saw the
look on the men's faces. “What's going on? ...How did I even get
“Mark, I wish you would've had another story…”
“What do you mean, Micah? Is everything alright back home?” Mark
waited for an answer, but all he got were two very sad stares.
“Micah, what's going on? Micah!”
Micah let out a deep sigh before finally replying.
“Mark, Jana Hendrickson is sitting out there, claiming you
killed her fiancé… who turns out to be Neff Packer.”
“Mr. Packer? Micah, I haven't seen that man in over five years!”
“Look, I'm sorry Mark, but there's a man in the waiting room who
backs up her story… and the scratches on your face don't help
“What are you talking about?”
Mark got out of the bed and walked to a mirror to see recent
scratches on his face.
“Micah, I have no idea how these got here! And how can Jana say
I killed her fiancé? I haven't seen her in over a week!”
“According to the two in the waiting room, you saw her early
“Micah, I've been at the ranch!”
“How do you explain the man out there bringing you to town in
the back of his wagon?”
“I don't know, Micah!”
“Mark… you're a grandson to me… but I can't let that interfere
with fulfilling my duty as an officer of the law.”
“...What are you trying to say, Micah?”
“Mark…” Micah let out another sigh before going on. “I… I have
to arrest you.”
Mark stared blankly at the man in front of him as the words sunk
in… but he couldn't accept it. He couldn't have killed anyone…
this had to be a joke.
“This isn't funny, Micah. If this is payback for the tea in your
“This isn't a joke, Mark. This is serious.”
“Micah, I didn't kill anyone!”
“I believe you, Mark. But I… I can't let our friendship…”
Mark walked passed Micah and sat down on the bed as what was
happening sunk in.
“...Murder…” Mark whispered.
Finally, Mark looked up at his friend.
“...Do what you have to do, Micah.”
“...I'm going to give it a few hours, until dark. I don't want
to send the town into an uproar by parading you to jail. Mark…
you know I trust you implicitly, but because of our relationship
I… I have to do this the right way. I can't jeopardize-”
“...I understand, Micah.”
Micah reluctantly pulled his handcuffs out of his pocket. He
secured one cuff to the bedpost, and the other to Mark's wrist
before giving Doc the key.
“He's in your custody, for the time being.”
Micah headed for the door, but stopped at the threshold and
“Mark, I… I’m sorry.”
“It's alright, Micah.”
Micah nodded and went back to the waiting room.
“Well?” Tucker asked.
“Says he was working this morning and suddenly blacked out.”
“You don't believe him, do you?” Jana demanded.
“Innocent until proven guilty.” Micah replied. “I suggest we all
go back to where you say it happened and look at the area.”
“I can't…” Jana said as the tears started again. “I can't go
Micah sighed before turning to Ned.
“Take her to the hotel and make sure she gets some rest. Neither
of you say a word to anyone. We're going to keep this as quiet
Micah and Greg Tucker rode out to where Neff Packer had been
killed. Micah sighed heavily as the evidence against Mark
continued to build. There was blood, signs of a struggle, and
Mark's rifle was found, missing a bullet. On the way back into
town, Micah came across BlueBoy.
When they arrived in town, Micah got an official account of
“Can I go, Marshal?” The man asked after he finished.
“Yes, but stay in town, and don't say anything to anyone.”
“You seem awful protective of this case.”
“Spreading rumors never helped anybody.”
“You believe McCain then?”
“He's innocent until proven guilty.”
“Is that how you feel about all of your guests here at the
“Good evening, sir.”
As Tucker left the building, Johnny made his way inside.
“Micah, what's going on? I saw Ned escort Jana to a room, and it
looked like she was crying. Neither one of them will talk to
“Shut the door.”
“I said shut the door.”
Johnny shut the door and walked to the desk, bracing his arms
“What's going on? I'm your deputy, I have the right to know.”
“Well Johnny, your nephew has been accused of murder.” Micah
“Mark says he was working at the ranch this morning and suddenly
blacked out. Unfortunately, Jana said she saw him kill Neff
Packer. A man said he came across Mark and Jana fighting in the
woods. He said he had to knock Mark out, and found Neff’s body
close by. Mark himself said the back of his head hurt, and there
are scratches on his face. And that's just the beginning!
There's blood out in the woods, signs of a struggle, I found
Blue Boy and Mark's rifle, which was missing a bullet. On top of
that, Neff Packer kidnapped Mark years ago, almost getting Lucas
killed in the process! That's means, motive, opportunity, and an
Both men collapsed back into a chair as the reality of what
could happen to Mark hit them.
“... Where's Mark?” Johnny finally asked.
“Under house arrest at the clinic. If the whole town saw Mark
“You're not going to be able to keep this a secret forever,
“I know. I'm just hoping I can keep it a secret until we uncover
“...What if that is the truth?”
“Gibbs, this is your nephew we're talking about!”
“...You told me yourself what the evidence was against him.”
“Do you really think Mark could kill someone?”
“...Under most circumstances, I don't. But you did say this man
almost got Lucas killed…”
“I don't think Mark has it in him to kill in cold blood. He
won't shoot more game than necessary when he goes hunting!”
“I want to believe him Micah, but look at the facts! This is my
nephew, I love Mark, but I thought Lucas had raised him better
than to kill someone I'm cold blood!”
“We don't know he did!”
“What’s the jury going to think, Micah? Mark could hang if all
he has to say for himself is that he blacked out!”
“Don't you think I know this??”
Johnny let out a long sigh as he let the tension in the room
“...How long are you keeping him at the clinic?”
“...Not much longer, just until the sun sets.”
Johnny nodded and began to leave the office before Micah stopped
“Johnny, you may want to walk the town instead of going back to
your wife. I can't have you telling her anything right now.”
“Micah, she's going to skin me alive if I don't tell her!”
“Blame me, I can order you to walk to the town if I need to. But
not a word to Lou. I love your wife dearly, but if she knows,
half the town will know within thirty minutes.”
“You may need to.”
“Go walk the town, Johnny.”
While Micah waited for night to fall, he got Jana's statement.
Although she was a little more composed than before, it was
obvious he grief was true. Even when Micah told her “Peter” was
just an alias, she didn't seem to care.
As Micah prepared to leave the room, Jana stopped him.
“Marshal, how long until this is done and over with? I'd like to
go back home and… and grieve.”
“The circuit judge won't be here for another three weeks, I'm
“Marshal, I don't mean to get out of line… but you are awful
close with your prisoner. I will have you investigated if I find
Micah nodded before he left the room. As he came down the
stairs, Lou caught sight of him and hurried towards him.
“Micah, what on earth is going on? What's happened to Jana, and
why is she here instead of the boarding house? And where's my
“Johnny's making the rounds for me. Lou, I can't say anything
right now. Just don't ask questions, and keep to yourself. And
definitely don't be spreading rumors!”
