The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 110 - McCain Blood
Written by Deanne Bertram

The twins were working hard in their effort to surprise Mark upon his arrival home, they spent the afternoon ‘working’ in the barn, cleaning out the stalls, and sweeping down the cobwebs. A tired Mark stepped down from Rainmaker in front of the barn to hear “Yeehaw!” yelled from within the barn, followed by someone crying out, “You’re bleeding!” Forgetting his horse, Mark ran into the barn to find, Little Ted and one of the twins standing over the other twin, who had his hand over his mouth, blood seeping through his fingers.

“What’s going on here?!” demanded Mark.

“Zach’s bleeding,” Josh called out.

“Wook, bwood,” Zach stated has he lowered his hands from his mouth and held them out.

Picking up his son, Mark ran with him to the house, calling for Hope as he ran across the yard, Little Ted and Josh slowly followed, looking guiltily to each other.

“Mark, what’s all the… What happened?” an alarmed Hope asked when she saw the blood; she followed Mark to the kitchen where he sat Zach upon the counter.

“What happened?” Milly called out upon entering their home. “I saw Mark running with one of the boys.”

“We were taking a break from working in the barn,” Josh stated.

“And?” Mark asked as he stepped away from his son, allowing the women to tend to Zach.

“We just wanted to have a little fun,” said Little Ted.

“Fun doing what?” asked Mark as he walked to stand over his younger brother.

“Jumping off the stack of hay,” Little Ted answered while averting his eyes.

“Why would you do something like that? Don’t you know you could have broken an arm or a leg?” Milly warned.

“He dared him,” tattled Josh.

“Little Ted! You know better than to dare someone to do something!” scolded Milly.

“And Zach, you know better than to let someone dare you into doing something. If Little Ted dared you to jump off a bridge into raging waters, would you do it?” asked Hope.

Zach tried to answer through the wet cloth his Ma had pushed into his mouth, but only mumbling came out.

“Oh Zach, how could you?” asked Hope, disappointment in her voice.

“Well, all three of us jumped,” offered Josh in defense of his brother. “Zach just got his foot caught in the rope around one of the bales and he fell flat on his face. ‘sides, his tooth was as loose as my tooth is.”

“Loose… You knocked out a tooth, too?!” exclaimed Hope.

“I got a loose tooth too, Mama,” Little Ted declared as he used his tongue to wiggled one of his top, front teeth back and forth.

“So my little boys are becoming little men?” a relieved Mark asked.

“Mark, how can you be so relaxed about his?” a nervous Hope chided.

“Mark? What’s wrong?” Lucas asked as he entered his oldest son’s home, having seen him carrying one of the twins across the yard, as he rode Blade down the road from checking on their weanling herd.

“Hope, I think we can relax a little bit. All three of them are old enough to start losing their baby teeth,” a relieved Milly answered. “Myra was six when she started losing her baby teeth.”

“Pa, remember all those times you told me I’d understand when I was older? Well, this is one of them,” laughed Mark.

Hope removed the bloodied cloth from Zach’s mouth and examined the damage done.

“Both front teeth. Oh, Zach…” sighed Hope.

“I’ were’n no’ing Mama. ‘ey were alwea’y woose,” boasted Zach. “I woss mine firss,” he managed to say as he pointed to his brother and uncle.

“Well, if the tooth fairy is going to stop by tonight, guess someone better go to the barn to find those teeth. Josh, Little Ted, you’ll both come with me,” ordered Mark.

“Papa’s home, I gotta go help him finish chores,” Little Ted replied.

“I think you’ll help the twins. I have a feeling someone was doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing,” accused Lucas, having planted both fists on his hips.

“They were daring each other to jump off the stack of hay bales in the barn,” Hope stated as she finally set Zach to his feet. “You’ll go out to the barn and help find your teeth. And I know of two young men who will not eat any cake for dessert tonight.”

“Make that three,” added Milly.

“Was Robbie involved with this?” asked Lucas.

“No, they asked him to help them work in the barn, but…”

“But what?”

”Eloise… Lucas she’s having a real tough time,” answered Milly.

Lucas nodded in understanding.

*****

Mark followed behind as three little boys walked dejectedly across the yard to the barn. It took a time, but eventually both front teeth were found and handed to Mark.

“Okay, Little Ted, get home and see what else Ma and Pa have in mind for you to do,” Mark said as he attempted to keep a somber face.

“Yes, sir,” Little Ted answered as he put both hands in his front pockets, shuffling his feet as he left the barn.

“Pa?” Josh queried.

Mark looked down to his eldest and raised both eyebrows.

“Guess we should be thankful you’re not going to tan our britches?” Josh dared asked.

“That remains to be seen. What am I going to do with you two?”

“Pa, we’re really sorry,” said Josh while Zach nodded. “We spent the afternoon cleaning the barn for you and…”

“And?” asked Mark.

