Synopsis: Dangers abound when Lucas is ordered to commit murder.
Category: The Rifleman, crossover
Word Count: 8,620
“No, don’t! Go way! Don’t! NO!” Lucas McCain heard his thirteen year-old son Mark yelling from their bedroom. As the tall rancher stepped through the doorway, the light from the front room vaguely allowed him to witness his son tossing in his sleep, and thrashing his arms around, evidently in the throes of a nightmare.
Lucas walked farther into the room and lit the lantern on the table near the head of his son’s bunk. The father sat down on the wooden slat and gently shook Mark’s shoulders, “Mark, Mark, you’re okay, just a bad dream. Wake up son,” he kept saying until Mark opened his eyes. The boy’s eyelids fluttered as sleep had yet to fully vacate his brain.
Lucas recognized the look of fear in the boy’s eyes and knew his heavy breathing was a result of his being scared of something. Mark still wasn’t fully awake and kept looking around, looking for something unseen. “Mark, wake up son. I’m here. You’re just having a bad dream.”
Slowly, Mark realized he was in his bedroom and his Pa was there with him, but even the comfort of his father’s arms and words couldn’t stop his trembling.
“Pa, where’d that man go?” he asked as he still continued look around and to doubt reality.
“What man?” Lucas asked are he lift his left hand to the side of his son’s face, gently rubbing his thumb across the boy’s cheek.
“That man… His face was all disfigured, he walked stooped over, and he… he… Pa, he was gunning for you.” The boy’s fear took hold of his breath, “Pa! He’s gonna kill you!”
“Mark, you just had a bad dream. There’s no one here but us,” Lucas said as he tried to get Mark to lie back down and attempted pull the covers back over him.
Mark wasn’t quite ready to lie down and go back to sleep, “But Pa, he was here. I saw him. You believe me… don’t you?”
“Son, imaginations can play funny tricks on us if we let them. Please, just forget the dream and go back to sleep.”
“He was here… Pa…” Mark mumbled as he fought sleep.
Lucas continued to hold his son, as his son continued to hold him. The father constantly rubbed his son’s back, comforting him and hoping the gently strokes would lull his son back to sleep.
“It wasn’t a dream…” Mark mumbled as sleep won over fear.
Lucas slipped Mark from his arms and pulled the cover over the boy. He ran his fingers through his son’s brunette hair; smiling at the innocence of youth and the dreams that came with it.
Morning came early to the McCain Ranch. As usual, Mark was resistant to getting out of bed — more so, resistant to getting to school.
“Mark, time to wake up. Breakfast is ready. Make sure you wash your face and behind your ears before you get dressed.”
A few minutes later, have washed and dressed, Mark came to the breakfast table and sat down. He toyed with his food, not quite interested in eating.
“Son, what’s the matter? Are you feeling okay?” Lucas was concerned that Mark might be coming down sick. Sometimes bad dreams preceded an illness in his son.
“No Pa, I feel fine. It’s just that dream last night. It seemed so real. I’m just having a hard time forgetting it.”
“Well you’ll forget all about it when you get to school today. Mr. Griswold is teaching you about Ulysses S. Grant, from being a general in the Civil War to becoming President, starting today.”
“Pa, since you fought in the War, maybe you can tell me all about it and I wouldn’t have to go to school today. Please?” Mark replied.
“No son. What I did and saw in the war, you’re not ready to understand.” Lucas’ eyes seemed to wander for a moment as if remembering something he’d prefer to forget.
“Why are we starting a new lesson on a Friday?” Mark asked.
“I guess he’s hoping to get you children excited about returning to school on Monday,” Lucas replied, knowing his son was stalling, Lucas continued, “Finish your breakfast and off to school.”
“Okay Pa,” Mark said as he started to eat his breakfast.
Morning class time was spent on grammar and the multiplication tables. However, it was after lunch when Mr. Griswold informed the children that they would be learning about Ulysses S. Grant, a former President of the United States.
“The man we know as Ulysses S. Grant was really born Hiram Ulysses Grant. He was born April 27, 1822. During the Civil War, he was General-in-Chief of the Union Army from 1864 to 1865. He went on to become the 18th President of the United States; serving in office from 1869 to 1877.
“President Grant is an excellent example of how anyone, of U.S. birth, can grow up to become President. His father came from humble beginning and was an Appalachian Tanner.
“In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Grant as brigadier general of volunteers. During the Civil War, he declared his first major victories during the war by capturing Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee during 1862. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg and rescuing a trapped Union army at Chattanooga, earned him the reputation as Lincoln’s most successful general.
“It was in 1865 that Grant accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Appomattox Court House.
“Grant was elected President of the United States in 1868 and was re-elected in 1872, the first President to serve for two full terms since Andrew Jackson forty years before.
“Well students, I think that is a good start to your introduction to Ulysses S. Grant. We’ll go into more detail each day. Class is dismissed for the day,” Mr. Griswold said as he walked to the back of the classroom to say goodbye to each student as they left for the weekend.
As they followed Mark to the hitching rail where BlueBoy waited, Mark’s friends, Freddie Toomey and Bobby Hamilton, asked him if he wanted to go fishing with them after school.
“Naw, I have to get back to Pa. Guess he’ll have some chores for me to do today. I kind of forgot a couple, yesterday. See you Monday,” Mark said as he climbed in the saddle on BlueBoy.
