LEGACY

BY: Jim Griffin, keeneyanke@yahool.com

Chapters 1 through 17

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin was standing over Capt. Bill McGuire's desk, jaw set hard, blue eyes blazing fire. Capt. McGuire was peering forcefully at the furious Ranger. "Jim, you are NOT being allowed on this mission. You're too close to it; too emotionally involved."

Fists clenched, Jim shouted back at his superior.  "Cap, I AM going, whether as a Ranger, or not. Now, Cap, it's your decision. Do you want my badge, or do I get the assignment?"

Capt. McGuire turned to his aide, Lt. Bob Hemmings, who was standing next to the Captain's desk. "Bob, what's your opinion?"

"Cap, I hate to lose a good Ranger, and I don't think we can keep Jim off this case. I don't want to see him go off half-cocked on this case, either, but I know we’ll never stop him. Besides, Walker'll be with him. As long as they’re partnered up, I think Jim can handle it."

Sighing, Capt, McGuire returned his gaze to the tall blonde Ranger poised over his desk.

"Jim, it's against my better judgment, but, if you'll agree to follow Walker's orders, TO THE LETTER, I'll let you take on this case. Can you agree to my terms?"

"Anything, Cap, as long as I'm on this assignment."

"OK, it's settled, then. You and Walker will leave first thing in the morning."

As Jim turned to leave the Captain's office, he smiled at Lt. Hemmings. "Thanks, Bob. I appreciate your stickin' up for me, more than you know."

"Jim, I know how much it means for you to be on this case. Just, please, don't let your emotions get the better of you."

"I won't let you down, Bob. Adios."

The two officers exchanged worried glances as Jim left the office. (end of Chapter one)

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin was in the far Southwest Texas town of Sanderson, in the county of Terrell, hard by the Mexican border. He was there in response to a complaint from an old friend, Judge Hiram Wyatt.

Jim was in the judge's office, his Paint Yankee tied to the hitch rail out front. Along with Judge Wyatt, a dignified gray-haired man in his later 40s, were his two daughters, Penelope and Nicole, both buxom women of the Plains.

They were just concluding their meeting. "Judge, don't worry; I'll get to the bottom of whoever's behind this trouble. Now, I'm going to get my hoss over to the livery stable, and get myself a room and a good hot bath."

Shaking Jim's hand gravely, Judge Wyatt replied, "I really appreciate your coming, Jim. Wasn't sure you'd be able to break away from your other Ranger business."

"Anytime for you, Judge. Now, Hiram, ladies: I'll see you in the morning." With a tip of his hat to the two women, the blonde Ranger took his leave of the trio.

As Jim stepped onto the boardwalk in front of Judge Wyatt's office, a rifle shot rang out. Jim, hit in the stomach by the heavy slug, was slammed back against the judge's wall.

As he yanked both his Colts, the entire Main Street of Sanderson seemed to erupt in gunfire. Another bullet tore through Jim's left leg, and he collapsed to the sidewalk.

Jim, dragging himself up, fired at a figure on the roof opposite, grunting in satisfaction as he watched the man fold up and tumble to the street below. Both guns blazing, the Ranger hit two others.

Another slug tore through Jim's belly as—realizing his horse was in the line of fire--he struggled to reach Yankee. Jim doubled over but, still returning fire, he straightened up and staggered to his mount. He was hit again, this time a slug burning his ribs. Just as he untied Yankee's reins, a Winchester slug pierced the loyal bronc's spine, and the big gelding collapsed silently, unmoving, to the dirt.

As Yankee fell, Jim--tossing aside his empty pistols--pulled his Winchester out of its saddle scabbard. The tall Ranger, driven to a sitting position in the dirt next to his downed horse by yet another slug tearing low through his gut, levered his rifle repeatedly, taking out two more of his attackers.

Jim was weakening rapidly, but still battling. Finally, a bullet tore through Jim's heart, and he fell backwards, face up in the dusty road, next to his loyal equine partner.

It had been the perfect trap, for there had been no sign of trouble or an awaiting ambush as Jim entered Sanderson.

Thus it was that Texas Ranger James Griffin, Jr, a Ranger barely more than six months, was in Capt. Bill McGuire's office at Ranger Headquarters in Austin, demanding the assignment of rounding up his father's murderers.

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin and his trail companion, his best friend, his loyal horse, Yankee, had been brought home to Copperas Cove, to their final resting places.  The Paint had been buried next to Jim's other Ranger mounts.

Jim's funeral had been concluded, and he had been laid to rest on a little rise, just above where his horses lay. Friends had departed, leaving his grieving family alone in their home. Only Father Biron—pastor of St. Bernard's, the family church--who had conducted Jim's funeral Mass, was still with Jim's wife and children.

Jim's oldest son, James, Jr., had left the kitchen. He had followed in his Dad's footsteps, and had joined the Texas Rangers a few months previously.  Now, he had changed out of the good clothing he had worn to his father's funeral, and was dressed in the garb of the range rider. His two Colts were in holsters at his hips, a determined set to his jaw.

Marcy, Jim's wife, looking up, eyes still red with tears, cried out, "Jimmy, where are you going?"

"Mom, I'm heading for Austin. Then, I'm going after the snakes that gunned down Dad."

"Jimmy, you can't leave us, not now."

"I Have to, Mom. Otherwise, those sidewinders might never be caught. I couldn't stand for that, both for Dad, and as a Ranger."

Marcy knew arguing was pointless.

Jim's younger brother, Billy, got up, and started to strap on a pistol.

"Where you think you're goin', Bud?"

"With you, Jim."

"Sorry, Billy, you can't. First, you're not old enough to join the Rangers. You're not even 17. Plus, Mom and Jen need you here, right now."

"Jim, I'm goin'."

Marcy broke in. "Billy, I can't let you go, not now. We've already lost your Dad, and I can't keep Jimmy from his duty. But, Billy, I can't lose all three of you, not now."

Sighing, burying his face in his hands in grief, Billy sat back down.

Father Biron addressed Jim's tall blonde son, "Jim, always remember, seek justice, not vengeance. May God ride with you."

"Father, that's easy for you to say.  I'll seek justice, but it'll be on my terms."

The priest knew only time would heal the family's pain, although never completely.

"Jim, I know I can trust you to do what's right, in the Lord's sight. Now, go carefully. In Nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti, Amen."

Jim kissed his mother farewell, tenderly.

"Jimmy, please be careful. You're still young."

"I will, Mom. Don't forget, Dad taught me everything I know. I'll be fine, but I won't be back until Dad's killers are dead or in jail!!!"

Jim stepped onto the porch. His stocky bay, Cody, the horse Judd Nelson had given his father to train for Jim, Jr., as his first Ranger horse, waited, tied to the rail.

Jim's twin sister, Jennifer, had been silent in the kitchen through all this. Now, she joined him on the porch. Hugging her brother tenderly, she stated, "Jimmy, I'm glad you're doing this, for Dad, and all of us. I wish I could go with you.  Now, here, take this." She pressed a battered penny into his hand, a penny Jimmy had found on the trail, and given to his sister when they were six. "Maybe it will bring you luck, and keep me, Billy, and Mom in your thoughts."

"Thanks, Jen. I know you'll be riding with me, in your thoughts, anyway." He kissed her on the forehead. "Now, Sis, I gotta get goin'."

The rest of the family had joined Jimmy and Jennifer on the porch. As the young Ranger mounted his horse, loping toward Austin, they waved farewell, a silent "Vaya Con Dios" on their lips. As Jim rode out of sight, Father Biron traced the Sign of the Cross in the air.

Texas Ranger James Griffin, Jr., spent an anxious night at Texas Ranger Headquarters. He couldn't leave until his partner arrived, and Walker was on an overnight train from San Antonio to Austin. Then, both Rangers would have to be briefed in the morning.

Cody was rubbed down and groomed like never before, as Jim tried to work off his nervous energy. The young Ranger checked his equipment, over and over, tried to eat--failing to get down more than a few bites—and finally undressed and lay on his bunk, staring at the ceiling. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, and soft sobs emitted from his throat, as the memories of his dad--the Texas Ranger whose footsteps he had followed, and who had been brutally ambushed and gunned down in Sanderson--flooded back.

Eventually, the exhausted, grieving young Ranger fell into a troubled sleep, vowing to track down his father's killers, even if he himself died in the attempt.

The next morning, Jim was waiting in Capt. McGuire's office, along with the Captain and his aide, Lt. Bob Hemmings, when another young Texas Ranger strolled in. Like Jim, he also was tall, a couple of inches shorter than Jim, but also with blonde hair and clear blue eyes.

"Jim, meet Ranger Bobby Cahill Walker. Bobby, this is Jim Griffin, Jr." The Captain introduced the two young Rangers, who would be riding together. While Bobby was young, only 22, he was three years older than Jim, at 19. Plus, Bobby had four years of Ranger experience under his belt, including missions he had served with his stepfather, Ranger Cordell Walker. Bobby had been with Cordell when he had been killed in the service of Texas, two years previous.

"Glad to meet you, Jim. I'm so sorry about your Dad. He helped me and my Dad, Cordell, out a couple of times. He was a great guy. The Rangers will miss him."

Jim's eyes were brimming. "Thanks, Bobby. My Dad spoke highly of you, and your Dad, too. I know he never got over Cordell's death, either."

Bob Hemmings broke in: "Bobby, Jim, let's go over what we know, so you two can get started."

Capt. McGuire briefed the two. "First, Jim, you WILL follow Bobby's orders."

"That's a promise, Cap."

"OK, Now, we know your Dad went to Sanderson on a complaint from Judge Hiram Wyatt, an old friend of Jim's, and the Rangers. You need to contact the judge, to see what the complaint was."

"Jim, this is gonna be hard: We know your Dad was gunned down as soon as he left the judge's office. He put up a heckuva fight. He took out five of those drygulchers." Capt. McGuire paused, hesitated, then went on. "From the official report: 'Texas Ranger Lt. James J. Griffin died of bullet wounds, any several of which would have been fatal. Fatal shot was a Winchester 44.40 bullet through the heart. Other wounds occurred to the abdomen, chest, and left leg.'"

"Jim, your Dad fought until that slug ripped his heart in two. He had eleven rifle slugs in him. I'm only tellin' you this to show how tough an hombre he was, and what kind of fight he put up."

Jim's jaw was tight, fists clenched.

Capt. McGuire continued, "Bobby, the official report from Sheriff Tom Denton of Sanderson concludes that Ranger Griffin, while dying, killed all of his attackers. Judge Wyatt corroborated this. Bobby, none of us here believe that."

"Now, I'll give you a copy of this report to take with you. Bobby, Jim, get out of here, and round up the skunks who drygulched a fine Texas Ranger."

The two young Rangers, heirs to their fathers' Ranger tradition, headed westward out of Austin.

They rode silently for a time, Jim lost in his thoughts, Bobby respecting the young man's feelings.

Bobby knew how important it would be for Jim to find the men who had killed his father. Bobby had been with his stepfather, Cordell Walker, on Cordell's last mission. While Cordell and Bobby had smashed the outlaw gang they were after, Cordell had been killed by a Mescalero arrow through his belly. Bobby had never been able to determine, for sure, if that Indian had died in the fight, or had escaped. He didn't want Jim--even though they had just met--to wonder the rest of his life if Jim's father's killer was still on the loose.

"Jim, we'll ride until sunset tonight, then make camp."

"Fine with  me, Bobby. Let's make as many miles as we can, though. By the way, when we get to Junction, I want to stop and see Judd and Ruth Nelson. You know who they are?"

"My dad mentioned them a couple of times. He's a retired Ranger, raises hosses."

"That's them. He gave my Dad this hoss, here, Cody, for me."

"I remember that, now. My Dad and yours were ridin' together, back then. Be glad to stop and see them."

The two young Rangers lapsed back into silence, both lost in memories of their fathers, both of whom had given their lives for the people of Texas.

Unlike Cordell Walker and Jim, Sr., whose partnership got off to a rough start, Bobby and Jim, Jr. hit it off instantly. They were both young, and both had in common fathers who were Texas Rangers, who had brought their sons up in the Ranger tradition, and seen them enter the elite organization. Now, both of them had lost their fathers, and they were on a mission to

avenge Jim, Sr's. killing.

Shortly after sunset, finding a spot with water and grass for Sunny and Cody, the pair made camp for the night.

As Bobby and Jim had ridden away from Texas Ranger headquarters, Capt. McGuire turned to Lt. Hemmings.

"Still don't know if we did the right thing, Bob.  Both those boys are still awful young, and Jim there isn't even a Ranger a year. Should have sent a more experienced man on this case."

"You could be right, Cap...but I disagree. Bobby Walker's been a Ranger for nigh onto four years now, and spent lots of time ridin' with Cordell, his dad. And Jim, Jr. there had one of the best Rangers in his dad, too.  No, Cap, if anyone should be worried, it's the polecats who bushwhacked Jim's dad. Those two ridin' out there have had the best trainin' possible.

They'll keep their heads, and bring in those buzzards, you'll see."

Bobby and Jim spent the next several days hurrying toward Sanderson, getting to know each other. Jim learned that Bobby had married Jana Waters, and they had a one year old boy, named Cordell, after Bobby's late stepfather.

"He's gonna be a Ranger, too, Jim."

"And he'll be a fine one, Bobby, I'm sure."

The two young Rangers were approaching the Nelson ranch. They had pinned their Ranger stars to their shirts, so Judd Nelson would not mistake them for rustlers, who occasionally still worked in the Junction area.

Judd Nelson was in the barnyard. Looking up, he spotted the two tall riders, one on a Paint, the other on a dark bay. Spotting the badges, he swung open the gate.  His wife, Ruth, hearing the hoof beats, had emerged onto the porch.

As Jim and Bobby dismounted, Jim introduced himself and his partner to Judd and his wife.

"Mr. Nelson, I'm Jim Griffin, Jr., and this is Bobby Cahill Walker."

