Like Fathers, Like Sons

By: Jim Griffin, keeneyankee@yahoo.com

Chapter 1, Part 1

The groom stood nervously in the side room, behind the sacristy of the church. He could hear the guests assembling, and the organ music.

He glanced at his best man, who assured him, "It'll be fine, Pard. Trust me...I know. Don't forget it was love at first sight for me, too.  Look how happy I am.  And, you've got one heckuva woman there, who loves you. After what you two have been through, nothing'll ever be able to come between you."

Flashing his best man a thin, shaky smile, the groom thought back to those days, almost a year ago, the time his soon-to-be wife had come home with him, and met his family.

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Jr. had, with his partner, Bobby Cahill Walker, solved the murder of his father, Texas Ranger Lieutenant Jim Griffin, Sr. His father's killing had been arranged by a man who had previously been a good friend of Jim, Sr., and the Texas Rangers, Judge Hiram Wyatt, of Sanderson. It was this friendship that had enabled the judge, corrupted by power and money, in debt to a gambler seeking revenge on the Ranger, to lead his friend into a deadly ambush.

One of the judge's daughters, Nicole, had attempted to help Jim, Sr., as he lay dying in the main street of Sanderson. When Jim, Jr. and Bobby arrived to investigate Jim's father's killing, circumstances had thrown Jim, Jr., and Nicole together. They had fallen in love. When Jim, Jr., had attempted to arrest Hiram Wyatt, the judge had shot Jim, forcing the young Ranger to return fire, killing him. Nicole's mother and sister--more worried about social position than family--had disavowed Nicole, for helping the Rangers.  She had left Sanderson with Jim, Jr. and Bobby.

(End of Chapter 1, Part 1)

Chapter 1, Part 2

Jim had returned after the investigation into the death of his father, returning first to Ranger Headquarters in Austin, along with his partner, then to the family home in Copperas Cove. His commanding officer, Captain Bill McGuire, and the rest of the Rangers at Headquarters had been stunned by the news that Jim, Sr.'s drygulching had been arranged by a man who for years had been one of the greatest supporters of the Rangers. There was some satisfaction, however, that the killers had been caught, and that Jim, Sr., had not just walked into an ambush, but had been betrayed by one he thought a friend.

An exhausted Jim, Jr., dismounted his bay, Cody, at their home, rubbing down the bronc, who had been a present from a retired Ranger, Judd Nelson, and his father. He had come in the back way, gathering his thoughts, before going in to his family. Nicole Wyatt had remained in Austin, for the time being.

As Jim entered the kitchen, his mother, Marcy, twin sister Jennifer, and younger brother, Billy, were seated at the table, having supper. Marcy's hand flew to her mouth, shocked speechless. They had received word Jim was coming home, but did not know the day.  Jim strolled over to his mother, kissing her gently on the cheek. She held his hand, silently crying.

Jennifer rushed to her twin, kissing hem gently on the forehead. "Jen, still got your lucky penny," he told her.

Billy grabbed his older brother in a bear hug. "Jim, good to see you home...and you caught Dad's killers, too."

Finally finding her voice, Marcy spoke, softly. "Jim, sit down to dinner. Tell us everything that happened."  All three of them--Marcy, Jennifer, and Billy--were talking at once.

Jim related the whole story of the investigation in Sanderson, not leaving anything out. He would have preferred not to let his family know he had been shot, seriously, especially so soon after the death of his father, but he knew that his family had already been notified of that by Headquarters.

At the end, gathering up his courage, Jim continued, softly, "Mom, Jen, Billy...Dad wasn't alone when he died. One of the daughters of the man who had him killed, Nicole Wyatt, went out to him on the street after he was gunned down. She tried to help him, but it was too late."

Marcy smiled, gratefully. It was a comfort, knowing her husband hadn't died totally alone on the streets of Sanderson.

Jim continued, not sure how his family would react.  "Nicole also warned me and Bobby when we were about to be ambushed, by some gunslingers her father and Peter LaMarche brought in. I promised her, though, not to kill her father, if I could help it. Of course, he gave me no choice."  "And I'm glad he didn't, the sidewinder!" Billy burst in.

Jim continued, "Mom, I don't know how to tell you this; I thought a long time about it: Nicole and I fell in love. When her father died, her family disowned her." He paused, took a deep breath, then continued. "Nicole came back to Austin, with me and Bobby. I'd like you to meet her, if you're willing. I know, her father had Dad killed. I didn't think I could love her, either, for that. But, she's not like her father, at all. She tried to help Dad, and she helped me. We're planning on being engaged, then marrying. I'd like you to meet her."

There was stunned silence in the Griffin kitchen, then Jennifer spoke up. "Jimmy, you're asking a lot of us, so soon after Dad's death."  "I know I am, Sis. That's one reason Nicole and I don't want to rush into our marriage. I want her to meet all of you, first, and you her. Please, all I ask is, don't judge her, until you've met her."

Marcy, tears in her eyes, still hurting badly over the death of her Texas Ranger husband, again spoke softly. "Jim, of course we'll meet her. Perhaps--if indeed you and she truly love each other--some good will come out of this."

Billy was silent, then, "Bud, I don't like the idea.  But, I'll go along with Mom and Jen, for now."

Several days later, Nicole Wyatt arrived at the Griffin ranch, accompanied by Jim. As luck would have it, Billy was in the yard, to greet them. As Nicole dismounted, she kissed the teenager, demurely, on the cheek. "Billy, I won't blame you if you don't like me." Jim had warned Nicole his brother might be the hardest member of the family to win over. "Please, though, just give me a chance."

As happened to Jim when he first met Nicole, Billy was helpless against her charms, her winning personality. He did manage to stumble out, "Miss Wyatt...."  "Please, it's Nicole."  "Nicole, I don't hate you. I'm just having a hard time, since your Dad had mine killed."  "Billy, that torments me, every day.  I wish I could bring your Dad back. Perhaps, if I can make Jim happy, that will help you, a little." As she smiled at the youngster, Billy, in spite of himself, returned the favor.

Entering the house, Jim introduced Nicole to his mother and sister. Marcy, then Jennifer, hugged her warmly. Jim had been talking non-stop for a week about the young lady he loved, and they had already been won over.  "Nicole, how awful for you, that your father had to die like he did," Jennifer remarked, after the introductions and preliminary conversation was over.

Nicole Wyatt, tears in her eyes, naturally still with feelings for her father, replied, "Yes, but how much more awful for you: to have your father killed in cold blood, just so mine could maintain his position. I'll always love my father, but I cannot forgive what he did. Plus, your brother gave him every chance to surrender, even endangering his own life. My father shot him anyway, and Jimmy nearly died, as you know.  My father made his own choice."

Marcy spoke up. "Nicole, everyone...enough of this, for now. I'm sure the past will come up, quite often.  For now, though, since you and Jimmy are to be married, let's talk of future happiness."

Nicole spent the next several months in Copperas Cove, working as a schoolmarm, studying Jim's faith.  Her family had been Baptist, but seldom practiced their religion. She converted to Jim's Catholic faith.

Now, the day of the wedding had arrived. Jim's reverie was broken, as the organ increased in volume, starting "The Wedding March."  "Pard, this is it!" Jim's best man, his Texas Ranger partner, Bobby Cahill Walker, was grinning at him.  "Time to go."

(End of Chapter 1, Part 2)

Chapter 2

The wedding ceremony and Mass at St. Bernard's had been finished. Jim Griffin, Jr., and Nicole Wyatt were now Mr. and Mrs. James Griffin, Jr.

After the ceremony, the reception was taking place at the Griffin family ranch. Bobby Cahill Walker, Jim's riding partner, was, of course, his best man, his brother Bill serving as usher. Bonnie Steckles, along with her husband, Dave, and their nearly year-old son, Robert James--who had been named after the Rangers who had saved their ranch--had made the log trek from Sanderson, to act as matron of honor for Nicole. Jim's twin sister, Jennifer, was the other bridesmaid.

Nicole had invited her sister Penelope and mother Helene. However, they were still embittered at her for helping Jim and Bobby, as they investigated the murder of Jim's father, and for not betraying the two Rangers. They still had their family money; however, their social standing and position of influence had been lost with the revelation that husband and father, Judge Hiram Wyatt, had arranged the ambush killing of Jim's father. They never even replied to the invitation.

Among the other guests were Bobby's wife, Jana, and their son, Cordell, named after Bobby's stepfather.  Bobby's mother Alex was also there, along with the Rangers' commanding officers, Captain Bill McGuire and Lieutenant Bob Hemmings.

Bobby's toast to the bride and groom was: "Friends, family, before I salute Jim and Nicole, let us have a moment of silence, for Jim's father, who was killed in the service of the Texas Rangers." An empty spot, next to the mother of the groom, Marcy Griffin--where Jim, Sr., would have been seated--was conspicuous. After that moment, Bobby went on. "To Jim and Nicole: two people who met under the worst of circumstances, yet managed to overcome all the obstacles thrown in their way. Their love, tempered and tested, is sure to stand the test of time, and whatever may come their way.  To Jim and Nicole, much happiness."

Jim responded, "Bobby, thank you. However, I would be remiss in not asking everyone gathered here for a moment of silence for your father, and my Dad's longtime riding partner, Cordell Walker. Your Dad, and mine, taught us to be everything we are today. So, let us pause, in the memory of two great men, great Texas Rangers, but, most of all, great dads: my father, Jim Griffin, Sr., and Cordell Walker."

(End of Chapter 2)

Chapter 3

The celebration and reception were going strong, when a rider came up to the Griffin ranch, seeking Captain McGuire. Locating the officer, he handed him a yellow Western Union form.  Captain McGuire quickly scanned the message, then, scowling, turned to his Lieutenant, Bob Hemmings. Bob had just finished dancing with Alex.

Pulling Hemmings aside, Captain McGuire muttered, under his breath, "Bob, read this." Bob Hemmings took the paper, then cursing softly, crushed the form in his hands.

The two officers conferred for a few moments, then, Bob Hemmings concluded: "We've got no choice, Cap." "I know, Bob, and I agree with you; hate to do this to Jim, though. Well, let's wait awhile, anyway. No point in spoiling the rest of the day for him. We'll tell Bobby right away, though."

Bobby's reaction was the same as his commanding officers'. However, as did they, he knew there was no choice.

Finally, reluctantly, Captain McGuire called his young Ranger to him.  "Jim, understand you and Nicole are planning a trip to New Orleans for your honeymoon."  "That's right, Cap. We'll visit a friend of mine who lives outside there, then a few days of romance in the French Quarter...." Something in the Captain's eyes stopped Jim short. "Cap, what's goin' on?" "Jim, got word, just now, by telegram. There's a problem up in the Panhandle. Jim, Marty Evans was up there, investigatin'.  He's been found dead, drygulched."

Jim staggered, slightly. He and Marty had been riding partners on two assignments. He had learned some valuable lessons from the veteran Ranger.

Captain McGuire continued. "Jim, I've got no one else to send, but you and Bobby. I hate to do this to you, but I've got to order you there. You'll have to leave tomorrow."

Jaw set with anger, Jim replied, forcefully "Cap, you couldn't keep me away from there. Nicole will understand. She and I spent a lot of time discussing what the Rangers mean to me. She won't be happy, and neither will I, but she'll understand."

Jim walked away, to find his new bride.  Taking her in his arms, tenderly, he told her, as gently as possible, "Nicole, Darling...I don't know how to tell you this, except straight out: There's an emergency in the Panhandle. Cap McGuire just found out. Darling, he's ordering me there, immediately. I have to go...you remember my talking about my former pard, Marty Evans?  He's been killed up there. I've got to leave in the morning, with Bobby. Can you forgive me?"

Emotions clashing, she responded, "Jim, we knew this would happen...I didn't think so soon, though. But, I also know I can't stop you. You'll return to me, and then we'll go to New Orleans. It will wait for us.  Besides, darling, we still have tonight."

Jim kissed her, gratefully.  What a woman he had found, through the tragic death of his father.

After the reception was over, Jim and Bobby started their preparations for the long journey to the Texas Panhandle. 

Nicole was with her new mother-in-law, Marcy Griffin, Bobby's mother, Alex Cahill Walker, and Bobby's wife, Jana. Giving in to her emotions, she was sobbing softly. As Jana took her in her arms, Marcy told her, kindly, "Nicole, Jim loves you, as much as he can love any woman; I know that. But, he also loves the Rangers, and Texas. Now, this will be hard for you, but, you can't stop him. I never could stop his father, any more than Alex could stop Cordell, or Jana can stop Bobby. It will get easier. You'll never get used to it, but you will come to understand."

Alex and Jana nodded agreement. "Now," Marcy continued. "You'll have tonight...so think about that."

Jim had built a small cabin in the far back section of the Griffin ranch. It was there he and Nicole would spend their first night as man and wife.

(End of Chapter 3)

Chapter 4

Before he and Nicole could be alone, Jim had to go over his orders with Captain McGuire, Lieutenant Hemmings, and his partner, Bobby Cahill Walker.  ‘Heckuva way to start a marriage!’ Jim thought to himself, as he headed toward his new cabin, where Nicole was waiting.

Jim was in the side room off the bedroom, while Nicole had already slipped into the bed. Jim entered the bedroom. His new bride looked at him in surprise.  "Jim, dear, you're still dressed." The young Ranger had entered the room, still in his clothes. He was turning beet red, hesitant. He could see, under the edge of the bedclothes, the hint of Nicole's creamy bosom.  "Nicole, I'll be right back."  He fled the room.

A few moments later, he returned, still dressed. "Nicole, can you turn down the light?" She didn't know whether to laugh or shout. It was obvious her new husband--surprisingly for a young lawman who had ranged the length and breadth of the Lone Star State--had never been with a woman. She recalled the day she had burst in on him, at the doctor's office in Sanderson, trying to warn him his life was in danger.  He had been shirtless then, as the doctor was preparing to remove stitches from a wound Jim had received, and leaped up to cover himself with his shirt, embarrassed. Obviously, despite his love for Nicole, he was, to say the least, shy. While she also was a virgin, she was eager to feel his physical presence.

She turned down the wick on the coal oil lamp, then, tenderly, called, "Jim, we only have tonight, for now.  Just come sit here on the bed, beside me."

The tall, blonde Ranger, able to face bullets and danger without hesitation shuffled reluctantly over to the bed, sitting so near the edge he was in danger of falling off.

Knowing if she removed the covers, Jim might bolt from the room, she reached up, rubbing his shoulder, gently. "Jim, I love you...now, give me a kiss, please." He turned to her, kissing her cheek, gently.

Nicole grabbed him by the neck, kissing him hard, on the lips. "Jim, THAT'S the kind of kiss I mean." He stood back up, blushing fiercely.  "Jim, please, sit back down." As he complied with her wishes, she again rubbed his shoulders. "Jim, we're not going to get anywhere, if you don't join me here.  I believe it's customary for the bride and groom to be undressed on their wedding night. Now, can you at least take off your shirt?"

After a few moments, slowly, Jim, still blushing furiously, unbuttoned one button, then the next.  Something was stirring, deep within him.

As the buttons opened, Nicole started to run her hand down Jim's muscular chest. With a moan, he jumped up, drawn to her, yet afraid.  "Jim, please, just kiss me, once again."

The new husband went back to her. She kissed him, gently, this time. Her hands went under the open shirt, around to his back, then deftly slipping the shirt off him. He again tried to rise from the bed, but this time Nicole was ready, pulling him back to her. She allowed the sheets to slip from her, revealing her soft, full youthful figure, letting her breasts push against his chest. She ran her hands down his stomach, letting them slide down to unbutton his trousers. As she did, Jim again tried to pull away.  Nicole, patiently--letting Jim's own motion in pulling away from her cause his trousers to lower--lay back waiting.

Finally, Jim lay next to her, breathing heavily, body glistening with sweat, groaning softly. As she kissed him, gently, he turned to her, taking her in his arms.  Passions stirring now, overwhelming his shyness, he gave his new wife the fullness of his young manhood.

(End of Chapter 4)

Chapter 5

The next morning, as usual, Jim was up before the dawn. Nicole, his bride, was breathing softly beside him. He lay there for awhile, just watching her, love and admiration in his eyes.

Finally, he left the bed, slowly, not wanting to disturb his wife. As he crossed the room, padding softly in bare feet, he heard a cheery, "Good Morning, Darling!" from Nicole. Jim turned and started, reaching to hastily find and pull on his jeans, blushing once more. "Nicole, I'm not dressed." At that, she burst into musical laughter. "Jim, darling, neither am I." He turned even more scarlet, as she let her dancing hazel eyes run over her husband's masculine form. "Jim, we're married. We made love last night. I believe husbands and wives are allowed to see each other undressed. In fact, I'm sure of it."  As Jim was still standing, motionless, Nicole rose from the bed, full bloom of her feminine charms gloriously apparent. She put her arms around her husband's shoulders, pulling him to her, kissing his lips, his neck, and his chest. One hand ran down his ribs, across his belly, then along the inside of his thigh.  Her bashful husband responded, his lips on hers, his inexperienced hands touching her in all the right places. Trembling, the newlyweds sank slowly to the floor, making the passionate love of two who would soon be separated, for a period of time they knew not.

As they were dressing, exhausted yet thrillingly happy, a knock came at the door.  "Jim, hate to do this to you, Pard, but we've gotta get goin'!"

(End of Chapter 5)

Chapter 6

Opening the door, Jim growled, "Bobby, your timing STINKS!!!!"

Bobby could only grin in reply. "Mornin', Nicole," he added, tipping his Stetson to the new Mrs. James Griffin, Jr.

Bobby had spent the night at the Griffin ranch, along with his wife, son, and mother. Now, with no time to waste, he and Jim, along with Nicole, joined the women for breakfast. Then, saddling and mounting Sunny and Cody, the two young Texas Rangers prepared to depart.

Bobby kissed his mother, then Jana, his wife, tenderly, taking his son Cordell in his arms for a few moments, talking softly to the baby.

Jim kissed his mother and sister, then, slowly, longingly, Nicole. As he straightened back up in the saddle, his hand lingering on Nicole's, Bobby reluctantly passed his son back to Jana.

With tearful farewells, the Rangers were off to the Texas Panhandle.

Bobby and Jim had a long, hard ride ahead. They were headed for the town of Tulia, in the county of Swisher. A full-scale range war was threatening to break out. Texas Ranger Marty Evans, who was one of Jim's first riding partners in the Rangers, had been sent to investigate, only to be gunned down from ambush. Now, it was up to Jim and Bobby to find Marty's bushwhackers, and stop a range war. Several other men, besides Ranger Evans, had already died, and the bloodletting was threatening to spread.

If Jana Walker and Nicole Griffin had known the danger their men would soon be facing, they would never have let them leave Copperas Cove.

(End of Chapter 6)

Chapter 7

Texas Rangers Bobby Cahill Walker and Jim Griffin, Jr. had a nearly 400-mile journey to their destination in the Texas Panhandle. A few miles after leaving Jim's home, Bobby turned to his partner, a wicked grin on his face. "Jim, you sure you can keep up; looks like you had a LONG night, last night."

Jim blushed bright red, then, growling at his partner, responded, "None of your business what I did last night, Pard. And, I'll keep up, don't you worry."  He pushed Cody into a gallop.

