The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

Do you trust me?
Chapter 6
Written by Morgan

"Boy-howdy, it's getting nippy out there!" Mark exclaimed as he came into the house and quickly shut the door. "A few more minutes out there and I would've just about-" Mark stopped short as he looked at his Pa, who was sitting at the table with Margaret's picture in hand.

Lucas put the photo down and looked at his son.

"Froze?" He finished for Mark.

"...Yeah." Mark made his way across the front room and sat down at the table. "Pa, is everything alright?"

A huge smile spread across Lucas's face as he leaned back in his chair.

"More than alright. Mark, I have a question for you, but I want to know you'll answer it honestly. I don't want you to try to spare anyone's feelings."

"...Sure Pa, what is it?"

"This isn't the question, but several years ago, Miss Milly was something special to you, wasn't she?"

"She was like a mother to me, you know that."

"And in a similar way, she was like your Ma to me. In no way did she replace her, but she was the only woman I had ever loved like that, besides your Ma."

"I remember us talking about that shortly before she moved. Pa, what are you getting at?" Mark inquired; pretty sure he knew the answer.

"Mark, how would you feel about Miss Milly... becoming a part of the family?"

"Pa, to tell you the truth… it kinda hurts."

Lucas hadn't been expecting this from Mark, but he understood some of what Mark could be feeling.

"Mark, you come first in my life and I respect that this could be too much right now. Do you mind me asking what exactly hurts about it?"

"That felt the need to ask me. Of course I would love for you to marry her!"

Lucas breathed a sigh of relief before joining his son's laughter.

"You had me worried. You are sure you're ready for this though?"

"Pa, Ma will always be with us, a part of us, but Miss Milly is supposed to be a part of us, too. I've known it for six years and been ready for it for six years. If you don't get up the nerve to ask her, I might just do it for you!"

"Not a word to her, understand?" Lucas playfully, yet seriously ordered.

"Sure thing. I know she was planning on visiting her father right before she moved back into town, is that part of why you volunteered to help her move?"

"Not really. It saves me a trip, but I volunteered to be with her. When you love someone..." Lucas paused a moment before finishing. "It's like when you volunteer to help Cassie with the dishes."

"Yeah, I understand," Mark replied with an increasing smile.

"Speaking of which, how are things going between you two?"

"Cassie's parents said they didn't mind us seeing a bit more of each other since her grades and stuff are doing better. What happened last month with the wolf scared her something awful, but she's starting to get over it. It's strange Pa, every moment of my life I feel like I couldn't love her any more than I do. But then I see her, or even think about her again and I feel like my love for her only grows. Part of me feels like this has to be wrong, that this isn't supposed to be, 'cause we're too young. At the same time, everything feels right. It's more than feeling though... I just know that everything IS right."

"Ready for June to finally get here?"

"Yes and no. Don't get me wrong, I want to make it official and proceed in our relationship the proper way, but you were right about needing to take things slowly. I can see the good it's doing in our relationship and even though her birthday seems so far away, I feel like I can wait that long because it'll make everything even more special."

"I'm glad you see it that way. You two are going to make a wonderful couple one day."

"So are you and Miss Milly. By the way, what time do you have to be at the train station tomorrow?"

"We leave at eight-thirty, so about ten minutes beforehand."

"Do you think you'll ask her “the question” on the way home or after you get back?"

"Well, providing her father gives us his blessing, I'm not quite sure yet. It'll just depend on how everything goes on the trip."

"Are you nervous about getting his blessing?"

"Probably more than when I asked your Ma's father. I had at least developed a relationship with him, I haven't even met Milly's father. ...Why all the questions?"

"You never know when you might learn something. Seein' as how I might be going through the same thing in the near future, I figured I might as well learn from those who've done it before."

"Believe me, it doesn't get any easier, no matter how much you prepare. I practiced proposing to your Ma for hours and I still fumbled over my words."

"But she still accepted."

"That she did."

1MC1

Mark stood on the platform with the Osborne's as they all waved goodbye to Lucas and Milly.

As the train pulled out of the station, Mark remembered the last time his Pa had left North Fork. Mark couldn't believe it had already been over a year and a half ago that Lucas and Micah rode away from the ranch to pick up that prisoner. Even though he tried to push the thoughts away, Mark still worried that something might happen to his Pa, or even Miss Milly during the trip... he worried that one or both of them might not come back.

Trying to ignore his fears, Mark waved goodbye as Anna and Cassie left for school, and Marshal and Mrs. Osborne left for their home.

Mark headed towards the Marshal's office to visit with Micah for a while before heading back to the ranch. It had been a while since he'd been able to stop by and talk with Micah, simply because he'd been busy at the ranches.

"Howdy Micah," Mark called as he walked into the office.

"Well, nice of you to stop by. I was starting to think something had happened to you again," Micah greeted as he gestured to the seat across from him. "You want some coffee?" Micah
teased.

"Oh, of course. You know me, I just love the stuff!" Mark laughed.

"So how have things been going at the ranches? John told me you've done a right fine job with those horses."

"They were pretty easy to train. The only big problem we keep having at both the ranches are the fences. These winter storms we've been having keep doing a bunch of damage."

"Have you come across anymore wolves?"

"Fortunately no, but at the same time it worries me because there should've been more than just the three wolves in a pack."

"They probably made their way farther into the wilderness. Your Pa hasn't been in for a while either, he been busy?"

"A certain someone has kept him preoccupied for the last month," Mark replied with a mischievous smile.

"He's not the only one that's been preoccupied," Micah quipped.

"Not in the least." Mark's smile started to slowly disappear as he thought more about his Pa and Miss Milly.

"Mark is something the matter?"

"You know Pa and Miss Milly left this morning, right?"

"Yes. I was excited to hear that she decided to move back to town. North Fork hasn't ever been quite the same without her. ...But why would there be something wrong with that?"

"I guess it's sort of childish... but the last time Pa left, I thought he was never coming back. Micah, why am I so worried over a simple trip?"

"It's not childish at all Mark. You are very protective of the ones who you care about; you don't want to see them get hurt. Even though it seems as though nothing could go wrong, due to your encounters with tragedy you know they very well could. Everyone gets a little edgy when not everyone is home; just don't let it control you. They'll be back in a week."

"...Yeah," Mark sighed. "Thanks Micah."

"It's not a problem. You up for a game of checkers?"

"If you can handle me beating you again," Mark jested. "Last time you threatened to lock me in jail."

"What can I say? All's fair in love and war."

Micah began clearing his desk as Mark retrieved the checkerboard and pieces from one of the cabinets.

"How long do you think it will be before we're hearing wedding bells again?" Micah inquired as he and Mark began setting up the game.

"April is my guess, Pa and Miss Milly-"

"I wasn't talking about them," Micah interrupted with a mischievous grin.

"Don't get too far ahead of yourself, we're not even officially courting yet."

"You might as well be, your aunt practically has your entire wedding reception planned."

"Well she might want to focus on Pa and Miss Milly's first. It may be some time before we actually get married."

"You move first," Micah stated as he gestured to the board. "Why do you say that?"

"Even after Mr. Griswold stopped helping Cassie after school, she's been doing so good Mr. Griswold has asked her to spend a little time after school working with some of the first year students. I was watching her the other day and she works so well with them, and she loves doing it."

"Are you thinking she might want to become a teacher?"

"I think teaching really drives her. A few months ago, she hated school... almost as much as I did when I was younger. But now she really enjoys it, and tutoring the younger students."

"Are you worried that she'll go off to college?" Micah asked as he double-jumped Mark for a second time.

"Not worried per-say, I want her to do whatever motivates her. I just know if she does, it'll be hard for the both of us to separate for that long. But she hasn't even mentioned college to me yet, so it could end up being nothing."

"You really love her, don't you?"

"Yes sir," Mark replied with a sheepish smile.

"How's your Pa handling it? He didn't see it coming when you asked him if you could court her."

"He's handling it better than I thought he would," Mark laughed. "It's a big step, but one I'm ready to take. Pa's had to let go a lot lately, and this whole relationship with Cassie and me doesn't make it easier, but I think he's slowly starting to let himself enjoy this stage instead of clinging to the last one. Having Miss Milly around helped ease a lot of tension too, I think."

Mark moved another piece before letting out a soft chuckle.

"What is it?" Micah asked as he jumped Mark.

"I was just thinking about how Pa used to get on me about daydreaming..." Mark started as he set himself up to be jumped again. "Now we'll be eating supper or something and we'll both sit there daydreaming until one of us snaps out of it."

"Are you sure you're not daydreaming now? That's the fifth or sixth piece you've let me jump," Micah remarked as he took one of Mark's pieces off the board.

"Positive." Mark jumped three of Micah's pieces in a row. "King me."

From that point on the tables turned considerably in Mark's favor. Conversation died down as Micah began taking the game a bit more seriously. A few minutes later, Mark watched as Micah stared intensely at the board.

"It's still your turn," Mark stated as he tried to suppress the smile forcing its way onto his face.

"Shh," Micah ordered.

Mark quietly chuckled as Micah tried to find a way out of the situation.

"Alright, you win," Micah sighed as he moved his last piece in place to be jumped.

Mark made his final move before he started helping Micah put the game away.

"You need to stop by more often, I'm getting rusty," Micah commented.

"I'll try to; things have just been a bit hectic over the last few months."

"I understand. I saw you and your Pa going into Doc's last week, what was that all about?"

