The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Shadow of Vengeance
Written by Judith Schaefer aka Stargazer


Part I

The warm southern breeze that had been blowing all morning suddenly gave way to a much cooler northwest wind; a signal that winter was still trying to hold on. Towering white clouds dotted the blue-gray sky and cast a checkerboard of shadows crawling across the range.

Lucas McCain shoved the collar of his faded jacket up around his neck and pulled his hat down tight to brace against the cold. With a hammer in one hand, he pulled the string of barbwire against the fence post and drove a nail to secure it. Mending the fence in the north pasture couldn’t wait any longer as some of the cows in the herd had already started dropping their calves.

The rancher turned his head toward the sound of a muffled shot from his son’s .22 that echoed over the rise. The tap, tap, tap of the hammer answered back to the rifle’s call. As he worked, he thought back over the past six months and everything his son had endured. Mark had experienced his share of heartache lately; Charlie’s death had hit him hard, as did dealing with the prospect of being paralyzed after his accident. Lucas was thankful his son was able to be out on Blue Boy again. And the incidents with the cougar and Marty Blair, well, it was a wonder he wanted a rifle at all. But, Mark had done a lot of growing up too; sticking with Lucas when Mexican bandits had them and Micah holed up in a ghost town, and showing great courage when men posing as soldiers had threatened Senator Borden. His reflections came to an abrupt halt as he realized he was out of nails.

“Pa!” Mark yelled as he appeared over the hill and galloped towards his father. He pulled up on his horse at Lucas’ side and jumped down with a wide grin. “Look, Pa, I got two,” proclaimed Mark as he held up a couple of rabbits.

“Well, son, it looks like you’re getting better at hitting your target. I’ll be happy to have something other than beef for dinner.”

“Yes sir!” Mark beamed with pride. “All that practicin’ you’ve been helpin’ me with sure has paid off. Course, I…I didn’t take down ‘Old Spike’, but…”

“I know…you had a change of heart after seeing him up close.” Another reason why Lucas knew his son was growing up. Mark was really starting to mature and at fifteen was being much more responsible in his decisions.

Lucas picked up what was left of the roll of wire and tossed it into the buckboard along with the hammer and wire cutters. “Mark, I need to go into town and get another bale and more nails if we’re going to finish this tomorrow.” Lucas climbed up to the seat, leaned his rifle next to him, and grabbed the reins of the team. “Why don’t you get back to the house, finish your chores, and we can have those rabbits for supper.”

“Sure Pa…why I’ll fry ‘em up and…and make some gravy and potatoes,” Mark said climbing back in the saddle and swinging Blue Boy around.

As Lucas guided the horses and wagon from the pasture out to the road, he cautioned his son, “Take it easy on the pepper in the gravy this time. That last batch had enough in it to choke a horse!”

Mark leaned forward and rested one arm on the saddlehorn. “You know, Pa, I…I’d be glad to let you do all the cookin’,” Mark teased.

“If you do me in with that pepper, I won’t be around to do any of the cooking,” Lucas said with a wide grin. “I should be back in a couple of hours, son.” Lucas snapped the reins of the team and headed for North Fork.

“See ya soon,” Mark called back over his shoulder. He gave a little nudge to Blue Boy and trotted for home.

*****

Marshal Torrance sat at the desk in his office with the front door propped open. The sound of a wagon passing by caused him to look up from the package of wanted posters that had come in on the noon stage. Micah rose from his chair and peered out the window to see Lucas stop in front of the Grain and Feed. He hadn’t seen his friend in a few days and, pulling the door closed behind him, walked out across the dusty road and paused at the door of the store. Leaning against the door-jam and crossing his arms in front of him, Micah said, “Well...hello there stranger. What brings you into town?”

Lucas handed some cash over to the clerk as payment and picked up a bale of wire swinging it around from the counter. “Oh, hello, Micah…just getting a few more supplies.” He squeezed around Micah, carried the bale out and placed it into the buckboard with Micah following right behind.

“Been wonderin’ how you and Mark have been doing,” the marshal inquired.

