OUTLAW TRAIL

BY: Jim Griffin, Keeneyanke@yahoo.com

"Hey, Cord, wanna go fishin'?" Bobby Cahill Walker was crossing the

barnyard--followed by his collie, Shadow--on this bright Texas summer

morning, heading toward his step dad, Cordell Walker, who had just finished feeding the horses.

 Walker looked up in Bobby's direction, then quickly shook his head.

"Sorry, son, maybe next time."

Bobby, crestfallen, quickly turned toward the house.

He was confused, for, with Cordell home so seldom, the two usually spent every possible moment together. However, this time, Bobby's step dad seemed distant, preoccupied. Bobby couldn't understand what was wrong, and Cordell was a hero to him.

Bobby's mother, Alex Cahill Walker, had seen this exchange from the front porch of the ranch house. She called to her men, "Breakfast's ready! Time to clean up and eat." As she watched her husband and son head toward the pump and the wash bench, she realized how much and how quickly Bobby was growing. He must have gained two inches height on Cordell since her husband's last leave.

A pensive half-smile formed on Alex's face, her violet eyes troubled.

Bobby was not the only one to notice the change in Cordell. The big man had always made the most of his leaves home from the Texas Rangers. This time, though, Cordell's mind was definitely elsewhere. And then, there had been that incident at C.D.'s saloon... (end of Chapter 1)

Waiting for Bobby and Cordell to come in for breakfast, Alex thought back over the past few days.

Her husband's first couple of days home had seemed normal enough. As usual, there was work around the ranch to catch up on, and all the news from Walker's absence. As usual, Walker checked with the Western Union office in Bandera every couple of days, awaiting orders from Headquarters in Austin.

Then, about three days previous to this one, Walker had come back from town, very late. Alex had finally fallen asleep, waiting for him. The next day, he was lying next to her, face down, fully clothed, not even bothering to remove his boots. He was snoring loudly, and smelling to high heaven of booze and tobacco smoke. When Walker finally awoke, unsteady on his feet and bleary-eyed, he had stumbled out of the house without a word to Alex or Bobby. He dragged himself onto Amigo, who had been turned out in the corral still saddled, and had ridden--swaying in the saddle--out toward the north boundary of the ranch.

A few minutes after Walker rode off, Sheriff Jimmy Trivette of Bandera reined his rangy chestnut gelding, Santana, up to the hitch rail at the Walkers'. The sheriff was followed by C.D., Parker, owner of the largest saloon and gambling house in Bandera, in his carriage. (end of Chapter Two, Part One)

"Jimmy, C. D., it's so nice to see you both. Let me get you some coffee."

"Thank you, Alex, but this isn't exactly a social call. Can you tell me where Walker's at?" Trivette replied.

C. D. burst in, "Doggone it, Alex! Where's that big blockhead husband of yours? He busted up my place last night, and.......""

Trivette burst in, "C.D., $$#^^ you, just shut that big yap of yours! We don't know for sure what happened, and now you've got Alex all worried. The sheriff could see the look of alarm on Alex's face.

"But, Jimmy, that Walker..."

"C. D., just shut up, NOW!!" The sheriff turned back to Alex. "I'm sorry, Alex, but I do need to talk to your husband."

"Sheriff, he rode out of here without a word. I'm sure he'll be back, later. Now, please, let me get you that coffee. I'll want to know what did happen last night." Alex was grateful, at least, that Bobby was not at the house. He had gotten up early and headed for the stream, hoping to catch that night's supper.

(End Chapter 2, Part 2)

Settled in the rockers on the porch, C. D. finally quiet, Trivette told his story.

"Alex, Walker came into town yesterday, as usual. You know that there have been lots of wires going back and forth for Walker." Alex didn't know this, as Walker was usually careful about revealing the locations or duties of his assignments.

Trivette continued, "Anyway, Alex, we had our usual visit, Walker and I. Then, after supper, he headed over to C.D.'s."

"Yeah, and busted up the place, and..."

"C. D., I warned you...."  The saloon owner settled back into sullen silence.

"Alex, Walker got drunk...unbelievably drunk. Then, as C.D. said, he picked a fight with Francis Gage, of all people. Gage held his own for a while, but, finally, your husband flattened Gage, left him lyin' in the sawdust. The fight left C.D.'s busted up pretty good.

"I came in then, just as C.D.'s bartender leveled his scattergun at Walker. Before I could do anything, your husband shot the gun out of Jack's hands. Then, he knocked me over, and rustled out of there. Alex, I wouldn't have believed it, but I saw it myself. Plus, there were plenty of other witnesses, but no one in town's crazy enough to take on Walker. Now, where is he?"

"Sheriff, I really don't know. I was sleeping when he came home, and he left this morning without a word.  You and C.D. are welcome to wait here for him.

C. D. fairly shouted. "Alex, we'll do just that!"

(End Chapter 2, Part 3)

Early that afternoon, Walker rode up on Amigo.  Spotting Sheriff Trivette and C.D., he dismounted.

Trivette clapped a hand over C.D.'s mouth. "C.D., let me do the talkin'."

 "Afternoon, Sheriff", Walker nodded.

"Walker, what happened last night? You're dang lucky Francis Gage is a friend of yours, or he'd be pressin' charges, and you'd likely be losin' your Ranger badge."

"Sheriff, that's nothin' I wanna talk about. Now, you and C.D. get off my place."

"Walker, you owe me for a busted up saloon!" C.D. shouted.

Walker yanked a roll of bills out of his jeans, throwing them at C.D.'s feet. "That should cover the damage to your stinkin' hole, Parker. Now, I don't want to say this again: both of you, off my place now."

Alex started to protest, but something in Walker's eyes made her stop.

"C.D., you satisfied?" Trivette asked, as the saloonkeeper was counting the bills.

"It'll do, Jimmy."

"Fine. Walker, if you pull a stunt like last night's again, I'll have to arrest you."

"Try it, Sheriff, and I'll ventilate your guts." Walker growled in response.

After the lawman and saloonkeeper left, Alex walked silently into the house. Later that afternoon, Bobby returned, with a huge catch of trout.

"Cord, Mom, look: here's supper."

"Bobby, that's wonderful" Alex replied. Walker smiled, and tousled his stepson's blonde hair. "Good catch, son." However, Bobby could feel the tension in the air. Supper was eaten mostly silently.

Later, in bed, Alex tried to question her husband.  "Cord, what happened in town, and what's wrong?"

"Alex, it's forgotten, and over. Now, it's time for this...." Cordell took Alex in his arms, kissing her roughly. The pair made love passionately, with greater intensity that Alex could remember for a long time.  Still, something was missing. Alex felt as if Cordell's mind was elsewhere, even as his body responded to hers.

The next morning, at breakfast, without warning, Walker pushed back from the table, again tousled Bobby's hair, and kissed Alex, perfunctorily. Then, he announced, "I'm ridin' out this morning. Got to meet Jim over at Junction." Jim Griffin was Walker's Texas Ranger trail companion and riding partner. Without another word, Walker threw his saddlebags, bedroll, and supplies on Amigo, and rode out of the yard, briefly waving back to a stunned Alex and Bobby, who were standing on the porch, in disbelief, watching the Ranger and his big Paint head off. (end of Chapter 3)

Marcy Griffin watched as her husband, Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, loped his big Paint gelding, Yankee, into the front yard. She knew by instinct, as did every Ranger's wife, that this would be the last day they'd be together for a while. Jim had been receiving wires from Headquarters the past several days. Now, as he returned to their home in Copperas Cove, just outside Lampasas, she waved a greeting to him.

Jim dismounted, and took Marcy in his arms. The couple was a study in contrasts. Jim was a tall, blonde-haired, blue eyed, half-Polish and then Heinz 57 New Englander. Marcy Smith was from an old Southern family, fairly well-to-do. She was pretty, but not beautiful, short, with dark brunette hair and brown eyes.

Jim and Marcy had three children. The twins, Jimmy, Jr. and Jennifer, favored their father, both being fair-haired and blue eyed. Billy, three years younger, favored Marcy in coloring, but Jim in build.

Jim and Marcy had met when he was returning a bunch of rustled horses to their owners, outside Waco. The animals had been neglected and abused by the thieves.  Jim had killed two of the horse thieves, and captured the remaining three. Seeing Jim and the approaching herd, Marcy turned her carriage, and blocked the road.  Jim was forced to endure a ten-minute lecture about abusing those poor animals, before he could get a word in edgewise. Finally, he was able to calm the furious woman down, and explain to her how the horses had come into his possession. Looking at the horse Jim was riding, Sizzle, another big Paint, Marcy realized the man could never abuse a horse.

So, two people with nothing in common, except a love for horses, fell in love. When Marcy and Jim asked permission of her parents to marry, it was denied.  Marcy, defying her family, married Jim in a small Catholic church outside Waco, after converting to his faith. Her family disowned her, and the blue-blooded Southern lady left all for a $40.00 per month Texas Ranger. Over the years of their marriage, Jim had risen through the ranks, and was now a Lieutenant, earning the magnificent sum of $100.00 per month.

Marcy was a natural horsewoman, and she ran a training and boarding stable at their home and 100-acre ranch. This business, along with the children, helped her occupy the lonely hours and days while Jim was on the trail, and supplemented his meager Ranger income.

Jim gave Marcy a quick hug. "Honey, I've got to be on the trail tomorrow. Got to meet Walker in Junction by the 12th." Lt. Cordell Walker of the Texas Rangers was Jim's trail compadre. Jim knew he had to leave a few days before Walker to meet on time, as his home in Copperas Cove was a good distance further from Junction than was Walker's in Bandera.

Marcy smiled up at her tall husband. "Jim, knew it was coming, as always. Well, I'll call the kids to supper." (end of Chapter 4)

As Marcy rang the dinner triangle, a small Texas tornado appeared from behind the stable, which manifested itself into the three Griffin children.

"Dad, Dad, you're home!!"  Billy shouted.

"Yeah, but only for tonight, Son. Got to head out tomorrow. Now, you three wash up, so we can eat."

Jim and his three kids quickly cleaned up, and headed into the kitchen. Marcy, as she always did, somehow knowing the day Jim was leaving, had prepared his favorite, fried chicken. She always had enough left over to keep Jim stuffed for the first few days on the

trail.

Supper, as always, was controlled chaos, with the three youngsters all clamoring for attention from their Dad, knowing he might be gone for weeks. Later, after the three were in bed, Jim and Marcy snuggled in each other's arms, rocking in the glider on the porch.  As the quarter moon rose, husband and wife took a stroll around the yard, Jim looking wistfully at the rambling clapboard ranch house, with its wide porch.

The house had a separate living room and kitchen.  Jimmy, Jr. and Billy shared a bedroom, while Jennifer had her own. Jim and Marcy's room was toward the front. Marcy had wanted the rear bedroom, but Jim, always the careful Texas Ranger, insisted their bedroom be in front. That way, no owl hooter who might invade the ranch--looking for revenge against Jim as a Texas Ranger--could get to the children without going

through Jim first.  (End of Chapter 5, Part 1)

As Jim and Marcy returned to the porch, Jimmy, Jr. emerged from the house.

"Dad, how soon can I be a Ranger, and ride with you?"

Jim laughed. "Few more years, yet, Jim. But, as soon as you're ready, I'll be the first to tell you. Now, though, you need to get to sleep. Rangers need their rest. In fact, your Mom and I were just coming in."

Later that evening, thunder rumbled and lighting flashed in the distance. Jim and Marcy were awakened by Jennifer, climbing in between them, under the feather tick. "Mommy, Daddy, I'm scared...can I stay with you tonight?" Jim and Marcy looked at each other, surprised. Thunderstorms had never bothered any of their children.

"Of course, Honey", Jim answered. "But why are you scared of a little thunder, tonight?"

Large blue eyes looking into her father's face, the little girl responded, "I'm not scared of the storm, Daddy. I'm worried about you. Do you have to go this time?"

A quick look of fear crossed Marcy's face, which she quickly subdued.

"Of course, Honey; it's my job. But I'll be back as quick as I can, with a present for my girl."

Jennifer hugged her mom and dad, then smiling, said,  "OK Daddy...but please, if you can, don't stay away too long." She eventually fell into a restless sleep.  Jim, as always, slept peacefully, but Marcy slept not at all, worried by Jennifer's apparent premonition.

(end of Chapter 5, Part 2)

The next morning, Jim arose early, as always. He had breakfast with his wife and family, then bade farewell to the children, who were off to school.  

Marcy gave her Texas Ranger husband enough food to last a week. As he was getting ready to leave, he leaned out of his saddle, and kissed her, gently. She looked up in his face, brown eyes brimming. "Jim, be careful." Jim was surprised, for--while his wife always asked him to be careful--she never got misty-eyed at their partings.

"Marcy, I always am, you know that." What she did know was Jim was fibbing, to protect her, as always.  Texas Rangers were always taking chances to capture dangerous criminals. "This is just another assignment, that's all. And you know, I've told you, Cordell Walker is the best possible partner I could have."

Marcy, not wanting to have Jim worrying needlessly, perhaps leading him to a fatal mistake, laughed softly in reply. "I know you are, Jim, and I love you."

Jim spurred and headed out.  As usual, before he crossed the ranch boundary, he stopped at three small headstones. These stones marked the final resting places of his three previous equine companions. They were Sam, Jim's first Ranger horse, a palomino and white Paint, and "T", a big-boned light bay and white Paint. Next to them was Jim's favorite, Sizzle, a big sorrel and white Paint, whose coat had glistened like newly minted copper pennies. Siz had saved Jim's life, rearing up to strike down a killer who had drawn a bead on Jim, dead center. Unfortunately, as the horse brought his hooves down on the outlaw, the killer had gotten off one shot, and it took Sizzle in his belly.  The horse had died, taking the slug meant for Jim.  The grief-stricken Ranger had Sizzle's body transported home.

Kneeling by the graves, hat in hand, Jim spoke softly. "Boys, wish you were all still with me, 'specially you, Siz. But I know your spirits are with me and Yank on the trail. We've both felt you there with us, more than once."

Jim's final stop in Copperas Cove was at St. Bernard of Clairvoux Church. The Ranger always stopped on his way to an assignment, to pray for his safety, and that of his partner and family...and that, if possible, he would not have to take any lives. When he returned, he would, as always, stop for a prayer of Thanksgiving.

Jim lit votive candles in front of the statues of the Virgin, St. Joseph, and Jesus and His Sacred Heart. As he knelt before the altar in prayer, Fr. Biron, the pastor, knelt beside him. The priest then went to the Tabernacle, and gave Jim Holy Eucharist, and blessed him.

Afterwards, the pair emerged from the sanctuary. As Jim mounted, Fr. Biron again blessed the Ranger. "In Nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritu Sanctu, Amen."  Father Biron sprinkled Ranger and horse with holy water. "Jim, may the Lord be with you, and may He and St. Francis watch over Yankee." St. Francis of Assissi is the Patron Saint of Animals. The pastor knew how much Jim cared for his mount, and how important the

animal was for Jim's well-being and safety.

Bowing his head, Jim responded, "Thank you, Father. Marcy and the kids will see you for Mass on Sunday."  Then, replacing his Stetson on his head, the tall Ranger rode away from the church, to his meeting in Junction with his partner. (end of Chapter 6)

Cordell Walker had made good time, and rode into Junction the afternoon planned. He was to meet his contact that evening, after his partner Jim Griffin arrived.

With time to spare, the Ranger checked at the Western Union office, but found no further messages from Headquarters. He was undercover, and dressed like any other range-riding cowpuncher.

Leaving the telegraph office, Walker left Amigo at the Junction Horse Heaven Livery. Jim's horse was not there, so Walker was fairly certain his partner had not yet arrived. He then strolled casually over to the San Saba Hotel, confirmed that Jim had not yet arrived, and registered for a room. After a hot bath, Walker spent the rest of the afternoon napping,  resting up for the days ahead.

At suppertime, Walker was still alone, so he took a slow meal at the Mesa Cafe. He was not concerned about his partner, for Jim had a longer journey to Junction than did Walker. While Jim and Walker both prided  themselves on their punctuality, it would not be unusual for one of them to be delayed a day or so on the trail. Anything from a lame bronc to a summer thunderstorm could impede travel. Jim would show up in two days, at the most. (end of Chapter 7, Part 1)

Finally, with still no sign of Jim, Walker removed himself to the Silver Strike Saloon, where he was to meet his contact.

The Texas Ranger spent about an hour at the bar, drinking slowly, observing the ebb and flow of humanity, the gamblers, cowpokes, and dance hall girls. Finally, a tall, red-headed stranger edged his way next to Walker. The man had intense green eyes, almost the color of jade. The eagle feather in his hatband was the sign to Walker this was his contact.

Under his breath, the red-head muttered "Austin?"

"Yup", Walker replied. "South side."

"Where's Waco?"

"He'll be along...had to come further. Don't worry; he'll be here day after tomorrow, at the most." Secretly, Walker was almost relieved Jim hadn't arrived yet. Without his partner's presence, this would be one saloon where Jim's Northern accent would not start a brawl.

Red-Head retorted, sullenly, "He'd better be; all our plans are timed exactly. Now, let's you and I have a couple more drinks, then go somewhere private."

"Bueno; my room at the San Saba's number 15. Meet me there 30 minutes after I pull out of this bar." (end of Chapter 7, Part 2)

Jim had also made good time on his journey. However, as he was two days out of Junction, he came across the tracks of several unshod horses.

"Yank, those are Indian ponies, sure as shootin', or I'm a Mississippi Rebel.  Now, hoss, what are you 'n' I gonna do about 'em?"

Jim knew he had to meet Walker in two days in Junction, but he also couldn't ignore the tracks. They could very well be from a Comanche raiding party, braves who may have already attacked settlers, or were on the way to make more mischief.

"Yank, we've got two days to spare. Reckon we'll follow those tracks a ways, and see what we come up with." His decision made, Jim turned Yankee northward, following the pony tracks.

As it came on sundown, the pair came upon a small pond, with a grassy field, and boulders for windbreaks and shelter. "Yank, this is about the best camp we've seen in a long time. We'll rest here tonight, and pick up the trail in the mornin'. If we don't get any closer to those Indians by noon, though, we'll have to head for Junction."

Jim unsaddled and rubbed down his horse, who then enjoyed a good roll in the sand, and fell to happily grazing the thick grass. Jim took a bar of lye soap from his saddlebag, and took a refreshing bath in the pond. After supper, he quickly turned into his blankets, and was soon fast asleep. He was awakened just before dawn, by some sense of danger. Yankee was alert, ears pricked forward. As Jim watched, he observed several figures starting to close in on his camp. (end of Chapter 8, Part 1)

Jim quickly rolled out of his blankets, bringing up his Colt. "DON'T MOVE!!" he shouted to the nearest figure.

In response, a voice came from behind Jim. "Drop that gun, Mister, and get those hands up, NOW." Knowing he was covered, Jim had no choice but to comply.

However, as Jim was lowering his pistol, Yankee charged the man closest to him. Seeing the stranger aiming at his bronc, Jim quickly fired, breaking the man's arm, sending his rifle flying, at the same time yelling, "Yank: hold."

The figure behind the tall Ranger clubbed Jim in the back of the neck with his Winchester's stock, sending him sprawling. Covering Jim, he growled, "Get up, and no more funny stuff."

Jim rose slowly, just muttering, "Then tell your friend there to stay away from my hoss, or I'll tear him to pieces."

"Appears to me, Mister, you're in no position to tell anyone anything. Now, get your gear together. We've got to take a short ride." Jim could see he was covered by a group of eight men. He had no choice but to follow. (end of Chapter 8, Part 2)

Before leaving, the leader of the group identified himself. "I'm Cornelius Huggins, Texas Ranger, D Troop. We're conducting a sweep of the area, and bringing in for questioning any suspicious characters we find. Anyone travellin' alone out here qualifies.

Now, were goin' back to our camp, where you'll have to answer a few questions to Sgt. Quinn."

"Mooney, how's that arm?"  Huggins was talking to the Ranger Jim had shot, as the man aimed at Jim's horse.

"I'll live, Corn, but I'll get that hombre." One of the other Rangers had rigged a sling for the wounded man.

For a moment, Jim thought about revealing his identity as a Ranger, but held quiet. He was still undercover, and, with luck, could just answer a few questions and leave. He did not know Sgt. Quinn, or any of the Rangers from D Troop.

However, upon arriving at the camp, Jim was herded at rifle point into the compound. Sgt. Cecil Quinn was a short, wiry man, who appeared to wear a perpetual scowl.

After fruitlessly trying to convince the Sergeant and his troop he was just a wandering saddle tramp, frustrated that time was being wasted, both on his assignment and in trailing the Indians, Jim exploded.

"Quinn, you are an absolute idiot, and your men are even worse.  Now, I'm going to reach into the back of my belt, slowly, and show you something which even you can figure out."

Extracting his Ranger silver star on silver circle, and his Ranger credentials, Jim chewed up Quinn and his men, up one side and down the other. "Quinn, you fool, I'm Texas Ranger Lt. James J. Griffin. I'm on my way to an undercover assignment. Now, you and your buffoons may just have blown my cover.

"Now, I don't know what idiot ordered you and your men to just haul in everyone they see, but, as soon as I reach the nearest telegraph office, I'll be wirin' Capt. McGuire in Austin. And I have every intention of seeing all of you reprimanded, if not drummed out of the Rangers.

"And you can be sure Mooney's career is finished; He tried to kill my cayuse, and he's lucky I didn't finish him. Only reason I got his arm rather than hittin' him plumb center is 'cause I was dodging Huggins's rifle butt. You have NO RIGHT to just grab anyone you please.

"Now, if you and your clowns want to make yourself useful, try followin' those pony tracks I was trailin'. You might--even blind and dumb as you are--actually find some Comanche renegades, real troublemakers, rather than just roustin' good citizens.

"Then, you'd better get back to your station, because this matter is not finished. And, if I've blown my assignment or cover, get yourself an attorney, 'cause you and all your men WILL be brought up on charges."

The rest of the men were staring, dumbfounded. Jim, without another word, slowly and deliberately turned his back on the hapless Sgt. Quinn, strode up to Ranger Mooney, and doubled the man over with two quick blows to the gut. Leaving Mooney on the ground, fighting to get air back in his lungs, the tall Ranger swept back into his saddle, and headed out of the D  Troop camp. (end of Chapter 8, Part 3)

Jim, angry with himself for allowing eight men--even Rangers--to get close enough to his camp, while he slept, to take him prisoner, pushed Yankee rapidly toward Junction. He arrived in the town about noon two days later and quickly settled Yankee into the Horse Heaven Livery, being sure the Paint had a stall next to his equine friend, Amigo.

Jim found Walker lounging in a chair in front of the San Saba Hotel.

"Jim, 'bout time you got here. Where the H*** have you been?"

"Walker, you won't believe this. I crossed some Indian sign back about 60 miles. Since I knew I had a day to spare, I followed the trail for a day. Camped for the night at a real nice spot. Then, next mornin', I was surrounded by a bunch of hombres. Don't know how, but they got in close enough to get the drop on me."

Walker was surprised at this. Jim and Yankee were as alert on the trail as Walker himself, and Amigo.

"Anyway, Walker, one of them tried to down Yank."

Walker shook his head, and let out a low whistle, for he knew what had happened to others that had messed with his partner's bronc.

"Shot him, and broke his arm", Jim continued. "Rifle butt in the back of my neck took me out, though. Had to ride with these jaspers. Turns out it was some Sergeant Quinn and his patrol of Rangers from D Troop. They're just grabbin' any hombre whose looks they don't like. I finally had to tell 'em who I was, then ordered them after the Indians. I'm headed over to the Western Union now to wire Cap. McGuire to rein those clowns in."

"Jim, hate to do this to you, but we've got to ride out at 1:00 AM."

"Walker, you've got a lead on the Hoyt outfit, don't you?"

"Yeah, Jim, met with our contact. He's given me the location where Hoyt and his bunch will be at sunup tomorrow. Now, you'd better get some food in your belly, and some rest. I won't be using my room here for the rest of the afternoon, and there's an extra bed in it. Room 15."

"Bueno, Pard. Now, how's about goin' to the Western Union with me, and grabbin' a quick bite? Then, I'll get a quick bath at that barber's across the street, and grab some shut-eye. Where’d' we meet up with our contact?"

"He's already on his way, Jim. He gave me what we needed, so he's off to where he'll be safe, until we get Hoyt and his men rounded up." (End Chapter 9, Part 1)

At just about 12:30 AM, without rousing the sleeping hostler, Walker and Jim quietly saddled their broncs, tied on their saddle bags, bedrolls, and trail supplies, and headed silently out of Junction.

The two Rangers rode quietly in the dark, each absorbed in his own thoughts. They had been riding partners for long enough that they could work together by instinct. Jim knew nothing about what had happened back in Bandera, where his partner had gotten into a fight with Francis Gage, and had broken up C.D.'s saloon. He was unaware of the tension between Walker and Alex, or of the coolness Walker had shown toward his adopted son, Bobby.

The only sounds, as the Rangers' two big Paint geldings effortlessly flung back the miles, were those of clopping hooves, jingling bits, and the creak of the saddles. As the first gray light of the false dawn shone in the East, Walker reined up. A dim trail, which would be barely visible in full daylight, let alone the darkness of the pre-dawn, led off to the right, toward the Lland River.

"Jim, that trail leads to where Hoyt and his bunch are holed up."

Turning down the dim, overgrown path, the two partners headed for the hideout of the deadly Hoyt gang. (end of Chapter 9, Part 2)

For nearly five miles, Walker in the lead, the two Rangers followed the twists and turns of the faint trail, as the light of day gradually brightened. Finally, Walker pulled up, and signaled Jim to dismount.

"Jim, if my information's right, Hoyt and his men should be right ahead of us. We'll tie the horses at the edge of the brush, here, and go in on foot."

Jim, following his partner's orders, dismounted, and walked Yankee toward the brightness ahead, brightness which indicated a clearing. He could hear the Llano River's swift current, a short distance off.

As Jim started to tie his mount to a small cottonwood, he felt the cold steel of a Colt .45 barrel in the small of his back.

"Jim, get your hands up, HIGH!!!!" the voice behind him snarled...the voice of his partner, Texas Ranger Cordell Walker. (end of Chapter 10, Part One)

Jim, stunned, started to turn his head, to look at his partner, disbelieving.  Walker jabbed the muzzle of his Colt deeper in Jim's back, viciously. "Jim, don't even make a twitch, or I'll put a slug through your spine. And don't try to signal your hoss, either. I know what he can do.  Just keep your hands high, and bring Yankee along. Keep his reins in your left hand. Now, MOVE, straight ahead."

As the pair reached the edge of the clearing, Jim in front, hands raised, his partner's gun in his back, Walker let out a shrill whistle, three times. Several men emerged from a cabin, led by a tall, red-headed hombre, with jade-green eyes. Just behind the cabin, down a steep embankment, rolled the Llano River.

"Ranger Walker, glad to see you've made it. And I take it this is your partner?"

"Hoyt, told you I would. Now, let's get this over with, so we can finish our plans. Get this #$$%^^&^*'s Colts for me, will you?  The red-headed outlaw quickly snatched Jim's pistols from their holsters.

Walker, gun still in Jim's back, marched his partner toward the riverbank, the five men from the cabin following  Finally, he ordered, "Far enough, Jim. You can lower those hands, now, and turn around." As Jim  did so, Walker continued. "Jim, I'd like you to meet Luke Hoyt..." Walker indicated the red-headed outlaw, the man he had met in Junction "...and a few of his men: Les Morton, Ed Klessman, Jake Summers, and Paul Jason.  Don't get too chummy, though. You won't be around for long." (end of Chapter 10, Part 2)

Walker now had his pistol leveled at Jim's belt buckle. With a wave of his Colt, he had Morton and Summers hold Jim, pinning the tall Ranger's arms.

"Walker, what's this all about? Hoyt is your contact, isn't he?"

"Always the smart Texas Ranger, aren't you, Jim?" Hoyt and his men, behind Walker, were sneering viciously. "Well, Pard, it's like this: Hoyt's offered me more money that I'd ever see in a lifetime with the Rangers. I've finally come to my senses. With me still playin' the law dog, we've got one big score ahead of us, then it's off to Mexico."

"What about your wife and kid?"

"What about that &&*(*(( and her snivelin' brat? I'm sick of their whinin' all the time about me bein' gone. Well, they won't have to whine any more. You're the only problem we've got, Jim. I can't have you bustin' up our plans. No hard feelins', Pard. By the way: your hoss has gotta die, too."

Jim struggled, futilely, to break the grip of the outlaws holding him, as Walker's Colt swerved toward Yankee. (end of Chapter 10, Part 3)

Walker carefully aimed his Colt at Jim's horse, leveling it at a spot just behind the Paint's shoulder and foreleg, about halfway up the animal's left side. The gun barked, twice. Yankee screamed with pain, reared up, and toppled over, twisting, landing on his back, then rolling completely over, coming to rest on his left side. The horse tried, in vain, to raise his head, legs threshing the ground. Then, with a groan, Yankee's head settled back down, and he was still.

Jim was screaming in anger and hurt at Walker, tears streaming down his cheeks fighting in vain to break free of the jaspers pinning him. Walker, his face contorted into a mask of hate and rage, again leveled his pistol at Jim's middle.

"Griffin, I'm sick of you, and sick of working for nothin'." The two outlaws backed away from Jim. As he started to charge his partner, Walker's Colt spat flame and smoke. Jim staggered backwards from the impact of the heavy slug hitting his middle. Walker fired again. Jim rose slightly on the balls of his feet, then, grabbing his belly, doubling over, knees buckling, he spun around, and collapsed face down across the body of his horse. (end of Chapter 10, Part 4)

Jim shuddered, and was still. Walker walked up to his downed partner, and tugging him by the ankles, pulled him off his dead horse. A smear of blood left its trail on Yankee's side. Jim's Stetson, falling off his head as Walker dragged him, lay on the horse.

Walker rolled Jim over, the rest of the outlaws observing. Jim's hands, arm muscles paralyzed with pain, were still clutching his belly, his shirt and hands soaked with blood, a trickle of blood falling from the right corner of his mouth. In pain and disbelief, he looked into the hate-filled eyes of his partner.

Jim gasped out, weakly, "Walker, what...what...? I never thought you'd stoop so low as to--Jim convulsed here--to gut-shoot your pard."

"Griffin, I finally got smart, and started worryin' about number one: me...knew you never would, though. Had to get rid of you, pure and simple."

"But why'd you have to kill Yank? He never hurt you."

"Yeah, but you know he would: you know no one can ride him, but you.

Sure, he'd let me if you were around, but not otherwise. And somehow, that hoss would know I plugged you. Plus, couldn't let him turn up somewhere, and have the Rangers lookin' for you. Now, with you gone, I've got at least a month before anyone misses us. And I'll wire Austin a couple of times, to let 'em think we're still on the job."

Jim was fading, rapidly. He struggled to rise, but only partially succeeded. Settling back down, breath rattling in his chest, he just said, "Cordell, I'm sorry for you, but more for your wife and kid."

He then emitted a scream of pain, doubling up, rolling onto his side, and lying still. His partner, Cordell Walker, dragged the lifeless body to the bank of the Llano. With a quick kick, he sent Jim's remains rolling down the embankment, to splash and submerge in the roiling waters. (end of Chapter 10, Part 5)

Just before Jim had given out, Walker performed the ultimate act of disrespect for his partner, and the Texas Rangers. As the pair had approached the clearing, Jim--anticipating capturing Luke Hoyt and his gang, and unaware of Walker's plan--had, following Walker's lead—pinned  his badge to his shirt. As Jim lay on the ground, life-blood draining from him, his partner had reached down and ripped Jim's Ranger badge from his shirt. Now, walking up to Luke Hoyt, after sending Jim's body into the Llano, Walker tossed the outlaw leader Jim's badge.

"Little souvenir for you, Hoyt. And this badge seals our contract. Now, let's ride."

"Bueno, Walker. Never thought you'd drill your partner like that. Why'd you kill that hoss, though? That was a great bronc. Would have liked him for myself."

"Hoyt, no one could have ridden that &^&^^&( of a cayuse. Jim had him trained real well.  I've seen that hoss kill at least two men who were comin' at Jim. No, if I didn't kill that hoss before I plugged Jim, he would have pounded me into the dust."

Quickly, Walker and the five outlaws rode off, heading northwest toward the hamlet of Eldorado. The other six members of Hoyt's gang were waiting there.

Walker and the outlaws had no fear of discovery. The cabin where Hoyt had lain in wait hadn't been used for years, the trail to it barely visible. Jim's body, weighted down by water-logged boots, clothing, and heavy cartridge belts, wouldn't surface for days, miles downstream, if at all. Even then, Jim would be unrecognizable, and Walker had made sure to remove any item, no matter how small, that might lead to Jim's identity. Jim's two Colts were snugged in Walker's alforjas, and Jim's saddlebags had been thoroughly cleaned out.

As far as Yankee, by this time tomorrow morning the horse's carcass would be stripped clean by the scavengers of the wild, the coyotes, buzzards, and bears. The only thing left would be Yank's skeleton and some hair, with no telltale markings to identify Jim's bronc.

As far as being spotted, as soon as the gang arrived in Eldorado, Walker would shave off his beard, and cut his hair short. Not wearing his Ranger badge, he would blend into any Texas cow town. As Ranger assignments often lasted a month or more, without any contact, the gang was safe for at least a month, and only needed two weeks to make their escape to Mexico, after the robbery they planned. To be safe, though, Walker would send a wire or two to Austin, stating he and Jim were still at work, and slowly closing in on the Hoyt gang.

Late that evening, the gang was well on its way to Eldorado. (end of Chapter 11)

Arriving in the small hamlet of Eldorado after dark, Luke Hoyt led his men and Cordell Walker to the small farm that served as his headquarters.  After the men turned out their tired mounts, they entered the house.  Walker was introduced to the six other members of the Hoyt gang, tough hombres all.

Bottles were brought out, and Hal, the cook, prepared a supper of bacon and beans. Luke Hoyt was in a celebratory mood, and couldn't stop talking about how Cordell Walker had killed his partner. "You guys missed somethin'...yessirree. Should have seen the look on that Ranger's face when Walker here plugged his hoss. Then, our new friend put two slugs in that &*(*&&&* Ranger's guts. He made a beautiful splash when we tossed him in the river." Hoyt raised his bottle. "To our new partner, Cordell Walker."

Walker was already halfway drunk. "And to our new partnership, and to H*** with anyone, especially Rangers, who gets in our way."

The rest of the night was spent in drinking and gambling. Finally, as dawn was breaking, the entire gang crawled off to their various bunks, to sleep off the results of the booze.

Soon, Fort McKavett would feel the effects of the Hoyt gang. (end of Chapter 12)

The Luke Hoyt gang, with their newest member, Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, spent most of the next day sleeping off the effects of the previous night's drinking. When Walker finally awoke, early in the afternoon, he headed for the pump and wash bench. His first chore was to scrape off his well-known beard. He looked in a piece of broken glass that served as a mirror, satisfied with the results.

That evening, Luke Hoyt called a meeting of all his gang members, including Walker.

"Men, you know that Ft. McKavett is not far from here. Now, in exactly two weeks from today, the Fort is expecting a shipment of greenbacks for their payroll, and $100,000 in gold for transshipment to the U. S. Mint.  That shipment is never going to reach the Fort. That's why I brought Walker in here. He knows the ins and outs of the security detail, and the route and timing of the shipment. Walker...."

"Men, this robbery will require precision timing and actions. Now, Luke is the leader, and you'll all listen to his orders, without fail. I'll be providing the scouting and plans, and I'll be there when we pull the job off. Now, the Rangers have no idea I killed my partner, and have thrown in with Luke. As far as the Rangers are concerned, Griffin and I are still hunting you. I'll send a couple of telegrams to Austin to keep them thinking this."

Hardy Cole spoke up. "Walker, how do we know those wires aren't your way of trapping us?"

"Cole, I can understand that question. But, don't forget: I just plugged my partner. If it would ease your minds, though, I let anyone Luke names come with me, and read the wires."

"Good enough for me, Walker."

"Now, Luke and I will be finalizing the operation over the next couple of days. Any questions, see Luke. He's still the top hombre." (end of Chapter 13, Part 1)

Luke Hoyt continued the meeting. "Walker, men, there's a Wells Fargo stage due through here on Friday. It's going to have a load of cash for the Sonora Bank. I'd like to grab it, and have Walker lead the job, just to prove he's really with us. Any objections, Walker?"

"None at all, Luke. Only suggestion I might make is don't kill anybody."

"Why, Walker, killin' bother you all of a sudden? You gettin' a squeamish gut after drillin' your partner?"

"Not at all, Luke--and say that again and I'll shove those words down your throat--but, if we just pull off a robbery, the only lawmen who'll chase us will be the local sheriff, and whatever posse he can come up with. We can outrun them and lose 'em, easy.  Kill somebody, however, and a couple of Rangers might show up. No point in takin' chances with the big job comin' up."

"Bueno, Walker, I agree with that. Now, you'll lead that job. Take Jason, Summers, Morton, and Cole with you."

The gang went back to their evening drinking and gambling, confident in their plans, especially with a Ranger on their side. (end of Chapter 13, Part 2)

Thursday night, a clean-shaven Cordell Walker and his chosen men stopped in Eldorado. Walker's wire to Headquarters read: "Have lead on Hoyt gang- last seen in Sonora. Griffin and I headed to that town."  He, of course, was no where near Sonora, and Jim was no longer with his partner.

After an evening of drinking and gambling, Walker being sure none of his men got in a bar fight, the group headed for Rattlesnake Pass, to await the Wells Fargo Stage.

The men intercepted the stage, guns blazing. Walker blasted the shotgun out of the guard's hands. They quickly had the express box thrown down, and dashed back to the farm hideout.

Hoyt met them at the door. "How'd it go, boys?"

"Like clockwork. There's over $10,000 in our saddle bags."

"Bueno. All of you, dismount, and have some drinks. I'll have Hal and a couple of the boys take care of your broncs."

Luke Hoyt and his men sat down to a triumphant supper. They had not observed the bearded man on a dark bay horse who had trailed the gang from the site of the stage hold-up. In fact, that man had been watching the hideout for several days. (end of Chapter 14, Part 1)

Luke Hoyt had chosen his hideout in Eldorado for one good reason.  He had been a telegrapher during the Civil War, and this knowledge had enabled him to tap into the telegraph lines that ran to Ft. McKavett.  Through long hours of careful listening, he was able to intercept the time and methods of shipments to the Fort.

He and his new second in command, renegade Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, had called a meeting of Hoyt's men.  It was three days before the payroll and gold shipment would arrive at Ft. McKavett.

"Men, in three days we'll all have more money than any of you ever dreamed of.  IF you follow my orders, and Walker's exactly. Now, the payroll and gold shipment will be coming in only one wagon, with two drivers and four escorts.  The government is hoping that way it won't attract any attention.  Now, Walker, since he was a Ranger, knows the territory better than any of us.  He's going to tell you where we'll hit the soldier boys, and I'll tell you, soon as he's done, how we'll pull this off. (end of Chapter 15, Part 1)

Walker took over.  "Men, twenty -one miles east of Ft. McKavett, there's a steep upgrade, through an unnamed canyon.  There's plenty of cover for us.  Make sure you use bandannas to muzzle your broncs.  We don't want any stray whinnyin' givin' us away.."

Continuing, Walker went on.  Now, we're going to split up, into two halves.  Luke'll lead one, and I'll lead the other. We'll come down out of the rocks mid-grade, on Luke's signal.  We should be able surround the wagon and get the drop on the guards without too much trouble.  No shootin' unless absolutely necessary.  Luke'll tell you why."

The gang looked at their leader, puzzled. Why would they be leaving witnesses?  Luke had the answer to their questions.

"Men, don't worry- there won't be one blue-belly alive after we're done.  But, $100,000 in gold is heavy.  We're gonna have the soldiers pull the wagon off the road, into a little, well-hidden side arroyo.  We'll make them off-load the gold and greenbacks, and split

the gold up so each one of us will have a equal load in his saddlebags for his cayuse to haul.  Then, so there won't be any noise, we'll knife those #$^^&&&& s."  After that, it's hightail it for Mexico, and Senoritas, Tequila, and Guitars."

The gang spent the rest of the evening going over every detail of the plan.  Two days later, they were on the way to canyon east of Ft. McKavett, where six unsuspecting cavalrymen were going to meet their doom.

The gang didn't realize the bearded hombre on the dark bay horse was following. (end of Chapter 15, part 2)

As the Hoyt gang headed east toward Ft. McKavett, Luke Hoyt reflected on what a wise choice he had made in recruiting Texas Ranger Cordell Walker into his band.

Hoyt had sent Hardy Cole to hang around Bandera while Walker was on leave, just to be sure the Ranger had no surprises up his sleeve. Cole had seen the fight at C.D.'s, and had heard later--hanging around C.D.’s after Walker had left--that there was trouble in the

Ranger's household. This report helped allay any suspicions Hoyt might have had.

Then, to put the frosting on the cake, Walker had plugged his partner, Jim. And, the big Ranger had gut-shot Jim, and ripped his badge off while Jim was still breathing. Walker had to be totally ruthless to gut-shoot a man he had ridden the trails with for so long. Yes, Hoyt had made the right decision.

Later that evening, the band of men rode up to a small roadhouse, which was a stop for travelers between Ft. McKavett and Sonora. (end of Chapter 16)

Knowing it would arouse suspicion if they just rode on by, Luke Hoyt and his gang stopped for some drinks. They had been in the roadhouse for about an hour, and were preparing to leave.

A tall, fancily clad gunman had been hanging at the bar. He was resplendent in a lavender silk shirt, purple neckerchief, and whipcord  pants tucked into fancy stitched black boots. His head was topped by a gray Stetson, with a fancy rattlesnake band. Two pearl-handled Colts were in holsters slung low on his hips, and tied down.

As Hoyt and his men headed for the door, the gunman confronted Luke Hoyt. "Hoyt, %$$%%^ you, I'm goin' to drill you, now."

Cordell Walker calmly stepped in between Hoyt and his adversary. "Mister, I don't know who you are, or what this is all about, but I'd advise you to vamoose, PRONTO!!!"

Turning his attention to the big Ranger, the fancy gunman snarled, "I'm Bart Hogan, and I spent two years in Huntsville on account of this skunk. Now, I'm gonna even the score."

Before Hogan could even blink, Walker's hand flashed downward, and the muzzle of his Colt was jammed into Hogan's stomach. "Mister, I don't think you should try that."

Hogan gulped, and backed down. "OK, you win...this time."

As Hoyt and Walker headed for the door, Walker spun, pulled both his Colts, and slammed two .45 slugs into Hogan's chest. As Walker had anticipated, the gunman had tried to back-shoot Hoyt and himself. As the gunman crashed backwards over a table, sprawling lifeless on the floor, Walker calmly stepped outside, not even looking back.

After they mounted, joining Hoyt's men in their eastward journey, Hoyt thanked Walker. "Good work; you saved my bacon, for sure.

"Por Nada", replied Walker. "Let's just make sure nothing goes wrong day after tomorrow."

Having saved the outlaw leader’s life, Walker had solidly cemented his position in the Hoyt gang. (end of Chapter 17)

Sunrise sent long shafts of gold through the unnamed canyon twenty-one miles East of Ft. McKavett. Midway through the canyon, Luke Hoyt and Cordell Walker watched through field glasses, as, some five miles distant, they espied their target, the slowly moving cavalry wagon, which contained the payroll for Ft. McKavett and $100,000 is gold being transported to the U. S. Mint.

On either side of the canyon, lying in wait, were the other eleven members of Luke Hoyt's gang, poised to strike and eliminate the six soldiers, and make a dash for Mexico with their ill-gotten gains. They were secure in the knowledge that they had a Texas Ranger, Cordell Walker, to get them safely to the Border.

"OK, Luke, let's get the men in position."  Hoyt was the gang's leader, but Walker knew the exact placement the men should be in for a successful robbery.

"Right, Walker." Hoyt quickly barked out his orders to the men. 

Two hours later, the cavalry wagon and its escort was entering the mouth of the canyon, when the group of soldiers was confronted by two riders, both wearing Texas Ranger badges. (end of Chapter 18)

"Halt!!!! Sgt. D.R. Maddux raised his right hand, ordering his unit to a halt, as the two star-toters approached.

Noting Maddux's sergeant's stripes, Walker addressed him. "Sergeant, I'm Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, and this is my partner, Jim Griffin." Walker was indicating Luke Hoyt, the red-haired, green-eyed outlaw leader, who was wearing the Ranger star Walker had torn off his dying partner's shirt. Walker passed over his Ranger credentials, Hoyt following suit with those taken off Jim Griffin's body.

After examining the papers, the sergeant gave a grunt of satisfaction, then responded, "Howdy, Rangers; I'm Sgt. D. R. Maddux. You expecting any trouble?"

"Nope, just heading for Sonora. Saw you comin', and thought you might like some company."

"Sure thing; always good to have as large a group as possible in this territory."

"Bueno. We'll ride with you as far as Ft. McKavett, then."

"Column, HO!!"  The sergeant, completely fooled by the papers he had been shown, and the badges worn by Walker and Hoyt, started his troops into the canyon.

As the heavy wagon struggled up the steep road, midway through the canyon, Hoyt spoke to the sergeant. "Good water just at the top of the rise, here. We'll ride on ahead, and meet you there." Sgt. Maddux, for the moment, was slightly suspicious. However, there was no way to turn around on the steep canyon floor.

Placing his guards on alert, the sergeant had the column keep plodding upward.

As the soldiers reached the top of the rise, five men, Cordell Walker in the lead, sprang up from the rocks on the right of the road. At the same instant, on the left, Luke Hoyt brought his six men into position.

All had Winchesters to their shoulders, ready to tear the soldiers to shreds. "Sgt. Maddux, order your men to throw down their weapons, NOW!!!"  Luke Hoyt's deep voice echoed through the canyon.

For a brief moment, Maddux thought of ordering his men to fight. Looking at thirteen Winchesters trained on his column, the sergeant realized to fight would be suicide. With the steep uphill grade only halfway traversed, any attempt to outrun the outlaws would be

foolhardy.

"All right, Griffin, you win."  He ordered his men to drop their weapons. As the outlaws surrounded his troop, Maddux cursed himself. "##%%$%, I'm a &^%^&&&. Knew there was somethin' wrong about those hombres." (end of Chapter 19)

As planned, the outlaws quickly disarmed the troopers, forced them to dismount, and turned the heavy wagon into the side arroyo.

"Maddux, have your men start unloading that gold, and be quick about it!" Hoyt ordered. The canny outlaw leader had several of his men brush out the wagon tracks and hoof prints leading into the arroyo. With the draw's twist and turns, a rider would pass by on the main road, never guessing a brazen robbery was taking place less than 1/4 mile away.

At the last bend, still in sight of where the wagon was halted, Hardy Cole and Paul Jason were on guard.  The arroyo appeared to end in a blank wall.

Even with six cavalrymen and several outlaws working, unloading the gold in the hot Texas sun was tedious, backbreaking work. Soldiers and outlaws alike were wearing down. Only Luke Hoyt and Cordell Walker, in charge, were still fairly fresh.

Suddenly, from the rim of the arroyo, two rifle shots rang out, and Hardy Cole and Paul Jason toppled into the dirt.

A stern voice rang out. "Texas Rangers!! DROP YOUR WEAPONS, GET YOUR HANDS HIGH, AND DON'T TWITCH A MUSCLE!! YOU'RE SURROUNDED!!"

The eleven bandits still alive looked skyward. Luke Hoyt turned white, for, on the rim on each side of the arroyo was a mounted figure, both Winchesters pointed into the arroyo. One was a bearded man on a dark bay, while on the other side, Winchester leveled directly at Luke Hoyt's chest, was unmistakably Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, mounted on his big Paint gelding, Yankee.

Shock and consternation registered across Hoyt's face, and across the rest of the gang, as they spied the supposedly dead Ranger throwing down on them.

As he turned and leveled his Colt at Luke Hoyt, Cordell Walker, smiling broadly, yelled up to his partner, "Doggone it, Jim, what in H*** took you so long?!  I was beginning to think I'd have to head for Mexico with this bunch, after all!" (end of Chapter 20)

Judd Nelson had been a Texas Ranger for fifteen years, and had put in a distinguished career with that esteemed organization. However, the time had come when retirement beckoned. He and his wife, Ruth, had settled on a small ranch outside of Junction, Texas, where they raised fine horses. Their two children, a son and daughter, were married, and the Nelsons were expecting their first grandchild in a few months. At just over 50 years of age, Judd and Ruth were content.

Judd was relaxing on his porch, Ruth by his side, taking an early lunch, when Jeb Marts, the mailman, rode up.

"Howdy, Jeb. What brings you by?"

"Howdy, Judd, got a special delivery letter here for you, from Austin."

Judd took the letter, eyebrows knitted together in a puzzled frown. He was a tall man, brown hair going to gray at the temples, with a salt- and-pepper beard. His deep brown eyes studied the envelope, which had only a box number for a return address. Ruth, his sturdy, strawberry-blonde, greed-eyed wife, looked at it with him.

Jeb, the mailman, made no move to go. Finally, Judd looked up, dismissed him. "Jeb, whatever's in here's no affair of yours."

"Sorry, Judd, you know how curious I get."

"Jeb, you say anything to ANYONE about this letter and I'll be lookin' for you."

The mailman trotted off. As soon as he left, Judd Nelson tore open the envelope. With Ruth reading along, he perused the contents:

"Dear Judd-

"I am writing to ask you a favor. A young Texas Ranger will be appearing at your home, shortly. He will be investigating a matter of grave importance, and may have a partner with him. Please render any assistance he may require. Needless to say, this letter is extremely confidential. If you are not contacted by the 25th of this month, please wire me immediately.

"Regards,

"Bill McGuire, Capt., HQ Company

"Texas Rangers, Austin"

Ruth peered at her husband's face. "Judd, darling, do you know what this is all about?"

"Ruth, you know as much as I do. Well, reckon all we can do is wait for that young Ranger to show." The letter certainly didn't give much information, Judd reflected.

Husband and wife, curious, settled back to their lunch. (end of Chapter 21)

Several days later, a very soggy, tall blonde, blue-eyed stranger, riding a Paint horse, rode wearily into the Nelsons' front yard.

Judd Nelson, hearing the hoof steps, emerged from the barn, just as Ruth stepped out of the front door. Mrs. Nelson gasped, for the entire lower half of the rider's shirt was blood-stained.

Judd, cautiously, had his Colt ready to be yanked and fired. However, as the rider dismounted, he asked, "Judd Nelson?" 

"You're lookin' at him."

"I'm Jim Griffin...did you get a letter from Austin?"

"Sure did; are you the man Bill McGuire referred to?"

"Yes, sir, I am; I'm Lt. Griffin, HQ Company, Texas Rangers...oh, and by the way, I'm dead, and so is my bronc, there."

Ruth Nelson was striding purposely off the porch. "Dead or not, young man, you need to get out of those clothes, before you catch your death. And, you need to eat."

Judd interrupted, "This is my wife, Ruth. Jim, I don't mean to doubt you, but do you have any identification?"

"Don't blame you, Judd. Good way to stay alive, bein' cautious. My partner took my badge and credentials, after I was 'killed'. If you need proof, there's a letter from Capt. McGuire in my saddlebags. Mrs. Nelson, I appreciate your offer, but I don't have time to wait. Judd, I need a hoss, and I need you to keep Yankee, there, well-hidden for awhile."

Mrs. Nelson broke in, "Judd...young man...you can certainly take a half-hour to clean up and get a hot meal. Jim, you'll have to explain to Judd what this is all about, anyway. You can do that over the table.

Now, I'll get you some towels and soap from the house.  Pump's at the back corner."

Judd gave Jim a half-smile. "She's right, Jim...and you do look awful hungry, even for a dead man. Why don't we put up your hoss, and grain him. I'll pick out a good one for you to use. Tell Cap McGuire he owes me one, when you get back to Austin."

After Jim removed his blood-stained shirt, washed up, and redressed in dry clothes, he joined the Nelsons in their kitchen. (end of Chapter 22)

After Cordell Walker had "shot" and killed his partner, Jim Griffin, and sent his "lifeless" body tumbling over the embankment toward the Llano River, Jim made sure he landed in the water, in case any of the Hoyt gang was listening or watching. For a moment, bogged down by his boots filling with water, Jim was fearful he would be dragged under by the current.  After being pulled downstream a short distance, however, he hauled up on a shallow sandbar, lying partially submerged, in case he were being observed. 

Jim's heart was pounding, not from exertion, but from worry that Yankee, his horse, whom Walker had also "killed", would move before Walker could make his getaway with Luke Hoyt and his gang. It was asking a lot of any animal to lie still for any length of time.

Finally, however, Jim heard the sound of hoof beats, and, after waiting a few moments, cautiously made his way back up the riverbank.

Yankee was still lying there, but had lifted his head, to look around. Fortunately, he had not done so before the gang of outlaws was out of sight. As Jim topped the bank and called to him, the big gelding rushed his friend, whickering happily, nearly knocking all the air out of Jim's lungs as he rammed his nose into Jim's stomach in greeting.

"Yank, gotta get goin' before those hombres get out of sight." Jim was grateful to note his Winchester was still in its saddle scabbard, although Walker had taken the "dead" Jim's Colts.

Staying well back, Jim followed the trail of Walker, Hoyt, and the outlaws. Satisfied he was positive of their direction, Jim turned, and, as planned, headed for Judd Nelson's ranch. It was there he was now having a pleasant lunch, and regaling Judd and his wife Ruth with the past days' events. (end of Chapter 23, Part 1)

Jim had been telling Judd and Ruth the plan he and Walker had developed, to infiltrate the Luke Hoyt gang.

"Judd, when Walker and I got orders to bring in Luke Hoyt and his bunch, Capt. McGuire told us he was going to contact you, since you live in the area. We were just gonna get any information you had, plus a couple of extra mounts and any supplies, if we needed 'em.

But, Walker's tangled with Hoyt's outfit before. He knew we'd never get any proof on 'em. That's when he came up with the idea of joinin' the gang. Hoyt was only too happy to have him, but I was a problem.

We killed, (if you'll pardon the expression) two birds with one stone. Walker gettin' me out of the way, I'm sure, put him in good stead with Hoyt, for sure, and solved the problem of Walker's partner.

There's no way we could have convinced Hoyt that TWO Rangers went bad."

"And your hoss fooled 'em , too!"

"Sure did; Yank's a right smart animal. Now, though, I've got to get a move on. Got to keep tabs on Walker.  We know Hoyt's planning on robbin' the Army payroll, and where. Just don't know what day. I'll be tryin to reach the Commander at Ft. McKavett in the next couple of days."

Judd Nelson tipped back in his chair, hands folded behind his neck, thoughtfully. "Jim, I'll be glad to loan you a horse. Got a young bay gelding here, Cody, who's the best hoss for the job." Seeing a scowl cross Jim's face, he quickly added, "...except for yours, of course. And I'll take real good care of your cayuse, while you're gone."

Judd continued, "But, Jim, I've got a better idea..."

Judd looked at his wife. Ruth knew what was coming, and discreetly nodded agreement. "Why don't you rest up here, for a couple of days. Don't take a chance on bein' spotted."

Jim burst in, "Judd, my Paint's spotted, not me."   Ruth grabbed Jim's piece of cake away, laughing. "No dessert for you, young man, with jokes like that!"  Seeing Jim's crestfallen face, she quickly returned his plate.

Judd shook his head, and continued. "Jim, why not let me trail those hombres?  Then, once I see they're on the move, I'll hightail it back here, and we'll partner up and make our move."

"Appreciate it, Judd, but I can't. You know I can't just hole up here, while Walker's in danger."

"Knew you'd say that, Jim, but I had to try." (end of Chapter 23, Part 2)

As Jim rose from the table, Ruth Nelson was packing some food for the trail for the tall Ranger, including some homemade oatmeal cookies. Jim's face lit up.  "Mrs. Nelson, could I have a couple of those for Yankee?"

"Sure, Jim, if that's what you'd like."

The threesome went out to the corral. Jim turned his back to Yankee, and the horse, lips working furiously, massaged his human partner's neck. Jim then slipped Yankee the oatmeal cookies. He hugged the horse's muzzle, speaking to him, gently.

"Yank, pard, you've gotta stay here awhile. Can't take a chance on anyone recognizin' you. Now, you be good, and I'll leave your peppermints with Judd and Ruth." He kissed the Paint on the star in the middle of Yankee's forehead.

Judd had emerged from the barn, leading a stocky bay gelding. The horse had absolutely no white markings, which might be seen under moonlight. "Jim, this is Cody...and these are for you, too." Although Jim hadn't asked, Judd handed him two old, but well-maintained, Colt pistols, to replace the ones Walker had taken from his partner.

"Muchas Gracias, Judd." Jim was inspecting Cody. The horse put his nose to Jim's ear, Jim rubbing the neck, gently. "Cody, we've got some work to do; you understand that, don't you, boy?" The horse nickered softly in response. 

"Judd, he's a fine animal. Now, here's Yankee's peppermint sticks. Be sure he gets one, every day."  Even though they had just met, Judd and Ruth could see Jim was a true horseman, and the bond he had already established with the bay, Cody.

As Jim mounted, Yankee tried to bolt through the corral gate, ears pinned back at Cody. Jim just stopped the bay, told Yank, "Cut it out; you just rest." Yankee sulked to a far corner of the corral, while Jim loped out, the Nelsons' "Adios" ringing in his ears.

The blonde Ranger spent the next days tailing the Hoyt gang. He was well-known for staying clean-shaven, under any circumstances, so he let his beard grow.

He had to watch, helplessly, as Walker led the robbery of the Wells Fargo stage. He knew if there were any sign of bloodshed, he and Walker would have been forced to tip their hand.

To his frustration, he had been unable to contact Ft. McKavett. Evidently, there had been tampering with the telegraph lines. Jim and Walker didn't know how fortunate they were the contact couldn't be made, for Luke Hoyt was still intercepting all wires to the Fort.

Finally, the day came when the Hoyt gang moved out. As he had promised Judd and Ruth, Jim--as soon as he was certain of the outlaw's direction of travel-- returned to the Nelson ranch. Here, Jim retrieved an extremely happy Yankee, and returned Cody to Judd. Jim had been very impressed with the bay's willingness and intelligence.

As Jim headed back out of the yard, another bearded figure appeared beside him. It was Judd Nelson, mounted on the bay, Cody. He was well-armed, with two Colts, Winchester, and Bowie knife.

"Jim, let's get those skunks", was all he said. Jim touched boot heels to Yankee's flanks, silently, and the two men galloped away from the ranch, Ruth Nelson waving goodbye from the porch, lips moving silently in a prayer for their safety.

In this manner, two days later, Lt. Jim Griffin, Texas Ranger, and Lt. Judd Nelson, Texas Ranger, Retired, were on the rim of an arroyo off a nameless canyon on the road to Ft. McKavett, Winchesters held on the Luke Hoyt gang. (end of Chapter 23, Part 3)

For a brief moment, the remaining members of the Hoyt gang stood stock still, shocked at seeing two Texas Rangers holding rifles on them, especially one whom they had thought dead.

Jim and Judd started to work their way down to the arroyo floor, keeping their rifles pointed into the bottom as much as possible. Cordell Walker had his Colt leveled at Luke Hoyt, the gang leader, and Sgt. D.R. Maddux was quickly ordering his troopers to arms.

However, three or four of the gang members were protected from the Rangers' rifles by the cavalry's freight wagon, and these men quickly opened fire. 

Jim and Judd charged into the arroyo, Winchesters blazing. Three of the gang members were immediately taken out of the fight by their accurate fire.

Cordell Walker tired to keep his attention on Luke Hoyt, the gang leader. However, a bullet from Les Summers grazed the lawman's head, causing him to spin sideways. Hoyt, taking advantage of this situation, leaped forward, and slammed Walker to the ground.  Walker, momentarily stunned, could not resist as Hoyt reached for his Colt. As the outlaw leader grabbed the pistol, and prepared to send a slug into the Ranger's brain, a bullet from Judd Nelson's Winchester creased Hoyt's ribs. Hoyt, realizing his exposed position, bolted and ran for his horse. With a leaping mount, he spurred the animal away from the fight, toward the mouth of the arroyo.

"Judd, you help Walker and the cavalry; I'm goin' after Hoyt!!" Jim cried, on seeing the green-eyed outlaw attempting his escape. (End of Chapter 24, Part 1)

As Jim spurred Yankee after Luke Hoyt, Cordell Walker quickly bounced back into the battle. He pulled his left-hand Colt, and quickly shot Les Summers, whose bullet had knocked Walker down, in the stomach.  Summers grabbed at his shirt front, left-handed, his Colt firing harmlessly into the dirt. Summers spun around and crashed face down.

Judd Nelson leaped off Cody, at Walker's side. His Winchester, fired from Judd's hip, sent a slug into Jake Morton's gut, just above the groin, as Morton drew a bead on Walker's chest. Morton jackknifed, and fell writhing in the dust. At the same moment, Walker's accurate aim put a bullet right between Ed Klessman's eyes. (End of Chapter 24, Part 2)

Luke Hoyt had taken the proper angle to get past Jim. He was riding his lanky, speedy sorrel. However, there was not an outlaw's horse in Texas who could outrun Yankee, or Walker's horse, Amigo. While there might be faster animals, none were more trained in riding down owl hoots than Walker's and Jim's Paints. 

As Jim, Yankee at a dead run, steadily gained ground on the red-haired outlaw leader, now only interested in escape, Hoyt turned in his saddle, firing Walker's stolen Colt. Jim--holding his return fire, low over his horse's neck. waiting for a better shot, wanting

to take Hoyt alive--counted five shots. Then, he swayed slightly in the saddle, as Hoyt's sixth and last shot caught the tall Ranger in the left side of his chest.

Grimly determined, Jim pushed on. Hoyt threw the now empty and useless pistol from his hand.

Hoyt's sorrel was quick, but there was no outrunning the determined Ranger and his highly-trained mount. As they gained on Hoyt, Jim reached for his lariat. He shook out a loop, and, from twenty feet away, tossed his rope. It settled over Hoyt's shoulders; Jim quickly dallied the rope around his saddle horn, and Yankee sat down on his haunches in a sliding stop, jerking Hoyt from his seat. The outlaw crashed to the road and lay still, all air knocked out of his lungs.

Jim quickly dismounted, and tied the still-gasping Hoyt's hands. Then, at gunpoint, he ordered the outlaw leader to remount, and headed back to the head of the arroyo. (end of Chapter 24, Part 3)

Walker and Judd, along with Sgt. Maddux and his troopers, had quickly finished the fight at the head of the arroyo. With Hoyt fleeing, and five others of his gang dead, the remaining outlaws quickly surrendered, and were secured by the Rangers and troopers.

Jim approached, Hoyt in front of him on his mount.  Spying Walker heading toward Amigo, preparing to join Jim's pursuit, he hailed his partner. "Walker, here's Hoyt, all wrapped up for you. Now, you'd better take him off my hands."

Walker and Judd quickly trotted up to their comrade.  They noted in alarm Jim's pale complexion, the pasty white cast to his countenance, the sweat on his brow, and his blood-soaked shirt.

"Jim, you're hurt!!" Walker cried out, as his partner weakly swung from the saddle. Sgt. Maddux had joined the Rangers. "Walker, I've got a medical corpsman with me; bring your partner over to the wagon."

As Walker reached out to steady his partner, while Judd was guarding Luke Hoyt, who had dismounted, Jim smiled weakly. "One thing, first, Walker." He then walked up to Hoyt, remarking, "Hoyt, I think you've got something that belongs to me..." With that, Jim pulled his badge from Hoyt's shirt, where it was still pinned.

As he turned away from Hoyt, Walker noted in alarm the back of Jim's shirt was also bloody. Hoyt's slug had gone right through. Walker reached out, grabbed his partner by the arm, wrapped Jim's arm around his shoulders, and hurried him to the cavalry wagon. (end of Chapter 25)

Sgt. Maddux was hurrying ahead of Walker, Judd, and Jim. Two of his troopers had been ordered to guard the prisoners, while the rest were reloading the gold shipment. "Casey!!" he yelled out to one of his troopers. "Get your medical kit over here, QUICK!!"

Cpl. Steven Casey, the detachment's medical corpsman, hurried to comply.

Jim was still conscious, as the corpsman removed Jim's bloody shirt, inspecting the bullet holes in Jim's chest and back. As he washed the blood away, he tsked softly. "Ranger, this is bad...but the bullet went in up high, and it looks like it came out clean.  Doesn't appear to have hit any major blood vessels, either. I'd say, if we can stop fever or infection from settin' in, you 've got a good chance. You were d****** lucky."

Jim smiled up at Walker and Judd. "Don't worry, you two.  I'm not goin' anywhere, quite yet. I wouldn't miss for anything Walker tellin' me how he's going to make up with his wife. And Judd...your wife promised me more oatmeal cookies for my hoss."

The corpsman quickly plugged, dressed, and bandaged Jim's wounds. He pulled the other two Rangers aside.  "Your friend is lucky; he should make it, OK."

As they walked back to Jim, Walker suddenly realized he had never met Judd Nelson. "Judd, I'm Cordell Walker", he introduced himself.

Shaking hands, Judd replied, "Pleased to meet you, Walker; heard lots about you, before, and now from Jim. You two are some pair."

"Judd, what're you doin here, anyway? Thought you were retired."

"Couldn't let you two young whippersnappers have all the fun, now, could I? I feel 25 years old again."

"Well, Judd, glad to have you here. You saved my hide, that's for sure." Walker had emerged from the fight with only a slight bullet gash over his left ear, and Judd had emerged unscathed.

Sgt. Maddux approached the two Rangers. "Walker, Judd, we're ready to go. You'll be ridin' with us to Ft. McKavett, of course."

"Yes sir, Sergeant", Walker replied. "I'm sure your commanding officer will want a full report from us.  And, as soon as my stubborn partner has rested, I want to know what took him so $$^^^ long to get here!"

Judd broke in, "I can answer that, Walker: Cody, my bronc there, threw a shoe. Took me awhile to replace it. Jim wouldn't leave me with a lame hoss. Otherwise, we would've been here right on schedule."

With the prisoners shackled, Jim insisting on riding his horse, the group headed for Ft. McKavett. (end of Chapter 2

Tomorrow night, the annual  "Walker saves a nobody ever heard of  fighter story"  Never one of my favorites, not being a fan of boxing, or kick-boxing, or any of that stuff. (Just like to watch the good guys beat up on the bad guys)  Jim

The bodies of the dead outlaws has been wrapped in canvas from the cavalry wagon, and slung over their horses. The prisoners, Luke Hoyt and the few remaining members of his gang, had been shackled into the wagon, ironically seated next to the same gold and Army payroll shipment they had tried to rob, the shipment that had led to their downfall.

It was impossible for the little caravan of Rangers, soldiers, and prisoners to reach Ft. McKavett before nightfall. Besides Ranger Jim Griffin, two of the cavalrymen had also been wounded, although not as seriously.

Just before sunset, the group stopped at a likely campsite, with good grass and water. Jim had been sagging in his saddle for the last mile, and, as the group halted, he slumped over Yankee's neck. Judd Nelson quickly dismounted, and supported the younger man as he slid off his mount. Cordell Walker quickly joined him, and the pair of Rangers helped their partner to lie down.

Corpsman Casey was quickly summoned. Jim's wounds were bleeding again, and he had to redress and rebinding them. After this was accomplished, and Jim was wrapped in his bedroll--breathing slowly but regularly--Casey turned to Walker and Judd.

"Your compadre's still OK. No fever, yet. He's just plumb wore himself out, ridin' that way- Should have been in the wagon."

Walker replied "Tomorrow, he will be, I promise you that...if have to tie him in there myself."

As Walker and Judd headed toward where the campfires were being built, the retired Ranger asked, "How come Jim was so insistent on ridin', anyway? No one would have thought less of him if he'd stayed in the wagon."

"Judd, you gotta understand; Ever since Jim and me were partnered up--which we didn't want to happen at first--by the way, we've each tried to "out stubborn" the other one. I'm not sure which one of us has the thicker skull. Figure it's probably a toss-up."

Wisely, Judd answered, "Well, if you two aren't careful, that stubbornness is gonna kill one of you, at least, and probably both."

Walker just flashed a wry smile in Judd's direction, as they reached for a plate. (end of Chapter 27, Part One)

As they were eating supper, Sgt. D. R. Maddux approached the Rangers, Walker and Judd. "Rangers, in all the excitement today, I forgot to thank you for all you've done. That goes for your partner, too.  If you hadn't been there, we would have all been goners."

"You're more than welcome, Sergeant", Walker replied.

"Your men gave a good account of themselves, too.

Still don't understand why there was no help from the Fort, though. We'll have to wait until Jim can talk to find that out."

"Walker, I know the Rangers and the Army haven't gotten along that well sometimes. As far as I and my men are concerned, though, anything you need, any help you need, just ask."

"Bueno, Sergeant. That goes for our side, too."

Later, Walker and Judd took their watch, guarding the prisoners. Luke Hoyt, almost in resignation to his fate, called to Walker. "Walker, sure you don't want to throw in with me, now? We can bust out of here, and there's less men to split with."

"Forget it, Hoyt."

"Figured that's what you'd say, Walker. I've gotta know one thing, though..."

"What's that, Hoyt?"

"How did you and Griffin pull off that stunt at the cabin?  I SAW you shoot him down, and his cayuse, too.  Now, I know about blanks, but, Walker, there was blood everywhere.  And no hoss can play dead like that."

"Well, Hoyt, seein' as you're headed for a rope, or life behind bars, I'll tell you. Jim had a couple of glassine bags of beef blood hidden under his shirt.  When I pulled the trigger, and 'shot' him, he burst the bags when he grabbed his belly. Fallin' face down like he did made sure they burst wide open."

"Yeah, but Walker, how about the blood in his mouth?"

"Same idea, Hoyt; just like a plug of chawin' tobacco, Jim stuck a little glassine bag of beef blood in his cheek. He bit down on it while he was lyin' there, 'dyin'".

Hoyt went silent for a moment, then protested, "alright, Walker, I'll give you that. But how about the hoss?  NO hoss can play dead like that, and for that long."

"Hoyt, I'd agree with you there, if it were anyone but my partner. You've never seen him with hosses, that Yankee hoss of his in particular. If Jim asked that bronc to run through Hell and back, he'd do it, without hesitatin'. Of course, if that cayuse asked Jim to do the same for him, he would. Never been sure who's the boss of those two.

"All I know is, never come between Jim and that cayuse, if you want to live. That's why it looked so real when I 'killed' 'em both. Even though it was fake, Jim had a hard time, I'm sure, watchin' his hoss go down. And, if Jim hadn't come back from the river after I tossed him in, that hoss would've laid there for days, waitin' for Jim to tell him to get up. No, believe it or not, your eyes weren't foolin' you.   They really looked dead."

Hoyt cursed,  "&*((&^^^^^^&*.  Caught by a lousy Ranger and his crazy *&&**() of a hoss." He turned his back to Walker and Judd.

The next day--Jim sleeping in the wagon, Yankee tied behind where he could watch over his human partner, the prisoners shackled now to their horses—the detachment and Rangers made the rest of their way to Ft. McKavett, arriving in the late afternoon. (end of Chapter 27, Part 2)

As the gates of the Fort opened, the Rangers let Sgt. Maddux and his men take the lead. Standing in front of his Headquarters office, ramrod straight, a stern expression on his face, was the Fort's commanding officer, Major Charles Tolsma.

The major barked at Sgt. Maddux, "Sergeant, you and your men are a day late."

Riding his horse up to his commander, saluting, the Sergeant replied. "Had a little trouble, Sir; got some prisoners for you. But first, I've got three men to get to the infirmary; Donarum and Whealon from our troop, and a Texas Ranger."

For the first time, the Major took note of the prisoners tied to their horses, the bodies slung over horses, and the two Texas Rangers at the rear. He ordered his aide, "Hanley, take four men and place Maddux's prisoners in the stockade. Maddux, you and your men clean up, and grab some mess. Take the Rangers, also. Then, at precisely 1700 hours, I want to see you AND the Rangers in my office."

The major's orders were quickly complied with, and Jim, Donarum, and Whealon were settled into the infirmary. After a quick cleanup and meal, Maddux and the two Rangers headed for the Major's office. (end of Chapter 28, Part One)

Sgt. Maddux saluted smartly as he entered Major Tolsma's office.

"Major, I'd like you to meet Texas Rangers Cordell Walker and Judd Nelson. The wounded Ranger, in the infirmary, is Jim Griffin."

"Gentlemen, pleased to make your acquaintance.  Please, sit down."

"Thank you, Major."

"Now, Maddux, what happened here, anyway?" Tolsma queried, sternly.

"Major, gang of outlaws tried to waylay us in that canyon 20 miles east of here. Walker was one of 'em, or playin' to be, anyway. Him and his two partners stopped their play. He can tell you more than I can."

"Walker?"

"Major, we had information that Luke Hoyt and his gang were plannin' to rob some big shipment. I worked my way in with them...found out it would be your payroll, and the gold for the mint. We planned on stoppin' 'em, with your help."

Tolsma burst in, then. "Why the *&&*** didn't you contact us? That shipment was Army responsibility, not the Rangers'!"

"Don't know, Sir. Jim was supposed to contact you by telegram, as soon as we knew where and when Hoyt and his gang would hit. He watched 'em for days, while I was with 'em."

Judd Nelson broke in. "Major, I can answer that, at least partially. You realize, I'm retired. Jim had to hide his hoss at my place, since he was supposed to be dead. Walker can fill you in on that later. Jim had to use one of my hosses, so I decided to join him. He told me he couldn't get a wire through to the Fort.   You'll have to ask him about that, when he can talk."

"Thanks, Judd", Walker replied.

"Maddux, how could you let your men be ambushed?" the major demanded.

"Walker and Hoyt rode up as Rangers. Hoyt had taken Walker's partners badge. They offered to ride with us.  Hoyt had set a trap, which the Rangers sprung.

"Only problem was, Griffin and Judd were delayed by a lame hoss, when Judd's animal threw his shoe. Otherwise, the gang would have been taken before they could trap us."

Walker broke in, then. "Major, all of your men put up a brave fight. They all deserve commendations, at the least."

The Major spoke, closing the meeting. "Maddux, I'm going to interview Hoyt and the prisoners. I've already ordered a detail to bury the dead. Now, I'll expect a full report from you on my desk by 1100 hours tomorrow."

Turning to the Rangers, he added, "Gentlemen, I know I can't order you to do anything, but I would appreciate your written reports, also. And, as soon as your partner is able, I'd like to hear his story."

"Be glad to do that, Major. I need to get a report ready for Austin, anyway."

"Thank you, Ranger. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Yes, actually; I need to get a message to Austin, telling them our assignment has been completed, successfully. I also need to get wires to my wife, and Jim's, to let our families know that we're all right.

Judd, how about you?"

"Walker, I'll stay here a couple of days, until I'm sure Jim's OK. Then, I'll head for home. Would like a wire sent to Ruth, though."

"Write those messages, and I'll send them immediately."

"Sgt. Maddux, you are dismissed." Summoning his aide, Major Tolsma ordered, "Show the Rangers to the guest quarters. Gentlemen, I'll see you at breakfast." (end of Chapter 28, Part 2)

Walker and Judd spent two restless days at Ft. McKavett, waiting for Jim to awaken. Major Tolsma was not completely satisfied with their reports, nor that of his Sergeant.

After two days, Jim opened his eyes. At first he wasn't sure if he were still alive, or if he had passed on to heaven, for the first thing he saw was a vision of loveliness looking into his eyes. She was a raven-haired, brown eyed beauty, all in white.

Weakly, Jim murmured, "Are you an angel?"

The vision responded, with a musical laugh, and a lovely smile, "Hardly; I'm June Tolsma."

"June Tolsma...where am I, and who are you?"

"You're at Fort McKavett, in the infirmary. I'm the commander's--Major Tolsma's--daughter, and also the troop's nurse."

Memory was starting to flood back for Jim, now. "Miss Tolsma, where's my partners?"

"I'll get them for you."

Shortly, Cordell Walker and Judd Nelson entered the infirmary, followed by Major Tolsma. Corpsman Casey and June were at Jim's bedside. 

"Major, I know you're my commanding officer, but this man still needs rest. Only a few minutes with him, please, Sir."

Jim, looking at the stern officer, couldn't resist.  "Major, June must take after your wife. Thank goodness for that!!!"  Major Tolsma, taken aback, could say nothing, then burst into a laugh.

Walker and Judd greeted Jim, warmly. "About time you woke up, you lazy galoot."

"Yeah, Walker; let's see; I got shot by you, had to swim the Llano, had to follow you, had to save your hide, and all you did was play outlaw and rob a Wells Fargo stage...by the way, is that money safe?"

"Yep. Wells Fargo agent picked it up, yesterday."

Casey broke in, "Gentlemen, make this quick."

Major Tolsma said, "Ranger Griffin, I only have one question, for now. Why didn't you contact the Fort for help?"

"I tried, Major, but the first time I went to send a wire, the operator said there was a strange repeat click in the keyboard. He figured someone might have tapped into the wires, so I didn't dare chance a wire. 

Have you asked Hoyt about that?"

"No, but I will."

"All right, everyone out, NOW!!!" Corpsman Casey ordered. As they left, Jim was smiling up at June Tolsma, who was placing a cool cloth on the blonde Ranger's forehead.

Two days later, Jim was able to get out of bed. Judd, Walker, Major Tolsma and his daughter June, Sgt. Maddux, and Corpsman Casey were in the infirmary. As Jim stood up, and took a few tentative steps, he issued a terrifying, "AAAUUGGHHH", held his hands to his head, and collapsed to the floor.

As the group surrounded him, to pick him up, Jim opened his eyes.  Settling his gaze on Walker, he screamed again.

"Jim, what's wrong?" Walker asked, concern deep in his voice, written all over his face.

"Pard, it's horrible. I just realized I've never seen you without a beard before. You're uglier than I ever imagined. Please, Walker, get a bandanna over that ugly mug, quick."

Everyone in the room was laughing, now. Even Walker was unable to restrain himself, and joined in, as much from relief that his partner would be OK as from enjoying Jim's joke at his expense. After Jim was settled in a chair, Walker contented himself with hitting Jim in the face with a wet sponge or two. (end of Chapter 29)

Judd Nelson had ridden for home, but not before extracting a promise from Walker and Jim they would stop by on their way back to Austin. 

Jim and Walker, along with Sgt. Maddux, were having supper at Major Tolsma's quarters. The two Rangers would be leaving Ft. McKavett the next day.

Major Tolsma's wife, Harriet, and daughter June were also present. It was obvious from the way June and the Sergeant watched each other, coyly, that they were in love. June was, indeed, a younger copy of her comely mother.

Major Tolsma was still questioning Walker and Jim about why they had not contacted him for help with the Hoyt gang.

Jim, for about the fifth time, had explained that Luke Hoyt had tapped into the telegraph lines. Major Tolsma had interviewed the prisoner, and confirmed this, also the fact that Hoyt had been a telegrapher in the service. Still, the Major was not satisfied.

"Gentlemen, my report to Austin and Washington will indicate that you placed men from my command in unnecessary danger."

Sgt. Maddux broke in. "With all due respect, Sir, the Rangers have explained to you why they didn't call for help. If they HAD tried, I and my men would have been killed without warning. Hoyt would have intercepted the message, killed Walker, and ambushed us sooner.

No, Sir, I'm sorry, but the Rangers did the right thing."

Walker and Jim remained silent through this discussion, momentarily. 

The Major continued, "One of them should have tried to reach the Fort."

Jim broke in, then,  "Major, there was no time.  Walker couldn't just drop away from Hoyt, and I couldn't reach the Fort in time."

As the Major started to speak, again, Harriet Tolsma broke in. (end of Chapter 30, Part one)

"Major Charles Everett Tolsma!!" The Major knew his wife was angry, when she used his full name. "You are a stubborn old fool, so hung up in your Army regulations you can't see the facts. These Rangers, and Sgt. Maddux and his men, rounded up a very dangerous gang, and saved the payroll and mint shipment. Instead of worrying about jurisdiction, you should be recommending them for a commendation."

June added her thoughts. "Daddy, you know Mother is right. For once, the Texas Rangers and the Army worked together, and captured or killed a gang of vicious killers and robbers. Why can't you just see that?"

The Major was silent for a moment, then harrumphed.

"All right, ladies. Sergeant, Rangers, I can see your point. I'll change my report, to show we captured the gang jointly."

Walker replied to the Major. "Jim 'n' I don't want any credit, Sir. However, we both feel Sgt. Maddux deserves a promotion."

"Walker, I was coming to that. Sgt. Maddux's standing in this Troop has nothing to do with my report."

Turning to his Sergeant, Major Tolsma continued, "Sgt. D. R. Maddux, I am promoting you to First Lieutenant, effective immediately. In addition, all the men who were under your command on the 28th of this month will also be promoted, one grade."

Thank you , Sir.  May I tell the men?"

"Yes, Sergeant--I mean, Lieutenant--you may."

Looking June and Harriet straight in their eyes, Major Tolsma went on, "Besides, I can't have my only child marrying a Sergeant. She must marry a Lieutenant, at least. "

June and D. R. were both blushing. "Daddy, was it that obvious?"

"Yes, Child, it was. I wasn't sure if Sgt.--I mean, Lt.--Maddux here was good enough for you, but after the way he comported himself through this incident, I will be most pleased to have him as my son-in-law."

The rest of the dinner was a pleasant affair, everyone happy with the defeat of the Luke Hoyt gang.

The next day, Walker and Jim took their leave of the Fort. Jim was almost back to full strength, and both Rangers were anxious to return home. The remaining members of the Luke Hoyt gang, including Hoyt himself, were in the Ft. McKavett stockade. They would face Federal charges first, then state charges. All of them would stretch a rope within the year.

Before leaving, Major Tolsma insisted on seeing Jim's horse play dead. No one had believed his and Walker's tale. Yankee, however, put on a good show, lying stock still for five minutes, until Jim ordered him to rise.

With waves and shouted "Adios's", Walker and Jim loped their horses out of Ft. McKavett (end of Chapter 30, Part 2)

As promised, Walker and Jim stopped at the Nelson ranch on their way home. Ruth Nelson prepared a fabulous supper, and the Rangers' spent the night at the ranch.

As horsemen, Jim and Walker were impressed with the fine animals Judd and Ruth were raising.

"Judd, any Rangers need a hoss, I'm gonna send 'em to you", Walker exclaimed, forcefully.

As Jim and Walker were preparing to leave the next day, Ruth Nelson came out, with a large bag of oatmeal cookies. As Walker reached for them, his partner grabbed his wrist.

"Hold on, there, Pard! What makes you think those are for you?  Those cookies are for Yankee and Amigo."

"Jim...You..."

"Careful, Walker, there's a lady present."

Walker gave in, knowing he could win almost any argument with his partner, except about the horses.

Judd Nelson had disappeared into the barn. He reappeared, leading Cody. Forcing the lead line into Jim's hand, the retired Texas Ranger insisted, "Jim, Cody's gonna make a fine Ranger's hoss. But, Jim, I want you to train him. Keep him for that son of yours that's gonna join the Rangers in a few years."

Judd had seen how, in the brief time Jim had ridden Cody, the horse had bonded with the human.

"Judd, I can't..."

"Yes, you can, Jim. No arguin'. Cody'll be twice the horse I could make him, if you take him."

Tears were welling in Jim's eyes. "Judd, I'll make him a hoss you'll be proud of."

Again, Yankee had to demonstrate how he played dead.

After that, Walker and Jim were finally on the home stretch to Austin. (end of Chapter 31)

Walker and Jim arrived at Texas Ranger Headquarters in the early afternoon. As they settled into chairs in Capt. Bill McGuire's office, he greeted them warmly, but was looking at them quizzically. Finally, he summoned his aide, Lt. Bob Hemmings.

"Walker, Jim, good to see you back", the Lt. greeted them.

"Good to be back, Bob", Walker answered for both of them.

"Bob, what's wrong with this picture?"

Lt. Hemmings studied the two Rangers for a moment, then exclaimed, "Oh, my God!!! Look at this; Walker's got no beard, and Jim's got a full growth of whiskers."

Both Rangers looked at each other, grinning.

While Jim was recuperating at Ft. McKavett, he and Walker had prepared their reports, which they had given to Capt. McGuire on their arrival. The Captain and Bob Hemmings were going over the reports, asking questions of their two top Rangers as they read. A scowl deepened on the Captain's face as he read.  Finally, tilting back in his chair, he ordered, "Walker, Jim, you two will stay here tonight."

"Cap, we want to see our families!" Walker protested.

"Rangers, THAT'S AN ORDER!! Your families will have to wait one more day. Report to me at 8:00 SHARP.  DISMISSED!"

As they left, Jim turned to his partner, "Wonder what that's all about?"

"Don't know, Pard. Guess we'll find out in the mornin'."

They gave their mounts good rubdowns and feeds, found themselves a good meal, had a hot bath, and settled in early at the Ranger barracks for a well-deserved full night's rest. (end of Chapter 32, Part 1)

As soon as Walker and Jim entered Capt McGuire's office the next day, Lt. Hemmings already present, their commanding officer exploded. "Walker, Griffin, what EVER gave you the idea to pull a stunt like that, without my permission? You had NO REASON to go undercover like that."

Walker, jaw tight with anger, replied, "Cap, Rangers in the field have the authority and discretion to act in the best interest of the State of Texas. Now, I've tangled with Hoyt before, you know that. Only way he's be captured is if SOMEONE got inside his gang. I knew him best, so I did it."

"You could have been killed...especially with that crazy stunt of shootin' your partner."

"Could have been killed, anyway, Cap, anytime. We're Texas Rangers; you know what that means."

Jim broke in, then. "Captain, the only worry I had about gettin' shot was caused by those idiots from Company D. Did you get my wire?"

"Yes, Jim, and they've been reprimanded. But that has nothing to do with this."

"It has EVERYTHING to do with this. Those imbeciles made me late in hookin' up with Walker. Now, we were supposed to practice a couple of times with Yank, to make sure he knew how to fall and stay down. Because of Company D's men, we only got a chance to try it once. I'll admit we took an awful chance, but only 'cause I was detained by those clowns."

Walker broke back in. "Captain, if you feel Jim and I didn't handle this right, then you can have my badge, right now. I'm sure Jim will turn his in, also."

Capt. McGuire leaned back in his chair, looked at Lt. Hemmings, and sighed. "Walker, Jim, I don't want that, and you know it. Just, next time, please, at least give me some idea what you two are up to, alright?"   The Captain had a broad smile on his face, now.

Lt. Hemmings spoke up. "Capt, I still can't believe that story about Jim's hoss."

Walker answered, "Believe it, Bob."

"Still like to see it, though..."

Jim jumped out of his seat, "Well, let's go, then!"

A few moments later, Jim, Walker, and Yankee were in one of the Ranger corrals. Along with Capt McGuire and Lt. Hemmings, a small audience of Rangers and clerks had gathered.

"Ready, Jim?"

Jim was standing near Yankee, hands raised over his head. "Ready, Walker."

Walker leveled his Colt at Jim's Paint's side. He fired twice, and, as before, Yank reared up, fell on his back, rolled on his left side, and lay motionless.  Then, to prove the horse wouldn't move, Walker fired at Jim, who collapsed to the ground.

A couple of minutes later, Jim stood back up. "How long you wanna wait 'til I tell Yank to get back up?"

Face shaking in disbelief, Capt McGuire just responded, "Now." At Jim's signal, Yankee stood up.

"Just one question, Jim. How does Yank know not to go down every time he hears a gun fired?"

"Simple, Cap.  When I want him to go down, I just flick my left hand downward, slightly. That's his signal."

After admiring Cody, delighted to hear Judd and Ruth Nelson were doing well, Capt. McGuire ordered his two star Rangers, "Walker, Jim, get outta here. I'm givin' you two weeks leave, this time. Now, GO HOME!!!

Walker and Jim trotted away from Austin, separating on the outskirts of town, Jim heading to Copperas Cove and his family, Walker heading to Bandera and Alex and Bobby. (end of Chapter 32, Part 2)

As Walker and Jim were trotting their horses out of the Ranger corral, Jim called to his partner. "Hold on a minute there, Walker."

Walker knew, from the expression on Jim's face, that he was just ready to explode with some tale. 

Jim had tried his best, but just couldn't resist. A mischievous grin crossing his face, he spoke from his saddle to Capt. McGuire and Lt. Hemmings. "Cap., Bob, if you want to see some REAL excitement, why don't you both mosey on down to Bandera, along with Walker, there? I'd go myself, if I weren't so anxious to see Marcy and my kids." If looks could kill, Jim would have been a dead man, as Walker shot daggers from his eyes at his partner.

"Why, Jim, what do you mean?" Capt McGuire and Lt. Hemmings were extremely curious.

"Well, Cap, it's like this; We knew, when Walker worked his way in with Luke Hoyt, that sidewinder would have him watched. Walker had to make sure Hoyt was convinced he was on the level, so Walker had to put on quite the show, from what I hear tell. He busted up C.D.’s saloon, and got into a brawl there.  Even pulled a gun on the sheriff, Trivette. Plus, worst of all, for Walker's sake, is he had to act mean to Alex. He tells me he rode away from her and she was pretty darn mad.

"Now, I've faced killers, gunslingers, rustlers, and robbers. But, believe me, I'd rather face them any day than my wife when she's upset. Walker's got quite a bit of explainin' to do. Already told him he'd better find LOTS of flowers and candy."

"Thanks a lot, PARD!!" Walker growled.

"Anytime, Walker; you'd do the same for me."

Bob Hemmings was laughing. "Sounds to me like we'd better send a company of Rangers along, to protect our man, there, Cap."

Capt. McGuire retorted, "We don't have anyone to spare; besides, remember, this undercover stunt was Walker's idea. He grinned up at the tall Ranger, seated on Amigo. "Cordell, I'm afraid you're on your own, this time. Every Ranger in the state of Texas can't help you, this time."

With a muttered oath, Walker spurred Amigo out of the corral, Jim hurrying to catch up, the two officers laughing as they turned back into Headquarters, secure in the knowledge Walker and Jim had again foiled enemies of the Lone Star State. (end of Chapter 33)

Jim had made a quick stop on his way home. As he approached his ranch, Yankee picking up his pace as the gelding realized he was almost home, Jim could see his entire family in the front yard.

Spotting Jim, his three children raced to the gate.  By the time Jim reached it, Marcy had joined them.

Shouts of "Dad, Dad!!" overwhelmed Marcy's greeting, as Jimmy, Jr. Jennifer, and Billy surrounded their Dad and his horse. Tears were in Jennifer's eyes.

"Daddy, I thought you were dead, and never coming home." Jim thought back to the night of the thunderstorm, just before he left for Junction, and Jennifer's fears.

"I was for a while, baby, but I'll tell you all about it once I get Yankee settled down. Besides, didn't I tell you I'd bring you a present?" At that moment, a small, shaggy black head popped out of the front of Jim's shirt. Reaching inside the shirt, Jim pulled out a shaggy puppy. "This is Tippy, and he's your new dog, all of you." Shouts of joy erupted as Jim handed the puppy to Jennifer.

Cody had been standing, patiently. "Jimmy, stay here a minute", Jim called to his eldest son. He handed Cody's lead rope to the boy. "Jimmy, this is Cody, and he's a very special horse, who took me through some tight spots. Now, his owner's a retired Ranger, and he

insisted I take him to train, and for you to have as your first Ranger horse. Now, son, he's yours, with all the responsibility that comes with him."

With a "Yippee!" Jimmy and Billy headed for the corral with Cody. Jim had known the boys would share Cody.

Marcy had been waiting, patiently. "Marcy, I'm afraid I didn't bring you anything, this time."

"Yes, you did, Jim, You brought yourself back, and made the children so happy." With that, Jim reached down and swept his wife into the saddle with him, trotting the rest of the way into the yard. (end of Chapter 34)

Cordell Walker was almost home. He was dreading the reunion with Alex and Bobby. Usually, they knew about his assignments, as much as he could tell them.  However, this time, with the necessity of working in with Luke Hoyt, he had been unable to give his family a clue as to what was going on, and had been forced to act as if he no longer cared about his wife and son.

Word had filtered back about his joining the Hoyt gang.  Of course, Alex had received his wire from Ft. McKavett, so she now had the facts, but still, Walker was not sure how she would receive him.

Walker was carrying a new fishing rod for Bobby. In his saddlebags were two giant boxes of sweets for Alex.

As he approached the ranch, no one was in sight. The knot in Walker's gut grew so large he felt he wouldn't be able to breathe much longer.

As the big Ranger dismounted, Bobby emerged from the barn. Spotting his step dad, he approached Walker, tentatively.

"Howdy, Son, I'm home."

"Hi, Cord..."

Handing Bobby the fishing rod, Walker continued, "Bobby, this is for you."

"Oh, wow, Thanks, Cord!" Bobby replied. When can we go fishin'?"

"Tomorrow, Son, or, if your Mom needs me tomorrow, the next day, for sure, and every day after that, if you'd like, for the next two weeks." Walker continued, "And, Bobby, I'm sorry for the way I treated you, before I left.  But, it had to be done, for my assignment."

Bobby just hugged his step dad, looking up at Walker, tears of joy in his eyes, "I don't care, Cord, just as long as you're home. I might have to do something like that too, some day, when I'm a Texas Ranger, just like you. C'mon, let me show you how fat and sleek Sunny's gotten."

"Where's your Mom, Bobby?"

"She's in the kitchen."

As if on cue, Alex appeared on the porch, staring at her husband, hands on her hips, her face an enigma.  (end of chapter 35)

Walker climbed the steps, taking Alex in his arms. He kissed her, and she returned the gesture, but coolly.

"Did your assignment go well, Cord?"

"Yes, Alex, it did...let me get Amigo settled, and I'll tell you all about it." While it was a hot Texas summer day, Walker felt a decided chill in the atmosphere.

After unsaddling and rubbing down Amigo, Walker returned to the house. Bobby was at the stock tank, practicing casting with his new fishing rod.

Alex was seated at the table. Kissing her cheek, Walker handed her the boxes of candy. "Honey, these are for you."

Alex unwrapped them, with a formal, "Thank you, Darling."

"Alex, we have to talk..."

"I should say we do, Cordell Walker!! How dare you just come waltzing back in here, giving me candy, like nothing's happened, after the way you treated me and Bobby before you left?"

"Alex, I'm so sorry...but, I had to act that way, to protect you and Bobby, and me."

With that, Walker told the whole story of why he had to work his way into the Luke Hoyt gang, and why he could not take a chance on letting anyone except his partner Jim--not even Capt. McGuire--know what he was up to.

When he had finished, Alex said, simply, "Cord, I can appreciate what you've just told me. However, I'm hurt you couldn't trust me. Plus, there was no need to be so nasty to me and Bobby, and what about your friends?"

"Alex, I told you; I had to make it seem like I didn't want any part of my old life. Hoyt was having me watched, right here in Bandera."

"Well, Cord, it's done, isn't it. Why don't you wash up for supper?"

With that dismissal, Walker tromped dejectedly out of the house, to the wash stand out back.

Supper, except for Bobby's excitement over his step dad’s return, was a silent affair. Bobby had, as a youngster, easily forgiven Walker.

"How can I get my wife back?" was Walker's thought, as the meal was finished. (end of Chapter 36, Part 1)

Bobby had gone to bed, and Walker and Alex were seated on the porch. A full moon was wending its way through the clear Texas sky.

Walker finally put his arm around Alex's shoulders.  They sat there in silence for a long time. Finally, Walker, in agony, spoke. "Alex, can you EVER forgive me?"

"Cord, I suppose I will, eventually." She was toying with him, now. "But, it will take a LONG time."

"Alex, I've missed you, so much. I need to know you're waiting for me, when I'm on the trail. Your love is the only thing that keeps me going."

"Hold me tight, Cord." She paused a moment, then continued, "Cord, I've missed you, too, and I worry about you, all the time. But, I won't have you treat me that way, ever again. Now, let's go in."

The couple entered their bedroom. Alex slipped into her nightgown, Walker undressing to his shorts.

They lay there in each other's arms, in silence for a long time. Finally, Alex turned to Walker, kissing him, demurely at first, then with the passion of long separation. Her hands slid down his chest, his stomach, fingertips slowly working their way around his belly-button, his weak spot. Walker moaned in agony, the agony of joy, as his wife kept massaging him, in all the right places. He buried his face in between her firm breasts. They made love passionately, over and over again.

Later, Alex turned to her husband. "Cord, let's just stay here, ALL DAY!"

He replied, "Alex, I have to go to town, and make things right with Trivette, C.D., and Gage."

Looking deep into his eyes, Alex replied, "One more day won't hurt them..." With that, she again embraced her body to his.

(THE END)