The Final Witness (by BluewindFarm)

Synopsis:  This story is a ‘what happened next’ from The Rifleman episode The Second Witness.

Category:  The Riflman
Genre:  Westen
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  9,070


 

Introduction:

In this episode, two deputies are escorting a man who is killed by a sniper’s bullet. After arriving in North Fork, the deputies declare the man was their only witness against Slade Burrows, a notorious outlaw who always managed to escape being brought to justice because there was never a witness. Lucas McCain and his son Mark arrived at the Marshal’s Office to hear what happened to the man, when Lucas declared the dead man was the man he saw riding with another murdered man and Slade Burrows a month earlier; Lucas McCain is now the Second Witness. Lucas agreed to testify, but based on what happened to the first witness, he decided to travel to Silver City on his own.

A stranger stopped by the McCain Ranch during the night, and unbeknownst to Lucas, spent the night in the barn, helping to nurse Mark McCain’s horse, BlueBoy, back to health. That was all it took for Mark to declare the man his friend. Lucas attempted to instruct his son not to act in haste in making new friends; there’s more to someone being a friend than just helping once.

Lucas hurried his son off to school and ultimately was confronted by his son’s new friend, who turned out to be the brother of the man Lucas was to testify against. The two men fought inside the barn, with Mark saving his father’s life when he tossed his father’s rifle to him.

Afterwards, Lucas inquired what brought Mark back, “Pa, you told me about making friends in haste, yet you called Brad ‘our’ friend.”

Have you ever wondered what happened after Lucas left North Fork to testify against Slade Burrows in Silver City? Have you ever wondered what happened to Brad Davis – did Lucas kill or just wound him? And just maybe… Have you ever wondered why Lucas was hesitant to purchase Mark his own rifle at an age when most boys have one? I hope this story answers your questions, and more.

 

The Final Witness

 

“I’ll be back in a couple of days,” Lucas McCain stated after catching his son who had jumped into his arms as they stood with Marshal Micah Torrance on the porch to the Marshal’s Office. The widowed-father felt bittersweet about the impending separation, but he knew he had a job to do, a civic responsibility.

“I know you will, Pa,” Mark replied as he wrapped his arms around his father and hugged him.

Lucas grinned and teasingly slipped a finger behind his ten year-old son’s ear, “Don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”

“I won’t, Pa,” answered Mark, looking his Pa in the eye.

“You and Micah enjoy your fishing trip tomorrow.” Setting his son to the boardwalk and tussling his hair, Lucas smiled while moving to mount Razor, “And Micah, if he gives you any problems, feel free to toss him back,” he teased. Moments later he settled into the saddle.

“No problem, LucasBoy,” Micah called back, giving a flourish of a wave of hand. “Don’t worry about Mark, you just testify against Slade Burrows and get back here when you can.”

“Bye Pa!” Mark hollered and enthusiastically waved goodbye.

Lucas gave one last wave while turning to casually trot Razor from town. His commitment to performing his civic duty had seen him many times step in to the role of a deputy marshal in Micah’s stead or to stand with him. On a number of occasions he had also served on a jury, be it back in the Oklahoma or Wyoming territories, but this would be the first time he would ever be the sole witness testifying against a known outlaw, Slade Burrows. The outlaw’s reputation was mean; and he had a number of subordinates eager to do his bidding.

This case was to be presided over by one Judge Marks, in Silver City along the western border of the New Mexico Territory.

Before Lucas prepared to travel, he worried if word were to get out that there was a second person who could prove an eyewitness account that the victim and the accused had been seen together. With great effort, Lucas had kept his travel plans to himself. Wary he greeted his son’s new friend, a stranger to these parts. And as fate dealt his hand, an attempt was made on Lucas’ life, but by providence or a son’s love, it failed.

Lucas had no direct hand in initiating the failure, except instructing his son to be careful with whom he chose to make his friends. Lucas knew the world was full of more good people than bad, and he didn’t want to jade his son against anyone, so he had carefully selected his words, “You act in haste son, you repent in leisure. It’s best to make friends slowly.”

*****

The assassination attempt on Lucas happened during a fighting in their barn and a brief gun battle. Afterwards, with Razor and Mark tied to the back of the buckboard, Lucas and Mark drove a bound and gagged Davis into North Fork, dropping him off at the medical clinic and then explaining what happened to Marshal Torrance and the Deputy Rogers.

Doc Burrage placed a few stitches high along the man’s ribcage and pronounced him healthy enough to travel. Doc realized that had the man not been moving when Lucas fired, the man would very well be at the undertaker’s instead. Deputy Phil Rogers took custody of his suspect from the doctor and left that afternoon for Silver City, with Burrows’ wounded brother in handcuffs.

Leaving the team and their saddle horses at the livery, Lucas and Mark spent one last night together in town. Sleep failed to come to the tall rancher as he worried if there would be any other attempt on his life. Was there anyone else out there who would try to make a name for themself by killing the one man who could put a rope around the neck of their boss?

*****

Those who saw Lucas ride away smiled and waved, under his easy-going appearance they failed to see the turmoil consuming him. On reaching the outskirts of North Fork, Lucas signaled Razor into a lope and kept a watchful eye for anything on the horizon that might indicate an impending ambush.

*****

Halfway to Silver City, Deputy Rogers welcomed a weary traveler into the camp he had made for the night. Glancing over, his prisoner was properly shackled to a large enough tree to prevent his escape. The visitor, a slender man, unbuckled his gun belt and hung it from the saddle horn as he stepped down from his horse.

“Don’t mean to cause you any trouble deputy,” the man wistfully stated while holding his arms away from his side. “Looks like you got enough on your plate with your prisoner over there; just happy to share your fire, and maybe a cup of coffee? Been a long time in the saddle today, just ready for my seat to stop moving.”

“Thanks for understanding,” Rogers stated as he relaxed and slipped his handgun back into his holster.