“Just busy trying to get the fence mended in the north pasture. Winter was hard on that section and I want to move the cows and calves in there soon.”

“Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you. Guess you two won’t be comin’ into town for supper then.”

Lucas detected a hint from Micah. “Say…Mark got a couple of rabbits this afternoon. He’s fixing them for supper.” Lucas leaned toward his friend and with a raised eyebrow, offered in a low tone, “Do you want to come out and have dinner with us?”

“Didn’t think you’d ever ask, Lucasboy,” Micah chuckled. “So, Mark’s getting better with that rifle of his?”

Lucas pushed his hat back and leaned on the edge of the wagon. “Actually, he’s been practicing really hard and he’s becoming a pretty good shot,” Lucas replied shaking his head with a trace of pride in his voice.

“Wouldn’t expect anythin’ less of the boy.” Micah was mighty proud of how Mark was turning out too. “Well, I’ve got to go finish up some papers and then I’ll be out to your place.”

“Okay, Micah,” said Lucas as he returned to the store for the rest of his purchase. “We’ll have the coffee waiting.”

Micah waved and walked back to his office. As he opened the door, Lucas passed by in the buckboard and the marshal waved again watching the wagon as it disappeared around the corner of the church.

*****

Mark had hurried back to the ranch and tied Blue Boy to the rail in front of the house. He picked up a bucket from the porch and went inside to prepare some salt water and grab a knife. Before returning to his horse, he removed his hat and placed it on the rack near the bedroom door, then stepped out and took the rabbits from the saddle to carry them behind the barn. On the way, he walked by the paddock and called out to Razor standing there pawing at the ground, “Hi ya, boy…getting hungry? I’ll take care of ya soon.” He sat down on a stump next to the fence and began to skin and clean his catch. As he sat there taking great care to remove the shot, he thought he heard the sound of a horse in the distance. Since it was too soon for Pa’s return, he listened again and realized he must have been mistaken.

He placed the skinned rabbits in the brine and rounded the barn to take them to the house. The chickens followed him scurrying around his legs as he moved. “I’ll be right back, girls,” he assured them. Mark left the bucket and knife in the sink, pulled the side door closed and walked across the yard whistling as he went. He grabbed a metal pail just inside the barn door, turned and began casting feed on the ground in a sweeping motion. “Here ya go,” he clucked as the chickens rushed in, pecking at the ground.

The sun was starting to sink and Mark’s shadow grew longer, casting back from him towards the barn. He thought to himself, ‘I better be gettin’ started on that supper before Pa gets back, but I still have to bed Blue Boy and Razor and get them fed and watered.’

Mark didn’t notice as a second shadow fell across the yard and up the side of the barn. Slowly, a stranger crept closer until his shadow and the one of Mark merged. The man raised his sidearm and struck Mark from behind. The pail of chicken feed hit the ground with a loud clang spilling its contents as Mark fell unconscious. The larger shadow reached down for the boy and dragged him to the front of the house.

*****

Micah pulled the drawer of his desk open and placed his paper work inside, then closed it back up. He pulled the shades on the windows and door, placed his hat on his head, and took his shotgun from the wall rack. As he locked the door and headed down the walkway, he was stopped by Amos from the telegraph office. “Oh, Marshal Torrance…sorry to bother ya. This just came in and I thought you best see it right away.”

Micah took the paper and as he began to read, his brow crinkled into a look of concern. “I need to warn Lucas. Can I take this?”

“Sure, sure Micah!”

He folded the paper and stuffed it into his vest pocket, then pivoted and rushed to the livery. After informing Nils what was going on and asking him to watch over things, Micah mounted his horse. “I’m not sure when I’ll be back,” he said as he turned and galloped for the McCain Ranch.

*****

As Lucas drove down the lane and approached the house, he noticed the smokehouse door standing open. A look of disgust crossed his face; just when he thought that boy of his was being responsible. He looked around the yard and peered into the empty barn. Surely Mark was here and had supper going. But, where was Blue Boy? He looked to the paddock expecting to see Razor only to find him missing as well.

