Duel

by Ina Tauer and Jeanette Hoffmann

"Just take some deep breaths,
one to calm down your nerves, one to clear your mind,
one to concentrate all your thoughts and power on this single moment."

Gun drawn, adrenaline pumping Cordell Walker took aim. His mighty kick sent the swinging doors to the court room flying open, breaking the baton and the snap locks that secured it just like they were weak twigs.

For a split second, everyone's attention centered on him. Dozens of heads spun around, and hope gleamed in fearful eyes when they recognized the Ranger star on his chest.

Walker ignored the hostages.

He strode confidently forward while disregarding the advantage of the element of surprise. He would take no chances to hurt the innocent, the woman he loved, or his partner and friend.

His eyes bore into those of his opponent. A calmness replaced the turmoil of rage and fear inside of him. This was not the time for intense feelings, to predict moves, or to play it safe.

Victor LaRue wore the black robe of justice, ready to judge and execute another innocent life with a twitch of his index finger. Along with his connection to humanity, his mind had finally lost it’s last shreds of sanity. Once again he was just seconds away from achieving his hellish goal. He would first possess and then destroy the woman of his dreams. The woman who had dared to reject and humiliate him. The woman who been a regular guest in his nightmare hotel, booked for the honey moon suite.    

This time Alex Cahill would be his. Forever.

LaRue's sick and twisted mind realized Walker's presence, and in a instant snake-bite like motion, he shifted the aim of his automatic gun from Alex to Walker and back to Alex head.

He was the boss. This time it was his show. He’d show the ranger....

Walker froze in motion. He tried to ignore the look on Alex desperate face and the dying sounds around him when even Jimmy held his breath.

LaRue had trapped them in his nightmare world again. The nightmare had to end. Here and now. For once and all. No matter what.

Walker stared into LaRue’s eyes.

Victor, the man who’d come a long way from being just a smart criminal to an unpredictable insane killer stared back.

The sight of the law man who had beaten up and defeated him twice made Victor believe he really had a chance to win. Besides that he couldn't stand it to look at the incarnation of all he opposed. He had to bring his party to an end. To make sure none of his guests would ever forget this day.

The smell of victory was sweet and strong as he, Victor LaRue, knew he was scoring against the Ranger.

With Alex kneeling at his feet and Walker's partner Trivette helplessly nailed to the ground, the odds were more than just even.

If the Ranger's next move would just come...

Uneasily, LaRue's eyes locked with Walker's for what seemed to be an eternity. Suddenly Victor understood some of the unspoken words between them.                        

Walker's silent proposal to make it just between the two of them.

The gallantry of a duel.

Evenly matched, man to man, the loser would die, and leave the winner to gain the lady's heart, for once and for all.

Victor's first euphoria about the setting was interrupted by a sudden sparkle of fear in his mind, fueled by the memory of his earlier defeats.

Cheat and kill her! A voice yelled inside his head and for a second Alex saw the gun in Victor's hand shake. But, his love for her was greater than his hate.

Victor wanted to kill. Kill Walker. The Ranger saw it in his eyes and was ready to meet him on a battleground in or far beyond the court room.

Almost simultaneously, like a slow motion picture, both man raised their guns.

An animal like cry escaped LaRue’s lips He fired first point blank.

Walker had no chance to escape, yet steady as a rock, he stood there and returned fire. 

WON! Victor thought tumbling backwards as he got hit in the chest, his blood splattering the front of his black robe. The second slug drove him to the ground.

Death dreaming
he smiled at the
picture of Alex
still kneeling before him.

A vision now burned
into his mind for hell.
As his eyesight darkened
he just... tilt!
 

Within a few fast steps, Walker reached Alex.

Sensation returned to her numbed body as she felt his familiar strong arms pulling her up. Instinctively she snuggled closer into his gentle embrace and felt his soft warm breath against her ear.

"Thank God you’re okay!" Walker whispered while moisture glistened in his eyes as he soothed her trembling body.  

Alex didn’t answer. She was still speechless from terror. Her mind blurred with emotions.

They stood there for some timeless moments. Moments that belonged just to the two of them and completely unaware of the chaos all around them.

Swat squad, local police officers, and paramedics swarmed into the court room, securing the premise, offering help to those who had survived.

C.D. knelt beside Jimmy, fumbling for the keys to unlock the cuffs that chained the young Ranger to a bench. His hands were shaking with relief and joy to see Jimmy nearly unharmed.

"I’ll have you free in a sec, son!" C.D. promised his voice thick with emotion.

"Just take your time, Big Dog." Jimmy wiped the dried blood from his mouth. For a moment he closed his eyes and took a deep breath until the pounding in his head lessened.

"There you go!"

He felt C.D.’s guiding hands pushing him gently towards the bench.

"I’m fine, C.D." Trivette protested weakly.

