The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step...
Chapter 121 - Parts Unknown
Written by Deanne Bertram

Sitting behind his desk in the Marshal’s Office, Drako listened as John Hamilton placed two stacks of money on his desk, “This here is the money that you brought back with the outlaws, and this here is the money that was left behind. Money that Mark said might be counterfeit.”

“Counterfeit? That’s a Federal offense,” Micah stated as he walked over and began to compare bills from the two stacks.

“I brought Lucas to town, like you asked,” Reese Randall stated as he entered the Marshal’s Office with Lucas McCain on his heels.

*****

Reese Randall pointed his gun towards the open jail cell while Johnny Drako handcuffed each outlaw before he allowed them to step into the office area. Pulling his own weapon, Drako pointed for the three men to take a seat in the chairs in front of his desk.

Lucas held tight to his rifle, not taking his eyes off the three men as they sat down. Lucas sat on the edge of his son’s desk while Reese sat in the chair behind the desk. Micah sat in the chair at his desk. Drako reholstered his Colt .45 before leaning against the edge of his desk, crossing his arms.

“I want to hear the truth, and only the truth,” Drako began.

The three outlaws squirmed in their chairs, not saying anything.

“You abandoned Dohrn and allowed us to catch up with him. He’s currently buried in our cemetery. Things would go mighty easier on you if you talk.”

“We ain’t got nuten to say,” mumbled one of the men.

“Nothing?” asked Micah. “Robbery is one thing, but counterfeiting, that’s a Federal offense boys. I’ve confirmation that an agent of the Secret Service will arrive on the train tomorrow, and I’m sure he’ll be interested in confirming the difference between the money you boys just ‘happened to forget’ and the money we recovered in your saddlebags.”

Micah returned to his desk picked up the three wanted posters and walked to where the outlaws sat. “I say this bears an uncanny resemblance to you,” as he held the poster in front of the first outlaw. “Oren Roberts, wanted on bank robbery.” Micah moved to the middle outlaw, “Hall Pickett, another bank robber.” And finally, to the third outlaw, “Will Latimer, you must have been Dohrn’s second in command, bank robbery and assault.” Micah took a couple of steps towards Lucas and handed the posters to him.

As the interrogation drug on, with no real information being divulged, Lucas found it difficult to sit, listen, and do nothing. Without any warning, Lucas was quickly to his feet, and kicked the chair out from under the nearest of the outlaws as he balanced on the two back legs of the chair. With his rifle firmly gripped in his left hand, Lucas’ knee pinned the man down, and with his right hand, he held the man by the front of his shirt.

“Wait ‘til my lawyer finds out what you dun!” declared Latimer. “He’ll have a field day suing the law of this town.”

“I’m not the law!” Lucas declared; his eyes held warning to the man. “Now, either you start talking or I’ll let my rifle do the talking instead.”

“You can’t…”

“Oh, I can’t, can’t I? These fine lawman have wasted enough breath trying to get some answers to their questions.” Lucas spoke calmly and deliberately. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”

“Some sodbuster,” laughed the outlaw.

“You heard of The Rifleman?” Lucas asked as he held his rifle in front of the outlaw’s face.

“The Ri-Rifleman?” gulped the man. His demeanor changed from one of smugness to one of fear.

Lucas nodded slowly.

*****

Lucas pulled the man to his feet as Reese set the chair on its four legs. The outlaw grabbed the arm of the chair and lowered himself to sit down.

The three outlaws didn’t move their eyes from the towering figure of Lucas McCain, as he quietly spoke, “Now that you know who I am, care to guess our marshal’s name?”

Slowly they shook their heads.

“You ever heard of Johnny Drako?” asked Reese Randall.

The expression on each man’s face showed they knew exactly who stood before them, leaning against the desk, arms refolded.

“Maybe we should have introduced ourselves before you began your interrogation?” Micah spoke, unable to keep the laughter from his voice.

Lucas hid the smile on his face behind his hand, as he recognized the consternation on Drako’s face.

*****

The outlaws divulged all the details of the counterfeit operation that they knew; Tecumseh would leave for a while and come back with a bunch of fake money.

“What about Tecumseh’s brother?” Lucas asked.

“What about him?” Roberts asked.

“He part of your gang?” Reese asked.

“Not while Tecumseh was alive. He never said why, but we know there was bad blood between the two of them,” replied Roberts.

Pickett chose to talk, “We met up with him once. He brought news that the law was setting a trap for us.”

“And that’s bad blood?” Micah asked.

