Code of Honor

by Peggy Hartsook

Two very irritable and tired Texas Rangers trudged under the broiling sun and through dry grassland that hosted swarms of insects that rose angrily to attack when disturbed. Stickers and bugs clung to their skin and clothes like unwanted relatives at Christmas time, as CD would say.

James Trivette stopped, swatted angrily at the insects, and took off his cowboy hat, mopping the inside with his handkerchief. "How much further, do ya think?"

His partner, Cordell Walker, paused for a moment. "Not as far as last time you asked," he remarked stolidly and continued walking, hiding a slight smile.

As expected, Walker's indifference to the physical discomforts riled his partner. "Oh, I suppose you're gonna say this heat and all of these damn bugs don't bother you!" Trivette slapped angrily by a buzzing fly of prehistoric proportions.

"Cherokee are taught to ignore physical pain," Walker intoned solemnly, his smile even broader as he pulled slightly ahead of the young Ranger.

"Oh, don't give me that, Mr. Man of the Land," Trivette warned. "I can't believe you don't--" he stopped talking as he caught up to his partner, reaching him in time to see Walker laugh. "Man, I can't believe your sense of humor. Here we are out suffering the tortures of the damned and you're having a good time!"

The two Rangers reached the rise of the next small hill and stopped. Miles of grim, open Texas prairie stared back at them. Walker looked puzzled. "I don't understand why nobody has met us yet."

"I do," Trivette snapped. "Captain Tyler Randall has it in for us, that's why. Dallas PD's finest wants to make sure the two Rangers he was saddled with by Governor Bush are nowhere near the action. I think he set us up!"

Walker sighed. "You could be right."

"I know I am." Jimmy pressed home his advantage, having finally gotten Walker to admit to the possibility. "First he made sure we got the most inaccessible route to Garcia's ranch. Second, our guide with the horses mysteriously fails to show up. Third, we all know Randall's got political ambitions and he'd like to be mayor. And fourth, we get not one but two radios that don't work!"

"Now, Trivette, you can't blame Randall for the radios not working. They tested out fine at Headquarters," Walker admonished. His eyes however, never stopped scanning the countryside.

"I should have brought my cell phone," Jimmy said sullenly. Usually he never went anywhere without it and he cursed his lapse this time, leaving it in the Walker's truck.

"Let's go a little bit further," Walker urged. "Then, if nothing happens, we'll go on back."

Trivette reluctantly acquiesced and the long walk went on. They made it into some small hills and the sun finally let up. Long shadows were beginning to loom in the nearby foothills when Walker suddenly stopped, body rigid. Trivette, long used to Walker's ways, stopped as well, listening. After a minute, he whispered, "I don't hear anything.

"Wait," Walker tersely replied.

Man, this Cherokee stuff gives me the creeps, Jimmy thought silently. He was about to say something else when his ears caught the faraway sounds of cattle, horses and cowboys. He snarled in disgust. "They're on the other side of--"

Walker suddenly grabbed his partner and shoved him to the ground as shots rang out above them. Both Rangers rolled and came up firing. But their targets were nowhere in sight and the straggly grass offered little cover. As another shot pinged by, Trivette glanced at his partner, about to suggest a retreat. That instant, he saw a telltale red dot appearing in the middle of Walker's forehead.

"Walker, get down!" Trivette yelled, instinct propelling him forward.

Walker threw himself to one side. The first shot missed, but a second, from another shooter, hit just as he started to come back up. Walker was blown off his feet by the impact and lay face down in the brush.

James Trivette stared in horror at his partner, then turned to see a white man in jeans, t-shirt, cowboy hat and mirrored sunglasses stop to reload. "You bastard!" he screamed and opened fire. He shouldn't have hit anything at this distance, but even through his red hot rage he was surprised to see the cowboy jerk, clutch at his shoulder and fall. Then, Jimmy felt something white hot sear along the side of his head and the world plunged into darkness.

There had never been a phone call after midnight that had good news, at least in Alex Cahill's experience. So when the phone jarred her awake at 12:30 a.m., she knew instantly something was wrong. With trembling hands, she picked up the receiver. "Hello."

"Alex, this is Susan Benson of the Dallas Police Department."

Susan Benson, a bright young woman who sometimes helped out with Alex's battered women's group. And a police dispatcher. Alex's stomach tightened as she tried to clear her sleep fogged mind and remember what exactly Walker was working on. "What's happened, Susan?"

The young woman did not waste time with questions and evasions. "Alex, I've got some bad news. There was a stakeout and surveillance tonight on the Garcia Ranch. To make a long story short, something went wrong and not only did Captain Randall lose the suspects but two Texas Rangers were ambushed. I'm sorry Alex, but it was Walker and Trivette."

Alex fought her way clear of the covers and stood up, unable to believe the horrible news. Both of them! My God, what had happened?

"Alex, you still there?" Susan asked anxiously

With difficulty Alex Cahill forced her mind to think. "How bad is it?"

For the first time, Susan paused. Finally, she replied, "Walker's pretty bad. Trivette is not as seriously injured, but it's a head wound and--"

"What hospital?" Alex demanded, stretching the phone cord and looking for her jeans.

"Community Memorial."

"Susan, thank you for calling, I've got to go now but I won't forget this. Bye." Alex hurriedly changed clothes and grabbing her shoes, purse and cell phone, rushed to the door, dialing CD's number as she ran for her car.

