The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 38 - Father and Son, Side by Side
Written by Deanne Bertram

Two days later, Mark arrived in town right after the North Fork bank was robbed and the outlaws were racing from town. Mark reached back for his rifle as he continued to hear multiple shots and then watched as Micah fell to the ground and Johnny struggled to keep on his feet. As the gang rode past him, Mark recognized two of the riders. Mark jumped down from Blue Boy and ran to Micah and Johnny, yelling “Someone get Doc Burrage!”

Quickly at Mark’s side was John Hamilton, blood streaming down his sleeve, “Mark, what can I do to help?”

Mark pulled the bandanna from his back pocket and handed it to John, “Here, wad this up and keep pressure on Micah’s side. The pressure will help stop the flow of blood.”

Mark saw someone else arrive and apply pressure to the bullet wound to Micah’s leg as he turned his attention to Johnny, catching him just as he fell to the ground. Mark ripped the sleeve off his own shirt, wadded it up and applied it to the wound in Johnny’s side and then applying pressure with his bare hand to the wound in Johnny’s shoulder. Again he yelled, “SOMEONE GET DOC BURRAGE!”

Micah started giving orders, yelling for them to let him up so he could follow the outlaws. “Micah, you stay put until Doc gets here. You’re in no condition to ride,” Mark yelled over to him.

From behind him Mark heard material ripping, he saw a torn skirt hem drop down and a woman’s hands wrapping a makeshift bandage around the wound to Johnny’s head. Mark looked up and saw Abigail Burrage, “Mark you’re doing a good job. Nils was going after Thadd and then for Uncle Jay. We’re going to need them both.”

“Some of you men, get over here,” Mark yelled. “Let’s get Micah and Johnny to Doc’s!” Mark saw Oat Jackford approaching and then heard Lou wailing as she came running down the street. “Oat, get Lou, keep her back!. Take her back to the hotel!” Mark ordered. Then hollered for someone to go get Hattie and take her to the hotel as well.

They carried the men into Doc’s, and set them on the examination tables. “Once they’re down, make sure you keep pressure applied to their wounds,” Mark called.

Abigail proceeded to pull the laudanum from the cabinet and started dosing both men, in anticipation of her husband’s and uncle’s arrival. Once dosed, she pulled out the ether. Shortly, Thadd Burrage entered the office, “Abigail, who’s worse?”

“Thadd, I’m not sure, both took multiple bullets. Nils was going after Uncle Jay to help us.”

“Doc,” Mark called over. “Micah took a bullet close to the gut and then another in the leg. Johnny’s shot in the side, below the ribs, and another in the shoulder. Took a graze to his temple as well.”

Thadd started examining Micah as Jay Burrage entered and headed for Johnny. Mark pushed everyone else out of the clinic so the two doctors could work, before he turned and looked at John Hamilton. Mark walked to the cabinet and pulled out some bandages.

“John, have a seat in the chair, I can at least wrap your arm until they’re done and can tend to you.”

Before leaving the doctor’s office, Mark washed all the blood off his hands, arms, and face. He stepped out and headed for the telegraph office. Before he got there, Nils stopped a horse in front of him and announced he was going for Lucas.

“Thanks Nils.”

Mark entered the telegraph office, “Amos, send a wire alerting all the nearby towns our bank was robbed. Tell them it was Creed Domingo’s gang.”

As Mark exited the office, many of the town’s people were waiting for him.

“Folks, I’m looking for deputies to ride in a posse after Creed Domingo’s gang. Think good and hard men. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone, no one will be thought of any less if you can’t ride. So those with family, I’ll understand. Any available man, meet me in front of the Marshal’s office in fifteen minutes. Then we ride.”

As Mark walked towards the Marshal’s office, he heard Sweeney state, “Mark, that’s not time enough for Nils to get your Pa.”