“Nah, had something to do with Tecumseh’s wife, before she left him. But I never seen two brothers get into such an argument and fight. Hallelujah lit out the next morning. A few days later, Tecumseh’s wife up and left.”

In an attempt to direct the interrogation back to the case at hand, Drako asked, “Where were did Tecumseh meet with the counterfeiters?”

“There’s a small mining community call Jarilla Junction,” Latimer stated.

*****

After the outlaws returned to their cells, Lucas declared, “I’m going after Mark.”

Reese objected, “But you’re not a lawman.”

“And you’re not his father!” scowled Lucas as he turned to face the deputy.

“LucasBoy,” Micah interrupted.

“Don’t Lucasboy me. Mark’s out there alone, believing he’s with an agent of the Secret Service. You know Mark, he’s too trusting; and this time it’s going to get him killed.”

“Lucas,” Drako simply spoke, looking straight at his friend. “You don’t know that.”

“If Dohrn really was an agent of the Secret Service, why would he have warned his brother about a trap? Can you honestly stand there and tell me Mark’s not in danger?”

“We’ll go after him, together.” Drako turned to the others, “Reese, you’ll stay here as backup for Micah. If there is counterfeiting involved, the federal government will take charge of these three, meaning this case truly belongs to the U.S. Marshals. You’ll be in charge of watching over MY town, and keeping her in one piece until Lucas and I return.”

“Just the two of you,” Reese queried, unbelieving the risk these two were willing to take.

“No different than the two of us going after those three,” countered Drako.

“But there were only three,” proclaimed Reese. “You have no idea how many or who all is involved.”

“You have your orders,” Drako declared, placing his hat to his head. “Lucas you ride home and let your families know. We’ll meet back here by one o’clock. Micah, will you arrange provisions for us at the general store?”

“And what will you be doing?” asked Micah.

“Saying goodbye to my wife and family.”

*****

Lou closed the front door to their home behind her as she followed her husband to the porch.

“Johnny, ye’ll be careful, won’t ye?”

“You know I’m always careful, besides, your ‘cowboy’ will be with me,” answered Johnny, knowing there was still an affection his wife held towards Lucas McCain.

“Ye’ll see they both come back safe to their families?” pleaded Lou.

“And what about me?” Johnny asked as he wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist.

“If ye see them both home, that means ye’ll come home safe… to me.” With worry in her heart, Lou kissed her husband goodbye.

*****

Lucas, leading the packhorse, and Drako left North Fork and their families behind as they set out towards Jarilla Junction and parts unknown.

While riding their horses and giving them a breather, Drako stated, “I wish Mark hadn’t just up and left with Dohrn. Damn! What was that boy thinking?”

“I know… I know… It’s just…” Lucas started to answer.

“He’s your son. And one man…” Drako didn’t need to have Lucas answer, he understood how his friend felt. He worried on his own, should the boy be harmed; he had helped shape Mark McCain’s path as a lawman.

*****

The landscape the threesome surveyed was barren, only the scrub brush and boulders broke up the endless dirt that stretched between where they stood and the old mine buildings; which they were sure housed the gunrunners’ operation. Though the day was cool, a nervous sweet beaded their foreheads.

“It has to be them. I just wish we could get closer to those buildings and get a look inside…” complained Dohrn.

“With those guards on the lookout, who else could it be… That and what Mark found out in Jarilla Junction, there’s been plenty of freight coming in and out of this place. Could only be the gun runners,” replied Books.

“Well, since this isn’t my case…´ stated Dohrn. “Mark, how do you suggest we make your arrests?”

“Guess gun running would fall under the auspices of the U.S. Marshal’s Service.” Hesitating and looking at their surroundings, Mark continued, “I’d say wait until nightfall. The owner of the saloon stated he’s kept them well stocked with liquor. Pray they get drunk enough that the three of us can get the upper hand?” Mark wished he felt as confident as he words, but that wasn’t saying much. He’d heard his own voice quiver.

The three slipped back to where they left their mounts, and waited for the sun to set.

*****

As Lucas and Johnny neared Jarilla Junction, they encountered a man struggling to drive a buckboard with a broken wheel.

“Looks like he could use some help…” suggested Johnny.

“Drako, we don’t have time…”

“Lucas, who else is going to happen along to help?” Johnny raised an eyebrow to emphasize his point.

While pointing towards his friend, Lucas stated, “But the minute he’s helped…”

“We’ll be back on Mark’s trail.”

The man appeared fearful, holding a leather case tightly to his chest, as Johnny and Lucas approached him.

“Seems like you need a friend,” suggested Drako.

“A f-friend? You’re not outlaws?” the man timidly asked.

“No we’re not outlaws,” Lucas replied.

“I’m thankful you happened along then…, they struck my employer… and I barely got away with my life. I… I… I thought you might have been a couple of them come after me.”

“No sir. We’re not outlaws,” Johnny confirmed, he opened his jacket, showing his badge.

“If you’d like, we can help you unhitch your horse and get you to Jarilla Junction. That’s where we’re heading.”

The man clutched the leather case again, and looked around. “Well…”

“Your options are pretty slim…” offered Drako.

The man stepped down and watched as the two men from North Fork unhitched his horse.

As Drako offered to help the man up on the horse, Lucas said, “Here let me take the bag for you.”

“No!” the man quickly exclaimed, clutching the bag even tighter. “Uh… I don’t mean to be so rude, but these are papers that are valuable to my employer.”

“He’ll give them back to you as soon as you’re up on the horse,” Johnny stated.

*****

The sun had set by the time they saw their traveling companion safely to what served as a small hotel in Jarilla Junction, Johnny and Lucas headed to what appeared to be a small jail.

“How long do you think it’s been since it’s been used?” asked Lucas, as he ran his fingertips along the edge of the dust covered desk.

“Never, least not since I’ve been here,” stated a voice behind them, causing them to quickly turn around. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Marshal Drako from North Fork and this is Lucas McCain, a member of my posse.”

“Mighty small posse, just the two of you?” queried the small man, wearing a light-weight, leather apron over his white shirt and black pants. On his face, his nose held up a set of spectacles.

“The rest of the posse is waiting for us, we helped a stranded traveler into town,” Lucas offered.

“The town got a sheriff or a marshal?” Drako inquired.

“We got Abernathy, he’s as close as we got to the law. Big man, bout as tall as you, but a lot bigger around the middle, if you get my meaning,” the man answered while looking to Lucas.

“Where is he?” Drako asked.

“He don’t come into town until late night, that’s when any trouble starts.”

“Trouble?” asked Lucas.

“Sure, miners come to town with their findings, and a lot of them trade it in for liquor and get drunk.”

“And how is it the jail’s never been used?” asked Drako.

Oh, no one wants to go up against Abernathey; once he arrives, trouble sort of… dies down.”

“You seem to know the comings and going on around here,” Lucas stated. “Any chance you know about a counterfeiting operation?”

“What’s that?”

“People making fake money,” answered Lucas.

“With the gold around here; who needs fake money?” the man stated as he turned to leave.

“Why didn’t you ask about Mark?” asked Lucas as the door closed behind the little man.

“If he’s using an assumed name, I don’t want to risk blowing his cover. Let’s say we grab a room at that hotel for the night.”

“Johnny, I told you the minute…”

“Lucas, I know, but without a moon… Let’s survey the town in the morning, listen to see what we can find out before we go traipsing across the territory.”

“We’re already doing that!” deadpanned Lucas.

*****

After the last shot was fire, and clutching his arm, Mark entered the clearing declaring, “You said you never killed anyone who didn’t need killing.”

“Well, ya ain’t dead are ya?” Books opened the cylinder to his Colt, allowing the spent cartridges to fall to the ground. “Sides, you moved into my line of fire.”

Books turned, pointed to prove where his next shot struck. Mark saw one more outlaw lying sprawled on the ground. Books gruffed, “You got your target,” using his gun to point towards the man Mark had shot, “and I got mine.” Books curtly nodded his head to emphasize his point.

“Guess I owe you thanks,” Mark gratefully commented. After examining his injury, he rub his bloody hand across his pants.

“You don’t owe me anything except keeping my helping you, out of your report.”

“Books, if that’s the way you want it, you’ve got yourself a deal…”

“Deal!” Books replied as he accepted Mark’s extended hand and gave it a gruff downward thrust.

Dohrn joined them and inquired, “What do we do now?”

“Search each building to locate the guns and ammunition,” suggested Mark. The three split up, with only the lanterns hung in front of the buildings to light their way, they were still wary of any outlaws who might be in hiding.

Mark searched what served as the livery and found several horses and a buckboard they could use to transport weapons and ammunition, but no boxes. He exited the livery and rubbed his injured arm when he heard Dohrn yelling. Mark started running in the direction; and soon was joined by Books. Yes, Mark had been right in his earlier assumption, when need be, the big man could run.

The three nearly collided as Dohrn came running out of a small building, “In here, you’re never gonna believe it!”

Books and Mark followed him back inside.

Taking off his hat and scratching his head, Books stated, “That ain’t a gun.”

“What is it? asked Mark holding the lantern high.

“A counterfeit printing press,” Dohrn answered.

“The counterfeiters were in cahoots with the gun runners?” asked a confused Mark.

“No, I think we’re back on your original case,” Books replied. “I ain’t seen any boxes in any of the buildings I’ve searched.”

“Well, then what cargo has been coming in and out of here?” Mark inquired.

“I found crates in a back room that could have held the press, looks like they shipped it in pieces. There’s also boxes of paper and jugs of ink, and several cutting boards. And some boxes I didn’t open yet.”

“But what about the gun runners? Books, you said…” Mark started to say.

“I know what I said, and I guess I heard wrong.”

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence... It biases the judgment,” Dohrn replied.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Books sourly asked as he stared at Dohrn.

“Just quoting something written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

“If you two are through…” Mark interrupted, realizing Books’ irritability was growing.

“Well, at least we have the press and the…Damn!” Dohrn exclaimed as he opened the top of the printing press.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mark, bringing his rifle to bear, fearing an outlaw had come into the room behind them.

“The plates are missing,” Dohrn stated.

“The plates? Oh, the engraved plates…” replied Mark. “If it’s any consolation, I found a buckboard and a team of horses you can load all this stuff onto.”

“Us? What about you?” Books gruffly asked.

“This is back to being a case for the Secret Service, and besides, did you forget you shot me in the arm?” Mark asked jovially.

“Didn’t seem to stop you from lifting that lantern a few minutes ago,” boasted Books.

“Okay… okay. WE” Mark emphasized, “can load all this stuff up and take… Just where do we take it?”

“Jarilla Junction for starters. If they have a telegraph, we can wire my superiors and let them know the case has been cracked,” Dohrn quipped.

“Cracked?” Books asked.

“That’s the latest terminology meaning the case has been solved,” Dohrn replied.

“Another quotation?” Books sourly stated.

“Sir Arthur…”

“I only want to know about him if he’s related to this case. Otherwise, shutup and start helping to pack,” Books ordered.

Several hours passed before they had everything loaded in the buckboard.

Before heading to Jarilla Junction, Mark asked, “What about them?” pointing to the dead bodies scattered across the ground.

“Guess we shouldn’t leave them out in the open like that,” Dohrn commented.

“Well, you two ‘lawmen’ can take care of them. I’m gonna sit down and open then here bottle of brandy and enjoy relaxing.”

Mark and Hallelujah stood and watched as Books held true to his words. Shaking their heads, the two lawmen wrapped the dead bodies in sheets.

“My turn to sit and relax,” commented Dohrn after Mark suggested rounding up the horses and tying the bodies across the saddles.

“Relax? We’ve lost daylight. We can’t leave them lying around,” Mark complained.

“You’ve got youth on your side,” Books declared as he handed Hallelujah the half-empty bottle.

“What about him? He can’t be that much older than me?”

“No,” Dohrn snickered. “But I’ve been on the run for quite a spell. You know, the life of an outlaw? You’ve been sleeping in a nice comfy bed…”

“Not since I met up with you…” Watching the old man pat his holster Mark stated, “Okay, I’ll round up the horses, but it’s more than a one-person job getting them across the saddles.”

*****

Having spent the morning in the saloon, Lucas and Drako swung up into the saddles and started to race their horses from the town. Halfway down the rutted road, they rounded a turn, and pulled their horses up short; in front of them was a wagon being driven by an unshaven burly, older man, followed closely by another unshaved man leading a string of three horses with bodies draped across, and in the rear, “MARK!” Lucas declared and urged Blade into a lope.

Lucas turned his horse around to walk next to his son.

“Pa, what are you…” commented Mark, as he tried to stifle a yawn.

“Trailing after you. You take these two and these… all by yourself?” Drako asked, pointing to the bodies, he took the rope to the two horses and bodies that Mark led.

“I’ll tell you once we find Abernathy,” Mark answered.

“He’s probably asleep still, but it looks like most of your ‘prisoners’ are in need of an undertaker, more than a jail cell,” teased Lucas.

“We need someplace secure to lock up this equipment… Mr. McCain, I presume?” answered Dohrn.

“Lock up equipment? And just who are you?” asked Drako.

“Johnny, I’ll make full introductions after we get these bodies to an undertaker and those crates locked up,” answered Mark.

“What about these two?” asked Drako.

“We’re not under arrest,” a humorless Books answered.

*****

A half hour later, Mark had introduced his Pa and Marshal Drako to his traveling companions.

“So you’re Hallelujah Dohrn. This is one set of lawmen you won’t slip away from,” Drako boasted as he stared the man down.

“Johnny, he’s not an outlaw,” replied Mark.

“Boy, he’s a known outlaw, with a wanted poster out on him,” declared Drako. “Do you know how many lawmen he’s managed to embarrass by slipping away?”

“Excuse me, Drako, but it seems you don’t take this young man seriously,” Books interrupted, standing to his full height. “He IS a U.S. Marshal, and I can vouch for what he’s saying about Dohrn, here.”

“Well, excuse me if I don’t take your word on it either. Though you don’t have any posters out on you, your reputation far…”

“MY REPUTATION!” Books roared. “Ain’t no worse than…”

“QUIET!” yelled Mark, attempting to prevent any possible bloodshed. “Gentlemen, please. Johnny, I know this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but you don’t know all the facts, and besides, we solved the case.”

“The case? What case? You let a known outlaw convince you to do his bidding in trying to take down his brother’s gang! You’re blind to the truth!” Drako spoke, unbelieving Mark’s demeanor.

“Yes, we took down the gang, but it wasn’t my brother’s gang. They’re still out there somewhere,” Dohrn stated.

“They’re locked up back in North Fork, where you will be too,” Drako seriously stated.

“Johnny, he’s not…” Mark tried to explain.

“Mark,” Lucas tried to interrupt.

While at the same time, Drako walked over and stopped a few feet from Mark; while pointing a finger towards Mark he said, “Now look here…”, while pulling his handgun with his other hand.

“JUST SHUT UP! Now listen to me,” Mark declared as loud as he could. “Johnny, put your gun away. I know you won’t believe the truth until you see it for yourself; so for the time being, Hallelujah is in my protective custody.”

“Protective custody!” declared Drako.

“Yes, in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service. And Books here; thought he was leading us to a gun running operation and ended up leaded us to the counterfeiters. And since there is no wanted poster on him; as far as I’m concerned, he was never here!”

“Mark,” Lucas tried to interrupt again.

“Those five at the undertakers were all that remained of the counterfeiters. We got everyone,” Mark stated.

“Except for the leader,” stated Dohrn.

“How do you know he isn’t among the dead?” asked Lucas.

“The plates are missing,” answered Dohrn.

“Dishes…” Drako stated.

Mark took a deep breath and answered, “The engraved plates the outlaws used to make the counterfeit money. We found the press, and their supplies, and money they printed, but not the actual plates. That’s what we have locked up.”

“And since there are no plates, that tells me the leader got away with them,” Dohrn stated.

“Johnny,” Lucas cleared his throat. “That stranded traveler we brought to town yesterday… He was mighty peculiar about me taking that case of his…while you helped him get on the horse. He said it was important papers for his employer, but now that I think of it, it felt like more than paper to me.”

Mark and Hallelujah quickly looked at each other, both thinking and asked the same thing, “Where’d you leave him?”

“The hotel, down the road,” answered Lucas.

Mark and Dohrn left the others calling their names as they ran from the jail.

*****

“When did he check out?” demanded Dohrn.

“Earlier this morning, he left after getting a buggy from the livery,” nervously replied the woman standing behind the counter; alarmed at the appearance and demeanor of the two men standing in front of her.

Mark bumped into his Pa as he and Dohrn ran from the hotel.

Grabbing hold of his son’s arm, Lucas reined him in and asked, “Mark’s what’s going on here?”

“Pa, you yourself suggested it; the man you helped yesterday… has to be the leader of the gang!”

Upon releasing his son’s arm, Lucas noticed the blood on his hand, “Mark!”

“I’ll be back!” Mark yelled as he swung up into the saddle and followed Dohrn.

*****

Books, Drako, and Lucas stood and watched the dust settle as the two riders raced their horses from town.

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take my leave,” declared Books, setting his hat to his head he stepped from the boardwalk.

“I do mind. You won’t be going anywhere until I get my questions answered.”

“Marshal Drako, it takes a lot to rile me, and the number one thing that riles me is people not trusting my word or...”

“I don’t care,” declared Drako. “Until that boy gets back…”

“You don’t get it do you,” Books stated, stepping back to the boardwalk. “He ain’t a boy. He’s a man, doing a man’s job. You and his Pa come here thinking he needed looking after. Worse yet, you don’t trust his word… as a lawman.” Books jabbed his index finger into Johnny Drako’s chest.

Drako stood, flabbergasted at the man’s comments.

“You know, when I first met him, I wasn’t exactly sure he’d be up to the job at hand, but the way he’s handled himself and this job, says a lot for his character. You insult him, when you call him a boy. I’ll admit that first night I called him a boy, he sure looks it, but he doesn’t handle himself like any boy I’ve ever met. And I’ll not have anyone try to put him down. Especially you standing there, wearing a badge yourself.”

“I’m not putting him down. I’ve known him for better than ten years…”

“Then its time you realized he’s grown up and deserves to be treated with more respect that I’ve seen you give him.” Books arched his eyebrows and walked away. “I’ll be at the hotel. Tell Mark I’ll be wanting to shake his hand and say goodbye.”

*****

“Of all the nerve,” mumbled Drako as he watched Books walk away.

“You know, he’s right,” admitted Lucas. “I thought I had gotten used to the idea my son was a grown man…” Lucas pulled off his hat and scratched his head. “But dang it, if I didn’t fall into thinking he was a little boy who needed my protection, again. I receive word my son’s left town with a known gunfighter and all of a sudden, I think he needs my protection, even when he wrote the man was an agent of the Secret Service. I began thinking he was too trusting again. I shouldn’t have come after him, like he wasn’t capable of doing his job.”

“Lucas, WE shouldn’t have,” agreed Drako. “Do you think he’ll forgive us?”

“This isn’t exactly like what happened with Rigby and Dahl…” answered Lucas.

“No, but still…should we wait here or return to North Fork?”

“I think as long as those crates remain in the jail, we need to stand guard over them,” answered Lucas. “But in the mean time, let’s get something to eat.”

“You’re not going after him? Drako asked.

“I want to… I really want to…”

*****

Crossing the rolling hills of the landscape, Mark and Hallelujah followed the dead-end road to the next town. The sun was close to setting; and Mark and Hallelujah felt they were close to catching up with the counterfeit operation’s leader. As they rounded a bend in the hills, they came upon a horse and buggy; they dismounted their horses with weapons at the ready.

“This horse is spent,” declared Mark upon examining the horse.

“He can’t be too far away, can he?” Dohrn asked innocently.

“I don’t know, but he’s leaving a trail that even a blind man could follow…”

Leading his horse, Mark trailed after their quarry, followed by Dohrn.

The sun had finally set when Dohrn declared, “He couldn’t…” as a small campfire came into their view.

“If he’s a tenderfoot, I wouldn’t doubt it,” Mark incredulously answered.

The two walked closer and observed only one person in the camp, “Hello in the camp!” Mark hollered.

Neither could prevent the small laughter upon seeing the man startle and scramble towards a large tree.

“Just two weary travelers looking to share a campfire for the night,” called Dohrn.

Mark and Hallelujah walked into camp, weapons holstered.

“Can we picket our horse with yours?” asked Dohrn.

“I… I lost my horse…” the man answered.

“Mighty rough country to lose your horse. Guess you should be lucky we happened upon you,” Dohrn stated, and tried to prevent the smile from spreading across his face.

“Where’re you traveling to?” asked the man.

“Where ever you are,” answered Mark.

“Me?” gulped the man.

Dohrn continued, “See, if my friend and I are right, you have something that we want in that leather bag of yours.”

As Mark moved his hand, the man stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, declaring, “Don’t kill me!” Mark reached into his back pocket and pulled out his badge, and proceeded to pin it to his shirt.

“Should have known…” the man stated as he dejectedly sat on the ground. “Should of kept going instead of letting them other two take me to that mangy town. It was all supposed to be so easy, make a little money and spread it around…”

“Living outside the law is never easy,” Dohrn rebutted.

“Hallelujah, I’ll go back and get his horse. If that’s okay with you,” Mark stated before he swung up on Rainmaker.

*****

Day was breaking over Jarilla Junction when Lucas and Johnny felt relief at the sight that greeted them as they stepped to the boardwalk. Two weary riders, one leading a horse and buggy with the occupant asleep in the front seat, his hands cuffed together.

“Could you use some help, Marhsal?” Drako asked.

“Sure. If they have room in the jail for our prisoner,” answered Mark as he tossed the rope hooked to the horse’s bit. Mark was about to asked a question, but stopped when Johnny stepped to the buggy and led it away.

“I vaguely remember a telegraph office,” commented Dohrn. “Need to send a wire to my superiors in Washington.”

“Probably wouldn’t hurt to send one to Denver, too,” Mark added and yawned.

“Looks like both of you could use a nice hot bath and a good meal,” Lucas stated as the two riders stepped from their horses.

“Now that you mention it, Mr. McCain,” answered Hallelujah as he scratched at the short growth of beard on his face.

With an even scragglier looking short beard, Mark ran his hand across his chin and said, “Didn’t realize it had been so long.”

“Tell you what, the two of you send your wires and get a shave and a bath, Johnny and I’ll meet you at the café across the street and buy you breakfast,” offered Lucas. “I’ll take care of your horses. Oh, Mark, you might want to send a wire home, just a suggestion.”

*****

Though both felt refreshed after their showers and shave, they struggled to keep their eyes open while the waitress took their orders.

“Welcome back, Marshal McCain, Agent Dohrn,” greeted Books as he joined the group sitting at the table.

“Least it looks like someone slept in a nice bed last night,” teased Dohrn. “You know Mark, I might just take you up on your original offer.”

“What offer was that?” asked Lucas, as Mark again yawned.

“To come back to the respectable side of the law. Give up being undercover,” Dohrn replied.

“You really are a Federal Agent?” asked Drako.

“For the past ten years. I told Mark that the Secret Service was the only agency who would take me, and ended up undercover in an effort to bring my brother and his gang in.”

“What about Latimer saying you tipped them off to a trap?” Drako inquired.

Dohrn sat back in his chair as the waitress refilled his cup of coffee. “Oh, well, a little subterfuge. Tried to convince my brother a trap was being laid in one town, hoping he’d choose a different town, one where we really were laying a trap…”

“What happened?” asked Mark.

“He didn’t show up in any town. For some reason he and his gang disappeared; didn’t hear anything of them for six months.”

“Bet that went over well with your superiors,” commented Mark.

“Yeah, his vanishing went over like a lead balloon. But at least during those six months, things were pretty quiet.”

The fivesome briefly chatted while eating their breakfast. As the waitress removed the empty plates, Johnny asked, “So Marshal McCain…”

“What’s got into you, Johnny? Since when am I Marshal to you?” asked Mark, as he leaned forward in his chair.

Johnny cleared his throat before he spoke. “It was pointed out that maybe I don’t give you the respect you’re due. And I admit, I know you’re grown and a U.S. Marshal, but sometimes, it’s hard to change old ways of thinking because you’re so young.”

“Son, Johnny and I realized, we probably had no right in trailing after you. It’s just I was fearful that you’d been duped by a gunslinger. You’re my son… Can you forgive us?”

“I guess so…” Mark stopped, not knowing what to say. He was tired and hadn’t thought about why the others were in Jarilla Junction.

“So, Marshal McCain,” Books spoke. “If you’ll hold to your end of our deal… I’ll take my leave. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”

Mark stood as Books did, and offered his hand, “There’ll be no mention in my report. Thanks for your help.”

“Agent Dohrn, Marshal Drako, Mr. McCain.” Books tipped his hat as he bid goodbye.

“No mention?” inquired Dohrn.

“Reputations and all…you know,” laughed Mark.

“You could leave us out of your report as well, Mark,” suggested Drako.

“What and miss the fun of writing how you almost helped the counterfeiter get away with the plates. No way…” teased Mark, yet he couldn’t prevent the yawn.

“When was the last time you slept?” asked Lucas.

“Maybe two days ago?” Mark answered looking to Dohrn as he too began yawning and nodding in agreement.

“If you’ll allow a town marshal and his posse to guard your prisoner and contraband, you can catch up on your sleep,” suggested Drako.

“Sounds like a good idea. I don’t know if I could sit my horse,” Dohrn answered.

“What about your arm, Mark?” asked Lucas.

“Oh, the barber patched me up, but once we get home, I plan to have Doc Burrage look at it.”

*****

The following morning, Mark woke with a start, and immediately relaxed after he remembered where he was. Stretching, he reached for his boots, pulled them on, grabbed his hat and rifle, and left the room.

“Morning, Marshal,” Johnny Drako greeted.

“Now let’s not start this again. Johnny, I didn’t think anything about you two being here. And honestly, I’m glad you are. It felt good to just let go and sleep last night.”

“Morning!” greeted Hallelujah Dohrn as he walked into the jail.

Lucas watched with amusement the three lawmen in the room with him.

“You’ll be happy to know you received a response to your wires…” Lucas stated as he handed out the coffee cups and filled them.

“North Fork? Doesn’t make any sense to have to take Moneymaker to North Fork,” Dohrn stated, looking at the telegram he held.

“Maybe this will make sense, Tom Benton is to meet us in North Fork and take custody of your prisoner,” answered Mark as he finished reading his telegram.

“Oh, Mark, there is one more wire for you,” teased Johnny as he handed the folded sheet of paper to Mark.

Safe trip.
Love, Me

*****

The train was at the depot when Lucas, Johnny, Mark, and Hallelujah, along with their prisoner and cargo crossed the railroad tracks and entered North Fork.

Johnny addressed the small group, “Dohrn and I’ll see his prisoner to the jail. Why don’t you meet us there once Doc’s had a chance to look at your arm. Lucas, I presume you’ll want to…”

“Come on Pa, I know you’re anxious to hear I’ll survive,” teased Mark.

As they stopped their horses in front of the clinic, Mark asked, “By the way, you don’t happen to know what today is, do you?”

“From the looks of the church, I’d guess it’s Sunday.”

*****

Milly drove the buckboard containing her family from the church into town, to join Lou at the Mallory House restaurant for lunch.

“Ma?!” Hope called, reaching her left hand to Milly’s upper arm, while pointing with her right hand to the two horses tied in front of the clinic.

The children in the back of the buckboard stood and started calling “Pa!” or “Papa!”

As she climbed down from the driver’s seat, Milly warned all the children to stay put until she and Hope came back.

“No butts!” Hope stated, pointing to her own children as she stepped to the ground.

The two women entered the clinic to be greeted by Sarah McCafferty, “They’re in room, two. It’s just a minor wound, Aaron cleaned and rebandaged it.”

*****

The door opened just as Milly was about to knock.

“Well hello there!” Lucas greeted his wife by wrapping his arms around her waist and picking her up.

“Welcome home,” Milly greeted and kissed her husband.

“If you two lovebirds will move out of the way, I’d sure like to see if my wife is on the other side of the doorway,” taunted Mark.

Lucas didn’t set Milly to her feet until Mark could see Hope anxiously waiting for him.

“Do I get a welcome home kiss?” Mark asked.

Hope was quickly into his arms, “Are you okay?”

“Just a graze, I moved when I shouldn’t have. Doc said it would heal in a few more days.”

The McCains stepped from the clinic and were excitedly greeted by their children.

“You gonna have lunch with us?” the chorus of children asked.

“Sure!” beamed Lucas.

“I need to stop by the Marshal’s Office, can I join you in a little while?” asked Mark.

“You won’t be too long, will you?” asked Hope.

“I hope not,” answered Mark.

*****

Mark entered the Marshal’s Office to find Tom Benton already inside and taking a report from Hallelujah Dohrn, while sitting at his desk.

“Since when does the Secret Service report to the U.S. Marshals,” asked Mark as he removed his hat and walked to his desk, and sat on the edge.

“Since his skills are being wasted with the Service, after a month-long vacation to visit his family, he’ll report to me,” answered Benton.

“Now hold on!” answered Dohrn. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“No!” declared Benton. “I’ve already talked with your superiors. It’s one thing for a brief undercover investigation; it’s totally uncalled for the way they kept you out in the cold.”

“Welcome to the family,” offered Mark.

“Now, you on the other hand…” Benton stopped writing and pointed the end of his pen towards Mark. “Going off like you did with a known outlaw?”

“An Agent of the Secret Service,” corrected Mark. “At least I didn’t fake my death…”

“This time,” Benton completed the statement. “So be thankful you’re not facing a suspension. But next time…”

“Next time, I’ll continue do my job as a U.S. Marshal… period,” Mark stated, letting his boss know that he did what he needed to do in order to get the job done.

“Benton,” Drako interrupted. “We were reminded by … a… a stranger, that the Marshal here is a grown man, doing a grown man’s job. And we should treat him as such. Besides, we both trained him to be the type of lawman he is. We only have ourselves to blame if we don’t like how he does his job.”

“Then, Mr. Lawman, I’ll look forward to reading your report, tomorrow,” Benton stated as an order, not a request.

“Yes sir. Since it seems you have everything in order, I’m going to go enjoy some time with my family, before I writing.”

“See you later, Johnny, Hallelujah, Tom.”

Mark left the office with a grin of satisfaction on his face.

The Next Step — A Brave Man Chooses to Act

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

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