"Pleased to meet you boys. This is my wife, Ruth."

"Pleased to meet you, Ma'am." Both Rangers doffed their Stetsons to Mrs. Nelson.

"What brings two Rangers out this way? And, you must be the sons of Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin."

"Mr. Nelson, Mrs. Nelson...you may not have heard yet...." Jim's voice was shaking. "My Dad was gunned down in Sanderson."

Judd Nelson staggered as if he'd been punched in the stomach. "My Gawd, Jim, no!!"

Mrs. Nelson, speechless, placed her arm around Judd's waist.

Jim could no longer continue, so Bobby spoke up. "Mr. Nelson, Jim's dad was drygulched after meeting with a judge in Sanderson. We're on our way there to try to find out who did it."

Judd had found his voice. "Bobby--I'm sorry--didn't forget your father's dead, also. Just the news of Jim bein' gone's a shock. Your dad's been gone, what, two years, now? I still think about him."

"Thank you, sir."

Jim had now recovered his composure, somewhat. "Mr. Nelson, do you remember this hoss?"

Judd looked, then exclaimed, "That's Cody!! I gave him to your Dad to train for you, for your first Ranger hoss. He's lookin' great...every bit the cayuse I thought he'd be."

"He is, and more, sir. We've already been through a couple of scrapes together."

"Jim, I have to ask--who's got Yankee?--and please, it's Judd and Ruth."

Tears welled in the young Ranger's eyes, then. "Mr. Nelson, Judd, same hombres who killed my Dad killed Yankee."

"NO!!!"

"Afraid so."

Thoughtfully, somberly, Judd replied. "Jim, I know this sounds bad, but that was probably for the best. Yank and your Dad were meant to be together. That hoss couldn't live without him."

"I know, Sir...and they are both together on our ranch."

"That's good. Son, are you like your Dad was with hosses?"

A smile came to Jim's face, then. "Don't I wish! I'm a good horseman, and rider, but no one can do with hosses what my Dad did."

Judd put his arm around Jim's shoulders. "Nothin' to be ashamed of, Son. Horseman like your Dad only comes along once in a generation, or less. I can still see that Yankee hoss playin' dead."

Judd cringed, as his wife shot him a look of horror. "Jim, sorry--wasn't thinkin'--didn't mean to say that."

Sadly smiling, the young Ranger replied. "It's OK, Judd."

Ruth Nelson broke in. "You boys will stay to supper, and spend the night. Now, Judd, show them where they can put their saddles, and wash up."

Jim was crying softly, so Bobby accepted for both of them. "It would be an honor, Ruth."

The foursome stayed up late into the night, sharing memories of Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin, Sr.

It was just after 10:00 AM when Bobby Cahill Walker and Jim Griffin, Jr. arrived in Sanderson. They wasted no time in looking for a livery stable, but hitched their horses directly in front of Judge Hiram Wyatt's office.

Jim hesitated, fighting back emotions, as he saw the evidence of the ambush and gunfight that had taken his Dad's life. Bullet holes were still evident in the wall and sidewalk. Bobby, his partner, gave him a slight shove, growling under his breath, "Jim, careful." The pair entered the judge's office.

They were greeted quizzically, but cordially, by the jurist. They had removed their Ranger badges, and had purposely not cleaned up, so they would look like any range riders.

"What can I do for you gentlemen?"

"Sir, I'm Bobby Cahill Walker, and this is Jim Griffin, Jr." The judge gave a slight start, not unnoticed by the Rangers, at Jim's name. Continuing, Bobby slipped his badge out of his inner vest pocket, sliding it across the judge's desk. "We're Texas Rangers, investigating the murder of Jim's father."

Judge Wyatt shook Jim's hand, gravely. "So you're Jim's son.  He was a fine man; terrible what happened. My daughters and I were trapped here for the whole fight. Son, your father was a brave man."

"Thank you, Sir; your kind words are appreciated." Jim's voice was strained, his nerves on edge, muscles tight.

Bobby continued. "Sir, we need to know why Ranger Griffin was here."

"He came in answer to my complaint. One of my daughters--and I won't say which--was, shall we say, in a compromised position. I was being blackmailed."

"Sir, we know Ranger Griffin was gunned down before he could act on your complaint."

"That is true. However, one of the men who ambushed him, Tracy Daniels, was killed by Jim in the fight. That solved my problem."

Bobby turned to his partner. "Jim, this'll be hard on you."

"Go ahead, Bobby. I just want to find my Dad's killers."

"Judge, you claim, along with the sheriff, that all the drygulchers were killed in the fight, by Ranger Griffin. The coroner's report says the fatal shot finished him instantly. How could all the shooters be dead?"

"The coroner is wrong, Ranger. I saw Jim get hit with that last shot. He still lifted his Winchester and got Harvey Mason, the man who fired the last shot."

"Judge Wyatt, I don't have any more questions, for you. Please, though, we don't want it common knowledge around town that we're Rangers."

"You have my complete cooperation", the Judge replied. "I and my office are at your disposal."

"Bueno; now, can you direct us to the Sheriff's office?"

"Half-block down, on the left."

Both Rangers rose. They shook the judge's hand, thanked him, and departed.

As soon as they were out of earshot, heading for the Sheriff's office, Jim, quietly but excitedly, burst out to Bobby, "That man killed my father!"

"Jim, we have no reason to suspect that."

I don't need one Bobby...I KNOW!! Didn't you get a feeling in there?"

"Mebbe, Jim, but, let's not go flyin' off the handle yet!!"

"I won't, Bobby...but he's one of our men, at least." They had reached the Sheriff's office.

Tom Denton was an individual of average height, slightly stocky, with wavy brown hair and hazel eyes. Seeing the Ranger's badges as they were pushed across his desk, he gave a sigh.

"Knew the Rangers would show up." Eyes on Jim, he remarked, "And you're the dead man's kid?"

Glaring, Jim retorted, "Yep, I am."

"Whoa, Son, didn't mean it like that. I never met your father, but heard about him, and from the fight he put up, he must have been some salty."

"Apology accepted, Sheriff."

Bobby, as at the judge's, did the questioning. "Sheriff, you know the men who ambushed Ranger Griffin?"

"Two of 'em, yeah. Other three, no."

"Do you really think all of those shooters are dead?"

The sheriff leaned toward the Ranger, speaking in a low voice, "No- I don't, but I had to sign that report. Judge Wyatt insisted."

An angry, knowing look crossed Jim's countenance. Bobby didn't miss it.

"Just one more question, Sheriff. Where were you when Ranger Griffin was gunned down?"

"That's the funny thing: I was called to Dave Steckle's place on a hoss-thievin' complaint. Only thing, Dave wasn't missin' no hosses. I got back about 20 minutes after the fight. And., my deputy was locked here in the jail, hidin'. I fired his useless a**."

"Thanks, Sheriff." Again, the Rangers requested their identities be kept quiet.

As they headed their horses toward the Sanderson Stables, Bobby ordered Jim. "Keep quiet about this, until tonight. Now, there's the Sanderson House. We'll put up our broncs, get a room, then head for that barber shop next to the hotel to get a nice hot bath and shave. After supper, we'll talk about this, in our room, in private."

Jaw clenched, Jim's voice grated in reply, as if far away. "We'll talk, all right; but, once we get to the bottom of this, no more talkin'...and Judge Hiram Wyatt--friend of the Texas Rangers or not--is MINE!"

Bobby and Jim approached the desk clerk at the Sanderson House.

"May I help you gentlemen?" the clerk sniffed.

"Room, please", Bobby replied.

"Take Room 8..down the hall, 3rd room on the right. Please, sign the register. That'll be one dollar."

Bobby signed for both, using the Rangers' real names. They were not yet known in the area, so there was no need for aliases.

"Where's a good place for some grub?"

"Our dining room, right here, sir."

"Fine."

After they ascended to their room, saddlebags over their shoulders, Bobby stretched out on his bed. Jim was pacing like a caged tiger.

"Jim, calm down! We'll get to the bottom of this, and find your Dad's killers."

"Bobby, I just wanna yank that Judge Wyatt out of his office by his scrawny neck and choke the truth out of him."

"Jim, we have nothing on him...no proof at all. Just your gut feeling."

Bobby, I don't..."

"JIM!!" Bobby cut in on his younger partner. "I know you're hurtin' bad. Don't forget: I saw Cord die right in front of me. Held his head in my lap as he died. I know what you're goin' through. But, Jim, you go off half-cocked, and YOU'LL be responsible for lettin' your Dad's killers out of the noose.

"Now, tomorrow, I have to wire Capt. McGuire and let him know we're here, and how the investigation's going. Either you get your head on straight, or I'll wire him that I'm pullin' you off this case!!!!!"

Chagrined, Jim slumped down on the edge of his bed, face buried in his hands, crying softly. "Bobby, I know you're right. I'm sorry, Pard. Look, it's our

first day here. It's been rough, especially knowin' I might be lookin' at my Dad's killer every time I step out the door."

Bobby, softly--remembering how much he hurt when Cord, and his friend Ben Jenkins, who had been killed before Cord--replied. "Jim, I understand. But, you won't do your Mom and brother and sister any good if you make a mistake, and get yourself killed, or let Jim's killers get away." 

Bobby swung his legs over the edge of his bed, to the floor. "Now, Jim, let's go get that bath and shave, and some grub", he said, rising from the bed, slapping Jim on the back.

The two young Rangers, after days on the trail, entered Fred's Barber Shop and Baths. Hot baths were a luxury to men on the trail, so Bobby and Jim made the most of this opportunity.

First, they both had haircuts and trims. Then, they went to the bathhouse out back.

Fred's establishment was better and cleaner than most. Bobby and Jim luxuriated in plenty of hot, soapy water, in the large zinc tubs, the aches  and dust of the trail floating away.

"Bobby, I'm sorry again for actin' up", Jim apologized. He was leaned back in his tub, and the water was definitely easing his tension.

"Forget it, Jim, no harm done...and we'll catch those rattlesnakes; you have my word on it."

Bobby had emerged from his tub, and was reaching for a towel, to dry himself off.

Suddenly, two masked men burst into the room, Colts drawn. One aimed at Bobby, the other lining up his gun's muzzle at Jim.

Bobby, with split-second reaction, grabbed his Colt from its holster, from the peg where it was hanging.

He dove for the floor, just as a .45 slug whistled where his head had been a moment before. Bobby landed on his stomach, rolled over as another bullet came in his direction, and, firing prone from the floor, he sent off a snap shot, smiling in grim satisfaction as his assailant screeched in pain, grabbing his right arm and falling backwards out the door.

Jim had started to rise out of his tub, just as the other masked hombre's Colt boomed. Bobby, still on the floor, sent a shot at this gunman. The man's Stetson flew off, and a gash appeared across his forehead.  He bolted and ran.

"Jim, JIM!!" Bobby screamed in horror. His partner had slipped back under the water, and a red sheen was spreading over the soapy surface.

Bobby leaped from the floor, nearly falling as he slipped on the glassy surface.

He reached under the water, hands grasping Jim under the shoulders, yanking him out of the tub.  As Bobby lay his partner on the floor, to his horror, he saw that Jim had taken the .45 slug plumb center in his belly.  An ugly hole about 2 inches above Jim's navel was spurting blood, profusely.

Fred, the barber, had appeared in the door, shouting. "Get the Doctor, NOW!" Bobby ordered. The barber rushed to comply.

Bobby, grabbing as many towels as available, tried to staunch Jim's bleeding. After a moment, Jim came to, smiling at Bobby, weakly. "Heckuva note, pard, Man can't even take a bath without gettin' gutshot."

Bobby laughed, grimly, as he noticed Jim was starting to shake, teeth clenched.

"Jim, hang in there; here, Pard, press on this towel, HARD. Doc's on his way, but we've gotta slow that bleedin'."

"Bobby, not goin' anywhere...not till we snaffle Dad's killers. UNNHHHH" Jim let out a groan. "Feel's like my belly's on fire!"

"First time you've been plugged, Jim?"

"PLUGGED? In a BATHTUB? Bobby, that sounds like one of my dad's awful jokes!!! Yeah, though, never been shot before...it hurts."

"Well, Jim, if you stay in the Rangers, won't be the last time. Where the ##%%% is that doctor?"

Jim was starting to lapse back into unconsciousness, again. "Bobby, never thought I'd say this, but I miss my Dad's awful jokes."

"Hang in there, Jim. I remember some of those jokes, and how your dad used to torment my dad with them. I'll bet they're together right now, and Jim's drivin' Cord crazy with those jokes."

As Jim laughed in response, weakly, the town doctor finally arrived.

"I'm Doctor Harold Smithers. Please, remove those towels."

The physician went to work on Jim quickly and competently. He quickly washed off the blood, and sterilized the bullet hole. In a bathhouse, plenty of hot water was available.

Probing, Dr. Smithers quickly found the slug in Jim's gut.  Holding it in his forceps, he told the two Rangers, "This is one lucky man: slug must have hit something before he caught it. It was only just below the skin, about two inches deep. Any further, and he'd be in Boot Hill."

Bobby was puzzled. "Doc, he was in the tub, what'd the slug hit?" Looking around for the first time, Bobby noticed the water draining from a bullet hole in the side of Jim's bathtub.

"Now, young man, let me bandage that, and check that lump on your head." Jim had hit his head on the sharp edge of the tub after he was shot, and that blow had knocked him out.

Finishing Doctor Smithers ordered, "You'll be just fine. Check with me day after tomorrow, and I'll change that bandage. Just don't get in any fistfights and take any punches to your gut the next couple of weeks!!" Jim had bandages wrapped securely around his middle.

After the doctor left, Jim and Bobby dressed. Bobby gathered up the one gunman's hat, and the other's Colt, where it had been dropped after Bobby shot the man's right arm. Sheriff Denton was conspicuous by his absence.

"Jim, got some clues, here, anyway."

"Yeah, Bobby, but we know one thing, for sure."

"What's that, Pard?"