Turning to the fire and the coffee pot, the deputy knelt. With his attention distracted away from the stranger, he didn’t see the man pull a hidden knife and throw it. Rogers crumpled to the ground with only the handle visibly protruding from just center of lawman’s back. Immediate death left him oblivious to what struck him.

“Hogan, find his keys and get over here! Get these damn handcuffs off me!” ordered Brad Davis.

Hogan kneeled to search the lawman’s pockets for the keys. With Davis grumbling to hurry up, he found the keys and proceeded to unlock the shackles around Davis’ wrists.

“How’d he catch you?” Hogan asked.

“He didn’t.” Davis threw away the shackles. Striding to the dead lawman, he stripped the man of his gun and holster. “There’s another witness, someone else who said they saw Slade riding with Manor. I tried to take him out, but I got distracted.”

“What about this other witness? Is he going to testify?” Hogan asked.

“Yeah, but I know a way to stop him. Come on, let’s go back to North Fork.”

“North Fork, are you crazy?” Hogan had pulled the knife and cleaned the blade using the deputy’s vest.

Looking up upon hearing Brad Davis groan while trying to stand up, Hogan asked, “You injured?”

“The sodbuster shot me across the ribs. I’ll be fine.”

After disposing of the lawman’s body, the two men rode towards North Fork.

*****

Ever alert, Lucas waited until well after the sun disappeared behind the western hills before deciding to make camp. He had continued to ride while the vivid colors of the late evening sky changed to dull shades of grey and eventually to black. Wisps of clouds drifted in front of the starry blanket sky. It wasn’t so much that he wanted to get to Silver City as soon as possible, but once night fell, he changed course in hopes of confusing anyone who might be following.

After starting a small campfire, he pulled the saddle from his horse, draped it across a fallen log, and flung out his bedroll along the ground. From the bag which had hung from the back of his saddle, Lucas pulled out a tin pot and cup, as well as coffee fixings.  Settling back, he pulled out a can of peaches and a brown paper packet containing beef jerky that Hattie had insisted he take. It wasn’t much of a supper, but it stopped the gnawing in his stomach.

A restless sleep finally greeted Lucas; images of his visit to Micah’s office haunting him. He knew the west wasn’t as civilized as back east, but this land had been his dream after his wife’s untimely death. He wanted to live and raise their son in the wide open spaces; not subject him to the confines and sicknesses associated with city living.   There would always be a tradeoff. The lawless and violent deaths appalled him, but he wasn’t one to hide and cower. The scene of him telling Micah and the deputies that he had seen Slade Burrows and another man riding together and he had proof confirm the date and location, echoed in his mind.

Worry turned to reality, the dream changed to the final encounter with Brad Davis outside their barn. In desperation he needed to make sure his son was safe. As the dream continued, Lucas’ breath came heavy and fast, exertion and fear pervaded. A nightmare come true; he hadn’t good enough to prevent his own death as they entered the barn. Frightened out of his sleep, Lucas sat up gasping, heart pounding, eyes wide open, searching. He had witnessed his young son struggling to pull the hammer of a Colt Peacemaker. The sound of gunfire had magnified as two shots were fired simultaneously. His vision focused on his son falling backwards. “MARK!” he had screamed.

In the still of the night, he startled at the hoot of a nearby owl. In an effort to calm himself, he tried to convince himself it had only been a dream. The vivid image persisted. Lucas crawled over to his campfire, stirred the embers and waited a few moments for his coffee to reheat, he poured a cup and sat down on his bedroll, trying to push away the image. In the far distance a solitary wolf howled, forcing an involuntary shiver to rock Lucas as the mournful sound echoed across the landscape.

*****

Hogan and Davis’ arrival back in North Fork was inconspicuous. They split up on the outskirts of town with Davis instructing Hogan to wait for him at the saloon. Davis plan came into focus as he came upon the schoolhouse and found a couple of young boys enveloped in a white cloud, created while they cleaned the erasers.

“Howdy boys!” Brad called as he stepped from his horse. “You mind if I help myself to some water?” He pointed towards the water well.

“Sure, go ahead,” answered the blonde-haired boy, who coughed at the latest plume of dust.

Their faces where paler than normal and the fading of their clothes had not been caused by bleaching from the sun or numerous washes.

Smirking, Davis commented, “I remember there was only one way a boy would get assigned to clean erasers. You two get in trouble at school?”

“We was only talking,” answered the boy with red hair and a face full of freckles.

“Yeah, but Miss Adams warned us to keep quiet,” the first boy added.

“What were you two talking about that got you into trouble?” Brad asked not really caring, but it was a way to keep the boys talking and maybe he could steer the conversation towards his real goal.

“We’re talking about how Mark gets to stay with the Marshal and they was planning to go fishing tomorrow.”

“The marshal is taking an outlaw fishing tomorrow? That doesn’t sound like a terrible sentence.”

“Mark ain’t no outlaw.”

“Then you wouldn’t be talking about Mark McCain, now would you?” Davis inquired. Like shooting fish in a barrel, this was too easy.

“Sure. You know Mark?” the inquisitive redhead asked.

“Why I know him. He and his Pa, are good friends of mine. Haven’t seen either of them in a long time. I was coming for a visit, sort of a surprise. You say young Mark is staying with the Marshal? I hope nothing happened to Lucas.”

“Nah, he’s traveling to Silver City to testify,” boasted the blonde.

“Mark said his Pa was going to testify against Slade Burrows,” the redhead bragged.

“Now I heard of him. He’s one mean hombre,” stated Brad Davis.

“Mark’s pa ain’t afraid of him,” the redheaded boy replied.

“I wouldn’t be afraid of him if I were as fast as Mr. McCain is with that rifle of his,” added the other boy.

“Say… you know, I might want to surprise Mark tomorrow, meet him and the marshal at the pond. Could you tell me how to get there? We can keep this as our secret, Mark’ll sure be surprised.”

