The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Chapter 61 – Shock
Written by Deanne Bertram
The night before they headed out to North Fork, Tom and Grid
were standing in front of the Sheriff’s office. The town was
quiet, with most folks having already turned in for the night.
Tom was leaning forward, his hands on the hitching rail, looking
out onto the deserted street of Lordsburg. Grid was leaning back
against the hitching rail, his back to the street. Grid asked,
“You don’t like being my being here, do you?” as he flicked away
the match he used to light his cigarette.
“Can’t exactly figure you out. Your superiors talk highly of
you, but I get the feeling you could go either way. You don’t
like my questioning your actions… Yet, you follow my orders even
though I can tell you don’t care for some of them. I get the
feeling if you had a good enough reason, you’d turn outlaw,” Tom
“Ain’t that what you want when you send someone in to infiltrate
a gang?” he took another drag on his cigarette and slowly
exhaled into the night-time sky. “You’d rather McCain was here
beside you?” Grid asked.
“Lucas and I go way back. I’ve known him since the war. He was a
“Men change,” Grid stated.
“Yes, some do. Some for the better, others not,” Tom stood
straight and looked at Grid.
“I figure you and Mace Aubrey can handle getting them two to
North Fork,” Grid said, knowing Tom was looking at him, but he
continued to look back to the Sheriff’s Office.
“And you’re planning to just leave?” Tom asked.
“No, I’m gonna track the others,” Grid replied and then inhaled
deeply and exhaled the smoke from his cigarette.
“Yeah, as many as I can. They may not be wanted for attempted
murder on Mark McCain, but, as the Sheriff said, you don’t stay
for your health at Skull.”
“You figure to set out alone?”
“Sure, when I catch up with them I’ll play along to figure out
what they’re up to.”
“And when they ask you how you got away?”
“I’ll tell them the truth. You found out I was at Skull, you
made me lead you to the ranch, but when you got there, no one
was there, so you had no reason to keep me in jail once I was
sobered up, and set me free. First off, I’ll make sure you make
it to North Fork. I’ll keep an eye on you from the distance.
Scout around and make sure they ain’t following you.”
“And if they are?”
“Then I’m just on your trail, trying to keep an eye on where
you’re going so I can maybe free Dahl and Rigby so they don’t
make it to North Fork,” Grid stated as he dropped his cigarette
and ground it out with his boot heel. “I’ll head out early in
the morning. Be seeing ya, Marshal.”
Grid headed out of Lordsburg before daybreak. He rode towards
the hills where he could stand and watch for a good long time as
Tom and Mace rode with their prisoners to face justice. Once he
reached a favorable location, he hooked his leg over the saddle
horn and pulled out and lit a cigarette and proceeded to smoke.
In time he spotted four riders, one in front, two side by side,
and one behind. Grid ground his cigarette out on his saddle horn
before he dropped the butt to the ground. He signaled his horse
to move out.
The surrounding landscape was quiet and no trace of any others
following could be seen. The solitude of the land suited Grid
just fine. Being around too many people at one time unnerved
him. It was easier to read a person one on one than in a large
group, people tended to change, not really be themselves, when
they weren’t alone. Grid watched as Benton and Aubrey made camp
for the night. After the sun set, Grid set up his own cold camp,
pulling his bedroll down from his horse and lying it out on the
ground. He wrapped his saddle blanket around his shoulders as he
leaned back against the tree to catch some sleep.
It was the evening before their arrival in North Fork. Grid had
reached the next hill he planned to use as a vantage point. He
stepped from his horse after he spotted evidence that three
riders had recently waited, in the same location. There were
cigar and cigarette butts lying on the ground and signs of men
pacing back and forth, within the stand of trees and bushes.
‘So, there is someone else watching,’ Grid smiled to himself. As
he stood to return to his horse, from behind, he heard the
unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked. Slowly Grid raised his
“Be real careful and ya won’t get plugged,” the voice called
with a slight Mexican accent.
“Chavez?” Grid asked.
“Grid, you got out of jail?” The one called Angel Chavez came
around and looked Grid in the face. He turned and yelled, “Hey,
Ralph, Brice, its Grid. He got free!”
Chavez was still holding his gun on Grid. Before Chavez could
turn back from yelling to the others, Grid had grabbed Chavez’
gun and then slugged him across the jaw, knocking him to the
“You should know better than holding your gun on me, Chavez,”
Grid spoke as he stood over Chavez.
Grid looked up, and from the corner of his eye, he saw the
others walking from their hiding places, he tossed Chavez he
gun. Slowly Chavez got to his feet, rubbing his jaw, before the
others returned their guns to their holsters.
“Why’d ya go an’ do that?” Chavez asked.
“I already told you.”
“What you doing here?” Brice Stringfellow asked.
“Following Dahl and Rigby. Trying to figure out how to get them
away from the law. Here tell they’re headed to North Fork to
stand trial,” Grid answered.
“Yeah, so we heard. We thought maybe you turned them in. Heard
you got thrown in jail,” Ralph Claysin said.
“Yeah, the one day of the year I always get drunk and it had to
be in Lordsburg,” Grid coolly stated.
“You always get drunk?” Chavez asked.
“Yeah, it’s personal”.
“Personal ain’t good enough!” Stringfellow demanded.
“It’s the anniversary that my Pa was killed. Gunned down,
murdered, by some mangy sodbuster,” Grid replied. “They brought
my Pa’s body home and I was left to bury him, by myself. I was
just a kid. My whole life, I’ve wanted nothing more than to see
that murderer dead. Taught myself how to use a six-shooter, you
want proof on how good I am?”
“How’d you get free?” Chavez asked.
“Some U.S. Marshal showed up, they heard tell Skull Ranch was
back in operation. The Sheriff told ‘em he heard I’d spent some
time out at Skull. They made me lead the way out there. What
happened to you guys? The place was empty.”
“I saw the posse heading our way and rode back to tell
everyone,” Claysin replied.
“Still didn’t answer our question, how’d you get out?” Chavez
“What charges could they hold me on?” The tone of his voice
affecting his displeasure at answering to the three. “Staying at
Skull? Nothing against the law for that. I was sobered and
didn’t cause no damage in town. They had no choice but to let me
“So how did Rigby and Dahl get captured?” Brice asked.
“I heard tell some Marshal showed up late that night and caught
them drunk in the saloon. Happened while we were out chasing
your ghosts. Rigby’s wrist is busted and I heard the doc say
he‘ll never be able to shoot with that hand again.”
“So, you have any idea on getting Rigby and Dahl away from the
law?” Claysin asked.
“Yeah, one. Heard tell they tried to kill a lawman in North
Fork,” Grid answered.
“Yeah, thought they were killing Drako and his deputy. Only they
got a U.S. Marshal and a deputy instead,” Chavez replied.