"Hiram Wyatt is definitely the man who had my father killed. He and Tom Denton are the only ones in this town who know we're Rangers...and I'm POSITIVE the sheriff's honest. And now, Wyatt's after US!!!!!"

Jim and Bobby had settled into their hotel room. After the shooting, neither one felt like much supper. They had been there a short time when a sharp knock came on their door.

Beckoning to Jim to stay still, Bobby stood up, and-- taking a Colt in his hand--stood behind the door. After Bobby was in position, Jim called out, "Who's there?"

"Sheriff Denton", came the terse reply.

"Come, in, slow...and keep your hands shoulder high."

The sheriff complied, starting a bit as Bobby stuck the barrel of his pistol in the local lawman's back, ordering Denton, "Sit, down, the chair over there."

Jim had swung around, to sit on the edge of his bed.

Bobby kept his Colt leveled at Tom Denton's chest, snarling, "Sheriff, my partner and I were ambushed tonight. Now, there was no sign of you anywhere. Just what were you doin' when the shootin' started?"

"Can I lower my hands?"

"Slow, Sheriff."

Looking straight at the two Rangers, Denton explained. "Probably won't do any good; you're not goin' to believe me, anyway. But, I was back out at Dave Steckle's place, again. Had a rustlin' complaint.  But, it was another wild goose chase."

"You're right, I don't believe you."  Bobby snapped.

The lawman looked to Jim, eyes appealing. Jim, glancing at the Sheriff, then speaking to his partner, answered. "Bobby, I do. Don't know why, but I do. I think the sheriff here is being taken for a ride,  just like my Dad's killers are tryin' to do to us."

"Well, I'm not so sure", retorted Bobby. He produced the Colt and Stetson he had recovered at Fred's Barber Shop.

"Recognize any of these, Sheriff?"

"Can't say as I do; wish I did."

"Well, Denton, unless you've got any further information, we'd like to get some shut-eye; it's been a long, tough day."

With an "Adios, Boys...and, if I hear anything, I'll let you know", the sheriff departed.

Just before settling to sleep, Bobby discussed the next day's plans, with Jim. "Jim, I'm gonna take a ride out to that Dave Steckle's place in the mornin'. Didn't want Denton to know that tonight, so he couldn't get word to Steckles. I'll get directions from the good sheriff tomorrow."

Continuing, Bobby ordered, "Jim, you can't ride for a couple of days, anyway. Hang around town, here, and see what you might hear. I'll even let you visit Judge Wyatt, to see what he says about tonight. Why do you trust that Sheriff, though?"

"Don't know, Bobby; just do. Besides, if we let him think we believe him, and he did help kill my Dad, he may slip up. And, tomorrow, I'll go visit Doc Smithers. With this hole in my middle, that'd be expected. And, I'll ask the good doctor if any hombres with a hole in their arm or scalp showed up. And,

since he's also the coroner, I'll ask him about his report on my Dad's death."

"Good thinking, Jim." With that, the two partners fell into slumber, plans for the morrow at the ready.

The two young Rangers were up with the sun the next morning. As Jim swung his legs over the mattress, sitting up on the edge of his bed, a grimace of pain crossed his face, and a grunt escaped his throat.

"Jim, how you feelin?" Bobby inquired. "You hurtin' much?" Bobby was pleased to note, as he looked in Jim's direction, that there did not appear to be any blood on the bandages wrapped around Jim's belly. Evidently, Doc Smithers had done his work well.

"I'm sore, some, Bobby", Jim replied; then, chortling, "but, Pard, I've gotten worse bellyaches from your cookin', on out way out here."

Bobby glared in Jim's direction, then retorted, "Well, then, from now on, YOU'LL do the cookin' in camp!"

"Fine with me, Pard. You know, dyin' of lead poisonin' from a couple of slugs is quick, at least. Dyin' from ptomaine from your vittles is sloooow torture."

Bobby couldn't help but laugh. It would take a long time, but it appeared Jim's pain over his father's death was starting to be overcome.

Jim rustled up his spare shirt, and the two young Rangers quickly washed up and headed out for breakfast. They were eating at Kathy's Koffee Kafe, across from the hotel, having realized how ravenous they were, since they hadn't eaten after the ambush the night previous.

Sheriff Tom Denton joined them. "Jim, Bobby, can I join you?"

"Pull up a chair, Sheriff", Bobby replied. "We were on our way over to your place anyway."

"Gracias; anything I can do for you?"

"Yes- I need directions to Dave Steckle's ranch... and, what kind of jasper is Dave Steckle; think he could have anything to do with Ranger Griffin's murder?"

"Easy to find, Ranger: head out of town on the road to Marathon. About 6 miles out, there's a trail to the left. Take that trail another mile, and you'll see the gate to Dave's Bar SD. You can be there and back by noon, one o'clock easy.

"Now, as far as Dave himself, I can't see him mixed up in the Ranger's killin'. He's a young guy, hard-workin', with a wife, and a kid on the way."

"Anybody got anything on him, Sheriff?"

"Not that I know of...still, why would I be called to Dave's twice, when bushwhackers struck, right here in town?"

"Good question, Sheriff. We find the answer to that, and we should find out killers."

After finishing breakfast, Bobby and Jim headed toward the livery stable. "Jim, so I can get started, why don't you wire Capt. McGuire?"

"Will do, Bobby. I think I'll forget to tell him about last night, though, for the time being."

"My sentiments exactly."

Arriving at the stable, they were greeted with warm nickers by Sunny and Cody. Bobby saddled and bridled his palomino and white Paint gelding, and headed for the Bar SD.

As Bobby rode toward the Bar SD, he thought over the past day's events in his mind.

He wasn't sure--as his partner Jim Griffin, Jr. was--that Judge Hiram Wyatt was somehow involved in Ranger Jim Griffin, Sr's. ambush and murder. Still, he had lived with, and ridden with, Cordell Walker, his part-Cherokee and Texas Ranger stepdad, long enough to know not to discount gut feelings. They were usually right.

He was beginning to feel Sheriff Tom Denton was not involved; however, no suspect could be discounted.

"Well, Sunny, it's a mystery--that's for sure--but, we'll get to the bottom of it", he spoke to his horse, pushing the gelding into a ground-covering lope.

Still thinking, Bobby tried to speculate on a motive. True, every Texas Ranger made enemies, lots of them. But, this ambush was cleverly planned, as it had to be to fool a veteran Ranger like Jim. No, this was no chance meeting that led to Jim's death. It was a carefully planned assassination.

"Jim's an all right guy, too", Bobby thought to himself. "Just hope I made the right decision leavin' him alone in town, though. Still, he wants his Dad's killers even more'n I do. He won't do anythin' stupid."

Bobby had arrived at the Bar SD. He dismounted, tying Sunny to a fencepost.

The ranch was a nondescript, hardscrabble place. As Bobby dismounted, a tall, red-haired, freckle faced, blue eyed rancher approached, a short, pretty, red-haired green eyed, and very pregnant woman beside him.

"What can I do for you, stranger?"

"Dave Steckles?"

"Yup, and this is my wife, Bonnie."

"I'm Bobby Cahill Walker, of the Texas Rangers." Bobby showed his badge. "Don't want that shouted out though."

"Never get many visitors here, anyway. Now, what can I do for the Rangers?"

Bonnie interrupted. "Dave, we're forgettin' our manners. Mr. Walker, won't you come in, and have some coffee?"

"Thank you, Ma'am. I believe that would be fine."

Over coffee and muffins, Bobby questioned the young rancher, who had a steady smile and a frank, even gaze.

"Dave, do you know who, or why, someone would send the Sheriff out here on a wild goose chase, while a Texas Ranger was drygulched and gunned down?"

"Wish I could help, Ranger. I just don't know."

"Who put the call in to the sheriff?"

"Don't know that, either. Message, I understand, came through his deputy, Butch Meacham."

"What about yesterday?"

"Same thing, why?"

"My partner and I were ambushed last night. My partner, Jim Griffin, Jr..." At the Steckles's startled expressions, Bobby added, "...Yes, son of the Ranger killed at Judge Wyatt's...was shot. He'll be all right, though."

Bonnie  Steckles gave a sigh of gratitude, at that.

Bobby questioned Dave and Bonnie for a while longer, but they could provide no further information. Not wanting to leave his wounded and emotionally tight partner in town any longer, he took his leave of the young couple.

As he left, he told them, "If you think of ANYTHING--anything at all--get word to me at the Sanderson House, Room 8."

"We will, Ranger", was Dave Steckles's terse response.

Bobby headed Sunny back toward Sanderson.

Bobby was deep in thought as he headed back to Sanderson. He agreed with Sheriff Denton's opinion of Dave Steckles. The young rancher appeared to be hard-working and honest. Still, though, someone, for some reason, was trying to drag Dave into the ambushing of Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Sr.

He would also definitely have to locate and question Butch Meacham, the deputy. Of course, the man may have vamoosed, since he had been fired. Bobby was almost positive the deputy was involved. Why had Denton believed Meacham, again? Of course, the deputy may have been trying to win his job back.

Bobby was about halfway back to Sanderson, when Sunny, without warning, reared and swerved off the trail. At that same moment, Bobby spotted a flash of sunlight off metal, and the puff of smoke from a rifle. His cayuse's sudden movement saved the young Ranger's life, as a Winchester slug, like an angry hornet, whizzed over Bobby's shoulder.

Bobby rolled from his saddle, pulling his Winchester from its scabbard as he did so, taking cover in some low rocks, behind a clump of mesquite.

Another bullet whanged off one of the rocks, kicking chips of stone in Bobby's face. Taking a chance, he leaned to the left of his cover, and sent a quick shot in the direction of his assailant.

Another shot was quickly returned in Bobby's direction. Now, it was a cat and mouse game, as each player--the Ranger and his would-be killer—jockeyed for position, the position that would lead to sudden death for one of them.

"Gotta try to take him alive", Bobby thought to himself. "If I can get him to talk, that might break this case." He could see the man wriggling through the crevices of the broken slope above, angling for a better shot at the Ranger.

As the man worked his was across some loose shale, he stumbled and slipped, slightly. Seeing his opportunity, Bobby came to one knee, aiming carefully. Just as he squeezed the trigger on his rifle, the man on the slope turned and sent a snap shot downward. A crushing force hit Bobby's skull, and he whirled

downward into a void of inky, complete blackness.

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Jr. had a busy morning, after his partner left for the SD Bar.

First, he went to the Western Union office. The young telegrapher on duty protested about the message Jim ordered sent to Capt. McGuire, in Austin. The message was being sent to a false name and destination.

"Mister, this message makes no sense: it's just a bunch of mixed-up letters."

"Boy, that'll make sense to the party who receives it. You're paid to send messages, not question them. Now, send it, exactly as I wrote it."

After that was done, Jim, realizing he would want to see any messages for Judge Hiram Wyatt, tossed the operator a silver dollar. Then, he headed for Doctor Smither's office.

The physician had several patients waiting. Espying the tall Ranger in his waiting room, he scowled, "Thought I told you to come back in two days, Mister."

"You did, Doc, but my belly hurts, somethin' fierce."

"Well, wait until I finish with my other patients, then I'll see you."

"Muchas Gracias, Doc."

When Jim was finally ushered into the examine room, he hurriedly showed the doctor his Ranger badge, finger to his lips in silent warning.

"Doctor, I'm Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Jr. My Dad was the Ranger killed here. I understand you are also the local coroner?"

"That is correct, Ranger. So, the Ranger who was gunned down was your Dad. You have my deepest sympathy, and regrets."

"Thank you, Sir. I really appreciate your kindness. And, you and I both realize this conversation is in the strictest confidence. Now, I only have one question for you."

"Please, Ranger, go ahead."

"Your report states my father's, Ranger Griffin's, death was instantaneous, once the Winchester bullet pierced his heart. Is that correct?"

Doctor Smithers could hear Jim's voice quivering, see the tears welling up in the young man's eyes. Kindly, he replied, "Yes, Son, that is correct."

"Doctor, this is important. Certain parties are claiming Ranger Griffin was able to fire his rifle AFTER he was shot through the heart, finishing off all his ambushers."

"BALDERDASH!" Doctor Smithers was furious, outraged. "Ranger, your father should have been dead from any of those slugs that were in his abdomen or chest.

Somehow, I don't know how, he kept fighting.  But the bullet that hit his heart ripped it into pieces, literally exploding it. Your father, I'm sorry to say, did not--COULD NOT--have moved again after that bullet hit him. No, Son, whoever finished off your father is still out there somewhere."

The Doctor reached out, putting his hand on Jim's shoulders, as the young Ranger was overcome with pain and grief. Finally, several minutes later, Jim had regained enough composure to continue.

"Doctor, I thank you. My partner and I are obviously trying to track down my Dad's killers. You've been a big help."

"Son, I hope you find them- and I may have a clue for you. Check into a gambler from Fort Stockton, name of Peter LaMarche. You didn't hear that from me." Now, don't forget to come back here tomorrow to get those bandages changed."

"Will do, Doc, and thank you."

Leaving Doctor Smithers office, Jim next made his way over to Judge Wyatt's office. He found the judge in, along with his daughter Nicole.

"Nicole, this is Jim Griffin, Jr. His dad was the Ranger killed here."

"Oh, how awful for you." Nicole Wyatt was 20 years old, most attractive, with coppery auburn hair and flashing hazel eyes. "Mr., Griffin, I was here, with my sister, for that horrible gunfight. Your father was certainly a brave man...to think, he killed five outlaws, even as he was dying. He certainly saved my father's life, and mine and my sister's as well."

"Thank you, Miss Wyatt." Then Jim added, pointedly, "My Dad saved your life IF the drygulchers were after you. "

"Why, who else would they be after, Mr. Griffin?"

"Please, Miss Wyatt, just Jim, And, I think they were just after my father. And, he may have saved your lives, but my mother, sister, and brother are devasted. Our lives will never be the same."

"Oh, how horrible!"

