The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 120 - The Assignment
Written by Deanne Bertram

The McCains made their way to the Mallory House and entered the lobby to be greeted by Reese Randall, “Well, if isn’t all my buckaroos!” Not seeing a smile on the faces of the younger McCains he asked, “Why so glum?”

“Our other grandparents left us,” Josh answered.

“The President said they had to leave us…” answered Zach.

“Now, they didn’t leave you… Look at it this way… they’re going on a grand adventure. You should be happy, my my my, none other than the President of the United States requested none other than your Grandpa. Don’t you know how many other grandpas are out there who didn’t get chosen…”

The manner in which Reese spoke drew the young children to him.

“You know where they’re going?” asked Eli.

“Why sure I do. Won’t be but a day or so ride away by train. It’s not like the President ordered your Grandpa back to the Capital…”

Curiously, Josh asked, “The Capital?”

“Washington,” answered Myra.

“Oh, that’s a lot farther away…”replied Zach.

“Still, Grandpa won’t be at the Marshal’s Office,” stated Josh.

“And Grandma can’t bake us cookies…” Zach offered.

“No, but your PaPaw Micah will be there, and I’m sure your Mama and Grandma Milly will be baking you cookies…”

“Yeah!”

Their faces weren’t ecstatic, but the boys did enter the restaurant with a smile.

*****

Four days after Seth and Lilah’s departure, Martin, the assistant telegrapher ran into Marshal’s Office declaring outlaws had just robbed the ticket counter at train depot. Johnny Drako ordered Martin to send someone after Mark and tell him to watch the town, declaring he and Reese would secure a small posse to trail after the outlaws.

*****

Two hours out of town, the posse arrived at a fork in the road, and halted as Reese examined the horse lying on the side of the road, “His leg’s busted.” Without any hesitation, he pulled out his handgun and fired point-blank, putting the animal out of its misery.

Before he could climb back into his own saddle, another shot rang out and ricocheted against a nearby boulder.

The posse fervently ran for cover and returned fire. Ten minutes into the gunfight, Drako timed his shot, afterwards he hollered out, “Hold your fire!” upon hearing a man’s scream, and saw the man fall down the face of the outcropping.

Slowly, the posse approached the prone figure lying sprawled on the ground. With the toe of his boot, Drako turned the man over.

“Anybody recognize him?” Reese asked, returning his gun to its holster.

“Dohrn,” Johnny replied.

“Dohrn?” murmured through the posse.

“Tecumseh Dohrn, didn’t know he and his band of outlaws were operating in this part of the territory,” stated Johnny.

Looking back to the posse, Johnny called out to Nils, “Help me sling him over your saddle. You and John can back track to North Fork and take him to the Undertaker’s. Reese and I’ll continue on.”

“Just the two of you?” John Hamilton asked as Nils tied the dead outlaw to his saddle.

“It would be better that way; two can sneak in quieter than four. Tell Lou I’ll wire when I can.”

“But this is Dohrn’s gang!” Nils declared, his plea ignored, as Johnny and Reese rode away.

*****

Several days later, the people of North Fork stood and stared as a single rider rode into town, each wondering, ‘Was this the man?’

The rider, dressed in black, rode through the middle of Main Street, before stopping in front of Sweeney’s; where he dismounted his horse and tied him to the hitching rail. The stranger stepped to the boardwalk, paused, and looked up and down the street, before he sauntered into the saloon.

*****

“Marshal, he’s here!” young Corey Hannebury yelled out as he ran into the Marshal’s Office.

“Who’s here?” asked Mark as he finished spooning sugar into the cup of coffee he’d poured for himself.

“Tecumseh Dohrn’s brother.”

“Are you sure?” asked Mark.

“Cain’t be nobody else.”

“Is he causing any trouble?”

“No, but just him being here. I know he’s gunning for the Marshal.”

“Corey, you don’t know that.”

“But Marshal…”

“Go back home, Cory,” stated Mark with a stern voice.

Mark watched as Corey left the office, complaining that no one took him seriously. Nevertheless, Mark did take him seriously, he knew of Hallelujah Dohrn’s reputation; how he was fast with a gun and how he always managed to escape from the custody of too many lawmen, including the U.S. Marshal Service. Mark decided he wouldn’t go courting trouble, if Dohrn was there seeking vengeance on his brother, ‘let him come to me’.

