The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step...
Chapter 113 - The Train
Written by Deanne Bertram

During Johnny’s and Seth’s vacations, Mark temporarily deputized Nils to help Micah in town while he went out to help Lucas and Jake with the construction of the tub room addition to Lucas and Milly’s home. With Johnny Gibbs help, it wasn’t necessary for Mark to be there all four days, just the first day when they were framing the floor, the walls, and the roof.

Once they had finished as much as they could at Lucas’, Nils had other obligations so, Mark temporarily deputized his Uncle Johnny to help Micah, while they worked to make the necessary modifications at Hope and Mark’s home, to the rooms that had once been Gwen’s.

After finishing up for the day; and Jake had left for home, Lucas stated, “It’s quite sudden notice for Reverend McCafferty and Maggie to have to return east.”

“Well, I guess when your superiors order you back, you have to go. Though it does seem strange they would send word of his recall with the replacement parson. I can’t imagine why they would recall him,” commented Mark. “I feel for Jake, his parents traveling east and Gwen having difficulties this late in her pregnancy.”

“I didn’t know she was having difficulties?” queried Lucas

“Nothing bad, just signs of a possible early labor. Thadd wants someone around all the time, I’m happy we’re staying in town so Hope can be there to help Hattie at their place, while Jake is here.”

“If that’s the situation, why did you insist on Jake being out here helping us, he should be home with his wife,” Lucas admonished his son.

“I didn’t insist, Gwen did; Jake’s doing nothing but hovering over her all the time and it makes her scared that something bad is going to happen.”

“Oh,” Lucas replied, remembering how nervous he had been as it neared time for each one of his children to be born.

*****

Several days later Mark and Micah were sitting, leaned back in the chairs, outside the Marshal’s Office; watching as the activity along the street slowed down and listening to the piano music coming from Sweeney’s.

“That Thelma sure has a sweet sounding voice,” commented Micah.

“Almost as pleasant to listen to as Hope’s singing.”

“I think you’re partial to your wife.”

“You think?” teased Mark.

“So, only a few more days until North Fork’s regular lawmen return,” stated Micah, giving a brief sigh afterwards.

Mark heard the sorrow in his voice, “Micah, you’re a member of North Fork’s regular lawmen. Johnny pinned that badge on your shirt earlier this year, or have you forgotten?”

“I haven’t forgotten. I’ve kind of enjoyed being in the office every day. I didn’t realize how much I missed this job, thought I was doing right in stepping down to let you and Johnny handle things…”

“With the training you gave us, I think we’ve done a pretty fair job.” Mark teasingly asked, “You think you can handle the office while I walk the town?”

“You’ve asked me that question every night since Johnny and Seth left. If you don’t know the answer by now…” Micah teased back. “Maybe that badge doesn’t belong on your shirt.”

Mark smiled as he stood and reached for his rifle, “I’ll be back in a little while.”

Night had settled over North Fork while Mark walked the town; most businesses had already closed for the day. Mark started to run along the boardwalk when heard a disturbance at Sweeney’s. Pausing to look through the window, assessing the situation, “Just a drunk,” Mark mused to himself, before he entered the swinging doors.

Mark’s attention focused on the troublemaker that he didn’t see the man reaching from behind to take his rifle from his grasp.

“Now Pogues!” the man yelled while yanking Mark’s rifle from his hand, and drawing Mark’s attention to behind him, away from the ‘drunk’.

The drunk turned while drawing his weapon and aimed it towards Mark, as he pulled the trigger a patron trying to get out of the way bumped into the man causing his bullet to change its trajectory. Mark felt the burn across his temple and his vision blurred; he staggered and reached out his hand to steady himself, but his weight flipped the table, causing all the money, cards, and drinks to spill to the floor. Mark attempted to rise to his feet; however, unconsciousness slowly forced him back down to the floor.

Having heard the gunshot, Micah grabbed his shotgun and ran to the saloon. Through the window, he didn’t recognize anyone in the saloon, except for Sweeney, Thelma, a salesman who had come in on the train several days before, and the crumpled form of Mark lying on the floor. Realizing it would be foolhardy for him to take on the others alone, Micah ran for the livery, saddled his horse, and rode for the McCain Ranch.

*****

Behind the bar, Sweeney attempted to strengthen his resolve, too many times before he’d been used as a pawn, like when those seven broke from the prison transfer wagon. Daring to glance at the shelf under the bar, Sweeney took comfort that he knew how to use the shotgun, ‘Don’t have to be accurate, just aim in their direction,’ Mark had said when he was teaching him how to use the weapon. ‘Best to wait to see what this is all about, before I decide when to act,’ Sweeney thought to himself. His confidence was bolstered from earlier in the summer, even though the man had been a lawman, Sweeney hadn’t known that fact when he pulled his shotgun and held the man until Marshal Drako arrived.

The hostess at the saloon, Thelma, attempted to check on Mark.