“When have I ever done a thing like that?”
Micah left the building without answering Lou's question and
walked down to the clinic. He entered and found Doc in his
“Anybody see anything?”
“No, Micah. He stayed quiet in the room. I am a little
concerned; he fell asleep a couple times.”
“Better for him to sleep than worry, I suppose. Can I have the
Burrage handed Micah the key to the room and the handcuffs.
“You locked him in?” Micah asked in astonishment.
“I was afraid someone would come across him if I was
Micah nodded as he headed towards the door, but turned around to
face the doctor again.
“What do you think, Doc?”
“Guilt and innocence is your field, not mine.”
“But you have an opinion.”
“... I don't want to think he did it. I don't think Mark has it
in him to kill in cold blood. Even someone like Neff Packer…”
Micah nodded in agreement and left the room. When Micah entered
Mark’s room, he found Mark sitting on the edge of the bed, the
heel of his palms against his forehead.
“You alright, Mark?” Micah asked as he unlocked the handcuffs.
“...Just trying to figure out if I forgot anything.”
Mark shook his head before replying.
“Honest, Micah. Last thing I remember was working at the ranch.
I didn't kill anyone.”
“...I know.” Micah sighed before going on. “Let's get you over
to the office.”
“Thanks for waiting, Micah.”
“You're welcome, Mark.”
The streets were quiet as Micah walked Mark down to the jail. As
they entered the office, Mark turned to Micah.
“How bad is the evidence against me?”
“It… it doesn't look good, Mark.”
“How long do I have?”
“About three weeks.”
Mark turned and walked to the back part of the office where the
cells were. He stepped inside one and waited for Micah to close
the door. But Micah hesitated.
“It's alright, Micah.” Mark assured. “You're just doing your
Micah eventually nodded as he closed the door and turned the
key. He didn't even look up at Mark before walking into the main
area of the office.
Mark sat down on the bed and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Ma, I could use a little help right now…”
Hearing footsteps on the porch, Cassie ran to the door and swung
“Mark Warren, I-” She stopped short as she recognized her uncle.
“Sorry, Uncle Lucas. I was expecting Mark.”
“He still isn't home? It's half past ten!”
Cassie let Lucas inside as she replied.
“He was talking about spending the night on the range sometime
this week, but I thought he'd at least tell me which night.”
“Knowing Mark, he probably rode too far out to make it home
before nightfall. He probably just decided to make camp for the
“I hope so.”
“Do you need anything?”
“No, thank you though. I'll see you tomorrow morning.”
“Have a goodnight, Cassie.”
Although Cassie wanted her uncle's words to be true, she had a
hard time not worrying about Mark. This certainly wasn't like
him. Cassie tossed and turned most of the night, unable to sleep
for long periods of time. The next morning, she dressed before
making her way down the hill to milk the cow. She found Lucas
already in the barn, working on what were normally Mark's
“You look like you got about as much sleep as I did.” Cassie
commented as she sat on the milking stool.
“... I found it difficult to believe my own explanation.”
“You're going to hurt your back. You shouldn't be out here.”
“I'll be fine. Doc says a little exercise is good.” Lucas saw
Cassie shake her head before he continued. “You're welcome to
join us for breakfast; no point in you eating alone.”
“Thank you. I’m going to have words with that son of yours when
he gets home…”
“That makes two of us.”
Lucas and Cassie finished the morning chores before making their
way inside the house. They made their way to the kitchen where
Cassie began helping Milly with breakfast. Lucas saw Rachael at
the table with her history book open.
“I thought you got all your homework done last night?”
“I did… I just forgot we have a test this morning. It's a bunch
of dates, and those are the hardest things to remember!”
“It's easier if you study from the beginning of the week.”
“I know.” Rachael sighed.
The family ate breakfast together before Rachael headed off for
school. Milly and Cassie were cleaning up the kitchen when Lucas
answered a knock at the front door.
“Micah, come on in.” Lucas greeted as he let Micah inside. “Want
“No, thanks.” Micah sighed as the door closed behind him.
“What brings you out here?”
“I'm kinda surprised no one's been to town.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well Mark's been there all night, I'm surprised no one came
looking for him.”
“We figured he spent the night on the range. What was he doing
“It wasn't his choice, exactly.”
Lucas could sense his friend's nervousness and was becoming
“Micah, is Mark alright?”
As Lucas spoke, Milly entered the front room, followed by
“What about Mark?” Cassie worriedly asked.
“I assure you, Mark's alright… it's just… complicated.”
“Complicated?” Lucas asked. “Micah, you're not making sense.”
“Please, you all may want to sit.”
“Sit down, Lucas.” Micah firmly stated as he locked eyes with
Cassie and Milly took a seat, followed by the men.
“Where's Mark?” Cassie asked the marshal, her eyes begging for
“Mark… Mark’s in jail.”
Cassie, Milly, and Lucas stared at Micah in shock, not believing
what they had just heard.
“That's not funny, Micah.” Lucas stated.
“...No, it's not.” Micah replied. “I'm sorry… but please try to
understand, I had to do my job. There was nothing I could do
besides arrest him.”
“Arrest him for what?” Lucas asked, still not believing that his
son was in jail.
“Micah, you better start doing some explaining, and fast.” Lucas
“A man came into my office, claiming he found Mark and Jana
Hendrickson fighting in the woods. He said he had to knock Mark
unconscious. Jana kept going on about how Mark killed her
fiancé, and the man found the body nearby. There are scratches
on Mark's face and neck that are new and are obviously from
human nails. I found Mark's rifle and BlueBoy out there… and
Mark's rifle was missing a bullet.”
“But what possible motive would he have?!” Lucas asked, not
realizing that he was almost yelling.
“The fiancé was Neff Packer, Lucas.”
Milly and Lucas both sat back in shock, unwilling to believe
that what Micah was saying had happened.
“Who's Neff Packer?” Cassie asked.
“Cassie,” Micah began, “A long time ago Neff Packer lived
outside of North Fork and ran a cattle ranch. He was always
trying to get Lucas to sell this place, but he wouldn't. So,
Neff hired someone to kidnap Mark and hold him for a five
thousand dollar ransom. Neff offered to loan Lucas the money
with the ranch as collateral. Lucas was almost killed that day,
but thank God he was a better shot than the kidnapper.”
“...And everyone is going to say Mark shot him for revenge… but
he couldn't have, Micah! Mark wouldn't kill anybody!”
“I know, Cassie. Unfortunately, all Mark has to say is that he
was working and he suddenly blacked out. A jury isn't going to
believe him in light of all the other evidence.”
“Jury??” Lucas asked.
“We have no choice, Lucas! Mark's going to have to stand trial
like any other person.”
