Synopsis: Inspired by the season four episode, Two Ounces of Tin.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 7,540
In this episode, Sammy Davis, Jr. portrays a former rodeo quick draw artist named Tip Corey, who was drawn to the wrong side of the law when he sought revenge for the death of his father. His father, who tried to help an Indian maiden in North Fork, when Corey was only a child, had been beaten and killed by the drunks harassing the Indian. Tip Corey avenged his father’s death years later by killing those responsible, now he sought the last piece of his revenge against the badge, regardless of who wore it, because the law didn’t stop the drunks from killing his father for his interference.
After Corey’s horse went lame, he befriended Mark McCain who helped poultice his horse’s leg. As thanks, Corey demonstrated his ability to throw his knife at a circle scratched on the side of a building, draw his gun and fire at the circle, before his knife struck the center of the bullet hole. This had been the highlight of his performance with the Wild West Show.
Lucas McCain was filling in for Marshal Micah Torrance when Tip Corey made his ultimatum to meet him in the street in one hour. Having overheard the threat, Mark McCain snuck up to Corey’s room at the Madera House, and wanted to know why Corey wanted to kill his Pa, “It’s the badge, all he has to do is throw it down on the ground,” Corey answered. Mark stated, “My Pa’s too proud to do that, he believes too much in what it stands for.” The boy pleaded with Corey that his father was only a rancher. Before leaving Corey’s hotel room, he listened to the story of Corey’s father’s death.
At the appointed hour, Tip Corey taunted Lucas McCain on the streets, telling him how fruitless it was for him to waste his life, that regardless of how, he’d see the badge was on the ground. And if the badge was still pinned to the front of the blood soaked shirt Lucas wore, Corey demanded, “Who‘ll pick it up?!” Mark stepped from the corner of the Madera House to yell, “I’ll pick it up.” He went on to say, “Maybe not right away, but some day…” Could it be in that instant Corey saw a little bit of himself in Mark as the boy made his own declaration? Trying to push the boy’s words from his head, Corey turned and yelled, “McCain!” to be answered by Lucas yelling, “Don’t do it!”
Two shots later, Tip Corey was cradled in Lucas’ arms, as the rancher said, “You were slow.”
The gunslinger was buried up in the hills on the McCain Ranch, next to a grave with a marker reading “Unknown”, but Lucas and Mark knew the truth, lying before them were the graves of father and son. Lucas answered his son’s question about how life could have been so unfair with a quote, “There but for the grace of God go I…”, trying to explain that every decision a person makes, leads them down different paths.
My story takes a different path and begins when Mark answered Corey’s challenge. The dialog in the first four paragraphs of my story is directly from Two Ounces of Tin.
A Simple Promise
“I’ll pick it up!” yelled thirteen year-old Mark McCain as he stepped from his hiding place, around the corner of the hotel. He knew he’d disobeyed his Pa by not going to Mrs. Wingate, but he also knew what was at stake; Tip Corey was there seeking his last act of revenge against those he felt responsible for his father’s death. Taking a deep breath Mark stepped forward and continued, “Maybe not right away, but someday, somewhere, I’ll pick it up and I’ll come after you! Won’t be for a long time yet, but someday, someday… you’re gonna see that badge again and I’ll be behind it! So… you just be ready Mr. Corey. Ya’ hear? Cause someday…somewhere…”
Lucas felt a sense of dread as he stood there listening… Underlying his boy’s words was fear, but the words spoke of a simple promise…revenge.
“Mark, stand back son!” Lucas hollered. His eyes not straying from his son until he heard Tip Corey yell, “I’m calling you McCain!”
Acting on pure instinct, Lucas fired his rifle at the same time Tip fired his handgun.
“You were slow.” Mark wasn’t sure he really heard those words as he looked up from cradling his Pa’s head in his lap. Numbness welled deep inside him as he watched the dark-skinned hand reach down and pull the badge from the bloodstained shirt his Pa wore.
“Nothing personal, boy. It was all about the badge.” Tip Corey stood straight; tossing the badge to the dirt, emphasizing as he said, “That’s all he had to do.”Corey pulled on his gloves and strode to his horse, swung up in the saddle and signaled his horse into a lope.
The stunned citizens of North Fork slowly moved into action, rancher and woodworker Frank Toomey came running from his woodworking shop and stopped at Lucas’ shoulders while banker John Hamilton stood by his feet, as Mrs. Wingate placed her hands to Mark’s shoulders and pulled him to his feet in an attempt to lead him away.
