Russell’s Return

By: Jim Griffin,  keeneyanke@yahoo.com

Texas Ranger Cordell Walker and Alex Cahill Walker had been married for just over two years.  Cordell had adopted Alex's son, Bobby.  Bobby's natural father, Tom Cahill, had been killed four years earlier, the victim of a robbery that led to his murder in San Antonio.

Walker and his big Paint gelding, Amigo, had been on an assignment in southeast Texas, in the Big Thicket Territory.  If there was any section of the Lone Star State that Walker disliked, it was the Big Thicket, with its swamps and bogs, brambles, creeks, and bayous.  Finally, the smuggling gang the Ranger had been assigned to round up had been captured, and Walker and his bronc were on their way home.  After three months, it would be good to see the ranch and family again.

Man and horse were tired, dusty, and just plain in need of a rest. "Be good to see home, again, hoss", the big Ranger spoke to his cayuse, cheerfully. "I bet you'd like to visit with Sunny and Teddy again, too."

Sunny was the Paint Walker had given his adopted son, Bobby, and Teddy was the old brown farm horse.  Amigo snorted, and tossed his head in reply.

"Bobby'll  be at the gate to meet us, like always." The now 11-year-old had a sixth sense about when his Dad would return from a mission, and invariably was waiting for Walker, pretending, as always, to outdraw

his Dad and shoot him down as Walker reined up at the gate.  Walker always let the boy win that game.

At last, the ranch was in sight.  This time, though, there was no sign of Bobby at the gate. "Humph", Walker thought to himself, "It's a hot day; he's probably at the swimmin' hole."

As the Ranger trotted into the yard, a feeling of something amiss came over him.  He realized that Sunny and Teddy were in their corrals, pacing and whinnying frantically.  In addition, Alex, Walker's wife, had

not emerged on the porch to greet him.  Walker called for wife and son, but received no answer.

As Walker dismounted and led Amigo into the corral, he realized why the horses were so distressed.  They had not been watered for some time.  Fighting his growing fear, Walker spoke soothingly to Sunny and

Teddy.  Forcing himself to care for the thirsty animals first, he quickly unsaddled Amigo, turning him loose to roll in the dust, then filled the empty stock tank.  Sunny and Teddy drank thirstily.

Walker knew something was terribly  wrong.  Bobby and Alex would never neglect their animals, Bobby especially.  The big Ranger rushed into the house calling out for wife and son.  Stony silence was the

only reply.

Hoof beats, approaching fast, caught Walker's attention.  He steeped back out on the porch, to see Sheriff James Trivette pounding into the yard on his rangy chestnut, Santana.  Trivette, espying Walker,

jumped off the still running cayuse, rushing up to the

Ranger. (end of Chapter One)

"Walker, I wanted to get here before you", called out Trivette, breathlessly.

Walker knew now something was wrong. 

"Jimmy, where's my wife and kid?"

"Walker, that's why I'm here.  Did you know Pete Russell was paroled?"

Walker whistled sharply. "Pete Russell- who the blazes let him out'?  Pete Russell had led a notorious gang of bank robbers.  Walker had captured his gang at Sweetwater, Texas, as they attempted to rob the

Farmers and Ranchers Bank.

"Parole Board in Huntsville" Trivette replied. 

"Anyway, you know he vowed to get even with you, no matter what- Walker, he's got Alex and Bobby."

Walker gasped for a moment, then his jaw hardened.

"Trivette, any idea where they are.?

"Not yet, Walker, Here, read this"

Trivette handed the big Ranger a note.

"Walker, we have your wife and kid.  Instructions will follow in three days. If you don't follow our orders exactly, you'll never see them again."

Walker looked grimly at Trivette. "If they are sending more instructions in three days, someone knows my movements.  How did they know when I'd get home?"

"Walker, they sent a wire to Ranger headquarters, too.  Capt. McGuire sent these instructions to you."

Trivette handed Walker the yellow Western Union form. Walker as he read, crushed the paper in his hard fist. Cap McGuire had ordered. "Walker, you are too close to this case- it involves your family.  Orders are do nothing except preliminary investigation.,  Ranger Mark French en route to Bandera to take charge.  Until French arrives, Sheriff Trivette of Bandera County is to handle the case"

Face grim, Walker snapped. "Trivette, if you think I'm staying out of this, you're crazy, and so is Capt. McGuire."

Walker started to stride toward Amigo.  His only thought was to start the search for his family.

"Walker, wait! Where are you headed?"  Trivette cried. "I know where

Russell will be" yelled the Ranger.

Trivette tried to block Walker's path. "Out of my way, Sheriff," Walker muttered.  Then, half out of his mind with anger, the Ranger swung his fist, smashing the Sheriff in the mouth, spinning the hapless lawman and friend into the dirt.

Trivette, stunned, knew he had to stop Walker somehow.  He yanked his Colt, and shot a round over Walker's head.  The Ranger spun, pulling his Colt, but found himself staring into the black muzzle of the sheriff's weapon.

"Walker, think- you DON'T know where Russell is, or how many gunslingers he's recruited.  You're a Ranger- you know better than to go off half-cocked.  Now, we can look for clues here- meantime, why don't we plan on what happens when the instructions DO come."

Grudgingly, Walker admitted the sheriff was right. Russell might not be in any of his old haunts.

"OK, Trivette, you win, for now. Let's check over what little we have.  Come in the house, and I'll try and rustle up some grub while we palaver."

Both lawmen replaced their pistols in their holsters.

As Trivette stood up, rubbing his jaw, Walker apologized. "Sorry, Jimmy- I wasn't thinking."

"That's OK, Walker,” the sheriff replied. "Please, do me one favor, though- don't ever hit me when you ARE thinking."

The two men settled their horses into the corral and entered the Cahill ranch house,  minds already racing to plan the rescue of Alex, Bobby. (end of Chapter 2)

Alex Cahill Walker was working at a chore she hated, beating the rugs from the cabin.  However, on this fine, bright Texas day, she was singing happily to herself as she took the metal paddle to the rugs. She had received a telegram from Cord, telling her he was on his way home, and would be arriving within the week.

As Alex let her thoughts drift to the happy reunion coming up, she also listened with happiness to the sounds of her son, Bobby, at play in the front yard with his best friend, Tommy Jackson. Tommy's family had a ranch down the road toward Bandera.

"Bang!  Gotcha!  You no-good lawman, right in your belly!" she heard Tommy holler.

Then, she heard Bobby, "Yeah, ya got me, ya no-good rustler, but ya just killed a Ranger. Now, there's nowhere in Texas for ya to hide." Alex had to smile, although there was always a touch of fear when she heard Bobby playing his favorite game...fear for her husband, a real Texas Ranger. Bobby always had to play the lawman, imitating his step dad Cordell.  She knew that someday Bobby would follow in Cord's footsteps. 

As she went back to her rugs, she heard the sounds of the boys again. "Blam. Blam. Blam! That'll teach you to shoot down a Ranger!" from Bobby, followed by an "AAUUGGHH, ya got me" from Tommy.

"Bobby always wins, " Alex thought to herself.

Alex didn't notice when the boys grew quiet, for they were observing five strangers on horseback approach the Cahill ranch. (end of Chapter 3, Part 1)

The leader of the group was a big man, well over six feet. He was

brown-eyed, with thick black hair, and was mounted on a magnificent buckskin. Riding up to the gate, he addressed Bobby and Tommy. "Howdy, boys, looks like your havin' fun." To Bobby, he said "So, kid, I see you're a Ranger, just like your Dad."