“Mark?” Lucas called out. He grabbed his rifle and hopped down from the buckboard, again calling for his son and looking about the yard. Moving toward the house, he noticed the side door standing ajar. Lucas cautiously pushed at it with the end of his rifle and said, “Mark, are you in there?”

The door swung open to reveal a mangled sight. The cabinet doors stood open with some of its contents strewn on the floor. A chair to the table was turned over and someone had gone searching through the sideboard leaving broken dishes in their wake. With his rifle still ready, Lucas stepped into the bedroom and found the blankets missing from the beds. Thieves had ransacked his house. Lucas tried to comprehend what had happened as he turned and walked back into the front room. He looked around and spied Mark’s hat hanging on the wall. He was puzzled and worried…where was his son? Suddenly the front door came open and Lucas raised his rifle, taking aim.

“Wait, Lucas, it’s me!” yelled Micah raising his hand to stop his friend from firing. He couldn’t believe the sight lying before him, “What’s happened here?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out, Micah. Mark was supposed to be here, but he and the horses are gone. I came in and found the place like this,” said Lucas pointing to the mess surrounding him.

“Have you searched outside? Are there any signs?” Micah asked as he led Lucas out to the porch.

They began walking slowly through the yard, searching the ground around the team and buckboard, and then moved towards the barn. “What’s this,” Micah asked as he picked up the pail of feed lying on the ground with most of its contents gone. “It looks like something or someone was dragged,” exclaimed Micah noting the markings in the dust.

The drag marks led under the buckboard and toward the hitching rail in front of the house. “Look!” Micah pointed to the ground, “There are tracks of two or three horses here.”

Lucas walked around in a circle and looked out in the direction the horses had gone. “That’s Blue Boy’s tracks, and here’s Razor’s, but I don’t recognize the third.” He turned to Micah, “Someone has my son, but why? Where did they take him?” Lucas leaned against the post of the porch with one hand while still gripping his rifle in the other.

“Lucas, I’m afraid I know who did this.” Micah began to explain as he pulled the folded paper from his vest.

“What do you mean?”

“I was headin’ out here for supper when Amos stopped me with this…this wire,” Micah stated as he handed it over to Lucas.

Lucas’ eyes widened with fear as he read, then he looked to the marshal and out across the horizon. He could barely speak, “Micah…he took my son. He took my boy!”

“Looks like they’re heading south.” Micah grabbed Lucas’ shoulder and tried to assure his friend, “We can follow the tracks before it gets dark. We need to get to town fast, get you a horse and some supplies. Lucas, if we hurry, we can pick up the trail while it’s still fresh.”

Lucas ran towards the buckboard and leaped into the seat, turned the team, and dashed after Micah and his horse as the men headed for North Fork.

*****

Mark woke to a sharp pain at the back of his head. “Ow,” he moaned. It was dark and he found himself lying on a bunk. Hearing the crackle of a fire, he turned his head to see the figure of a man crouched in front of a fireplace. “Pa?” It was his pa, but this didn’t feel like their place. Where were they? “Pa?” Mark whispered.

Peering around the shadowy room with only the fire to provide light, he could see the cabin was small with a boarded up window and only one door. A little table and one chair sat in the middle, and one more bunk occupied another corner.

“Pa?” he asked again. “Where are we? My head hurts somethin’ awful,” he said with a groan. Mark tried to sit up in the bunk and noticed his whole body ached. He attempted to stand, but the pain he felt made him dizzy. He sat on the edge of the bunk for a moment, then tried standing again. He succeeded this time and started to take a step towards his pa, but something held his left leg… “Pa?!”

The figure rose up, looming large, illuminated by the glow of the fire. He turned towards Mark, but his face was cloaked in darkness. Mark squinted to focus, but it was hard to see until the man slowly emerged from the shadows. He drew near and crouched down bringing his face close to Mark’s. “I’m not your pa, boy!” he said in a harsh, graveled voice.