“What I heard about this lawman, his father-in-law was the
deputy, and the lawman has a wife and a number of brats. If we
kill him, leave his wife a widow, do you think daddy’s gonna
wanna testify? Will ‘daddy’ want his precious daughter to lose
her ‘daddy’ as well as her husband?” Grid thinned his lips and
“You’re crazy!” Brice replied.
“Yeah, but you got any better idea?” Grid asked.
“How is killing the U.S. Marshal gonna get Rigby and Dahl set
free?” Claysin asked.
“You think that little town of North Fork is gonna hold the
trial, knowing how easy it was for me to kill their star
witness? They’ll set them free, easy,” Grid replied.
“Why don’t we just ride down and get Rigby and Dahl, now. They’s
asleep. Be easy as shootin’ tin cans off a log,” Claysin
“Because I want the reputation of killing The Lawman,” Grid
“So what, ya kill a lawman. We’ve all done it,” Chavez replied.
“No, not A lawman. THE Lawman. He’s famous in these parts, some
newspaper editor even wrote about him a few years back. I want
the Lawman, because if I get the Lawman, then I get the
Rifleman,” a wicked grin came across Grid’s face. “And the
Rifleman was the man who murdered my father.”
“The Rifleman?! He’s trouble,” Claysin mumbled.
“Yeah, I’ll finally get my revenge. Could it be any better?”
“You’re fixing to stir up a hornets nest,” Brice called.
“You want out, ride. I been putting this together for a few
days. Don’t really need your help,” Grid replied.
The trip returning the prisoners to North Fork was uneventful.
Rigby and Dahl were both grumbling as they were safely locked
behind bars in the North Fork jail.
That night, Mark arrived to stand watch in North Fork. Later
than expected, he rode into town and halted Copper in front of
the livery. He stepped down and led his horse inside.
“I can get even with one McCain just as good as another,” a
voice coolly called from the shadows as Mark entered and stopped
in his tracks. “See your Pa finally let you learn how to use a
rifle. Heard you might be pretty good with it, too. Still, you
probably ain’t as good as your old man.”
“Don’t expect so,” Mark replied as he raised his hands. “I’ll
let you know, you gun me down, there’ll be a whole town after
you and you’ll be brought up on Federal charges for killing a
U.S. Marshal.” Mark wrinkled his nose as he smell the smoke from
a cigarette waft his way.
“That right?” the voice replied. “What if I give you a chance to
go for your rifle?”
“I won’t,” Mark answered.
“Thought so. Just like your old man, a coward.”
“My Pa ain’t no coward.” Mark replied back, just as coolly as
the man had spoken. He turned to see a man grinding out a
cigarette in the dirt and then walk from the shadows, guns still
in his gun belt. The man was dressed in black and walked slowly
and deliberately. From his body posture Mark felt the man was
still trying to size him up.
“I wouldn’t of recognized you ‘cept Benton told me about the
horse you ride and then there’s that rifle in your scabbard.
Plus you not wearing a gun belt,” the man stated.
“Benton? Tom Benton?” Mark asked as he started to lower his
“Now Mark, you work for any other Benton?” Mark noticed the
change of tone in the man’s voice. “See you grown up some. Sure
don’t believe it, the boy of Lucas McCain being a U.S. Marshal
and married at that. First time we met you was… fourteen and
never used a gun.” Grid continued to walk towards Mark and held
out his hand. His body posture changing to one of ease. “No,
Lucas McCain ain’t no coward and neither’s his boy.”
“Do I know you?” Mark asked as he tried to get a good look at
the man walking towards him.
“How many thirteen year olds you know, got away with slapping
your Pa, calling him out to a gun fight, and then got away with
calling him a coward?”
It took a moment before the name came to Mark, “Grid? Grid
“Good to see you too, Mark.”
“I don’t understand. What are you doing in North Fork?”
“My job,” Grid said as he opened his jacket and showed the
Deputy U.S. Marshal badge pinned to the inside of his black
“You? You became a lawman?” Mark asked, quite surprise, as he
led Copper into his stall and started to unsaddle him.
“No more surprising than you,” Grid affected an air of
indifference. “A store owner, back home, made a bargain with me.
He gave me a place to eat and sleep and in exchange I’d help him
out at his store. He said he’d pay for me to go to college, if I
wanted to go. Told me one condition was that I put away my guns,
until I was 18. If I wanted to pick them back up, I had to go
into law enforcement.”
“Wow!” Mark replied. “It’s just… I mean…”
“I was a kid back then. I may not like the hand that life dealt
me, but once I make a deal, I keep it. I don’t go back on my
word. No one ever accused Grid Maule, Jr. of reneging on a
“I didn’t say anything like that,” Mark stated as he closed the
door to the stall. He heard the change of tone in Grid’s voice
and realized that he probably still had to watch his words
“You do know that I’m gonna have ta kill you?” Grid asked.
A shocked Mark replied, “Say that again?”
“Listen, I was there in Lordsburg when you single handedly
brought in Dahl and Rigby. When the marshals got to Skull, no
one was there.”
“I heard,” Mark replied.
“Any way, I figured the others made tracks and I decided I’d
trail out after them, but first, I told Benton I wanted to make
sure he and Aubrey made it here with the prisoners. I rode
separate from them. Last night I encountered Angel Chavez, Ralph
Claysin, and Brice Stringfellow. They was making their way to
North Fork, they heard about the trial already. Anyway, they’re
wanting to bust their friends out of jail. I figured if we
killed the number one witness against them, the marshal might
just let them go.”
“If you kill… There were two of us they tried to kill,” Mark
answered. “You kill me, Seth will still be there to testify.”
“Probably, but do you really think your father-in-law will
testify? I mean, his daughter just became a widow and his
grandsons have no father. Do you think he also wants his
daughter to lose her father, too?”
“You are just joking about killing me? Right?” Mark asked.
“No. But don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit. Of course, everyone
in town will have to believe it, I need a way to get back in the
good graces of the others, need to find out if they were
planning anything while they were staying at Skull. Benton might
have been right. They might have been leery talking with me
around. So, if I kill you, then they’ll have to believe I’m an
outlaw. Listen, I need to do this tomorrow and fast. No one can
know about this or both our lives are in jeopardy.”
“Do you think that our marshal is just going to up and let two
men accused of attempted murder go free? And I don’t get it, I
can understand your story to the other three, but why is it so
important for Dahl and Rigby to be set free?”
“I figured they might know more of what the Ketchum Gang is
planning. If I can get Rigby and Dahl free and then prove my
loyalty, they might just let me in on what’s being planned. Then
we can stop ‘em.”
“Drako ain’t gonna just let them out,” Mark replied.
“I figured he’d be riding with the posse, chasing after me, and
leave someone else in charge. Once the posse is gone, then you
can let who ever that person is, in on our plan and they can let
Rigby and Dahl go. Mark, no one else in North Fork can know
you’re alive until AFTER we re-capture those two and get the
other three in custody.”
“Grid, just how do you plan on killing me? I mean…”
“Mark, I carry blanks. They sure come in handy. I’ll plan to
shoot you in the chest.”
“So, some how we need to make it look like the bullet struck
me.” Mark thought for a moment. “I can use one of those rubber
balloons Gabby got, maybe… If we slaughter a chicken, I could
drain the blood into the balloon and keep it in my hand. Then
when I hear your shot, I can fall down and then grab at my chest
and squirt the blood out before anyone on the street gets to
“Sounds like a plan. We’ll have to do it early in the morning.
You make rounds?”
“Yeah, I start around eight o’clock and usually return to the
office by nine,” Mark replied.
“Good, then nine o’clock.”
“Grid, I can’t ask my wife or my parents to go through something
like this, again. Even if it is to catch outlaws. They went
through hell this summer, when I…” Mark couldn’t say it. He’d
put that part of his life away.
“If you have to tell them, do so. Ride out in the middle of the
night when the whole town would be asleep, but no one else. Can
you sneak out of the Marshal’s Office?”
“Damn it, Grid! Do you know how much trouble we’re going to be
in with Benton over this?”
“Only if we fail, Mark. Only if we fail. And even then, it won’t
matter. If we do fail, we’re gonna be dead.”
“Okay, where do I meet up with you once they’re out of jail?”
After Grid and Mark finalized their plan, they went their
Mark fretted over what he and Grid were about to put North Fork
through. ‘Guess it won’t be any worse that killing Micah, Pa,
and Johnny to get Stedman,’ Mark thought to himself.
He waited until close to two in the morning before he decided to
sneak from town and head home. Carefully, he entered his home
and his bedroom. He lit the lantern on the table next to their
bed and sat down on the edge, scaring Hope awake. As Mark
reached his hand to cover her mouth to keep her from screaming,
he saw the fear in her eyes before he quietly stated, “Hope,
it’s me, Mark.”
Once Hope’s eyes focused, she realized who was in their bedroom
with her, she relaxed, but her face held concern, “Mark, what
are you doing here? What time is it?”
“I need to talk to you, and my parents,” Mark replied.
“Couldn’t it wait until daylight?”
“No, it can’t. Get your robe on and please come with me.”
Together they walked to his parents’ home and entered. Hope lit
the lamp on the front room table while Mark knocked on the
Startled from their sleep, Lucas jumped from bed and managed to
pull on his pants before he threw the door open. It took a
moment before he realized who was standing in his front room.
“Mark, do you realize the time?!” Lucas demanded, then he saw
Hope placing the glass chimney back on the lantern.
“I do, but I don’t have a lot of time. Please just listen.
Grid’s going to kill me in the morning,” Mark answered, not
giving anyone time to sit down in the front room before he told
them. Not realizing how what he said sounded.
“What?!” they all three exclaimed.
“Pa, it’s like when we were trying to get Stedman, when Hope
first came into our lives. It’s part of Grid’s plan to capture
some of the others who were at Skull. I had to let you know
before someone comes and gets you later this morning. I couldn’t
put you through that again, but you’ll have to put on the best
performance of your lives – believing I’m really dead.”
“Who else knows? Does Tom?” Hope asked.
“No, we don’t have time and everyone else’s reactions have to be
genuine. Please, I can’t spend much more time here before
there’s a chance I might be missed in town.” Then turning to
Milly, “Ma do you have one of those balloons that Gabby’s been
playing with? I hate to do this, but I thought to slaughter a
chicken and drain the blood to use to fake my being killed. You
can always fry the chicken up for supper…”
Quickly, the four set out to do what needed to be done. Mark was
back in the saddle on Copper when Lucas stopped him, “Mark, when
you trail after them, you can’t use Copper and you can’t put
Blue Boy through that kind of a chase, how are you going to…”
“He can use Two-Bits,” Hope stated. “Pa, we’ll both ride into
town together, you on Blade and me on Two-Bits. Then when you
ride from town to ‘hunt’ Grid down, you can take her and then
wait for Mark.”
“Son, what time is this supposed to go down?” Lucas asked.
Mark bent down and kissed Hope and whispered into her ear,
“Remember, I love you,” and was on his way back to town.
“McCAIN!!” echoed through the streets of North Fork. “I can get
even with one McCain, just as good as another!”
Slowly Mark turned, but before he could bring his rifle up, the
figure dressed in black had one of his guns drawn, he crouched
down, and fired at Mark. For a brief second, Mark clutched to
his chest, before he fell in a heap in the middle of the street,
his rifle falling at his feet. Drako and Seth watched in horror
as Mark was gunned down. Benton watched it happen as he stepped
from the hotel. Grid holstered his gun, jumped on his horse and
whirled him around and blazed a trail as he rode from town,
hearing Tom Benton yelling, “GRID, YOU’LL HANG!!”
Drako and Seth ran to where Mark's body lay in the street. In
shock that this had happened and seeing the blood stain over his
heart, they quickly picked him up and delivered him to Doc's.
They didn’t wait. They rushed out to join the posse.
As Benton formed the posse, he declared that “Anyone who shoots
Grid Maule will face charges of murder themselves. I want Grid
Maule to be brought to justice, to stand trial, and to HANG!”
The posse trailed after him.
Someone had run to Doc’s home to get him. In time, Doc entered
the room and closed the door behind him. As he saw the blood
stain on Mark’s shirt, over his heart, he quietly stated, “Damn
Doc fell backwards against the door and a gasp escaped his lips
as he saw Mark's body sit up. "Sorry Doc, but it had to be this
way," Mark said. "I'll need you to keep up my charade."
"Mark, how can you do this to Hope?!" Doc asked, appalled that
Mark would put his family through something like this.
Mark stood and unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. He walked
to the sink and primed the pump to rinse the ‘blood’ from his
"I couldn't. Only she, my parents, and now you, know the truth.
Grid's trying to catch more of the outlaws who were staying at
Skull and find out what they’re up to. I rode home during the
night and let them know what Grid and I were planning. I didn't
have time to let anyone else know. I'm presuming Drako and Seth
went with Tom on the posse?"
"I saw them ride out of here not five minutes ago."
"Who'd Drako leave in charge?"
"I heard your uncle, Johnny Gibbs."
"Go get him, please?" Mark asked.
Before Thadd could leave, they heard someone walk to the door
and the door knob rattle.
“Mark hurry!” Thadd quietly called.
Mark finished putting his shirt on and jumped back up on the
examination table as Thadd placed a sheet over him.
Dreading what he was about to have to do, Johnny Gibbs walked
into the clinic. Johnny had been at the Hardware store when he
heard the gun shot. He ran to the boardwalk and saw Mark crumple
in the street. Time stopped and before he realized, Nils was
racing from town. It hadn’t been that long ago that he’d had to
race in the middle of the night to inform Lucas that Mark had
been seriously hurt. In a sense, he was relieved he wouldn’t be
the one telling Lucas, this time… Johnny stopped and looked to
Abigail, who sat in a chair in the waiting area, tears falling
down her face. “Room 10, Johnny,” was all she could manage to
Slowly Johnny arrived in front of the door and placed his hand
to the doorknob. The door opened before he could turn the knob.
“Johnny, I… uh… I thought you might have gone to get Lucas,”
Thadd shakily spoke.
“No, I saw Nils ride out. Doc? Is he…?”
“I think you need to come in.”
Johnny stepped inside and saw his nephew lying on the
examination table, a sheet pulled up to his chin.
“At least he can be with Margaret now,” Johnny stated as Doc
shut the door behind them. “I don’t know how Lucas is going to
take this… it’s too soon since…”
Johnny jumped back and grabbed at his chest when he saw Mark’s
head turn towards him as he sat up and then heard him say, “I
think he’s gonna take it better than you, Uncle Johnny.” Mark’s
face held an apologetic grin. “I’m sorry Uncle Johnny, but it
had to be this way.”
“Nephew, you’re bound to give a man a heart attack! I surely
don’t want to be in your shoes when your wife and your father
find out you’re alive,” Johnny stated as he pushed his hat back
from his forehead. “They might just decide to kill you
themselves for putting them through this. Boy, how could you?”
“They already know. After what they went through over the
summer, I could… I couldn’t do this without letting them know in
advance. You’re in on the secret, now. No one else can know.”
“Your Aunt Colleen’s going to skin me alive if I don’t tell her.
She’s already getting moody with her pregnancy.”
“Aunt Colleen’s pregnant?” Mark asked.
“Oh, that was our secret. We were going to tell the whole family
“I’ll trade you secret for secret?” Mark asked.
They heard Hattie’s and Micah’s and Lou’s voices out in the
“I think I better get out there. Mark, lie down boy,” Thadd
stated as he turned to leave the room. Once Mark was lying back
down and Johnny placed the sheet back over Mark and had affected
a posture of grief, Thadd opened the door. They all heard Lou
scream, “NO!” before the door closed.
“Boy, I don’t know how you’re going to apologize to everyone,”
Johnny quietly whispered.
“We did it once before when we ‘killed’ Micah, Pa, and Drako. I
hope everybody will be as understanding when I’m resurrected,”
They heard Thadd calling for Abigail to prepare a sedative to
give to Lou.
“I have to see for myself. I can’t believe the boy’s dead, he
can’t be! They say Grid Maule did this! It’s just a bad dream,
right Doc?” Micah pleaded. Both could hear the heartache and
grief in his voice.
“Please, I can’t let you inside until after Hope, Lucas, and
Milly get here. As much as you all mean to… meant to Mark,
you’re not blood relations. I’m sorry. Please, go to the hotel
and wait. I’m sure the McCain family will need all your help
after they arrive in town and see for themselves,” Thadd
“Mark, this better be worth it, is all I can say,” Johnny stated
after hearing Thadd’s words.
“Me to. If we don’t get the outlaws, then Grid and I both might
end up in pine boxes, for real.”
Soon, they both heard the commotion out in front of the clinic
and Mark knew he needed to ‘play dead’ again. Johnny pulled the
sheet up over Mark as he laid back down. Mark tried hard to make
his face as expressionless as possible and relax, but hearing
Hope outside, even though he knew she was pretending, was hard.
He could only imagine what she had gone through that night back
Those elsewhere in the clinic heard Lucas yell out, “NO!!” He
opened the door with such force that it slammed against the wall
and then closed on its own as Lucas ran from the room, yelling,
“I’LL KILL HIM!”. He jumped on his own horse, grabbed Two-Bits
reins, and rode from town.
With Hope wailing in the background, Johnny agreed keep quiet
that Mark was alive. After Grid’s plan was explained, he agreed
to set Rigby and Dahl free.
Johnny escorted Hope from the clinic. The crowd in front of the
clinic parted to let them pass. The people were in shock that
his had happened for a second time in their town. As the town’s
people started to disburse from in front of the clinic and the
Marshal’s Office, no one saw the figure leave the back of the
clinic. Mark quietly slipped out of town and met up with Lucas.
It took Mark a few minutes to adjust the stirrup length on the
saddle, but soon, together, they trailed after Grid,
“Side-by-side, Pa. I remember long time ago you told me of my
growing up years and said some day, we’d stand side-by-side,”
Mark spoke as they rode.
“I pray this one will end better than the last time,” Lucas
“Amen to that.”
Within the hour, they arrived where Mark had arranged to meet up
with Grid, however, Grid was nowhere to be seen.
“Well?” Lucas asked.
“I don’t know. He said he’d be here. He should have been here by
now. You don’t suppose?” Mark asked.
They turned as they heard a rider approaching.
“Grid, where’ve you been?” Mark demanded as he reined Two-Bits
around to face Grid.
“Taking a pot shot at your Marshal’s Office. Figured it might
encourage who ever your Marshal left in charge to set the
“You took a shot at MY UNCLE?!” Mark demanded.
“No, just the sign. Weren’t too long before Dahl and Rigby rode
out of there.” Grid halted his horse next to Lucas and
apologized for the trouble his plan was causing North Fork.
“Well, North Fork has survived Micah’s, Johnny’s, and my
untimely deaths, I’m sure the town will survive Mark’s.” Lucas
asked, “So why are you with us and not with them?”
“I just wanted to make sure everything was going as planned. So,
who all knows the truth?” Grid asked of Mark.
“Just Doc and my Uncle, besides Hope and my parents,” Mark
“So, Grid, what next?” Lucas asked.
“You two keep to the shadows. I’m gonna ride ahead and try to
catch up with Rigby and Dahl and let them know where the others
are waiting.” Grid turned his horse to ride, “Oh, and if you do
see the posse, try to keep them from killing me!”
Mark and Lucas watched as Grid rode away from them.
“I sure hope you two can pull this off, Mark,” Lucas commented.
“You mean the three of us. Don’t you, Pa?”
“Three?” Lucas asked as he realized the mess he had allowed Mark
to pull him into. “Yeah, but if anything goes wrong, you’re the
one who will explain it all to Tom. As the Marshal of this
“Yeah, I know. Come on, let’s trail after Grid.”
Lucas and Mark split up to make it less obvious to anyone that
Grid was being trailed and to keep the posse from seeing any
dust to lead them in their direction.
Grid found it easy to pick up and follow the trail that Rigby
and Dahl were leaving. From the length of the horses’ strides he
knew how hard they were pushing the animals in their get-away.
Grid kept his horse to a steady pace, knowing in time, the
others would have to rest their horses, giving Grid time to
Coming around a rock outcropping, Grid found his quarry standing
in front of him. Dahl holding a rifle on him.
“So just what the hell do you think you’re doing… Marshal?” Dahl
“Following you! If you’re that scared of me, why haven’t you
pulled the trigger?”
“Tell me why I shouldn’t?”
“Because I know where Chavez, Claysin, and Stringfellow are
waiting for you,” Grid affected a disinterested attitude. “You
could just go ahead an’ shoot me and take my weapons. But then,
there’s a chance the posse would hear the shot and come looking
to investigate. You that interested in getting thrown back in
jail and standing trial?” Grid asked.
“I don’t trust you!” Rigby spat.
“No more than I trust you, I’m sure.” Motioning his horse past
the two, Grid stated, “Well, come on. We’ve a ways to go to meet
up with the others.”
“No!” Dahl spat out. “Not until you tell us what happened!”
“What happened? I gunned down the Marshal and they let you go,
what else do you want to know?” Grid asked as he turned his
“Why? You’re a deputy, why kill the Marshal?” Rigby asked.
“It’s a matter of keeping your friends close and your enemies
closer? Do you know how many outlaws I’ve been able to help back
home because of this badge? I came out west because I heard tell
of where a murderer was living.”
“Still don’t answer my question.”
“Look, turns out the U.S. Marshal I gunned down this morning --
he’s the brat kid of the man who murdered my Pa when I was eight
years old. So what if my getting you two set free also let’s me
get justice for my Pa.”
“I heard tell of the Marshal. They call his Pa…” Dahl stated.
“Yeah, they call him the Rifleman. He’s nothing but a mangy
sodbuster who has a trick rifle. Still, ain’t gonna be anything
but dead when I get through with him. You think he’ll be that
careful coming after me? He won’t be thinking straight and I can
lay a trap and kill him easy. He won’t know what hit him.”
“You shoot him down cold, without him knowing who done it?” Dahl
“Dead’s dead,” Grid replied. “Now, you coming with me or do I
head out on my own?”
“We’ll go with you for now, but I’m still keeping an eye on
you,” Rigby replied.
“Just don’t get in my way. Until I see the Rifleman dead at my
feet, anyone who gets in my way is just as fair game.”
The outlaws insisted Grid ride first into the camp, where
Chavez, Claysin, and Stringfellow waited, “If anyone’s gonna get
shot, it best be you,” Rigby stated.
“Shot? Your own companions would shoot you? Maybe I should have
rode out on my own,” Maule stated.
Dahl and Rigby were heartily greeted by the others.
“See, I told ya,” Chavez said. “He got them out.”
“So he did,” Claysin replied.
Stringfellow walked over to Dahl, “Good to see you again big
“Same here. Any trouble?” Dahl asked.
“Na. Everything’s just as Grid said it would be. He promised
when he returned he’d have you out. Did he really kill the
marshal?” Stringfellow replied.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard from the one they left in
charge, but when we rode from that mangy town, you could see it
in the eyes of everyone. The town was scared.”
“So what do we do now?” Stringfellow wanted to know. “We go back
and tree the town?”
“No!” Rigby answered. “I want to get as far away as possible.
Too close to a hangman’s noose for my liking.”
“But they let you go!” Claysin stated. “Let’s go back!”
“The only reason we got let go was some simpleton was left in
charge. All the other Deputies and Marshals are out chasing us.
We head for Mexico!” Rigby boldly stated.
“I ain’t leaving until I kill me the Rifleman!” Grid coldly
informed the others.
“Grid, you got The Lawman, why push it?” Stringfellow asked.
“Because he’s got to pay for killing my old man. He may not have
been much, but he was all I had. I killed his son and now I’m
gonna kill him.” Grid opened the cylinder of one of his guns and
looked down the barrel, then snapped it closed.
“It’s a stupid risk!” Chavez quietly stated.
“Then you leave. Run like little old women,” Grid replied.
That night, they found Grid camped with the outlaws. Mark and
Lucas unsaddled their horses and waited out the night, hoping
for Grid to make a report to them.
Lucas was standing watch when someone attempted to quietly enter
“Hold it right there,” Lucas called as he came up from behind.
“Morning Lucas,” Grid replied.
“Well?” Mark asked.
“The groups truly split up. Seems Ketchum and company didn’t
really approve of Rigby and Dahl or their companions.
Stringfellow said something about Ketchum and his friends
heading to Northern New Mexico.”
“So the three others, they just want to get those two out of
jail?” Lucas asked.
“Yeah. Found out the reason though. Stringfellow is Dahl’s
younger, half-brother. Same father, different ma’s, his folks
never married so he went by his ma’s last name.”
“So as far as you can find out, they’re not planning anything?”
“Na. To me, they don’t seem the kind who’s that creative.
They’re opportunists. They let someone else be the brains and
they’re the ones who pull the jobs.”
“So, how do we take them?” Lucas asked.
“First, I get to murder the Rifleman,” Grid stated just as
calculatingly as he had when he told Mark he was going to kill
“Excuse me?” Lucas stated.
"That was my reaction the other night," Mark commented.
“Lucas, its part of the cover story I gave to the outlaws. I
gunned down Mark because I found out he was your son and you
were the man who murdered my Pa. It’s gonna mean that the two of
you need to split up.”
“How so?” Mark asked.
“Mark, you’re supposed to be dead. Lucas is trailing after me,
separate from the posse, which I’m thankful to say, I’ve not
seen any trace of.” Then turning back to Lucas, “The only snag
is that my bullet will travel faster than it’s sound. I’ll plan
it so I’ll be high on the hills and I’ll let the sun glint off
“Your rifle?! When did you start carrying a rifle?” Mark asked
“About the time I returned to North Fork and realized how good
the two of you were. By the way, you can return it to your
gunsmith when we get back to town,” Grid replied.
“You stole the rifle?” Lucas asked.
“McCain, once you see the flash, remove your hat and wipe your
brow. That way I’ll know you saw my signal. Once you put your
hat back on your head, count to five and then you can fall from
your horse. That should be perfect timing for me to fire a blank
round and fake killing you. I’ll tell the others I’ll meet up
with them, I just have to make sure you’re good and dead.”
“And if they come down to check on me?”
“Then Mark will be there to back me up,” Grid stated.
“Grid, why do you have to make everything so damn complicated?”
“Because that’s what I’m good at,” Grid replied.
“So what happens next?” Lucas asked.
“Once you’re dead, we’re planning on riding towards White City
tomorrow,” Grid replied. “They’re wanting to head to Mexico
until things cools off.”
“Pa, you remember?” Mark turned and look to Lucas. “There’s that
old hangman’s tree, they call it…” Mark thought for a moment.
“Gallows Crossing,” Lucas answered.
“Yeah, from here, they’d have to ride by there. We can set a
trap. It’s a canyon that narrows out as they ride through. We
can set a trap on the far side and they’d never see it coming.”
“I think I know what you’re planning.” Turning to Grid, “Grid,
you’re gonna have to ride near the back of the pack as they ride
through there. We’ll take out the front half of the riders as
they exit with a rope across the opening. The canyon’s about a
mile in length, so maybe three quarters of the way through, you
can think you hear someone coming from behind and then push them
“I like your thinking Lucas. Okay, but I got to be getting back.
I’m on guard.”
As promised, Grid kept to the high ground, when he found the
right spot for his ambush, he waited for Lucas to draw nearer.
He knew the others were well enough behind him to not notice
what he was really doing, but finally, the sun struck his rifle
just right. A few moments later, Grid watched as the rider
halted his horse, removed hid hat, and wiped his brow. Grid took
a moment and fired, quickly counted to five and saw the rider
fall from the saddle.
“What’d I tell ya! I got him!” Grid yelled as he ran back to his
“So you did, now let’s get going,” Dahl stated.
“I want to make sure he’s dead.”
“Don’t trust yourself with a rifle?” Claysin asked.
“If it were my six-shooter, I’d never doubt myself. I’ll be
The outlaws watched as Grid rode his horse recklessly down the
embankment. He galloped the horse and was dismounted before his
horse was stopped. They watched as he turned the body over and
placed his ear to Lucas’ chest. Grid raised his fist in the air
and pumped it. He jumped back on his horse and rode to meet back
up with the outlaws.
When he arrived, Chavez asked, “Why’d you leave his horse and
“Because I want anyone, especially those in the posse, to know I
did this. I didn’t do it to rob him, I did it to see him dead,”
Grid slapped his reins on his horse’s flank and spurred him
“So, Pa, how does it feel to be dead?” Mark asked.
“No different than the last time, except…”
“You don’t have to worry about being surprised that Miss Milly
came back to take care of me,” Mark stated with a grin.
“Yeah, something like that,” Lucas stated, but Mark heard the
concern in his voice.
“Like the last time, things will work out for the best Pa.”
“Last time we were only after one outlaw. This time, there are
five,” Lucas replied.
“But there are three of us.” After thinking for a moment, “Yeah,
I guess there were more than three of us after Stedman.”
They worked hard in preparing to spring their trap, taking a
moment to quietly ask God to look out for them. It was a little
before noon as Lucas and Mark were just finishing, when they
heard the riders coming. Quickly they ran for their horses and
pulled their rifles, then took cover behind the boulders next to
the rock outcroppings.
The first three outlaws were strung off their horses while the
final two pulled their mounts to a halt. Mark and Lucas ran from
their hiding places, rifles cocked and ready. At the back, Grid
barely had both his guns drawn, when Dahl struck him over the
head. Grid was out cold before he hit the ground.
“It’s a trap” Dahl hollered, whirling his horse around with
Rigby shortly on his heels.
Mark ran to Two-Bits and gave chase.
Lucas quickly disarmed the three outlaws on the ground and then
bound them with rawhide string he’d taken from his own
saddlebag. Once Lucas had all three outlaws secured, he walked
over to check on Grid.
Carefully Lucas turned Grid over onto his back, only to find the
barrel of one of Grid’s guns held to his stomach.
“Easy there Grid,” Lucas called as he stood up and took a step
back, his arms away from his sides.
“Maule, what’s going on?” Stringfellow demanded as Grid got to
“The three of you are heading for prison,” Grid replied.
“Prison?” Chavez asked.
“Then Dahl and Rigby were right? They said you could be the
law!” Claysin proclaimed.
“They knew?” Lucas asked as he turned to look to Grid.
“Yeah, they overheard Mercer and Applegate back in Lordsburg,
but I told them that I could be an asset because of my badge.
Told them, they had no idea how many outlaws I had helped
because I wore the badge.”
“You could have told us,” Lucas stated angrily.
“Where’s Mark?” Grid asked.
“He took off after them,” Lucas replied.
“And you didn’t go with him?”
“And just what was I supposed to do? Three outlaws on the ground
and ...” Lucas demanded.
“I don’t need your help! I could have handled them.”
Grid picked his hat up from the dirt and slapped it against his
“How? You were out cold for a couple of minutes,” Lucas stated.
“Come on, let get these three back to town.”
“I’m trailing after Mark,” Grid informed Lucas as he tried to
head towards his horse.
“You’re heading to town with me,” Lucas stated as he grabbed
Grid’s arm as he staggered by.
“You can handle getting these three to town. I have to get the
two who got away! Let go of arm!” Grid’s voice held a warning.
“Or what? You can’t even walk a straight line. If Doc Burrage
says you’re okay, then you can go out after those two.”
“And Mark? He wouldn’t be out there alone it I hadn’t convinced
“Mark can handle himself,” Lucas forcefully stated. “Right now,
I’m worried about you. Look at you, Maule. You can barely stand
on your own two feet! I’m worried about him too, but none of
this would have happened if Benton and I had given Mark the
chance to face with his ghosts in the first place. It’s taken me
a long while to realize, but I have to have trust in my son to
be the man I raised him to be. Trust that he can be the Marshal
that Tom Benton saw in him so long ago. The Rangers have a
saying, ‘one riot, one Ranger’.”
“He ain’t a Ranger!” Grid yelled and stumbled, as the headache
grew in his head.
“What I’m trying to say is, he captured them once before, he can
do it again. I’ve learned my lesson. Now, you need to learn
yours, to accept help when you need it. Get in your saddle so I
can get his prisoners and the ‘mastermind’ back to town.”
As soon as Mark saw the one called Dahl strike Grid over the
head, he reacted. He raced back towards his horse, jumped in the
saddle and took chase. The good news was that nether outlaw had
hand guns to shoot at Mark. One, however, did have a rifle in
the scabbard of his saddle. Though Two-Bits was slowly gaining,
Mark’s mind raced on just how he would handle capturing both
outlaws. Mark urged the mare on faster, yet knowing each stride
took him further from those who could help him. Quickly he
looked over his shoulder in hopes of seeing evidence that his
father was somewhere behind him, following him, but Mark didn’t
see any dust cloud on the horizon. Mark’s attention returned to
the two in front of him as he pulled his rifle from his
In time, Mark pulled his horse to a stop and raised his rifle.
He said a quiet prayer for his aim to be true as he attempted to
shoot one of the outlaws from the saddle. The trigger was pulled
and Mark heard the sound of his shot echo from the hills and
then he watched as the outlaw fell from his horse. Mark returned
his rifle to its place and urged his horse on again. The few
moments it took Mark to aim and fire, gave Two-Bits the chance
to regain a little of her breath. Mark felt the mare come alive
underneath him as his wife’s horse’s stride was stronger and
faster than he’d ever realized. Soon, Mark was even with Rigby,
he leapt from his horse and tackled the rider to the ground.
The two fought and rolled, until Mark had the upper hand, and
with one swift punch to the jaw with his left hand, Mark had
knocked Rigby unconscious. As he stood, he held his wrist; he
couldn’t believe how much it ached. He went and retrieved his
hat from the ground, slapped it on his leg to get the dirt off
it, and then looked around to see where their horses were. The
two had stopped no more than a hundred yards away, both had
their heads down and as Mark approached, he could see how
lathered they were and both their flanks were heaving from the
exertion of the chase. He picked up the reins to Rigby’s horse
and then went to gather Two-Bits.
It only took a few more minutes for Rigby to regain
consciousness, but by that time, Mark had him restrained. Mark
sat in the saddle and had his rifle on trained on Rigby.
“Get in the saddle,” Mark ordered.
As they rode back in the direction they had come from, they
encountered Dahl’s horse. Mark grabbed the reins and lead the
horse back to where Dahl was sitting, cradling his arm and
“Just who the hell do you think you are?” Dahl yelled as Mark
motioned him to his feet.
“Mark McCain, U.S. Marshal. I’m the one who’s going to see that
justice is served. Now get on your horse.”
“You?!! Maule said he killed you!” Dahl replied.
“He lied,” Mark replied with a laugh.
Lucas and Grid were riding towards the setting sun when they
spotted a large dust cloud approaching them. Lucas called for a
halt and they readied their weapons. As the group of riders
neared, the leader motioned for those behind him to pull up,
while Lucas lowered his rifle and Grid returned his gun to his
“Grid Maule! I arrest you for the cold-blooded murder of Mark
McCain! I’ll see you hung!” Tom pulled his gun and hollered as
he got close enough to see who was in the group. Every man in
the posse had their guns pointed straight for Grid, who slowly
raised his hands above his head. “Hand over your badge. You’re a
disgrace! Lucas, I can’t believe you’re riding right next to him
and haven’t taken his guns! He killed Mark!”
Tom became even more infuriated as Lucas and Grid looked to each
other. Lucas wanted to laugh, but he could tell that Grid was
still smarting that Lucas had dared to talk to him as if he were
a child, instead of letting him go after Mark and the outlaws.
“It’s a long story, Tom. But I need to transfer custody of these
three outlaws to you so you can get them to jail,” Lucas stated.
“There are four outlaws who’ll be in jail as soon as we get to
“Tom, Grid didn’t kill Mark. They plotted his death to get these
three. Right now I have to head back and trail after Mark.”
“Trail after Mark?” Benton asked, still confused.
“Yes, he’s trailing two others who got away.”
“McCain?!” Benton called as Lucas raced away.
As Lucas rode away, Benton moved his horse closer to Grid, gun
still on him, and pulled his guns, “I don’t care what Lucas
thinks, but I saw you gun down a fine lawman in broad daylight.
I’ll see you hang!”
Tom and the posse motioned their prisoners forward.
Lucas returned to Gallows Crossing, where they had set their
trap, he found and started following the hoof prints that would
lead him to Mark.
It had been over three hours since Lucas had left the posse and
started his search for Mark, when he finally saw three riders
coming around an outcropping of rocks. When he was close enough
to realize it was Mark and the outlaws, he drew his rifle, and
surveyed the scene. He saw one outlaw with his hands bound, the
other had an arm hanging limply from the shoulder, then he saw
Mark, realized something had to be wrong for the way he was
holding his rifle. Lucas urged Blade forward.
“See you got your prisoners!” Lucas called as he approached.
‘You need any help?”
Lucas saw the relief in Mark’s eyes as he nodded and returned
his rifle to his scabbard. Lucas motioned the two outlaws to
continue on as he moved Blade to ride next to Mark.
“Where are Grid and the others?” Mark asked.
“We met up with the posse. Right now, I believe Grid is in Tom’s
custody. I don’t think Tom will believe you’re alive until he
sees it for himself.”
Lucas laughed as he saw Mark cringe at his comment.
“Something wrong?” Lucas asked.
“Yeah, just wondering how loud he’s going to yell when he
realizes what we did.”
Lucas started to speak, but stopped when he heard Mark say, “I
know, I know. We made our beds and we’ll have to sleep in them.”
“The way you were holding your rifle when I rode up,” Lucas
“I think I busted my wrist when I was fighting Rigby,” Mark
“We’ll get Doc Burrage to look at it when we get back to North
They were an hour from North Fork when the posse came into view.
Lucas and Mark called for their prisoners to keep moving when
they saw the posse halt. They rode direct for Tom Benton and
“Can you tell your posse to lower their weapons, Tom? I don’t
rightly feel like being killed for real,” Mark said as he halted
Two-Bits and pushed his hat back on his head and rested his
elbow on his saddle horn.
“Mark?!” was mumbled from one rider to the next, through the
Everyone was shocked and pleased to see Mark resurrected from
“Would someone tell me what’s going on here?” While waiting for
a response, Benton looked towards the two men who rode in with
Mark and Lucas. When he finally realized that Rigby and Dahl
were the riders, he yelled, "What the HELL are they doing out of
“You see Tom,” Lucas started as Grid rode up to them.
“No! NO! I don’t want to hear this right now. Damn it McCain and
Maule, just… Get these prisoners back to North Fork so they can
With that he turned he horse and rode away, the posse closely
Lucas looked to his son and Maule and gave them the look to say,
“You’re on your own,” before he set after Tom Benton.
As they returned to North Fork, Johnny Drako was riding at the
back of the group, between Mark and Grid, smiling and shaking
“What’s up?” Mark asked.
“I take it Hope knows you’re alive?”
“Yes sir, she and Pa both knew before we attempted to pull this
off,” Mark stated as he looked over towards Grid.
“Boy, I sure don’t want to be in your shoes. Either of you.”
“Yeah, he’s not said one word since he found out I was alive.
The look he gave me, I’ve never even seen Pa that mad.”
“He’ll probably go easier on you since I was the one who came up
with the idea. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say when we
get these prisoners back in jail.”
“I think the whole town will be able to hear what he has to say
to the two of you,” Drako replied.
“Maybe we could just sneak away, I’m already cringing at what’s
going to happen after we get these prisoners in jail,” Mark
“You attempt to sneak away and I’ll arrest both of you. Why do
you think I’m riding back here in all this dust with the two of
you? It ain’t for my health,” Drako said, but couldn’t keep the
smile from his face.
“You think Pa can get him to simmer down some before we reach
town?” Mark looked over to Johnny and saw him shaking his head.
“Didn’t think so. So much for side-by-side.”
Grid asked about Mark’s comment.
“Guess this will be another one of those ‘growing up times’.
Pa’s reminding me that for each action, there is a consequence.
And I’m expected accept the consequences like a man AND to
remember the lesson learned.”
“I seem to remember a story about a boy who cried wolf,” Johnny
“Meaning?” Grid asked.
“From the Aesop’s Fables, Grid,” Mark replied. “Meaning, the
next time I need help, people might not believe me when someone
I care about is killed, because twice before they’ve believed
when a member of my family was ‘claimed’ to be killed, when they
Quietly they rode on.
Tom and Johnny closed the cell doors and started to return to
the office, “Don’t go too hard on them, Tom.”
“Drako, they report to me.”
“Just remember, you’re the one telling Mark all the time about
‘thinking’ of new ideas and ways of being a Marshal, its not
just about the gun or gunning the outlaws down. You’ve preached
enough to that boy over the years and he’s seen the consequences
for people relying on the gun... I’m sure he and Maule had a
good reason for handling things the way they did.”