"You know my Dad?" Bobby asked.

"Sure, kid, known him for years.  He told me if I was ever out this way, to look him up. Is he home?"

Bobby, slightly fearful now, replied, "No, but he'll be back later."

Suddenly, the outlaw pulled his gun on Bobby. "Kid, this is no cap

pistol, and this is no game. Call your mother, NOW."  One of the others, a Mexican, jumped off his palomino, seizing Tommy.

Paralyzed with fright, Bobby called Alex. "MOM! Mom, come quick!"

As Alex dashed around to the front of the house, she was confronted by 5 armed men, one of whom had a gun pointed at her son, and another of which held her son's best friend.

"Mornin', Ms. Walker, allow me to introduce myself," the leader snarled, with an oily grin. "I'm Pete Russell, and these are my compadres. Now, we're going for a little ride, all of us. And, when your husband gets home, we'll be sure he knows where to find you. Not that it'll do him or you any good. Now, get over here, or your boy gets it."

Having no choice, Alex stumbled over to Russell. He dragged her up on his bronc, while the Mex did the same with Tommy, and a third outlaw pulled Bobby up on his dun. The group wheeled out of the Cahill yard,   leaving behind only dust. (end of Chapter 3, Part 2)

Walker and Trivette knew, after a quick search, that Pete Russell and his gang had never entered the Cahill home.  "Trivette, did you check for tracks when you got that note?" Walker asked.

"Walker, any tracks were run over and over again before we got the note."

 "$%^*&!@#$%^&*()_+" Trivette suddenly cursed.

"Walker, I totally forgot. Those gunslingers have Tommy Jackson, too, as far as we can tell.  He was over here playing with Bobby, according to his folks, and hasn't been seen since.."

Walker's jaw tightened even more, if that were indeed possible. "Trivette, there's nowhere in Texas where Russell can hide. Let's go look around outside once more."

Searching the yard, Walker spied a shiny object, almost completely hidden by dust. Digging the item out of the dirt, the Ranger realized it was his son's toy Colt.  In anger and frustration, Walker pulled his own

gun, emptying the chamber into a fencepost.

"Easy, partner".  Trivette put a steadying hand on Walker's shoulder.

"Trivette, I can't stay here...place is too empty.  When's French due?"

"He'll be in on tomorrow afternoon's train."

"Bueno. Well, let's stop by the Jackson’s.  Then, I'll stay with you in Bandera until French arrives. We can do some checking in the meantime. I want to find out HOW Russell knew when I was coming home." (end of Chapter 4)

As Walker headed toward the corral, he reluctantly decided to take Sunny, Bobby's horse, into Bandera, rather than his faithful mount, Amigo.  

Rubbing Amigo's nose, he told the big gelding, "Buddy, you're all out...rest will do you some good. I'll be back for you tomorrow; gotta feed you and Teddy, anyway."

As Walker saddled up, he told Sunny, "Don't worry, Boy, I'm bringin' Bobby back to you, no matter what!"  The Paint nickered, almost in understanding.

Arriving at the Jackson ranch, the two lawmen were greeted warmly by Hal and Betty Jackson.  Tommy was their only son, and they were frantic with worry.

"Hal, Betty, did you see ANYONE you didn't recognize go by here in the past couple of days?" Walker asked.

"No, Walker, not a soul", they both replied.

Betty added, "You know those two boys: they were always playing 'Sheriff and Outlaws'. I never thought twice about letting Tommy go over your place, or about Bobby coming here. Now, they're both GONE..."She broke down, sobbing.

Hal Jackson put his arms around his wife. "Betty, don't worry; Walker and Trivette will get our boys back." He looked pleadingly at the two lawmen with this statement.

Walker grimly replied, "Hal, Betty...that's EXACTLY what we'll do...and we'll do it if we have to chase those jiggers to Hell and gone!"

Making their farewells, Trivette and Walker spurred their mounts toward Bandera. (end of Chapter 5)

It was late when Walker and Trivette arrived back in town. The pair headed straight for C.D.'s saloon.

"Walker, glad you're back!" the big saloonkeeper yelled. "If anyone can get those kidnappers, you can!" Now, if I were you, first place I'd start is the  telegraph office."

"C.D., bring us some sandwiches and chili." Trivette demanded.

"Doggone it, Jimmy, don't you think of anything but your stomach? I'm tryin' to tell you two somethin' important here."

"OK, C.D., I'll bite (and not the sandwich)", replied Walker. "What's so important at the telegraph office?"

"Pop Tate retired, and I don't like the looks of the new operator: he's a shiftless skunk, if you ask me."

Walker glared at Trivette. "Jimmy, why didn't you tell me this?"

"Walker, you read Capt. McGuire's orders. I'm in charge until Ranger French gets here, not you. I can't have you goin' in the Western Union office and poundin' some hombre into the ground who may have

nothin' to do with this."  Trivette backed up as Walker advanced toward him.

"Trivette, you hold anythin' out on me again, and I mean ANYTHIN', and you'll be eatin' your chili through a straw. Now, I'm headed for the Western Union."

C.D.'s booming voice stopped Walker. "Cordell, you can't. Office is closed until tomorrow."

"Thanks, C.D. Can I spend the night here? I was going to stay at the jail with Trivette, but I don't know as I can trust him; might lock me up."

"Sure, Cordell, and first thing in the mornin' you 'n' I'll go to the Western Union", C.D. replied.

Trivette had taken all he could stand. "Walker, I'm sorry; I wasn't thinking straight. I'm as worried about Alex and the two boys as you are. C'mon, Walker, you know that we need to work together on this one. I just don't want to see you lose your badge, or worse, lose your  head and get Alex and the boys killed.  Now, c'mon, let's put this behind us.  And, there's someone I want you to meet in the morning.  She may be able to help us."

The big Ranger replied, "Trivette, you're right...but I hope I can trust you.  Now, if you're POSITIVE you're not holding anything out on me, I'll accept your apology."

"Walker, I'm not, and tomorrow morning, we'll go to the telegraph office together. Don't forget: Ranger French will be here on the afternoon express, and the instructions from the kidnappers are due day after that. We'll get those skunks." Trivette replied,

forcefully.

"You bet we will", Walker replied. "I just can't stand waitin'; never could: you know that, Jimmy."

Turning to C.D., Walker ordered "Bring that food, C.D.; it's gonna be a long night, and a longer day tomorrow. (end of Chapter 6)

Pete Russell and his gang only kept Alex and the two boys on horseback for about a mile. The outlaws the placed the three captives in a wagon, covered with a tarp. For two days and nights the gang drove south, until they arrived in the town of Hondo, about 50 miles from Bandera.

Hondo looked like any other Texas cow town, with a dusty main street, buildings on either side trying to look more impressive than they were through the use of false fronts. However, Hondo did have one thing Pete Russell needed, and that was a brother, Jack, who was willing to provide a hideout, and a place to keep the three kidnap victims.

Rough hands yanked Alex, Bobby, and Tommy out of the wagon, leading them into a windowless room about 12 feet square.

Russell took Alex by the chin, yanking her face until she was nose  to nose with him. "Lady, you know who I am, and why I took you and your boy.  It's too bad for the other kid, but I couldn't leave a witness.  Now, while you're here, you can either be comfortable, or I can keep you here the hard way."

Alex, her only thoughts of Bobby and Tommy, answered meekly. "Russell, I'll do whatever you say...just don't hurt the boys."

"Ha, lady; don't make me laugh! You know, once I get your &^%^%&& of a Ranger husband here, I'm going to kill you all...and the best part is, I get to let him watch you three die first...and slowly."