Milly, Lucas, and Cassie sat there, completely devastated.
“... How's Mark?” Cassie finally asked.
“Shocked, to say the least. I really don't know what is going
through his head, he wouldn't talk much this morning. I'm sure
he could use some visitors.”
Without much discussion, the foursome along with a crying Lydia
made the trek into town. Before the buckboard could come to a
stop, Cassie jumped down and ran into the office.
Hearing the front door slam, Mark sat up on his bunk. Within a
few moments he saw Cassie come through the door leading to the
main office. She met him at the door of his cell, where Mark
reached out and wrapped his arms around his wife before giving
her a kiss.
Mark could see evidence of the tears Cassie had cried on the way
into town, and more tears began to well in her eyes.
“I didn't do it, Cassie. I promise you, I didn't.”
“I know, but Mark, the evidence-”
“We'll figure it out, Ned's working on it. Don't worry, Cassie.”
“How can you say that? Mark, they could convict you! You could-
you could…” Cassie couldn't bring herself to say it.
“Don't think about that. Right now, we just have to worry about
proving that I didn't do it. It can't be that difficult, because
I didn't kill anybody.”
“Mark…” Cassie's tears continued to fall as she hung her head.
“It's going to be alright, you'll see.” Mark gently reached out
to pick up her chin. “I love you, and I'll be back home in no
Cassie nodded as she tried to wipe her tears away.
Mark pulled his wife close again and gave her another kiss
through the bars.
“Are Pa and Ma here?” Cassie nodded. “Can I talk to them?”
“Of course. Are you hungry? I can get something for you…?”
“Sure, just don't say anything to anyone... Micah's trying to
keep this quiet.”
Cassie nodded before giving Mark one last kiss and leaving the
room. Several moments later, Milly came in followed by Lucas.
“Mark, are you alright?” Milly asked worriedly as she looked her
son over. “What happened?”
“I'm fine, Ma. I'm not exactly sure what happened. I was working
and I blacked out. It might have been a seizure.”
“Well then why aren't you at Doc's?”
“I spent all yesterday afternoon there. Believe me, I'm fine.
Don't worry, we'll have this whole misunderstanding worked out
in no time.”
“Mark, this isn't just a misunderstanding!” Milly exclaimed.
“I know, Ma. We'll get to the bottom of this. Ned's looking into
this for me.”
“Do you need anything?”
“I'm fine, Cassie's getting me something to eat.”
“Micah didn't get you breakfast?” Milly asked in astonishment.
“He offered, I just wasn't very hungry at the time. Don't go
getting mad at Micah, he had to do his job. In no time he'll be
unlocking the cell door so I can go home. Don't worry about me.”
“I promise, Ma. I'll be fine.” Mark briefly paused before going
on. “Could you give Pa and me a minute?”
Milly turned to leave, but Mark's words briefly stopped her.
“I love you, Ma.”
“I love you too, Mark.”
Lucas closed the door behind his wife before turning back
towards Mark. There was a long silence as father and son looked
at each other. Suddenly, Mark turned away.
“I'm swinging, Pa.”
“What do you mean?”
“Pa, there's no avoiding this. ...I'm dead.”
“You're not saying you did it?!” Lucas asked in astonishment.
“No, of course not. Pa… the evidence against me is overwhelming.
For Pete's sake, look at my face!” Mark exclaimed as he turned
around. “I can't explain how the scratches got there. I can't
explain why BlueBoy was out there or why my rifle is missing a
bullet. And I certainly can't argue that Doc says Tucker drove
up with me in the back of the wagon. There's nothing I can do,
“I thought you said Ned was looking into it; if he is, there's
gotta be something we can do.”
“He is, but he doesn't exactly believe my story. And to be quite
honest, I'm starting to doubt myself.”
“I've never had a death wish on Neff Packer. I haven't thought
about the man in years. I never thought I had it in me to kill
in cold blood. But who's to say I'm not just forgetting what
happened? Pa, they could easily just say my memory is failing
again. Pa, I'm looking at a noose!”
Lucas looked into his son's frightened eyes… they reflected his
“Mark, I'm going to do everything I can to get you back home.
But you can't give up on yourself. I know you son, and I know
you wouldn't kill in cold blood.”
“... I know. But I'm scared, Pa. I could be swinging from the
end of a rope in three weeks.”
“We'll find the killer, Son.”
“... You can't promise me that. Pa, whatever happens… you can't
shut down. They're all going to need you.”
“Promise me you won't leave Cassie alone. I don't know how she's
going to react to all this… but I don't want her left by
herself. Have Rachael spend the night up at the house if she
needs to, but I don't want Cassie alone.”
“She won't be, Mark. Just don't you dare give up hope.”
“...To be honest Pa, I don't think there's any hope to give up.”
Against Micah's orders, it didn't take long for Jana Hendrickson
and Greg Tucker to get their stories out. Within two days, the
entire town had heard what had happened and picked a side.
Micah watched helplessly as the town divided itself. Jana's
feminine emotion swayed a fair number of people in town, and
those who agreed with her were almost ready to take the law into
their own hands. Some of those who had been in town long enough
to know Neff Packer still accused Mark of killing him, but
didn't necessarily blame him. The number of people that were
left believed Mark, but knew there was no hope of him ever going
One afternoon, Cassie was running errands in town. She was
behind one of the shelves in the general store when two women
entered, unaware of Cassie's presence.
“Never in a hundred years would I have thought I'd see a McCain
in jail. The whole situation is rather dreadful.”
“I can't say I pity the man. After all he and his father have
spoken about being good citizens and decent folk, he turned out
to be nothing more than a hypocrite. I say he deserves whatever
the judge gives him.”
“It seems you can't find a decent man anywhere you go now a
days, least not out west. I should have listened to my mother
when she told me to stay in Boston.”
“While I don't pity Mark, I do pity his wife. The poor dear has
gone through so much. First her father, and now her husband…
it's such a shame.”
“Indeed. You would think she'd-” The woman stopped as she saw
Cassie come into view.
“You can save your pity for someone who needs it. My husband did
not kill Neff Packer, and one day you will both eat your words.
Until then, you may want to pay a little better attention to
what Reverend Graft has to say about a gossip.” Cassie briskly
walked past the women, paid for her items, and walked towards
the doors. “Good day, “ladies”.”
With that, Cassie left the women in the store, mouths gaping
Anxious to see her husband before Lucas had to leave, Cassie
hurried to the jail, ignoring the stares she received from
townsfolk on the street.
When Cassie entered the Marshal’s office, she didn't see anyone
in the front room, but could hear the conversation in the next
“... I'm sorry, Mark.” Ned simply stated. “You wanted my
professional opinion, and that's it.”
“I can't plead guilty, I didn't do it!”