Bobby, laughing now, retorted, "Jim, doesn't matter.  I'm pretty sure I know what went on at your house last night." He spurred Sunny, catching up to his partner, the two Rangers racing side-by-side, both exhilarated by the fresh Texas early springtime air, the feel of a good horse under them, the love of a good woman.

They had planned to make Lubbock, to resupply, and receive any further words from Ranger Headquarters.  Then, they would swing into the town of Floydada, near the location where Ranger Marty Evans had been bushwhacked, gather any evidence they could there, and head for Tulia. They were traveling as ordinary drifting cowpokes, their Ranger badges hidden in the linings of their boots.

However, as they approached the tiny settlement of Justiceburg, Bobby's cayuse, Sunny, started limping, badly, on his right front foot. Bobby quickly dismounted, lifting the horse's leg, as the moun nuzzled his back.  "#$%^&*," Jim. He's thrown a shoe. We'll have to travel easy, until we find a farrier."  "Justiceburg should only be a few miles ahead, Bobby.  Should be a blacksmith there."  "Okay, then, Justiceburg it is."

The Rangers arrived in the town late in the afternoon. There was a farrier in town, George Hamilton. Bobby's inspection revealed that Sunny needed four new shoes. Jim, not taking chances, also ordered a set for Cody, although his bronc was a couple of weeks away from needing them. No point in taking chances when the Rangers got deep into their investigation. "Any place to bunk down in this burg?" Bobby asked the blacksmith.

Hamilton replied, "Yeah: The Palo Duro Hotel...two blocks down. It's across from the only cafe in town, the Black Steer. Saloon's across the street from that.  Now, I'll take your broncs next door to the livery when I'm done with 'em. My brother Warren runs that.  He'll give your hosses a good rubdown and grainin'.  You won't need to worry about 'em."  "Thanks, Mister...Jim, might as well spend the night here. It'll be late by the time we could get goin' anyway." 

The two Texas Rangers, saddlebags over their shoulders, walked the two blocks to the Palo Duro.

(End of Chapter 7)

Chapter 8

Bobby and Jim climbed the sagging steps, entering the lobby of the Palo Duro Hotel.

As they approached the desk, a slovenly clerk--thinning greasy black hair plastered down on his skull--stirred himself, resentfully.  "What can I do for you two gents?"  "Room for the night", Bobby replied.  "Six bits, cash, in advance."

As Bobby signed the register, placing his payment on the counter, the clerk handed him the key to room 7.

As they entered the room, Jim exclaimed, "Bobby, we'd've been better off in the hayloft at the livery, or in those cottonwoods at the creek." 

The room was filthy, with peeling wallpaper, and a tarnished, cracked mirror sitting crookedly on a sagging chest. The beds were sagging, plaster peeling in chunks from the ceiling.  "Yeah, Jim, but listen to that wind. Norther's blowin' up."

Jim too had heard the rising wind, the muttering of thunder in the distance.  "Guess you're right, Bobby. At least it's a roof over our heads." As the building creaked and groaned, Jim added  "If it STAYS over our head." Then he continued, "One thing for sure, Pard. Any idea we might've had about gettin' a bath in this place, forget it. We'd come out of any tub here slicker with slime than before we went in."

Laughing, Bobby replied, "Yeah, Jim. Wouldn't want to slide off Sunny's back while we were ridin' tomorrow, that's for sure." Pouring water from the cracked pitcher on the nightstand into the rime encrusted basin, Bobby continued. "Well, let's make the best of it. We'll clean up best as we can, and get some grub."

To the Rangers' surprise and delight, the supper at the Black Steer was delicious, with plenty of tender beef, mashed potatoes, and succulent green beans, followed by cherry pie, and lots of coffee. They paid their check, and were heading back to the hotel, both tired from the long trek, knowing they were too far from Tulia to obtain any information in the local saloon in Justiceburg.

As they crossed the street, two men exited the Red River Saloon, hats drawn low, fighting the rising wind. A few huge raindrops stirred the dirt in the street, dust blowing on the storm.

As the two figures came nearer the Rangers, one of them stopped, staring. He was a fairly tall individual, with brown eyes peering from under his pulled-down Stetson.

He let loose a curse in Jim's direction. "$%^&*+" you, #$%^&*+!  It's you, that stinkin' skunk of a Ranger, Jim Griffin. Told you, if we ever met again, I'd kill you." In less than the blink of an eye, his right hand flashed to the Colt in the holster hung low and thonged down on his hip.

Jim was at a distinct disadvantage, as the wind was blowing dust directly into his face. His left hand yanked his Colt, and his first bullet fired a split second before his opponent's, hit the man in the stomach. Jim leaped with a screech, as the gunslinger's 45 slug burned between his legs, scorching the crotch of his jeans. As the gunslinger spun to the left from the impact of Jim's bullet, Jim sent a finishing slug tearing through the man's side, ripping into his vitals. As the rain started to fall in torrents, the outlaw sagged to the mud.

His partner had drawn his Colt, at the same moment.  Bobby, with lightning speed, threw his gun, plugging the second gunman in the chest. He fell backwards, splashing into a mud puddle.

Over the roar of the storm, Bobby shouted to his partner, "Jim, we'd better get out of here, NOW!!!  Don't want any local sheriff snoopin' around, havin' to tell him we're Rangers. Let's get back to the hotel, grab our stuff, get the hosses, and vamoose."

Within five minutes, the pair was galloping out of Justiceburg. The furious storm would cover their tracks, and thwart any pursuit.

Several miles later, slowing down to spare their horses, a flash of lightning revealed a cluster of buildings just off the trail. Riding up to them carefully, the pair could see the buildings were abandoned, starting to crumble into the Texas earth.

Jim and Bobby quickly settled their mounts into the barn, unsaddling them, then dashed to the small cabin.  They were able to light a fire from scraps of wood that had been inside. As the glow from the fire increased, Bobby turned to his partner, questioning, "Okay, Jim, what was that all about?"  Then, he started laughing, uncontrollably. Finally, some semblance of control regained, he choked out, "Pard, you'd better be more careful!" He had spotted the tear in Jim's jeans, indicating Jim had just missed being shot in a place no man would want to take a slug. "You just got married: Nicole wouldn't be too happy if you came home from this trip missing THOSE parts."

Jim was wincing, for the slug had indeed creased him, and burned the tall Ranger there. "Ah, shut up, Bobby," was all he could muster, as he, along with his partner, started shucking their dripping clothes.  Settling by the fireplace, warmth feeling deliciously soothing on their soaked skin. "Okay, Bobby, I'll tell you what that was for..."

(End of Chapter 8)

Chapter 9

Jim and Bobby had both stripped off their sopping wet  clothes, and, each wrapped in a blanket from his  bedroll, were huddled by the meager fire they had  managed to build in the cabin.

Bobby was looking seriously at his partner, as Jim started his tale. "Jim, tell me that WASN'T a deputy's star I saw pinned to that hombre you downed."  "Okay, Bobby, if that's what you want to hear, I'll tell you it wasn't...but I'd be lyin'."  "Great; just what we need: bein' outlawed."  "Might work out, Pard. Mebbe we can work our way in with the troublemakers up here, now. Anyway, Bobby, that hombre was one Zack Monroe. He was a deputy sheriff down around Sweetwater, in Nolan County. I arrested him for stealin' county funds. He swore he'd get even. I didn't know he'd drifted up this way, and gotten himself another law job.  Bet he was up to his old tricks. His partner I didn't recognize. Appreciate you're jumpin' in, though. "

Soberly, Bobby replied, "Well, Jim, what's done can't be helped. Just hope no one at the hotel or livery spotted which way we headed." He rose, stirring the coals, adding a few more sticks to the fire. He looked hopefully at his clothes, which were steaming from the heat of the flames. They were still soaked.  "Gonna be a long, cold night, Pard. These duds won't dry before morning. Might as well get what shut-eye we can."

Jim and Bobby settled down to a restless night, trying to sleep despite the chill, with the norther howling outside their meager shelter.

(End of Chapter 9)

Chapter 10, Part 1

The next morning the Norther had blown itself out, leaving a sunny, but abnormally cold day on the north Texas plains. Jim and Bobby awoke, forcing themselves into their still damp clothes. They let Cody and Amigo out into the remains of a small corral, the two horses eagerly cropping the grass. After a quick breakfast, warmed by lots of coffee, the twosome mounted, to resume their northward journey.

Bobby chuckled, as Jim settled himself gingerly into his saddle, wincing. "Pard, glad I don't have to explain to your new wife what happened."

Jim just glared at his partner, muttering under his breath.

As they had hoped, the storm wiped out any evidence of their trail. They had ridden for a couple of hours, when they rode up on a band of cowpokes, driving a herd of cattle, heading in their direction. "Howdy," the foreman, a rough looking individual. It had not escaped the Rangers' notice that the herd appeared to have mixed brands. In addition, it was not the normal time of year to see cattle being driven, and the crew, significantly, had their hands close to the pistols on their hips. "Where you headed?" Hard eyes were watching the pair.  "Just driftin'," Bobby replied. "Headed north, for now."  "UH, HUH!" was the foreman's reply. "Not ridin' for any outfit around here. Where'd you come from?"

Playing a hunch, Jim responded, "Planned on spendin' last night in Justiceburg. Had to leave a little sooner that we planned." He knew, if what he and Bobby suspected were true, this would pique the foreman's interest.  "On the dodge, huh?"  "Didn't say that; just left town."  "Just hold it a minute." The foreman conferred with his second in command, a stocky individual. Jim and Bobby made no move, knowing this crew was suspicious of them.

The foreman turned back to the Rangers. "We lost a couple of men last night, when this bunch stampeded.  Now, if you can ride, and work a cow, you can ride with us...we're headed toward Lubbock."  "You've got a deal, Mister. I'm Jim Barton, and my pard there's Bob Cummings."    "Dakota Stevens; and this hyar's Monte Carlson. He'll introduce you to the rest of the crew."

Jim and Bobby, so far, had worked they way in to the rustler gang.

(End of Chapter 10, Part 1)

Chapter 10, Part 2

With the two Rangers joining them, the rustler band now consisted of eight men. They drove the herd for the rest of the afternoon, making decent progress.

As they bedded the cattle down, then proceeded to eat the supper of beans, bacon, and biscuits, the men questioned Jim and Bobby, but carefully. The two Rangers had pulled off their appearances as men fleeing from the law well, and outlaws such as they had joined knew not to question a man too carefully about who he was, or where he came from.

Finally, with two men on night watch over the herd, the band rolled in their blankets. Jim and Bobby had chosen spots a little off from the rest of the group, as wanted men would be liable to do.

About 2 AM, they were awakened by a rising wind, and thunder in the distance. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning split the sky, and the cattle leaped to their feet, bolting. From the herd came the cry of "STAMPEDE!!!!"  The men jumped from their bedrolls, scrambling to their horses. It was a large enough herd that even rustlers wouldn't just let the cattle escape.

Eight men tried desperately to head the cattle, attempting to get the herd to circle in on itself.  Rain started pouring down, slicking the ground, making it even more dangerous to man and bronc. Through the flashes of lightning, Jim could see his partner, headed for the lead, gun firing over the stampeding cattle, Bobby bent low over the racing Sunny's neck.  Bobby's years of experience herding cattle at his family ranch were telling.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the herd started to turn. Gradually, the cows were milling in a circle, finally quieting down, their energy spent, the storm subsiding. The rustler band came together. Seven men were accounted for, but where was Bobby?

(End of Chapter 10, Part 2)

Chapter 10, Part 3

Monte Carlson held Jim back, as he attempted to remount Cody, to search for his partner. "Jim, no chance of findin' your pard now; we'll look for him in the morning."

Reluctantly, Jim had to agree the outlaw was right.  The rain was still falling, and, without the lightning, the night was black as pitch. The blonde Ranger spent a sleepless night, watching for the first sign of dawn.

As had the previous Norther, this one broke quickly.

Jim was on the trail, just having left the rustlers.  Two of them would help in the search. He would backtrack for Bobby. Just as he rounded a bend, he espied a drooping figure approaching, on an exhausted Paint. Jim loped up to his partner.  "Bobby, thought you were done for: figured you'd gone down, been trampled."  "Nearly was, Jim. Sunny stumbled, and pitched me off.  Luckily, we both rolled down into a wash, which wasn't flooded, too badly. Cattle turned before they got us." "Well, let's get back, and get you some breakfast."  The rustlers had decided to spend the day resting the herd, as the balky longhorns would not easily be pushed by the worn-out men and their broncs.

(End of Chapter 10, Part 3)

Chapter 10, Part 4

"#$%^&*," Bobby muttered, as he was getting his fourth cup of coffee, looking around at the landmarks.  "What's wrong, Pard?" Jim could see the look of concern on his partner's face.  "Doggone stampede brought us halfway back to Justiceburg, that's what!" "Wanna pull out?" Jim and Bobby were being watched closely by Stevens and Carlson  "Stevens, how soon we pullin' out?" Bobby yelled to the rustler foreman.  "Why? You in a hurry, mister?"  "To stay out of Justiceburg, yeah. My pard's not too popular there."  "Don't worry- we'll be headed north at sunup."

However, later that afternoon, Bobby and Jim, with their mounts, faded into the cover of the chaparral, as a group of four men, one wearing a sheriff's star, the other three deputy badges, approached the rustler camp.  "Who's the chief of this outfit?" The sheriff was addressing Monte Carlson.  "Over there." Carlson nodded his head toward his boss.  "I'm Sheriff Tom Harkness, of Justiceburg." The lawman and his posse had entered the camp, Harkness addressing the rustler foreman.  "Dakota Stevens. What can I do for you, Sheriff?"

We're lookin' for a couple of hombres: both blonde, one on a Paint, the other on a bay."  "What you want 'em for, Sheriff?"  "They killed two of my deputies the other night. You seen any sign of 'em?"

Stevens thought for a moment, his eyes meeting Carlson's. "Nope, can't say as I have, Sheriff. We we're busy fightin' this herd the past few nights. No one's ridden by us."

Harkness thought for a moment, then said, "Bueno.  We've been ridin' a long time. Mind if we grab some coffee from you fellas?"

Stevens could hardly say no. The sheriff and his men dismounted, helping themselves to the steaming brew.

Jim and Bobby waited, tensely. They could not leave, for there was no cover beyond their brush patch, and the sound of their horses' hooves would instantly alert the posse.

One of the deputies approached the brush and rocks where the Rangers were hidden. He was about to partake in a necessary function, when his eyes widened, as he spotted Bobby. Before he had a chance to draw his gun, the barrel of Jim's Colt crashed on his head, and the deputy sagged to the ground.

As he did, he uttered a low moan, just enough to be heard in the camp.  "#$%^&*," Bobby muttered. "We're in for it now, Jim."

Decision made, the two Rangers stepped out from behind the rocks, guns drawn.  "Reach, high, NOW!!" Bobby ordered, his gun leveled at the Sheriff's belt buckle. Jim had his Colts trained on the two deputies' chests. "Why, you...!”  Harkenss spluttered. With no choice, he had raised his arms.  "Stevens, Carlson...grab these #$%^&* guns."

The rustlers quickly disarmed the lawmen. "Now, Sheriff...you have a choice. Either you walk back to town, forget you ever saw us, or die, right here. Which'll it be?"

Bobby was running a bluff, hoping the rustlers wouldn't take the lawman's part, or kill the sheriff and his men. If they tried, he and Jim would have to show their badges.

Jim spoke up. "Yeah, and Harkness, keep this in mind: Your deputies drew first. I'm curious about a man who'd hire a deputy that spent time in Huntsville."  Jim and Bobby knew the words had hit home, as the lawman flinched. In addition, Bobby recalled the man's face on a wanted poster.  "Got no choice: we'll walk," Harkness replied.

Carlson yelled, then, "No way we're lettin' these law dogs go!"  "We're givin' the orders!" Bobby shouted, but too late. Carlson was turning, pulling his Colt, aiming it at the Sheriff.

Jim's left-hand pistol bucked, and Carlson went down, a bullet in his back. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the possemen dove for their guns.

The other rustlers were coming in, fast. Bobby cut one from his saddle, and another went down with Jim's bullet in his chest. The other two dove off their broncs, searching cover.

Jim spun down, as a bullet from Dakota Stevens tore into his right shoulder. Bobby sent two slugs into the foreman's ribs, staggering him to the mud.  The last two rustlers went down. Jim was out of the fight, but Bobby took out one with a slug through his neck, the other sagging to his knees, then falling face down, Bobby's 45 slug in his gut.

Harkness was not the most competent of gunmen, and his deputies were townsmen, not used to a gunfight.  Their moment of shocked surprise was all Bobby needed.  His Colts, unwavering, covered the posse.

He edged his way over to his downed partner, dragging Jim to his feet, Colts never leaving the posse's chests.  "Jim, We gotta GIT! Can you ride?"

Shakily, Jim responded, "Yeah, Bob; just help me on my hoss."

Bobby helped Jim to Cody, half-lifting him on the awaiting bay. The two Rangers spurred away, the possemen now mounting their horses, to start the pursuit of the two outlawed Rangers.

(End of Chapter 10, Part 4)


Chapter 11

Now, it was up to Sunny and Cody to safely convey their human partners away from the pursuing posse. The big geldings pounded up the trail, stretching into the wind.

Jim was sagging in his saddle, barely able to hold on, each stride of his mount sending shock waves of pain through his wounded shoulder. He was rapidly weakening, from loss of blood. Bobby edged Sunny in close next to Cody, supporting Jim with his right arm as they raced along.  "P...p...pard", Jim gasped. "Leave me here...get yourself outta here. I'm holdin' us both back."  "Forget it, Jim; we're in this to the end, one way or the other." "Bobby, why not just tell those jaspers who we are?"  "'Cause, Jim, they'd never stop to listen, now. Plus, I know I've see that Harkness's face on a wanted poster, somewhere."

Bobby twisted in his saddle, grunting in satisfaction as he sent a shot back at the pursuers, seeing one clap his hand to his left arm, dropping back.  Then, he quickly reached back and shoved Jim back upright, as the tall Ranger again slumped sideways in his saddle.

Jim gasped out, again, "Bobby, let me go, I'm a goner, anyway. Bleedin' too fast. Just get Marty's killers for me, will ya?"  "Hang on a little longer, Pard. You're gonna make it.  Think of Nicole, waitin' for you back home. I think they're getting a bellyful of chasin' us. Don't like when the game shoots back at 'em." Bobby unshipped his Winchester, leveling it furiously. Sure enough, the posse soon slowed, then stopped, sending a couple of last long-range shots in the Rangers' direction.

As they rounded a bend, out of the posse's sight, Jim finally gave a loud moan, and tumbled out of his saddle, rolling over and over, then lying face down in the road, unmoving.

(End of Chapter 11)

Chapter 12

Quickly, Bobby reined his cayuse to a halt. Cody had already stopped when his rider fell, and was gently sniffing at his human partner's head, shoving Jim's Stetson to the side.

Bobby took both horses into cover, behind some boulders and brush off the trail. He gave a start, seeing the amount of blood soaking Jim's saddle. Then, without even rolling his downed partner onto his back, he quickly dragged Jim into the brush. If the posse did continue the pursuit, Bobby should be able to hold them off.

Once they were under cover, Bobby rolled Jim onto his back. Jim's eyes opened, and he smiled weakly at his partner. "Bobby, I must still be alive, 'cause, I sure don't expect YOURS to be the first mug I see in Heaven."  "Quiet, Jim!"  Bobby ordered. "'Sides, you'll be headin' for the other place, anyway." Despite himself, Bobby gave a slight gasp as he opened Jim's shirt, soaked crimson by his blood. Jim had not been hit in his shoulder, but up high on the right side of his chest. Blood, flowing copiously from the bullet hole, had covered Jim's chest, and was running down his stomach and belly, running over his ribs to soak the ground.

Jim, seeing the expression on his partner's face, stated, "Told you to leave me, Pard. I'm done for.  Too much blood gone."

Face set, Bobby retorted, "Don’t give up on me now, pard. I'M not telling Nicole I let you get yourself killed on your first assignment after the wedding.  Just lay there."  "Like I'm goin' anywhere."

Bobby retrieved his canteen and the medical kit from Sunny.  "Jim, take a sip." He put the canteen to his partner's lips. Jim took some water, choking. "Jim, gotta stop that bleedin’, gonna try to find that slug, first, though. Here, Bite on this." Bobby put a chunk of mesquite in Jim's mouth.

Even with the wood to bite down on, Jim screamed in agony, as his partner probed for the slug. Finally, eyes downcast, Bobby told his partner, "Jim, slug's in too deep--I can't find it--gotta get you to a Doc, pronto. Closest one's probably in Post."  "Bobby, that's still 15 or 20 miles away." "Jim, don't worry about that. Now, I'm gonna plug that hole, best I can, and bandage you up. Then, we'll get goin'."

Efficiently, from his field experience, Bobby packed the hole in Jim's chest, wrapping bandages around his partner's upper body to hold the packing in place.  Then, he dragged his partner to Cody, helping Jim into the blood-soaked saddle, as Cody snorted, worriedly.

Bobby retrieved Jim's Stetson, handing it to his partner, who weakly placed it on his head.  "Bobby," Jim gasped. "Pard, you'd better tie me to Cody's back, just in case."

Bobby hesitated, then, realizing Jim would probably lose consciousness from the jolting of his mount, quickly replied, "Yeah, Jim, just in case, though."  Cutting a section from Jim's lariat, he tied his partner's ankles to the stirrups, wrists to the saddle horn. It proved a wise move, for the two Rangers had barely gone two miles before Jim, groaning, passed out, slumping over Cody's neck.

They were still miles from Post.

(End of Chapter 12)

Chapter 13

"Hang in there, Pard!" The two Rangers had progressed a couple of more miles after Jim had passed out. Bobby was desperately pleading with his unconscious partner.

Despite being tied to Cody's back, the unconscious Jim kept slumping over the horse's side. Bobby was forced, time and again, to keep his partner in the saddle. He refused to untie his partner, and sling him belly-down over the saddle, in the dead man's carry.  Jim was still alive, and Bobby was determined to keep him that way. They might have covered more ground with Jim slung over his horse, but Bobby just couldn't do it. It was bad enough he had been forced to take Cody's reins leading Jim's mount.

Finally, Bobby pulled to a halt, dismounting. Jim's countenance had turned a deadly gray. His breaths were short, gasping. Fresh blood was again appearing on the front of Jim's shirt.    "Pard, we've gotta get you help, fast!" Bobby knew he would never make Post.

(End of Chapter 13)

Chapter 14

Grimly, Bobby remounted, pushing on toward Post. The only blessing the Rangers had in their favor was the weather. Despite the sunshine, the temperature was comfortable. Had it been a hot day, Jim's suffering would have increased, greatly.

Finally, topping a rise, Bobby spotted a cluster of buildings, about a mile off, to the left. "Thank you, Lord" he breathed, silently. "Cord, and Jim, Sr., thanks to both of you, too." Bobby was convinced the two Rangers' fathers' spirits were with him and Jim on the trail, and had guided him to this spot.

Reluctantly, knowing every moment counted, Bobby pushed Sunny and Cody into a slow trot, not daring to push them faster, with Jim lying unconscious over Cody's neck.

Approaching the ranch, he spotted a little girl, of about nine. Riding up the her, he asked, gently, "Honey, is your mom or dad home?" She shook her head yes, shyly, and pointed toward the house, eyes wide as she saw the burden on Cody.  "Hello in there!" Bobby hailed the house, riding up to the front door. A tall, sun-bleached Texan emerged, followed by a brown-haired, care-worn woman.  "Can I help, you, Stranger?"  "My pard's hurt, bad. Was shot awhile back. I tried to get him to the Doc in Post, but he won't make it.  He's lost too much blood, and can't take any more ridin'."

The rancher was already striding toward Cody, as his wife held the door. "Let's get him inside." He was already cutting the ropes that bound Jim to his saddle, lifting the Ranger's dead weight onto his shoulders, hauling him into the house. "Joey!" he called, as a youth of about sixteen came around the corner of the corral. "Take these gentlemen's horses, and take care of 'em." With Bobby on his heels, he took Jim into a bedroom, laying him gently on the bed.  "Let me, Mack." The rancher's wife started removing the blood-soaked bandages from Jim's chest. With gentle fingers, she probed the wound. "Mack, get some water boilin', and some clean cloths, quickly. Bring some of that whiskey from the cabinet, too."

Bobby followed the rancher into the kitchen, leaving Jim's care, for the moment, to Mack's wife.  "I'm Bob Cummings. My pard in there's Jim Barton; appreciate what you're doin' for my pard."  "Mack Casey...and my wife's Joan. We wouldn't turn any hurtin' hombre away." "Gracias, Mack. That little girl out there yours?"  "Yup; that's our daughter Molly...and our son Joey's takin' care of your broncs."

As the bandages came to a boil, Mack and Bobby took them and hot water to Joan Casey. She gently, carefully scrubbed the blood from Jim's chest and stomach, then repacked the bullet hole in his chest, applying the whiskey for an antiseptic, rebandaging Jim's chest. The blonde Ranger, soaked with sweat, never even issued a moan from his lips. Finally, Joan stood up, looking at Bobby, doubtfully.  "Mister, your pard's in a bad way. He's gotta see the Doc, quick. Like you said, though, no way he'd make town, even in a wagon." "How far to town from here, Ma'am?"  "About ten miles or so."  "Bueno. I'll be ridin'; what's the Doc's name?"

Mack Casey spoke up. "It's Doc Rosner, but, mister, your cayuse'll never make it. Now, I'd loan you one of mine, but I'd rather you let Joey head for town. He's one good rider, and he knows the way. 'Sides, this way, no one'll ask you any questions. Doc knows Joey; he and my kid won't waste time gettin' back here.  Looks like you could use some rest, too."'

Gratefully, Bobby replied, "Appreciate that, Mack.  And, yes, I would like to stay here with Jim. You're sure Joey'll make good time."  "Sure as your pard's lyin' there with a slug in him.  Now, let's stop wastin' time palaverin'. I’ll get Joey on his way."

In a few moments, the youth, mounted on a rangy buckskin gelding, was rushing toward Post.

(End of Chapter 14)

Chapter 15

After what seemed an eternity to Bobby, he heard the sound of hoofbeats, and the creaks and rattles of a carriage entering the ranch yard. He had accepted some coffee and a quick supper from the Casey’s; however, he was too concerned over his partner to engage in conversation with the family. The Casey’s respected his silence, although they were curious about the two riders who had arrived at their ranch, one with a slug in him.

As the door swung open, Dr. William Rosner entered, carrying his medical bag. "Where's the patient?" he demanded, gruffly.  The physician was a tall, heavy set man in his mid, 50s, with graying, curly hair and mustache, the hair thinning on top.  "In here, Dr. Rosner" Joan Casey answered. Bobby left Jim's bedside, as the physician took over.

With great difficulty, the doctor located and dug the bullet out of Jim's chest. He then redressed and rebandaged the wound, sewing it carefully shut.  Finally, his ministrations completed, he turned to the Casey’s, and Bobby.   "Joan, you did a fine job with this man; probably saved his life. However, he is still in grave danger.  He's lost an awful lot of blood. Don't know how he made it this far."  "Doc, I'm Jim's pard. Can I speak to you a moment, in private?" Bobby spoke up.  "Sure, Mister. Just let me clean up, and I'll see you outside."

Meeting with the Doctor, Bobby asked, "Doc, I need you to send a telegram for me...please no questions.  I'd go myself, but I can't leave my pard, not now, anyway. Now, what I'm about to show and tell you must be kept completely confidential. Are you comfortable with that?"  "Depends what you're gonna tell me."  "Fair enough." Bobby slid his hand into his left boot, coming up with his Ranger star. "Doc, Jim and I are Texas Rangers. Right now, though, we've been tagged as outlaws in these parts. You don't need to know how that happened, for now."

As the physician rubbed his chin, thoughtfully, Bobby continued, "We want it to stay that way. We're tryin' to get to the bottom of the problems here in the Pandhandle. Another Ranger, Marty Evans, was bushwhacked outside of Floydada. Jim and I were on our way up there, then on to Swisher County, when Jim took that slug. Now, you're the only person in these parts who knows were Rangers. I need a wire sent to Austin, telling Headquarters what's happened so far. It'll be in code, so you'll be in no danger. Oh, and Doc, Headquarters is NOT to know, at least not yet, that Jim's been shot. We'll see how he does, first. Will you do that, Doc?"  "Glad to help the Rangers. I'm tired of bullet wounds in my patients, burying too many of them. Your partner, I'm sorry to say, may be next. Only time will tell."

(End of Chapter 15)

Chapter 16

For a week, Jim remained in a coma, but gradually, with rest and the fine nursing of Joan Casey, his strength returned, and he came around.  "Bobby," Jim told his partner, "Thanks; you should've left me, though."  "Couldn't do that, Jim. Besides, you've got more than me to thank. I thought you were a goner, too. You never would have made it to town. The good Lord, and your Dad and mine, led me to this ranch."

Jim grew silent, contemplating this statement. He was sure Bobby was right.

Bobby had decided to confide in the Casey’s as to his and Jim's true identities and jobs. It would not have been fair to the family who had taken two apparent outlaws into their home, saving one's life, to deceive them, possibly bringing the law on them. It had turned out to be a good decision, for Mack Casey had proved to be a valuable source of information. The trouble Bobby and Jim had been sent to investigate had reached all the way down from Swisher County to the territory around Post.

Dr. Rosner, on his last visit, pronounced Jim out of danger. However, to the tall Ranger's chagrin, he would not be able to resume duty for at least several more days.

Bobby had made several visits into town, checking on various leads.  "Jim," he announced to his partner one morning. "Got a lead on some of the owl hoots around here, anyway.  Going to check it out."  "Bobby, I'm coming."  "No, Jim...you'd be more hurt than help." Jim knew this was true. He was still weak, his right side still stiff and sore. So, he only protested mildly. "'Sides, Mack's gonna back me."

As Bobby and Mack rode north, the skies were darkening, snow flurries spitting.

Suddenly, two rifle shots rang out. Bobby bent backwards from the impact of a Winchester slug in his back, then fell forward over Sunny's neck, sagging to the frozen earth. Mack Casey, bullet high in his back, was knocked forward, out of his saddle. The snow thickened.

(End of Chapter 16)

Chapter 17

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, Jr., spent a horrible night trying to sleep, listening to the sounds of the gathering Norther outside the Casey ranch house.  Evidently, North Texas was going to be in for one of those early spring stretches of wild weather, with late season heavy snows.

Jim tossed and turned all night, moaning in his bed.  Finally, just as dawn broke, a gray dawn, the outside air cold, snow still falling, Jim struggled out of bed. As he was dressing, Joan Casey entered his room.  She had heard him cry out in his sleep.  "Jim, where you headed?" Jim started as he heard her voice. There was no way to avoid the answer Jim knew he must give to the rancher's wife.  "Joan, Bobby and Mack are in trouble; I've gotta try and find 'em."

Joan Casey looked at the tall, blonde Ranger, who was pulling on his boots. "Jim, how do you know that...and, you're too weak to go anywhere, yet."

Jim hesitated.  How could he explain to the rancher's wife that, while he was trying to sleep, his father's, Jim, Sr., and Bobby's stepfather's Cordell's spirits had appeared to him, telling him to act quickly, that his partner and Mack were in grave danger.  "Joan, I just know, that's all. Now, I've gotta get movin'."

She looked at him, thoughtfully. Then, reaching her decision, she called her son. "Joey, your Dad and Jim's partner may be in trouble. Quickly, saddle Jim's horse, while I get him some breakfast, and pack some food for the trail." Turning to Jim, she added, "I'll have Joey go with you."  "No!" Jim protested. "He's too young, and you and Molly will need him here."  "Jim, please, don't argue. You're still weak, and the weather's bad. Joey knows the territory. Now, Joey, go get Buck ready, along with Jim's horse."

Reluctantly, Jim gave in, having no good rebuttal to Joan Casey's arguments.

Jim gave a small chuckle as he shrugged into his sheepskin coat. Bobby had kidded him when they were leaving, as Jim tied the heavy jacket to the cantle of his saddle.  "Jim, this is Texas, it's spring, for Pete's sake!" Bobby had jibed. "What in the world do you need that thing for?" However, Jim--some instinct, probably Northern genes inherited from his Yankee dad--kept the coat on his saddle. Now, he and the young Joey Casey headed into the teeth of the blue Norther, Jim was grateful he had followed his instinct. He could hardly wait to reach Bobby, so he could gloat over the nice warm coat.

It had snowed off and on overnight, with about 4 inches or so covering the ground. "Worst is still to come," Jim muttered to himself. He and Joey were riding silently for the most part, it being almost impossible to carry on a conversation without shouting over the biting wind.

With the increasing snowfall, Jim was becoming disoriented.  Even Joey was starting to lose the narrow trail they had been following, the trail Bobby had mentioned to Jim he'd take.

As Jim lifted his head, trying to peer through the snow, an owl appeared, then settled into a dead tree ahead. As the Ranger and the youngster's horses plodded on, the owl sailed ahead, landing again in a tree. "Cord, Dad?" Jim questioned.

A voice inside his head, that of Cordell Walker, responded. "Jim keep going. You will be with my son, shortly." The owl disappeared into the swirling snow.

Doggedly, Jim pressed on, Joey following close behind. Suddenly, Cody lifted his head, pricked up his ears. As Jim strained to hear over the howling gale, his ears picked up, for a moment, the sound of a horse's whinny. Jim thought he was hearing things, until Sunny and Buck whistled shrilly in reply.  "Joey, that's Bobby's hoss, Sunny!!" Jim forced his tired mount into a lope.

(End of Chapter 17)

Chapter 18

The snow let up, briefly.  In the distance, Jim could discern the bulk of two horses, both rider less.  He pushed Cody up the trail, as Sunny again shrilled his greeting, Cody responding.

Two forms were lying in the snow, both marked by the pure white snow stained crimson around them.

Jim jumped off the still moving Cody, next to the facedown body of his partner.  A few feet away from the downed Ranger, Joey Casey leaped from saddle, screaming "DAD!!!! DAD??????!!!!,"  throwing himself across the face up body of his father. 

Jim had headed straight for Bobby, for he knew nothing could be done for the rancher, Mack Casey, who had taken the Rangers in, without question.  Mack's face was covered with unmelted snow, his frozen body not still holding enough warmth to melt the  white coating.  His blue eyes were open, snow-covered, staring into the gray sky.

Bobby's head was still not covered with snow, as Jim slowly rolled his partner onto his back.  Bobby was still barely breathing, his fingers and ears showing the signs of frostbite.  When he plunged from saddle, he had landed with his hands under his body, which might have saved his fingers, if Jim and young Casey could get him to the doctor's in Post on time.  The cold and snow may have proved a lifesaver for the young Ranger, slowing his metabolism, his life-giving blood being drawn to his core, slowing the bleeding.

Jim walked over to young Joey, gently putting his hand on the sobbing youngster's shoulders.  Joey was still draped across his father's body.  Reluctantly, Jim lifted Joey up, bringing the boy to a kneeling position, next to his father.

Gently, Jim stated,  "Joey, there's nothing more we can do for your Dad. I'm sorry.  But, Joey, Bobby's still alive. We've got to get him to the Doc's, quick.  How far are we from Post?"  Jim felt awful, like the world's cruelest, most heartless monster, but he had to get his partner to town. In addition, the snow had intensified again.

Joey took a swing at the Ranger.  "My Dad's Dead, and you don’t care."  Jim backed away from the wild punch, then took Joey in his arms.  The youth collapsed against him, sobbing.  "Joey, I do care, more than you know.  My Dad was killed in an ambush too, son..  But, we've got to get out of here, now. And, I promise you, son, I will get the rattlers who did this. But, Joey, if any of us are to live, I need your help."  Jim had no idea of the way to Post, in this blizzard.  "Now, Joey, please, for your Dad, and Mom, and Molly- help me."

Dazedly, the young man rose.  "Joey, we've gotta cut down a couple of saplings, make a travois for my Bobby.  Help me with that, then we'll put your Dad on his hoss, and head for Post. Quickly, son."

As rapidly as possible, the Ranger and the rancher's son cut two sturdy saplings, using Bobby's blankets to make the travois, attaching it to Cody.  They gently placed the wounded Ranger on the travois, covering him with blankets, lashing him in place.  Then, they gently placed the body of Mack Casey over his saddle, tying him to his horse.

Mounting up, hunched into the wind, Ranger and rancher's son started the desperate journey to Post.

(End of Chapter 18)

Chapter 19, Part 1

It was only eight miles from the site of the ambush to Post, but, in the swirling snow, it felt like eighty to Jim, his horse Cody struggling under the added burden of the travois holding his wounded partner. In addition, he had to keep an eye on Joey, who had been forced to lead the horse carrying his father's body.

Even Sunny, unburdened, was floundering in the drifts.

For over three hours, they struggled, finally arriving in Post just before dark. Joey bravely led them to Doctor Rosner's office. Jim pounded on the door, finally seeing it opened.  "Jim Barton!" the physician exclaimed in surprise and annoyance. "What are you doing here?  You’re still supposed to be in bed."  "No time for that, Doc. My pard's been drygulched, shot in the back. He's been out in the storm for who knows how long. We gotta get him in, quick."

Doctor Rosner, hustling to the street, looked at Jim, questioningly, seeing the second body slung over a horse. Joey Casey was bent low over his saddle, hat pulled down. "Doc, that's Mack Casey...he was with my pard; they got him, too, but he's done for: got plugged right between his shoulder blades."  "Joey, please, give us a hand", Jim called to the boy. Numbly, Joey dismounted, mechanically helping lift Bobby, carrying him into the office. "Barton, I'm also the coroner. While I work on your partner, can you bring poor Mack around back?" "Will do, Doc.  Where can I leave the hosses?"  "Livery's a block down, on the left." "Thanks."

After placing Mack's body in the room that served as a morgue, and having the exhausted horses safely ensconced at the livery, Jim returned to the Doctor's office. Joey was sitting on a sofa, still numbed by his father's death, and the trip to Post.