As Mark rode home, his thoughts returned to Mr. Griswold’s lesson about President Grant. Many times on his ride home from school, the boy failed to pay attention to his surroundings and anything that was going on around him since he knew BlueBoy knew the way home as well as he did, when without warning, BlueBoy stopped. Taking a moment to catch his balance, Mark exhaled and opened his eyes wide. In front of the pair was a wagon, parked off to the side of the road. In the back of the wagon was a man looking in a mirror. From behind, Mark watched and saw in the mirror the man pulling at the skin on his nose. Mark watched in horror at the gaping hole as the man pulled his nose off his face.
After hearing an involuntary scream, the man saw Mark’s reflection in the mirror, turned around and yelled, “Boy, wait…!”
Without conscious thought, Mark wheeled BlueBoy for home, not looking back; scared as he remembered his dream; fearing it was becoming real and his pa’s life was in danger.
“Pa!, Pa!, He’s here! That man, he’s here!” Mark yelled as he jumped down from BlueBoy and into the house, and ran smack dab into his pa as he came from the bedroom.
“Whoa, son. What are you talking about? What man?” Lucas asked as he reached down to steady his son.
“The man… from…. my dream,” Mark replied out of breath. “He’s here!”
“Mark, you had to have been daydreaming while riding BlueBoy home. Now, take him in the barn, unsaddle him, and brush him out proper. Once you’re done there, come in the house and peel some potatoes for supper,” Lucas said as he looked sternly at Mark.
“But Pa…” Mark protested.
“No buts, turn around and do as I say.”
“Pa… Yes sir,” Mark said as he walked out of the house and led BlueBoy to the barn.
Setting his saddle on his rack, Mark tried to remember exactly what he had seen on the road home. ‘Could I really have seen what I dreamed?’
Supper was almost ready when the unmistakable sound of a wagon arriving at the house was heard.
“Hello in the house,” a graveled voice called from outside.
Lucas walked out to greet the visitor.
“Hello. How can I help you old-timer?” Lucas asked.
Mark came out of the house to stand behind his Pa, and quietly exclaimed, “Pa, that’s the man from earlier!”
“I’m looking for a man said to be living around these here parts. He’s a war criminal and I aim to see he pays for his transgressions,” the visitor forcefully informed Lucas as he propped his foot against the front board of his wagon.
“Mark, get back in the house, now,” Lucas demanded of Mark as he pushed him backwards, all the while not taking his eyes off the stranger.
“Mister, I don’t know of any war criminals around North Fork and if this person is guilty of anything, the law should be involved,” Lucas stated as he pulled his rifle from its holder just inside the door.
“You know your neighbors, eh. I’m looking for a tall man… about your height… name of Lucas McCain,” the stranger went on to say.
“Mister, if this is a joke, it’s a poor one. You just keep on moving, get out of North Fork and don’t return here.” Lucas said as he whirl cocked his rifle. “We don’t need any trouble makers stirring up past history that’s dead and buried. The war’s been over a long time. We don’t hold to vigilantes in these parts, so just you keep on moving.”
“Moving on? An old man like me, don’t see how I can pose a threat to you, unless you be Lucas McCain. Hear tell he got himself a pretty wife and a young son… boy’d be about thirteen years-old by now, if’n I hear tell correctly, ” the stranger continued to talk and raised an eyebrow at the defiant man who stood before him.
“Mister, you’re trying my patience, if you’re trying to take me into custody…”
“Then you admit, you be Lucas McCain?”
“My name is Lucas McCain, but I assure you, I’m no war criminal,” Lucas’ eyes dared the man to say otherwise as he raised his rifle.
“You fit the description, you admit you’re him…” the stranger said as he cocked his head to the side.
“You best bring the law back with you.” Anger rose in Lucas’ eyes, his temples throbbed with tension.
“Law?! Law you say?” and then the stranger’s voice changed from old and gravelled to one of assured authority. He no longer sat hunched over in the seat of the wagon. He sat straight as if one trained in the military. “Lucas, you should see yourself.” The man slapped his right hand on his thigh, “Why I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me off this wagon when I started,” the stranger started laughing as he reached for his face and started to pull away skin.
“Pa, that’s him, see, I told you he tore his face off!” Mark exclaimed from just inside the still opened doorway.
“Mister, I don’t know who you are, but you’re coming close to my using this rifle on you.” Lucas was unsure where this scenario was leading and he raised his rifle to his shoulder in an effort to defend himself and his son.
“Don’t know who I am?” the voice laughed. “Well… let me just get this make-up off and…” as his voice became muffled as he continued pulling off his skin and a wig to show a somewhat younger man with slightly greying temples, but still a dark-haired man now sitting before him.
Lucas’ eyes widened as he recognized the stranger. “Artemus? Artemus Gordon? My God man, you….” Lucas lowered his rifle, stepped down off the porch, and offered his hand to help the man down from his wagon.
“About time you saw with your eyes, though I do say, bravo to my performance. I couldn’t pass it up Lucas. The Shakespearean Troupe that I travel with is in Santa Fe for a few weeks and I had heard rumors that a Lucas McCain lived in North Fork. I asked around and found out it was you and,” standing with a flourish, “here I am.”
Artemus gave a bow to his limited audience.
“Now, about that wife of yours, I can’t wait to meet the woman who tamed wild Lucas McCain,” Artemus stated with eager anticipation.