"Doc wanted to check my back for infection... and some other things at some point last week because of all the damage the wolf did. He told us that everything was looking good though."

"What kind of “other things”?"

"Nothin' that serious. Just byproducts of other injuries."

Micah studied Mark for a moment, sure Mark was trying to avoid something.

"...Like your seizures?"

Mark sighed as he realized Micah wasn't going to let the matter go. Mark didn't like talking about his seizures, he was actually quite embarrassed by them and wished his Pa wouldn't make such a big deal about them when he had them.

"Yeah..." Mark replied.

"When was the last episode?"

"Last week, right before you saw Pa and me go into Doc's. I don't know why they make such a big deal about them, 'cause there's nothing we can do about it 'sides let it run its course."

"You remember the side effects of your first one, don't you?"

"Of course I do. But I haven't had one that big or serious since. I know they're just concerned, but like I said, there's nothing that we can do."

"Well if you need anything, especially while your Pa is gone, be sure to give me a holler."

"I will, but hopefully things will go smoothly. I better get going; I still need to stop in to see my aunt before I head home."

"Alright, be sure to stop by on your way home from the Osborne's every now and again, John and I miss having ya around the office!"

"Sure thing. Thanks for the game, I'll see you later," Mark replied as he opened the door.

"Goodbye Mark."

2MC2

Milly sat back against her seat after North Fork's train station disappeared from sight.

"Lucas I still can't believe how much Mark's grown up. I remember back when he was stuffing gum balls in his mouth," Milly chuckled.

"It has been close to five years since you moved away, but I know what you mean. It was like I blinked and suddenly he was a man. Milly, I'm glad you decided to move back to North Fork, things haven't been the same since you left."

"Now that father is living with Molly and Samuel, and I've dealt with everything, I'm glad I am too. Lucas, I can't tell you how much I missed you... and how much I've enjoyed this last month."

"I’ve enjoyed having you back home."

Milly gave a quick chuckle as a smile spread across her face.

"What is it?" Lucas asked.

"Home... I never thought I'd think of North Fork as home ever again. But I intend to for a long time."

Milly and Lucas continued contentedly talking to each other the entire train ride, not paying any attention to the rest of the passengers in the car. They would have missed their stop had the conductor not politely reminded them it was where they needed to get off.

Lucas grabbed his and Milly's trunks before the couple stepped off the train and began scanning the platform for Milly's relatives.

"You're sure they were expecting us?" Lucas inquired after the train pulled out of the station.

"Yes, I wired Molly and told her we'd be coming for a visit before I went to Hampton to pack my things... Oh, there they are!" Milly exclaimed as gestured to her family pulling up in a carriage.

"Molly, how wonderful to see you again!" Milly exclaimed as she embraced her sister, then Molly's husband, Molly's daughter, and finally her father.

"Lucas, this is my sister Molly, her husband Samuel Walker, and my father, Josiah Scott." Milly introduced as Lucas shook their hands. "And this is Sally," Milly finished as she gestured to her niece, who appeared to be in her early twenties.

"Aunt Milly, I've already met Mr. McCain. But it is a pleasure to see you again," Sally told Lucas as she extended her hand which he gently shook.

"When..." Milly started, but then she remembered. "Oh that's right, forgive me, I completely
forgot. You came to visit that one summer and Mark..." Milly let out a quiet laugh. "Mark went head over heels for you. Lucas, what is it with your son and my nieces?"

"I haven't the faintest idea. It is wonderful to see you again Sally," Lucas replied.

"What do you mean Camilla?" Molly asked as she looked at her sister in confusion.

"Sally, did you ever tell your mother what happened?" Milly inquired of her niece.

"Mother, you remember me telling you about that young man who was quite taken with me, don't you?"

"I believe so," Molly nodded as the group began getting into the carriage.

"That young man, Mark, is Lucas's son," Milly began to explain.

"It was really just a typical boyhood crush," Lucas interjected.

"That it was," Milly continued. "But Mark has a bit more than that when it comes to Cassie."

"Really?" Samuel inquired as he began urging the team forward.

"The two are quite taken with each other," Milly stated.

"Never in a hundred years did I think Cassie would let herself entertain someone's romantic intentions," Mr. Scott began to laugh.

"It's more than that father," Milly replied. "She lets him help her down from Storm, and that speaks volumes."

Mr. Scott began laughing again before replying.

"Mr. McCain, you've raised quite a man then."

"Thank you sir, but please, call me Lucas. Mr. McCain was my father."

"Alright then, Lucas. Your son must be something awfully special if my fiery granddaughter accepts help down from her horse."

"He is," Milly assured. "Sally, how is Micah doing? You haven't written me about him recently."

"Wonderful, he was able to come for a visit over Christmas break from the university. It'll be two and a half more years until he's finished, unfortunately."

"He'll make a wonderful doctor, I'm sure. Just like your father. Will he be joining your practice, Samuel, or starting one of his own?"

"I think we're all hoping he joins mine, but if he does start one of his own, he'll have a beautiful wife to help him get started," Samuel replied as he smiled at Sally.

"Sally, is there something you're not telling me?" Milly asked hopefully.

"We're not officially announcing it until he's done with this semester at the university, seeing as how he has such a long time before he graduates, but Micah proposed at Christmas," Sally explained with delight.

"That's wonderful news! I'm sure you two will be very happy," Milly told her niece.

"Congratulations," Lucas added.

"Thank you."

The rest of the way to the Walker's, Milly and Sally talked of the engagement, while Lucas struck up a conversation with Milly's father. Josiah Scott seemed to be a very pleasant man with a wonderful sense of humor. Yet Lucas could see in him what he had seen in himself for the longest time. Grief for his wife. The man held a jolly disposition, but in those tired, old eyes was love for one that wasn't there.

Once they arrived at the Walker's home, Lucas and Milly were shown to their respective rooms, where they freshened up for supper. The two sat down next to each other at the dining table, Milly's father was at the end of the table to the left of Lucas, Molly and Sally sat across from the couple, and Samuel sat at the other end.

As the meal began, Josiah turned to Lucas as he passed him the basket of rolls.

"So, Lucas, what do you do for a living?"

"My son and I own a cattle ranch outside of North Fork, lived there for about eight years now."

"How does your wife enjoy life on the homestead?"

Milly dropped her fork and looked at her father.

"I'm sorry Lucas, I never mentioned Margaret... I-" Milly began before Lucas stopped her.

"It's alright, I suppose the ring doesn't help matters, either. It's just Mark and I, Mr. Scott. My wife died almost twelve years ago."

"I'm sorry for bringing it up, Lucas..."

"It's alright, it's always good to remember."

"So how do you like ranching then?" Samuel inquired.

"It's a lot of hard work, just like everything else, but we love it. North Fork was our opportunity to start a new life, and we've been blessed with a great one."

For the rest of the evening, conversation varied from life on the frontier, to politics, to Sally's wedding plans. No one, especially Mr. Scott, missed the looks exchanged between Milly and Lucas throughout the rest of the night.

After retiring to his room for the night, Lucas lied awake on his bed, toying with his wedding band. Finally, Lucas grabbed his wallet from the night stand and put the ring inside of it. He had been able to enjoy nine wonderful years with Margaret, and she'd always be with him. Now it was time to enjoy what time he had with Milly.

3MC3

A few days after Lucas and Milly had left town, the weather gave the people of North Fork a break from the freezing cold. The sun finally broke through the clouds and warmed the town beneath it.

On his way home from the Osborne's, Mark decided to take a detour and take in the view at one of his favorite spots. It overlooked North Fork and the surrounding ranches, but also was directly above one of Cassie's favorite spots, and he often saw her down there. Cassie had tried so hard to figure out how Mark managed to get up on the ledge, but no matter how many directions she went, she couldn't figure it out. Mark wanted to share the spot with her at some point, but he also wanted to make it really special when he did.

Mark was enjoying the peace and quiet around him when he heard a horse quickly approaching below him. He looked down to see Cassie jumping down from Storm. Mark opened his mouth to call out to her, but then he saw her face and realized something was wrong- really wrong. Mark watched in confusion as Cassie picked up a few rocks and flung them towards a tree before sitting on the ground and putting her face in her hands.

Mark quickly mounted BlueBoy and made his way down to where Cassie was. As he approached her, Cassie quickly looked up to see who was there.

"Mark, what are you doing here?" Cassie inquired as she stood and tried to wipe her tears.

"I was up there doing some thinking when you rode up," Mark replied as he gestured to the ledge. "Cassie, what's the matter?"

"Nothing, why would you think that something's wrong?"

"Because you were throwing rocks at a tree," Mark simply answered.

"Can't a person throw rocks without there being something wrong? You throw them into the lake all the time," Cassie defended.

"Cassie, come on, what's wrong?"

"Mark I told you-"

"Do you remember what we promised when I came back from Chicago and you found out the real story behind all my injuries?"

"...Well, yes, but this isn't-"

"Cassie, I don't like seeing you upset and simply want to help. But like we said, we have to be open and honest with each other or our relationship won't work. Please talk to me, Cassie."

"...You know I've been helping some of the younger students after school and such, under Mr. Griswold's instruction." Mark nodded before Cassie continued. "You also know that I've really enjoyed it and that it really... I don't know... drives me, I suppose."

"You work wonders with them, all though I will say I'm surprised you haven't run out of patience yet," Mark teased.

"Ha-ha," Cassie sarcastically replied. "Mr. Griswold suggested to me the other day that I speak with my parents about attending a teacher's training school for women."

"What'd they say?"

