Read Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) Online

Authors: James J. Griffin

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Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) (7 page)

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
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Sensing trouble about to start, most of the
patrons and employees of the saloon scrambled to get out of the
line of fire, seeking cover behind posts or under tables. Several
fled out the front door.

“I told you to stay out of this, cowboy,”
Jeb said.

“Thought I’d even up the odds a little.”

“Still got you both outnumbered,” Stevenson
snapped. With that, he went for his gun.

Jeb already had his gun out and leveled by
the time Stevenson cleared leather. He put a bullet into
Stevenson’s chest, slamming him back.

Powdersmoke filled the Dusty Trail as
Stevenson’s partners, along with the cowboy, pulled their guns and
blazed away at each other. A bullet burned along Jeb’s ribs, then
he shot one of Stevenson’s men in the right breast, spinning him to
the floor.

Another of Stevenson’s men went down when
the cowboy shot him just above his belt buckle. The man dropped his
gun, clawed at his bullet-torn gut, jackknifed, and fell to the
sawdust covered floor, howling in pain. Then a bullet caught the
cowboy in his left thigh, dropping him to one knee. The man who
shot him then turned his gun on Jeb. Concentrating on the other man
still standing, Jeb didn’t see the outlaw thumb back the hammer of
his pistol, ready to put a bullet into the Ranger’s side.

Nate jumped from the corner where he had
taken shelter and hit the outlaw in a long, diving tackle, driving
his head into the man’s ribs and knocking him off his feet. The
outlaw’s gun spilled from his hand, firing when it hit the floor,
the bullet harmlessly ripping a long splinter out of the front of
the bar. Both Nate and the outlaw scrambled after the gun. Nate
managed to reach it first, grabbed it, and clubbed the barrel on
the base of the outlaw’s neck. The man stiffened, groaned, and
slumped to the floor, out cold.

Two last shots were fired, and the final
member of the gang toppled to the sawdust with two bullets in his
chest, one from Jeb’s Peacemaker, the other from the cowboy’s .44
Remington.

Silence descended on the saloon, broken only
by the moaning of the wounded outlaw and the curses of the cowboy
as he struggled to his feet. Gun still at the ready, Jeb quickly
checked the outlaws. Three were dead, the wounded man had passed
out, and the one Nate had clubbed lay still as death, his breathing
ragged. Nate was kneeling alongside him, still holding the outlaw’s
gun. His gaze was fixed on the pistol.

“Nate. You all right?” Jeb asked. There was
no response. “Nate!”

Nate didn’t answer. He kept staring at the
gun.

“Nate!” Jeb shook the boy’s shoulder. “You
all right, son? Good work handlin’ this hombre. I reckon you just
saved my life. I’m obliged to you.”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah, I think I’m okay. Jeb, this
is my brother’s gun.”

“What?”

“This is Jonathan’s gun.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes. I’m positive. Look at the handle. See,
right there. Jonathan burned his initials into it.”

“Let me see that.” Jeb took the gun from
Nate. As he had said, the initials “JAS” were burned into both of
the Smith and Wesson’s walnut grips.

The cowboy came limping over to Jeb and
Nate. His right pants leg was dark with blood.

“The boy all right, Ranger?” he asked.

“Yeah, he’s fine. How about yourself?” Jeb
answered.

“I’ll be okay. Slug just took a chunk of
flesh outta my leg. I’ll patch myself up. My name’s Carl, by the
way. Carl Swan. And what about you? Looks like you caught a slug
yourself.”

The left side of Jeb’s shirt was also wet
with fresh blood.

“Jeb Rollins. Bullet just pinked my ribs.
Appreciate your help. The boy here’s Nate Stewart. His family was
all killed a few days back by a bunch we Rangers have been chasin’.
Looks like this hombre might’ve been one of ’em. This here gun
belonged to Nate’s brother, Jonathan.”

“That’s my brother’s gunbelt he’s wearin’
too,” Nate said.

“Oh, it is, is it? Let’s just find out where
he got it,” Jeb answered. He rolled the unconscious outlaw onto his
back, unbuckled the gunbelt from around his waist and slid it off
him. He handed it to Nate.

“Time this got back to its rightful owner.
It’s yours now. Hardy!”

“Yeah, Ranger?” the bartender answered.

“Bring me some water. Time to rouse this
coyote.”

“Sure, Ranger. Comin’ right up.”

Before Hardy could bring the water, the
batwings swung open and the San Saba marshal, Jock Holmes, walked
in. He held a double-barreled sawn off shotgun at the ready. He
quickly took in the scene, the five men lying on the floor, four of
them dead or dying, the patrons standing around, not daring to
move, and the two men and a boy alongside one of the downed
men.

