PARTNERS

BY: Jim Griffin, keeneyanke@yahoo.com

Texas Ranger Lem Tucker had left his base in San Angelo two weeks prior to this blazing July 17th. Tucker was one of the top Rangers in the service, a crack shot, and a brilliant investigator. He had ridden his black gelding, Charcoal, into the small town of Rankin.

Tucker was on the trail of the men behind the trouble in Upton and Reagan counties. Two other tough Rangers, Josh Nash and Perry McConnell, had already been murdered while on the same case, in the neighboring town of McCarney.

As Ranger Tucker reined up in front of the Stockmen's Hotel, the crack of a rifle shot rang out, from a roof opposite. Tucker, his spine cracked in two by the Winchester slug, crashed shapelessly face down into the Rankin dust, the third Texas Ranger to fall victim to the outlaws of Upton and Reagan counties. (end of Chapter One)

Captain Bill McGuire was in a heated discussion at Texas Ranger Headquarters in Austin with his chief lieutenant and aide, Bob Hemmings.

 "%(&^(&(",",!,! Bob, I don't like this idea at all", Capt. McGuire cursed.

Calmly, Hemmings replied, "I don't like it any more than you do, Cap...but what other choice do we have? You heard the governor: he wants that trouble in Upton and Reagan counties stopped, NOW." The two Ranger officers had just returned from a tempestuous meeting with the governor of the Lone Star State.

"Yeah, but puttin' those two together...Bob, that'll be like mixin' water and oil, or strikin' a match on tinder-dry mesquite."

"You're right about that Cap. If they'll work together, there won't be any stoppin' that pair...IF they don't kill each other first!!"

"Bob, have you got any other ideas...any, at all?"

"Sorry, Cap- I just can't think of anything else. And don't forget, McConnell, Nash, and now Tucker have all been killed. The Governor made it plain he wants more than one Ranger on this job...and, Cap, I believe he's right!!"

"Bob, I still hate this idea; but, we have no choice, as you say. Those murderers and outlaw have got to be stopped...especially after killin' three Rangers. The Rangers' reputation is at stake. We can't have crooks thinkin' they can thumb their noses at us, robbin' and killin' at will."

Lt. Hemmings concurred, "Cap, if anyone can get those murderin' galloots, you know the men the Governor wants can..."

"Bob, have these two even met, at all?" Cap McGuire, for once, couldn't recall.

"No, sir; they've always worked at different ends of the state, mostly."

"Well, Bob, this could be real interesting. Before we put them together, we'll read them both the riot act, separately. Now, all we have to do is get Walker here."

Reluctantly, the Ranger Captain ordered his lieutenant, "Send for Cordell Walker; get him here by tomorrow. Have Martha call the railroad and make the arrangements." (end of Chapter 2)

The 23rd of July dawned a fine, but typically blazing hot, Texas day. In Bandera, the sun rose majestically over the Cahill ranch.

Cordell Walker had already fed and watered the horses.  His adopted son, Bobby Cahill Walker, now 12 years old, was off on a camping trip with his best friend, Tommy Jackson, somewhere on the Jackson ranch. This left Cordell alone with his wife, and Bobby's mother, Alex. Walker had been home on leave for a week, and was looking forward to several more days with his wife and son.

Walker stopped at the pump to wash up before breakfast. As he did so, he was joined by Alex. "Cord, let me help." Playfully, she knocked his Stetson from his head. As he turned to hug her, she quickly pulled his shirt over his red-bearded face, leaving him helpless.

Walker rapidly pulled his shirt over his head, chasing his laughing blonde wife into the barn. She dashed up the ladder to the hayloft, allowing herself to be cornered there.

"Lady, you are my prisoner", Walker grumbled. "And I'll have to search you for hidden weapons." With that, he started to run his hands gently down her soft, feminine form.

Alex tilted her face and kissed her husband, hard. Suddenly tugging on his the waistline of his jeans, she exclaimed, "I see where you've got your big gun hidden!"

Hugging each other, the pair settled gently onto the hay-covered floor. They enjoyed these moments of passion thoroughly, for in Walker's assignments for the Texas Rangers, they were often separated for months at a time, never knowing when--or if--Walker would return.

"Cord, let's just stay here ALL morning", Alex pleaded.

Holding her gently in his arms, Walker replied, "How about the afternoon, also?"

"Oh, Cord...I love you", Alex murmured.

Suddenly, they were interrupted by the rapid hoofbeats of a horse entering the ranch yard. (end of Chapter 3, Part 1)

Walker, always the alert Texas Ranger, jumped up quickly. He motioned to Alex to be silent. Cursing himself mentally, he realized his gunbelt and pistols were in the house, out of reach. It was with great relief when he heard the voice of Jimmy Trivette, Sheriff of Bandera County.

"Walker, where are you?"  boomed the lawman's voice.

"Up in the loft", Walker responded. "Be right down."

He looked ruefully at Alex. "Honey, we'll have to pick up where we left off later. Alex was giggling at the delicate situation.

Walker rapidly descended the stairs--for there was an urgency to Trivette's voice--Alex following him. As he trotted out into the yard to confront the sheriff, he stopped dead. A grin a mile wide was spreading across Trivette's face, for Walker had forgotten completely that his shirt and hat were still lying on the ground by the pump. Walker and Alex were

disheveled, covered with hay.

Sweetly, Trivette cracked "Mornin' you two. I see it's been an active day already."

Alex, blushing, just stammered, "I'll go make some fresh coffee." 

As she departed, Walker stormed at the grinning Trivette, "#%%(^(^(!, Jimmy, don't you EVER do that again!"

Somberly now, the sheriff replied, "Sorry, Walker, but I've got an urgent telegram here from Ranger Headquarters", passing the yellow sheet to the Ranger.

Walker muttered softly to himself as he read the wire: "Walker: report to Ranger Headquarters in Austin no later than 6:00 PM this evening.  Passage has been arranged for you and your horse on the 10:30 AM Express from San Antonio. URGENT you be on it. PREPARE FOR A LONG MISSION. Capt. Bill McGuire."

Walker knew this must be an extremely important assignment. Well, there was no helping it. "Trivette, come have some breakfast, while I break the news to Alex. Then, we'll ride back to Bandera together, and I'll head for San Antone."

Alex knew, as soon as Walker entered the kitchen, what news Trivette had brought. "Alex, I'm sorry...", Walker started.

Alex put a finger to his lips, gently. "Cord, hush. I knew what I was getting when I married you. I hate to see you leave so soon, but it must be important."

Walker smiled back at her, tenderly. What a magnificent woman he had gotten when Alex consented to marry him. In addition, he had also received a wonderful son in Bobby.

After a quick breakfast, Walker quickly got his field gear together, and saddled up Amigo, his magnificent Paint gelding.

Kissing Alex goodbye, he asked, "Alex, say farewell for me to Bobby. I really don't know when I'll be back. Cap says prepare for a long mission."

As he and Trivette trotted out of the yard, Walker turned in his saddle, he and Alex waving to each other until they were out of sight.

Two hours later, Walker and Amigo were on the Austin-bound express, not knowing what awaited. (end of Chapter 3, Part 2)

Walker had stopped at the restaurant run by Sheriff Trivette's wife, Mary, for some  sandwiches for the train.  As he ate, the Ranger also digested the good news that Trivette had relayed to him during their ride into Bandera.

One of the members of Pete Russell's gang, Ed Downey, had never been captured. Downey was the man believed to have bribed the Western Union operator, Kellogg.

Downey was also suspected of killing Kellogg, to keep him from talking. However, Downey had never joined up with Russell and his bunch in Hondo. The rest of the gang had been killed there, during the attempt to kill Cordell Walker and his family. Downey had just

disappeared.

Then, two weeks ago, Ed Downey had ridden into the small town of Tarpley, and robbed the bank there. To Downey's misfortune, Tarpley was in Bandera county, and Trivette and his posse soon ran down the killer.   Ed Downey's ended his murderous career facedown in the dust of the Tarpley road. The last chapter of the Russell gang had finally been written. (end of Chapter 4 Part 1)

The train, as trains inevitably are, was late pulling into Austin. Walker quickly retrieved his horse from the cattle car, and quickly started for Ranger Headquarters, arriving there shortly before 6:00 PM.

Capt. Bill MCGuire and Lt. Bob Hemmings were waiting for their red-bearded officer. After quick greetings, Hemming waved Walker to a waiting chair.

"Cordell", Capt McGuire started, "I'm sorry to cut your leave short: I know how little time you--and all my men--get to spend with their families. However, the assignment I'm about to hand over to you is of vital importance. My orders, and therefore yours, are coming directly from the governor of Texas."

Walker broke in, "Capt. I know it must be; now, give me the details."

Capt. McGuire continued, "Cordell, you know there has been trouble west of San Angelo, in Upton and Reagan Counties. Son, it's worse than you ever imagined."

Walker broke in again. "I've heard, Cap: robberies, killin's, and more."

Lt. Hemmings interrupted then, "Walker, please, just listen for a few moments."

"Thanks, Bob." Continuing, Cap. McGuire went on, "Cordell, two weeks ago, Rangers Josh Nash and Perry McConnell were killed, drygulched outside of McCarney."  The Captain paused, allowing for Walker's sharp intake of breath. "It gets worse: Lem Tucker was sent to the area, to try and find Nash and McConnell's killers. He was ambushed in Rankin, before he even got off his horse."

"Cordell, no one knew Tucker was in Rankin, nor that he was a Ranger, as far as we can tell. Now, we've got three good men dead, and the governor wants this trouble stopped, NOW."

"I'll be ridin' first thing in the morning, Cap", came Walker's terse response. 

"Your turn, Bob" McGuire replied, turning to his aide.

"Cordell, there's more- the governor wants two Rangers, at least, on this assignment. He wanted a whole troop, but we convinced him that would just chase the jaspers away." Hemmings looked at Walker, doubtfully.

"Cap...Bob, you know I always work alone" was the big Ranger's quick response.

"Funny" Hemmings replied, "that's the same answer your new partner gave us. Captain ....."

McGuire, eyes stern, spoke up, again. "Cordell, this assignment is vital to the future of the Texas Rangers. We can't have crooks just killin' our men and gettin' away with it. Lem Tucker, as you know, was one of the best men in the Rangers, and Nash and McConnell were plenty salty, too. The Governor feels, and I agree with him, we need more than one man on this case.   Now, I'm tellin'--no, ORDERIN'--you, just like I ordered your new partner: You both WILL work together, or you'll turn in your badges. Understood?"

"Perfectly, Captain", was Walker's surly response.

At that, Bob Hemmings left, to summon Walker's new partner. (end of Chapter 4, Part 2)

Lt. Hemmings quickly returned, another Ranger following. "Cordell Walker, meet Jim Griffin. Jim, Cordell Walker."

"Cordell, glad to meet you", Jim replied, shaking hands.

"Make that Walker."

"OK, Walker...if that's what you prefer. Me, I'm just plain Jim."

Cordell Walker was not impressed with his new partner. Jim was tall, a few inches taller than Walker, with thick blonde hair and clear, light blue eyes. He did not appear, however, to be particularly powerful, and there was almost a laziness to his stride, and his soft voice, which had a definite Yankee accent.

Then, to make matters worse, Jim spoke up. "Walker, huh?" 

"That's right; bother you?"

"Not at all...but, I've always found it faster to ride my bronc. It'll take a LONG time to get to San Angelo if you're a WALKer."

Cordell flinched, then turned his eyes pleadingly to Capt. McGuire and Lt. Hemmings. The Captain just rolled his eyes. "Cordell, my fault: I forgot to warn you about Jim's terrible jokes."

Jim was just grinning.

"Enough of this...Cordell, Jim, I've gone over the basics of the assignment with both of you. Now, I wanted to put you two on the train as far as San Angelo. Thunderstorms last week, though, washed out the trestle over Hawkin's Gulch, so the trains aren't runnin', for at least two weeks. You've got a long ride ahead of you. Now, Bob and I will tell you everything we've got. Needless to say, you won't be travelling as Rangers."

The foursome worked late into the night, preparing as best they could for the assignment handed to Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin, which had so far been a death warrant for every Ranger assigned to the case. (end of Chapter 5)

Finally, very late, Capt. McGuire and Lt. Hemmings headed for their homes. Rangers Walker and Griffin headed for the headquarters' bunkhouse.

Jim was quickly asleep, but Cordell Walker was restless. He knew that Jim, as himself, usually worked alone. That was about all the information he had about his new partner. Walker certainly wasn't impressed by their first meeting. Still, Jim was a Ranger, so there must be something, some quality that had escaped Walker's scrutiny.

Finally, thinking, "Well, better get some sleep. I'll probably have to drag that cuss out of bed in the morning," Walker grouched to himself, listening to  Jim's steady breathing from the next bunk.

What Walker didn't know was that Jim wasn't too thrilled with his first impression of Walker either. He noted the compact, powerful build of his auburn-haired, red-bearded new pard. Jim was not pleased with the stern cast of Cordell's brown eyes.

While Jim had a ready smile, and was always prepared for a laugh, he was sure that Walker was the deadly serious kind, and would not be much company on the long trek ahead. As he settled to sleep, Jim's last thought was, "Oh, well, at least he's someone to talk to...although, all in all, I'd rather have a conversation with my cayuse. Probably get more out of him, than this galoot." (end of Chapter 6, Part 1)

Much to Cordell Walker's surprise, Jim was shaking HIM awake before dawn the next morning. "C'mon, Walker: we got a long way to go; breakfast's on the stove. I'm an early bird, Walker, so you'd better be too...or I'll leave you the worms, while I have bacon and hotcakes." Jim was smiling broadly. Walker, groaning, just threw his dirty shirt in Jim's direction.

Walker had to admit that Jim was a good cook. The two ate breakfast quickly, and silently, then went to the Headquarters' corral to retrieve their two broncs.

Jim's horse trotted over to the fence upon spotting his human partner. Amigo was close behind, heading for Walker. Walker strolled over to where Yankee was greeting Jim and watched, dumbfounded. In all his years, he had never seen such affection between man and equine as Yankee and Jim showed for each other, more even than between Walker and Amigo.

Yankee shoved his muzzle into Jim's stomach, shoving hard against the blonde Ranger. Jim then took his horse by both sides of the head, shaking it. Yankee just nuzzled him affectionately, again sinking his nose into Jim's middle. Then, lifting his head, the chestnut paint opened his lips, and gave his partner a sloppy equine kiss. Jim slipped the horse a lump of sugar, then asked, "Where's my hug?" The horse promptly tilted his head, laying it on Jim's shoulder, sighing happily. Then, the cayuse snatched a bandanna out of Jim's breast pocket.

Looking around, Jim called to Walker. "Walker, let me introduce you to Yankee." As Walker strolled up, Jim ordered. "Yank, this is our new partner, Walker. Shake hands." To Walker's amazement, Jim's horse lifted his left front hoof high.  With no choice, Walker took the hoof and shook it.

Jim's eyes were glowing.  He told Cordell, "Walker, you'll have to get used to this. Hosses and I just understand each other.  Now, let me meet your bronc."

Jim and Walker wandered over to Amigo, Yankee following. "Walker, that's a great hoss you've got there, I can tell." Jim was clearly more excited over Amigo than his new human partner.

 To Walker's surprise, Amigo, his one-man horse, stuck his nose in Jim's ear, nickering softly. Jim rubbed Walker's gelding gently, behind the left ear. Amigo closed his eyes, totally relaxed, clearly enjoying the moment.

After that, Yankee and Amigo introduced themselves to each other. With the usual snorting, squealing, and pawing of the ground that occurs when two new horses

meet, the two equines established their partnership.

Shaking his head, Walker thought to himself, "Must be more to this hombre than meets the eye. Still, though, havin' a way with hosses never made anybody a Ranger.   And those cute tricks his hoss does won't cut it in a gunfight, that's for sure."

Twenty minutes later, the new Ranger partners were loping away from Headquarters, headed west. (end of Chapter 6, Part 2)

Rangers Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin spent their first day on the trail in brief conversation. The two men were total opposites, Walker serious and silent, Jim outgoing and talkative. Eventually, though, Jim, realizing Walker wasn't much for conversation, lapsed into silence.

At midday, the pair took a break from their hard travelling, stopping by a stream where the horses could get a long drink, and the Rangers could refill their canteens. Water was always a precious commodity in Texas in the summertime. There was also plenty of grass for Amigo and Yankee to crop, while the men ate lunch, in silence.

After remounting, and starting off again, Jim tried once more to get Walker to open up. "Walker, I know you don't like havin' a partner, any more than I do.  But, we're stuck with each other for a while. Now, it's gonna be a long trip if we don't talk once in awhile, anyway."

"Look, Jim, it's not you" Walker replied, although in Walker's mind Jim was part of the problem, a big part.  If Walker had to have a partner, why couldn't Capt. McGuire at least have given him one who was serious about the job at hand. Jim just seemed like he was too easy goin' to count on in a tight spot. "It's just that my leave was cut short, and I had to leave my wife again. I hadn't seen her for three months, and I'd only been home for a week. Had to leave without sayin' goodbye to my boy, too." Walker lapsed back into sullen silence.

“Ok, Walker, I can understand that. How old's your boy, anyway?"

"Twelve, goin' on thirteen shortly."

"He got a name?"

 "Yeah, Bobby- and my  wife is Alex."

"Walker, I know how you feel. I was home for three days this time. Been out for two months before that.  At least I was home for our anniversary, this time.  Marcy would have killed me if I missed it again.  I've got kids, too. My twins, Jimmy Jr. and Jennifer, are nine, and Billy is six."

Walker was surprised. Somehow, he had pictured Jim, who was, Cordell guessed, a couple of years younger than himself, as the non-marrying kind, who probably spent much time in the dance halls and saloons. Jim's gregarious nature led Walker to this conclusion. Walker made a mental note that maybe Jim was not as careless as he suspected.

Jim continued, "Your boy ever talk about bein' a Ranger, like his old man?"

That finally got a smile from Walker. "Yeah, Jim, lots."

"Mine, too. That's all Jimmy ever talks about. I'll be so proud the day it happens, and so will his Mom, although she won't admit it."

Walker slipped back into silence. After a while, Jim broke into his thoughts again. "Cordell, any problem with me bein' a Yankee?"

"No," Walker answered quickly, to his ear almost too quickly, although he meant it. "Where you from, anyway, Jim?"

"New Hampshire, by way of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Drifted down here after the war. Wanted to get away from the East. And you're a born and bred Texan, right?" 

"That's certain: brought up just outside Fort Worth."

"And was it Fort WORTH all the trouble? Ouch, that was bad, even for me!!"

