Good Will Towards Men

By Katheryn Sandoval (FanFiction.net’s hearthandhomeauthor)


Part 1


This third installment takes place shortly after the season 7 episode "Survival" and features the same cast of wonderful characters.

The H.O.P.E. center was buzzing with activity that December evening. Dozens of volunteers moved here and there, entering and exiting the little place with boxes filled to the brim and armloads of wrapped gifts with their shiny bows and green and red clad wrapping paper. It was Christmastime. The first Christmas in fact for Miss Cahill's H.O.P.E. center. And she was determined to do it right. Beginning with a large toy drive for prisoner's children and the local shelters. It wasn't much, but it was a start. And the community had responded wonderfully this day, crowding the building to form lines and workstations where volunteers could wrap gifts and distribute what donations had come in into their individual boxes.

Among the volunteers was Katheryn. Her joyful eyes and soft smile were apparent as she playfully struggled with the adhesive cover of a bow, removed it, and gently pressing it onto her seventh gift she had wrapped that afternoon.

Carlos continued to struggle with the adhesive strip on the back of his bow and sighed, nearly succumbing to the urge to toss the small object across the room. He set it down gently instead and turned towards Katheryn, stifling a smile. He noticed her apparent Christmas cheer as she worked. "Having fun?" He stated limply with a note of sarcasm.

Katheryn grinned her delight as she looked towards him, temporarily making eye contact before quickly returning her gaze to the work before her. "Now, get to work." She teased, another smile playing at her lips.

"You know," Carlos returned to his stubborn bow. "You'd think I could handle wrapping one measly gift after what I had to go through last week."

Katheryn sighed, her arms sagging as she rolled her eyes towards Carlos. "Don't remind me about that."

"About what?" He acted innocently as if he did nothing wrong. He occupied himself as he pushed up the falling sleeve of his sweater, turning away as if to ignore her.

"About what? About the fact that I didn't get to go with you all to Utah. It's so beautiful there. And you didn't think to invite me?"

Carlos smiled a smile of regret as if to say he was sorry. "Well…" He sighed. "I hear you did a great job of looking after the H.O.P.E. center for Alex."

"Yeah," Katheryn sighed. "But Josie could have done just as well as me if not better."

"If it's any consolation," Carlos paused, "I'm kinda glad you didn't come."

"Oh?" Katheryn glared at him.

Carlos nodded. "Those were some pretty bad guys who kidnapped Alex. I—I don't know what I would have done if they had taken you too."

Katheryn could not move a muscle as she took in his words. Did he say….?

Her thoughts were interrupted as a burst of cool air rushed inside the building as the entrance door swung open. Someone was holding it wide open and letting the heat escape. But it was only for a brief moment.

"Incoming!" a voice from behind a rather large load of toys warned as it waddled inside.

Carlos looked away from Katheryn only then as he caught a glimpse of the large, moving structure who didn't have a face. He moved from behind the table, glancing briefly towards Katheryn before rushing to the young man's aid. He took ahold of the largest item on top and set it down on the floor. He grinned a welcome to the young man. "Tommy Malloy. I thought that was you."

Tandy was right behind him with a large box of little trinkets and such while Mrs. Malloy followed. Yet a particular homey scent filled the air upon her arrival. Was it gingerbread or was it sugar cookies, she couldn't tell right away. But the smell received her hearty approval!

Katheryn snapped out of her reverie as soon as this smell had reached her. She too moved away from the table and aided her friends with their load. "Is that it?" She chuckled as Trent brought in his load.

Trent's breathy laugh was followed with a sigh as he set the heavy box on a nearby table. "Nope. Still a few in the trunk."

"I'll help." Katheryn smiled as she hurried forward, following Tommy and Tandy back outside.

Trent looked around the room at the volunteers hard at work, wrapping gifts and carrying on in the Christmas spirit. A faint note of "Joy to The World" struck his ears as he took in the sight. "This a wonderful thing Alex is doing."

"Yep." Carlos stood next to Trent, surveying the same scene before them with a smile.

"Have you thought about what you're getting me for Christmas?" Trent teased.

Carlos looked his way sarcastically. "Maybe. Maybe not."

"Now…" Trent cleared his throat. "What I'd really like to know is if you've thought about what you're getting Katheryn."

"Who?" Carlos blurted out.

Trent chuckled.

"Never mind." Carlos shook his head. "And yes…I—I've thought about it."

"And?" Trent urged.

"To be honest…" Carlos neared Trent in a whisper. "I may need your help to pull it off."

Trent raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh?"

Carlos nodded. "Well…It's not so much a gift as it is…a—a…" He sighed. "You know what, never mind." He returned to his post behind the table and picked up that same stubborn bow. He tugged on the strip with aggravation as Trent looked onward in disbelief.

Trent walked over to the table. "You like her don't you?"

Carlos was unmoved as he continued to struggle with the Christmas bow. He acted as if Trent had not said anything. And he did so on purpose as if to say yes to Trent's question by default.

Trent looked toward his friend in earnest. "C'mon. You can tell me. I promise I won't tell a single soul."

"Good." Carlos didn't look away from the bow. "Got it," he muttered under his breath before looking up to Trent. "Because I'm not telling you a thing."