Mark stoically refused to move as his Pa was carried to the doctor’s office.“Please Mark,” pleaded Mrs. Wingate. Mark looked to the badge at his feet, knelt down whispering, “Some day…”, picked up the badge, and placed it in his pocket. Alone he stood in the middle of the street as he looked in the direction Tip Corey rode.
Two days later, a grieved Micah Torrance stood beside the son of his best friend as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He knelt down, picked up a handful of soil, and tossed it into the grave.
“Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself,” the minister stated as others of the town followed Micah’s lead in tossing soil onto the top of the coffin.
“Dust to Dust,” commented Nils Swenson, the town’s blacksmith, as he stood the other side of Mark, hat in hand. One by one, the citizens of North Fork offered their condolences to Mark McCain for the death of his father. But their words weren’t heard; Mark’s mind was elsewhere…
“Come along Mark,” Micah stated as he took hold of the boy’s arm to lead him away.
Again, Mark refused to be led away. Letting go of the boy’s arm, Micah followed the minister from the cemetery; he stopped at the fork in the road leading to town, and waited.
Night fell before Mark moved from standing vigil over his Pa’s final resting place. He waited and watched while Toomey and Nils finished shoveling the dirt back into the grave. Before he left he spoke, “Someday Pa, I’ll avenge you… I promise.”
Pulling off his string tie, Mark dropped it on top of the grave, turned and walked to his horse. Upon mounting BlueBoy, he started down the road; at the fork, he stopped, realizing someone was waiting in the shadows.
“I wondered when you’d leave…” called the voice.
“You been waiting for me Micah?” asked Mark.
“Yes, son, I have.”
“Don’t you have to walk the town or something?” Mark replied.
“It can wait
“Well, you can ride back to town and do your job. I’m going home.”
“No, you’re coming back home with me, Milly would have my hide if I let you go alone.”
“I’ve chores to do at the ranch, stock needs tending to…”
“Not tonight. The cattle will keep. We can go to the ranch in the daylight, tomorrow.”
Mark wanted to argue more, but he knew the more he argued the more he wouldn’t be able to prevent his tears from falling; the quicker he got somewhere, the quicker he could hide and cry.
The following morning, Micah rode beside Mark as they silently returned to the ranch. Mark stopped in front of their… his home, and dismounted.
“Boy, pack everything you need and we can load up,” stated Micah
“Pack?” asked Mark.
“You don’t think you’re going to live out here all by yourself, do you? No, Milly and I have discussed that you’re going to live with me. So, get all your clothes and schoolbooks packed. Once that’s done, we’ll hitch the team to the buckboard and load the foodstuff and take it to town, plus I’m sure you’d rather sleep in your own bunk, instead of that old couch I have.”
“This is my ranch!” argued Mark.
“Yes, it is, and you’re my ward… And as such, you’ll be living with me.” The finality in Micah’s voice indicated there would be no further argument.
In a little more than an hour, they had everything loaded into the back of the buckboard and were making their way back to town; Micah driving the team, while Mark rode behind him on BlueBoy, leading Micah’s horse.
After helping to rearrange Micah’s apartment and organizing is own belongings, Mark asked, “What about Razor, and Pa’s rifle?”
Razor is your horse now. As for your Pa’s rifle, it stays at the jail, locked up with my other rifles.”
“It’s not your rifle!” complained Mark.
“No its not, and it’s not yours either. It will be there when you’re old enough.”
A week after Lucas’ funeral, Mark rode to the Jackford Ranch and waited as he was announced. Holding his hat in his hand, he followed Oat Jackford into the office and made his proposal.
Having listened to and at first declining; only to hear Mark counter his refusal, a flustered Jackford answered, “Sure, I could use more land.”
“Then why won’t you buy the ranch?” Mark demanded to know, he leaned forward, the palms of both hands on Jackford’s desk.
“Because I know John Hamilton is holding it in trust until you reach your eighteenth birthday,” replied Jackford.
“A ranch that means nothing to me!” Mark’s words were spoken with bitterness.
“Nothing to you?!” Jackford called out as he stood to his feet.
“It’s a simple business transaction. If you won’t buy the land, then buy the cattle.”
“Boy, it’s not that simple…”
“Not that simple, that’s what everyone says,” replied a sulking Mark. “How am I supposed to take care of myself and the ranch?”
“You and I both know darn well that Miss Milly and the Marshal are providing for you…”
“And how would you feel, knowing that everything you have was provided to you out of pity,” an angry Mark retorted.
“It’s not pity. You mean a lot to a lot of people.”
“If it were my Pa here, offering you the ranch and the cattle, you’d take it!”