“LEAVE HIM!” a man ordered.

Sweeney’s attention turned to the man, dressed in all black; he was about as tall as Lucas, but heavier set, as he pushed his chair back and stood. The scar down the man’s face indicated the rough life he lived; the angry looking scar started well above the man’s left eyebrow, disappeared behind an eye patch, continued down his cheek, and under his chin.

“He could be bleeding to death! Do you want his death on your hands?” Thelma pleaded.

“Won’t be the first lawman, won’t be the last. Barkeep, when’s the evening train due through here?” the man demanded.

“It don’t exactly know,” Sweeney replied.

“You don’t know?!” Pogues reached over the bar, grabbed Sweeney, and pulled him half way over the bar. “What do you mean you don’t know?!”

“That’s just the way of it. The train is known for being delayed. We have trains that come through from all parts of the territory, and ain’t one of them ever exactly on time.”

“Damn it!” cursed the man.

“Sheddron, what do we do now?” asked Pogues of the man dressed in black.

“Randler, go to the parsonage and get Riley,” ordered Sheddron.

*****

An exhausted and winded Micah arrived at the home of Milly and Lucas McCain. Unable to catch his breath and grabbing at his chest, he struggled to climb the two steps and to pound on the door to their home; yelling “Lucas!” as best he could. When Lucas answered, Micah barely had the strength or breath to whisper, “Lucas… boy… trouble…saloon” before he collapsed into Lucas’ arms.

Lucas and Milly carried Micah into their home and to their bedroom. Gently they placed him on their bed, Lucas untied Micah’s string tie and unbuttoned his shirt, while Milly went to the kitchen to fill a bowl full of water and grab a towel. Micah struggled to catch his breath.

“Here Lucas, place this wet towel across his forehead,” Milly suggested as she pulled off Micah’s boots. “Did he say anything before he collapsed?”

“Something about trouble at the saloon,” a worried Lucas replied.

“Lucas, go saddle Blade and get to town. If what ever happened forced Micah to come all the way out here…Mark must need your help…”

“Mama, Pa?” Little Ted called as he stood at the bedroom doorway, wiping sleep from his eyes.

“Ted, go back to bed,” Milly called as she rinsed out the towel and replaced it to Micah’s forehead.

Micah groaned and continued to grab at his chest.

“Papa Lucas?” Robbie called, standing behind Little Ted.

“Ted, Robbie, please, do as we say.” Lucas maneuvered the boys out of the doorway so he could get to the front room. “Milly, I’ll send Doc out as soon as I can.”

Grabbing his jacket, rifle, and hat, Lucas headed to the barn and to North Fork.

*****

By the time Micah had reached the home of Mark’s parents, Mark was regaining consciousness at the saloon. Slowly he lifted himself to his hands and knees; without any warning, the man named Pogues struck the back of his head, using the butt of Mark’s rifle. Thelma screamed when she saw Mark crumple to the floor again. Sweeney cursed the situation, but knew he still had to bide his time before he could act - he knew he could, but not one against this many.

*****

Micah felt himself being carried and heard the man’s and the woman’s voices, but he couldn’t understand what they were saying. Soon, he felt a soft bed underneath his body, but even that comfort wouldn’t take away the tightness he felt across his chest, nor the pain shooting down his left arm.

He wanted to yell for whoever was removing his boots to leave them, but he couldn’t get the words out. He tried swatting the hands of whoever was opening the collar of his shirt, but his hands wouldn’t obey his mind, but their actions allowed a little bit of the pressure to ease.

The man and the woman continue to talk in muffled voices, all he wanted to do was sleep, but the voices wouldn’t let him. The cool rag placed across his forehead only took his mind off his pain for a moment.

In time, he no longer heard the man’s voice, just the woman’s and other voices, voices of small… angels…

“Papaw, we’re here.”

“Papaw, don’t make Mama cry.”

“Micah, please drink this,” he somewhat heard as his head was lifted from the pillow.

He felt the coolness of the glass placed to his lips, the aroma smelled… ‘Brandy, just what a body needs,’ Micah thought to himself as he sipped the drink.

Another sharp pain caused him to grab at his chest and he couldn’t help the groan he let out.

“Easy Micah,” the woman’s voice stated. “Just another sip or two, please…”

“Papaw!” cried the angels.

*****

Quietly, Lucas slipped into town and headed to the clinic; not seeing any lanterns lit, Lucas turned and headed to the Burrages’ home.

“Lucas? Is everything okay at the ranch?” Thadd asked as he opened the door and saw a worried Lucas standing there.

“Micah’s out there. Doc, he rode out because there’s trouble in town, he collapsed in my arms; clutching at his chest. I need you ride out to the ranch. Milly is caring for him in our bedroom.”

“Let me get dressed, but what of the trouble in town?”

“I don’t know. All Micah said was ‘trouble… saloon’. I’m heading there now.”

“I’ll get my horse saddled…”

“Thadd, take Blade. I don’t want you anywhere close to the saloon.”

The two men went their separate ways.

*****

“You’re the prettiest girl in the Montana Territory,” Micah heard himself saying.

“Now Micah, you know that’s not true,” replied the woman dressed in a pretty floral dress, her light colored hair pulled back into a pony tail, the sun’s rays highlighted the color.

“Elizabeth…” Micah whispered.

“I’m here Micah.”

“Prettiest girl.”

“Maybe.”

“I miss you.”

“I know you do, but… you’re going to have to miss me for a while longer.”

“No…”

“Micah, now is not your time… You’ve a lovely wife in Hattie and her eyes shouldn’t cry tears for you. And the children…”

“The children…

“The children who call you Grandpa. I smile every time I hear them call you Papaw. I’m glad you finally have a family. I’ll keep watch over you. I’ll be here for you, when it’s your time. I love you, always.”

A glass was pressed to his lips again and he sipped the brandy.

*****

Milly heard Micah say the name, Elizabeth.

“Micah, it’s me, Milly.”

“Prettiest girl,” stated Micah.

“Micah, don’t let Hattie catch you saying that to me,” Milly replied.

Milly grew curious with who Elizabeth was, when she heard Micah say, “I miss you.” She wondered why he said ‘No’, did he know she was going to give him more brandy?

“Don’t worry about the children seeing you drink this brandy,” Milly stated.

*****

Lucas pulled back around the corner upon hearing the sounds of boots running along the boardwalk. As the footfalls quieted, Lucas peeked around the corner and saw two men enter Sweeney’s. Carefully he followed, doing his best to make sure no one saw him.

Slowly Lucas looked through the window to assess the situation, when he pulled back; John Hamilton was at his side, rifle at the ready.

“I was taking a walk when I saw you making your way here, what’s up, Lucas?”

“Not exactly sure, except its trouble. Micah’s out at our place, I sent Doc out to check on him. Sweeney’s behind the counter, Mark is crumpled on the floor next to an upturned table, and Thelma it at the far end of the bar.”

“Do you recognize anyone?”

“Besides our people? Only the substitute parson, he and another man ran inside a few minutes ago,” Luca answered.

“The parson? What’s the parson doing in there?”

“Lucas,” Nils quietly called as he stood at the corner on the other side of the saloon doors, revolver in his hand.

Lucas held up his hand to indicate for Nils to stay put. Nils nodded in reply.

*****

“That’s right Milly, brandy was an excellent idea,” Thadd stated as he placed the stethoscope to his ears and placed the other end to Micah’s chest. “Irregular heartbeat…”

Reaching for his medical bag, Thadd pulled out a small vial and removed the lid, “Milly a glass of water please,” he dispensed two tablets into his hand.

Placing the two tablets into Micah’s mouth, Thadd took the glass of water from Milly, lifted Micah’s head, and held the glass to Micah’s lips.

“Micah, drink this. You have to swallow the pills I placed in your mouth.”

Pleased to see Micah obey his instructions, Thadd continued to coax Micah to drink the rest of the water. He handed the glass back to Milly and allowed Micah to rest his head back on the pillow.

“Doc, what were those pills?” asked Milly.

“Glyceryl trinitrate, it will help relax the muscle spasm his heart is experiencing.”

“Muscle spasm?”

“Milly, the heart is a muscle, similar to the muscles in your arms or legs, only it beats to keep the human body alive. Micah experienced a heart attack, an irregular beating of his heart. You helped buy him some time until I could get here by giving him that brandy. The brandy helped to warm and relax the body. Had you not done as you did, his heart muscle would have seized, and he very well could have died.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“For now, but the next twenty-four hours will be critical. We need to keep him calm…to prevent another onset.”

*****

Those outside couldn’t hear the discussion happening inside the saloon.

“Why the hell did you have to stir up trouble?” Parson Riley asked.

“The boys just wanted to let off a little steam,” Sheddron replied.

“A little steam… Do you know what you’ve done? I presume that’s the marshal over there?” Riley motioned with a tilt of his head, “What of the deputy? Anyone keeping tabs on him? Why couldn’t you wait until after the train arrived?”

“The barkeep said the train might not get here tonight,” responded Pogues.

“Was that before or after you assaulted the marshal?” asked Riley.

“After I shot him,” the man answered, proud of what he had done.

“Have you checked to see if he is dead? Tooey, check on him,” ordered Riley.

A tall Indian, who had been standing near the corner of the bar, dressed in buckskin, walked over and knelt next to Mark’s body. He grabbed Mark by the hair on the back of his head, lifted him from the floor, heard Mark moan, and dropped him.

“Him still breathing,” Tooey answered, standing back to his feet.

“Damn it!” muttered Riley.

“Then let me kill him,” Pogues’ eyes gleamed at the thought of killing a marshal.