"That means you do like her." Trent followed Carlos into the next room as Carlos deposited his fourth wrapped gift with the others in the large, growing pile.

"I didn't say that." Carlos shook his head as he walked back to the other room.

Trent followed. "It's plain as day, buddy."

"What's plain as day?" Katheryn announced her presence as she set a box of toys on the floor in front of the table that she and Carlos shared.

"Nothing!" Carlos blurted out as Trent was opening his mouth to speak.

Trent slowly closed his mouth back and sighed, willing away the smile that crept onto his face. He bowed his head for fear that it would show.

Katheryn's apprehension was obvious as she raised an eyebrow toward Carlos and chuckled lightly, rocking on her heel as she took a step back. She pointed behind herself with her thumb. "I'm gonna go make sure Tandy doesn't need any help." She couldn't wipe the confused smile off of her face as she walked away from the scene.

Carlos shook his head in aggravation once she was gone. "How could I have been so stupid?"

"Every guy is a little stupid when he's in love." Trent teased.

Carlos raised his eyes towards his childhood friend with an expression that told Trent he was less than displeased with his words. Carlos shook his head and mumbled something under his breath as he began wrapping another gift. In his confused state, he managed to tape the paper to the table instead of the box.

Trent chuckled aloud.

"Don't say a word." Carlos pointed straight at Trent with a very serious stare.

Trent raised his hands in a surrender. "I'm not. I promise."

Carlos ripped up the tape off the table before the others returned, saving himself the embarrassing moment.

This time, the Rangers accompanied Tandy and Katheryn, bringing with them boxes of toys also.

Ranger Trivette's broad smile greeted them warmly. He set the box on the table before them. "Here's some donations courtesy of the Texas Ranger Company B."

Trent grinned and looked them over. "That's wonderful."

Ranger Walker caught a glimpse of Carlos' struggle with the gift before him. "Everything going alright here?"

"Yeah. Peachy." Carlos slapped a piece of tape down onto the box.

"What's up with him?" Trivette whispered as he stopped by Trent on the way to the kitchen.

"Don't ask." Trent sighed.

Trivette shook it off and continued onward following his nose to the Christmas goodies he knew where around there someplace.

"Walker!" Trent neared his friend. "I'm glad you came. I was going to come by Ranger Headquarters later to ask if you might have a moment to come over to the church with me. Roscoe said he needs to speak with you. He didn't say why."

"Absolutely, Trent." Walker nodded. "We can even go now if it's no problem."

"Not at all. Thanks. I'll let mom know." Trent hurried away and was back a few moments later.

"Where you off to?" Carlos creased his forehead, his gift-wrapping exhibition going a bit smoother as time progressed.

"To talk with Roscoe." Trent moved towards the door as Carlos nodded. He turned back and winked at Carlos. "Have fun."

"Have fun." Carlos mimicked under his breath sarcastically as he put the last piece of tape on the present, securing it completely in the Santa-clad paper with a satisfied sigh of relief.

Katheryn found her way back to Carlos, munching on one of Mrs. Malloy's Christmas cookies. "Want one?"

Carlos looked upward and smiled. "Sure." And he quickly maneuvered away from his work station and accepted Katheryn's offer.

"So," Katheryn spoke up, swallowing before she continued. "What are your Christmas plans?"

"Plans?" Carlos was taken aback but thought through the question with ease. "Well, I usually spend it with family one way or another. Last year I spent it with my sister Teresa. And of course there's the Christmas Eve service that Reverend Jones holds every year. I never miss that." He paused. "As far as this year, I haven't made any solid plans. But it'll probably go something like that." He smiled on the last note.

"That sounds great." Katheryn smiled her approval before taking another bite of her cookie. "I must say, I do enjoy attending church with you all. Although I wish I saw more of you all there regularly. I guess the bad guys don't honor the Sabbath?"

The twosome chuckled.

"Nope. I guess not." Carlos grinned and finished off the rather delicious Christmas snack.

Katheryn drew in a deep breath as if she was about to say something rather important but stopped short, closing her gaping mouth.

"What?" Carlos stifled a soft laugh.

Katheryn rolled her eyes and told herself to spit it out. "I've decided to try out for the Texas Rangers."

"What?" Carlos' eyes grew wide with surprise as he grinned. "That—that's awesome. I, uh, I never expected that." His breathy laugh followed his statement and filled in the gap where his words trailed off.

"That is…" Katheryn's snarky smile rose to the surface. "If you wrap more presents than I do before the end of the hour." She nearly chuckled but kept it at bay.

Carlos glared at her and was slightly overwhelmed by her quick comeback. "That was not fair."

"Yeah, I know that." The young woman's delight shone from the grin on her face as she moved forward to wrap the gifts before them. By her rough calculation, there were nineteen gifts to wrap in their little allotment.

Carlos sighed at the sight and limply returned to his post. "Here goes nothing."

The clock struck three o'clock thirty-eight minutes later. Katheryn had wrapped two more presents than Carlos had before proceeding to announce her victory in the form of a broad smile and a playfully icy stare. She had won. And Carlos had a hard time keeping up with her for the rest of the day in more ways than one.

##

"Sally Andrews, this a Christmas pageant not a ballet practice. Now, be still with your hands at your side, young lady. And…" the tall older gentleman hurried over to another little boy in the little choir. "…Keep your hands to yourself. Don't be punching others in the arm." Reverend Jones stood to his full height and sighed. "God help us."

The church doors squeaked ever so quietly allowing a small stream of light onto the stained wood floors of the First Christian Church of Dallas. The holy silence of the place echoed the distant voices of the Reverend and the children to the ears of the two men who entered the building.

Trent shivered under the cold slightly as he and Ranger Walker eased up the center aisle to the altar where Reverend Roscoe Jones and his little sheep were apparently deep in discourse.

"Roscoe." Trent smiled as he surveyed the little lambs.

Reverend Jones spun round slowly to face the two men before him. "Oh, Trent." He sighed. "Thank God you're here. I need a break. Children, you can go get a cookie or something. Just take five." He grunted as he let his weight settle into the front pew lethargically.

Trent and Ranger Walker sat down just behind Roscoe on the next pew behind him.

"Lord." Roscoe laughed softly. "Of all the darn times for our choir and pageant director to be sick. I'm filling in for Angela while she's a bit under the weather. I got a feeling it has more to do with testing their old reverend."

Trent grinned. "I'm sure you'll survive."

"I'm not so sure." Roscoe laughed. "Now…On to more pressing business."

Walker leaned in with his dark Stetson between both of his hands. "You needed to speak with me, Roscoe?"

Reverend Jones nodded once and firmly. "Yes, sir. That I do." He was now serious with no ounce of humor in his voice.

"What's up, Roscoe?" Trent inquired of his friend.

"Well," the man sighed in earnest, stifling some feelings of anger he tried his best not to show. "It's the gangs, Walker. About…two weeks ago just after Thanksgiving, I arrived to find that week's offerings were gone. Vanished. Right out of my office. That kind of thing has never happened. So, I brushed it off and asked God to bring justice to the situation. Nothing happened the next week except Adam said two guys tried to rough him up coming home."

"I remember that." Trent broke in. "Tommy said he stuck up for Adam and they left."

Roscoe nodded with a heavy heart. "But they came back this week." He reached inside his coat pocket and drew out a small piece of paper, handing it to Trent.

Trent read aloud… "'You aren't gonna have Christmas if we have anything to say about it.'" Trent sighed and handed it to Walker.

Walker looked the note over before raising his eyes back to the Reverend. "What makes you think it's a gang?"

"You see that little mark in the corner of the paper?"

Walker nodded. Trent looked over at the paper to get a look.

Trent's sigh was low and debased. "That's the mark of the Falcons." His concern edged his voice.

"Yep. It is." Walker's concerned showed also. "Any other instances of them bother you or the church?"

Roscoe shook his head. "Not yet."

"I'll look into it right away." Walker promised as he stood to his feet.

Trent followed and then Reverend Jones as the children began to file back into the sanctuary with crummy faces and loudening voices.

Roscoe rolled his eyes upward. "Heaven help us."

Trent smiled and reached out a hand. "Keep in touch, Roscoe. Let us know if anything else happens."

"That I will do." Roscoe shook Trent's hand twice and firmly before bidding them good day and turning to the kids in their now crumb-covered pageant attire. "Oh, my Lord." He shook his head and set to work with the children, cleaning their faces and asking the Lord for strength.

"What do you think, Walker?" Trent spoke as the church door shut behind them as they directed their steps towards Walker's truck.

"I don't know." Walker sighed. "There's not much to go on." Walker and Trent each got into the truck and shut the doors. With the engine fired up, Walker put it into drive and dialed Trivette's number.

Ranger Trivette had just returned to Ranger Headquarters and hurried forward to answer his desk phone. "Yeah. Trivette."

"Trivette, see if you can locate any information on recent crimes committed by the Falcon gang."

"Alright." Trivette tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder and sat down at his desk, pecked a few keys on the keyboard, and turned back to the conversation. "I've got four crimes reported this month. All of them in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Four different gang members were charged with each of the crimes and were listed as being a member of the Falcons."

Walker nodded. "See what else you can find on the Falcons and their records. Also, check to see if they have had any activity reported near Roscoe Jones' church."

"Got it." Trivette hung up soon after and began to do as bid, munching on the Christmas cookies he had brought with him.

"Get in there." A female voice drew Trivette's attention. He stopped chewing as the entrance swung open.

Tommy Malloy was being gently pushed from behind by Katheryn. "Alright! Alright! Stop shoving." He tried not to laugh.

"Hey," Trivette leaned back. "What are you guys doing here?"

Tommy laughed softly. "Trent's gonna be mad if he finds out you drove his Stingray here."

Katheryn tried not to let that thought bother her. "No, he won't. Now just tell Trivette what you told me."

Tommy's laugh would not subside.

"What's so funny?" Trivette couldn't help but smile.

"Absolutely nothing." Katheryn was as serious as she could be as she stood there arms crossed, staring at Tommy completely unimpressed at his carrying on. "Tommy." She tapped him on the shoulder. "Speak."

"Trivette!" The door burst open as Carlos rushed forward. He was out of breath as he ceased running. "Someone stole Trent's Sting…" He turned his head towards Katheryn and Tommy, stopping short as he realized what had happened. "—ray. It's…outside. What—what are you guys doing here? And…" He smiled. "Who drove the Corvette here?" His smiled faded. "Tommy? Did you?"

"No." Tommy glared at Carlos. "I'd never touch Trent's prized possession. You know that."

"Then…" Carlos wrinkled his forehead. He smiled then frowned in confusion. He smiled again. "You drove?" He directed towards Katheryn with a confused, sideways smile.

She nodded and rolled her eyes as if the knowledge thereof should have been apparent. "But that's not the important thing." Katheryn glared back at Tommy.

Tommy cleared his throat, forcing himself not to laugh. Out of his jeans pocket he drew a slip of paper and placed it on Ranger Trivette's desk. "I found this on our porch this morning."

Carlos picked it up before the Ranger had the chance. "No. It couldn't be." He shook his head and tossed it back onto the Ranger's desk.

Trivette picked it up and read the note to himself. "What it is, Carlos?"

"The mark in the corner," Carlos began. "It reminds me of a prank the Trey-Sevens would put over on the gang I was a part of."

Katheryn looked towards Carlos. Her eyes were free of aggravation and were now filled with intrigue. "You were a part of a gang?"

Carlos met with her gaze and nodded. "When I was kid. Yeah."

Katheryn remember what Carlos had told her that night they were holed up together on their undercover mission three months ago. He had told her about his falling in with the wrong crowd. She had never known about this though. Katheryn wondered silently what had happened to change his life for the good.

"What kind of prank?" Tommy questioned.

"Well, Tommy, to the gangs, Christmas was just another excuse to party, get drunk, and carry on with no regard for others. So the Trey-Sevens had decided one year to do something fun in addition to their gangbanging they normally did to sort of…celebrate." Carlos inhaled as he continued. "About a week before Christmas, the Trey-Sevens came on to the Deuce Street Roller's turf and decided to rob a small convenience store there during the night. They left a note at the scene of the crime with the Roller's symbol in the corner. So when the authorities got there the next day, the assumed that several of the Rollers were guilty and caught them off guard and took them down. The cops then didn't even investigate. They called it open and shut and the Trey-Sevens got off scot-free."

"That's terrible." Katheryn inserted.

"What's worse is they killed somebody a week later on Christmas Eve. They left a similar note. I guess the investigators didn't stop to think about what was happening between the two cases. The other gang leader went down for the murder and the Trey-Sevens are still on the streets as we speak."

Trivette nodded. "But how do you know for sure this is the same kind of instance."

"I don't." Carlos confessed, exhaling as memories of his former life flashed through his mind. "I don't," he repeated, turning away as he recalled those bitter days.

Katheryn stood helpless by Tommy's side and wanted with all her might to near Carlos and offer some sort of encouragement. She held firm to her place by Trivette's desk, convincing herself that it would do no good. Katheryn soon began to regret that decision. Yet she did gather up the courage enough to speak up. "Carlos, are you alright?"

He forced a smile. "Yeah. I'm alright."

"Can we go now?" Tommy broke into the discourse.

"Yeah." Katheryn smiled broadly.

"Who's driving the Corvette?" Trivette teased as he lifted the note and crossed to Walker's desk and rested it there.

Carlos nodded. "I'm right behind you two. I've got to see this."

Carlos stood by the curb in front of Ranger Headquarters and grimaced at the sight before him. His leather jacket wrinkled at his waist as he slipped his hands into his jeans' pockets. He shook his head softly, exchanging a wary glance towards an apprehensive Tommy who slowly got into the passenger seat.

Meanwhile, Katheryn rounded the front of the blue beauty with a grin on her face, popped open the door, and settled into the driver's seat. Her smile never faded as she rested her left hand atop the wheel and reached the other hand to crank the sports car up. It fired away and roared smoothly. Katheryn was one happy camper as she looked back towards a cringing Carlos.

"Yep." Carlos sighed. "Trent's not gonna be very happy."

"Why not?" Katheryn teased.

Carlos leaned forward with both hands on the passenger door. "If I have to explain that to you, then you're toast."

Katheryn winked at Carlos through her smile which set him on edge. She seemed to be more confident than him in the matter which made him feel slightly overwhelmed. She put the car in drive and waited for Carlos to lift away off of the vehicle before she took her foot off of the brake pedal. He did as bid, succumbing to the persuasive twinkle in her eyes as she sped away and into the street.

He watched with caution as she actually drove the machine quite well. He raised his eyebrows in surprise as she round the corner smoothly and with pretty good precision. He was impressed to say the least.

Just then, Ranger Walker pulled up next to the curb to park. He got out and neared Carlos. "What are you doing here, Carlos?"

"Long story." Carlos shook his head as he stifled an oncoming shiver. He looked up at the sky. "You think we could get snow this Christmas, Walker?"

Walker chuckled. "In Texas? That'll never happen." He proceeded forward towards the broad Headquarters steps a few paces away.

Carlos followed alongside. "Tommy and Katheryn were just here. Tommy found a note with the mark of the Falcons on it."

"He did?" Walker stated with surprise edging his voice. "That's funny. That's what Roscoe was showing us. He found one with the Falcon's mark at his church."

Carlos' breathy laugh was not without some sarcasm. "Then it has to be them."

"Who?" Walker opened the door of Ranger Headquarters and entered, letting Carlos in before it closed on them.

"The Trey-Sevens."

"Why would it be them?"

"I just have this feeling, you know. Reminds of something they did awhile back."

"With the murder of that little boy?" Walker finished his thought.

Carlos nodded. "Yeah." Sadness laced his low tone as they hurried up the flights of stairs and back into the Company B office.

"Okay, thanks." Trivette hung up the phone. He stood, a large freshly-printed poster in hand as Walker and Detective Sandoval entered the large office space. "Walker. Take a look at this." He handed Walker the handbill.

The Sergeant accepted the piece of paper and looked it over.

"What is it?" Carlos queried.

Trivette crossed his arms. "Those three men were just released from prison last month. They are also wanted in connection with several robberies near Reverend Jones' church and the surrounding neighborhoods. They have a record of gangbanging."

Carlos caught a glimpse of the paper that Ranger Walker held and shook his head. He sighed as the memory of the three young men who appeared to be about the same age as himself rushed back into his memory. In one sweeping second, the memory of it all had returned. Those three men had no doubt belonged to the same gang that Carlos had been a part of those many years ago.


Part 2


Trent Malloy stood in the driveway of 118 Providence Way, his arms crossed and a displeased look caressing his usually pleasant features as he paced up and then back before stopping at a standstill as he heard the soft roar of his Corvette coming up the street. A sarcastic grin eased onto his face as he stifled a great amount of displeasure that welled up within him as he saw his beautiful car turn into the Malloy driveway.

The cautious driver slowed even more and inched her way into the lane, stopping by the closed garage doors. She eased from the vehicle and forced herself to make eye contact with Trent with a penitent demeanor about herself as she feigned a smile.

Tommy stood out of the car and made his way over to the two silent creatures before him and wished the silence to break. Yet Trent's expression told them all they needed to know.

"I'm sorry." Katheryn broke the silence. Her voice teetered on the last note as she looked away and then back at Trent. "Would you forgive me if I said it was important?"

Trent stood emotionless and thought through his words carefully. He was not a man of anger and was not going to start today. He exhaled, releasing the emotional pressure that had built up within him. "Yes. I forgive you. But you can only imagine the anxiety of finding your rather delicate prized possession missing from the H.O.P.E. center's driveway when I returned. It's a good thing mom was there to drive me home."

Katheryn was hurt by just her own thoughts that she had hindered her trust with her friend and immediately wished she had not done it. Not simply because Trent was upset. But because she didn't want anything coming between them as good friends. It scarred her a little as she thought this through.

"However," Trent interrupted her thoughts. "Carlos called just a few minutes ago and told me that you are a rather good driver. So…I thank you for taking such good care of it." He extended an open hand in which Katheryn deposited his keys with a limp smile accompanying it. He quickly shoved the item into his coat pocket and sighed. "So…What was the important thing that caused such an impulsive decision to occur?"

Tommy looked towards his brother. "Another one of those gang notes was on our porch this morning like the one Reverend Jones' had. I shoved it in my pocket and forgot about it until I went for it while helping at the H.O.P.E. center. Katheryn forced me to come with her and give it to the Rangers before I forgot about it."

"And as you know, I have yet to get a car of my own since moving here." Katheryn finished the thought. "And your mother was quite busy helping Miss Cahill."

"I see." Trent looked to the concrete drive below and then back up at Katheryn. His usual sparkle had returned to his eyes as he spoke this time which greatly relieved Katheryn as she now smiled a legitimate smile.

"Is Reverend Jones' okay?" Katheryn changed the subject but not to avoid the discussion at hand of course.

"Yes. He just gave us that note from the gang and told us what had happened. He's okay though. A bit stressed by leading the children's choir." Trent smiled. "But he's alright."

Katheryn's concern grew apparent. "Why is he leading them? Is Miss Angela sick?"

Trent nodded.

A hundred thoughts rushed through her mind. "I could help." She finally released.

"You've been a part of choir?" Tommy questioned.

"Not exactly." Katheryn admitted. "But I—I can somewhat sing. Perhaps I can be of some help to Roscoe. Can you take me by the church, Trent? I've just gotta make sure he couldn't use my help."

Trent smiled. "Sure. First think in the morning."

Katheryn gripped Trent's hand in a friendly way with a smile of thankfulness before she rushed away, walking alongside Tommy.

"So, how long is it gonna be before the renovations are done at the H.O.P.E. center?" Tommy teased.

"Why?" a smile eased from the corner of Katheryn's mouth. "You trying to get rid of me?"

Tommy shook his head. "Of course not. It's just…crowded."

Katheryn laughed softly. "Seriously?" She punched him on the shoulder playfully as the two shared a laugh as they entered the Malloy home.

Trent admired the sight from afar as he stood by his Corvette which was still in one piece thankfully. Then a bright idea entered his mind. He would have to speak with Carlos as soon as possible regarding this rather urgent Christmas matter.

##

Moses barked his disapproval ever so loudly as he pounced around the foyer of the Malloy home, trying his best to get his master's attention as the doorbell sounded once then twice. Mrs. Malloy hurried through the hall from the kitchen, bits of soap bubbles dotting her hands and face as she was attempting to wash the morning's breakfast dishes. She reached for the door handle and found the need to use her shirt hem as the surface was now quite slippery due to her wet hands. She finally got the stubborn door open and tried her best to smile broadly. It was legitimately a feigned attempt.

"Good day, ma'am." A rather tall, robust man in delivery worker attire grinned. The dim skies outside shadowed his cheeky smile. "Beautiful day isn't it?"

Mrs. Malloy's breathy chuckle was not without some sarcasm as she glanced toward the sky and back at the delivery man. "Of course." She cordially nodded.

The man glanced down at a piece of paper atop the long rectangular box he sheltered against his blue jacket. He muttered a few rudimentary things to himself as he struggled to write something down with his pen while still holding the large box. Mrs. Malloy sighed to herself, trying her best to have patience with the rather genial man.

"Ah, okay." The man looked up with a grin and extended the box. "I have a delivery here for a, um, Katheryn? Do I have the right address? I swear if this company doesn't get an address wrong at least three times a day." He laughed at the end.

Mrs. Malloy processed his words carefully and responded rather quickly. "Oh, this is the right place." She reach for the box and secured it between her two arms, trying her best not to get any wet soap bubbles on the delicate frame of the box. She grinned a goodbye to the man before easing back inside and shutting the door with her foot. Hurrying into the kitchen, she deposited the box on an empty space of the counter gently before returning to dish washing.

Tommy sauntered in with his hands in his pockets. He smiled. "Oh, is that for me?"

"No, it's not, young man." Katie scrubbed a glass, rinsed it, and set it on the dish rack to dry before proceeding to the next one.

Tommy leaned over the box and squinted to read the label. "To Katheryn." He smiled. "Secret admirer, eh?"

"Oh, it isn't no secret, son."

Tommy was clearly confused. "What?"

Katie shook her head and sighed. A sly smile eased onto her face as she finished washing the very last dish and turned around, changing the subject. "Young man, I'm going to need your help this afternoon."

"Awe, mom. It's Saturday. Adam and me were gonna go hit the courts."

"Not today. Besides, it's much too cold. We've got Christmas decorations to get out of the attic. And your brother told me he's got a few pressing things to take care of. So it's up to you and me." She began hand-drying the dishes and placing them in their respectable cupboards. "We are already two weeks behind. Your father would be appalled that we let the Christmas spirit wait for this long. Today's the day. No changing my mind, so don't try to change it, Thomas Joseph Malloy."

Tommy knew he was done for as he sighed while leaving the kitchen. "I'll go call Adam."

Katheryn bypassed Tommy with a fading smile. "What's up with him?"

"Between the karate school and just plain busyness, we haven't had time to decorate for Christmas. I just informed Tommy that his one-on-one with Adam would have to be postponed."

"Oh, I see." Katheryn nodded with a sarcastic cringe. She reached for a towel and began helping dry the dishes before them. "Can't Trent help?"

"He would," Katie nodded. "Except he told me he has some pressing business to attend to today."

Katheryn could not deny her intrigue for whatever it was Trent had to do but suppressed the desire to ask. Instead, the box nearby caught her eye. "What's that?" She turned back to the dish in her hand.

"Oh," Katie remembered the package and inwardly scolded herself for not speaking about it sooner. "That's for you." She smiled on that last note.

"What?" Katheryn stifled a chuckle.

"Nothing. I just have my suspicions." She nodded towards the item. "Go ahead. Go open it."

Katheryn was apprehensive in her demeanor as she set the dish towel aside. The nervous smile never ceased from her face as she gently opened the box. A soft and nearly undetectable gasp escaped her quite uncharacteristically of her in the moment.

"What is it?" Mrs. Malloy stretched to see. A smile to herself told that she already knew.

"Roses," was all Katheryn could manage as she drew out the flowers from the box.

Tandy skipped into the room and stopped short, gazing at the pretty flowers. "Flowers!" Her broad smile could have lit up the entire room.

"That they are." Mrs. Malloy inspected the scene from a distance. "Was there a card?"

Katheryn looked the entire box over both inside and out. It was to no avail. Her disappointed sigh was followed by a shake of her head. "Nope. No card."

"Well, then. It appears you have a secret admirer." Katie smiled.

"It appears so." Katheryn chuckled, trying not to blush. "Although I dearly wish the giver would have left a card or something as to give me a clue." She slipped into a playfully subtle British accent as she looked towards a gleeful Tandy.

"Hey, what's this on the floor?" a voice from the next room over called aloud.

The two women exchanged emotionless glances and then hurried forward slowly. Could it be?

Tommy was holding a three-by-five piece of matte paper and was checking it out when the ladies arrived in the next room.

Katheryn hurried forward and lightly snatched it from Tommy.

"Hey, I was reading." Tommy sighed and awaited her response.

Katheryn read in to herself quickly. A smile became broader and broader on her face as she read.

"What's it say?" Tandy tugged on Katheryn's shirttails.

"It's a secret." Katheryn returned to the kitchen quickly and slipped it into the box with the roses.

"Best get those beauties in some water soon." Mrs. Malloy followed her back to the kitchen.

"I will." Katheryn had managed to stop smiling for a few minutes.

A little girl's giggle turned her head as she saw Tommy whispering into Tandy's ear. "Hey. What's that about?"

Tommy only smiled and shrugged his shoulders as he rose back to his full height.

"You two get to the attic," Mrs. Malloy instructed. "I'll be right behind you."

Katheryn's thoughts were far from the little discourse as she turned back to her little gift.

The children hurried off, allowing the stillness of the winter morning to return.

"What did it say?" Mrs. Malloy turned to Katheryn with intrigue in her eyes.

Katheryn sighed. "Well, if you must know…." She drew the card back out of the box and handed it to Mrs. Malloy.

Mrs. Malloy raised her hand in refusal. "Nope. If want to read it to me, then fine. But I won't read it like others I know." She wrinkled her forehead with feigned aggravation followed by a smile.

Katheryn took in a deep breath. "'I know this doesn't make up for not asking you to come to Utah with us. But I hope it brings you a bit of Christmas cheer. Signed…from someone who already has plenty of Christmas cheer because of someone like you.'"

"That is rather romantic." Mrs. Malloy ended with a dreamy sigh to tease Katheryn with.

"Stop it." She teased in return, stifling a laugh.

"Any idea who it could be from?" Katie prodded further.

"Well, that's somewhat obvious."

"Oh?"

"Of all the people who went to Utah the other week, it could only be Trent or Carlos."

"It could be Trivette."

"No, I have a feeling it's…." She stopped short, realizing she was about to reveal the one who she had at least hoped the note was from.

Mrs. Malloy looked onward, urging her onward.

Katheryn put the card back in the box and returned back to drying the dishes. It was silly. Childish. Could he actually be having the same thoughts as she had these past few months? She had heard the stories…of how he was the quintessential ladies' man and never knew true commitment. Or was it just his desire to find the one and only for him that gave him such a fervor that had led him away so many times? Could she be getting her hopes up for nothing? What was she kidding herself? She right then and there decided to put all hopes aside and simply receive this gift as it was being given…from a friend.

As the twinkle left Katheryn's eye, Katie moved to her side and gently took her hand in hers. Katheryn set down the now well-dried dish and looked up to face Mrs. Malloy. All the older woman gave her was a gentle smile and a look of assuring that she fully understood. "It's Carlos, isn't it?"

Katheryn nodded limply, suppressing the smile that wanted to come with all its might. "Yes. I've stayed up a few late nights, I can tell you that. But I haven't lost any sleep." She finally let out a chuckle.

"Give it time. Don't get ahead of yourself by any means." Mrs. Malloy returned, patting the young woman's hand softly.

Katheryn nodded vigorously and gave Mrs. Malloy a brief hug and thanks before being stirred by the sound of Trent's Stingray in the driveway. She pulled away slowly with a smile. "There's Trent. I've gotta get going."

"Where are you off to?"

"The church. I asked Trent to take me there to see if Pastor Jones might need some help with the pageant while Miss Angela's gone."

"Good thinking." Mrs. Malloy smiled and waved a goodbye as the young woman drew up her coat and small handbag from the foyer and hurried outside, hopping into the passenger seat next to Trent before he put the sports car in drive and headed towards the First Christian Church of Dallas.

##

Trent's Stingray powered down in front of the dojo softly and smoothly as music to his ears. He eased from the car and glanced around him as if he were attempting some top secret mission. Trent's eyes continued to glance to and from his path as he made his way up to the door, unlocked it, and slipped inside, glancing one last time at the street before securing the door behind him. The immensely quiet hall echoed each of his heavy-footed steps as he made his way to the loft office area. Sitting down, he stretched a glance out of the window. Only his Stingray remained. No one else had come.

His thought began to drift…as he slowly leaned back into the seat and crossed his legs. An elongated sigh passed over his lips as he turned his head, gazing over the vast dojo below. His short smile transported him back to the day he first arrived home almost two years ago. Wow…it had really been that long. He shook his head and muttered something inaudible.

(flashback to "Sons of Thunder")

It was just shortly after Thunder Malloy's funeral that crowds of mourners, both people who had been touched by the man and close friends and family had gathered in the place to comfort the family and bring some sense of joy to the hearts where there was none.

Tommy was sitting on the porch with Moses at his feet, watching aimlessly as people came and went, wishing them well and offering their best to the family in their time of grief. In all honesty, he would have rather been left alone. Why all the to-do for such a time?

Yet it was the presence of one young and accomplished Army Ranger who had just returned home from a successful career with the Green Berets that brought a shift to the ground the Malloy family stood upon. He was no longer his own man, having left seminary much to his father's chagrin to pursue a life in the military.

Years came. Years went. And after all this time, Trent Malloy was now the man of the house and was left with such a responsibility and yearning of heart. What next was often his heart's beating question. He loved his family dearly. And for that he would have to decide if he would stay.

The uniformed young man had not been home for but a mere cluster of hours yet was thrust back into a new world. A world of family…friends…church family…mentors…comrades. In that one dark and lonely afternoon, it all came back to him in one sweeping emotion. But he would stay strong. Deep down, this was just a bend in the road…not the end of the highway.

"Need any help, Mom?" He whispered to his mom as he paced through the kitchen.

"I'm okay in here. Why don't you go in the living room? I'm sure you have a lot of catching up to do."

"Starting with me. Hi, Trent."

Trent turned to see Miss Alex Cahill behind him. "Hi, Alex." She offered a warm embrace and a reassuring smile.