The two boys agreed, there was nothing better than surprises. They informed Brad Davis how to get to the fishing pond.

*****

Lucas woke and took care of his personal needs. Stirring the fire to life, he reheated his coffee and pulled out the biscuits Hattie had packed. Having buried the campfire, he was in the saddle and ready to travel the rest of the way to Silver City, before the first pink rays of morning streaked the sky.

*****

Saturday had dawned clear and warm; shining over the land as Mark and Micah arrived at the pond shortly before lunch. While Micah unsaddled the horses, he sent Mark off to find two tree branches that would make do as fishing poles with a little bit of whittling.

With both tasks accomplished, Mark eagerly pulled a ball of twine and a paper packet containing the hooks from his saddlebag and handed them to the lawman. The two picked out their spots to sit along the bank under a large shade tree; in anticipation of a quiet afternoon of fishing. Before casting their lines, Micah and Mark ate the sandwiches Hattie had fixed for them.

Micah sent his line sailing across the water and watch it drift on the surface before sinking into the depths. Mark tried to imitate Micah’s cast, but it flew a few yards before landing on the water and sinking. Both settled down to wait; Micah looking forward to a relaxing time while Mark eager expected a strike. As time passed without any fish nibbling, the youth became bored and decided to explore the pond.

“Micah! Micah!” Mark called out, rousing the marshal from a deep sleep. “Look what I found!”

The older man mumbled, flashed his hand in front of his face as if to wipe away a fly. His eyes remained closed to Mark running across the ground, tripping, and losing his prized catch. Mark ‘oafed’ as he landed and watched the bullfrog fly from his hands to land in Micah’s lap.

“What the?!” Micah bellowed as he instinctively reacted, jumping to his feet and pushing away that which landed in his lap.

“It’s just a frog,” Mark called out, scrambling to his knees and laughing at the marshal’s reaction. The bullfrog croaked loudly before it jumped its way back to the water.

*****

Mid-day found Lucas pulling out the last of beef jerky; he continued to ride while eating. He had just wiped his hands on his trousers when a shot ricocheted off a nearby boulder. Kicking Razor into a gallop, he gave every effort to get out of range of whoever had fired the shot. Maintaining the pace until he felt he was far enough out in the open to see anyone following, he dared to slow his lathered horse. Looking over his shoulder there were no signs of being pursued. With his horse still blowing, he signaled the horse to walk and pondered the one shot.

*****

Hattie stood on the porch in front of the General Store, looking down the main street in expectation of seeing Micah and Mark returning with a catch of crappies. She could almost taste them in the frying pan for their supper.

“Good evening Hattie,” Frank Toomey stated as he and his son, Freddie, walked past the general store.

“Hello,” a distracted Hattie answered.

“Where’s Mark?” asked Freddie.

“Uh? Mark? He went fishing. He should have been back long before now,” Hattie stated, wringing her hands in the folds of the apron she wore.

“Now Miss Hattie,” Toomey answered. “You know how boys are. There’s been many times where I’ve had to track down my own son, after an afternoon of him and Mark fishing. The boy probably just lost track of the time.”

“But it wasn’t just Mark. He left late this morning with Micah and I know Micah wouldn’t stay gone this long… What with Lucas out of town and there being no one to stand watch in the Marshal’s Office.”

“You say the boy went with Micah?”

Hattie nodded.

“Freddie, you head on home,” Frank Toomey ordered his son. “Tell your Ma, I’m gonna go get John Hamilton and we’re gonna ride to the fishing hole.”

“But Pa, I wanna to come too,” cried Freddie.

“You do as I say. I’ll be back soon.”

Hattie watched the big man run towards the banker’s home before she stepped back into the store.

*****

Daylight was fading as John Hamilton and Frank Toomey rode their horses into the clearing surrounding the fishing hole; only to find no one there.

“We didn’t pass them on the road, maybe Micah took Mark to the ranch…” Toomey offered as he turned around in his saddle.

“What for?” asked Hamilton.

“Maybe the boy needed to take care of some chores.”

“What was that?” John asked, quickly turning around, looking away from Toomey.

“What was what?”

“I thought I heard… There it is again,” the banker declared, looking around, he stepped down from his horse. He walked towards a group of bushes next to the pond. “Over here!” He rushed into the thicket and knelt down. “Toomey, its Micah!”

Toomey reached the shrubbery as John Hamilton stood up, his arms wrapped around Micah’s chest and pulling him out. Together, the two men gently laid the marshal to the ground.

“That’s blood!” declared Toomey.

John unbuttoned Micah’s black vest and saw the vivid red spreading across the white of the marshal’s shirt. He ripped open the lawman’s shirt in order to examine the wound. “He’s been shot.” John reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, pulled out a handkerchief, and pushed it into the open wound in the marshal’s chest, causing the man to groan.

“How’re we going to get him to town?” Toomey asked looking around, failing to see Micah’s horse anywhere.

“Let’s carry him to my horse; I’ll hold him in front of me.”

With a barely conscious Micah’s help, they managed to get the older man into the saddle. Frank held onto the marshal while John put his foot into the stirrup and maneuvered to sit behind him.

“Toomey, I’ll need both my hands to keep him from falling,” Hamilton stated, looking left and right trying to figure out how he was going to manage to guide his horse back to town.

“I’ll lead ya, just yell out if he gets to too heavy.”

The larger man took the reins, leading his friends to where his horse stood. He mounted and signaled his horse into a soft lope. Hamilton was thankful his horse had a smooth gait, but he couldn’t keep from bouncing as he struggled to keep the unconscious marshal in the saddle.

*****

Hattie ran across the street as the riders stopped in front of Doctor Burrage’s clinic.

“Get the door,” Toomey called as he and Hamilton lifted Micah from the saddle and carried him inside.

“What happened?” asked the doctor upon entering the waiting area from a back room.

“Micah’s been shot,” answered Hamilton.

“Where’s Mark?” Hattie fearfully asked as she followed the men inside.