*****

Later that afternoon, Mark left the Marshal’s Office to walk the town, double clutching his rifle in his right hand as he asked God to look out for North Fork. With nothing out of the ordinary found, Mark decided to eat his supper at the café, across the street from the office.

Hearing “MARSHAL!” caused Mark to stop and slowly turn around, “Can I help you?” he asked of the man pushing the swinging doors open from Sweeney’s.

“Help me? You want to help me? If you wanted to help me you wouldn’t have killed my brother,” the man yelled.

“Killed your brother, just who was your brother?” asked Mark, stalling.

“My brother was Tecumseh Dohrn!”

“And you are?”

“Hallelujah Dohrn,” the man answered. He stood squared and determined.

“Then you should know your brother was killed after firing upon the posse that was after him for committing a robbery,” Mark replied, as he raised the barrel of his rifle and clasped it with his left hand.

“That’s what he does,” sneered the man.

“And just to set the record straight, I didn’t kill him.”

“You’re the marshal; I heard tell it was the marshal who pulled the trigger.”

“Then you’ve not paid attention to my badge, I’m a U.S. Marshal, this town’s marshal is out tracking the other three who rode with your brother.”

“A chicken wearing a badge… You shoot a man in the back, but when it comes to facing a man, you turn coward by blaming someone else?”

“Your brother wasn’t shot in the back. You can ask the undertaker yourself.”

“Coward!!” yelled the Hallelujah.

“I’m standing here in front of you aren’t I? I wouldn’t call that being coward,” replied Mark, watching the man’s right hand as he held it calmly over the butt of his still holstered handgun, his left hand held his coat tail behind his back. “Besides, ask anyone in this town how many marshals she boasts.”

All along the boardwalk, the people of North Fork ran from the street, seeking shelter inside the buildings, out of harm’s way from any stray bullet, yet… they couldn’t stop watching the events unfold, by watching out the windows, or peeking from around the doorframes.

“Then why ain’t you out after them too?” Hallelujah asked.

“I wasn’t in town when the robbery occurred. The posse was already gone when I was requested back to town.”

Mark watched the man as he continued to stand in the street.

Dohrn moved his hand, Mark reacted by yelling, “Don’t do it!” and somersaulted sideways. As he came to a kneeling position he shouldered his rifle, but he didn’t fire; Mark saw something in Dohrn’s face, that, and he had barely cleared his gun out of his holster. Allowing his gun to slip back into its holster, Dohrn raised his arms.

After Mark stood and walked over to the outlaw, he took the man’s gun, Dohrn asked. “Why didn’t you come looking for me when I got here?”

“No sense courting trouble,” replied Mark.

“You didn’t fire when I called you out.”

“I didn’t take it as you calling me out.”

“But you knew who I was…even before I told you. No doubt you know my reputation.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of you,” Mark replied, his rifle still aimed at Dohrn, confused at how he could have gotten such an easy drop on the outlaw.

“We need to talk…” Dohrn quietly spoke; he turned and walked to the Marshal’s Office.

*****

The citizens of North Fork talked amongst themselves as to what they witnessed; one of their own bested a gunfighter with a fast reputation. North Fork had bragging rights that two of her own bested Buffalo Bill and matched Annie Oakley shot for shot, in a shooting match, but that was for show. This was life or death bragging rights for the citizens of North Fork. News spread like wildfire through the town and to the outlying ranches; and for those who hadn’t seen it for themselves they shook their heads in disbelief upon hearing the news. Later that night, Sweeney’s would be full of activity as the encounter was retold and embellished.

*****

Upon shutting the office door, Mark heard Dohrn ask, “How’d your marshal get the drop on my brother?”

“He didn’t. Your brother’s gun misfired…” Mark honestly answered, but still, he grew wary that Dohrn was attempting to distract him.

“Misfired?”

“The gun’s over at our gunsmith’s shop. He’s trying to figure out what happened. Believe me, had your brother’s gun not ‘exploded’ our marshal or any member of the posse would have been seriously wounded, if not dead.”

Still trying to figure out the man’s motive, Mark asked, “Just what happened out in the street? I know your reputation; I’m good, but not that good…” Mark motioned the outlaw to the cell.

“Let me start by saying I’m pleased to finally get to meet The Lawman,” stated Dohrn as he complied with Mark and walked to the cell. “Maybe this will clear up some of your confusion.”

“Please to meet me?” an even more confused Mark asked.