Lucas’ eyes beheld the sorrow he felt at the reference to his late wife.
“Artemus, I lost my wife near seven years ago, back in Enid, Oklahoma. Settled here almost four years ago with my boy, Mark.” Giving himself a moment to recover, Lucas turned to the house and motioned for Mark to come out. “Son, I’d like you to meet an OLD friend of mine, Artemus Gordon, he’s a member of the Secret Service and one of his duties was to protect President Grant.” Then turning to Artemus, “Artemus, this is my son Mark.”
“Pleased to meet you Mr. Gordon. Did you really meet President Grant? We’re learning about him in school,” Mark blurted out.
Before Artemus answered Mark, he looked at Lucas, “Lucas, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Only hear bits and pieces about people I knew back from the war. Didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories.”
“I understand, I’ve come to terms with Margaret’s death, it still hurts, but I’ve got Mark here.” There was sorrow and pride in Lucas’ voice as he looked down at his son and hugged him tighter.
“Well now, young Mr. McCain. You’re learning about President Grant, what stories I could tell you.” Artemus smiled to himself as he stepped down from his wagon.
“Pa? Can we invite Mr. Gordon to stay for supper?”
“Only if you go in and set another place.”
“Yes, sir!” Mark exclaimed as he jumped through the door.
“Lucas, I didn’t come here to weasel a supper out of you… And if I remember…” Artemus’ eyes lit with amusement.
“Don’t worry Artemus, my cooking is MUCH improved. Believe me, otherwise I don’t think my son in there would be as old as he is.”
Over supper Artemus told Mark stories of Ulysses Grant and, during the tales, a number of times Lucas had to interrupt as he felt the true story was a little “too grown-up” for Mark.
Finally, Lucas turned to Mark when he noticed Mark was fighting to keep his eyes open. “Son, I think it’s time you get to bed.”
“Okay Pa. Goodnight Mr. Gordon. Will we see you again?” Mark asked. “Pa, I can bring in a cot from the barn for Mr. Gordon to sleep upon?”
“Not necessary my young friend, but I’ll be around. Sure…we’ll see each other again.”
After Lucas made sure Mark was in bed and asleep, he returned to the table and said, “Okay, tell me the real reason you’re here. The truth. You’re not just passing through or to catch up on ‘old’ times.”
“Lucas, why don’t we step to the porch…”
Lucas realized there was more to his friend’s visit and was thankful whatever the man had to say, he didn’t want the boy to overhear.
A few moments later, Artemus continued, “I’m planning to meet James West near here. We’ve been re-activated by the Secret Service. Both Jim and I knew you were in North Fork and heard you still have a strong reputation with your rifle. We can really use your help,” Artemus said matter-of-factly.
“I use my rifle to protect my own. I don’t go looking for trouble,” Lucas declared.
“I know, but there’s no one else the Secret Service can really trust,” Artemus replied.
“And just how can I help the Secret Service?”
“Well, it’s not really for the Secret Service, it’s for us. President Chester Arthur has ordered us re-activated because there’s already been one attempt on Jim’s life and the President fears that someone is out for both of us. We made a lot of enemies before we retired.”
“There’s an assassination attempt on your lives and you bring that danger to my home and my son?” Anger flashed across Lucas’ face, begrudging his former friend’s return.
“No Lucas, right now anyone who knows me, other than you and Jim, believes I’m in Santa Fe with the troupe. I left in costume. Sorry if I scared your boy earlier out on the road. He took off like he’d see a ghost.”
“Well not really a ghost,” Lucas told Artemus of Mark’s nightmare from the night before.
“So Artemus, what exactly do you and Jim need? How do you expect me to help you?”
Artemus spoke in an emotionless tone, “We need you to kill James West.”
A look of shock crossed Lucas’ face as he tried to understand exactly what Artemus was asking of him.
“Lucas, you won’t really be killing him, I can make some blank ammunition for your rifle and Jim will wear a device that would make anyone that takes a look at him believe you shot him in the heart.
“Is there anyone here who could look after your boy for a while? Once Jim is dead, I’m sure those that are out to assassinate him will contact you. I’d really prefer your boy is out of any harm’s way.”
“Artemus, you’re asking a lot of me. I don’t go looking for trouble and prefer to use my rifle as a means of last resort,” concern was etched in Lucas’ brow. “Besides, if they’re out to kill Jim and I do it, why would they contact me?”
“Lucas, right now, you’re the only one we trust and know who could pull this off. Jim will be here on the ranch with you, I’ll have him in make-up, maybe as a Mexican. He can be your hired hand. I need to get back to Santa Fe to keep up our charade.”
“And what charade is that? You’ve not given me enough information…”
“Lucas, I know we asked a lot of you back in the War, but those times, you were under orders to assist us. Unfortunately, we need an answer tonight.”
“You’ve not answered my question… Why? Why do you need me?”
“I can’t tell you that, but Jim will. I promise. Lucas, we need you,” Artemus stated.
Knowing Artemus Gordon and Jim West worked in mysterious ways, and they wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, Lucas answered, “Okay, just let me get Mark over to Millie’s tomorrow morning.” Lucas escorted Artemus out to his wagon and watched him drive away.
Sleep came late to Lucas as he lay in bed, remembering back to his time during the war and some of the missions he had been assigned to assist two men from the Secret Service.