“We didn’t see him,” Toomey answered.

“We didn’t look for him,” Hamilton grievously answered.

“All of you, out of here. I need room to examine my patient,” Doc Burrage declared.

In the waiting room, Toomey asked, “You want to go back?” He didn’t dare look to Hattie.

John nodded and walked over to stand in front of the woman. Taking her by the shoulders he said, “We’ll find the boy.”

As the two men left the clinic, Hattie followed and nervously teethed the crooked knuckle of the index finger on her right hand, having pulled her fisted hand to her mouth.

*****

With torches held high, John and Frank continued to call “Mark! Mark McCain!” as they searched the grounds, looking behind any bolder and under any bush, circling the entire fishing pond and then some.

“He ain’t here, I tell ya,” Toomey dejectedly stated. “If some outlaw came gunning for Micah, he would have sent the boy away… What I don’t understand is why the boy didn’t come to town to get help for Micah?”

“Frank, I don’t think they were gunning for Micah. I fear they were after Lucas’ boy.”

“After the boy? Why?” Toomey asked, he couldn’t believe what John Hamilton was suggesting.
“Why else wouldn’t we have found him? Toomey, think on it. The boy’s father is traveling to testify against Slade Burrows, I wouldn’t put it past that man or his gang to use Mark against Lucas.”

After extinguishing the torches in the water of the pond, the two men raced their horses through the dark of the night, back to North Fork.

*****

“What do you mean, Deputy Rogers hasn’t arrived?” demanded Lucas as he met Judge Marks and the Sheriff at the Silver City Jail. “He and Burrows’ brother should have arrived this morning, easy.”

“Burrows’ brother?” asked Judge Marks.

“Brad Davis is Burrows’ brother and he was the sniper who killed your first witness, Thomas Williamson. He made an attempt on my life before I left North Fork.”

“And you lived to tell?” the Sheriff stated, scratching his head.

“It’s a long story, but yeah. Rogers had Davis in custody and they left the afternoon, day before I did.”

“We haven’t receive any word from Rogers, and I’ve not seen him,” Judge Marks answered. “Maybe they got delayed.”

“I didn’t see them on my way here,” replied Lucas.

“What matters is, you are here. The trial will start first thing tomorrow morning,” Judge Marks informed Lucas. “There should be a room for you over at the hotel, just tell them to send the bill to me. Go get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel better in the morning.”

“You leave the matter of my deputy to me,” declared the Sheriff, as he saw Lucas to the door.

*****

“Who do we wire for help?” Nils Swenson, the town’s blacksmith, asked of those standing in the Marshal’s Office.

“Now listen here,” John Hamilton yelled, trying to quiet the small crowd. “I’ll send a wire to the U.S. Marshals; maybe they’ll have a deputy in the area they can send.”

“Lucas should be in Silver City by now. Why not wire him? He has a right to know his son is missing,” Hattie insisted.

“Hattie, he needs to testify against Slade Burrows,” Hamilton answered.

“Burrows be damned! He needs to save the life of his son!” declared Hattie in reply.

“We could wire Judge Marks, tell him what happened and let him decide what’s best,” suggested Toomey.

Everyone turned as the door opened, and Doc Burrage stepped inside.

“Well Doc? Is Micah gonna pull through?” rancher Dave Merrar asked, stepping from the group to address the weary doctor.

“I think he has a good chance at a full recovery.”

“Can he talk? Can he answer questions about Mark and what happened?” Hamilton asked.

“No, not before morning; he lost a lot of blood. I dosed him heavily with a sedative, that bullet penetrated fairly deep into his chest,” Doc answered.

“We need answers now,” a tearful Hattie stated.

“You all should understand, had Toomey and Hamilton not found Micah when they did, I doubt Micah would be alive right now.” The words spoken cast a pall over the small group.

“Well, that settles it,” Hamilton stated.

“We’re on our own?” Sweeney, the town’s saloon proprietor, asked of no one in particular.

“I’ll wire the Marshals and notify Judge Marks,” Hamilton stated as he stepped from behind Micah’s desk. Those in the office offered the banker their moral support.

“But what about the town?” Nils asked.

“Dave, you send word to the outlying ranches, the rest of us will keep an eye on the town. There will be two men here at all times. No one walks the town alone; no one is left in the office by themself. We look out for each other.”

“For how long? I have a business to run,” Sweeney stated.

“Until Micah is healthy enough to resume his duties,” answered John Hamilton.

*****

Silver City’s Sheriff woke to someone pounding on the back door to the office, “Just a minute!” he hollered as he lumbered to pull his feet off his desk and stand. Upon looking through the peek hole, he opened the door and declared, “Arnold, what’s the meaning of this? Don’t you know what time it is?”

“Sure do, but I got this wire. Thought you might want to see it first,” the telegrapher answered.

Judge Marks

Silver City, NM

Lucas McCain’s son missing            /stop/

Feared kidnapped                         /stop/

Marshal gravely wounded               /stop/

Have wired U.S. Marshals              /stop/

John Hamilton

North Fork, NM

“This complicates matters,” commented the Sheriff.

“What’s wrong Purdoen? Lose another witness?” Slade Burrows called from his jail cell.

“Ain’t none of your business!” declared Sheriff Purdoen.

Burrows laughed while the sheriff pushed the telegrapher out the door and pulled it closed. “Go wake the judge pronto. Tell him he’s needed here,” he ordered.

*****

“Kidnapped?” Judge Marks declared after reading the wire. “McCain has a son? How old?”

“Don’t know. You gonna tell him?” Purdoen asked.

“And have him bolt at testifying! I want Burrows hung!”

“But he’s got a right to know.”

“All that town knows is the boy is missing. They don’t know for sure he’s been kidnapped. It’s just supposition on their part.”

“Are you willing to risk the boy’s life?” asked Purdoen.

“I won’t be risking it. McCain knew there was a chance others might do something to try to stop him… He came here on his own.”

“Do something to stop him, yes… But would you have thought they’d take his son?”

“We don’t know anyone took his son. That’s for the U.S. Marshals to decide. I have a trial to preside over.”

From the jell cell, Burrows called, “Too bad you’re not gonna have your necktie party!”

“Shut up!” Marks ordered as he stood in front of the cell. “Tell me right here and now if you ordered your gang to kidnap McCain’s son.”

“Now how would I do that? I haven’t had any visitors since my attorney’s assistant stopped by to see me last week.”

“Burrows…”

“You’re interrupting my sleep. Blow out the lanterns when you’re done talking.” Burrows laid down on the bunk, pulled up the cover, and turn on his side, his back to those in the office.

*****

The morning sun was well in the sky when Brad Davis lifted Mark, hands bound, and set him in the saddle on BlueBoy, Mark kicked out; catching the man unawares and causing him to stumble backwards. Mark grabbed the saddle horn and kicked his horse, yelling “YAH!” BlueBoy bolted forward as Mark continued to kick him to run faster.

Looking over his shoulder, Mark saw the other man racing his horse after them, twirling a lariat over his head. Mark saw the man throw it towards him; his head snapped forward once the lariat settled around him and the man jerked him backwards from his horse. The impact of landing on the ground forced the air from his lungs, and his vision blackened as his head struck the dirt.

Davis arrived as Hogan removed and looped his lariat.

“Why’d you do something so stupid?” Davis demanded; he ran to where the child lay.

“He was getting away!”

“Getting away?! All you had to do was grab the reins!”

 

Hogan stepped to his saddle, “Wouldn’t have been as much fun.”

Davis placed his hand to Mark’s chest and felt a sense of relief as it rose.

“Go get his horse,” Davis stated.

“You want it, you go get it,” Hogan answered. He turned his horse to ride away.

“It said get that horse!”

Hogan halted, turned his horse so he faced Davis again. “What’s it to you? Leave the kid for the buzzards. Don’t know why we came after him when it’s that sodbuster we need to stop.”

“We use the kid to stop McCain from testifying,” answered Davis.

“You gone soft! Loco!” Pulling his handgun from his holster, Hogan answered, “This is how you stop a sodbuster, dead!” He fired the gun striking a prairie dog that happened to look out from its burrow at the wrong moment.

*****

Lucas sat in the front row of the crowded courtroom, listening as the opposing lawyers gave their opening remarks.

The sheriff eventually called Lucas to the stand, asked him to place his left hand on a bible and raise his right hand.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? So help you God?” asked the Sheriff.

“I do,” answered Lucas.

“Take your seat,” instructed the judge.

The prosecutor asked Lucas to introduce himself and tell how he happened to see Slade Burrows and Elijah Manor, together.

After Lucas gave his testimony, the prosecutor stated, “Your witness,” while he returned to take his seat.

The defense counsel approached the witness stand, “Mr. McCain, you have a son?”

Lucas answered, “Yes,”

“You’re wanting to set a good example for him?”

“Yes, any father would…”

“And you were mistaken when you thought you saw my client riding on Landon ranch…”

“Objection!” demanded the prosecutor. “Counselor Holcomb is trying to lead the witness.”

“I’ll rephrase, Your Honor. Now Mr. McCain, how could you positively identify my client as the one you claim to have seen.”

“I saw him, and Elijah Manor.”   Lucas proceeded to describe the horses the men were riding and the part of the ranch where two men were seen.

“And how can you be certain of the date?” Defense Attorney Holcomb asked. “A month is a long time ago.”

“I have a bill of sale for some cattle I bought, dated the day before Manor was killed,” answered Lucas as he reached into his back pocket to pull out his evidence.

“YOUR BOY’S DEAD!!” yelled someone in the crowd, causing an uproar within the courtroom.

Lucas grabbed the arms of his chair and stood.

“ORDER!” demanded Judge Marks, hammering his gavel on the top of this bench. “ORDER!”

In the continued distraction the outburst caused, Holcomb leaned forward and said, “You had your warning, McCain. I gave you the opportunity to know what was at stake regarding your son. If Burrows swings, you’ll wish you never heard of Slade Burrows.”

“I’LL KILL YOU!” Lucas screamed and lunged for the attorney.

“Sheriff, restrain the witness!” hollered Marks. He continued to hammer his gavel in an attempted to restore order to his courtroom.

“I’ll see you dead, no one threatens my son!” Lucas yelled while being led away from the courthouse.

“Mr. McCain, please… This trial can’t end in a mistrial; he has to be found guilty by the jury,” Sheriff Purdoen pleaded.

“Let go of me!” demanded Lucas.

The sheriff pulled his gun on Lucas. “I’m sorry, but this is for your own safety. Until the verdict is in, you’ll remain in my jail.”

“He threatened my son! A man has a right to defend his family!”

Purdoen pushed Lucas into the jail and locked the cell door, “Don’t let them get to you; bating you to get you to change your testimony. They tried to kill you once and failed; now they’re out to convince the jury you’re out to get Burrows, for no reason.”

“No reason?!” demanded Lucas as he reached through the bars of the cell, grabbing towards the Sheriff.

“Don’t you think your people would have wired had your son been in danger?”

Ignoring Lucas’ continued protests, Purdoen hung the keys to the jail on a peg on the wall, turned, and left the office.

“PURDOEN!” yelled the enraged Lucas while shaking the jail cell door.

*****

The jury foreman stood and informed the judge, “We have come to a verdict, Your Honor.”

“Are you all in agreement?” asked Judge Marks.

“Yes, yes, sir,”

“And your verdict?”

“Guilty of murder,” the man spat out the words and quickly sat down.

The crowd in the courtroom started buzzing at the announcement of the verdict.

“Order!! Order!! Slade Burrows, you have been found guilty of murder and I sentence you to hang, at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, and you shall hang until you are dead.”

Sheriff Purdoen pulled Burrows up by the arms and forced him out of the courthouse and back to the jail, a cell next to Lucas’.

“You’re a deadman McCain!!” Burrows yelled as Purdoen opened the cell Lucas occupied.

“I’m sorry Mr. McCain, I had to do as the judge instructed.”

“Where’s my rifle?” Lucas demanded.

“On my desk. And I took the liberty of ejecting all the cartridges… Mr. McCain, go home to your boy. Forget about Burrows and Holcomb, leave them to the law.”

*****

Lucas stopped by the telegraph office and inquired if any wires were waiting for him.

“No sir,” Arnold answered.

Lucas clutched his rifle, relieved that the Sheriff had been right, and left to return to the hotel.

From behind the curtain separating the telegraph office from Arnold’s sleeping quarters, Judge Marks stepped out, “You told the truth, that’s all you had to do. You received no wire for Lucas McCain.”

“But the one involving his son…” Arnold gulped.

“It was sent to me.”

Arnold nervously nodded and watched the judge strutted out the door, thumbs hooked through the armholes in his vest.

*****

Lucas wanted nothing to do with a hanging, regardless that it was legal. But he just couldn’t head home until he knew for sure that Burrows was dead. Lucas waited in the saloon; he figured he’d know soon enough that justice had been served.

Lucas looked to the clock on the wall, “eight, fifty-five”. The crowd down the street began hollering, to Lucas it was an indication that Burrows was climbing the steps to the hangman’s tower.

The clock began to strike nine when gunfire erupted outside, Lucas bolted to his feet, grabbing his rifle from the tabletop, and ran out the door.   Reaching the boardwalk, he was in time to see Burrows and two others riding fast, heading out the far end of town.

“DAMN!” declared Lucas as he returned to collect his hat.

The telegrapher came up behind Lucas, “Mr. McCain?”

“What?”

“You best trail after him…”

“That’s for the law,” replied Lucas.

“Sir, you don’t understand…. The night you arrived, the Judge received a wire from North Fork…”

“What about?”

“Your boy… Your boy was missing and your marshal was gravely wounded.”

“You said you didn’t receive a wire!?”

“No sir,” Arnold tried to explain, “You asked if there were a wire for you, it came addressed to Judge Marks, he was in the back room yesterday…”

Lucas ran down the street to the livery to saddle Razor, he heard the winded breath of someone approaching him.

“McCain!” yelled Judge Marks.

“Out of my way!”

“Be reasonable man. This is a case for the law!” declared the judge.

“The Law! You knew they had my son!”

The judge tried to plead his case. Lucas ignored his pathetic attempt. With great restraint, Lucas turned, “You kept the truth from me!” Pointing to the man’s chest, jabbing him, as he spoke, “You had better pray nothing happens to my son…”

Lucas swung up into the saddle and signaled Razor into a gallop.

*****

Slade Burrows bullied his younger brother as they argued in the middle of the abandoned barn, “How the hell could you let him make it to Silver City?!”

“Slade,” Brad explained. “I killed the first witness. You never said anything about a second witness. If I hadn’t hung around North Fork, I’d never of heard the gossip about a second witness.”

“You should have taken him out before he left town!”

“I tried. I tried! Had everything planned on how to make it look like he left on his own… none the wiser. His kid came back unexpectedly.”

“A kid! You didn’t kill him because of his kid?!”

“Slade, listen to me…” Davis tried to explain.

“You should have killed them both.”

“I plan to, this time,” Brad’s eyes gleamed with evil.

“What do you mean, this time?” Slade asked his brother.

“Hogan, bring the kid out.”

Grabbing the collar of Mark’s jacket, Hogan half dragged, half carried the bound and gagged Mark McCain, who struggled against the rough way the man treated him.

“You! You’re the one who yell out in court! The two of you planned this?” demanded Burrows. “McCain’s a madman because of you two dimwits!”

Burrows pulled his weapon and fired at Hogan, who still held Mark. The boy tried to jump sideways as the man fell dead, but the man’s death grip drug him to the ground.

*****

Diligently, Lucas trailed after Burrows, vowing the man would die should he harm his son in any manner. Swearing revenge on those who conspired to keep the truth from him, should anything happen to his son. Growing angrier at having to slow down and reexamine the ground to make sure he was following the correct tracks, cursing when he had to back track.

*****

Night had fallen when Lucas came across a long, abandoned homestead; the house was dark, but the faint glow of a lantern cast a light through one of the broken windows in the barn. Under the moonless night, Lucas approached the side of the building, making his way to the window.

Lucas didn’t hear the man coming up behind him. Pain and points of light exploded against the back of his head as blackness consumed him.

*****

Testing his senses, Lucas tentatively opened his eyes to find himself inside the barn, surprised he was untied.

“Where’s my son?” asked Lucas as he sat up.

Slade Burrows sat in a chair, eyes continually on their captive. “See Mr. McCain, I can be a kind man. I understand the love a son has for his Pa. Brad untie the boy’s hands and ungag him,” he ordered. “It’s totally unnatural for a father to outlive his son…”

“Mark, are you okay son?” Lucas called out, watching Brad untie the ropes that bound his son.

“Pa, they’re gonna…” Mark cried out after pulling the gag from his mouth, but Brad pulled him backwards, stopping him from saying anything more.

“Let my boy go.” Lucas growled. “This is between you and me.”

“Pa, they killed the other man!” Mark cried and began struggling against Brad’s restraining hand.

“You were warned what would happen to your son if you testified,” Brad called out.

“I didn’t receive any warning! Holcomb asked about my boy at the trial. I didn’t know you had him until the telegrapher told me this morning!” answered Lucas.

Brad never took his eyes off Mark. He slowly pulled his weapon from his holster and pointed it towards Lucas, “You got in a lucky shot the last time, but I won’t give you a second chance… OW!” declared Brad as Mark repeatedly kicked him in the shin and managed to slip from the man’s grasp. Mark picked up a broken piece of wood and swung it towards Brad’s gun hand, sending the weapon flying. Cradling his injured wrist, Brad limped to retrieve his weapon. Knowing he had to do something, Mark ran to where the weapon landed and picked it up. He disappeared into the shadows under the hayloft.

Lucas took the momentary distraction caused by Davis’ outburst to rush Burrows; the two crashed to the ground, resulting in the gunman losing his grip on his weapon. With all his might, Lucas struggled to prevent the outlaw from reclaiming his gun. Lucas managed to land a blow to the outlaw’s jaw that stunned his opponent. From behind him, Lucas heard a voice call out, “Now, now, now… You wouldn’t point a gun at your friend?” Lucas turned to see Brad Davis pulling a weapon from the back of his belt, all the while slowly approaching his son. And Mark, standing in the shadows on the other side of the barn, holding a Colt Peacemaker with both his hands, trying to cock the hammer.

Déjà vu struck Lucas as he recognized the scene from his dream.

“You stay back!” Mark ordered, his voice shaking with fear.

Burrows yelled, “Kill the brat!” He swung his legs to trip Lucas, preventing him from rushing Davis. As he fell, Lucas heard the gunshots and looked up to see his son fall backwards.

“NO!!!” screamed Lucas, the reverberation from the gunshots echoed in the barn.

Lucas savagely kicked Burrows in the head as the man crawled in his direction; a sickening snap came from the man’s neck as he fell deathly still on the ground. Rolling away from his opponent, Lucas picked up the handgun that he had been fighting to keep the outlaw from reaching. Struggling to position himself, with tear-filled eyes, Lucas brought the weapon to bear upon Davis and fired, striking the outlaw in the back of his shoulder blade, spinning him around. Davis twisted and sank to his knees, Lucas didn’t see the red spreading across the front of the man’s shirt; his eyes were focused on where he had last seen his son.

“Mark?” Lucas quietly called as he stood to his feet. “Mark?!” he called louder, running across the floor. Looking down on his son, Lucas reached down and threw a hay bale out of his way. Tears streaked his face as he knelt beside the still body. He pulled the Peacemaker from his son’s hand and threw it across the barn. Lovingly Lucas picked up his son into his arms. “Maarrkk!” he cried, raising his face to look up, unable to bring himself to look into his boy’s angelic face.

Lucas didn’t hear “McCain!” yelled from outside. The barn doors crashed opened. Without acknowledgement a small posse of lawmen storming inside. Lucas cradled his son, burying his face in his son’s chest. He was oblivious to the hand placed on his shoulder as he mourned the death of his boy.

Awareness that he was not alone seeped into his consciousness. Lucas lovingly laid his son’s body to the ground. As he breathed, the slow rise and fall of his shoulders indicated the hatred he felt towards those who had kept secret the fact his son had been kidnapped, and they had allowed this to happen. Painstakingly he turned, his eyes boring a hole into the Judge; ignoring those who stood around him. His voice lowered to a growl, accusatory.

“This is your fault. You knew! You wanted to see Burrows hang so bad you didn’t care about the life of one, small, innocent child!” Deliberately and with conviction, Lucas continued, “My son’s blood is on your hands. Pray God has mercy on your souls, because as God is your final witness… you’ll never… never…” Lucas hesitated as he struggled to express his outrage. He shook his head at the trick his mind began playing on him.

“McCain, your boy,” the marshal closest to Lucas stated, and pointed.

“Pa?” a plaintive voice called. “Pa?”

Clinching his fists and closing his eyes, Lucas dared turned his head to look. When he opened his eyes, he saw his son’s eyes half opened and Mark holding his right hand to the back of his head.

“Mark?” Lucas hesitantly asked. “Mark!” Carefully, Lucas picked up his son and cradled him in his arms, supporting his son’s head against his own chest. Tears of joys streaked his face as he heard, “Pa… what happened?” whispered.

“Nothing… Nothing,” Lucas whispered.

“Pa? Did you get him?” asked Mark.

Lucas looked to where Brad Davis lay dead on the ground; he saw the blood stain across the front of the man’s shirt.

It took a moment for the scene to truly register. “Yeah, I got him,” replied Lucas, knowing he’d shot the man in the back. He lied to protect his son from experiencing the guilt of having killed a man.

In the background, Judge Marks ordered the marshals to remove the bodies of Burrows and Davis.

“There’s another, over in the corner,” Mark pointed. “His name was Hogan.”

“Don’t worry about him son. Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”

“Pa, I… Oh Pa…, Brad shot Micah!” cried Mark as he buried his face into his father’s chest. ”I hate him. He killed Micah!”

“Shhh… Shhh… You’re safe…” Lucas comforted his crying son.

“Sir, if I may?” a deputy marshal asked as he knelt and placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder.

Lucas nodded.

“Son?”

A still crying Mark turned and looked to the man who spoke to him.

“I have some news I think you’d like to hear.” He waited while Mark wiped his sleeve under his nose.

“Sir?” replied Mark.

“My name is Jeffrey Durham, I’m a Deputy U.S. Marshal. We received word that your friend, Marshal Torrance, is expected to make a full recovery.”

“He’s… Micah’s alive?” Mark asked and looked to his Pa.

“The marshals don’t lie, son,” offered Lucas.

“Mr. McCain,” Deputy Durham stated, “My men and I’ll accompany you and your son back home.”

Lucas looked to the man and said, “Thank you.”

One of the other deputies offered the bandana from around his neck and a water canteen to Lucas, who used them to clean his son’s dirty, tear-streaked face.

“Are you up to riding Razor with me?” Lucas asked as he stood, Mark still in his arms.

“BlueBoy’s out back, Pa,” answered Mark as he pointed towards his horse.

“Deputy Tilman, get the boy’s horse from around back,” ordered Deputy Durham. The deputy immediately ran from the barn.

Lucas and Mark exited the barn, squinting their eyes in finding the morning sun cresting the eastern hills.