“I can’t wait for him. Each minute I’ve been here, they’ve gotten that much farther away. Sweeney, when they arrive, tell them I’ll mark my trail, they can catch up with us.”

*****

As Mark returned to the Marshal’s office, he saw a stranger, standing next to the hitching rail.

“Seems your town’s had a little excitement,” the stranger stated.

“It’s not excitement if you call our Marshal and Deputy being shot trying to protect our town after our bank was robbed,” Mark stated as he brushed past the man and entered the office.

The man followed Mark inside and watched as Mark placed his rifle on the desk. Watched as Mark pulled a few deputy badges from the desk drawer. He watched as Mark pulled a box of bullets from another drawer.

“Deputy, seems we’ve met before,” the stranger stated.

“Mister, I’ve no time for idle chit chat. I’ve a posse to form and head out after those outlaws. So if you’ll excuse me.” Mark picked up his rifle and tried to push his way past the man, but the man stopped him by grabbing him by the arm.

“Boy,” he said, as he pulled his jacket open, showing a U.S. Marshal star pinned to his vest. “That’s it, you’re that boy!”

“Sir, I’m not a boy,” Mark said getting a little annoyed with the man, even though he was a Marshal. “I’m a duly authorized deputy of this town. Now if you’ll let go of my arm.” Mark said, not pulling his arm from the man’s grasp, but staring the man in the eyes.

“Deputy I meant no disrespect, it’s just that, you were a boy the first time we met, only we didn’t really meet,” he man said as he released his hold on Mark’s arm.

“Marshal, as I said, I don’t have time…”

“Your name’s Mark McCain, if I remember correctly. I’m U.S. Marshal James Carson. We never really got a chance to be introduced when you delivered a prisoner up to Clovis a few years back.”

Mark remembered back and relaxed his stance.

“Son, you need help?” Carson asked.

“I’ll take any help I can get, sir. I’m sorry for my attitude, it’s just that each minute I delay heading out, those outlaws are getting away.”

“Did anyone recognize the outlaws?” Carson asked.

“Creed Domingo and his bunch,” Mark replied.

“You sure?”

“I saw him with my own eyes.”

Mark exited the office and realized someone had tied Blue Boy to the hitching rail. Mark put his rifle in the scabbard, put the box of shells in his saddle bag and then grabbed it down and headed for the General Store, where Mrs. Donner filled them with jerky, canned goods, and such. Mark stopped and picked up an extra canteen and made sure both were filled full. Before he left, Mrs. Donner insisted he change into a new shirt.

As he returned to the Marshal’s office, he saw Percy Bullock and Billy Davis standing by their horses. He knew most all the other men who had stood in front of the telegraph office when he made his plea, had families and this was Creed Domingo’s gang they were going to trail.

“Percy, Billy, thank you, but you’re both not cut out for this. I appreciate your willingness to help out, but just head on back home. Please…” Mark told them.

*****

Carson and Mark mounted up and headed out of North Fork, to the northeast. As they rode, Carson asked, “Why wouldn’t you let those two join us?”

“Because Billy’s a farmer. He doesn’t know anything about riding a posse and Percy, he’s a scholar. He’s home on summer break from college back east. They’re both good friends and I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to either one of them. I’d rather it be just us, than have to worry about them, too.”

Each time they came to a fork in the road, Mark stepped down and examined the trail, then made sure he marked it. When they came to a creek, Mark and Carson split up, each searching to see which way the outlaws went, when one found the trail, they were to fire their gun twice and wait for the other. When the other got to where they originally entered the stream, they were to mark the direction they went. Mark had gotten a half mile upstream when he heard the signal. He turned Blue Boy around and back tracked.

When Mark caught up, Carson asked, “So who are you marking the trail for? No one’s going to follow us.”

“There’ll be one. And each time we stop, he’s catching up with us.”

“One. One man!” Carson stated.

“One more man is better than the two of us alone,” Mark replied

“Considering the others of your town, just who do you think is going to be stupid enough to trail after us?”