Unable to help himself, Walker grinned, and stifled a chuckle. Then, in mock seriousness, he pulled his Colt from its holster, pointing it at his partner. "Griffin, one more joke like that, and you've had it."

"OK, Walker, just don't shoot! Don't forget, I've got a family."

Smiling, the two new partners kept on toward their evening camp, both realizing the other might not be so bad, after all. (end of Chapter 7)

Several days later, the two Rangers, Walker and Griffin, found themselves riding into the small town of Brady. They had been pushing themselves and their cayuses to the limit. Men and animals were exhausted, the horses gaunted from the hard pace, with little food.

"Jim, what say we get Yankee and Amigo into the livery tonight for a good rubdown and feed...and how about gettin' a room for ourselves, and maybe even a bath?"

"You'll get no arguments from me, Walker...in either case."

"Bueno, then it's settled."

Yankee and Amigo were turned over to an elderly hostler, Matt, at the livery. His eyes grew wide at the sight of the two magnificent animals.

"Don't see many like these two come through, here, no sir. I'll treat 'em extra special."

Satisfied their mounts were in good hands, the two Rangers unhooked their saddlebags, tossed them over their shoulders, and headed for the only hotel in town, the Brady House.

After settling in, and arranging for a hot bath later, the pair went down to eat.

The restaurant was called "The Brady Bunch."  Walker had to asked the young red-haired waitress, "Where'd you ever come up with a name like that?"

"Cause my mom and dad had eight kids. Everyone called us the Brady Bunch, and, since our family was always cookin' anyway, they decided to make some money at it."

Jim just chuckled, "You had to ask, didn't you, Cahill?" In public, the Rangers were using aliases, to maintain their cover.

After a delicious supper, Walker and Jim went back to the hotel, and the bathhouse out back. They greatly enjoyed soaking in the hot water, rinsing the aches and grime of the trail out of their bodies. After they had shaved and redressed, Walker suggested, "Jim, how about we go over to the saloon for a drink?"

"Never much enjoyed that, Walker."

"Neither do I, Jim...but it is a great way to pick up information."

"Now you're talkin', pard.  I'm all for that!"

Jim didn't notice Walker flinch at his use of the word "pard". The pair stepped forcefully toward Brady's one saloon. (end of Chapter 8, part 1)

The Golden Stallion was about the same as any saloon in a small Western town. There was a long bar, tables, and gamblers, with lively poker games going on at several tables.

Walker and Jim bellied up to the bar. The bartender, a gray haired, paunchy sort, queried. "What'll it be, gents?"

"Whiskey, two glasses, and leave the bottle."

Walker and Jim could stretch out that bottle all night--acting as if they were drinking hard--when they were, in fact, hardly drinking at all.

Brady was still a long way from their destination, but news on the plains travelled fast, and the Rangers hoped to catch any of the latest gossip.

They were disappointed, though. The only conversations they heard appeared to be about local stuff. Two dance hall girls, one buxom and blonde, the other brunette and curvy, approached the handsome Rangers, attracted like moths to a flame. After buying them a drink, the two officers sent the girls on their way.

Several cowboys had been drinking all night at the Golden Stallion, standing at the bar. Without warning, the one next to Jim, a muscular, thick-necked individual, turned to the blonde Ranger. "Mister, are my ears deceivin' me, or do I hear Yankee when you talk?"

Calmly, Jim replied, "Yep, you do; I hope that doesn't bother you."

Walker came instantly alert, as he realized the entire group from the bar was now closing in around the two Rangers. 

"Mister, there ain't any room in Texas for any @##$#^  ((&&&**(   )*&^%%^% Yankee carpetbaggers."  Now, GIT, before my friends an' I make you GIT."

Jim, angry now, but controlling his temper admirably, retorted, "I may be a Yankee, but I'm no carpetbagger...and I'm as much a part of Texas as you are."

With a screaming oath, the big cowboy swung a vicious fist at Jim's chin. (end of Chapter 8, Part 2)

Walker cursed silently to himself, as the big cowboy swung at Jim, Walker's unwanted partner.  The last thing the two Rangers needed was an all-out barroom brawl, which would surely bring a nosy local deputy around, fast.  In addition, Walker was still not convinced Jim could handle himself in a fight.  And all of this because of Jim's Yankee accent.  Still, Walker prepared to jump in, ready to back his fellow Ranger.

Jim ducked the cowboy's first punch, and hit the big hombre under the chin with his left, staggering the man back against the bar.  As Jim prepared to follow through, one of the man's friends broke a bottle over Jim's head, sending him to his knees.  Walker jumped in, sending a vicious punch to the bottle thrower's ribs.

Now, it was a free-for-all, the two Rangers against eleven hard fighting cowpokes.

The man who had first hit Jim took advantage of his being stunned by the bottle.  He threw a vicious punch to Jim's face, catching him on the left cheek.  Jim was spun around,  his back to the bar.  His opponent sent several shots to Jim's belly.  Jim, doubled over, gasping for air, buckled at the knees.  Since he appeared out of the fight, no one else had swung at the blonde Ranger, now with a bloody face, but were egging his opponent on.

Suddenly, Jim shot straight up from his knees, the top of his skull catching the big cowpoke square under the chin.  The man collapsed senseless to the floor. 

Walker, meanwhile, had his hands full.  He was backed against the bar, while four men closed in.  They had greatly underestimated the fighting strength of the veteran lawman, however.

Two of them grabbed Walker's arms, pinning him.  The third and fourth moved in for the kill, striking Walker repeatedly in his midsection.  As one moved in closer,  to smash Cordell's face, Walker brought up a vicious kick, caving in the man's nose.  The other moved in, and a powerful kick to his belly doubled him up on the floor, all air knocked out of his lungs.  With a great effort, Walker jerked out of the grasp of the two holding him.  Another man tried to smash a chair over the big Ranger's head, but he sidestepped neatly,, and landed a powerful blow to the man's kidneys.

Walker and Jim were backed against the bar now, while the remaining cowboys closed in.  Side by side, the two partners threw punch after punch, giving much better than they took, landing blows to faces and bellies, jaws and chests.

Finally, there was only one man standing, who towered by at least four inches over Jim, the taller of the two Rangers.  "He's mine, Walker- stay out of this" Jim yelled.  As the man closed in, Jim let fly with a powerful left, which seemed to come from the floor.  Showing no mercy, Jim landed the blow directly to the cowpoke's groin.  The man collapsed to the sawdust floor, screaming in agony.

"Can't stand that noise" Jim muttered.  He kicked the man in the chin, silencing him.

The bat-wing doors sung open to reveal a local deputy.  He was just a kid. "What happened here?"

Walker replied. "It's all over, kid- just go back outside- These men objected to my partner's accent.  They started this- Isn't that right, barkeep?"

Under Walker's steady gaze, the bartender wilted. 

"That's right, Joey- these two gents were just minding their business.."

The deputy, also cowed by the glares of the two Rangers, quickly retreated.

"Jim, let's get out of here, before these hombres come to"  Eleven tough cowpokes were lying senseless on the floor of the Golden Stallion Saloon.

"I'm with you, Walker"

After they arrived back at their room , the two Rangers took stock of their injuries.   Both had various bruises and scrapes, and Jim had blood dripping from a lower lip that was at least three sizes larger than normal.

Grinning, Jim cracked at his partner. "Walker, guess that bath tonight was a waste of time."

For the first time since being partnered with Jim, Walker laughed, "Yeah, but that fight sure wasn't- Those jaspers rearranged your face- and definitely for the better."

Jim tried to laugh, but only grimaced, rubbing the huge lump raising itself on his jaw.  He settled for pulling off his bloody shirt and tossing it in Walker's general direction.

As they settled down on their beds, Walker thought to himself  "this may be alright, after all- this guys got two sides- and I'm glad I'm not on his wrong one"

Jim, for his part, was drifting off to sleep, not realizing the importance of the brawl to his partner.  (end of Chapter 8, Part 2)

Rangers Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin rode away from the small town of Brady with a new respect for each other.

While they were still not the best of friends, the brawl in the Golden Stallion Saloon had proved to both men that the other was indeed capable of holding his own. In addition, being forced together into a situation where death might be awaiting around the next bend in the trail, inevitably led to a kinship, a reliance on each other.

The two men pushed steadily westward. They kept to the back trails, avoiding larger towns, such as San Angelo, where someone might recognize them.

The first camp after leaving Brady, Walker finally asked "Jim, don't you ever tie Yankee?"

Not in camp, Walker--no need--he won't leave me.  Just tie him up in town, to keep him from followin' me."

"What about hoss thieves?"

"No worry, there, either, Walker. Any hombre tries to steal Yank...well, let's just say iron-shod hooves and the skull bone don't match.  Yank'll cave his head in."

The next morning, Walker was startled awake by Amigo's muzzle in his face. "How'd you get loose, fella?" Walker asked the big bronc, puzzled. Amigo just nickered a soft greeting. Walker glanced over in Jim's direction, but his partner was rolled in his blankets, snoring softly.   (end of Chapter 9, Part 1)

For the next three days, Walker was awakened by Amigo's muzzle in his face. Walker was convinced that Jim had something to do with his horse being loose, but Jim never moved once he was in his bedroll. The two partners were now only three days from their destination, the town of Rankin, where Ranger Lem Tucker had been gunned down.

They had, as always, broken camp early, and were riding into a small town, which had a large Mexican population. A little adobe church was at the head of the plaza. Townspeople were entering, to the sound of chiming bells.

Jim turned to his partner. "Walker, it's Sunday. With this job, I hardly ever am in town to get to Mass. We'll be stoppin' for an hour."

The way Jim stated this, Walker knew he might as well not argue. He was surprised Jim was Catholic, for, except for Mexicans, and the Polish settlement around where Walker lived, Bandera, and a few other scattered communities, Catholics were rare in Texas. Of course, Walker reminded himself, Jim was a Yankee, so that would explain his religion.

 Reining up in front of the church, Jim unbuckled his gun belt, handing it to Cordell. "Here, Walker, wouldn't do to wear my irons into church." Both men dismounted, Jim hurrying into the sanctuary, Walker resting out front.

Just after the Mass started, a brown robed padre approached Walker. "My son, why don't you go in?"

Walker shook his head, "Padre, I'm a Christian, but not Catholic. I'm waiting for my partner, who's in the church."

"All are welcome, here, my son.  Please, you look weary. Come in."

The church did look cool, Walker thought. He started for the entrance, then, suddenly, turned to the priest. "Padre, what about my guns?"

"Son, hand them to me. I will stay in the rear of the church, next to you, and hold them for you."

Walker was fascinated by the service.  He enjoyed the rhythmic chants and sing-song of the Mass, and the sounds of the choir. Jim, emerging, espied Walker leaving the rear entrance, bucking his gunbelt back on. Jim approached, smiling. 

"Walker, glad you came in" he remarked, as Cordell passed Jim's guns back to him. "You enjoy it?"

"Yeah, I did, but what lingo was that; I didn't comprende it at all?"

 "Latin, Walker, about 2000 years old.  Well, let's get goin'..."  (end of Chapter 9, Part 2)

As they trotted and loped westward, Walker finally turned to Jim.

"Griffin, every night my hoss is loose...and every mornin', you're still sound asleep. Now, you look too innocent to me. What's goin' on here?"

Jim knew Walker was aggravated, for he had only called his partner "Griffin" one other time, over a bad pun. Still, Jim wouldn’t give in.

"Beats me, Walker....Maybe I should show you how to tie a slipknot better."

"Jim, you were in church this mornin' you shouldn't be fibbin' to me."

"I'm not, Walker"  Jim's face was an expression of bland innocence.

Determined to find out how Amigo was getting loose, Walker vowed to wake early the next morning, long before dawn.

As he watched, Jim's horse, Yankee, trotted casually up to Amigo. The next instant, after a few tugs on Amigo's rope by Jim's paint, Amigo was free, both horses happily cropping the grass under their feet.

Walker, enraged, yet laughing to himself, grabbed the coffee pot, quickly filling it from the spring. He then proceeded to dump the ice-cold contents over the sleeping Jim's head. Jim, sputtering, tried to jump up, but only succeeded in tangling himself in his blankets.

Walker was roaring with laughter. "'Don't know how', huh, Griffin? You taught that cayuse of yours how to untie knots, didn't you?"

Jim fell back, laughing, gazing up at the stars.  "Sure did, Walker. Comes in real handy sometimes. And, it was worth gettin' soaked, just to see that big grin all over that ugly face of yours."

After Jim struggled out of his blankets, and shed his wet shirt, the two men, their bond becoming tighter every day, had a quick breakfast, and resumed their hard march toward Rankin.   (end of Chapter 9, Part 3)

It was the Rangers' final camp before reaching Rankin. They had been unable to find a really suitable campsite, so had settled for a glade which had thin grazing, at least, for Amigo and Yankee. There was a source of water, a small stream, down a short, steep, slope.

That morning, before breaking camp, Jim and Walker had cleaned up as best they could. Jim was still shirtless, his Stetson tilted back on his head. He had taken a small mirror and a razor from his saddlebags, propped the mirror in a crevice of a boulder, and was scraping away at four days' worth of stubble.

Walker, observing this, had to ask, "Jim, why you botherin' with that. We'll be in Rankin tonight."

"Yeah, and if the record continues, we'll be lyin' in the dust, tomorrow. Now, Walker, that beard looks good on you. In fact, anything that hides your face is a good thing. Ever consider wearin' your bandanna over it, permanent-like?" Jim grinned as Walker growled oaths in his direction. "Anyway, Walker, I don't look good in whiskers. If I'm gonna bite the dust, I'll do it with a clean face."

Walker snorted in response. "Clean, dirty' whiskers, none. You'll still never be a lady-killer." Jim grinned back. Walker continued, "While you try to look pretty, I'll go fill the canteens. Be right back."  (end of Chapter 10, Part 1)

Jim continued shaving as Walker descended the slope to the stream, canteens in hand. Suddenly, in the mirror, Jim spied movement. The tall Ranger quickly whirled, yanking his Colt. As he dove belly-down, a bullet whizzed over his head, spanging off the rock just above the mirror. Jim returned fire, and the bushwhacker--gut shot, the .45 slug from Jim's Colt tearing right through him--jacknifed into the dirt.

Three more gunslingers appeared, then. Jim was pinned down, with no cover. He rolled quickly, toward a low rock, bullets spurting the dust all around him. He was unable to get off another shot, so heavily were slugs coming in his direction.

Walker charged up the bank, guns blazing in both hands. Another ambusher, shot dead center through his chest by Walker's accurate fire, crashed dead on his back. A third grabbed his arm, and with the one remaining partner, turned and ran for his horse.  (end of Chapter 10, Part 2)

Jim quickly sprang up from the ground, as Walker hurried over to him. "You OK, Jim?"  "

"Yeah, Walker- I owe you one- you saved my hide, for sure"

The two partners were heading over to the downed drygulchers. 

"How'd you spot 'em, anyway, Jim?"

"Be glad I decided to shave, Walker.  Mirror picked 'em up, and brought one into my sight.  Otherwise, you and I'd be buzzard bait right about now."

Walker just shook his head, and grinned, ruefully. "Still didn’t help your looks, Jim"

Jim started to retort, then stopped short, noticing the blood soaking the left shoulder of Walker's shirt. "Walker, you've been hit"

"It's not much, Jim."

"Well, soon as we check on these birds, Walker, I'm gonna take a look it."

The ambusher Walker had shot down was dead. As the Rangers approached the second man, the one Jim had downed, they could hear him moaning, blood soaked

hands clutching his middle.

The dying man looked up, hatred in his eyes.  Before Walker or Jim even had a chance to speak, the outlaw muttered. "Thought we had you- well, no matter."  ,

he paused, shuddering, blood starting to spurt from his mouth and nose.  Then, he whispered his final words. " you Rangers will never make Rankin." 

(end of Chapter 10, Part 3)

For a moment, the impact of the dead man's statement was missed. As the Rangers were checking both men for any identification or clues, Walker spoke. "Jim, how

the $#$%^& did these hombres know we're Rangers?"

Jim thought for a moment, then slowly spoke the thought both men had, but did not want to believe.  "Walker, there's only one way, any you and I both know

it: There's a traitor at Headquarters."

"You're right, Jim. I know it now, but hated to say it. That would explain how Lem Tucker was gunned down, without a chance."

Soberly, the pair returned to the still-burning breakfast fire.

"Walker, let me see that shoulder."

"Nothing to worry about, Jim."

"It's still bleedin'- let me check it."

Walker removed his shirt, revealing a hole very high up in the chest, just below his shoulder and collarbone.

"Walker, that slug's gotta come out of there, pronto.  No doc around here, so I'll have to dig it out." The ever-laughing Jim was deadly serious now.

Walker grunted his assent. Jim knotted a bandanna, giving it to his partner. Walker knew what to do: bite down hard on the bandanna to fight the pain as Jim

probed for the bullet.

Jim got a small bottle of whiskey from his saddlebags, and quickly heated the blade of his Bowie knife, sterilizing it.

As he approached Walker, the tall Ranger smiled, grimly. "Pard, I've always wanted to be a cut-up."

Walker just groaned.  "Jim, if it 's a choice of your jokes or eatin' lead, I'll take the bullet, every time."

"Whatsa matter, Walker, you don't like my SHARP wit?"

"Griffin, just get on with it-  The slug may not kill me, but your jokes sure will."

Jim started probing for the slug, Walker nearly biting through the bandanna, fighting the pain.  Finally, Jim grunted, "Got it", and pulled out a battered .45 slug. "Walker, Looks like it missed any bones. You'll be OK." Jim quickly poured the whiskey over the wound to  sterilize it, and quickly bandaged his partner's chest.

"Walker, think you can ride?"

"Just try and stop me."

"Bueno. Let me help you up, and once you get your shirt back on, I'll get that arm in a sling." After getting Walker's arm braced with a makeshift sling,  Jim finally got the chance to get his shirt back on.   He retrieved his Stetson where it had fallen, and quickly cleaned up the campsite, while Walker rested.  Then, the two Rangers mounted, and headed toward Rankin.

(End of Chapter 11)

As the two Rangers started out, Walker noticed a bandage on the side of Jim's throat.

"Jim, what happened- You get hit back there?"

“Nah, Walker, cut myself with the razor when those jaspers jumped us."

Walker grinned. "Too bad it didn't go a little deeper" As Jim looked at his partner, puzzled, Walker continued. "Might have cut out the part of your throat

where the jokes come from."

Soberly, then, the twosome discussed the meaning of the failed ambush attack.  The two surviving bush wackers, as they fled, had taken the horses of the

pair Walker and Jim had downed, so there was no chance to investigate the dead men's rigs.  The only clue, if they could find him, was the man Walker had shot in

the arm.   It was certain, though, no one would talk about him, even a local doctor.  Walker and Jim were still undercover.