“Do you want to spend the night in the hotel and head home in the morning?” asked Lucas.

“Pa, if it’s alright with you, I want to go home… now,” answered Mark.

As Deputy Tilman halted BlueBoy in front of them, Lucas set his son in the saddle.

“We’ll stop at Silver City long enough to pack a few provisions and to wire your people you’re coming home,” stated Deputy Durham.

*****

Before the sun had set, Lucas and the Marshals organized camp for the night, with Deputy Durham ordering his men to stand two-hour shifts through the night, watching the McCains.

“Is that really necessary?” asked Lucas.

“Just a precautionary measure, Mr. McCain. I’m sure most of the members of Burrows’ gang will move on once word of his death spreads. I am under orders to see you and your son safely home.”

After eating, Mark found it difficult to keep his eyes open and yawned.

“I think it’s time for you to get in your bedroll, son,” Lucas stated.

“Yes sir,” answered Mark as he pulled off his boots and crawled under the blanket.

Lucas caressed his son’s head as he wished him peaceful dreams, “Mark, what’s this lump on the back of your head. Does it hurt?”

“It did, Hogan lassoed me and pulled me backwards off BlueBoy, and then earlier… I fell backwards and hit my head on something,” a yawning Mark answered.

Lucas looked to Durham as he placed a hand to Lucas’ shoulder.

“He probably shouldn’t sleep for a while, he could have a concussion,” Durham stated.

“I don’t understand, wouldn’t sleep be the best medicine for him?” asked Lucas.

“Under normal circumstances, but two blows to the head like that… Sir my father was a surgeon during the war. He told me there were plenty of good men who, suffered concussion from injuries to the head…, no outward signs of trauma, and they never woke up from their sleep the next morning. Between the fall from his horse and the blow to his head back in the barn, it’s best to try to keep him awake for a while. Just to make sure there’s no headache.”

“Come on son, I think we’ll listen as the deputies tell us of some of their adventures.” Lucas picked his son up and carried him, setting him in his lap as they sat down and listened.

Mark’s eyes widened as the deputies recounted stories involving several notorious outlaws.

As one deputy finished his story Mark declared, “Hey, I thought Wild Bill Hickok killed him!”

The other deputies laughed at their companion and at Mark’s innocent statement.

“How’s your head,” asked Durham. “Any headache or blurred vision?”

“Not really sir,” answered Mark.

“What do you mean, not really?” asked a fearful Lucas.

“Well… My head doesn’t hurt, but this lump sure does,” Mark winced as he touched it.

“I think its okay to let him sleep,” Durham stated.

Lucas helped Mark stand to his feet and motioned him to crawl into his bedroll, again.

*****

The people of North Fork stared as Lucas and Mark rode in the middle of a group of men wearing Deputy U.S. Marshal Badges; they whispered among themselves as the group continued to the middle of town, stopping in front of the clinic.

Lucas dismounted from the off side of his horse, turned around, and reached up for his son, “Come here, boy,” Lucas stated.

Mark allowed himself to fall into his Pa’s arms, and be carried into the clinic on his Pa’s hip.

“Lucas!” Doc Burrage called as he saw the two enter. “Welcome home.”

“Thanks, I’d like for you to look Mark over, he took a good lump to the back of his head,” stated Lucas as he set his son on the examination table, and removed his son’s hat. He leaned his rifle against the doctor’s desk.

“Pa!” Mark declared.

From the back room they heard, “Is that you, LucasBoy?”

“Go on Lucas, Micah’s back there. He’ll be okay, in time. I’ll send Mark back once I have a look at him.”

Lucas hesitated, but knowing he was home, he left the room to visit his friend.

“Lucas…” Micah weakly called out again.

“Yeah, it’s me Micah. How’re you doing?”

“Did you find Mark? Is he okay?”

“He’s with Doc.”

“Lucas they surprised us. I tried to stop ‘em,” Micah stated as he attempted to sit up.

“I know you did; Mark told me all about it on the way home. You just lie back down and take it easy.”

“Lucas, I’m sorry. I should have kept a better watch over him; foolish of me to take him so far from town. I didn’t think they’d…”

Lucas interrupted, he didn’t want his friend to feel guilty. “I didn’t either. Even with Davis in custody, I figured there was a chance someone would come after me… I never thought they’d go after Mark…”

“Lucas, how is the boy? Is he okay?”

“Doc’s checking him out right now. He was scared; he thought Brad had killed you…”

“He almost did, LucasBoy. He almost did.”

Micah looked up as Doc Burrage entered the room. “How’s Mark, Doc?” quietly Micah inquired.

“He’ll be fine. Lucas just needs to make sure he takes it easy for a few more days.” Doc motioned for Mark to come stand next to him. “Micah, are you up to another visitor?”

Micah motioned for Mark to come to over to the bed, he raised his hand to the boy’s cheek and wiped his thumb across it, wiping away a solitary tear. “Good to see you, boy.”

“Good to see you too, Micah. How long you gonna be laid up?”

Doc Burrage answered, “At least two weeks.”

“You looking for a temporary deputy, Micah?” asked Lucas.

“Raise your right hand,” replied Micah. Lucas did. “You’re deputized.”

“Lucas, he needs his sleep,” Doc stated. “As for my diagnosis of your son…”

“What’s wrong?” Lucas quickly asked.

“I think he could use a hearty supper over at the hotel restaurant. Go on, get out of here.”

“Can I order anything I want?” asked Mark.

“As long as you eat your vegetables, I don’t see why not,” replied the doctor.

“Oh,” sulked Mark. “You sound like Miss Hattie.”

“Speaking of Miss Hattie, come here and give me a hug,” Hattie stated as she entered the room.

Mark turned and ran to embrace the grandmotherly woman, asking, “Did you miss me?”

The men grinned at the young boy’s reaction.

*****

In the immortal words of Paul Harvey… “Now you know the rest of the story.”

 

~The End

 

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