“If it were your Pa, yes. Mark, you’re just a boy…” Jackford looked at the boy standing in front of him, knowing the boy was still in grief over the death of his father, but also knowing McCain bred good stock … “If John Hamilton agrees to sell the cattle, we have a deal.”
“They’re McCain cattle!”
“And if you were of your majority, I’d accept your deal right here and now.”
“Majority!” Mark felt like spitting on the floor. “When you get older… That’s all I’ve ever heard. I’m the only McCain left from the partnership! It wasn’t McCain and Hamilton!” Mark turned to storm from the office.
Knowing he wasn’t going to get any relief, Jackford stated, “You have about one hundred and fifty head of cattle… I’ll give you market price. How’s that?”
“Market price sounds fair,” Mark replied as he stopped short.
“I’ll stop by the bank and have John Hamilton review the sale contract and deposit the money to your account,” Jackford offered as he stepped from behind his desk and offered his hand.
“You don’t think I can handle my own business transactions?” a frustrated Mark answered.
“Son, you’re not of age. Any business transaction wouldn’t be legal, and John Hamilton was assigned to be your financial guardian, there’s nothing more I can do. We either do it my way or no way.”
“Fine,” mumbled Mark as he shook hands, turned and left without saying goodbye. Mark jumped down from the porch, grabbed BlueBoy’s reins, swung up into the saddle, and kicked his horse into a gallop.
After Sunday Services, Jackford stopped by the Marshal’s Office.
“He what?!” demanded Micah after listening to the rancher recount what had happened the day before
“I know the boy’s hurting and any reasoning I tried to come up with only antagonized him more. I figured the best thing for me to do was to agree to buy the herd. He’s just as proud and as stubborn as his old man was.” Jackford rubbed at his jaw and remembered his first fight with Lucas McCain.
“But Micah and I can provide for him…” store owner Milly Scott stated.
“That’s what I told the boy,” Jackford responded.
“Milly, Oat’s right. Like father, like son. I know something’s been stewing about him, but I’ve not been able to get him to talk.”
“But to sell the cattle… Lucas worked so hard…” pleaded Milly.
“And Mark was right there beside him every step of the way. The land will keep; the boy is right, the cattle need tending.” Micah continued to explain, “It takes money and time to keep a herd alive, and Mark doesn’t have the money or the time. I’ll talk with John tomorrow morning and I’m sure he’ll agree to the sale.”
Mark was leaving the school grounds when Jackford stopped and asked him to accompany him to the bank.
Mark sat in one chair and Jackford in another in front of John Hamilton’s desk.
“Mark, as you know, until you’re old enough, I’m the executor of Lucas’ ranch. And you know that the livestock won’t take care of themselves. Mrs. Hannebury has agreed to purchase your sow and the Profitt’s have agreed to purchase your chickens. As for your cattle, I understand from Mr. Jackford that you have offered to sell him your herd, and he’s agreed.”
“I’ve discussed this matter with Marshal Torrance and I’ve reviewed the sale contract from Mr. Jackford; and everything seems in fair order
“You might as well throw in the team, I’ve no need for them,” added Mark.
A few minutes later, the modified contract was signed and Jackford pulled from his wallet enough cash to cover the transaction.
“Does it all have to be deposited?” asked Mark.
“No, but I think it would be for the best,” answered John Hamilton as he finished counting the money to confirm the deposit.
“I just wanted to keep some of it for my own spending,” offered Mark. “I mean, a person needs money for their own expenses, eating, clothes, school supplies, and such.”
“Well, maybe a weekly allowance would be a good idea,” Mr. Hamilton replied.
“Could I have twenty-five dollars?” hoped Mark.
“Twenty-five?” asked the banker, raising his eyebrows. “I think five dollars is more in line.” He pulled out five dollars and handed it to the boy. “Do you want to deposit the rest?”
“No sir, you’re my financial guardian…” answered Mark as he stood and left the room.
After watching the boy leave Jackford commented, “Just ain’t the same Mark McCain that I remember.”
“Oat, it’s only been a little over a week, give him time to grieve. He’ll come around; we just need to be here for him, to let him know he’s not alone.”
Jackford nodded, placed his hat on his head, bid the banker goodbye and left.
A month had passed since Lucas’ funeral when Micah demanded, “What would your Pa think?!” as he entered the gunsmith shop.
“It’s my money!” Mark answered.
“Not for a weapon. You know how your Pa felt about you and guns.”
“Maybe he should have thought about that before he went and got himself killed,” Mark bitterly replied.
“He didn’t go and get himself killed. He….”
“He was thinking more about that badge you pinned on him, than me.”
Mark stormed from the shop, slamming the door behind him.
“Thanks for getting word to me, Angus,” answered Micah.