“That's not what the facts say. And just so we're clear, you're
lucky I'm on duty right now.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“I told you years ago that if you ever hurt her, you would
answer to me. I can't believe you would do something as selfish
as going and killing somebody.”
“Then don't believe it. Ned, you know me, I-”
“I thought I knew my father, too.”
As Ned came from the back room, Cassie glared at her brother.
“How could you?” Cassie asked, on the verge of tears.
“Cassie,” Ned began, taking a step towards his sister. “I wish I
could say he was innocent, but-”
“I don't want to hear it.”
“You can't hide from the truth.”
“I'm not! Mark didn't kill him; he couldn't have!”
“Give me just one reason he couldn't have, Cassie. One.”
“My husband isn't a killer.”
“Tell that to the jury.” Ned turned and left the office, leaving
his sister in tears.
“Cassie?” Mark called from his cell. “Cassie??”
Slowly, Cassie made her way to her husband's cell. Mark reached
through the bars and gently put his hand to her face as he
placed his other hand on hers.
“Don't waste anymore tears, Cassie. It'll be alright.”
“Mark… just how do you plan on getting the jury to believe you?”
“Pa is working on it.”
“Mark, your own family doesn't believe you!”
“Don't get upset with Ned, it's just the lawyer in him coming
“It's not just Ned. Uncle Johnny doesn't believe you, Aunt Lou
has her doubts. My own mother doesn't even know what to
“I don't blame them, Cassie. But as long as you believe me, I
don't care about what everyone else thinks.”
“Mark, that sounds well and good, but the trial is less than two
weeks away! You have to start thinking practically!”
“Cassie…” Mark let out a long sigh before going on. “Cassie, I
love you. I don't know what the next two weeks are going to look
like. I… I know it doesn't look good. But no matter what
happens, I need… I need you to… to keep moving forward.”
Cassie took a step back as she realized what her husband was
saying. Cassie started shaking her head as she covered her mouth
with her hand.
“No… no Mark. Don't ask me that.” Tears streamed down Cassie's
face as she looked deep into Mark's eyes. “Please, Mark…”
Mark fought harder than he ever had to stay strong. In other
situations, he could let his emotions show. But he couldn't in
this one. It tore Mark apart to see his wife five feet away from
him, crying her heart out, and he couldn't so much as wrap his
arms around her.
“Cassie, come here.” Mark pleaded.
But Cassie couldn't. She couldn't let herself fall into Mark's
arms. She knew if she did, she would never be able to pull
herself out of them.
Suddenly, Cassie turned and ran out of the room, Mark calling
“Cassie! Cassie, come back!”
...But it was no use. Cassie had left the office. Mark let
himself collapse on to the bunk. His heart was breaking to see
his wife in such pain and misery. He didn't know how much more
of this he could take.
“Mark?” Lucas called, interrupting his son's thoughts.
Lucas stopped in front of the cell, and saw a tear fall from the
corner of Mark's eye.
“...Mark, what's wrong?”
“You promised you wouldn't leave her alone!” Mark exclaimed as
he stood up to face his Pa.
“We were running errands in town. She insisted that-”
“She overheard Ned’s conversation with me, that's what! She
knows there's absolutely no hope of me getting back to the
ranch. She's…” Mark calmed himself down a little before sitting
back down on the bunk. “She's hurting, Pa. Because of me.”
“Mark, this isn't your fault.”
“Please Pa, just find her.” Mark's eyes pleaded with his father.
“She needs you and Ma.”
“You want to say that again?”
Sweeney looked up to see two men standing on opposite sides of a
table, seconds away from a brawl.
“Mark McCain is a lowdown, good for nothing, half bit murderer!”
the second man exclaimed as he walked around the table, towards
the other man.
The first man didn't hesitate in sending a fist flying through
As the fight continued, Sweeney tried stepping in to separate
the two, but he simply got pushed away by bystanders who would
soon join in the brawl.
Sweeney watched in dismay as the entire saloon deteriorated into
utter chaos. Finally, Sweeney had enough and pulled his gun from
behind the counter. He shot it up towards the ceiling, getting
“I've had enough of this. If you're not mature enough to come in
here and have a drink without getting in a fist fight with
someone, you're not man enough to get a drink. I don't want to
hear one more word about Mark McCain in this saloon, or I will
close down until the trial.”
“You wouldn't dare.” One of the men laughed.
“Dwayne, I've been running this saloon for over ten years. I can
afford to close it down for ten days. Don't tempt me.”
Several men returned to their table and mugs of beer. Others
went outside to finish their argument.
Sweeney sighed and left someone in charge while he went to get
Johnny. As he entered the office, he heard Johnny's voice in the
“I'm sorry, Mark. But the facts are the facts!”
Sweeney watched a flustered deputy enter the front room.
“Johnny, there's a problem down the street.”
“What's it over?”
“Same thing they've been fighting over for the last week.”
“Let them go at it.”
“Johnny, they're disturbing the peace!”
Johnny sighed before following Sweeney down the street, just
outside the saloon.
Johnny gave them another minute or so before breaking it up.
“Higgins, Colt, you're coming with me.”
“We were just settling a disagreement.” Higgins insisted.
“I don't want to know how many brawls you've instigated this
week. You're both spending the night in jail.”
“What, so I don't spread the truth about your nephew?” Colt
“So you don't disturb the peace!” Johnny replied.
“You're just worried the whole town will turn against him.”
“If Mark's guilty, he has it coming to him.”
Sweeney stared at Johnny in shock before the deputy took the two
to the jail. Sweeney followed him there, and finally got up the
nerve to talk to Johnny once he had everyone locked up.
“You don't really believe he did it, did you?”
“Sweeney, what am I supposed to think? All the facts say he
“Mark is human, just like the rest of us.”
“Have a little faith in character!”
“I've done that before, Sweeney. And I nearly got myself killed.
Yes, Mark's family. But that doesn't change the fact that he's
“I thought someone was innocent until proven guilty?”
“I say we have enough proof.”
“Rachael, can I see you for a minute, please?” Stephan Griswold
asked as the students left the school house for their lunch
Rachael nodded and walked to the front of the classroom.
“You seem distracted today… more than normal.”
“I'm trying Mr. Griswold, I really am.”
“I know you are, and I appreciate it. But you seem extra
preoccupied today. Is everything alright?”
“... I'm sorry, I just… I'm worried about Mark.”
“... Honestly, Mr. Griswold, do you think Mark killed that man?”
“No, Rachael, I don't. But I can't come up with another
“... I accidentally overheard Uncle Lucas talking to Aunt Milly
last night. Uncle Lucas said there's no hope.”
“As long as Mark's innocent, there's hope. Somebody just needs
to take a look at this case from another angle.”
“If I knew, I'd be looking at it myself.”