“He’s not stupid. He’ll come, he’s my father.”

“Your father!” Carson stopped and looked at Mark; shook his head and proceeded in silence.

They rode until Mark couldn’t track any further because night had fallen. Mark tended to the horses while Carson made a small campfire. Mark tossed a can of beans and a can opener to Carson. Then laid out his bedroll.

“Mark, I’m sorry for my reaction earlier. I just now got to remembering what Tom Benton told me after I took your prisoner on to Amarillo. As we talked, I repeated what your prisoner and that family said. Tom said he wasn’t surprised. He told me about you being a hostage of Tom Birch and how you ‘stole’ back the money. Then he told me about being your father’s commanding officer during the War. Said he expected nothing less from the son of the Rifleman. I forgot who your father was and his reputation. I’d be honored to meet him.”

*****

It was close to midnight when Carson was startled awake by the sound of a rifle being cocked, close by. He looked around and didn’t see Mark in his bedroll. Then, he heard a voice, not so close, call, “Mark?”

Carson stood and looked around and saw Mark walk back into camp, rifle at the ready, and then watched as two riders enter the light of their small fire.

“Good to see you Pa, Nils.” Then turning to Carson, “Sir, I’d like to introduce you to Lucas McCain and Nils Swenson. This is Marshal James Carson. Coffee should still be warm if you want some,” Mark said as he uncocked his rifle, set it next to his bedroll, and then took the reins to Razor and Nils horse, waiting only long enough for them to pull their rifles before he led them to where the other horses were tied.

As Mark returned to the camp he asked, “Pa, did you come through town? Any word on Micah or Johnny?”

“They’ll both pull through, though they are both going to be laid up for probably a month. Oat Jackford and a few of his hands are watching over the town until you return.”

“How about Miss Hattie and Lou?” Mark felt guilty he hadn’t stopped by before he left, but he knew he couldn’t face them until after he caught those responsible.

“Worried, as is your Ma and Hope.”

Mark didn’t reply, he just stared into the fire, then said, “We best get to sleep. We need to be ready to ride at sun up.” Mark laid down and pulled the blanket over his shoulder.

*****

The Domingo Gang had stopped for the night. Celebrating the success of their robbery -- a number had been drinking and were stumbling around the fire. One sat a distance from the rest, cleaning his hand gun, looking back, they way they came.

Domingo walked to him and asked, “Why you not celebrating?”

“What’s there to celebrate? He wasn’t there.”

“Who wasn’t there?”

“A ‘friend’. A ‘friend’ that I owe for getting shot in the back. Two months I laid in that prison hospital. For almost seven years, I’ve done nothing but thought about those two months of pain and suffering all because a ‘friend’ wouldn’t help me when I needed help. He turned on me, so I turned the tables on him. And for that, I got shot in the back. Six and a half years in prison. But no longer. I broke out and I’m free. I’m free to payback my ‘friend’.”

“So some sodbuster…” Domingo stated.

“He ain’t no sodbuster!”

“Touchy, touchy. So just who is this man and what did you expect?”

“I expected him to be in town. I expected to have him in my gun sights and I expected to pull the trigger. I expected to see that tall man fall. The taller they are, the harder they fall. The high and mighty Lucas McCain, the Rifleman, my ‘friend’,” the man said as he rolled the cylinder of his gun along his sleeve. “I’ll have my revenge, I’ll see him fall. As I live and breathe, I swear Lucas McCain will die.”

After putting his gun back in his holster, the man said, “Maybe it was for the best he wasn’t in town. I’ll get him on my terms. I know he’s going to come after us, seeing as how we shot up his town, his Marshal, and his deputy. Yes, Lucas McCain will fall on MY terms.”

*****

The day after Lucas and Mark left North Fork, Oat Jackford and a few of his men arrived at the McCain Ranch.