Turning to Judge Hiram Wyatt, Jim stated flatly, "I'm sure your father has told you why I am here, along with my partner. And, I'm sure you can keep our confidence. I'm a Texas Ranger, also, and I WILL track down my Dad's killers. Judge, did you know my partner and I were ambushed at the barber shop last night?"

"Yes, Ranger, I had heard that."

"Do you have any idea who might have done that, or why?"

"None, I'm afraid. It was probably just a couple of robbers, looking to make some quick money."

"Perhaps, Judge."

The judge continued, smoothly. "Ranger Griffin, I have business to attend to, that has come up rather suddenly. Nicole came to have lunch with me, but I'm afraid I must break our date. Would you be kind enough to take my place?"

Jim, a young man of 19, looking at those dancing hazel eyes, the hint of a creamy bosom under the bodice of Nicole Wyatt's velvet dress, was snared.

"Judge, Miss Wyatt, I would be honored."

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Jr. tall, blue-eyed, and blonde, and Nicole Wyatt, auburn haired and hazel-eyed, made a striking couple. After a delightful lunch at the Sanderson House, they had gotten Jim's bay, Cody, and Nicole's dapple gray mare, Sugar, and ridden, unchaperoned, to a cottonwood grove by the river.

Looking over the water, Jim was again overcome with memories and grief. Nicole placed her arms gently around the Ranger's broad shoulders.

"Jim, I am so sorry, again. I know how brave your father was. After the gunfire stopped, I went out to him. I held his head in my arms, but he was gone. My heart aches for you."

"Nicole, you don't know how much that means to me...that you were with him. I'm sure he knew, somehow, that you were there. Now, when I get home, I can tell my family he didn't die alone...that you were with him. It will mean so much to them."

For a long while, the couple sat there, silently. Then, Nicole Wyatt kissed Jim on the cheek, gently. That innocent kiss stirred something deep, in both of them. Jim, responding, kissed her full on the lips. Passion stirred both their bodies, and they started to give in to long-suppressed desires.

Then, Jim broke away from Nicole's embrace. "Nicole, this isn't right. I'm a Ranger, with a job to do. And you are a beautiful young woman, with a future.

Smoothing her ruffled dress, she responded, "Jim, I don't care about what anyone thinks."

"I have to, Nicole...and you must also."

They mounted their horses. On the slow ride back to town, Jim finally got up the courage to ask Nicole the thought that had been on his mind all day.

"Nicole, I realize I may be prying, but, I have to know this. My dad was here because your father called him for some problem your father was having. Now, your father was a good friend of my Dad's, and the Texas Rangers. My Dad was killed trying to help your family.

Can you tell me, do you know, why Judge Wyatt called for the Rangers?"

Nicole Wyatt hesitated, lips trembling, eyes downcast. Finally, she looked up at the tall Ranger on the stocky bay next to her. "Jim, I don't know for sure. I do know that a Peter La La oh, something or other, had a hold over my father. I don't know what."

Jim leaned over and kissed her, gently. "Nicole, thank you. I think the man you mentioned still has a hold over the Judge, and he's been afraid to tell us. We'll get to the bottom of this, help your father, and find my Dad's killers. Now, don't breathe a word of this to anyone, not even your father or the rest of your family." Jim didn't mention he was sure Judge Wyatt was part of the conspiracy to kill his father.

As they arrived back in Sanderson. Doctor Smithers was leaving his office. Spotting Jim on Cody, he yelled, "Mister, you're not supposed to be on horseback."

Jim grinned back. "Doc, how could I refuse this beautiful lady. Besides, we only walked the horses."

Doc Smithers snorted in response, and shook his head, balefully.

After leaving Nicole Wyatt, returning Cody to the livery stable, Jim realized that Sunny, Bobby's Paint, was not in his stall. Hurrying over to Sheriff Denton's office, he found that Bobby had not returned there. Quickly checking their room, the Western Union, and the other places Bobby might be, Jim quickly realized his partner was long overdue, as it was now late afternoon.

Jim quickly retrieved Cody, and spurred the gelding up to Sheriff Denton's office, a dread premonition stirring up the bile into his throat.

"Denton, quick, which way again to Dave Steckles's ranch?"

"Hold up, Jim. I'll go with you. The sheriff grabbed a Winchester from the wall rack, mounted his rangy strawberry roan, shoving the rifle in its scabbard. Side by side, the two lawmen, Ranger and Sheriff, galloped out of Sanderson.

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Jr. and Sheriff Tom Denton did not spare their mounts as they headed westward out of Sanderson. The sun was already lowering in the western sky. After a couple of miles, they slowed to a lope, scanning the road, horizon, and brush for any sign of Texas Ranger Bobby Cahill Walker, Jim's partner, who had not returned from the Bar SD Ranch.

As they came around a small ridge, Jim spotted Bobby's mount, Sunny, head down, reins dragging, in a gully at the side of the road. Hurrying up to his partner's gelding, the sheriff close behind, Jim came upon his partner, lying face up, limbs sprawled shapelessly, scalp bloody, in a clump of mesquite. Jim jumped off the still moving Cody, kneeling beside Bobby. 

"Sheriff, he's still breathin'. Get my canteen, quick!"

As Jim lifted Bobby's head, Bobby stirred, groaned, and opened his eyes. "Jim, how'd you get here?"

"Easy, Bobby; here, take a couple of sips of this."  Sheriff Denton had arrived, and passed Jim his canteen. As Jim placed the canteen to his partner's lips, Bobby started to gulp the refreshing, life-sustaining liquid.

"Slow, Pard- not too fast." As Bobby relaxed somewhat, Jim questioned him. "Bobby, any idea what happened...who got ya?"

"Don't know, Jim. Hombre fired from that ridge, over there. I might have winged him, though. Pulled my trigger before I got hit."

Tom Denton broke in. "Take it easy. Jim, you stay with your partner. I'll take a pasear on that slope, see what I can come up with."

"Sheriff...", Bobby started to protest.

Jim stopped him. "Bobby, Tom didn't have to come out here with me. He jumped out of his office soon as he heard you were missing. He's on our side, bud."

Tom Denton was already on his way. Jim retrieved the medical kit out of his saddlebags.

Cody and Sunny were ground hitched, standing patiently. Jim busied himself cleaning and bandaging the furrow alongside his partner's right temple.  Then, leaving Bobby lying as comfortably as possible, he climbed to the edge of the road, looking for Sheriff Denton.

The local lawman was returning, leading a dun horse, a man draped over its back. Approaching Jim, he remarked, sardonically, "Your partner there winged this hombre, all right...winged him dead center."

As he rode up to Jim, the Ranger lifted the dead man's head, then dropped it back, breath whooshing through Jim's lips, in surprise.

"Recognize him, Ranger?"

"Mebbe; you know him?"

"Sure do; he is--or should I say was--Gene Simon. And, Ranger, he worked for Dave Steckles."

"Not only that, Sheriff: He's the jasper who drilled me at the barber shop."

Bobby had struggled to sit up. As Jim and the sheriff returned, Jim told his partner who the ambusher had been, the ambusher that Bobby had shot through the heart.

"#$$$$", Bobby replied. "Wanted to take him alive, make him talk."

"Would have been nice, Bobby...but, it was him or you, and I'm a blamed sight happier it was him", Jim replied. "Now, think you can ride?"

"I'll manage, Jim."

"Bueno, now, we’ll get you back to town, and have the Doc fix you up, proper." Jim was hoping his partner hadn't noticed the blood seeping through the front of his shirt. In rescuing his partner, Jim had reopened the wound in his gut.

The three lawmen reined up in front of Doctor Smither's office. Hearing the hoof beats, the doctor's wife, Beatrice, had come to the front door.

"Harvey", she called, "We have a couple of wounded men out here, needin' tendin' to...and one who's beyond your help, anyway."

Jim and Bobby entered the office, herded into the examining room by Mrs. Smithers. Sheriff Denton took the body of the dead Gene Simon to the room in the barn that served as the morgue, then joined the two Rangers.

"Like to have the Rangers around more often", Doctor Smithers was remarking, sarcastically. "You're good for business." He was busily cleaning and bandaging Bobby's forehead.

"Doc, any hombre show up yet with a bullet hole through his right arm?" Jim asked.

"Not yet, Ranger."

Bobby, wincing as the doctor put stinging medicine on his scalp, asked Tom Denton, "Sheriff, did Gene Simon have any partner?"

"Not that I know of. He was the only hand Dave Steckles kept on."

"Well, Sheriff, he had one, anyway: the other hombre that waylaid me 'n' Jim at the barber shop. By the way, where's your deputy, Meacham, been?"

"Haven't seen him since he had me out to Steckles's."

"Ranger, you're all patched up." Turning to Jim, Doctor Smithers ordered, "Now, Ranger, take off that shirt, and let me see how much damage you've done."

"Just a little bleedin', Doc, that's all."

Firmly, Bobby told his partner, "Let the Doc be the judge of that."

As the physician removed Jim's bandages, he shook his head. "Told you if you went ridin', Ranger, you'd break those stitches."

"Had no choice, Doc. Had to find my partner."

"Partner, nothin!!!!! What about that pretty young filly I saw you ridin' with this afternoon, Nicole Wyatt?"

Tom Denton and Bobby had turned to stare at the blonde Ranger, Bobby with one eyebrow raised.

"That was in the line of duty, Doc?"

"Humph" Doc Smithers retorted, "Duty, indeed!!!"

Jim gave a resounding "OOOFF", as the doctor purposely jerked the new bandages tight around Jim's middle.

"Now, let's see you break THOSE loose, Ranger!" Doc Smithers was angry that his work the night previous had gone for naught.

Patched up, needing rest, the two Rangers joined Tom Denton for a quick supper at Kathy's Koffee Kafe, and retired to their room.

Exhausted, stretched out on their beds, the partners discussed the day's events.

Jim, bursting with curiosity, and anxious to tell Bobby his findings, asked, "What'd you learn at the Steckles' place, Pard?"

"Jim,, like Tom said, Dave Steckles appears to be a hard-working young rancher. I liked him and his wife, right off. Now, though, since Simon was workin' for Steckles, I'm not so sure."

"Sure is a tough one: every angle leads to a dead-end, so far, Pard."

"How was your day, Jim...and what's this about you ridin' with Judge Wyatt's daughter?"

"Well, Pard: wired Cap McGuire. Gave the Western Union kid a good tip, 'case we want to see any wires comin' in or out", Jim continued. "Doc Smithers says that there's no way my Dad fired another shot after he was hit in the heart."

Jim paused for a moment, to gather his thoughts and emotions. "Bobby, the doc gave me a hint to check into a gambler from Ft. Stockton, name of Peter LaMarche; you ever hear of him?"

"Can't say as I have, Jim."

"Didn't think you would have. Anyway, I went over to Judge Wyatt's after seein' the doc. Like we figured, he said he'd heard about us gettin' bushwhacked last night. He said, smooth as silk, that it was just a robbery!!!" Jim spat out these last words, as if they left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He continued, "Then, Bobby, he suddenly had business to attend to. Asked me if I'd take his daughter to lunch, since he couldn't. How could I say no?"

"If she's as pretty as Doc Smithers claims, how could you?"

Jim was blushing, now. "Bobby, I'm glad I went. She thinks the slugs my Dad caught were meant for her family. Then, Bobby, she told me, after the shootin' stopped, she went out to try to help my Dad. Wyatt and her sister didn't. Bobby, she held my dad's head, tryin' to comfort him, even though he was gone."

Tears had again started to roll down Jim's cheeks. His partner--knowing his pain, having been with his own father at Cordell Walker's death--said nothing, letting Jim set his own pace.

After a few minutes, Jim went on. "Bobby, she told me a Peter La Something or other had a hold over her father. Couldn't remember his last name, but, Pard, it's GOTTA be the same hombre Doc Smithers mentioned. I told her we'd try to help her, and her father."

"Jim, that mean you think the judge wasn't involved, after all?"

"No, Bobby, I still think he's guilty as sin. Every time I meet him, I see my Dad's blood on his hands.  But, I don't want his daughter spillin' that." He paused. "That's it, Bobby- came back here, found your hoss missin' and you know the rest. What's our next move?"

"Well, Jim, for tonight, a good night's rest. Tomorrow, we'll wire Cap. McGuire, and see what he can tell us about this LaMarche. We'll see if Tom Denton can tell us anything about him. I'd also like to know where his deputy disappeared. We'll just kind of hang around town for the rest of the day. Then, tomorrow night, we'll head for the Red Longhorn Saloon, and get ourselves into a friendly game of monte. Maybe one of the local gamblers can tell us somethin' about LaMarche."

"Like your thinkin', Pard. Now let's get some shut-eye."  Jim was yawning, then, as was his custom, said a few evening prayers. He stretched out under the blankets.

Bobby  turned down the coal oil lamp, and settled himself as comfortably as possible on the thin mattress. As he drifted off to sleep, a slight smile of satisfaction came to his face. Even though the killing of Jim's Texas Ranger father--and Bobby's step dad’s former Ranger partner--was still a mystery, clues were starting to fall into place. Bobby was sure the killer's would soon be brought to justice.

TO BE CONTINUED ON SATURDAY…


Chapters 18- Conclusion

By, Jim Griffin, Keeneyanke@yahoo.com

The next day, the two Rangers were busy. 

First thing, they sent a wire to Capt. McGuire, asking for any information about Peter LaMarche, of Fort Stockton, and any of his known associates. Bobby had asked Sheriff Denton to ride out and question Dave Steckles about the attempt on the young Ranger's life by Steckles's hand, Gene Simon. Both Bobby and Jim

were convinced the local peace officer had nothing to do with Jim, Sr's., killing.

To their surprise, as they were relaxing on the porch in front of the Sanderson House, Judge Hiram Wyatt approached them.

"See you boys are still here."

"Afraid so, Judge", Bobby replied. He still didn't trust Jim, where the judge was concerned. "I was drygulched yesterday, on my way back from the Bar SD. Fella named Gene Simon tried to plug me, according to Tom Denton. He's in the morgue, now."

The judge betrayed no emotion, except for a slight flicker in his eyes.

Bobby continued, contempt in his voice. "Judge, you are wrong. One of those polecats, at least--and I'm sure more--who killed Ranger Griffin are still around.  And, now they're tryin' to plug me and Jim, here, to stop our investigation. Well, Judge, you've been a friend of the Rangers for years. Capt. McGuire speaks very highly of you. You know we won't quit until Ranger Griffin's killers are brought to justice. And, if Jim 'n' I are killed, there'll be more Rangers to take our place."

Smoothly, the judge replied, "Good; that's the Rangers I know and respect. Now, I'd like you two gentlemen to join my family for dinner tomorrow evening. My house, the white one at the end of Mesa Street. Will you do me the honor?" (end of Chapter 18,

Part One)

Bobby glanced sideways at his partner. Jim's eyes were hard, a lump of anger showing on his clenched jaw. Then, his partner relaxed.

"Judge, I would love to see Nicole again. She told me what she did for my Dad, as he lay dyin'. My family and I will be forever grateful to her."

Bobby let out an almost audible sigh of relief, grateful Jim had been able to control his emotions, carefully hiding his true feelings for Hiram Wyatt.

"Judge, the honor would be ours."

"Perfect, gentlemen; we'll see you at 7:00 PM."

After the judge took his leave, with nothing to do but wait, the two young Rangers headed for the Sanderson Stables. They had left their horses with only a perfunctory rubdown the night previous, as they were forced to tend to their own wounds.

As they approached the corral, Cody was backed into a corner, ears laid back, as a tall, thin hombre took a whip to the bay gelding.  The man was cursing. "YOU $^&&&  of a  ((**80##! I'll teach you to fight me!" There was a halter and a broken lead rope on Jim's stocky horse. Obviously, the cowpoke had tried to

steal Jim's pride and joy.

Jim broke into a run, jumping the corral fence.  Stretching into a leaping dive, he caught his horse's tormentor in the small of the man's back, driving him to the dirt. As the man started to rise, fury and hate in his eyes, a quick left from a furious Texas Ranger sent him sprawling. The man jumped up, wary now.

However, Jim was beyond any control, and reason. He took one punch to the chin, another to the stomach. Then, he had waded in to the would-be horse thief, hitting him again and again.

He had backed the man against the wall, was sending punch after punch to the man's gut, driving every ounce of breath from his lungs. As the man jackknifed, a knee from Jim caught him under the chin. The impact snapped the hombre's neck, and he dropped dead on the spot.

Bobby had finally reached Jim, pulled him back. Tom Denton had arrived. 

"What happened here?" the sheriff questioned.

"That hombre on the ground, there, was tryin' to steal my hoss. I stopped him, but he objected. He won't steal any more hosses."

Denton rolled the dead man over onto his back. "Well, Well, it's Julio Amargo. Wanted over most of southwest Texas. He's a hoss thief and rustler. Good job, Ranger."

After the dead man was removed, Jim and Bobby headed for the Western Union. Speechless for a few moments, Bobby finally stopped, and turned to his partner. "Jim, I can see you take after your Dad."

"How's that, Bobby?" 

"I was with my Dad few years back, when we come across Jim. In fact, it was on Cord's last assignment, the one he got killed on." Bobby paused for a moment, eyes glistening. The loss of Cord would always hurt.

Then, Bobby continued. "He'd been sent to give us a message. Anyway, two hombres tired to steal Yankee. You know how your Dad and that hoss of his were. Jim crippled one, and killed the other. Told me and Cord he had no respect for hoss thieves. You did, today, just what your Dad would've done."

Jim smiled, ruefully. "Guess you're right, Pard. No one could do what my Dad did with hosses, but I care for my broncs as much as he did."

They continued on to the telegraph office. As hoped, the operator passed them a message on the yellow Western Union form. Translated, it read: "Peter LaMarche, alias of Peter Martin, late of Huntsville prison. Martin arrested and convicted of fraud, robbery, and attempted murder in Abilene, Texas.

Martin was owner of Red Garter Saloon and Gambling Hall in Abilene. Released six months ago on parole."

The last sentence leapt off the page as Bobby and Jim read: "Arresting officer in Abilene was Texas Ranger James J. Griffin." (end of Chapter 18, Part 2)

"Bobby, it all fits..." Jim was breathless after reading the last line of the telegram. "This Peter Martin must have wanted my Dad killed, for revenge. He has some hold over Judge Wyatt."

"Looks that way, Jim. But, we still have no proof.  We'll have to play it cagey if we want to catch those coyotes."

"Pard, I've got all the time in the world, so long as we round up the whole gang. What's our next step?"

"Well, Jim, let's do what we planned. Tonight, we'll head over to the saloon, and get in a friendly game or two. Maybe someone over there knows this Peter Martin. And, tomorrow night, we'll have dinner at the Wyatt’s', as planned. Don't want to spook the judge, now, do we?"

"No, Bobby, but, if he does spook, there's nowhere in Texas he can hide from me."

Bobby continued, "'Sides, Jim, I want to see this Nicole Wyatt. Seems to me like that little gal's turned your head."

Jim was red with embarrassment. "Shucks, Pard, she's just a nice girl, that's all. And, she was the only person in this town who tried to help my Dad. I can't help but like her, for that. It's gonna hurt her when she finds out about her father."

"Jim, I'm still not sure the judge was involved, willingly, anyway."

"Bobby, I'm not gonna argue. He WAS! PERIOD!!"

The two Rangers had entered Tom Denton's office. The sheriff was leaning back in his chair, and the Rangers settled their lanky frames into two hard chairs opposite the sheriff.

"Tom"--Rangers and local lawman were on first-name terms now--"what'd you find out from Dave Steckles?"

"Not much, Bobby. He claims Simon left two weeks ago, sayin' he had to visit family over in New Mexico. I believe the kid."

"So do I, Sheriff. However, someone's tryin' hard to drag Dave into this."

Bobby continued. "Tom, you know anything about a Peter LaMarche, used to be Peter Martin? Supposed to be a gambler up in Ft. Stockton."

"Heard the name, once or twice. He's supposed to have been here in Sanderson, a couple of times. I never saw him, but when he was supposed to be here, I was out on the range."

"Thanks, Tom. If you need us, Jim 'n' I'll be over at the saloon tonight. We'll be nosin' around, seein' what we can pick up."

"Yeah, and I hear your partner there has a date with Nicole Wyatt tomorrow evening. Jim, you be careful.  That little filly is liable to throw you. Did she tell you about goin' to your Dad, after he was gunned down?"

"Yeah, Tom, she did."

"Wondered about that. She's the only one in that family worth anything. Her sister's a spoiled brat, and her mother's not much better. As for her father, who's supposed to be such a friend of the Texas Rangers: he didn't lift a finger to try and help your

Dad, Jim. He keeps a pair of Colts in his desk drawer--he could have tried to help; did nothin'.  Didn't even come out of his office, I understand, until after the Doc showed up." Tom was shaking his head, Bobby and Jim looking in surprise at the local

lawman. This was the first indication Tom Denton had given of his feelings for Judge Hiram Wyatt.

Taking their leave of Tom, Jim and Bobby worked their was back to the Sanderson House. "Jim, how's about we try for a bath, again? Last one was a little too exciting, for my taste."

Jim agreed, and the young Rangers--this time—cleaned up with no interference. Then, they spent the rest of the afternoon napping at the hotel, as they were planning an evening of drinking, gambling, and information gathering. (end of Chapter 19)

That evening, dressed in new clean shirts, jeans, and neckerchiefs, Stetsons brushed as clean as possible of trail dust, Texas Rangers Bobby Cahill Walker and Jim Griffin, Jr., entered the Red Longhorn Saloon.

They were not sure how much their true identities had been spread around town. It was a safe bet that any of the conspirators in on the killing of Jim's father, Ranger Jim Griffin, Sr., would have been warned by Judge Wyatt that two Rangers were in Sanderson.  However, the local populace in general should still be unaware of the Rangers' presence, so Jim and Bobby had their Ranger stars concealed.

The Red Longhorn has pretensions of ostentatious ness, but didn't quite make it. Red cut-glass coal oil chandeliers cast a yellowish glow over the smoky interior. Several cowpokes drank at the long mahogany bar, which was backed by a mirror, above that a garish oil painting of a nude blonde woman.

Several tables were available for gambling, in one corner, a tinny piano was being tortured, grating notes coaxed from its yellowed ivory keys by a thin, short, gray-haired man. And, as always, painted dance-hall girls in low-cut gowns circulated among the patrons.

Jim and Bobby ordered a bottle and glasses, and watched a game of poker being played. The Red Longhorn employed a gambler, name of Blue Hawthorne.

After a while, two of the players at the table dropped out, cash taken by Hawthorne. With a friendly gesture, Bobby asked in on the game, for himself and Jim. Eyeing the two tall blonde youngsters, Hawthorne shrugged his shoulders, and grunted, "Why not?" (end of Chapter 20, Part 1)

Before leaving for the saloon, Jim had warned Bobby, laughingly, "Pard, hope the Rangers reimburse my losses: I can't gamble worth a shuck." Jim pulled the penny his twin sister Jennifer had given him before he left, her good-luck piece. "Time the night's over, Bobby, this'll probably be all the cash I have left."

Jim and Bobby had been gambling with Blue Hawthorne and two local cowpokes for a couple of hours, buying drinks for the table, betting cautiously. Still, Jim had not overestimated his gambling abilities. "That's it, gents, I'm tapped out." Jim backed away from the table.

A short time later, Jim off to the side, Bobby innocently asked the gambler, Hawthorne, "You ever been up to Ft. Stockton...meet an hombre named Peter LaMarche?"

Blue Hawthorne's gaze never shifted, his poker face never giving a hint of a change in emotion. "Mister, can't say as I have. Martin came down here once or twice, though. He's out of my league: strictly a high roller."

"What was he doin' down here, then?"

"Quien Sabe?" He did go over to the Judge's, though."

"Judge Wyatt's?"

"We got no other judge in this town, Mister."

"What would Martin want with the judge?"

"You'd have to ask the judge that question. Do know,

though, that the judge, Butch Meacham, and Warren Scott, the owner of the big W Bar S, played poker all night, for big stakes."

Suddenly, Hawthorne snarled, "You've been cheatin', Mister." The other two players backed swiftly away from the table. Bobby cursed himself, silently, realizing he had been so engrossed in questioning Hawthorne he had failed to notice the gambler slide

his left hand under the table. That left hand now held a .45 Colt, leveled at the tall Ranger's belly. 

Blue Hawthorne prepared to squeeze his trigger. As he did, Bobby shoved the table up and over onto the card shark. At the same moment, Jim's left hand flashed down, coming up with his Colt. In one fluid motion, Jim drew and fired, his slug ripping through Hawthorne's side. The gambler fell on his side,

flopping and gasping like a fish out of water.

Bobby quickly rolled the man on his back. "Hawthorne,

why'd you draw on me? I wasn't cheatin'."

In a low voice, almost a whisper, unheard by anyone else, Blue Hawthorne cursed, "'cause, RANGER, there's a price on your head, just like there is on your partner, and like there was on his daddy's head." With a last shudder, eyes rolling back in their sockets, Blue Hawthorne turned up the Ace of Spades. (end of

Chapter 20, Part 2)

It was a long night for the two Rangers. Petry Hollings, owner of the Red Longhorn, had demanded their arrest by Sheriff Tom Denton. Fortunately, the two cowpokes who had been in the poker game with Bobby and Jim swore that Jim fired to keep his partner from being killed. They still had not been forced to reveal

their badges.

In the hotel, Bobby thanked Jim. "Pard, you saved my bacon, for sure."

"Not so, Bob: you hadn't turned that table over, Hawthorne would have drilled you, easy, and I couldn't have done a thing about it. Plus, would have liked to take that skunk alive."

As he pulled off his boots and shirt, Bobby, kiddingly, laughed at his younger partner, "Jim, time for you to get some shut-eye. You need your beauty rest. I want you slicked up like a new-born palomino colt for Miss Nicole tonight." It was already two AM.

Jim was already snoring.

The next morning, they checked in at the Western Union. No new messages had arrived from Austin, and they were unable to ascertain if Hiram Wyatt had sent or received any wires.

As the pair crossed Main Street, headed for lunch at Kathy's, a team of horses, on a dead run, dragging a wildly swerving buckboard, nearly ran down the Rangers. They were forced to dive out of the way.

"Jim, that's Bonnie Steckles", Bobby cried, recognizing the woman driving, breaking into a run as Bonnie sawed the team to a stop in front of Doctor Smithers.

Dave Steckles was in the back of the buckboard. The freckle-faced young rancher was pale, breathing shallowly, his yellow-checked shirt soaked with his blood.

Jim and Bobby lifted the unconscious Dave from the wagon, as Tom Denton rushed up, along with other citizens, helping Dave's distraught wife from her seat. The young couple was rushed into Doctor Smithers'.

Bonnie Steckles had started labor, so she was taken into a back room by Beatrice Smithers' the doctor's wife, who was a competent midwife. One of the local ladies, Gabelle Hart, had also entered, to render assistance.

Jim, Bobby, and Tom watched anxiously as Doctor Smithers cut off Dave Steckles's blood-soaked shirt. The physician shook his head, dubiously.

"Rangers, Sheriff, I don't give Dave here much chance. Someone shot him pretty much to pieces." He's got one slug down low in his gut, and another in his chest cavity. Couple more in his shoulder and back, too. And, his wife's havin' that baby, right now. With that ride in here, it'll be a miracle if she doesn't

lose the baby."

"Just do what you can, Doc." Tom Denton's face was a mask of anger. He really liked the young rancher and his wife. With nothing they could do, the three lawmen went outside, maintaining their vigil. (end of Chapter 21)

The three lawmen, along with several other citizens of Sanderson, were maintaining a vigil outside Doctor Smithers' office. Inside, the doctor was fighting a desperate battle to save the life of young Dave Steckles, viciously gunned down by unknown assailants, for unknown reasons. In the adjacent room, Beatrice Smithers and Gabelle Hart were fighting to save the

life of Dave and Bonne’s unborn child, their first.

After about two hours, Doctor Smithers emerged on his porch. Exhausted, looking into the concerned eyes of the gathered assemblage, he reported: "Folks, you all might as well go home and get some rest, now. I've done all I can for Dave. He's still got a couple of slugs in him, and, if he lives, he'll carry them for the rest of his life. Bonne’s still in labor, and it looks like a long one. Best you can do for both of them now is pray."

As the group anxiously dispersed, Tom Denton and the two Rangers approached the physician. "How they doin', Doc, really?" the sheriff inquired.

"Not gonna kid you, Tom. It's touch and go for the baby, AND Bonnie. Bad enough that rough ride, but the shock of Dave's shootin' is even worse for her. Dave's young and strong, but I wish I could have gotten all those slugs out of him."

"Thanks, Doc." Tom Denton turned to Bobby and Jim. "I'm goin' out to the Steckles's place...see what I can find."

Jim replied, "Be careful, Tom. You may be in those sidewinders' sights, too."

"Both of you: tonight...good luck at the Wyatts'."

With that, Tom mounted his leggy strawberry roan, headed for the Bar DS. (end of Chapter 22, Part 1)

Heading back to the Sanderson House, Jim halted Bobby. "You go on ahead, Pard. I've got a couple of things to pick up."

Bobby smiled, knowingly. "Sure, Jim. Meet you at the room."

An hour later, Jim entered Room 8, to Bobby's low whistle and catcalls. "WHOOEE, Pard, if you ain't the prettiest sight I've seen in a long time. Why, all the gals in this h'yere cow town will be throwin' themselves at you."

"Aw, shut up, will ya, Bobby?"

Jim's partner had settled into an ear-to-ear grin. "Thought this was just a nice gal, Jim. Looks all-fired serious to me. You even smell purtier than my mom's roses."

Jim had gone again to Fred's, bathing, shaving, and being doused with after-shave. He had stopped at the Sanderson mercantile, and was now dressing in new whipcord trousers, a bright blue shirt, with a lavender silk neckerchief at his throat. His boots had been polished, and Stetson brushed.

"Jim, let's go, or we'll be late. And, Pard, I can't stand bein here alone, dazzled by your handsome duds."

The two Rangers were greeted at the Wyatt home by the Judge. "Gentlemen, come in." He introduced his family.

"Bobby, Jim, this is my wife, Helene."

The Rangers had removed their hats, which were taken by a maid in black and white uniform. "Pleased to meet you, Ma'am", the lawmen responded. Helene Wyatt still was beautiful, with wavy red hair and brown eyes.

"This is my daughter Penelope."  Penelope was slightly taller than her sister Nicole, with the same hair, but darting black eyes. "Jim, you've already met Nicole; Bobby, my other daughter." Jim and Nicole were gazing at each other, oblivious to the presence of anyone else in the room. "Ladies, these are Texas Rangers Bobby Cahill Walker and Jim Griffin, Jr."

After the introductions, the group retired to the parlor.

"Judge, did you hear about what happened to the Steckles today?" Bobby asked.

"Yes, I did: terrible tragedy."

Mrs. Wyatt broke in. "Yes, but that Bonnie Steckles was no-account, anyway."

Penelope added, "What do you expect from trash?"

Jim bit his tongue, as Bobby--also holding his temper--gave a warning glance.

Nicole saved the situation, remarking, "I'll go see Bonnie at the doctor's tomorrow. Perhaps there's some way we can help."

The door to the dining room opened, the maid announcing: "Dinner", defusing--for the moment—a potentially explosive situation. (end of Chapter 22, Part 2)

Dinner, as befit a family of wealth and influence, was sumptuous, certainly far above the trail food and cafe meals the Rangers were used to. There was roast turkey, heaps of mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh vegetables, coffee, and apple pie.

After the meal, Hiram Wyatt invited the Rangers for cigars and sherry in the parlor.

"No, thank you, sir. Neither one of us smoke, nor drink much. Besides, we'd like the ladies to stay with us", Bobby replied.

"Fine." The judge was all smiles, playing the perfect host.

Penelope Wyatt had feigned a headache, heading upstairs.

Obviously cued, Helene Wyatt queried, "Why are you Rangers still in Sanderson?" It was noteworthy--a fact not missed by Bobby or Jim--that neither she nor Penelope had offered Jim condolences on the death of his father.

As Bobby started to reply, Jim was beginning to be overwhelmed, by anger and grief. Nicole, observing his state, took him gently by the arm. "Jim, let's go out on the veranda. I'd like some fresh air." Pulling him gently by the arm, she left him no choice but to follow.

"Ma'am, we're still trying to find Jim's dad's killers."

"I thought my husband told you that Ranger killed his attackers."

Bobby was watching Judge Wyatt's face, looking for any sign of concern.

"I'm afraid your husband's mistaken, Ma'am. And, I must say, you really should have expressed your sympathy to my partner." Bobby had tried to keep his tongue in check, but failed.

"Why? Protecting decent citizens is the Texas Rangers' responsibility. Most of them are low individuals, easily replaced."

Bobby exploded, then. "MRS. WYATT! My dad, and Jim's, were both killed trying to bring law and order to Texas. They were--and all the Rangers I know are--fine, upstanding individuals. You have no right to disparage the Rangers." Significantly, he added, "Your husband is a great friend of the Texas Rangers.

My Captain speaks highly of him. I can't believe his wife would speak like you have."

Hiram Wyatt broke in, "Bobby, please forgive my wife. She's sometimes too blunt for her own good. Her words are not meant to hurt you, or the Rangers."

Helene, smoothly, tried to apologize. "What I meant to say, Bobby, was the Ranger--you say your partner's father--who was killed was expected to protect the better class of citizens from the rabble. He did that, well, when he saved my husband and children."

Taking his opportunity, Bobby curtly responded, "And is Peter Martin, the gambler and ex-convict, who associates with your husband, in that 'better' class?" The angry Ranger was looking directly at Judge Hiram as he spat those words out, satisfied to see the startled expression on the jurist's face.

"Judge, Mrs. Wyatt, I think I should leave.  Please, get Jim's and my Stetsons. I'll find my way out, and I'll say farewell for Jim, also."

Angrily, Bobby departed the Wyatt residence.

Jim and Nicole had been standing on the veranda, enjoying the cool night breeze. Jim was silent, Nicole trying to comfort him. "Jim, you're so handsome tonight. Your shirt really sets off your blue eyes."

Jim, still preoccupied, replied softly, "I'm sorry, Nicole: you look lovely, also." The younger Wyatt girl was resplendent in an ivory gown, accented with pearls.

"Jim, I know my mother and sister can be hard. Don't judge me by them." Nicole was struggling to get through to the blonde Ranger. Her feelings for him were growing stronger.

"I won't, Nicole. Not by your father, either." Jim couldn't keep his emotions in check. "But, Nicole, I won't rest until my dad's killer is caught, no matter who it may hurt."

"Jim", Nicole gasped. "Surely you don't mean I could be hurt!"  Something in Jim's voice struck a warning chord, deep in her heart.

"I hope not, Nicole." Recovering somewhat, Jim continued, "No reason for you to be hurt, anyway: this has nothing to do with you, or us."

Jim lapsed back into silence. Then, Nicole was kissing him, on the lips. Jim's arms went around her back, hers around the tall Ranger's shoulders, as they embraced, passionately.

Bobby stepped onto the veranda. "Let's go, Jim!" he grated, harshly.

Jim and Nicole backed away from each other, hands softly touching, then reluctantly separating. With a look of longing, and despair, Jim turned, and walked slowly down the steps, to his waiting partner, already mounted. (end of Chapter 22, Part 3)

Bobby spurred Sunny into a fast lope away from the Wyatt home. Jim, alongside, knew something significant had happened inside the house, while he was on the veranda with the lissome Nicole Wyatt.

"Bobby, what happened back there?"

"Jim, you don't wanna know, not right yet, anyway."

Bobby set his jaw in stony silence.

The two Rangers were approaching the Red Longhorn Saloon. Several cowponies were standing hipshot at the rail, dozing, awaiting their owners emergence.

Suddenly, Bobby swerved Sunny to the rail, muttering to Jim, "I need a drink."

Jim was too shocked to reply, for he had learned his partner didn't usually drink. He dismounted from Cody and followed Bobby through the batwing doors into the saloon.

Bobby ordered a bottle, and quickly downed two glasses. Then, relaxing, he turned to Jim. "Pard, sorry: I'll tell you what happened when we get back to the hotel."

A swarthy, black-haired individual had been eyeing the pair. Suddenly, he approached Jim. "Mister, I've heard you were in town. I also hear your partner, there, has been snoopin' around the Bar SD. That ain't healthy." Without warning, he pulled his Colt from its holster, ramming the long barrel into Jim's belly.

Before Jim or his assailant could make a move, Bobby had his Colt drawn from leather, and clubbed the man viciously with its barrel on the side of his head. He fell like a sack of flour to the floor.

"Anyone else?" Bobby shouted, eyes blazing blue sparks, both Colts sweeping the big room. As the rest of the occupants edged away, hands carefully and significantly away from their guns, Bobby ordered Jim, "Let's get this galoot over to Sheriff Denton's." (end of Chapter 23, Part 1)

Responding to the pounding on his door, a very sleepy Tom Denton admitted the Rangers and their unconscious prisoner.

"@#$#%%^", he exclaimed, recognizing the man Jim and Bobby were placing on the cot in a cell. "That's Butch Meacham." Meacham was the deputy Tom Denton had fired, for failing to come to the aid of Jim's father, as he was ambushed and gunned down in broad daylight on the main street of Sanderson. "Where'd you find him?"

"Saloon", was Bobby's curt response. "He pulled a gun on Jim. I had to down him."

"Well, when he comes to, mebbe we can get some answers out of him", Tom responded.

Bobby continued. "Tom, how are Bonnie and Dave Steckles?"

"So far, so good. Bonnie had her baby, a healthy boy. Doc says she and the baby will both be fine." Tom hesitated, worriedly.

"What about Dave?"

"Too soon to tell. Doc got the slugs out of his belly and chest. Other two are still in there. Doc says Dave's strong, and should be able to fight off any infection. Let's just hope and pray he's right. "

"By the, way, found where Dave's drygulcher hid out, at the Bar SD, and a piece of shirtsleeve. Still can't figure out why anyone'd want hurt Dave and Bonnie, though."

"Might have an answer for that, Tom. Can't say anything just yet, though. Now, let's wake up that galoot in there."

Jim broke in. "I want that privilege." He took the coffeepot from the stove, went out to the pump, filling the pot with cold water. Entering the cell, he slowly and deliberately poured the contents over Butch Meacham's head. (end of Chapter 23, Part 2)

The former deputy spluttered awake. Espying Jim standing over him, he jumped up, but a quick right to the chin sent him back on the cot.

Bobby took over. "Meacham, we've got some questions for you. Like, where've you been the past days?"

"Not answering nothin'!" was the surly response.

Jim had started forward, fists clenched, realizing he was face to face with the lawman who had not helped his father. Jim, Sr., might have had a fighting chance, if only Meacham or Judge Wyatt had taken a hand.

Bobby stopped Jim, with a cautioning hand on his partner's chest.

"Meacham, you didn't help a fellow peace officer, as he was gunned down. You're a low-down skunk", Bobby spat, flatly.

Unnoticed by Jim or Bobby, Sheriff Denton had left the cell. He now returned from the front office. In one hand, cylinder opened, was Butch Meacham's revolver.

In the other was a piece of fabric.

Tom Denton snarled, "Butch, funny, but your Colt's been fired, real recent." He tossed the gun aside. Entering the cell, he grabbed Meacham's left arm, holding it up. The piece of fabric in the sheriff's hand matched exactly the tear in the ex-deputy's shirt.

"Butch, I found this out at the Bar SD, today, right where Dave Steckles' bushwhacker stood. You're under arrest for the attempted murder of Dave." (end of Chapter 23, Part 3)

Despite the efforts of all three lawmen, and facing an attempted murder charge, Butch Meacham would answer no more questions.

Jim and Bobby had returned to the Sanderson House. Bobby had pulled off his shirt, throwing it in the corner as if it were an evil presence. Stripped to the waist, he was scrubbing himself roughly at the wash basin. Jim was watching him, puzzled.

"Bobby, what happened at the Wyatts'?" Never knew you to take a drink in anger, before."

"Jim, I'm sorry about that."

"Don't be, Bobby. That drink caught us Dave Steckles's attacker. Still want to know what happened at the Wyatts', though."

Bobby turned to face his partner. He was toweling himself off, vigorously. "Jim, they just left a bitter taste in my mouth, that's all. Had to wash it out.  Had to wash the air from that house, off, too."

"Why, Bobby?"

"Jim, you're right: that Judge Hiram Wyatt is slime. We're gonna take him down. You should have seen his face when I mentioned Peter Martin. Purposely used Martin's real name, not the LaMarche he's goin' by now. I thought Wyatt would drop, right there."

"And, Jim, his wife made some real nasty remarks." Bobby stopped, not sure if he should go on. Looking at Jim's expectant face, he knew he had to. "She knocked the Rangers, and your Dad. She's just a *((**,  Jim; that's why I had to get outta there, before I did something stupid, something that might let your Dad's killers get away."

Jim was silent, taking all this in. 

"Jim, I don't want any of this to reflect on Nicole. She doesn't seem like the rest of her family."

Breathing deeply, Jim replied, "Pard, doesn't matter, anyway. I told her tonight I'd find my Dad's killers, no matter who it hurt. I could see in her eyes she was scared. I don't think she'll see me again."