The rest of the school day dragged on for Rachael. She had
gotten somewhat used to keeping away from the other students;
all they could talk about was “how Mark killed Need Packer.”
Charlotte, one of Rachael's friends, was the only one that would
talk of something besides Mark. Although she didn't know where
she stood on Mark's guilt or innocence, Charlotte intended to
stay loyal to her friend.
After school that afternoon, Charlotte and Rachael went for a
ride together. Soon, however, Charlotte couldn't help but notice
where they were headed.
“You're going to where it happened, aren't you?”
“Somebody had to have missed something.”
“Rachael, everyone's been over this area a hundred times. You're
not going to find something.”
“Probably not…” Rachael sighed. Suddenly, an idea struck her.
“You know, we've all been trying to find a way to support Mark's
story. What if we tried to disprove Jana's?”
“How? Mr. Tucker's testimony backs hers up.”
“They could be working together.”
“You're grasping at straws, Rachael.”
“I know I am. But the trial is just over a week away. We have to
come up with something.” Rachael paused before going on.
“Charlotte, you don't have a newspaper from last week, do you?”
“Of course I don't. My Pa says they're a waste of money in a
small town. Says you learn more by talking to folk than spending
“Mr. Sneed will have extra editions, I'm sure.”
“What do you need one of those for?”
“It has Jana's story in it.”
“Why don't you just ask her? She's not shy about it.”
Charlotte shrugged as she followed her friend back towards town.
The editor gave them an old copy of the newspaper. For the next
twenty minutes, Rachael read and re-read the article accusing
her cousin of murder.
“Rachael, what on earth are you looking for?” Charlotte finally
“A.... plot hole.”
Charlotte sighed as she looked up at the sun.
“Well I gotta go, my Pa’s going to tan my hide if I don't get my
chores done again.”
“See you tomorrow.” Rachael said without looking up.
About five minutes later, it finally registered what Charlotte
had said, and Rachael realized she was going to be in trouble
too if she didn't get home. Putting the newspaper in her
saddlebag, Rachael mounted Liberty and rode home.
When she arrived, Rachael was glad to see that her uncle wasn't
home yet and started on her chores.
As it has been the last week and a half, supper was quiet. No
one felt like talking, and there really wasn't anything to talk
After supper was over and the kitchen was cleaned, Rachael asked
for permission to go on a ride.
“Is your homework done?” Lucas asked.
“Yes sir, I finished it at school.”
“Be back before sunset.”
Rachael nodded and ran off to the barn where she saddled Liberty
again. Thinking back, Rachael tried to figure out where Mark
would have been working the day of the murder.
The first two spots she tried showed no sign of having been
touched for at least a month. The third, however, intrigued
Although the fence didn't necessarily look like it needed
fixing, it certainly hadn't been straightened properly the last
time someone had tried to fix it. As she looked at the wire, she
realized it hadn't been put up by someone who had worked with
wire their entire life. Rachael continued looking around for
something... anything else.
Rachael sighed in disappointment as she started to mount Liberty
again, but something caught her eye. Stepping back down, Rachael
looked several feet away from the fence and saw something
reflecting the setting sun's light. Rachael picked the object up
and instantly recognized it as Mark's pocket watch.
Rachael quickly mounted Liberty and made her way back to the
house, where she told Lucas what she had found.
Lucas appreciated her effort, but knew it wouldn't help.
“Rachael, there are lots of reasons that could explain why the
fence was done wrong. Mark could have messed up, a new hand from
a neighboring ranch could have done it, or a wild animal could
have messed it up since then.”
“But what about Mark's pocket watch?” Rachael insisted. “He
never goes anywhere without it. He takes extremely good care of
it. Why would he just leave it in the grass?”
“I wish there was a more helpful explanation, but Rachael, in
all honesty he probably didn't even realize he had lost it.”
“But Uncle Lucas-”
“Rachael, I know you're trying to help. I appreciate that. But
we're going to have to come up with more to convince the jury
that Mark is innocent.”
“I know, and I'm going to find it.”
Lucas saw determination in his niece's eyes. He couldn't bring
himself to tell her it was no use.
“...Keep trying, Rachael. One day, we'll find the truth.”
Micah sighed as he looked at the untouched plate of food still
sitting two feet from Mark. There were dark circles under his
eyes, and he didn't look good at all.
“Mark, you've got to eat something. You're making yourself
“What's the point, Micah?”
“The point is, you have a wife and family that care about you,
and you're not going to do them any favors by acting the way you
are. They're worried enough!”
“I’m not hungry, Micah. I can't help that.”
“Mark…” Micah let his sentence drift into silence as he realized
he wasn't going to be able to talk any sense into Mark. He
looked into Mark’s shallow eyes and couldn't find any emotion.
The man was dead to the world. “You may not be hungry, but you
are going to make yourself eat something.”
Mark just sat there, staring at the floor. Micah finally gave up
and walked out of the back room and sat at his desk. He wanted
to help Mark; to give him hope… but there wasn't any hope to
Suddenly Micah stood and left the office, mounted his horse, and
rode out to the McCain ranch.
Upon his arrival, Micah found Milly and Cassie doing laundry
outside Milly and Lucas’s home.
“Afternoon, Micah.” Milly greeted. “How are you?”
“As good as can be expected. How are you ladies today?”
“...Alright.” Milly replied.
Micah looked to Cassie, who was lost staring at the open
prairie. Her eyes were distant and… shallow.
“Cassie, could I talk to you for a minute?” Micah asked.
When she didn't reply, Milly put a hand on Cassie's and called
her niece's name.
“What? Sorry… of course, Micah.”
Cassie walked with Micah over to the corral.
“... How's Mark?” Cassie asked, the worry evident in her voice.
“Not too good, I'm afraid. Cassie, you need to come into town
and talk to him. He needs you right now more than ever.”
“I… I… Micah, I can't.”
Tears began to form in Cassie's eyes as she turned and leaned
against the corral fence, staring into the distance.
“... I miss him Micah. Every night I lie awake, wishing Mark was
beside me. ...But the truth is…” Cassie began to sob as her
heart continued to break. “He’s never stepping foot inside our
home again. It's tearing me to pieces, Micah, and I can't go see
him. I can't do that to him. I can't let him see me like this!”
“Like what, Cassie? You can't let him see that you love him as
much as he loves you? You can't let him see that he means more
to you than anything else? You can't let him see that he has a
wife that is faithful, true, and will support him through this
whole mess? Cassie, he needs to see. Right now, Mark is sitting
in his cell, completely dead to the world. He has no life within
him, he won't eat anything, he just sits and stares. Cassie,
he's alone and hurting, and he needs his wife. Make the most of
the time you do have, or you will regret it for the rest of your
life! Please, Cassie, talk to your husband.”