Dohrn set his foot to the bunk and raised his pant leg. Mark elevated his rifle, fearing the man was pulling a hidden weapon. Dohrn retrieved an object from his boot, and with his hand out flat, he handed it to Mark.

“Special Agent, Secret Service?” incredulously asked Mark as he returned the badge to Dohrn.

“Yeah, my cover gets help here and there by having Tecumseh as my brother.”

“Having an outlaw for a brother… helps you…as a lawman? Seems to me it would make people more suspicious of you. I don’t get it…” a confused Mark spoke. “Out on the street…”

“You might call it a test… to see if I could trust you.”

“A test…to trust me?” Mark retorted angrily. “I don’t appreciate strangers coming into my town, calling me out, and…and…”

Dohrn didn’t let Mark finish his statement, “Tom Benton informed me you were a different kind of lawman. I’ve run into too many bad lawmen in my day. But dang, if I didn’t figure you out wrong,” stated Dohrn.

“Why the charade? Why not come to me right away?” asked Mark. “Especially if Benton…”

“Well, I’ve created a ‘reputation’ and most folks would expect me to come after the lawman that killed my brother; so I kind of had to play my part.”

“Play your part! I could have killed you!”

“It was a chance I had to take, to trust what Benton had to say about you.”

“Just what did Tom have to say about me?” asked Mark.

“That you’d prefer to see me in a cell than in a pine box; you don’t take for granted the opportunity to kill a man just because you wear a badge.”

“Tom had a lot to do with my training… But I still don’t understand, why?”

“McCain, I’m on a case and it’s a case that too many Secret Service men have struggled to crack.”

In an attempt to let go of his frustration at the turn of events, Mark set his rifle on his desk and walked over to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“Listen, I’m sorry about your brother, he was buried two days ago in our cemetery on the edge of town.”

“I knew he’d meet a rotten end, but still… I’ll see to it that your undertaker is paid for his services.” After accepting a cup of coffee Mark handed him, Dohrn continued, “I can understand you getting the drop on me, but it doesn’t explain your marshal getting the drop on my brother.”

“From what I was told when they brought his body to town, his gun either jammed or misfired…” replied Mark.

“He trusted his gun like no other, I can’t see his gun jamming or misfiring…”

“Angus, our gunsmith, is examining it. They found it next to his body after he died. He did manage to get off a couple of shots at the posse. Nils, our blacksmith, stated there was plenty of time for him to get off more shots and there were still three bullets in the chamber and plenty in his holster.”

“I’ve heard rumblings of bad ammunition. Similar to what happened with the Navajo’s, crooks sold them rifles with bad ammunition…” mused Dohrn.

“But the Navajos aren’t near hear, they’re in Arizona territory.” Scratching his head Mark stated, “I still don’t understand what brings an agent of the Secret Service to North Fork… I mean… if you’ve talked with Benton, why didn’t he alert me?”

“Marshal, I have a reputation to keep up, but now that Tecumseh is dead… Listen, in the past, whenever my brother and his gang pull a robbery, they don’t get away with all the money…at least that’s the way it first appears.”

“You said at first. They come back after the law’s been drawn away from town and hit the bank?” Mark inquired, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of his stomach.

“Nah, just that upon closer examination of the remaining money, the outlaws did get away with everything, the money that was left behind was…”

“Counterfeit.”

“You got it,” Dohrn stated.

“It still doesn’t make sense, your allowing people to think you’re an outlaw…”

“I guess it wouldn’t but… years ago, my brother and his gang pulled a robbery in our own home town. I saw my folks and their friends struggle in the aftermath. I swore I’d get my brother and make him pay. The only agency that would accept me was the Secret Service. It took a while for me to earn the trust of my superiors and… well… when my first case started going south and… We just kinda decided to let my reputation play out. It worked, I got the outlaws and the reputation… and others get the credit.”

“And every time you’ve escaped…”

“It’s been without any bloodshed and with the full cooperation of the law.”

“And just how do I cooperate?”

“I need to resolve this counterfeit case; I’m the closest any one has ever gotten. If I don’t crack it, our whole fiduciary system will be in peril, if people won’t trust the banks.”

“I’ve read in the papers about account holders demanding their money back from banks, back East,” responded Mark.

“Yeah, and the banks can’t do that. The money they keep on account, they pay the depositor interest in order to allow them to use that money to make loans for mortgages and stuff, but not all of the money that is deposited is actually kept in that particular bank. I’ve seen a couple of runs on banks in small towns… It ain’t pretty.”