Johnny grinned, thinking on the uproar that was about to happen
in the next few minutes. He could still see the anger in Tom’s
face. Johnny closed the door from the office to the cell and
went to stand between Lucas and Seth, with Johnny Gibbs on the
far side of Lucas. He leaned up against the back wall in his own
Mark entered the Marshal’s office with a cast on his arm. He
pulled off his hat and walked to stand next to Grid. Tom walked
across the office and sat down in Johnny’s chair. He placed his
elbows on the chair arms and steepled his hands, looking back
and forth between Grid and Mark.
To their credit, Mark and Grid stood in front of the marshals’
desk, hats in their hands held behind their backs. They looked
straight head, neither daring to look at the other or at their
They heard the crowd outside the office talking as people looked
in and realized Mark McCain was alive. From inside the office,
the only thing that was heard was the clock ticking and Tom
For five, long minutes, Tom waited before speaking. “Okay, at
ease you two. Sit down.”
Mark and Grid had barely sat down when Tom stood up, leaned
forward, hands on the desk and yelled, “JUST WHAT THE HELL DO
YOU TWO THINK YOU WERE DOING?!”
Mark and Grid jumped at the sound of his voice overpowering the
quiet of the office. Everyone present could see the veins
popping out on his forehead and his neck. Both swallowed hard.
“Well?!” Benton demanded.
“We brought the prisoners to jail?!” Mark asked and stated.
“I KNOW THEY’RE IN JAIL!” Taking a deep breath, Tom stood
upright and walked around from behind the desk, as he approached
Grid and Mark, he saw the grins on the faces of the four men at
the back side of the office, he grinned, and then affected his
“Do you two have any idea how many rules and regulations you
broke over the past thirty-six hours?”
They both shook their heads. Tom stopped between them, his hands
on the back of the chairs they sat in.
“Too many to count! I can understand Mark McCain as a child
coming up with an idea to ‘kill off’ his Pa and two others to
get Stedman. But Mark McCain as a U.S. Marshal should have known
better! Didn’t you two think about the trauma you’d inflict on
“Yes, sir. I told them in advance,” Mark quietly stated.
“You told…!” Tom turned and looked to Lucas, who closed his eyes
and nodded. “You told your family… in advance…”
“Yes sir, but only some of them. Uncle Johnny didn’t know,
until…” Mark stopped speaking before he got his uncle into
Mark swallowed again.
“Until I sat up in the doctor’s office and told him.”
“Was this Before or After he turned MY prisoners loose?”
“Uh…” Mark tried to squawk out.
“Marshal Benton…” Gibbs tried to say.
“I’ll deal with you later,” Benton declared as he looked over
his shoulder to those behind him. “Right now I want to know what
these two have to say for themselves.”
“We did our job,” Grid sullenly replied.
“We’re sorry,” Mark answered.
“Not as much as you will be when I get through with you. Okay,
McCain, you still haven’t answered my question. Do I need to
“No sir. Uncle Johnny knew I was alive before he let the
prisoners loose,” Mark humbly stated.
“So, if you were alive AND the man I left in charge as acting
deputy knew it… Just why were MY prisoners set free?!”
“Because I asked him to,” Mark answered.
“So, you’re guilty of assisting known outlaws in escaping…”
Everyone could hear Mark gulp.
“Marshal…” Grid tried to interrupt. "It ain't his fault."
“You’ll have your chance to speak in your own defense when I’m
through with McCain,” Tom flatly stated.
“I don't need no charity by him taking the blame... Yes sir,"
Grid said as he saw the expression on Tom's face.
“So you participated in a gun fight in the middle of the street
of North Fork, placing any one of her citizens who were present
at great risk…” Tom continued to talk directly to Mark.
“No sir, I used blanks…” Grid’s voice faded as Tom slowly turned
his head to Grid and raised an eyebrow.
Then, looking back to Mark, “You scared about a dozen years off
the lives of everyone present. Set free two men accused of
attempting to murder you and your father-in-law…”
“But we got them back! We sorta knew where they were going and
Pa and I knew we could track ‘em…” Mark’s voice quieted as he
saw the look on Tom’s face.
“You got them back,” Benton sarcastically repeated. “YOU
WOULDN’T HAVE NEEDED TO GET THEM BACK IF THEY HAD STAYED PUT, IN
JAIL, IN THE FIRST PLACE!”
Tom stood up straight, walked around, and sat down at Johnny
“Just what in blazes made you two decide to pull off such a… I’m
at a loss of words for what to call what you two did. It goes
beyond reason to understand how you came up with this… this…”
Before he could finish saying what his was struggling to say,
the crowd outside the door parted to let Milly and Hope through.
Tom looked to see Milly opening the door. Mark sneaked a peak to
see who was entering.
“Mrs. McCain and Mrs. McCain,” Tom nodded his head. “This is a
formal inquest by the U.S. Marshal’s service. You presence is an
intrusion,” Tom informed them.
“We just came to see that our husbands took no harm while they
were out there doing their jobs!” Milly curtly informed Tom.
“Ladies, as you can see, one of them is perfectly fine. As for
the other, the jury is still out!” Tom answered looking directly
“Prosecutor, Judge, and Jury! Will you also be the executioner?”
Hope asked as she walked to Mark, leaned forward and gave him a
brief kiss, before she said, “Welcome back.” Hope turned and
left the office, followed shortly by Milly, who paused by the
“I expect to see both my husband and my son returned home,
shortly!” Milly declared before she left, firmly closing the
door behind them.
Mark saw the incredulous look on Benton’s face. Mark slouched in
his seat and raised his hand to his mouth to try to hide the
brief smirk he let out in hearing the tone of his wife’s voice,
as well as the tone of voice from his ma.
“McCain! You will sit straight in that chair!” Benton hollered.
“Yes sir, she has that affect on Pa too.” Mark immediately
regretted his comment, when he saw the look on Benton’s face
“Okay, now, from the beginning. And don’t leave out a single
detail. I don’t care how insignificant you think it is. I want
to know EVERYTHING!” Pausing, Tom looked to the others, “You
four are dismissed. I’ll expect your full statements tomorrow.
Tonight belongs to these two.”
Picking up their hats, and Lucas grabbing his rifle, they left
the office. Each one in turn whistled, thankful they weren’t
bearing the full wrath of Tom Benton, but regretting that they
could no longer watch as Mark and Grid squirmed.
“Come on Lucas, why don’t you get your wife, my daughter, and
the children, then come to my home,” Seth stated. “I think you
should all plan to spend the night.”
“Thanks, Seth. We’ll be there shortly. I think I saw them leave
the office and head in the direction of Johnny and Colleen’s.”
“Come on brother. I’ll help you get your family to Seth’s,”
Together the three bid good night to Johnny Drako as he headed
to his home.
The Nest Step — The Verdicts
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch