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Bannerman the Enforcer 12


  The Home of Great Western Fiction!

  Table of Contents

  About the Book

  One - Rattlers Strike

  Two - Brazos County

  Three - Break

  Four - Pursuit

  Five - Man-Hunters, Buff Hunters

  Six - The Wild Bunch

  Seven - Bodine

  Eight - Manhunt

  Nine - Trap

  Ten - Tejano

  About the Author

  Copyright

  The Series So Far ...

  This time Yancey Bannerman’s mission was just about as personal as it could get. Following a brawl in a saloon, his Danish friend Erik Larsen, also known as the Viking, was accused of being part of Matt Garrett’s gang of merciless cutthroats. Yancey aimed to prove otherwise. But following an explosive jailbreak, Erik had vanished into the vast buffalo hunting grounds of the Red River country.

  That wasn’t all. Garrett and his gang also wanted Erik, because the Viking had unwittingly stumbled onto the whereabouts of a fortune in stolen bank money!

  The trail was drenched in blood and piled high in spent bullet cases. But Yancey was determined to see it right to the bitter finish. And at the end, the Viking would earn himself a new warrior name … as a true Tejano!

  One – Rattlers Strike

  Matador, center of a rich ranching area in northwest Texas, would long remember that steaming June day in 1885 when the Garrett bunch rode in.

  They arrived quietly enough, in ones and twos, hitched their mounts to the racks in the general area of the business section and then lounged on the boardwalks until Matt Garrett gave the signal that let all hell bust loose. With his sidekick, Steve Dann, Garrett, a hard-faced, cold-eyed hombre well over six feet tall and built in proportion, made his sign to the rest of his bunch and then went in through the doors of the Cattleman’s Cooperative Bank like a Texas twister.

  The two men had guns in hands and bandannas up over the lower halves of their faces and Garrett yelled, without any attempt at subtlety:

  “Yaah-hoo! Now get ’em up high, folks. Claw that goddamn ceiling as if it was about to fall on you. Go on. Up. Higher. Now that’s fine—just hold it like that for a spell while my pards and me help ourselves to your merchandise.” He whistled loudly between his teeth and his men came pouring in through the front and side doors.

  One of the bank clerks made a run for the barred vault area, obviously aiming to close the doors to protect the money. Steve Dann blew him off his feet with a charge from his sawn-off shotgun and the man’s broken body was flung across the room to crash into some of the terrified bank staff. One of the women ledger clerks fainted with a thin scream as the limp and bloody body cannoned into her legs. Some of the others instinctively dived for cover and a couple of Garrett’s trigger-happy outlaws cut loose with a barrage of shots. A woman customer collapsed without a sound, the front of her dress all bloody and ripped. A child screamed piercingly. A man’s head snapped back on his shoulders as a bullet took him between the eyes.

  “Get the cash!” yelled Garrett. “Get the goddamn cash! We’ll have the law down here in a minute.”

  Dann led three men back to the vault area. They took linen sacks from their belts and began scooping bundles of paper money and cash into them, spilling many coins but ignoring these. Garrett ran to the door where two men were standing guard watching the street. Folk were starting to run towards the bank.

  “Discourage ’em!” he snapped to the guards.

  The two men triggered their rifles. Bullets kicked dust at the feet of the running townspeople. They scattered. No one wanted to play hero, it seemed. Except for Deputy Sheriff Rob Olsen. A gangling man with a longhorn moustache, approaching middle-age, what Olsen lacked in looks he made up for in blind courage.

  He must have known that there were many more men inside the bank, but he grabbed his shotgun at the first sound of gunfire and charged down the middle of Main, yelling to the townsfolk to get the hell out of the way and stay under cover.

  Olsen fired from the hip as he ran, the gun butt braced into his hip. The two outlaw guards at the door were flung down like skittles and the charge of double-00 shot splintered the door. Some stray lead whistled across inside the bank and Steve Dann yelped as one seared across his cheek and drew blood.

  Matt Garrett dropped to one knee, cursing, seeing the lawman in the street reloading his shotgun on the run. The outlaw boss yelled to his men to keep grabbing the dinero as he threw himself full length, gripping his Colt .45 tightly in both fists, blazing at the deputy through the shattered doorway.

  Olsen threw himself forward in a headlong dive and the barrels of his shotgun angled up as he hit the dust. He triggered and, inside, Garrett rolled swiftly under a counter as the sheet of buckshot ripped in and two of his men staggered. Steve Dann let out another yell and went down to his knees, holding to his suddenly bloody side. Glass shattered and wood splintered. Shot screamed around the room in wild and deadly ricochets.

  Garrett didn’t hesitate; that damn deputy had to be stopped. And now! He rolled out from under the counter, lunged for the door, and braced himself against the splintered jamb as he slammed three shots at the prone lawman. Olsen started to jump up, to run for the protection of a stone horse trough, but one of Garrett’s bullets took him in the hip. He went down screaming as the bone splintered. Garrett took his time, beading the writhing man and firing twice. Olsen’s body jerked, leapt off the ground and then flopped back unmoving.

  “Bring up the horses!” Garrett yelled to the men he had stashed in the alley watching the getaway mounts. These men had had instructions not to join in the robbery or shooting unless it was absolutely necessary: Garrett wanted to have horses available the instant he needed them. And he needed them now as the others came running out of the bank, toting the bags of money; big Steve Dann, cursing as he held the bleeding wound in his side. No one in the bank was stupid enough to try to stop them going. In fact no one in the town made any attempt to prevent them loading their loot onto a pack animal and then riding out hell-for-leather.

  For good measure, they shot up the town as they raced down Main, their lead smashing in storefront windows, chewing splinters from doors, making the folk of Matador keep their heads held even further down than they already were.

  Garrett was pleased with the robbery. Two men dead, a couple wounded. Not a bad score, he figured as he lashed his mount up the knoll at the end of the main street. A few townsfolk killed, but that was nothing to do with him: they had been loco enough to try to prevent his men getting the money so they had to pay for their foolishness.

  The bunch was strung out behind him; Steve Dann about halfway down, riding beside Vinnie Carson who had the reins of the loaded pack animal, a shaggy black mountain pony. Maybe that would tell an observant townsman just what Garrett had in mind. Maybe—if anyone had been looking. But they still had their heads down. Except for the man at the railroad depot at the far end of town: for Garrett had made one mistake.

  Since the time when he had checked out the Cattleman’s Bank, there had been an addition to the railroad depot that he hadn’t paid any attention to. A telegraph shack. And, as the outlaws cleared one end of town, the railroad clerk ducked into his shack and began feverishly tapping out an urgent message on his key. It hummed down the copper wires to the next town of Pemmican—where there was a Ranger station.

  By the time Garrett’s bunch had topped the knoll and cleared the town, the Ranger troop was thundering out of Pemmican and heading through the hills on a trail that cut across the one being followed by the outlaws.

  Garrett and his men rode on oblivious to this, putting as much distance between themselves and Matador as they coul
d, not really considering that there would be a posse; the townsfolk had already lost enough, he reckoned. They would leave it to the law and by the time any official lawman got there, Matt Garrett and his men would be long gone.

  The Rangers made a miscalculation, too. They figured Garrett’s bunch would cut into the foothills of the ranges and try to lose their trail amongst the heavy brush. But Garrett led his men straight up and over the highest peak. By the time the Rangers realized this, the outlaws were starting down the far side of the hills.

  The only thing the Rangers could do was to cut through the twisting, narrow canyons and hope they would come out on the far side somewhere close to the bandits. No one knew for sure just where those canyons came out but now was the time to find out, the captain figured. He led his men into the remote rocky fastnesses, sending two along the owlhoots’ back trail, in case they branched off somewhere on the slopes.

  They were lucky. The canyons spilled them out onto the flats within actual sight of Garrett’s bunch. It was a moot point as to who got the greater surprise: lawmen or bank robbers.

  Neither group wasted time figuring things out. The lawmen unsheathed their rifles and rode in with guns blazing. The outlaws started to make their run, shooting back at the Rangers.

  “Scatter!” bawled Garrett. “Meet at the rendezvous in ten days!”

  He threw his rifle to his shoulder and triggered. A Ranger’s horse went down, throwing its rider heavily. Garrett immediately yanked his reins around to the left and broke away from the main group, keeping them between him and the Rangers. He knew Steve Dann, despite his wound, would see that Vinnie Carson got the packhorse away. Garrett could concentrate on his own safety now—it was every man for himself, for they sure hadn’t expected to run into a Ranger troop this early in the piece.

  Guns were hammering and lead was flying. Another Ranger horse went down and the rider fell beneath the hoofs of the animal following, causing its rider to veer sharply and almost spill from the saddle himself.

  The captain worked his rifle lever fast, and saw two of his bullets kick dust around the thundering hoofs of Garrett’s buckskin. The outlaw hipped around in the saddle and got off one shot that took the Ranger captain through the chest. He instinctively kicked his boots free of the stirrups and then went over the rump of his horse to thud and roll in the dust.

  Matt Garrett sent three more shots into the Rangers but they had spread out, splintering into smaller groups, going after each of his men as they tried to make their own escape. An outlaw topped a small rise but threw up his arms almost immediately and crashed from the saddle. Another flopped to one side but managed to stay in the saddle, though his left arm flopped about uselessly. Garrett swore as he saw Vinnie Carson reel in the saddle and release the reins of the shaggy black packhorse that carried the loot.

  But Steve Dann, the sun flashing from the silver conchos in his fancy hatband, spurred in fast, forgetting his own wound, and leaned from the saddle, snatching the flying reins. He jerked the pack animal in close to his own mount and hipped around enough to empty his rifle one-handed at the pursuing Rangers.

  Then Garrett was over a rise and had it between him and the shooting and he spurred his horse across the flats beyond towards the beckoning rocky breaks the bunch had been making for originally. He sheathed his rifle, concentrated on riding for the sanctuary of those breaks, hoping like hell that Steve Dann would get away.

  ~*~

  Yancey Bannerman was fed up with paperwork. He threw down the pen in his small office at Ironsite, the training ground he had built for Governor Dukes’ Enforcers, and sat back in the uncomfortable chair, pressing his aching muscles against the straight back, linking fingers behind his head, feeling them creak and crack.

  The governor of Texas was slowly building up a crack team of Enforcers, with a nucleus of Yancey and his sidekick, Johnny Cato. Unfortunately, Yancey had administrative ability, but Cato lacked this quality and so Yancey had landed the job of shaping-up volunteers from the Rangers and the army, even the Federal Marshals.

  He had devised Ironsite, a large area walled in behind stockade-like fences on the juniper flats outside Austin. It contained a sophisticated rifle range, obstacle courses and all kinds of mantraps that an Enforcer might be expected to meet in the field.

  It was a six weeks’ course and a grueling one. Men were weeded-out at the end of each week and, though the original trainee team might be twenty, by the end of the six weeks, there might only be four or five men left who had managed to attain the high standards necessary to qualify them as Enforcers; an elite group of men responsible directly to the governor of Texas and having a wide range of powers.

  They were independent operators, or could blend into a deadly team if necessary: this was Yancey’s theory behind Ironsite. It trained men to be self-sufficient, to survive alone if need be, but it also fitted them to work as an integral part of a team of raiders on occasion, each man having a specific job and specialty.

  It had worked beautifully so far, both ways, but two men had been lost on a recent raid and they had to be replaced. Dukes also wanted some extra men so Yancey had the job of selecting and training six more men for the crack outfit. Handling the course itself suited him, getting into the workings of firearms and the essentials of wilderness survival, testing a man’s ingenuity under adverse conditions. That was fine. But when it came to reports and written assessments ...

  “Hell with it,” he muttered and took out his tobacco sack and papers, then rolled a cigarette. He could hear the crack of small arms fire in the logged-and-sandbagged survival tunnel as the team fought its way through the trick obstacles he had set up. One of his previous graduates was working the ropes and pulleys for him.

  Yancey had just lit his cigarette when the door of the small room opened and a short man wearing neatly-pressed shirt and whipcord trousers came in, pushing his flat-crowned hat to the back of his head. His face was narrow and swarthy, and there was devilment lurking in his eyes that were also hard and could turn cold and deadly in the right situation. A massive gun dragged its weight down on his right hip. A grin split his face as he pulled out a cheroot and lit it from Yancey’s still-burning vesta.

  “Well, adios, so long, farewell and goodbye, old pard,” he said. “I’m headin’ out for the Land Below The Rio.”

  Yancey stared at him for a moment and then swore as his lips compressed.

  “Don’t tell me. You got assigned to the Bearcat Deal.”

  “Now give that man a ceegar. He’s right on the nose.” Johnny Cato grinned wider and handed Yancey a cheroot. The big Enforcer growled and refused to take it.

  “Hell! I put in for that chore.”

  Cato winked. “I know. So does Kate.”

  Yancey stared, feeling the anger building in him. Kate Dukes, the governor’s daughter, had connived to have him given this training job after his last assignment so that they could spend some time together. He had had a run of jobs that had given him hardly any time in Austin for the past three months.

  Kate had missed his company and considered she was doing him a favor—not to mention herself—by having her father start a new Enforcer training program with Yancey in charge. He worked regular hours and there was no danger—and he had his evenings free so that they could go out together.

  All of which was fine—for about a fortnight. After that, Yancey was fed up with the routine of Ironsite, frustrated by the killing paperwork and, he hated to admit it even to himself, but he was beginning to feel stifled by Kate. He had endured a month of this kind of duty now, knowing he would have to continue until the training program was completed.

  But he wasn’t happy and when he heard about the undercover job in Mexico, one that meant tracking a Texan who called himself the Bearcat, and who was leading a bunch of cutthroat rebels, he had figured that was the job for him.

  Cato had had two assignments during that tedious month; short, violent, action-filled chores and he had envied his smaller sidekick. He
had put a proposal to the governor: with only a couple of weeks’ training left, he had already made his final selection of the group of potential Enforcer graduates, and he figured one of the more experienced men, Cleve Shawn, could handle the final stages. It would leave Yancey free to go after the Bearcat, a chore which promised danger and action, the things he craved for, even though he had enjoyed Kate’s company.

  But he was getting fed-up with night after night, getting dressed-up to eat at Austin’s more fashionable hotels and going to watch touring English theater companies who had deigned to grace Austin with their presence—and made no secret of the fact that they were here on sufferance, performing before the wild and uncouth frontier audiences.

  Yancey craved action and felt he would go ‘loco’ if he didn’t see some soon. He glared at Cato now.

  “You tellin’ me Kate had a word in her father’s ear and got him to reject my application for the Bearcat chore?”

  Cato held out his hand swiftly.

  “Now don’t go layin’ them words on me, amigo. I wouldn’t want to be the cause of any kind of tussle between you and Kate. All I know is she asked me was it true you’d applied for the job and I said ‘yes’.”

  “Muchas gracias, amigo,” Yancey gritted.

  “Por nada,” Cato answered easily. “Anyway, Yancey, old pard, the chore’s mine and I’m headin’ out for mañana land come sunup. Thought we might have a few drinks on the town tonight. Just you and me. Er—providin’ Kate don’t mind.”

  Yancey stood up, towering over the other man who was trying to look innocent.

  “Listen, Johnny, I don’t have to ask Kate’s permission to do anythin’, sure not to go have a few drinks with you. So, yeah; we’ll go tie one on tonight. Maybe it’s the kind of break I need.”

  Cato arched his eyebrows.

  “You’re sure Kate won’t mind?”

  Yancey leaned across his desk, resting his weight on his fists on top of the scattered papers.

 
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