“I knew you’d want to know,” the gunsmith stated as he returned the weapon to the glass gun case.
That evening, after walking the town, Micah found Milly waiting for him in the Marshal’s Office.
“Angus told me what happened earlier,” stated Milly as she watched the marshal remove his hat and walk over to pour himself a cup of coffee.
“Can you believe him?” asked Micah as he offered Milly a cup.
“Mark?” Milly asked, declining the coffee.
“I don’t know what’s got into that boy.” Micah stated as he sat on the edge of his desk. “He used to be so sweet, but this past month…”
“Micah, I’m sure he’s still hurting… It’s going to take a while for him to get over his grief, and come to terms that he’s an orphan.”
“Quit reminding me…” Micah stopped mid-statement.
“Reminding you?” Milly tried to entice Micah to continue.
“Don’t you think I don’t feel guilty enough… If I hadn’t gone out of town, Lucas would still be alive.”
“And you’d be dead,” Milly stated, appalled at Micah’ train of thought. “How many times has Lucas asked you to keep his son, to raise him proper? Lucas always knew there could be a chance that someone would be better than him… He left the boy to our care.”
“He shouldn’t of had to!” retorted Micah. “I’m no substitute for the boy’s Pa.”
“Nor am I a substitute for his mother…” offered Milly.
Getting back to the original subject, “He just isn’t acting healthy… Moping around. And now… he’s over at Angus’ trying to buy a handgun… of all things,” a flustered Micah stated.
“We’ll just have to keep a closer eye on him,” suggested Milly. “Maybe he should move into my place… Keep him away from the idea of guns…” Milly’s eyes wandered to the rack of rifles mounted on the back wall of the Marshal’s Office, she averted her eyes when she came to the rifle with the expanded loop on the lever.
“I’ll talk it over with him, when I think it’s the right time. See what he thinks.”
“Okay Micah,” Milly answered, pulling her shawl over her shoulders as she turned to leave.
A slight figure pulled back into the shadows as Milly exited the Marshal’s Office.
“Closer eye? A body can’t keep a closer eye on me than this whole town is…” mumbled Mark as he headed to the Marshal’s home. “It’s a wonder they don’t send me to an orphanage and be rid of me.”
Several days later, Micah rode out to the Proffit’s place to see for himself the damage done by a group of rustlers, leaving Mark in the Marshal’s Office working on his homework.
“Kinda young to be a lawman…” a man stated upon entering the office.
“I’m not a lawman, I’m just sitting here, waiting for the Marshal to get back, he’s my guardian,” replied Mark as he looked up from his studies to see a tall man removing his hat. His clothes dust caked, as well as his face and hands.
“Will he be long?” the man asked.
“Should be back soon. Can I give him a message?” asked Mark.
“I’m ram-rodding a herd of cattle; our trail boss sent me ahead to find out your town’s policy on allowing drovers in.”
“Drovers are welcomed, as long as they don’t cause any trouble,” answered Micah as he entered the office.
Micah and the ramrod talked for a few more moments, informing the man how he expected the drovers to behave and the resulting consequences if they didn’t, before the man left the office.
After the ramrod left the office, Mark suggested, “If you’re going to have a bunch of drovers in town, maybe you could teach me how to use a rifle. Since I’m staying with you, might be a good idea… me helping you protect the town…”
“Mark McCain, you’re not old enough to stand beside me to protect this town; you’re just a child.” Micah’s tone was gruffer than he meant it to be, but to have previously found Mark attempting to purchase a handgun and now him wanting to be taught to use a rifle, under the guise of protecting North Fork…
Walking around his desk and sitting down, Micah thought about Milly’s offer. Taking a deep breath, Micah spoke, “Mark, I know there were plenty of times in the past when your Pa left you in my care, but right now, the way you’re behaving, I think its best that you start living with Milly.”
“We just think it would be for the best. We both agreed that spending as much time as you are, here at the jail, just isn’t healthy for a boy your age.”
“You just want to get rid of me. Why don’t you just send me to an orphanage?!”
“I ain’t your son!” Mark yelled and ran from the Marshal’s Office.
Later that afternoon, Micah found Mark curled up next to the headstone marking his Pa’s grave, evidence of tears stained his face.
The next day, Micah helped Mark move his possessions into the backroom at the General Store. Ever since Milly had made the suggestion, when no customers were in the store, she worked to re-arrange the backroom in order to give Mark some privacy.
Mark waited outside the general store and watched the excited drovers race into town; stopping in front of the saloon. He watched a young drover, after being barred from entering the saloon by his fellow drovers take a seat in front of the windows.