Cassie looked at Micah, tears streaming down her face. Slowly,
Cassie nodded. Without saying a word, Cassie went into the barn
to saddle Storm as Micah went to explain to Milly.
“... I'm glad she's going, Micah.” Milly said. “We've been
trying to get her to go, but she's been refusing. Thank you for
coming out here.”
“I'm glad she listened. Anything I can do for you and Lucas?”
“No, thank you though. Johnny has been helping out around here.”
“He may not believe Mark, but I am thankful he offered to help
out. Lucas is over doing it as it is.”
“Just as long as it doesn't turn to blows between them.”
“Johnny's sensible, he doesn't talk about it around Lucas.”
“How are you handling everything?”
“...I don't know, Micah. How does one handle accepting that
their son is going to die?”
“Have you?” Micah asked in confusion.
“I never will.”
After a few more minutes, Cassie was ready to go. It was a quiet
ride into town, and Micah wished he could do something to heal
Cassie's aching heart… but that was impossible.
When they arrived at the office, Micah went in the back room
ahead of Cassie.
“Mark, you have a visitor.”
“...I don't want to see anyone.” Mark replied, staring at the
“I think you'll want to see this one.” Micah turned the key to
open the cell and let Cassie inside. He closed the door and made
his way to the front office. “Holler when you're ready, Cassie.”
Mark looked up to see his wife standing there, tears in her
eyes. He stood and wrapped his arms around her, never wanting to
Cassie tried stopping her tears, but she couldn't. She cried as
Mark held her tight, never wanting to be out of his embrace.
Finally, Mark made himself let go a little so he could look his
“Are you alright?”
“...Mark, I- I can't lose you!”
Cassie buried her head into Mark's shoulder as she let all her
“You won't lose me, Cassie.”
Mark kissed the top of his wife's head and continued to hold her
as he fought his own tears.
“Why you, Mark? Why did they have to pick you?”
“I… I don't know, Cass.”
Although Mark's heart broke a little more with each tear that
fell down his wife's face, he was thankful to have her in his
arms. He took in every moment he could, knowing the time he had
left with his wife was limited.
Finally, Cassie had cried all the tears she could. Husband and
wife sat on the bunk, Cassie leaning her head on Mark's
shoulder. For a long time, all they could do was sit.
Eventually, Cassie mustered up the strength to talk.
“...Do you remember when you took me out for my birthday this
“Of course I do.”
Cassie let a faint smile cross her face.
“I remember you were so tired from working out on the range, I
thought you were going to bed after you got home. But then you
came out of our room, all dressed up, and you gave me a flower.
Then there was another one waiting on the buckboard. And then at
our table at the hotel, another on my dessert plate… one on the
path we walked. Another in front of our front door… another on
our bed. Each one came with a note, and I can't tell you how
many times I've pulled those notes out the last two weeks. I
can't tell you how much I've missed having you home. I can't
tell you how much I love you, Mark.”
“Cassie... I… I meant to ask you, is the kitchen still
Cassie gave Mark a playful slap on the arm before looking up at
him and giving him a long, passionate kiss.
“I haven't burned it down yet.”
“I love you, Cassie.” Mark said before he tapped her locket. “I
love you, and I always will. I promise I will always be there…
even if it's… solely in heart.”
Rachael trudged through the woods, Charlotte trailing behind.
“Rachael, my parents are going to skin me alive. We're supposed
to be in bed!”
“They never sent us to bed.”
“No, but that's where we said we were going.”
“And we went there.”
“You wouldn't dare do that to your uncle.”
“I'm going to get into plenty of trouble, but I don't care. The
trial is tomorrow.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Rachael, it happened three weeks ago. You're not going to find
Ignoring her friend, Rachael continued until she reached where
the murder had supposedly taken place. She looked around,
praying something would be found.
“A different angle…” Rachael mumbled.
When Charlotte caught up to Rachael, she found her friend
climbing a tree, lantern in one hand.
“What are you doing? You're going to fall and break your neck!”
“Mr. Griswold said we needed to look at this from another
“I don't think he meant to go climb a tree.”
“Well I-” Rachael stopped short as she saw something out of the
corner of her eye.
Moving the lantern closer to a branch, Rachael saw where a
bullet had hit the tree and then she saw it had ricocheted
several times before finally resting in a crack in the tree. It
took some doing, but Rachael was finally able to pull it out.
“Charlotte!” Rachael exclaimed as she began making her way back
down the tree. “This is a rifle bullet!”
“That doesn't help your cousin.”
“Yes, it does. Mark's rifle was only missing one bullet!”
“That could belong to anyone.”
“Who else would be out here with a rifle?”
“Then all it does is prove that Mark was here.”
“He may have been here, but I don't think it was of his own
doing. I think Jana and Mr. Tucker framed Mark.”
“Why would they?”
“I don't know why, but Mark was working out on the range, fixing
fences. He said he suddenly blacked out. What if someone came up
behind him and knocked him out?”
“Then Mark's tools would have been all over the place.”
“Not unless someone cleaned it up and finished the fence he was
working on to make it look like Mark wasn't there. But he was,
because his pocket watch was there. If they had to drag Mark
somewhere, say Mr. Tucker's wagon, his watch could have easily
snagged on something and fallen out.”
“But you still haven't said why. Jana and Mr. Tucker didn't even
know each other until three weeks ago.”
“Then why does he have a picture of her in hidden in his wagon?”
“You searched his wagon?! Rachael, what were you thinking!?”
“I didn't search his wagon. I was talking to him the other day
and I saw it fall out of a book. He quickly picked it while I
pretended not to see it.”
“Rachael, you should tell Marshal Osborne and stay out of it.
This kind of thing is dangerous to mess with!”
“I did tell him. He went back and said he didn't find anything;
said my mind was playing tricks on me. But then I saw the same
picture in his wallet the other day… only again, Ned didn't
“Look, Rachael, I'm sorry about your cousin. But a pocket watch,
bullet that could belong to anyone, and what you said was a
picture of Jana isn't going to change anyone's mind. You can try
talking to the marshal tomorrow, but let's get back to my house
where we're supposed to be. You can't do anything else tonight.”
After several more minutes of Charlotte trying to convince
Rachael to come back to town, Rachael finally gave in.
Charlotte quickly fell asleep, but Rachael lied awake for a long
time. She knew Mark didn't have much time left, and wondered if
they'd find the truth soon enough.
It was almost five the next morning when Rachael couldn't take
it any longer. She left a note for Charlotte, saddled Liberty,
and went back to the woods. Something had been nagging at her
all night, telling her to go back to the scene of the crime.
Rachael climbed back up the tree she had found the bullet in and
tried to figure where the shot had been fired from. This was one
time Rachael was glad she had been paying attention during math
She climbed back down the tree and circled the area the shot
should have been taken. After several minutes of searching,
Rachael located the shell casing. ...Yet Rachael knew Charlotte
had been right. This wasn't going to change anyone's opinion.