It was early Saturday morning when the people of North Fork took note as a stranger rode into their town. The man was somewhat shorter than the average height of a man, but sitting upon his horse, it wasn’t that obvious. The man was dressed in black, with a silver inlaid black gun belt, riding a black stallion, with a silver-adorned black saddle. He rode sitting straight in the saddle, he stopped and dismounted at the hotel.
Those who watched him felt a foreboding fear this was a hired gun and they worried who he was there to kill.
The stranger stepped to the boardwalk and tied his horse to the hitching rail as his eyes drifted from one end of town to the other.
Later in the morning, a group of men dressed in worn Confederate uniforms rode into town, stopped at the livery and left their horses. As if still in the military, they proceeded in step over to the saloon. As soon as they entered, uneasiness started to lie thick and heavy in the previously buoyant air. Conversations quieted as the other patrons sensed trouble and nervously glanced about the room; diverting their eyes lest the men take offense. Barmen Sweeney, felt the room was like a powder keg ready to explode.
It was early afternoon when Lucas and Mark rode into town as they regularly did on Saturdays. The morning was spent finishing their chores before heading to town.
“But Pa, why do I have to stay at Millie’s I don’t understand,” Mark asked again, still not understanding why he couldn’t stay home.
“Mark, last night after you went to bed, Mr. Gordon asked me to do a favor for him, I need to be out of town for a few days, so you’re going to stay with Millie.”
“I’m old enough to stay home…”
“No you’re not. Son, please let’s not argue. Besides, I thought you enjoyed staying with Millie?”
“Sure I do, but not all the time…”
They rode up in front of the General Store, dismounted, and walked in.
“Morning Lucas, Mark,” Millie greeted from behind the counter.
“Morning Millie. I need to go out-of-town for a few days, thought Mark could stay with you.”
“Lucas, you know Mark’s always welcome to stay with me anytime.” Turning to Mark, “Now Mark, let’s get your gear to the back room and later we’ll get you to set up at my house.”
“Yes Miss Millie.”
“I don’t want you worrying about any chores at the ranch, we did most of them this morning, and those we didn’t do can wait until I get back. Now, you mind your manners and do as Millie says while I’m gone.”
Lucas gave Mark a hug and walked out to Razor. His son was now safe, but his mind whirled on how and when he was supposed to kill Jim West.
Lucas turned as he heard his name called, “McCAIN!”
“That’s me,” he answered as he pulled his rifle from its scabbard. He turned to face the man dressed in black.
“McCain, it’s been a long time since you put that slug in me. I said if I ever saw you again, I’d return the favor,” the man declared.
Millie and Mark came out the door of the General Store, stopped and stared in disbelief at what was happening.
The men in uniform piled to the boardwalk from the saloon to watch; eager to see the outcome of the impending gunfight. Especially, as it appeared to be a fast six gunner against a sodbuster with a rifle. They watched the scene play out in front of them.
“That was the war. The war’s long been over. It’s time to put grievances behind us,” Lucas called back.
“Grievances? It was a bullet, not a grievance you put in me. The war’s never over for me.” The stranger went for his gun, clearing his holster, but Lucas was faster. Soon the man in black lay in the middle of the street. Lucas ran to the man and knelt by his side, placed his ear to the man’s chest, with his face towards the man’s face. “Jim, I wish you’d given me more notice, I didn’t want my boy to see this.”
Sitting up to face the crowd, Lucas proclaimed the man dead.
As the crowd circled around Lucas, he picked up the man, slung him over his shoulder, and carried him over to Doc Burrage’s office. Mark was on his Pa’s heels before Lucas laid the man down on the examining table.
“Mark, get out of here. Get to Millie’s,” Lucas ordered.
“Do as I say boy.” The tone of Lucas’ voice was firm enough that Mark knew he better do as his pa said.
Doc Burrage entered his office and pushed everyone except Lucas out the door. Lucas turned and pulled the blinds over the windows.
After an initial examination Doc turned to Lucas and exclaimed, “Lucas.., the blood on his shirt? There’s no bullet hole. I don’t understand…this man’s alive.”
“Doc, I need to let you in on a little secret.” Turning to the man lying on the table, Lucas stated, “Jim, I think we have a little explaining to do.”
Jim West sat up on the table.
“Doc, this is Jim West, he’s with the Secret Service and he’s asked for my help. Jim, this is our town doctor, Doc Burrage.”
“Lucas, I… I…” Doc stumbled for what to say next.
“Doc, as far as everyone out on the street, they need to believe that I shot and killed Jim. It’s real important that no one knows he’s still alive,” Lucas informed Doc.
“Doc,” Jim started to say, “I’m under orders from President Arthur.” Turning to Lucas he continued, “Lucas, I know some of what Artemus told you last night, however, I’ve discovered it’s more than just a plot against Artemus and me. The next step we feel would be an assassination attempt on the President. We lost President Garfield to an assassination; we can’t lose two in a row.”
“Guess I have no choice but to keep this secret. I’ll work with Nils to make a coffin and somehow get you into it and out of it.” Turning Lucas and scratching his head, the doctor asked, “Just how long am I supposed to keep this secret?”
“Until we find out who’s trying to assassinate the President,” answered Jim.
Wishing he had never met Jim or Artemus, Lucas turned to leave the doctor’s office as Jim became a dead man.