The outlaw cruelly shoved Alex to the floor, and slammed the door behind her, locking it.

Alex gathered the two boys to her. "Are you both OK?"

Bobby answered first. "Mom, it'll be all right: Cord will get us out of here, and take care of that gang, too."

Tommy was shaking slightly with fear, but spoke up bravely. "Mrs.

Walker, don't worry about me and Bobby; we can take care of ourselves."

Alex, realizing how tired the boys must be, told them, gently, "All

right, then; now, say your prayers, and try to sleep."

As the boys settled down, Alex let her thoughts run over the situation.   She was afraid, of course, but also had confidence in the Texas Rangers.  Her main concern at the moment was for Tommy.  Her son--and Cord's stepson--Bobby, had been through the Bandera Valley range war, and had seen bloodshed, and his stepfather severely wounded, twice.  However, the Jackson’s had settled in Bandera a few months after the trouble was over, and Tommy had seen none of the violence Bobby had experienced. She was not sure how Tommy would react to their situation.

Finally, exhausted, thirsty, and hungry, Alex drifted off to a restless sleep. (end of Chapter 7)

Texas Ranger Cordell Walker and Sheriff James Trivette spent a restless night, trying to get some sleep, but failing miserably. Finally, at 6:00 AM, both officers gave it up as a bad effort.

"Walker, Western Union won't open until 7:00, so why don't we get some breakfast? There's a new restaurant open, and I'd like you to try it; would have taken you there last night, but place was closed by time we got in."

"Why not, Trivette? Working on an empty belly never did anyone any good", Walker replied.

After washing up, the two lawmen headed down the street, to a building marked with a new sign, "Mary's Place."

Entering, Walker and Cordell were greeted by the owner, a tall,

curvaceous, long-haired black woman, with a ready smile.

"Mary", Trivette introduced her to the Ranger. "This is Texas Ranger Cordell Walker. Walker, this is Mary Campbell; you've got to try her soups!"

“Pleased to meet you, Ma'am" Walker replied.

"You, also, Mr. Walker.  Trivette has told me all about you. I'm so sorry for your wife and boy." Continuing, she added, "I've been waiting for Jimmy all night...didn't see him anywhere."

"Mary, Walker and I spent the night in my office."

"Well, you got there after I went to bed, then, Honey." Walker raised an eyebrow at Trivette at that remark. "Jake Kellogg was in here last night, late for supper, and he met with an hombre I didn't recognize. Did catch the name Ed." He passed some cash to Kellogg."

Trivette turned to Walker, excited. "Walker, remember when I told you I knew someone who might help us. Well, that would be Mary.  Everyone in town eats here sooner or later. Anyway, Jake Kellogg is the new Western Union operator. And I'll bet you dollars to donuts that this Ed jasper is connected to Russell somehow. I'll bet he passed your wire to Alex along to his boss."

"Trivette, you're probably right. That would explain a couple of things: how Russell knew my movements, and how he can send wires without being traced. This Kellogg can forge the locations."

Turning to the restaurant owner, he asker her, "Mary, I'm grateful to you.  Can you describe this Ed?"

"Well, Ranger, he looked like any other driftin' rider, dress-wise.  He was about 32, 5-foot-eight, long dirty blonde hair, gray eyes, rode a strawberry roan."

Walker looked at her, amazed. "Mary, are you sure you're not a Pinkerton detective?!"

"Positive, Walker, just a snoop. Not much gets by my eyes and ears. Now, how about some breakfast?"

"Sure, Mary, ham and eggs, hotcakes, and coffee."

Turning to the sheriff, Mary Campbell smiled at Trivette. "I know what you want, Honey: a big bowl of oatmeal, with some bubblin' brown sugar!!!"

Walker kicked Trivette's leg, and grinned at his friend.   If a blush could be seen on a black man, Trivette's face would have been beet red.   It was obvious that food was not the Sheriff's only interest in "Mary's Place."

Finally, the clock on the wall of the restaurant chimed seven times.  Grim-faced, Walker growled to Trivette, "Time to visit Jake Kellogg." (end of Chapter 8)

"Mary, the meal was delicious, and I appreciate your help", Walker told the restaurant owner, as he and Trivette rose to leave. 

"Thank you, Ranger...and you can be sure I'll keep my eyes and ears open; I can get information to Jimmy, ANYTIME!!!"

Striding toward the Western Union, Walker confronted Trivette, "All right, what's that all about?"

"Walker, we're just good friends, and I like her cookin', that's all", Trivette retorted, not quite able to look Walker straight in the eyes. 

"Uh Huh", Walker responded. "That's all we need here: a sheriff

moon-eyed over a woman, and two snoops.  Between C.D. and your friend Mary, there will be no secrets safe in this town."

Quickly changing the subject, Trivette asked, "How we gonna handle Kellogg?"

"Trivette, I want him right where he is, FOR NOW. I'll just ask him a few general questions, just to feel him out. When I am ready--if he did have anything to do with Alex's and Bobby's kidnapping--he'll swing."

The two lawmen had reached the Western Union.  Entering, Trivette introduced Walker to Jake Kellogg. Kellogg was a short, 40-ish man, with thinning brown hairs. His pale brown eyes never seemed to stop moving.

"What can I do for you, Ranger?" Kellogg asked, with hostility dripping from his voice.

"Just a couple of questions, Kellogg. Has anyone been hanging around the office, maybe tryin' to get a look at the messages?"

"Sorry, Ranger, no strangers been here."

"Well, Kellogg, someone has been getting messages off about my

whereabouts...and you know about what happened to my family and the Jackson boy.   Now, you know there's a wire due in here tomorrow about where they are.  I want that message muy pronto...and make sure no one else sees it."

"Don't worry, Ranger: Jake Kellogg knows the Western Union regulations", the telegrapher replied, not hiding the sarcasm in his voice.

"Let's go, Trivette." As Walker started out the door, he turned back to Kellogg. "I hear that Western Union operators can make good money on the side." Kellogg jumped in his chair at that statement, face flushed with rage. Walker slammed the door on his way out.

"Well, Trivette, Nothing to do now but wait for Mark French, and the wire tomorrow. "##%%, I hate waiting like this, but we're at a dead end."

(end of Chapter 9, Part 1)

At about 2:00 that afternoon, Texas Ranger Mark French arrived at the sheriff's office in Bandera. "Howdy, Walker", he greeted his fellow Ranger. French was a compact, wiry individual, with wavy auburn hair and hazel eyes.  He was mounted on a blue roan gelding.

"Glad to see you here, Mark." Walker had worked with French on a case previously, when they were both in their early years as Rangers. "Meet Sheriff Jimmy Trivette."

Shaking the local lawman's hand warmly, French replied, "Glad to meet you, Sheriff."

"Same here, Ranger."

"Walker, Trivette, I'm hungry and thirsty, and Steeldust there is in need of a feed and rubdown. But, that can wait...I want to go over everything you both know."

"Bueno, Mark--but the livery's right there--why not turn your bronc over to Miguel, and then we'll palaver."

Ranger French quickly deposited his mount at the livery. Settling into a chair in Trivette's office, he retched gratefully. "Man, I hate train trips...rather ride my bronc any day." Then, turning to Walker, with a broad smile on his face, he stated, "Walker, you know I've been placed in charge of this case by Cap McGuire. I know you've been told to stay out of it, because it's your wife and kid that's been taken.  Now, you and I both know that you'll never stay off this case. So, let's just SAY that I'm in charge, for the record...but off the record, we're partners on this one."

Walker jumped up, slapping French happily on the back. "Thanks, Mark; appreciate that, more than you'll ever know."

"Well, then, lets' go over everything you and Trivette have got..."

The trio of lawmen spent most of the afternoon discussing the facts as known, about the kidnapping of Alex and Bobby Walker, and Bobby's friend, Tommy Jackson. After lunch at C.D.'s, Walker asked French to join him. Walker was returning to the ranch, to feed Amigo and Teddy. He had decided to bring Amigo back to town, in case he needed his mount for action.  He had also decided to bring Teddy and Sunny to the livery, until Alex and Bobby were home. Since Steeldust, French's horse, was in need of rest, Trivette graciously loaned Santana to French for the trip to the Cahill ranch.

On the way, they stopped at the Jackson’s', informing them of the progress in the case, and introducing them to Ranger French. Leaving, French remarked, "I can't have any mercy for low-down coyotes who would hurt a kid." Walker just nodded gravely in agreement.

That evening, after taking the horses to the livery, French and Walker returned to the sheriff's office. At first, there was no sign of Trivette.  There was, however, a considerable amount of thumping and rustling sounds from the cells. Finally, Trivette emerged, tucking his shirttail back in, a handcuff on one wrist. Spotting Walker, he shouted, "*^%&, it, Cordell, don't you ever knock?"

Walker, trying not to laugh, didn't dare look at French, who was ready to split his sides. "Didn't think I'd have to, Sheriff. Who's your prisoner?"

In answer, Mary Campbell appeared at the cell block door. "Sheriff", she stated, recovering nicely, "you can just return the tray your supper's on tomorrow."

As she left, the two Rangers exploded with laughter. Trivette tossed some crumpled wanted posters in their direction, muttering various imprecations.

Finally, the three officers settled in for the night, awaiting the next day's fateful telegram from Pete Russell. (end of Chapter 9, Part 2)

After breakfast at Mary's Place, the three lawmen planted themselves at the Western Union office. C.D. Parker joined them. Finally, about 10:30, the receiver clicked to life.

Walker had some knowledge of Morse Code, and tried to interpret the clattering key, but could not keep up.

When Kellogg finished writing, Walker snatched the yellow form out of the clerk's hand.

"Walker, you know I have your wife and kid, and another kid. I also know Ranger Mark French is with you. Now, I'm not going to tell you to come alone. The more tin-stars, especially Rangers, I can kill, the better.   I have them in Hondo. You have to be there in two days' time, or you'll get your happy family back in a box. I'll wire instructions to the sheriff in Hondo. Better get ridin'. Pete Russell."

French, Trivette, and C.D. had been reading the message over Walker's shoulder. "$$^%&", muttered French, "Hondo's over 50 miles from here- it'll be a hard ride. We'd better get started."

"Walker, French, I'm comin' with you", Trivette added.

"Sorry, Sheriff, but you can't", French responded. "Hondo's out of your jurisdiction; besides, we need a lawman here, in case of trouble on this end."

C.D. pitched in, "Ranger's right, Jimmy...unless you want to make me a deputy."

"No way C.D., I count on you for information. Pin a Deputy star on you, and everyone'll clam up at your place!" was Trivette's response.

Walker grabbed Jake Kellogg by the shirt front. "Kellogg, I know you're in on this, and to make sure you stay put, you'll be taking some time in the Bandera jail."

Defiantly, Kellogg snarled, "What charges, Ranger?"

"Well, we could go with obstructing justice, but for now, I'm putting you in protective custody."

As Kellogg was being led across the street to the jail, a rifle shot

rang out. The telegrapher bent backwards like a bow, then crashed facedown in the street, blood darkening the back of his shirt. Except for a few twitches, he never moved again.

Whirling, the Rangers, C.D., and Trivette saw nothing.

A search proved fruitless. Mary Campbell, emerging from her restaurant, informed the lawmen, "I saw that Ed character a few minutes before the shot, headed to the alley behind the Western Union."

"Well, compadres, looks like Kellogg knew a little too much, and had outlived his usefulness to Russell. Nothin' to do now but get him to Doc Evans' back room", Trivette stated, flatly. Doc Evans doubled as the coroner and undertaker.

Face set, Walker retorted, "You do that, Trivette. C.D., and some of these people gatherin', can help."

Turning to French, the big Ranger yelled, "LET'S RIDE!!!" (end of

Chapter 10)

Jack Hardisty was the youngest member of Pete Russell's band. He was a slim lad, tow-headed, with clear blue eyes, and a cheerful personality. He had been placed in charge of caring for Alex and the boys, bringing their meals, letting them out for necessary duties. Alex couldn't understand why he had thrown in with Pete Russell and his cronies.

"Have no choice, Ms. Walker", was his only response to her question about why he had joined up with Russell and his vicious henchmen.

The third day the trio of victims were held captive in Hondo, Mel Cooper entered the prisoners' room. He was a swarthy individual, not bad-looking, but unkempt. He approached Alex, leering. "Ms. Walker, you look bored...and I know your man's away a lot. Now, let's have some fun, just you and me."

Alex slapped the man, viciously. Enflamed to rage, he grabbed her, forcing her to the floor. Bobby and Tommy, attempting to stop the attack, jumped on his back, hitting, scratching, and kicking. Their efforts were to no avail. Cooper rolled over, and knocked both boys across the room with a slap of his big hand. Then, he again grabbed Alex, who had screamed loudly.

The door burst open, and a Colt roared, the slug whizzing just over

Cooper, burying itself in the wall. Holding the still-smoking pistol was Jack Hardisty. "Cooper, you try that again, and I'll kill you on the spot!" Hardisty growled. As Cooper started to get in position to yank his Colt, Pete Russell and the rest of the gang appeared behind Hardisty. 

Russell snarled at Cooper. "Cooper, get out of here. Hardisty's right: that woman is off-limits, at least until her husband shows up. Try that again, and I'll let Hardisty plug you."

Cooper slunk away followed by the rest of the gang, except Hardisty. 

"Are you all right,  Mrs. Walker?" he asked her kindly. Alex had a bruise on her left cheek, but was otherwise OK.

"I'm fine, Jack; please check on the boys."

Bobby and Tommy had bounced back from the blow by Cooper. "I'm OK, Mr. Hardisty", Bobby replied.

Tommy piped up "I'm OK, too."

"Thank you for saving me from that brute", Alex told him, kindly.

"Don't worry, Ma'am; he won't come near you again; I'll see to that."  (End Chapter 11).

The next evening, the day before Walker and French arrived in Hondo, Jack Hardisty entered Alex's and the boys' room. Putting his fingers to his lips, he indicated "Sssh", then motioned the trio to his side.

"Ms. Walker, boys, I'm gettin' you out of here. We have to be real quiet. About 1/2 mile through the chaparral, I've got the wagon hidden.  There's enough distance that no one will hear you drive away. Head for the sheriff's in Hondo."

Alex just smiled gratefully. "Jack, come with us; I'll tell the Rangers how you helped us."

A sad smile crossed the young desperado's face. "No can do, Ms. Walker.  Now, let's get movin'."

As Alex, Bobby, and Tommy started for the door, following Hardisty, it burst open, to reveal Pete Russell and Mel Cooper. "See, Pete, told you Jack wasn't with us" Cooper crowed, triumphantly.

"Pete! I can explain..." Hardisty cried.

"No explainin' needed, Jack", Russell retorted. With that, the outlaw leader dropped the hammer on his .45. The heavy slug ripped into Hardisty's belly. The impact slammed the young outlaw against the back wall, where he slid slowly to the floor, ending in a sitting position.