Mark stepped back against the edge of the bunk and fell across it into the wall. He tried to back up further but his leg was held tight. He froze in fear as the man’s face came into view. Mark’s voice caught in his throat as he tried to utter a name under his breath.

“B…B…Bantry?!” The color drained from Mark’s face, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“That’s right, boy…heh, heh, heh, heh.” He smiled a wicked smile, knelt down and pulled at the leg iron attached to Mark’s ankle. “I decided to bring you on a little huntin’ trip…heh, heh, heh.”

Mark’s head was spinning. The smell of whiskey on Bantry’s breath turned Mark’s stomach. As terror gripped him, he started to shake and his voice quivered, “Wha…what do you want with me?”

“Your pa’s gonna come lookin’ for ya and I’ll have a surprise for him. Yes sir, heh, heh, heh, heh…a big surprise!”

“What do you want with my pa?”

Bantry grabbed Mark by his collar and yanked him up, then whispered gruffly into his ear, “I’m gonna finish what I started.” He pushed Mark into the wall and straightened up, swiping at his scraggly mustache, “I’m gonna kill that mangy sodbuster!”

*****

They had gone to the livery and secured a horse for Lucas, leaving the team and buckboard for Nils to tend. Nils assured the rancher that he would have Toomey see after Lucas’ place while the two searched for Mark. He and John Hamilton would also watch over the town for the marshal. Lucas and Micah packed their horses with supplies for several days and left North Fork in a hurry taking advantage of what little light was left to pick up the trail of Bantry and Mark.

After tracking hard for a few hours, they stopped at a clearing near some rocks. Micah suggested, “Let’s bed down here, Lucas, and rest the horses. We can follow the trail at first light.” Lucas reluctantly gave in to the marshal. Besides, they wouldn’t be able to follow the tracks now that clouds covered the light of the moon. With the horses hobbled, the two men built a fire and laid out their bed rolls. Lucas didn’t think he could sleep, not with his son out there somewhere with a deranged killer.

“Looks like he’s headed for the border,” said Micah breaking the silence.

“He’s not getting that far…I’ll hunt him down first, Micah. If he harms that boy, I’ll…I’ll…”

Micah interrupted before Lucas could utter the words he knew his friend was thinking, “Near as I can figure, he had this all planned out. He was able to kill the marshal transporting him to Yuma, took the key for the shackles and the marshal’s horse, then headed straight for your ranch. He waited for just the right time, when you were away…”

Lucas stared into the fire and let Micah’s words drift in and out of his own thoughts.

Micah continued, “He figured he could get everything he needed from your place to hole up somewhere with the boy. He’s using Mark to lure you in, Lucas. I don’t think he’ll do anything to harm him.” Exhaustion crept over Micah and he slid down into his bed roll. It didn’t take long before the marshal was fast asleep. Lucas didn’t give in so easily, his thoughts were on his son and what he might be going through. But his fatigue soon gave way to provide a few hours of sleep.

*****

Mark looked around the cabin that Bantry had brought him to. It was just a shack with a sagging roof, four walls, and a fireplace. Faint slices of light drifted down through the cracks between the boards of the roof and walls. A small, boarded window was just above his bunk, and the only door was held shut by a brace jammed against it. The fire in the fireplace had burned down to embers and Mark shivered in the morning cold. Bantry was passed out, head down, sitting at the table with a near-empty whiskey bottle held loosely in his hand.

Raising a hand gently to the back of his head, Mark felt a very sore lump and cut in his scalp where Bantry had hit him. Patches of dried blood matted his hair. He must have been out for quite a while because he didn’t have any idea where they were or how long it had taken to get here. Trying to be as quiet as possible, the boy rolled over in the dirty bunk and looked down at the chain and shackle attached to his left leg. The cuff was tight around his boot and cut into his ankle when he tried to move. ‘How am I gonna get out of this?’ he wondered.

Hunger pains gnawed at the pit of his stomach as Mark noticed the pile of food and supplies stacked on the other side of the room. He lay silent, barely breathing. He didn’t want to wake up Bantry, but he didn’t want to starve either. Mark rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand and glared at his snoring captor.

*****

The morning sky glowed orange and yellow as Lucas sat by the fire and ate a biscuit and drank some coffee Micah had prepared. The marshal saddled the horses, then he and Lucas quickly broke camp and picked up the trail they had followed from the ranch. As they tracked along, the trail veered west and headed to higher ground where it ended at a rushing stream.

“Bantry must have doubled back here, Lucas. Looks like he’s headed north again,” observed Micah as he swung his horse around.

“He’s headed for the high country, Micah. It’s going to be harder to track him up there.” Lucas’ hope of finding Mark quickly began to fade at the thought of trying to locate his son up in those hills.

“Come on, Lucasboy…we’ll follow along this stream until we find more tracks. Bantry wants you to find him…why else would he have taken Mark?” reasoned Micah.

Lucas raised his head and looked up the stream bed to the mountains stretching north and west. Mark was up there, somewhere, with that madman. “I’ll kill him, Micah, so help me God…and there is nothing you can say or do…”

Micah waited a moment for Lucas to compose himself, and when Lucas broke his gaze and turned Razor toward the stream, Micah followed. The two crossed their horses through the shallow water flowing over the rock bed and started up the other side.

*****

Mark had propped himself against the wall, watched and waited as the outlaw stirred from his drunken state. Bantry lost the grip he had held on the whiskey bottle and it rolled off the table crashing to the floor. The noise startled Bantry and he shot up in the chair and moaned, looking about the room as if he didn’t know where he was. “What’re ya lookin’ at, boy?” he growled.

“Nothin’” Mark replied curtly.

“Nothin’” Bantry echoed back coarsely. He pointed a finger at Mark, “You’re a snot-nosed kid, you know dat…and I don’ like you!” He rose from the table stretching and scratching, then picked up a bucket from the pile of supplies. He removed the brace from the door and walked out into the daylight with one arm shading his eyes from the blinding sun.

Mark sat up in the bunk and slid toward the open door as far as the restraint would allow. He leaned way over as he tried to peer outside. He observed a small clearing with some hardwood and pine trees, boulders and rocky ground that sloped down and away from the shack then dropped off. Jagged mountains lay just beyond dotting the horizon. The sound of water rushing over rocks was off to one side, and Mark heard the whinny of horses as Bantry cursed at the animals. Footsteps approached causing Mark to scurry back across the bunk into the corner.

Bantry appeared in the doorway with a bucket of water and a few pieces of wood. He shoved the door closed with his foot, then dropped the bucket onto the table. He threw the wood into the fireplace and kicked at the logs with the toe of his boot to stoke the fire. He turned to Mark and glowered at him, “I’m gonna let you loose, but don’t try nothin’ or I’ll have to kill ya, boy…ya understand?”

“Y…yes!”

“Yes, what?” asked Bantry as he knelt and gripped Mark’s ankle pulling the boy towards him.

“Yes, sir!” Mark snapped back.

“That’s better…show some respect fer your elders.” The man took a key from his pant pocket and unlocked the cuff, then pulled Mark up by his shoulders. His grip was tight and he glared into Mark’s eyes, then snarled, “Now, you get over there and fix me up some food. Maybe I’ll let you eat if there’s any left.” He pushed Mark hard towards the table and the boy stumbled into the chair, grasping it to keep from falling. Bantry lunged and yanked at Mark’s collar, pulling him backwards. Mark grabbed at his neck, gasping and sputtering, and pulled at the collar to keep it from choking him. Bantry had a death grip and pulled Mark close, nearly lifting him off the floor, then whispered, “Remember, I’m watchin’ you, so don’ get any ideas.” Bantry let go of his grasp and yelled, “Now…get ta work!”

Mark staggered away, drew in some air and coughed violently. The outlaw pulled the chair from the table, sat down, stretched out and propped up his boots. He pulled out his handgun and aimed it at the boy. Mark turned away from Bantry and set his jaw, fighting off tears that formed in his eyes. He wouldn’t give that greasy cuss the satisfaction of seeing him cry. He knew Pa would find them and Bantry would be taken down.

Under the killer’s watchful eye, Mark worked quickly, not speaking a word. He knelt down and started digging through the sacks and bags of supplies where he found his Pa’s coffee pot and their frying pan. Bantry had stolen all of this stuff from their ranch. ‘Food,’ he thought…he was so hungry. He uncovered a crate holding six full whiskey bottles and a slab of bacon. Here was a knife…he could use it on Bantry. But logic convinced Mark that Bantry could easily overpower him and he had the gun.

He cut off a piece of the bacon and fried it in a pan set on a rock in the fireplace, then he scrambled six of the eggs he found. He set out a plate for Bantry along with the biscuits and coffee he had prepared. “There!” Mark said pointing to the table.

Bantry barked at Mark to get back to the bunk and clamp on the shackle. Mark obeyed and watched in disgust as Bantry ferociously ate his food. When he was done, he shoved the frying pan across the floor at the boy. Mark grabbed the pan and began to eat the remaining eggs and grease with his fingers. When he had gotten every last morsel, he placed the empty pan on the floor next to the bunk.

After Bantry wolfed down his food, he threw the plate and cup into the corner. The clanging noise startled Mark. “Can I please have some…some water?” begged Mark.

“Can I please have some water,” Bantry quipped in a whining voice. He grumbled and filled a dipper at the bucket, then took it over to Mark and held it toward the boy. Mark nearly had the dipper in his hands when Bantry snatched it back spilling some of it on the floor.

“Heh…heh…heh,” Bantry half grunted, half laughed. “Look what ya made me do…I oughta make ya lick it up,” he sadistically taunted. “Here!” he said as he shoved the dipper back. Mark gulped the few swallows that remained. But, before Mark could finish, Bantry ripped the dipper from his hands. “That’s enough!”

Bantry allowed Mark to go outside for a short time all the while training his gun on the boy. He didn’t allow him out of his sight and made sure Mark didn’t go too far. Mark spied Blue Boy who whinnied at his master. He was tied with Razor and another horse in a lean-to about twenty-five feet from the shack. He wanted to run, but he knew he wouldn’t get too far. Bantry sensed the boy was getting anxious, so he ordered him back into the cabin and secured the leg iron once more.

The outlaw pulled a cigar from his pocket, lit it and took a few puffs. “I’m gonna go out for a spell,” he said as he slipped on an old rag of a coat. “Don’t you go nowhere, now,” Bantry said with a laugh as he slid the door shut and bolted it from the outside. Mark heard the man saddle his horse, then ride out pulling the other two horses behind him.

*****
He was alone and the fire was slowly dying. It would get cold again soon with the wind whistling through the cracks of the walls. Mark sat on the bunk, huddled in the corner, with his left leg pulled tight by the chain attached to the floor. He balled up his fist and pounded the wall of the cabin. “Help!” He waited a moment and yelled again, “Help!” The only sound was a bird cawing from the peak of the roof. He buttoned his jacket and turned the collar up to ward off some of the chill. Hot tears stung his face and he wiped them away with the cuff of his sleeve. Anger mounted in him and he pounded his fist into the dusty bunk pad, once, twice, three times. He wondered out loud, “How could I be so stupid to let Bantry take me like this?” Mark leaned his head back against the wall and looked up through the planks of the roof at the sky above. The sun was bright and beams of light streamed into the cabin.

He quieted for a moment as he listened to water lapping over rocks in the stream nearby. Leaves rustled in the trees and a pine branch scraped at the eve of the roof. Beyond those sounds was an eerie silence and Mark felt completely alone. ‘How am I gonna get out of this?’ he thought to himself. Mark pounded his fist again, ‘What drove Bantry to be so mean?’ He remembered when the outlaw had terrorized him and his pa once before. He looked an awful lot like Pa, but he was nothing like him. Pa was strong and kind, and Bantry was a cold-blooded murderer who hated everyone. He called people miserable and rotten.

Memories flooded Mark’s thoughts as he recalled Pa saying, “People aren’t born mean and bad…something happened to ‘em. Someone done something to ‘em and they felt mistreated and fought back.” Guess that’s what happened to Bantry. It made him so mean he killed his own brothers and two other men…and now, he wanted to kill Pa.

Pa said this is a good world, but there would be sad times too. Right now, Mark felt incredibly sad and he knew Pa would be sad that he couldn’t find him. The world seemed so dark and cold and lonely. Mark hunched forward and rubbed his fist back and forth across his forehead. He brushed at his eyes with the heel of his hand as the tears came, but this time he couldn’t stop them. He slumped into a ball and buried his face into the bunk trying to muffle the sobs. Only a hawk circling above could hear him cry.

*****

Lucas and the marshal rode into the foothills along the side of the stream and searched for the tracks of Blue Boy and Razor. They would find the trail and follow it, only to lose it again. Bantry had not made it easy if indeed he wanted Lucas to find him and the boy. They continued all day and into the evening until once more, at Micah’s insistence, they stopped to make camp. Morning light would come soon enough, and Micah urged Lucas to rest while he could.

*****

Mark woke in darkness to the sounds of a horse and rider stopping just beyond the shack. He could hear it was Bantry, who cursed and talked to himself as he tended his horse. Mark braced for his captor’s return as Bantry burst through the door and dumped a sack and his saddle bags on top of the pile of other supplies. He removed his grubby coat and hat and threw them onto his bunk. He stoked the fire and warmed his hands and backside, then reached into the crate and pulled out one of the full whiskey bottles.

It was obvious to Mark that Bantry had already been drinking as the man slurred his words and weaved about the room. “How…howdy, boy, did ya…(hick)…did ya miss me?” Bantry picked up the chair and set it facing Mark, then threw a leg over the back and plopped into the seat. He removed his handgun from its holster and laid it on the table, then popped the cork from the bottle taking several swigs in the process. Whiskey ran down his chin and he wiped it away with his sleeve and the backside of his hand.

Fear rose up in Mark as he watched wide-eyed, wondering what was in store for him now.

“Ya know those horses…(hick)…those horses of yours…they brought a pretty penny.”

Mark’s heart sank, “You sold Blue Boy and my pa’s horse?”

“Yeah…yeah, I did,” the outlaw mumbled. He kicked at the chain attached to Mark’s leg iron to see if it was holding tight. Mark winced in pain as the cuff pulled at his swollen ankle.

Bantry brushed back his greasy hair, and let out an evil laugh, “Yeah...I sold ‘em and got me a few dollars, some more food…and…more whiskey!” He took another chug from the bottle and leaned toward Mark, “What da ya think ‘bout that? Tell me, boy…whadda ya think?”

“I…I don’t much like it,” Mark said in a hushed voice.

“I don’t much like it,” repeated Bantry. “Well, listen up, boy,” he raged. “I don’…like…you!”

Mark recoiled from Bantry as the man sprang forward and tried to grab Mark’s arm. But, he staggered and slumped back into the chair.

“Ya know…ya know what? Once I kill your pa…you ain’t…(hick)…you ain’t gonna have no one…see? Eh, maybe I can be your pa…heh…heh…heh. Whadda ya think?”

Mark shot back, “You ain’t never gonna be like my pa!” Mark’s lip quivered and his body shook, but he continued on, “My pa’s a better man than you’ll ever be!”

Bantry screwed up his face and yelled gruffly, “Well, your pa’s gonna be dead…ya hear me? Dead!” He pointed a dirty, crooked finger at his prisoner, “Your gonna call me Pa, or you’ll be dead too!”

Mark curled his hands into tight fists and with a stiffened lip, he yelled back at the man, “No!”

Bantry gingerly set the bottle of whiskey on the table then stood up with a look of pure evil on his face. He cursed at the boy, moving towards him, and wrapped a big hand around Mark’s arm yanking him to a standing position. He glared into the boy’s eyes and breathed his hot, whiskey breath at Mark. Then he raised his other hand and in swift motions struck Mark across the face, alternately backhanding and slapping him. Mark struggled and yelled ‘stop’, and tried to break free of Bantry’s strong hold.