“Lucas!” Called Millie as she walked to meet him next to Razor, “Lucas, do you still have to go? Mark needs you right now.”
“Millie, I’m sorry, but this can’t wait. Tell Micah when he gets back that I’ll help him file a report when I return. Take care of my boy.” With that, Lucas mounted and rode out-of-town.
Returning to the General Store, Millie saw Mark standing on the boardwalk, arm wrapped around one of the posts supporting the roof overhang.
“Mark?” Millie asked as she tried to escort the boy inside.
“Why?” Mark asked as he looked up.
“Your father was pro…”
“I know that…” As the first tear began to fall Mark said, “Why did he want to kill my Pa?”
Pulling the boy to her and hugging him, Millie answered, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Millie walked the boy into her store, away from prying eyes of their friends and neighbors.
The Confederates not yet re-entered the bar as they watched Lucas ride out-of-town. Without saying a word, they went and collected their horses.
Lucas arrived back at the ranch, he led Razor into the barn and unsaddled him and brushed him out. His mind was a jumble of images with all that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. ‘What have I let myself in for?’
Entering his home, he walked to his desk, sat down at the chair and looked to the picture that stared lovingly at him.
“Margaret, don’t be mad at me…”
Just as Lucas was sitting down for supper, he heard a knock at the door. Striding over, Lucas opened the door to see an old Mexican man who appeared to be down on his luck.
“Sir, looking for a little shelter for the night. Could me and my horse sleep in your barn?”
Looking beyond the man to the old horse that stood in the yard, Lucas replied, “I guess… If you’re hungry I’ve got some stew on the stove.”
“Mighty… thoughtful… of you sir,” the man state in halting, but still good English, as the man walked into the house and Lucas shut the door. “One can get pure hungry… playing a dead man.” The man’s voice changed as he stood straight. Lucas turned around to realize he’d just let Jim West into his home.
“Lucas, I’m sorry about in town. Didn’t know you had your boy with you and earlier I saw a group of men dressed in Confederate uniforms ride into town, so I had to make my play.”
“That’s okay, Jim. It’s just that I don’t like keeping secrets from him. I hate not being able to tell him the truth.”
Lucas placed his rifle in its holder next to the door, walked into the kitchen, and proceeded to fix Jim a bowl of stew.
“So, tell me, what have I gotten myself into?” Lucas asked as they sat down at the table.
“What did Artemus tell you?”
“No much, only the President had re-activated both of you after an assassination attempt on your life…” Lucas replied. “Said you’d tell me the rest. Damn it Jim, why couldn’t you have stopped by last night and talked with me. I could have killed you today!”
“But you didn’t, Artemus told you how we could fake your killing me.”
“I know, I know!” a frustrated Lucas declared. “I don’t like being used.”
“Lucas, I’m sorry, but this is blowing up faster than any of us figured. Neither Artemus or I could figure out why someone would try to kill me, especially after all this time. Like you said, the war’s been over a long time. Still… I’ve done some further investigation and we feel confident that this assassination attempt on the President might be made by those Confederates I mentioned earlier. They’re led by a Colonel Danforth. He served directly under Robert E. Lee, however, he swore he’d never surrender and would fight to the end.”
“But after all this time?” Lucas asked.
“I know is sounds surreal… We believe that once he’s convinced I’m dead, that he’ll probably contact you and try to hire you to kill President Arthur. They were after me because they know how I work. Scared I could foil their plot. I didn’t know exactly who ‘they’ were, until I got to North Fork and saw them. I don’t think they’ll go after Artemus from new information I’ve ascertained.”
“But why have me kill you?” Lucas stated.
“Because then Artemus and I can work on the outside. If I were still alive or killed at their hands, Danforth’s men would make the move and we couldn’t control what that move might be. This way… I’m praying they make contact with you and…”
“You can still be in control,” Lucas answered shaking his head. “Just like old times.”
“Just like old times, let the others think they’re in control…” mused Jim.
“So, we sit here and wait?” Lucas asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. Just go about your regular work around the ranch and I’ll hire on as a hand to help out. About time that I become Ol’ Pedro again and turn in out in the barn.” Teasingly Jim said, “I don’t see how Artie wears this makeup stuff all the time, it’s damn uncomfortable. See you in the morning.”
Lucas saw Jim/’Pedro’ to the barn, returned to the house and turned in for the night. As he laid down on his bunk he fretted about the risk he was taking, and the risk of his growing up as an orphan if things didn’t go right.
The next morning as Lucas and ‘Pedro’ were mucking stall,s a small group of riders dressed in Confederate uniforms approached the ranch. Lucas and Pedro walked out from the barn to greet the riders. “Good day gentlemen, what can I do for you?”
“My name is Colonel Danforth of the Confederate States of America.”
“Confederate States?” asked Lucas. “I thought the Confederacy died at the end of the Civil War.”
“It will never die! Not as long as her sons live and breathe,” one of the men behind the colonel boldly declared.
“Enough!” Turning back to Lucas, Danforth continued, “You, sir, can hire your services with your rifle to us.”
“Mister, I don’t hire my gun out to any one for any reason,” Lucas sharply answered.
“You’ve already done one task for me in killing James West yesterday in town. I had a thousand dollar bounty on him.”
Danforth tossed a small bag to Lucas, he heard the sound of coins as the bag hit the ground and came to rest at his feet.