Outside the dawn came and went and the big hospital started on its early morning routine of doctors' rounds and new nurses coming on shift, along with breakfast. The housekeeping people were starting their day. In one darkened room in ICU however, Alex Cahill sat alone with nothing but the soft beeps of machinery and two unconscious Rangers for company. Glancing over at them both as still as --she refused to even think the word -- Alex still had difficulty in trying to believe in the reality. Walker lay ashen faced; a hideous feeling of deja vu welled up in Alex as she remembered her other hospital vigil with this man.1 Jimmy, his infectious smile and twinkling eyes stilled and his head swathed in a bandage, occupied the other bed.

Alex Cahill had never felt more alone. Or more melancholy.

CD Parker had been out of town when she finally reached Maria, his head waitress and sometimes assistant manager. The former Ranger was on another of his weekend hunting trips with one of his innumerable "old buddies." He was not expected back until tonight. Even the Rangers staff doctor was gone for the weekend. So Alex had this vigil on her own, with the exception of a youthful Texas Ranger who stationed himself in the hall, Larry Johnson, one of the newest members. The Rangers take care of their own, and Alex knew that the young man was here on his own time. What mystified her was the need to guard Walker and Trivette. It must be a security issue, to keep both Rangers in one hospital room. Alex still didn't have any details of the case; her boss, District Attorney David Sutton had handled the Garcia case from the beginning.

Alex realized with rueful chagrin that she had just been too busy with her own caseload to pay much attention to the Garcia case. She knew the Mexican-American rancher was suspected of everything from cattle rustling to supplying a good deal of  the drugs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but nothing had ever been proven. But, since the horrendous murder of an Hispanic undercover narcotics officer in a Dallas alley had turned the public spotlight closer to Garcia's alleged illegal activities, Dallas Police Captain Tyler Randall had taken charge of an elite strike force with the intent to bring Garcia to justice. Walker and Trivette had been assigned to the force, despite Randall's vehement refusal to include any of the Rangers.

The assistant district attorney knew Walker attributed Randall's opposition to vanity and political ambitions but Jimmy had genuinely disliked Randall from their days together on the Dallas PD. Whatever happened last night, Alex had no idea and she thought it strange that no one from her office or the Rangers had sought fit to enlighten her. Larry Johnson had no details himself, just that two of his brother Rangers were down and somewhere he had drawn the conclusion that someone needed to stand guard over them. But, nothing Alex could say would induce him from  his post in the hall and there he stayed.

Once again, Alex longed for the comforting presence of CD Parker, who quite frankly, was the anchor for her unconventional family. His homespun wisdom and common sense had helped Alex herself over many an emotional hurdle. She found herself selfishly resenting the fact that he wasn't here.

Another quick check at her two friends revealed nothing had changed and Alex returned to her chair, stiff and depressed. Thoughts of CD had brought nagging reminders of how little she'd seen of him lately. They'd all just gotten too busy for  their own good. The heat wave in August had touched off a minor crime wave in the metro area and Alex was inundated with cases; some serious, some almost humorous. Walker and Trivette had been busy with their own work and the Garcia case.

Cordell and Alex had shared a quick lunch three days ago and Jimmy had shouted hello at the courthouse two days ago; she running into a courtroom and he just leaving another after testifying. After all this slows down, Walker had vowed, we'll have dinner at CD's just to catch up with things. Alex felt bitter tears sting her eyes; how foolish of them all to take tomorrow for

'Till Death Do Us Part

granted.

She felt rather than heard someone in the doorway and saw Susan Benson standing there with a cup of coffee and a paper bag in her hands. "Thought you might need something to eat," she offered, holding the bag and cup out.

"Oh, Susan," Alex got up and practically ran to the young woman, giving her a quick hug, "thank you so much." Taking the cup and bag, she turned to go back into the room, stopping only when she realized Susan wasn't following. "Susan, I think the nurses will bend a rule to let you in for a moment."

Susan looked behind her nervously. "Well, it is an ICU room and . . . Well, I'd just better not."

To Alex's amazement, she saw Larry Johnson standing behind Susan with a look of contempt on his face; like he saw the enemy spy in his camp. A slight anger overtook Alex's worn emotional edge. "Larry, she's my friend!"

A non-emotional mask slipped over the young man's face. "Yes, ma'am," he replied flatly, so much like Walker when Alex had said something he didn't agree with but considered her too emotional to argue with. To Alex Cahill's amazement however, Johnson made no move except to back across the hallway, but still keeping the two women in sight.

Alex was about to explode at this effrontery when Susan touched her arm. "It's okay, Ms. Cahill. I shouldn't be here anyway. I just stopped to bring you the food." Giving a quick glance to the two Rangers, she said, "Just know that I'll be praying for them; and you as well." Hugging Alex once more, she turned for the door, pausing when she reached the statue like Johnson. "You know, there are a lot of us in the Dallas PD who are on your side."

Johnson's eyebrows raised but he said nothing as he watched the young woman leave.

Alex shook her head and sat down, staring so hard at Johnson he finally flushed and moved out of the line of sight. Alex lifted the lid on the coffee and wondered yet again what in the world was going on. As soon as she could bring herself to leave, a few calls to the office were in order. But until at least one of her friend woke up her place was here. One of them will wake up soon. She refused to consider anything else.

The Rangers' regular doctor, a tall middle aged gray haired man named Hartman, finally showed up late in the morning. Alex peppered him with a few caustic comments as nervous tension overtook her. She ended up being ushered outside for the examination, still seething over her over the high handed practices of the medical community.

Alex noticed Larry Johnson had been joined by Ed "Birddog" Hatcher, the oldest Ranger on the force and a tracker reportedly in Walker's class. The three of them milled around in restless circles until Dr. Hartman joined them.

"Well?" Alex demanded irritably, still not forgiving the doctor for his "long weekend."

Dr. Hartman ignored her belligerence. "Ranger Walker has a good sized hole in his left shoulder. I'd say he was shot in the back by a large caliber bullet that went clear through him. It was only luck that he didn't bleed to death before someone found him. An inch here or there, and Ranger Headquarters would be making funeral arrangements. He also has a large lump in the hairline of his forehead suggesting he hit something, a rock maybe, when he went down. Ranger Trivette has a very deep graze on his left temple, concussion almost certainly. We'll just have to see if there's any other problems after he awakes."

"But why don't they wake up, Doctor?" Alex demanded.

"They both have head traumas, Ms. Cahill," Hartman retorted with a touch of asperity. "Trivette's is very serious; Walker's lost a lot of blood from his other wound and it's weakened him. They'll both live, ma'am. In Ranger Trivette's case, we'll just have to see if there's any other damage."

Alex was inclined to argue. In her opinion, Dr. Hartman had not given her much more to go on than the young resident doctor stuck with the weekend's causalities while the senior MD's played golf.

Hatcher noticed her combativeness and intervened. "How'd the daughter's weddin' go this weekend, Earl?"

Hartman never even glanced her way. "Well, pretty good, considering it cost me a bundle. That's my youngest though; I'm all through with that nonsense!"

The men laughed and Alex stalked away. Okay, point taken, boys, she fumed

silently. Ol' Doc does have to have a life, I suppose. But why are they never here when you need them the most?

The rest of the afternoon passed in a long blur for Alex. The Captain of the Rangers showed up with some other high officials, milled around, whispered behind their hands and did nothing more than tip their cowboy hats to Alex and move on. Larry Johnson left and Roberta Hunt2 joined Ed Hatcher on guard duty. As Hunt was rarely a friendly person at the best of times, Alex just moved on. She had just headed for the cafeteria for some food. Having finally given in and admitted to hunger, Alex was stubbornly planning on something to go, when she heard her name being called by one of the cafeteria employees.

"Phone call, Ms. Cahill. You can take it over here."

"Well, at least someone wants to talk to me," Alex muttered. Picking up the phone, she said, "Hello?"

"Alex, honey," CD's voice boomed, "how are they?"

Alex's reserve threatened to crack upon hearing the old Ranger's voice. "Oh, CD, I guess they're as good as can be expected but they're still not awake! Where are you?"

"I'm just about twenty five miles away, darlin'."

"You'll be here soon?" Alex hated the way her voice quavered. Thank God Jimmy had made Walker and CD buy cell phones!

"Hell, yes! With all the hot air that's been passin for news, I plan on blowin' in like a dose of salts through a sick cat!"

"What have you heard, CD?" Alex asked. She could have found out for herself, confirmed what she had suspected all this time, but she was too afraid to leave, even to watch television in the lobby. Suddenly, she saw the nurse assigned to the Rangers come running down the hall.

"Ms. Cahill! Ms. Cahill! Ranger Trivette's awake!"

"CD, I've got to go. Jimmy just woke up!"

"You tell 'im ol' Big Dog's gonna be there soon, honey."

"I will." Slamming the phone down, Alex Cahill raced around the smiling nurse and headed for the room.

2 99th Ranger


0                0                0

Alex raced into the room in time to see James Trivette put up a weak struggle with one of the nurses. "Where's Walker?" he asked hoarsely, his view blocked by the nurse.

"Jimmy." The blond attorney captured one of his hands. "Jimmy, it's Alex. It's all right. Walker's right here with you." To the nurse who continued obstinately to try and wrestle with her patient, Alex reached across and gave her a little shove. Once Trivette saw his partner in the bed across from him, he quieted. The nurse glared at Alex before stalking off. Alex returned the look and waved away the regular nurse who'd appeared at the door, having evidently been on a break.

Turning her attention back to Trivette, Alex said quietly, "Thank God you're all right."

The young Ranger's troubled expression and glazed eyes argued her statement. "What happened?"

"You and Walker were involved in the Manuel Garcia surveillance. Somehow you two got separated from everyone else and you were ambushed." Alex held both of Jimmy's hands; a little frightened at the lost look in his eyes.

"I can't remember. Alex, I can't remember a thing. . ." Trivette's voice trailed off into near panic and he turned to stare at the unnaturally still form of his partner.

"Take it easy," Alex ordered with a confidence she didn't feel. "Your nurse mentioned earlier something like this might happen. Just give it some time."

"I hate this," Trivette muttered as one of the doctors came in to check him.

The nurse she'd offended made sure Alex left the room. The attorney matched the older woman glare for glare.

Once in the hallway, she was surprised to see a crowd gathered nearby, complete with TV cameras and microphones. She couldn't even see into the center of the crowd, but it didn't take Alex long to spot the Texas Rangers contingent, now swelled to four, standing off to one side; distaste and anger etched on their faces. Someone said something and the surrounding reporters guffawed and the cameras of the TV stations ran and the reporters scribbled furiously or waved the recorders in the air.

The crowd parted enough for Alex to see Captain Tyler Randall of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metro PD standing in the middle, having evidently just finished a news conference. But why here, Alex wondered. What's going on?

Just then a burly figure barreled through and in his customary cannonball way, CD Parker parted the human wave in front of him like Moses and the Red Sea. With a cry of relief Alex launched herself at the older man, flinging her arms around his neck.

CD clutched her in return, then set about disengaging himself as he caught sight of the watching Rangers. "Alex, honey, you save that stuff for Cordell." Taking a quick look around, he asked, "How're they doin?"

Alex tried to compose herself. Having been stoic for so long, it was almost too easy to let go. "Jimmy's awake now; the doctor's in there checking him over."

Hearing this, the Rangers advanced, headed by Captain Wade Kinkaid, whom Alex had not noticed before. "Beg pardon, Ms. Cahill, but did Ranger Trivette say anything?"

"He doesn't remember anything!" Alex blurted out, slipping under CD's comforting arm as he reached out to her.

"What about Cordell?" CD asked gently.

"Still unconscious."

CD and Alex headed for the room, only to be met by yet another doctor at the doorway. Another specialist, Alex noted with resignation. Just sorting out the medical bills would be a full time job. The small group of Rangers continued to hover closely.

"Well, Doctor?" CD asked, still keeping his arm around Alex's shoulders. "You are a member of the family?" the doctor asked doubtfully

CD and Alex exchanged exasperated glances. "Yes, Doc. Now, what about it?" the older man snapped.

The doctor shrugged. "Well, Ranger Trivette has a serious concussion; some swelling of the brain. We're going to keep him under close observation for the next twenty-four hours. There could be all kinds of side effects: everything from nausea to vision problems. And of course, the concussion is certainly causing the confusion and memory loss."

"What about his memory?" Alex pressed.

"Oh, barring no further complications, it should return shortly. As best as we can tell now, of course. There are no guarantees, Ms. Cahill."

"If his memory returns soon, that will be good enough for us." For the first time, Ranger Captain Kinkaid spoke up. The other Rangers merely looked grim and exchanged glances.

"What about Ranger Walker?" CD asked quickly.

"Sorry; he's not my patient. Now, if you'll excuse me, I want to set up some tests for Ranger Trivette tomorrow. I'll talk with you again later."

"Well, I guess that's it, for the moment," CD concluded ruefully. "Pretty damn specialized bunch around here."

"CD, I'd like to talk to you for a moment," Captain Kinkaid said urgently. "Now's as good a time as anyway,' CD replied carefully.

Kinkaid directed a meaningful stare at Alex. "I'd like to talk alone."

Alex stared dumbfounded; from his manner Kinkaid clearly considered her an enemy or at least untrustworthy.

She was spared the indignity of defending herself; CD took over that job. "Good night, Wade! She's the Assistant District Attorney for land's sake! I would think we'd be totin' up our friends; not all hunkered down like rabid dogs ready to snap at anybody!"

Kinkaid had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry, ma'am. Guess all these reporters and second guessers have already gotten to me."

"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Alex demanded, confused and frustrated.

CD patted her hand. "Alex, you ain't looked at the news, have you, honey?"

"The Dallas news media, aided by Captain Randall, has decided it was Rangers Walker and Trivette who blew the Garcia operation. He claims they were out of place and tipped Garcia to the raid." Captain Kinkaid, eager to make up for his earlier hostility, now couldn't impart information fast enough.

Despite her shock, the lawyer in Alex couldn't help asking, "Have they claimed collusion or corruption? If so, I'll bury them in court--"

"No, no," Kinkaid interrupted. "The morning started with unconfirmed reports and rumors. Then vague official statements from 'informed sources at Dallas Metro. Now..." He waved in disgust to the milling media members. ". . . We'll have to tune in at six o'clock for the latest wisdom from Captain Randall."

One of the reporters noticed Kinkaid. "Captain Kinkaid," he shouted, instantly drawing attention from the others, "do the Texas Rangers have anything to say on this incident?

The other reporters rushed over en mass. "Is it true the Rangers broke ranks with the Dallas PD?"

"What is the condition of the Rangers? Do you have their statements yet?"

Alex recognized Howard Charles, reporter of the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram. He was a hard-bitten veteran reporter; an icon stubbornly resisting yuppies and computers. "Captain Kinkaid, I've covered the Rangers and Cordell Walker in particular, for a number of years. I find it kinda hard to believe Mr. Super Ranger would get himself lost in the wilderness."

The Rangers all bristled and CD took a step towards Charles. "Just what are you gettin' at, Howie?"

"Now, CD, if you were in my place, you'd realize and admit that two and two don't make three. Somethin' stinks here. I'm just not sure what it is yet."

A young reporter, eager to be first with the story, blurted out, "Do you think the Rangers are in the pay of Mr. Garcia?"

Ed Hatcher had actually cocked his fist before Alex forced his arm down. "Who are you, exactly?" she demanded coldly of the well-coifed young man in front of her.

"Jason Bell. Don't try to frighten me, Ms. Cahill. I have the freedom of the press behind me."

"That ain't all you're gonna have behind you, boy," CD growled.

"Who do you work for, Mr. Bell?" Alex ignored the glowering Rangers and pressed home her inquisition.

For the first time, the young man showed some uneasiness. "The Dallas Underground."

Alex broke into a cold smile, like a cat with a mouse in sight. "I do believe I prosecuted that rag eighteen months ago for libel and consumer fraud." She moved in front of Bell and caressed his brand name jacket by the lapels. "You want to go two for two?"

With an angry Assistant District Attorney in front of him and surrounded by hostile Rangers, Bell beat a fast retreat. Disengaging himself, he blustered, "The truth will come out, Ms. Cahill."

"That's what we're counting on," she replied archly.

Charles watched his younger, more politically correct colleagues head for the doors. "Stupid punks," he sneered. Turning toward the Rangers however, he said, "Wade, someone besides me is gonna ask these same questions. I just hope you’ve got some answers."

Wade Kinkaid gave them a sad, regretful look. "Here I thought back when I trained to be a Ranger, the most important part of the job would be catching the criminals. Sure didn't think it would boil down to be the best snake oil salesman to the news media."

CD and Alex sat downstairs in the hospital cafeteria, automatically eating food without tasting and dully watching the T.V. mounted on the wall. When the six o'clock news came on, however, their attention instantly snapped to the screen.

"Good Evening. Tonight's top story: what exactly happened during the surveillance on the ranch of Manuel Garcia, the purported drug supplier of south Texas. Why did two experienced Texas Rangers break away from the main body of Dallas Police and federal DEA agents? The Rangers had obviously been ambushed and were found late last night by men of the Dallas PD under the command of Captain Tyler Randall."

The picture cut to the interior of the hospital, in the hallway where Alex and CD had seen Randall standing amidst the news people. A close-up showed Randall speaking into the next of microphones in front of him.

"Well I know I speak for every law enforcement agency in Texas when I say I'm just glad we found them. As far away as they were from their assigned post, it was lucky we found them at all."

"Do you know of any reason the Rangers would be so far away from their area of responsibility?"

"Well that's not really for me to decide. That's a Ranger matter; I'm sure Captain Kinkaid will figure it out. Those are his men, after all."

The scene cut back to the urbane anchorman affecting a concerned face as he turned to his female co-anchor. "Well Shelly, there are a lot of unanswered questions on this case."

"Yes, indeed, Bob. The two Rangers in question are veterans of the force:

Sergeant Cordell Walker and Sergeant James Trivette. It seems unlike them to make foolish mistakes."

Bob shook his head gravely. "Of course, tonight all sorts of rumors encompass Dallas/Fort Worth. Was there, in fact, some sort of bribe or payoff? Were the two Rangers out to grab the glory of the 'collar' for themselves? Of the two, Sergeant Walker already has something of a reputation for being a lone wolf; an old fashioned John Wayne type hero, which as we all know, is something of an anachronism in today's society. Of course, James Trivette is the former Dallas Cowboys football star forced into retirement after a career-ending injury. He joined the Highway Patrol before transferring to narcotics and eventually the Rangers a few years ago."

"We'll just have to wait and watch for this story to develop, Bob. In the meantime, both rangers are hospitalized in serious condition. Meanwhile, the Rangers have no official statement to make at this time."

CD and Alex stared at each other; CD boiling mad and Alex saddened. "What a smear job without actually putting their names to it."

CD was anything but sad. "Bunch of yella coyotes; don't even have enough guts to make the kill themselves, but they're ready to help themselves to the leavenings."

Alex smiled in sympathy; then stiffened when she heard her name paged over the intercom. "I'll be right back," she told CD, heading for the nearest phone. When she returned, a wide smile lit her face. "It was the upstairs nurse. Walker's awake, CD!"

"Now things will start to turn," CD promised as he and Alex sped upstairs.

Walker's color and his weary look told of his pain but to Alex he'd never looked better. She carefully gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Welcome back, cowboy."

"Have I been gone long?" Walker whispered hoarsely.

"Most of a night and day," CD said, coming up behind Alex, his smile one of relief.

"Where's Trivette?"

"He'll be all right, he's right--" Alex turned and stopped in confusion. There was no sign of Jimmy. Even the bed had been removed.

"I'll be right back," CD rumbled and took off to collar the nearest nurse.

Even in pain and heavily drugged, Walker didn't miss much. "What's goin' on?"

Alex tried to appear nonchalant. "I'm sure it's nothing. Jimmy was in here with you; they must've moved him when CD and I went to eat."

Walker stared at her closely; trying to decide if everything was really okay or not.

CD returned. "It's all right," he announced. "Jimmy's not in ICU anymore."

Despite his condition, Walker nearly pounced or would have tried to, if he could have. "What happened to Trivette? Was he hit too?"

"Now, you just relax," Alex tried vainly to calm him. "Yes, Jimmy was hit but he'll be all right. Evidently, he's better off than you are right now; he's out of ICU anyway." Her eyes begged CD not to give away the upsetting fact of Trivette's amnesia to his partner.

CD sighed. "Cordell, there's somethin' I gotta ask ya."

Alex was enraged. "Not now, CD!"

"Darlin' if I don't, a whole mess of officialdom will be up here faster'n than a cat up a tree with a dog after it."

Walker felt like the world had left him behind. "What're you two talking about?"

Spying the disapproving nurse at the door and feeling the heat of Alex's anger, CD made it quick. "Just one question, how did you and Jimmy get way out there by yourselves anyway?"

Walker looked surprised. "Randall put us there."

Flashing a grin of triumph, CD patted his old partner's arm. "That's all I need for now. You just rest now.

At CD's insistence, Alex finally relented and allowed herself to be taken home. Walker, though not completely out of danger, was doing well, as was Trivette when they stopped for a final visit. His memory was gradually clearing and the one thing the younger Ranger was adamant on was corroborating Walker's statement. Captain Tyler Randall had put them there.

Alex went home to toss and turn through the night and to seethe at the news media. CD went to his bar, where he was met by a large number of off-duty Rangers, angered and frustrated by the day's events. By buying a few beers and lending a sympathetic ear, CD learned that Walker and Jimmy were indeed out of position but more than one Ranger insisted that Randall 'had it in for them', especially Walker, whose phenomenal record as a Ranger seemed to threaten Randall's position as top cop in the Metro area.

The next morning Alex and CD met at the hospital, after enduring a barrage of breakfast TV shows second guessing the Rangers and proceeded up to Trivette's room.

They could hear Trivette's voice in the hallway. "I cannot believe this!" Hurrying to the room, they found the young Ranger about to throw the remote through the television set. "Jimmy! You've got to calm down!" Alex admonished, grabbing his shoulders and trying to keep him still.

"Did you hear what they're saying about us?" Trivette demanded. "Just a bunch of loose talk," CD soothed.

"That guy on channel there made it sound like Walker and I were on the take!" Jimmy seethed. A nurse glared in, alerted by his loud voice and he matched her, stare for stare.

"Do you remember yet what happened?" Alex asked, trying to divert his attention.

"Yeah. Yeah, I do. Walker and I were moved by Captain Randall out into those godforsaken hills. Something about preventing a 'back door getaway.' Hell, I knew it was wrong; I shoulda stayed with my instincts. We wouldn't have ended up in this mess." Jimmy shook his head, disregarding how ill it made him feel. "Now, they won't let me see Walker. They say I'm too sick!" he yelled toward the hallway, hoping the nurse would hear.

"Jimmy," CD said seriously, "you've got to settle down, get well and get out of here. Somebody's been digging in the dirt and not being careful where they throw it. We gotta find out who."

"I think I know who," Trivette returned darkly. "I'm going to know why, though." Abruptly however, he pressed a hand to his head. The shouting had taken a toll; now his head pounded and he felt nauseous.

After calming Jimmy, CD and Alex went on to see Walker, who looked better than yesterday if only slightly. Alex was about to relax, figuring Walker knew nothing about the storm around him, when he suddenly asked, "Well, Counselor, do you think there's a grand jury in my future?"

"What?"

"Now, how'd you get an idea like that?" CD asked.

"LeRoy Carson was on guard duty last night."

CD groaned. "Biggest mouth in the Rangers."

"Now, I don't want you getting upset--" Alex began, but stopped when Walker gave her a pained look.

"I don't really have much else to think about at the moment!" he snapped uncharacteristically. Walker closed his eyes, making a visible attempt to relax. "Sorry," he said with that little grin that always got to Alex.

She smiled back. "Apology accepted."

"Cordell, I know it's hard for you but you'll just have to let your friends help you on this one. You gotta get well, boy."

Figuring Walker wouldn't relax unless something was being done, Alex said, "Jimmy confirms that Randall was the one who sent you out in the hills."

"Yeah," Walker agreed, "but I got to thinkin' last night, the map Randall gave us doesn't show that our position was out there. He gave us different instructions right before we left. And there was supposed to be a guide to meet us."

"Jimmy didn't mention that," Alex said thoughtfully.

"He'd already gone out to the truck when Randall told me. I filled Trivette in later."

"And that knock on the head didn't help his memory," CD supplied.

"So, what we're left with is still the map; the only thing on paper," Alex said. She looked down; Walker, for all of his apparent indestructibility, was still hurting and weak. A slight sheen of sweat covered his forehead and pain lined his face. She leaned over, planting a kiss on his cheek.

His eyes, which had closed, flew open. "What was that for?"

"We're leaving now," Alex said, taking CD's arm. "You get some rest; we'll be back tonight."

"Nothing else to do," Walker said glumly.

CD laughed. "Keep ya out of trouble for a change."

"Ha, ha," Walker said dryly as they left.

After they left the hospital CD and Alex split up; Alex to talk to her boss and work on her cases and do some digging about Captain Tyler Randall. CD to talk to the other members of the task force about anything they might remember. That evening, when they met again at the hospital, CD was flushed with triumph. He waved a crumpled piece of paper in front of Alex's nose. "We got'em!" he pronounced with relish.

Alex took the paper and tried to smooth it back out some more. "What's this?"

"Original map that Paul Evans had. He's that DEA agent that was along with the task force."

"This shows Walker and Jimmy's position as being on the other side of the

canyon!" Alex said in disbelief. "This is the third position they were supposed to be at?"

"Makes me wonder how many different positions Cordell and Jimmy were supposed to cover," CD replied.

Alex rummaged in her purse. Drawing out a piece of paper, she said, "This is the map Walker had in the truck." She sighed in frustration. "Oh, CD, all this proves is poor organization on Randall's part. Incompetent, but not criminal."

CD nodded, a bit deflated. "Okay, what else do we need?"

"Well, a tape recording of Walker's conversation with Randall would be nice," Alex wished aloud. "And I wonder who this mysterious guide is and where was he?"

"I can't imagine Cordell needin a damn tourist guide," CD grumbled. "No one else seems to know anything about a guide. What about Randall, anyway?"

"Well, he's politically ambitious all right; I've found that out in my dealings with him. And I know for a fact he's never liked the Rangers; he feels you guys get altogether too much credit and publicity at his department's expense."

"Yeah, I met him myself just before I retired. He was just a first grade detective then; smart but he had big mouth to go with it. Still, I can't quite see him as a dirty cop," CD grudgingly admitted.

"We're missing something," Alex said thoughtfully. "I'm going to keep digging until I find it."

"Well, we'd better go find Cordell and Jimmy or they'll be tunneling out of here when no one's lookin," CD declared.

For the next few days, nothing much happened. The media storm continued to rage, Randall continued to hedge, Garcia continued to flourish.

The hospital released Jimmy first; he went home with CD for a couple of nights before returning to his own home with his dog Blue. Walker was finally released a week later and Alex moved out to the ranch for a few days, despite the Ranger's admittedly faint protests that he was fine.

By that time Governor Bush stepped in and told Randall in no uncertain terms to "fish or cut bait" that the whole idea of a payoff was dropped. In view of Walker and Trivette's sterling records and the lack of substantial proof, Randall had no choice. The leaks and unconfirmed rumors stopped. But the two Rangers were tarnished by now simply by innuendo and unresolved proof either way.

Three weeks later, Alex Cahill was hurriedly stuffing legal briefs into her case when Yolanda, her secretary, came in, carrying a single envelope. "Miss Cahill, this is for you. Came by private messenger."

Alex tensed, not liking the sound of this but there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary and the envelope had a letterhead that had been covered over by black magic marker. "Thanks, Yolanda," she said absently.

Yolanda looked worried. "You don't think it's a bomb?"

"No, I don't think so," Alex said slowly. In a moment of recklessness, she opened the envelope. A single page came out, with two lines of typing:

ASK CAPTAIN RANDALL ABOUT HIS SON DAVID AND MANUEL GARCIA.

"I think I get it now," Alex said with a smile. She held the envelope up to the light. The letterhead was barely legible but still there -- Dallas Police Department.

Cordell Walker and James Trivette sat on a small bluff overlooking the Garcia estate. Trivette, binoculars to his eyes, whistled appreciatively as he surveyed the bathing beauties by the pool below. "Boy, ol' Garcia sure knows how to live!"

Walker looked disgusted. "Unfortunately, all drug dealers get to live well. For awhile," he added ominously.

CD Parker leaned against the truck behind them. "Well, he'd just better live it up while he can."

"Big Dog, I'm still not sure why you're here?" Trivette teased, not bothering to lower the glasses but turning around. A gigantic CD face filled the frame. Beside him, Walker shook his head in resignation.

"Because I'd promised Alex I'd watch out for you two pups!" CD shot back. "After all, it's only been three weeks since you got out of the hospital, Cordell. Besides," he added self- importantly, "thought I'd go along to make sure things were done right this time!"

Walker turned on his partner accusingly. "You had to ask." Actually, he was glad CD had come along. He'd been worried about Trivette. Head wounds were tricky, sometimes they came back at you when you least expected it and Trivette had already experienced a couple of mild dizzy spells and some headaches.

Smiling, Trivette turned the binoculars the other way. "There's the signal," he announced with a casualness he did not feel. CD leaped into the truck and Trivette was smilingly reminded of the old war-horse who always wanted to be first. Secretly, however, he was glad CD was here. He knew Walker was far from healed and Alex would have their heads if anything else happened to him this time out.

"Let's go," Walker said as they all piled into the truck.

The raid on the Garcia Ranch would have go right this time. Any slip-ups and the media would crucify them all; never mind that they were zealously guarding the civil rights of a notorious drug dealer. Walker, Parker and Trivette were in the second wave; in the interest of impartiality, the Feds went in first. As they bounced over the

rough terrain, Trivette spotted a black sedan speeding through a roadblock, headed for the highway. "They're makin’ a break for it!" he yelled.

Walker smoothly turned the Dodge truck around and soon they were in hot pursuit. Before long the sedan braked too quickly trying to turn and the car rolled.

Two men got out and started running. As soon as Walker slowed to a stop and Trivette was out the door and giving chase. Walker, though loathe to admit it, still wasn't up to full speed, so he grabbed a radio and hurried over to the car. CD slid over and roared off in the truck. The driver was still in the front; bloody and unconscious but alive. In the back sat a frightened sixteen year old boy, hands tied in front of him.

"It's okay, David," Walker reassured the youth, helping him out of the car. "I'm a Texas Ranger."

"So?" the boy snarled in defiance but fear overrode any effectiveness he may have had.

Walker gave the boy a long look, enough to start him flushing up to the roots of his hair. He untied the youngster's hands.

It was the sideways, fearful look that David flashed over his shoulder that sent Walker ducking and the now conscious driver flying over the top of him. Although winded and bruised from the wreck, the driver was a hulking white man with a shaved head built like an ex wrestler. He took a wild swing at the Ranger when he regained his feet but Walker ducked underneath and landed two quick jabs to the face; body punching would get him no where with this man. The big man roared defiance, shoving David Randall out of the way and charging Walker, who lashed out with two kicks to the head. Walker's shoulder already throbbed and pain shot down his arm from the jabs. Although his nose and mouth were bleeding, the man charged yet again. Walker almost sighed, stepped out of the way and unleashed his right foot in a half turn kick that snapped the giant's head back with an audible crunch. The big man looked dazed for a moment, then with an uncomprehending look, fell to the ground like a redwood.

"Amateurs," the Ranger shook his head sadly; gathered up David Randall and set off.

It was really no contest -- James "Go Long" Trivette, the former Dallas Cowboy star, easily overtook the overweight, middle-aged man in the expensive suit. Just as the man was about to stop and pull his gun, Trivette leveled him with a tackle that drove him into the hard, dry ground. The Ranger kicked the gun away easily. "C'mon, Garcia, party time's over now." He jerked the drug dealer to his feet.

The man with the goatee and the strange haircut smiled evilly. "Oh, they ain't gonna get me, Mister Ranger. You got nothin' on me."

"Yeah, yeah. That's what they all say," Trivette dismissed Garcia and put on the cuffs while reading him his rights. He was determined everything would be legal. To be sure, he'd read the rights again, with witnesses present.

Garcia suddenly stopped struggling and Trivette turned around to see they were no longer alone. Tyler Randall stood in front of them, gun pointed at Garcia. "Just let me have him, Ranger," he said hoarsely.

"Now, Randall. Don't dig yourself in deeper," Trivette warned.

"This man took my kid, Ranger. He tried to destroy me!" Randall had a half crazed look on his face and he held the gun steady on Garcia.

James Trivette, while not a man to harbor grudges, didn't forgive as easily as his partner. "You didn't think much about destroying Walker and me to the press though, did you?"

"I never said anything about you two directly!" Randall replied sullenly.

Trivette gave Randall an exasperated look tinged with anger. "Man, you should have been a lawyer! That way you could cut up all the technicality points you wanted to."

Garcia laughed. "Ah, this is too good. The poilcia fight amongst themselves; they have no time to worry about us poor peasants just trying to eke out a living!"

"Yeah, I've seen how you struggle to survive," Trivette said dryly, thinking of the mansion, the cars and the women. Using Garcia as a shield, he pulled his own gun, returning to the problem at hand. "Randall, I'm not gonna tell you again. Now drop it!"

"That's good advice, Captain Randall." Cordell Walker approached from the direction Trivette and Garcia had came from. With him was David Randall.

"This punk kidnapped my son!" Randall ground out. His once immaculate appearance was now disheveled and he looked like the fugitive.

"Not at first, Mister Policeman," Garcia seemed immune to Randall or his gun. "I've offered your son a business proposition and he was only too happy to oblige. Selling grass to your classmates isn't such a crime, hey, amigo?" he leered at the boy.

"David!" Randall said, shock written on his face.

"I needed money," the boy said sullenly. "You wouldn't give it to me."

"I guess you are a poor padre, Randall," Garcia laughed.

Trivette gave the handcuffed drug dealer a shove. "Why don't you shut up!"

"David, I don't know what to say," Randall said brokenly.

"Well, that's something!" David snarled back. "It's always been your career first; before Mom, before me, before Lisa. I'll bet you don't even know she dropped out of school three weeks ago!"

Garcia laughed. "You see, Randall? You better shut these two Rangers up, otherwise I'm gonna take your son down with me!"

"No, I couldn't do that when I had the chance," Randall snapped, "but I can put you out of my misery!" He raised the gun.

Walker and Trivette both stood in front of Garcia. "Randall, think!" Walker urged.

"My career's shot to hell!" Tyler Randall raised the gun even higher. "Now, get out of the way!"

"Forget your damn career, man. What about your family?" Trivette asked. "I'd say you got kids that need a father, Randall," Walker said quietly.

Garcia, perhaps figuring he'd pushed enough, remained silent for once.

"You'll have to shoot us to get to him," Walker insisted, eyes never leaving Randall's face.

After a moment, Randall shakily lowered the gun. Walker came forward to take it and then turned to David Randall. "Son, if you thought selling drugs to your friends was the way to get money and your father's attention, there's more wrong with you than just parental neglect."

In silence, the entire group walked back, where they were met by CD Parker and the truck, the last man unconscious in the back.

"What happened?" Trivette asked quizzically.

He tried to escape; got off to the side of the truck and got clipped by the fender," CD answered placidly. "Didn't do no damage to the truck," he reassured Walker hastily.

Walker grinned. "Accidents will happen."

CD's full bar befitted a Friday night in Texas. Around a table in the corner sat CD, Trivette on one side, Walker and Alex on the other.

"So, Randall had no idea his kid was dealin' drugs?" CD shook his head. Damn crazy world.

"No," Alex answered. "Garcia was hedging some insurance; he knew the Feds were closing in. When the Randall kid proved so amenable to the whole deal,  it simplified his life."

"We know now why Randall set Walker and me up for the fall on the stakeout, but what started the deal originally?" Trivette asked.

"Randall Senior was as gullible as Randall Junior. He saw a way to discredit the Rangers, particularly you two, and push himself to the forefront of the mayoral race. He just didn't know his silent partner was Manuel Garcia. Nor did he realize Garcia planned to ambush you two."

"Whoever sent you that note sure saved us," Walker remarked to Alex. "Any idea who?"

"No. It did come from Dallas PD Headquarters on one of their computers, but it's a general use one and dozens of people have used it since."

"What will happen to Randall?" CD asked. "He's going to retire. 'Voluntarily.' So the mayor says," Alex answered.

"Gettin' off easy," Trivette scoffed. "He violated the code; no one would ever work with him again anyway."

"At least he had to make that public confession about deliberately putting you and Cordell in the wrong place," CD put in. That statement had finally put out the media fire Walker and Trivette had struggled through for over three weeks.

"Well, Big Dog, I guess that's something" Trivette allowed. Not enough, he thought uncharitably, but something. Having reporters camped out on his front steps was an experience he never wanted to repeat.

Tugging on Walker's arm, Alex asked, "Sometimes that unwritten code of yours works both ways. Several members of the Dallas PD suspected Randall was setting you guys up but they never said a word."

"Maybe they didn't want to see it." Seeing by her expression she wouldn't settle for such an ambiguous answer, Walker reluctantly went on. "All of us in law enforcement have to have trust and confidence in each other. The bad guys outnumber us already and if you can't rely on your backups and partners--"

"Last thing you'd expect is a stab in the back from someone on your team," CD interrupted.

"I see." Looking around, Alex spotted someone she'd been waiting for in the doorway. "Excuse me a minute," she said, leaving the table. Advancing on the young woman with a warm smile, she said, "Susan, I'd like you to meet some friends of mine." She took the young, clearly hesitant woman by the arm and whispered in her ear, "I'm only going to say this once, but if you ever, ever need a favor, I owe you a big one. And I always pay my debts."

The two women exchanged smiles as they approached the table.