The Lawman and The Ranger (by Stardust)

Summary:  For those that don’t know, Peter Brown played the parts of both Johnny McKay and Chad Cooper on TV.
Category:  Crossover
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  11,400


“Mornin’, Johnny.” Marshall Dan Troop greeted his deputy as the young man came though the office door.

Johnny McKay finished the yawn he was trying to hide with his hand before answering the Marshall. “Mornin’, Mr. Troop.” The town had been up for several hours before he had.

“You get some sleep last night?”

“Some. There were some rowdy cowhands at the Bluebonnet Saloon last night. I finally got them to settle down instead of having to arrest them. But it was pretty late before the Bluebonnet and the Bird Cage calmed down.”

“I got an answer to one of those telegrams I sent off about our prisoner. I was right; he is wanted. In Laredo, Texas,” said Dan Troop as he handed a piece of paper to Johnny. “And his name isn’t Smith, either. It’s Connors.”

“Laredo, Texas? Did you send a telegram to Laredo? That’s a long ways from here.”

“Yeah, it is. No, I didn’t send a telegram directly to there, but to the Texas Ranger headquarters. I guess someone there recognized his description and a Captain Parmalee sent back a telegram saying he was wanted in Laredo. But I guess they got some sort of problem with a bunch of Comanche Indians and can’t send anyone up here to get him.”

Johnny had been reading the telegram. “Says here Will Connors is wanted for horse stealing’. That’s not much of a crime to have to send a man all the way back to Texas for, even if it is a hanging’ offense.”

“That’s what I thought. But we can’t just turn him loose either. I tried to talk to him to find out more about it but he’s not talking’.”

“Are you going’ to take him back to Texas?” asked Johnny.

Dan sat down in the chair behind his desk. “I thought about it, but wondered if you might want to. It’s either you, or I can try to get a US Marshall to take him.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. You.”

“I ain’t never been to Texas. I’ve never been much farther than just here in Wyoming.”

“All the more reason I thought you might like to go. I could spare you for a month or so. You could get some experience in transporting a prisoner someplace and you would get to see some country.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Johnny. He was glad the Marshal was offering him the chance to go, but at the same time, it caused his stomach to lurch at the thought of escorting a wanted criminal all the way to Texas. It had to be a thousand miles away at least. “Just how far is Laredo, Texas, anyway?” he wondered out loud.

“Oh, I would say it’s about a thousand miles, more or less. That is by horseback. But I was thinking you would rather ride the train.”

Johnny sighed, “Well, I guess that would be better than riding that far.” He didn’t want to admit that the thought of taking a prisoner that far horseback was a bit scary. The thought of the trip even by train was still a little scary but the more he thought about it the more he thought it might be a heck of an adventure.

*****

A few days later, Johnny was on the train with the horse thief, Will Connors, seated beside him. Connors was about thirty-five or so, and very average looking as far as Johnny was concerned. One hundred seventy pounds, give or take. Brown hair, blue eyes, and a slight southern accent. He wore the cloths he had on when he was arrested. They were good but not too good and similar to what Johnny himself wore. Johnny had on a blue cotton shirt with a button front, a string tie around his neck, brown pants, well-made boots, and a felt hat. Connors had a gray shirt, brown pants, boots, and hat. But no tie, and no gunbelt with a holster and Colt .45, like Johnny had.

They had boarded in Laramie and were already well into Colorado. Denver had come and gone. Johnny was amazed at how fast the miles could be covered by the train, but he had soon discovered that the train ride could also be boring. There was nothing to do all day and night except for keeping an eye on his prisoner and watching the landscape go by. So far, Connors had been an ideal prisoner, never trying to do anything that would indicate he was trying to escape. Connors sat by the window with his hands cuffed to the arm of the seat, watching the scenery go by. Johnny had attempted to draw him into a few conversations but had given up.

Surprisingly, there had been only a few other passengers on the train, and most of them had not stayed on the train for very long. Mostly it had been salesmen and a few families going to see relatives nearby. He had talked to some of them briefly but no one had been interested in talking to a deputy transporting a prisoner once they found out what he was doing.

And since he had to watch Connors so closely, Johnny hadn’t had any chance to take in the sights of any of the towns they had passed through. He had been lucky; there had been no long delays in the towns. They had had to change trains in Denver but it had been a quick switch and they had been on their way again. The conductor had assured Johnny that there would only be a few stops to take on or let off passengers and to take on fuel and water until they reached Belen, New Mexico, which was near the small but rapidly growing town of Albuquerque.

Four days later, they were leaving Belen for El Paso, Texas. Johnny had had to rent a room in a hotel in Belen as there had been a delay between arriving and when the next train would be through headed south. Again, there was no chance to see the sights as he had stayed in the room with Connors so there was no chance on his escaping, even though, so far, Connors hadn’t shown any sign of trying to do so.

The clackity-clack of the wheels of the train was monotonous to the young deputy, and he found himself dozing. In fact, he had slept less in Belen than he had while on the train, due to having to watch his prisoner. While on the train, he kept Connors’ right hand cuffed to the arm of his seat. Connors seemed to be sleeping, too. The train took them south through the towns of Socorro, Hot Springs, and into Los Cruces, New Mexico, where they changed trains again to start east for El Paso, Texas.

After only a few hours, the train pulled into El Paso and Johnny McKay could finally say he had arrived in Texas. Not that it looked much different from the parts of New Mexico that they had just been through, but it sure was different to Wyoming. There was very little desert in Wyoming and the flat, cactus-covered country seemed strange to the lawman who had been raised on prairie and mountain lands. Again, the two men changed to another train.

“How far to Laredo?” asked Johnny of the conductor when he came through the passenger car collecting tickets.

“Oh, I reckon it’s a good three or four hundred miles from here.”

“That far?”

“Yeah, it’s a good way, sonny. Where you from?”

“Wyoming.”

“Well, I hear that there Wyoming is big but not as big as Texas.”

“I’m beginning to believe it,” commented Johnny as the conductor moved on through the train.

With a long drawn-out scream of the whistle, the train pulled out of the El Paso station and started moving in a southerly direction that intersected with a dozen or so little towns until they came to the town of Comstock and caught another train that took them east to San Antonio. Johnny wondered why the train didn’t go straight south to Laredo, as it seemed to be the shorter route according to an older gentleman that he got to talking with, but the old man said he didn’t know why; it was just that you had to go east to San Antonio and then back southwest to Laredo. The elderly man said, if he remembered right, it was some really rough country, maybe too rough to build a train track through. It was longer by train but easier and faster than riding a horse the shorter way.

Johnny looked at his prisoner, Will Connors, sitting beside him next to the window. He was glad that Connors hadn’t caused any problems. He had been afraid of him trying to escape all the way across the country. But the man had been the perfect prisoner. He did everything that McKay had said to do, never complaining. He had been better than Johnny had ever heard of any prisoner ever being. It bothered the deputy. The man had to be up to something. Or else he didn’t care if he went to prison. Johnny couldn’t believe there was a man anywhere that would think like that. After another glance at Connors and then a look out the window at the vast Texas landscape, Johnny too leaned back, pulled his hat over his eyes and tried to sleep.

Johnny didn’t know how long he had catnapped when he came awake. He pushed his hat off his face just in time to see Connors reach up with his left hand, since his right was handcuffed to the seat arm, and pull the emergency cord above the window, signaling the engineer to stop the train, which it did with a sudden squealing and rattling of everything in and on the whole train. A couple of woman passengers screamed, a man who had been walking down the center of the aisle fell down, a small child started crying, and the conductor cussed at Connors for pulling the cord. Johnny pulled his gun as he stood up and pointed it at Connors. “What did you do that for?”

Connors looked up at the deputy. “Felt like it,” he said as he grinned at the young man holding the gun on him. His bright blue eyes looked brighter than they had during the whole trip.

The door at the back of the car swung open and two men with guns in their hands entered. “Drop the gun and put your hands up, Deputy,” demanded one of the men in a rough voice.

Johnny McKay hesitated.

“Do what he says,” said Connors calmly, as he held out his hands to take the pistol. “If you don’t, he’ll shoot you. And if bullets start flyin’, one of these other people might get hurt.”

McKay knew Connors was right. He let the man take his gun and put his hands up shoulder high.

“Get the key, McKay, and open these cuffs.”

Johnny did as he was asked. Connors motioned him back and Johnny let him go by him into the aisle.

“Stay on the train,” said Connors. “Don’t even look out or someone will get shot.” He and the other two men left quickly, shutting the door firmly behind them.

Johnny stepped to the window and looked out to see Connors and his men mount up on the three horses being held by another man that had been waiting for them. In moments they had ridden away.

“What do we do now, Deputy?” asked the conductor.

“How long before we get to Laredo?”

“ ‘Bout two hours or so.”

“Are there any other stops between here and there?”

“Nope.”

“Have the engineer get the train moving and get to Laredo as fast as we can.”

McKay sat in his seat for only a few minutes at a time between bouts of pacing back and forth through the train car. It felt as if they would never reach Laredo. But as they drew near the town, the deputy wondered what he was going to tell the Rangers. Suddenly he wished it would be longer before they got there.

Johnny got his first view of Laredo from the back of the train car where he was standing as the train pulled into the depot. He stepped off onto the wood platform, his small valise in his hand. He felt uncomfortable wearing a holster with no gun in it. He didn’t know how yet, but he was going to catch Connors and get his pistol back.

For a few minutes, Johnny stood looking down the main street of the Texas town, trying to figure out where the Ranger office would be.

“Howdy,” said a voice behind him.

Turning quickly, Johnny saw a tall, dark-haired man watching him with an odd expression in his dark eyes. “Howdy.”

“You wearin’ that deputy badge; I guess you must be from Laramie, Wyoming.” The man was about thirty, about six foot two inches, and about one hundred and sixty pounds. He had on a dull yellow shirt, black denim pants, worn brown boots and an almost new, gray felt hat. A well-used but well-cared for black gunbelt was on his hips. A black holster with a Colt 44 in it hung low on his leg, with a leather thong tying it in place.

“Yes, I’m Johnny McKay. I’m lookin’ for the Ranger office.”

“I’m Joe Riley. The Cap’n sent me down here to meet you and your prisoner. Where is he?”

Johnny looked down at his feet, not wanting to meet the gaze of the man before him. Riley was still looking at him as if he had two heads or something. “I had some problems between San Antonio and here. Connors suddenly pulled the emergency cord, and before I could figure out what was going on, two men were onboard with guns and took Connors off. They were threatening to shoot the passengers. They had horses waiting and rode off.”

Riley stood a moment. “Let’s go tell the Cap’n. And you get to tell him. Not me. Hey, McKay, you got any relatives around here?” He started walking down the street with Johnny following.

“No, not that I know of,” answered Johnny wondering why the Ranger was asking. “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” said Riley smiling. “Just askin’.” This is going to be fun, he thought.

As they walked into the Ranger office, another man came in behind them.

“Hey, Chad. How come you changed your clothes? I ain’t never seen you wear them duds before.”

McKay looked at the man that seemed to be talking to him but couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.

The shorter, not quite heavy-set man had on a dusty, faded blue shirt, with a black bandana tied around his throat. He wore dirty, faded off-white denim pants, worn black boots and the same kind of hat that Riley had. He too, as most men did, wore a belt with holster and gun as if it were a part of him. The man continued, “And how come your holster’s empty. Where’s your gun, Cooper?” He hesitated a minute as if waiting for an answer.

With the question about the empty holster, Johnny realized the man actually was talking to him. But why was he calling him Cooper, he wondered.

The big man sitting behind the desk watching the three men that had just entered his office stood up and walked around it. He wore a dark brown western cut suit with a white shirt and a string tie. He had on shiny, well polished black boots as he wanted to look the part of a Ranger Captain. He crossed his arms and stared at the men. “What are you three up to now?” he asked.

Joe Riley spoke up, “McKay, this is Cap’n Parmalee. He’s head of the Rangers here in Laredo.”

McKay stuck out his hand to shake with the Captain. “Good to meet you, Captain.”

Parmalee kept his arms crossed, trying to ignore the hand that McKay had offered and was now pulling back with a strange look on his face. “What are you tryin’ to pull, Cooper?” He had to put up with so much joking by his three best Rangers that he was getting tired of it.

“Yeah, Cooper,” said the other man, “what are you doin’?”

Riley grinned a great big smile and said, “Cap’ain, let me introduce you to Deputy Johnny McKay, from Laramie, Wyoming. He’s the deputy that was bringing Connors to us.”

“Johnny McKay from Laramie Wyoming?” echoed the third man.

“McKay, this other galoot is Reese Bennett. Believe it or not, he’s a Ranger, too.”

Parmalee had taken another long look at the young man standing in front of him, and realized that he really wasn’t Chad Cooper, one of his other Rangers. He could see he was about eight or ten years younger and he didn’t think he was quite as tall by an inch or so and might weigh a few pounds less than Cooper. “McKay, I apologize. You do look a little like one of the other men.” He offered his hand for a handshake that was accepted by the deputy.

“A little,” echoed Bennett in his loud, gruff voice. “He looks a lot like Cooper. Wait ‘til Chad sees this here feller.”

“It’ll have to wait,” cut in the Captain. “I sent Cooper out to the Logan Ranch over by Catalina. Seems they have some horses missing.” He looked at McKay. “Where is your prisoner, McKay?”

Again Johnny had to tell what had happened on the train. As before, he felt embarrassed that he had let Connors escape.

Joe Riley knew from experience that Parmalee would probably jump all over the young deputy for letting his prisoner escape, so before the Captain could raise a fuss, the Ranger tried to diffuse things by saying, “Cap’n, seems I remember that Connor’s had three or four men that rode with him when he was here in Texas. Seems like one was named Bartlet and one was…uh…a…Mildon…no, it was Molden, that was it. I bet he made contact, or somehow they found out and they were waiting for him to get the train stopped so they could get him off. I wouldn’t be surprised if they rode out toward them badlands east of here. Maybe over towards Catalina.”

With a disgusted look on his face, Parmalee strode to the open door and looked out onto the Laredo street. After a few moments, he turned back to the two Rangers and the Wyoming deputy. “I want the three of you to ride out to that area and have a look. See if you can find any sign of Connors or his men. Riley, you know that area. You’re in charge.” He turned and went back to his desk. “You can probably meet up with Cooper in Catalina and he can help you.”

Johnny had noticed the Ranger Captain had said ‘the three of you’, which included him. “I’m supposed to head back to Wyoming.”

Parmalee didn’t even look up when McKay spoke. “Not now you’re not. For now consider yourself a temporary Ranger. You let Connors escape; you’re going to help catch him. I’ll send a telegram to Marshall Troop and let him know you’re going to stay here and help us.”

“But…uh…Captain Parmalee…”

“No buts. You’re now a Ranger. Now get out of here.”

*****

Johnny wasn’t thrilled at the idea of being a Ranger. But neither was he in a hurry to track down Connors. He was tired and would have preferred to get a good night’s rest first, but didn’t want to have Captain Parmalee yelling at him. Parmalee seemed stricter than Marshall Troop was. He wondered how the Rangers got away with taking time out to visit the saloon for a good meal and a couple of drinks before leaving town.

Riley had offered him an extra handgun he owned, so now his holster wasn’t empty. He picked a good-looking bay gelding out of the horse herd that the Rangers had to ride. Riley rode a buckskin, and Bennett rode a roan with long white stockings that he called Cactus. As they rode along, Johnny wondered how long it was going to take to find Connors so that he could go back to Wyoming. Even though it was still spring, the desert was already hot in his opinion. It wasn’t long before he took off his jacket and tied it behind his saddle the way the Rangers had. They traveled quickly and made good time. It seemed to Johnny that Reese and Joe knew where they were going. He hoped so. He felt as if he could get lost very quickly out here in the big land of Texas if he had been by himself.

When they drew rein to give the horses a breather and take a drink from their canteens, Johnny asked, “Do you have some idea where Connors might be?”

“Yeah,” answered Riley. “He was known to hang out ‘round the rim rock area on the Baker Ranch. Him and Ed Baker were good friends. Figure that might be who helped him escape from the train, and they might be headed back to the Baker Ranch.”

“Them Baker ranch hands — Molden and Bartlet, if you can call them ranch hands — have been known to steal a few horses and cows now and them,” added Reese.

“Then why haven’t they been arrested?” asked Johnny.

“Well, we ain’t never had any real proof that they’s the one’s doin’ it,” said Joe Riley.

“If we could ever actually catch one of them stealin’ some critter, then we could arrest ‘em. That’s how it works here,” commented Bennett. “Oh, and Deputy, make sure you don’t go and get lost out here. It’s real easy to get lost out in this country and I sure would hate to have to go a lookin’ fer a lost deputy out here.”

“I don’t intend to get lost, Bennett. I’m not all that much of a greenhorn. I grew up in Kansas, and Wyoming doing a lot of hunting and just roaming around on the prairie and in the mountains.”

“Well, that may be, but we ain’t got much for mountains out here in this part of Texas.”

“So I noticed.”

Riley spoke up. “Just make sure you stay close, McKay.”

“I thought Texas had lots of good grasslands for cattle.”

“There is. Texas is a big state, and most of the prairie where the big ranches are is put in the northern part of the state,” answered Bennett.

“And towards the center of the state. Here we’re mostly desert, but it’s still good land for cows,” said Joe.

“Think I’d rather be in Wyoming.” Johnny hesitated a moment. “Wonder if I’ll ever get back.”

*****

Even though this part of Texas was mostly desert, Johnny was able to see the beauty of a country full of wild grasses and flowers that he was always able to see anywhere he went as he and the Rangers rode toward the little village of Catalina. There were many that he didn’t know as they didn’t grow in Wyoming, but they were still colorful in shades of yellow, red, blue, and white. Johnny figured at least half of the wildflowers were some sort of cactus with way too many thorns on them. They saw jackrabbits, coyotes, deer, badgers, and ground squirrels. There were several creeks that still had water in them but would dry up as the summer progressed. Right now, the Texas country was at its best.

It was late afternoon when they rode up to the one saloon in the village and dismounted. Bennett straightened up, then bent over and groaned. “I wonder where Cooper is.”

“He’s around somewhere,” said Riley. “Right now, I’m gonna have a beer.” He chuckled as if to himself. “But it sure is gonna be fun when he meets this here deputy.”

By now, Johnny was getting tired of hearing how much fun it was when he and this other Ranger who looked like him met. He just couldn’t believe that Cooper looked that much like him. No two people looked that much alike once you saw them face to face. Did they?

“Don’t tell me the Captain sent you to help me. Didn’t he think I can do even one little job by myself,” said a voice behind them. “Who’s this you got with you?”

All three men turned to see Ranger Chad Cooper.

Johnny McKay stared at Chad Cooper. This man did look like him. Exactly like him. Same height, hair color, and eye color. He did seem to weigh a few more pounds, but not many. And maybe he was somewhat older. But he looked just like him. Johnny couldn’t believe it.

And Chad stared at Johnny with his mouth hanging open.

Riley laughed, “Shut your mouth ‘fore you catch a fly, Chad.”

Cooper’s mouth snapped shut. “Riley, what kind of joke are you playin’ this time? How did you make this feller look so much like me?”

Bennett started laughing so hard he almost fell over. “Ain’t that the craziest thing you ever did see, Cooper? This here is Deputy Johnny McKay from Wyoming that was bringin’ that there Connors back to us. And he done let him escape off the train. And now we gotta track him down.”

“Huh.” Chad had tried to follow what Reese was saying and at the same time figure out why McKay looked so much like him. “I’ve heard of twins that were born at the same time lookin’ alike. But I never heard of two men that had never met lookin’ alike.” He stuck out his hand to shake with Johnny.

Johnny grinned and shook hands with Chad. He knew they were going to like each other. “I thought these two were puttin’ me on until I saw you. I’m glad to know you, Chad.”

“Same here, but what’s this about you lettin’ Connors escape?”

“Connors was a model prisoner for the whole trip, and then right outside of San Antonio, he suddenly pulled the emergency cord and stopped the train. Two men came in the back of the car with guns out, threatening to shoot the passengers. They took Connors off and there was another man waitin’ with horses for all of them.”

Reese decided he had to get into the conversation. “It was probably them Baker hands, Bartlet and Molden, and maybe even Eduardo Baker himself. They always were friends with Connors.”

“Yeah,” agreed Joe, “and that’s why we come here. Figure he’s gonna show up here in Catalina sooner or later.”

“Well, while we’re waitin’, let’s go have a drink and find something to eat,” said Bennett. “My belly thinks my throats been cut.”

The Rangers and the Laramie Deputy Marshall sat in the saloon having a meal of frijoles, tamales, and enchiladas, all with plenty of hot, Mexican chili sauce and washed down with lots of beer. They relaxed while eating and got to know each other a little better. Reese, Chad, and Joe had fun teasing Johnny when they found out that he didn’t know much about the local cuisine served in most of the restaurants and saloons. The Mexican food was more spicy that Johnny was used to but he was quickly leaning to like it.

“I know asking can get a man in trouble sometimes, and I don’t want to be nosey or make you mad, but, Johnny, would you mind me asking if you always lived in Wyoming?”

“I don’t mind, Chad,” said Johnny as he took another bite of tamale. “My ma and I moved there when I was small. My folks lived in Kansas when I was born. I think I know what you’re thinking’. You’re wondering’ if we could be related somewhere. I have no idea. I don’t know much about my pa, and I wasn’t very old when my ma died in Laramie. I just sort of grew up there, and when Dan Troop took over as town Marshall, he hired me as his deputy. He’s taught me all about being’ a lawman that I know. And I know it’s not that much. I know I got a cousin in Boston, and I think an uncle in California. That’s about all I know of my family. What about you Chad? Where did you grow up?” McKay had noted that Cooper seemed more educated than Bennett or Riley. He had also noticed a hint of a southern accent in Chad’s voice. The way Reese had talked, he had expected to see Chad in fancy “Sunday go to meeting clothes” but the Ranger had on a very light blue shirt with a leather vest over it. He had brown pants, worn boots, and again that same light gray felt hat. A large red print bandana was tied around his neck. His holster and pistol were well cared for, as all the Rangers’ seemed to be.

“Well, I’m really wondering’ now. My family came from New Orleans in Louisiana.” Chad cut off another bite of enchilada with his fork and ate it, followed by a swallow of beer.

Bennett rolled a warm, flour tortilla and scooped up some pinto beans in it, then stuffed it in his mouth. “I can’t see why you’re so danged concerned about where you done come from. It don’t make no never mind now as far as what you do or what kind a man you are.” He wiped his fingers on his shirt and slurped down half of his beer. “Hey, Senorita,” he called to the waitress, “bring us another round of beers over here.”

“Si, Senor. I bring them in a minute,” called out the girl, who looked to only be about eighteen.

“Come on, Reese, don’t you think it strange that me and Johnny look so much alike?” asked Chad of his friend.

Joe spoke up. “Yeah, you do. But is it really that strange? I seen a lot a horses and cows that looked so much alike you couldn’t hardly tell them apart, so why couldn’t it be that way with people sometimes.” He accepted the beer that the waitress handed to him. “Thanks, Lucinda.” He smiled at her with his big, dark brown eyes and winked, causing her to blush and hide a giggle behind her hand.

Reese cut off a bite of tamale with his fork and held it in the air, elbow propped on the table, never noticing when a fly lit on it to sample some. “I seen a lot of brothers that looked like each other, but never two guys that had never met before. But I still say it don’t matter.” He stuffed the bite of food on his fork into his mouth and chewed it with his mouth half open.

Johnny pushed his empty plate, back took a sip of beer and asked the question that had been eating at him even before he left Laramie. “Just why did the Rangers want Will Connors back so bad when all he is wanted for is horse stealing?”

“Yeah, I guess that does seem a bit weird. But we’re pretty sure that Connors murdered one of the Rangers, fella named Harry…er… Harold Tompson” said Chad.

Bennett handed his plate to the waitress and swiped at his mouth with his shirtsleeve. “That poor fella was just a kid that was wantin’ to make a name fer himself by bringin’ in Connors.”

Riley belched. “Course, he went about it all wrong and got himself killed. We can’t prove it but if we can get him for horse stealin’ and the right judge at his trial, maybe he’ll hang anyway.”

“That makes more since,” said Johnny now that he understand why the Rangers had wanted Connors so bad. A lawman and a friend had been killed. These lawmen and friends wanted to bring the man that did it was brought to justice.

Suddenly the saloon door swung open and six dusty, travel-weary men walked in. “Give us a bottle,” demanded the tallest of the men who was well over six feet tall. Instantly, the Mexican bartender set a full bottle of whiskey on the bar, then added six shot glasses. Without even paying, the tall man grabbed the bottle by the neck and headed for a corner table. Two of the other men picked up the shot glasses and followed him along with the other three men. There were only three chairs at the chosen table, so more chairs were pulled from other tables to make enough for the six men. The tall man pulled the cork from the bottle, poured a drink for himself then handed the bottle to the man sitting on his right. Each in turn poured his drink and passed the bottle on. As one they seemed to take a swallow of their drinks then set the glasses on the table. The tall man looked around the saloon and his gaze came to rest on the four men sitting at a table on the other side of the small room. His eyes widened and his right hand drifted down under the table as if he were making sure that his gun was still where it belonged on his hip.

The three rangers and the deputy had watched the men but pointedly ignored them as they finished their meals and lingered over their beers. Joe Riley had his back to the men and said in a low voice, “The tall one is Ed Baker, the one on his right is Molden, and the feller on his left is Bartlett. Any of ‘em look like the ones that took Connors off the train?”

“Could be,” said Johnny. “I didn’t get a good look at them ‘because they had handkerchiefs over their faces. But Bartlett and Molden are about the right build. But Baker is taller than anyone I saw.”

Reese was staring at the group of men with a sour expression on his face. “I still bet those are the fellers that helped Connors escape off that there train.”

“You’re probably right, Reese,” said Chad, “but we just can’t prove it.”

“We will,” added Joe.

The men had been whispering among themselves as they drank their liqueur. There was the scrap of a chair scooting on the wood floor. “You! Over there. What you starin’ at?” It was the man called Bartlett. He stood and walked over to where the lawmen sat.

“We weren’t starin’ at no one,” said Joe.

“Yeah, you were. You was starin’ at us. What reason you got to stare at us?”

“Hey, we didn’t mean any harm,” said Chad. “We just wondered who you fellas were.”

“Who we are ain’t none of your business,” responded Bartlett. His hand was resting on the butt of his pistol.

“Whoa, now.” Chad stood up. “There ain’t no need to get upset. We was just fixin’ to leave anyway.” Bennett, Riley and McKay stood and stepped apart so there was a little room between each of them.

“No you ain’t. Not ‘till we get this settled. I ain’t gonna have no one starin’ at me the way you been doin’.” Bartlett seemed be getting more agitated by the second. His face was red with fury and a few drops of spit ran down his chin. “Hey, Molden! Get over here and help me teach these here dimwits not to stare at people.”

Molden stood and so did Ed Baker and the other men. They moved as one across the floor to stand behind Bartlett. The other few patrons of the saloon moved to the side while two departed out the swinging doors. Everyone could feel the air grow tense with trepidation. The uneasy bartender edged his hand toward a shotgun hid under the bar. “Don’t do it, Pedro,” said Ed in a low voice. “Keep your hand away from that shotgun, and move over there in the corner.” Pedro quickly did as Ed had instructed, and his young waitress eased her way behind him so that she was somewhat sheltered by her father.

It was Reese Bennett that decided to put an end to the confrontation. “You fellers do realize me and my friends are Texas Rangers, don’t you?”

An odd look of surprise crossed the faces of several of the Baker hands. “So what if you are,” snarled Bartlett. “That don’t give you the right to stare at us.”

“Like I said,” stated Riley, “we weren’t staring. But now that you’re makin’ it a concern, just who are you fellers?”

One of the other men decided to answer. “Ain’t none of your business. We ain’t done nothin’ wrong.”

“Uhuh,” said Chad. “If you’ve done nothing wrong, why are you acting like you have?”

Ed Baker seemed to decide it was time to back down. “Boys, I think we done made a mistake. I don’t think these here upstandin’ Texas Rangers are the men we thought they might be. Let’s all just sit back down and finish our drinks.” Ed took a step back, turned and went back to their table. While still grumbling about the sudden turn of events, his men followed him.

When they were seated, Bartlett grabbed the bottle and poured himself another drink. “So what if they are Rangers. We could of took ‘em.”

“Settle down, Bartlett,” said his boss. “We don’t need them Rangers lookin’ at us too hard. You forgettin’ we got a bunch of stolen horses in that corral down the road.”

“I ain’t forgettin’. I just don’t like no one starin’ at me.” Bartlett downed his whiskey and poured another.

“And lay off that stuff. I don’t want no one getting’ drunk till we get rid of them horses. I need all of you with clear heads.”

The three Rangers and Johnny McKay never sat back down. Riley and Cooper headed for the door; Johnny followed them, still keeping a wary eye on the Baker bunch. Reese grabbed his beer mug, finished what was left in it, and then followed the other out.

The four lawmen stood on the boardwalk in front of the cantina. Reese pulled a small knife out of his pocket and picked his teeth with it. “You fellers got any ideas where we should look first?”

“Not much,” answered Riley. “Wish we could have gone ahead and arrested that bunch, but they ain’t done nothin’ wrong.

“And we don’t want to arrest ‘em ‘till we figure out where Connors is and if they had anything to do with him escaping.” Chad stepped down into the street. “Think I’ll just take a look around town.”

“Chad, you’ve been here longer than we have. Haven’t you already looked ‘round town?” asked Joe.

“I wasn’t here more than a couple a hours before you came in,” replied Chad. “And I was…ah…well, resting might be the best word for what I was doing.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you was just ‘resting’ with that Lila May over at the laundry,” commented Reese.

Cooper didn’t agree or disagree with the older man but headed south down the street.

Johnny McKay decided to follow the man that looked so much like him. He wanted to know more about Chad Cooper, and besides he liked the man and hoped he would be able to help him find Connors. He figured Joe Riley might provide some help but he wasn’t so sure about Reese Bennett. These three men seemed as different from each other as he and Cooper were alike in looks.

It was a small town, actually more of a tiny village, and it didn’t take them long to see all there was to see. The stable and blacksmith shop didn’t hold anything of interest. Neither did the general store or the laundry. None of the places were doing much business and there didn’t seem to be anyplace for anyone to hide. They walked by the ten or twelve adobe homes where children played and women gossiped. Nothing struck them as being out of the ordinary.

Returning to the saloon, the four men decided to ride toward the Baker ranch. They mounted and rode down the dry, dusty road. Again, McKay was stuck by the stark beauty of the desert country. It was so different to the prairie and mountains of Wyoming and Kansas. He rode beside Chad Cooper and wondered how two men like himself and Cooper could look so much alike but never have met, and as near as they could figure out, weren’t related at all. From what he had seen so far, he liked the man and would like to be friends with him.

Cooper sneaked several looks at the younger version of himself that rode beside him. How had McKay come to look so much like him, he wondered. McKay was younger but it didn’t make that much difference –- they were very much alike, in fact, they were almost identical. And Johnny was a lawman like he was. They both seemed to have several other similarities -– they wore their holsters and guns the same, and they creased their hats the same. They almost walked the same, and their voices were similar. Chad shook his head in wonder at how things could happen in nature, sometimes by making two men look alike that weren’t related. Oh, well, not that it really mattered. He liked the kid, and was glad that he did. It would have been really weird if he had disliked someone that looked like him.

They had ridden only a few miles when Joe Riley reined in his buckskin horse. He looked over toward where there was a big area of what at first just looked like thick shrubs. When Johnny looked closer, he saw that it was a group of some sort of short tree that had lots of small green leaves on them. They did have lots of tight-growing branches and those looked to have large thorns on them. It wasn’t an area he would want to either ride through or try to walk through.

Riley took off his hat, pulled out a bandana and wiped the sweat out of his hat. He put the rag back in his hip pocket and put the hat back on. In a low voice he said, “Over there to our left. The other side of that buckthorn brush. I thought I heard a horse snort, and then stomp.”

The four men grouped up tighter around Riley and sat on their horses, looking off to the right side of the trail as if the left side didn’t even exist.

“Yeah,” agreed Chad after a minute. “I heard one, too. Maybe more than one.”

“That’s what I thought. Might be several,” said Bennett.

Johnny was sure he had heard a couple of horse but he didn’t say anything. He followed when Joe led out down the road again as if they hadn’t heard the horses at all. A hundred yards farther, the road took a bend around the grove of buckthorn trees. Chad peeled off from the group, with a nod of his head to indicate that Johnny was to follow him while Joe and Reese rode on. In a few seconds, Johnny realized they were hiding in the trees. Chad pulled up and dismounted, tying his horse to a tree. Johnny did the same. They eased through the trees, trying not to make any noise, a difficult thing to do when they would catch a sleeve or pants leg on a thorn and it made a scratching noise as it came off, usually with a small tear in the material. “Damn,” complained Chad, “and this was a new shirt.” But he went on.

They probably hadn’t gone more than seventy feet when they heard the snort of a horse. “Shh,” warned Chad. He drew his gun, so Johnny did too.

Another few steps and Chad and Johnny came into a clearing. There was a corral made out of narrow fence posts wired together so that there was only about six inches between each post. Inside the corral, a group of horses milled around. The two men eased around the clearing, looking and listening for any sign of anyone but couldn’t find anything that would indicate there was a guard on the horses. After a few more minutes, Chad walked to a space that looked to be a gate in the corral so that he could get a good look at the horses.

“About twenty I would say,” whispered Johnny.

“Yeah,” agreed Chad. “And they’re a good looking’ bunch. Not just run of the mill mustangs.”

Suddenly they both felt the business end of a gun muzzle in each of their back. Each of them slowly raised their hands to shoulder height. They felt their own guns being taken out of their hands.

“Turn ‘round,” whispered a gruff voice.

They did as told, only to see the grinning faces of Riley and Bennett who were pointing guns at them.

“Hey, Cooper, you oughta see the look on your face,” laughed Reese.

“Got you,” said Joe as he handed Johnny his pistol back and slid his own back into his holster.

“Yeah, you did,” agreed Johnny smiling at the dumb joke the two Rangers had played on them. He knew that Marshal Troop would never do or approve of anything like that, but he suspected that these Rangers did this sort of thing all the time.

“I ought to whip you, Bennett,” fussed Chad as he accepted his gun back from the older man.

“You and who’s army?” said Reese.

“That’s a good lookin’ bunch a horses,” said Joe as he looked over the herd.

“Sure are,” added Reese.

Cooper pushed closer to the fence. “That red sorrel over there with the big star on his face.” He gave a low whistle. The sorrel’s head came around, and it trotted to the fence. “Hi, Boy.” The horse nickered softly as Chad reached out his hand and petted the horse on its neck. “You know I think this is Trudy Logan’s stallion. The Steel Dust that she sets so much store in. The one she won the horse race with in Laredo last year.”

Joe and Reese took a closer look at the horse. “You know, it just might be,” said Reese.

“I do think you’re right, Chad,” agreed Joe. “Especially since it’s got her TL brand on its hip.” He pointed at the horse’s rear end.

“You think it was stolen?” asked Bennett

“I’d bet money on it,” answered Cooper. “No way Trudy would let that horse be put in with a bunch of horses in a place like this. She wouldn’t want it getting hurt. I’d say this whole herd is stolen. And I’d say Ed Baker was behind it.”

“Couple of those other horses have the Logan brand on them, too,” added Riley. “And there ain’t no feed nor water in there. Someone sure ain’t takin’ good care of them at all.”

Johnny had listened to the conversation between the rangers without saying anything. He just hoped that finding the stolen horses would lead them to Will Connors. He wandered around toward the other side of the corral, looking for any sign of who ever had left the horses there. In a few seconds he was out of sight of the other rangers.

“Well, I guess we oughta get these here nags over to the Logan Ranch so Trudy can claim hers,” said Bennett.

Chad thought that was a good idea. “Yeah, maybe she can help us with who the others belong to.”

“Now wait a minute,” added Joe. “What if them horses ain’t stolen? What if someone bought them and has a bill a sale for ‘em?”

“Oh, sure, Riley. I really don’t think that Trudy would have sold that sorrel race horse for any reason,” said Chad.

From behind them came another voice. “Now how can you be so sure of that? Would you Rangers like to put your hands in the air?” It wasn’t really a question; it was a command. Slowly the three Rangers did as they were instructed. The same voice spoke again. “Bartlett, get their guns.” Each of them felt their pistols being removed from their holsters. “Now turn around.”

The three lawmen did so, seeing Ed Baker, Bartlett, Molden, and the other men who were with them in the saloon.

“You ain’t gonna just walk off this time, Rangers. I’ve got plans for you,” growled Bartlett.

“Now just wait a minute,” said Joe in his most easy going way. “We still don’t mean you no harm. We was just admirin’ the horses. I was wonderin’ if any of them was for sale. Didn’t know they was yours.”

“Not to no stinkin’ lawman they ain’t,” said Molden. “You ain’t got enough money to buy them kind of horses. There ours now. We can sell them for a lot a money to some rich guy.”

“Shut up, Molden,” growled Baker. “You, Wilson, get a rope off your horse and tie up these Rangers. Molden, you, Chico, and Estaban, let those horses out and drive ‘em down to the creek where they can drink and get a bite to eat ‘fore we move ‘em to the ranch for that buyer to see. They ain’t worth nothin’ if they die from no food and water.”

The one called Wilson was soon back with a rope and began tying the Rangers hands and feet with it. The other three horse thieves returned with their horses, then mounted and opened the gate to let the stolen horses out. As soon as the gate was open, the horses thundered out and headed for a small creek about a hundred feet behind the corral where they could drink. The three men rode with them. Soon they were hidden in the dense brush that grew along the creek.

“What you gonna do with us?” asked Reese. He, Chad, and Joe had been eyeing each other all with the one thought of where was Johnny McKay.

“Keep your mouth shut or I’ll shut it for you, permanently,” answered Bartlett.

“Now Bart, ain’t no sense in gettin’ rough with these here Rangers. They’re just doin’ their job. By the way, where did you leave your horses?” asked Baker. None of the Rangers answered him so he walked over to Reese and kicked him hard in the ribs. The Ranger bent over at the waist and groaned. His face went pale from the pain. “I asked you a question.”

Chad spoke so the man wouldn’t kick Reese again. There was no sense getting themselves all banged up for nothing. “They’re in a thicket out by the road. You must have just missed them.”

“That’s better. Wilson, go get there horses.”

The man did as his boss said.

Reese grunted with pain, and tried to change his position on the ground. His hands were tied behind his back and his feet were tied together. Joe and Chad had their disagreements with the older Ranger but were hoping he wasn’t hurt badly.

“You all right, Bennett?” asked Chad.

“I ain’t sure. Might have a busted rib.”

“I said no talking,” warned Baker, waving his pistol at the man.

Bennett wiggled some more while he whimpered and moaned. “Ohhhhh,” he sniveled. “I’m really hurtin’ now,” he whined. “I think he did some bad damage to my belly.” He coughed then moaned.

Baker and Bartlett laughed at the injured Ranger. “Just lookie at that, Bart. Have you ever seen anything that pitiful before? And I thought you Rangers were so strong and tough. You three ain’t so much. You’re actin’ like a city dude that ain’t never been in a bad situation. How long you been a Ranger anyway?”

“Why don’t you pick on someone more your own size?” commented Joe.

“Let him alone,” whined Chad, suspecting that Reese was up to something. “He’s an old guy and getting’ to where he can’t handle much anymore.”

 “No, he sure can’t,” said another voice. “So, Baker, why don’t you and Bart just toss your guns on the ground over here and put your hands up,” said Johnny McKay from where he stood behind the horse thieves.

Startled, both men whirled around to see the stranger behind them. Both outlaws ignored the command and fired just as Johnny leaped to the side and rolled on the ground. The deputy fired his own gun twice, first hitting Bartlett in the chest, causing him fall to the ground. The second shot caused Baker to drop his gun and grab his arm. Johnny jumped to his feet, kicked Baker’s gun out of his reach, then did the same with Bartlett’s gun.

Still keeping an eye on the injured men, Johnny reached into his pocket, took out his knife and quickly cut the rope on Chad’s wrists. Chad took the knife to cut the rope on his ankles and then cut the ropes on Joe and Reese. Joe found their revolvers and each holstered his own.

“’Bout time you quit your dilly-dalling out there and come on it and got the drop on those two. Thought I was gonna have to keep up that whimperin’ and whinin’ forever,” complained Reese.

“Well, Reese, you were putting on such a good show, I didn’t want to interrupt,” grinned Johnny.

“Help me get these two behind this fence. Those others were sure to hear those shots and be on their way back.” Joe grabbed the unconscious Bartlett by his ankles and dragged him into the corral. Chad took hold of Baker’s good arm and roughly tried to pull him in with Bartlett. Baker fought with Cooper as best he could and it gained him enough time that the other three outlaws were racing their horses into the clearing, guns blazing. Baker managed to jerk away from Chad and flung himself on the ground where he was able to snatch up his gun to help his men. His first shot caught Chad in the shoulder and forced the Ranger to the ground.

Joe Riley and Reese Bennett pulled their guns and began firing. All three horse thieves fell off their horses as the Rangers bullets cut them down.

When Baker saw that his men were probably all dead, he tossed his gun on the ground and threw his hands in the air. “I give up!” he yelled. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot me!”

There was the sound of one horse running away from them.

“Guess that there Wilson feller made a run for it,” said Reese.

“We’ll catch him later,” said Joe. “Chad’s been hurt.”

Johnny was already kneeling beside the Ranger that looked so much like him. “Chad. Chad. How bad you hurt?”

Chad opened his eyes and grimaced at the spasm of pain that when through him. “I’m alive, I guess. I’m hurting’ too bad to be dead.”

“Let me have a look,” said Joe as he ripped open Chad’s shirt, causing him to yell and then grumble about his new shirt getting torn. Johnny handed Joe a bandana that he stuffed against the wound in his friends shoulder to help staunch the blood soaking the torn shirt. “You’ll be alright in a week or so.”

Reese had tied Baker’s hands together and then pulled a dirty handkerchief out of his hip pocket and tired it around Baker’s injured arm. “There that’ll hold you ‘till we get back to Laredo,” he said.

“That things filthy,” protested Baker.

“Don’t nitpick, Baker. I only been usin’ it for a week or so. It can’t be that dirty,” griped Bennett. He pushed the outlaw to a sitting position on an old log and made sure there weren’t any guns in his reach. “Cooper, that’s a heck of a way to get some time off,” commented Reese as he watched Joe take care of his friend.

It was at this time that they heard the rumble of horse hooves headed their way again. Guns pulled and ready, they waited as eight riders rode into the clearing.

Riley was the first to recognize the men and one woman. “Trudy! We weren’t expecting you.” He dropped his .45 back into its holster.

“Howdy, Joe. What you doin’ out here?” she asked.

“Roundin’ up some horse thieves. In fact, there’s a few critters over by the creek that might be yours.”

“My sorrel stud Steel Dust wouldn’t happen to be with ‘em, would he?”

From on the ground, Chad spoke up. “He sure is, Trudy.”

“Oh, good. We been trailin’ the damn renegade that took him and the others since yesterday.” She turned to the man beside her. “Taylor, take the men and check on those horses.” Six of the men with her wheeled and headed toward the brush to get the herd of horses.

“Chad, what happened to you?” asked Trudy as she dismounted. She walked over to kneel beside the Ranger who reclined on the ground with his back propped against the fence. “Did you get shot? We heard a bunch a gunshots just before we got here.”

“He ain’t hurt much, Trudy,” said Bennett. “He’s just pretendin’ so he can get some sympathy. Which I ain’t givin’ him.”

“I’ll live, I guess,” said Chad. “At least according to these pretend doctors.”

Trudy hadn’t really heard him as she had been staring at Johnny. “Hmmmm, Chad? Hmmm, who is this?” Trudy was staring at Johnny.

Johnny laughed at the look on Trudy’s face. Chad tried to laugh, only it turned into a groan and then a whimper.

“Ma’am, I’m Deputy Johnny McKay from Laramie, Wyoming,” explained Johnny.

“Pleased to meet you, Deputy McKay. I’m Trudy Logan. I own the Logan Ranch east of here. I want to thank you and these usually incompetent Rangers for catchin’ Ed Baker and his gang of horse thieves. I knew it would take someone else to help them do it.” Trudy hesitated a moment then had to ask. “But I have to ask — how come you and Chad look so much a like?”

Reese snickered with derision. Joe hooted with laughter, Johnny grinned, and Chad hemmed and hawed as he tried to think what to say. Between the four of them, they finally got the story out and straight enough that Trudy could sort of understand. As they explained, she got the feeling that Johnny McKay had been accepted as another member of their small lawmen’s group.

“Chad, why don’t I send a couple of the men back to the ranch to get a wagon so we can haul you and these injured outlaws back where we can take better care of you,” stated Trudy.

“Sounds like a good idea,” agreed Joe. “I think Chad would like to have some of your good nursing for a few days,” he joked with a smirk at the injured Ranger.

And Chad, not feeling so good, went along with him. “Yeah, Trudy, I…I really hate to admit it, but…ahhh, yeah, I think I could use some doctoring’ and nursing’ for a few days.”

Trudy stood and called to one of her men just as two were coming back from checking on the horse. “Pedro! You and Steiner go back to the ranch and bring a couple of wagons so we can pack these injured men to the house. And, Pedro, send your son for the doctor in Laredo. Tell him to meet us here. I figure by the time the wagons get here, the doctor can be here. He can tell us if he wants to take them to the ranch or to Laredo. Oh, and bring back a couple of shovels so we can bury the dead ones.”

“Si, Senorita, we will be back, very pronto.” Pedro and Steiner whirled their horses and headed back for the Logan Ranch.

Riley and Bennett had been checking over the outlaws and doing as much as they could for those that were wounded. Riley came back to where Chad, Trudy, and Johnny were. “We got three dead ones and three live ones.”

“Oh, speaking of dead ones, there’s another dead one back at my ranch that I was gonna haul into Laredo so I could have you look at him as see if he’s that Will Connors fella that you been tryin’ to catch.”

Johnny and the Rangers looked at the lady rancher. Had this woman managed to get there job done for them?

“He got himself killed when they stole these horses the other night,” added Trudy

*****

A week later, Trudy Logan rode into town in her buggy with Chad Cooper beside her. His arm was still in a sling to protect his wounded shoulder.

Reese Bennett and Joe Riley walked out of the saloon as Trudy pulled up in front of the Ranger headquarters. “Will you look at who just rode in?” declared Reese.

“Yeah, and ridin’ in a fancy buggy like he thinks he’s somebody special,” said Joe around the toothpick he had stuck in the side of this mouth. He and Bennett walked over to the buggy as Chad got out of it. Joe took Trudy’s hand and helped her down.

Bennett slapped Chad on the back and asked, “How you feelin’ after spendin’ week bein’ waited on hand and foot?”

Chad had almost fallen from the slap on his back but didn’t, and pretended Bennett hadn’t done it. He knew if he let it get to him, Reese would make it that much worse for him. “Oh, I’m doing a lot better now, Reese. Trudy was a really good nurse.”

Johnny McKay came out of the Ranger office and stuck out his hand to shake with his look-a-like. “Glad to see you’re up and about, Chad.”

“I figured you’d be headed back for Wyoming by now, Johnny.”

“Not yet. Captain Parmalee wants me to testify at Baker’s trial. Besides, I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

“That’s why I came into town. I heard the trial was tomorrow. It shouldn’t take long,” replied Chad.

“Cooper,” called Parmalee as he joined the group on the boardwalk. “You think you might be able to get back to work in the near future?”

“Why, yes, Sir, Captain Parmalee. I figure I can be back to work any time you say so,” Chad agreed.

“Good. I’m putting you on desk work for the next week or so. I need someone who can write halfway decent. You need to fill out a bunch of reports for you three. Bennett has the worst penmanship and spelling I’ve ever seen. And Riley’s not much better.” The tall, stern man turned to Johnny. “McKay, are you sure I can’t sign you up to be a Texas Ranger? You’d make a good one from what I’ve seen.”

“No, Captain. I appreciate the offer but I think I’ll just head on back to Laramie as soon as the trial is over.”

“Well, the offer is always open if you should change your mind.”

“You know,” said Trudy as she looked from Chad to Johnny. “I think you might be making a mistake, Captain. It might get to be a real problem if Johnny did become a Ranger.”

“Just why is that?”

“Well, you might not be able to tell them apart so that you knew which one was doing what.”

“Miss Trudy, you sure do have a point there,” Parmalee acknowledged.

Joe snapped his fingers. “I had a thought.”

“You had a thought?” smirked Reese at his friend.

“Yeah, what if either Johnny or Chad was an outlaw instead of a lawman. Sure would be a mess tryin’ to figure out which was which to try to put ‘em in jail or hang ‘em.”

Reese stroked his chin and grinned. “Yeah. Yeah, it sure would be but it might be fun.”

A look of disgust crossed Trudy’s face. “That’s a terrible thought, Reese Bennett, and you, too, Joe Riley. I don’t know why Chad even considers you two his friends.”

“Me, too,” added Chad giving Reese and Joe dirty looks.

“I’m sure glad it didn’t happen,” said Johnny. “You’re right. It would have been a mess. And not any fun.”

“Well, I ain’t got no look-a-like distant kinfolk I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout,” said Reese. “But I hear from my third or fourth cousin — I forget which she is — that lives up in Montana that we got some sort a distant cousins up in Canada and that one of them joined them Canadian Mounties.” Reese gave the others a smug look. “So I got other lawmen in my family, too.”

“Mounties?” said Chad and Joe at the same time.

“Yeah, you know those Canadian Mounted Po-lice-men. That’s what they call lawmen up in Canada. Hey, why ain’t we called Texas Mounted Po-lice-men?”

“I didn’t know you had relatives up in Montana, Bennett,” said Joe.

“Well I do. I ain’t heard from them in four or five years now but every once in a while this cousin, Irma, writes to everyone, wantin’ to know what they’re doin’ and where everyone’s livin’ so she can keep some sort a record on everybody.

“I don’t remember you ever getting a letter from a cousin, Reese,” said Chad.

“I can’t rightly remember when the last one was I got but it was before you fellas come to Laredo to be Rangers.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Chad. “Next time you get one, you have to let us see it Reese.”

“I will, Cooper. I will. ‘Cause I can tell you don’t believe me.”

*****

The train tooted a long, drawn-out whistle as it pulled into the station in Laramie. Johnny McKay stepped down off the train and looked around the town for a minute. It looked the same but it sure was good to be home, he thought. He saw Marshal Dan Troop and Lilly Merrill approaching. He reached out to shake hands with the Marshal.

“I was beginning to think you were going stay in Texas and join those Rangers,” said Troop.

“Oh, I thought about it, Mr. Troop. I really did. Captain Parmalee tried to get me to. And those were some nice people in Laredo. But that desert country just didn’t compare to Wyoming.”

Lilly gave Johnny a quick hug. “Well, we’re glad you decided to come back to Laramie,” she said. “Besides, Dan really needs a deputy again. He’s tried several men since you’ve been gone and he can’t seem to get along with any of them.”

Johnny and the Marshal laughed. “They all just wanted to goof off and not do any work,” admitted Dan. “I would have found someone sooner or later that I could put up with.”

“Sure you would have,” Lilly commented sarcastically. “You just wanted someone that looked and acted like Johnny. And you know it.”

A look of surprise crossed Johnny’s face at Lilly’s comment. “Someone that looked like me? Well, have I ever got a story for you.”

“Oh? Well, tell it to us. I’ll even feed you lunch if you do,” said Lilly taking Johnny’s arm and walking beside him as they headed for the Bird Cage Saloon.

Marshal Troop followed behind them. He wondered just what kind of adventure Johnny McKay had while he was gone.

***The End***

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