"Walker," Jim continued, "we know there's someone in Headquarters tied in with this bunch in Rankin and McCarney.  Trouble is, how do we let Cap McGuire

know.  You can be sure every wire to Austin from us will be intercepted and read."

"Jim, I'm stumped- Trains aren't runnin' so a letter would take too long. We can't trust anybody here.  Plus, Jim, suppose Cap McGuire is the traitor.?"

That speculation left a bitter taste in both men’s' mouths. Neither wanted to believe it, yet no possibility of duplicity could be overlooked.  Lem Tucker, Josh

Nash, and Perry McConnell, all fine Rangers, were dead, killed unaware they had been sent to their deaths by an unseen hand they thought friendly, a fellow

Ranger.

With the late start after the ambush, and Cordell hampered by his wound, the pair did not make the town of Rankin as planned that evening.  With the threat of

another ambush ever present, the two decided against travelling in the dark, into unfamiliar territory, crawling with enemies.  They made a cold camp, not daring a fire, planning to arrive in town in the morning.

(end of Chapter 12)

Walker and Jim rode into Rankin about 10:00 an, to find a crowd in front to the express office.  Tying up their mounts, the Rangers drifted over, melding into

the crowd.

The shotgun guard was descending form the stage, yelling loudly, "That's it-  I've had enough- I'm done." A smear of blood could be seen across his forehead, and his Stetson had a hole through it.

A woman, fairly tall, with long brown hair, and quick black eyes, was shouting back at the guard. "Charlie, what happened?"  She was dressed in buckskin, carrying

a Winchester 44.40 rifle.

"Five or six   &^%%&&& tried to hold us up in Wild Horse Gap, that's what.  I'm sorry, Ms. Harder, but I've got a wife, and a baby on the way. It ain't worth

it, this job."

The woman then turned to the sheriff, who had just arrived.  "Mike, what d'ya plan on doin' to catch those vultures.?"

"Nothin' I can do, Ms. Harder- Wild Horse Gap's in the next county. I've got no authority there."

"Bah, Mike Jones, you wouldn't do anything about it, even if those owl hoots rode right up  Main Street here." Disgustedly, she turned her back on the local

lawman.

She yelled over the crowd,. " Men, this stage has got to get to McCarney, TODAY,  I'll pay FIFTY dollars to any man who wants to ride shotgun"  Fifty dollars was

an unheard of sum for a day's work.

Charlie, the quitting guard, spat back, "yeah, job'll pay fifty dollars, and a bellyful of hot lead, besides. Nope, a man can't spend fifty cents, let alone fifty dollars, if he's been ventilated through the middle." (end of Chapter 13,Part 1)

Jim climbed into the shotgun's seat, next to the driver, who introduced himself as Ken Ryan.

"Wes Howard" Jim responded, shaking hands. Ken was young, not over 25, lanky to the point of skinny. He had a battered Stetson tilted back over his sandy hair, revealing his clear gray eyes.

Looking at the driver, Jim leaned down, shouting into the window at his partner, "Hey Cahill, you've got the better deal, here. This driver's such a beanpole he'll

never stop any lead! I'll be a sittin' duck up here."

Walker just stuck his head out the window, and grinned back. "Well, if I were you, then, I'd hold on REAL TIGHT to that scattergun."

With a "heeyah" from Ken, the stage was off, for the run to McCarney. Once out of Rankin, the horses settled into a steady, ground-covering pace.

There was only one other passenger besides Walker, a rancher headed back to his spread, after arranging the sale of his herd. He introduced himself to Walker as

Corey McDonald, and then, hat tilted over his eyes, drifted off to sleep, as best he could in the jouncing Concord coach.

Walker was instantly alert, as the sound of gunfire came from in front of the coach. (end of Chapter 14, Part One)

"Ken, don't stop, run these babies right through those buzzards", Jim shouted. For emphasis, the heavy scattergun boomed once, then again. Ken slapped the rumps of the team with his reins, urging them to top speed.

Walker and McDonald, the rancher, leaned out of the windows, Colts blazing. However, with the speed and the jolting of the coach, accuracy was impossible, and

their bullets sang harmlessly away.

Jim had quickly shoved two more shells into the shotgun. As the stage rushed past the bandits, who quickly started pursuit, Jim jumped to the roof of the coach, lying prone, blasting again at the gang. Walker and McDonald were also returning fire at the outlaws, who were now blazing away furiously at the coach, their plans for an easy stop frustrated by Jim's quick orders, and Ken's fast reaction.

Ken, the driver, was hunched low in his seat, urging the team on. Then, Corey McDonald screamed in agony, "UUNNHHH!!" and slumped to the floor of the coach.

Moments later, Walker heard Jim give a grunt of anguish, and saw his partner momentarily hanging head down from the roof of the coach, just out of Walker's

reach, as the big Ranger attempted to drag his partner inside the stage. As Walker attempted to reach Jim,  the blonde Ranger pitched headlong into the road.

With no shotgun scattering buckshot at them, and with only Walker's Colt still in action, the outlaws quickly overtook the stage, forcing it to a halt. (end of Chapter 14, Part 2)

Jim had rolled over and over after falling off the roof of the coach, coming to rest face down in the road. With nothing to fear from Jim's shotgun, and only the firing from Walker's pistol, the six outlaws quickly overtook and halted the stage.

The rancher, Corey McDonald, was in no condition to be ordered out of the coach. The driver was stiff in his seat, hands held high. The apparent leader of the

gang spat, "You, in the coach, toss out your gun...and get out here, grabbin' sky!"

With six Colts trained on him, Walker had no choice but to comply.

The coach had been stopped about 100 yards from where Jim had crashed down. The Ranger, recovering his breath after the fall, rose unsteadily, staggering

toward the coach. He was almost blinded by the blood flowing into his eyes, spurting from the furrow a .45 slug had torn into his forehead and scalp, just below his Stetson. However, with a double-barreled shotgun, he could hardly miss his target. As Jim got within range, he let go with both barrels. Three of the

robbers were torn from their saddles, ripped by buckshot. Another's horse was hit, and the animal, screaming in pain from the sting on its flank, tore off in panic.

Walker dove and grabbed his Colt off the ground, shooting another outlaw out of his saddle. The last one took off in a blind panic, spurring his horse viciously to get away.

Jim staggered up to the coach, then collapsed. (End of Chapter 15)

Ken Ryan, the driver, quickly descended from his perch. Walker had run up to Jim, who was slowly coming back around.

"Wes, thought you were done for..."

"Fooled you, didn't I, Cahill? Wasn't that a pretty dive?"

Ryan had been checking on the passenger. "Wes, Cahill, we've got to get movin': McDonald's shot bad, but he's still alive. There is a doc in McCarney; McDonald might have a chance, if he's still breathin' when we get there."

As Jim struggled to his feet, Walker steadied him. "Wes, you just get inside the coach: you'll be ridin' inside the rest of the way. No arguin'!" he continued,

as Jim started to protest. "Ryan, help me get these coyotes on their broncs. We'll want to see if anyone in McCarney knows 'em...or maybe they'll be  a clue in

their saddlebags."

Quickly, the dead outlaws were slung over their horses, the horses tied to the back of the stage. With a "heeyah" to his team, Ryan, Walker alongside,

resumed the journey to McCarney.

(end of Chapter 16)

Ken Ryan drove the stage, with its gruesome burden of four dead outlaws tied behind, right past the Virago's Express Office in McCarney, straight to Doc Posey's office. A small crowd, including the local sheriff, followed.

Walker jumped down from the guard's seat, hollering to the sheriff, George Mason, "Quick, we've got two wounded men inside; help me get them into the doc's."

Willing hands helped carry Corey McDonald into the doctor's back room. Walker helped Jim out of the coach, into the doctor's supporting his semi-conscious

partner as he staggered into the building, lying on the front office couch.

Mason, a competent local officer, quickly took charge of the bodies, ordering them to the storage barn behind Doc's, which doubled as the morgue. He then joined Walker inside.

Doc Posey, a small, fussy man, had started to examine Jim. Jim waved him off. "Doc, I'm OK...just a lot of blood. My head's too thick for a bullet to penetrate,

anyway. Go help that other fella."

Doc looked at Walker, who was grinning at Jim. "Howard, that's the most honest thing you've said since we paired up. You are a thick-headed #$%$$%^ "

Jim just grinned, weakly.

Doc Posey grunted as he examined Corey McDonald. The rancher had taken a bullet in his stomach. Turning to Walker and the sheriff, who had followed the physician

as he went to work on McDonald, he shook his head. "Can't help this one."

Walker demanded, "Doc, I've seen men belly-shot before who've pulled through."

"So've I Mister, but not this one: he's lost way too much blood. I give him an hour, at the most. Sheriff, can you send someone out to notify his family?"

"Sure, Doc; I'll do that." Turning to Walker, the sheriff ordered. "I need you to stay right here."

"Not headin' anywhere, Sheriff."

"Mister, I'm goin' to work on your partner, now", Doc Posey told Walker.

As the doctor left to work on Jim, the mortally wounded rancher, McDonald, stirred and moaned. Walker, realizing the man's time was short, and desperate for

any clue to the perpetrators, leaned close, and questioned, "McDonald, any idea who might be in back of all this?"

Walker leaned close, as the dying rancher whispered, "H-H-H-Hastings..." Corey McDonald then lapsed back into unconsciousness.

Walker went into the front room, where the doc had cleansed and bandaged Jim's head. The sheriff had returned. Jim smiled weakly at his partner.

Doc Posey ordered, "Mister, you've got to rest a couple of days, at least."

Jim retorted, "I will, Doc, when we get back to Rankin; stage ride tomorrow won't hurt."

Walker told his partner. "Wes, you just rest tonight.  I'm gonna tell the sheriff about what happened today."

At the sheriff's office, Walker went over every event, from the Rangers' arrival in Rankin, to their hiring by Linda Harder, and the robbery of the stage.  He did not mention the name Hastings, which had been whispered to him by the dying rancher.

Taking his leave of the sheriff, Walker returned to Doc Posey's office. Doc informed him that Corey McDonald had expired. Jim was resting comfortably,

nearly asleep. Walker decided to see if there were any clues on the dead men or their horse, or anywhere in town. This had to be done carefully, for his and Jim's

identities as Texas Rangers were still not known—at least, Walker hoped--in McCarney (end of Chapter 17)

Working his way stealthily over the to storage shed where the bodies of the robbers were awaiting burial the next day, Walker suddenly hauled up short,

mentally cursing both himself and his partner. Jim, in his wounded state, had openly called his partner by his correct name, rather than the alias "Cahill", and

Walker had in turn, addressed his partner by his correct name. "Oh, well", the big Ranger thought to himself. "Damage is done. Besides, since our enemies know already we're Rangers anyway, doesn't matter that much.  Plus, with any luck, no one around here noticed.  Would have like to kept our identities quiet anyway,

though, for a while longer."

As he expected, but to Walker's frustration, there were no clues on the bodies of the outlaws as to their identities or who they worked for. He then went over

to the livery, to check in their saddlebags.

As Walker was checking the last saddle, still finding no clues, he heard a sudden scraping, and a voice from the shadows yelled, "Reach!" Having to make a snap

decision, and knowing the voice was not that of the sheriff or the hostler, Walker whirled, flinging his Bowie knife in the direction of the voice.

Walker heard the knife hit flesh, followed by a grunt of pain, and the falling of a body. Carefully turning the bull's-eye lantern he had been using, Walker

spotted a man lying on the floor, face down. The man's right arm was bandaged.

Turning over his would-be killer, Walker recognized him as the stage robber that he had winged. Working rapidly, knowing he could not be discovered with a

dead man without revealing his identity, the Ranger quickly examined the man's pockets. He shook his head in grim satisfaction, finding a scrap of paper with

the words "Hastings-Rankin" scrawled on it. Rapidly, then, Walker removed his knife from the dead hombre's abdomen. Then, he dragged the man out, shoving his

body into the river that ran behind the livery, satisfied it would be several days before it came to the surface, miles downstream.

Cordell Walker, pleased that at last he at least had a name, from two different sources, retired to his room for the evening.

(end of Chapter 18)

Early the next morning, Walker strolled over to Doc Posey's, to rouse his partner, Jim. He found his fellow Ranger sitting up, head bandaged, still in great pain from the slug that nearly took his life.

Doc Posey confronted Walker. "Mister, your compadre won't listen to reason. I want him to stay here for a week, at least."

Jim broke in, "Listen, Doc, we've been over this sixteen times, at least. Ridin' that stage'll be a lot easier than stewin' around here. I've just got a bad headache, that's all."

Walker, still concerned, asked, "You sure, pard?"  He purposely used no name, not sure if the cagey old physician had picked up his slip last evening, when he

forgot to use Jim's alias.

"Sure as you're standin there", Jim spat back.

Walker threw his hands in the air, in a gesture of futility. "Doc, I'll take responsibility for him, and I'll make sure he sees the medico in Rankin as soon as

we arrive. Satisfactory?"

Doc Posey sputtered, "If he wants to kill himself, it's no skin off my nose. Let me give you his medication."

An hour later, after checking in with Sheriff Mason to be sure he had no further questions, the two Rangers were in the Virago's Express Coach, on their

way back to Rankin. (end of Chapter 19, Part 1)

As they settled down for the ride back to Rankin, Jim wincing with every jolt of the Concord, Walker started the conversation.  They were the only passengers, and

there was no chance of Ryan, the driver, eavesdropping over the rattle of the coach and the rumble of the horses' hooves.

"Jim, I picked up a couple of clues last night."

Eyes opening fully now, Jim asked, "What'd you learn, Walker? C’mon, spill it!"

"I talked to McDonald, the rancher, before he died.  Asked him who might be in back of all this. He whispered the name "Hastings". Then, last night, I went to the morgue and the livery, checkin' for clues over there. Didn't find any, until an hombre tried to lasso me. Had to knife him. It was the jasper I winged yesterday, during the stage holdup.  He had this in his pocket." Walker passed the note he had found to Jim.

"Well, Walker, it's a start."

Jim then paused, and asked, "Anyone know you downed him?"

"Not yet, he's feedin' the fishes right now." Walker continued, "Jim, I had another idea last night.  Remember how we were trying to find a way to get word to Cap McGuire about the traitor at Headquarters?"

"Yep, Walker, you got a plan?"

"Sure do, It's a long shot, and risky, but it just might work. When we get back to Rankin, I'll wire Alex, and have her take a trip to Austin. She'll tell Cap McGuire what we need him to know."

"Yeah, Walker, but what reason will she have for goin' to see Cap?"

"I'll have her say I wired her, that I was hurt, and will be delayed. She'll pretend she went to Austin to get the full story." Walker continued, "Jim, I know

you live closer to Austin. Would you like Marcy to have the chance at this?"

"She'd be willin' all right, but her sister up in Waco just had a baby. She had a hard time with the birth, so Marcy took the kids and went up there to help for a spell, so as I was summoned on this job.  No need for her to hang around right now, anyway: school's out, and I'm off chasin' owl hoots again. It'll be good for Marcy and the kids to visit her family."

Pausing, Jim continued, "Walker, if you send a wire from Rankin, you'll have to let Linda Harder know we're Rangers."

"Jim, Hastings--if that who is behind all this—and his cronies know that already. Besides, if I had to trust anyone, it would be Linda. She seems like one straight shooter. Not to mention, last night, you and I slipped. We forgot to use our aliases. Now, no one seemed to pick up on our real names, and tie them into the Rangers, but who knows?  Besides, with their friend at Headquarters, these hombres aren't gonna scare off anyway, Rangers or no Rangers."

"One last question, Cord. What if Cap McGuire IS the traitor at Headquarters?"

"Well, Jim, then that wire will be our death warrant."

On that pleasant thought, the partners settled back in their seats, tilted their Stetsons over their eyes, and slept the balance of the journey back to Rankin.

(end of Chapter 19, Part 2)

Walker had become increasingly concerned about his partner on the journey back to Rankin. A couple of times, during their conversation, Jim had drifted off in mid-sentence, eyes half-shut. In addition, Jim's eyes had a glassy, almost staring quality.

However, as the stage pulled into Rankin,  Jim, who had slept the last ten miles or so, awoke quickly, departing the coach with no sign of a stumble. 

Word had been telegraphed back to Rankin about the attempted holdup, and the death of the rancher, McDonald. Linda Harder was waiting in front of the

Virago's office as the stage pulled in.

As Ken Ryan, the driver, descended from the boot, Linda asked him, kindly, "Ken, are you OK?" Receiving an affirmative response, she ordered the young,

sandy-haired teamster home for some rest. Then, she summoned Walker and Jim into her office.

Looking Walker straight in the eyes, Ms. Harder complimented both Rangers. "Men, you did a fine job: saved the mail, and the bank shipment. Too bad about McDonald, though.  I'd like you men to stay on, permanent."

Walker answered for both men, as Jim, still suffering from his head wound, had slumped in a chair. "Ms. Harder, I need to talk to you about that. Can we have

a few moments of absolute privacy?"

"Absolutely, Mister." She gave Walker a knowing glance. Stepping to the door, she slid the bolt shut, turning a "Back in 30 minutes" sign to the window.  Turning back to the bearded Ranger, she shot out, "Now, Mister, what's on your mind?"

(end of Chapter20, Part 1)

Walker took a chair next to Jim, while Linda Harder, owner of Virago's Express, pulled up a seat opposite.

 "Ms. Harder, what I am about to tell you must be kept in complete confidence. Are you willing to do that?"

"Mister, after you saved my stage, I'll do just about anything you ask."

"Bueno."  Walker slipped his hand into his left boot, and pulled out the silver star on silver circle that had been hidden in the lining. Holding the badge out for Linda to examine, he informed her, "Ms. Harder, my name is Cordell Walker, and my partner there is Jim Griffin. We were sent here to solve the murders of

three fellow Rangers."

The express owner's eyes were wide with amazement.  "Knew you hombres were more than what you seemed. Glad to have you here. Anything you need from me, it's yours...And no one will get your identities from me, without your say-so."

Walker continued "Ms. Harder, can you tell me anything about a person named Hastings?'

"Hastings? That would have to be Ed Hastings. He's a big man in this territory. Owns the banks here and in McCarney, and has a big spread over toward Big Lake.

Spends most of his time there. You don't think Ed Hastings has anything to do with  those murdered Rangers and the other trouble?"

"Not sure; did hear his name mentioned a couple of times. He got any kin?"

"Yeah, Ranger- two boys, both early twenties: spoiled brats...like to show off as the big dogs around here."

"Where's Hastings now?"

"Far as I know, Ranger, at his ranch. Gettin' his crew ready for a big drive."

"Thanks, Ms. Harder.  Now, I have one more extremely important favor to ask of you."

 (end of Chapter 20, Part 2)

Walker continued, "Ms. Harder, if word of what I'm about to ask gets out, Jim and I will be two more dead Rangers chalked up to Rankin."

"Ranger, I promise, nothing gets away from me that I don't let out myself."

Walker hesitated, drew a long breath, then, with no way to turn back, plunged on, "Ms. Harder, the men we are trying to lasso have a confederate: they know our

every move, even the fact we're Texas Rangers. Jim and I've been trying to figure a way to get word to our commanding officer there's a traitor at Ranger Headquarters in Austin, without the skunk, whoever he is, intercepting our wire. I've come up with a plan, that I think might work. However, it needs your

complete cooperation and discretion."

"Ranger, just give me the word.  Don't forget, I've lost thousands of dollars--and seven of my men—to these scalawags. I want 'em just as bad as you do."

"Good. Ms. Harder, here's what I need you to do." 

Walker then proceeded to dictate the telegram he needed sent to Alex, his wife...the telegram that hopefully would get word to Capt. McGuire about the

sidewinder lurking at headquarters. He concluded, "Ms. Harder, please emphasize to my wife she is NOT to try and get a reply to us. That would endanger both

her and us."

"You can count on me, Ranger."

"Good; now, Jim and I are going to get some grub, then clean up and get some shut-eye."

Walker had to shake Jim awake. "C'mon, pard, you slept most of the trip back."

Jim arose from the chair, groggily. "Walker, got to go check on Yank."

Jim's casual remark startled Cordell. He realized then that Jim had not gone to check on his pet Paint or asked about him since they had arrived back in

Rankin. If there was one thing Walker had learned in the short time he had been partnered with Jim, it was the blonde Ranger's concern for that horse. Walker

thought to himself, "Jim's hurt worse'n he's lettin' on." As Jim pushed out the door, Walker turned back to Linda. "Ms. Harder, where's the Doc's? Jim's supposed to have his head examined."

Jim, in the doorway, made no response to Walker's friendly jibe. Walker was really becoming concerned, for Jim never missed a chance for a wisecrack. "Ranger, Doc Samuelson's place is just past the hotel.  Small white house on the left."

"Muchas gracias. Jim, let's head for the Doc's."

Jim insisted on checking on the horses first. As the two Rangers approached the livery stable corral, Yankee and Amigo trotted up to the fence, happily

whickering greetings to their human companions. As Jim climbed over the fence, petting Yankee, hugging his big gelding around the neck, he suddenly gave a groan,

eyes rolling back in their sockets, and slowly sagged to the ground.

(end of Chapter 20, Part 3)

Aghast, Walker, fearing for the life of his partner, the partner he never wanted, but had grown fond of, leaped the corral fence.  He pushed back Yankee, Jim's

horse who was standing protectively over his downed trail companion.  Walker lifted Jim under the shoulders, dragging him under the fence.  He then, as

gently as possible, slung the unconscious Ranger over his shoulders, hurrying as quickly as possible under the heavy burden to Doc Samuleson’s.

Linda Harder, who had been watching the pair from the walk in front of the Virago's Express office, rushed to Cordell's side.  As the big Ranger reached the

doctor's front door, she pushed it open for him.  Walker pushed past a startled woman in the waiting room, heading straight for the examining room, Linda

Harder right behind.

Doc Samuelson, just dismissing a patient, looked up, irritated.  He started to snap at Walker, until he spotted the limp form of Jim drooped over Cordell's

shoulder unmoving.  Quickly, he ordered.  "Put that man in the next room- bed's to the left.  As Walker complied, the physician called his wife, Josie.

Martin Samuelson was a frontier physician of many year's experience, a tall, dignified man, with reddish hair and beard, and green eyes.   His wife, Josie, was

a compact, competent assistant, brunette hair fading to gray, with deep brown eyes.   As Jim was deposited on the bed, the doctor quickly skinned back his

eyelids, first left, then right.  He turned to Walker and asked, sharply,, "How long's it been since this man was shot?"   At that moment, Josie entered the

room, and stopped in her tracks.  "Cordell Walker, as I live and breath."

(end of Chapter 21, Part One)

Cordell Walker was too concerned about his partner, and answering the doctor's question, to pay any mind to Josie's startled exclamation.

"Yesterday mornin', Doc.  Bunch of hombres tried to hold up the stage, just outside McCarney."

Doc Samuelson, assisted by his wife, was unwrapping the bandages from Jim's head.  Scowling, he snapped. "And Doc Posey just let him leave?"

"No, Doc, both I and Doc Posey tired to make him stay.  Doc Posey wanted him to rest at least a week.  Jim wouldn't listen."

"Well, he should have- his cussedness may just kill him.  Your friend has a severe concussion, plus he may be getting an infection in that wound."

"What can you do for him, Doc?"

"Not much, except clean and redress that wound and let him rest.  Hopefully, his brain won't swell too much. If it does, pressure in the skull will kill him."

Walker cursed under his breath, swaying slightly on his feet.  Linda Harder touched his arm, gently. She had heard Josie call him by his right name, so she

told him, "Walker, he'll be all  right- he's a tough hombre, or he wouldn't have made it this far.  Now,  your partner needs all of our prayers."

After Doc Samuelson finished working on Jim, settling him into the bed, the foursome retreated to Doc's front office.  (end of Chapter 21, Part 2)

Josie turned and confronted Walker as soon as they entered the office. "Cordell Walker, what in Tophat brings you to Rankin? You still a Ranger?"

Cordell smiled, grimly. He knew it was almost pointless to try and stay undercover now, especially with his foes already knowing his identity, but he wanted to try.

"Yes, Josie, I am...and so's Jim in there. But, we're tryin' not to advertise the fact."

 Doc Samuelson butted in. "Ranger, I believe we can keep your secret...doctor-patient confidentiality, you know."

"Bueno; now Doc, anything I can do to help Jim?"

"Not really; he just needs rest, and prayers."

"Mind if I stay with him tonight?"

"Not at all: there's an extra cot in the closet back of his room."

"Thanks, Doc. Josie...."

"Cordell", Josie replied, "I'll bring supper and some blankets in for you."

"Thank you, Josie", the big Ranger murmured, gratefully.

Linda Harder spoke up. "Walker, I have to get back to the office. If you or Jim need anything, just get word to me. Meanwhile, I'll check back with you first thing

in the morning."

"That would be greatly appreciated, Linda."

With those words, the stage line owner took her leave, and Walker settled in for a bedside vigil, next  to his partner. (end of Chapter 22, Part 2)

Walker was awakened the next morning by Doc Samuelson entering the room. He was still lying on his cot, when suddenly he heard. "Who the heck are you, and where the heck am I?" Doc Samuelson was bent over Jim, who had just come awake.

Walker jumped out of bed, leaping to the doctor's side. "Young man, I'm Doctor Martin Samuelson, and you're in my clinic. The doctor held a cautioning hand

against Walker's chest. He continued. "Son, what's your name?"

"Wes Howard."

Doc Samuelson looked worriedly at Walker.

Walker responded, excitedly, "Doc, that's the alias Jim was using on this case!" To Jim, he stated, "It's all right; Doc knows who we are."  Walker didn't use

Jim's name, wanting to see if he could come up with it on his own.

"OK. Doc- that there's my partner, Cordell Walker. I'm Jim Griffin. We're Texas Rangers."

The doctor was smiling, now. "How many fingers am I holding up, son?"

"Three, Doc."

"Bueno." The physician straightened up. "Jim, I believe you'll be all right...but you still have a ways to go. You've got a serious concussion from that bullet crease."

Jim was too weak and tired to argue.  At that moment, Linda Harder and Josie Samuelson entered the room.  Seeing Jim conscious, both ladies gave a prayer of

Thanksgiving.

Jim was starting to fall back to sleep. However, he asked Doc Samuelson. "how long'll I be laid up?"

"Not sure, son, probably about a week."

"Thanks, Doc, for everything.  Now, I want to sleep; I'm so tired.  But, I need to talk to Cordell for a minute, alone."

"OK, Jim, but just a few minutes."

The group retired from the room, leaving the two Ranger partners together. (end of Chapter 23)

Jim looked somberly at his partner. "Walker, thanks. Now, I need to ask you something."

"Anything, Jim."

"Walker, anythin' happens to me, I want you to take care of Yank...I trust you with him, and I know you'd be kind to my cayuse."

"Sure, Jim, but that goes both ways: Once you're up and around, anythin' happens to me, you take Amigo."

"It's a deal, Walker. Now, there's six bits in my jeans. Need you to go over to the general store and but some peppermint sticks for Yank."

"Will do, Jim, but then I've got to get goin'. I want to get over to Big Lake and check on this Ed Hastings."

Jim looked puzzled, for he had been unconscious during Cordell's and Linda's conversation in the stage office. Walker had to repeat what he had learned.

"How long you think you'll be gone, Walker?"

"Four or five days: it's about a day or so ride out there, and I want to do some snoopin'. Maybe I'll try for a job there."

"Yeah, but Walker, they know who you are."

"I know, but I think they won't make a move. They can't be sure what, if anything, we know."

"Walker, good luck, but be careful."

"Will do, Jim...and I'll leave Yankee's peppermints with Linda Harder."

"Vaya con Dios, Walker." With those words, Jim drifted back to sleep.

A few hours later, Texas Ranger Cordell Walker was spurring his big Paint gelding, Amigo, westward on the trail to Big Lake. Suddenly, a sickening thought hit

him, like a wet sack of grain.

Jim was badly injured and helpless back in Doc Josephson's in Rankin. What would happen if the gang the two Rangers were after realized the pair had split up, and Jim was alone?  It would be an easy task to dispose of the wounded Ranger. Linda Harder had promised to look in on Jim, but, tough and smart as she was, the stage owner would be no match for a gang of tough gunslingers.

Walker thought, briefly, of returning to Rankin.  Then, he shook off the thought. The gang had to be rounded up, and the only clues so far pointed at Ed Hastings. Jim wouldn't want Walker to hold back on his account, but would want the killers of three fellow Rangers brought to justice. Besides, it was unlikely the gang would attempt to murder Jim right in Doc Samuelson's house. Then, Cordell smiled as he

remembered that Jim, just before drifting back to sleep, had insisted Cordell bring Jim his two Colt .45s, which Jim had placed, fully loaded, under his

pillows. Comforted by this thought, Cordell Walker loped onward toward Big Lake. (end of Chapter 24)

Ed Hastings was concerned, for he had not received any communications recently from his contact at Texas Ranger Headquarters in Austin. He was unaware that one

of his men, who had been killed by Ranger Jim Griffin during Hastings' gangs attempted ambush of Jim and Ranger Cordell Walker outside of Rankin, had lived for a few moments after being shot. His last words had revealed to the Rangers that they were being betrayed in Austin. With this knowledge, the two Rangers had

stopped communicating with Headquarters.

Without this information, Hastings was having trouble keeping track of the two lawmen's movements.

Hastings was, to all appearances, a respectable banker and rancher. In reality, the man was a ruthless criminal, using his standing in the community to cover his leadership of a vicious gang of robbers, murderers, and gunslingers. So far, Hastings and his henchmen had not been touched by the law, even after

killing three Texas Rangers from ambush.

Hastings had called a family conference at his ranch headquarters in Big Lake. He was a tall man, early forties, with thick black hair and deep brown eyes. His wife, Luann, would have been a striking beauty, with her curvaceous figure, golden blonde hair, full lips, and blue eyes. However, a hardness in those crystal blue eyes, which showed no trace of warmth, detracted from her otherwise wonderful physical

presence.

The Hastingses had two sons, Trip, the elder, at 24, and his younger brother, Randy, at 22. Trip resembled his father, only even taller, while Randy favored

Luann, still looking boyish even after his teens.  Along with his foreman, Brett Kendall, Hastings had summoned his entire family into the parlor of the

spacious, luxuriously furnished ranch house.  Hastings addressed his assembled family, and his foreman Kendall, pointing at Kendall, first. "Brett, we haven't had any word lately from Austin. Now, this is complicating matters for us. We've had a nice little game going here, with profits for all of us, and all of the men."

Hastings continued, "Brett, have you any further information on what those Rangers, Walker and Griffin, are up to?"

Kendall shifted uneasily in his seat, eyes slightly downcast. "Boss, you know we almost got 'em the other day, when they were guardin' the stage."

"Yeah, Kendall." Trip Hastings sneered. "Instead, four of our men are in Boot Hill, and those  #$%^^ Rangers are running around, nosin' into our business."

"Trip; enough for now", his father broke in. "Go on, Brett."

"Yeah, they did get four of us, sure...but one of those Rangers is over at Doc Samuelson's right now, from what I hear, dyin' from the slug Cox put in his

head, before Cox got downed."

Randy snapped at Kendall, then. "Sure, and it's that "DYIN'" Ranger who cut down your men with his shotgun, after Cox drilled him."

Kendall stopped, totally perplexed as to what was coming next.

Hastings picked up the conversation.  "Look, all of you: we've got too good a thing going here to let a couple of Rangers stop us. We'll take care of them, same as we did the other three. There's a lot more money to be made here, and no one, including those two Rangers, has any idea who's behind all this."

"Now, Trip, I want you to take two of the men and head over to Rankin. See what those Rangers are up to. If you get a chance, kill 'em, but make sure you're absolutely certain they're dead in your sights, with no witnesses."

Luann chimed in then, "Trip, do it for your mother", she spoke, her voice an evil purr. To Hastings, she added, "If those Rangers ever come in this direction,

I'll gun them both, myself."

Hastings went on. "Kendall, make sure all the men are ready for our next couple of jobs...and tell all of them there's a thousand dollar bonus for anyone who

brings me the badge off one of those Ranger's chests.   Trip, you leave for Rankin first thing in the morning."

"Sure thing, Dad. Kendall, I'll want to take Pecos Mooney and Red Carlson with me."

"You got those two, kid."

Ed Hastings closed the meeting, opening a bottle of fine sherry. He issued a toast, "To our continued success, and death to anyone who gets in our way."

The Hastings clan had no idea that, the very next morning, Texas Ranger Cordell Walker would be heading for their home. (end of Chapter 25, Part 2)

As Cordell Walker rode westward toward Big Lake, he thought back, to when he was a raw recruit, in training at Austin.

He and Josie, now Josie Samuelson, wife of Doctor Martin Samuelson of Rankin, had met in Austin. Her name was Josie LaSalle then, and she has swept the

young Ranger off his feet with her exotic good looks. Josie, in turn, had fallen for the virile strength of Cordell.

The two had engaged in a brief, but passionate affair. They had talked of marriage, but Josie wanted a man who would settle down in one place, providing

security and stability. Cordell, dedicated to the Rangers, could not agree. So, the two parted, reluctantly, as friends. After three or four years, they had fallen out of touch with each other. 

"It was nice to see Josie again", Walker spoke to his big Paint. "But, Pal, now I've got Alex, and Bobby.  No woman could make me happier than my wife."

Walker made good time, considering the late start to his journey.  Before he left Rankin, he had gotten peppermints for Yankee, Jim's horse, as he had promised his partner. He had also checked in with Linda Harder once more. He was still not wearing his Ranger badge, although he had pretty much decided, with the Rangers' identities revealed by the unknown turncoat at Headquarters, staying undercover was a moot point. Still, there was no reason to attract unwanted attention along the trail. For this reason, Walker avoided any riders he might have met on the way

to Big Lake, thus missing detection by Trip Hastings and his men. The opposing forces passed each other on the trail.

 Walker's last act, before leaving for Big Lake, was to stop at Doc Samuelson's and check on his wounded partner. He found Jim sleeping, still trying to shake off the effects of the bullet that had struck him during the stage holdup. Doc Samuelson assured him Jim was resting comfortably, although he had developed a slight fever, which was not unexpected.

By nightfall, Cordell Walker was camped just outside Big Lake. He would ride into Ed Hastings Bar H Ranch first thing in the morning. (end of Chapter 26 Part 1)

After a quick breakfast, Walker saddled Amigo, and started for the Bar H Ranch. Before descending to the valley, the Ranger paused on top of the ridge overlooking the ranch.

Ed Hastings had a prosperous-looking home. The buildings were whitewashed adobe, in the Spanish style. Acres of green pastures were visible, stretching off toward the horizon. These contained fine horses and foals.  Further out, on the open range, herds of cattle could be seen, grazing. There were several large barns and outbuildings, with cottonwoods providing shade for house and barns.

Walker pushed Amigo down the slope to the Bar H, having decided to try and obtain a cowhand's job. As he rode up to the hacienda, his jaw tightened, and his

eyes grew hard, for he had espied, in a corral next to the barn, Charcoal, the murdered Ranger Lem Tucker's pet black gelding.

"Amigo" Walker muttered to his horse. "I'd bet my bottom dollar Charcoal didn't get here honest." Amigo tossed his head in agreement.

With a day's riding on the trail, not having washed up, Walker looked the part of the drifting, grub-line riding cowpoke. He knew, if Hastings was indeed the man behind the crime wave in Upton and Reagan counties, Walker's true identity was already known.

However, he was taking that chance, hoping for some time to snoop around the Bar H for evidence. In addition, if Hastings was indeed innocent, then Walker still had his identity partially hidden.

As Walker dismounted, he felt hard eyes watching him from the house, and knew at least one rifle was trained on his chest. (end of Chapter 27)

The door to the house swung open, to reveal a tall, dark hombre, Ed Hastings.  He growled "Somthin' we can do for you, Mister?"

Walker doffed his hat, slightly bowing his head.  "Like to get a drink for my bronc and myself, it it's OK   Mebbe you've got a ridin' job??!! I've been driftin' for a long time, and my belt's just about plumb out of notches.  My belly-button's gonna hit my backbone if I don't get some grub, soon."

Hastings started to snap at Walker, "Just get a drink, and keep movin' , Bud", then hesitated.  "Well, we can always use a good man- Where you been workin'?"

"Up in the Panhandle, at the Lazy J, and before that near Denton, at the C Bar C, and the Circle Z"

'OK, see my foreman, Kendall, over at the bunkhouse.  He'll show you where to toss your kit and get some grub.  You can turn your hoss out in the first corral."

"Muchas Gracias, Mister- I'm Al Cahill"

"Ed Hastings"  A blonde woman appeared next to Hastings.  Cordell Walker realized she was one of the most attractive women he had seen, until he caught a glimpse of her eyes.  They were hard and cold, like the blue ice in an iceberg from the Arctic.  The Ranger shuddered inwardly, as she looked him over, brazenly.

"Cahill, this is my wife, Luann."

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am"

"It's Luann, Mister- I'm glad you'll be working for us.  We have so few REAL men around here."

"Walker, when you see Kendall, tell him I want to see him at the house for a few minutes, pronto."

"Will do Mr. Hastings."

"Good enough-  If you can ride and work cattle like you say, we'll get along fine."

Walker turned Amigo out where told, in a corral next to Charcoal.  He hunted up Brett Kendall, who gave a slight start, almost unnoticeable, when he spotted Walker approaching the bunkhouse.  However, the Ranger's keen, highly trained eyes did not miss this significant action.

"You Brett Kendall?"

"Yeah, if it means anythin' to you, cowboy."

"I just asked Mr. Hastings for a job.  He said to give me a try, and to look you up.  Said you 'd tell me where to bunk, and grab some chuck."

Kendall's eyes grew hard, then he shrugged. "Bunkhouse is behind the barn.   Last three bunks on the left are empty- Take yore pick. Most of the boys are out on the

southwest range, bringin' in strays.  Mess room's next to the bunkhouse. You can probably dig up somethin' there, until supper.

"Bueno, and thanks, boss. Oh, nearly forgot- Mr. Hastings said he needs to see you at the house, pronto."

Muttering, "I'm sure he does"  Brett Kendall headed for the main house.  Walker, satisfied that he at least had found an opening, tossed his gear on his chosen bunk, and headed for the mess room. (end of Chapter 28)

Brett Kendall, puzzled and furious, swept through the door into the Hastings ranch house.

"Boss, do you know who the  %%$^^ that is you just hired?"

"Sure do, Brett- it's one of the Texas Rangers been houndin' us- just not positive which one"

"That's Cordell Walker, Boss- one of their top men."

Luann Hastings whispered, speculatively, " I certainly hope so."  

Not hearing his wife, Ed Hastings continued to his foreman. "Brett, that means Griffin is the one Cox drilled, the one that's over in Doc Samuelson's.  With

any luck, Trip and the boys will take care of him."

The foreman protested, "Yeah, but Boss, you've got Cordell Walker right here, on your ranch."

"Exactly, Brett- precisely where I want him."

"But why, Boss- makes no sense"

Impatiently, Hastings answered his foreman- "Brett, it makes perfect sense. Walker doesn't know we know who he and his partner are.  Now, we'll let him snoop

around here for a couple of days.  That way, we should get an idea what the Rangers know, if anything.  I'm sure that Walker's just grasping at straws.  There's no reason for him to suspect us at all. Unless, Brett, they spotted you at that ambush, or the stage robbery."

"They didn't Boss, I swear it."

"Good, 'cause Brett, if they did- it's over for you- do I make myself clear?"

"Yeah, Boss- but don't worry-  The  &(^%%^^&*(* Rangers didn't see me."

"Fine, Brett.  Now, I want you to put our Ranger friend to work, but only around the house, barns, and corrals- not on the range.  Don't want him to have a chance to talk to the men.  Plus, this way we can keep an eye on him.  We'll watch him, and see what he's up to.  Then, in a few days, Texas Ranger Cordell Walker will die of lead poisoning."

(end of Chapter 29)

Before leaving Rankin, Cordell Walker had sent another telegram to Ranger Headquarters in Austin. He had realized that, without any communication, the spy

who had led three fellow Rangers to their deaths might grow nervous, and bolt. Walker wanted him even more that the evildoers he was hand in glove with. Walker

sent the telegram openly. It did, however, contain false information, so any reports back to the gang in Rankin would not betray Walker and his partner, Jim.

While Walker was eating a quick lunch, Brett Rankin came back to the mess hall. Sitting opposite the Ranger, the ranch foreman tried probing questions

about Walker's ranching background, which Walker parried easily.

Then Kendall ordered, "Well, Cahill, you're kind of late to join the boys out yonder. Boss says to keep you busy around here a few days, until we're ready to drive the herd to Abilene."

"Whatever you say, Boss. I'm just glad to have a place to hang my hat for awhile."

"Bueno; well, Cahill, there's a wagonload of hay to get in the loft. I'll show you where it is."

As Kendall led Walker past Amigo and Charcoal, the Ranger asked him a pointed question. "Boss, that black's a mighty fine lookin' hoss; who's he belong to?"

Kendall, not meeting Walker's gaze, replied, "Mrs. Hastings bought him from a hoss trader down San Angelo way. Now, here's that wagonload of hay."

Walker gave no sign he had just caught Kendall in a bald-faced lie.

(end of Chapter 30, Part 1)

While Walker loaded the hay into the loft, his keen eyes took in everything and everyone within his sight.  He spotted a fair youngster of about 22, whom he took

to be Randy, the younger of the Hastings' sons, from Linda Harder's description. He saw no sign of Trip Hastings. Walker was unaware Trip and two companions

were at that moment en route to Rankin.

The bearded Ranger also noted the hands who were still working around the ranch proper. "For a respectable banker and businessman, Hastings sure keeps a salty-looking crew", Walker thought to himself.

Finally, the sun westering, the hay in the loft, Walker went to the pump behind the bunkhouse. Taking a basin and rough towel, he prepared to wash up some before the supper bell rang.

Removing his Stetson, bandanna, and shirt, Walker splashed the refreshing, cold water over the back of his head and neck. Suddenly, he felt two hands slide

over his shoulders and down his chest. They were two very smooth and delicate, definitely feminine hands.

Whirling, the Ranger found himself face to face with Luann Hastings. She kissed him, full on the lips, hard.

Walker, spluttering and red-faced, pushed her away.  "Mrs. Hastings, do you want to get us both killed...or me, anyway?"

She threw herself at him, again, pinning her lips to his. "C'mon, Cowboy; you said you've been driftin'.  Aren't you lonely?"

Walker grabbed her by the arms, forcing her back. "Mrs. Hastings, no; it's not right."

"Cowboy, my husband and the rest of the crew are out at the branding corral; they won't see us."

Walker was aware of Luann's feminine charms. His body, involuntarily, was tempted by this blonde beauty, so close. However, fighting temptation, he shoved her back, firmly. She tripped and fell on her bottom. "Mrs. Hastings, NO!!"

Luann Hastings rose quickly to her feet, almost purple with rage. Then, slowly, deliberately, she stepped up to Walker, and slapped him sharply across the face. "Beast!" she shouted, then turned and stalked away.

Walker, finishing his ablutions, speculated on just what Luann Hastings was up to. Was she simply looking for an affair, and did she try this with other cowboys? Or, was there a more sinister motive... perhaps a chance to accuse Walker of attacking her?  The Ranger was still puzzling over this as he ate supper, and later, as he tried to sleep, remaining awake long after the three bunkmates he would have for

the next few nights were snoring in their beds.

(end of  Chapter 30, Part 2)

Cordell Walker spent the next two days working at the Bar H, searching in the meantime for any clues that would point to Ed Hastings as the ringleader of the

Upton and Reagan County outlaws.

Walker had surmised where the ranch office was, and vowed to break into it the second evening, after all were asleep.  

About two that morning, Walker cautiously approached his horse, Amigo. Placing his hand on the Paint's muzzle to stifle the horse's whickering greeting, the Ranger saddled and bridled the big gelding, tying his boots to the saddle, gunbelts slung over the horn.   In case something went wrong, Amigo would be ready to swiftly carry his companion out of danger. Walker knew he could not win a gun battle single-handed on the Bar H, with its crew of hardened gunfighters. He would

attempt to collect evidence against Ed Hastings and his gang, and return to arrest them with a posse.

Entering the house noiselessly, bootless and without to avoid the sound of  footsteps, or the telltale clink of metal, Walker made his way down the hallway to the office. Slipping into the small room, he carefully lit the stub of a candle, concealing the light with his hand. Quickly, the Ranger started his search for

evidence. He had put aside several important files, when fate turned against him.

Stepping back away from the file cabinet, Walker stepped on the tail of a cat, which had been under Hasting's desk. The cat yowled in pain, and Walker,

startled, stumbled, knocking a vase off a table as he instinctively threw out his hand to break his fall.  The vase crashed to the floor.

Walker heard cursing and shouting from the hallway, as Ed Hastings and his son Randy converged on the office door. With no other escape route, Walker dove

through  the office window, shattering the glass panes. He landed rolling in the courtyard, and leaped to his feet, running a zig-zag path toward Amigo, as bullets zinged by him, and Ed Hastings bellowed at the top of his lungs to the cowboys already rushing from the bunkhouse.

(end of Chapter 31, Part 1)

With no time to pause, Walker leaped into saddle, whirling Amigo for a desperate run to safety. The big Paint's muscles bunched, hindquarters launching man

and horse over the corral fence, into the blackness of the night.

There was a new moon, which provided an extra margin of safety, for it would be difficult for the Ranger's pursuers to spot him in the dark. Already, horses were

being saddled, and riders were on the trail of the escaping lawman.

The darkness also hindered Walker and Amigo. The Hastings crew had the advantage of being familiar with the territory, whereas Walker and Amigo were

navigating solely by instinct. Their advantage was in the moments of time before the pursuit was started, plus in Amigo's fleetness and stamina.

 Slowly, but surely, the Ranger and his faithful equine were pulling away from their foes. They had slowed, and taken to the brush and chaparral, rather than staying on the road, where Hastings might have lookouts posted, or where a gunslinger from the ranch, knowing a shortcut, might have intercepted the pair.

Then, in the darkness, Amigo stumbled, rolling head over heels. His rider was thrown headlong. Walker crashed on his back, a bright light bursting through

his brain. Then, inky blackness descended, and the big Ranger lay still in the brush.

 (end of Chapter 31, Part 2)

Walker was awakened by the rising sun on his face. In the night, his pursuers had missed the spot where he and Amigo had left the road. 

Groaning, rubbing his head, Walker sat up, slowly.  Amigo was a short distance away. Walker struggled to his feet, staggering toward his mount. The sharp stab

of a rock in the bottom of his left foot reminded the Ranger, rudely, that he had not even had time to pull on his boots before shoving Amigo into a race for

their lives.

Reaching his horse, Walker rubbed Amigo's nose, gently. The horse nuzzled Walker's arm in return.   Walker walked Amigo a few steps, gratefully noting his

cayuse did not appear lame. Amigo was badly bruised and scraped, however. Walker would have to be careful not to open any deeper cuts.

"Well, hoss: at least they didn't find us...yet."  Walker knew, with daylight, the pursuit would resume.  As much as he would have liked to stand and fight, he

still had no hard evidence, being forced to leave the files at the Hastings' ranch office. He had also lost his spare ammunition when one saddlebag was ripped

open by a manzanita bush during the previous night's chase. In addition, Trip Hastings and, evidently, some of the other Bar H crew were not at the ranch. Walker wanted them all.

Walker, searching, found his boots, and finally his gunbelt and Colts, scattered throughout the brush where they had been flung as Amigo fell. Pulling on

the boots, buckling on his gunbelts, and retrieving his Stetson, Walker mounted, preparing to return to Rankin. He knew one thing: Ed Hastings and his bunch

would not quit. They were not the kind to scare off, especially knowing they faced the noose. Walker was not worried about them fleeing in the night.

(end of Chapter 32, Part 1)

No sooner had Walker mounted, and emerged back on the road, than a rifle cracked, and a heavy Winchester slug sailed over the Ranger's head. Ed Hastings had ordered several of his men to keep to the road, and watch for Walker to emerge. By blind luck, they had camped for the night less than 300 yards from where Walker and Amigo had fallen.

Flattening himself over his horse's neck, Walker urged Amigo into a dead run, confident the Paint could outrun any animal in Hastings' remuda. Suddenly, Amigo

broke stride, limping badly. Walker cursed to himself. Evidently, his bronc HAD hurt himself in the fall.

With Amigo faltering, Walker pulled his animal into the first available cover, a shallow dry wash. He knew, however, that he would soon be pinned down,

caught in a deadly crossfire as the outlaw gang flanked his position. Walker vowed to take as many of them with him as possible, before they gunned him down.

Seeing the Ranger unhorsed and in trouble, the gunslingers let loose with whoops of triumph. Before they could even approach; however, Walker cut two of them down, knocking one out of his saddle with a bullet through the chest, the second throwing up his hands and sloughing off his horse as Walker's Winchester slug tore through his brain. Walker pulled trigger again, and a third man sagged in his saddle

and slid to the ground. Finally, more cautious now, the rest of the gang dismounted, taking cover, snaking their way toward the badly outnumbered lawman.

Bullets whizzed all around the big Ranger. One tugged at his shoulder, and another tore the Stetson off his head. Walker, firing carefully, grunted with satisfaction as he saw a bearded tough clutch his belly, double over, flopping on the ground, screaming in agony, then twitching to stillness. Another yelped with pain as Walker's bullet shattered his shoulder.

Then, a bullet from behind burned Walker's back. At least one of the gang had worked their way behind him. Walker rolled over, and sent a snap shot in that

direction. He knew he'd missed his target, however, as an answering shot came too close for comfort.

By the minute, the gunslingers were gaining ground on the Ranger. Shortly, they would have him pinned down. As Walker coolly returned their fire, suddenly another rifle cracked from off to his right, and another gunslinger sprawled face-down in the dust. Walker, given an opening, came to one knee, firing repeatedly

at the remaining galoots. The mystery gunman also kept up a steady fire. Now, with two accurate rifles trained on them, the outlaws broke and ran.

(end of Chapter 32, part 2)

For a few moments, in the deafening silence following, Cordell Walker lay in the brush, catching his breath, ascertaining no gunman was still lying in wait, to blast the Ranger if he showed himself.

Cautiously, Walker rolled over, looking for the source of the rifle fire that had saved his life. He spotted a figure emerging from a clump of mesquite, rifle held high in one hand, the other waving in a friendly gesture. Warily, Walker waved  back, his Winchester still at the ready.

Grinning, the elderly, cowhand-outfitted hombre approached the Ranger. "Howdy, Son...looks like you needed a hand; hope you don't mind my jumpin' in like

that."

"Mister, not at all. I'm grateful to you; reckon you saved my hide." Both men relaxed, lowering their Winchesters.

"I'm Ezra Moncton; own a small ranch just over the hill, there."

"Cordell Walker." The Ranger had decided there was no point in keeping his identity secret any longer. He reached into the lining of his left boot, extracting

his Ranger star, pinning it to his shirt.

"A RANGER!" Moncton declared, happily. "Now maybe somethin'll finally happen to those Hastings skunks!"

Walker looked at the old rancher, quizzically.  Here was, perhaps, an ally he hadn't counted on.

"Ezra, got to check on my hoss." Walker had spotted Amigo, hobbling toward the pair. The gelding was limping badly on his right front foot. "He fell last night when those buzzards were chasin' us. They found us again this mornin', and he went lame."

Amigo nickered softly asWalker reached him, his hoof held up in pain. Examining it, Walker let out a sigh of relief. A large stone had wedged itself in the cleft of the hoof, between the shoe and the frog.  It was a simple matter of prying the stone out with a hoof pick, and Amigo was ready to travel.

Walker turned to the elderly Moncton. "Ezra, thanks for everything; got to get back to Rankin, meet my partner, and get after these hombres."

"Ranger, that's great, but why don't you stop by my place on the way? I'll fix you a quick bite, and you can patch up those scrapes on you and your hoss.  Besides, that crease down your back should be checked, and I know you can't reach it."

For the first time, Walker was aware that the back of his shirt was sticky with blood, where a slug had burned his skin. He decided it would be wise to take a

few moments with Moncton before heading back to Rankin.  Besides, he wanted to hear the old man's story. It was evident he had no love for the Hastings.

(end of Chapter 33)

Ezra Moncton had walked over to the sounds of the gunfire. Since Amigo was still favoring his leg slightly, Walker strolled alongside the old man as they returned to his ranch. Moncton had been one of the original settlers in the area, and his log cabin was small, but neat. Amigo's wounds were cleaned and dressed, and the Paint was turned out in a small corral and grained and watered. Seeing his horse munching happily, the Ranger followed the rancher into his kitchen.

Before starting breakfast, the rancher insisted on checking Walker's back. There was a long crease, down almost the entire length of the lawman's broad back.

Seeing this, Moncton laughed. "Good thing that slug was at an angle, Walker. If it slid straight down your back, I'd be pullin' lead out of your butt, right about now...and, believe me, that's not somethin' I'd be lookin' forward to. Plus, you wouldn't be settin' no bronc, for quite awhile." Walker smiled, grimly.

Moncton grew serious. "Gotta dress that for you, Ranger."  He took a bottle of vile-smelling, green liquid off a shelf next to the stove, pouring it liberally over the crease in Walker's skin.  

"AAYIEEE!!" Walker jumped, as the stinging fluid bit into his flesh. "Moncton, you tryin' to finish me off?  OOOWWWW!!!"

The rancher grinned, slightly evilly.  "Walker, that's an old Apache remedy. Learned it from an old chief, years ago. Now, you just lie still there a couple of minutes, and see how you'll feel."

Sure enough, in a few minutes, the pain subsided, followed a wonderful sensation of diffused warmth through the Ranger's back and shoulders. The rancher quickly bandaged the wound. Walker quickly replaced his shirt. As Moncton prepared a quick breakfast, he narrated the story of his troubles with his neighbors,

the Hastingses. 

(end of Chapter 34, Part 1)

"Ranger, I've been here nigh onto 30 years now.   Hastings and his family moved in about 8 years ago.  Now, almost everyone around here thinks they're a respectable family, although they don't care much for the two boys. I know better."

Walker interrupted, curious, "Ezra, how'd you happen to come out and take my side?"

"Heard the gunfire, Ranger, and ran out with my Winchester. Didn't know who you were, but recognized Brett Kendall, Hastings' foreman, and a couple of his men. Figured anyone they were after was a friend of mine. Saw you were pinned down, so I took a hand."

"Gracias again, Ezra...but, if they spotted you, can you stay here alone, now?"

"Ranger, I've held off Hastings' for years, but he's snaffled himself a good chunk of my range through his forgeries and bribes in Austin. You don't need to worry about me. Besides, he'll be busy pickin up those galoots you 'n' I left layin' out there." Walker nodded assent, realizing there were at least four of Hastings' men dead on the trail, and just as many wounded.

"Anyway, Ranger, Hastings has run off the owners or taken over most of the land here. Plus, you saw the crew he runs."

To Moncton's pleasure, Walker interrupted. "Ezra, I  sure did. I spent the last couple of days at his place, as a hand. Found some papers that can tie him into various crimes, but had to leave 'em when I got discovered in his office, thanks to a yowling cat."   You got any papers for your land, and the portions Hastings took?"

"Sure do, Ranger, and I'll be glad to let you have them...and I'll go to court, if need be."

Ezra Moncton was a loquacious old man, and would have detained Cordell for hours. However, after a quick breakfast, with the facts he needed, Walker retrieved

Amigo, took his leave of the rancher, and headed back to Rankin, Moncton's assurances in his ears the elderly rancher would be by the Ranger's side in any

battle with the Hastings' bunch.

(end of Chapter 34, Part 2)

The same evening Cordell Walker made camp overlooking the Bar H ranch, Trip Hastings and his two gun slinging partners, Pecos Mooney and Red Carlson, rode into Rankin.

"Pecos, Red: go get us a room at the Cattlemen's Hotel. I'll meet you at the Brazos saloon; I've got to meet with our friend the sheriff and see what those two Rangers are up to."

Trip hastened to Sheriff Mike Jones' office. The local officer had long been in Ed Hastings' back pocket. Looking up from his desk as Trip entered, the short, thin, baby-faced sheriff greeted Trip warmly, gray eyes glancing nervously all around.

"Trip, glad to see you. I was sendin' word to you tomorrow: Just found out one of those Rangers is headed for your place."

"Mike, that is good news: Brett and Randy'll take care of him. He'll never be seen again. Now, what about the other one?"

"That'd be Jim Griffin: he's the one got shot when your men tried to hold up the stage. He's still at Doc Samuelson's, but I understand he's comin' along."

"Well, Mike, he won't be for long. Let me think for a couple of minutes."

After pondering the situation for a few moments, Trip Hastings came to a decision. "Mike, we can't just kill that &*(*%%%^*(^&^ in Samuelson's office. No one would

stand for that.  Now, here's what I want you to do..."

(end of Chapter 35)

Texas Ranger Jim Griffin, wounded during the aborted stage robbery, was recovering nicely from the concussion he had received when a bullet creased his

scalp. He was fighting off a slight fever, and was still weak, the reason he was still in bed at Doc Samuelson's clinic. In a few days, though, Doc had promised to release his patient.

"Don't matter, anyway, Doc. Once my partner gets back from Big Lake, I'm checkin' myself out!" was Jim's retort to the physician's orders.

Trip Hastings spent the day after his arrival performing various routine business for his father.  Then, he, Pecos Mooney, and Red Carlson headed for the Brazos saloon, just as the night previous. After dark, they signaled Sheriff Mike Jones, just outside the Brazos' doors.

Following their instructions, Jones quickly went to Doc Samuleson's office. Pounding on the door, he demanded. "Doc, Josie, I've got to see Wes Howard,

right now!" Howard was the alias Jim had been using.

Reluctantly, the physician admitted the sheriff to Jim's room. "Only a couple of minutes, now, Mike, and I mean it."

Jim eyed the lawman, warily. He had only met the man briefly, the day Walker and Jim had arrived in Rankin, and was not impressed. The man was shifty, and Jim and

Walker both felt he could not be trusted.

Jones started, "Howard, I just saw two hombres who match the ones you and your partner claim got away when the stage to McCarney was stopped. They're in the

Brazos saloon. I need you to come eyeball 'em, right now."

Doc Samuelson, listening, protested, "Sheriff, he's still too weak to go anywhere."

Jim broke in, "Doc, it'll only be a couple of minutes; I'll come right back, I promise. Now, get me my clothes, please, Doc."

Reluctantly, Doc Samuelson gave in. Jim quickly tossed on his shirt, pulled on his jeans, socks and boots. Standing up, he was dizzy for a moment, but steadied himself. Then, he went to the hook on the wall, and took down his Stetson and gunbelts. He retrieved his Colts from under the pillow, an action not unnoticed by the sheriff.

"Howard, you won't need those..."

"Sheriff, if you think I'm goin' to finger a couple of killers without my pistols, then go ahead yourself." Jones just shrugged.

Jim followed the sheriff out of the Doctor's house.  He was positive he was being led into a trap, but, as a Ranger, he could not overlook any chance to lasso the criminals plaguing Rankin.

Following Sheriff Jones, Jim stepped through the swinging doors of the Brazos saloon.

(end of Chapter 36, Part 1)

The moment Texas Ranger Jim Griffin stepped into the Brazos saloon, he knew his suspicions of a trap were correct. He espied Trip Hastings at the bar, who slowly turned to face Jim. At one corner, at the end of the bar, was Red Carlson; at the other was Pecos Mooney. Jim knew Trip from Linda Harder's description, and recognized the other two for what they were from years of experience as a lawman. The three were in perfect positions for a gunfight. It would be practically impossible for Jim to get all three, before at least one of them put a slug through the tall Ranger.

Patrons moved to the sides of the room, knowing what was coming. Mike Jones, sheriff, drifted off to one side. Jim noted the sheriff was in position to send a bullet tearing through the Ranger's side.

Trip, knowing he was in his town, with his father to back him up, spat, "Mister, I know you're the man who shot down some of our hands. Now, it's time for you to go to Boot Hill."

 Jim coolly replied. "Hastings, I'm glad you said that." Trip started slightly as Jim used his name. He hadn't realized the Ranger knew him by sight. Jim slowly reached into his shirt pocket, removing his Ranger star, slowly and deliberately pinning it to his shirt. He had decided there was no longer any point in remaining undercover. "Now, the only men I or my partner have shot were either tryin' to ambush us or hold up the stage.  Since you admit they were workin' for you, you're under arrest."

"Go to #$%^%^^&&" Trip shouted, pulling at his pistol. Jim's right hand flashed downward, coming up with his big Colt. The gun bucked once, and Trip Hastings sagged against the bar, a heavy .45 slug in his belly.

Jim felt a burn across his ribs, as Pecos Mooney fired hastily, without aiming. Jim's answering slug crashed through the gunslinger's nose, caving his face in, burying itself in his brain. Mooney was dead where he stood.  

Jim's eyes fixed Red Carlson, who had just started to draw. The black muzzle of his Colt trained itself on Carlson's chest. "Your choice, Carlson, live or die." The gunslinger froze, then, knowing he was facing a  noose, desperately pulled his gun. Jim's Colt spat flame and smoke, drilling Carlson through the heart. He crashed headfirst to the sawdust.

Mike Jones, panicked, had run from the saloon.

Jim walked up to Trip Hastings, who was writhing on the floor, whimpering in agony. His hands were clutching his belly, where a spreading red stain was soaking the front of his shirt.

Hastings looked up at the Ranger, face contorted, hatred in his eyes. He cursed, "##$#$% , Ranger, you got me, but your partners a dead man, then, my old man and brother will be back for you."

 Jim just retorted, "Hastings, it's all over for your bunch."

 Trip Hastings, struggling to rise, managed to raise his upper torso halfway from the floor. He muttered, "Ranger, I'll see you in Hell."  Then--a fountain of blood coming from his mouth and nose--he collapsed  sideward, dead.

Jim, weakening now from the exertion, still suffering from the concussion, backed out of the Brazos, Colt still in hand.

Linda Harder had been working late at her Virago's Express office. She had seen Jim following Sheriff Jones into the Brazos Saloon. The stage owner hurried to the dive, watching the commotion. As Jim left the saloon, she joined him. Walking side by side back to Doc Samuelson's, she warned the Ranger, "Jim, for sure now, Hastings will come after you."

"Well, Linda, don't forget, Walker's at his place right now. This is the beginning of the end for him. Has... UUNNHHHH."

Jim's words were cut short, as he plunged to the ground, a knife protruding from his back.

(end of Chapter 36, Part 2)

It was past midnight when Cordell Walker rode back down the main street of Rankin, unaware of the events that had transpired two days previously. As his horse was still slightly favoring his stone-bruised hoof, Walker had been forced to travel slowly. Looking, Walker observed no lights at the Virago's Express

office or Doc Samuelson's. Exhausted, he turned Amigo in at the livery, where Yankee, Jim's horse, greeted them both with a happy nicker. After finding some

grain for Amigo, and giving the bronc a quick rubdown, Walker headed for his room at the Cattlemen's Hotel.

Too tired to even undress, the big Ranger pulled tossed off his Stetson, pulled off his boots, and fell back on the bed, instantly asleep.

He awakened late the next morning, by his standards.  Quickly pouring water from the pitcher into the basin, Walker removed his filthy, blood-stained shirt, and

splashed the cooling liquid over his head and neck, for a rudimentary clean-up. Then, he donned a clean shirt, pulled on his boots and Stetson, and headed

toward Doc Samuelson's.

"Bet Jim's goin' crazy by now", Walker thought to himself. "He'll be roarin' at me to get him outta there. Well, unless Doc says its OK, he's stayin' put, if I have to tie him to the bed myself."

Walker started up the stairs to the physician's office. As he reached the top step, the door swung open. Standing there was Linda Harder, eyes wet with tears.

(end of Chapter 37)

Walker, instantly alarmed, shouted, "Linda, what's wrong? The stage owner threw herself into Walker's arms, head on his shoulder, crying softly. "Walker,

Jim's been hurt, bad. Doc Samuelson says he probably won't make it." As they walked in the house, the pair was met by Doc Samuelson and Josie, his wife, both

sober-faced. 

"Doc, what happened?"  Walker cried out.

"Ranger, your partner got knifed in the back. He would have been dead by now, but the blade hit him up high. I don't think it hit anything crucial, but it's  a deep wound."

Walker had rushed into Jim's room. His partner was, to his eyes, sleeping peacefully. Walker turned to Doc, his wife, and Linda. "What the $%%^&& happened while I was gone?"

Doc spoke up first. "That no-good sheriff, Mike Jones, came over here, told your partner that a couple of the hombres who held up the stage were in the saloon, and he needed Jim to finger 'em. I told Jim not to go, but he insisted. Stubborn cuss."

Linda Harder picked up from there, "Walker, it was a trap, and Jim knew it. I was working late, and spotted Jim following the sheriff into the Brazos. I watched

from outside the door. Trip Hastings and two of his men braced Jim. Jim got all three of 'em. Jones, scared for his life, panicked and ran. Hastings was gut-shot, and Jim talked to him for a couple of minutes, before he faded. Jim 'n' I were on our way back here, when somebody threw a knife in Jim's back."

Walker, jaw tight, eyes hard, muttered to everyone present, "I'll get everyone of these hombres, if it's the last thing I do. As he turned, he winced, and gave

a yip of pain.

Doc Samuelson was instantly alert. "Walker, you been hurt, too?" 

"Just a burn, Doc. I had to make a quick getaway from the Bar H. Amigo fell, and I got pinned down. Would have been a goner, except for this old rancher name of

Ezra Moncton."

"Moncton...he's a good man been here just about forever."

"Anyway, Doc, he put some green stuff on my back. Burned like fire."

"Ah, Moncton's old Apache remedy..."

"That's it; felt good, after awhile."

"Walker, let me redress that for you; then, you can get after the hombres who got your partner."

Josie and Linda sat at Jim's bedside, while the doc and Walker went into the examining room. As Doc Samuelson removed the old bandages, Walker yelled out,

as his skin was still tender...more from Moncton's remedy than the bullet track.

Josie and Linda next heard, weakly, "Hey, what's a guy gotta do for peace and quiet around here? How d'ya expect me to sleep?" Startled, they saw Jim's eyes

open, a slight grin on his face.

(End of Chapter 38)

"Martin, come quick!!" his wife called. The physician rushed into the room, followed by Walker. Examining Jim quickly, the doctor whistled, and remarked. "Son,

you've got a long way to go, but I think you may make it, after all."

Jim, looking up at Walker, cracked. "Sure I will. I was just waitin' for this lazy son of a gun to get back here. I've been doin' all the work around this town, and he's been lazin' in the sun. Besides, Walker'd miss my jokes too much."

Walker smiled back. "Go to blazes, you tow-headed, blarney-spoutin', thick Polish Yankee. You've been lyin' here in bed, while I'm bein' chased over half of West Texas."

Walker turned to the trio. "Doc, Josie, Linda: I need to talk to Jim for a few minutes, alone, please."

"OK, Walker, but not too long", Doc Samueson replied, as the three left the room.

Quickly, Walker and Jim went over the events of the past four days.

"Walker, knew Jones was leadin' me into a trap, but I had to go; you would've done the same."

"Absolutely, Jim...and you say Trip Hastings admitted his family's involved?"

"Only sort of: claimed we killed some of his men, which I told him only the ones tryin' to kill us.  Tried to out him under arrest, but he just yanked his gun. You know the rest. I know one thing: it's gotta be that yellow-bellied sheriff, Jones, who threw that knife. It's over there in the cabinet, with the initials MJ on the handle. He ran out of the Brazos muy pronto when the shootin' started."

"Jim, I'm startin off tonight for the Bar H. Me 'n' Amigo'll rest this afternoon, then travel all night.  That way, I can surprise Hastings and his bunch in the

morning. I'll try to pick up Ezra Moncton on the way.   He'll give me a hand. I wouldn't be here, either, if it weren't for him."

"Walker, can you get back the evidence you saw?"

"Don't need it, Jim. The attmept to kill me is all the evidence I need. I just hope Hastings tries to resist arrest." Either way, though--my lead or the hangman's rope--Hastings is finished."

"Walker, I'm goin with you", Jim spat, insistently. However, as the tall Ranger tried to rise, he fell back on the pillows.

"No, Jim, you're not: it'd be suicide for you. You wouldn't get five miles."

Reluctantly, Jim gave in. "Reckon you're right, Walker. Do me a favor, though, Walker...actually, two favors."

"Depends what they are, Jim."

"One: if at all possible, bring back that lily-livered skunk of a sheriff to face me."

"You got it, Jim, what's the other one?"

"Walker, I wouldn't let anyone else in the world do this, only you: If Amigo's still lame, take Yankee.

"I wouldn't want you gunned down because of a lame hoss. You're the only man on earth, besides myself, I'd trust with my bronc. Now, you'll have to bring him

around here, 'cause I'll have to tell him it's all right for you to ride him; but please, Walker, unless you're absolutely sure that Amigo's 100 percent, take

my hoss."

"Jim, I'm sure Amigo's fine...but, if he isn't, you've got a deal. I'm goin' to get some more peppermint sticks for Yank, right now."

Jim was drifting back to sleep. "Thanks, Walker. I really appreci........"

(end of Chapter 39)

After throwing the knife that downed Ranger Jim Griffin, Sheriff Mike Jones ran for the livery stable. He quickly saddled his long-legged buckskin mare, and headed westward, for the Bar H.

As soon as Jones cleared town, he slowed down. His clothes were drenched with the sweat of panic. He had just, he believed, killed a Texas Ranger. If the Rangers ever figured out who threw that knife, Jones was a dead man. The Rangers would hunt him to the ends of the earth. He would have headed straight for the Bar H, and his boss, Ed Hastings, but he was terrified at the prospect of telling Hastings that his older son, Trip, had been shot down by the Ranger, along with two of Hastings' men.

Worse, Trip had been gut-shot, and lived for a while, spilling the beans, to a certain extent, of the Hastings gang and its nefarious activities. No, Jones didn't relish the thought of telling Hastings that, at all. In addition, Luann Hastings would most likely go crazy hearing this news...not only over the killing of her son, but over the exposing of the gang. Jones often wondered who was the tougher character, Ed or Luann, his wife.

For two days, Jones slowly, hesitantly rode toward the Bar H, staying off the trail as much as possible, avoiding all riders. Finally, deciding that he had a better chance with Hastings, he spurred his mare toward the ranch. "Besides", Jones thought to  himself, "bracin' that Ranger was Trip's idea, not mine. And Ed'll be happy when I tell him I put a knife through that  $#%^&***((*."

Jones rode into the Bar H yard just after Brett Kendall and the survivors of the attempt to ride down Cordell Walker had returned.

(end of Chapter 40, Part 1)

Mike Jones stepped into the middle of a whirlwind at the Bar H. Ed Hastings had pulled a pistol on his foreman, Brett Kendall, and the gun was leveled at the big man's middle.

"Brett, how the %^%%%% could you let that &&%^**(  Ranger get away? You told me yourself his cayuse was crippled, and you had him pinned down. I oughta plug

you right here, you  %*(((((((."

"Boss, I've never seen anyone could shoot like that Ranger. I think he only missed one shot, and this was shootin' at men gallopin' on horseback. Then, once Moncton got in on the deal, we didn't have a chance.

"That old geezer's still pretty handy with a Winchester, too."

Luann Hastings, standing by her son Rand, hissed evilly, "Ed, told you we needed some real men around here."

"Shut up, woman!" Ed snapped. At that moment, he spotted Mike Jones, hat in hand, waiting in the doorway.

Hastings exploded,. "Jones, what the $$%%% are you doin' here? You're supposed to be with Trip and his boys, keepin' the lid on in Rankin, and you BETTER tell me that other Ranger is six feet under."

Jones cringed, and took two steps back. Hastings knew instantly Jones was not bringing the news Hastings expected. "Spill it, Jones, and NOW!!"

The sheriff started, slowly, hesitantly. "Mr. Hastings, Trip is dead."

"What???"  Hastings exploded.

"Griffin got him...got Mooney and Carlson, too."

Calmer now, a deadly tone to his voice, Hastings locked the sheriff in his vision. "Jones, tell me exactly what happened."

"Mr. Hastings, Trip didn't want to murder that Ranger in his bed at Doc's; said no one'd stand for that. He had me lure the #@$$%$ over to the saloon. Trip, Pecos, and Carlson were waitin' for him. No way that Ranger should have got all three but he did. Took out your boy first, then the other two. I ain't NEVER seen anybody draw and shoot that quick.

"And, Mr., Hastings, it gets worse: Griffin shot Trip through the belly.  He lived for a while, sufferin'. And, he let slip stuff about what you've been up to, before he died."

Hastings cursed, then growled, "And where were you, Jones?"

 Jones lied, "Trip wanted me outside, so I couldn't be tied in with him. I watched the whole thing. When the Ranger left, I followed him, and put my knife in his

back. You don't have to worry about him, anymore."

Ed Hastings sagged slightly, the hand holding his Colt drooping. His wife was crying softly. His son Randy, and foreman, Kendall, were staring at the sheriff in disbelief. One man took out three of theirs, in a rigged gunfight? In addition, one man had wiped out half of his pursuers, even though surrounded. Brett Kendall had an omen of impending doom.

Suddenly, Ed Hastings picked his head back up, evil in his eyes. "Randy, Brett,  Jones: get the men together. We're ridin' for Rankin tonight. That Ranger that was here--Walker--is hurt; we know that. The other one's dead, if Jones here ain't lyin' to us. And Jones, if you are, prepare to die, slow. Now, we'll pick up Ezra Moncton on the way. When we get to Rankin, we'll grab that Harder woman, too. I want her stage line, and she's been in cahoots with the Rangers, too. We'll kill anyone else who gets in our way. By this time tomorrow, there won't be a Ranger

within a hundred miles of here."

(end of Chapter 40, Part 2)

Cordell Walker spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping in his room at the Cattlemen's Hotel. Just before sundown, he ate a quick supper in the hotel

dining room. Then, he stopped in as Doc Samuelson's, to check on his partner, Jim. The blonde Ranger was sleeping comfortably.

"Doc, how is Jim? Give it to me straight."

"Walker, yesterday I wouldn't have given a plugged nickel for his chances. Today, though, after he heard your voice, he seemed to come around. I think, with some rest, he'll be OK. You two must be some team. I think, if you hadn't come back when you did, your partner would have quit, and died by now."

Walker, thinking back to the rough beginning of this assignment, and how he and Jim wanted no part of each other, just laughed. "Yeah, Doc, we ARE some kind of

team, all right...I just won't tell you what kind."

Turning to Jim, the big Ranger continued, "Pard, I'm gonna get these sidewinders, every last on of 'em; you just rest. We'll be back in Austin in a few days, and we'll smoke out the %$%^^% who's been betrayin' his 'friends'. Jim, I've got plenty of peppermint sticks in my pocket, and, like I promised, I'll ride your hoss if Amigo's still lame. I'll be back with Yank in a few minutes if I have to ride him. If not, pard, you rest easy."

Face set in grim determination, Walker strode from Doc Samuelson's, to the physician's words of, "Be careful, Ranger", and Josie, the doctor's wife,

calling "Vaya Con Dios."

Arriving at the livery stable, Walker slipped Yankee a peppermint stick, which the Paint took gratefully, happily munching it. Walker stroked his neck, murmuring softly to the gelding, "Miss Jim, don't ya, Yank? Well, he'll be up and around in a few days, and we'll be ridin' the trails again. I promise you that, hoss."

Checking Amigo, Walker's big gelding nuzzling his shoulder, the Ranger found his mount still had a very slight limp. Examining the bottom of Amigo's right front  hoof, Walker could see the stone bruise was still there, but fading rapidly.

Remembering his promise to Jim--that he would not take a chance on riding a lame Amigo--Walker patted his Paint, and, taking his saddle and bridle, went to Yankee's stall, slipping his bridle over Yankee's head, Jim's horse eyeing him quizzically. Jim's gelding would have bitten and stomped any other man trying to bridle him, but he had grown to know and trust Jim's human partner.

Some instinct made Cordell change his mind. He stroked Yankee's muzzle, slipping the horse another peppermint. "Sorry, Yank: promised Jim I'd ride you if

Amigo were at all lame, but Jim may need you here if anythin' happens to me. 'Sides, Amigo's carried me through worse spots, when we were both hurtin' a lot

worse'n this. You just rest here, boy, and wait for Jim."

Quickly saddling, Walker led Amigo out of the livery, and started loping westward, to confront Ed Hastings and his gang at the Bar H Ranch.

(end of Chapter 41)

Ed Hastings, wife Luann, surviving son Randy, and foreman Brett Kendall were leading the remaining members of their outlaw gang through the dark to Rankin. They had only eight men left, besides themselves. However, believing Texas Ranger Jim Griffin dead, and Texas Ranger Cordell Walker wounded, Hastings was  confident his gang could quickly gun down Walker, and also kidnap and kill Linda Harder, the Virago's Stage Line owner.

Riding through the dark, Hastings muttered to his son, "Too bad that old fool, Mocnton, wasn't home; must have been out guardin' those few scrawny steers

of his. Well, no matter: we'll get him on our way back." Silence, except for the clatter of horses' hooves, the creak of leather, and the jangle of spurs and bits, again descended over the outlaw band.

Cordell Walker was slightly less than halfway to Big Lake, and the Bar H, when Amigo pricked up his ears.

Straining, Walker listened, and heard the sound of approaching hoof beats. Pulling off the road, and up a small rise, the Ranger bellied down in a clump of brush. Observing the approaching gang, he hurried back to his horse. "Amigo, looks like Hastings had the same idea. He's comin' to try and finish us off, once and

for all. Well, hoss, we'll try to get behind 'em, and maybe get the drop on the whole outfit."

Carefully, the big Ranger found a seam in a rock bank, where he would be hidden from view. He unshipped his Winchester, prepared to throw down on the gang.

As Hastings and his bunch approached Walker's hiding spot, Amigo shifted slightly. This innocent, silent movement sent a small stream of rocks and gravel toward the road. Walker cursed, as Hastings ordered, "Someone's in the rocks, there. Kendall, Jones, you two get behind him."

Walker couldn't go forward, for he was too badly outnumbered, and even with his marksmanship, would not have a chance in the dark against moving targets. He

wheeled Amigo around, intending to climb the steep bank to his rear, and attempt to fall behind the outlaws, trailing them into Rankin.  The bank was too steep, however, and before he could bust free, Kendall and Jones were at the top of the talus, Winchesters leveled straight at Walker.

"Drop that rifle, reach, and be quick about it."  Kendall ordered. With no choice, the Ranger tossed his rifle to the ground, raising his hands. Kendall and Jones descended the bank, herding Walker and Amigo to the trail.

"Well, well, look who we've got here", sneered Hastings. "It's our driftin' cowpoke."

Luann Hastings burst in, "Ed, I told you he tried to attack me. Let me kill him, now."

"Not so fast, my dear. I may need the good Texas Ranger in town. Besides, I want him to die slow. Now, Jones, you tie him up, TIGHT. Make sure his ankles are

tied to the stirrups."

Hastings spat in Walker's face. "Before dark tonight, Ranger, you'll be dead...just like your partner."

Walker just glared. However, something in his face, his eyes, gave Hastings a sign. "Wait a minute! Your partner's not dead, is he?"

Yelling at Mike Jones, Hastings screamed, "Thought you told me you knifed that  #$%^%^^&& Griffin!"

The hapless sheriff replied, "I did, Mr. Hastings. Sunk my blade right in his back, deep."

"Well, Jones, unless I miss my guess, that &%%^&&'s still alive. No matter, though: just like this one, he'll be dead by sundown."

With Walker bound hand and foot, lashed to his saddle, Ed Hastings led his gang toward Rankin.

(end of Chapter 42)

The Hastings gang, and their captive, reached Rankin in the first light, just before dawn. Their first stop was the Virago's Express Office. Linda Harder's living quarters were attached to the building.

"Randy, go get that  $$^&&&* out of there. Tie her up, and put her on one of the stage horses", Ed Hastings ordered his son. 

Linda was still sleeping, so was taken totally by surprise.  She had no chance to resist. Randy Hastings held a gun on her, ordering the stage owner to dress.  "Not while you're watching me, little boy", the tough woman retorted.

"Do it, or die here", the young outlaw snapped. With no choice, Linda dressed, the blonde youngster leering. She was quickly led out, and bound on a saddled horse. Spying Cordell Walker similarly bound, she hung her head, fearful of the worst.

The gang's next stop was Doc Samuelson's. Mike Jones and Brett Kendall were ordered to bring Ranger Jim Griffin out.

Jim had started to rise, hearing the sound of horses. However, he was still sleepy under the effect of the painkiller Doc had given him. Before he could react, Kendall and Jones had burst into the room, guns leveled at him.

"Up, Ranger, and out", Kendall barked.

At that moment, Doc Samuelson and his wife, Josie, burst into Jim's room. "Don't move, Doc", Mike Jones ordered.

Doc Samuelson replied in disgust, "You polecat! Always knew you were a no-good excuse for a lawman."

"Shut up, Doc, or I'll plug you right here!" Jones retorted.

Kendall shouted at the sheriff, "Not here, you idiot! A gunshot would bring the whole town runnin'. Can't leave 'em here, though. Tie 'em up, and bring 'em

along, both of 'em." Jones quickly rushed to comply.

Taking advantage of the momentary diversion, Jim sprang from his bed, trying to reach his gunbelts.   Doc Samuelson, thinking he was being kind, had removed

Jim's Colts from where the Ranger had put them, under his pillow. Now, Doc cursed himself for his move.

Jim, reflexes slowed by his injuries and the medication, didn't have a chance of reaching his guns.  Brett Kendall shot a vicious punch to Jim's belly. Jim doubled over, and doubled to the floor, gasping for breath. "Try that again, Ranger, and you'll die right here. Now, get dressed." He kicked Jim in the ribs.

Jim struggled to his feet, pulling on his jeans and boots.  His shirt and Stetson were hanging next to his gunbelts. In desperation, Jim grabbed his hat, at the

same time trying again for his guns. Again, Kendall shot a vicious blow to Jim's gut. As Jim sagged, the Bar H foreman sneered, "Good try, Ranger, but not good

enough. Now, where you're headed, you won't be needin' those Colts, but they are a mighty fine lookin' pair of irons. Think I'll take 'em for myself." With that

remark, Kendall clubbed Jim viciously on the back of the neck with the barrel of his Colt, plunging the Ranger into a spinning void.

(end of Chapter 43)

After rounding up his captives, Ed Hastings ordered, "We'll take 'em to that arroyo, the one 5 miles south of town. We'll get rid of 'em there; grounds real

sandy, so it won't take long to bury the bodies."

Walker gave a look of hope to Linda Harder, trying to encourage the stage owner not to quit. He also tried to catch his partner's eye. Jim, however, was sagging

in his saddled, slumped over his horse's neck. Yankee had been brought from the livery, not without a fight.  His whinnying and stamping had aroused the hostler.

The unfortunate oldster was killed, his throat slashed by one of Hastings's men. Finally, to get Jim's horse, which Mike Jones wanted for himself, the wounded Ranger was taken into the stable, and helped onto Yankee's back and tied there.

The group quickly left town, headed for the Hastings' intended destination. Cordell Walker was exhausted, the bullet groove in his back burning like fire, his

head pounding. Doc Samuelson and his wife were not used to riding horseback, since they always rode in their carriage. They were suffering greatly. Linda

Harder was erect in her saddle, head held proudly erect.

Jim Griffin was swaying in his saddle. After smashing the Ranger down, Brett Kendall had quickly dragged him out of Doc's, not even letting him finish dressing. As a result, Jim had no Stetson, and was still shirtless, the hot rays of the early morning sun beating down on him. In addition, the knife wound in his back had

reopened, blood trickling down his back.

Arriving at the arroyo, Ed Hastings quickly ordered his captives off their horses, untying their ankles. However, their hands were still bound.

"OK, Rangers, this is the end; any last words?"

"No, Hastings, except you'll never pull this off.  The Rangers will hound you till you're dead."

"Wrong, Walker- Ranger's won't have any proof as to who did what. I'm not leavin' any witnesses."

 “What about your man in Austin?" Walker snapped. He could tell he made a hit with that jab, as Hastings blinked, startled.

"You're smarter than I thought, Walker. Didn't know you'd figured that out. Well, no matter: he's been well paid, and Rangers know how to keep their mouths shut."

"Hastings, why kill Miss Harder, and the doc and his wife?"

"Simple, Walker: I want the stage line. As far as the doc and his wife, they butted in when we tried to take your partner. Sorry, but I can't have any witnesses."

Now, Walker, enough talk. I'm personally going to kill you. And I'm going to let Randy, there, kill your partner. You can be sure he'll gut-shoot him, just

like Randy's brother was gut-shot."

Hastings' finger brought back the hammer of his Colt, which was leveled at Walker's chest. As he started to squeeze the trigger, a voice shouted authoritatively from the bluff above, "Hold it, all of you: you're covered. Now, drop those guns."

(end of Chapter 44)

Everyone in the arroyo froze. Walker looked up, to see Ezra Moncton on one knee, rifle trained on Ed Hastings. Walker smiled. "Hastings I'll take that gun, now. And have your men untie Jim and the rest, quick-like. Hastings rushed to comply, most

eagerly.

Moncton yelled down to Walker, "Saw these ornery galoots last night, when they tried to snaffle me. Figured they might be up to somethin' so I trailed em'. Lost 'em for a while last night, but picked up their tracks again this mawnin."

Smiling, Walker replied, "Glad you did, Ezra! Sure you wouldn't like to join the Rangers?"

As Ezra Moncton started down the bank, a shot rang out, and the elderly rancher bent backwards, threw up his hands, and tumbled to the arroyo floor, landing

almost at Cordell Walker's feet.

Two of Hastings' men appeared on the bluff, Winchesters trained on the group below. Hastings smiled, sneering, "I'll take my gun back now, Walker...you didn't think I'd be so stupid as to leave the bluff unguarded, did you? Now, it's time to say goodbye..."

(end of Chapter 45)

Ed Hastings, his pistol once again leveled at Cordell Walker's chest, prepared to squeeze the trigger. Walker looked toward his partner Jim. Randy Hastings was standing only a few feet from Jim, his Colt pointed straight at the tall Ranger's belt buckle. Jim appeared to have recovered somewhat from the ride. To Walker's surprise and dismay, Jim was smiling. Had his partner become delirious from the

heat and his wounds? Walker wondered.

Randy Hastings snapped, "What're you smilin' about, Ranger?"

Jim, still smiling, replied smoothly, "Nothin', except the end of the line for your whole bunch, kid."

As Randy snarled, "Wrong, Ranger, it's the end of the line for you", Jim gave an almost imperceptible signal. From where he was standing, Yankee rushed in, teeth bared. The Paint clamped down on the Colt in Randy's hand. The young outlaw screamed in anger and pain, as the gun was wrenched from his grasp, his finger's crushed in the horse's powerful jaws. Jim dove and came up with Randy's pistol.

At the same moment, Amigo rushed in. Walker's big Paint, hooves flashing, trampled one of Hastings's men, crushing him into the sand. Then, the horse

smashed into Hastings, sending him sprawling. Walker grabbed Hastings' gun.

(end of Chapter 46)

Pandemonium ensued for the Hastings gang, as the two highly trained lawmen went into action.

Jim had scooped up Randy Hastings's pistol, and, in one fluid movement, jammed the muzzle against the blonde outlaw's belly, pulling the trigger. The slug tore right through, knocking the young tough back, blood spurting from the hole in his gut, crashing to the ground.

As soon as Walker grabbed Ed Hastings's pistol, he fired a snap shot, at close range. However, Hastings was turning to run, and Walker's shot took him in the

shoulder. Hastings stumbled, and continued to run for his horse. 

Walker felt a bullet scrape along his cheek, ripping a groove out of his beard. He spun and fired, catching the shooter in his right eye. The man crashed, dead

before he hit the ground. Then, Walker watched, horrified, as Mike Jones slowly, deliberately raised his pistol, took aim, and shot Jim's horse, Yankee. The big Paint screamed in agony and terror, and fell to the ground, legs pumping, struggling to rise. Jim, seeing his trail companion go down, raced to his friend, ignoring the slugs tearing in his direction.

Linda Harder watched in heart-stopping agony, as Luann Hastings pulled a Derringer from her blouse sleeve, aiming the deadly little pea-shooter at Cordell Walker's broad back. Linda leaped, striking Luann's arm, knocking it down. Both women fell to the ground, struggling for the pistol. A shot rang out, and Luann Hastings lay still, the .41 bullet from her own gun lodging itself in her heart.

Several of the remaining gang members had already been killed or wounded. The two on the bluff had fled. Brett Kendall, Mike Jones, and Ed Hastings were, however, still in the fight.

Jim was collapsed over Yankee, with Mike Jones closing in. "Jim, watch out!!" Walker yelled to his partner. Jim spun, leveling his borrowed pistol at Jones. The look in his eye froze Jones to the spot.

From the corner of his eye, Jim spotted Ed Hastings and Kendall, reaching their horses and galloping off.  Eyes still fixed on the sheriff, he shouted to his

partner, "Walker, get those two. Jones is mine."

Walker raced for Amigo, mounting as the Paint stretched into a gallop.

Jim, seated on Yankee, had his Colt leveled at Mike Jones. He had used one shot to blast the sheriff's pistol out of his hand. Now, remembering the trap Jones had set, the knife in his back...and worst of all, Jones shooting of his best friend, his bronc, Yankee, Jim showed no mercy.

"Jones, there's nothin' worse than a  murderin' skunk who hides behind a badge, especially one who'd' kill a hoss.  Now, I can't shoot you down where you stand.

You'd best go for that Colt, though; I'm sure not takin' you in."

Jones, panicked, dove for the gun. Jim coolly shot him, twice, in the belly. Jones toppled slowly over into the dirt, face down. Jim rolled the sheriff onto his back. Jones' face was contorted in agony. Jim snarled, "Jones, I can't let you suffer, like my bronc's sufferin' or like I suffered. I'm gonna put a slug between your eyes, and end it for you." As Jim took aim, he straightened up. "Who am I kiddin',

Sheriff? I want you die slow." Jim turned on his heel and walked back to where Yankee lay, Linda Harder beside him.

(end of Chapter 47)

Cordell Walker and Amigo streaked after the fleeing Brett Kendall and Ed Hastings. Their horses, while speedy, could not match Amigo for quickness or

stamina.

As Walker rode up on Brett Kendall, the outlaw Bar H foreman turned in his saddle, snapping off a shot at the big Ranger. The slug sailed over Walker's head.

Walker, returning Kendall's shot, sent his heavy .45 slug tearing into Kendall's ribs, ripping through him, side to side. Kendall's mouth gaped, and he slid sideways from his saddle. Kendall's left foot caught in his stirrup, and his Appaloosa panicked at the burden dragging along the ground. The horse took off at a dead run, the lifeless body of its rider beating against the rocks and soil.

Ed Hastings was flattened over his black's neck, whipping the horse mercilessly. However, the animal was all out, and Amigo quickly overtook it. Pulling alongside, Walker leaped form his saddle, knocking Hastings off his mount, both men rolling along the ground.

Walker leaped up, as Hastings, fury and hatred in his scowl, charged the Ranger. Hastings buried his head in Walker's stomach, driving the big man back to the

ground. Using Hastings' momentum, Walker flipped the outlaw banker over his head, Hastings landing on his back. Walker got to his knees. "Hastings, it's over;

you're under arrest."

"Never ,Ranger, Never." With those words, Hastings dove at Walker again. Walker sidestepped, his quick jab landing on Hastings's left ear, sending the man tumbling over an embankment.

Walker dove after Hastings, just as the outlaw pulled a hidden Colt out of his waistband. The Ranger twisted in midair, Hastings' bullet smashing into his

shoulder. Walker landed on top of the enraged, defeated owlhoot.

As Hastings brought up his gun again, Walker grabbed his wrist. Slowly, the Ranger forced the gun back on its owner. With a last curse of rage, Hastings attempted to force the gun against Walker's ribs.   Walker gave a last twist, and the gun fired. A last flame of rage and hate flashed through Hastings's eyes, as he settled on his back, shot through the chest. Then, his muscles tensed, he shuddered, and he collapsed back, eyes wide open and glazing.

Cordell Walker, holding his wounded shoulder, stood up, turned away, and headed back for his partner and Linda Harder.

(end of Chapter 48)

Cordell Walker, leaving the body of Ed Hastings in the gully where the outlaw died, returned to the arroyo where the rest of the newly freed group awaited.

He spotted Ezra Moncton first. The elderly rancher had been rolled over on his belly, while Doc Samuelson and his wife worked on the bullet wound in Moncton's

back. Walker quickly removed his medical kit from Amigo's saddlebag, passing it to the doctor. No one needed to ask what had become of Brett Kendall or Ed Hastings.

"Ezra, glad to see you up; thought you were done for", Walker remarked.

"He'll be fine, Walker" Josie added.

"Walker, takes more'n one slug to finish me off", the old rancher laughed, flashing the Ranger a toothless grin.

"Where's Jim, and Linda?" Walker inquired.

"Over there" Doc Samuelson replied, glumly, indicating by a nod of his head the pair's location.

(end of Chapter 49, Part one)

Jim and Linda were on the other side of a slight rise, where Yankee had fallen.

Jim was sitting on the ground, Yankee's head cradled in his lap. Linda had her arm around Jim's shoulders, which were shaking, Jim's body wracked with sobs. The

tall Ranger was bent over his equine partner. The knife wound in Jim's bare back had reopened, his blood running down his ribs, dripping on the horse's face,

running down Yankee's neck to mix with the horse's blood, which was spurting copiously from the bullet hole in Yank's shoulder.

Nearby, Sheriff Mike Jones was still doubled up in agony, moaning, Jim's two bullets--payment for what the sheriff did to Jim and Yankee--in his gut.

As Walker approached, he could hear Yankee nickering softly to his human friend. Jim, with a piece of Linda Harder's blouse, was trying in vain to stop the flow

of life-blood draining his horse's strength.

Walker approached, looked at Yankee and Jim, and softly, kindly, almost in a whisper, spoke to Jim. "Pard, Yankee's dyin'. He saved all our lives.  Now,

since he did that for us, Jim, we have to be kind to him. You don't want him to suffer." “You CAN’T let him  suffer like this.” Jim looked up at

Walker, a blank expression on his face, tears streaming down his cheeks. Walker, numb, turned and picked up a Winchester from the ground. He then approached Jim and Yankee, taking Jim gently by the arm, intending to lead his partner away, so he wouldn't witness what Walker knew had to be done.

As Walker pulled on Jim's arm, his partner turned, lifting the Colt he had in his right hand. Pointing it at Walker, Jim screamed, in agony. "Walker, touch my

horse, and I'll drop you, right where you stand."

Walker backed away, knowing Jim was out of his mind with grief. "Jim, he's dyin'...look at that blood...look in Yank's eyes. Jim, please, let me do the right thing."

Jim rose, slightly, Yankee's head still in his lap. Pointing the pistol at his partner, he shouted, "Walker, GET OUTTA HERE....NOW!!" Walker retreated, followed by Linda Harder.

(end of Chapter 49, Part 2)

As Walker and Linda approached Ezra, Doc Samuelson,  and Josie, the physician asked Walker, "Ranger, what's goin' on over there?"

"Doc, Jim's horse is dyin' and he's out of his mind with grief. He thinks the world of that animal."

Linda added, "Doc, the wound in Jim's back is open again, too. I'm afraid he'll bleed to death.  But, he's only worried about that horse, and half out of his mind, he's hurtin' so bad.  He pulled a gun on Walker, here, when Walker wanted to end Yankee's suffering."

Josie Samuelson was in tears, listening to the conversation, feeling Jim's pain. She turned to her husband, "Martin, please go see what you can do. That horse--and Walker's--saved all of us. If he's got a chance, you've got to try and save him, for us and Jim."

Ezra Moncton had been patched up. He joined the others, as they headed back to Jim and Yankee.

(End of Chapter 50, Part 1)

Carefully, knowing Jim's emotions were on a hair trigger, Doc Samuelson approached the Ranger and his cayuse. He knelt beside the animal, not able to look

at Jim's face. Then, he stood up, and walked back to where the rest were standing.

"No good: that slug's in too deep, and that hoss is bleedin' too fast. I can't do a thing."

Josie and Linda hugged each other, crying. Walker started to pick up the Winchester again, intending to force Jim away from Yankee, so he could stop the

horse's pain.

Almost unnoticed, Ezra Moncton approached Yankee and Jim. He knelt beside the horse, stroking him gently, examining the wound, speaking softly to the gelding.

Jim looked up, his eyes meeting the old rancher's.  Something in the depths of those elderly, gray eyes gave Jim hope. Wordlessly, Ezra nodded to Jim, and

headed back to Walker.

The big Ranger was headed toward his partner, Winchester in hand. Moncton knocked the rifle aside. "Ranger, I can save that cayuse. My bronc's on the

bluff, tied to a mesquite bush there. Get him for me, quick."

Walker, not daring to hope, dashed to Amigo, spurring the tired Paint into one more gallop. He quickly located Ezra's grulla, and led the horse at a dead run

back to the arroyo.

The old rancher leaped for his saddlebag, and extracted a bottle of greenish liquid. He rushed back to Jim and Yank, lifting the bottle for Jim to inspect. The tall Ranger just nodded. Ezra opened the bottle, pouring half its contents on the hole in Yankee's shoulder. The Paint gave a squeal of agony, then leaped to his feet, shuddering, staggering, standing weakly, but standing. Jim scrambled to stand,

hugging his equine partner, kissing his muzzle.

Moncton yelled to Doc Samuelson. "Doc, get over here, and dig that slug out of this bronc, NOW!!!" The physician was astounded, for the horse's bleeding had

almost stopped. He probed for the slug, and quickly found it. Then, Ezra Moncton poured more of the green fluid over Yankee's wound, then had Doc bandage it.

Yank screamed with the pain of the burning liquid,  and was prancing from the burning, but the life was coming back in his eyes.

Walker, Josie, and Linda were overcome with emotion. Finally, they approached Ezra and Doc.

"The old Apache remedy...the one you used on me, right, Ezra?"

"Right you are, Walker; not the first time I've used it on a bullet-punctured bronc."

"If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it", was all Doc Samuelson could utter.

Jim, leading Yankee, who was staggering, but definitely going to recover, headed to the rest. He had to pass the still-breathing sheriff, Mike Jones. Gazing at the

dying man, feeling no pity for the hombre who had tried to kill him, and deliberately shot his horse, Jim bent over the crooked lawman. He pulled Jones's

blood-soaked hands away from the two bullet holes Jim had put in Jones' gut. There was a final gush of blood, and the sheriff shuddered, convulsed, and died.

Jim walked silently away.

Walker turned to Ezra, Josie, and the Doctor.  "I'll go pick up Hastings and Kendall. Can you load the rest of these hombres on their hosses?  Then, we'll head

back to town."

(end of Chapter 50, Part 2)

The trip back to Rankin was slow, as the entire group had been exhausted by their ordeal. In addition, Jim had to walk, leading Yankee, as the Paint was too weakened by his wound to be ridden. Walker had offered to let Jim ride double on Amigo, but his partner refused, not willing to leave his horse’s side.

Before they left the arroyo, Doc Samuelson had patched up Jim's back and Walker's shoulder, as best he could. When they arrived back in town, the

physician tended to their wounds thoroughly. He also tended to Yankee.

With the injuries to men and horse, Walker and Jim were forced to remain in Rankin for several days, recuperating, as was Ezra Moncton. Walker dared not

send a telegram about the demise of the Hastings gang to Headquarters in Austin, for he did not know if the identity of the turncoat at Headquarters had been

discovered. He was sure now it wasn't Capt. McGuire or Lt. Hemmings, at least if Alex had been able to reach the officers. If she had, and one of them were on

Hastings's payroll, Walker was sure he and Jim would be dead by now. As it was, the ending at Rankin was too close for comfort.

Walker contented himself with sending a duplicitous wire to Austin, stating he and Jim were still in pursuit of the outlaws terrorizing Rankin and Upton counties.

The two Rangers, Ezra, Doc Samuelson, Josie, and Linda Harder were having lunch at the Cattlemen's Hotel, out side on the patio. Walker, turning to Jim, puzzling over the incident in the arroyo since it happened, finally asked. "Griffin, how in H*** did you get those hosses to go after Hastings and his kid?"

Jim, grinning ear to ear, knowing his partner was frustrated when he addressed Jim as "Griffin" just answered, mischievously. "Walker, I TOLD you I speak

fluent hoss. You just have to talk to 'em, that's all." He looked in the direction of Yankee and Amigo, tied to the hitch rail outside next to their table.   Both horses tossed their heads and whinnied agreement.  Jim continued, "Ezra understands, don't you, Ezra?"

"Sure do, Son." The old rancher and the young Ranger had formed an unshakable bond, since the day Ezra saved Yankee's life. "Man can communicate proper with

a hoss, he's a good man, you betcha."

Linda, smiling, just looked at Cordell. "You asked for that, you know that, Walker." The big Ranger just grinned, sheepishly.

Finally, the day came when the Ranger pair and their horses were ready to travel. They had a final breakfast with Linda, Ezra, and Doc and Josie. As they left, Linda hugged both Rangers gratefully, kissing them gently on their cheeks. "Walker, Jim, I'll always be grateful to you both for saving my stage line.  Anytime you're out this way, remember, you've got free passage for the rest of your lives on Virago's

Express."

Josie kissed Jim farewell gently, then, turning to Walker, she placed her arms around his shoulders, pulling his lips to hers. Kissing him with a demure

passion, she whispered, "Cordell, that's for old times' sake."

Shaking hands with Doc and Ezra, the two lawmen mounted their broncs, heading east to San Angelo. The trestle over Hawkin's Gulch had been repaired, and

trains were running again between San Angelo and Austin. To the pair of exhausted Rangers, this was the best possible news.

(end of Chapter 51)

Capt. Bill McGuire was looking out his window at Ranger Headquarters in Austin. Suddenly, he let out a low whistle, then quickly summoned his chief aide, Lt. Bob Hemmings. "Bob, get in here, QUICK, and tell me I'm not seein' things, or losin' my mind."

Hurrying to comply, Hemmings darted into the Captain's office, following McGuire's gaze.

Hemmings gasped in astonishment, then turned to his commander. "No, Cap, you're not." The pair was following the approach of two very battered Texas Rangers. They could see Cordell Walker's right arm tied up in a sling, and Jim Griffin was slumped in pain in the saddle. There was a bandage on Jim's mount's shoulder, with dried blood encrusted on the horse's coat. 

Lt. Hemmings and Capt. McGuire watched as the pair slowly, deliberately turned their horses away from the Ranger stable, heading to the livery down the block.

The did not spot Walker or Jim again, until the two Rangers, having entered Headquarters through the back door, walked into the Captain's office.

(end of Chapter 52)

Walker and Jim, with tired salutes to the officers, sunk  wearily into chairs.  Capt. McGuire, excited, not having heard from two of his best men, could not wait to question them.

Cordell Walker quickly halted his Captain.  "No disrespect, Sir, but, Jim and I decided on our way back not to let anyone know what happened, until we

are positive about something."

Capt. McGuire, smiling, responded, "Cordell, I know what your question is. Yes, your wife did reach me. And yes, we got your word there's a black hearted traitor here at Headquarters."

Cordell Walker let out a sigh of relief.

Jim broke in, "Who, Cap; who's the sidewinder that sent Elm, Josh, and Perry to be murdered?'

In response, Bill McGuire turned to his Lieutenant, Bob Hemmings. "Bob, please have Steve Gibbs brought in here." Then, turning to Walker and Jim, he ordered,

"Cordell, Jim, I'd like you to hide in my back office. You'll hear my cue for you both to come back in here."

(end of Chapter 53, Part one)

Steve Gibbs had been a sergeant in the Texas Rangers for over five years. He was a likable young man, in his late 20s, tall and thin, with wavy brown hair and

quick brown eyes.  Gibbs was the best code expert on the force.

As Sgt. Gibbs entered the room, Capt. McGuire greeted him, cordially. Then, the Captain's face grew somber.  "Steve, we're had more bad news from Rankin. Pausing for effect, the Captain continued. "You don't know this, but Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin were sent there, to try and get a handle on that situation, after Lem Tucker was dry-gulched. I got a wire today that both of them are dead, killed in a stage holdup."

Capt. McGuire and Lt. Hemmings watched closely, as conflicting emotions showed in Gibbs' eyes. The sergeant gulped, strain showing.  Finally, he stammered, "That's awful, Captain, I'd like to volunteer to head to Rankin."

Captain McGuire responded, "Steve, I am ordering two more men to Rankin. I want you to see who I'm sending."

On that cue, Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin entered Capt, McGuire's front office.  Sgt. Steve Gibbs gasped, turned white, and turned to bolt and run, only to find his escape blocked by Lt. Hemmings and a closed door.

Voice fierce now, Capt. McGuire tore into his sergeant. "Gibbs, YOU are the traitor here at Austin. YOU sent three fine Rangers to be dry-gulched. YOU cost several other men their lives, and cost innocent citizens thousands of dollars. And all for what: a few thousand dollars? Your cronies almost killed Walker and Griffin, here. But NOW, Gibbs, THEY'RE all dead, or in jail. Hastings...his wife and kids...Kendall,

they're all in Boot Hill. That's why you haven't heard from them, lately.

"Walker got word to his wife to come see me and let me know there was a turncoat in our midst. The only telegrams you've seen for the past several weeks are

the ones we wanted you to see.

"Sgt. Steven Gibbs, I'm placing you under arrest for murder, accepting bribes, accessory to murder, accessory to armed robbery, and anything else I can come up with. Believe me, Gibbs", the Captain spat out with contempt, "it'll be a real quick trial, and you'll be stretchn’ hemp in less than a month."

Lt. Hemmings continued to block the door. Rangers Walker and Griffin stood stone-faced, unmoving, behind Capt. McGuire.

Steve Gibbs was panicked. He knew what would happen to a Texas Ranger in prison. He also knew that his fellow Rangers, the men he had betrayed, would do nothing to help him.  He made a quick decision, and reached  for the Colt at his hip.

Three Colts boomed in unison, and Capt. McGuire's office filled with gun smoke. The Captain, for the first time in years, had pulled his sidearm. Impelled by his fury at one who would betray his beloved Texas Rangers, the officer moved with a speed he thought he had long since lost. His gun roared at the same moment

as Walker's and Jim's, and Sgt. Steve Gibbs slumped to the floor, the three Rangers' bullets in his chest.  He’d saved the County the cost of his trial.

Holstering his pistol, saddened at what had transpired, Capt McGuire turned to Walker and Jim and whispered, sadly, "Good job, men", as Rangers and clerks pounded down the hall, headed for the Captain's office.

(end of Chapter 53, Part 2)

The next day, Cordell Walker and Jim Griffin had turned in their reports, and were relaxing with Capt. McGuire and Lt. Hemmings.

"Walker, Jim, glad everything turned out all right, even though it was a close call. Jim, I'm glad Yank pulled through, too...and that sheriff, Jones, got exactly what he deserved. Can't stand a skunk who'd deliberately kill a hoss. And thanks for bringing Charcoal back. I'm sure Lem's brother will be glad to have him. By the way, the Rangers will be issuing a commendation to Yankee and Amigo." Capt. McGuire was in a jovial mood, considering what had happened. However, with Steve Gibbs dead, there was no longer any fear of Rangers in the field being discovered

through Gibbs' duplicity.

Jim grinned ear to ear at that news. Walker just looked at his partner in disgust, bouncing a pencil off Jim's Stetson. "Sure, I do all the work, and the cayuses get all the credit."

"Told you Walker, you've got to let me teach you how to speak hoss." Capt. McGuire and Lt. Hemmings were just shaking their heads, laughing. Jim continued, "By the way, Walker, when you finished off Ed Hastings, did you have anythin' to say to that hombre?"

Walker, puzzled, replied in the negative. "Why, Jim?"

"Because, Walker, you should have told him, 'Hastings La Vista, Baby'!"

Walker groaned, then turned to the two officers. "You see what I've had to put up with. Well, no more; I can't handle it!!" He pulled his Colt, pointing it at Jim. "Griffin, this is for your own good, and the good of the Rangers...in fact, for the good of all Texas."

Jim doubled over, guffawing. McGuire and Hemmings didn't know what to think. Gaining some control, Jim choked out to Walker, "Pard, that gun won't work."

Walker, totally confused, just mumbled, "Why not? You deserve to die for those jokes." 

Jim had to answer, "Because, Walker, I put that gun in the meat locker, where it's freezing. Your gun is now ICED COLT!!"

"AAAUGH!!" Walker screamed. "Captain, Lieutenant, stop him, PLEASE!!"

The two officers were just roaring with laughter.

Finally, seriously, Capt. McGuire responded, "Walker, you won't have to listen to Jim's awful jokes after today. I'm putting you both on a week's leave, so you can visit your families. Then, I have orders, for both of you."

The two Rangers exchanged glances. Walker spoke first.  Clearing his throat, a tear in his eye, he said, "Cap, if it's all the same to you, me 'n' Jim would like to ride together for a while."

Capt McGuire looked at Lt. Hemmings, unbelieving. "Cordell, are you serious?"

"Absolutely, Cap. And, believe it or not, I'd really miss those jokes of Jim's."

Turning to Jim, the Capt. asked, "Is that what you'd like, Jim?"

"Sure, Cap. Someone's got to teach Walker how to lighten up a little. And, I promised Amigo I'd teach Walker how to speak hoss."

Smiling, Captain McGuire and Lt. Hemmings shook both Rangers' hands. "It's settled, then. Both of you get on out of here. Alex and Marcy and your kids are

waitin' for you two. I'll see you back here in a week."

As they watched the two Rangers rode away from Headquarters, Capt McGuire turned to his aide. "Bob, that worked out just like we planned." 

Lt. Hemmings one-line response was, "There's no help for the outlaws of the Lone Star State, with that pair on the trail." THE END

This story is dedicated to the memory of Amigo, Walker's horse during the first seasons of Walker,  Texas Ranger, and to the memory of my Paint, Sonny Goes Sizzlin' (Sizzle) who was very much like Amigo, and who, like Amigo, died too young. The story is also dedicated to my Paint, Yankee, who performs many of the tricks mentioned in this narrative.

THE USUAL LEGAL DISCLAIMERS...

(And Denise and Irish warned Jim about the puns, LOL!)