“I took no pleasure in killing that man yesterday. The war’s long over and people need to live in the here and now.” Lucas looked over at ‘Pedro’ for guidance and saw him nod his head.
“The here and now is what we want to talk to you about. They call this the United States of America, there’s nothing united about it. They keep putting more damn Yankees in office. I aim to see that there’s a real man put in power as the President of the United States, a man of Southern upbringing, Southern understanding.” Colonel Danforth drew his pistol on Lucas, “Now either you agree to hire on to us to kill President Chester A. Arthur or I kill you and your hired hand where you stand.”
The rest of the men in Danforth’s group chose that moment to make their presence known by riding in from the back side of the barn.
“Guess you give me no other choice. So just how am I supposed to kill the President, he’s in Washington.” Lucas feigned the tint of defeat in his voice.
“We’ve been alerted that he’s arriving in North Fork on Tuesday. Why do you think your Marshal has been out-of-town the past week? We know he was ordered to Santa Fe to be briefed on the President’s arrival. No one is supposed to know about this trip, but I have my sources.”
There was a look of shock on Lucas’ face as he looked at ‘Pedro’. Who elevated his shoulders as if to say ‘I didn’t know’.
The rest of Sunday, the Confederates spent the day lounging around the house. Waiting. Laughing. Smoking. Drinking.
Monday was no easier — the waiting. ‘How am I going to get myself out of this mess? What do I do when the President arrives in North Fork?’ Lucas kept worrying. ‘How can I kill the President?’
When Lucas stepped from the house, he noticed the Confederates were wearing ‘range’ clothing. Worried they no longer wore their uniforms, Lucas asked himself, ‘What does this mean?’
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the sounds of a horse could be heard running across the wooden bridge that crossed the gully behind their home. Lucas ran out the barn door; to his horror he saw Mark riding up to the barn.
“Pa, what are you doing here?” Mark asked as his confusion showed on his face.
“Mark,” Lucas said sternly, “Get out of here and get back to town now! Get!” Lucas tried to turn BlueBoy around to send Mark on his way.
But before Lucas could get Mark out of harm’s way, Colonel Danforth had followed Lucas and took hold of the reins.
“Now, Mr. McCain, that’s no way to treat your boy, he’s come home to see you.” There was a look of pure evil in Danforth’s eyes. He turned to Mark and asked, “Boy, where’ve you been the past few days.”
Mark didn’t answer, he only looked to his Pa, and then at the colonel. “Pa?”
Danforth grabbed Mark out of the saddle and asked again, “Where’ve you been boy?”
Lucas thought fast and hard on how to get Mark out of there, get him away from danger. “Leave my boy be! He’s been in town with his Ma. We don’t live together anymore. He sneaks out here every now and then to spend time with me. She doesn’t know when he comes here.”
Mark looked at Lucas in fear and bewilderment, scared at the grip the colonel had on his arms and confusion to why his Pa said he was in town with his Ma.
Lucas continued, “Let me send the boy home. He won’t tell anyone you’re here. Please, he’s just a boy.”
“See Mr. McCain, I can’t take that chance. His Ma will just have to worry. Maybe we get to see the misses when she comes out to tell you her boy is missing.” Danforth’s voice held warning that he was not above hurting innocent. The colonel stared at Lucas and ruffled Mark’s hair, without warning Danforth shoved Mark towards Lucas, his other hand on the handle of his holstered gun.
In an effort to protect his son, Lucas said, “Mark, get to the barn and muck those stalls like you like doing. I’ll be in there shortly to help.” Lucas gently pushed Mark towards the barn and watched as he hesitantly entered. Pointing his finger to the colonel, Lucas continued, “Colonel, I told you I’d help you, but you keep my boy out of this. If he’s hurt in any way, I’ll come for you. You’ll be a dead man walking before I get done with you.”
“Mr. McCain, just do as I say and there won’t be any need for violence towards your son.”
Danforth squared his shoulders before he walked away and returned to the home.
Mark walked into the barn, still confused, trying to understand what was happening, ‘Pa saying I’m in town with my Ma, and … and just who are those men?’ Before Mark could walk to where the pitchfork was leaning against one of the support posts in the barn, an arm grabbed him around his shoulders and a hand covered his mouth; the boy stiffened in fear before he started struggling.
A voice in his ear told him, “Mark, don’t struggle, I’m a friend of Artemus Gordon, your Pa knows I’m here, and he and I were good friends during the War.”
Mark quit struggling; as he was released, he turned around and looked at the Mexican standing in front of him. “Your voice doesn’t sound like a Mexican, but your clothes…”
“Mark, I’m in disguise. Remember in town on Saturday, the gun fight your pa had?” Mark nodded. “I’m the man your pa ‘killed’, we had to play act. He didn’t kill me, but we needed for everyone else to believe he did.”
“Are you in the Secret Service too?” Mark quietly asked, looking around to make sure no one was close to overhear their conversation.
“Yes, for a long time Artemus and I were a team, we retired a few years back, but President Arthur pulled us out of retirement. We needed someone we could trust and who was outside of Washington, and naturally we thought of your Pa.”
Momentarily Mark was thrilled these men thought so highly of his father, until he heard the barn door open and saw the look on his Pa’s face as he entered.
Lucas closed the door behind him, “Mark, what are you doing here?” he demanded, fighting against grabbing his son’s arm.