Suddenly, a new thought struck Rachael. She walked the short
distance to where the body had laid several weeks ago. She spent
an hour searching through leaves, grass, rocks, and dirt, but
finally, Rachael found a second casing. Only this time, it was
from a handgun.
“Cassie, can I have a minute with Mark?”
Cassie nodded in response to Lucas's question and gave Mark a
kiss through the bars before leaving the room. Lucas shut the
door behind her and looked to Mark.
“Son, I'm sorry about what happened last week. I thought there
wouldn't be any harm in letting her walk around town, and I-”
“It's alright, Pa. She was bound to find out.” Mark paused
briefly before going on. “...Pa, are you going to be alright?”
Lucas let out a long sigh as he grabbed a chair and sat down
“Pa, I'm sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about, Mark.”
“There had to have been something I could've done. Something I
could have changed.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Mark. But there's something else
bothering you, Son.”
“I just can't figure why Jana or Tucker would lie. ...Pa, I want
an honest answer. Do you really believe me?”
“I do, Mark. Even… even if the jury doesn't.”
“Pa, if they hang me-”
“The trial isn't over, Son.”
“Will you take care of Cassie for me?”
“...You know I will, Mark.”
“...Pa, I have a confession to make.”
“...What is it?”
“You remember a few weeks ago, the day you fell asleep for five
or six hours?”
“What about it?”
“I slipped a sedative into your water at breakfast so you'd take
Lucas put the chair aside and walked to the cell door where Mark
“Mark McCain…” Lucas began, pointing his finger at his son. “I…
I don't know what I'm going to do without you.”
“... You'll find a way, Pa. You always have.”
After a few more minutes, Micah came in to escort Mark to the
saloon, where the trial was being held.
Mark held his head high, ignoring the comments from those he
passed on the street. After settling on his side of the room,
Mark was shocked to see Marshal Anker walking towards him. Mark
stood as he greeted the man.
“Marshal Anker… what are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here??” The marshal echoed. “You're on trial
for murder! Why didn't anyone send word!?”
“We didn't think you'd want to waste your time-”
“Waste my time?” Anker interrupted Mark. “I never waste time.”
“Marshal,” Mark began, “There's nothing I can do. For whatever
reason, I've been framed, and there's no getting out of it.”
“I heard the story.”
Mark's statement was interrupted by the court being called to
order. Everyone in the McCain family cringed as the proceedings
began. As the prosecution began making its case, Lucas looked
over to see Charlotte and her family walking into the saloon…
Rachael nowhere in sight. He quietly made his way to Charlotte
before whispering a question.
“I don't know, she left a note this morning saying she had to
take care of something. She probably went back to the woods.”
“She's been trying to find a way to prove Mark's innocence.”
Lucas sighed as he considered going to find his niece, but he
couldn't bring himself to leave the trial. He had to be there
for his family… for Mark.
As the trial went on, things looked darker and darker for Mark.
Everyone was a bit surprised when the prosecution brought Mark
back on the stand.
“Mr. McCain,” The attorney began, “How long had you known the
deceded, Neff Packer?”
“I'm not exactly sure, ten years? He owned one of the cattle
ranches outside of town. But he had to leave town, and I haven't
seen him in years.”
“Until three weeks ago.”
“No sir, I haven't seen the man in years.”
“Ms. Hendrickson and Mr. Tucker have already testified against
“I'm telling you, I haven't seen the man for six or seven
“...Regardless, why did Mr. Packer leave town?”
“He got into trouble with the law and had to spend some time in
“What was he sent to prison for?”
Mark sighed, knowing where the lawyer was going with this.
“He arranged for my kidnapping.”
“Mr. McCain, have you ever tried to kill anyone?”
“Objection, your honor!” Mark's lawyer declared. “My client's
past experiences have nothing to do with the case at hand.”
“Sustained. Mr. Freezen, please redirect your question.”
“Yes, your honor.” The lawyer walked a few paces before going
on. “Mr. McCain, what are your feelings about Mr. Packer’s
“I think it's a shame any time anyone has to leave this world
before their time. Neff Packer was no exception.”
“Deep down, don't you feel the slightest relief? After all, he
did almost get your father killed.”
“No, I don't.”
The lawyer's statement was interrupted by someone running into
“They're trying to rob the bank!” Rachael yelled as she searched
the crowd for North Fork's lawmen.
Ned, Micah, Johnny, and Lucas ran out of the saloon as the judge
tried to call for order.
While those in the crowd were trying to talk over the next
person, Rachael ran up to Mark's lawyer.
By the time she was done talking with him, the judge had finally
calmed the room.
“In light of the new events, I'm calling for a half hour
Mark's lawyer quickly made his way up to the judge.
“Your honor, there's a young woman here with information you
need to hear.”
“Bring it up in your defence, Mr. Patterson.”
“Your honor, I think this best be discussed privately.”
The judge stared at the lawyer for a long time before giving in.
“This better be good.”
The judge called for the prosecution and defence to meet in the
back room, along with Rachael.
“Young lady, you better have some mighty important information.”
The judge stated.
“I can prove that Mark didn't kill Neff Packer.”
“How?” Jana asked, almost laughingly.
“You said Mark killed your fiancé. If Mark fired his rifle, not
only would there be the bullet in Mr. Packer, but also a spent
shell casing on the ground. And there was a shell casing from a
rifle bullet… but it was too far away from where Mr. Packer
died, if things happened the way you say they did. There was
another shell casing within the proper range of where the body
had laid, but it came from a handgun.” Rachael then revealed the
two shell casings and handed them to the judge. “So we have two
shell casings, and a bullet in Mr. Packer. All we have to do is
find the second bullet. And I did, up in a tree. Only it wasn't
from a handgun. It belonged to Mark's rifle.”
“You expect us to believe that?” The prosecution lawyer asked.
“You could have gotten a bullet from home. Besides, what would a
bullet be doing up in a tree?”
“Here's what I say happened. Mark was working the fence line
when Mr. Tucker sneaked up on him and hit him across the back of
the head, sending Mark unconscious. He finished Mark's job as
best he could to make it look like Mark hadn't been there, then
dragged Mark back to his wagon and loaded him inside. Somewhere
along the line, Mark's pocket watch fell out of his pocket,
which is why I found it and the poorly fixed fence the other
day. Ms. Hendrickson then lured Mr. Packer into the woods where
Mr. Tucker shot him with his own handgun. They let BlueBoy go,
and then realizing they needed it to look like Mark killed
Packer, they shot his rifle up into the air, landing the bullet
in the tree after several ricochets. They dropped the rifle
closer to the scene of the crime and went into town.”