"Sure ya are. But with that nasty bump on your head it wouldn’t hurt to sit down for a moment and have the paramedics have a look at it, wouldn’t it?"

"But I’ve to check on..."

"No you haven’t. They’re both doing fine believe me, Jimmy." C.D. looked thoughtful into Trivette’s eyes. "Besides that I guess Cordell really owes you one for today."

"Me?"

"Yeah. You. What you did and said to save Alex and the other hostages was more than just brave..."                    

"Brave?" Jimmy doubtfully shook his head. He gazed over to where Victor LaRue's lifeless body lay on the cold concrete floor with open unseeing eyes. Even in death a scary aura of evil still seemed to emanate from him.

"To be true Big Dog, I was scared. Scared as hell....and desperate" Jimmy’s voice faltered for a second. "But after all I couldn’t just stand by and watch LaRue kill Alex..."

"You bought Walker the time he needed."

"Right. What the hell took him so long anyway?"

C.D. sighted deeply. He had asked Walker the same question.

"You know, Big Dog, this time I won’t let him off the hook. He’s going to get a cell phone, even if I’ve to drag him..."

"Hold your horses, Jimmy. I guess you won’t need to call in the cavalry. I am certain Cordell learned his lesson today. " C.D. interrupted Jimmy.

Both men looked around and saw Alex and Walker still embracing each other, standing right in the middle of the room steady like rocks in a stormy sea.

Alex senses cleared slowly from shock and fear, only gradually allowing reality to gain a foothold on her thoughts.            

She became finally became fully aware of herself, how she clung tightly to Walker, her body pressed against his, her head buried in his shoulders, still seeking the physical comfort and reassurance that he was really there, and not just some fuzzy wishful thinking her brain had made up.

Alex lifted her eyes to look at him, and in doing so suddenly realized that something was wrong with him. He looked pale and distant. She felt fear gripping at her heart.

Only her subconsciousness had registered the shootout. Now her mind raced to replay the scene before her inner eyes.

LaRue had aimed straight at Walker and fired, but Walker didn’t fall.

LaRue couldn’t have missed.

Or could he?

Alex searched Walkers face, noticing a bit of sweat on his forehead.

"Everything is okay." he answered her unspoken question, but the hidden pain in his eyes betrayed his smile.

"You’re a poor liar, Walker!"

Almost at once he felt her hands glide over his chest searching for a wound, hoping her hands wouldn’t come back sticky wet with his blood.

Walker took a deep breath waiting for the unavoidable to happen.

He felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, and knew he should have known better than to try to hide something from Alex. Instinctively he flinched from her touch as her fingers probed over his chest and finally found what she had been looking for.

"You are wearing a protective vest?!" Alex said surprised and relieved at the same time. Beneath her fingertips she felt the tiny deadly piece of metal, flattened now and no more life threatening thanks to layers of bullet proofed material.

"Oh, Walker, you must be hurting like hell."

"I’m fine..."

"Sure. I know. You’ve been through worse than one or two broken ribs...but just to make sure the medics should have a look at you."

"Maybe later."

"Later?"

"Not now. And not here."

"What?" Alex asked baffled. "Are you afraid your reputation might would suffer?"

It was meant to be funny but Walker's silence told Alex that her remark hit a weak spot.

"You aren't embarrassed about wearing a bullet proofed vest, aren't you?." she wondered placing her hand gently on his arm.

"C.D. insisted I wear it. He wouldn’t let me go in without wearing one... I didn’t have the time argue with his stubbornness." Walker explained reluctantly.

God bless you, C.D., Alex thought. Loud she said. "You did the right thing."

"Did I?" Walker looked doubtful at the corpse of LaRue. Somehow he didn’t feel like he had played fair this time. How honorable was it to wear a vest in a fight with a man?

"You feel like you’ve cheated on him, don’t you?"

"In a way I have."

"Just because you protected yourself."

"Maybe. And maybe because I made him believe that he had a real chance when he had none at all." Walker looked at her with the vulnerable and innocent expression of a young boy on his face. The one she loved so much on him. "Besides that, I've never needed to wear a vest in a hostage situation before..."

"Oh, Walker." Alex shook her head enjoying how he opened up for her. Loving him for his strong ethics, his pride and deep feelings. It was one of those moments she felt very close to him. "At times you’re just a hopeless traditional good-guy."

"What’s that suppose to mean?"

Walker pulled her closer to make sure this was real.

He felt his doubts slowly vanish as she breathed softly in his ear.

"Vest or no vest, I love you, cowboy."

They kissed deep and passionately, not taking any notice of a few raised eyebrows around them. When he let her stand on her own feet again, Alex noticed that he winced in pain. The broken ribs troubled him more than he let on.

"You better have yourself looked at, Cowboy, I mean it. "       

"Oh, I will. Later. For now it can wait. This cannot."

He bend down to nibble her earlobe gently, whispering the timeless words that couldn’t be said often enough: "I love you too."