“I’m not cursing he’s alive, I’m cursing you idiots. We had a good thing. All we needed to do was to wait until later tonight when we could get Billy off the train, with none the wiser.”

“None the wiser? You still have Ballard watching the preacher’s daughter,” spoke Sheddron.

“Minor inconvenience. All we had to do was get Billy, leave town and wire the real preacher where he could find his daughter. You just had to go let off some steam.” Riley shook his head as he pushed the man called Randler out of his way. “Randler, go do something useful, go check on the old man of a deputy this town has.”

Those outside drew back to the sides of the saloon when they saw one man run for the doors.

*****

Randler returned after a few minutes, “He ain’t in the office.”

“Great! Just great!” Riley fumed. “That deputy probably went to get help.”

“Who? From what I heard, the Marshal and the other deputy ain’t due back for a few more days. There ain’t nobody else to help,” Randler boasted. “The old man’s probably home, asleep.”

*****

The sun was setting Friday night when the train made an unexpected layover in Marionette. Stepping from the train, Johnny Drako planned to check in with Sheriff Collingwood when he encountered Reverend McCafferty exiting the telegraph office.

At first, their conversation was casual, but Johnny grew suspicious and ordered the reverend to explain why he was in Marionette.

“I can’t,” Reverend Mark stated.

“Or you won’t” Johnny stated.

“Johnny I can’t!” Reverend Mark pleaded. “They said they’d kill Sarah!”

“Who’d kill Sarah?” Johnny asked, his eyes narrowing.

“I don’t know, strangers came into town.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“Last Saturday,” Reverend Mark finally stated. He wanted to do everything the men had told him, but deep down…he needed to tell someone what was happening. He was tired of feeling helpless and waiting for a wire that he feared might never come.

“Reverend, I understand your fears, but I can’t help you, or Sarah, if I don’t know what happened.”

“A man showed up at the church when I was working on Sunday’s sermon. He appeared to be a preacher, but… They told me I had to get out of town, if I didn’t… They said they already had Sarah, he showed me the locket she always wore.”

“What did you tell Mark?”

“I didn’t tell him anything, I just asked Jake to tell him I’d been recalled back east for a while and that Sarah and Maggie were going with me. Jake was to tell Mark that Reverend Riley had been sent as my replacement.”

“Riley… Riley… Describe him.”

“About your height and build, blonde hair, green eyes, maybe your age… He was missing the lobe off his left ear.”

“I’m riding to North Fork.”

“Johnny, please you can’t go back to North Fork, not yet!” begged Reverend Mark.

“And if something happens to Micah or Mark, because they don’t know the truth?”

“Riley said they’d wire and let me know where I could find Sarah, when they were ready to leave town.”

“Mark,” Johnny’s voice was serious, trying to hide his fears. “If these men are who I think they may be, I doubt you’ll get any wire.”

“You don’t know who they are. What if those men kill Sarah because you returned early? They know that Mark and Micah are the only lawmen in town. I’m sorry, but Mark and Micah are lawmen. She’s my daughter… Please Johnny, I beg of you?!”

“How do you know they’re not going to kill Sarah anyway or that they haven’t already killed her?”

“They said they’d send a wire letting me know where she was…” pleaded Reverend Mark.

“I’m gonna have Lou and the children stay with Maggie. Mark, either you ride with me, or you stay here; I have no choice, I have to return to North Fork. If you’re coming with me, get changed into street clothes. Meet me at the livery in ten minutes.”

Before heading to the livery, Johnny returned to the train depot and told Lou what he wanted her to do. Lou put up a good resistance, but ultimately gave into Johnny’s request. Next, he talked with the conductor and demanded to know who was being held in the baggage car.

“What do you mean, who’s being held?” the conductor gulped before he asked.

“I saw someone being slipped onboard right as we were pulling out of Roswell. I’m the marshal of North Fork, now tell me!”

“There’s two lawmen with a prisoner bound for Yuma.”

“And the prisoner?”

“I think he’s one of the Wildcat Bunch, I heard one of the lawmen say ‘tag-a-long’.”

“You tell the engineer to hold the train for two more hours.”

“But…but…” the conductor stuttered.

“If this train arrives before I can set things into motion, a lot of good people are going to die. Do you want their deaths on your conscience?”

“I’ll have them hold the train.”

“Good.”

“What do I tell them lawmen?”

“Nothing, just that you’re working on the locomotive.”

*****

The liveryman saddled two of his best horses when Johnny showed him his marshal’s badge.

*****

On the outskirts of North Fork, Johnny ordered the Reverend to ride to Jake and Gwen’s. “Reverend, I need Lucas, ask to borrow a horse from Jake, and ride on to Lucas’. The one you’re on is spent.”

Without any argument, Mark nodded his head and turned his horse for his son’s home.

*****

Johnny stopped first at the church and found it empty. He continued into town and tied his borrowed horse at the livery, and quietly made his way to the side of the cafe, across from the Marshal’s Office. He noticed the lit lantern in his office, but grew concerned in seeing the office door standing wide open. Knowing if trouble was in North Fork, ultimately, it always made its way to the saloon; Johnny followed his instincts.