As Mark crossed the street, he watched the young man lean back and prop his feet against the hitching rail and pull his hat down over his eyes.
“Too wet behind the ears?” asked Mark he leaned against the hitching rail, facing away from the drover.
Mark felt the drover pull his feet from the rail and heard the front two legs of the chair hit the wooden boardwalk, “I’m not…” the drover’s tone of voice indicated his inclination to fight, but he pushed his hat back when he realized who had spoken. “You understand?”
“All the time,” commented Mark, as he turned to face the drover, his eyes lit as an idea came to him, “Say, that’s a mighty fine gun you’ve got there.”
The drover slowly pulled his gun from his holster and handed it to Mark, “I’ve had it since I was probably your age.”
Mark firmly took the weapon in his hand and felt the balance change, depending on how he held it.
“You seem to be a natural in handling a six-shooter,” said the drover.
“Natural, doesn’t do a body any good when others refuse to let me buy one for protection against wolves.”
“And how does a city boy like you need protection against wolves?”
“I live on a ranch outside of town. They think because I’m so young, I won’t encounter any trouble when I’m riding fences.”
“Anytime you’re out on the range, why there’s wolves and coyotes, and rattlesnakes.”
“That’s what I’ve tried to explain, but to them, I’m just a kid.”
“Kid or not, you got a job, you need the right tools. What’s your name?”
“My name’s Clint MacGregor, and we ‘kids’ need to stick together.” The drover smiled at Mark, knowing exactly how the boy felt by not being treated as an equal for equal work.
“I got twenty-five dollars… There’s a gun at the gunshop, it’s not new, but it’s in good working order…”
“You want me to buy it for you?”
Mark counted out the money, handed it to MacGregor, and told him he’d meet him behind the livery.
Fifteen minutes later, Mark was placing a handgun wrapped in rags and a box of cartridges in his saddlebag and bid goodbye to his new friend.
Upon his return to the back of the General Store, Mark pulled the weapon from the rags and inspected it. The wear on the handle indicated wasn’t new, but it was now Mark’s.
Weeks had passed when Mark came to realize the more he brooded over the past and connived to find time to be alone, the more Milly, Micah, and the entire town kept an eye on him. Milly saw his growing depression and bitterness and decided to talk with him. By the end of the discussion, he decided in order to get his privacy, he needed to change how he went about it; maybe not return to being the child everyone thought he should be, but put on enough of an act that would convince the people of town they didn’t need to closely watch his comings and goings, so much.
One Saturday morning, several weeks later, Milly and Micah thought Mark had finally gotten through his grief and suggested he ride out on his own and enjoy the day with BlueBoy. Mark returned to his room in the back of the General Store, took his handgun out of its hiding place, placed it in his saddle bags, and headed out to the ranch to practice.
As time went by, the people of North Fork accepted Mark as his own person; they stopped keeping such a close eye on him, and readily greeted him during their daily activities. Many felt, in the future, he would be an upstanding, contributing citizen to the community. He was continuing to excel in school and was keeping a part-time job for Nils, working at the livery.
Whenever he found himself with extra time, he took on additional jobs with other ranchers around the area, especially during round-up and branding seasons.
Mark kept secret how proficient he’d become in handling a handgun. One Saturday afternoon, he remembered his first encounter with Tip Corey, when Corey showed off some of the moves that had been part of his act with the Wild West Show. Mark felt a sense of accomplishment when he too could scratch out a circle in a tree, stand back twenty paces and throw a knife at the circle, pull and fire his handgun, and have the knife lodge in the hole created by the bullet, before returning his gun to its holster. “Some day… Some where…” whispered the soon to be seventeen-year-old Mark McCain.
“Surprise!!” was yelled as Mark entered the restaurant in the Mallory House Hotel.
“What?!” a started Mark asked, his eyes wide open.
“Happy Birthday to ye Mark,” Lou Mallory stated in her bright Irish brogue. Others in the room offered birthday congratulations to the young man.
A half hour into the celebration, Lou pulled Mark aside and handed him a letter, “After ye finish reading this, we’ll open ye’re presents and then have some cake. Okay?”
Mark walked to one of the corners of the room and while everyone happily chatted, he read the letter from Miss Milly. Even without reading the return address, he recognized the penmenship.
I’m so sorry I could not be there to celebrate your birthday, I had hoped my family obligations would have allowed me to attend, but my father is still suffering from his illness.
You don’t know what a joy you were to my life when you came to live with me, and maybe now, I wish I had told you more often how proud I was of you.
I know I must be babbling on, but do you have a sweetheart, have you managed to steal the heart of any certain girl. If you have, I know you will a gentleman, just as your father was.