“Milly, Hope, we’re moving both of you to Hattie’s until your men folk return. Sam and Alvin will stay here and take care of the place. I won’t take no for an answer, so you just go inside, pack some of your belongings and we’ll take the three of you to town.”

*****

Mark woke before dawn and stirred the fire and placed the coffee pot on. He rolled his bedroll and then saddled the horses before returning to camp.

Lucas was next to wake. He knelt next to his son, by the fire, and took the cup of coffee Mark offered and started to speak.

“Pa, before you say anything, let me talk. I couldn’t come home. I couldn’t face Hope. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to leave. I know I have responsibilities to Hope, but I also have responsibilities to North Fork. Pa, I had Johnny’s blood on my hands and arms. I still have it on my pants. I know you might find it hard to understand, but…”

“Mark, I think I understand, but there’s something more bothering you. Care to tell me about it?” Lucas asked.

“Pa, it’s not just Creed Domingo’s gang were after. I swear I saw Russell Gannaway riding with them. I know it’s been almost seven years, but Pa…”

“You said Russell Gannaway?” Carson asked as he came up behind them. “How do you know Gannaway?”

Lucas explained their past history, but he turned and told Mark, “You have to be wrong son. He’s in prison, he received a twenty year sentence for his part in the robbery and the attempted murder charges on Micah and me.”

“Lucas, if Mark thought he saw Russell Gannaway, then I’m sure he did. Gannaway escaped from prison three months ago. We’ve U.S. Marshals searching the territory for him. Once he’s caught, if he’s caught alive, he’ll end up swinging. He killed two jailers in his break out.”

*****

Camp was broke and they were in their saddles just as the sun crested the hills. Lucas and Mark both watching the tracks, following the signs.

*****

They were four days out from North Fork, when they realized the tracks they were following were leading into a canyon.

“I don’t like it,” Lucas stated as he looked ahead.

“Luke, what’s wrong? Why not follow the tracks?” Nils asked.

Mark replied, “Nils, it could be a trap and a deadly one at that.” Mark rode a short distance ahead, turning Blue Boy around as he was examining the ground, still in the saddle. When he returned to the group, “Pa, some of the horses are lighter than before. They’ve taken all the horses and are hoping to lure us into the canyon and ambush us.”

“So, Mark, how do you think we should proceed?” Carson asked.

Looking their situation over and then trying to formulate a plan, “Well, unfortunately I think we should split up. Back track and then each group set out to ride opposite sides of the canyon. I’m sure those on foot, climbed up the canyon walls and are on foot up top, looking for a good location for an ambush. Hoping we’d follow their horse tracks.”

As they back tracked to find a location to ride to the top of the canyon, they were ambushed. But from the location and the number of rifle shots heard, this wasn’t the full gang. One or maybe, two members shooting, not a full scale assault. Unfortunately, they were enough to cause problems for the group from North Fork. Marshal Carson took a bullet to the shoulder and Nils took one to the thigh.

As Mark tended to the injured, Lucas declared that they needed to get them to the nearest town, Tucumcari. “We’ll get you medical attention and then we’ll proceed on after them.”

“You’ll do no such thing. This is a U.S. Marshal matter, Domingo and Gannaway, they’re not your concern,” Carson stated.

“NOT MY CONCERN?!” Mark demanded. “You forget, they robbed MY town! They shot three people in MY town! Those outlaws ARE my concern!”

“Mark, they’re wanted by the U.S. Marshal Service. No disrespect meant, but you’re just a town deputy. Our jurisdiction takes precedence over your town’s concerns. If they keep heading northeast, they’ll be out of New Mexico in a day or two. You’ll have no jurisdiction,” Carson stated and winced when Lucas helped him get his arm in the sling.

“Carson, I might be a deputy of North Fork, but I also am a U.S. Marshal. At least I will be one officially when I turn twenty-one. If you doubt me, wire Tom Benton when we get you to Tucumcari. He’ll tell you it’s the truth. With all the studying and tests I’ve taken from the Service, there’s only a few active Marshal’s who are ranked higher than I am.”