“This is ridiculous!” Jana declared.
“Young lady,” the judge began, “Ms. Hendrickson and Mr. Tucker
only met three weeks ago. Why would they work together? What
motive would they even have?”
“But they did know each other. If you look inside Mr. Tucker's
wallet, you'll see a picture of Jana inside. I saw it a week ago
in his wagon, but it disappeared when our Marshal went looking
for it. A few days later, I saw it in Mr. Tucker's wallet when
he was paying for a meal at the hotel. And motive? They wanted
to rob the bank, because there's a big gold shipment sitting in
there right now that no one's supposed to know about. If the
entire town is preoccupied with the murder trial of one of their
own, who's to stop their accomplices from robbing the bank? And
my guess is they picked Mark because he first of all had a
history with Packer, and secondly is very involved with the
community. They knew there would be major upsets, and with the
town divided like she is, they could get away with no one the
“And do you have any proof that they were planning to rob the
bank?” Mr. Freezen laughed.
Rachael avoided looking at Mark as she answered the man's
“I… I was a little too curious for my own good and went to Mr.
Tucker's camp to try to find a bullet so I could compare shell
casings. I overheard two men talking and they said everything I
just told you about robbing the bank. ...But that's why it took
me so long to get back here. They sorta heard me trying to sneak
away and tied me up.”
“Rachael Davis!” Mark exclaimed.
“Thankfully they didn't tie a very good knot.”
“Well, judge?” Mr. Patterson asked.
“I suppose there's only one thing left to do.”
“Exhume the body?” Rachael suggested.
“Rachael!” Mark again exclaimed.
“...Nothing quite so extreme.” The judge replied with a chuckle.
“Lucas, what happened?” Milly asked as Lucas rejoined her,
Lydia, and Cassie.
“Rachael was right, someone was trying to rob the bank. We tried
getting the two crooks to talk, but they seem pretty adamant.
What happened while we were gone?”
“Not much,” Cassie answered with a sigh. “The half hour recess
has been at least forty-five minutes. First the judge talked to
both sides and Rachael in the back room. Then they called the
undertaker back there. Then they all walked down to his office
with Mr. Tucker. No one has any clue what's going on.”
“Let's hope this is good news.” Lucas sighed.
Fifteen minutes later, everyone except Ms. Hendrickson and Mr.
Tucker re-entered the saloon and the court was called back into
The crowd waited anxiously for the trial to continue, but what
the judge was about to say shocked the town.
“All charges against Mark McCain have been dropped by both Ms.
Jana Hendrickson and the U.S. Territory of New Mexico. Mr.
McCain, you are acquitted of all charges that were brought
against you. Case dismissed.”
No sooner had the gavel hit the table than the room exploded
with conversation. A crying Cassie ran to her husband and
wrapped her arms around him, soon followed by Milly and Lucas.
“Mark what happened? Why'd they drop the charges?” Lucas asked.
“Rachael could explain it better than I could.”
All eyes shifted to Rachael as she shifted uncomfortably,
knowing she might get into serious trouble for putting herself
“First of all, I just want to say I did save Mark's life…”
Late that evening, after everything had finally settled down,
the McCains were talking with Micah in his office.
“I still don't get it.” Mark said. “Why was Neff Packer working
with them, and why did they kill him?”
“Jana answered that one.” Micah replied. “Greg Tucker is
actually Peter Raymond. He was an aspiring criminal in Arizona.
Apparently, Packer owed him a lot of money and Raymond tricked
Packer into coming out here to “pay his debts.” In reality,
Raymond simply knew of Packer's history here and figured he'd
spark enough controversy to get the town riled.”
“Why was Jana working with him?”
“No woman’s perfect.” Micah shrugged. “But I guess they were
engaged. Whether that took place before or after Jana found out
who he was, I don't know.”
“Well I'm certainly glad to have this whole mess behind us.”
Mark said. “...They did a pretty good job of framing me.”
Cassie subtly took Mark's hand as she leaned closer to her
“We're all thankful it's over, and that you can finally come
home.” Cassie said, a wide smile on her face.
“Not to mention get a shave.” Milly added.
“You don't like it?” Mark asked, pretending to be offended. “It
was kinda growing on me.”
“Mark, I'm giving you a shave, first thing tomorrow morning.”
Cassie emphatically replied.
The family's laughter was interrupted by Johnny walking through
the door. It was a couple awkward moments before Mark finally
“Uncle Johnny, good to see you. Where's Lou and those cousins of
“... They're over at the hotel. Mark, could I talk to you for a
Mark gave Cassie's hand a squeeze before he kissed her and
followed Johnny out the door. They had walked a ways before
Johnny finally stopped and rested on one of the hitching posts.
“Mark, I owe you an apology.”
“Uncle Johnny, don't-”
“Hear me out, Mark. I was wrong to jump to a conclusion so
quickly. I know your character better at that. I just knew what
I had been capable of once, and attributed that to you. I should
have trusted you more.”
“Uncle Johnny, if I had been in everyone else's shoes, I
probably wouldn't have believed myself. Don't beat yourself up,
I understand. But even though you didn't believe me, it didn't
stop you from helping my family out, and I appreciate that.”
“Mark, I really am sorry.”
“And I really don't blame you. I'm not going to let anyone sit
here and beat themselves up because they believed the “facts”
instead of what I had to say. I know it was a weak story, but it
was the truth.”
“I know that, now.”
“You want to join us inside?”
“I better get back to my family, thanks though.”
“Give Aunt Lou a kiss for me.”
“No arguments there.”
“Goodnight, Uncle Johnny.”
Mark made his way back to the office where everyone was waiting
“Well?” Lucas finally asked.
“Is everything alright between you two?” Cassie asked.
“Of course. Now I don't know about the rest of you, but I want
to get home.”
“It's getting pretty late,” Micah began, “Why don't you just
spend the night here?”
“Very funny, Micah.”
On the way home, Mark rode BlueBoy to the left of the buckboard
while Rachael rode Liberty to the right. He participated in the
conversation, but he was almost lost in enjoying being able to
ride again, being outside again, being… a free man again.
Mark didn't think he'd ever enjoyed taking care of the barn
chores as much as he did that night.
The families spent a while in Lucas and Milly’s home, catching
up on lost time. Finally, Mark and Cassie made the short trek up
the hill to their home. Mark hesitated on the porch, and turned
around to look at the land.
“Mark?” Cassie asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Mark turned around and took Cassie's hand before they walked
into their home. Mark stopped in the front room and bent down to
give Cassie a long, passionate kiss.
As they separated, Cassie looked up at her husband; life
sparkling in both their eyes.
“Welcome home, Mr. McCain.”
¹Episode 123 - “A Friend in Need”
This is a
continuing saga on The Rifleman.
To be continued....
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch