Old Partners’ Reunion

By: Jim Griffin, keeneyanke@yahoo.com

Texas Ranger Cordell Walker and his wife, Alex Cahill Walker, were just settling into bed. Under the cozy feather tick, nestled on the soft pillows, Walker wrapped his arms around Alex's soft, feminine form. In response, she stroked his strong, masculine chest.

"Oh, Cord, this has been a wonderful few evenings." I hate to see our time together end."  Alex was kissing her husband, now.

"It's not going to end, darling, not for a while, yet." Walker's lips were slowly working their way down her neck, as she responded to him. "Now, not another word." With that, they slipped into the total ecstasy of their love as man and wife.

Later, they had drifted off to sleep, Alex on her back, her husband having rolled over on his stomach, arms wrapped around her, totally content, both breathing deeply in peaceful slumber.

Suddenly, they were awakened by a thunderous pounding on the door of their bedroom.

"Walker, up and at 'em! "We've got a train to catch in less than an hour: let's get goin'!" (End Chapter 1, Part 1)

Walker was unsure of his surroundings for a moment. Then, remembering where he was, he fumbled for a match, finding it, lighting the lamp on the bed stand.

"Just a minute", he called out.

Turning to Alex, he kissed her, gently, smiling ruefully. "Sorry, Alex: guess we had so much fun last night we overslept."

"Walker, let's get GOIN'!!!!" came the voice, more insistently.

Walker slid out of bed, pulling on his jeans, and headed for the door. Alex rose from her side, wrapping herself in her floral dressing gown. Opening the door, Walker invited, "C'mon in, Jim." Walker's riding partner, Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, was leaning against the doorpost, smiling.

"Sorry, Walker. Sorry, Alex...But, Pard, we've GOTTA make that El Paso Limited; it leaves in less than an hour. You know Cap McGuire had to use a lot of pull to get a stock car added on that passenger express for Yankee and Amigo."

Walker was hurriedly dressing now. He had been on leave from the Rangers, and had taken Alex to Austin for a few days' vacation, a much needed change of scenery for his loyal spouse. However, as always, the leave ended, and he and Jim had received their new assignment the day previous. It was an assignment of such urgency that their commanding officer, Capt. Bill McGuire, had arranged passage for them and their horses on a crack passenger express.

"Jim, give me and Alex five minutes. She's coming with us to the station."

"Fine, Walker, but remember, you've spent the last few nights with a lovely lady, while I've had the privilege of sleeping at the Headquarters bunkhouse with a bunch of snoring recruits I've been trainin'. I sure miss Marcy, already, and we haven't even STARTED this assignment, yet." Marcy was Jim's long-suffering

wife. As were Alex and Walker, they were deeply in love, but often separated by the call of Ranger duty.

Leaving the Capitol Hotel, the two Rangers and Alex hurried to the Ranger Headquarters Livery Stable, where they were greeted by the happy whickers Yankee and Amigo, Jim and Walker's powerful Paint geldings, their trusty trail companions. As always, Yankee shoved his nose into Jim's middle, begging for his customary peppermint stick, which Jim promptly produced. There was a standing debate among the Ranger troops as to who was the boss, Jim or Yankee. The majority opinion went with the cayuse. The Rangers quickly saddled and bridled their mounts, saddlebags and bedrolls already packed with their trail supplies.

"Walker, we'll have to grab something at the next stop for breakfast: don't have time to stop, now." They had mounted, Alex riding double with her husband.

Arriving at the station, they quickly looked up the conductor of the El Paso Limited. Following his lead, Walker and Jim quickly led Amigo and Yankee to the loading platform, and the awaiting stock car. Both cayuses eagerly crossed the ramp into the car.

Intelligent animals that they were, they had long since figured out a cattle car was like a stable on wheels. Instead of being ridden hard, long miles, often with scanty grazing and water, they could relax, with plenty of grain and hay. They had both become seasoned riders of the rails in Ranger service.

Seeing their mounts happily settled in, munching on hay, the two Rangers headed for the third passenger car.

"Alex, it was good seeing you again." Jim kissed her, gently, on the cheek.

"Jim, be careful, and Vaya con Dios."

Jim boarded the car, as Walker took Alex in his arms. They hugged and kissed farewell. "Cord, please take care. I love you."

"Alex, with you waiting for me, how could I not come home? I'll wire you as soon as we arrive. Now, kiss me once more."

To the conductor's shouted "ALL ABOOOAARD", as the El Paso Limited released steam, starting to puff its way out of the station, Walker released his wife, climbing into the already moving coach. Leaning out of the coach platform, he watched as she waved, until the train was out of sight. (end of Chapter One, Part 2)

As Walker entered the coach, his Ranger training and experience, as always, led him to look over the passengers. The car contained the usual assortment of drummers, ranchers, and travelers. His partner, Jim—as Rangers always did when they travelled by rail--had taken a seat at the far end of the car, against the back wall. That way, he could observe anyone entering the car, from either end, and would not leave his back open for a drygulchers bullet.

Across the aisle from Jim was a family of four, obviously Easterners. The father appeared to be in his middle thirties, a tall, brown haired man. He, and the boy beside him, were definitely not dressed for the west Texas wilderness. His wife, slightly younger, was slim and brunette. There was a girl of about sixteen, just beginning to show the curves of womanhood. She looked very much like her parents, and was gazing at Walker as he strode down the aisle. Both mother and daughter were dressed in what appeared to be the latest Eastern styles.

Completing the family was a boy of about nine or ten, with sandy hair, and hazel eyes. He had been staring wide-eyed at Jim's badge and Colts, Jim waving and returning the boy's gaze. Now, espying Walker, the youngster turned his attention to the big Ranger, as Walker touched his hat brim in greeting to the family, then settled in next to Jim.

"Walker, decent of you to tear yourself away from Alex." Jim was still steaming at being roped into training recruits, which assignment had cut short his leave. Walker's partner was glad this mission had come up, to get him back into the field. He had chafed under the repetitive nature of training new Rangers. Field work was the true test of any new recruit.

"Jim, you mean you didn't enjoy bein' a professor?" Walker's grin was slightly mocking.

"No, Walker, I didn't. Next time, I'll make sure it's your turn. Now, Pard, I'm gonna get some shut-eye." Jim stretched out his long frame, and tilted his Stetson over his eyes.

"Night, Pard", Walker grinned and replied, knowingly. One thing Texas Rangers learned, and quickly, was to grab sleep whenever the opportunity arose. Rangers never knew when they would be required to go for days without sleep, in pursuit of their outlaw quarry.

As the El Paso Limited chugged over the Texas plains, and Jim's

breathing settled into the regularity of a man sound asleep, Walker also leaned back and covered his eyes with his hat, reflecting back on the orders he and Jim had received.

As the train moved through the pre-dawn darkness, Walker was sorting through the information Capt. Bill McGuire had provided his ace Ranger, back at headquarters.

"You and Alex having a nice visit to Austin?", Capt. McGuire had inquired, solicitously.

"We are indeed, Cap. Alex needed some time away from the ranch. This trip's really done both of us good.

"Glad to hear that, Walker. Now, I have to order you back to duty."

"Been expecting that, Cap. Where'm I headin'?"

"Walker, there's major trouble over in Reeves, Jeff Davis, and Presidio counties."

"Whoa, Cap, that's a LOT of territory, even for the Rangers", Walker interrupted.

"Know it is, Walker. Now, there's reports of Comanche attacks, all sorts of robberies and murders. I mean banks, stages, ranches, you name it. This job'll take more than one Ranger, more even than you and Jim. Mark French is already headed that way from El Paso. You and Jim'll meet him at Balmorhea."

Walker interrupted, "Cap, are the reports about the Indians confirmed? Comanches haven't been a problem in Texas for years."

Capt. McGuire continued, "Appears, so, Walker, as accurate as any reports form that wilderness can be.  The Army at Fort Davis is trying to round up the renegade Comanches. Now, you three are to help them, as far as possible, but your main task is to round up the owl hooters who are terrorizing the citizens. This mission is to show the Rangers are up to covering the Trans-Pecos. I want you to wear your badges on this one."

Seeing Walker's scowl, the Captain continued, "Walker, I know that's unusual. But, we need the people in that territory to KNOW we're there. I had to talk Jim into it, too."

"Walker, Jim got his orders yesterday, since he was right here. He wanted to start right out, but I made him wait for you. That's how dangerous this assignment is, Walker. I want three men on it, three of my best.  And you, Jim, and Mark are them. However, I won't force this one on you. I'm afraid the odds are you--perhaps all of you--won't return."

"Cap, you know I won't back away from this. And, as far as Jim wantin' to start right away, I'm sure he did, Cap. Anything to get away from trainin' those rookies."

"No, Walker, Jim enjoys the trainin'. He's told me so, more than once."

"Cap, you're slippin', missin' Jim's sarcasm like that. In fact, you know Jim won't ever use cuss words, but, when I saw him day before yesterday, he asked me to tell you that, if you ever stick him with recruit training again, that you're a  ##%^^***, and can go to $%^&&&& with your rookies."

"Walker, tell your partner when you see him for me that he's a &*^^^^%^%^>'" Capt. McGuire laughed. Now, I've arranged passage for you and Jim, and your hosses, on the El Paso Limited, leaving tomorrow morning. You'll take it to Balmorhea, where Mark French will meet you. Let's go over everything I can tell you."

Walker's thoughts were interrupted by the lonesome whistle, as the train prepared to pull into Fredericksburg station. (end of Chapter 3)

Walker and Jim, along with most of the rest of the passengers, disembarked from their car during the train's brief stop at Fredericksburg. Several German immigrant farmers, who had established roots in the area, were leaving the train, here.

Jim and Walker checked on Yankee and Amigo, finding them happily relaxed in the stock car. The two broncs would be rested and strong upon arrival in the Trans-Pecos, not having been subjected to a long, hard ride.

After watering their mounts, the two Rangers visited the small building out back of the station, taking care of that necessary chore. Then, they purchased some biscuits and coffee, to have a quick breakfast.

Reboarding the train, as they settled into their seats, the young boy across the aisle again stared at their badges and Colts. As the train built up speed, he finally got up the courage to ask, "Are you REALLY sheriffs?"

Jim, on the aisle, seated closest to the youngster, replied, with a grin, "Actually, son, we're Texas Rangers."

The boys mother scolded, "Johnny, please don't bother those two gentlemen!" To the Rangers, apologizing, "Please forgive my boy: he's never been West before, and he's just full of questions."

"No bother at all, Ma'am", Jim replied. Let me introduce myself: I'm Jim Griffin, and this is my partner, Cordell Walker."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm Eileen Porter, and you've already met Johnny. This is my husband, Donald, and our daughter, Hannah."

After the introductions were complete, conversation continuing, Walker asked, "Mr. Porter, what brings your family to Texas? You're obviously from back East."

"You're right, Ranger. We're from Cleveland, actually; I was an office clerk. My wife inherited a ranch in Brogado, just outside Balmorhea. Her uncle was killed in an accident. She was his only heir.  We're going to take over the ranch, and bring up our children here."

Jim and Walker exchanged concerned glances. This family, obviously not at all prepared for the hardships of the West, were taking over a ranch, right in the heart of the area Walker and Jim had been assigned to clean up.

Trying no to worry the young couple, but concerned about their fate, Walker asked. "What kind of accident did your uncle have, Mrs. Porter?"

"He was out hunting, and was mistakenly shot by another hunter."

Walker and his partner knew that was highly unlikely. That incident would have to be checked into.

Walker continued, as Jim looked thoughtfully out the window, "Mr. Porter, Mrs. Porter, I don't want to discourage you, but have you given any thought to how hard running a dry country ranch will be?"

"We have, Ranger; I assure you."

"Mr. Porter, do you have any suitable clothes, or equipment? For example, those frocks your womenfolk have on will never do out here. You will all need working outfits."

"We'll buy them in Balmorhea, Ranger. And the foreman of the QP, a Buck Trask, assures me he will do all he can to help."

Hannah, who had been silent, but yet studying the Rangers, broke in. "Surely, Mr. Walker, you are not saying we cannot wear our fine clothes. A girl, after all, must dress like a lady."

"Hannah, on Sundays, or at dances, yes. But, out here, a woman is judged by the work she does, not by how she dresses."

With the typical stubbornness of a teenaged girl, Hannah retorted, "I WON'T dress like some rough backwoods woman!"

"Enough, Hannah." Mrs. Porter silenced her daughter.

"Johnny, come over here, by me and Walker", Jim invited. Look, over there: see those bouncing animals, with the white rumps. Those are antelope."

"Gee, Mr. Ranger, they're so fast!"

Laughing, Jim replied, "They sure are, Son. And, it's

Jim and Cordell...none of this 'Mister' stuff.

The pair of Rangers spent the next several hours offering advice to the Porter family, regaling them with stories of the West.

Johnny Porter had produced a toy pistol, and was happily shooting imaginary outlaws and Indians from the train window.

Later, after several more stops for coal and water, The El Paso Limited was struggling up a steep grade, about three-quarters of the way between Sonora and Ozona. Rangers Walker and Griffin had drifted back off to doze.

Cordell Walker was suddenly awakened by Johnny Porter shouting, "Hey, look- there's a bunch of cowboys racing the train! Wow, neat!" The youngster was aiming his toy pistol out the window. "Bang, BANG, take that; gotcha." Walker, instantly alert, nudged Jim in the ribs, needlessly. Jim was already awake, following Walker's gaze out the car window.

"Cowboys, H***", Walker shouted, as the five riders in his view pulled bandannas over their faces, throwing rifles to their shoulders. "Those are train robbers!! Get down everyone, NOW!!" (end of Chapter 4)

Even as Walker and Jim pulled their pistols from their holsters, the riders were edging ahead of the train as it struggled up the steep grade. Splitting, they were out of range, and the proper angle, for the Rangers to attempt to cut them down.

The train gave a sudden lurch, and came to a shuddering standstill. "Must've got the engineer", Walker shouted to Jim. "I'm gonna try to get up there."

"Walker, thought I saw a couple of those hombres headed to the rear. I'll see if I can find 'em", Jim responded.

The pair was in an almost hopeless situation. They had to, above all else, consider the lives of the passengers. As if in response to this, the door to the coach burst open, an armed bandit entering, guns leveled.  "Nobody move!" he shouted. Jim, with innocent passengers between himself and the desperado, was forced to raise his hands, dropping his Colt.

"All right, ladies and gentlemen. Just sit quiet, and no one'll get hurt, except maybe Mr. Texas Ranger, there." Jim, realizing he was still wearing his badge in plain sight, mentally blasted himself, and Capt. McGuire, that he was not undercover.

Walker, edging along the side of the coach, caught a glimpse of the gun-toter. He quietly crept up the stairs to the coach, and leaped through the door, tackling the masked killer. Taken totally by surprise, the man was taken out by one well-placed punch to his jaw by the big Texas Ranger.

Scooping up his guns, with a quick, "Thanks, Pard", followed by a "Stay in this car, folks, EVERYONE!" Jim raced out the coach toward the rear of the stalled train, as Walker edged again toward the engine's cab. (End Chapter 5, Part 1)

The train consisted of two coaches, plus the one the Rangers occupied, a baggage car, and the stock car Amigo and Yankee were travelling in, with a caboose for the brakeman bringing up the rear. Walker figured there had to be at least six bandits, in addition to the one he had left knocked out and untied.

So far, Walker had not been discovered, as he edged along the train, sticking to its shadows. He was trying to figure the best plan of attack, without endangering the passengers.

Finally, knowing the men in the locomotive would be in control, no matter what, Walker decided to bypass the first coach and express car, heading directly for the engine cab.

Carefully working his way up to the locomotive, Walker saw no movement, or sign of life. Cautiously, he pulled himself up into the cab.

The engineer was sprawled on the floor, shot through his head from side to side. He had died before he had hit the metal platform. Sprawled over him was the body of the fireman, whose body was riddled with slugs.

"$%^&", Walker cursed to himself. "Should have known; once they got the train stopped, they headed back to the express car, to get the safe." Abandoning caution for the moment, he jumped from the engine, headed toward the baggage car.

As soon as he hit the ground, a gun flared, and a bullet tore the air over Walker's head. His return shot was aimed at the flash, and he was rewarded with a squeal of pain, and the sound of a man thrashing in the trackside brush.

Rolling, Walker was the target of several guns, firing from the express car. One of the bandits grunted and jacknifed out of the car, Walker's slug in his gut. The bandits were aiming at the flash of the Ranger's Colts, but the experienced lawman kept moving.

Slugs burned the air around him, digging into the earth, but missed their elusive target. Another flung up his arms and crashed backwards into the express car, Walker's slug through his heart.

More carefully now, the bandits remaining in the car retreated into cover, behind the luggage and crates.

Meanwhile, Jim had worked his way toward the last two passenger coaches. In the first, he sprang through the door. His move startled the gunman in the aisle, who whirled at the Ranger's sudden appearance. "Drop, it, Mister!" Jim ordered, as the man brought his shotgun level with Jim's middle. Diving for his life, Jim landed belly-down in the aisle, as the heavy charge of buckshot from the first barrel ripped the air where Jim had been, then buried itself in the end wall of

the car.

The bandit was lowering the barrel of the gun, aiming to blast Jim with the second barrel. Jim, aiming quickly but deliberately, sent two .45 slugs into the man's chest.

"Everyone, DON"T MOVE!" Jim ordered, as he headed for the last passenger car. (end of Chapter 5, Part 2)

_________________________________________________

The last coach was covered by two bandits. Alerted by the shots from the front of the train, they had moved to one end of the car, each with a gun barrel at a female passenger's head.

They spotted the blonde Ranger as he alighted from the previous car. "Mister, get your hands up, high, and get in here, now, unless you want to see these ladies dead." With no choice, Jim climbed into the coach, hands over his head.

Three bandits remained in the express car. Walker, zig-zagging and dodging their slugs, firing at the roof of the car, was charging their position.

A ricochet from one of Walker's Colts went through the top of one' s skull. He fell face forward, bent over a crate. Then, Walker dove into the car, Colt in each hand. He blasted both remaining outlaws to the

floor.

Immediately, he raced to the aid of his partner, barely checking the man alongside the train he had downed. Satisfied the gunman--with a broken leg from his slug--was not going anywhere, Walker headed toward the rear of the train.

Jim was not in the first two passenger coaches.  Terrified passengers were frozen in their seats. Walker hurried on to the last car.

Cautiously, he peered in a rear window. He could see Jim--hands raised, facing two hombres--who had pistols placed against two ladies' temples.

It was a desperate situation.  Walker could not risk the lives of the passengers, yet he knew, any minute, his partner would be gunned down, then the last bandits would be looking for him. They would assume--with their numbers--that the ceasing of gunfire meant their cohorts had downed the other Texas Ranger.

Finally, stealthily, he creeped up the back platform of the car. Guns drawn, he burst through the door. Totally taken by surprise, the two killers swung toward Walker. His Colt blared, and one was sent backwards, skidding down the aisle.

The other gunman stopped in the midst of raising his pistol to blast Walker down. His mouth opened in a silent statement of pain and surprise. Then, he sagged slowly to the floor, Jim's Bowie knife in his throat.

"OK, Folks, it's all over," Walker stated, to relieved sighs and breaths from the passengers. "Now, please, everyone, stay seated, until we check on everyone."

"Pard, you don't know how glad I was to see you!" was Jim's heartfelt greeting to his partner.

"Jim, let's check on the wounded, and get those owl hoots in the express car. Then, we'll have to move this train, somehow. Engineer and fireman are both goners." (End of Chapter 5, Part 3)

Quickly, Walker ordered the passengers into one car, as the train was not full.

Jim had gone back to check on the caboose. He returned, the brakeman slung over his shoulders. "He's still breathin', Walker. They got him in his chest.  Don't know how long he'll hold out. Checked on the hosses on the way by. They're both fine."  While a couple of the passengers raised quizzical eyebrows at that remark, Walker--and the ranchers and cowhands on the train--knew how essential horses were in the West.

"Need some volunteers", Walker ordered. "Few men to get the wounded into the middle coach, and to get the dead into the express car, and keep an eye on the two prisoners." These were the man Walker had knocked out at the start of the battle, and the man he'd shot in the leg. "Then, I'll need a couple of you ladies to help tend the wounded."

Several men and women volunteered. To his surprise, one of the volunteers was Don Porter, the tenderfoot Easterner. He was followed by his wife, and their son and daughter.

Quickly, the first aid was organized. In addition to the brakeman, several passengers had been wounded. The conductor had died in the express car, as the bandits blasted their way in. Men were placing the bodies of the dead train crew and outlaws in that car.

Mrs. Porter had dragged her daughter along, to help with aiding the wounded. To Walker and Jim's surprise, she worked calmly and efficiently. Hannah, her daughter, protested, as her skirt was torn for bandages. However, she did render assistance, as much as possible.

"Jim, we've gotta get this train movin', or we're gonna lose some more lives. We're still a good distance out of Ozona. Whole crew's dead, except the brakeman, and he's not in any condition to help."

"Walker, one of us'll have to drive this thing...but, we'll need a fireman, 'cause the other's gotta stay with the prisoners."

Don Porter, the Easterner, was approaching the Rangers, looking for further orders. Hearing this, he volunteered, "Rangers, I'll shove that wood in the firebox, if you'll let me."

Exchanging glances of surprise with Jim, Walker quickly agreed.

"Thanks, Ranger; let me get Johnny. He quickly returned with his frightened, but clear-eyed, son.

As Porter and Johnny climbed in the cab, Walker remarked, "Pard, he may have the stuff to make it here, after all." Jim nodded assent.

"Let's get goin', Walker...and don't spare the wood."

Walker climbed into the locomotive, as Jim lifted himself into the express car. Slowly at first, then, as steam built, more rapidly, the El Paso Limited roared toward Ozona. (end of Chapter 6)

After the El Paso Limited--Walker at the throttle--pulled into the Ozona station, the wounded passengers and  brakeman were quickly transported to the doctor's office, the dead outlaws and crewmen to the local undertaker.

The train would be delayed two hours, while the Texas Southern rounded up a replacement crew. The Rangers took this opportunity to interview the prisoner they had taken. His name was Mart Stuart. As expected, he offered little information; however as the entire gang had been killed of captured, little was needed. He was left in the local jail.

Walker and Jim let Amigo and Yankee out of the stock car, allowing the broncs to stretch their legs.

Finally, the train resumed its journey. Settling into their seats, needing a rest, Walker remarked, "Jim, if this is any indication of what we're up against, this will be one tough assignment. We're still 150 miles from our assignment, and already we've been in a shootin' scrape."

"Yeah, Pard, and thanks for saving' my hide, twice. Now, let's get some rest". Jim replied.

The Porter family was back in their seats, opposite the two Rangers. The family was exhausted, dirty, and blood-splattered. "Like to thank all of you, Mr. & Mrs. Porter. You did a fine job."

"Least we could do; you Rangers did all the hard work", Don Porter replied. With that, Stetsons tilted over their eyes, Walker and Jim resumed their interrupted sleep. (end of Chapter 7)

Finally, at dawn, 12 hours late, the El Paso Limited pulled into Balmorhea.

Walker and Jim quickly retrieved the horses from the stock car, saddling up. As they started to ride away from the station, they were stopped by Don Porter. He and his family had been met by the QP foreman, Buck Trask.

"Rangers, just wanted to thank you again. And, if you get down toward the QP Ranch, look us up. It's about 8 miles southwest. I'd like you to meet my foreman, Buck Trask."

Trask was a stocky, muscular individual, with brown hair and hard black eyes. Walker didn't miss his slight start at seeing the badge pinned to Walker's shirt. Shaking hands solemnly, Trask remarked, "Hear you had some trouble comin' in."

"Nothing we couldn't handle", Walker responded, already disliking the foreman.

Jim, pointedly, for Trask's benefit, added, "Mr. & Mrs. Porter, here--and their kids--were mighty helpful, too. Don't let those tenderfoot clothes fool ya. They're a plenty salty family." Like Walker, Jim wouldn't have trusted Trask as far as he could throw a bronc. It wouldn't hurt to have Trask worried a bit about the QP's new owners.

Wheeling Amigo and Yankee, the two Rangers headed for the local sheriff's office. Matt Husted, the officer, informed them that Ranger Mark French, who was to meet them, had left word he had headed for Toyahvale, with instructions for Walker and Jim to follow. (end of Chapter 8, Part one)

"Well, Jim, no breakfast for us, today, anyway." Walker sadly remarked, as the pair rode out of Balmorhea.

"Yeah, Walker, but at least the hosses are rested and well-fed." Yankee and Amigo were in fine shape after their train ride, ready for hours of hard riding on the trail. "And we're gone hungry, many times, Pard. Long as our canteens are full, we'll be all right."

Nearing Toyahvale, the sounds of rifle fire was suddenly heard. Walker and Jim spurred their horses up a small rise. Topping the incline, they observed a rider, on a steel gray gelding. He was low over the horse's neck, the tiring horse stumbling. Six Comanche warriors were in pursuit.

As Walker and Jim unshipped their Winchesters, the gray fell headlong, rolling over, tossing his rider.

Eyes on their quarry, not noticing the two Rangers, the braves let out triumphant war-whoops, as they swept down.

Suddenly, they swerved, as two of them were knocked off their horses by Winchester slugs fired by the Rangers. Jim and Walker had given the pursued rider the chance to scramble behind some rocks. 

Charging, yelling, the pair of Rangers headed for the downed man. Two more Comanches fell, then, seeing the Rangers dive behind the same rocks as the rider, the last two attacked. They were quickly cut down.

The pursued rider, coming back to his senses after the impact of his fall, smiled thankfully. He had an arrow through his left arm.

"Walker, your timing couldn't have been better. Who's the good-lookin' hombre with you?"

"Mark, that's my partner, Jim Griffin. Jim, Mark French."

"Mark, glad to meet you. You'll have to tell me how you put up with Walker as your partner for so long."  Mark and Walker had been trail companions, before Walker went on his own, and them later was partnered up with Jim.

"Mark, gotta get that arrow out of your arm, pronto." Walker was already tearing off the left shirtsleeve.

"Walker, Mark, I'm gonna make sure all our Indian friends there are dead. Then, I'll bring back the medical kit."

"Jim, check on my hoss, too, will ya?" "What's his name, Mark?" 

"Steeldust."

Quickly checking, Jim found that his and Walker's fire had been accurate, and deadly. All the Comanches were done for.

He rounded up Steeldust, returning to Mark and Walker. "Mark, he's a little lame, and I pulled an arrow out of his hip. Little rest, though, and he'll be fine."

Mark gave a sigh of relief. Horses--to men who spent long days on the trail--were often their closest companions.

"Mark, bite on this." Walker handed the wounded Ranger a knotted bandanna. While Jim worked on Steeldust's wounds, Walker snapped off the arrow's shaft, pulling the wood through Mark's arm. He quickly dressed and bandaged the wound, improvising a sling.

"Mark, Jim, we're gonna rest here a short time, then head back to Balmorhea."

"No arguments from me, Walker." Jim was already preparing the coffee, and some hardtack and jerky.

Later, over coffee, his strength returning somewhat, Mark French looked steadily at his fellow Texas Rangers. "Walker, Jim; what you saw today is just a sample of what you're in for. There's big trouble on this range." (end of Chapter 8, Part 2)

As the three Rangers--Walker, Griffin, and French-- returned to the village of Balmorhea, Walker inquired, "Any sawbones in this town, Mark?"

"Yeah, Walker; Doc Staples, just down the road here."

"Good; besides gettin' that arm fixed proper, you need your eyes checked?"

"Huh? What'ya mean by that, Walker?"

"You called Griffin here good-lookin'. Now, Mark, either your eyes are bad, or you hit your head when you took that tumble. Jim is ANYTHIN' but good-lookin."

"Dunno about that Walker: Mark didn't claim YOU we're good-lookin'. I think his eyes are just fine", Jim retorted.

Later, after Mark French had seen the doctor, and the three had cleaned up somewhat, the Rangers were in the Red Garter Saloon, having a meal.

"OK, Mark, brief us on all the trouble here", Walker ordered.

"Walker, Jim, it's everythin'; rustlin' robberies, dry-gulchin's, Indian attacks..."

"About that, Mark", Jim broke in. "Why the Indian attacks, and any idea where those Comanches are comin' from? They've been pretty much driven out of Texas."

"Not sure, but I think there's white men stirrin' 'em up, somehow. Can't get my finger on it, though."

"Girls, come here and meet my friends", Mark called, to a pair of winsome dance hall entertainers. "Walker, Jim, meet Stephanie and Louise. Ladies, these are two of the best Texas Rangers you'll ever meet, Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin."

"Walker, Jim, enough talk for one night. Time for some fun. Bartender, drinks for the ladies, and my partners, here."

Walker demurred, for himself and Jim, "Mark, it's been a long day; we're gonna get some sleep. We'll want to make a quick patrol of the area tomorrow, get the feel of the land...so don't play too late."

"Walker, I had an extra bunk put in my room at the hotel. Knew you two were coming. It's room 11 at the Desert Hotel."

"Gracias, Mark- see you later."

Stopping at the livery stable to check their horses, Walker told Jim, "Mark always did like the saloons and ladies. Not for me, though."

"ME, either Pard. I love my wife, and don't need another woman."

Unlike Walker and Jim, Mark had never married, preferring the night life of the trail towns he visited.

Jim and Walker quickly undressed, and were soon asleep. Later, they were awakened by the scraping of the door. Always alert, they quickly glanced up.  Satisfied the person entering was Mark, they fell back to their shut-eye. (end of Chapter 9)

The next morning, after breakfast, the three Rangers mounted up, heading south out of Balmorhea.

"Mark, Jim, I'd like to head to Ft. Davis. See if the Army can give us any clue about the Comanches."

"Good idea, Walker" Mark replied. There's a new man in charge there, a Capt. D.R. Maddux. Seems like a competent soldier. And his wife, June, is some nice."

"Walker!" Jim burst in. "Gotta be the same Maddux we helped out over at Ft. McKavett! I remember his wife; she was Major Tolsma's daughter, and the infirmary nurse. So Maddux made Captain...good for him; he deserves it."

After a quick stop for lunch, Walker, Jim and Mark heard the sounds of gunfire. Spurring their horses, racing around a bend in the road, the spotted a ranch wagon. The driver and passenger were slumped in the seat, dead. Six men were surrounding the wagon. Spying the oncoming Rangers, they quickly sent lead in the lawmen's direction, then galloped off in their attempt to escape. (end of Chapter 10, Part 1)

The three Texas Rangers sent their mounts streaking after the fleeing killers. Slowly but surely--under a rain of lead from the hombres' guns--the lawmen gained on their quarry.

One went down, Jim's slug tearing through his side. Walker hit another, who swayed and sagged in his saddle, desperately hanging on his plunging horse.

Suddenly, Jim threw up his hands--cut by outlaw lead--and crashed off Yankee's back. Falling from saddle, rolling over and over with the speed of the chase, his body went over an embankment, sliding and rolling to the bottom of an arroyo.

Walker and Mark continued the pursuit, knowing Jim was hard hit, and there would be little—if anything--they could do for the blonde Ranger. The outlaw Walker had hit finally fell, and Mark shot another. However, the remaining three disappeared into a little-known trail, and were able to slip their pursuers.

Walker and Mark galloped back to where Jim had fallen. Jim's horse, Yankee, was prancing at the top of the bank, nickering frantically to his human friend. They dismounted quickly, Walker grabbing his lariat, tying it to Amigo's saddle horn. He could see Jim, lying face down in the sand.

With Mark working the rope, Walker quickly worked his way to his downed partner. He gently rolled Jim onto his back. Jim's eyes opened, and he smiled weakly up at Walker. "Pard, it's bad, isn’t' it?"

"No, Jim, you just got a couple of creases. You'll be back on the trail in no time." Walker, looking at the bullet holes in Jim's chest and belly, knew he wasn't fooling his partner.

"Don't lie to me, Walker; I know I'm hard hit. You and Mark'll have to clean up this territory. SSssoorry."

Jim's eyes closed, his body stiffened, then relaxed. (end of Chapter 10, Part 2)

Walker quickly looped his rope under Jim's arms and shoulders. "Pull us up, quick, but easy!!!" he yelled to Mark, on the road above.

Rapidly, Mark led Amigo away from the bank, the rope tied to the Paint's saddle pulling Walker and Jim back to the road. Jim's horse, Yankee, was frantically pawing the earth, whinnying anxiously.

"How bad is it, Walker?"  Mark asked. Walker was loosing the rope, tearing open Jim's shirt, revealing two blue-rimmed .45 slug holes, one low down in Jim's belly, the other high in his chest.

"Bad, Mark, real bad. He's still breathin' but he's losing a lot of blood." Walker had taken a spare shirt out of Jim’s saddlebags, tearing it for makeshift bandages, trying to staunch the blood. Yankee was nuzzling Jim's face. Walker continued, "He's got to get to a doc, FAST." 

"Ft. Davis is closer than town, Walker, and they've got a post hospital, there."

"Good, Mark, but Jim'll never stand a ride on hossback...and there's not brush around here tall enough to get branches and make a travois."

"Walker, the wagon!" Mark had remembered the ambushed buckboard, about two miles back.

Walker leaped up. "Mark, stay with Jim; Amigo's faster'n Steeldust. I'll get that wagon, pronto."

Leaping to saddle, Walker galloped back northward.  Kneeling beside Jim, Mark spoke to the badly wounded Ranger, softly. "Hang in there, Compadre. I know we've just met, but I kinda like you. Besides, anyone who can be a partner to Walker is definitely an hombre to ride the river with." 

After what seemed an eternity, Walker returned, Amigo tied behind the buckboard. The dead ranchers had been placed in the wagon bed. Walker had left room for Jim, and he and Mark gently placed their companion in the wagon. Walker retrieved Jim's battered Stetson from the road where it lay, gently placing it over Jim's face to shelter his eyes from the sun. With Yankee following alongside, Amigo tied to the rear, and Mark mounted on Steeldust, they started the trek to Ft. Davis. (end of Chapter 11)

As the little cavalcade approached Ft. Davis, the gates swung open to admit them. It was almost sunset.

Pulling up to the post hospital, Walker shouted, "Hurry: we've got a badly wounded man here!"

Willing hands of the soldiers quickly lifted Jim, carrying him into the first bed. Doctor Hobart Ramsey, the post physician, quickly took charge.

Examining Jim's wounds, he shook his head, then looked up at Walker and Mark. "Who tended to this man?"

"I did", replied Walker.

"Well, Ranger, I don't think he's got much of a chance...but, if he does live, he's got you to thank for it. You did a fine job of stopping the bleeding."

"Nurse!" Doctor Ramsey called. In answer, June Tolsma Maddux entered. She gave a start, recognizing the big Ranger. "Cordell Walker! What brings you out here?"

"Trouble in the territory, Mrs. Maddux. And my partner, Jim's been shot."

"Oh, no! Last time we met, Jim'd been shot."

"Afraid it's worse, this time. Oh, this is Mark French." Walker

indicated his wiry companion.

"Good to meet you...now, OUT, both of you. The doctor and I have work to do."  With that, nurse and physician went to save the life of the wounded Ranger.

As Walker and Mark exited the hospital, to start their vigil, they were met by Capt. D. R. Maddux, en route to find out what was happening. The Captain stopped short, on seeing Walker.

"Walker, you're out this way?"

"Yes, Sir; see you have your own command."

"I do, and it's not an easy one."

"Mark's told me; that's why he and I are out this way. We were on our way to see you, when we ran into a little trouble. Jim's in your hospital, in bad shape."

"Jim Griffin...what happened?"

"Ran across some highwaymen; they killed those ranchers in the wagon, there. We chased 'em, but Jim caught a couple of slugs. We downed three of 'em, but three got away. Mark and I are gonna head back out, and try and trail 'em."

"Walker, Mark, that's fine...but it's dusk. Why not stay here tonight, let your horses rest, and start fresh, in the morning? I'll detail some men to pick up the dead owl hooters, and take these poor devils back home."

"Fine, Captain."

"Cpl. Jones, show the Rangers to the guest quarters", Capt. Maddux ordered. (end of Chapter 12, Part 1)

Mark and Walker spent several hours in conference with Capt. Maddux, concerning the Indian raids around Ft. Davis and Balmorhea. Like the Rangers, the Army was puzzled about the raids, feeling there were White troublemakers behind the attacks, but having no proof.

Dr. Ramsey and June Maddux entered, during the middle of the discussion.

“Doc, how's Jim?"  was Walker's first question.

"He's resting as comfortably as can be. Luckily, I was able to find and remove both bullets. He's got a long way to go, though, and I give him only about a 1 in 10 chance, if that. If either of you are praying men, Rangers, now's the time to get on your knees. I've done all I can do; it's up to Jim, and the Good Lord, now."

Before sunup the next morning, Walker and Mark were on the trail of the remaining three gunslingers.

"Mark, I'll never forget the Appaloosa that one hombre was riding."

"Can't miss that hoss, Walker; you're right. Not too smart on that hombre's part, riding a hoss so easy to spot."

"Spot, on an Appaloosa!"  Walker exclaimed. Ruefully, he shook his head. "Wish Jim were with us to hear that, Mark. It's the kind of joke he'd appreciate."

Slowly, deliberately, the two determined Texas Rangers doggedly followed the faint trail. It wound through canyons, around hills, through dry washes.  Finally, with the sun high in the West Texas sky, the pair came out on a hill overlooking a ranch a refreshing patch of green in the otherwise drab landscape.

"Careful, Walker, let's not spook these hombres", Mark cautioned his partner.

Cautiously, Amigo and Steeldust were walked up to the ranch yard. Then, Walker stopped short, an expression of total surprise on his face. For, emerging from the big barn, followed by his foreman. was the Easterner from the train, Don Porter. Walker and Mark had trailed the killers to the QP Ranch. (end of Chapter 12, Part 2)

"Ranger Walker, glad to see you!" Don Porter exclaimed. "Get down, and I'll have my wife bring you some coffee." The Easterner was dressed in ranch garb, but still looked very much the tenderfoot. Buck Trask scowled for a moment, then quickly turned his face into a blank mask.

"Don, afraid this isn't a social visit. This is Ranger Mark French."

"Howdy, Mr. Porter." Mark extended his left hand, his right arm still in a sling from the arrow wound.

"Where's your partner, Jim?" queried Don of Walker.

"Don, that's why we're here. Two ranchers were dry-gulched on the Balmorhea-Ft. Davis road yesterday. We came up on the killers, and chased 'em. Killed three of 'em, but Jim got shot."

The Easterner gave a sharp intake of breath. "Badly?"

"Very bad, Don. We took him to the post hospital at Ft. Davis.  Doctor says he's not gonna make it."

Walker and Mark didn't miss the look of pleasure that briefly crossed Buck Trask's slitted eyes.

"Walker, I'm sorry. Johnny, especially, will be sore hurt."

"Don, we trailed the other three owl hoots, this morning. The trail ends here, at the QP."

"Walker, you can't be saying any of my men were involved."

"Don, I'm not...YET!" Walker replied, pointedly. By this time Mrs. Porter, Hannah, and Johnny had emerged from the house. Johnny rushed up to Walker, yelling excitedly, "Walker, how are you...where's Jim?"

"Jim's been hurt, Johnny; that's why we're here, talking to your dad."

Turning back to Porter, he continued. "Don, we'd like to take a look around your ranch. Also, do you have a big Appaloosa in your string?"

"Walker, you'll have to ask Buck here about the horses. I'm just getting my inventory started. But, feel free to look around."

As Walker and Mark started toward the barn, Buck Trask blocked their path, whistling sharply. Three more tough-looking cowboys came from the corrals.

"Ranger" Trask snarled, "you may be able to fool a tenderfoot Easterner, but not me. You're not snoopin' around this ranch."

"Out of our way, Trask, NOW!!"

Trask's response was a quick, vicious punch at Walker's head. Walker easily ducked the punch, his uppercut snapping the foreman's head back. Trask quickly recovered, smashing Walker in the jaw, then driving two quick, hard blows to Walker's belly. As Walker doubled over, Trask kicked him in the chin, driving the big Ranger backwards to the dirt. He tried to dive on Walker, but the Ranger brought up his boots, in a vicious kick to the foreman's groin.

Trask collapsed to the ground, screaming in agony.  Walker grabbed him by his shirt front, lifting him to his feet. A left and right to Trask's face--the left crushing his nose, bringing blood spurting, and the right splitting a cheek--sent Trask spinning face down. He rose slightly, then collapsed, unmoving.

Meanwhile, two of the other cowboys went after Mark French. With only one arm, he was handicapped. He pulled his Colt, and jabbed one in the gut with the pistol, jackknifing him, then knocking him out with a blow from the gunbarrel to the head. The other, rushing in, was tripped by Mark's left foot as the wire Ranger sidestepped. As he tried to scramble to his feet, he found himself staring into the unblinking muzzle of Mark's .45.

The third was attempting to rush Walker. However, he was stopped by 60 pounds of nine-year-old boy jumping on his back, pounding his head and shoulders. "You won't hurt my Ranger friends!" Johnny screamed. Seeing his partners lying in the dust, the third man quickly gave up the fight.

"Now, Don, can we search your ranch?" Walker gasped.

"Be my guest, Walker." (end of Chapter 13)

To the Rangers' frustration, there was no big Appaloosa on the QP Ranch. The tracks they had followed were swallowed up by the QP remuda, and the outlaws' horses had shown no distinctive or broken shoe prints.

Returning to the yard, they found Buck Trask and his cohorts, staggering awake, shaking off their beating.  Walker was to the point. "Trask, I couldn't find any proof that ties you or your boys into that drygulching."

"Knew you wouldn't, Ranger", Trask sneered.

Mark put in, "But you'd better watch your step, hombre. One slip-up, and we'll have you in the jug. Or, better yet, I'd take great pleasure in puttin' a slug through your belly, like someone did to Jim. Now,get outta here."

Cursing, the foreman and his three cronies headed toward the bunkhouse.

Eileen Porter invited, "Walker, Mark, stay for supper; it's getting late. Then, you can sleep here tonight, and leave in the morning, if you wish."

"Gracias, Ma'am", Walker replied gratefully.

Over supper, Mark blushing at the frank gaze of the fascinated Hannah, the Rangers asked about conditions at the QP.

"So far, Walker, we're getting along. Losing stock to rustlers, though. Trask tries to catch 'em, but they're too slippery."

Johnny had to know, although Walker was reluctant to tell him. "Walker, what happened to Jim? Will he be all right?"

Kindly, but honestly, Walker replied. "Johnny, I don't know. He was shot while we were chasing the gang we trailed here. He's hurt very badly, and needs all of our prayers." Johnny bit his lower lip, trying to keep the tears from forming in his eyes. He had become fond of both Rangers--but especially Jim--on the train from Austin.

The rest of the evening was subdued, Walker and Mark finally working their way to bunks in the hayloft.

As they undressed, pulling off Stetsons, shirts, and boots, but leaving their Colts within reach, Mark stated. "Walker, that Trask is one of our men, sure as shootin'"

"Absolutely, Pard. But, we've got to get proof, first. He was smart enough to make sure that Appy wasn't around where we could find it. Don't worry, though, we'll get him, and his partners. I'm sure he's behind the rustling here at the QP, also. Real skunk, taking advantage of a nice family like the Porters."

"Yeah, and Walker, we've still got the other owl hoots to clear out, too, and the Comanches. Tell you one thing, though; first, we're gonna get the snakes who downed Jim...and, if he doesn't make it, they'll stretch a rope or die with my bullets in their gizzards." Marks face was set, determinedly.

"You'll have to beat me to 'em!" was Walker's terse reply. Then, the two partners settled in to sleep. (end of Chapter 14)

The next morning, Walker and Mark were up early, preparing to leave the QP Ranch.

Over breakfast with the Porters, Walker once again thanked young Johnny. "Son, that was mighty brave, the way you tackled that last cowboy. Maybe when you're big enough, you can be a Texas Ranger."

Johnny beamed with pleasure at that, his grin as big as the Texas plains.

Hannah, clearly with a teen-aged crush on the auburn-haired, hazel eyed Mark, asked, "Will you be coming back...soon?"

Mark replied, carefully, "Never can tell where a Ranger's life will take him. I'd be pleased to see you again, though, Miss Hannah. He tipped his Stetson gallantly to her.

Eileen Porter was fussing over the Rangers like a mother hen. "Walker, Mark, you've got to eat...and I'll give you food for the trail." She was heaping their plates with ham, bacon, eggs, hotcakes, and fried potatoes, with plenty of steaming coffee.

"Where are you two headed, now?"  Don Porter inquired.

"Back to Ft. Davis, to check on Jim. Then, we'll confer with Capt. Maddux at Ft. Davis, to get his handle on the Comanche attacks." Realizing it was the lesser of two evils, Walker continued, "I know he's a tough hombre, but the best thing you could do, for now, is to keep Buck Trask on. Him and his crew would know what to do in a Comanche attack. If you see any Indians, follow his advice."

As Mark and Walker mounted, Walker on his Paint, Amigo, Mark on his blue roan, Steeldust, Buck Trask approached. He put his ham-like paw out to Walker. "Ranger, I'd like to apologize for yesterday. Didn't think; I'm not used to people snoopin' around Mr. Porter's place. Old Quincy, Don's uncle, wouldn't stand for it, and I just got carried away."

Walker, then Mark, took the foreman's hand. "Trask, it's forgotten...as long as you look after the Porters. They're not used to the West, and I don't want to see them scalped."

"You can count on me", Trask replied.

As Walker and Mark turned to go, Johnny approached Walker. He had tears in his eyes. "Walker, Sir, could you give this to Jim?" He held out a piece of white quartz. "I found it here on the ranch, and I hope it brings him good luck. When you see him, tell him I'm praying for him."

Gently, Walker replied, "Of course, Johnny." Then, not trusting their emotions, both Rangers spurred quickly toward Ft. Davis.

Out of earshot, Walker asked his partner, "Mark, what do you think about Trask?"

"Walker, he's a crook, no doubt. I'm sure he was in on that robbery when Jim got shot, and is rustling the Porters'--and probably other ranchers'--cattle. I don't think he's into anything else, though, like the Indian attacks."

"Mark, my feelings, exactly. That's why I left him right were he was. He'll be careful, but sooner or later, he'll slip up. And right now, the Porters do need him, to protect the ranch. He won't hurt them as long as he's got a good base there."

Rapidly, their cayuses setting a mile-eating lope, the Rangers headed toward Ft. Davis. (end of Chapter 15)

Walker and Mark's first stop at the fort was the post hospital. The news from Doctor Ramsey was not good.

"Rangers, your partner's developed an infection, as I feared. All we can do is keep him comfortable, and pray."

"Can we see him, Doc?"

"Yes, but only for a few moments."

Walker and Mark sat by Jim's bedside. He was soaked with sweat, the bedclothes sopping. Jim was moaning, and tossing restlessly. June Tolsma was at his side, placing cool compresses on his forehead and chest.

"Jim, Pard, you've got to pull out of this. Yankee's waiting for you, and don't forget Marcy and your kids. You promised Jimmy you'd train him to be a Ranger. They all need you, and Mark and I need your help out here." 

Reaching into his pocket, Walker continued. "Jim, you downed one of that gang, and Mark and I downed two more. We trailed the rest to the QP Ranch...you remember, the ranch those nice Easterners—the Porters--inherited. Buck Trask is there, and we're sure he's involved in the gang, and rustlin' besides. But, we need you to help us get the proof. Johnny Porter sent you this." Walker placed the piece of quartz in Jim's hand. "That boy really took a shine to you, and I had to tell him you're hurt bad. He's waitin' for you to visit him.  Jim, fight this.  I know you can win."

Mark took his turn. "Jim, for my sake, you've got to get better. You think I want to partner up with Walker, here, again? No, Thanks! Besides, he's told me how he misses your jokes. And, compadre, I'm savin' Buck Trask for you."

June Tolsma interrupted. "Walker, Mark, I'm sorry, but you'll have to leave now."

The pair's next stop was the Fort's stables. They grained and groomed Amigo and Steeldust. Yankee was hanging his head over his stall, whickering softly to Walker.

Walker, eyes wet, found Jim's saddlebags. He removed a peppermint stick, heading toward Jim's big Paint. "Mark, gotta give Yank one of these", he explained. "No matter where we were, no matter how little food we had, Jim always had a peppermint stick for Yank, every day."

Rubbing Yank's soft muzzle, giving him the candy, which the horse took, but with little enthusiasm.  Walker tried to console Jim's equine friend. "Yankee, don't worry. Jim's only a couple of doors away, and you'll be hittin' the trail with him again, real soon. The horse placed his head over Walker's shoulder, sighing.

Later, Capt. Maddux asked the Rangers their plans.  "Gonna make a quick sweep of all three counties, and see what we come up with. Too much goin' on here, and too few clues. We'll see what, or who, we can scare up." (end of Chapter 16)

At sunup the next morning, before the post bugler had even sounded "Reveille", Walker and Mark were preparing to leave for their patrol of Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio, and southern Reeves counties.

They stopped in to visit Jim, before they left. The blonde Ranger was still in the throes of his fever. After leaving Jim's room, Walker stopped short.

"Mark, did you notice anything about Jim's room?"

"Nothin' out of the ordinary, Walker."

"Mark, how about that window, right over his bed?"

"What about it, Walker? Nothin' strange about that.  Lets in some fresh air, for the patients."

"Yeah, but Mark, it gave me an idea. You wait here; hold Amigo. I'll be right back."

Mark gazed at Walker, puzzled, as his bearded partner headed in the direction of the post stable.

Walker soon returned, leading Yankee, slipping the horse a peppermint stick.

"Walker, you're not thinking what I think you're thinking?" Mark ejaculated, incredulously.

"Pard, that's EXACTLY what I'm thinking.  Jim and this hoss are closer than most any two humans I've met. I'm gonna let his head through that window, so he can see Jim, and you can bet Jim'll know Yank's there. If that won't help pull Jim through, nothin' will."  Reaching the hospital wall, Walker ordered, "Mark, you hold this hoss here, while I get inside."

Surprisingly--some instinct telling Yank, Jim's one- man horse, that Mark was a friend--he stood meekly, Mark holding the reins. "Walker, you're crazy, and I'm crazier", was all Mark could say.

Walker slipped into Jim's room, taking Yankee's reins, pulling his head inside. Yankee whinnied joyfully, but, to Walker's frustration, the horse could not get close enough to nuzzle Jim.

Quickly retreating, Walker led Yank around the front of the building. "Mark, keep a look out." He then led Yankee up the stairs, through the front door, into Jim's room. Nickering happily, the big Paint nuzzled Jim's face and hands. A peaceful expression came across the Ranger's face, then a slight smile. 

June Maddux and Dr. Hobart Ramsey, shoving they way past Mark, burst into the room. "Ranger, get that animal out of here, NOW!!!!"

"Sorry, Walker, couldn't stop 'em", Mark apologetically told his partner.

"OK, Doctor, but LOOK!!!" Walker exclaimed.

"Well, I'll be..." Doctor Ramsey was speechless, for, in addition to the smile on the still unconscious Jim's face, the tall Ranger was lifting his hand, weakly, rubbing Yankee's muzzle, murmuring weakly to the gelding. (end of Chapter 17)

Walker and Mark had decided to leave for the small town of Valentine, in far southwest Jeff Davis County. They had decided Buck Trask felt safe in his position at the QP Ranch. They would round up that owlhoot and his bunch later, after seeing if Jim recovered from his wounds. They knew Jim would want to be in on that capture, and the assignment to clean up this vast West Texas territory, possibly town by town, would be a long one. They had received several reports that Valentine was being used as a headquarters for gunslingers and various outlaws.

After three days' hard travel through the Trans-Pecos desert, they arrived in Valentine, early in the evening. Wasting no time, they left Amigo and Steeldust at the "Be My Valentine" livery stable, then headed for the local saloon.

It didn't take long for the two Rangers to be confronted. The toughs of West Texas had come to view Valentine as their own town.

As Mark and Walker were at the bar, casually enjoying a drink, Mark, as always, with his arm around a buxom dance hall girl, four tough hombres challenged them. "YOU %&&((((())   skunks of law dogs. Rangers ain't welcome in this town!" the apparent leader, a tall, good-looking hombre snarled.

Mark replied, coolly, "Rangers have authority everywhere in Texas. Now, either behave, or we'll head you for the calaboose."

As the four toughs went for their guns, the two Ranger's yanked theirs, Walker his right-hand .45, Mark, being left-handed, his left. The leader took two slugs in his belly from Mark, jackknifing to the floor. A second crashed backwards through the batwing doors, Walker's bullet in his heart. The third took Walker's slug in his forehead, dying before he hit the floor, while the fourth--hit in the stomach by Mark's accurate fire--staggered two steps forward, then fell at the Rangers' feet. None of the toughs had fired a shot.

"Anyone else?" Walker challenged. The room was deadly silent. "Some of you men get these stiffs out of here. Remember, the law is coming to Jeff Davis County.  Anyone doesn't like the idea, fork your bronc and hit the trail before noon tomorrow." (end of Chapter 18)

As Mark and Walker started toward the exit--the dead gunslingers still on the floor--the batwings swung inward, to reveal a short, sloppy looking man, wearing a brass star on his greasy vest. Next to him was a tall, shifty-eyed individual, dressed in the frock coat and ruffled white shirt of the professional gambler.

Eyes sweeping the room, the gambler demanded, "What happened here?"

Coolly, Walker responded. "And you would be...?"

"I'm Valentine Darling, mayor of this town. And this is the town Marshall, Hack Hayes." Darling gestured to the man at his side.

"Well, Mayor, I'm Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, and this is my partner, Mark French. We've been assigned, along with our other partner, Jim Griffin--who's been wounded at Ft. Davis--to clean out the owl hoots from this part of Texas. The four gentlemen on the floor here objected."

Darling snarled, "We didn't ask for any lousy Texas Rangers. There's been no trouble in MY town from outlaws."

Evenly, Walker retorted. "Well, Darling, those four on the floor, there, don't exactly strike me as upstanding citizens and regular church-goers. Nor do the rest of the hombres in this room. We told 'em, just before we came in, anyone doesn't want to fly right can leave the county by tomorrow noon."

Teeth gritted, eyes glaring, Darling snapped, "Forget it! It's you Rangers who'll be leavin' town, TONIGHT!"

Walker turned to Mark, half-smiling. "Mark, didn't we already get a room for the night, and put our hosses up at the livery?" As he spoke, Darling and Hayes, the marshal, were advancing menacingly, stopping just short of the Ranger pair.

"Sure did, Walker. And, I don't know about you, but I'm beat. I'm  ready for a good night's shut-eye."

The mayor and marshal were blocking the Rangers’ path.

"Well, then, Pard", Walker flashed a quick grin at Mark. "It's time to hit the Hayes!!!" With that, Walker's right fist flashed out, catching the sheriff in his gut. With a resounding "OOOOFFF!", all breath expelled from his lungs, the lawman collapsed to his knees, hands folded over his ample middle. A quick left from Walker sent him sprawling face-down and senseless on the floor.

Mark, following his partner's lead, smashed his Colt's barrel against the side of the tall gambler's head. Darling went down as if hit by one of Cupid's arrows on Valentine's day.

Walker and Mark stepped calmly out of the saloon, guns held on the customers as they backed out the door.

Later, in their room, a chair under the doorknob for as an extra precaution, they were preparing for bed.

Mark, having tossed off his Stetson and removed his boots, was pulling off his shirt, standing at the wash basin, scrubbing his face and neck.

"Hit the HAYES!!!"  he yelled out, sending the wet towel into Walker's face. "Walker, I thought you said JIM made all the lousy jokes."

Walker just smiled, sadly. "Mark, I guess I've learned a few from him, whether that's good or bad, I don't know. Gotta admit, though, I miss that galoot, somethin' fierce. Wish there was a telegraph office in this rat hole, so we could wire Ft. Davis."

"Well, Walker, it should only take a day or two to clean out this town. Then, on our way over to Brewster County, we can swing by the Fort. Jim should be up and around by then." What Mark left unsaid was that, by the time they arrived back at Fort Davis, they would know for sure about Jim. He would either be recovering, or--more likely--already buried in the small post cemetery. (end of Chapter 19)

OK, so there really is a small town in West Texas named Valentine, it's February, and I can't resist a pun. BTW, Terry, this story may go for awhile. You may want to serialize this one, or break it into two or three posts.

The next morning, Walker and Mark ate breakfast a little restaurant, run by a Chinese family.  Afterwards--patrolling the one dusty street of Valentine--they noted with satisfaction that the number of horses at the hitch racks and in the livery corrals was considerably less than the day before.

"Looks like a few hombres took your advice, Walker."  "So far so good, Mark, but this isn't over yet."

As if in answer, as they walked past the town jail, Val Darling and Hack Hayes, the marshal, emerged.

An insincere smile pasted across his face, the mayor of Valentine approached Walker, hand extended. Walker was alert for any sign of danger.

"Walker, I want to apologize for last night. Didn't realize--until Hack here checked his dodgers—those hombres you downed were wanted men."

As Walker reached out to take the gambler's hand, a knife magically appeared from under Darling's sleeve, leaping into his hand. Lunging, Darling left a slice across the Ranger's left ribs. However, cat-like in his swift movement, Walker grabbed the gambler's arm, the man's own momentum twisting him sideways. As Walker reached out his left foot, the man fell on his own knife, the long blade piercing his heart.

Hayes, the marshal, panicked, had pulled his Colt. Mark, who had been half-watching the Marshall, half-watching Walker and Darling, had to quickly yank his Colt and fire a snap shot, unaimed, in return. The Marshall’s bullet singed Mark's right ear, then he fell, yelping, into the dirt, a Ranger slug buried in his groin. He writhed in the dirt, moaning.

As Walker rolled Darling on his back, Mark, looking at the knife stuck deep in the mayor's chest, remarked, laconically, "Well, that takes care of ONE Valentine's heart, anyway. Don't think anyone'll be bringin' him candy or flowers, though."

Laughing, eyes now on the marshal, Walker observed, "Yeah, and your man there won't be makin' any love on Valentine's either."

A crowd had gathered. "Someone get these two to the Doctor and undertaker", Walker ordered. Spotting a young store clerk, who, under his apron, had on a holster and Colt, he asked. "What's your name, Son?"

"Hal Licht", the clerk replied. He, along with his family, had emigrated to Texas from Prussia, seeking freedom to practice their Jewish religion.

"Well, Hal, Mark and I have to leave here in a day or so. I'd like to appoint you town marshal, until a regular marshal can be elected.  Think you can handle it?"

In response, without saying a word, the kid untied his apron. Then, tossing a silver dollar in the air, followed by a swift draw, he fired at the coin, twice.  A bystander retrieved it, revealing two neat holes through the disc.

"That answer your question, Ranger?"

Walker put his arm around the youth's shoulders. "Sure does, Hal."

Mark rejoined, "Kid, I think the town may elect you to the job, permanent." (end of Chapter 20)

The slice along Walker's ribs was not deep. The Rangers returned to their room at the hotel, and Mark cleaned, dressed, and bandaged Walker's side.

They spent two more days in Valentine, while Hal Licht settled into the town Marshal's job. Their final night in town, Walker and Mark were headed for the saloon.

They broke into a trot, hearing the sounds of a violent fistfight in the establishment. As they started up the stairs and across the boardwalk toward the entrance, both were forced to throw themselves sideward, dodging a body flying out the batwings and into the street, landing there groaning, then collapsing, unmoving.

Regaining their footing, dashing into the bar, the Rangers' observed a tough cowpoke doubling over, the young Hal Licht's left fist buried in his midsection.  The man collapsed retching to the sawdust. Around the Marshall were sprawled, shapelessly, four more unconscious toughs.

As the last tough fell, Hal leaned his back against the bar, wiping  a trickle of blood from his spilt lip. Spotting the Rangers, he called, "Walker, Mark, join me for a drink."

"Walker, looks like our work in this town is done, anyway."

"Sure does, Mark."

After their refreshments, the pair left the youthful new peace officer, wishing him luck.

"Walker, Mark, after convincing my folks I wanted to be a lawman, I can face any hombre in Texas." In less than 48 hours, Hal had gone from a clerk in his family store to the Marshal of one of the toughest towns in Texas.

A few days later, Walker and Mark were entering the gates of Ft. Davis. Capt. Maddux greeted them as they rode in. 

"Pvt. Mason, see to the Rangers' mounts,", the Captain ordered. A young Welshman, who had left home to see the American West, took charge of Amigo and Steeldust.

"How's Jim?"  Walker asked, worriedly.

Come see for yourself." Capt Mason replied.  The Rangers followed him to the post hospital.

Jim was half-seated in his bed, covered to his waist by the sheets. He was being sponge-bathed by June Tolsma Maddux, the Captain's wife and post nurse.

Espying his partners, he smiled broadly, "Walker, Mark, good to see you back."

"Yeah, Jim; looks like you've had it tough", Walker wryly answered. Jim was obviously on his way to recovery. However, Walker did note his pale cast, Jim's skin almost as white as the bandages on his chest and belly.

Jim blushed, slightly. "Walker, you think it's easy, being taken care of every day by a beautiful lady. I'm ready to hit the trail."

"Sure you are, Jim." was Mark's sarcastic reply.

"So, Walker, Mark, where've you been?"

Walker and Mark proceeded to tell their partner of the events in Valentine. While they were doing so, Dr. Ramsey entered the room. He waited while the Rangers finished their story.

Jim was quiet for a moment, then remarked, "Walker, Mark, I sure hope you didn't leave that young fellow in over his head."

"Don't think we did, Jim. What makes you say that?" Walker queried.

"Walker, you said he was a Jewish kid, didn't you?'

"Yeah, Jim, why?"

"Because, Walker, if he's over his head in a fight, you've left him in a pickle...a KOSHER pickle."

Jim was laughing, to a chorus of groans from the rest of the room. Mark turned to Doctor Ramsey. "Doc, please, I need somethin' for my stomach, quick; I'm gonna puke."

Staring at Jim, all Walker could say was, "Jim, you're right. You HAVE been off the trails, way too long." (End Chapter 21, Part 1)

June Maddux had finished bathing the blonde Ranger.  Doctor Maddux, stethoscope to Jim's chest, was checking his heartbeat. The physician shook his head, dubiously. "Don't know how, Ranger, but it looks like you'll be making a full recovery."

Jim replied, slightly puzzled. "Well, Doc, I know the Good Lord wasn't ready for me yet. I appreciate all you and June have done, but I wouldn't have made it without His help. But, I also seem to recall Yankee bein' with me...but that's impossible."

June burst out laughing. "Jim, your partners there snuck your horse in this hospital before they left.  You were in a coma, and stayed in it...but when your horse nuzzled your face, you called to him, and were stroking his muzzle."

Jim knew, then. He was speechless, not even able to mumble out a thanks to his partners. The look on Jim's face was all the thanks Walker and Mark needed.

"Walker, Mark, where you headed, next?”

"Jim, we're gonna swing through Marathon, although that's the one town here where things are peaceful, then head down to Terlingua. It's close to the border, and there's plenty of skunks down there need cleanin' out."

"I'm goin' with you." Jim tried to rise. "UUNNHH!" he groaned, sinking back on his pillows, as a sharp pain stabbed through his guts. "Not for a while, yet, Ranger."  Doc Ramsey ordered.

"Now, everyone OUT. You need to get some rest."

"Yeah, Doc, and I've been hurt too long to see Walker's and Mark's ugly mugs for more 'n a few minutes at a time. Man wakes up from bein' shot, the shock of lookin' at those faces might finish him, after all." Jim was grinning, evilly.

As the Doctor administered a painkiller and sedative to his charge, Walker and Mark took their leave, promising to look in on Jim before their departure in the morning. Now that they were sure of his recovery, they would wire Austin, letting Capt. McGuire know of their progress so far, and that Jim had been wounded, but would recover. The Captain would notify Jim's family.

As Doctor Ramsey emerged, they questioned him, receiving a gratifying response.

"Like I said, Walker, French; he'll recover, fully. Should be back on duty in about three weeks."

Walker and Mark spent the night at Fort Davis, bathing, getting haircuts and shaves, and a good meal and full night's rest under their belts.

The next morning, they stopped in to see Jim, before leaving. He was restless, anxious to get back on the trail with his partners.

"Walker, Mark...wire me when you get to Marathon, and again to Terlingua. I'll be ready to ride, in a week, at most. This whole troop can't keep me here after that. If you need me, I'll join you down there. If not, I'll head back toward Balmorhea, mebbe check on the Porters, and their sidewinder of a foreman, Trask."

"Sure, Jim. Sure", Walker lied. He knew Jim wouldn't be riding for at least a week. "We'll wire as soon as we get to Marathon."

A short while later, two Texas Rangers, one red-haired and bearded, the other wiry and compact, headed out of Fort Davis, southward toward the Mexican border. (end of Chapter 21, Part 2)

Walker and Mark had a fairly uneventful trip south.  As the reports they had received indicated, Sheriff Vern Tobin and his deputies were efficiently keeping the peace in Marathon. The Rangers spent a night

there, getting much-needed rest for themselves and their broncs. Then, they pushed further southward, toward Terlingua.

They were somewhere in that barren wasteland, when Amigo and Steeldust jerked up their heads, pricking their ears, snuffling softly. Suddenly, several Comanches leaped from cover along the trail.

"Run for it, Mark!!" Walker shouted, as arrows rent the air. We'll try for that canyon, ahead, and we'll be able to stand 'em off." Amigo and Steeldust pounded into a desperate life-or-death run for the canyon.

To the Rangers' despair, more mounted Comanches appeared, charging directly at them. "Left, here, Walker, QUICK!" Mark shouted. They had brought down three of the screaming Indians.

What at first appeared to be a route to safety quickly proved to be a trap; a box canyon, ending at a ravine.

"Down the cliff, Mark! It's our only chance."  Grabbing Winchesters, they dove over the edge, after slapping their mounts on the rump, sending them, hopefully, out of danger.

One copper body, showing over the edge, appeared to suddenly blossom extra war-paint on its chest, as Walker's bullet went through the Comanche's heart.  "This way, Walker" Mark shouted. There appeared to be a narrow trail along the side of the ravine.

However, as soon as the pair rounded a small bluff, the trail ended in a sheer drop. Mark and Walker were trapped in a small bowl.   Desperately, fatalistically, they fired carefully at the Comanches, conserving their ammunition. Howling in triumph, the Indians sent volleys of arrows at their cornered quarry. (end of Chapter 22)

Jim Griffin had managed to talk Doctor Ramsey into letting him walk around the post, visiting Yankee.  Both man and equine were in fine fettle, now that they were reunited. Jim had groomed the chestnut Paint to a dazzling shine. However, Jim was still not ready to ride, and was chafing at his confinement. In addition, he had not heard from Walker and Mark since they had left Marathon. Their wire was several days' overdue.

He was napping in his hospital bed, about three in the afternoon, when he was awakened by the sounds of pounding hooves, the gates of Fort Davis swinging open to admit an arriving patrol.

He heard Capt. Maddux shouting, "Where did you find that animal?" The troopers' response was drowned out by the screams of Jim's horse, Yankee, who was in the post corral, rather than inside the stable.

Jim, a feeling of disaster gnawing at his gut, quickly rose out of bed, stepping on the hospital boardwalk, in his stocking feet. He reeled, staggering backwards, supporting himself with his left hand against the wall. For, being led by the Sergeant in charge of the troop, was a weary, bedraggled, lathered and bloody Amigo, barely able to hold up his head, whickering softly to Yankee. Next to Amigo was an equally pathetic Steeldust.

Jim ran to the trooper. "Sergeant, where did you pick up those hosses? Tell me...NOW!!"

"About twenty miles south of Marathon, Ranger."

Jim was talking to Amigo, now, rubbing the horse's neck, crooning to him. "Amigo, you came to take me to Walker, didn't you?" The big Paint tossed his head.

Capt, Maddux had reached Jim's side. "Jim, you CAN'T ride out of here!" He had heard what Jim said to Amigo. "It'd be suicide; you're in no shape..."

Blue eyes fierce, sparking blue flame, Jim turned on the Captain. "Maddux, I'm leavin' here at sunup. I'd leave tonight, but I need Amigo to lead me to Walker. I'll be takin' Steeldust, too, cause where Walker is, Mark'll be. And I want them to get a good grainin' and rest tonight. I'll take charge of that."

"Jim you can't......" 

The tall Ranger cut the Captain short.  "Maddux, I CAN, and I WILL. Those are my pards out there, somewhere...and these broncs know where they are." Jim turned back to Amigo and Steeldust. "Don't ya, fellas-and we're gonna find 'em, and bring 'em back."

Turning back to Capt. Maddux, Jim continued, "And I'll be travellin' alone; I can make better time that way. And, Captain, Heaven help you, or any man, who tries to stop me." 

Jim turned on his heels, still in his stocking feet, and, taking the reins of the exhausted Ranger horses, led Amigo and Steeldust into the stable. (end of Chapter 23)

Jim had taken the sorely tried mounts of his partners into the stable. He had carefully put out grain and hay, and was cleaning out Amigo's wounds, when Captain Maddux entered the building.

"Jim, I'm orderin' you to stay here. There's hundreds of square miles of wasteland out there. You don't have a prayer of finding your partners."

Jim turned on the Fort Davis Post Commander. "Captain Maddux, you can’t order me to do anything. I'm not in the US Army, I'm a Texas Ranger. And, Captain, I CAN and WILL find my partners, or die tryin'. In fact, Captain, I'd like to speak to that Sergeant. Appears to me he didn't try very hard to come across Walker and Mark, or any Comanches." Jim turned back to Amigo.

Chastised, Captain Maddux left the stable, summoning Sgt. Jeff Baker, who had been leading the patrol. He brought the officer back to speak to the angry Texas Ranger.

"Jim, this is Sgt. Baker. Ask him any questions you wish."

Eyes fixed on the Sergeant, who couldn't quite meet his gaze, Jim demanded. "Sergeant, exactly WHERE did you find these hosses?"

"Like I said, Ranger, just about 20 miles south of Marathon."

"And you didn't search for Walker and French?"

"Ranger, we did, ten miles in every direction from where we found those animals. Found no sign of your partners, or any Comanches."

"Sergeant, I'm going to be blunt. Were these hosses headin' in any particular direction...'cause I DON'T think you looked hard enough."

Baker's surly response was "Ranger, they were headed back North, this way. If I didn't know better, I'd swear they were headed back here."

Jim relented somewhat, then. "All right, Sergeant; I believe you. Amigo would remember, if Walker was in trouble, where he'd head for help. And, you didn't have any trackers in your troop. I apologize for comin' on so strong. Thank you for your information."

As the Sergeant left, with Captain Maddux still watching Jim, June Maddux entered the stable. She was carrying the Ranger's boots, and one of his shirts. In his determination to start on the trail, searching for his partners, Jim hadn't realized he was still in his stocking feet, and a thin undershirt.

"Jim, put these on. You won't be any good to your partners if you catch pneumonia."

Blushing slightly, Jim replied, "Thanks, June; didn't even realize I was in my bare feet."

She also pressed a bottle into his hands. "Jim, Doctor Ramsey says you shouldn't ride, for at least another week. But, he knows there's no use trying to stop you. This is a painkiller, if you should need it."

"Tell the Doc I said thanks."

Captain Maddux broke in, "Jim, before you leave, stop at my quarters.  We'll have supper together, and I'll have the mess Sergeant get up a pack of supplies for the trail."

"Thanks, Captain- I really appreciate that. It may be a late supper, though. I've got to rub down Amigo and Steeldust, and patch up their hides. I want to make sure they'll be ready to travel in the morning. And, Captain, can you do me one more favor?"

"What is it, Jim?"

"Can you wire Austin for me? Let Capt. McGuire know that Walker and French are missin', somewhere south of Marathon.  Tell him I'm gone to find 'em."

"Will do, Ranger. And, Jim, we'll keep the grub warm for you. If you need any more help here, just ask."

"Will do, Captain."

Jim spent the next several hours in the stable, tending to Amigo and Steeldust. He thoroughly curried and rubbed them down, becoming increasingly concerned as he cleaned and dressed the horses' wounds. It was obvious they had been hit by arrows, a fact confirmed when Jim---finding a broken shaft in Amigo---had to force an arrowhead out from the big Paint's shoulder.   The horse shuddered and nickered in pain, but allowed the Ranger, with his gentle touch, to dress and bandage the hole.

Finally, both horses and Yankee resting, his kit ready for the trail, Jim joined D. R. and June for supper. He then turned in early, getting a good night's rest preparatory to hitting the trail in the pre-dawn.

The morning found Amigo and Steeldust--after their graining and rest--much improved. Jim fed them again, sparingly. They would be able to keep up on the trail, as they would be carrying no riders.

As promised, Capt. Maddux had a good supply of provisions ready for Jim. He and June, along with several of the soldiers, watched as Jim mounted up, placing a hand to his side, as a twinge of pain shot through his still partially unhealed belly wound.

With a quick salute to the Captain, and a tip of his Stetson to June, Jim loped out the gates of Fort Davis, Amigo and Steeldust at Yankee's side. He vowed not to return until he found his partners. (end of Chapter 24)

Jim had set a punishing pace from Fort Davis, knowing every minute passing lessened the chance of his ever finding his partners.

Despite the confidence he had shown to Capt. Maddux and Sgt. Baker at the Army post, he was just searching blindly. No horse, not even Jim's beloved Yankee, would be capable of returning scores of miles to seek help. A horse might travel many miles to its home stable, but it would not know to return to its last stop. No, when the soldiers had found Amigo and Steeldust, the horses had just been fleeing from the horror of an apparent Indian attack.

All indications were that Texas Rangers Cordell Walker and Mark French had been cut down by Comanche arrows, and were lying stone-dead somewhere in the Southwest Texas badlands, their scalps hanging from some Comanche's saddle. Jim could only hope that, somehow, his partners had escaped the Indians, and he would, taking Amigo and Steeldust back to where they had been found, be able to pick up a very cold trail.

As much as Jim wanted to keep pushing, Yankee, Amigo, and Steeldust were badly in need of rest. Jim had pushed hard, wearing down Yank, and the other two horses had not yet recovered from their ordeal. In addition, Jim's wounds--not yet fully healed—were bothering him. His chest muscles had stiffened, and pain kept shooting through his lower abdomen, even after taking the painkiller Doctor Ramsey had provided.

Therefore, entering the town of Marathon about eight in the evening, the tall Ranger decided to put up the broncs at the local livery, and get a full night's rest for himself and the horses. Then, he would get an early start the next morning. (end of Chapter 25, Part 1)

As soon as Jim had left the three broncs at the livery stable, leaving the hostler with instructions to provide all three mounts with a good feed and rubdown, he headed for the town sheriff's office.

As Jim entered, Marshall Vern Tobin, spotting the silver star on silver circle pinned to Jim's vest, stood up, shaking Jim's hand, greeting him warmly.

"Howdy, Ranger, I'm Vern Tobin...what brings another Ranger around these parts? Just had two more of you here, few days ago."

"Vern, Jim Griffin; those two Rangers are my partners. Three days ago, a patrol from Fort Davis brought their hosses in, full of arrows. They found 'em about 20 miles south of here. I'm goin' to find my partners."

"Whew, Ranger; first I heard about this.  Those two were right nice hombres. You want a posse to help you?"

"Appreciate that, Sheriff, but no thanks, for now, anyway. Posse'd scare off those Indians. I can trail 'em better by myself."

"Reckon you're right, Ranger."

"Sheriff, any idea where the Comanches hang out, south of here?"

"Wish I could help: they just pop up, hit quick, and melt into the hills again."

"Thanks, Sheriff. Hate to be uncivil, but I'd like to clean up, eat, and get some shut-eye. My hoss, and my partners', are already settled into the livery."

"Ranger, hotel's full up. Reckon you could bunk in the livery, though."

"Fine with me, Sheriff. Hay loft's better'n a lot of these small town fleabag hotels, anyway. What about a place to grab some grub?"

"Velma's Restaurant closed an hour ago. Only place you can get a meal now is the saloon, about five doors down. It's the "Stars and Bars."

Jim gave the Sheriff a quick glance, which rapidly faded from the Ranger's eyes. Thanking the Sheriff, he headed for the saloon. (end of Chapter 25, Part 2)

Jim chuckled ruefully to himself as he headed for the "Stars and Bars" Saloon. Sure enough, the sign was a vividly painted Confederate battle flag.

"Great", Jim said to himself, under his breath. "I can just imagine what kind of reception I'll get in this place." Jim and his partners had been involved in more that one barroom brawl caused by Jim's Northern accent.  Some Texans would never stop fighting the War Between the States.

"Oh, well, it's either tighten my belt another notch, or rustle up some chuck in this place. Reckon I'm hungry enough to chance it. Don't plan on talkin' too much anyway." With that, Jim entered the saloon.

Cautiously, softly, hoping the usual saloon crowd would tend to their drinks, card games, and dance hall women, Jim ordered steak and potatoes, and a bottle of whiskey. He didn't want the red liquor, but not ordering it would attract even more unwanted attention. His Ranger badge had turned enough eyes, already.

Jim was quietly finishing his supper, at a corner table, when he was approached by several men. Jim sighed to himself, knowing what was coming.

The leader, a huge hombre, growled. "Mister, we heard you at the bar. You're a $%^&& Yankee, hidin' behind a Ranger's badge. Now, we're gonna teach you a lesson, and run you out of town."

Eyes glaring up at the hombre, Jim replied, levelly, "Mister, I don't want any trouble, with you or anyone else. My partners are missin'; appears they were attacked by Comanches. I'm goin' to find 'em. Just spendin' the night here, restin' my cayuse. Now, let me finish my supper."

Jim tensed, as the leader leaped toward him. Upending the table, Jim sent the man sprawling. Another fell, Jim's whiskey bottle smashed over his head. The rest stood frozen in place, staring into the muzzles of Jim's Colts. As the leader struggled to regain his feet, a vicious kick from Jim's boot under his chin flipped him onto his back, unmoving.

At that point, a young man wearing a deputy's star entered the saloon, shotgun in his hand, leveled at the crowd. "Jackson!" he shouted to one of Jim's adversaries. "Pick up Crother and Handy, there, and get out."

Slinking out the door, the hombres complied.

"Thanks, Deputy." Jim shook the young man's hand. He was a slim young man, with light brown hair and clear brown eyes. "Appreciate the help."

"I'm Tommy Everts: Sheriff Tobin told me I'd find you here. You're Ranger Jim Griffin, right?"

"You got me, son; what's on your mind?" It was obvious Everts hadn't just wandered in.

"Sir, the Sheriff knows you don't want a posse. But, I know that territory around where your partners disappeared. Born and raised there; know all the little back canyons. If you'd like, the sheriff thought I might be of help to you."

Jim looked the young deputy over, carefully. He was young, but appeared courageous and steady. As Jim was not familiar with the territory he was headed for, he made a decision.

"Tommy, I appreciate that offer. IF you'll follow my orders TO THE LETTER, I'd be glad to have you beside me."

"It's a deal, Ranger." The young man was obviously thrilled with the chance to ride with the Texas Rangers.

"Be at the livery at 4:00 AM. We'll be startin' out then."

True to his word, Tommy Everts, mounted on a stocky buckskin, met Jim at 4:00. They were soon on the trail. (end of Chapter 25, Part 3)

WARNING-  Anyone who subscribes to the currently fashionable, politically correct idea that all Native Americans were peace-loving, kindly individuals, living in total harmony with nature and their fellow man, (WHICH IS UNTRUE- just like there are savage white men, there were plenty of savage Native American tribes, both in the east and west) should skip the next couple of chapters.  JIM

Walker and Mark were totally surrounded. They had been cut off from their horses, which the Rangers had sent, hopefully, to safety. Amigo and Steeldust had suffered several wounds as the Rangers tried to escape the Comanches.

Mark fired, and a Comanche on the ledge above emitted a hideous scream. Holding his belly, the Indian tumbled over the cliff, landing at Walker's feet, dead.

Mark grinned at his Walker. "Pard, we may not get out of here, but let's take as many of these $^&^&* with us as we can."

Walker's grim reply was a rifle shot, and another Comanche, shot through the brain, crashed dead.

Slowly, the Indians tightened the noose around the trapped pair. As Walker fired, another warrior spinning to the ground with a Ranger slug in him, "AAIIIIEEEE" sounded next to him. Walker's last memory was turning toward his partner, seeing Mark collapsing toward the dirt. Then, something heavy hit the top of the bearded Ranger's skull, and, as pain and flashing bright lights shot through his brain, he swirled down into a vortex of black.

Jim was forced to set a slower pace, once he and his new companion, the young Deputy, Tommy Everts, were about 15 miles south of Marathon.  It was time to search for a needle in a haystack, the slight clue that might lead them to Walker and Mark.

Jim had allowed Tommy along because of his knowledge of the territory. 

"Tommy,  you ever tracked Indians before?"

"Not really, Jim- can follow their sign, some, but I'm no expert."

"OK- well, stay behind me, then.  If you think of a likely spot though, where you feel there might be Comanches holed up, let me know.  With any luck, if we get close enough to where my partners were attacked, Amigo'll lead me to Walker."  The big Paint had become increasingly anxious, tossing his head, snorting on occasion.  Jim was prepared to tie a bandanna around Walker's horse's muzzle, to prevent him from whinnying, perhaps giving away their position.  While the horse, like Jim's, was trained for Ranger work, and to keep still, Jim wasn't sure how Amigo would react if he caught the sound or scent of his human

partner.

Working steadily southward, Jim and Tommy found no fresh sign, of Indians or the Rangers.  Finally, darkness descending, the pair found themselves at a small pond. 

"Tommy, might as well make camp for the night. We'll get a fresh start in the morning."

Jim hobbled Steeldust, not knowing Mark's horse well enough, not sure if the blue roan gelding would wander off.  Yankee and Amigo would stay in camp.  Tommy also hobbled his buckskin.  The horses were watered, then left to graze on the grass near the pond.

Jim hadn't been able to clean up since leaving Fort Davis, and his still healing wounds were stiff and sore. While Tommy cooked supper, Jim bathed in the pond, changing the bandages he still wore.  Then, the pair had supper, and quickly rolled in their blankets.

At first light, they were on their way again.  After about five miles, Amigo getting more and more restless, Jim dismounted, muzzling both Amigo and Steeldust. "Sorry, fellas, but, I can't have you whinnyin', and givin' us away to the Comanches."  Jim had a feeling the warriors were very close by.

Another mile down the trail, and his caution was rewarded, Yankee suddenly jerked up his head, snorting violently.  At the same moment, a rifle bullet sang over Jim's head. 

"Tommy, Comanches!!" Jim shouted, having seen a feathered head pop over a boulder. "Quick, turn your bronc, and we'll get into that draw."

Swiftly, the Ranger and the young deputy made the relative safety of the draw.  Dismounting, sending the horses around a sandbank, out of direct fire, Jim and Tommy faced the oncoming braves.

Two of the Indians were knocked from their saddles immediately.  The rest took shelter behind bushes and rocks on the trailside above the draw.  There were about eight or nine in the band.

Tommy proved his courage, his Winchester fire cutting down several of the braves.  Jim was levering and firing his rifle as fast as reflexes allowed.

"UUUNNNGGHHH"  Jim, I'm hit"  Tommy had just downed another brave, when one of the Comanches let an arrow fly straight at the deputy.  The missile, sent with great force from a taut bow, hit the youngster in his upper belly, the momentum of the shaft sending it completely through his body, emerging between his back ribs, to land in the dirt four feet behind Tommy.  He was just standing there, in shock.

"Tommy, GET DOWN!!!"  Jim rushed over, dragging him to the sand.  "Stay still".  Furiously, Jim charged the top of the bank.  Two more Indians went down, the rest, terrified at the heavy fire, retreating.  The hoof beats of their ponies faded rapidly away.

Jim returned to the young deputy.  Blood was just starting to soak Tommy's checked shirt, starting to trickle from his mouth.

"Jim, how bad is it?"  Tommy choked out, his voice barely a whisper.

Jim opened Tommy's shirt, checking the wound in his abdomen, then, silently, pulled it back over the deputy's body.  There was nothing he could do.

As gently as possible, Jim whispered. "Tommy, I'm sorry- I can't do anything- that arrow's finished you."

Tommy was silent for a moment, then replied. "Knew it, Jim.  Please, when you get back to Marathon, tell my Mom and Dad I love them."   He was starting to convulse, now.

"Will do, Tommy.  I'll tell them how brave you were. Reckon you saved my life, here.  I'll let Vern Tobin know that, too."

"Jim, it hurts- can you get me some water?"

"Sure, son."  Jim whistled up Yankee, and removed his canteen from the saddle horn.

Tommy sipped some water, then, "Jim find your partners- I know they're out there, somewhere."

"Tommy- you don't worry about that- just take it easy."

"Jim-  ------------- Thanks-  for lettin' me come with you.  I'll always know I rode with the Texas Rang...."  With a long sigh, Tommy fell back, his life given in the service of Brewster County.

Jim stood up, tearfully.  With no time to delay, he was forced to bury the youngster there in the wash, pulling down dirt from the bank over Tommy's body, covering it with rocks to foil the scavengers.  He formed a crude cross out of two sticks, to mark the grave.

Hat in hand, Jim stood in silent prayer for a few moments.  "Tommy, soon as I get back, I'll let Vern Tobin know where you're buried, son.  Then, you can have a proper funeral, and a proper burial."

Eyes burning, Jim mounted Yankee, now with three horses, Amigo, Steeldust, and Tommy's buckskin, following.  He resumed his southward trek. (end of Chapter 26)

Jim had spent three frustrating days after the death of Tommy Everts, futilely trying to find some little clue that would lead him to Walker and Mark, his partners.  He was tired, dirty, and hungry, living only on hardtack and water, not daring to risk a shot at some game, for fear it would be heard by the Comanches, not daring to make a fire at night in camp, for fear it would be seen, or the scent of smoke drifting caught by the nostrils of a Comanche brave.  In addition, his wounds were still stiff and sore.

He had given Amigo and Steeldust their heads, believing, by some gut feeling, that he was in the vicinity of where Walker and Mark had been attacked.

"Mebbe Walker's Cherokee's talkin' to me, I don't know" the blonde Ranger muttered to his Paint. 'Then again, mebbe I'm just goin' crazy out here, Yank."  The big gelding tossed his head at that, in apparent agreement. "Who asked your opinion, anyway, hoss?", Jim growled at his mount, giving him an affectionate slap on the neck.

Suddenly, Amigo jerked up his head, swerving sharply onto a well-hidden trail to the left.  Walker's big Paint broke into a trot, then a dead run.  Jim was forced to shake out a loop and lasso the powerful animal, Yankee's sliding stop jerking Amigo to a halt.

Jim quickly dismounted, stroking Amigo's muzzle, speaking to him softly.  Steeldust was next to the Paint, also with nostrils flaring in excitement.

"Walker's up ahead somewhere, isn't he, fella?'  If Amigo hadn't made the turn, Jim was sure he would never have seen the dim trail.  Now, though, the Ranger could see the dim, days-old tracks of unshod ponies.  "Don't worry, pal.  We're gonna get him back."  As Steeldust force his soft nose under Jim's arm, he comforted Mark's blue roan, also. "Yeah, Steel, I know- you're missin' Mark. Buddy, we're gettin' him out of here, too. Either all three of us go back together, or I'm gonna die tryin'  to get them out of here."

Jim again produced bandannas to muzzle Amigo, Steeldust, and Tommy's buckskin.  He knew, with the long separation from their human partner's, that the horses might just forget their training, and whinny a greeting, exposing Jim to the Comanches.

"Sorry again, guys" Jim muttered, as he gently, but firmly, tied the soft cloths around the horses' muzzles.  Then, remounting Yankee, he carefully proceeded, following the dim trail. (end of Chapter 27)

For nearly two hours, Jim painstakingly followed the dim trail through the tangled mesquite and chaparral. Finally, nerves taut, he dismounted, picketing all the horses, except Yankee. He left his own mount standing, reins around the saddle horn. Jim's soft touch to Yankee's nose let the gelding know to remain where he was, until Jim whistled him up, if needed. "Better go on foot for awhile, now Yank."

Jim stealthily worked his way through the brush. After a few moments, his keen senses picked up--for a few seconds--the scent of wood smoke, faintly.

The tall Ranger was approaching a rise in the dim trail. Off to his right, the brush seemed thinner. Removing his Stetson, spurs and gunbelts--avoiding the giveaway clink of metal--keeping one Colt in his left hand, he dropped to his belly, snaking his way through the thorny undergrowth, spiny needles tearing at his clothes and hide.

With dizzying suddenness, he emerged on the edge of a steep embankment. Peering carefully over the side, Jim recoiled in horror, his stomach churning. Below, staked out, guarded by four Comanche warriors, were Cordell Walker and Mark French. (end of Chapter 28, Part 1)

Jim was sickened at the scene. The Comanches were using one of their oldest, and most vicious, forms of torture on his partners. Walker and Mark had been stripped, naked. They had then been spread eagled on the ground, staked over anthills. Their bodies had been smeared with wild honey, so they would die a slow, torturous death from the bites and stings of the voracious crawling insects. Even from here, on the bluff above, Jim could hear their low moans of pain.

In addition, he could see the stains of dried blood on his compadres, where they had evidently been wounded before being captured. Jim would have to work fast, if he meant to save them.

He was studying the situation carefully, but it appeared hopeless. He could easily retreat to the horses, retrieve his Winchester, and shoot down the four warriors. That, however, would bring every other Comanche within ten miles down on them. One thing for sure; the four guarding Walker and Mark were not alone. Others must be camped nearby.

If Jim could ride down, Amigo alongside the big Paint would trample at least two of the Indians in the dust, and Jim could handle the other two. However, the only path into the canyon didn't appear wide enough for one bronc, let alone two.

Jim could possibly take out two, perhaps even three, of the Comanches before he was downed. That, however, would do nothing, except join Jim to his partners in death.  Even if, by some miracle, he did take out all four, they would scream a warning before they died, and the Rangers would be surrounded before they could make their escape. No, the Comanches had chosen the site for Walker's and Mark's torture and death well.

Jim studied the situation for a good while. Then, reaching the only conclusion he could, he wormed his way back to the trail, jogging back to the horses. (end of Chapter 28, Part 2)

Four Comanche warriors looked up--startled—then jumped up in terror, as four horses, one a big Paint ridden by a screaming, hollering apparition, plunged straight over the side of the bank above them, sliding and plunging straight into the Indians' midst. Jim had decided to take a suicidal chance, and ride straight down the cliff, driving the other three horses in front.

Reaching the bottom, Jim leapt sideways off his horse, grabbing the nearest brave by his neck. The momentum of Jim's body, arms locked, snapped the Comanche's neck, killing him instantly. 

Another died under Amigo's flashing hooves, as the big gelding, having spotted his human partner, took his revenge.

Jim had rolled with the momentum of his fall. He used the momentum to spring to his feet, and a third Indian went down, as Jim caved in his face with the butt of his Winchester. Blood gushed from the brave's smashed nose and eye-sockets, as he fell face-down.

The fourth Comanche had drawn his knife, heading for Jim. He slashed wildly, half-panicked by the sudden attack. The blade cut a path down Jim's left arm, causing the Ranger to drop his Winchester. Another stroke from the Comanche blade drew blood from Jim's neck, as the Ranger ducked, reaching for his own knife.

The brave drew in for the kill. Jim, twisting, thrust his Bowie at the Indian. The knife slid deeply into the brave's belly, ripping. He fell slowly to the dirt.

As Jim turned to Walker and Mark, the brave he had smashed in the face struggled, raising his upper body. He had reached for Jim's Winchester, and, getting it, fired off a wild shot, which came nowhere near the tall Ranger. Jim grabbed his rifle from the half-dead brave, clubbing his skull, finishing him off. However, that one shot had placed the Ranger's in even greater danger, for it would be sure to summon the rest of the Comanche band.

Jim leaped to Walker, Bowie knife slashing, cutting his bonds. "Jim, what, how?" Walker was semi-conscious.

"No time for that, Walker. That shot'll bring every Indian in West Texas down on our heads. Here, take a drink, and let's get movin'!!!"

Jim had grabbed his canteen from Yankee's saddle.

As Walker sat up, weakly, Amigo rushed to his side, nickering happily, nuzzling the bearded Ranger's face.  im rushed over to Mark, repeating his actions, freeing the wiry Ranger. "Mark, Walker, quick! We gotta get movin', NOW!!!"

Walker and Mark had managed to sit up, rubbing their ankles and wrists, trying to restore some circulation and feeling, drinking thirstily. "Where's your clothes, and boots? And your guns?"

Walker looked at Jim, dully. "Comanches took everything, Jim."

"Well, Walker, Mark. we gotta go, and sift sand.  This'll give new meaning to the term 'ride bareback'.  After all, you two ain't exactly Lady Godiva." Jim was grinning, but realized the desperation of the situation. Up the canyon, he could see dust rising, the dust of approaching Comanches.

He dragged his weak partners to their feet, shoving them into the saddles on their broncs. "Mark, Walker, head out of here. Left at the top of the bank, follow that dim path about five miles, till you hit the road to Marathon. Head north when you reach it. I'll hang back, try to hold these buzzards off for awhile."

Jim slapped the rumps of Amigo and Steeldust, sending them flying up the trail, the weak Walker and Mark clinging to saddle. Then, hazing Tommy Everts' buckskin in front of him, Jim leaped to Yankee's back. He would attempt a rear-guard action, hoping to hold off the rapidly closing Comanches until his partners could reach safety. Their only hope was a desperate ride for Marathon, a long eighteen miles away, with darkness rapidly approaching. (end of Chapter 28, Part 3)

Desperately, Jim pounded up the narrow Cliffside trail. He could see Walker and Mark ahead, the weak Rangers swaying in their saddles, but hanging on. At the top of the cliff, he leaped off Yankee, bellying down in the brush, rifle in hand. As the leaders of the Comanches appeared, he quickly shot two of them off their mustangs. As they fell, their ponies rearing and snorting in fear and confusion, the rest of the band fell back, momentarily. Jim remounted, spurring his Paint onward.

Again, as Jim was approaching Mark and Walker, the Comanches were gaining. Walker had reined Amigo to a halt, Mark doing the same with Steeldust.

"Jim, toss us a gun, and we'll help hold 'em off", Walker screamed.

Stubbornly, Jim responded, "No can do, Walker. I don't have that much ammunition left. Appears to me you're still too unsteady to aim well, and we can't waste on cartridge. Run for it, you two, NOW. I'll hold these sons back." As Walker and Mark hesitated, Jim pointed his Winchester in their direction, for emphasis.

Once more, Jim took cover, knocking a couple of more Indians from their ponies. He could have easily downed a few more, perhaps even causing enough confusion in their ranks to cause their retreat, if he'd been willing to down a couple of their ponies. However, unlike most men, Jim just couldn't bring himself to deliberately kill a horse, no matter what. It wasn't the animal who was after him; it was the man.

Again, Jim leaped to saddle, urging the tiring Yank onward. Suddenly, the gelding gave a terrific forward bound, twisted sideways, then straightened out, in a dead run. Jim, twisting in his saddle, firing back, taking out another pursuer, groaned in anguish. A Comanche arrow was sticking out of his horse's side, along the ribs, just behind the saddle. As Jim leaned over his equine partner's neck, only hope now to ride like the devil himself until Yankee gave out, he saw another shaft, the arrow apparently having gone right through the Paint's neck.

Jim glanced upward. With Yankee badly wounded, blood already copiously pouring from his hide, the only hope for the Rangers now would be dusk. Hopefully, the Comanches would quit their pursuit once darkness fell.

There was no hope now of reaching Marathon, and sundown was still a long half-hour away. As Yankee started to struggle, Jim rode up on his partners, their horses also tiring, rapidly.

"Walker, Mark...head for the chaparral. It's our only chance." (End of Chapter 29)

Quickly, Walker spun Amigo off the trail, crashing through the chaparral and mesquite wastes, Mark and Jim following. They could hear the whoops of the rapidly approaching Indians, close on their heels.

Giving Amigo his head, Walker led his two partners through dim, twisting passageways in the brush. The Rangers were making no attempt to mask the sounds of their desperate retreat, just hoping to outride their pursuers until dark. The sky was dimming, noticeably.

Even tired as they were, Yankee badly wounded, the Rangers' mounts were superior to the ponies of the Indians. Slowly, the three men were putting some distance between themselves and the Comanches, who were unable to stay bunched in the tangled chaparral, forced to pursue their quarry single-file.

Finally, exhausted, it being too dark to continue safely, Walker pulled his horse down to a slow walk, then a stop. The Rangers stood quietly for quite some time, listening. All sounds of pursuit had stopped.

Yankee was standing, head down, sides heaving, having been ridden harder than the other two broncs. Amigo and Steeldust were also worn out.

Walker and Mark were rapidly recovering, but Jim was all out from his search, and the rescue of his partners, and the chase. "Jim, Mark", Walker suggested, "let's find a place to bed down, for the night. I think those Comanches have given up, for now." (end of Chapter 30)

Cordell Walker was awakened in the pre-dawn light by the twittering of birds in the thicket. Mercifully, the Comanches had turned back in the night, giving up the hunt for the Rangers. There was no way the exhausted, wounded men and horses could have stood off the warriors.

Walker's exhausted partners, Jim Griffin and Mark French, were still snoring, softly. Walker rolled onto his left side, looking toward where the horses were grazing. He exhaled a sigh of relief, realizing Jim's Yankee was still standing, and nibbling at the grass. Jim would go berserk without that bronc. "Should've known, though", Walker thought to himself. "Anything happened to that hoss durin' the night, Jim would've been wide awake in two shakes." The bearded Ranger stretched out on his back, relaxing.

Shortly, Jim and then Mark woke up. Jim, sleepily, went to check on the horses. Yankee lifted his head, nuzzling Jim, weakly, eyes dulled with pain. "Yank, I'll get you home, promise...few days rest, Pard, you'll be good as new."

Returning to Walker and Mark, he answered their queries. "Jim, can we ride today?" 

"Let me check you guys, first. Mark, roll up that pants leg."

Mark's wound was red and tender, heat radiating from it. "Mark, looks like blood poisonin' startin' to set in." Jim shook his head, ruefully. The Comanches knew what they were doing when they left the broken shaft in his partner's leg.

Walker was in better shape, so Jim made his decision. Yep, if we take it slow. I can't ride Yank, though. I'll ride Tommy Everts' buckskin. We can't stay here, for sure. Mark, you've gotta get to a real doc, and muy pronto. Plus, those Comanches may come lookin' for us, again. We can't stay here, that's for sure."

Jim retrieved the horses, Walker and Mark stiffly mounting their own broncs. As Jim  spoke softly to Tommy's horse, "C'mon, Buck, let's get you home, to your family", Yankee shouldered the buckskin gelding aside, jealously, nudging Jim's shoulder. "Sorry, Yank", Jim spoke softly to his cayuse. "You're hurt, bad, Pal. I need to let you rest. You deserve it." The Paint whickered softly, almost in understanding, and fell in next to Buck. Slowly, the three Rangers headed northward, toward Marathon. (end of Chapter 31, part 2

Working their way slowly through the brush, now dimly illuminated by a rising quarter-moon, the partners came out in a small clearing, with a water-hole and pond. They dismounted, gratefully.

Mark French collapsed as he dismounted, his left leg caving under his weight. Jim and Walker rushed to his side, covering him with a blanket, making him as comfortable as possible. He had taken an arrow in the leg when he and Walker were captured, and it had not been treated.

Walker also sat down, dizzy from his scalp wound. A tomahawk had downed him in the gully.

"Mark, Walker, let me check you." Jim insisted. The blonde Ranger was worried sick about his horse, but his human partners had to come first.

"Jim", Mark replied, "few more minutes won't make a difference to me or Walker, one way or the other. But, we need those hosses. Take care of them, first. Walker 'n I can wait." Jim looked at Walker, who nodded assent.

Jim led the horses to the waterhole, allowing them to drink, sparingly. Then, he picketed the other mounts, and, unusually, tied Yankee to a sturdy tree.  The gelding was weak, nickering softly to his human friend, in pain. Jim knew he would have to get the arrows out, and hope against hope they had hit nothing vital, that his Paint wouldn't bleed to death.

Walker, knowing Jim would need help, approached his partner, wrapped in a blanket. Jim was speaking soothingly to his horse, reassuring the animal.

"Jim, let me help you."

"Sure, Walker; can you hold his head, talk to him?  I've gotta get that arrow out of his side, then, I'll have to break off the shaft in his neck." The arrow in the horse's neck had gone clean through.

"Easy, boy; Jim's with you. Careful, Jim." Walker winced, as Jim carefully removed the arrow from Yankee's side. Then, the tall Ranger--rubbing his mount's shoulder, crooning to him softly—carefully cut the wooden shaft with his Bowie knife, at the horse's skin. He then pulled the barbed end of the shaft through. 

Yankee jerked his head, whinnying in pain, but, under Walker's steadying hand, and Jim's gentle touch, he allowed himself to be worked on. Jim quickly covered the wounds with salve, removing his shirt and tearing it, wrapping it around Yank's neck as a bandage. The wound in the gelding's side was not easily bandaged, but Jim did cover it with salve, slowing the bleeding.

"Yank, that's all I can do for you, now, Pal. It's up to you, and the Good Lord, and St. Francis. Go eat and rest, Pard."

As they walked back to where Mark lay, Jim told Walker, relief in his voice, "Looks like those arrows didn't hit anything vital, Walker. If we can get back to town, let Yank rest for a few days, he'll be fine. Now, let's get you and Mark taken care of." (end of Chapter 31, part 3)

"How's Yankee?" was Mark's first question.

"Hard to tell, Mark...looks like he'll be OK, though. Now, let me see that leg of yours."

Walker had also lain back down again, the dizziness returning. Jim, examining Mark's leg, realized the arrowhead and shaft were still imbedded in the calf muscle.

"Mark, gotta push that through, and you know it." Jim handed the compact Ranger a chuck of mesquite wood. As he pushed the shaft through, Mark bit down, fighting the pain, finally passing out, momentarily.

Jim then sterilized the hole with whiskey he carried for that purpose, and dressed and bandaged it. He would have like to heat his Bowie, and cauterize the wound, but they did not dare make a fire.

Then, working silently, he turned to Walker, quickly cleaning and bandaging the gash in the big Ranger's scalp.

Grinning, relaxing a little, he quipped, "Walker, don't those Indians know, if they wanna kill you, they can't go for your head. It's WAY too thick."

In reply, Walker, looking at Jim, just asked, "Jim, what about that cut in your neck, and your arm?" As Jim had removed his shirt to use it as bandages, his partner noticed he still had bandages where he had been shot. "And what're you doin' out here, anyway?"

"That's gratitude, Walker. Chase over half of Texas lookin' for you, and you wanna know what I'm doin' here? Anyway, I'll patch this arm, now, just a little knife slice."

As he was cleaning his wounds, Jim realized Walker and Mark still were undressed, under their blankets. The Comanches has taken all the Rangers had when they were captured. He went to his saddlebags, and produced two extra pair of jeans. His spare shirt had also been used for bandages.

"Walker, Mark, put these on, even though they won't fit. Better 'n nothin'; too bad I had to use my shirts. While you do that, I'll check on the hosses, and get some more water."

When Jim returned, Walker had squeezed into one pair of jeans. The muscular Ranger had a wider waistline than his taller partner. Mark's pair was hanging past his feet, Jim being much taller.

"How's the hosses, Jim?"  Walker asked.

"OK, Walker. Yank's stopped bleeding, and they're all resting."

The threesome were eating hardtack, washed down with tepid water, finally having a chance to relax, a little. With the chance to think, Walker questioned, "Jim, where'd you get that buckskin?"

Jim looked off into the darkness, then replied, slowly. "Walker, Mark, that hoss belonged to a young deputy out of Marathon, kid named Tommy Everts. Vern Tobin asked him to side me while I was lookin' for you, since he was born and raised in this wasteland."

Jim hesitated, then continued. "Comanches waylaid us, back toward Marathon. The kid was brave, all right; his first Indian fight. He got a few, then, he took an arrow."

Jim stopped, eyes wet. Taking a deep breath, he went on. "Kid died real brave. I had to bury him, right there. He made me promise to tell his folks he loved them, and he got to ride with the Rangers. I promised myself I'd get him back home, for a proper burial."

All three were silent. Then, Jim continued, "Let's get some sleep. If the hosses are OK, we'll head out first thing. If not, we may have to hole up here another day or so."

With that, a prayer of thinks on their lips for their escape from the Comanches, the exhausted, hurting trio rolled in their blankets, sleep mercifully overtaking them. (end of Chapter 31, part 4)

During their escape from the Comanches, the Rangers had twisted and turned their way through the brasada, not sure, in the dark, of their exact location. Working their way back to the main trail, they were relieved to find they were much closer to Marathon than they had believed.

While they rode, they exchanged their experiences of the past days, Walker's and Mark's capture by the Comanches, Jim's journey to rescue his partners. No thanks had been spoken to Jim by his partners, and none was necessary, or expected. Walker had saved Jim's life, during the train robbery at the start of this assignment. Now, Jim had rescued Mark and Walker. It was just part of being a Texas Ranger.

As they approached a side arroyo, an object ahead rolled across the trail, blown by the slight breeze. Espying it, riding up to it, Jim called to his partners, "Walker, Mark, hold up a second, will you?" Jim dismounted, picking up the battered Stetson. He walked slowly down the arroyo, Walker and Mark following, to a crude wooden cross. Gently, he placed the hat on the cross, tying it in place with the chin strap. He stood in silence for a moment.

Turning to his partners, he gently spoke. "Mark, Walker, that's where I buried Tommy Everts." The young deputy's Stetson had remained where he had fallen, until a fateful breeze blew it into Jim's path.

Silently, the Rangers continued their journey. (end of Chapter 33)

The arrival of Jim, Walker, and Mark in Marthon, just after lunchtime, created quite a stir. Walker and Mark were dressed only in the jeans Jim had loaned them, all their other clothing, boots included, having been stolen by the Comanches. Jim wasn't much better off.  He also was shirtless, having used all his to make bandages. However, he at least still had on his boots, vest, bandanna, and Stetson, and Ranger star.

In addition, all the horses were dragging. Yankee, weak from his wounds, was walking with his muzzle practically dragging the ground. The bedraggled group attracted more than their share of attention.

They reined up in front of Sheriff Vern Tobin's office, stumbling into the small room.  The sheriff stood up, numb, as the Rangers slumped into various chairs. One of his deputies emerged from the back, near the cells.

"Walker, Mark, Jim! What happened?" 

"Had a little run-in with some Comanches, Vern", was Walker's short reply.

"I can see that- where's your duds?"

"Comanches got 'em."

Vern turned to his deputy. "Jim, get across to Zeb Miller. Tell him to rustle some outfits over here for the Rangers, PRONTO!!" Zeb Miller owned the general store in Marathon.

Suddenly, eyes widening, Vern stopped in his tracks, eyes leveled at Jim. "Jim, where's Tommy Everts?" Looking at Jim, he knew, before he even asked.

"Vern, I'm sorry. Bunch of Comanches hit us, about ten miles south of here. Tommy fought hard, downed a bunch of 'em."

"Jim, WHAT HAPPENED?"

"Vern, arrow went right through him. I couldn't save him. Had to bury him, there. Told him I'd bring him home, though, and he asked me to tell his folks he loved them."

Vern Tobin collapsed back in his chair, stunned.  "I've got to tell his folks...can't believe he's gone."

"Vern, that's my job", Jim insisted. "Where's his folks live?"

"Small ranch, about a mile west of town."

Deputy Jim Smith returned then, followed by the town doctor, Eli Keene. The deputy had wisely noted the condition of Mark and Walker, and summoned the physician. Zeb Miller followed close behind.

As the doctor started working on the two Rangers, Jim stood up, slowly. "Mark, Walker, I'll take your broncs to the livery. Then, I'll go see the Everts. Meet you back at the hotel."

Jim rode Buck to the Everts ranch, leading Yankee. He would need the exhausted Paint to get back to town.

He slowly, hesitantly climbed the porch steps, rapping gently on the door. A graying, care-worn woman in her early 50's answered.

"Mrs. Evert?"

"Yes?"

"I'm Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, May I come in?"

"Certainly."

From the kitchen, a deep voice issued. "Emily, who's that?"

"Mack, it's a Texas Ranger...a Mr. Griffin."

Mack Evert, a sturdy Texas rancher, entered the front room, followed by a tanned boy of about 17.

"Ranger, pleased to meet you; this is my son, Joe. What can we do for you?"

Jim spoke the dreaded words. "Mr. Evert, Mrs. Evert, Joe; I'm afraid I have bad news for you." He stopped, as Emily Evert clutched her husband. "Your boy, Tommy, is dead...killed by Comanches."

Emily buried her head in her husband's chest, sobbing. Joe clenched his fists, moaning. Mack Evert, staring into space, stuttered out, "How, how did it happen, Ranger?"

Jim replied, "He was with me, as I'm sure Vern Tobin told you. We were ambushed. Mr. Evert, Mrs., Evert, your boy was one of the bravest young men I've ever known. He fought like a demon- took out a bunch of those renegades."

"How'd he die, Ranger?"

"Mr. Evert, please, you don't want the details."

"Ranger, I've GOTTA know!"

As gently as possible, Jim went on. "An arrow went clean through his belly. Don't worry; he didn't suffer, much."

Over the sobs of the entire family, now, Jim continued. "Just before he died, he asked me to tell you how much he loved you, all of you. I promised him I'd do that, and also that I'd bring him home. I had to leave him buried where he fell, for now. Vern Tobin's already  making arrangements to bring him back. I have his horse, Buck, outside."

Hesitating, Jim continued, "Tommy wanted to let you know how proud he was to ride with the Texas Rangers.  Mr. and Mrs. Evert, Joe, I'm a lieutenant in the Rangers, and I have authority to recruit. Just before your son died, I swore him in as a Texas Ranger.  Unpinning the badge from his vest, he handed it to Emily Evert. "Mrs. Evert, this was to be Tommy's badge. He died a Ranger." (end of Chapter 34)

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Jim took his leave of the Everts, the family needing their privacy, to mourn. Joe, Tommy's younger brother, followed him down the steps. Jim handed Joe the reins of Buck, Tommy's horse. "Joe, take good care of him, for your brother. Like I told you, Tommy was a good man." Joe, in his grief, took the buckskin's reins, leading him away, silently.

Jim mounted the worn-out Yankee, for the trek back to Marathon. En route, he passed Sheriff Vern Tobin, headed in the opposite direction, to pay his condolences to his fallen deputy's family. Jim had no qualms over the small lie he had told the Evert family...that he had sworn their son in as a Texas Ranger, before Tommy died. It would bring them some comfort, in the future.

Jim put up Yank in the livery, tending to the Paint's wounds, rub-down, and feeding himself. Then, he shuffled tiredly over to the Boston Marathon Hotel, finding his partners in Room 23, both stretched out on their beds. 

"How'd it go, Jim?"  Walker asked. 

"About as well as it could, Walker. God, I hate doin' that." Jim sat on the edge of his bed, head and shoulders drooping.

After a moment, he asked, "What'd Doc Keene say about you two?"

"I'll be fine" Walker snapped.

"What about you, Mark?"

"Jim, Doc says we got back just in time.  Caught the poison before it spread. Says you should have been a sawbones."

"Yeah, right...some sawbones I'd be. Can't even keep a kid from the Comanches." Now that the tension of the past few days was wearing off, the hurt of Tommy's loss was sinking in. Jim was heading into a foul mood.

"Jim, you know a lawman takes chances, every day." That was Walker, speaking. 

"I know, I know, Walker. Just give me a while, will ya?"

"Sure, Jim. We're gonna be here a few days, anyway.  Doc Keene says neither Mark nor I can travel right now. Plus, our hosses have had it."

"Good, Walker. I'd like to get to the kid's funeral."

"We'll all go, Jim." Walker, looking at his partner, suddenly realized Jim's badge was gone.  "Jim, where's your star?"

"Walker, before Tommy died, I swore him in as a Ranger. Gave my badge to his family, as Tommy's."

Walker looked at his partner, thoughtfully. "Jim, anyone ever tell you you're too nice a guy to be a Ranger?"

"Not lately, Pard; probably never will."  Jim smiled, ruefully.

Mark spoke up, then. "Jim, Walker, I gotta get some sleep. Don't forget, tomorrow, Walker, you and I have gotta get resupplied. We'll need new Colts, gunbelts, Winchesters, and a whole lot of new clothes. Jim, a good night's rest, you'll feel better, I promise you.  We're all used up and wore out, right now."

"You're right, Mark. G'night" Worn to a frazzle, Jim pulled off his boots, unbuckled his gunbelts, and stretched out fully clothed on his bed, turning down the flame of the coal oil lamp. Silently praying, he was soon fast asleep, his snoring joining that of his partners. (end of Chapter 35)

The sun was well up when the Rangers awoke the next day. They slept late, knowing they were in for a few days of recuperation.

After a quick clean-up, they headed for the livery, to check on their horses. Jim was pleased to note Yankee was much stronger, his eyes bright. He trotted up to his human friend, happily.

"NO!! Walker, Mark...we've got a problem." Jim had an expression of great concern on his face, Yankee nuzzling him expectantly.

"What's wrong, Jim?" was Walker's quick reply.

"I ran out of peppermint sticks, that's what!"

Sarcastically, Walker snorted, "Yeah, we've all been shot, tortured and nearly scalped by Comanches, but God forbid that cayuse doesn't get his candy."

Jim ignored him. "Yank, soon as the store opens, I'll get some, Pard. Hold on." The gelding shoved Jim halfway across his stall, as if a reminder.

Over breakfast, the three discussed their plans, once they would be able to ride again.

"Jim, Mark, much as I'd like to track down those Comanches, they're probably in Mexico by now."

"Yeah, Walker", Mark broke in, "and we really need to head back North, see what's goin' on around Balmorhea."

Firming their plans, figuring on heading North as soon as possible, the partners finished their meal. Then, they headed for Zeb's General Store.

Jim headed straight for the candy counter, buying every peppermint stick in sight.  Then, he bought a couple of new shirts, to replace the ones torn for bandages, and shells for his pistols and rifle.

Walker and Mark spent considerable time resupplying, for they had to replace everything the Comanches had stolen. They purchased boots, clothing, gunbelts, Stetsons, and bandannas. Then, Colts, Winchesters, shells, bedrolls, canteens, blankets, and trail supplies.

They even had to buy new saddlebags for Amigo and Steeldust, for--in the horses' frantic escape from the Commanches--the saddlebags had been ripped from their backs, as they ran through the brush. Both Rangers had searched in vain for the bags which had contained their spare clothes.

"Zeb, mind if we leave these here, except for some of the clothes?" Walker asked. The three Rangers were headed for much-needed baths, shaves, and haircuts.

"No problem at all, Rangers."

Bundles of new clothes under their arms, the three headed over to the barber shop, getting spruced up, soaking away aches and pains.

As they emerged, stepping onto the boardwalk, they observed a wagon headed slowly down Main Street, in their direction. As the wagon progressed, passersby stopped, women bowing their heads, men removing their hats.

As the wagon pulled closer, the Rangers noted it was accompanied by Sheriff Vern Tobin, his deputy Jim Smith driving the team. In the back was a plain pine box. As it passed, Jim, Mark, and Walker removed their Stetsons in salute. Tommy Everts had come home. (end of Chapter 36)

Tommy Everts' funeral was held the next day, in the small white Baptist church at the end of Main Street.  Almost everyone in town was in attendance.

On his casket, in front of the simple altar, was displayed the Ranger badge Jim had given his parents, along with Tommy's Stetson. Mack Everts and his wife had insisted Jim give a short eulogy.

"Friends, Mr. and Mrs. Everts, Joe; I only knew Tommy for a short time. He volunteered to help me find my partners, who had been taken prisoner by the Comanches. Without his starting me on the right trail, I would never have found Walker and Mark."

Jim stopped, overcome by emotion. "Tommy fought bravely, even at his young age. He was a man to ride the river with, anywhere, anytime. Even as he was dying, he faced death with courage, thinking only of his parents. and his brother. His last words to me were his concern for, and encouragement to, find my partners, not for himself."

Jim had to stop, again, drawing a deep breath. "I was proud to swear Tommy Everts in as a Texas Ranger, and his name will be added to the rolls of the Texas Rangers in Austin, showing he sacrificed his life for the citizens of Texas."

Later, at the cemetery, Mark, Walker, and Jim fired a volley in salute of the fallen youngster, as he was lowered into his final resting place. (end of Chapter 37)

Tommy Everts funeral was held the next day, in the small white Baptist church at the end of Main Street. Almost everyone in town was in attendance.

On his casket, in front of the simple altar, was displayed the Ranger badge Jim had given his parents, along with Tommy's Stetson.  Mack Everts and his wife had insisted Jim give a short eulogy.

"Friends, Mr. and Mrs. Everts, Joe-  I only knew Tommy for a short time.  He volunteered to help me find my partners, who had been taken prisoner by the Comanches.  Without his starting me on the right trail, I would never have found Walker and Mark."  Jim stopped, overcome by emotion.  "Tommy fought bravely, even at his young age.  He was a man to ride the river with, anywhere, anytime.  Even as he was dying, he faced death with courage, thinking only of his parents and his brother. His last words to me were his concern for, and encouragement to, find my partners, not for himself. " Jim had to stop, again, drawing a deep breath. " I was proud to swear Tommy Everts in as a Texas Ranger, and his name will be added to the rolls of the Texas Rangers in Austin, showing he sacrificed his life for the citizens of Texas."

Later, at the cemetery, Mark, Walker, and Jim fired a volley in salute of the fallen youngster, as he was lowered into his final resting place. (end of Chapter 38)

After the funeral for Tommy Everts, and the reception at the Everts' home, the three Rangers returned to their hotel room. Mark had been ordered to stay off his leg as much as possible, but was using a cane to make do.

After a while, he spoke up. "Walker, Jim, let's get outta here, for now." It was around eight in the evening. "I've gotta have some fun. Let's head over to the saloon, for a couple of drinks, maybe some poker."  Unlike his two married partners, Mark enjoyed visiting the saloons, being entertained by the girls.

"Walker, Mark, you go ahead. I'm just gonna stay here."  Even though Jim had known Tommy for only a few days, the boy's death had hit him hard.

"Jim, you gotta get out...." Mark insisted.

Even Walker, worried about Jim's state of mind, joined in. "C'mon Jim; won't hurt you to get out for a while."

"Walker, I've been in that place...don't much like it. You know how I get along in Texas saloons."

Walker grinned, knowing what Jim meant. Finally, though, he and Mark prevailed upon their partner to join them.

Seeing the sign out front, Walker nudged Mark in the ribs. "The 'STARS AND BARS.' No wonder Jim didn't want to join us. You had a run-in over your accent in here, already, Jim?"

"Yup" was Jim's one word response.

However the three Rangers, joined by Sheriff Vern Tobin, had a quiet evening. Mark, naturally, had a voluptuous dance hall girl, Candy Kane, on his lap. He drank, Jim and Walker sipping theirs, while the four played poker. Jim, as usual, lost, quickly dropping out of the game, while Walker rode a winning streak.

Then, Candy, after a few drinks from Mark, proclaimed, loudly, "Jim, you're Yankee accent is so CUTE." Jim winced, as he saw a bunch of cowpokes at the bar turn and look in his direction. Several of them were the ones he had tangled with his first visit to the "Stars and Bars."

One of them turned, sniffing the air, loudly. "I smell a stinkin' YANKEE in here." His partners, who had already faced Jim, tried to hold him back.

"Clete, you don't want to mess with that jasper; 'sides, he's a Ranger."

"H###, with that." Clete approached the Rangers' table, holding his nose, snorting. "Yep, I smell Yankee...whooee, stinks to high heaven."

"Let's go, Mark, Walker." Jim just wanted to leave, peaceably.

The three paid their bill, rising to leave. However, Clete kept following them, now screaming. "HA!!! He's YELLA-  Thinks he's a tough Ranger, but he's just a YELLA Yankee."

Jim kept walking, Walker and Mark in front of him.  Clete kept it up. "Yella-bellied, lily-livered, YANKEE." Finally, still tormented by Tommy's death, tired and frustrated, sick of being attacked in every saloon he entered, just for his accent. Jim whirled, his right hand grabbing the puncher under the jaw, tightening on his throat. Clete was gasping for air.

"That's right, CLETUS. I am a Yankee, and proud of it. And, I've got news for you, boy, the South lost the War. It’s long over, and us Yankees WON. And, now, you're gonna lose THIS war". With that, using a powerful upward thrust of his arm, Jim sent the cowpuncher flying halfway across the saloon, sending his crashing flat on his back, skidding up against the bar.

Clete, not knowing when he was licked, scrambled to his knees, jerking his Colt. Without even moving, Jim pulled his .45, sending a slug through the hapless Clete's elbow, the slug then burying itself in the bar. The cowpuncher, clutching his shattered elbow, screaming in agony, passed out, sagging back to the floor.

"Told you I didn't want to come here", Jim muttered to Mark and Walker, as they walked out of the saloon, Vern Tobin picking up the stunned Clete, to cart him off to the jail, after treatment at Doc Keene's. (end of Chapter 39)

Walker, Jim, and Mark were forced to spend the next several days in Marathon, as Walker and Mark recovered from their wounds, the three horses recovering from their race from the Comanches, Yankee needing time for the arrow holes in his side and neck to heal shut.

Walker and Mark slept late again, the day after Tommy Evert’s funeral, and the fight in the saloon. Jim, restless, went to the livery stable, cleaning and redressing his gelding's injuries, then giving all three horses a bath and rubdown. After that, he proceeded to the Western Union office, wiring Ranger Headquarters about what had transpired so far on the patrol of the Trans-Pecos, and adding Tommy Evert’s name, posthumously, to the ranks of the Texas Rangers.  He spent some time with Vern Tobin, the town sheriff, then strode over to the Copper Skillet, expecting to meet his partners.

Walker and Mark were there, but, as Jim took a seat opposite them, they moved to another table, silently.  Jim rejoined them, but they again moved. Puzzled, hurt, but with his typical stubbornness, Jim remained at the second table, ordering his hotcakes, bacon, and coffee.

As Jim was eating, surreptitiously glancing at his partners from time to time, Walker finally remarked, loudly, to Mark, "Pard, they'll let ANYBODY in this place. We've gotta find a classier establishment."

Jim tried to ignore him, but Mark chimed in. "Walker, absolutely. Just look at that bum over there", nodding his head in Jim's direction.  "Stetson all sweaty, jeans faded, boots all scuffed. He's a disgrace."

Jim looked at them, growling, "Yeah, and you two think you're just beyootiful." Walker and Mark were, of course, dresses in their brand new outfits, hats still white and unstained. "My outfit looks like this because I do all the work in this outfit, while you two lay around in the sun all day. Then, when I do get you back here, you spend all night in some saloon, all day in the hotel." He returned to his breakfast.

As he finished, paying his check, Walker and Mark grabbed him, one on each arm. Ignoring Jim's snorting protests, they dragged him across the street to Zeb's.  "Jim, you've gotta look good, too."

"Walker, Mark, you no-good sidewinders, I've already got new shirts, thanks to you two. That's enough."  However, his partners dragged Jim kicking and screaming into Zeb's.

Addressing Zeb Miller, the proprietor, Walker ordered the gentleman, whose blue eyes were sparkling behind his spectacles, "New outfits for this hombre, please."

At first, nothing could please Jim, no matter what was presented for his inspection.  Finally, however, eyes alighting on a stack of shirts, Jim started purchasing, a slightly evil grin crossing his face.

"Zeb, I'll take that bright red one, and that purple one, and that canary yella one...and those bright plaids, too. And, all those scarlet and purple bandannas. And those turquoise beaded hatbands, too."

Mark and Walker looked at each other, groaning. Walker burst out, "Jim, not those! Mark 'n' 'I'll go blind, lookin at those all day."

Mark added. "Jim, you're a Ranger. You gotta worry enough about stoppin' a slug, as it is, without makin' yourself an easy target. A ninety-year old blind man couldn't miss those shirts, if he decided to plug ya."

"Hey, you wanted a classier-lookin' pard, that's what you've got." To the store owner: "Zeb, wrap 'em all up--except the yella' shirt and that stripey purple bandanna. I'll wear those now."

Walker and Mark's gag had, in one way backfired, as they would have to live with Jim's new gaudy outfits. However, they were also pleased, as they had broken their partner out of his funk, over the death of Deputy Tommy Everts.

With their youth and vitality, they were ready, three days later, to leave Marathon. In the final exam at Doctor Keene's office, he told them, "Walker, you're fine. Mark, though, when you get to Alpine, have that leg checked, once more time."

"Not goin' to Alpine, Doc." Walker replied. "We're gonna swing northeast of there, see if we can pick up any Comanche or owlhoot tracks. Tell you what, though; we will be swinging by Fort Davis on the way back to Balmorhea. I'll have the post doctor check Mark's leg then."

With Doctor Keene's assent, the three Rangers spent one last night in Marathon, visiting the Everts family, giving them Capt. McGuire's reply to Jim's telegram, officially notifying of Tommy's enrollment in the Rangers. Then, after supper with Sheriff Vern Tobin, they retired to their hotel. Early the next morning, three well-rested Texas Rangers, on three powerful, refreshed cayuses, headed northward. (end of Chapter 40)

Walker, Jim, and Mark had an uneventful journey from Marathon to Fort Davis. While they did espy some tracks of hooves, both shod and unshod, they were all days or weeks old, not worth following.

They were greeted warmly upon their return to the Army post. 

After greeting them, Capt. Maddux requested, "Walker, Jim, Mark- as soon as you get your mounts cared for, and yourselves cleaned up a little, come to my office. And Jim, where'd you get that shirt?" Jim was wearing the canary yellow one. "I have something that may interest you." The slightest hint of a smile almost Mona-Lisa like, was on the officer's face.

After getting settled, curiosity consuming the trio, they headed for the Captain's office. "Follow me", he ordered, leading them to the Quartermaster's supply room.

"Sgt. Hanry, these are Rangers Walker, Griffin, and French. Would you please retrieve those items we have for them?"

"Yes, sir!" Sgt, Hanry saluted, disappearing into the back room, then returning, placing two shiny objects on the counter.

Walker and French stared wide-eyed in recognition.

"Gentlemen, I believe these are your badges, are they not?" Capt. Maddux was smiling broadly, now.

"Sure are, Sir. Where'd you find them?" Walker replied, astonished.

"Join me for supper, and I'll tell you."

"We sure will, but Mark has to have his leg checked by Dr. Ramsey, if it's not too much trouble."

"No trouble at all."

Walker and Mark left, along with Jim, badges again pinned to their shirts. Jim's badge, of course, was back in Marathon, now the proud possession of Tommy Evert’s parents.

Mark was given a clean bill of health. Over supper, with the Captain and his wife, June, the Rangers were made to tell the story of their time away from the Fort.

Finally, Mark insisted, "Enough, Captain. How'd you get our badges back?"

Leaning back in his chair, Capt. Maddux related his story. "One of our patrols, led by Sgt. Baker, ran into a bunch of Comanches south of here, about 50 miles. Chased 'em and engaged 'em. We lost two troopers, but we killed all of the braves. Found your badges on two of them, along with some of your clothes and supplies, and maybe your guns. None of it worth salvaging, though, except those badges."

"Well, we're glad to get them back", Walker replied.

The rest of the evening was spent over a pleasant meal and conversation. The Rangers would rest the night at the Fort, then head out in the morning for Balmorhea. (end of Chapter 41)

Drawing closer to Balmorhea, Jim suggested to his partners "Walker, Mark, I'd like to swing by the QP, and check on the Porters. I'm really worried about those tenderfeet."

"I'm with you, Jim." Walker replied, and Mark readily agreed. Reaching the fork in the trail where they had first chased the outlaw gang whose tracks led to the QP Ranch, the Rangers swung their cayuses into it.

Topping a rise, about a mile from the ranch, they reined their horses up, sharply. "Walker, Mark; that smoke's comin' from the QP!" All three had spotted a column of black smoke, staining the clear blue Texas sky. In addition, the sound of distant gunfire could be heard.

The Rangers spurred their horses into a dead run.  Coming around the last bend before the QP, they unshipped their Winchesters, as they saw the band of Comanches surrounding the ranch, the barn blazing. Hopelessly outnumbered defenders were trying to hold off the marauding horde.

Instinctively, years of Ranger training and working as partners rendering spoken communication unnecessary, Walker, Jim, and Mark attacked the Indians, Winchesters sending coppery bodies from saddle. Taken totally by surprise, caught in a crossfire, as the trapped defenders of the QP were emboldened by the sudden appearance of the Rangers, and redoubled their firing, the Indians fell back, as the Rangers smashed their way into the ranch.

They quickly sent their mounts to safety, and took up positions in the yard. Aiming carefully, all three Rangers took their toll of the attackers. Their numbers decimated, the Comanches, with a few desultory arrows and whoops, retreated, leaving twenty-two of their number lying dead.

Don Porter and two of his hands rushed from the house. "Rangers, you don't know how glad we are to see you."

"Never mind that, Don. How's everyone here?" And let's get all your men in the house." Walker ordered.

Three of the QP hands had died, and two more, wounded, were brought into the house. Eileen and her daughter Hannah were tending to the wounded, Johnny helping where he could. They greeted the Rangers, warmly.

To all three Rangers' surprise, Buck Trask was also in the house. He had a huge gash, from a Comanche rifle slug, torn in his side. However, he had insisted the Porters tend to the other wounded first. Spotting the Rangers, he called Walker over.

"Walker, dunno if I'm gonna make it." Jim had joined them, calling Johnny Porter to bring hot water and bandages for the wounded foreman.

Trask continued, "Knew you didn't like me, and I didn't exactly give you a warm welcome. Looked on this place as my ranch, and thought I'd be losin; my job." Trask continued, "Rangers, I gotta tell ya...."

"Easy, Trask." Jim was working on the tear in the foreman's side. "Just rest- you be OK."

Trask winced, as Jim poured disinfectant on the wound. "Walker, just in case", Trask continued, "Just before the Comanches attacked, I saw an Appaloosa like the one you were huntin' for...you know the gang that killed Milt Stone and his boy, and shot your partner there. Walker, it was a white man ridin' that hoss- and I think I recognized him!!!! UUUNNNHH!! With that, Buck Trask passed out. (end of Chapter 42)

After Buck Trask passed out, Jim looked up into Walker's eyes. "He's gonna be out for a while, Pard. Wonder who, or what, he meant by that?"

Walker shrugged his shoulders. "Just have to wait until he comes to, Jim."

Mark had been out with Don Porter and the rest of the QP crew, trying to contain the conflagration in the barn. While the building itself was a total loss, they did manage to keep the flames from spreading, saving the rest of the ranch buildings. Now, the dirty, soot-covered, exhausted men had entered the ranch house.

"Mark, Jim, soon as we're finished here, I'd like to try and trail those Indians." Of necessity, the Rangers had to help at the QP, tending to the wounded, helping bury the dead QP punchers, checking the dead Comanches for clues, and burying the Indians. To the Rangers' surprise, three of the "Comanches" were white.

Later, while Eileen Porter and Hannah were serving the worn-out men supper, the wind picked up, and thunder rumbled in the distance. Soon, a West Texas gully-washer was sweeping over the QP and surrounding territory. Nature had conspired to thwart the lawmen's plans.

After the cowpokes retired to the bunkhouse—except for the Buck Trask and the other two wounded men—the Rangers finally had a chance to converse with the Porters.

"Don, have you had much trouble since we left here?" Walker asked.

"Some, Walker. Mostly rustlin' as you'd expect. Don't know how we'd get along without Buck and the crew. They've done their best, tryin' to chase off the thieves. One of the boys, Hack Carlson, even took a bullet in his hip, chasin 'em off."

"Well, Don, you and your family have done well;  better'n most newcomers to Texas. However, this Indian trouble may be hard to handle."

The Rangers and the Porters spent a good time in conversation, discussing the situation at the QP.

Finally, Mrs. Porter ordered, firmly, "Hannah, Johnny, time for bed." 

"Aw, Mom, do we have to?" Johnny protested. He had been sitting next to Jim, obviously still hero-worshipping the tall Ranger he had met on the train.

"Yes, Johnny, you do."

"But, MOM...."

"Johnny, a good Ranger knows when to take orders", Jim smiled at the youngster, tousling his hair. "Now, off to bed."

"Yessir." Johnny started off, then, turning, asked, "Jim, do you have the rock I gave you, for good luck?"

Jim reached deep in his jeans pocket, pulling up a dirty piece of white quartz. "Sure do, Son...and, when I got shot, it brought me luck. Now, you head off for bed, say your prayers, and I'll come in and tell you all about it."

Jim turned to his partners, grinning, as Johnny dashed off. Then, he followed the boy into his room, regaling the youngster with the adventures he and his partners had been on since leaving the QP ranch previously. (end of Chapter 43)

Jim ended up sleeping on the floor next to Johnny Porter's bed, the boy being excited and somewhat frightened over the day's events.

Mark and Walker took turns staying with Buck Trask, in case the QP foreman awoke. However, the waddy spent the night still unconscious from his wound.

The next morning, after breakfast, Trask, with a groan, did awake.

"Walker", he called out. "Gotta talk to you..."

"I'm here, Trask, and so are my partners."

"Walker, I saw that Appaloosa you were lookin' for, or at least one that may be it. Like I told you, white man was ridin' that hoss, along with the Comanches."  Trask stopped, "Water, I need a drink."

"Go on, Trask", Walker ordered, after the foreman received his drink.

"Walker, the man riding that Appy was Charles Addams.  Him and his brother John hang out in Saragosa. Run the town, from what I hear tell."

"Trask, are you positive?"

"Sure as I can be, Walker."

"Gracias, Trask. Now, you rest." Trask lay back on his pillows, as Mrs. Porter entered the room. She would clean and redress her foreman's wound.

Walker called his partners outside.

"Mark, Jim; we've gotta head for Saragosa, and check out this Addams."

"Walker, Trask could be sendin' us into a trap", Mark commented.

"Know that, Pard; but, we've gotta risk it. One of us, though, will have to stay here, in case the Porters are attacked again. They've only got seven hands left. Now, who's gonna volunteer to stay?"

The only response the bearded Ranger received was dead silence.

"OK, we'll draw straws." Taking three pieces of straw from the ground, Walker held them out.

"Doggone it all!!" was Jim's remark, as he drew the short straw.

"OK, it's settled. Jim, you'll stay here and watch out for the Porters. Mark 'n' I'll head for Saragosa, pronto."

A short while later, mounted and supplied, the two Rangers headed northeast toward the village of Saragosa, leaving Jim, stewing at being left behind. (end of Chapter 44)

Saragosa was two days' ride from the QP Ranch. Walker and Mark deliberately timed their arrival for midafternoon, in order to avoid a bushwhack in the dark, set up by Buck Trask. The Rangers still didn't trust the QP foreman.

Hard eyes immediately followed the pair, as they trotted down the sole street, badges glimmering brightly in the West Texas sun. 

"Walker, I don't think folks like us in this town", Mark grinned, as they reined up at the livery stable.

"Mark, I think you're right", Walker replied. He was looking around, but could see no Appaloosa.

After settling Steeldust and Amigo into the stable, the lawmen headed for the local saloon, the most likely spot to find their quarry.

The bartender greeted them cordially enough. "Come far, gents?"

"Far enough."

"What'll it be, Rangers?"

"Whiskey; leave the bottle...and, Barkeep, where might we find Charles or John Addams?"

The barman returned with the whiskey and two glasses.  "Don't rightly know, at the moment."

As the Rangers downed their first glass, two tough hombres approached them.

The first, a swarthy Mexican, spoke to Walker. "Senor, Rangers are not wanted Saragosa."

"Well, Senor, we're here, and we're not leavin' until we find the Addams's."

The outlaw's partner grabbed Walker by the shoulder,

swinging him around to face the blonde, blue-eyed gunslinger. "You hard of hearin' Ranger? It ain't healthy for you here- especially snoopin' for the...OOOFFFF." The blonde gunslinger doubled to the floor, retching, gasping for breath, as Walker's left fist sank in his belly, driving all the air out of his lungs.

At the same moment, Mark's Colt roared, and the Mexican, caught by Mark's slug in the act of pulling out his knife, to sink it into Walker's ribs, stood for a moment, his mouth open in surprise. Then, he spun and staggered out the door, to fall in the dusty street, unmoving.

Pulling up the blonde outlaw, Walker sent him into the street, with a kick in the pants, and the orders, "You've got ten minutes to produce the Addams's!" (end of Chapter 45, Part 1)

Calmly, the partners finished their drinks, then stepped into the lone street of Saragosa.

"Mark, I don't think that the Addams's want to visit with us", Walker remarked. The blonde gunslinger Walker had tossed out of the saloon was waiting for them, in the middle of the street. Several other toughs were siding him, both in the open and from cover.

"Well, Walker...we'll just have to make 'em come out and play, then. Just wish one thing, though."

"What's that, Pard?"

"Wish we had Jim with us. He'd be wearin' one of those new shirts we made him buy, mebbe the red one.  He'd be a great target, for sure."

They had drifted into the positions they wanted.

The blonde gunslinger snarled, an evil grin on his face. He had four partners by his side, four others in hiding. "We warned you Rangers to git, while you had the chance. Now, it's too late. Plus, you killed Jaime, you $%^^&. Now, go for your irons!!!"

Those were the last words he ever spoke, as Saragoa erupted in gunfire. Walker, throwing himself to the side, sent a bullet ripping through the man's heart.

He crashed backwards, spurs digging into the dirt. As another's slug whipped by Walker's head, his Colt blared again, and a second went down.

Mark, weaving, twisting, took out the other two in the street. A third, hidden in a wagon, spun crazily to the ground, as Ranger lead tore through him. In seconds, five of the killers were dead.

A Winchester slug burned the side of Mark's shirt, then, Walker returned his fire. The man threw his rifle aside, and jacknifed to the ground, Walker's .45 in his belly. He flopped there, crying out in pain, then twitching to silence.

Mark took out one more, his slug tearing through the man's throat. The last outlaw, stunned, tossed his Colts into the dirt, hands over his head, yelling, "Don't shoot! I give up, Rangers!" He was totally shaken, looking at seven of his partners lying dead.

Mark and Walker rushed up to him, taking him prisoner.

"You OK, Walker?"

"Yup; how about you, Mark?"

"Well, my shirt died...but I'm fine."

Grinning, Walker retorted, "Well, you'll just have to borrow one of Jim's- mebbe that purple and blue plaid."

"I'd go buck-naked first!!" Mark growled.

Now, all business, they questioned the prisoner.  "Mister, where's the Addams brothers?"

"Rangers, I don't know."

Walker rammed the barrel of his Colt deep in the man's belly. "Mister, unless you want fresh air ventilatin' your guts, you'd BETTER know, and right quick!"

"Ranger, I can only tell you, when they're not here in Saragosa, they have a hideout, up in the hills, at Gomez Peak, and Boracho Peak."

Walker holstered his gun. "Mister, you'd better be tellin' the truth, 'cause you're gonna take us there."

Turning to Mark, he ordered, "Mark, we'll head back to the QP, and pick up Jim. Then, we'll head into Balmorhea, get Sheriff Husted and whatever deputies we can round up, and head for Goemz Peak." (end of Chapter 45, Part 2)

Jim was restless, pulling guard duty at the QP Ranch. He helped with the repairs, and made some patrols of the property. Johnny Porter tagged along, on a little brown mustang. The Ohio youngster had taken to the saddle like a duck to water.

"Johnny, who taught you to ride like that?"  Jim queried. "You're turnin' into a real bronc buster. Might even make the Rangers, some day."

Johnny grinned, totally pleased with the praise from the tall Ranger. Jim, however, was taken aback by the boy's reply. "Buck taught me, Jim; I ride with him, a lot."

"Swell, Johnny; he's taught you a lot." The boy had given Jim food for thought.

Early the day Walker and Mark had the showdown in Saragosa, Jim was awake early, as always. As he headed toward the stable, he heard screaming and whinnying, the sounds of his very angry Paint. As Jim broke into a run, Yankee galloped around the corner of the corral. Somehow, a rider had cornered Jim's horse, saddling him, whipping the animal furiously as he tried a getaway, stealing Yankee.

However, he didn't know the loyalty that equine had for his Ranger partner. Yank bucked and sun fished, loosening the man's seat in the saddle. Then, he broke into a dead run, into a grove of low-hanging cottonwoods. The would-be horse thief was swept off Yankee's back, neck broken from smashing into a tree limb. As the gelding reared up, bringing his hooves down on the luckless varmint, Jim rushed up to his horse.

"Whoa, Yank  easy, boy; it's over. You got him." The Paint trotted up to his friend, whickering happily.

Buck Trask came up, along with Don Porter and several of the QP punchers. Rolling the dead man on his back, Jim questioned, "Any of you recognize this hombre?"

None of them admitted they did. (end of Chapter 46, Part 1)

As Jim returned Yankee to the corral, he noticed that his horse's neck wound had been reopened as the gelding fought off the horse thief.

"Don, Trask!" Jim called to the QP owner and foreman.  "I wanna check the southwest section today. Thought I saw some tracks there yesterday, but it was too late to follow 'em. Can't take Yank, though.  All right if I borrow one of your hosses?"

"Take yore pick, Jim", Trask replied.

"Bueno, and gracias."

As Jim was tending to Yank's wound, Johnny appeared.  "Jim, I'll be ready, soon's you are."

The youngster's face fell, as Jim replied, "Sorry, Johnny, not today. I may run into trouble, and I can't have you along. I'll see you tonight, and we'll practice shootin' some more, I promise."

Jim settled his loop around a jet-black gelding, which has one white stocking on his right front leg, and a star on his forehead. Settling the fractious animal into a lope with his expert touch, he was soon on the southwest range of the QP Ranch.

That afternoon, following the suspicious trail he had uncovered the day previous, Jim caught the smell of wood smoke. Carefully picketing the black in some brush, muzzling the animal, Jim snaked his way toward the scent. "Glad I wore this old shirt", he thought to himself. "Couldn't hide those new ones for anything."

The smell of smoke getting stronger, the bawling of calves and the rough voices of humans now evident, Jim dropped to his belly, edging his way forward. As he prepared to look into a small gully, a voice behind him cried, "REACH!...and no funny stuff!"

Chagrined, Jim mentally blasted himself, for letting the hombre sneak up on him. With no choice, a .45's barrel at his back, Jim stood up, raising his hands.

"Now, march, Mister- and keep those hands high."

Jim walked into the clearing, to face three hard-looking rustlers, with a calf on the ground, its feet tied, their branding iron at the ready. They looked at the Ranger, in total surprise. "Boys, look what I found, sneakin' up  on us. Heard his cayuse whinny, and got around him."

"That's what happened." Jim thought. "Blasted black hoss must've rubbed off that muzzle."

The apparent leader of the rustlers approached Jim then, Colt drawn. He gave a start of recognition. "Boys, this is one of those $%^^Rangers that spoiled our play at the QP."

Glaring at Jim, he snarled, "Well, Ranger, that's the last time you'll spoil our plans." As he leveled his Colt at Jim's chest, pulling back the hammer, Jim braced himself for the deadly impact of the lead slug.

As a shot rang out, Jim flinched and jerked, involuntarily, then was stunned, motionless, as the rustler's Colt fired harmlessly into the dirt, the owlhoot spinning around and falling, landing on the fire. As Jim recovered, and threw himself sideways, the man who had discovered him gave a yelp of pain, and sagged to the ground.

Jim had yanked his Colt, but the action was unnecessary. The third rustler fell soundlessly to the ground, and the fourth, turning to run, threw his arms in the air, and smashed through an ocotillo, a Winchester slug in his back.

Jim looked up, Colt in hand, still trying to grasp the sudden action. Grinning, a man was descending from the rim of the gully, smoking Winchester pointed toward the ground, meaningfully away from Jim's direction. 

"Thought you might need some help, Ranger." The speaker, the man holding the rifle, was Buck Trask. (end of Chapter 46, Part 2)

"Trask, never thought I'd say this, but am I glad to see you." Jim was still trying to catch his breath, still not quite believing he wasn't lying dead with a .45 slug in his chest.

"Well, Ranger...someone's gotta save these tenderfeet that own the QP, now. You Rangers will be movin' on, soon. And why not start callin' me Buck?"

"OK, Buck...long as you call me Jim. Now let's check these hombres."

Examining the bodies of the four rustlers, Jim asked, "Recognize any of 'em, Buck?"

"Yeah, Ranger, I mean, Jim. The one who had his gun in your back was Clint McCord, and that one in the brush was Dakota Clayton. Both of 'em worked for the QP. Don't know the other two."

"Well, Buck, let's get 'em back to the ranch, and bury 'em with the rest of the raiders."

As they rode, Jim apologized.  "Buck, I can't speak for my partners, but it looks like I sized you up wrong. You're an OK hombre, after all, it appears.  Johnny Porter told me how you've been teachin' him to cowboy. I'm sorry for misjudgin' you."

"It's OK, Jim. Probably my fault as much as anyone's.  You see, I've been on the QP ever since I was fourteen, after my folks died from the influenza. Old Quincy Porter took me in, treated me fine, like I was his own son. I was afraid that his relatives would throw me off the ranch, so I came on too strong."

Speculating, Jim questioned the QP foreman. "Buck, Don Porter told us his uncle was killed in a hunting accident. Is that what happened?"

"Jim, I don't think so; He was found dead all right, while he was out hunting. Never knew a deer to shoot a man three times in the back, though. But, with no law out here, nothin' was done. Porter's attorney didn't want to scare off the heirs, so it was let go as an accident."

The two had arrived at the ranch section, where the raiders from the other day had been buried. Jim rode on to the ranch, and found several of the hands to help bury the four dead rustlers. Then, he and Buck rode in together, Jim rubbing down and turning out the black, then working again on Yankee's neck, slipping the horse his usual peppermint sticks.

Jim was disappointed to find his partners hadn't returned. He let Buck relate the story of the day's events, while he rested under the shade of a cottonwood. He had been there awhile, when Johnny Porter walked up to him.  Reproachfully, he told the tall Ranger, "Jim, you promised me you'd show me how to shoot, today."

"Johnny, I will, a little later. Right now, though, it's time for this...!" Jim grabbed the youngster, playfully, engaging the boy in a wrestling match, much to the youngster's delight. Yelling at the boy, he shouted, "Mister, Texas isn't big enough for the two of us...now, go for your gun." Johnny had his toy Colt stuck in his belt.

Jim feigned a draw, as the boy pulled his toy pistol.

"Bang, gotcha, Jim. Bang, Bang. Right in your belly!!"

Jim clutched his middle, went to his knees, then slowly fell, face-down. "Yeah, Johnny, ya got me!" he groaned.

"If you two boys will quit foolin' around, supper's on the table", Eileen Porter called. 

"Race you to the table, kid!" Jim shouted, jumping up, breaking into a run. (end of Chapter 47)

Before leaving Saragosa, Walker and Mark took the opportunity to question their prisoner, whose name was Aaron Dawson.

"Dawson, how many men do the Addams's have riding for them?" Walker asked.

"Dunno for sure, Ranger; about 60, anyway." Dawson had been totally cowed, seeing the two men facing him outfight and kill seven hardened gunfighters.

"They the one's been stirrin' up the Comanches?"

Mark growled.

"Sure have, Ranger."

After further questioning, and also taking the bartender into custody, the two Rangers had their prisoners mounted and tied in their saddles, planning to take them to the closest jail, in Balmorhea.

As they group reached the edge of town, another bunch of riders was approaching. Spying the Rangers, they yanked their guns, spreading lead at the two lawmen.

"Walker, we've gotta SHOOT our way out of here!" Mark yelled, Colt already in hand, spurting flame, sending a rider out of his saddle.

As one, both Rangers spurred their horses, sending them leaping into a dead run. The fat bartender had taken a bullet in the first volley, and was sprawled dead over his horse's neck, the mount veering off. Walker had wisely tied Dawson's horse to his, so the outlaw had no chance to make a break. His grulla mare was forced to keep pace with Amigo and Steeldust.

"Charge 'em, Mark!" Walker yelled, as their horses picked up speed.

Behind him Dawson was yelling, "Don't shoot at 'em; it's me, Aaron...Chad...Pards, don't shoot!" His panicked cry was cut short, as an outlaw slug, deliberately, was fired into his stomach. Dawson sagged in the saddle, then hung limply off the mare's left side. hanging by the rope holding his legs to the stirrups.

Mark, behind Walker, shouted to his partner, "Dawson's no help to us, now. Turn his cayuse loose!!"

Walker, realizing he and his partner were hopelessly out numbered, took his Bowie knife and slashed at his lariat, finally loosing Dawson's mare. Then, both Rangers bent low over their saddles, they pushed Amigo and Steeldust into a desperate run for their lives. (end of Chapter 48)

Walker and Mark were mounted on two of the fastest horses in the State of Texas, but they had been ridden hard, and now, the Rangers were asking even more out of their tired mounts.

Spurring, urging, cajoling their mounts onward, the lawmen raced away from Saragosa, zigzagging under the hail of lead pouring in their direction, returning fire at the pursuing outlaws, who had returned to Saragosa at exactly the wrong moment. At the speed they were riding, accurate aim was impossible. If one of the Rangers were knocked out of his saddle, it would be by pure chance.

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the distance between the lawmen and their pursuers lengthened. Mark and Walker replaced their guns in their holsters, concentrating on putting more space between themselves and the outlaws.

Finally, they were able to bring their mounts to a walk, giving the animals a much-needed breather.

"That was close, Walker."

"Too close, Mark."

"What's our next step?"

Looking toward the sky, Walker responded. "Sun'll be down in an hour or so. These hosses are done in. We'll find a waterhole, spend the night. Then, as we planned, we'll pick up Jim, and all the help we can find. We're gonna hit this gang right where they live, at Gomez Peak!!"

Riding onward, Mark asked, "Walker, what about the ones who chased us out of Saragosa?"

"I'm playin' a hunch, Mark.  Figure when they see their friends all dead, they'll hightail it over to the hideout at Gomez. We've GOTTA get there quick, before those jaspers either make a break for it, or worse, start raidin' even heavier."

"Walker, too bad they got Dawson. Now, we'll have to find the trail into the hideout without him. And I'll bet you there's more than one way in and out of there."

"I won't take that bet, Mark cause I'm sure you're right."

The Rangers finally came upon a small spring, just before dusk. They turned out Amigo and Steeldust, letting the broncs crop the sparse grass around the waterhole. Tomorrow, at the QP, they would grain the gaunted animals, for they would need every ounce of strength Amigo and Steeldust could give.

Eating a cold supper, planning on a start well before sunup, Walker and Mark rolled in their blankets, sleeping soundly, but alertly. (end of Chapter 49)

It was just past mid-morning when Walker and Mark arrived back at the QP Ranch. They quickly rubbed down and grained their horses, telling Jim what had transpired in Saragosa. They would get a quick breakfast at the ranch, rest their horses for two hours, then head for Balmorhea, to press Sheriff Matt Husted and as many deputies as he could find into service.

While they ate, Jim checked on Yankee, finding him fit to travel. Letting his partners rest an extra few minutes, he saddled and bridled their horses. When Walker and Mark emerged from their nap in the bunkhouse, all three Ranger mounts were waiting patiently at the hitch rail, ready to go.

As the three mounted up, Buck Trask appeared, sided by Don Porter. Trask was leading his chunky bay, the one with the bald face. Porter had the black Jim had ridden the day he encountered the rustlers.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Walker grunted. "You two don't think you're comin' with us..."

"Walker, Buck can join us." Walker looked at Jim, surprised, as his partner vouched for the foreman, using his first name. "We judged him wrong, Pard." Jim had let his partners rest, not yet having told the story of the rustlers. "In fact, if it weren't for Buck, I'd be lyin' out on the range right now, picked clean by the buzzards. He's fightin' on our side."

Jim continued, "Don, I don't want you along, though. This'll be a tough fight, and you've got your family to think about."

The Easterner showed surprising spunk. "Jim, Walker, Mark; this is my fight, too. My family and I have learned to love it out here, and I've got to fight, to keep this place for my family. Now, my hands can guard the ranch, but I'm goin' with you!!" His family had joined him standing at his side.

Jim looked at Walker, helplessly. Walker answered, "Can't hardly stop him. Don, if you're sure, we can use every man we've got. Can you handle that gun on your hip?"

"I'll do my best, Walker."

"Bueno, that's all I can ask." To the foreman; "Trask, I'd like you to side your boss."

"Will do, Walker", Trask replied.

Don Porter kissed his wife and daughter tenderly.  "Don't worry; I'll be home soon."

He tousled his son's hair, as Johnny, eyes gleaming with excitement, yelled, "Go get those skunks, Dad!!"

Five riders, mounted, headed out of the QP Ranch.(end

of Chapter 50)

After Sheriff Matt Husted was apprised of the situation, and that the Addams brothers, Charles and John, were apparently the cause of the trouble in Jeff Davis, Brewster, and Reeves counties, he rounded up as many men as he could in the short time the Rangers allotted. By 2:00 PM, twenty men, consisting of the three Rangers, Sheriff Husted, three deputies, Buck Trask and Don Porter, and eleven volunteers deputized that day, were en route to Gomez Peak.

They camped that night, still about twelve miles from their destination. It was a somber group, for all of them knew that, within the next 24 hours, some of them would not be returning to their homes or families.