“Mark?” Lucas asked as he pulled at Mark’s arm and turned him around to face him. “What are you talking about?”

“Pa, I know I should have said something, but I wasn’t sure that I was going to take that step, I didn’t have to decide until I turn twenty-one. Marshal Benton stated they needed new, younger blood in the Marshal Service. He called us ‘the new breed.’ Those who would think in order to outsmart the outlaws. Those who understood the meaning of the law. Not just chase criminals and lock them up, but understand the letter of the law. Micah once told us a little bit about it, but from what I’ve been studying the past three years, there so much more to it.”

*****

They arrived in Tucumcari and dropped Carson and Nils off at the doctor’s office. Mark headed to the telegraph office to send his first wire to Denver. His second wire was sent to North Fork, telling Hope and Milly that they were safe, but still trailing those who shot Micah and Johnny.

As they waited in the doctor’s office, the telegraph operator came back in and handed a wire to Mark.

Deputy Mark McCain

c/o Tucumcari, New Mexico Territory

Situation understood /stop/

Mark McCain is hereby granted full authority as U.S. Marshal /stop/

Congratulations and God speed /stop/

Cole Barker

U.S. Marshal

Denver, Colorado

Mark handed the wire to his father, who after reading, then handed the wire to Marshal Carson. “Well all be. Mark I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. You know, you are one amazing man. Lucas, you raised yourself one very exceptional son. I’m proud to call him a brother of the law.” Then turning to Mark, “Guess you’ll be heading on without us. I’ll see to it that Nils gets back to North Fork, when the doc says we can travel. God speed, Mark.”

Lucas and Mark mounted their horses and headed out of town, taking back up the trail of the outlaws.

*****

Two days later they crossed into Texas, just outside of Romero. They stood on the rise above what once was a small, sleepy town. Lucas and Mark watched and realized the Domingo gang had treed the town. They stepped down from their mounts to discuss their plan.

It was approaching midnight and they were ready to put their plan into action, when they heard a solitary rider approaching. They both ran, Lucas to hide behind a tree, while Mark ran to crouch behind a boulder, both with rifles at the ready. They watched as the silhouette passed between them. They stepped from their cover, both cocking their rifles. The rider stopped his horse and raised both hands.

Through the darkness they heard, “I take it I have Lucas and Mark McCain at my back, otherwise, I’d be dead by now.”

“Tom?” Lucas called.

The rider turned his horse around.

“Marshal Benton, what are you doing here?” Mark asked.

“I was waiting in Amarillo when I received a wire from Cole Barker telling me what happened. Thought you could use some help. By the way, I understand congratulations are in order, Marshal McCain.”

“It’s only temporary. I haven’t decided to make it official. I just needed the authority to continue following the Domingo gang.”

“So, what’s your plan?” Benton asked.

“Figured to enter the town and see how many we can take out quietly. Figured we can take out some of the lesser elements. They’ve had some pretty good parties when they’ve stopped a few times. Figure they’ll want to continue their celebration. Those that are drunk or passed out should be easy,” Lucas stated.

“Okay, let’s go.”

*****

The three quietly rode their horses into Romero and tied their mounts behind the livery. Before daylight, they had taken four outlaws out of the picture. They were tied up and hidden back on the ridge, by the time the sun started casting long shadows over the town.

“So, do we keep taking them out one by one?” Mark asked, looking to his father and then to Benton.

“It’s worked so far, Mark. Only now that the sun is up, it’s going to be harder. Maybe we should catch some sleep,” Tom stated after seeing Mark trying to stifle a yawn. “Two of us can catch some sleep while the third keeps an eye on them. Then when the sun goes down tonight, we can start it all over again.”