Making his way to the back of the saloon, Johnny slowly crept up behind the large man, hunched over and looking around the front corner of the building, “Drop your weapon,” Johnny whispered as he placed the barrel of his gun to the man’s back.

The man set his handgun to the ground and held his hands away from his body.

“Slowly stand up and turn around…”

The man did exactly as Drako stated.

“Nils?!”

“Drako?! You about gave me a heart attack.”

“What’s going on?” Drako asked.

“There’s men inside, they’ve knocked Mark unconscious. They’ve been in there for a long time,” Nils answered.

“What of Micah? Has anyone gone for Lucas?”

“Uh, Lucas is on the other front corner with John Hamilton. I ain’t seen Micah.”

Johnny motioned for Nils to follow him as he made his way around the backside of the saloon. Lucas turned quickly around, rifle cocked and aimed, as he heard muffled footfalls behind him.

“Easy Lucas, it’s me, Drako.”

Lucas brought Johnny up-to-date on everything that had happened.

“I have no idea who they are or what they want. It doesn’t make any sense,” Lucas stated. “They’ve not caused any trouble outside the saloon; they’re just in there talking… like they’re waiting for something.”

“Someone. Your fake preacher is Wildcat Riley,” Johnny answered.

“Of The Wildcat Bunch?” Nils asked.

“If you want out, I’ll not hold it against you.”

“No, no. I mean… Are you sure this is the Wildcat Bunch?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Found out that Billy ‘Tag-a-long’ Riley is on the train coming through tonight, he’s on his way to Yuma. I had the conductor hold the train for a couple of hours in Marionette, long enough for Reverend McCafferty and me to get here.”

“The Reverend?” Lucas asked. “He was recalled back east.”

“No, they’ve Sarah somewhere and ordered him out of town.”

“Why?” asked John Hamilton.

“I presume the preacher’s been asking questions about the town and her lawmen?” John nodded. “What better way to find out about a town and her lawman than to pose as a preacher, no one would question a new preacher asking questions.”

“Damn!” Lucas cursed.

*****

The whistle finally announced the train’s arrival as the train slowed to enter the town; Johnny ordered the others to take the outlaws alive, if at all possible, “We need someone alive to tell us where Sarah is being held.”

*****

Those inside the saloon heard the train whistle and started to organize themselves to put their plan into motion.

“Pogues, you stay here and keep the others for leaving and going for help,” Riley ordered.

“But I want in on the fun,” whined Pogues.

“You’ve had your fun, stay here… and don’t disappoint me.”

The train let out its final exhaust when Johnny Drako fired a shot through the open door, shattering the base of the lantern, the second shot was fired by Lucas, shattering the chimney of the lamp and extinguishing the flame.

“Inside the saloon, you’re surrounded; throw out your weapons and come out with your hands up!” ordered Johnny.

Those inside the saloon scrambled to take cover; the salesman and Thelma ran behind the bar and stayed close to Sweeney. A few of the Wildcat Bunch up-ended the other tables and used them as shields, while others used the door frame as cover and began firing.

*****

As the gun battle continued, North Fork heard two of the Wildcat Bunch yell out after being struck by bullets. Lucas hesitated when he heard Johnny Drako yell out, and watched as his friend collapsed in the street, having tried to run for different cover to gain an advantage over those firing at them. From within Sweeney’s they heard, “I got me one!” Lucas, John, and Nils continued to fire into the saloon.

Another weapon joined the battle as the sound of a shotgun was heard from within the saloon and a man’s body was thrown through one of the front windows. It wasn’t much longer when silence echoed along the street. Slowly, Lucas ran to the saloon, looking inside before entering with John Hamilton on his heels, while Nils ran to check on Johnny.

Wildcat Riley was barely alive when Lucas knelt beside him, startled to again hear the shotgun discharge followed by breaking glass. Lucas turned to see a tall Indian falling backwards through the other remaining saloon window, gun in hand. Turning to look over his shoulder, he saw Sweeney shakily setting his shotgun to the top of the bar.

Thelma hurried to Mark’s side and knelt down next to him, ignoring the spilled whiskey and beer on the floor. She rolled him over and cradled his head in her lap, upon hearing a slight moan she called out, “Mr. McCain, he’s still alive.”

Lucas returned his attention to the man on the floor next to him; he grabbed the front of Riley’s jacket, pulling him up from the floor. “Where’s Sarah?!”

Riley moaned and coughed.

Backhanding him across the face, “Tell me where Sarah is!” Lucas demanded.

“She’ll be dead... before you can get to her.” Riley started laughing vilely as he started coughing up blood.

Grabbing Riley’s jacket with both his hands, Lucas violently shook the man, “Where do you have Sarah?! TELL ME!” Lucas angrily demanded.