“Don’t anyone move,” he ordered. “Just what
in the Sam Hill’s goin’ on in here?”

“Everything’s under control, Marshal,” Jeb
said. “Just had a bit of a ruckus is all.”

“Oh, it’s you, Ranger,” Holmes said. “I
might’ve known. What exactly happened?”

“Man lyin’ over there is Mort Stevenson.
He’s wanted for cattle rustlin’ and horse thievin’… or I reckon I
should say he
was
wanted, bein’ as he’s in no shape to ever
steal another horse or cow. Rest of these men are his pardners.
When I tried to arrest ’em, they objected.”

“I see. Mistake on their part.”

Holmes glanced at the wounded Swan.

“Carl, how’d you get yourself plugged?
Mixin’ in where you don’t belong again? Someday your nosiness is
gonna get you killed.”

“Hey, the Ranger was outnumbered five to
one. I evened up the odds a little, that’s all. Got me one of them
renegades, too. Plugged him dead center, right in the belly. And
shot another one, along with the Ranger.”

“It’d probably be me lyin’ there in the
sawdust rather than these outlaws if Carl hadn’t taken a hand,” Jeb
answered. “So, you’ve got no call to hassle him, Marshal. Now, as
far as mistakes, this hombre here was carryin’ Nate’s brother’s
gun. That’s a mistake which could get him hung. I was about to wake
him up and ask where he got that six-gun when you walked in.”

“Don’t let me stop you. I’m a mite curious
about that myself.”

“All right. Hardy, where’s that water?”

“Right here, Ranger.” He handed a mug to
Jeb. “Only it’s not water, it’s beer. That was a bit handier.”

“Seems a shame to waste perfectly good
beer,” Jeb said, with a shrug, “but here goes.”

He poured the beer over the outlaw’s face.
The man came to, spluttering.

“What the…?”

His curse was cut short when he realized he
was staring into the barrel of Jeb’s Peacemaker, which the Ranger
held three feet from his nose, aimed right between his eyes.

“Just hold it right there, Mister, or I’ll
finish what Nate started. You’ve got some questions to answer, and
you’d better come up with the right ones, real quick.”

“Mort?”

“He’s dead. So’s the rest of your pards,
except one, and he don’t have long. And you’re lookin’ at a noose,
so they might be better off than you are.”

“What’re you talkin’ about, Ranger?” Despite
the gun pointed at him, the outlaw tried to sit up, but fell back
with a groan.

“Ow! My head. What’d that kid hit me
with?”

“His brother’s gun. The gun you were
carryin’. The gun that’s gonna put the rope around your neck and
pull it tight.”

“You’re loco, Ranger. You tryin’ to say I
killed that kid’s brother?”

“That’s exactly what I’m sayin’. His folks’
ranch was attacked a few days back. His ma, pa, and brother were
killed. Place was stripped clean of cattle and anything valuable
then burned to the ground. The gun you were carryin’ was taken off
his dead brother.”

“You can’t prove that.”

“Oh, yes I can. First of all, it’s a Smith
and Wesson American cartridge revolver. There’s not many of those
in these parts.”

“That doesn’t mean anythin’. There’s still
more than one of those in Texas.”

“Mebbe that’s true. But the man you killed
was named Jonathan Stewart. He burned his initials into the grips
of that gun. That’s all the proof I need to tie you to his murder.
Or mebbe I’ll just let the kid take care of you. You’d like another
crack at him, wouldn’t you, Nate?”

“I reckon I would, at that.”

“I wouldn’t mind takin’ him out behind this
saloon, either,” Carl added.

Sweat broke out on the man’s brow.

“Now, hold on just a minute. I didn’t kill
anybody, and I sure didn’t attack this kid’s ranch. Sure, I’ll
admit to rustlin’, but I never took to killin’. I
bought
that gun.”

“You got any way of provin’ that? And just
what is your name, anyway?”

“It’s Hawkins. Bob Hawkins. I bought the gun
from an hombre who was with an outfit trailin’ a small herd of
longhorns southeast three-four days ago.”

“My dad’s cattle,” Nate exclaimed. “Guess
that means the Rangers didn’t find ’em yet.”

“Mebbe, mebbe not,” Jeb answered. “Men like
the ones who attacked your place hit fast, get rid of the stolen
beeves or horses quick as they can, then move on.”

“But if one of ’em had Jonathan’s gun…”

“I’ll admit it doesn’t look good,” Jeb
conceded. “Most likely they got away from the boys somehow. We’ll
find ’em, though. I promise you that. Hawkins,” he continued, “You
got a name for this hombre you supposedly bought the gun from? And
a description?”

“I never met him before. Only have a first
name, Manny. Looks to be half-white, half-Mexican. Ridin’ with
eight other men. The one who appeared to be leadin’ the outfit was
a scary-lookin’ dude. Real skinny and pale complexioned, hair so
blonde it was almost white. Fancy dresser, too. Wore two matched
pearl-handled .45 Colt Armies. His eyes were a real pale blue, and
when he looked at you they’d freeze the blood right in your veins.
If’n I didn’t know better I’d swear he’s a ghost, or someone back
from the grave.”

“And they let your bunch just ride straight
up to ’em? I’m findin’ that hard to swallow, Hawkins.”

“They didn’t do that, no sir. We just
stumbled onto ’em, that’s all. They were headin’ south and we were
headin’ north. Came upon ’em in an
arroyo
the trail runs
through about forty miles southwest of here. Mort seemed to know
the leader, but he didn’t make any introductions. You know how it
is, Ranger. You don’t ask questions.”

“All right, Hawkins. You can get up. Slow
and easy.”

“You believe me, Ranger?”

“I reckon. But you’re still facin’ a long
stretch behind bars for rustlin’. However, it looks like you won’t
hang, so as they say, no noose is good noose.”

Carl and Marshal Holmes winced.

“Ranger, you oughtta be gut-shot for that
joke,” Carl said.

Dr. Mannion had arrived and examined the
shot men while Hawkins was being questioned.

“What’s the verdict, doc?” Holmes asked.

“Three of ’em are dead. One’s belly shot. I
can try to save him, but it’s not likely.” Mannion looked at Jeb
and Carl. “Looks like you two need treating also.”

“They’re just scratches,” Jeb said.

“Scratches which could become gangrenous and
lead to blood poisoning,” Mannion answered. “Come by my office just
so I can check you both out.”

“All right,” Jeb said. “Soon as we get this
hombre behind bars where he belongs. Hawkins, let’s go.”

Stevenson and his men had tied their horses
in front of the Dusty Trail. When Nate, following Jeb and his
prisoner, stepped outside one of the mounts lifted its head and
whickered. Nate stopped short.

“Red?”

The horse whickered again, more loudly.

“Big Red! It is you.” Nate walked up to the
horse, who nuzzled his cheek.

“That sorrel your brother’s horse, Nate?”
Jeb asked.

“He sure is,” Nate answered. “That’s his
saddle, too. Just like his gun, Jonathan burned his initials into
the saddle.”

“Looks like you weren’t tellin’ me the
entire truth, Hawkins,” Jeb said. “Were you ridin’ that
sorrel?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I was. But I got him from the
same fella who sold me the gun. Traded my bay for him. Thought I
got the better part of the deal, since my horse was plumb wore out.
Guess I was wrong.”

“I’d say so,” Jeb answered. “Unless you can
prove you didn’t know that horse was stolen, you might still be
facin’ the noose.

***

Once Hawkins was safely behind bars, Jeb,
Nate, and Carl went to Dr. Mannion’s office. Mannion was still
working on the outlaw Carl had shot, so they had to wait to have
their own wounds treated.

“I have to say I’m much obliged to the both
of you,” Jeb said. “If you hadn’t stepped in, I’d be headed for
Boot Hill right about now.”

“Don’t even mention it, Ranger,” Carl said.
“I’m more than happy to see thievin’ skunks like that get what’s
comin’ to ’em.”

“Nevertheless, I’m grateful. And Nate, you
showed a lot of grit back in that saloon. I think you just got
yourself a new job.”

“What do you mean, Jeb? I thought you
couldn’t come up with any.”

“I couldn’t, but
you
did. How’d you
like to join the Texas Rangers?”

“What?”

“Well, not officially, of course. You’re a
mite too young. But I figure I can talk Cap’n Quincy into takin’
you on as a camp helper. You see, me and the rest of the Rangers
you met are part of an entire company of men. We’re camped on the
San Saba, two days ride southwest of here. We’ve got an old Ranger
who’s our camp cook. You’d be his helper, rustlin’ up firewood,
helpin’ him cook and clean up, give him a hand with some of the
chores. What do you think?”

“You really mean that?”

“I’d also add you could learn a lot about
Rangerin’ while you’re with us. No guarantees that Cap’n Quincy
will take you on, or how long the job will last, but if you’d like
to take your chances rather’n headin’ back to Delaware…”

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
7.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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