I must make this letter brief as I hear Father calling for me. Again Mark, all my love and a wonderful birthday to you.
Mark brushed back the tear that had formed in his eyes upon the mention of his father. He folded the letter, placed it in the back pocket of his jeans, stood and returned to his party.
Mark couldn’t believe how fortunate he was to have so many good friends, he wished maybe more of his buddies from school had attended, but with his having graduated earlier and taken on a man’s responsibilities, he was seen more as a man and not a ‘school-hood chum’ by those who had been his friends.
When it came to opening the last few presents, Micah handed a box to him, “Boy, sorry, I know I shouldn’t call you that…”
“That’s okay Micah, you always called Pa LucasBoy…” a brief smiled glinted from his face.
“This present is from me,” Micah stated.
“Micah, you’ve done so much for me, you didn’t need to get me anything else,” replied Mark.
“It’s taken me a while to realize, but I finally realized you’re ready for this gift. You’re a man now, and carrying a man’s responsibilities, so… You need the right tools.”
Mark opened the simply wrapped gift and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the Colt .45 lying in the cotton-padded box. It was simple and plain, no fancy engraving or pearl handle, but the wood of the handle bore a simple carving ‘Mc2’; the brand of his… ranch.
“Micah, I don’t know what to say…” Mark looked into the lawman eyes.
“I’ll teach you how to shoot, but it will have to wait until I return from Council Bluffs,” Micah stated.
“Hey Mark!” Nils Swenson called as he handed the last present to Mark. “I couldn’t give this to you because then you’d know what Micah was giving ya, but I guess you know what this is.”
“Nils?” Mark inquired.
“Ah, go on, open it,” Nils replied.
Mark opened the present to see a finely detailed, black leather holster for his new handgun.
“See if it fits ya. I sort of guessed at your measurements, based on what size britches ya wear,” the jovial blacksmith replied.
Mark pulled the holster and wrapped it around his hips and buckled it.
“See, plenty of room for growing,” Nils replied as Mark buckled the holster to almost the last hole.
From beside him, Micah slipped the Colt .45 into its pocket down Mark’s right thigh.
“This is only for protection boy,” Micah stated as he pulled his young ward into a hug.
Marshal Torrance planned to leave North Fork to attend business in Council Bluffs and at the last minute invited Mark to accompany him; because he found out the rodeo was also supposed to be in town while they would be there. And it had been some time since he and the boy had spent any real time together, as the boy grew older his responsibilities in working at the livery and for the other ranchers took more of the boy’s time, Micah missed their time together. They routinely saw each other in town and spent Sunday afternoon’s together with Miss Lou, but it wasn’t the same as just the two of them fishing or camping on a hunting trip.
Upon checking into the hotel in Council Bluffs, Micah asked Mark to take their gear upstairs and see to the horses at the livery, he’d meet him for supper at the hotel, once he was through with his business.
Mark was left with most of the afternoon to himself and decided to walk the grounds where the rodeo was being set up. He walked among the cowboys and crinkled his nose at the stench of the cigarette smoke that wafted along the light afternoon breeze. Later, when he passed a cowboy smoking a cigar, Mark paused and remembered back. His curiosity was piqued at the sounds of rapid gunfire coming from the far side of the grounds.
Mark came around the corner of a building and saw a man dressed in buckskin clothing brandishing a silver, pearl-handled handgun, daring anyone in the crowd around him to ‘go on, pick it up’.
“See for yourselves; how many holes does that tin can have in it?” the small black man stated upon returning his gun to the holster hanging low from his hip.
Steeling himself back around the corner, Mark inhaled sharply. The clothes, the voice, the words… ‘pick it up’ were too familiar to him.
From his past, ‘Who’s gonna pick it up?’ echoed into Mark’s mind.
Mark left the show grounds and ran to the hotel, taking the stairs two at a time to get to his room; Mark pulled his holster and handgun from his saddlebags. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Mark’s fingers trembled in anticipation as he loaded the weapon with six bullets. He slipped the gun into the holster he’d buckled around his hips. Before he left the room, he pulled a worn box from the bottom on his saddlebag. Carefully removing the top, Mark removed the badge from inside, and wrapped his left hand around it.
Returning to the show grounds, Mark sought information that would direct him to Tip Corey; after twenty minutes, he stood in front of the saloon. Looking over the double swinging doors, Mark pushed them open and stepped inside. The stench from cigars, cigarettes, whiskey, and body odor was pungent to Mark’s senses, but he didn’t let it interfere with his scanning the faces, looking…
“Are you ready?!” Mark hollered, as he pushed through, the doors swinging on their hinges behind him.