Despite himself, Jim dozed off. He was awakened by Doctor Rosner's entrance to the front room.  "Barton,"  the physician remembered to use Jim's alias, not giving away his Ranger identity. "Your pard should make it, but I'm not givin' any guarantees, yet. Cold kept his bleedin' down."  "Bueno, Doc. Now, I'm gonna try and track those skunks."  "Hold it, Son. It's dark, and you can't go anywhere in this storm. Besides, someone's gotta tell the sheriff, and what about Joey Casey and his family? I gave the boy a sedative, while you were resting, and put him in a cot. He'll sleep the rest of the night, I hope. You can bunk here, also."  "Thanks, Doc. I'll go roust out the sheriff, now. Is there anyone the Casey’s know in town, here? If the weather breaks, I'll go back to the ranch in the morning and see Mack's wife and girl. Then, I'll start trackin'." "Parson Harper and his wife live in the small brown cottage, next to the church. They'd be the best folks to go with you."

(End of Chapter 19, Part 1)

Chapter 19, Part 2

Jim got little cooperation from the local sheriff, Chuck Hill. "Mister, that's out of my jurisdiction.  I'm only a town sheriff." Jim was frustrated, hoping for help, but did not push the issue. He would probably fare better on his own, anyway.

His next stop was the parsonage of the small village church. A handsome woman in her mid-40's answered his knock. "Hurry in here, before you catch your death!" she ordered the soaked Ranger.

A tall, dignified man entered the living room. Esther Harper was ordering Jim, "Take off that coat, and sit here." She indicated a chair in front of a roaring fireplace.

Jim stood up, as the parson introduced himself, "Sir, I am Parson Anson Harper. This is my wife, Esther." "Texas Ranger James Griffin, Jr., Parson, Mrs. Harper." Jim had no intention of keeping his identity secret from the clergyman, instinctively knowing he was dealing with an honest man.  "What brings you out on such a horrid night?" Esther Harper inquired. "Parson, Mrs., Harper, Doctor Rosner sent me to you.  My partner and I are investigating a case here in the Panhandle. I was injured, and we were taken in by Mack and Joan Casey."  "Fine family..." the Parson interrupted.  "Indeed they are, sir," Jim continued. "Parson, my partner and Mack were ambushed, yesterday. I don't know how, but I knew they were in trouble, went lookin' for 'em. Joan Casey insisted Joey come with me." Jim paused, then: "I'm afraid Mack Casey was killed." "No!" Mrs. Harper gasped. The parson looked away, stunned.

After a moment, Jim continued, "Parson, Mrs. Harper, my partner's over at Doc Rosner's right now, in bad shape. Joey Casey's also there. Doc gave him a sedative. We'll be there for the night, then, in the morning, I hope to head back to the ranch. I need someone to be with the family. I'll be hittin' the trail, tryin' to find the killers."  "Certainly, we'll go with you," the parson replied.  "Mack Casey...dead. I can't believe it." He then asked Jim, "Ranger, how will you follow any trail, in this weather?"  "Parson, if I know a late season Norther, by tomorrow, this snow'll be meltin'. With this wind, a lot of it'll be scrubbed off the plains, anyway. Now, before the storm started, the ground was soft from thawin'. With any luck, the hombres who drygulched Mack and my partner left tracks. It's a long shot, but they may have frozen. If so, I'll find those skunks."

Jim spent the next few hours with the Parson and his wife, thawing out, stuffed with excellent food, fussed over by Mrs. Harper. He explained to the couple his alias, his being undercover. Finally--the sound of the wind lessening, the snowfall thinning--he made his way back to Doctor Rosner's.

(End of Chapter 19, Part 2)

Chapter 20, Part 1

The next morning, Doctor Rosner informed Jim that Bobby was resting comfortably. He allowed Jim a few moments with his partner.

Hand on Bobby's shoulder, Jim told him, "Pard, don't you worry- I'll get those drygulchers.  Y'know, Pard, I can't take any credit for this. Cord and my Dad led me to you. Now, you just rest. I'll be back, soon as I get those back-shootin' snakes."

As Jim had hoped, the storm had broken, and the temperature was rising, rapidly. Parson Anson Harper and his wife Esther arrived at the office, taking charge of Joey. The young man was still, mercifully, somewhat under the effects of the sedative.

Jim had arranged to leave Sunny at the livery. Joey was taken in the Harpers' carriage, his horse Buck and his father's horse tied behind.

The time Jim dreaded soon arrived. He gave a silent prayer of thanks that the Parson and Mrs. Harper had accompanied him, as they splashed into the yard at the Casey ranch, melting snow leaving puddles everywhere.

(End of Chapter 20, Part 1)

Chapter 20, Part 2

Joan Casey answered the gentle knock on the door, Molly at her side. Her eyes grew wide with fright espying the Harpers accompanying Jim, her son, eyes red, silently sobbing by the Ranger's side. "Joan, please, sit down." That was Mrs. Harper.

She remained rooted to the spot. "Jim, Joey, what's happened? Where's Mack?"

As gently as possible, Jim told the stalwart woman, "Joan, I'm so sorry. We found Mack and Bobby, north of here. They were ambushed. "  "Mack's ........?"  "I'm sorry, Joan, yes: Mack was killed."

With a small cry, Joan Casey fainted, Parson Harper catching her before she fell.

Quickly, Joan Casey was deposited on the couch, cool cloths on her forehead. When she awakened, sitting up, Esther Harper was at her side, comforting her. Parson Harper was holding Molly in his lap, Joey next to him.  "Jim, how did it happen?" Joan had to know.  "Don't know, Joan: looks like they were taken from behind." "Jim, where's Bobby?" Even in her grief, Joan thought of Jim's partner.  "At Doctor Rosner's...Joan, I have to tell you, straight out: he's in bad shape, too.  Now, I'm goin' after those bushwhackers. Any idea who they might be, besides the ones from up North that Mack told Bobby about? I know it's hard, but, Joan, I need anything you can give me."

Sobbing, she replied. "No, Jim- I have no idea."

Jim stood up, kissing the grieving widow gently on the cheek. "Joan, I'm goin to find 'em."

Parson Harper joined the Ranger on the porch. "May the Lord be with you, Son. I know--in the name of justice--He will be. Don't worry about the Casey's; Esther and I will stay with them as long as we're needed."  "Thank you, Parson"

(End of Chapter 20, Part 2)

Chapter 21

Jim had been on the trail about two miles, headed back to the site of the ambush, when he heard hoofbeats, rapidly approaching from the rear. He turned in his saddle, at the same time unshipping his Winchester and bringing it level, in one fluid motion.

As the rider came closer, the Ranger lowered his rifle. "Joey, what are you doin'?" Joey Casey had followed the Ranger. The youth had a light carbine in a saddle boot, a Colt stuck in his belt. "Jim, I'm goin' with you." “No, you're not. Joey, these men killed your Dad, tried to kill my pard. They wouldn't think twice about killin' you. Think about your Mom, and Molly. They'll need you, son, bad. Now, go home."

Face downcast, Joey swung Buck. As Jim kicked Cody into a lope, Joey rode up beside him. "Jim, you'll have to shoot me, if you want to stop me."

Eyes set, Jim responded, "Son, If I have to, I'll rope and tie you, and haul you back home. But, then those killers'll get away, for sure."  "Jim, then do what you have to." Joey pushed his horse ahead.  "Joey, hold up a sec." Jim pulled Cody next to Buck, reaching out, grabbing the buckskin's reins, pulling the animal to a halt. Looking into the boy's eyes, Jim could see himself, when he learned his Texas Ranger father had been ambushed and killed by a traitorous "friend".  Jim knew Joey had to join him.  "Joey, listen: I know how you're feelin'. Now, I'll let you come along. but you MUST listen to my every word. Son, can I count on you to do that?"

Joey sighed, then responded, "Yes, Jim; you have my word."  "Then, let's get goin'."

(End of Chapter 21)

Chapter 22

At the site of the ambush, Jim backtracked, and was able to find the spot where the drygulchers had lain in wait. "Looks like there was three of 'em Joey", he told the youth. "That's how they were able to get both your Dad and my pard. Now, let's see if we can follow 'em. With any luck, they had to hole up last night, in that storm."

As Jim had hoped, the ground had still been soft as the owl hoots rode, then froze somewhat, holding hoof prints, some still with snow in the depressions.  For several miles, the trail headed almost due north, then swung gradually back around. "Joey, we'll rest the hosses here, a few minutes."  They had arrived in a hollow where the killers had taken shelter from the storm. Jim--knowing they were gaining on the band, yet with the trail becoming fainter--wanted to think for a few moments. Shortly, he swung back into saddle, still puzzled by the change in direction.

After a couple of miles, however, the killers' objective became horribly clear. Jim turned to the teenager siding him. "Joey, tell me if I'm right: those skunks are headed for your ranch."

Fear mixed with anger in his eyes, Joey looked straight at Jim.  "Jim, you're right."  "Joey, let's get there, QUICK!! But, follow my lead."  The outlaws were headed for the Lazy KC, with no one to defend Joan and Molly from them, except for a Parson and his wife.  "Jim, careful...but, we'll be with you." Again, Jim's dad's voice rang in his head. Approaching the ranch, Jim could see that he and Joey had arrived in time, for the outlaws, three of them, were just reining up at the front porch.

Jim leaped from Cody, pulling his Winchester, diving belly-flat on the open ground. As he did, he gave a terrific shout. "Parson, BAR THE DOOR...and get under cover, with the ladies." At the same time, he let a Winchester slug fly over the leader's head, smashing into the house wall. Joey had rolled off Buck at Jim' orders, finding a little cover behind a haystack.  "TEXAS RANGERS!! You're under arrest!!" The response to Jim's cry was a hail of lead, as the three outlaws, diving for cover, fired at the Ranger and Joey.

Jim's second Winchester shot took one of the outlaws in the right shoulder, shattering it. The man spun and fell, howling in pain.  "Joey, NO!!!" Jim shouted, as the young Casey, bent on avenging his father's death, left the cover of the haystack, coming to one knee. The youth fired, then jerked to the ground. The slug from his carbine connected, and the second outlaw stood swaying on his feet, then fell backwards, Joey's bullet in his chest.

As Joey fell, Jim fired again, catching the last killer in the belly. The man staggered, but straightened, firing at Jim, just missing. Another slug from Jim hit the man, just above the belt buckle, but he refused to go down, jackknifing momentarily, then straightening, again trying to raise his Colt.  Jim fired once more, this slug slamming into the killer's stomach. He fell back against his horse, then, knees buckling, slid slowly to the mud, facedown in a puddle.

Jim raced over to Joey, who was regaining his feet.  The boy had a bullet slash across his ribs.  "Joey, you OK?"  "Yeah, Jim, I think so." The boy was shaken, but would be fine.  "Let's see who these galoots were." "Parson, Ladies, it's safe, now," Jim shouted, as he strode up to the wounded outlaws. Yanking the man to his feet, none too gently, Jim snarled.  "Okay, Mister: you're gonna tell me everything I want to know." For emphasis, Jim hit the wounded man on his shattered shoulder, then buried his Colt's barrel in the outlaw's belly. "If you don't, fresh air'll irrigate your middle."

As Jim dragged the man toward the house, he checked the two killers lying dead in the yard, confirming they had pulled their last ambush.

(End of Chapter 22)

Chapter 23, Part 1

Parson Harper appeared at the ranch house door. "You and the ladies all right, Parson?"  Jim inquired.  "We're fine, Jim.  What happened?"  "Don't know, Parson, but I'm gonna find out, right quick." Jim was holding the wounded man by his left arm, his Colt still digging in the killer's ribs. "Parson, take Joey in the house. He's got a bullet scratch. Make sure he's Okay. I'm takin' this hombre to the barn, and--if he won't talk--what's about to happen won't be pretty."

As the parson took Joey into the house, Jim dragged his prisoner to the barn.  "All right, Mister, what's your name, and what's this all about?" Jim--thinking about the family that had lost its father, and his partner lying at Doctor Rosner's, fighting for his life, a bullet hole in his back--rammed his pistol deep into the killer's belly for emphasis, once again.

Thoroughly shaken, the outlaw wanted no part of the tall Ranger's wrath. "Mister, I'm Pat Conlan, and my pards were Jack Boone and Jim Farrell."  "Who were you workin' for, and why were you here?"  "Don't know who the big boss is. We hired on at the TR ranch, outside of Floydada.  Worked for Max Teague, there. He gets his orders from somewhere further north. Messenger brings 'em."  "Why'd you drygulch my partner, and kill Mack Casey?"  "Teague's boss wants all the ranches from Amarillo down to here, from what I've heard. Just a story, though. We were ordered to take over the KC, for a regional headquarters. Then, we'd work over to the other ranches round here."

Jim pulled Conlan to his feet. "Okay , Mister, I'm gonna patch you up, and take you to the sheriff in Lubbock."

(End of Chapter 23, Part 1)

Chapter 23, Part 2

Jim took Pat Conlan into the ranch house. He noted that the other two drygulchers' bodies had been covered with blankets by someone, most likely Parson Harper.  "Parson, give me a hand, if you would." The preacher had met Jim at the door. "I'm gonna patch this hombre up, and take him to jail in Lubbock." Jim did not want to ask Joan Casey--despite her excellent nursing capabilities--to help treat the killer of her husband, the man who had made her a young widow.  "Certainly, Jim...but why Lubbock; why not here in Post?"  "Parson, your sheriff didn't want to help me find Mack's killers. I don't trust him. 'Sides, I know the sheriff in Lubbock. I know Conlan here won't leave Lubbock until his trial."

As they worked on the outlaw, Jim inquired as to the Casey family. Ester Harper had joined her husband and the Ranger, assisting them. Conlan had passed out as Jim dug the bullet out of his shattered shoulder.  "Jim," she answered for her husband. "I don't think Molly's quite comprehended what's happened, yet. She's crying, a lot, but her Mom's with her. Joan is holding up. She's a strong woman. I'm worried about young Joey, though...He's just staring out the window in his room, won't let anyone even look at his wound."

Jim stood up with a grunt, as he finished tying the bandage around Conlan's shoulder. "Mrs. Harper, if you can help your husband finish here, I'll go talk to Joey. I'm sure I know what's troubling him. Keep an eye on my prisoner for me."

Jim found Joey as Mrs. Harper said. He called the boy, gently.  Joey slowly turned to face the Ranger, eyes dull. Jim had brought bandages and medicine into the room with him.  "Joey, please, take off that shirt. Mrs. Harper tells me you wouldn't let her or your Mom check your side. Joey, it's gotta be treated."

Without a word, the youngster complied. "Joe, that'll be all right." The boy had a nasty slash across his left ribs. Jim had purposely used "Joe" rather than "Joey".

As Jim worked on the teen, he spoke steadily but gently. "Joe, I know how you're feelin'. Like I told you on the trail, my Dad was ambushed, too...and I had to track down his killer, the man he thought was a friend. I know how hard this is on you. Plus, killin' a man, like you just did, is never easy. That's why I wanted you to not go with me. But, like I had to find my Dad's killers, I know you had to find your Dad's.  Joe, don't fall for any of that stuff about a man has to be tough, that he can't cry. Now, Joe, I'm gonna tell you somethin', that only your Mom and Dad knew, and now the parson and his wife. You've gotta keep it a secret: Joe, My pard and I are Texas Rangers, here to put a stop to this range war.  "Now, Joe, I've cried, plenty of times, and so has my pard. Our Dads did, too. Joe, holdin' your feelin's in is no good for anyone. Son, you're hurtin', bad. I know it, and you know it. Now, Joe, you're the man of the family, and you need to be there for your Mom and sister. But, Joe, you also need to heal, for yourself.  That'll take time."

Jim straightened up. "There, that's done." He had wrapped bandages around the boy's middle.

As Jim stood up, Joey Casey collapsed against him, sobbing violently.  "It's Okay, Joe, let it out." Jim held the boy, supporting him.

Finally, Joey's sobs diminished, and he backed away from the Ranger.  "Ready to go back to your Mom, Son?"  "Yes, Jim...I am."

Joey went into the living room, hugging his mother. "Parson, Mrs. Harper, Joe'll be fine. And please, call him Joe, not Joey. Now, I'm gonna start for Lubbock. Be back tomorrow night, late."  "Fine, Jim. Mrs. Casey has asked the funeral be delayed until you return. We'll have it day after tomorrow, at the church, at 10:00. Mack's to be buried here, on the Lazy KC."

A few minute later, Jim was headed north with his prisoner.

(End of chapter 23, Part 2)

Chapter 24

Jim had left instructions with Parson Harper and his wife before he left. "Parson, Mrs. Harper, I know this will be difficult, but can you find two or three men you can absolutely trust, to help you get the bodies of those two drygulchers buried, without anyone in town knowin'?  It's important." "Jim, I think it would be best if Joey--I mean Joe--could help me, and we'll bury them quietly. Do you think he could?"  "I'm sure of it, Parson. I gave him their names, too, so you can say a prayer for their souls."  "Consider it done then, Jim."

Very late that night, Jim rode into Lubbock, dragging Sheriff Hank Stoddard out of his bunk.  "Jim Griffin, what brings you by here?" The lawman pumped Jim's hand, warmly.  "Prisoner for you, Hank. His name's Pat Conlan. He's under arrest for murder and attempted murder. He and his pals ambushed my pard, Bobby Walker, and killed Mack Casey, a rancher down near Post. Couldn't trust the sheriff in Post, so he's your guest."

Jim spent a good part of the early morning in conversation with the sheriff. Stoddard had few clues as to the range war developing in the Panhandle. Next to Amarillo, Lubbock was the largest community in the Panhandle, and the owl hoots had been careful to confine their activities out of the sheriff’s jurisdiction. Holding Hank Stoddard to secrecy, Jim left the next morning, arriving back in Post late that night. It being too late to check on his partner, Jim went straight to the Lazy KC, bunking in the hayloft so as not to disturb the family. He did note several horses and wagons in the barnyard.  Obviously, the news of Mack's death had reached the neighbors, and they were offering their support.

The next morning, Jim, still maintaining the appearance of a drifting cowhand, who had been helped by the Casey’s, went into Post early. He conferred with the Harpers, confirming that no one in Post knew the drygulchers had been killed or captured. His next stop was Doctor Rosner's office.

Jim was pleasantly surprised to find Bobby awake, chomping at the bit to get up and out. Doctor Rosner wisely stated, "Few more days yet, Ranger."  "Jim, how'd you ever find us?" Bobby had been informed by the physician of Mack Casey's death, and of his own rescue. Jim had filled in the details of the chase, fight at the Lazy KC, and the results.  "Bobby, I take no credit. Your Dad--and mine--led me to you. Couldn't sleep the night you were gunned down.  My Dad, and Cord, somehow, kept tellin' me you were in trouble. Then, Cord's spirit led me to you. And, when young Joe and I were catchin' up to those hombres, my Dad kept talkin' to me."

Bobby was somber, contemplating Jim's words. More than once, he had felt his stepdad, Cordell Walker, watching over him, never mentioning it to anyone, not even Jim. Now--with his partner's story--he knew he and Jim had guardian angels, their late Texas Ranger Dads.

Mack Casey's funeral was held that morning. Jim was in attendance, along with Doctor Rosner. Bobby was still confined to bed, however, as Mack's body was removed from the part of the physician's office that served as the town undertaking parlor, Bobby stood in his room window, saluting, as the funeral procession passed by. The little church was filled to overflowing. The simple Baptist service was moving, the hymns glorious.

Later, at the Lazy KC, Mack Casey was buried, near a bend of the river. Parson Harper's final prayer over the rancher's coffin was the 23rd Psalm. Then, as the choir sang "Rock of Ages", Mack Casey was lowered into his final resting place. Joan Casey, sobbing, kissed the coffin, along with Molly, hers and Mack's nine-year-old daughter. Joe, their son, hands trembling, placed Mack's favorite Stetson on the coffin, tears forming a trail down his cheeks.

(End of Chapter 24)


Chapters 25 to Conclusion

While Bobby finished recuperating from the wound in his back, Jim spent the days at the Lazy KC.

 "Joan, I won't be able to stay, much longer." Jim had turned up a few more clues. "I hate to ask this, so soon, but do you know what your plans will be?"

 "Jim, one thing I do know, I won't give up the Lazy KC. Joe's old enough to do most of the work, and it'd kill him, and Molly, if we left. I've got a brother down San Angelo way. Both of the kids adore him, and he's been workin' as a cowhand down there. I've wired

him, and he's agreed to come up, help us out."

 "Joan, that's great. I know it can never be the same without Mack, but I'm happy you'll be holdin' on to the ranch."

 Later that day, Jim found Joe, kneeling by Mack's grave. Jim stood silently for awhile, until the youngster rose, turning to the Ranger.

 "Jim, I miss my Dad, so much." Jim put an arm around Joe's shoulders.

 "Joe, you always will." Tears were forming in the tough Ranger's eyes, now, as he thought about his father. "I still miss my Dad, somethin' fierce. But, Joe, whatever you do, work and fight for this ranch. Your Dad would want that. And, please, for your Mom's sake, help your uncle when he gets here."

 "Jim, that I will do. Uncle Ted's a great guy. We'll be OK. He'll never be Dad, though."

 "No, Joe, he never will. I'll miss Mack, too. Don't forget; he and your Mom saved my life. Your family will always be a part of me, no matter where I go.  Now, let's get back to the house. Your Mom's waitin' supper on you."

 Slowly, the tall Ranger, overcome with memories of his father, and the young teenager, forced into manhood by the killing of his father, headed back to the house. (end of Chapter 25)

Jim had taken leave of the Casey’s. Joan's brother Ted was due in a few days, and Bobby had been released by Dr. Rosner. The trouble in the Panhandle had started escalating, and the Rangers had to ride.

 Jim pulled Cody up in front of the livery stable. He was going to retrieve Sunny, and then pick up his partner at the physician's.

 After saddling and bridling Sunny, Jim led the horse out of the stable. As he started to untie Cody, ready to head for the doctor's office, he became aware of two men heading toward him. One was Sheriff Chuck Hill of Post. At first, Jim didn't recognize the other,

until the man yelled out, "That's one of 'em, Sheriff! That's one of the hombres that killed my deputies!" It was Sheriff Tom Harkness, of Justiceburg.

Two other men, whom Jim recognized as the deputies from Justiceburg the Rangers had escaped previously, were headed toward Doctor Rosner's office. Another man, rifle in hand, appeared in the alley on the other side of the livery, ready to put a slug in Jim's back.  Every nerve, every instinct in Jim's body screamed they had no intention of taking the Rangers alive, as the deputies, hearing Harkness shout, turned and faced Jim, hands hovering over the butts of their Colts.

 The Ranger and the men faced each other, for a tense moment. As the two deputies yanked their Colts, Jim, desperately, dove to the ground, twisting around, pulling both his Colts. As their slugs flew through the space where he'd been, Jim sent a bullet into the

rifleman behind him. The man screamed, his rifle flying out of his hands, as Jim's slug tore through his heart.

Rolling quickly, Jim fired his right-hand gun, his slug tearing into Tom Harkness's gut. The lawman staggered, then fell sideways onto the wooden sidewalk, writhing. Jim's slug from his left-hand Colt broke one deputy's leg, sending the man crashing down.

However, Jim had no chance to take out all four of his enemies. He braced himself for the impact of hot lead, as the fourth deputy pulled trigger.

Suddenly, the man jerked sideways, as a bullet tore through his side, ripping into his lungs. As he fell to the street, Jim, shocked, still expecting the smashing of lead through his chest, looked in the direction of the shot. In the window of the church parsonage stood Parson Anson Harper, smoking pistol in his hand.

 "Jim, get your partner and get out of here!!" the parson was yelling.

Rushing to comply, Jim scrambled to his feet, dashing to Doctor Rosner's office. He burst through the door, to find the Post Sheriff, Chuck Hill, holding a gun on Bobby. The lawman had run into the office as soon as the shooting started.

 "No, you don't!!" Jim growled. Before Hill could react, he flung himself headlong across the room at the sheriff. His flying tackle sent the man to the floor, and one punch to the jaw took all the fight out of him.

 "Bobby, let's get goin'...now!!" Jim yelled.

 "Great way to leave town quietly, Pard", Bobby wisecracked.

 "Never mind that now; let's get movin.'"

 Dashing for their horses, leaping into saddles, their reputations as outlaws and killers now solidly cemented, the two young Rangers galloped out of Post, racing for their lives. (end of Chapter 26)

  With their head start and superior mounts, the two Rangers were able to outdistance their pursuers. Jim had hit Chuck Hill, the sheriff, hard enough to break the man's jaw, so his only deputy had to organize a posse. By then, the Rangers were long gone.

 They found a sheltered glade, by a small spring. "Bobby, better pull up here, and rest. We'll be safer travellin' by night."

 Bobby finally had a chance to ask his partner what was going on, back in Post.

 "Bobby, Tom Harkness from Justiceburg showed up. You say you think that

so-called sheriff has a wanted dodger on his head?"

"I'm sure of it, Jim...just can't recall what for."

 "Anyway, Pard, he had three men with him; one was ready to plug me in the back, in case the others missed. I knew they were out to kill both of us. If I'd told 'em we were Rangers, I think they would've pulled their irons even quicker. There was no way I could get all four of 'em, plus Hill, Post's sheriff. Bobby, you remember that sayin' about the Lord works  in mysterious ways?"

  "Yeah, Jim, sure do."

  "Well, he did this morning, that's for sure. I'd gotten Harkness and one of his deputies plumb center, broke one's leg. Last one had me lined up in his sights, though. He had me, for sure. Next thing I know, he's thrashin' in the dirt, with a slug through him. Parson Harper drilled him from the church parsonage, yelled at me to grab you and get out of there, quick. You know the rest."

 "Ok, Pard, What's next?" Bobby inquired. He was still somewhat weak from

the wound in his back.

"Rest here until dark. Then, Pard, we'll head for Lubbock. I want to check in with Hank Stoddard, and on our prisoner. I'll wire Austin, too, see if we can get any information on Harkness and this Max Teague. Then,  we'll head for Floydada. Oh, and one more thing..." Jim was grinning at his partner.

 "What's that, Jim?"

  "Don't ever kid me about bringin' my winter coat again."

  "Jim, learned my lesson on that one, for sure."

  Jim cooked a quick lunch, as Bobby rested. Then, stomachs full, both horses happily munching grass, the two Rangers stretched out, sleeping until sundown. (end of Chapter 27)

Sheriff Hank Stoddard had news for Jim and Bobby, when they checked in with the Lubbock officer.

"Hey, every lawman in Texas has been warned to look  out for you two. You're wanted for killin' at least three deputies, plus a sheriff. Rumors are you've killed a few others, too."

Jim had introduced his partner to Stoddard, whom Bobby had never met. "Hank, we want it that way, for now. We've got a lead on where to hook up with the hombres behind this range war." Jim continued. "Need a favor, though, Hank. Can you get a couple of wires

off  to Capt. McGuire for us?"

"Sure thing. You two stay hidden in the stable behind my office, until dark."

The answers to the wires were satisfactory. As Bobby recalled, Tom Harkness had been wanted for rustling and bribery. Well, he was one crooked lawman who'd never stand trial, having died from a Ranger bullet.  Jim and Bobby were headed toward Floydada. Short on supplies, they were forced to stop in the small town of Petersburg.

Bobby had gone into the general store, while Jim had headed for the blacksmith's, Cody having loosened a shoe. As Jim returned, Bobby emerging from the store, he spotted a man, wearing a silver star on silver circle, pulling a pistol, leveling it at his partner.

"Eddie Dolan, Texas Rangers. Raise 'em high, Mister.  You're under arrest." Jim watched as Bobby raised his hands over his head.

Dolan had made a mistake. He had looked around, not spotting Bobby's partner, and decided to arrest the man he did have in his sights. With Dolan concentrating on Bobby, Jim--hat pulled low—was able to walk up the sidewalk, to a position behind the Ranger. Pulling his Colt, Jim growled. "Not this time, Ranger, unless you want a .45 slug in your spine.  Now, drop it." The few spectators did not dare make a move.

"$$%%&&", cursed Dolan, dropping his pistol,  raising his hands. As he did, Jim strode up to him. "Sorry, Ranger." Jim's gun barrel smashed into the top of Dolan's skull, sending him sprawling senseless to the road.

Leaping to saddle, Colts blazing to discourage pursuit, Jim and Bobby raced out of Petersburg.

Later, Bobby remarked. "Wonder what another Ranger was doin' up here, anyway?"

"Don't know, Pard. Obvious, though, he hadn't gotten the word from Headquarters about us, that's for sure.  Hated to hit him, like that."

"Well, Jim one thing's for sure, though. Everyone'll be gunnin' for us, now."

"And, Pard, if that don't get us in with these owl hoots, nothin' will." (End of Chapter 28)

Bobby and Jim had drifted into Floydada, the town near where Marty Evans had died. They were in the Panhandle Saloon, looking to make contact with Max Teague or one of his men.

They had been at the bar, bottle of whiskey in front of them, when a tough-looking cowpuncher confronted them. He was sided by another rider, also a leather-tough veteran of the range.

Speaking straight at Jim, he challenged, "Mister, if your a friend of Max Teague's, you're not wanted in this town. Now get, or we'll ride you and your friend there out."

Leaning casually against the bar, voice carelessly insolent, Jim retorted, "Mister, you be careful how you talk to me. Now, my pard and I are here, and we're stayin'!" He  deliberately turned his back to the cowpoke.

A rough hand grabbed Jim by the shoulder, spinning him around, and a hard fist crashed into his jaw. The other cowpoke started for Bobby.

Jim took a punch to his middle, then, swinging with his right, drove his assailant back with a powerful uppercut. As the man staggered backwards, Jim's left hit him in the right eye. The cowpoke countered, and Jim's head twisted under the impact of a fist smashing

into his chin. As Jim staggered, the cowpoke grabbed a chair, raising it high, intending to smash Jim to the floor with it. Jim ducked, as the chair flew through the air, smashing into the bar. With his opponent off-balance, Jim drove a shoulder into the man's

mid-section, knocking him back against the wall.

Totally enraged, Jim's opponent shot back off the wall, catching Jim in the gut with two quick lefts and rights. As Jim started to fold, struggling to get air into his heaving lungs, the cowpoke let go with a mighty roundhouse right. Jim was able to just slide off the blow, taking a glancing shot to his shoulder.  Then, Jim advanced, backing his opponent up with vicious lefts and rights. With a final swing, he knocked the man though the batwing doors, sprawling into the street.

Jim rushed through the doors, heading toward the downed cowpuncher. The man had gotten to his knees, and, as Jim reached him, rammed his skull into the Ranger's groin. With a howl of agony, Jim went down. As the cowpuncher rose to his feet, Jim--fighting off the pain, and focusing through the spots dancing before his eyes--swung his legs, tripping his opponent. Both men rolled over and over in the street, flailing and punching.

Finally, with Jim on top, he was able to grab his opponent's shirtfront, and finish him off, smashing the man's nose, knocking him out with a left to the jaw. Jim rose, staggering and gasping, heading back toward the Panhandle.

Bobby also had his hands full. He ducked his opponent's first punch, but was hit on the back of the neck, sending him sprawling on his face. The Ranger quickly rolled over, and as his attacker tried for him, brought up his heavy boots into the man's belly.  Bobby jumped to his feet, as the cowpoke rolled sideways. He staggered the man with a right, then was staggered himself, as a left took Bobby square on his chin. The blow sent Bobby crashing with his back against the bar, sharp needles of pain shooting through his still partially-healed wound.

As he stood there for a moment, paralyzed by the spasms, his opponent took advantage, sending several hard punches into Bobby's belly. Bobby, knowing he was in trouble, starting to jackknife under the blows; he purposely fell forward, cutting the cowpoke's legs out from under him. Bobby grabbed the man's left leg, twisting hard. The cowpoke fell on his back with a crash, all air knocked out of him. A quick left from the Ranger left him sleeping on the floor.

Jim staggered back into the Panhandle, just as Bobby stood back up, retrieving his  Stetson, placing it on his head.

"Pard, we'd better get out of here", Bobby started.  He was interrupted by a voice from a corner table.

"Men, don't leave. I hear you're lookin' for Max Teague. Well, you've found him." (end of Chapter 29)

Jim and Bobby turned in the direction of the voice. The man who had spoken was extremely good-looking, tall, dark, with clear brown eyes, and crisp brown hair, under a cream-colored Stetson. Three other men were at the table with him.

Carefully, the two Rangers approached the table. "You Max Teague?" Jim inquired.

Just then, a deputy burst through the door, shotgun in hand. "Who's responsible for this?" he shouted, indicating the cowpoke Bobby had downed, still lying on the floor, unmoving. The man Jim had downed was still sprawled in the street.

"Bob, get lost!" Teague growled. "These two hombres were mindin' their own business. Dakota Smith and Mike Tolliver jumped 'em. And get that Tolliver out of here, will you?

"Sure thing, Mr. Teague." Lowering the scattergun, the deputy hauled the unconscious Tolliver out by his ankles. Obviously, the tall man controlled the town.

Casually, Teague addressed Jim and Bobby. "I was gettin' ready to throw those two out of here, anyway.

Now, gentlemen, sit down, have a drink. I'm interested in why you were looking for me."

Jim, rubbing his jaw, blood running from a crushed lower lip, looked at this partner. Bobby had a bloody nose, and a swelling along his jaw. "Give us a moment to clean up, Teague. Then, we'll join you."

"Certainly. Tell Ramon out back to give you all the soap, hot water, and towels you'll need."

After cleaning up, washing their cuts and bruises as best they could, the two Rangers rejoined Max Teague and his men. (end of Chapter 30, Part 1)

Bobby had to let Jim do most of the talking, as he had been in Doctor Rosner's office, recuperating, when Jim took on the three dry-gulchers at the Lazy KC.

"Now, gentlemen, make yourselves comfortable. Drinks, cigars?" Max Teague was obviously a cultured, well-spoken man.

"Whiskey's fine", Jim responded. "No smokes, though."

"Suit yourselves", Teague replied, leaning back slightly, blowing a ring of blue smoke from a fine Cuban cigar. "Now, who are you, and why do you wish to see me?"

"I'm Jim Barton, and this is my partner, Bob Cummings. We ran into Jim Farrel, Jack Boone, and Pat Conlan down Post way. They said to look you up; thought you could use a couple of more tough hands...said you were havin' some trouble up here. Guess they

were right, from the reception we got."

"Possibly", Teague replied, noncommittally. "Did those men give you any message for me?"

"Couldn't", Jim replied. Teague stiffened visibly.  Bobby and Jim did not fail to notice his men's hands lowering to their pistols. "Farrel and Boone are dead. Last I saw of Conlan, he was headed out of town, bullet in his shoulder, with a Ranger leadin' his hoss."

Gratingly, Teague almost whispered, "Do you know what happened?"

"Yup, they tried to drygulch a rancher, Mack Casey.  He was waitin' for 'em, along with a couple of Rangers. We had left 'em, headed this way, when we heard the shootin'. Too late to help, though, although one of those blasted Rangers won't ever ride again.

He's got two of my slugs in his guts!!!! Casey's dead, too. His ranch is there for the taking, if you want."  Jim saw this statement hit the mark, from the expression in Teague's eyes.

Jim continued. "We couldn't hang around to try and help Conlan. See, I'd had a slight disagreement with a deputy in Justiceburg. Had to shoot him, and my pard there had to down another deputy."

One of Teague's men interrupted, then. "You the two hombres who came into town today on a Paint and a Bay?"

"Miles, please. let the man finish." To Jim, Teague said, "Forgive Miles, here- he is a bit curious at times."

"No harm done, Teague. And yes, we are. I'm sure Miles has more to say on that."

Miles Pogue was bursting. "Teague, I heard about these two jaspers. The one callin' himself Cummings was shot in the back, right?"

Bobby muttered, "Right."

Pogue continued. "Teague, that no-good double-crosser Tom Harkness brought three men up from Justiceburg to Post, what I hear tell. Had this Jim hombre here surrounded. He downed 'em all, got his pard out of the doc's and hightailed it. They're both muy malo

hombres. Mebbe we COULD use 'em."

Teague rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. "We could indeed use a couple more top gunmen. On the other hand, Barton, you say you gut-shot a Texas Ranger?"  That could be bad."

Jim spoke up forcefully. "Teague, you're down three men, at least. Now, all Bob and I are askin' is a chance. If you don't want us, no hard feelin's. We'll just drift on North."

Teague thought a moment, then: "Barton, Cummings, these other men are Clay Hollings and Steve Holden. We'll give you two a try. My boss wants all the nesters cleared out of the Panhandle."

Jim interrupted, "Teague, thought you were the boss. I want to sign on with him."

Teague, slightly irritated, replied, "I handle all personnel matters for our organization. If things work out, you may, and I emphasize MAY, get to meet him. For now, though, have another drink. We'll get your cayuses, and take you to the TR Ranch. That's out

headquarters. You'll be bunking there."

Max Teague raised his glass, in a toast. "To our new partnership." As he did so, Bobby Cahill Walker thought to himself, "What'd Jim just get us into?"

(end of Chapter 30, Part 2)

Late that night, the two Rangers were taken to the TR Ranch, headquarters of Max Teague. They knew they would be watched, carefully, until they had proven

themselves as members of the organization.

While they were putting up their horses, Bobby finally had a chance to speak to Jim, alone. "Griffin, you crazy?"

"What?"

You're gonna get us killed with that story you cooked up!" Bobby snorted. "Last time you saw Conlan, he was headed out of town, a Ranger leadin' him!!!!"

"Bobby, last time I saw Conlan, he WAS headed out of town, with a Ranger leadin' him. They don't have to know I was the Ranger, and we finished our trip at the Lubbock calaboose."

"What about the Casey’s? Suppose these hombres show up there?"

"No problem. Told the Casey’s exactly what to say. The parson and his wife, also. If these skunks show up there, the Casey’s will just move out temporarily. What's eatin' you, Pard? We've been undercover before."

"Yeah, but never with a story like this one, Jim. Too much at stake, too much to go wrong. But, we're here, so we'll get to the bottom of this."

Over chuck, and later, playing cards, the Rangers were introduced to several other gang members. Steve Holded questioned Jim, carefully. "You downed a Ranger, eh?"

"Sure did, Steve. Should've seen the look on his face, when my first slug hit him. Crazy fool kept comin', though. Had to ventilate him again. Even a Ranger can't handle a gut full of lead."

"Don't mean to doubt you, mister, but can you prove it?" Holden was suspicious.

Jim half-rose out of his chair, snarling. "You callin' me a liar, Holden?"  Holden started to pull his gun, until he found himself staring into the muzzle of Jim's Colt. "Sit down, Holden, or you'll get your guts ventilated, too, just like that Ranger." 

As Holden, trembling slightly, slumped back in his chair, Jim growled. "You want proof...here it is!" Reaching into his shirt pocket with a flourish, he pulled out his Ranger star. "Ripped this badge right off his shirt; any more questions?"

In the corner, Bobby cringed. His younger partner was getting them in deeper and deeper.

Clay Hollings arose, strode over to Jim, and slapped the tall Ranger on the back.  Hollings was half-drunk, and in the mood to brag. "Jim, proud to have you with us. The other men know, so now I'm gonna tell you. You're not the only muy malo hombre around here. I downed a Ranger, too." Hollings pulled out a Ranger star, tossing it on the table in front of Jim. It was the badge that had been pinned on Marty Evarts' shirt.

(end of Chapter 31)

Max Teague came into the bunkhouse the next morning.

He sent a messenger to the headquarters of his organization.

For two days, the outlaw band hung around the TR Ranch. Jim and Bobby managed to pick up  a few clues. Teague himself was fairly voluble about the organization and its goals.

"We're going to take this entire range for our group. No nesters, no small ranchers, just our organization. We'll control the entire beef market for North Texas.  Then, we'll control the shipping, and make our own prices."  Several men, just like Mack Casey, had

already died under the guns of the organization. Bobby, as did Jim, knew they would have to work quickly, to find the powers behind Max Teague, and bring them down.

The third day, the messenger returned. Teague summoned Jim and Bobby into his office. "Barton, you wanted to meet the boss. Well, you and your pard are gonna get your chance. He wants to meet you. Seems he's really impressed about you killin' Harkness. You see, Harkness was working for us, until he double-crossed us, and tried to get out on his own. Now, get your hosses."

Jim and Bobby, accompanied by Teague, Pogue, and Hollings, were soon on the trail North.

"Where we headed, Teague?"  Bobby questioned.

"Tulia, in Swisher County."

Bobby was curious. "How'd that county get its name, anyway? Strange name for a Texas County."

Jim broke in. "Pard, I can tell you; lots of flies up there, and the hosses and cows are always SWISHIN' their tails at 'em." He chuckled at his own joke.

Bobby, groaning with the rest of the group, started to retort, "Jim, you're as bad as your dad was," but stopped just in time, realizing it could be a fatal slip.

Jim started singing. "'When you SWISH upon a star...' G'wan, Bob, make a SWISH"

Teague put a halt to that. "Quiet...few lawmen still snoopin' around here. Heard a Ranger name of Dolan was in the area."

Jim and Bobby exchanged knowing glances. Dolan was the Ranger Jim had knocked out, back in Petersburg. (end of Chapter 32, Part 1)

Finally, the group reined up in at a ranch on the outskirts of Tulia, entering under an arched gate indicating the place was the "Triple 8."

"Turn out your broncs, then, Steve, Miles, Clay, settle yourselves in the bunkhouse. Barton, Cummings, you'll both come with me."

Shortly, the two Rangers were escorted into a large, rambling log ranch house. It was comfortably furnished, and a lovely woman retreated into a hallway as they entered.

"In here", Teague ordered, cordially, opening the door to a large office.

The man behind the desk rose, greeting Teague. "Max, good to see you. These are the two new men?"

"Yes, sir, this is Jim Barton, and his partner, Bob Cummings. Jim, Bob, this is Cal Rhodes."

Rhodes shook the Rangers' hands, warmly, then pushed a box of cigars and a decanter of sherry across the desk toward them. "Gentlemen, have a drink, and a smoke." His blue eyes, under sandy hair, were sparkling with delight. He was a powerful individual,

both physically and in manner, obviously a long-time cattleman.

"Drink, but no thank you on the cigars", Jim replied.

He had caught some warning, looking at his partner. Something was bothering Bobby. Jim poured two glasses of sherry for himself and his partner. Taking a sip, he remarked, "Fine liquor, Mister Rhodes."

 “Thank you, Barton. Now, Max tells me you're the man who took care of our friend Tom Harkness."

"Yes, sir, that is true...I had no choice, though."

"Barton, you did us a favor, I'm happy to say."

Rhodes kept questioning Jim, finding his answers satisfactory. Bobby was, for the most part, silent, for he knew, despite Jim's confidence, that he and his partner were in deep trouble. With Teague to his back, though, Bobby had no chance to make any move. "Never make it past the gate, anyway". he thought to himself, miserably. "Have to hope for some kind of a break."

Finally, Cal Rhodes arose from his chair, dismissing the pair. As they turned to go; however, he called out, "One moment, gentlemen, please." The Rangers turned, to find Rhodes with a Colt in his hand, leveled at Bobby's chest.

Instinctively, Bobby's hand went to his Colt, then stopped short. He was already covered. Jim made a desperate grab for his pistol, but Max Teague smashed him down, clubbing him viciously with the barrel of his Colt.

Bobby raised his hands, as Rhodes ordered Teague, "Get his guns, Max." As Teague removed the Colts from Bobby's holster, Rhodes, with an oily smoothness, smiled and said, "Good to see you again, RANGER Walker." Seeing the shocked expression on Max Teague's face, Rhodes continued, You see, Max, Ranger Walker here and I are old friends. I'll assume that gentleman on the floor is also a Texas Ranger."

Rhodes continued. "Max, get a couple of the boys and drag that other hombre out of here. Lock him and his partner in the smokehouse. Oh, and call Maria. I'll need that blood wiped up." Jim was bleeding from the slash on his scalp.

A few moments later, Bobby was led into the smokehouse, his unconscious partner tossed on the floor with him. The bolt slid into place, locking in the captives. (end of Chapter 32)

Bobby scrambled over to his partner, as he heard the bolt on the smokehouse door slide into place. Jim lay face down, unmoving. Bobby gently rolled his partner onto his back, in as comfortable a position as possible. He shook Jim, gently, then, gently, slapped

his face, receiving no response. "Wish I had some water", Bobby muttered to himself. "Maybe that'd bring him around." He did tear a strip from his shirttail, wrapping it around Jim's head as a crude bandage, hoping to stop the bleeding. 

This completed, Bobby--eyes adjusting to the dim light in the gloomy room--checked the Rangers' surroundings. The smokehouse made an excellent prison. The only light showing was that from the hole in the roof, where the smoke escaped, and a little sliver

from under the door.

By Bobby's best estimate, they had been in the smokehouse for about four hours, when Jim finally stirred, moaning. He struggled to sit up, left hand to the side of his head.

"Jim, you all right?"

Jim looked at his partner with dull eyes. "Yeah, Bobby, I'm just FINE!!! How d'ya think I'm feelin'?"

"Sorry, Jim, stupid question. Let me check that cut for you."

Jim smiled, wanly. "It's OK, Pard. Didn't mean to jump on ya. What the heck happened, anyway? I thought I had these hombres buffaloed."

"OWWWW!!" Jim yelped, as Bobby, as gently as possible, pulled the ragged piece of cloth away from Jim' s scalp. "Jim, bleedin's stopped, anyway. You probably would've fooled 'em. You can tell some whoppers. But, Pard, when I first joined the Rangers,

and rode with Cord, we arrested Cal Rhodes. He was rustlin', down around Abilene and Sweetwater. Minute we walked in, I knew they had us. Of all the luck."

"Uunnnhhhh..."

"Jim, you feelin' worse?"

"Nah, Bobby, just a little dizzy, and have one monster of a headache. Really could use some water. Then, how about we see if we can break out of here?"

"Sorry, Jim, on both counts. We've got no water, and there's no way out of here. Door's solid, and there's no windows."

Jim settled back, with a groan. "Well, Pard, then I might as well get some shut-eye. You, too."

From the dimming light overhead, Bobby surmised that evening was coming. (end of Chapter 33)

The next day, the bright Texas sun beat mercilessly down on the Rangers' prison. Without water, they were suffering horribly. Sweat poured from their bodies,

soaking their shirts, plastering them to their skin.

Their bandannas quickly became too sopped to even wipe their brows. Jim was suffering doubly, due to the blow to his head he'd received. His blonde hair was matted to his scalp, crusted with dried blood.

About three that afternoon, the door to the smokehouse opened, revealing Cal Rhodes and Max Teague. Outside the door, Bobby observed two cowboys, obviously acting as guards. He moaned inwardly, realizing that, even if he and Jim were able to break

through the heavy plank door, Rhodes and Teague were taking no chances, and he and Jim would be gunned down before they got five feet out of their prison.

Rhodes grinned, evilly. "Walker, I know your name. Knew we'd meet up again someday. This time, you won't walk away. "Now", indicating Jim, "who's your partner,

here?"

"Go to H@@@!"  Bobby snapped.

Max Teague stepped forward, then. "Ranger, is that any way to talk to the man who's brought you this?" He held out a full canteen.

"Take your water and  @$$%%$   **&&&  it!" Bobby snarled.

Teague turned to Jim. "How about you, Ranger?  At least, I assume you're a Ranger."

"Darn right I am, Teague. Name's Jim Griffin, and you'd better remember it, when I catch up to you. And I WILL catch up to you."

Angrily, Max Teague smashed a fist into the slash on Jim' s head.  Jim slumped sideways to the floor. Rhodes grabbed him by his hair, pulling him upright, roughly.

"Jim Griffin, huh? I remember hearin' about you. Thought you were dead."

"That was my Dad", Jim shot back. He had slid sideways, bracing his head up with his arm and elbow.  "I'm still alive, and I'm gonna save you for my pard, there."

"Well, Ranger, you won't be goin' anywhere. Would you mind tellin' me, though, what REALLY happened in Post?"

Jim glanced at Bobby, who shrugged. "Sure, Rhodes, won't do any harm. Your three BRAVE dry-gulchers shot Mack Casey and Bobby here in the back. Mack died. D'ya

know he had a wife and two kids? Nah, you wouldn't care about that, you skunk." Rhodes started to swing at Jim, then held back. "Anyway, Rhodes, I found Bobby and Mack. Then, I tracked down your hired guns.  Real men they were...found 'em tryin' to kill a woman, two kids, and a parson and his wife. One of 'em shot a sixteen-year old boy. I got 'em, and Conlan talked. That's how we found you."

"Thought you said Conlan was still alive."

"Last I saw him, he was. Of course, he did have my slug in him, and I left him on foot, twenty miles from nowhere. I'm sure the coyotes and buzzards made a good meal out of him."

Rhodes straightened up, eyes filled with hate for the two Rangers. He turned away from Jim, then swung back to him, a hard boot catching the tall Ranger under the chin. With a long sigh, Jim fell back to the floor.

Cal Rhodes turned back to Bobby. Two inches from the young Ranger's face, he snarled, "You two have delayed my plans, but not for long. By this time, two days from now, we'll have the men we need, and then, we'll take over this range. Oh, and don't think for a minute you two'll die quick. You're stayin' here until you go crazy from hunger and thirst. I want you both to die, slow."

Bobby made no reply, but, in a move that would have made his late stepdad, Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, proud, he snapped his head forward. Cal Rhodes screamed in pain, as the blood gushing from his smashed nose ran down his chin, soaking the front of

his clean white shirt. 

As he backed away, Max Teague advanced toward Bobby.

The Ranger was able to get in two good punches, one to Teague's gut, another to his jaw. Then, weakened from thirst and dehydration, Bobby slumped to the floor, as Teague kicked him in the belly, knocking the breath from his lungs. (end of Chapter 34)

Jim and Bobby, despite their excellent physical conditions, were weakening rapidly, tormented by the stifling heat of the smokehouse. To Bobby, it seemed even hotter than the Cherokee sweat lodge. They had endured another day in their windowless prison.

Horsemen had been heard arriving that day.

Finally, evening brought some relief, as the sun lowered. In addition, the evening sky had become clouded. Jim and Bobby had been discussing their families, Jim's new bride Nicole, Bobby his wife Jana and their son, Cordell. Despite their situation, both

Rangers felt, somehow, they would be reunited with their loved ones.

About eight o'clock, the sounds of a large group of riders, leaving the Triple 8, came to the Rangers' ears.

By Bobby's best guess, it was now around midnight. He knew there was at least one guard left outside their prison at all times. Jim had been sleeping for about an hour, restlessly. Finally, Bobby drifted off.

Jim suddenly awakened. In his dreams, he had heard the guard shouting. "No, No, you devil, get back! NO!!! Then a shot rang out, followed by a "NO! NOOO!!!!  AUUUGHH!!!" There was a sodden thump, then, Jim had heard the sound of someone working to open the bolt on the door to the Rangers' prison.

Jim, wide awake from his dream, looked in Bobby's direction. His partner was sitting bolt upright, staring at the door.

"Bobby..." Jim knew now he wasn't dreaming.

"Sssshhh, Jim", Bobby cautioned.

Jim was scrambling to his feet, straining to hear.  There it was again...the sound of someone trying to slide the bolt.

Moments later, the door flew inward. Jim and Bobby stood in awe, momentarily stunned. Then, they were roused by the excited joyful whinnies of Jim's mount, Cody, head lowered, looking in the door for his human friend.

Jim and Bobby rushed out the door, Jim hugging his loyal bronc around the neck, burying his face in the gelding's soft hair. Lying on the ground, head crushed by an iron-shod hoof, was the owlhoot who had been left on guard, rifle by his side, Colt still in its

holster.

"Jim, how?"

"Dunno, Bobby..."; then, just one word came from Jim's lips: "DAD!!!!" As if in response, for just one moment, the clouds parted, and the full moon sent a

beam down, directly on Cody's shiny coat. (end of Chapter 35)

Jim was checking over Cody, finding blood running down his bay's left shoulder, where the horse had been shot by the cowboy guarding the smokehouse, in a vain attempt to keep the cayuse from reaching his human companion.

The smokehouse, fortunately for the Rangers, was a good distance from the rest of the buildings on the Triple 8. The distance had allowed enough time for Cody to lip open the door to the Rangers' prison, sliding the bolt with his teeth.

However, the few men left behind at the Triple 8 had heard the shot fired at Cody, and were now running toward the smokehouse. A shot rang out, and Jim spun sideways, a red streak appearing across his right cheek, as if by magic.

"Down, Jim, we're sittin' ducks here!" Bobby screamed. He threw himself flat on his belly, hugging the ground. Jim slapped Cody on the rump--sending his cayuse out of range--and hit the ground, as Bobby, crawling, reached the dead guard, pulling the man's

Colt out of its holster, tossing it to Jim. At the same time, he took the dead hombre's Winchester in his arms.

"Try to take 'em alive, Pard!" Jim yelled, hoping one of the outlaws could tell them where the horsemen they had heard leave the Triple 8 were headed. He aimed the borrowed Colt, but his shot, aimed at an outlaw's shoulder, took the man in the chest, knocking him back to the ground, dead.

Bobby levered the Winchester, and another outlaw stopped in his tracks, doubling over, screaming in agony, as the .30-.30 slug tore into his gut. Bobby's second slug took him in the left side, sending him spinning wildly, crashing face-down.

As Bobby fired again, a third man jerked violently backwards, as the rifle bullet tore through his cheek, burying itself deep in his brain.

There was only one outlaw left, aiming at Jim. The younger Ranger had emptied the dead guard's pistol. Bobby levered his rifle one more time, and the last outlaw, the rifle slug shattering his hip, sprawled to the ground.

Carefully, the two Rangers arose, checking the four men. Pointing the rifle at the one left alive, the one with the bullet in his hip, Bobby snarled, "Mister, you're gonna talk, and quick."  For emphasis, he levered the Winchester, aiming it at the outlaw's middle. As he did so, he turned to Jim. "Pard, better find us some water, now." (End of Chapter 36, Part 1)

Jim reached down, removing shells from the dead guard's cartridge belt, reloading the man's pistol.  Cody returned, nuzzling his friend's shoulder, whickering happily. Jim ran his hand down the horse's shoulder, relieved to find Cody had only been grazed.

As Jim headed toward the barn, looking for water, Cody followed him. Jim murmured to his bronc, gratefully, "Pal, guess you saved me and Bobby, for sure. When this is all over, there'll be lots of extra grain in your feed bin...Double on the peppermint sticks, too."

Cody tossed his head, snorting in agreement.

Meanwhile, Bobby was attempting to interrogate the surviving outlaw. "Mister, whatever your name is, you'd better talk, and fast, if you want to save your neck."

Groaning, the outlaw replied. "I'm Sandy Duncan... but, Ranger, I can't help you."

Grimly, Bobby pointed the Winchester at Duncan's head. "Duncan, talk, now."

"Ranger, I can't ...can't help you.  Only Rhodes, Teague, and a couple of others knew where they were headed. None of us left here to guard the ranch were told." Sweat was beading on Duncan's forehead, his breath becoming rapid and shallow. "'Sides, Ranger,

you got me, hard. I'm done for."

Bobby realized how much the red stain on the outlaw's jeans was spreading. The bullet that had struck Duncan's hip, shattering it, had obviously severed a major artery. Duncan had little time.

"Duncan, if you have any decency, before you cross the divide, tell me where Rhodes and Teague went."

"Ranger, I just don't .......unnnhhhh...."

Duncan was beyond hearing or speaking anything. (end of Chapter 36, Part 2)

Jim returned, to find Bobby turning from the dead Sandy Duncan. 

"Here, Pard." Jim passed Bobby a canteen full of cold water. The blonde Ranger gulped it, gratefully.

"Got more good news for you, too." Sunny was with Jim and Cody. "Your bronc was still in his stall, safe and sound. Cody managed to open his, somehow." Sunny was busily nibbling on Bobby's ear, overjoyed at being reunited with his friend. "And, Bobby, our saddle and all our gear's still in the barn. Here...." Jim reached onto Cody's back, taking down Bobby's gunbelt and Colts, handing them to his partner. As Jim had already done, Bobby buckled the belt around his hips. "Our Winchesters are even still in their sheaths,

pard." Glancing at the  still form of Duncan, Jim asked. "Get anything out of him?"

 "No, ###  $#%%%%$ it!" Bobby replied. "Not a thing. It's too dark to try and follow that gang, with these clouds. If it rains, we'll never find 'em."

Jim was silent, then, "Bobby, how about the house?  Maybe they left some papers or somethin' there."

"Jim, you could be right. Worth a try, anyway. Let's be careful though. Might still be a guard or two in the house."

Leading their horses back to the corral, guns drawn, the two Rangers headed for the ranch house. (end of Chapter 37, Part 1)

The Rangers entered the house, heading for the office where they had first confronted Cal Rhodes. Lighting a coal oil lamp, wick turned low, they started searching for any clue as to the outlaws' destination.

Suddenly, a slight sound was heard. Both men whirled, facing a small Mexican woman, Maria, the maid. 