*****

By the end of the second night, they had nine members of the Domingo gang in custody. After interrogating one of the outlaws, they found out there were only four more, plus Gannaway. It was decided that they would enter the town that afternoon. It was decided that Benton would take the first watch over their prisoners, allowing Mark and Lucas a few hours sleep. Lucas heard Mark sleeping when he got up and walked to Tom.

“Lucas?”

“Tom. You realize he has a wife at home who is expecting to give birth within the month?”

“And your wife is at home expecting your third child too,” Benton stated as he took a drink of coffee. Not looking at Lucas, he said, “Lucas, he’s a man. It’s his decision if he puts that badge on permanently. Whether he does or doesn’t, he’s got a keen mind for understanding the law and North Fork will be happy to have him as their town marshal one of these days. Just don’t be surprised when we call on him every now and then for help.”

******

Since Russell Gannaway wasn’t one of the outlaws they had in custody, it was decided that Lucas would ride solo and sneak into Romero and scout around. Mark and Tom would ride in together.

Lucas tied Razor behind the livery stable. As he was climbing through the corral, a young boy spied him. Lucas raised his hand to his face and motioned for the boy to be quiet. The boy looked all around him and then nodded his head. Lucas ran to the doorway.

“Boy, are any of the outlaws in the livery?” Lucas asked.

“N-no sir. They’re all in the saloon. Some of them gone missing.”

“Boy, run on home and tell your family to stay inside.”

“Y-Yes, yes sir.”

Lucas watched as the boy dropped his pitch fork and ran away. He made his way to the front of the livery and looked out across the street. The saloon was on the other side of the street and towards the other end of town, the direction where Mark and Tom planned to ride in from. With rifle in hand, he made his way from building to building, motioning for the few people he encountered to take cover.

Lucas saw Tom and Mark enter into town. Both had the butts of their rifles standing on their thighs. They dismounted their horses two doors down from the saloon and then took position in the middle of the street. They heard the sound of men arguing coming from the saloon. They waited.

Soon a man staggered from the saloon, he looked straight at the marshals and ran back inside yelling, “It’s the law! They’re out front!”

Mark and Tom ran for cover as they heard the sounds of glass breaking and men cussing. A gun fight ensued. Neither Mark nor Tom fired hap-hazardly, as those in the saloon were. They aimed their shots for accuracy. Striking their intended targets, when they presented themselves.

Lucas saw a man running from the back of the saloon. He held his shot as he realized it was the saloon keeper.

Finally, they heard a voice inside the saloon plead, “Don’t shoot, we give up!” They watched as a gun was tossed out the broken window. “We give up!”

“Toss any other guns out the window, then come out with your hands up!” Tom yelled. They watched as several more guns were tossed from the window. Three men walked out the doors of the saloon and into the street, all three bearing evidence of having been wounded. Lucas made his way along the front of the saloon, rifle at the ready. As he approached the doors, he saw the barrel of a gun sticking out the broken window, having a perfect bead on Tom. Lucas dove through the doors and fired, hitting the man he aimed for.

“Men, I’d hold it right there and don’t move one muscle, if I were you,” Lucas heard Tom yell as he got to his feet. He picked his hat up and walked back out front. Watching as Tom came out from behind a wagon, rifle on their prisoners.

“Tom,” Lucas called. “Where’s Mark?”

“He was right behind the water trough!”

Both men stood and stared at each other, then looked up and down the street. Panic gripped Lucas when both of them heard the single gunshot. He ran in the direction from where the shot came. He was just outside the general mercantile when he saw Gannaway run out the front door. “RUSSELL!” Lucas yelled.

Gannaway turned and called out, “So you did come after all. Lucas, I knew you couldn’t resist being so respectable. You got principles, ideals.”

“Russell, drop your gun. You got nowhere to run,” Lucas called.

“I’ll see you dead before I drop my gun,” as he raised his gun and pointed it towards Lucas. Lucas yelled “RUSSELL!” and pulled his rifle to his hip and fired, as he heard the sound of a second rifle being discharged to his right, he also heard Russell fire his gun - the bullet struck Lucas, hitting him in the thigh.