"They are really encouraging me to pursue teaching... and I admit that I love teaching..."

"Cassie that's wonderful, what's with the rock throwing?"

"Mark, I love teaching, but I love you more than teaching. Mr. Griswold said most programs only last a year, but it's not like I'd be in New Mexico, either. If I went to school, I'd be leaving you, for almost a whole year. And Mark... I don't know what to do. I want to teach, but I want to stay here... with you."

"Cassie, I want you to do whatever makes you happy. I know teaching makes you happy and is something you've become very passionate about. You know I love you, but because I do I'm willing to separate from you for a little while so you can pursue what drives you. Please don't let me stand between you and your dreams, I'd rather be there helping you achieve them."

"But Mark, a whole year...? Are you sure you're alright with-"

"Cassie, I want you to do what you are called to do. If that's becoming a teacher, then you should go. What you said last fall is true; absence does make the heart grow fonder."

"Mark... thank you."

"For what?"

"I know it might sound ridiculous, but for being okay with me leaving. I want to teach so badly, but if you didn't want me to leave I couldn't bear to go. Thank you for understanding."

"I get it, it was the same way with my Pa and I when I was thinking about going to college myself." Mark and Cassie sat down by a tree as Mark continued talking. "So how far away is this school?"

"The specific one that Mr. Griswold suggested is in Pennsylvania. There are a handful of others scattered around the states and surrounding territories, but he said that one is the best."

"...So after college, what do you see yourself doing?"

"Well hopefully coming back here and either teaching at a nearby town, or if I'm lucky, teaching in North Fork. Mr. Griswold said that he thinks North Fork is getting big enough for two schools, especially since more families are encouraging their children to do more than eight grades."

"Anything else?"

Cassie gave Mark a confused look for a second, but then understood what he was hinting at.

"Not that I can think of," Cassie teased. "...Besides curling up in front of a warm fire with a special someone. What about you? Where do you see yourself three years from now?"

"As long as I'm with you, I don't care."

4MC4

The night before Lucas and Milly were to leave for Hampton, everyone was seated around the
Walker's dining room table, eating one final meal together.

When a knock was heard at the door, Mrs. Walker stood to answer it and soon returned to the dining room with a man by her side, who was nervously playing with his hat.

"Evening Jay," Doctor Walker began. "Is it time?"

"Yessir, I hate to interrupt your supper, but that baby ain't waitin' and Corah's been in labor most of the evening."

"That's quite alright, you head home to your Mrs. and Molly and I will be there shortly."

"Thank you Doc, please hurry!"

Mrs. Walker walked the man back outside as Samuel stood.

"I hate to leave during our last evening, but like he said, that baby isn't going to wait."

"It's quite alright," Milly assured.

The doctor and his wife soon left, and the four who remained at the house quietly finished their supper. After the meal, Lucas began to help clear the table, but Milly told him that was “women's work.”

"I don't mind," Lucas insisted.

"Sally and I can manage just fine, thank you. Why don't you and father go enjoy your pipes out on the porch?"

"Milly, are you sure?" Lucas asked.

"Go on!"

Lucas and Josiah made their way outside and did what Milly had suggested, enjoyed smoking their pipes.

"Lucas, I noticed the second day you were here that you didn't have your ring on anymore. I sincerely do apologize for bringing that up..."

"Mr. Scott-"

"What did I tell you about calling me that? It makes me feel as old as I am."

"Sorry, Josiah, you really need not make an apology. Like I said the other night, it's always good to remember. However, you did help me realize it was time to let go of one last thing... the idea of Margaret as my wife. She was a wonderful wife to me and mother to my son, but I know she's gone now. I enjoyed the wonderful nine years I had with her, but I believe now is the time to let myself enjoy time with another woman."

"Hmm, I wonder who that could be?" Mr. Scott jested.

"Mr. Scott- Josiah, you've heard everything Milly and I have gone through together, I hope you've seen how much I love your daughter. Sir, I would like your permission to marry Milly."

"Of course you can marry her, what do you think I am, blind?" Josiah laughed. "It's as clear as day that you two were meant for each other. I know my daughter thinks the world of you, I wish you two the best."

"Thank you," Lucas replied, feeling like the happiest man alive.

"Lucas, you'll be a wonderful husband to her, and I'm gonna be right proud to have you as my son-in-law."

5MC5

Monday afternoon, Mark was working in the corral with one of the horses when Cassie and Anna arrived home from school. Mark helped them down from their horses and went inside the barn to help the girls put the tackle away.

"Mark, you'll never guess what Mr. Griswold told Anna today!" Cassie excitedly exclaimed.

"What?"

"It's nothing," Anna stated as she shrugged and grabbed a brush.

"Nothing?" Cassie asked. "Anna Osborne, you're too modest. Mark, Mr. Griswold said she could graduate next year. At sixteen! Oh the freedom you'll have!"

"There's not that much difference between going to school here or at a college. I wouldn't call it “freedom”," Anna told her sister.

"Nursing is something you WANT to do though. You're so lucky to be finishing so soon!" Cassie went on.

"Mark, will you knock some sense into my sister please?" Anna begged.

"She does have a point, Anna, it's great that you're finishing so early. But Cassie, I wouldn't call it “luck.” I'd call it pure determination on your sister's part."

"Thank you," Anna remarked.

"You act as though it's no big deal, wait until Ma and Pa find-"

"No!" Anna suddenly exclaimed.

Mark was a little shocked, that was the loudest he'd ever heard Anna talk.

"What do you mean, “no”?" Cassie asked in confusion.

"Think about it, Cassie. You're graduating and leaving for college this year. Ned is already gone. How do you think Ma and Pa are going to react when I announce I'm leaving much sooner that any of us would have expected?"

"Anna, I'm sure they're going to be proud of you. It takes parents a while to adjust to things, but they will be happy for you and support you," Mark assured her.

"But... I don't want to leave that early. Mr. Griswold is already setting up all these things for me and I'm not ready yet. I don't want to leave home at sixteen... well, seventeen, by fall. Either way, it’s too young..." Anna explained as she looked between her sister and Mark.

"Anna, you've got a year and a half. Leaving can seem intimidating, but it's a good step to take. But there's also nothing that says you have to leave right away. You can stick around for a year or two, I'm sure Doc would be happy to teach you some things," Mark replied.

"Anna, no one is pressuring you to do anything," Cassie interjected. "Do what you know is what you're called to do."

"Something my Pa told me when I was thinking about leaving was that I shouldn't let anyone influence my decision. It's your life Anna, do what you're supposed to," Mark continued.

Anna nodded and smiled, appreciative of the support Mark and Cassie always gave her.

"You know, Mark, you've become like a big brother to me. When are ya ever gonna get around to courtin' Cassie so eventually you can officially be my brother?" Anna teased.

"Anna!" Cassie exclaimed.

Mark just laughed as Anna smiled and left the barn.

"Mark, I am sorry, she's never so..."

"Mischievous like us?" Mark laughed. "It's fine, she knows how we feel. The whole town does."

"...So?" Cassie sheepishly asked.

"So what?"

"When are you going to get around to courting me?" Cassie hopefully inquired.

Mark turned to fully face Cassie as a smile swept across his face.

"That's for me to know, and you to find out."

"Oh you!" Cassie exclaimed as she playfully slapped Mark.

Mark finished with the horses as Cassie helped her mother inside. Since they were all picking up Lucas and Milly later that evening, the Osbornes had invited Mark to stay for supper.

"Mark, how much longer do you think until those horses will be ready for market?" Marshal Osborne inquired as he passed the bowl of potatoes to his wife.

"They should be ready this spring, but if you want to wait a few months longer, there's a big convention in northern New Mexico every year at the end of June. There will be horse buyers and traders from all over up there. Should be able to get a good price for them."

"That's what I was hoping for. I can't thank you enough for training them and working around here," The Marshal replied.

"Thank you for the opportunity."

"I hate to say this, but I don't think we'll really need a hand around here after we sell those horses, I'm not lookin' to buy anymore."

"I figured as much, it'd be a waste of your money and my time if I stuck around after we got rid of them," Mark commented.

"Do you know what you'll do when you're done here, then?" Mrs. Osborne inquired.

"Summertime is always busy with the cattle and everything, so I'll be helping Pa with that. But I'm considering getting a few horses myself, to breed. Pa and I have talked about it and he says as long as he doesn't have to do anything with them, he thinks it's a good idea," Mark answered.

"I thought your Pa liked horses?" Cassie inquired.

"Oh he does, he's just been bucked off one too many to want to raise and train 'em," Mark smirked.

"Sounds like Ned," Cassie laughed.

"Speaking of Ned, have you heard from him recently?" Mark asked the family.

"He's doing wonderful," Mrs. Osborne began. "We got a letter from him last week, and as soon as he graduates and is accepted on the bar, he wants to move here to start a firm."

"You didn't tell me that!" Anna suddenly exclaimed with excitement.

"You must've been gone when we got the letter then; I'll get it for you later." Catherine promised.

Cassie leaned over and discreetly whispered to her sister, "See, everything's going to be fine."

6MC6

The Osbornes and Mark looked at each other in confusion as they watched the conductor get off the train. The platform was almost deserted, except for the railway employees that milled about.

The small group approached the conductor, who held several papers in his hands.

"Excuse me sir," Marshal Osborne began. "Was there a Lucas McCain and Milly Scott on this train today?"

"Depends. Who's asking?" The conductor inquired.