Kindly, Bobby asked her, "Senora, where did Mr. Rhodes go?"

"No hablo ingles", she responded.

Bobby repeated the question, in Spanish. Maria shrugged her shoulders. Obviously, she had no information.

As Bobby repeated the question, he and Jim were startled, by a voice coming from the rear door to the office. "I can tell you", the voice stated, bitterly.

The voice belonged to the beautiful woman the Rangers had seen fading into the hallway when they first arrived at the Triple 8. (end of Chapter 37, Part 2)

The woman was breathtakingly beautiful, with golden hair and bright blue eyes. She tried to smile; however, her face was drawn with exhaustion, a bitterness in her expression.

"And you would be, Miss...?" Bobby asked.

"I would be MRS. Calvin Rhodes. You may, however, call me Madeleine."

"Mrs. Rhodes...Madeleine...do you know where your husband went, what his plans are?"

Striding to the desk, opening the top drawer removing a key, then proceeding to a file cabinet, opening it, Madeleine Rhodes replied, "Yes, Ranger, I do." She handed Bobby a sheaf of papers. The Ranger read them silently, his face growing grim. Bobby handed the file to his partner. Jim's face darkened, and his stomach churned, as he read the plans.

"Bobby, we' ve gotta get after those owl hoots, NOW!"

"Jim , you're right. But, we've gotta grab a little grub, anyway, or we'll never make it." The Rangers were still suffering from their ordeal in the smokehouse prison. "And, we need to ask Mrs. Rhodes a few more questions."

"Maria, tamales, pronto", Madeleine Rhodes ordered the maid. "Gentlemen, will you join me in the kitchen?"

Over the quick meal, Madeleine Rhodes, under Bobby's careful questioning, revealed her motive for betraying her husband.

"I married Cal Rhodes, on his promise to help my family. You see, my father and two brothers owned the Rocking P Ranch, outside Tulia. My mother had died. We had lost a lot of cattle to rustlers, and the banks were going to take our ranch. I thought I loved Cal,

and he promised to take a mortgage on the Rocking P, and pay off the banks...."

Madeleine paused, crying for a moment, then went on. "Instead, three weeks after we were married, my dad and my brothers, Mike and Randy, were found, shot in the back. All of our cattle had disappeared. I overheard Max Teague and Cal talking about it. Their

three killers--Pogue, Holden, and Hollings--did it."

Jim interrupted. "Madeleine, couldn't you go to the law?"

"Huh!" she snorted in response. "Cal owns the law in Tulia, and Floydada. Plus, I was kept a prisoner here. I was not allowed to leave the Triple 8, and I was never alone." Finally, the strain telling, Madeleine Rhodes dropped her face to the table, sobbing.

Bobby stood up, as did Jim. "Madeleine, don't worry. Jim and I'll get your husband and his gang. We couldn't have found them without you, though. Thank you." 

The Rangers headed for their mounts. (end of Chapter 37, Part 3)

Rhodes and Teague, with their gang, had a good head start on the two determined Rangers. In addition, Jim and Bobby were still weak from their ordeal.

However, the Rangers knew--from the papers they'd read, and the information Madeleine Rhodes had provided--that the Rhodes gang would travel most of the night, then rest, waiting until dawn to start springing their trap. In addition, Cody and Sunny were

well-rested, having been confined to the barn at the Triple 8 while Jim and Bobby were imprisoned.  Evidently, Rhodes and Teague intended to keep the broncs for themselves, after Jim and Bobby had expired.

Silently, the pair rode through the darkness, hoping and praying they would be on time. Their only chance of success depended on intercepting the outlaws before they hit. The Rangers were outnumbered better than ten to one, but had no time to search for help, no local lawman they could depend on.

As dawn approached, Jim and Bobby, now able to see faintly the tracks left by more than twenty horses, pushed their broncs to the limit. The sky was rapidly lightening.

"Jim, this way!" Bobby cut off the trail, into an arroyo. He knew the raid would start any second, and they were still behind the gang. He was hoping against hope the arroyo was a shortcut, and would bring them out in front of Rhodes and Teague and their cutthroats.

Pounding through the sand, dirt flying from their horses hooves, the Rangers were in a desperate race.

Finally, bursting out of the arroyo, they espied a cluster of ranch buildings in the distance. Spurring onward, they tried to rouse the occupants of the ranch with shrill yells. Off to their right rode a bunch of men, Cal Rhodes's outfit.

Long range bullets searched, trying to down the Rangers. However, Bobby and Jim were still too far from the outlaws for accurate fire.

Jim and Bobby were pushing for the cover of another arroyo. Shots could be heard now, coming from the ranch buildings. The Rangers raced for the shelter of the ranch.

Suddenly, Jim swerved Cody, as he spotted two men breaking off from the main bunch, low over their horses, riding at breakneck speed. He headed straight for them.

"Bobby, make the house.  I'll stop these two!" Jim shouted. He had already made a hundred yards on his partner.

"Jim, NO!!!!!"  Bobby screamed, seeing the outlaws' intent. He spurred Sunny after his partner, as Jim ignored his plea.

One of the outlaws kept on a dead run toward the ranch. The other, spotting Jim galloping toward them, turned his horse to meet the onrushing Ranger.

Jim raised his Colt, and fired, once, then again. The owl hoot screamed, threw up his hands, and slewed from the saddle, Jim's bullets in his chest. His horse turned and raced away from the fight.

However, Jim was too late. Before Jim's bullets hit him, the outlaw managed to toss the object he had been carrying. It floated lazily through the air, in Jim's direction. As it hit the ground, a tremendous explosion rocked the air, dirt flying hundreds of feet in the air. The concussion knocked Cody off his feet, screaming in terror, as his human friend was torn from his back. 

Bobby felt as if a giant boulder had landed on his chest. He was pushed backward out of his saddle. Sunny stumbled and went down. Bobby hit the ground, rolling over and over.

Bobby's last hazy memory was of Sunny, as his horse struggled to his feet, and of Jim and Cody.  Bobby, all strength gone, struggled to raise himself off the ground, arms almost useless as he tried to lift himself. He saw his partner, Jim. Sprawled shapelessly, face up, on the shattered earth. Lying  with Jim was his equine companion, Cody.  The horse's head was lying across Jim's chest.

Bobby collapsed face-down, sinking into blackness.

(end of Chapter 38)

Bobby was awakened, finally, by his Paint, Sunny, the horse nuzzling his human friend's ear, insistently.  Rolling onto his back, Bobby fought a wave of dizziness and nausea. The Ranger had no idea how long he had been unconscious; however, from the angle of

the sun, he knew the morning was well along.

Sunny was standing over him, nickering softly.   Fighting the vertigo that threatened to overcome him, Bobby struggled to his feet, head spinning, eyes unfocused and watery.

On the ground, about two hundred feet away, lay the bodies of his partner, Jim, and Jim's horse, Cody.  They had not moved since they had fallen, the horse's head still across Jim's chest, almost as if he were sleeping. 

Leaning against Sunny for support, Bobby staggered up to his Jim and Cody. Sunny lowered his head, sniffing at his friend and trail companion Cody, whickering

inquisitively, nudging the bay's head. 

Bobby took his canteen from Sunny's saddle horn.  Carefully, he edged Cody's head onto the ground, off Jim's body. Then, slowly, he poured some of the tepid, life-giving liquid over Jim's forehead. The Ranger groaned, and stirred slightly, but did not awaken.

"C'mon, Pard, you can do this!" Bobby whispered to Jim, encouragingly. Then--thinking back to Jim's dad, Jim, Sr., who as a Texas Ranger had been riding partner with Bobby's stepdad, Cordell Walker, and the amazing bond Jim. Sr. had with his horses--Bobby

turned his attention to Cody, massaging the mount's neck, speaking to him softly.

Sunny was at Bobby's side, nickering softly, sadly, to Cody, his teeth gently biting at his downed friend's neck. After a few moments, Cody's eyes opened. The bay struggled to his feet, standing shakily. Sunny whinnied happily, head over Cody's neck in joyful greeting. 

Bobby led Jim's horse over to his human partner, then resumed working on Jim, again pouring water over Jim's forehead. Cody shoved Bobby aside, impatiently nuzzling Jim's face. Finally, Jim opened his eyes, spluttering. Cody gave his human friend one giant

swipe across the face with his huge pink tongue, as Jim tried to rise.

"Easy, Pard", Bobby ordered, his arm around Jim's shoulders, supporting him. "Here, drink this, slow."

Bobby let Jim sip form the canteen.

After a few moments, Jim looked straight at Bobby, and asked, "Doggone it, Bobby, what was in that last drink we had? Sure knocked me for a loop." Cody and Sunny, still shaky from the blast, had wandered a short distance, cropping grass.

Smiling ruefully, Bobby replied, grimly, "That was no drink, Jim, that was a stick of dynamite. You should've turned back when I called you."

Jim sat bolt upright, despite his dizziness, his pounding head, the ringing in his ears. "Dynamite?  Bobby, the ranch!!!!"

Both Rangers turned their heads, eyes straining to see the ranch that Rhodes and his bunch had attacked, the ranch Jim and Bobby had tried to save. Their jaws tightened, and eyes grew hard, as they observed the scene of destruction. The Flying G Ranch had been

obliterated, blown from the face of the earth.

 Injuries and illness overcome now by anger and frustration, the two Rangers arose, headed for what was left of the Flying G. They were sickened. Rhodes, Teague, and their men had been merciless, leaving no survivors. Among the bullet-riddled, dynamite-shattered bodies were two young girls and a young boy, all under ten years old.

"Jim, let's RIDE!!!" Bobby and Jim knew Rhodes and Teagues' first stop was the Flying G, the ranch where the outlaws had met the most resistance. Now, they would be sweeping down on other small ranches, overwhelming the honest families and cowpokes who stood in their way, as they attempted to take over the range in the Texas Panhandle. Only two battered and weary Texas Rangers could stop them. (end of Chapter 39)

The two Rangers knew they could not overtake their quarry before dark.

"Just as well, anyway, Bobby. The hosses need rest, bad, and I could use a few winks, myself."

Laughing, Bobby retorted, "Heck, Jim you slept a whole lot longer than I did, this morning."

"Yeah, and I would've slept a whole lot longer, too, if you and this dumb cayuse of mine hadn't woken me up." Jim slapped Cody's neck, affectionately. "Thanks, pal", he murmured again to the bay.

Late in the afternoon, the pair had found a spring, and refilled their canteens, letting the horses drink their fill. They had remounted, and ridden on, stopping at the top of a small rise to survey the territory.

Bobby removed the lid from his canteen, lifting it to his lips. Just as he started to drink, a shot rang out.  The bullet tore through Bobby's canteen, spilling its contents all over the Ranger and Sunny, ripping the container out of Bobby's hand. Before he and Jim could even react, a voice snarled, "Reach, and keep 'em high. One false move and I'll blast you out of your saddles."

Covered, with no choice, the two Rangers turned to face the direction of the voice. Emerging from a clump of brush and cottonwoods, where he had been well-hidden, mounted on a compact gray, was Texas Ranger Eddie Dolan, his Winchester leveled straight at Jim's belt buckle. (end of Chapter 40, Part 1)

Eyes fixed on Jim, Dolan growled, "You two ain't gonna get away from me this time." Pointing his rifle at Jim with even more emphasis, he added, "...and I've got a special score to settle with you, Mister."

Knowing Rangers had been known, on occasion, to shoot first and ask questions later, Jim hastily spat out, "Hold it, Ranger, just one minute." Jim hadn't heard Dolan's name back in Petersburg, when Dolan had gotten the drop on his partner Bobby.

"Don't twitch a muscle" Dolan responded.

"Ranger, I'm gonna show you somethin'. Now, I'm gonna reach  behind my shirt, real slow, left-handed. Don't do anythin' foolish, now."

"Mister, real slow.  Keep that right hand in the air. One false move, and your guts'll be spread over half of this county."

Carefully, making sure his move wasn't misconstrued by the hair-trigger nerved Ranger, making sure Cody didn't even make a step, Jim slowly withdrew his Ranger badge from its hiding spot, inside his shirt.

Spotting the silver star on silver circle, Dolan relaxed for a moment, then, tightening his grip on the rifle, challenged, "Mister, anyone can get one of those, if they try hard enough. And, from what I've heard, the warrants, I've gotten, you and your partner

here have killed enough lawmen to collect half-a- dozen badges."

"Ranger, I'm Jim Griffin, of HQ Troop. This is my partner, Bobby Cahill Walker. My credentials are hidden in my belt. You're more than welcome to see 'em."

"Pass 'em over, slow."

Jim complied with Dolan's request.  Finally, examining the papers, satisfied, Dolan lowered his rifle, shaking hand with the two. "Griffin, Walker, glad to meet you."

Responding, Bobby answered, "Dolan, let's set a spell, and we'll let you know what's goin' on."

Quickly, the three Rangers conferred. "Dolan, didn't you get any word from Austin about us bein' Rangers, actin' like we were on the dodge, tryin' to work in with the outlaws up here?" Bobby demanded.

"Sorry, Bobby, not a word.  Last wire I had said two hombres matchin' your descriptions, on hosses matchin' yours, were wanted for killin' a bunch of lawmen. That's why I've been tryin' to snaffle you two. I owe you  both an apology."

Jim broke in, then. "I owe you one, too, Dolan. Sorry I had to club you. I HATED doin' that to a fellow Ranger."

Eddie Dolan grinned, slightly. "Jim, not as much as I hated feelin' that Colt barrel across my skull. One thing, though, I'd hate to have you hit me over the head if you MEANT it. My head pounded for a week. And I learned to look around more careful like."

Finally, refreshed somewhat, Ranger Dolan fully apprised of the situation and Jim and Bobby's desperate plans to stop Cal Rhodes and Max Teague, the three Texas Rangers mounted, ready to pursue their quarry to the ends of Texas. (end of Chapter 40, part 2)

Jim and Bobby, joined now by Texas Ranger Eddie Dolan, were riding hard in pursuit of Cal Rhodes and Max Teague and their gang of killers. From the files they had seen, they knew the outlaws--having destroyed the Flying G, the main source of opposition--would now be terrorizing the other small ranchers in the southern Texas Panhandle.

Topping a rise, the threesome came upon another ranch. The buildings were still standing; however, a woman was in the barnyard, kneeling over the prostrate

figure of a tall cowpoke, wailing her grief. She turned, startled, as the Rangers rode up to her.

Bobby took her gently by the shoulders, as Jim and Dolan rolled the dead man onto his back.

 "#$$$%", Dolan cursed softly, seeing what the outlaw gang had done to the rancher. His body was riddled with bullets.

Carefully, Bobby spoke to the woman. "Ma'am, we're Texas Rangers. We're here to help you." She had recovered her composure, somewhat, held in Bobby's strong arms, his eyes sympathetic to her. "Can you tell us anything about the hombres who killed your husband?" It was obvious the woman was married to the dead rancher.

Sobbing, she replied, "No, Ranger, I'm afraid I can't. I heard the shots, but I was in the henhouse, gathering eggs. I heard Tom scream, knew they'd got him. I stayed hidden, while they went through the buildings. Don't know why they didn't come into the

henhouse..." She stopped, shaking with terror, as the realization of what had happened...and what MIGHT have happened had the outlaws discovered her, hit.

"Ma'am, what's your name?" Bobby continued.

Still crying, she replied. "Forgive me; I'm Lydia Rowe, and that's my husband, my dear Tom." She buried her head on Bobby's shoulder, now wracked with deep sobs.

Hating himself for what he had to do, Bobby lifted her face to his, explaining as gently as possible. "Mrs., Rowe, my partners and I have to keep on these owl hoots' trail. Is there any neighbor who can help you, any friend?"

After a pause, Lydia Rowe replied, "There's old Ethel Cooper. She has a small farm about a mile west. Surely they wouldn't harm her."

Grimly, Bobby replied, "I hope not, Ma'am. Now, we have to get after those killers. We'll take Tom in the house for you. And, we'll stop at Ms. Cooper's and tell her what's happened. We'll send her over here."

As Bobby helped Lydia Rowe into the house, Jim and Dolan gently, with great kindness, took the body of her husband Tom into the house, laying him carefully on the couch. Then, reluctantly, but more determined than ever, they resumed their chase.

As promised, they stopped by Ethel Cooper's. The kindly, elderly widow was immediately on her way to Lydia Rowe. (end of Chapter 41)

Thinking the two Rangers they had captured at the Triple 8 either dead or dying in their prison, Rhodes and Teague were making good time. They intended—having destroyed Tate Grissom and his Flying G--to drive out the remaining ranchers in the territory. They hoped not to destroy any more buildings, for they would be of use to the gang. They would drive out the owners of all the properties they wanted. Anyone resisting would

meet a swift and sudden lead death. Men would be left behind to guard key properties, after the rightful owners had been killed or driven off.

Recklessly, knowing every moment of delay meant another ranch invaded, another family terrorized, and more men cut down, the Rangers raced in pursuit of Rhodes and Teague. They were approaching another ranch, the outlaws' sign indicating they were still

far ahead, when a rifle shot rang out, sailing over their heads.

As the three quickly swerved off the trail, taking cover, Jim yelled out, "Texas Rangers; hold your fire!" If the shots came from the ranch owner, they should stop, at that order. Instead, the answer Jim received was a volley of lead slashing the brush around the Rangers' cover. 

"Guess that answers that", Jim grinned at Bobby and Dolan. They had their Winchesters leveled and ready. As one outlaw, briefly, dashed from the barn to behind a water trough, Bobby rose, taking a snap shot at the man. The owl hoot grabbed his shoulder, spinning to the ground, screaming in pain. "Yeah, Pard, and that cinches it: I recognize that hombre from the Triple 8." As the downed outlaw tried for his rifle, Bobby fired again. The heavy Winchester slug took the outlaw in his side, flipping him over, to lie still in death.

"Wonder how many there are?"  Dolan questioned.

"Don't know, but there's plenty of cover", Bobby responded. "Can't waste time, here, either. I only see a few horses here. Main bunch must still be ahead of us."

Carefully, covering each other, the Rangers snaked their way toward the house. They had been fortunate, in that--except for the man Bobby had downed—the outlaws, not expecting pursuit, had all been in the house. The Rangers could concentrate their fire on

that one spot.

"OOOWWW!" Eddie Dolan screeched. One of the outlaws had climbed to the roof, partially hidden by the chimney. His slug burned Dolan's side. Jim, returning

fire, hit the outlaw, dead center. The man rose, started staggering down the pitched roof. A second slug from Jim's rifle tore again into the owl hoot’s chest. He crashed backwards, his body sliding down the roof, catching on the gutter, hanging there, legs

dangling over the edge.

"Dolan, you OK?" Bobby yelled.

Grimly, Dolan replied, "Yeah, just got grazed, is all." As he replied, he fired, and another outlaw was hit, falling forward though a window, crashing dead on the porch.

At the same moment, Bobby's shot hit a fourth.

Suddenly, there was dead silence. A shout came from the house, as a white piece of cloth was waved from a window. "I give up! Don't shoot!"

"Show yourself...hands high. Get out here, and get on your belly, halfway to us from the house!" Jim ordered. The Rangers were still wary of a trick.