He pushed the boy to the floor and kicked him in the side with his boot. “The Rifle…man’s son,” he taunted. Mark cried out in pain and raised his arms to shield himself from the severe blows. “Please, mister, please,” he pleaded. Mark’s cheek and lip began to swell and blood ran from the corner of his mouth.

Bantry suddenly stopped, straightened up and backed away. “You won’t do me no good dead, boy.” He stopped himself and stumbled over to his bunk, picked up one of the blankets and threw it at Mark. Then he staggered back to his chair, pulling it up to the table. He chugged on his whiskey and contemplated his moves for when McCain would arrive. The drunker he got the more he cursed at the mangy sodbuster. He cursed at his dead brothers, too. The man drained every drop from the bottle and finally passed out on his bunk

All the while, Mark lay curled up on the floor in agony with the blanket pulled up around him …still shackled, still captured, still wondering how he would be able to go on if Bantry succeeded in killing his pa.

*****

Three full days had passed since Mark was taken and the two men from North Fork continued to search the hills west of the stream. The tracks were getting harder to find and Lucas was beginning to lose hope. As they came into a clearing shaded with pine trees, Lucas walked his horse in a circle searching the ground below.

Micah took off his hat and wiped his brow with his bandanna. “Lucas, we need to get into Red Wing and get more supplies if we’re gonna stay out here,” suggested Micah.

“I know, Micah, I just…” He stopped mid-sentence and looked to his friend for something, some reassurance.

“Lucasboy, Bantry swore he would get you someday. It’s you he wants, not Mark! After you shot him in the gut, why it took three months for him to recover enough so they could move him. They had him up at the county seat for trial and…and held him there another three months before they decided to take him to Yuma. He was scheduled to hang at the prison for killing his partner and Ab Richards.”

“How did he get away?” asked Lucas.

“He jumped the marshal and killed him. Stole his horse…that was two weeks ago. A posse searched for him and figured he was headin’ your way. So, the Circuit Judge had a wire sent to warn us.”

“Two weeks, Micah?” Lucas gritted his teeth, “We could have been more careful if we had known. He came to my ranch and took my son!”

“You’re right, Lucas, the authorities should have warned us sooner. But we’ve got to work with the hand we’ve been dealt. Your son’s out there and he’s counting on you. Let’s go to Red Wing…maybe somebody’s seen Bantry up there.”

Micah swung his horse around and veered north with Lucas following behind.

*****

Day went into night went into day…and Bantry was starting to run low on whiskey. Sober in the daylight, but drunk during the nights – that’s when he took his hatred for McCain out on his son. He would curse and yell at the boy and slap him around for good measure just to keep him from getting any ideas about trying to escape. He repeatedly threatened him with his life, pointing his gun at Mark, and reminded him often of what he was going to do to Lucas whenever the sodbuster showed up. He would let Mark out only a couple times a day, and never let the boy out of his sight. He kept him chained in the leg iron most of the time and allowed him minimal food and water. Bantry forced him to cook and clean up after him, and he threatened to shoot Mark if he resisted.

Mark’s eyes were blood-shot and he was dead tired; he was too afraid to fall asleep even when Bantry was passed out drunk. His face was battered and bruised and his side hurt when he was allowed to move around. His left ankle was so swollen from the iron cuff he could barely walk. Still in the clothes that Bantry had taken him in, this was one time Mark wished for a bath. Bantry had left him alone one other time since they had arrived at the shack and Mark hated being left alone. He was once afraid of the dark when he allowed imaginary things to scare him, but Bantry wasn’t imaginary…he was a very real threat. He was afraid that Bantry would leave him there all alone to die. But most of all, he was sick with worry and fear…fear for his pa’s safety. How he hated Bantry, and that hatred was building and mounting inside the boy so much, it threatened to consume him. He had to get away somehow.

Shadow of Vengeance Part II

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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