"U.S. Marshal John Osborne," The marshal simply replied as he showed his badge.

"Let me look for you, just one second, sir." The man began looking through his papers. "No sir, they weren't. In fact, I remember now waiting an extra three minutes, but they never showed up. They had taken this train from Hampton to Lordsburg, and we stayed overnight in the town. Never saw 'em after that, we had to keep the train on schedule."

"Alright, thank you. Have a goodnight," John replied before the conductor walked away. "I'm sure they probably just decided to take the stage or stay an extra day or something," The
marshal assured. "We'll send a telegram to Lordsburg and see if we can't get a hold of them."

Mark said he would send it so the Marshal could get his family home before taking his shift at the Marshal's office. After he sent the telegram, Mark went to the hotel, praying for a reply. Soon. The marshal and his family didn't seem phased by Lucas and Milly's absence, but Mark was more than alarmed by it.

"Mark, what are ye doin' here? Didn't yer Pa just get back?" Lou asked as she came up to the table Mark sat at.

"He was supposed to. Miss Milly and Pa weren't on the train," Mark replied in a defeated tone.

"Well I'm sure they just decided to stay a few extra days," Lou assured.

"That's what Marshal Osborne said."

"Then what's the matter?"

"It's not like Pa to do something like that without sending word. I sent a telegram to the town they were last in; I'm waiting for a reply."

"I'm sure everything is alright. Do ye want something while ye wait?"

"No thanks, Aunt Lou. I'm fine."

"Well, I'll be. I think that's the first time I've heard ye call me that the three months I've been married."

"If you don't-"

"I like hearin' it, Mark. If ye need anything, just holler."

"Thank you."

Lou left to wait on her other customers, but kept a watchful eye Mark. He looked so lost, so defeated. She hated seeing him like that... the life seemed to be missing from his eyes. Lou was standing in front of the front desk when she suddenly felt arms wrapping around her.

"Good evening, darling," Johnny sweetly stated as he gave Lou a kiss.

"Johnny, I'm worried about our nephew," Lou commented as she turned to face her husband.

"Why?" Johnny asked as she gave Lou another kiss.

"Johnny, you're just lucky there are not customers around. But to answer your question, just look at him," Lou stated as she gestured into the restaurant. "He's been in there for almost two hours, waiting for a reply to his telegram. Milly and Lucas weren't on the train."

"Lucas probably changed plans 'cause he proposed or something."

"Proposed?" Lou asked in surprise.

"He was thinking about proposing to Milly before they got back."

"Talk ta Mark, please Johnny," Lou begged.

"Alright, but don't forget we have plans for tonight."

"I remember," Lou smiled. "We'll leave as soon as you talk to Mark."

Johnny made his way into the restaurant and sat down across from Mark.

"How ya doin', kid?"

"Aunt Lou sent you in here to talk to me didn't she?" Mark asked.

"You know her well. Ya know I probably need to get a new nickname for ya. “Kid” doesn't quite seem to fit any more."

"I don't care Uncle Johnny, coming from you."

"Speaking of your Pa, Lou said he didn't come in on the train. She's also worried about you."

"I know. She's worried 'cause I'm worried, and she knows what I used to do when I get worried."

"Mark, relax, your Pa probably is proposing to Milly right now."

"He could be, but Uncle Johnny, I just have this feeling that something is wrong. I can't-"

"Mark, here's your reply!" Amos the telegrapher, called as he entered the restaurant and handed Mark the paper.

"Thanks," Mark replied before Amos left.

“U.S. MARSHAL JOHN OSBORNE
NORTH FORK, NEW MEXICO

Sorry about the delay
Will be home by Sunday
Please get things from the train

LUCAS McCAIN
LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO”

Mark handed his uncle the telegram after he finished reading it.

"See, I told you, everything's fine," Johnny told Mark.

"Yeah, I guess."

Johnny started to leave, but stopped himself.

"Mark, are you alright?" Johnny asked, concerned.

"Yeah," Mark sighed as he started to get up. "I better get going. Thanks, Uncle Johnny."

"If you need anything, we're here for you."

Mark left the hotel and first went to talk to Marshal Osborne, then volunteered to get Milly's things over to the Osborne's home. After Mark helped Cassie, Anna, and Mrs. Osborne get Milly's belongings into the room that she would stay in, Mark bade them goodnight and left for his own ranch.

Mark kept reminding himself of what the telegram said, but he still had a very uneasy feeling about the whole situation. As soon as Mark lied down in bed, he realized it was going to be a long night.

'No,' Mark thought to himself. 'It's going to be a long week.'

7MC7

Micah was making yet another pot of coffee when he heard the door to the office open and close behind him. He turned around to see Mark plopping down in one of the chairs in front of his desk.

"Mark, what is John doing to you over there? You look like you haven't slept in a week!" Micah marveled as he sat down.

"I haven't really," Mark honestly replied with a shrug.

"Why not?"

"Look, I know everyone thinks I'm worrying over nothing. This is Pa and Miss Milly we're talking about though! Why am I the only one that thinks something is amiss?"

"Because you're the only one who won't believe the telegram."

"I sent the telegram in Marshal Osborne's name. There's no reason someone couldn't send one in Pa's name."

"Mark, the likelihood-"

"I don't care about likelihood. I care about my Pa and Miss Milly. Pa and I have beaten the odds in good ways and bad ways, what if we're beating the odds again?"

"If-"

"Is a troublesome word, I know. It can also be very helpful."

"Helpful how?"

"It can help put things in perspective. All I'm asking people to do is have a little perspective. But do they listen? No. Am I the only one who remembers what happened last time he went out of town?!"

"Mark, that whole thing was a ruse, remember? He didn't actually die."

"Not to me, Micah. To me, that was a very real death! Pa knows that. Pa would've sent word before the train arrived, but it took a telegram from us to get a communication from them!"

"He probably just forgot with everything on his mind, Mark, you're not thinking rationally."

"It seems I'm the only one in this town thinking rationally!" Mark yelled as he stood to leave.

"Mark McCain, where do you think you're going?"

"To find my Pa and Miss Milly!"

"Mark, sit down and listen," Micah calmly ordered.

Mark eventually conceded and sat down.

"Your Pa said they'll be back by Sunday. It's only Friday morning. At least wait until Sunday. There'd be no use in you gallivanting across the territory while your Pa is on his way back here. Mark, I know you're scared-"

"I'm not..." Mark stopped as he saw the look Micah was giving him. "Okay, so I am scared..."

"Get your fear under control. If they're not back by Sunday, we'll start looking."

Mark let out a long sigh before replying.

"Alright Micah."

"Now aren't you supposed to be at the Osborne's?"

"No, Marshal Osborne was already giving me next week off, but after he saw me this morning he told me to take an extra two days. I told him I was fine, but-"

"You're not, and he knows it. Get home and get some rest Mark, you're gonna make yourself sick."

"Micah-"

"Go," Micah ordered as he gestured to the door.

Mark gave in and started for the office door.

"Micah, I'm sorry I yelled at you. I had no right-"

"It's over Mark, let's move on."

"Thanks Micah."

"Mark," Micah started as he stood and walked towards him. "I hope you understand that I love you and your Pa like family."

"Because you are family," Mark replied as he gave Micah a hug.

"Now I better see you rested up Sunday for church, or I might just lock you up."

"Considering how many times you've threatened-"

"Shall I get the key?"

"I'm going. See you Sunday, Micah."

8MC8

That evening, Cassie was sitting in the front room of her home with Anna, both absorbed in a book. Hearing a knock at the door, Cassie rose to answer it and was surprised to see who was on the other side of the door.

"Mark, what are you doing here? Pa told me he gave you the rest of this weekend off...?"

"Cassie, will you come outside for a minute, please?"

"Wouldn't you rather come..." Cassie stopped as she saw the look in Mark's eye. "...Let me get my coat."

Cassie and Mark walked to the barn together, Cassie extremely confused about what was going on.

"Mark, what's the matter?"

"Nothing... and everything. I came to say goodbye."

"Goodbye?" Cassie asked in shock. "Why? Where are you going?"

"Cassie, I know everyone else in this town thinks I'm crazy, but I'm going to look for Pa and Miss Milly."

"But my Pa and Marshal Torrance said-"

"Cassie, forget everything your Pa and Micah have said. Just for one minute. Think about this whole situation, doesn't it seem a little odd to you?"

"Why would it seem odd?"

"Think about it. First off, it's not like my Pa or your aunt to not send word if they're going to be delayed somewhere. It took a telegram from us to supposedly get word from them. Secondly, what would they do in Lordsburg for a week? I've been there before and there's nothing there. Finally, even if they did find something to do, I know my Pa didn't bring enough money with him to pay for a week of hotels and meals."

"Maybe my aunt let him borrow-"

"Cassie, I want you to be completely honest with yourself. Do you truly believe that tomorrow my Pa and Miss Milly are going to be standing on the platform at the train station? Do you really believe that there's not the slightest chance that something isn't the way it should be? Can you honestly tell me that you think they're both safe?"

Cassie stared at Mark for a long moment. She wanted to tell Mark yes, she wanted to say that she knew they'd be home the next day, but deep down she'd always had doubts... and deep down, she knew what her answer needed to be.

"...No," Cassie started. "Mark, I can't."

"Then you understand why I have to go."

"But by yourself? Why can't you wait for my Pa or Marshal Torrance?"