“Pa, I wanted to… I came to do my chores. You didn’t go anywhere? You’ve been here all the time? Pa, who are those men?” Mark asked in confusion.
“Mark, I just wished you’d minded me. I told you not to worry about any chores.”
“I’m sorry Pa, I wanted to surprise you…” the boy hung his head, knowing how much he had disappointed his Pa.
“That’s okay Mark, just go clean the stalls,” Lucas replied, giving Mark a swat on the butt as he walked away.
Turning to ‘Pedro’, “Jim, I can’t do this, not with my boy here.”
“Lucas, please, we’re so close. I’ll keep the boy safe. If Danforth is correct, we only have until tomorrow.”
“Did you know Arthur was coming here?” Lucas asked.
“No, neither Artemus nor I knew. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Secret Service is setting all of us up in order to force Danforth to show his hand.”
“You had better pray we can pull this off, because so help me… If any harm comes to Mark…” Lucas let his words go unspoken, but his eyes conveyed his deadly intent.
“I’ll do my best to protect your son, Lucas.”
Chores in the barn were completed when Lucas, Mark, and ‘Pedro’ walked to the house to prepare supper for everyone.
Supper was eaten in silence, except for the scraping of utensils upon plates. Afterwards, Mark and ‘Pedro’ did dishes. ‘Pedro’ quietly said, “Mark, I need you to keep as close to me as possible. I promised your Pa I’d look after you. If I yell ‘get gown’, I want you to fall to the ground as fast as possible, cover your head, and don’t look up until you either hear me or your Pa say it’s okay to get up. Understand?”
“Son, do you?” Jim asked, his voice and expression indicated the seriousness of the situation.
“I’m scared of those men,” answered Mark while nodding.
“I know you are,” Jim replied.
Lucas stepped out on the porch, lit a cigar, and contemplated what he was going to do. ‘Mark’s being here changes everything.’ He pounded the side of his fisted hand into the porch post.
As Lucas looked out over the landscape, the fading sun reflecting on dust alerted Lucas to more arrivals and he watched a carriage coming down the road to their home.
‘Well, at least it isn’t Millie coming to look for Mark. That would add a whole new complexity to the situation.’
“Danforth, there’s a carriage coming, get out here,” Lucas yelled into the house.
Danforth and Lucas watched as the carriage drew near and stopped in front of the barn.
“Good evening gentlemen, it seems we’re a little lost. We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up here. Are we far from North Fork?” the driver asked.
Lucas looked at Danforth, who motioned Lucas on. “Not too far. Had planned to fix the sign out on the road, some of the boys were fooling around with it the other day and got it turned all around.” As Lucas finished talking, the door to the carriage opened and out stepped President Arthur.
“My good man, do you mind if we rest up here for a while? Don’t want the citizens of North Fork to see me disheveled and all,” said the President as he fussed with the buttons on the front of his waistcoat.
“No sir, I’d be honored to have you as my guest,” Lucas answered.
“Fresh air, nice homestead, rough country. This is America,” President Arthur stated and he drew in a deep breath of air.
“This way Mr. President, I’ve a pot of hot coffee on the stove, if you’re interested,” offered Lucas.
“Lead on my good man.”
Lucas led President Arthur inside. “Mr. President, this is my son, Mark, and this is my hired hand ‘Pedro’. The others… are travelers, stopping for a break themselves.”
Mark offered his hand to the President, “Pleased to meet you Mr. President. Mr. Griswold, my… my schoolteacher, he’s been teaching us about President Grant. I’m sure he’ll start to teach us about you, soon.”
The President laughed, “We’ll see what the history books have to say about me in the future.” He accepted the cup of coffee from Lucas and sat down at the table.
Danforth motioned for Lucas to move outside. Once outside, “This couldn’t be any better, you’ll kill him tonight. I’ll take him out for a walk on the porch and you’ll kill him from the barn. If you don’t, remember, your son is here, and one of my men will be close to him.”
They returned to the house and casually chatted with the President and his men.
The sun had set when Lucas told Mark it was time for him to turn in.
“Yes sir,” Mark replied as he headed for the bedroom.
“Mr. President, I’ll go tend to your horses,” Lucas said as he walked out of the house.
Colonel Danforth started a conversation with the President, “Mr. President, beautiful country we have out here. It’s rough and violent at times, but the beauty… Have you seen the nighttime sky over the hills outside here? I’d be honored if you’d walk with me out on the porch.”
Both men walked out the door and to the porch.
One of the Colonel’s men held a gun on Lucas as he waited with his rifle inside the barn door. He had no choice. One man behind him, others were still in the house with Mark. He felt the barrel of the gun press against his spine and heard the click and the weapon was cocked. Lucas bid his time, aimed his shot and pulled the trigger. President Arthur fell to the ground, clutching his chest.
“God forgive men…” Lucas breathed as he lowered his rifle.
The colonel yelled for his men to come. Lucas ran to the President, lowered his head to his chest, and listened.
“He’s dead!” Lucas declared upon not finding a heartbeat.
Mark ran out the door and saw his Pa kneeling next to the President.
Danforth stood over Lucas’ shoulder and from the light of the window, saw the sheen of blood spread across the front of the President’s jacket, “Well now, Mr. McCain, you held up your end of the agreement and I will hold up mine. MEN, saddle up, we’re leaving.”