“So, how can I help you?” asked Mark.

“You get to help me escape tonight.”

“You know, the last time I helped an outlaw escape from jail, Tom Benton almost had my head, and I was suspended for a two weeks.”

“You were lucky it was a suspension. He can be a bear.”

Mark laughed at Dohrn’s description of Tom Benton, remembering him roaring as he and Grid sat in their chairs, “But I do have one problem with helping you escape… How do you get away?”

“We could stage a gunfight, after you bring me my supper. Make it like I got the drop on you.”

“No one would believe your getting the drop on me.”

“We could fake your death for a few days,” Hallelujah suggested.

“Right now, this town wouldn’t accept my death and eventual resurrection. They’d bury me alive;” Mark started to smile. “I’ve burned that bridge one too many times.”

“I take you with me.”

“As a hostage?”

“You got any better idea?”

“Yeah, I force you to lead me to your brother’s gang… Your reputation and all… And seeing as how I bested you out on the street,” Mark stated with humor in his voice.

“That’s no fun…” teased Dohrn.

“With your brother dead, maybe now would be the right time to come in out of the cold,” suggested Mark.

“What do you mean?”

“Dohrn, it can’t be fun having to watch over your shoulder every step you take, even if it is in the line of duty. And, if your parents are alive, I’m sure they’d appreciate knowing the truth… That one of their sons was raised right…”

Dohrn finally gave into Mark’s idea.

*****

The sun was setting when Mark slipped out of the Marshal’s Office and made his way to John Hamilton’s residence. After obtaining more information about the direction Drako and Randall took, he explained he was forcing Dohrn to take him to the outlaw gang. He asked John to wait until morning to get word to Micah and to get a note to Hope and Lucas.

As Mark jogged away from his home, John opened and read the note:

“Hope/Pa, Don’t have time to explain, working with an Agent from the Secret Service. Help Micah cover North Fork until Johnny or Reese return. Will wire, when I can. Mark”

“Secret Service?” John asked as he looked in the direction Mark ran.

Deciding not to wait until morning, John blew out the lantern, closed the door behind him, and headed to the barn behind his home to saddle his horse and ride to the McCain Ranch.

*****

Under cover of darkness, horses saddled and loaded with provisions, Mark and Dohrn left town.

“Our posse left here three days ago, how do you propose we track the gang?” asked Mark.

“I know where they might be heading… And the information your banker gave you, I’m positive we can catch and apprehend them.”

*****

John knocked on the front door to Lucas and Milly’s home; he looked back the way he came as he waited.

“John?” asked a sleepy Lucas.

“I’m sorry, but this couldn’t wait until morning…” he handed Lucas the note and followed him into the home.

“Secret Service?” Lucas asked as he turned from reading the note by the lantern on the front table.

“Lucas, he was almost in gunfight this afternoon. Hallelujah Dohrn showed up in town, he called Mark out and Mark got the drop on him. A few hours later, Mark’s at my home, asking me to get that note to you.”

“And it’s just the two of them?” asked Lucas.

“As far as I know. Lucas, he didn’t want me to inform Micah or you until morning. There’s no one in the Marshal’s Office…”

“Let me tell Milly and Hope, I’ll be in town within the hour. Can you keep an eye on things until I get there?”

“Sure Lucas, anything you need. But Mark…”

“I have to trust him…” Lucas stated as he worriedly ran his fingers through his hair.

*****

The sun rose over North Fork when Lucas opened the door to the Marshal’s Office and stepped out to see Johnny Drako and Reese Randall return with three outlaws, two alive and one draped over the saddle of a horse.

“Lucas, what are you doing in town?” Drako called out.

“Standing in for Mark, he… headed out overnight after those three…” Lucas answered.

“He what?” Randall asked.

“Reese, let’s get these two inside, Lucas, will you take the other over to the undertakers. I’ll expect to hear all about what happened while I was gone… when you return.”

*****

John Hamilton exited the bank as Lucas strode by, “Lucas? Is Johnny back?”

“Yeah, and he’s wanting to know what happened while he was gone,” answered Lucas.

“Guess I should tag along.”

*****

With the door to the cell area closed, John Hamilton tried to explain to the others what transpired the previous day, leading up to his taking the note to Lucas.

“Mark left with Tecumseh Dohrn’s brother, and he claims… It doesn’t make any sense…”

“Nothing’s made sense ever since the depot was robbed…” John Hamilton stated, scratching behind his ear.

“Hallelujah Dohrn has almost as bad a reputation as his brother does… did, and he’s managed to escape custody… And now he’s claiming to be an agent of the Secret Service?!” Drako stated as he slammed his fist down on his desk.

“Johnny,” Lucas started to say. “We have to trust Mark and that he knows what he’s doing. I’m sure if there were any doubt in Mark’s mind that this was a trap, he…”

“He’d what?” dared Drako.

*****

Twenty-four hours had elapsed since Dohrn and Mark rode out of North Fork and even with darkness surrounding them, they continued to ride choosing their path with caution, until they spotted a campfire nearby.

“How do you know that’s not a trap by your brother’s gang?” asked Mark restraining Rainmaker from following Dohrn’s horse.

“Too quiet, sides, you really think they’d have a campfire and still be this close to North Fork?”

*****

Since the new moon didn’t afford Mark any light to illuminate the expression on his companion’s face, he reached for his rifle, praying he hadn’t jumped in feet first into more trouble than he could handle.

From within the camp they heard a graveled voice call out, “If you’re gonna come in, come in, otherwise ride on and quit disturbing my peace!”

“Well, I’ll be,” declared Dohrn as they maneuvered their horses into the light of the campfire.

“Long time, Hallelujah…” the man paused, his eyes focused on Mark’s badge.

“Mark, I’d like to introduce you to J.B. Books,” Dohrn introduced.

“John Bernard Books?” inquired Mark, holding his rifle a little tighter on his thigh.

“You have a problem with my name, boy?” the older man asked in return.

The man standing before him was an imposing figure, tall and burly, yet Mark was sure that when necessary this man could move fast. His face spoke of the rough life he lived; his eyes appearing to pierce through a man, but for a brief moment, Mark saw something else in the man’s demeanor.

“No sir, just inquiring if you were THE John Bernard Books, the gunfighter,” answered Mark.

Using his hand holding his coffee cup, the man pointed towards Mark and said, “Then you’d be Mark McCain, the Lawman,” his other hand rested on his holstered gun.

“How’d…?” asked Mark.

“Ain’t too many lawmen made a name for themselves carrying a rifle, I know your reputation. Son of the Rifleman, if I remember, another ‘gunfighter’.” The tone of the man’s voice indicated he didn’t appreciate the insinuation Mark made in using the work ‘gunfighter’.

“My Pa only killed when he was given no other choice…” Mark defended.

“And I never killed nobody who didn’t need killin’.” The tone of the man’s voice was firm and calculating. “Sometimes a body can choose their life, other times, life chooses them. Don’t call me a gunfighter just because I use this.” The man patted the holster holding his Colt single-action army revolver. “I’d prefer never to have to use it again, but I ain’t gonna give no man the chance to kill me, unless they damn well prove they’re better ‘an me. Every man has a constitutional right to protect themselves, and that includes me.”

Books turned around and walked to his bedroll, “If you care to sheath your rifle, you can tie your horses over there with mine, otherwise, you’ll have to shoot me in the back.”

Mark slipped his rifle into its scabbard before he climbed down from his saddle, “Fairly gutsy move, turning your back on me.”

“Like I said, I know your reputation and… you’re riding with him.”

The big man labored to sit down and stretch out his legs, before leaning back against his upturned saddle, near the fire. He grimaced after he drank his coffee, threw out the contents of his cup, and poured himself another. Setting the cup aside, Books removed his gun belt and placed it within easy reach.

“You two working together…?” queried Mark, trying to comprehend the relationship between a gunfighter and an agent of the Secret Service, if he really was.

“He’s helped my cover on occasion,” Dohrn replied.

“Occasion! I’ve saved your sorry ass any number of times,” gruffed Books. “You can help yourself to some coffee… I’ll warn you I don’t make the best pot.”

“So was this little rendezvous planned or circumstantial?” asked Mark.

“Kind of both,” Dohrn answered as he handed a tin cup to Mark who declined.

“Little rude there,” Books offered.

“You yourself said you don’t make the best pot…” Mark answered apologetically.

“I’ll give you that one, boy,” laughed Books. “What causes a U.S. Marshal to team up with the Secret Service? Or is it the other way around?” asked Books.

“TrackingTecumseh’s gang,” Dohrn answered.