"Because they won't do anything until Sunday, and even then, Cassie, they're lawmen."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"They have to follow the rules, play by the book, and do things according to procedure. As long as I'm not deputized, I don't have to, and if I wait for them they'll either deputize me or try to make me stay home. Cassie, I can't sit around any longer when I know something is wrong."

"Mark, I understand, and I'm worried about your Pa and Aunt Milly too, but you can't go off by yourself!"

"Cassie, I came out here because I couldn't leave without saying goodbye. Please don't make this harder than it is and try to stop me."

"Mark-"

"Cassie, do you trust me?"

Mark's question caught Cassie by surprise, but after a moment she responded.

"... Of course I do."

"Then please trust me and my judgement now. This is what I've got to do, and I have to do it alone. You can't tell anyone that I've left, they'll figure it soon enough when I'm not at church Sunday."

Cassie turned her back towards Mark, leaving him a bit confused. He put his hand on her shoulder and gently turned her back around.

"Cassie-"

"Mark please, don't do this alone..." Cassie began as a tear fell down her face. "You could get hurt... or sick... or lost! No one would know where to find you. What if-" Cassie almost couldn't suggest it. "What if you get yourself killed? Mark please!" Cassie cried.

Mark was trying hard to stay strong. He didn't want to leave Cassie, and he could see that this was tearing her apart. He almost wished he hadn't come to say goodbye... but he knew that would've just made it harder for both of them had he not. Mark loved Cassie, his Pa, and Miss Milly. Cassie was safe though, his Pa and Milly weren't.

"I'm sorry Cassie, but I have to go, and I have to go alone. No one will listen to me and I can't waste anymore time." Mark reached his hand out and lifted Cassie's chin up. "You don't need to waste any tears, I'll be back before you know it. You have a beautiful smile Cassie; promise me it'll be waiting for me when I get back."

Cassie slowly nodded as she leaned forward and embraced Mark.

"Please be careful..." Cassie whispered.

"I will be," Mark replied as Cassie pulled back from him. "I love you Cass."

"I love you too. Come home soon... with your Pa and Aunt Camilla."

"I will. Goodb-"

"See you later, Mark."

"See ya later, Cassie."

9MC9

Sunday afternoon, Cassie was sitting in her bedroom, staring out her window. Like Mark had said, Micah and her Pa hadn't started the process of looking for Mr. McCain or her aunt until that morning. By the time the last train came in the previous night, it was too late to do anything. And that's exactly what it was... a process. Suddenly, Cassie's mother entered her bedroom.

"Cassie, come to the front room please," Mrs. Osborne stated.

"Is something wrong?"

"Just come to the front room."

Cassie did as she was instructed and upon entering the front room, saw her mother taking a seat next to her father. Anna sat in the rocking chair across from Micah, and they all held a worried expression on their face.

"Cassie," Marshal Osborne began. "Anna said Mark came by the ranch Friday night?"

"...Yes sir, he did," Cassie replied.

"What did he need, exactly?" Her father inquired.

Cassie looked nervously between the other people in the room. She didn't know what to say. She couldn't lie to her parents, but she couldn't tell them anything until they already knew Mark was gone.

"...Just to talk. Why? ...Did something happen?"

"We don't know, Mark has vanished," Micah began. "Cassie, did Mark say he had to do something out of town?"

"He... had some business to take care of," Cassie replied.

"Where?" John asked.

"He didn't say, exactly."

"Cassie, we know Mark took off to look for his Pa and Miss Milly, if you know anything about where he went you need to tell us, for his own good. We've already wired the closest towns, but no word yet," Marshal Osborne explained.

"Pa, I'm telling you the truth, he didn't tell me where he was going," Cassie paused slightly before continuing. "Why do you need to know though?"

"Why?" John asked in surprise. "Because, Cassie, it's dangerous. He shouldn't be out there, looking by himself when we don't know what's going on."

"What are you going to do when you find him?"

"Tell him to either stay with us or go home," Micah simply replied.

"So you don't trust Mark," Cassie stated.

"Cassie, what on earth are you talking about? Of course we trust Mark," John stated.

"No, you don't, at least you aren't acting like it. And until Friday night, I wasn't either. Mark's a full grown man who can take care of himself. Yes I'm concerned about him, but he knows what he's doing. If we had trusted him, we would've taken him by his word when he told us that something was wrong. But did we believe him? No, we just ignored his calls for help and told him that he shouldn't worry so much. And because we didn't believe him, or put enough trust in him, he's out there alone, doing what you two should have been doing a week ago," Cassie firmly stated as she looked between the marshals.

"Cassie Osborne, you check your tongue!" Mrs. Osborne exclaimed.

"Ma, I don't want to argue with you, but it's true. We didn't have enough faith in him. We didn't believe him, and now Aunt Camilla and Mr. McCain could be in even more trouble! If Mark wanted you two to follow him, he would've told you where he was going. Obviously he doesn't want you knowing; in fact he told me so. My only question is whether or not you will trust Mark enough to leave him alone and let him work alone. Our lack of belief in him got us to this point; I hope your lack of trust in him doesn't get us worse off."

"Cassie-" Catherine began.

"She's right," John began. "Maybe it's because we simply didn't want to believe that something could be wrong, but we didn't believe Mark and now he's off alone. The boy's smart though, and if he says he needs to work alone, so be it. There's not really much we can do anyway."

"So you're not going to look for Mr. McCain and Aunt Camilla?" Anna asked with alarm.

"We will..." Micah began to answer.

"But we won't spend time trying to stop Mark," John finished. "Cassie's right, he is a full grown man. He can make his own decisions and has proven himself trustworthy. ...I just hope he doesn't get himself into trouble."

10MC10

Mark was having a difficult time keeping his composure as he rode towards Lordsburg. In the silence, all he could do was think about the hundred different situations his Pa and Miss Milly could be in. The possibility of one situation continually plagued him. The possibility that they could be dead.

Mark constantly kicked himself for not getting up the nerve to leave town sooner. He had known something was wrong, but he let the small hope that the telegram wasn't a lie cloud his discernment.

Mark also couldn't help but feel guilty that he had put Cassie through so much worry... he kept remembering the way she cried as he held her in the barn, the way she had asked him not to leave. It reminded him of when he had begged his Pa not to go to Wyoming so many years ago... his heart had ached for his Pa to return for two long months, the way it now ached to see his Pa alive again. The unmistakable feeling of loss was tearing Mark's heart to pieces, he couldn't stand to go through burying his Pa again; he was praying so hard that he wouldn't have to.

It was a cold, long ride to Lordsburg. Mark only stopped for an hour or two here and there over the day and a half it took to get there. He pushed himself as much as he could, Lordsburg was the last place anyone had seen his Pa or Miss Milly, and that was where he was going to start his search. Mark knew that was undoubtedly also where Micah and Marshal Osborne would start, but he knew he had a head start on them and could get established in town... and then make himself “disappear” for the time the marshals were in town.

Being a Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much activity in Lordsburg and things were fairly quiet. Mark made his way to the hotel.

"I'd like a room please, as far back as possible," Mark told the female clerk who stood behind the front desk.

"Of course, please sign the register."

Mark did as the woman asked and turned it back around for her to look at.

"I'll put you in room twenty-three, Mr. Clark," the lady stated as she handed Mark the key to his room. "The restaurant will start serving supper in about two hours, or there's a cafe down the street. If you need anything, feel free to ask."

"I was wondering if you've seen a tall, blond haired man around town with a brunette woman. She comes up about to his shoulders."

"Not that I've seen... friends of yours?"

"Not exactly," Mark replied. "Thanks for the room."

"Of course..."

The woman watched Mark make his way up the stairs before leaving the front desk and hurrying to the back of the hotel. Unbeknownst to her, Mark was watching her, too. After she disappeared, Mark went back down to the desk and turned the register around. He flipped the pages until he saw both Lucas and Milly's names.

As Mark made his way to his room, the clerk quickly entered a back room.

"This better be important, Phoebe," a man stated as he looked up from his desk.

"Someone's in town looking for that McCain fella and the woman."

"We figured as much, except I wasn't expecting people from their town until tomorrow at the earliest."

"I don't think that he's looking for them out of concern."

"How do you mean?"

"I asked him if they were friends of his, and he just told me “not exactly” as a strange grin came over his face."

"Who is he?"

"Signed the register as Daniel Clark. Do you think he's trouble?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Thanks Phoebe."

"Joe, what are you going to do?"

"Find out his connection to McCain and go from there. We may be able to use him."

11MC11

Mark spent the rest of the day making small conversation with the various storekeepers and business owners. He was shocked to find so many establishments open on a Sunday; nevertheless, he wanted to know the ins and outs of the town, and become familiar with the layout of it. Mark also made sure to ask plenty of questions about the Rifleman. He wanted to make sure he got the attention of whoever was behind his Pa and Miss Milly's disappearance.

Mark found out that there was a shooting contest scheduled for that day. He couldn't think of a better way to get attention then by winning the shooting contest.

The first few rounds were slow and drawn out, mostly just eliminating the weak shooters. Eventually, the rounds became of more interest to the bystanders as the targets were moved farther away and made more difficult to shoot.

In the final round, only Mark and one other man stood. Sixty paces out were five cans for each of them to hit with only five shots. The other man went first, carefully aiming at and hitting each can until the last one, which he missed. Mark stepped into place and carefully took aim, then
quickly fired all five shots right in a row. The judge of the contest declared Mark the winner and presented him with the prize. One hundred dollars.