Carefully, the front door was opened. A rifle was tossed out, then a pistol, followed by a man, hands raised high over his head. As he flopped to the ground, Jim advanced, carefully, his rifle at the ready, covered by his two partners. (End Chapter 42,

Part 1)

Jim quickly secured the prisoner, while Bobby and Dolan checked the Bar 3 Ranch. The outlaws they had downed, plus the prisoner, were the only occupants.

Wasting no time, they grilled the prisoner. He was in a mood to talk, wanting to save his neck, totally in awe of the Rangers' accurate shooting.

"Mister, what's your name?" Jim growled.

 "Bart Monroe", was the shaky response.

"OK; talk, and fast: why were you hombres still here, and where's Rhodes and Teague and the rest of you skunks?" For emphasis, Jim had the muzzle of his Winchester pressing into Monroe, just above his belt buckle.

"Ranger, don't kill me!!!"

"Then talk, and fast."

"We were guardin' this ranch. Rhodes wants the bigger ones watched, in case the owners try to come back."

"Where's Rhodes, now?"

"Far as I know, they plan on hittin' the Bar None, tomorrow, then the V8. First though, they're headed for Tulia. There's more men, deputized, waiting for us there. Plan is to make the takeovers nice and legal."

Tying the prisoner to his horse, leaving the bodies of the dead owl hoots where they had fallen, the three Rangers streaked out of the Bar 3.

Tulia was still a full day's ride away, and darkness was overtaking the trio and their prisoner.  Reluctantly, Bobby turned to Jim and Dolan. "Can't make it, tonight. If Monroe here's tellin the truth, we can catch up to Rhodes tomorrow, before he hits the Bar None. 'Sides, the hosses are done in. We'd better camp for the night." Bobby didn't mention that the men--especially he and Jim, still under the effects of the explosion at the Flying G--were also done in.

Jim and Dolan concurred. Soon, they came upon a small pond, next to a meadow with grazing for the horses. They quickly unsaddled the broncs, letting the grateful animals roll and graze.

Jim and Booby took advantage of the small pond to bathe, cleaning up somewhat. They finally were able to change into fresh shirts, discarding the tattered remnants of the ones that had been almost torn off their backs by the explosion.

Finally, relaxing over supper, Bobby asked Eddie Dolan, "Dolan, what're you doin' up this way, anyhow? Thought Jim and I were the only Rangers up here."

Dolan shook his head, then replied, "Bobby, Jim, Marty Evarts was my pard, until a few months ago. When I got word he was killed, I asked my Captain for permission to find his murderers. That's why I'm here."

Jim broke in, "Dolan, glad to have you...and I can tell you who Marty's killer is: Clay Hollings, of this bunch we're after. When he thought Bobby and I were gunslingers, and that I had killed a Ranger, he told me he's bushwhacked Marty. Showed me Marty's badge, which he's still carryin'. Dolan, when we catch up to this bunch, we'll save Hollings for you."

Eyes narrowed in grim determination, Dolan muttered his reply, "Jim, Bobby, you'd have to kill me to keep me from him."

Under a rising gibbous moon, their prisoner securely handcuffed and tied, the Rangers fell into a sound--but alert--sleep, rebuilding strength for the morrow's confrontation. (end of Chapter 42, Part 2)

Bobby, Jim, and Dolan were up and on the trail in the pre-dawn hours, leading the prisoner, Bart Monroe.  They had eaten quickly and in silence, knowing they were headed for their final confrontation with Cal Rhodes, Max Teague, and their gang.

As they rode, continuing the discussion they had the evening previous, they considered their options.

"Let's see, Dolan, Jim: we know that Rhodes and Teague had at least twenty men, plus Pogue, Holden and Hollings. Now, there were five left at the Bar 3, so that gives us eighteen, at least, to face." Bobby turned to his partners, grinning. "Not bad odds...six

to one."

Eddie Dolan joined in, "Yeah, Bobby, but don't forget: Monroe back there says they were recruitin' deputies; that's why they're goin' to Tulia, first.   We don't know how many more men they'll have."

"I'll find out" Jim stated, flatly, turning to the prisoner. Pulling his Colt from its holster,

leveling it at Monroe, Jim spat  "Monroe, how many more men is Rhodes plannin' on in Tulia?"

Rhodes was terrified of the three Rangers, for some unknown reason, Jim in particular. "Not sure, but I know the sheriff and his two deputies are Rhodes' men; I think there's four or five others."

"OK, Rhodes; you'll live a little longer, anyway."

"So now the odds are seven or eight to one. Still like 'em?" Dolan grinned to Bobby.

"Sure do. I'd like to catch up to Rhodes and Teague before they reach Tulia, though", Bobby replied.

The Rangers had already discussed the possibility of riding straight to the Bar None, and discarded it. The ranch was too great a distance for the Rangers to be sure of reaching it before Rhodes and Teague, even with the outlaws stopping in Tulia. No, the best hope

of stopping the gang plaguing the Panhandle was to reach them  before they got to Tulia. Failing that, Jim Bobby, and Dolan would take the fight to the streets of Tulia, there to succeed or fail, to live or die from outlaw bullets. (end of Chapter 43)

The three Rangers were gaining on the outlaws rapidly. However, as the morning wore  on, it became apparent they would not overtake the gang before the outlaws reached Tulia.

 They reined up in a little arroyo on the outskirts of town, to reconnoiter and hash out their plans.

"Monroe, can't have you callin' out a warning to your pards." Jim pulled the prisoner off his horse. He tied Bart Monroe hand and foot, then tied him to a tree.

Gagging the terrified Monroe, he muttered, "That'll keep you, for now."

 "Jim, Dolan, we're gonna have to go in on foot. Sure would like to have the hosses close by, though, case we need 'em"  Bobby mused. "Hope Rhodes, Teague, and the rest are still in town.

"Wait here a minute."  With that, Eddie Dolan snaked his way along the arroyo, returning shortly. "Good news. This arroyo comes out behind the local hotel.  There's a spot close in where we can leave the hosses. They won't be seen easily, but we can get to 'em if we

have to. By the way, there's a bunch of hosses in the livery corral. Look like they've been ridden hard."

"Good, then our men are still in town, looks like", Bobby answered.

After a few moments, still trying to figure the best plan of attack, Bobby muttered, "Might as well go after those sidewinders."  (end of Chapter 44)

The big advantage Jim, Bobby, and Dolan had on their side was the element of surprise. Rhodes and Teague believed Jim and Bobby were prisoners back at the Triple 8, probably dead of thirst by now. In addition, they had no idea Eddie Dolan was in the area.

As they worked their way carefully down the main street of Tulia, Jim stopped suddenly, espying several broncs tied up in front of a building opposite. The sign on the building read, "Ford Pinto, Sheriff". "Hold it a minute, fellas", Jim ordered, carefully making his way across the street, his partners watching, knowing he was headed into an explosive

situation.

Jim burst through the office door, guns drawn. "TEXAS RANGER! Raise 'em high, all of you hombres." He made sure one Colt was leveled directly at the chest of the swarthy, half-breed sheriff. "I mean NOW! Pinto, collect your men's irons, PRONTO. One false move, and you'll catch my first slug, plumb through your middle."

Muttering imprecations, but not ready to die for Cal Rhodes and Max Teague, the sheriff complied, disarming the seven deputies in his office.

Wagging his Colt for emphasis: "OK, now, all of you, in the cells. Not one sound, either, or I'll take one of those shotguns off the wall and blast all of you."  Under the leveled muzzles of Jim's Colts, the men quickly complied.

With the cell doors locked, keys in his hand, Jim returned to his awaiting partners. "Well, pards,  that's eight of 'em we won't have to worry about, anyway." Grinning, he continued.. "Brought you some presents to even up this fight a little, too", as he handed Bobby and Dolan two of the three sawed-off Greener shotguns he had appropriated from the Tulia sheriff's office.

"Good work, Pard. Now let's get movin'." Bobby replied. Citizens, now espying the Ranger trio as they worked their way toward the Tulia Tulip Hotel and Saloon, were quickly vacating the street and boardwalks.

As Bobby, Jim, and Dolan drew abreast of the saloon, Max Pogue emerged. Spotting the Rangers, he attempted to dive back though the batwing doors, yelling out a warning, clawing at the Colt on his hip. Bobby's bullet though Pogue's neck sent the outlaw spinning crazily, crashing face-first into the wall of the saloon, sliding to the walk.

"Jim, Dolan, QUICK!" Bobby retrieved the shotgun he had quickly dropped as he pulled his Colt on seeing Pogue. With the deadly scatterguns at the ready, the three Rangers charged into the Tulia Tulip. (end of Chapter 45, part 1)

Their hope of surprising Cal Rhodes, Max Teague, and their outlaw band foiled by Max Pogue, the three Texas Rangers burst into saloon.

"NOBODY MOVE!!" Bobby shouted. For emphasis, he pulled back the hammers of the shotgun, the sound of the cocking hammers echoing ominously in the sudden silence. Eighteen vicious killers stood there, unmoving, their faces a mingled statement of surprise, and respect for the Greeners in the Rangers' hands, knowing those scatterguns could tear a man in two, at such close range.

Cal Rhodes spat out an oath.  "Walker, how'd you get out, and how'd you find us?"

"Takes a smarter man than you to hold a Ranger, Rhodes. And that woman you tricked into marryin' you was more than happy to tell us your plans."

"Why you *()))__^^"  Rhodes curse was interrupted by a blast of shotgun fire, as the Tulip bartender made the fatal error of reaching for the shotgun under the bar, yanking it up and firing at the Rangers. The buckshot fired harmlessly into the ceiling, as Eddie

Dolan triggered one barrel of his shotgun. The bartender, torn to shreds by the spreading buckshot, was smashed into the back bar. As he fell, bottles of liquor crashed onto the floor. Several other men, caught by the buckshot, screeched in pain.

Colts were now being raised, men seeking to thrown hot lead into Bobby, Jim, and Dolan, hoping to cut down the Rangers. In response, all three triggered the shotguns. The saloon became a maelstrom of flying buckshot and Colt slugs, a cacophony of shouts and

screams, as outlaws crashed to the floor, wounded or dying.

A bullet plucked Bobby's Stetson from his head, and another tore a hole in the right sleeve of Jim's shirt. The Rangers had thrown down the empty shotguns, pulling their Colts.

 "Jim, Bobby! Rhodes and Teague are headin' out the back. Hollings and Holden are with 'em", Dolan shouted, at the same time pulling trigger, sending another killer to the floor of the saloon, twitching in death throes." Stampeded by the deadly shotgun blasts, and the deadly accuracy of the Rangers with their six-shooters, the remaining outlaws broke and

ran. (end of Chapter 45, Part 2)

There three Rangers dashed after the retreating ringleaders. A shot rang out, as they emerged from the saloon, and Eddie Dolan spun to the ground. Jim, firing at the owl hoot who downed his new partner, shot the killer in the gut, sending him thrashing to the

ground. A second slug from Jim's Colt finished him off.

Dolan was struggling to his feet, as blood spread high on the front of his shirt. Dolan, you OK?" Bobby called out.

"I'll be all right, Bobby", Dolan replied, gritting his teeth in grim determination. "Let's get the rest of these skunks."

Reloading as they ran, the three Rangers headed out of the alleyway, around the corner of the Tulia Tulip, diving for cover as a hail of bullets met them. They returned shot for shot, and two more hombres bit the dust in the middle of the street.

Now, it was down to Rhodes, Teague, Hollings and Holden, against three determined Texas Rangers. The rest of their gang was either dead, wounded, or in the Tulia jail.

Steve Holden pulled trigger, as Dolan was drawing a bead on Clay Hollings, the man who had killed Eddie's former partner, Ranger Marty Evarts. Dolan staggered backwards against the wall of the saloon, firing as he did so. Holden gave a scream of agony, and pitched forward on his face, Dolan's bullet in his brain.   Hollings had taken the moment Holden provided, and his Colt flamed. Eddie Dolan stood stock still, his Colt leveled, as blood from Holden's bullet, and now Hollings's, crimsoned his shirt, over the belt-buckle.

"This is for my partner, Hollings!" Dolan snarled.  His Colt spat twice, and Hollings--two Ranger bullets in his stomach--spun downward to the dust. He jerked spasmodically, and was still. Eddie Dolan collapsed to his knees, then pitched face-down in the dirt. (end of

Chapter 46, Part 1)

Seeing his dream of empire collapsing all around him, Cal Rhodes stepped into the middle of Main Street.

"Walker, you're finished!" he screamed at Bobby. He had holstered his Colt.

Bobby, striding into the middle of the street, forty feet from Rhodes, followed Rhodes's lead, holstering his pistol. "Rhodes, I'm placing you under arrest, in the name of the State of Texas." 

"Try it, you &^&*())", Rhodes snarled, grabbing for his pistol.  It flared once, as Rhodes brought it up.  His slug hit harmlessly into the dirt between Bobby's spread feet, as the young Ranger, as quick on the draw as his late stepdad Cordell, sent a bullet into

Rhodes' stomach. The outlaw leader stood there, an expression of disbelief on his face, as he looked at the spreading stain on his shirtfront. He tried to raise his pistol again, but Bobby's finisher—tearing through Rhodes's heart--sent him backwards to the

street.

Max Teague, all pretense of bravery and culture gone, was running wildly up Main Street, attempting to reach his horse, Jim in pursuit. The tall Ranger brought Teague down with a flying tackle. Teague rolled, sending Jim off his back, knocking him off balance.  The killer came up with a Bowie knife in his hand, slashing at Jim, nicking his arm.

Jim pulled his knife out of his belt, the two men circling warily, feinting, looking for an opening.  Teague lunged, but Jim sidestepped, his knife slicing along Teague's back. Teague, twisting, managed to avoid the brunt of Jim's thrust.

Jim bent in the middle, pulling his stomach back, as Teague's Bowie sliced across Jim's belly, sharp point tearing through Jim's shirt, slicing his skin. As Jim let out an involuntary yelp of pain, Teague grinned evilly, growling, "Got ya now, ya %$$%^^^^." As he lunged at the Ranger, Jim sidestepped again, the powerful thrust of his right arm plunging his Bowie deep into Teague's gut, just above the killer's heavy belt. The sharp blade ripped Teague wide open, from navel to breastbone. As he fell, Jim let Teague's

momentum pull the knife from his belly. He stood there, silent and expressionless, as Teague's blood darkened the dust around the killer's facedown body.

(End of Chapter 46, Part 2)

Jim slowly walked back down Main Street, holding his middle, to where Bobby was standing, over the body of Cal Rhodes.

"Is Teague....?"

"Yep, he's done for. Rhodes?"

"Same."

"Bobby, where's Dolan?"

"Back at the corner, Jim." Bobby started in that direction. "Jim, you're hurt." Citizens were starting to emerge, now. Grabbing a storekeeper by his shoulder, Bobby ordered the man, "Get the Doc, Pronto."

"Yes, sir, Ranger; right away." The clerk hurried up the street, rushing to comply.

"Only a shallow cut, Bobby, I think. We'd better check on Dolan."

They found him, face down. As they gently rolled Dolan onto his back, he smiled up at them, weakly. "We get 'em all, Pards?"

"Sure did, Dolan; everyone of 'em. Now, you just lie still...doc's comin'", Bobby ordered.

"Don't matter, Bobby, Jim. I'm a goner. You know it, and I know it. Unnnhhh!" Dolan groaned in pain. He had been hit in the chest in the alleyway, then taken a slug in his belly from Steve Holden, another from Clay Hollings. "Got one thing left to do, though. Help me to my feet will ya, Pards?"

Jim and Bobby lifted the dying Ranger to his feet. Dolan stood there, swaying, blood drenching the front of his shirt, refusing any further help from his fellows. Slowly, determinedly, he walked over to the body of Clay Hollings, who was lying on his side.

Dolan rolled Hollings onto his back, bent over the dead outlaw, searching Holling's shirt pocket. He stood up, a Ranger badge in his hand.

"Bobby, make sure Marty Evarts' family gets this, will ya?" He pressed the badge into Bobby's hand.  "Bobby, Jim, been great ridin' with you two.  Take my bronc to my sister, will you?" Dolan sighed, "Guess we showed this bunch what for, eh?"  Silently, Texas

Ranger Eddie Dolan sagged to the street, as the town doctor arrived. (End of Chapter 47)

Jim and Bobby spent several days in Tulia. Their wounds had been tended to, and they had arranged the burial of their fellow Ranger, Eddie Dolan. The remaining members of the Cal Rhodes gang were in jail, awaiting trial.

On their way back to Austin, Jim and Bobby had stopped at the KC Ranch. They were greeted warmly by Joan Casey, introducing them to her brother, Ted. "Rangers, this is my brother, Ted Donalson. Ted, Jim Griffin and Bobby Cahill Walker."

"Pleased to meet you, both. I appreciate everything you've done for my sister and her kids." Ted Donalson was a young, clear-eyed son of the Texas soil.

"Rangers, stay to dinner", Joan Casey invited.  "Parson Harper and his wife will be joining us."

"That would be appreciated, Ma'am", Bobby replied.

Over dinner, Jim finally got the chance to thank the parson for saving his life. "Parson, now I can finally say, thanks for saving my hide. Had to get out of town too quick to thank you proper, last time. Never saw a preacher so quick with a gun, before."

Laughing, Parson Harper replied. "Only too glad to help, Jim. Let's just say it was the righteous anger of the Lord that guided my hand. Oh, by the way, we've got a new sheriff, an honest one. Chuck Hill headed out of town on the run last week, after news got back of what happened in Tulia."

Later, after a relaxed dinner, Jim found Joe, out by his father's grave.

"Joe, how you doin', Son?"

"I'm OK Jim, still miss my Dad, somethin' fierce. But, it's funny; sometimes I feel as if he's here with me."

Jim, thinking back to how he had found Bobby and Mack Casey, replied, soberly, "He is, Joe, he is."

Bobby had gone on the porch, with Parson Harper and Ted Donalson, while Joan Casey and Esther Harper cleaned up. "Parson, how is the family, doing, really?"

"Bobby, as well as can be expected. Ted here's a big help."

"Good to hear that, Parson.  Jim and I were really worried for them."

Ted spoke up. "Don't you trouble yourself about that, Ranger. I won't let anythin' hurt them, ever again."

"That's all Jim and I wanted to know, Ted."

Several days later, Jim and Bobby were back in Austin. They had reported to Capt. McGuire, and gave Marty Evarts badge him, to be given to Marty’s family.

Eddie Dolan's horse had been left in the Ranger livery.

Looking at the two young Rangers kindly, his aide, Lt. Bob Hemmings, at his side. Capt, McGuire ordered, "Good work, men, both of you. Now, Jim, I know you've got your new bride waitin'. Ranger, this is an order: Go to New Orleans, and finish that honeymoon!"

Turning to Bobby, he ordered, "And you go see your wife and that fine boy of yours, Robert Cordell Walker.  Now, neither one of you darken my doorstep again, until you

hear from me.  DISMISSED!!!!"

"YES, SIR" Jim and Bobby replied, saluting smartly. A short while later, they were mounted, heading home for a well-deserved rest, until the State of Texas called them again. (end of Chapter 48)

 THE END

The usual legal disclaimers.