*****

From Mark’s vantage point, he saw Russell Gannaway climb out an upper floor window and run across the roof of the building connected to the saloon. ‘Coward,’ Mark thought to himself. Mark followed on a parallel course along the ground, stopping behind cover and looking to see where Gannaway headed to next.

He ran across the street as he saw Gannaway drop to the ground and enter the back door of the General Mercantile. Mark stopped at the doorway and peaked in. He saw Gannaway, stopped and looking out the front door, looking up and down the street. Mark quietly entered, rifle at the ready. He’d made it about five feet inside, when he heard the gunshot and felt the fire at his side. He saw Gannaway turn towards him.

“Gannaway, you’re under arrest. Drop your gun and give up!” Mark yelled, pulling his rifle to the ready.

“You ain’t taking me!” he yelled, turned, and ran out the door.

Mark staggered, trying to keep to his feet and ignor the pain, Slowly, he made his way to the front door. Bracing against the doorway, he heard a voice yell, “Russell!” Saw Gannaway raise his gun. Through the pain in his side, he pulled his rifle to his shoulder and fired. As he fired, he heard two other shots. Mark couldn't keep his rifle up, the pain he felt was intense, he could no longer stand. As he sank to his knees, Mark looked down at his side and tried to stop the flow of blood with his hand.

He heard a voice calling his name, but couldn’t bring himself to look up.

*****

Seeing Gannaway unmoving on the ground, Lucas turned and looked in the direction the other shot had come. In the doorway he saw Mark leaning against the frame, sinking to his knees, trying to use his rife as support, hand at his side. Lucas ran and knelt next to Mark, the store owner stepped out holding a hand gun, shaking, pleading, “I, I didn’t see the badge. I thought he was one of the outlaws when he ran in here. I, I had to protect what was mine.”

“Mark,” Lucas called. Fear gripped him as he saw the deep red of blood seeping through Mark’s fingers, holding his side. Turning to the store keeper, “Man, does this town have a doctor? Your doctor, where is he?” Lucas demanded as he stood up and grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and shook him. “Your doctor?”

“Th-this way.” The man dropped his gun and started to run down the street. Lucas lifted Mark to his feet and half carried him behind the running man.

As they passed in front of the Sheriff’s office, Tom Benton came out, after putting the three survivors in the jail cell, then lifted Mark’s other arm across the back of his shoulders and helped Lucas walk/carry him to the doctor’s.

*****

Lucas waited for news of his son. Tom Benton examined a closet in the Sheriff’s office and pulled out some bandages to tend to Lucas’ leg, until the doctor could remove the bullet. Lucas watched as the shadows grew longer down the street. The store owner quietly knocked on the door before opening it, “I thought you’d want the deputy’s rifle,” he said as he laid it on the desk and then quickly left the office.

As time passed, more and more of the town’s people had come to stand in the street, in front of the sheriff’s office. They asked the store owner who the men were. “I don’t know, I’m too afraid to ask. But they’re wearing badges.” They continued to whisper among themselves of the strangers that showed up to save their town.

The sun was setting when the doctor entered the Sheriff’s Office.

“Marshal, deputy,” he said as he stood in front of them. “I got the bullet out, it weren’t deep. If you want, you can stop by and sit with him. He won’t know you’re there, but it might make you feel better.”

He turned to leave but was stopped by Tom Benton, “Doc, you’ve got another patient. My friend here took a bullet to the leg.”

They followed the doctor back to his office. Lucas sat down in a chair in the room where Mark lay. He insisted that the doctor work there to remove the bullet from his leg.

The doctor introduced himself as Morgan Samuelson. As he worked, he told Lucas and Tom the story of Romero.