“We sho a kep cweaning,” Zach managed to state as he grabbed his brother’s arm, “Come on.”

Mark shook his head and smiled as he watched his sons leave the barn. After tending to Rainmaker, Mark looked around the barn and was impressed with the work his sons had done. Smiling, he headed back to his home, looked to the sky and quietly stated, “Lord, I guess there’s a lot more in store for me now that the boys are growing up, but please, I beg of you, don’t let them be as much trouble as I was.”

Mark could only hope and pray that God would answer his prayer.

*****

Two days later, Mark was recounting the boys’ adventure when Johnny Drako entered the office, pushing a man in front of him to one of the cells.

“Johnny?” Seth asked. “What happened?”

“Kelby Goldsmith, from what I remember, he has a wanted posted out on him from Separ,” Johnny answered as he closed and locked the door to the cell.

“I vaguely remember… embezzlement?” Seth replied.

“Yep.”

“Who’s going to take him to Separ?” asked Mark.

“Well, it surely isn’t going to be you, not with Mykaela’s surgery scheduled in a couple of days,” Johnny teased.

“Guess you’re out too Johnny, with the way Lou’s been after you to spend more time helping her with YOUR children,” teased Seth.

“So, are you up to taking Goldsmith back to Separ?” asked Johnny.

“Sure, let me inform Lilah and I can probably head out tomorrow.”

*****

The following morning saw Seth sitting on his horse next to Kelby Goldsmith.

“I should make it to Separ by tomorrow evening. I’ll wire when I get there. Mark, tell my granddaughter I’ll bring her back a present if she’s a good girl for Doc Burrage.”

“Will do Seth, take care,” Mark called out.

Motioning for his prisoner to move out, Seth waved as they left North Fork.

*****

Thadd stepped from the operating room and walked to the waiting room to talk with the parents of his young patients.

“Doc?” they all asked upon seeing Thadd enter.

“Both girls did fine. Their tonsils are out and I don’t think they’ll have any more trouble with sore throats. I want to keep them overnight and check them one more time before sending them home. Hope, Milly, if you’d like, I already set up cots in the room where the girls will be once they wake up. I presume you both would like to stay until I send them home.”

Both mothers nodded.

“You can come to the operating room to see them for a few minutes, but a few minutes only.”

*****

Lilah enjoyed having all the McCain children spend time with her during Mykaela’s and Myra’s operations; it didn’t hurt to have Gwen helping keep an eye on them either, while their parents patiently and nervously waited during the girls’ operations.

“Seems the McCain’s are giving you plenty of practice taking care of young ‘ens,” teased Lilah as she offered Gwen a cup of hot tea in the parlor.

“I only hope that I’m ready to take care of my own once she arrives,” Gwen answered, moving her hand over her very pregnant stomach.

“You’ll be ready. Why with the way you helped Milly and Hope take care of all the children, there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll be able to take care of your own. Do you think you’re going to have a girl?”

“I call the baby a she, Jake refers to the baby a he.”

“Well, regardless, once Thadd places that bundle in your arms you won’t care one way or the other.”

*****

That evening, Mark wore a worried expression on his face as he joined Lucas at the restaurant.

“Mark, Doc Burrage said Mykaela would be fine, the same as Myra,” offered Lucas as he poured a cup of coffee for each of them.

“It’s not Emmy I’m worried about, we should have heard from Seth by now.”

“You think he had trouble delivering the prisoner?”

“Pa, I do. I want Hope to stay in town with Lilah while I’m gone, but she’s insisting in returning to the ranch. If we’ve not heard from Seth in the morning, I’m heading out after him.”

“I can see Hope and your family home.”

*****

Mark planned to leave North Fork the morning after Thadd discharged both girls from the clinic to return home. Upon kissing her daughter good night one last time, Milly asked, “What’s this?” as Myra handed her a folded piece of paper. Milly unfolded the sheet and read what Myra had written:

“Can Eloise live with us, always?”

Looking over to where the little girl slept, Myra replied, “Myra, we don’t even know if they have other family.” and watched as Myra wrote again:

Mark said they didn’t have any other family. Please, she needs a big sister.”

“We can talk about this once you’re recovered from your surgery. You get to sleep.”

A reluctant Myra sank down beneath the covers and allowed her Mama to drape the blankets over her shoulder.

*****

“Lucas,” Milly stated as she entered their bedroom and closed the door. “What would you say to having Robbie and Eloise live with us?”

“They already do.”

“I mean, permanently.”

“Why do you ask?” was Lucas’ reply, he furrowed his brow ever so gently.

“Myra showed me a note she wrote, asking if Eloise could live with us, always. Said she needs a big sister.”

Lucas lifted the covers for Milly to join him in bed.

“They are nice children, more so that I would have counted on considering what their father was…”

“Lucas, we can make room. Myra’s room is big enough for the two girls; and we can always expand the boys’ room for Robbie… Maybe I can take up teaching again, to earn more money.”