That evening, Mark hesitantly made his way into the saloon. He hadn't ever spent much time inside one, but he knew that if he wanted information about his Pa, that was the place to go. Mark joined a table playing poker and watched the comings and goings of those in the saloon. He was very aware of a man sitting at the bar, who was keeping a close eye on him.

Mark had just won his first hand when another man, tall and gruff, entered the saloon. Mark didn't pay much mind to him at first, but as he started dealing the next hand, Mark saw the rifle the man carried. Without a doubt Mark knew it was his Pa's, which meant Mark had been right all along. Something was seriously wrong.

The man made his way over to the bar and sat down as Mark finished dealing and men began to place their bets.

"What's he been up to?" The man with Lucas's rifle inquired.

"Just sitting there playing poker. He's playing 'em though. He knows how to play... good, but he's purposely lost the first four rounds. Just won the last one."

"I like it."

"What'd you mean, Hawz?"

"He may be just the man we're needing. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he plays. Why don't you go relieve Lee out at the ranch, I'll be out there shortly."

"Whatever you say, Joe."

The man who had been watching Mark finished his drink and walked out of the saloon. As soon as a spot opened up, Joe joined the table and sat through a long night of poker. When the last man left, leaving just Mark and Joe, Mark decided it was time to start up some conversation.

"That's a nice looking rifle you've got there. Where'd you get it?" Mark inquired.

"I think you know."

"It's quite a man who can get McCain's rifle. You kill him for it?"

"Not yet. You've been asking questions about McCain all over town. What's your business with him?"

"I've got a score to settle with him."

"So do half the outlaws in this territory. Why are you wasting time trying to find him?"

"It's not wasting time if I get my hands on him. I'd like to see him suffer, make him pay for what he did to my family."

"What'd he do?"

"First off he killed my father - right in front of the entire family. My mother had no way to support us and took in all the extra laundry and sewing she could, but it wasn't enough. Growing up, I found out what starvin' was, and regretted every time I had used the word when I was little. My Ma got sick and died, leaving us to fend for ourselves. No family to speak of, and between my sisters and I, we could barely scrape enough money together to get by. Then the town council stepped in and separated us, sent us all off to different homes for orphans. Never saw my sister Elizabeth again; she was adopted by some crazy mad man that beat her to death. Same thing would've happened to Loretta, but she ran away from the couple that adopted her and eventually found me. She was so sick by then, it was too late. The doctors said there was no hope. On her deathbed she made me promise to make McCain suffer the way he made our family suffer. To get at him any way I could. I intend to keep that promise."

"Maybe I can help you keep it then."

"Yeah? How?" Mark asked as he sat up a little straighter.

"I can't let you get your hands on McCain himself, naw, there's too high of a price on his head, lucky for me not everyone believed that story about him dying. But if you want to make him suffer, I can let you take his woman. He'd do just about anything to save her, and if you take her and he don't know what you do to her, he'll suffer the way I figure you want him to."

"What's the catch? What do you want out of it?"

"You know criminal business well. I need a little job done, nothing that difficult. All you have to do is sit on a hill for a few hours, fire a few shots, and you're done."

"Fire a few shots at whom?"

"One of the candidates for governor."

"How do you know I'll actually do it? I could double cross you and turn you in. I'm sure you have quite a price on your head, too."

"Because like me, you're a victim. A victim of McCain who's gonna see him pay. And if you
miss, it's not my fault if you get caught in the crossfire."

"I like you," Mark stated. "I think I'm going to enjoy working with you. Just how do I know for sure that you've got McCain and his woman?"

"Meet me behind the hotel tomorrow night at nine-thirty. I'll let you see them. In fact, as a gesture of good will, I'll have my man take the lady to your hotel room as soon as we leave Tuesday morning to stake out the path the stage coach will be on. Your target should be in range about twelve-fifteen Tuesday afternoon. You can stick around or high tail it out of town afterwards with the woman. Though I suggest the latter."

"Why can't you shoot the man yourself? Why do you need me?"

"Because you out-shot my best gun, and I want to make sure this man is dead. He's pushing for statehood, and we can't have that in New Mexico."

"Fair enough. I'll be behind the hotel tomorrow night."

After the two men finished a little more detailed planning, Mark left the saloon and made his way to his room at the hotel. As he was getting ready for bed though, he realized some of his things were out of place and that someone had gone through his drawers. Nothing was missing, but someone had definitely been there. This didn't really surprise Mark. After all, he was dealing with criminals, but it made it difficult to fall asleep.

As Mark lied in bed, his thoughts went back and forth between his Pa and Miss Milly, and Cassie. He longed to be able to have all three of them in his arms again, and couldn't wait for this whole mess to be done and over with.

12MC12

Mark had started to make his way down the hotel stairs Monday afternoon when he saw Marshal Osborne and Micah enter the hotel and make their way to the front desk. Mark crouched and listened as the same clerk who had helped him gave them rooms three and four. They asked to look through the register, and at first she told them it was strictly confidential. Then they showed her their badges and she reluctantly agreed.

Mark watched as they looked first for his own entry, which of course they didn't find, and then for Lucas and Milly's... which Mark was surprised to hear that they didn't find either. Mark figured that someone must have switched the registers in anticipation for someone coming to look for Lucas and Milly. The marshals began to head for the stairs, so Mark quickly made his way back to his room and after he heard doors closing, checked out of the hotel and rode out of town.

After settling in their rooms, Micah and John met in the lobby and then proceeded to the
Sheriff's office.

"Can I help you?" The sheriff inquired as two men entered his office.

"I'm U.S. Marshal Osborne, and this is Marshal Micah Torrance," John began as they showed him their badges. "We're looking for two people, a man and a woman, who came through here about a week ago."

"A lot of men and women come through here every day, I don't know if I can be of much help to you," the sheriff replied.

"You would've remembered this man," Micah started. "Lucas McCain, known as “The Rifleman.” About six foot five, blond hair, and carries that famous rifle with him."

"Oh sure, he came through last Sunday. Had a pretty little brunette with him."

"That would be them," Osborne confirmed.

"What would the law want with him?"

"This is more personal than official, honestly. They were supposed to arrive in North Fork, our hometown, a week ago. We didn't find them registered at the hotel, and they didn't board their train," Micah replied.

"I thought for sure I saw them board that train. Maybe they got off at a different spot?" The sheriff suggested.

"We received a telegram from them, originating from here last week."

"Do you think maybe someone sent it to throw you off the track and waste time here? Maybe they're farther down the line."

"The conductor said they never boarded," Osborne reminded.

"Is there a possibility the conductor was in on it?" Micah asked. "You and I have met every train that's come in to North Fork for a year and a half, and that conductor was new, wasn't he?"

"You're right. Thank you for your help, Sheriff," Osborne stated as he and Micah turned to leave. "By the way, have you had any strangers in town about six foot one, brown hair, about eighteen?"

"Not that I can... well, there was one, he came into town yesterday afternoon. Won the shooting contest too, with just a Spencer Repeater. But I think our livery man said he rode out this
afternoon. I'm glad though, he seemed sort of sketchy."

"If he shows up again, leave him alone and cooperate with him."

"Undercover man?"

"I'm not sure. But believe me, you can trust him."

The sheriff was a bit confused, but let the matter go.

"I wish the best of luck to you," the sheriff said as he saw the men out.

The marshals did a little more checking around town, but couldn't find anything. They decided that they would check out the next morning and head farther down the line.

13MC13

Mark rode to the next town, where he sent a telegram and spent the rest of the afternoon, nervously awaiting a reply. He knew it would take some time to track down a U.S. Marshal, but it seemed to be taking too long. Finally, the response came.

“MARK McCAIN
RODGERS, NEW MEXICO

Nearby and will meet as requested
Be careful

U.S. MARSHAL DAWSON ANKER
CROWNTON, NEW MEXICO”

Mark started to put the telegram in his pocket, but then stopped himself. That wasn't being careful. Mark tore the telegram to shreds and dropped it in the telegraph office's pot bellied stove. He knew he couldn't take any chances.

Mark had supper at the town's cafe before making his way back to Lordsburg. By the time he got there, it was almost nine-thirty and Mark made his way to the back of the hotel. He waited patiently with his gun at the ready, and the man Mark was going to be working with finally stepped around the corner.

"For a while, I thought you chickened out. Where'd you go all day?" The man asked.

"Some lawmen showed up that know me... and we're not on the friendliest terms. I figured it best to skip town for a while."

"Let's get going, I don't have all night," Hawz stated.

As they rode, Mark made it clear to Joe that he didn't want McCain or the lady to see him.

"Why not?" Joe inquired. "Don't you want him to know who's getting her?"

"I've been studying McCain for years. Nothing gets to him more than not having answers. The fewer answers he has, the happier I'll be."

"Fair enough."

As they came over a hill, Mark could see a ranch house and barn below them. He knew exactly where they were.

"This where you're keeping them?"

"Yeah, it used to be a haven for outlaws. They used to call it-"

"Skull ranch," Mark finished.

"Been here before?"

"Had the privilege of being a guest here for a few hours when I was a kid. Got myself into a heap of trouble."

"You escape then?"

"Sure did, they didn't keep prisoners very long and I'm here to tell about it."

"We've done a little renovating. I'm sure you'll like it. We added a place to hold prisoners; the barn wasn't quite working for us."

"Didn't work too well for Holt Coyle, either."

After dismounting, Hawz and Mark made their way inside the main house. Mark hadn't actually been inside the house before, only the barn, but he remembered that night well. Coyle had kidnapped Mark to make Lucas kill the sheriff in Lordsburg for him. In the end, the sheriff made it fine of course, but Coyle didn't.