After supper--some of the men smoking, others trying to relax--Mark French pulled a harmonica out of his shirt pocket. He started to work a tune from it, then, turned to his partner. "Jim, how about you sing that new tune we heard, up Dallas way?"

As Mark played his mouth organ, Jim sang:

"There's a blizzard comin' on.

How I'm wishin' I was home.

For my pony's lame,

and he can't hardly stand.

Listen to that Norther sigh.

If we don't get home, we'll die.

But it's only seven miles to Marianne's.

It's only seven miles to Marianne's.

"You can bet we're on her mind,

'cause it's nearly suppertime,

and I'll bet there's hot biscuits in the pan.

Lord, my hands feel like they're froze.

And there's a numbness in my toes.

But it's only five more miles to Marianne's.

It's only five more miles to Marianne's.

"That wind's howlin', and it seems

mighty like a woman's screams.

We'd best be movin' faster, if we can.

Dan just think about that barn

with that hay so soft and warm,

It's only three more miles to Marianne's.

It's only three more miles to Marianne's.

"Dan get up, you ornery cuss, 

or you'll be the death of us.

Well... I'm so weary,  but I'll help you, if I can.

Well, all right Dan, perhaps it's best

that we stop a while and rest.

For it's still a hundred yards to Marianne's.

It's still a hundred yards to Marianne's.

"Late that night, the storm was gone,

and they found him there at dawn.

He'd a made it, but he just couldn't leave old Dan.

Yes, they found him there on the plains

with his hands froze to the reins.

He was just a hundred yards from Marianne's.

He was just a hundred yards from Marianne's."

(end of Chapter 51)

With the posse waiting behind, Jim, Walker, and Mark, along with Sheriff Husted, whose county they were in, scouted ahead, confirming the information Jose had provided. There indeed were other ways out of the valley behind Gomez peak where the Addams had their hideout, however, there was no time for the posse to separate and attack from the separate entrances. This would have to be a frontal assault, with the element of surprise hopefully on the lawmen's side.

"Rangers, these are really bad hombres we're up against", Husted muttered, unhappily.

"You want out, Sheriff?" Jim snarled, turning on the local lawman.

"No, no", Husted replied, hastily. "Just tryin' to let you know what we're up against."

"We already know that!" was Mark's sarcastic reply.  "Now, tell us somethin' we DON'T know."

As prepared as possible, the battle to end the reign of outlawry began.

Walker, Jim, and Mark led the charge into the valley.  With them were the sheriff, Buck Trask and Don Porter, followed by the rest of the deputies. There was a single guard at the entrance, who was cut down as he swung his rifle on the posse.

Whooping, giving the Rebel yell, the posse invaded the outlaw headquarters. As quickly as possible, they took cover behind whatever shelter was available, concentrating their fire on the surprised gang.

Several of the outlaws and Apaches had been cut down during the first charge. Now, it was a matter of taking the rest.

Jim heard a grunt of agony next to him, and turned to find Matt Husted, the sheriff, staggering toward him, hands wrapped around the shaft of an arrow, which had gone through the local officer's stomach. Husted collapsed on his side, next to the tall Ranger, gasping.

"Ranger, set me up, and I'll keep shootin'." Husted had been using his Winchester, and still had his Colt in its holster. Without replying, Jim shoved the man to a sitting position. Three Comanches, charging the officers, went down under their blazing guns. Husted grunted in satisfaction, muttering to Jim, "That big one we just downed is the one that got me...UUNNNHH!"  Husted had raised his gun to fire again, but now fell backward, dead from the arrow in his stomach.

Walker and Mark had separated, each leading a small group of fighters.  Walker saw Buck Trask go down, unmoving. Don Porter also was down, but was attempting to crawl to safety. "Cover me!" Mark yelled to Walker. He rushed out to the Easterner, dragging him back to shelter.

The shooting and noise were gradually decreasing, as the outlaws, decimated by the determined attack of the Rangers, and the citizens they had terrorized, fell back. Finally, the gunfire stopped altogether. (end of Chapter 52)

Quickly, the Rangers reconnoitered with the posse men.

Sheriff Husted, along with three other men, was dead.  Buck Trask and two others were badly wounded. Don Porter had a deep bullet gash along his head, and several others had minor wounds. He was smiling, proud of the part he had taken for his new home, Texas.

Walker had been sliced by an arrow across his right arm, and Jim had a groove across his ribs from a Winchester slug. Mark had a chunk taken out of his Stetson, but was unscathed.

Deputy Tom Sorenson was put in charge of the dead and wounded, while the Rangers quickly searched the outlaw headquarters. There had been fifty-seven men, outlaws and renegade Comanches, in the valley. Of these, forty were dead, wounded, or captured.

"$%%%%!" Walker cursed, returning to Jim and Mark, who had also been searching the camp. "Some of these skunks got away...and I don't see either Addams here."

Jose Martinez had just returned from one of the back trails, sporting a bloody bandage wrapped around his upper left leg, spurring his pinto mustang up to the Rangers.

"Señors, I followed as far as I could; the men who escaped took the trail to the far left...the one that leads to Boracho Peak. I came back as fast as I could, but my caballo is hurt." The pinto had a bullet wound in his shoulder. "And, señors, one of them was riding a big Appaloosa."

"Muchas gracias, Jose", Walker thanked the Mexican rancher. Jim had already started treating Jose's mount's wound, calming the panicky, hurting cayuse. "Jose, your caballo will be fine." Jim's words brought a sigh of relief from the rancher.

"TOM!" Walker called the deputy over. "With the Sheriff dead, you're in charge."

"Where you headed, Ranger?" As soon as he asked, the deputy knew it was an unneeded question.

Mounting Amigo, his partners at his side, jaw set, Walker replied. "To round up the rest of this gang!"

As Tom Sorenson started to protest, "Rangers, you're outnumbered, six to one!" he snapped his jaw shut. Looking at the grim determination in the Rangers' expressions, he knew it was the outlaws who were outnumbered. (end of Chapter 53)

As the Rangers lined out of the valley, after the Addams brothers and the remnants of their outlaw gang, Jim suddenly called to his partners, "Walker, Mark; hold up a minute!" as he reined Yankee sharply to a stop.

Walker and Mark stopped and turned, looking at their partner, puzzled. Jim had stripped off his bloody shirt, and, reaching into his saddlebag, was removing one of the new ones his partners had forced him to purchase, the bright red one, with the fancy embroidered pattern. "OK, let's GO!!!" Jim again spurred Yankee into a dead run.

"Jim, what's that all about?" Walker yelled.

"One of those hombre's were chasin' is the one who downed me when we first got here, Walker. I want those jaspers to KNOW who's after 'em!" Jim's face broke into a grin.

The outlaws and Comanches were making no effort to cover their trail, thinking only of fleeing, escaping the justice of the Texas Rangers. Walker and Mark let him take the lead. Walker was the best tracker in the Rangers, but--when it came to pursuit--even he gave a slight edge to Jim and his big Paint. The tall Ranger and his loyal equine partner had a stubborn streak as wide as the Rio Grande.

Suddenly, Jim stopped, studying the ground, briefly.  "Mark, Walker...those hombres turned North here; must have decided to try for the New Mexico territory."

As Jim turned his bronc, pointing Yank's nose North, Walker concurred. "Makes sense. New Mexico's just as close, maybe even a few miles closer, than the Border.  They probably figure they'll throw us off by headin' North. Well, they're dead wrong."

Grimly, the three partners continued their pursuit, until darkness overtook them, forcing them to quit for the night. Their exhausted mounts were grateful for the respite. (end of Chapter 54)

The Rangers, men and horses somewhat refreshed, were up and on the trail well before the predawn. They could tell, from the tracks of the outlaws, they were closing in on them.

They found where the desperadoes had camped for the night. Walker, the expert part-Cherokee tracker, exclaimed, "They left here not more 'n an hour ago!  Jim, Mark, we're gainin' on 'em, fast!"

As Walker, Jim, and Mark pounded into a long, fairly wide canyon, Jim suddenly pulled Yankee to a sliding stop, as a Comanche arrow struck the pommel of his saddle, just missing Jim's hip. "Walker, Mark, TAKE COVER!!! They're waitin' on us!" The three Rangers quickly dove off their broncs, diving for cover.

"Must've decided to quit runnin', and shoot it out, right here!" Walker yelled.

"Yeah, and they picked a good spot!" Mark responded. They've got us pinned down, here. We'll never be able to pick 'em off."

Walker did down one Comanche, who stuck his head a few inches too far from cover. Now, it was a waiting game, each side trying to gain position on the other.

Jim was on the right side of the trail Walker and Mark on the left. Studying the terrain, he called out to his partners, "I've got an idea. Keep me covered."

Walker, knowing immediately what Jim planned, shouted, "Forget it, Jim! It's suicide."

"So's just layin' here like sittin' ducks!" Jim retorted. With that, he started scrambling up the talus slope he'd been using for cover.

Walker and Mark, firing furiously, covered their partner's ascent. Three more outlaws fell, as they exposed themselves to the Rangers' guns, overeager to gun down the figure on the slope.

Jim had just reached the top of the talus, when he screamed in agony, bent backwards, then tumbled face-down, rolling over and over down to the canyon floor.  As he did, pistol in each hand, his Colts blazed away. Men who had jumped from cover, thinking the Ranger dead, were brought down, by the slugs from Jim's pistols and Walker's and Mark's rifles. Several more rushed for their horses.

Jim had reached the trail again, grimly smiling, as he stood up. "Told you it'd work, Walker."

"Yeah, but Jim, please, if you do that again, don't wear that red shirt."

"Nah, Walker, let those owl hoots see him; he makes a nice target", Mark chuckled.

Somber now, Walker ordered, "Let's get goin'. They must have had some men hang back, to try and hold us off. We've still gotta get the Addams's." (End of Chapter 55)

Charles and John Addams and their remaining gang members, confident the Texas Rangers doggedly pursuing them would be stopped, gunned down by the dry-gulchers waiting for them in the canyon, had slowed down, resting their weary mounts. 

"#$$$$#*&!" Charles spat, "Those ^*#@@^)!! Rangers don't quit!"

His brother replied, "Gray Coyote and those boys with him'll cut 'em down to size, pronto."

Running Wolf, the leader of the Comanche renegades working with the Addams's, grunted, "Better we go, anyway. Those Rangers fight like white devils."

"Good advice", Jace Bartlett, another outlaw, agreed. With that, the gang started onward.

Two miles later, topping a rise, Running Wolf looked back, spotting a cloud of dust to their rear. "Some of our men come. Rangers right behind them!" he yelled out.

"#$%$$$!" Charles Addams cursed. "Well, we can't outrun 'em; our horses are finished. We'll fight 'em off right here." His Appaloosa was standing head down, sides heaving.

As they spoke, Walker fired at the three drygulchers who had fled the canyon, after he, Jim, and Mark had cut down their partners. One threw up his hands, slewing off his pitching mustang. The other two--realizing they were beaten--pulled up their horses, hands high in the air.

Quickly, Jim stopped and tied the two to a thick mesquite bush. "That'll hold you two." He leaped back on Yankee, pounding after Walker and Mark, who had continued the pursuit, Amigo and Steeldust not breaking stride.

Walker reined up sharply, as a Winchester slug sailed over his head. At the same moment, Mark flung himself sideways from his saddle, as a Comanche arrow flew through the air he had just vacated. The wiry, compact Ranger hit the ground rolling, coming up with his Colt in his hand. It barked once, and Jace Bartlett crashed to the earth, Mark's bullet in his brain.

"Addams, you and your men give it up, all of you.  This is Cordell Walker, Texas Ranger. We're placing you all under arrest." The response he received was a .45 slug, which ricocheted off the rock inches from the big Ranger, sending shards of granite into his face.

There were seven members of the outlaw gang left, the Addams brothers, Running Wolf and one of his Comanches, and three more outlaws. 

Jim had rejoined Walker and Mark. "What's the plan, guys?"

"Jim, we're just gonna work our way up to 'em, and pick 'em off. They won't surrender. Already gave them the chance."

"OK-which one was ridin' that Appy?"

"One of the Addams--not sure which one--why?"

"Cause he's mine; that's the hombre who downed me;

you can have the rest of 'em."

Another arrow flew past, just missing the tall Ranger. Walker returned fire, and a Comanche, shrieking in pain, fell from the boulder he had climbed to try and pick off a Ranger, Walker's bullet in his chest.

Now, there were six.

Running Wolf, angered at the death of his men, realizing now, too late, he had been led into a death trap by the white outlaws, drew his knife, charging at John Addams, a Commanchee curse uttering from his throat. Just before he was able to plunge the long blade into Addams heart, Jack Clancy, one of the remaining outlaws, shot the Comanche in the back. With a spine-tingling howl, the renegade chief crashed dead at Addams's feet.

Desperate, John Addams yelled out, "Walker, does your offer still stand?"

Wary, suspicious of a trick, the big Ranger replied, "Yes; throw down your guns, and raise your hands."

Cautiously, Walker, Mark, and Jim emerged on the trail. As soon as they appeared, the five remaining outlaws pulled their Colts, firing recklessly.

Dust plumes flew from John Addams' shirt, as Walker shot him twice, both slugs tearing through his heart, the outlaw leader thrown backwards against a rock by the impact, sliding slowly to earth.

Jim, slowly, deliberately, aimed at Charles Addams, intending to hit the man in the leg, taking him prisoner. However, Addams threw himself sidewards and down, trying to cut down the tall Ranger. Jim's slug hit him in the belly, and he sagged slowly to his back.

Mark's shirt blossomed outward, as Jack Clancy's slug burned his ribs. His return shot took the outlaw right between the eyes.

Walker felt his shirt torn, as a bullet ripped across the top of his shoulder. As both his Colts blazed, the last two outlaws went down, both hit dead center by Walker's deadly guns.

It was over. The three Rangers, wiping their brows, reloading their guns, checked the downed owl hoots.  Only Charles Addams was left breathing. He would not last long, with a .45 slug deep in his gut.

The three Rangers were standing over him. Jim had one question. "Addams, you're done for...so, tell me, who shot Quincy Porter?"

"Go to H***!" was Addams response.

Under Walker's questioning, Addams admitted that he and his brother had planned to take over most of the territory where the raids had occurred. He was becoming delirious, but, in his ranting, did admit he had ordered Quincy Porter killed. The man who had pulled the trigger was Clint McCord, former QP hand, who had died with Buck Trask's bullet in him, as he attempted to kill Jim. Shortly after that admission, Charles Addams quivered, stiffened, and died, sightless eyes wide open, staring into the Texas sky. (end of Chapter 56)

The Addams gang and their Comanche confederates had been smashed, every member of the gang either dead or in prison. Walker, Jim, and Mark had returned to the QP Ranch. They would spend a few days at the ranch and in Balmorhea, cleaning up loose ends.

On the way back, the bodies of the outlaws in tow, Mark had turned to Walker. "##$$$", Cord, I don't believe this!!" he exclaimed.

"What don't you believe, Mark?" 

"Look at our shirts. You've got a bullet hole in yours, I've got two bullet holes in mine, but look at Jim. That bright red bull-bait of a shirt he's wearin' doesn't have a mark on it!! I don't believe it!!!"

That broke the tension of the long chase. Guffawing, Jim retorted, "Hey, you guys made me but these shirts.  Any time you wanna trade, just let me know. Thought you'd make ME the target, didn't ya? Guess you got fooled."

Buck Trask, at Eileen Porter's insistence, had been moved into a cot in the master bedroom of the QP ranch house. The foreman had taken an arrow high up in his chest, but would recover. Don Porter was also in his bed in the same room, a bandage wrapped around his head. The entire Porter family was present, except for Hannah.

"Rangers, don't know how I'll ever be able to thank you...nor my family."

"No thanks necessary, Don; just get well, quick. Buck over there'll be down for a while." Walker turned, smiling at the burly foreman. "Buck, me and Mark owe you an apology, too.  Jim set us straight about what you did for him, and the Porters."

"No need, Ranger. You saved the QP, and I'll have a home here as long as I want. That's all I ever asked for."

Mark entered the room, Hannah beside him. The teenager still had a crush on the darkly handsome Ranger. "Oh, Mark, I don't know what I'd do if you'd been killed."

He flashed her a winning smile. "Hannah, I saw you making eyes at that Tom Delaney." Tom was a young blonde QP cowpoke. He had been slightly wounded when the ranch was raided.

"Well, Then ......." Hannah flounced out of the room, to a chorus of laughter. "I'll go check on his wounds."

Johnny Porter was sitting next to his father, amazed his dad had taken part in the fight, and been wounded.  Don had told his son that he had been hit almost immediately, and had not been much help. Seeing the boy's crestfallen face, he told the lad, soothingly, "Sorry, Johnny, but I'm still a tenderfoot."

Jim broke in then. "Don, stop being so modest.  Johnny, your Dad's a real hero. He just didn't want anyone to know it. Now, I'll be right back." The tall Ranger left the room, quickly returning, the arrow that had hit his saddle in his hands. With a knowing glance to Don, Buck, and his partners, he held out the arrow to Johnny.

"Son, your Dad didn't want anyone to know this, but he saved my life. One of the Comanches had this arrow pointed in my direction. If it hadn't been for your Dad, shootin' that brave just before he let this arrow go, it would've been buried in my guts, and I wouldn't be here tellin' you this now. Johnny, your Dad's a real hero. Now, this arrow's yours."

Johnny's eyes were wide, as he took the arrow. "Gee!" was all he could get out. Then, hero worship in his eyes now on his father, he rushed to Don's side, burying his head in his Dad's chest.

Later, as they crossed to the bunkhouse, Walker confronted his partner.  "Jim, you're a ^^%%%$$ liar...but I love you for it."

"What d'ya mean, Walker?"

"First, you told Tommy Everts folks you swore him in as a Ranger, before he died. You know $$%% well you never did. Now, you told that kid in there his father saved you from a Comanche. That's that same arrow you pulled out of your saddle."

Mark broke in, "Yeah, and if that arrowed been a couple of inches higher, Jim, you'd be singin' soprano. Just think, the show'd be over when the fat Jim sings."

Jim chuckled slightly, then, seriously, told his partners, "Tommy Everts died a Texas Ranger; you don't believe me, check the records when we get back to Austin. As far as that arrow; either one of you breathes a word to anyone that Don was shot as soon as the fightin' started, well, let's just say you'll be like our broncs...gelded."  (end of Chapter 57)

Walker, Jim, and Mark, chafing under orders to remain in Balmorhea until the town was back to some semblance of normalcy, remained there for several more days.  Finally, the day arrived when they were to board the eastbound El Paso Limited, headed back to Austin, then home.

Amigo, Yankee, and Steeldust, recovering nicely from their long, arduous journey with their human partners, were settled into a cattle car, happily munching their hay. The Rangers, having to work while their horses had relaxed, were still exhausted.

Entering the coach, they found their usual seats, at the end of the car, occupied. They found seats where they could be together close to the center of the car.  Jim and Walker sat next to each other, facing back, while Mark sat opposite them, facing forward. That way, the Rangers could still observe anyone entering or leaving the car.

As the train chugged out of the Balmorhea station, Mark was already attracting the attention of an attractive young lady across the aisle. Jim and Walker stretched out, Stetsons tilted over their eyes, quickly falling asleep.

About five miles out of Balmorhea, Walker and Jim were jolted awake, by hands placed over their eyes.  They were definitely smooth, feminine hands. Sitting bolt upright, the pair looked into the laughing eyes of Marcy Griffin and Alex Cahill Walker!!!!

Both Rangers were stunned into silence. Mark was watching, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Walker finally found his voice first. "Alex, what are you doing here?"

"Is that any way to greet me, Darling?"

"No...what I mean is...what a surprise."

Jim had kissed his wife, and was now looking at Mark, suspiciously. "FRENCH!! You knew, didn't you?"

Mark couldn't keep the secret any longer. "Yep, Pard, I did. Cap McGuire and I arranged everything."

Alex broke in. "Mark wired Captain McGuire, when he knew you would be in Balmorhea a while. He arranged for Marcy and me to go to El Paso. We had a lovely time. There's lots of souvenirs in the baggage car." Walker groaned, thinking of his Ranger salary. "By the way, Jim, I LOVE that shirt; where'd you get it?" Jim was wearing the purple and blue plaid, with a lavender silk bandanna.

"You can ask Walker and Mark about that, Alex." Walker groaned inwardly, again, thinking of the shirts his wife would soon be picking out for him.

Marcy continued. "We had to go to El Paso, so we'd already be on the train when you boarded. Now, we have the rest of this trip to be together." Anticipating Jim's question, she went on: "The kids are over at Jack and Sue Borazzo's...they're fine."

"And Bobby's at the Jacksons'" Alex added. "Now, enough of this talk. Cordell Walker, you follow me."  

"And, James Joseph Griffin, Sr., you follow me", Marcy ordered.

As they followed their wives down the aisle, the two Rangers turned back to look at their partner. Already seated next to the young woman, he flashed them a huge smile.

The Rangers and their wives entered the next car. "Now, darling, this compartment is ours", Alex purred, pulling back the heavy canvas drape that provided privacy, revealing a Pullman sleeper. On the opposite side, Marcy Griffin did the same.

Jim removed his boots, stretching out on the bunk, almost immediately falling asleep. "Oh, no, you don't" Marcy spouted, unbuttoning his shirt, massaging his chest. Jim was instantly awake. "You'll have plenty of time to sleep when we get home. Now, it's time for this!!!" She began kissing him, passionately.

In their compartment, Alex leaned back on the berth, languorously. "Cord, does the motion of the train give you any ideas?"

Helplessly, he replied, "Yes, Darling, it does." He slowly unbuttoned her blouse, while she slipped her hand inside his shirt, then down past his waistline. "Oh, Cord, rock me gently", she moaned.

As the El Paso Limited rolled across the prairie, two Texas Rangers and their wives, separated for too long, made passionate love, to the rhythm of the rails, rocking back and forth, back and forth........

THE END

The Usual Legal Disclaimers, Plus:

"The Blizzard"  Words and Music By Harlan Howard Version Used in this story taken from the CD, "Old Cowboy Classics", Chris LeDoux, Copyright 1983, 1991.