"Now, Mrs. Cordell Walker, I'm going to leave your friend there with you for tonight...let that be an example of what'll happen to your boy if you try leavin' here again." Russell slammed the door shut, locking the bolt.

Tommy and Bobby had retreated to a corner of the room, Tommy's eyes wide with fear. Bobby was also frightened, but had been through situations like this before, when Cordell Walker had first arrived at their ranch.

Alex knelt at Hardisty's side. The blonde youngster sat limp, hands at his side, blood soaking through the front of his shirt.

"Ms. Walker, please forgive me. I hope your husband and the Rangers get you back safe."  He shuddered then, blood frothing from his mouth.

"Jack, I do forgive you. You were brave to try and save us. But, Jack, I have to know: you don't seem like an outlaw. Why did you throw in with Russell?"

"I had to, Ms. Walker", Hardisty's clear blue eyes were starting to fade. "Russell's my half-brother, and took me in after my folks died ."

"Oh, Jack!" Alex cried.

"You take care, Ms Walker." Then, with a final shudder, Jack Hardisty's upper body slid sideways to the floor.

Alex turned to comfort Bobby and Tommy. (end of Chapter 12)

Rangers Mark French and Cordell Walker had punished their broncs  mercilessly, in order to reach Hondo by Russell's deadline. The pair reined up sharply in front of the Hondo sheriff's office, at 6:30 in the  morning.

"Mark, hate to leave the horses like that", Walker remarked, looking at the froth-covered, exhausted Amigo and Steeldust.

"Well, let's find the sheriff, quick, and then we'll get 'em to the

livery", French replied.

Bounding up the steps, the pair knocked on the door, then quickly

entered the office.

Sheriff Dan McNeely was one of those rare Irishmen, who had jet-black hair and deep blue eyes. He emerged from the side door, which led to the living quarters attached to the office. He had obviously just awakened at the sound of the Rangers' horses pounding up the street, for he was shirtless, wearing only jeans, socks, and his gunbelt, two heavy Colts on each hip. His right had was on the butt of the right Colt.

Seeing the Rangers' stars, he quickly relaxed.  "Howdy, boys; you must be Walker and French. Got the wire you'd  be here...didn't expect you till this afternoon, though."

"Rode all night", was Walker's quick reply. "Any word from Russell?

Not yet", McNeely replied. "Course, Western Union isn't open yet."

French broke in. "Sheriff, any sign of any strangers anywhere around here?"

"No, Ranger, and that's the queer part. I've been sheriff here for nine years, and I know everyone in this county. But, we'll get 'em, that's certain...and Walker, we'll get your wife and kid back, too, and the other boy."

A woman, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a complexion the color of new made cream, and a with compact, heart-faced beauty, emerged from the living quarters, carrying Dan's shirt and boots. "Dan, cover up, before you catch cold!"

Dan laughed,  "Terry, Irish lass, it's already 80 degrees out, and the sun's barely up."

Turning to the Rangers, he introduced them. "Walker, French, this is my wife, Terry.  Terry, these are Rangers Mark French and Cordell Walker. It's Walker's wife and boy that Russell has."

Walker and French touched their Stetson brims in salute. "Pleased to meet you, Ma'am."

Smiling, Mrs. McNeely replied, "Likewise; but, if you boys rode all night, you must be starved. I'll have breakfast ready in a jiffy."

French spoke for both Rangers. "That would be awfully fine, Mrs. McNeely."

"Oh, please, it's Terry."

"Terry, then. We'll just take our broncs to the livery, and be right back. OK with you, Walker?"

"Fine with me; can't do anything until Western Union opens, anyway.  I don't want to stumble across that gang by accident, and maybe get Alex and the boys killed by our stubbornness.  We'll wait for the instructions."  (end of Chapter 13.)

Walker and French went out back of the sheriff's office, to clean up before breakfast. They stripped to the waist to clean up as best they could, the cool water from the well and rough towels feeling good, as the Rangers scraped some of the trail dust off their tired, aching bodies.

While Terry McNeely was an excellent cook, breakfast was a hurried, silent affair, for all minds were on the fate of Alex and Bobby Walker and Tommy Jackson.

Finally, pushing himself back from the table, Dan McNeely, looking at his pocket watch, stated flatly, "Ken Crowley'll be openin' the door of the express office, right about now. Let's mosey over there and see if any wires came in overnight."

At that early hour, Hondo's streets were practically deserted, with only a few merchants opening their doors and sweeping the dust from the wooden sidewalks. Only a couple of horses, and no wagons, were tied to the hitch rails. True to the sheriff's word, Ken Crowley was just closing the front door to the express office and Western Union, having just arrived.

The three peace officers entered the office. "Mornin', Ken, I'd like to introduce you to Texas Rangers Mark French and Cordell Walker."

"Howdy, Rangers", Crowley replied, somewhat shakily. Too late, the lawmen realized they were in a trap, as the door to the warehouse burst open, two hard cases emerging, both with a .45 in each hand. At the same moment, two more gunmen jumped through the front door, covering the Rangers and sheriff from behind.

"Reach, and be quick about it!" shouted the apparent leader. (end of Chapter 14, Part 1)

Covered by eight Colt .45's, from front and back, the lawmen had no choice but to comply. The outlaws quickly disarmed the trio.

Crowley, the telegraph operator, stammered an apology. "Sorry,

Sheriff--they had me here all night, with a gun on me--I had no choice."

"Shut up, Crowley, and stop sniveling!" the leader ordered.  He was about 30, tall, with a gunfighter's thin hips and sharp black eyes and dark brown hair. Standing by his side was a Mexican. Behind the three officers were the other two remaining members of Pete Russell's gang, both tall, dark veterans of the owlhoot trail.

Walker, sarcastically, cursing himself for walking into an obvious trap, muttered, "I take it I won't be receiving a telegram today."

"Ranger, you're right smart there. I'm Clint McCord, and I'm delivering Pete Russell's orders personally. You, Ranger French there, and maybe Sheriff McNeely will be taking a short ride. Only none of you will be coming back."

Walker started to charge the smirking outlaw, screaming, "Where's my wife and son?"

As the Mexican, Julio, started to pull the trigger of his pistol, Mark French grabbed Walker by the shoulder. "Walker, stop! You want to get drilled now, before you even get to see your family?"

"Another right smart Ranger," McCord sneered. Placing his hand in front of Julio, he told the Mexican outlaw, "Easy, amigo...if you blast Walker before Pete has his chance with him, you'll be in Boot Hill muy pronto."

Turning to Sheriff McNeely, McCord asked. "Sheriff, Russell told me to ask you if you wanted to stick with the Rangers, or save your own hide and join us.  Lots more money in it."

"Let me think on it for a minute, McCord. I've got a question, though: How'd you get into Hondo without anyone spottin' you?" (End of Chapter 14, Part 2)

"Simple, McNeely: Jack Hardisty. He was Pete Russell's half-brother, and more than happy to help us out."

"Jack Hardisty!!!" Sheriff McNeely echoed, incredulously. "That

hard-workin' young rancher? Russell's half-brother?! No family resemblance there, from the looks or the law standpoint, either."

Mark French broke in. "McCord, what do you mean he WAS Russell's half-brother?"

A voice from behind the Rangers and McNeely, that of Mel Cooper, broke in. "I'll tell that tale: Hardisty was jealous, cause the Ranger there's little wife took a shine to me. Hardisty was gonna take her away for himself. I followed him the night he was gonna try, and let Pete know.  Pete plugged him, and left his stinkin' hide in with your wife, Walker."