"Alright Clark," Joe started. "If you don't want them to see you, there's a hole you can see into their cell with. Follow me."

Mark followed the man to the back of the house. There was a room with bars in front of the door, and Mark supposed that's where they were keeping his Pa and Ms. Milly. Joe took Mark into the room beside that one and pointed to a small opening in the top corner of the wall. Mark looked through it and breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his Pa holding Milly in his arms. It looked like someone had used Lucas for a punching bag and Milly had a bruise on her cheek, but at least they were alive.

Mark had a difficult time keeping up his tough front, he wanted to call out to them and to be able to touch them; he wanted to ask them if they were alright, he wanted to tell them that everything would be... but he didn't know if it actually was going to be or not. He had quite a part to play over the next twenty-four hours.

"One more thing," Mark added as he stepped out of the room with Joe. "Keep your men away from the lady. I don't want to see a single scratch on her."

"Why are you so concerned? It's just a lady, who McCain cares about."

"I'm killing someone for her; I like my reward in good condition, just like anyone else."

"Whatever you say. You just better be at the edge of town tomorrow morning."

"And she better be in my hotel room once we leave."

"I'll have one of my men tie her up in there us soon as you ride out. What do you plan on doing with her, anyway?"

"That's really none of your business, now is it?" Mark retorted.

"See you tomorrow morning, Clark."

Mark left the ranch, trying to keep his temper at bay. He wanted to turn his horse around and storm into the house, but he knew it would be suicide. Mark reminded himself that he simply had to wait a few more hours, then he could be with his Pa and Miss Milly again.

When Mark got back to Lordsburg, he checked back into the hotel and made his way to his room. Once the clock read two-forty, he pulled his boots on, grabbed his hat and rifle, and quietly left the hotel. Mark carefully snuck his way into the sheriff's office through a back window and made his way to the front office.

"Mark McCain, this better be good," a voice declared in the darkness.

A lamp was lit and Mark saw Micah, John, Marshal Anker, and the town's sheriff sitting around the desk. Micah of course, was drinking coffee.

"Micah! Marshal Osborne! What are you doing here?" Mark asked in shock.

"I found out they were in town, told them to make it look like they left, and then make their way back here," Anker stated.

"Marshal Anker, I knew they were in town. That's why I left!"

"Mark, why don't you want our help?" Micah inquired.

"I did," Mark bitterly stated. "I asked for it for five days, and you wouldn't listen to me!"

"Mark we told you that we would look, if the telegram didn't prove true," John defended.

"For five long days, I told you it wasn't. I know my Pa, and I know when he's in trouble. But neither one of you would listen to me! We wasted FIVE DAYS! I asked for your help, but you wouldn't give it to me, and you expect me to think you'll listen to me now!?"

"Mark, we had to wait-" John started.

"You can all figure this out later," Anker interrupted. "Right now, you are all here and will work together. Mark, your telegram said this was a matter of national security. What did you get yourself into?"

"I'm supposed to assassinate L. Bradford Prince tomorrow, he's passing through near here on the stage."

All the men suddenly sat up straight and looked at Mark sternly.

"McCain, you're talking-" Anker began.

"I'm not actually going to. Because he's not going to be on that stage. You all are."

"Mark, why don't you do some explaining?" Micah suggested.

"Here's the deal. A man named Joe Hawz is keeping my Pa and Milly Scott, a family friend, prisoners out at the old skull ranch. I convinced Hawz to let me have Miss Milly if I did a job for him. No, he does not know who I am, and I intend to keep it that way. He wants to see Prince dead, because he doesn't want him to become governor. I'm supposed to meet him and his men outside of town later this morning and wait for the stage coach. His men are supposed to stop the coach and give me a clear shot at him. Here's my plan. You all ride out and meet the coach and get him off of it. You continue on, riding the stage coach. When his men surround the stage coach, I'll have a gun on Hawz and you can take care of the rest of his men. At that point, we
can arrest them and bring them all into town, and then get Miss Milly and my Pa back."

"Mark, that's not going to work," John stated. "You shouldn't be here; your Pa would skin us alive if he knew you were here."

"This is why I left town when you arrived!” Mark yelled as he threw his arms up. “Why do I even bother-"

"Why couldn't it work?" Anker asked.

"Because..." Osborne couldn't think of an answer.

"I have rank over all of you and I say we go through with it, that's final. We're going with Mark's plan, no arguments about it. Mark, where is the stage coming from?" Anker asked.

The men spent the rest of the morning planning before the marshals and sheriff left to meet the stage. A few hours later, Mark left to meet Hawz.

14MC14

"You nervous, Clark?" Joe asked as he and Mark sat on top of a cliff ledge.

"It's not every day I assassinate someone, but not really. I'll be long gone before anyone figures out who was behind this."

"Good, 'cause here the stage comes."

Mark looked up to see the stage rounding a corner in the canyon below. Anker was in the driver's seat, meaning everything so far was going according to plan.

Mark saw Hawz's men come out of their hiding spots and surround the stage.

"Get ready," Joe stated, but suddenly men rushed out of the coach and a gun fight ensued. Hawz began firing into the canyon below as he ordered Mark to do the same, but suddenly his gun was knocked out of his hand into the canyon below. "What in the- Clark, what are you doing?!"

Mark cocked his rifle and trained it on Hawz.

"You and I are going to wait up here until that gun fight is done. But if it's not over soon, you might just get a bullet through your chest, so I suggest you tell your men to stand down."

Hawz hesitated and Mark shoved his rifle into his chest.

"You have about five seconds to stop it."

Begrudgingly, Hawz called down below as loud as he could. Over the gun fire, his voice was difficult to hear, but his men slowly started to obey their orders. The three marshals and sheriff arrested the six men below and met Mark on top of the canyon ledge.

"Clark, why would you work with the government? What happened to your story about McCain killing your father?"

"That's exactly what it was Hawz, a story. You picked the wrong family to mess with. You mess with one McCain; you mess with both of the McCain's," Mark told the man as Micah handcuffed him.

"McCain? You mean... the Rifleman has a son?"

"You're looking at him," Anker said from behind Hawz. "Let's get a move on."

"Miss Milly should be in room thirteen at the hotel, make sure you get her out of there as soon as you get into town," Mark stated as he mounted up.

"What do you mean?" Micah asked. "Aren't you coming with us?"

"I've still got to get my Pa, and believe me; it's going to take all four of you to get those criminals to town," Mark replied.

"Mark you're not going alone," John told Mark.

"Marshal Osborne, I have the greatest respect for you, but if you didn't want me doing things by myself, you should've listened to me Monday. And Tuesday. And every day I said we needed to start looking for my Pa and Miss Milly. None of you can go with me, and you can't make me stay with you." Mark moved Blue Boy past Marshal Osborne and addressed the sheriff and Marshal Anker. "Thank you both for your help, and for coming so quickly, Marshal Anker.

"I meant what I said this summer. Anytime you need something, let me know," Anker replied.

Mark turned to look at Micah. For the first time in his life, Mark found himself disappointed with Micah. Micah had always been there for Mark. This time, he hadn't been there.

Micah saw the hurt in the boy's eyes.

"Mark..." Micah started.

Mark just shook his head and took off on Blue Boy, racing towards the Skull Ranch, towards his Pa.

15MC15

"Lucas, what are we going to do?" Milly cried as she sat down on the bunk.

Lucas walked over to Milly and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Whatever we do, we can't give up. People are bound to be looking for us by now, they'll figure it out."

"But Lucas-" Milly stopped as the door suddenly flew open and three men came in.

"Alright, time to go," One of the men ordered.

"Go where?" Lucas asked as he protectively stood in front of Milly.

"Not you. The boss has other plans for you; the boss is giving her to someone for doing a job for him. Somebody who's got it in for you."

Lucas felt Milly grab his arm tightly as the men started to come closer. Lucas started to try to fend the men off, but soon two of them held him back as the third one grabbed Milly and drug her from the room.

"Milly!" Lucas yelled as he tried to get free from the men.

Lucas could her Milly screaming for help as the man dragged her down the hallway. Lucas continued fighting until one of the men used the butt of his gun to knock him unconscious.

Milly continued fighting and screaming until finally the man had listened to enough and pinned her to the wall.

"You shut up or I'll see to it that “The Rifleman” doesn't live to see another day!"

Milly slowly nodded and the man roughly took her arm and led Milly outside. They rode double on a horse and before too long Milly saw a town come into view.

"Now you remember what I told you," the man began. "You stay real quiet like and don't cause any trouble, and we'll spare that sod buster's life."

Milly simply nodded once again and as they entered town, and didn't give any indication that something was wrong. The man led her to the hotel and soon Milly found herself bound and
gagged in a room, alone, frightened, and terribly worried about Lucas.

Milly sat for hours hoping, praying, begging God that Lucas was going to be alright. She had only just gotten him back- she couldn't lose him again.

After what felt like an eternity, Milly heard someone unlocking the door to the room from the other side. Milly wondered what awaited her and tried to keep her composure as a man came walking through the door and headed towards her. At first, Milly tried backing away, until the man called out to her and she recognized who it was.

"Camilla, are you alright?" John asked as he ran towards his sister-in-law and began untying her gag.

Micah was close behind and began untying Milly's hands as she breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see your faces!" Milly exclaimed as the gag came off. "Lucas, we need to help Lucas! He-"

"Milly, it's alright, Mark went to get him."