“Sorry, I heard tell he’d been killed. But how does teaming up McCain get you in with Tecumseh’s gang?”

“You know as well as I do, they need to be brought to justice and we need to destroy those plates. If that money continues to get passed as real, it can undermine the faith the American people have placed in their financial institutions.” Looking at Books doubting expression, Dohrn continued, “Well, I’m trying to figure that out as we trail them”

“Damn you Hallelujah, I’ve warned you about riding in blind…”

“This is the closest I’ve ever come to them. I had to act fast and the only way for me to get into jail was to call McCain out,” Dohrn answered.

“And you’re still alive? Living dangerously,” Books commented.

“J.B., I’ve still a reputation to protect… But I had to find some way to gain Mark’s confidence so I could see that money.”

“I hate to upstage you, but you’re gonna have to leave that trail,” commented Books.

“Why?” inquired Mark. “He’s the perfect cover to meet up with the gang and take them into custody.”

“One Agent and One Marshal…. It will never happen. Hallelujah, I’ve heard rumors that take precedence over counterfeiters, have you heard anything of bad ammunition making its way into the territory.”

“Bad ammunition? Is it that bad?” Dohrn asked.

“Dohrn, your brother’s gun…” Mark stated.

“Yeah, it’s that bad if I know about it. Right now, the Indians are still on their reservations. But the first time a brave gets killed while hunting… It’ll set them off sure as the sun rises in the East.”

“If you’ve heard about the ammunition, have you heard who or where?” Mark couldn’t help but ask.

“Down near the border. Boy, you best get rid of that badge you’re wearing. I don’t care to get shot or shot at because some fool mistakes this as a posse. We need to get in quiet and out even quieter.”

“And the bad ammunition?” asked Mark.

“If it is bad and it makes its way to any of the tribes, it could cause them to bolt from the reservation. Worse yet, if any of that ammunition makes its way into civilian hands, they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves.”

“Who would be selling guns and ammunition to the Indians?” asked Mark.

“I’ve heard inklings that another tribe might be relocated out this way. Not sure which tribe, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of them Indian agents pulling favors in Washington aren’t setting two tribes against each other, or against the settlers...” stated Books.

“Why would they put settlers at risk?” asked Mark.

“Pit two tribes against the other, let them fight it out and hope they wipe the other out. Or, if the Indians start an uprising against the settlers, the government would be forced to send in the Army and relocate the tribe or tribes to new reservations; possibly outside the swamplands in Florida. Either way, the cattle barons of the territory swoop in and claim back their land,” explained Books.

“The only reservation nearby is Fort Wingate, and I know the man in charge won’t tolerate any black marketing,” commented Mark.

“One man, out this far, it’s a rarity to find an honest commander at the posts now a days. Any more they’re all looking to make money on the side to look the other way, realizing the government ain’t paying them enough to risk their lives. There’re plenty of cattlemen or land grabbers willing to pay top dollar to stir up trouble and pay even more for the army to look the other way,” scorned Books.

“Yeah, but not at Fort Wingate, Colonel Lane is above reproach,” declared Mark, daring Books to go against him.

“Don’t know the man, but he must be on someone’s blacklist to be posted at that hell-hole,” answered Dohrn.

“He was posted there to restore order to the command. Like I said, no one can say anything against his reputation,” Mark factually stated.

“You’re so sure? That’s how most of them work. Get the law to trust them, and the law looks the other way…” Books answered.

“Not Lane, and not on my watch,” Mark boldly declared.

“And just how sure are you? Care to risk your life on one man?” Books asked, unbelieving the gullibility of the young Marshal.

“I’ve done it before…he’s my father-in-law.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Just that I’ve seen too many commanders who choose to look the other way, all to line their own greedy pockets or make a name for themselves,” Books stated as an apology. “I suggest you get rid of your badge and get some sleep. And Hallelujah, don’t get to preaching in the morning, I wake up mean and get meaner when I hear any preaching.”

Books pulled his hat down over his eyes, pulled the sheet from his bedroll over his shoulder, and within ten minutes was snoring load enough to wake the dead.

“He always that hospitable?” asked Mark.

“Don’t let his demeanor fool you. He’s a pussy cat once you really get to know him.”

“Just like Tom Benton is a bear?” asked Mark, raising an eyebrow.

“Yep.”

Warily, Mark laid down in his bedroll, his mind actively replaying the last thirty-six hours.

The Next Step — Parts Unknown

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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