“Milly, if you want to return to teaching, it has to be because you want to and not because you feel we don’t have enough money to live on.”

“You work so hard to provide for us and with two more mouths…”

“If it is to be, we’ll manage. I’m not even sure how to proceed in doing what you’re suggesting. Guess I’ll be making an appointment with Robert Garrison.”

“Lucas, thank you,” stated Milly as she snuggled contentedly against her husband.

*****

Lucas wanted to get Hope out of her home for a little while.

“I’ve a situation out on the range and I won’t be able to see the boys home from school this afternoon.”

“But Pa, Mykaela needs me…” answered Hope. “Thadd just discharged her yesterday…”

“I know she does, but I think for a little while, Milly can watch your three youngest. You need to time to think, what with Mark looking for Seth. Please just for a little while, I think it will do you good to ride after them.”

Hope finally agreed, and after seeing Eli, Mykaela, and Faith to Milly’s, she enjoyed riding the pregnant Two-Bits to town; feeling a little bit of relief to get a sometime to just ride on her own.

As Hope returned home with the boys, her mind drifted to Mark out searching for her father.

*****

Little ted curried his horse and put away all the brushed when Lucas entered the barn and told him to go get started on his homework.

Hesitant to leave the barn, Little Ted asked, “Pa, can we talk?”

“Sure, you know we can always talk.”

Lucas led the two of them to sit down on the stack of hay bales.

“So, what’s on your mind?” asked Lucas as he watched Little Ted stand up and walk over to the ladder leading to the hayloft.

“Pa, I remember Mark telling me about Mama and how… she didn’t give birth to him, yet she’s still his Ma.”

“I remember, and since when do you call me Pa?” asked a curious Lucas.

“Well, I am growing up and Mark calls you Pa… If you don’t like me calling you Pa… I can call you Papa,” replied Little Ted as he lowered his head to avoid looking to Lucas.

“No, it just surprised me… My son is growing up, is that what you wanted to talk with me about?” Lucas asked as he stood and walked over to where his middle son stood. “You can call me Pa, if you want to.”

“No sir… I mean, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about,” kicking at a clod of dirt on the ground, “Robbie had another fight today at school, and I’m not tattling on him, but… Why can’t he be my brother? He ain’t got nobody ‘cept for his sister… It ain’t right the others in school making fun of him for being without parents. Why can’t he be your son too? I mean if Mama can have Mark for a son, why can’t you have Robbie for a son too?” the words came out in a rush.

Lucas thought for a few moments, pushing his hat back and trying to gather his thoughts, “Have you talked with your Mama about this?” asked Lucas as he thought about what Milly had said the night before.

“No sir. I remember how much I upset her that time, I wanted to talk with you, man to man, before I talked with Mama. It’s been fun having him live here with us, I like having an older brother closer to my age. You won’t tell Mark about that… will you?”

“I won’t tell Mark, but answer me this, have you talked with your sister about this?”

“How can I talk with her? She can’t really talk since she got her tonsils out,” declared Little Ted.

Smiling as he shook his head back and forth, Lucas gave out a brief laugh, “Your Ma was asking me the same thing last night when we were getting ready for bed, said your sister asked her about it.”

Lucas maneuvered his son to walk back to the hay pile and to sit down, “Now, why don’t you tell me everything about his fight that Robbie got into.”

Little Ted proceeded to tell Lucas all that had happened, how one of the other boys was taunting Robbie because he had no folks and that when he did, his Pa was a good for nothing, no account drunk, and how his sister and him were nothing more than ‘white trash’. “Pa, honestly it weren’t Robbie’s fault! How could he not get into a fight when someone called him a name like that!”

“So, where is Robbie?” asked Lucas.

“Mr. Bullock said he’d bring him home later.”

“Okay, you go get washed up for supper,” suggested Lucas, he swatted towards his son’s backside as the boy ran from the barn.

“You heard?” Lucas asked as Hope came into the barn.

“Yes sir, it’s the same that Percy said. Robbie tried to walk away until the other boy called him and Eloise ‘white trash’.”

“Guess I need to have a talk with Robbie when he gets home.”

“They get the darnedest ideas, don’t they?” stated Hope as she looked over her shoulder and watched as Little Ted called, ‘I’m home’ jumping up the steps to the front porch.

“Seems we need to have a long family discussion once Mark gets home.”

“Pa, I checked with Amos when I arrived in town, there’s no word on Father or Mark.”

“Hope, Mark just left this morning and your father has led numerous detachments with the army; I’m sure he’s alright.”

“If that’s the case, why did Mark go out looking for him?”

“Because he knows you and knows that you’re worried. I’m sure they’ll both be home soon and when Mark brings Seth home, we’ll be laughing about the whole situation.”

“I hope so, Pa. I truly hope so.” Trying to cheer herself up, Hope stated, “Why don’t you help me get Eli, Mykaela, and Faith back home. Seems you’ve enough children under your roof that you don’t need mine compounding the situation.”

“Hope, you and your children are family and are always welcome in our home. Don’t you forget that, young lady.”

*****

On his first night out from North Fork, Mark made camp and decided to try to catch a fish to have for supper. He fashioned a fishing pole and a hook on a string. After sitting on the side of the brook for a half hour without any luck, Mark gave up and returned to his camp, resigned to eat beans and biscuits.

Mark didn’t relish the storm that his bones felt was heading his way, but the horizon appeared clear. Remembering back, to other times, he knew is could be a day or two before the storm actually arrived. Laying out his bedroll, he pulled the blanket over his shoulder and fell asleep.

*****

Night had long fallen yet the rider continued on having not found any shelter to take refuge from the downpour, wearily he prodded his horse to continue walking, his head bobbing as he dozed in the saddle and waking when his horse would falter or another bolt of lightning and crash of thunder would cross the land. The darkened sky ebbed at showing the first pink of daybreak when the rider came across a camp. A short distance away, he saw the hobbled, rain soaked, paint horse nibbling on grass, but within the camp, he didn’t see anyone. Upon entering the camp, he found a man under a tree that evidently had fallen during the storm.

Making his way to the man, the rider hoped the man’s death had been swift. After examining the body, he determined the man probably didn’t even know what happened. As he stood, he looked around the camp and saw a saddle and bridle for the horse, a rifle, and saddlebags, which he rummaged through to find identification, Mark McCain, U.S. Marshal, North Fork, New Mexico Territory.

“Damn, wish you’d been an outlaw instead of a marshal,” the man spoke as he dropped the identification back into the saddlebag and closed the flap. Slowly, but assuredly, the man walked over to the hobbled horse, removed the hobbles, and led him by the halter back to the camp. “I’ll take you back home and let them know your rider was killed during the storm last night.” As he ran his hands over the horse’s back he let out a whistle of admiration. “Well, when I return you, maybe I can find out if there’s deputy who might now about the man I’m after.”

After saddling the paint and climbing back into the saddle of his own horse, the rider said, “Sorry to leave you here like this, but it’ll take more than me to get that tree off you.”

The rider turned both horses and headed in the direction of North Fork.

*****

Sweeney had been thinking of closing the saloon early because the only ones there were himself, Thelma, and a couple of town’s folks who had already settled their tabs, when he saw a rider leading a very familiar horse and tying both to the railing outside.

“You just made it,” Sweeney stated as the man entered. “I almost gave up and closed early.”

“Won’t keep you very long, just a small beer and some information,” the man stated.

Sweeney poured the man a small glass of beer and asked, “What kind of information?” He warily looked the stranger over, tall, slender build, dark hair that was just beginning to show grey. The man wore his holster low on his hip.

“Does this town have a deputy?”

“Sure does, only he’s not here. He left a few days ago to deliver and prisoner to Separ. We have a marshal…”

“Not anymore,” the man stated as he set the empty beer glass to the bar.

“What do you mean? I saw Johnny Drako not more than half an hour ago, making his rounds,” Sweeney declared as he reached for his shotgun from under the bar, and taking aim directly at the stranger.

“Now, hold on!” the stranger declared raising both hands to the height of his shoulders and taking a couple of steps back from the bar.

“Thelma!” yelled Sweeney. “Go get Marshal Drako! Not sure who this man is or what he’s up to, but I got a funny feeling about him.”

Thelma ran from the saloon, pausing in front of the Marshal’s Office and continuing on to the Drako residence.

“Marshal Drako!!! Marshal Drako!!” Thelma yelled while she pounded on the front door.

“Thelma? What’s all the ruckus?” Johnny asked upon opening the door.

“Sweeney sent me to get you. There’s a stranger at the saloon and Sweeney has his shotgun on the man.”

Grabbing for his hat and his gun, Johnny called back into the house, “Lou, I’ll be back when I can.”

Without waiting for Thelma to keep up with him, Johnny ran for the saloon. He slowed as he approached, carefully evaluating the scene from outside the window; a stranger standing still, arms raised, Sweeney holding his shotgun on the man. Two citizens of North Fork were standing next to the piano, waiting and watching. Before he entered the saloon, Johnny drew his gun.

“Sweeney, what’s wrong?”

“This rider came in here asking if we had a deputy and I told him we did, but he wasn’t here. I also told him we had you, he said you were dead.” Sweeney answered.

“Now that ain’t exactly right,” the stranger interrupted, but never attempted to lower his arms.

“Keep quiet, and keep your hands up,” ordered Sweeney as he thrust the barrel of his shotgun towards the man.

“Anyway, he insinuated that you were killed.”

“Me, killed?” Johnny raised an eyebrow as he sized up the stranger standing in front of him.

“Marshal, if you’ll let me explain…”

“Maybe you better,” Johnny stated as he pulled the man’s gun from his holster and stepped back, putting his own gun back in his holster. Johnny began to unload the bullets from the man’s gun.

The man kept his arms raised. “I did ask if this town had a deputy and the barkeep here said you did, but that he was gone. He also stated that this town had a marshal, to which my reply was, not any more. But I didn’t know about you…”

“You didn’t know about Johnny Drako? Marshal, ask him about the paint horse he rode in with, its out front…” Sweeney interrupted.

“Paint horse?” Drako asked as he looked over his shoulder.

“I found him,” the stranger answered. “Please if you’ll just let me have a few minutes of your time to tell you everything that happened… I can understand how hearing bits and pieces of the story can make you think something that ain’t rightly so.”

The man was softspoken and sincere, but yet, his tone of voice held authority, Johnny decided, “You have five minutes to tell your tale before I start asking questions that I’m sure you’re not going to like answering.” Still, he gave the stranger a cold and calculating stare.

“If I may?” the man pointed that he’d like to open his jacket.

“Slowly…” Drako replied.

The man opened his jacket slowly to show a deputy badge pinned to his shirt.

“So you’re wearing a badge, could be you stole it,” Sweeney proclaimed.

“Sweeney, I said he has five minutes to talk, let him talk.”

“My name is Johnny McKay, I’m a deputy up in Laramie, Wyoming.”

“Quite a ways from your territory,” Drako replied.

“I know sir, but… I’ve been trailing a couple of outlaws who robbed our bank and shot Marshal Troop three weeks ago. All the others are in custody, except the one I’ve trailed this far. I’m sure he’s making a run for the Mexican border … I know it. Anyway, I don’t even know if Mr. Troop is alive or dead. I just… I can’t let someone who brazenly rides into our town, robs our bank, and shoots our Marshal get away. Can I?”

“So what is the rest of your tale?” Drako prompted.

“Did a storm hit here yesterday?” McKay asked.

Drako nodded.

“This morning, I came across a camp and found a man… dead, he’d been killed by a falling tree. I went through his saddlebags and found his identification and decided to bring it and his horse to town.”

“Likely story he’s telling you Marshal,” Sweeney stated, not trusting the man he still held his shotgun on.

“Why didn’t you come to me first?” Drako asked.

“Your office was dark, besides, I thought you’d been killed, or at least the town’s marshal had been killed. Anyone knows the best place for information is the saloon, so I came here. And the barkeep told me about the deputy being out…”

“Can you describe the man you found?” Drako asked.

“Sure, probably mid twenties, dark haired, fair complexion. From what I could tell, he was about my build, but shorter than me.”

“Sounds like Mark…” Sweeney mournfully stated as he lowered his shotgun to the countertop.

“Sweeney,” Drako turned back to McKay, “What kind of weapon did the man have?”

“Saw what looked like a gun belt on the ground next to his bedroll. Found a rifle in the scabbard with the saddle.”

“Mark ain’t never worn a gun belt that I know of,” Sweeney stated as he grasped at the slim hope that the dead man wasn’t Mark.

“Sweeney, I’ll handle this, and I’d like to thank you for your concern. This way, McKay,” Johnny motioned.

“Can I lower my arms?”

Drako nodded.

*****

“Sorry, but until I can confirm who you are and verify your story…”

“I understand,” McKay answered.

After locking Johnny McKay in the jail, Drako headed over to the telegraph office, he saw a lantern still lit on the desk along the back wall. He knocked before entering.

“Amos, have a wire I need to send.”

Marshal Troop or Town Council President
Laramie, Wyoming

URGENT /stop/

Confirm identify of Deputy McKay /stop/
Confirm status of Marshal Troop /stop/

Marshal Johnny Drako
North Fork, New Mexico

“I’ll be at my office when a response comes back.”

“I’ll bring it over as soon as I receive it,” Amos replied.

*****

“Marshal?” came from the cell area.

“I’m here McKay,” Drako answered as he placed his hat on his desk and walked to the cell.

“I’ll re-imburse you for your expense if you’ll wire Laramie and let them know I’m here and… if you could ask about Mr. Troop?”

“I already did that. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask two questions at the same time. First to confirm you are who you say you are, and secondly, to find out if your marshal survived.”

“Thank you, he means a lot. My Pa was killed when I was still a teenager. Our town marshal was killed shortly thereafter and… well… Mr. Troop became our marshal and kind of took me under his wing. Been teaching me everything to learn about the law ever since.”

“How old are you?” Drako asked.

“I’ll be thirty-eight my next birthday. Guess that sounds kinda stupid…going on about something that happened so long ago, but he taught me what it meant to be a lawman. How to think like a lawman. It wasn’t just wearing a badge… He was the only one who gave me a chance to be something…”

Johnny McKay bowed his head as sat back down on the bunk, rested his elbows on his knees, and interlaced his fingers.

“Not stupid, I know what you mean. I did the same for a young man some time back, only his Pa is still a live and if what you say is true, and the man you found is Marshal McCain, this is just going to destroy his family.”

“He was well respected?”

“Yeah, well respected… It’s not going to be any easier if my deputy stays missing too.”

“Your deputy’s missing?”

“He was delivering a prisoner to Separ and we’ve not heard from him. He’s five days overdue.”

“Is this town so bad it needs three lawmen?” McKay hesitated to ask.

“North Fork is a good town and she just happens to have three lawmen. See… I’m the town marshal. Mark McCain is the U.S. Marshal for the New Mexico Territory and he’s based out of here. His father-in-law is my deputy.”

“Quite a family affair,” McKay commented.

“You ever heard of The Rifleman?” Drako’s eyes darkened when he asked the question.

“Sure, him and The Law… That’s who I found?”

“I pray not,” Drako stated, before turning his attention to Amos coming in the door. “You received a reply already?”

Amos handed the wire to Johnny and looked towards the cell area when he heard McKay ask, “Well?”

Drako took a few moments to read the wire before he thanked Amos.

“If you are Johnny McKay, you’ll be happy to know that Marshal Troop is alive and well, and thankful to know the same holds true for you. And based on this here description, it could fit you…”

“Did they happen to mention a scar on my left leg?” McKay bent down to pull his pant leg up over the top of his boot to show the scar he asked about.

“No mention of a scar. You said that you’ve been Laramie’s deputy for some time…”

“Sure have,” McKay answered.

“Based on a vague description, I can’t rightly let you out of there, but I do know of someone who once lived in Laramie and has lived here for a few years… She might be able to positively identify you in the morning.”

“She… Lilah? Lilah Stovers?” McKay snapped his fingers, “Mrs. Stovers left Laramie a few years back, saying she was moving closer to her sister. But I thought her sister was in Texas…”

“We’ll find out in the morning.”

“Sorry to cause you so much trouble, but I promise you, I am who I say I am and I won’t give you any more trouble.”

*****

Drako had finished making his morning rounds when he returned to the Marshal’s Office only to be met by Lilah, “Marshal Drako, Amos said you received a wire last night…” Drako could see the hope and desperation in her eyes.

“I did, but it wasn’t from Seth or Mark. Lilah, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Sure, if I can?” Lilah questioned.

“I have someone in the jail who says he’s from Laramie…”

“Laramie?”

Johnny opened the door and led Lilah to the cell area and rattled the door to wake his ‘guest’.

“You’ve got company,” Johnny declared.

At first the man slowly rolled over and stretched, but quickly looked up, remembering where he was and why.

“Deputy McKay!” Lilah declared as she moved her right hand to cover her mouth.

“That’s all I needed Lilah,” Johnny replied.

“But… why’s he in jail? He was just a sweet young man…”

Johnny walked to the desk in his office, opened a drawer, and removed the key ring.

“Just needed verification of who he said he was.”

“You could have wired Marshal Troop last night…” Lilah suggested.

“I did, but the description was too vague, especially considering…” Drako stopped short of saying ‘considering the news he brought’.

“Considering? Considering what? Marshal, please, if there’s news of Seth?” pleaded Lilah.

“I can promise you, it doesn’t involved Seth. Why don’t you go back home. I’ll send word once I hear anything from your husband.”

“Mrs. Stovers, congratulations! I didn’t know you came here to marry.”

“I didn’t exactly plan it. Ran into an old friend of mine and met his family… My married name is Lilah Lane.”

“Forgive me, Mrs. Lane.”

Lilah nodded and turned back to Drako, “Please… what’s this all about?”

“Lilah, I have to confirm the information before I can tell you. Please, let me do my job.”

Drako escorted Lilah to the boardwalk and tipped his hat before re-entering the Marshal’s Office.

*****

Watching as Drako opened the door to the cell, McKay asked, “I take it that Mrs. Lane is married to your missing deputy?”

“She is.”

“And the Marshal I found…”

“Married to her step-daughter.”

“Do they have any children?”

“Mark and Hope have five children.”

“For all their sakes, I wish I were wrong about who I found,” McKay shook his head as he accepted his gun back.

Drako asked, “You care to ride out with me to the McCain ranch to see Lucas?”

“If that’s his father, yeah, I’ll ride. I’ve been too long off the trail that I’ll probably never pick it back up again anyhow.” McKay slapped his hat on his leg and a cloud of dust surrounded his hat.

“Trail?”

“Yeah, like I said, I was trailing the man who robbed our bank…”

“Come on, let our horses.”

*****

Drako and McKay arrived at the McCain ranch to find Lucas and Jake ready to ride out for the morning.

Upon seeing the second man wearing a deputy badge, Lucas became worried, but jested in a way to attempt to deal with his fears, “Didn’t think Seth had been gone long enough for you to hire a stranger to replace him…”

“Lucas, this here is Deputy Johnny McKay, from Laramie, Wyoming…”

“Please to meet you. What brings the two of you out this way?” asked Lucas.

“Lucas, we need to talk, privately…” answered Drako.

“Lucas, I’ll head on out and check that fence line,” Jake spoke as he turned his horse to ride away.

*****

Lucas sat down heavily upon hearing the news. “Are you sure? Are you positive it was Mark?”

“No, I’m not positive, but I thought you should know and be asked to come with us to identify the body.”

“Identify who’s body?” Hope asked as she entered the barn, the expression on Lucas’ face answered her question, “Father?!”

With his long legs, Lucas was at Hope’s side and caught her before she fell to the ground.

“Johnny, let me get her inside,” begged Lucas.

*****

With tears in her own eyes, Milly rinsed out the cloth before replacing it to Hope’s forehead. A few moments later, Hope started moving her head from side to side.

“Father? Father!” she screamed and tried to sit up.

“Shhhh. Lie back down,” suggested Milly as she tried to push Hope back to the bed.

“Ma, Father’s dead?” cried Hope.

“We don’t know for sure. Lucas went with Johnny and the other deputy to identify the body.”

“How did it happen?” a clearly agitated Hope asked.

“They didn’t say, please Hope take slow breaths,” Milly stated upon hearing her daughter-in-law’s breaths coming faster and faster.

“Oh, Ma… Please, he can’t be dead!” Hope cried out as she rolled onto her side and grabbed at her middle. “Oh, God, please, no…”

Milly sat at Hope’s side rubbing her back, hoping it would calm both of them, and knowing what she was doing was cruel in letting Hope fear it was her father and instead of her husband.

*****

The small group from North Fork arrived at the camp and rapidly pulled their weapons to fire at the scavengers surrounding the dead man’s body. Lucas killed the wolf that had been circling the perimeter, Johnny Drako and Johnny McKay jumped from their horses and threw aside the carcasses of several buzzards.

Stoically, Lucas stood a short distance from the body, unable to will himself to move any closer.

“I can’t,” Lucas stated when Johnny placed a hand to his shoulder, having returned from viewing the
body.

“He looks too much like Mark, not to be him...” Drako offered. “Even with what those scavengers did…”

“Mr. McCain, I pulled this handgun from beside the body. Would you recognize your son’s handgun? It’s got some pretty fancy carvings on the handle.”

Bringing his attention to the deputy, Lucas asked, “What?”

“Could you recognize your son’s hand gun?” McKay held the weapon out to Lucas.

“My son never carried a hand gun. He preferred a rifle, same as me.”

“Guess we’ll never know why he was carrying it then,” McKay answered as he put the gun back into the holster and slung the holster over his shoulder.

“Johnny, we can’t take him back… not like this…” faltered Lucas.

“I packed a few tools, we can saw the tree enough to retrieve his body and bury him out here; no one back in North Fork needs to see him like this,” Drako stated.

Lucas nodded in agreement.

Drako and McKay worked to remove enough of the tree while Lucas dug a grave deep enough to keep any other wolves from getting to… his son.

*****

Amos walked back to the Marshal’s Office with a wire in hand.

“That had best be good news,” Micah called out having seen Amos walk in front of the window.

“I think so, it’s from Seth,” replied Amos.

Marshal Drako
North Fork, New Mexico

Delayed in Separ, broke leg /stop/
Will wire before return /stop/
Please tell Lilah & Hope /stop/

Seth

“Amos, get this over to Lilah,” stated Micah. “Least it will stop the worrying we’re doing over Seth, now if we could only hear good news about Mark… I’ll ride out to let Hope know.”

*****

“Ma, he’s alive!” declared Hope upon hearing the news from Micah. “But, if Father is okay? Who’s body…. No… No… It can’t be Mark… Ma, please… Tell me it wasn’t Mark!”

Wrapping her arms around her daughter-in-law Milly allowed her own tears to fall.

“I sorry, we can’t. Lucas went with Johnny and the deputy to identify the body. He found Mark’s horse and belongings and returned them to town,” Micah stated when Milly couldn’t bring herself to answer.

*****

Knowing how his daughter-in-law reacted thinking her father was dead, Lucas stopped in town to request Doc Burrage to come to the ranch; he wished he could ask Doc for something to make him forget his own pain.

Lucas arrived at the ranch to find Micah stepping from the porch, “Micah?” Lucas called out.

“We received word from Seth, he’s in Separ with a broken leg,” answered Micah. Seeing Thadd next to Lucas, he asked, “What of Mark?”

Lucas shook his head and closed his eyes, “It was… him.”

“LucasBoy…” Micah’s voice failed him, he walked to his horse; he didn’t know what else he could do, except try to escape the memories that invaded his mind... His first meeting with Mark… when Mark came down with Typhoid… telling Mark about the Letter of the Law… the time when Neff Packer and Carl Avery had kidnapped Mark… when he pinned the badge on Mark in order to lead the posse in tracking… on and on… Micah began to regret the McCain’s ever sobering him up.

Hearing Hope scream, Micah urged his horse to run faster.

*****

News regarding the death of Marshal McCain slowly made its way around North Fork. Some who had lived in North Fork long enough talked that it was probably just another ruse in order for Mark to flush out an outlaw, other’s weren’t so sure, especially when Oat Jackford came racing into town. Harshly he pulled his horse to a stop in front of the Marshal’s Office and stormed inside.

When Oat exited the office, he slammed the door closed, shattering the window. Pulling himself into the saddle, Oat spurred his horse in the direction of the McCain ranch.

*****

Lilah ran across the stepping-stones that lined the walkway when the wagon stopped in from of their home.

“Seth!” she called, excited her husband was home, yet still mourning the news of her son-in-law.

“Is it true?” asked Seth as he stepped down from the front seat of the buckboard. “How is Hope?”

“Grief-stricken, Lucas confirmed the body was Mark’s, they buried him out there. They wouldn’t say why they didn’t bring him home.”

“They? Who found him?”

“Johnny was chasing an outlaw who robbed the Bank of Laramie and shot Marshal Troop.”

“Johnny? What’s Johnny doing up in Laramie? I wasn’t gone long enough…”

“Seth, I was talking about Deputy Johnny McKay, from Laramie. He was the one who found Mark’s body and horse; he brought Rainmaker back to town. I confirmed to Marshal Drako that Johnny McKay was who he said he was.”

“Where is this McKay?”

“He’s taken a room at the boarding house, and he’s been helping Jake McCafferty out the ranch. He heads out at first light and returns just before dark. Come on, I want to get you inside. You need to rest.”

Before allowing his wife to escort him to their home, Seth turned and thanked the livery owner from Separ for bringing him home.

“Like I said, I needed to come here anyway, got a delivery coming in the next day or so on the train. Little Lady, he’s been a bear to keep down once he received your wire.”

*****

Word made its way to the McCain ranch that Seth was home, but the news did little to bring cheer to the grieving families.

That night, Lucas looked out the front window to see a grieving Hope sitting on the front porch to her home.

“Milly, I’ll be back, I’m going next door,” stated Lucas as he left.

Milly walked to the window and watched her husband walk across the yard, his shoulders slumped and his feet dragging, reflecting a weariness and age that she’d never seen and hoped she never would. She knew Mark was Lucas’ life, even though she and the children were part of his family there was a… had been a special bond between the father and son that she had been blessed to witness.

*****

“Hope,” Lucas quietly spoke as he stopped.

“Pa,” Hope quietly cried as she looked up and wiped the tears from her face.

Lucas sat down next to his daughter-in-law and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close so he could wrap his other arm around her.

“I don’t know how to live without him… The children…”

Hope pushed herself back, wiped at her tears again, and re-wrapped her shawl around her shoulders.

“I remember telling him once that I would pray to God to see him safely home to me, I knew he had a job to do, and I told him if I asked him to stop being a marshal, he would no longer be the one I grew to love.”

“Many a times I wished he had grown to follow in my footsteps, to become a rancher. But I’ve come to realize, he is more like me than I could have ever imagined; his love for his family and this town is strong and he put on the badge to protect both.”

“How do I…”

“It’s going to be difficult for a while, but Milly and I will be here for you. We’ll help you out as best we can. And your father and Lilah will be here to help as well.”

“Pa…” Hope looked up as Lucas wiped the tears from his own face. “Mr. Jackford stopped by earlier, he’s sending one of his hands to help out full time, said he was going to give Murphy Quorman instructions that he was to stay here and expected him to sleep in the barn.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when Oat arrived. I’ll let Quorman know his help is appreciated, but not necessary.”

Lucas and Hope sat side by side, looking out over the land they called home; in the distance, a wolf called out a mournful howl.

Seeing something else in Hope’s face, Lucas asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Hope hesitated before she answered, “It’s the twins, would you talk with them in the morning?”

“How hard are they taking Mark’s death?”

“The boys are taking it about as good as can be expected and the girls are too young to understand. Pa… it’s just that Josh informed me tonight that he was going to drop out of school so he could take care of me and help you and Jake. I tried to tell him that Mr. Jackford was making arrangements, but he argued with me, said he was the man of the house and it’s what… his Pa would want. And then there’s Zach, he’s hurting in such a way, that he’s started acting out.”

“I’ll talk with them tomorrow. Why don’t you go on inside and try to get some sleep.”

“Pa, I…”

“No arguing, we can grieve, but we also have to continue to live… The only thought that I’m holding onto that’s keeping me… functioning, is that he’s in heaven with Margaret.”

Lucas pulled Hope into another embrace and kissed her on top of her head. He helped her to her feet and watched her walk inside and blow out the lantern in the front room.

*****

Lucas slowly returned to his home, stopping on the front porch he turned and looked to the sky with tears falling down his face. “Margaret, watch over our boy. Tell him… I miss him.”

The Next Step — Only the Good Die Young

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

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