“Almost three months ago a group of strangers came to this town. The next day, our sheriff and his deputy were dead. Over the following days, anyone who stood up to them or didn’t immediately turn away or jump to do their bidding quickly enough was killed. This town learned to cower in their presence.”

“What about you doc? Can’t see you just sitting around, watching as they murdered your town,” Benton stated.

“Oh, I stood up to them, each and every time I had to deal with their anger or drunken fun. They couldn’t kill me. I was too valuable to them. Being a doctor. But I’m old. If I may, just who are you and how’d you know we needed help?” the doctor asked.

“I’m U.S. Marshal Tom Benton, your first patient is U.S. Marshal Mark McCain…”

The doctor interrupted Tom, “I heard talk about a man named McCain, they call him the Rifleman. But that feller looks too young to be the man I’ve heard of,” Dr. Samuelson said.

“You just removed a bullet from the leg of the Rifleman, Lucas McCain, Mark’s father,” Tom finished saying as he pointed to Lucas. “We didn’t know your town was in trouble. The Domingo Gang robbed the bank in North Fork, New Mexico. Shot up their marshal and deputy. They followed their trail all the way here. I met up with them day before yesterday.”

The doctor excused himself and left Lucas and Tom alone. “Lucas, I’ll see if I can get any of the men in town to go with me to get the others we left up on the rise. I’ll be back when I can.”

*****

The doctor came back in later to check on his patients. As he noticed the calendar on the wall, he started tearing the pages off. As Lucas looked up to him, he said, “I left the pages up so I’d know the last day this town knew any freedom.” He pulled off the days until he got to today, July 4th. “Happy Fourth of July Romero, you got your independence back.”

He then proceeded to try to look at Lucas’ leg.

“My leg’s fine, Doc. You just focus on my boy,” Lucas stated as he pushed the doctor’s hands away from his leg.

*****

When Tom Benton returned to the doctor’s office, he informed Lucas he’d sent a wire to Denver letting them know that Romero would need help and that they had eleven members of the Creed Domingo gang in custody.

“Lucas, I also sent a wire to North Fork. Sent it to your wife, told her you were both safe.”

*****

Both men were awake the following morning, still in the room in the doctor’s office in Romero, when there was a knock on the door and they heard a voice on the other side announce, “I’ve got some food for you, if’n you’re hungry.”

Tom got up and opened the door and allowed the saloon keeper in. He’d brought three plates with eggs and steaks, over.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” When he saw Mark lying on the bed, unconscious, bandage wrapped around his middle.

“Just set it on the table and leave,” Lucas stated.

*****

Lucas was picking at his food when Tom got after him

“Lucas you need to eat and stop toying with your food. You’re boy’s going to need you strong to get him home and you’ll only get your strength if you eat.”

“Tom, I don’t need a mother hen,” Lucas replied.

“If he’s not going to eat it, I will,” came a quiet voice from the bed.

Lucas looked over to see Mark’s eyes open and the slightest trace of a smile on his lips.

“How long have I been out? Mark asked.

As Lucas walked over to Mark he answered, “A little over twelve hours. How do you feel?”

“It hurts,” Mark stated as he ran his hand to his side. “What about Gannaway and the others?”

Benton answered, “Gannaway’s dead and we have eleven of Domingo’s gang in custody. Domingo’s dead too.”

“Pa, do you think I can have something to eat. I’m kind of hungry?” With Lucas’ assistance, Mark sat up on the bed, exhaled deeply, then stood to walk to the table.

As they finished their breakfast, Doc Samuelson entered the room, surprised and pleased to see his youngest patient awake and up.

“Doc, you wrap me up good tomorrow morning. My pa and I head for home.”

“Mark you’ll stay here until the doc gives you permission to get home.”

“No sir. I have to get home to my responsibilities. He can give you more bandages for the trip, but we’re leaving in the morning,” Mark declared as he stood and walked to lie back down in the bed.

The Next Step — A Time to Cherish

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

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