Laying back on his bed, Jim went, softly, "Pard, let's just get some shut-eye. Tomorrow, we'll see where all this is leadin'."

Bobby finished undressing, turned out the lamp, but lay on his back, eyes staring at the cracked ceiling, sleep refusing to come. (end of Chapter 24)

The next morning, both Rangers had missions to accomplish.

"Jim, after breakfast, I'll stop in at Tom's office, and see if I can get any more out of Meacham. Then, I'll head for the Western Union. I want to get a couple of messages to headquarters."

"What've you found out, Bobby? You're onto somethin'."

"Don't want to say, Jim, just yet. With any luck, we'll have a reply back this afternoon. Then, I'll let you in on it."

"Ok, Bobby. I've gotta head over to the Doc's. These stitches are comin' out today."

"Bueno, Jim. I'll meet you at the Doc's after I've finished."

As Bobby was leaving the Western Union office, crossing the street, he espied Judge Hiram Wyatt, obviously agitated, entering the same office.

"Good", Bobby thought to himself. "He's gettin' nervous, and nervous crooks--especially like Wyatt, who try to pretend they're high and mighty, and don't get their hands dirty--make mistakes." Whistling, he headed toward Doctor Smithers' office. end of Chapter 25, Part 1)

When Jim arrived at Doctor Smithers', he had hoped to look in on Bonnie Steckles and her new son. However, the young mother was sleeping. Her badly wounded husband, Dave, was doing as well as could be expected, Doctor Smither's told the Ranger.

Jim was lying on the examining table, shirtless, as the physician prepared to remove the stitches from the wound in Jim's abdomen. Realizing he had left his disinfectant in the next room, Doctor Smithers ordered, "You just lie still there, Ranger. I'll be back in a moment."

Suddenly, there was the sound of a horse being reined up in front of the office. Rushed footsteps followed, and the door to the examining room sung open, revealing a breathless and frightened Nicole Wyatt.

Jim jumped up, reaching for his shirt, trying awkwardly to cover himself. "Nicole, you shouldn't be in here: I'm not decent!" He was blushing a shade of red to match a Texas desert sunset.

"Jim, there's no time for that! I had to talk to you or your partner. I couldn't find him, but the sheriff told me you'd be here."

Doctor Smithers entered the room. "Well, what have we here?"

Nicole turned on the doctor. "Not what you're thinking. Jim and his partner are in danger."

"Whoa, Nicole, slow down. I know we've got enemies here, who'd like to gun us down. We put Butch Meacham in the jail last night. He's the hombre who drygulched Dave Steckles."

Doctor Smithers broke in. "Miss Wyatt, I have to remove this young man's stitches, and I can't do that with you here. Now, why don't you wait with Beatrice? I'll only be a few moments."

Calmer now, Nicole replied, "May I see Bonnie Steckles?  I was on my way here, to see if there were anything I could do for here, until I found out...."

She stopped, partially from fear, partially from not wanting to involve the doctor in a confidence meant only for the Rangers.

"Yes, my dear. BEATRICE!" Doctor Smithers summoned his wife. "Dear, would you please take Miss Wyatt in to see Mrs. Steckles?"

"Certainly. Come with me, my dear." (end of Chapter 25, Part 2)

Bobby arrived just as Jim emerged from the examining room.

"Bobby, Nicole Wyatt's here; says she's got something real important to tell us." Bobby raised his eyebrows at that.

Beatrice Smithers emerged from a door to the left.

"Rangers, Mrs. Steckles is awake, and asking for you. Nicole Wyatt is with her. Now, you can only stay a few moments....This way, please."

Bonnie Steckles greeted the two Texas Rangers with a smile that only a new mother could have. Nicole, seated by her side, smiled fleetingly at Jim.

Bonnie was holding her new son. "Rangers, I want to thank you for everything you've done for me and my Dave." She was starting to cry.

"No thanks necessary, Ma'am", Bobby replied.

"Oh, but there is...and I can think of no better way to do that than by introducing you to Robert James Steckles."

Clearly embarrassed, both young Rangers were speechless. Finally, Jim spoke. "And he'll be a fine boy, too. Maybe even a Ranger, one day. Mrs. Steckles, Bobby and I are both honored."

"And, I want both of you to be the godfathers. Miss Wyatt, here, has offered to help me, until Dave is back on his feet. She's going to be the godmother."

Bobby couldn't help but wonder how Nicole's mother and sister would react to that. He gave a soft chuckle, at the thought of a Wyatt being godparent to "trash", as Helene Wyatt had referred to the Steckles woman.

Bonnie Steckles was crying, softly. "I don't know what will happen if Dave dies."

Nicole hugged here, reassuringly, "Bonnie, I talked to Doctor Smithers. Dave is going to be all right. It will take a while, but the doctor says he'll be fine."

Bobby added, "And, Mrs. Steckles, we caught Butch Meacham.  He's the skunk who shot Dave. He's in Tom Denton's jail, right now."

"Thank you, all", was the only reply Bonnie could muster. Then, Mrs. Smithers was in the room, ordering everyone out. (end of Chapter 26)

The threesome entered Doctor Smithers' waiting room.

"Doc, anywhere in the house where we can take Miss Wyatt, to palaver in private?" Jim asked.

"The living room, in the side wing."

"Thanks, Doc."

After the two Rangers and Nicole Wyatt took seats, Jim asked, "OK, Nicole, what's this all about?"

"Jim, Bobby, after you left last night, my father was in a horrible mood. Then, this morning, I stopped by his office. I saw he was sending a message to Peter LaMarche, that man who I think has a hold on him. I only saw part of it, but he was asking what to do about his problem. I think he meant you. Then, I saw these awful looking men going into his office."

After a few moments, pondering, Bobby spoke first, trying to spare the woman's feelings, yet grateful for the warning. "Miss Wyatt, thank you...but, you mustn't be seen with us. That would put your life in danger. Now, Jim and I will leave here. You stay for at least thirty minutes. Please, for your own safety, don't try to contact us again. You can leave any messages for us

with Doctor Smithers. I'll arrange that with him."

Covering up, trying to avoid hurting Nicole without need, also wary she might be working for her father, or might change her mind and try to protect her father, he continued, "And don't worry: we'll get the men who are blackmailing your father."

Fortunately, Nicole missed the look of anger that crossed Jim's face. He was having a more difficult time, every day, waiting to confront Judge Hiram Wyatt.

Nicole gave a sigh of relief. "Thank you, both, Rangers."

As they rose to go, she gave Jim, who had remained silent, a gentle kiss on the cheek, whispering, "Darling, be careful."

As the Rangers headed down Main Street, Bobby turned to his partner. "Jim, that girl's got some sand. She took an awful chance, meetin' us here in town like that. She's one heckuva woman."

Jim was in agony. "I know that, Pard. And, I care for her...a lot. But, I still can't let my feelin's for her keep me from goin' after her father. I KNOW he's behind my Dad's killin'". Jim knew--once he and Bobby had brought Judge Hiram Wyatt to justice--there would be no future for him and Nicole.

Suddenly, from behind the jail, shots rang out, and a horse and rider rushed off. Jim and Bobby, Colts drawn, burst into the Sheriff's office. There, cursing, was Sheriff Tom Denton, in a cell, standing over the body of Butch Meacham. He was holding a

bullet-punctured right arm.

Seeing the Rangers, he shouted, "Jim, Bobby, see if you can catch that hombre. However, the Rangers' horses were still at the livery stable, and the killer had a good head start. There was no chance to catch him.

Looking down at the body, Bobby remarked, "Well, guess Butch Meacham won't be answerin' any questions for us." The outlaw deputy had taken two slugs in the back, at close range, fired from outside his cell window. (end of Chapter 27)

There was nothing more to be done at the Sheriff's office. The body of Butch Meacham had been taken away, and Tom Denton's arm was patched up and in a sling.

Bobby and Jim spent a long afternoon, waiting for replies to the wires Bobby had sent to Ranger Headquarters. Their attempts to discern the contents or destinations of the messages Hiram Wyatt had sent were fruitless. Finally, about four in the afternoon,

the answers were received.

Back in their hotel room, Bobby read the messages, carefully, then divulged their contents to his partner.

"Jim, I think we have most of our answers."

"Spill it, already, Pard."

"We know that Judge Wyatt gambles with Peter Martin, or LaMarche. Well, according to this message from Capt. McGuire, here, they are also business partners. And, Wyatt, before they became partners, was deeply in debt, to guess who?"

"Peter Martin."

"Exactly! Only question now is, was Wyatt part of the plot to kill your Dad, or was he forced into it?"

"Don't matter none, either way, Bobby. One way or the other,  he's guilty as sin...and, I WON'T let him off scot-free."

"Jim, he'll claim, for sure, he was forced. Probably claim his family was threatened. He'll even have his daughters on the stand." Bobby could see the look of anguish that crossed Jim's face, at that statement.

"Jim, I hate to say this, but, with his political connections, and the high-priced lawyers he'll have, he's almost sure to get away with this."

"Bobby, he won't; somehow, some way, I'll bring him to justice. Sorry: WE'LL bring him to justice. And, Pard, it will be done legally...don't you worry about that."

Bobby smiled, buoyed by his partner's confidence. He wished he could be as sure.

"Bobby, what's in that other telegram?"

"Well, Pard, you know how we've been baffled, couldn't figure out why Dave Steckles and his wife were dragged into this?"

"Yeah, Bobby."

"Well, remember the other gambler at the Judge's house?"

"Warren Scott, the rancher?"

"Right. Well, he's the OTHER business partner of Martin. And, his land surrounds the Bar SD on three sides. He's been tryin' to buy Dave out, but Dave wouldn't sell."

"Bobby, makes no sense. Why's Scott so all-fired determined to get his hands on that sorry ranch of Dave's?"

"Cause, Jim, the main water source for the W Bar S is on the Bar SD. Scott wants the water rights, is my guess."

"Yeah, and if they could make it look like Dave Steckles was tied in with my Dad's killin', he'd be out of the way, and Wyatt, Scott, and Martin would move right in...with no questions, and no one thinkin' to look further for the snakes that gunned down my Dad."

"Jim, we've got the answers, just need the proof."

"Bobby, that'll come, I just know it."

"Me, too, Pard. Judge Wyatt was awful nervous today, when I spotted him goin' into the Western Union. I think he's ready to crack, and his partners can't afford that. Now, Jim, I know it's hard for you, but all we can do right now is wait. Pard, promise me, whatever you do, don't rush into somethin', and let these polecats get off. Promise me for yourself, for me, for the Texas Rangers, but--most of all Jim--promise me that, for your family, and for your Dad."

Eyes wet with tears, Jim could make no response. He lay face down on his bed, head buried in the thin, lumpy pillow. (end of Chapter 28)

The next morning, upon awaking, Bobby remarked to Jim, "Pard, let's see if we can get somethin' started, here. The blue-eyed young Ranger was washing up. 

"What's your idea, Bobby?"

"Jim, hand me my clean shirt, there, will you?"

As Bobby buttoned the shirt, tucking it into his jeans, he pinned his Ranger star over the left breast pocket. "Jim, only person tied up in this we haven't visited is Warren Scott. Until now, we've had no reason to. Now, it's time to pay friend Scott a friendly visit."

"I'm for that, Bobby. Anything's better that just hangin' around, waiting for a dry gulchers slug in the back."

Jim quickly washed and dressed.  After an unhurried breakfast at Kathy's Koffee Kafe, the two blonde, blue-eyed Rangers, with deliberate casualness, silver stars on silver circles gleaming brightly on their chests in the early morning sunlight, retrieved their mounts from the livery.

Bobby had to chuckle, as he saw his partner slip Cody a peppermint stick. He recalled how his father, Cordell Walker, used to talk about Jim's father, who was Cordell's partner for several years, and the peppermint sticks he was never without, peppermint sticks for Jim's horse, Yankee. A sad smile crossed

the young Ranger's face. Cordell and Jim were gone now, as were their equine companions, Amigo and Yankee. Men and horses all had given their lives in the service of the Lone Star State.

Mounting up, the two Rangers spurred their broncs in the direction of the W Bar S. (end of Chapter 29, Part 1)

As Bobby and Jim reined their cayuses up to the ranch house at the W Bar S, hard eyes were on them.

The ranch was prosperous-looking, with expansive, whitewashed buildings, shaded with cottonwoods, and fine fences and pastures.

Warren Scott appeared from the front door. He was in his early 40's, tall, with broad shoulders, and slim hips. A thick mane of black hair set off his brown eyes, lending him rugged good looks. He did not act surprised on seeing the Texas Ranger badges pinned to Bobby and Jim's chests.

"Rangers, light and set." At that invitation, both men dismounted, joining Scott on his porch. "What can I do for the law?"

"Just a couple of questions, Mr. Scott", Bobby replied.

"Shoot."

"We know you've gambled with Peter LaMarche. Did you know his real handle is Peter Martin, and that he's an ex-convict."

"Had heard tell of that, Ranger. Never had any reason to believe it, though."

"Then you wouldn't know that he was arrested by Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, the same Ranger who was gunned down in Sanderson?"

"No idea, Ranger. That's a shock to me. Are you sayin' LaMarche was behind that Ranger's killin'?"

Bobby had seen the look Jim shot him, the look that said he felt Scott was a liar, and he wanted to choke the truth out of him. Bobby returned a cautioning glance.

"Not sayin' that at all. Just checking on all possibilities. Now, Butch Meacham was murdered in his cell yesterday. Tracks of the drygulcher led to your place. Can you tell me where your men were, yesterday?"

"Right here, all day, brandin' calves."

Eyes hard, Bobby replied, "I'll believe you, for now.

You WILL let me know if you see any strangers around the W Bar S, won't you?"

Sarcastically, the rancher replied, "Without a doubt, Ranger. We're honest, hard-working folks, around here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've work to do."

"Fine...and thank you, Mr. Scott."

As the Rangers mounted up, Bobby called to the rancher. "One more thing, Mr. Scott: You should know that my partner here is the son of the Ranger Jim Griffin. He won't rest until his Dad's killers are all stretchin' rope. And, if I find out you WERE tied in with that ambush, I'm lettin' my partner come after

you." Bobby wheeled Sunny away from the ranch, Jim and Cody at their sides.

As they left, just crossing the ranch boundary, Bobby remarked to Jim, "You notice some of the hands on the W Bar S. They're gunfighters, not cowpokes." Just as he finished, Jim shoved him out of his saddle, following his partner into a rolling dive into the brush. Two bullets flew through the space the

partners' bodies had just occupied.

Recovering quickly, Bobby yanked his Colt. Jim had pulled his Winchester out of its scabbard as he piled off Cody.

Spying the movement of two men in the brush, searching for the Rangers, Bobby yelled, "Texas Rangers! Throw down those guns!" The response was a blaze of gunfire. Responding quickly, Jim and Bobby threw slugs in the ambushers direction. Shouts of pain

and the crashing of bodies followed.

Cautiously, the partners approached the fallen outlaws. "Nailed 'em", Jim remarked, seeing both had been drilled cleanly through the chest.

"Let's take these jaspers back to the W Bar S."

As expected, Warren Scott and his hands denied any knowledge of the drygulchers' identities. As the attack had taken place off the ranch, Jim and Bobby had no choice but to take the dead owl hoots into town, to be buried in Boot Hill. (End of Chapter 29, Part 2)

Texas Rangers Bobby Cahill Walker and Jim Griffin, Jr., were having supper with Sheriff Tom Denton, at the Sanderson House dining room. The sheriff had not recognized the two drygulchers Bobby and Jim had downed, outside the W Bar S, but two wanted posters in his files revealed them to be Slim Hardemann and Jace

Brandford, both wanted killers.

"Boys, looks like you've stirred up some trouble", Tom remarked, resignedly. "But, that trouble may lead to whoever had your Dad gunned down, Jim."

Jim gave a slight, sad smile. "Hope so, Sheriff. I can't face my Mom, or sister and brother, until I can tell them Dad's killers are dead, or behind bars."

The three lawmen didn't realize they would not be waiting much longer.

The Rangers' dinner at Judge Hiram Wyatt's—when Bobby had confronted the judge about his association with Peter Martin, aka LaMarche--had unnerved the judge. The telegram which Wyatt had sent, and which the Rangers had been unable to see, was sent to Peter Martin in Fort Stockton.

Martin cursed when he received it, for the judge had threatened to name Martin as the party behind Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Sr's. murder, unless Martin himself came personally with help to Sanderson. The wire made it perfectly clear that Judge Wyatt would accept nothing less than Martin's appearance, not just

his cronies'.

"(&^&^*((()", Martin spat. Then, issuing orders, he had his men ready to ride. "We'll clean up those Rangers in Sanderson, including that #%%% of a pup of Griffin. He'll be lyin' next to his lousy father in a couple of days. Then, we'll get rid of Wyatt, too!!"  (End of Chapter 30)

Two days later, Bobby and Jim, along with Sheriff Tom Denton, were alone on the Main Street of Sanderson. As if by magic, the other honest citizens had disappeared. There were not even any cowponies tied to the hitch rails, nor any teams or wagons in sight. The citizens had moved indoors, making sure their horses

were out of the line of fire. Heads peered cautiously through curtained windows.

All the businesses were locked up tight. For, riding boldly into town, taking strategic positions, were five gunslingers in the employ of Peter Martin, along with ten hands from Warren Scott's W Bar S.

Bobby and Jim had met Tom in his office. All three officers were armed with Winchesters and two Colts, plenty of shells in cartridge belts and pockets. Tom's arm was still in a sling, so he was handicapped somewhat. However, the local officer was brave and honest, and would not abandon the Rangers in this

fight.

Bobby, from a sheltered position, issued a challenge down Main Street. "Men, if you turn around right now, nothing will happen to you. However, if you stay, in the name of the Texas Rangers, you will all be subject to arrest." The response he got was a Winchester slug humming angrily over his head, slamming into the wall of the sheriff's office. (End of Chapter 31)

Bobby, Jim, and Tom quickly sprinted under cover along Main Street. Jim covered Bobby, as his partner zig-zagged to the opposite side of the street, slugs puffing up dirt around the streaking Ranger. Bobby dove for the shelter of a water trough, rolling and coming up firing. His shot took a gunslinger between

the eyes.

Tom, firing behind Jim as he covered Bobby, was grimly satisfied as he watched one outlaw on the roof opposite--his belly ripped by Tom's slug--grab his middle, then hang on the edge of the roof for a moment, finally jackknifing, crashing into the road

below. A second, hit by another bullet from Tom's Winchester, fell kicking and screaming onto the sidewalk in front of the Sanderson Mercantile. The odds were still four to one against the lawmen.

However, the Rangers and Sheriff were fighting for justice, and, especially for Jim, to avenge the killing of Jim's father, a fellow Texas Ranger. The gunslingers they faced were hired guns, fighting only for money, or to save their necks from the hangman's noose.

A slug from one outlaw tore Tom's Stetson from his head. Seeing the man was in position to pin both of them down, Jim raced into the street. He rolled over twice, and, firing from a prone position, let the killer have it, right in belly. A second jumped up, and Jim's slug tore through his lungs.

Winchester and Colt bullets were searching out Jim, now. As Bobby and Tom covered him--downing three more of the outlaws--he dove behind the water trough with his partner, smiling at Bobby.

"Pard, we've got 'em on the run", Jim gasped, out of breath, as both shucked empty shells out of their Colts, reloading with fresh cartridges.

"Well, Jim, let's charge 'em, then."

With a wave to signal Tom, the two Rangers, along with the sheriff, stepped into the street, with a Rebel yell, guns blazing. The remaining gunslingers fell back against the terrible onslaught of the lawmen's guns. One went down, a bullet in his heart, two more biting the dust next to him. Another dug his spurs deep in the dirt, as he crashed face up, unseeing, Bobby's bullet deep in his brain.

The sudden silence was even more deafening than the gunfight. The bodies of dead gunslingers littered the street. Not one had survived.

One killer, Jack Danielson, was face down, still breathing. As Jim rolled him over, the outlaw, shot in his chest, was gasping his last breaths.

Harshly, Jim grated, "Who hired you?"

With a curse, Danielson replied. "We were workin' for LaMarche He shuddered, then continued. "Told us this would be an easy job, the @$$$$. Said we had to help a couple of friends of his, Judge Wyatt and some rancher.  Told us there was big money in it.

UUUNNNGGGGHHH." Danielson's breathing was becoming raspy, labored. "Now, he's with the judge, up in that big house, and I'm a goner UNNNH...we're all done for."

Face grimly set, Jim called to his partners, "Bobby, Tom, I'm headed for Wyatt's."

With shouted orders to the sheriff, "Tom, finish up, here!" Bobby raced to catch up with Jim. (end of Chapter 32)

Jim had quickly retrieved Cody from the livery. The stocky bay gelding was already saddled, and ready to run. The Ranger was taking no chances on Wyatt, Scott, or Martin fleeing on horseback. He would run them down.

Bobby was right behind his partner. They brought their mounts to a skidding halt in front of the Wyatt home, sending them out of gunshot range with slaps on their rumps.

Warren Scott and Peter Martin emerged from the back left corner of the house, heading for their horses, tied in the stable behind the residence. "Stop, or die where you stand!!" Bobby ordered.

The rancher and the gambler turned to face the two young Rangers, hands hovering over the guns at their hips.

Jim, nerves taughtly under control, called out to Martin. "Martin, I know you had my Dad ambushed, you rotten sidewinder. Now, you'll stretch a rope, for certain."

"HA...kid, you're just a snot-nosed pup." He was trying to force the young Ranger into a hasty, fatal error, hoping Jim's emotions would get the better of him. "And, I'm gonna gut-shoot you, so you'll die slow, just like your COWARD of a father did."

Martin's challenge didn't work. Finally—nerves failing the gambler--he went for his Colt. His gun crashed, but the slug tore into the earth at Jim's feet, as Jim, drawing and aiming carefully, put two .45 slugs through Martin's stomach. Martin stood for a moment, eyes full of hatred and disbelief, then slowly spun to his left, collapsing on his face.

At the same moment, Warren Scott went for his pistol. Bobby's first bullet took the rancher in his chest; his finisher, tearing through Scott's heart, knocking him to the earth, unseeing.

Slowly, deliberately, Jim headed up the front stairs of the house. (end of Chapter 33, Part 1)

Jim Griffin, Jr., Texas Ranger, bent on avenging the death of his Ranger father, entered the house, his partner Bobby Cahill Walker at his side.

Judge Wyatt was in the parlor, in front of the wall, next to the fireplace. Off to one side were his wife, Helene, and daughters Penelope and Nicole, faces frozen in fear and terror.

Jim had replaced his Colts in their holsters. The judge had buckled on a gunbelt, which held a pearl-handled .45. Stark horror was in the judge’s eyes, as Jim confronted him.

"Judge, you pretended to be a friend of the Texas Rangers. Maybe you were, once. But, you had my Dad killed, drygulched. You made sure he didn't have a chance!!!!!!! And my Dad always spoke so highly of you...how he respected you...how you always stood up

for the Rangers, and for law and justice. Why, Judge, I just need to know, why...before I shoot you down like the dirty cur you are!!!!"

Voice quivering, Hiram Wyatt responded. "Cause, Ranger, I couldn't lose what I had. I had respect, power. You don't think I'd give that up, just because one stinkin' Texas Ranger was in my way?"

Bobby was frozen, helpless, knowing if he interfered, the judge would shoot and kill Jim and probably himself, without compunction.

Nicole was sobbing, softly. "Jim, please don't kill my father. Despite what he's done, I still love him."

Jim couldn't even risk a glance in the girl's direction. He pulled both his Colts, aiming them directly at Judge Wyatt's chest. "Judge, I'm not gonna let you suffer. This'll be a clean kill. Now, say goodbye to your family."

As Jim pulled trigger, Colts belching flame and smoke, Judge Hiram Wyatt collapsed to the floor. Bullet holes from Jim's Colts appeared in the wall, one on each side where the judge had been standing.

Barrels of his pistols still pointed at the judge.

Jim snarled, "Get up, you sniveling coward!" He had deliberately fired to each side of Wyatt. "You're gonna have a trial, and then you'll hang. I won't dishonor my Dad, or the Rangers, by shooting you down like you deserve. Now, lose that gunbelt, and get up."

Bobby was breathing a sigh of relief. His partner had done the right thing.

Judge Wyatt had gotten up, slowly, and dropped his gunbelt. Jim was approaching him, to handcuff the corrupt judge.

Suddenly, a Derringer, hidden in Wyatt's sleeve, appeared in his hand, and fired. Jim's Colts boomed in answer, and the judge was driven back against the wall. He slid slowly, crumpling to the floor, leaving a smear of blood down the mahogany paneling. Jim's two slugs had torn through Wyatt's chest, coming out his

back.

Bobby was calling to Jim, "You all right, Jim?"

Jim turned slowly, deliberately to Bobby. His face was calm. As if it were an everyday occurrence, without a trace of emotion, Jim replied, coolly, "Pard, he got me, through the guts."  Jim took three steps toward his partner, then collapsed in a heap on the floor. (end of Chapter 33,Part 2)

For a week, Jim lingered between life and death.

Then, he developed an infection and fever. Finally, with the vitality of youth, he was able to fight off the infection, and was on his way to recovery. In another week, he and Bobby were able to head back to Austin.

Nicole Wyatt had visited Jim, while he was recuperating.

"Jim, I still love you. I realize now what my father was. Can you ever love me?"

"Nicole, I think I'll always love you. But, Dearest, there's been too much between us. I--we--can't think of a future together, at least right now. Nicole, my Dad was killed, on your father's orders. Then, I had to kill your father. How will my family react? I just don't know. Besides, your mother and sister need you right now."

"Jim, they don't. They barely speak to me. All they care about is their money, and their standing in the town. You and Bobby took that from them, and they blame me for not stopping you, for not betraying you."

"I'm sorry, Nicole...but, I'm not ready, not now; maybe never."

She departed, weeping softly. Jim turned his face away, eyes gleaming with unshed tears.

Finally, the day of Jim's release arrived. Tom Denton was there, along with Dave and Bonnie Steckles. Dave had recovered, and was there to thank Jim and Bobby for saving his life. As reparation for his injuries, he was to receive the W Bar S. The struggling young rancher and his wife--and new son--would have a promising future.

Jim and Bobby were mounted on Cody and Amigo, ready to go. Shaking their hands, Tom Denton said, gravely, "Thanks for everything, you two. Please, though, next time you're in Sanderson, let's make it for a fishing trip, please."

Smiling, waving the two partners spurred out of town, headed for Austin.

Just out of town, Bobby turned to Jim. "You know, Pard, that Nicole was at your side, every day, while you we're fightin' for your life. She's some woman, and she really loves you."

Sighing, Jim responded, "I know that, Bobby. but, there's just too much happened. I just can't have her with me, not now."

Jim kicked Cody back into a lope.

Two miles down the road, the Rangers pulled up, hearing the hoof beats of a running horse rapidly gaining on them from behind.

The rider, mounted on a dapple gray mare, rode up to the Rangers. 

"Jim", Nicole Wyatt declared, "I'm going with you, to be your wife, if you'll have me."

"Nicole, your family....",  Jim protested.

"Jim, they want no part of me. I've nothing here in Sanderson, except Bonnie Steckles. She and I have become good friends. Jim, I want to be with you, forever, whatever that may bring."

Eyes brimming with happiness, Jim reached his arm around Nicole's waist, lifting her onto Cody's back, kissing her with abandon. "My darling, nothing could make me happier."

Jim and Nicole, rode double on Cody, Bobby on Sunny, smiling by their side. Nicole's mare Sugar following, the two Rangers and Nicole Wyatt headed for Austin.

(THE END)