The man was still laughing as he died in Lucas’ hands.

John placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder, “Did he tell you of Sarah?”

Lucas shook his head, “What of the others?”

“None of them are in any condition to talk,” answered John.

A crowd gathered out in the street and along the boardwalk, the gunfight had drawn North Fork’s citizens from their homes and beds.

Lucas walked to the street, “Folks!” he yelled. “The preacher was a fake. He and his gang have Sarah McCafferty somewhere. Has anyone seen these men coming and going from town? Anything you can tell us to help us locate her.”

Voices talked throughout the crowd, but no one stepped forward, except Madelyn Donner, “Lucas, I’d see the preacher coming and going to the west of town. His black boots and trousers would be clean when he’d leave, but when he’d return, I saw red clay on them.”

“Red Clay?” John Hamilton asked as he stood behind Lucas, holding his injured arm. Lucas didn’t notice the blood seeping between John’s fingers.

“The mines!” exclaimed Nils as he helped Johnny Drako sit up. “Those abandoned mines have plenty of red clay around.”

“I need every man for a posse!” yelled Lucas.

“NO!” came from behind Lucas.

Lucas turned to see his son standing, leaning heavily against the doorframe to the saloon, Thelma helping to support him.

“Mark!” Lucas replied and ran to his son.

“Pa, no posse.”

“They have Sarah McCafferty.”

“Pa, I’m the one with the addled brain, but…” Lucas saw Mark’s knees buckle and caught him. Sweeney came from the saloon, carrying a chair and placed it for Lucas to set Mark down. “Small group would be quieter. Pa, do you swear to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what?”

Lucas raised his right hand and said, “I swear.”

“Small group, deputy,” were the last words Mark said before he passed out, again.

Lucas turned and looked at those standing in front of him.

“John, you can’t go, not with your arm.”

“I’m in charge of any posse,” Drako spoke as he stumbled to the boardwalk in front of the saloon, holding his shoulder.

“Sorry friend, not with that shoulder. You’d be too much of a liability.” Turning to Nils, “You and…”

“I’ll go!”

Lucas looked to see Percy Bullock walking towards him, gun strapped to his leg.

“Percy, you’re a scholar…”

“Mr. McCain, once before your son prevented me from going on a posse after outlaws shot Micah and Johnny. He used those same words. It took a while for me to draw up the courage to tell him how much those words hurt. This is my town too. As a citizen, I have a right to help protect her. Mark understood what I was trying to say and he taught me how to handle a gun. I may not be able to take a man’s life, but I can keep an outlaw from taking mine. At best, I can help create a diversion, if needed.”

“I need two more men for the posse!”

“That won’t be necessary,” an authority-bearing voice said as the man jogged down the boardwalk with two others.

“Walker!” Drako yelled.

“I heard the gunfight when we arrived. The conductor told me you held us up. You could have told us your plan back in Marionette,” Deputy Coltrane Walker stated as he joined the group.

“Didn’t exactly know what my plan was going to be until a little while ago,” Drako replied.

Walker looked into the saloon, turned to those with him, “Morees, get back to the train and tell Pritcherd to bring Riley to the jail, then you and Arngrin help these citizens get those others to the undertaker’s or to the clinic.”

“Yes sir,” the two men replied.

“Walker, I don’t know how many there are in the Wildcat Bunch, but they have a young woman held hostage outside of town,” Lucas stated.

“Well, seeing who all is in there, there’s only one other person that I’m aware of – Ballard. We’ve been apprehending a lot of the Wildcat Bunch lately. Ballard is pretty much a coward, acts brave, but when it really matters, he turns tail. He’s their cook.”

*****

Lucas led the posse to the old abandoned mines; leaving their horses behind as they reached the narrow entrance to the canyon. They made their way to the abandoned cart train, and took cover when the front door to the dilapidated building that once had been the office opened, and a short man ran from the building screaming, “NO! Get away from me!”

Coltrane Walker ran with his gun drawn to apprehend the running man, who pleaded, “Take me away! I give up! You have to protect me!” when he saw the man wearing a badge.

“Protect you?” Lucas stated, rifle in hand, as he stopped next to Coltrane.

“She’s a hellcat, she is. Please…”

Coltrane pulled a pair of handcuffs from his back pocket while Lucas jogged to the office.

“Sarah?!” Lucas yelled, as he stood with his back to the side of the building, still not sure the small man had been the only outlaw inside.

“I warn you, you come in here and you’ll get the same thing Ballard did!”

“Sarah, it’s me, Lucas McCain.”

“Mr. McCain?”

“That’s right Sarah. Are you alone?”

“Just me and the frying pan,” Sarah answered.

“You can’t make me go in there!” the one called Ballard declared as Walker pushed the man to the porch.

Nils and Percy were right behind with their weapons in hand. The men entered the office to see Sarah holding a frying pan over her shoulder, still ready to swing.

Percy couldn’t contain his laughter, Lucas turned to him and saw him pointing, Ballard’s face had several days’ worth of beard growth, and a developing black eye, just below a reddened lump on his forehead.

“Keep her away from me!” Ballard declared as he cowered backwards, holding out his handcuffed hands protectively in front of him.

“Marshal Walker,” Sarah sighed as she lowered the frying pan and sank down to a chair.

Lucas was to her side, “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

“I’m alright, Mr. McCain, but just wait…” the men heard the anger in her voice.

“Riley didn’t tell me she was such a hellcat. All I was supposed to do was make sure she stayed here and feed her… that’s all,” proclaimed Ballard.

“Lucas, you and the others see Miss McCafferty back to North Fork,” stated Walker. “I’ll bring Ballard back. I want to search to see if there’s any loot from their robberies around here.”

“If there is, Riley put stuff in the office over there,” Ballard stated, pointing the direction with his cuffed hands.

Percy helped Sarah get in the saddle behind Lucas for the ride back to town.

*****

Dawn’s first rays were streaking the sky pink when the foursome rode into town, Lucas halted his horse, the one Johnny had left at the livery, in front of the clinic.

“Sarah!” Reverend Mark exclaimed upon opening the front door and seeing Lucas and Percy helping Sarah down from behind Lucas.

“Father!”

Lucas watched the tearful reunion, as Sarah insisted to her father that those men hadn’t hurt her.

“Lucas, thank you!” Reverend Mark stated as he continued to hug his daughter.

“How’s Mark?” Lucas asked.

“I think he’s sleeping. He keeps waking and falling back unconscious.”

Lucas stepped from the horse, “Is Doc here?”

“He’s still out at your place,” Reverend Mark answered. “Johnny sent me to fetch you, but when I got there, you already knew about the trouble and had come to town.”

Lucas turned to Nils, “I need to borrow a buggy, would you get a horse hitched? I need to get Hattie out to my place.”

“Lucas, I’ll get Hattie while Nils takes care of the horses,” Percy offered. “I know you’re probably wanting to see Mark.”

“Thanks, Percy.”

*****

Lucas entered the room where Mark slept. Hope was sitting on the edge of the bed; Mark stirred when a rooster started crowing at the morning sun.

“Ohhhhh,” moaned Mark as he pressed the heel of his hand to his head.

“Abigail cleaned the bullet graze and wrapped his head,” John Hamilton stated, coming up behind Lucas.

“What about your arm?” asked Lucas seeing the sling.

“Bullet went clean through.” John lifted his wounded arm. “Abigail wrapped it and told me to keep it in the sling for a few weeks.”

“And Johnny?”

“Lou’s in the room with him. Abigail has him dosed with laudanum, she’s packed the wound to stop it from bleeding, but he’ll still need surgery once Thadd returns.”

“Pa?” called Mark, trying to sit up.

“Mark, please, lie back down until Thadd can examine you,” Hope answered.

“Easy there, son,” Lucas offered.

“Pa, the saloon,” Mark managed to say before he sank back into the darkness.

“Pa, he probably has a concussion. I heard Abigail say he’ll be in and out of being conscious for a while.”

“Seems we’ve been here too often,” Lucas commented.

“I was thinking the same thing. Pa? Thadd is at the ranch?” Hope asked.

“I sent him out there to tend to Micah, I’m getting ready to take Hattie to our place.”

“Tell her I’ll be praying for Micah…”

*****

Thadd carried his doctor’s bag as he closed the door to the bedroom where Micah slept, a lack of sleep and the effort to save Micah’s life showed in his posture. He looked up when the front door opened.

“Doctor?” Hattie asked as she grabbed at the shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

Thadd looked to Lucas before he spoke. “Hattie, please, have a seat.”

Lucas escorted Hattie to his chair, while Thadd set his bag on the table and pulled a chair out and sat down next to her.

“Hattie, Micah’s suffered a heart attack.”

“Is he…” Hattie’s tears choked off her voice.

“He’s still alive and resting comfortably.”

“Thank the heavens,” Hattie whispered.

“Lucas, I don’t want to move him for a few days, so it looks like you and Milly will need to bring in a couple of cots for sleeping.”

“What happened?” Hattie asked.

“He’s not a young man and the exertion of coming here to get Lucas… It was too much on his heart. Lucas, how did things turn out in town?”

“You’ve a couple of patients waiting for you.”

“I take it that Mark is one of them?”

Lucas nodded.

“Then why are you not in town with your son?” Hattie scolded.

“Because his wife and our town’s nurse are looking after him. Micah needed you.” Addressing Thadd, “What’s your prognosis for Micah?”

“He’ll need to take it easy from here on out. No stresses, he needs to let Johnny, Seth, and Mark take care of North Fork. He was lucky this time…”

“Thank you, Doc,” offered Hattie.

“Milly will take you in to see Micah, I’ve left some medicine and told her how much and when to give it to him. Hattie, it’s going to be up to you to make sure he understands his restrictions.”

Thadd stood, gathered his bag and jacket, and headed for the front door.

“Lucas, if you don’t mind, I’ll take the buggy back to town. Blade is a good horse, but I think I’d like a horse who’s a little bit easier to handle.”

“Would you let Hope know I’ll be back in town later to check on Mark,” Lucas replied.

Hattie was about to enter the bedroom when she said, “You’ll do no such thing, you’ll go right now. Your wife can help me tend to my husband.”

*****

Thadd stepped from the operating room and walked to where Lou was curled up, sleeping on the chaise in the waiting area. He knelt down and gently covered her over with the blanket that had slipped to the floor.

“What?” Lou groggily asked.

“It’s just me.”

“Doc, how is Johnny?” Lou asked as she sat up.

“I removed the bullet and have patched him up. He’ll need to keep his arm in a sling for a few weeks.”

“Can I see him?”

“Sure, he’s still under the effects of the ether, but he should wake in a couple of hours.”

“Have ye checked on Mark?”

“He’s my next patient. Go on, go see your husband.”

Thadd watched Lou walk into the room and close the door behind her, he wished he could curl up on the chaise; he let out a weary groan as he pushed himself to stand and walk to the room to examine Mark.

*****

“I’m fine,” Thadd heard Mark say as he stopped outside the door.

“Fine? Fine, you’ve been in and out of consciousness all night. Between getting shot across the temple, pistol whipped, and having your head bounced off the floor…”

“Hope, please, just let me get out of here before Thadd comes in…”

“I will not,” a defiant Hope proclaimed. “If you want to get out of here before Thadd can look at you… that means you’re trying to hide something.”

Hope stood and crossed her arms, her expression dared Mark to defy her.

“Hope, thank you. I couldn’t have said it better,” Thadd stated as he entered the room. “So Nurse Hope, will you please tell me all you know regarding our patient’s condition?”

Thadd turned at hearing someone behind him laugh/cough, he saw Lucas standing in the corner, a look of relief on his face, even though his hand covered his mouth.

“Doctor, he’s lucky to be alive, from what Thelma told me, had things not turned out as they did, he’d be dead.” Hope stood next to Mark’s bed, fists on her hips. “We’re lucky someone bumped into the gunman’s arm and caused the bullet to graze his temple. Later, Mark came around and when he tried to get up, one of the outlaws stuck him over the back of the head with the butt of his rifle. Then that FAKE parson entered and had one of his men see if Mark was alive or dead. He lifted Mark’s head off the floor and dropped him.”

After a cursory examination Thadd stated, “Okay Mark, let’s see how your body reacts to sitting up.”

With Hope and Thadd’s help, Mark sat up on the bed and swung his feet over the edge.

“Light headed?” Thadd asked, seeing Mark close his eyes.

Mark nodded, and immediately regretted it; he pulled his hand to cover his mouth as a convulsion coursed through his body.

“Hope, the waste basket,” Thadd ordered.

Hope strategically positioned the wastebasket, as Mark couldn’t prevent the emptying of the contents of his stomach. Lucas was quickly to his son’s side, supporting his shoulders. When Mark finally stopped retching Lucas helped Mark lie back down in bed.

“All the classical signs of a concussion, you’re gonna be here for a while. Mark, I want to unbandage your head and take a look at the bullet wound.”

Mark barely said, “Okay.”

Hope returned to the room with a bowl of cool water and a towel.

“I think for right now, I want the wound unbandaged. Hope, you know what to do. Yell out if you need anything.”

*****

Upon returning from eating lunch at the café, Thadd was not expecting to hear the argument coming from the room where he’d left Johnny Drako.

“Yes, I came in on the train last night and yes I left our children with Maggie McCafferty in Marionette. Johnny, when ye told me what was possibly happening, I felt it in me bones… I knew I had to come home. And I was right.”

“I told you to stay in Marionette!” Johnny countered.

“And I’m telling you both to save your argument for when you get home,” Thadd stated as he entered the room. “Johnny, how are you feeling…your shoulder?”

“Don’t ye lie to him husband,” Lou sternly stated.

“My shoulder hurts, how else is it supposed to feel?”

Thadd looked at the bandage, pleased there was no seepage of blood.

“When can I get out of here?” Johnny asked.

“In a day or two.”

“A day or two?! I’ve a town…”

“Ye’re a patient right now, not a lawman,” declared Lou.

“Woman…”

“Yes I am!” Lou retorted, her eyes flashing her Irish ire, as she punctuated the placing of her balled fists on her hips with a nod of her head.

“How’s Mark? He…” Johnny started to ask.

“He’s in the other room and no, that does not give you the right to get out of bed. North Fork can get along without the two of you for now. I saw Marshal Walker a little while ago; he’s been temporarily re-assigned to North Fork until I release the two of you.”

The Next Step — Life's Changes

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

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