The saloon quieted as the patrons nervously looked around to see who had spoken and whom the voice was challenging.
“Corey, I asked you, are you ready?”
Those standing at the bar, on either side of Corey, quickly stepped aside, but didn’t leave the saloon. Corey slowly turned around to see who was addressing him.
“Ready, son?” Corey asked.
“I’m not your son.” Mark’s voice was deliberate and calculating, yet tinged with anxiety.
“You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”
“I told you… someday, somewhere, you’d see this again.” With his left hand, Mark pinned the badge to his shirt. “And that I’d be behind it. So, are you ready?”
“Boy, listen here…”
“I’m not a boy! You saw to that four years ago.”
“Four years…” Corey’s face revealed he’d put the pieces together, “McCain.”
“You said it was nothing personal, it was all about the badge. Well, you made it personal, I picked it up!”
“You’re not a lawman,” Corey replied, trying to stall.
“Neither was my Pa. I told you he was just a rancher, and his belief in what the badge stood for prevented him for throwing it in the dirt. You could have walked away!” Mark boldly answered.
“You could have left it lying in the dirt,” Corey coldly answered as he started to turn back to the bar.
“I warned you, and I promised my Pa I’d avenge his death. Are you ready?”
Corey turned back to face the young man standing just inside the bar. Slowly, he removed the glove from his right hand as he surveyed the room; he nonchalantly removed the glove from his left hand, as well. In one motion, he dropped the gloves and went for his gun. Mark too went for his weapon. Chairs and boots scraped against the floor while the other patrons scrambled out of the line of fire as two gunshots sounded simultaneously, and a woman screamed.
Micah and the town’s Sheriff ran into the saloon and stopped between the two different groups of people huddled in the room.
“What happened here?” demanded the sheriff.
Someone pointed and answered, “That boy came in here and challenged that man to a gunfight.”
“Boy? Elroy, what boy?”
“Never saw him before, Sheriff.”
One small group parted, allowing the two lawmen to see the boy for themselves.
“Mark!” gasped Micah. Quickly he was cradling Mark’s head in his lap.
“Did I get him?” Mark asked, his voice rasped.
“Get him?” Micah noticed the badge on Mark’s shirt, his blood spreading across the blue fabric, “Where did you get this?” he asked as he unpinned the badge.
“I picked it up,” Mark answered.
“No one else would. I told him I would,” Mark replied in a whisper.
“Corey… …killed Pa.”
The circle of people parted again to allow the town’s doctor to see the wounded boy.
“Micah,” Mark gasped. “I promised Pa… oh… It hurts Micah.” His eyes closed.
“Take it easy boy, the doctor’s here.”
The doctor knelt down, setting his black bag to the floor; without needing to look inside, he took out his stethoscope and placed one end to his ears and the other to the boy’s chest. After repositioning it several times, he slowly he pulled it away, shaking his head, and said, “He’s gone.”
Micah couldn’t accept the doctor’s declaration; he knew the boy just had to be alive. With tears streaming down his face the Marshal shook Mark’s shoulders, calling the boy’s name over and over, begging for him to wake up.
Mark’s eyes bolted open at the pressure of a hand shaking his shoulder and the voice… The voice from… “Pa?”
“Time for bed Mark,” Lucas compassionately stated, realizing he had startled his son.
“What?” asked Mark, rising up from having fallen asleep with his head on his arms at the table, while working on his studies.
“Didn’t think I’d been in the barn long enough for you to fall asleep,” laughed Lucas.
“Sleep?” He looked around the front room of their home and said, “Pa?”
Teasing his young son, Lucas answered, “Sleepy head, it’s time for bed. Put your studies away and…” Sensing confusion in his son, he asked, “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” queried Lucas.
“Pa… Earlier today… you said, there but for the grace of God go I…”
“If you hadn’t been faster, than Mr. Corey…” Mark continued to fidget in his seat as he looked around the room.
“I don’t know that I was faster,” answered Lucas.
“But if he…”
“Son, what’s got you so skittish, what are you trying to get at?” Lucas asked as he pulled out the chair from the table and sat down next to his son. One of Lucas’ fears had always been how would his having to kill a person affect is son; he realized his fear was coming true. He knew his thirteen year-old son was struggling with something.
“Pa, if he had killed you…”
“He didn’t, so let’s not dwell on that,” Lucas didn’t let Mark finish his statement as he swept an errant strand of his son’s bangs from his face.
“I can’t… If he had killed you… and I picked up that badge.”
“Why would you have picked it up?” Lucas curiously asked, “Because you told Corey you would?”