It took all of French's and McNeely's strength to hold Walker back, for trying to take Cooper then would have been certain death for the big Ranger.

"Enough talk!" McCord snapped. "McNeely, are you with us, or the Rangers?"

Sheriff Dan McNeely, hoping at least one of the two Rangers caught his glance--indicating he was lying to  McCord--stated, "Well. McCord, I don't see any future in this tin badge right now. Might as well join up with your bunch."

"OK, then, Sheriff."  McCord then pulled the trigger of his Colt.  Blood spurted from the sheriff's forehead, his Stetson flying from his head as if yanked by a string. The big lawman, knocked backward by the force of the heavy .45 slug, rolled over Crowley's desk, landing on the chair, tipping it over. He rolled over twice on the floor and landed facedown and unmoving.

Mel Cooper, pointing his pistol at Crowley, the telegrapher, spat

flatly, "Can't leave no witnesses; sorry, Crowley." Cooper's Colt spat flame, and his slug, right through Crowley's heart, sent the telegrapher slumping to the floor.

Pistol barrels crashed down on Walker's and French's heads, and the two Rangers were quickly loaded into a waiting wagon. (end of Chapter 14, Part 3)

The door to Alex, Bobby, and Tommy's prison opened, and two tightly trussed bodies were thrown into the room.

Instantly, Alex realized, to her horror, that one of the men was her husband, Cordell. She didn't recognize the other, but did spot his Ranger star. Bobby and Tommy were huddled next to her.

Right behind the two unconscious Rangers, Pete Russell and the rest of his gang entered. Leering at Alex, the outlaw leader smirked, "Mrs. Walker, it's time for a family reunion." 

Russell took a bucket of water and tossed it on the two Rangers. As they came to, he kicked Walker viciously in the ribs.

Alex, seeing Walker awakening, tried to rush to his side. Mel Cooper grabbed her. Walker strained against his bonds, to no avail. "Touch her again, Cooper, and I'll rip your heart out."

Cooper just laughed, roughly. "Walker, don't appear to me that you're in a position to do anything."

Looking directly at Alex and the two boys, Russell growled, "OK, here's what's going to happen. One of my men will be here in the room with you at all times. Mrs. Walker, you and the boys can talk to Walker and his friend as much as you want. Try to touch him, though, and you'll be trussed up just like them.  Do you understand?"

Helplessly, Alex whispered, "Yes."

"Good", Russell continued. "Now, I thought about this for a long time...how best to take care of you, so Walker suffers the most. Tomorrow, the boys and I will have some fun with you, Mrs. Walker...while your husband and the boys watch."

Walker yelled, Russell, you..." but his curse was cut off by McCord's pistol barrel across the Ranger's mouth. Ranger French was silent. He knew protesting was futile--at that point--and was trying to keep emotionally uninvolved, as he knew Walker was seething with anger, having a hard time thinking straight.

"Walker, keep your mouth shut, or the boys die NOW!" Russell shouted. Tommy and Bobby were white with fear, but never whimpered or cried out.

"Where was I? Oh, yes...after the boys and I are through with your wife,  she'll die, SLOWLY. Then--after she's done for--the boys will die, slowly and painfully, first the other kid, then your son. And finally, Walker, you'll be taken care of. Of course, it may take a day or two for you to die." And as for your pal there, well, I should just shoot him right now, but I think I'll let him enjoy the fun, too."

"Now, enjoy your reunion.  It's gonna be a short one."

Russell, leaving Julio as first shift guard, slammed shut the door. (end of Chapter 15)

No sooner had the door closed than it opened, and Clint McCord reentered the captive's chamber. "Julio, Pete thinks we need two men keeping an eye on this bunch, not one. Those Rangers are tricky #%$%^^&, especially Walker. Then, stepping over to the two bound Rangers, McCord kicked Walker viciously in the ribs, and drove his boot heel deep into French's belly.

"Although, Julio, I don't think we have much to worry about, do you?"

The Mexican laughed harshly. "No, it is the gringos who should be

worried. By manana, they will be no more."

Bobby spoke up first, and started toward his step dad, halting under McCord's harsh glare. "Cord, we're all right...and we're together"

Alex followed, "Cord, no matter what happens, I'm just glad to see you again...and I know, somehow, the Good Lord will see us out of here. And please, tell me who your partner is."

Walker, groaning in pain, replied. "Alex, this is Ranger Mark French.  We worked together some years ago."

McCord cut in, "Not very well, if this is any indication."

French finally lost his temper. "McCord, Russell, you, and your whole bunch are nothing but a bunch of yellow-bellied, lily-livered sidewinders of cowards who hurt women and kids because you can't face me 'n' Walker like men. There's nothing lower." As McCord headed toward French, the Ranger continued, "Yeah, go ahead, kick me some more, BIG MAN. It's easy when you've got me tied up. Turn me loose and watch what happens."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you, Ranger? Well, I won't untie you, but here's another souvenir....The outlaw kicked McCord in the belly again, so hard the Ranger's body was lifted off the floor. The rest of the captives watched this senseless brutality, helpless to intervene. (end of Chapter 16, Part 1)

Ranger French writhed in agony from the blows, but never lost

consciousness.

Walker spoke up again. "Alex, have you or the boys been treated badly, so far?"

"Not really, Cord, except for Mel Cooper."

Eyes aflame with anger, Walker asked, "Alex, Cooper tried to tell me a tall tale about you and him. Tell me what really happened."

"Cord, Cooper tried to have his way with me two days ago. Jack Hardisty, Pete Russell's half-brother, stopped him. Jack didn't fit in with the rest.  He was a really decent young fellow.  Just scared and caught up in circumstances he didn’t know how to deal with. The next night, Jack was going to help us escape. I tried to persuade him to come with us, but he wouldn't. Cooper had watched Jack, and they caught us before we could escape.  Russell shot and killed Jack, his own brother."

"That figures: Russell cares for no one, but himself." Looking directly at McCord and Julio, Walker added, sarcastically. "He'll leave this bunch to hang, too, just like the ones in Sweetwater."

French, gasping still for breath, added, "That's right! I remember how he ran out on his pards. You caught him later, way out of town, didn't you, Walker?"

"Yep, sure did: he lived, went to prison...but it was too late for the rest of the gang; they all bit the dust right in front of the bank in Sweetwater", Walker replied.

Getting uneasy, McCord muttered, angrily. "That's enough of that talk.  Any more like that, and I'll smash this Colt across your dirty mouths again. Now, Pete said you could all talk. If you don't change the subject though, I'll gag all of you."

Walker and French were satisfied they had hit a sore spot. The rest of the evening, they conversed as best they could with Alex, Bobby, and Tommy, until the captives--worn out from their ordeal--and the two Rangers, weakened from the beatings they had received, gave into a restless slumber. (end of Chapter 16, Part 2)

Sheriff Dan McNeely gradually became aware of an increasingly bright light.  His head was pounding, and felt as if it were three sizes too large.

Moaning, he half-opened his eyes,  looking into the face of what he at first thought was an angel.   Blinking, fighting back the spinning in his brain, he realized he was looking at his wife, Terry.

She smiled, leaned down, and kissed her husband on the cheek, gently. "Dan, you had us worried for awhile.   Doc Josephson is here."

The physician looked into the sheriff’s eyes, carefully.

"Dan, you'll be all right- Good thing you're a thick-headed son of the auld sod.  That slug bounced off the top of your head, instead of splattering; you brains all over the Western Union.  You'll be back to work in a couple of weeks. What happened in there, anyway?"

"Terry, Doc, Russell's gang had a trap set for us.  Got the drop on us. Asked me if I'd join them to save my hide.  I tried to play along, said I'd join them, but Clint McCord blasted me." 

Straining to rise, McNeely demanded. "Terry, Doc, any sign of the Rangers, Walker and French.?"

Terry replied, "No Dan- none."

Doc Josephson added. "Ken Crowley was there, though, drilled right through the heart."

"Doc, what day is this,- how long have I been out?"

"It's Thursday morning, Dan, you've been out since yesterday."

The sheriff, fighting off his dizziness and pounding head swung his feet over the bed. "Terry, where's my boots and Stetson?. and get me my gunbelts and Winchester, pronto."

"Dan McNeely, you're not going anywhere- is he, Doc?"

"Terry, I don't care what you or Doc say- Russell and his bunch of cutthroats have the Rangers, an innocent women, and two young boys, and they'll be dead by tonight, if someone doesn't stop 'em, and I know where they are."

"Doc, can't you stop him?" Terry cried.

"I should, but I can't." replied Doc.  "However, I'm not letting him go alone. I've got my pistol in the buggy."

"And I'm coming, too," declared Terry, forcefully.

Dan protested, "you're not lawmen- I can't let you join me."

"Doc, if we can't stop him, then he can't stop us, right?"

"Not hardly, Terry- we'll just kind of follow along."

Realizing argument was fruitless, the sheriff gave in.

"All right, I can't stop you- but you'll both follow my orders, EXACTLY, understand. Now, get me my boots and let's get goin'. We don't have a minute to spare."  (end of Chapter 17)

The guard over the prisoners had been changed, with Mel Cooper and  Joe Mason on watch.   It was close to mid-morning.  Russell had decided to let the captives sweat and worry, so he was in no hurry to complete his monstrous plan for revenge against Texas Ranger Cordell Walker.

Pete Russell had chosen the members of his outlaw band well, for the guards never relaxed, never dozed leaving the two Rangers a chance to  try and free themselves.  Mark French had spoken in a whisper to Walker earlier that morning. "Cordell, please, whatever you do, don't give these #$$$  any chance to make it worse for Alex and the boys- Promise me that, for your wife and son, and for Tommy."

Walker replied through clenched teeth. "Don't worry, Mark...but, I  know one thing: even if we're all done away with, there'll be no place in  Texas for Russell and his gang to hide. You know the Rangers will hunt them down like dogs."

Walker continued, "Too bad about Dan McNeely, though. Did you see his signal?" "You mean the glance indicating he wasn't joining up with Russell; it was just a ruse?"  "Yeah; too bad they didn't give him a chance: might've gotten us out of this jam." The Rangers believed Sheriff McNeely was dead, shot down by Clint McCord.

Joe Mason, who had been the quietest of the outlaw band, walked over  to the Ranger pair then. In turn, he kicked Walker and French in their bellies, driving their breath out of their lungs.  "That's enough out of  you two  $$%^ * " he spat.  "McNeely's dead, and soon the Rangers will have two less men...and that goes for your wife and the two brats, too, Walker!!!!"

At that moment, the door to the storeroom burst open, to reveal the smirking Pete Russell, followed closely by Clint McCord and Julio. (end of Chapter 18)

Snarling, Pete Russell ordered, "Time for fun's over. Joe, Mel, I want those Rangers sitting up, so they can get a GOOD look at the little lady and the boys as they die. And, Clint, grab the woman; make sure she doesn't try to leave."  Bobby and Tommy were huddled in fear in the farthest corner of the room.

Roughly, inflicting as much punishment as possible, the two owl hoots dragged Walker and French to sitting positions, against the side wall of the storeroom, opposite Alex. The Rangers' wrists were still tightly bound behind their backs, ankles tied so tightly the circulation to their feet was almost completely cut off.

Sticking his nose two inches from Cordell Walker's face, Russell sneered. "End's here, Walker for all of you; but first, me and the boys'll have some fun with your wife."

Walker quickly snapped his head forward, the impact of his brow on Russell's nose, bringing forth a fountain of blood.

Russell, maddened with pain and rage, lifted a heavy booted foot,

smashing it into Walker's groin. The big Ranger toppled over from the pain, but was quickly and brutally hauled back upright by Clint McCord.

"OK, Walker, you just made it worse for your wife." Russell snarled. To his gang, he stated, "I'm first, boys, then you can have what's left of her...before we kill her."

Striding over to where McCord held the struggling Alex, he slapped her hard, across the face, drawing blood from her lips.  Then, grabbing her by the back of the neck, he kissed her roughly.

As Russell commenced his attack on Alex, who fought the brute every inch of the way, Joe Mason and Julio held their six-guns on Walker and French. Mel Cooper and Clint McCord were watching their boss, with grim fascination. No one was paying attention to the two eleven-year-old boys, huddled in the corner.

Suddenly, Bobby and Tommy, as one, sprang up from the corner, pouncing on Mason's and Julio's arms. Both outlaws screamed in pain, and dropped their pistols, as the boys bit down on their gun hands, as hard as possible.

As Russell--startled by the sound of the screams of the two

guards--Cooper and French turned to fire at the two youngsters bravely risking their own lives to save Alex and the Rangers, the door to the room was kicked open. Standing there, a .45 in each hand, was Sheriff Dan McNeely.    (end of Chapter 19.)

Dan McNeely's big Colts belched flame and smoke, his aim perfect, sending .45 slugs ripping dead center through Julio and Joe Mason. Julio crashed backwards, sliding to a smashing halt under a table. Mason stood momentarily, then took two steps, and fell slowly on his face.  The sudden gunfire halted Russell's attack on Alex Cahill-Walker. With Julio and Mason dying on the floor, Bobby and Tommy jumped over to Walker and French. They intended to free the Rangers from their bonds. As the sheriff tried to whirl at Russell, McCord fired a snap shot. His bullet caught McNeely in the back, sending the officer sprawling down.  Pete Russell, bringing his gun to bear on Walker, screamed in complete rage, "WALKER, YOU'RE DYIN'...NOW." Walker braced himself for the impact of the outlaw's bullet. (end of Chapter 20, Part 1)

Joe Mason's gun had skidded halfway across the room as he went down, shot through the heart by Sheriff McNeely.  Alex pounced on the heavy pistol, before McCord or Cooper had a chance to stop her. She quickly fired, and the shot glanced off Pete Russell's left wrist, as he squeezed the trigger of his pistol. That was enough to spoil his aim, making him miss Cordell Walker. Howling with pain, the gang leader started to fire again, as Mel Cooper prepared to shoot down Alex.  Dan McNeely was rolling onto his back, and he fired a quick shot at Russell, while Alex fired Mason's gun again, this time at Cooper.  Neither shot hit, but they were enough to break the gunslingers' nerves.

Yelling, "This ain't over!!" the three remaining outlaws broke and ran. (end of Chapter 20, Part 2)

In the midst of this gun battle, Bobby and Tommy were desperately trying to loosen the ropes holding Walker and French. As the three remaining outlaws dashed out of the door, a shot was heard from outside, followed by a howl of pain. Immediately, Doc Josephson and Terry McNeely entered the room.

Alex had rushed to her husband, Cordell. She was holding him tightly, tears of relief streaming down her cheeks. However, Walker just growled, "Alex, help the boys get me and French loose- we've got to get after those three."

Doc Josephson broke in, "Make that two, Ranger: I winged one, and I don't think he'll get far. Here, let me cut you both loose." With that, the physician removed a scalpel from this pocket, quickly cutting the ropes from around the Ranger's wrists and ankles.

Rubbing their ankles and wrists to restore feeling, the two Texas Rangers stumbled out of their prison, intent on bringing to final justice Pete Russell, Mel Cooper, and Clint McCord.

Terry McNeely had knelt by her husband's side.  Alex, seeing Walker on the way to pursue Pete Russell, was beside her. Terry had Dan's head cradled in her lap. As soon as the Rangers were freed, Doc Josephson rushed over to the sheriff. Dan was conscious, struggling to rise and join in the chase. He was bleeding heavily, though, and weak with pain, still suffering the effects of McCord's previous attempt to kill him. "Dan,"  Terry cried, "just lie still."  "Got...got to.... help" 

Doc Josephson stopped him. "Dan, lie still, before you bleed to death." Turning to Tommy Jackson, he ordered the boy. "Son, get my bag out of my carriage." Tommy rushed to comply. Bobby, meanwhile, was next to his mother.

The physician rolled the big sheriff onto his stomach, quickly and

expertly examining the wound in Dan's back. He smiled, wisecracking, "Dan, I've got bad news for you: you'll be fine. Bullet went through your back, and out your side.  Doesn't appear it hit anything vital. Lie still and let me bandage you, so you'll stop bleeding." To Terry, the doctor joked, "Looks like you'll be married to this jughead a while longer." (end of Chapter 21)

Walker and French--as quickly as possible, considering their

ordeal--raced for the horses that Mason and Julio would never ride again.  They had each grabbed a dead outlaw's pistol as they raced out of the barn.

Leaping into the saddles--Walker on Julio's bay, French on Mason's dun--they started their determined pursuit of the men who would torture and kill Walker's family, and then the Rangers themselves.

The two officers had only ridden about two hundred yards when they came across the body of Mel Cooper, lying crumpled in the dust of the road. Doc Josephson had more than winged the cutthroat. His bullet had gone through Cooper's throat, but the desperate outlaw had managed to mount his horse and ride away before toppling from the saddle, lifeless. "Wish I had Amigo right now," Walker muttered to himself. Mark French had the same thought, wanting to be mounted on his blue roan, Steeldust. However, both Rangers' horses were still in the livery stable in the center of Hondo.

Pete Russell and Clint McCord, spotting the pursuing Texas Rangers, urged their horses onward, punishing them mercilessly. French and Walker, realizing they did not have mounts equal to Amigo and Steeldust, kept up a fast, but steady pace.  Slowly, as Russell's and McCord's broncs tired, the Rangers shortened the gap between pursuers and pursued.

Adrenalin pumping, the Rangers were recovering quickly. As they came upon the two remaining gunslingers, Walker shouted, "French, McCord's yours;  Russell is mine!!" French just shouted agreement.

Realizing they were about to be run down, and unable to hit the Rangers with a shot from the backs of running horses, McCord and Russell suddenly swerved their horses off the trail, dismounting quickly, ready to make a last stand. (end of Chapter 22, Part 2)

As the two owl hoots tried to reach cover, French and Walker rode them down.

Clint McCord tried to shoot Mark French out of his saddle. The Ranger yanked his bronc to a sliding stop. McCord, firing quickly rather than carefully, missed the Ranger by three feet.  French, leveling his borrowed pistol, taking the extra half-second needed for accuracy, pulled the trigger once. A blue hole appeared at the bridge of McCord's nose, and the outlaw fell backwards, the back of his skull torn off by the .45 bullet.

Walker had dismounted, and was facing an enraged Pete Russell. Russell screamed, "It's over, Walker, and you're dog meat!!" firing repeatedly, but missing in his fury.  Cordell Walker, enflamed with a sense of justice, and remembering what Russell had done to his wife, son, and son's best friend, leveled the fully loaded .45 he held, directly at Russell's belt buckle.

He fired once, the slug hitting Russell just above the buckle. "That's for Tommy Jackson..."  A spot of blood appeared where the bullet had hit. Russell staggered, but remained upright. Walker fired again, this bullet hitting in almost the same spot as the first. "That's for my son..." This slug knocked Russell against a boulder.

Walker shot Russell in the belly again. "That's for Mark French..." Russell, still conscious, was starting to slide down the boulder now, his  knees caving. Walker, snarling, sent the three remaining slugs into Russell's belly. "And that's for my wife....!"

Pete Russell's eyes flamed with a last anger for the Ranger who had bested him, ending his murderous career, and tipped sideways into the dirt.

Mark French had come up, to stand at Walker's side. "Cordell, it's over; let's pick these boys up, and head back. Gotta see if everyone else is OK." (end of Chapter 22, Part 3)

Upon returning to the barn where they had been imprisoned, the two Rangers found everyone outside, except for Dan and Terry McNeely.

Alex rushed up to her husband, hugging him for dear life. "Cord, is it really over?"

Walker tilted his head toward the bodies of Russell, Cooper, and McCord, slung over their horses. "Yes, Alex, it's over. Bobby was with them, hugging them both, while Tommy had attached himself to Ranger French. Suddenly, Walker asked. "Where's Dan?"

Doc Josephson responded, "He's in the barn, with his wife. He'll be fine...slug didn't hit anything important.  I don't want him riding,  though. Can you gentlemen help him into my buggy?"

Both Rangers were more than too happy to comply. Dan was awake and smiling, but painfully, as they approached. 

Walker spoke first. "Dan, thanks; we thought you were done for two days ago. Reckon you saved our bacon."  Terry just laughed. "Like Doc said, he's got too thick a head for a bullet to do any harm up there."

Cordell and Mark quickly placed the sheriff in Doc Josephson's buggy, tying Dan's big chestnut behind the carriage. Then, leading the cayuses carrying the bodies of the Russell gang, the group returned to Hondo.  (end of Chapter 23)

Cordell Walker and Alex were sitting on the porch of their Bandera ranch house. Mark French was with them, recuperating for a couple of days before returning to Austin. They had been joined by Sheriff Jimmy Trivette and Mary Campbell. Mary had a big diamond on her left-hand ring finger. Congratulations had been issued to the happy couple.

Hal and Betty Jackson were also present. This was the first time Tommy had been allowed back to visit his best friend, Bobby, since the kidnapping.

Betty Jackson was saying, worriedly, "I don't think Tommy will ever get over this....It was quite hard on him."

Cordell answered. "I don't think you have to worry: you should have seen how he took on that Julio killer."

"I don't know...",  Betty responded, doubtfully. "I'm not sure if he should come over here now, what with you being a Ranger. He's still just a small boy, and I don't want him hurt."

Alex had just been sitting on the porch, listening to sounds from the yard.  She turned to the group on the porch, and just whispered, "SSSHH! Listen...and watch."

From the front yard came the voice of Tommy Jackson: "Bang, Bang, Bang-take that, you no-good Ranger! How'd you like that bellyful of lead?"

Alex could see Bobby doubling over and flopping on the ground, rolling onto his back. "Jackson, you dry-gulcher...you know you can't get away with killin' a Ranger; there's no place in Texas you can hide."

A moment later, Bobby jumped up. Tommy had taken cover behind a fencepost.  Bobby shouted. "This is for killin' my pard. Bang, Bang, gotcha!"

"AAUGGH!!" Tommy screamed, spinning to the ground. "Ya got me, Ranger."

Alex, smiling broadly, turned to the Jackson’s. "That's exactly what I heard just before Russell and his gang grabbed the boys. Betty, Hal...Tommy will be just fine."