"Mark? Why is Mark here? And you let him go alone? That place is crawling with Hawz's men!" Milly exclaimed.

"It's alright; we already arrested all of them," John explained.

"Milly, are you alright? That bruise doesn't look to good," Micah stated.

"Yes I'm fine; Lucas is the one who's going to need looking after."

"Do you think you're feeling up to heading downstairs? We could get you something to eat before we go to the sheriff's office to fill out reports," John explained.

"That's if you're feeling up to it," Micah added.

Milly slowly nodded as she started to stand.

"I think so. I'll feel even better when Lucas and Mark are both here."

16MC16

After waking up, Lucas paced the room, trying to figure out how to escape. He had to get Milly back; he couldn't live with himself if something happened to her, especially if it was his fault. Lucas thought for what felt like hours. He couldn't come up with anything. There was no window
in the room, and there was no way he could break down the door.

Lucas eventually heard keys jangling on the other side of the door, and still not sure what he was doing, positioned himself out of sight from the doorway. When the man walked through the doorway, Lucas didn't waste any time. He tackled the man from behind, causing the man to hit his head on the bed frame. Lucas turned the man onto his back. Before Lucas could register who was in the room with him, he sent a punch to the man's face, which he barely dodged.

"That hurt," The man remarked, confusing Lucas. "Try to rescue somebody, and this is the thanks I get."

Lucas froze and actually took a moment to see who he had attacked and quickly got up.

"Mark!" Lucas exclaimed as he helped his son up. Lucas took his son's face in his hands and looked his son over. "Mark... I didn't know it was you, I'm so sorry son!"

"It's alright Pa. I'll be sure to announce myself next time," Mark replied.

Lucas put his hands on Mark's shoulders and looked into his son's face.

"Are you alright?"

"I'll admit, you have a lot of force," Mark replied as he gently touched his forehead.

"Mark, I-"

"Pa, it's fine. It was an accident."

"What on earth are you doing here?" Lucas suddenly asked. "You need to get out of here, now!"

"We already arrested Hawz and his men, and Miss Milly is safe in town."

"We?"

"The sheriff of Lordsburg, Micah, Marshal Osborne, and Marshal Anker."

"What was Marshal Anker doing out here?"

"I wired for help once I came up with a plan. Why don't we get to town? I can tell you what happened on the way in."

Lucas and Mark rode double on Blue Boy back to town. By the time Mark was done explaining everything, Lucas was ready to chew his son out for going off by himself, for infiltrating a gang
and working with a criminal, but something stopped him. He suddenly realized that as hard as it was to admit it, his boy had done the only thing he possibly could've done to get Milly and himself out of that situation. That he couldn't really tell Mark what he should've done differently, because he would not have done any differently himself.

"Mark..." Lucas started.

"Pa, please, I know you don't like the idea of me going off by myself, but-"

"Thank you," Lucas simply stated.

"What?" Mark asked in surprise.

"Thanks for saving my skin, son; it took a lot of courage to go alone. And Mark, I can't tell you how sorry I am for hurting you. You know I'd do anything to keep you from harm... and then I go and attack you. Mark-"

"Pa, it was an honest, simple mistake. How were you supposed to know I'd come waltzing through the door? After all, I'm supposed to be back home. One thing's for sure though, I don't think we'll forget this day for a long time."

Lucas didn't respond and Mark knew what was going through his Pa's head. Lucas was beating himself up for lunging at his son, for hurting him, for putting him in danger. It was a guilt Mark knew would take his Pa a long time to get over, but Mark didn't want to see his Pa like this. Mark stopped Blue Boy right before they entered town. He turned around in the saddle and looked at Lucas.

"Pa, don't do this to yourself. I can't watch you beat yourself up over a little mishap that isn't your fault."

"Mark, I almost hit you!"

"You were trying to get out of there and find Miss Milly, right?"

"Yes, but that has nothing..."

"Pa, after a week in there and then having someone take Miss Milly away like they did, I don't blame you for not thinking clearly. And the thing with Miss Milly is kinda my fault too, like I told ya. So if you're going to blame someone, blame me or let it be. It's honestly quite ironic, don't you agree?" Mark asked with a smirk.

Lucas looked into his son's understanding, loving eyes.

"Ironic would be the word, I suppose..." Lucas replied.

Mark faced forward again and rode Blue Boy the rest of the way into town. When they arrived at the sheriff's office, Milly came running out and Mark watched as she reunited with his Pa. After they had finished their long embrace, Milly turned towards Mark and gave him a hug as well.

"Mark, I'm so glad you're alright! Micah told me what you did and had to go through, I'm- Mark, what happened to your head?!"

"Oh you know me; I can't stay out of trouble!" Mark laughingly replied.

"You two go inside and I'll see if I can't get something cold for you to put on it."

Mark did as Milly said, but Lucas with went her. Mark supposed it would be a long time before she went anywhere unaccompanied.

The sheriff of Lordsburg, Micah, John, Marshal Anker, Lucas, Milly, and Mark spent the rest of the afternoon in the sheriff's office all giving their account of what happened.

Over supper at the hotel, Lucas noticed that Mark was unusually quiet, and if he wasn't mistaken, a bit cold towards Micah and John. This confused Lucas, but he didn't mention anything to Mark as they were getting ready for bed that night. There was, however, a knock at the door which Mark answered.

"Yes?" Mark asked as he cracked the door and saw John standing on the other side.

"Mark, can I talk to you for a minute please?"

Mark hesitated; he definitely did not feel like talking to Marshal Osborne, or leaving his Pa, but Lucas spoke up for him.

"Of course you can, see you later, Mark."

"Get some rest Pa," Mark stated before he grabbed his rifle and left the room.

John and Mark walked out of the hotel and began walking down the boardwalk.

"Mark, I have an apology to make to you," John admitted. "For the last year and a half, I've had the privilege of knowing and working with you. From the first day I met you, I saw that you carried yourself differently than most people your age. I saw that you were a man and up until last week, had always treated you like one. Mark, I failed you, your Pa, and Camilla by not having an open mind and listening to what you told me. I should've known that you knew what you were talking about; I should've trusted you and taken you by your word instead of sitting
around for five days. I think I let my pride get in the way. I didn't want to be wrong, and I thought I could judge the situation better than you, but I couldn't. I pulled rank and told Micah we weren't doing anything until the last train came in Saturday, because I had convinced myself they would be on it. That's why Micah kept telling you he wasn't going to do anything, because I pretty much ordered him not to. But they weren't on the train. Thankfully you were smart enough to not listen to me, and found Lucas and Milly before it was too late. Mark, I truly am sorry and hope that one day you'll forgive me."

"Marshal Osborne-"

"It's John, Mark."

"I admit I got angry. I was mad. I was bitter. And honestly, am still fighting the bitterness. But like I told you the first week we met, I'm not going to let bitterness destroy the foundation my Pa has laid for me. I appreciate you telling me that... and I know that no one's perfect. You know I have my flaws. I do forgive you. But sir, I'm not the only one that was affected."

"I know, Mark. I'll talk to the rest of them tomorrow. Thank you Mark."

17MC17

Cassie was up in the hay loft, absorbed in a book without realizing that someone was standing in front of her.

"Told you I'd be back before you knew it."

Cassie tossed the book aside and stood up to hug Mark.

"When did you get back?! Why didn't you wire? Your Pa and Aunt Camilla... did you find them?" Cassie asked as she stepped back a little.

"Just a few minutes ago, we tried, but apparently it didn't go through, and yes, I found them." Mark replied as he smiled at Cassie's questions.

"Are they alright- Mark what happened to your head?!"

"I just hit it on a wood post, it's fine. Pa's a little beat up and your aunt has a shiner, but they'll be okay."

Mark watched as tears started falling down Cassie's cheeks.

"Hey, what's the matter? Everything's going to be alright." Mark assured as he put his hands on Cassie's arms.

"Mark... I'm so glad everyone's home," Cassie cried as she sank into Mark's arms.

"And that's why you're crying?" Mark inquired.

Cassie simply nodded, and Mark understood. He gently ran his hand across her back as she released her long pent up tears. They stood in the hayloft for quite some time, and would've been there even longer had Lucas and Milly not come in the barn. The adults were unaware of their presence, and Cassie and Mark kept it that way. They could here Lucas and Milly talking below.

"What is it Lucas?" Milly asked as Lucas sat her down on a hay bail.

"Milly I was planning on doing this on the train home, but some outlaws sorta ruined my plans. I can't wait any longer though. Milly Scott, I love you like I've never loved anyone else before. I know you haven't been back for long, but I think deep down you and I both know this has been six years in coming." Lucas got down on one knee and took Milly's hand in his own. "Will you make me the happiest man alive, and become my wife?"

"Oh Lucas..." Milly whispered. "Yes, of course I will!" Milly exclaimed as she stood and hugged Lucas.

Lucas looked into Milly's beautiful eyes and soon the two found themselves in a passionate kiss.

"Do you really think we should be watching this?" Cassie whispered.

"Too late, we already are," Mark replied.

Lucas and Milly both jumped as they heard cheering from the hayloft above them, and then gave a slight chuckle before looking up to see who was there.

Lucas and Milly both started to chide their relatives at the same time.

"Mark McCain..."

"Cassie Osborne!"

"Took you two long enough!" Mark hollered.

Lucas and Milly looked each other before quietly laughing and kissing once again, ignoring the whoops and hollers from above them.
 

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Morgan's Corner

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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