“I guess, and I… I promised you I’d avenge your death.” Mark knew how strange his statement must have sounded to his Pa, but he needed to figure out which was real, now, or before.
“And when did you make that promise?”
“After Mr. Corey killed you… Maybe it was a dream. It seemed so real,” replied Mark as he looked at and starting rubbing his hands over his chest.
“Care to tell me about your dream?”
“Pa, Micah’s badge… How much do you think it weighs?”
“Never thought much about it, but before Micah left town, he told me Corey made a comment about the badge being two ounces of tin, why?”
Mark shivered upon remembering the end of his dream. “In my… dream, I…”
“You what?” encouraged Lucas.
“I picked up the badge and hid it. One day, I got someone to buy me a handgun and over time, I got good at shooting it, but kept it a secret. Then, for my seventeenth birthday, Micah bought me a Colt .45 and Nils crafted me a holster. And… then… Micah and I went to Council Bluffs, I encountered Mr. Corey. I mean, it was years after you were killed… I got my gun and the badge… I called him out and I think I killed him, but he… he… he killed me.”
Mark hesitated in talking of his dream, trying to understand what disturbed him most. Lucas allowed his son, and himself, time to think; he wasn’t sure how to interpret his son’s dream.
After a few more minutes, Mark stated, “When I wore it…the badge was only tin, because I wore it for the wrong reason. But when Micah wears it, he wears it for the right reasons… It’s more… it’s heavier. I mean… it’s more than just a piece of tin pinned to your shirt when you wear it for the right reason. I think I understand better what Micah tried to explain all those years ago when he was telling us about the letter of the law.”
“Glad your dream could teach you something.”
Mark looked to his Pa and said, “Pa, you should know… I didn’t obey you earlier, when you told me to go help Mrs. Wingate.”
“I already know that,” Lucas answered.
“No, there was a reason I was outside the hotel…” Mark hesitated and took a deep breath before he continued, “I went to see Mr. Corey in his hotel room.”
Lucas was alarmed his son had disobeyed him, yet, he listened as his son plainly spoke of their encounter.
But inside, Mark still struggled to understand, “He didn’t want to see you dead, he said he liked you, a man who would stand up for what he believed in, but he couldn’t let go of what happened in the past. Pa, when he was here at the house, and was doing his act… Do you think maybe… Pa, I know you’re good with your rifle… but… Mr. Corey and his gun… Do you think he…”
“He what?” Lucas asked.
“Do you think… maybe… he allowed you to be faster?” Mark hesitantly asked.
Lucas didn’t answer his son, he knew Corey was faster, and he had already been wondering, ‘How could I really have bested him?’ Now Lucas understood, ‘There but for the Grace of God go I… There but for the love of a son…’
“Mr. Corey told me why he was after the badge, how his pa died. And those other men he killed. It was all about revenge.” Mark remembered his dream, and his desire to avenge his Pa’s death. “I know revenge isn’t a good enough reason to pick up the badge…”
“Revenge is never a good reason to do anything,” Lucas commented. “Revenge only leads to more heartache…”
“It’s a vicious cycle… I mean… Pa, Mr. Corey killed all those men because he wanted revenge for his Pa’s death, he promised his Pa he’d get even. And I picked up the badge because I… I promised I’d avenge your death… But my promise of revenge only got me killed.” Mark shivered after he spoke those words.
“But it was only a dream, son.” Lucas offered comfort to his son by placing a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Was it? A dream…?”
“Yes son, it was a dream,” answered Lucas, hoping to allay his son’s fears.
With a more upbeat tone to his voice, Mark stated, “Pa, if I were to become a lawman…”
“If that happens, I’m sure you’ll wear the badge for the right reasons,” replied Lucas, smiling at the newest idea his son thought of for a future.
“But if I were… I’d need to know how to use a handgun,” Mark just couldn’t help himself in suggesting. “And if you were to teach me, you’d teach me right. And the badge wouldn’t be just a piece of tin.”
“Mark?! I won’t teach you how to shoot a handgun. You’re too young.”
“Would you teach me how to use a rifle instead?”
“Mark, it’s past your bedtime,” Lucas stated, attempting to change the subject.
“If your butt isn’t out of that chair and in the bedroom in fifteen seconds…” Lucas’ expression was serious, and his tone of voice carried a simple promise.
“Yes sir. Good night, Pa.”
Mark closed his books and stacked them in the center of the table before he stood and left the front room.
Lucas shook his head and smiled as he answered, “Goodnight, son.”
As Mark pulled the covers over his shoulders, he took a moment to say a silent prayer, thankful he didn’t have to retrieve the badge from the dirt.