As the colonel and his men were walking to the barn, gunfire erupted.
“Mark! GET DOWN! HIT THE GROUND!” Jim yelled.
From his hip, Lucas fired his rifle and Jim had a pistol in hand. Lucas dove from the porch while Jim threw his body upon the young boy in an effort to protect him. When the gunfire ceased, Colonel Danforth and his men were incapacitated or dead.
“You at the house, is everyone okay?” came a voice came from the shadows.
“We’re okay. Come on in,” yelled Jim, forgetting his ‘Pedro’ disguise.
Soon a small cavalry detail arrived in the yard of the McCain homestead.
Lucas ran back to Mark, “Mark, son, are you okay?” Fear was in Lucas’ voice as he lifted his son. He’d never forgive himself for agreeing to help Gordon and West if anything had happened to Mark.
“I’m okay Pa,” Mark answered as he stood up from the ground. “Pa, look, it’s another President Arthur.” The boy pointed.
Lucas turned around to see a captain assisting another President Arthur from the horse he rode.
He turned to look at the man he’d shot on the porch, to see ‘Pedro’ assisting him to his feet.
“Pa, are they twins?” Mark asked, looking from one President to the other.
“No boy, but sometimes it is quite fun pretending to be the President.” The man removed his make-up to reveal that standing in front of everyone was Artemus Gordon. “Lucas, I’m glad you decided to take a chest shot and not a headshot tonight.”
“But how, I know the bullets in my rifle weren’t blanks this time,” Lucas stated as he walked towards the man he shot.
Artemus unbuttoned his shirt and pulled wadding out. “I had myself well padded, to make it more believable that I was President Arthur. The padding and a piece of metal deflected your bullet. Still packs a wallop, though.” Artemus rubbed his chest.
Lucas went back to Mark, placed a hand on his shoulder, and walked over to the real President Arthur.
“Mr. President, won’t you come in and sit a spell. I’m sure that horse isn’t quite as comfortable as the carriage you’re used to riding in,” Lucas offered.
“Thank you. I think we’ll take you up on your offer,” answered the President.
President Chester A. Arthur entered the homestead and smiled. Lucas, Mark, Jim, and Artemus followed the President.
Upon taking a seat at the table, Arthur stated, “Guess I’ve gone soft sitting in Washington. I remember as a boy I spent countless hours in the saddle.”
Upon pouring a cup of coffee for the adults, Lucas heard a horse coming across the bridge.
As he stepped to the porch, Lucas saw Micah pull the horse and buggy from the livery to a halt, Millie sat next to him.
“LucasBoy! Millie said you were out-of-town,” Micah stated in surprise. “I just got back in town and she was frantic, said Mark was missing. What’s going on here?” Micah asked, seeing soldiers coming out from the barn and others coming out from beside the house.
“Micah, it’s a long story. Tell you what, let me have Mark get dressed, we’re going to take President Arthur on in to North Fork, we’ll spend the night at the hotel. Guess we have a lot of explaining to do.”
“President Arthur’s here?” Millie asked.
“It’s a long story,” replied Lucas.
So it was that everyone left the McCain ranch and headed to North Fork. Upon arrival at the hotel, rooms were reserved for the President as well as Artemus and Jim, and the McCains. As the two Secret Service agents went to their rooms to change into their normal clothes, the restaurant was cordoned off so private conversations could be held.
As everyone sat in the restaurant, President Arthur started the conversation. “Well Mr. Gordon, I’ll need to talk to you a little bit about your disguises. I don’t believe that I am quite THAT fat.”
Everyone had a good laugh at the President’s expense.
“Mr. West, I do wish to thank you and Mr. Gordon for coming out of retirement to my rescue. You are quite right that our Country can’t afford to lose two Presidents to assassination back to back; too close from Lincoln to Garfield as it was.
“When I return to Washington I’ll re-instate your retirement. Or maybe you’ve grown a little tired of being out of The Service?” He looked from West to Gordon and smiled when he saw both were smiling.
“Marshal Torrance, I hope you’ll forgive the little subterfuge that was played upon your town?” Arthur asked.
“I guess I can be forgiving, but Lucas, you have some serious questions to answer in the morning,” Micah stated.
Turning to Lucas, President Arthur spoke, “Mr. McCain, I am terribly sorry that our plot to reveal the true identity of my potential assassins required involving you and because of that, your son was put at risk. Please accept my apologies and my humble gratitude.”
“You’re quite welcome Mr. President,” Lucas smiled as he looked at his boy.
The President continued, “Mr. McCain, this country is growing, I’m sure one day New Mexico will be granted statehood. Hopefully, we’ll be there to see it. I’m sure with upstanding citizens and people who care, like those here in North Fork, this territory will be ready for Statehood.”
As the conversations continued late into the night, it was President Arthur who noticed that Mark had fallen asleep on a couch to the side of the dining room. The President walked over to where Mark lie, pulled a blanket from the back of the couch and placed it over Mark. “Yes, young Mark, one day this Territory will be a State. I wonder what adventures await you when that day comes?”
The President turned back to the group, noticed that Lucas was nodding and smiling as an appreciative father.
This story was my first cross-over story, containing characters from two different beloved Westerns. My apologies for not identifying the second fandom within the Cateogory, as I didn’t want to ruin the identity of the person who first scared Mark.