(end flashback)

Trent's reverie continued as he looked onward over the vast scape of downtown Dallas which could be seen for miles on end. Yet he didn't see the skyscape or the blistering winter sunshine which glared off of their faraway towers. He was still remembering…remembering that day.

(flashback)

Thunder Malloy's voice echoed in Trent's mind as he gazed over the items in his father's study. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall...

Trent stood with a trophy of his from his younger days in his hand.

"Brings back memories, doesn't it?" A voice from behind stirred him away from his reverie.

"It does."

Walker glanced at the trophy in Trent's hands. "Hey, I remember this tournament. You were one heck of a competitor."

"I had one heck of a teacher." Trent admitted.

(Trent's journey back in time continued to the conversation with Walker after a rather good workout in the ring.)

The twosome were hard at work, catching their breaths and the thoughts that came with them.

"So, what's your plans?"

Trent inhaled and exhaled deeply and continuously. "To tell you the truth, I don't know. I've been giving it a lot of thought though. I'm supposed to be back on the base Monday but then I've got responsibilities to my family and it's kind of tearing me up.

"I remember another time when you were kind of torn up. As I recall, you worked through that okay."

"Yeah, with your help."

"Well, always here when you need me."

(end flashback)

"Trent!" A voice called Trent out of his deep trip down memory lane.

His head turned and processed the voice that called. "Yeah…I'm up here!"

Carlos hurried round the corner and up the steps to the loft office. "Sheesh, it's cold out there."

"Yup." Trent smiled aimlessly.

"What? What is it?" Carlos took a seat next near Trent at the desk.

"Nothing."

"Coulda fooled me. C'mon, buddy. What is it?"

Trent sighed. "I was just remembering those first days when I came back home."

Carlos nodded.

"It—it all went by so fast it seems. But at the time, I didn't know what the future held." Trent set a hand on the Bible before him. "I can't take any of the credit for sure."

Carlos nodded again as he listened carefully to what his close friend said. He then glanced at his watch and back to Trent. "Oh, um, sorry I'm late."

"No problem, Carlos." Trent then managed to remove himself from his wandering thoughts long enough to smile and remember why they had agreed to meet in secret in the first place.

"You know, you really need an official office." Carlos glanced around the narrow space.

"What do you think this is?" Trent queried.

"It's a loft, Trent, not an official office for a private investigator."

"Oh, I'm no private investigator." Trent shook his head.

"Sure you are." Carlos offered a playful slap to Trent's back.

Trent defended his case. "I offer personal protection. That's a bit different."

"Alright." Carlos surrendered. "Now, what is that is so pressing you wanted to meet without anyone else knowing?"

"Well," Trent sighed, turning to his friend with a sly smile. "I thought you may be able to answer that question."

"Come again?"

"The other day you said you might need my help with a certain Christmas gift for a certain someone. So…tell me about it."

"Oh, that," Carlos rolled his eyes ever so easily away from Trent.

"It can't be all that bad, can it?" Trent teased.

"At this point, I might as well forget the whole thing. She probably think I'm some kind of a stalker, trying to get her attention."

Trent laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"The ladies' man here is afraid he's made a girl mad? I thought you'd be used to girls giving you the upper hand by now."

"Not funny." Carlos glared at Trent. "Besides, I'd be kinda hurt if this girl said no."

"Oh, so you've never been hurt by a girl saying no before, huh?"

"Well, maybe….Once…or twice. But after a few days, I usually realized she wasn't the one, and it didn't bother me to see her go."

"Ah, I see." Trent turned to look at a paper on his desk where he had scribbled a few numbers. He then looked back towards Carlos.

Carlos gathered his words carefully and then spoke. "To tell you the truth, I haven't the slightest idea what to get her for Christmas. I mean…especially after…."

"Especially after what?"

"After…." Carlos struggled to confess. "After…I sent her flowers."

"You did what?" Trent feigned his amazement.

"Don't look so surprised." Carlos grimaced slightly to himself.

"No, that—that's a good thing, Carlos. Baby steps." He smiled.

"The thing is…I sent them anonymously."

"Why?" Trent's forehead creased with confusion.

"Because…I thought it may seem…more romantic that way." Carlos fumed inside, trying to reassure himself that it was the right decision he had made. "You know…put a little intrigue and guesswork into it."

"Well," Trent sighed, "If you want my opinion, you'll live. She'll live. And I bet she is pleased with her gift right now and is wondering who the sender was."

Carlos cringed. "What if she doesn't like the fact that they came from me?"

"How could any girl not like you, Carlos?"

Carlos raised his eyebrows with intrigue. "True."

"Now…to help you even more…I think I've come up with the perfect gift you could get Katheryn for Christmas." He planted his finger on the page in front of them, indicating for Carlos to have a look.

"You're kidding." Carlos grinned broadly as he read the words on the page. "Really?!"

Trent nodded with a smile. "And between your funds and mine, I think we could go in on it together. What do you say?"

Carlos didn't wait one breath. "Let's do it." He clapped and stood, hurrying down from the loft and into the cold. No winter weather or anything else could keep him from securing such a gift for a certain girl he now was sure to consider a bit more special than any other girl he had ever met.

Three tall, haunting figures ambled away from the brick walls of the dojo and slowly approached Carlos from behind.

The tallest and most overpowering one spoke. His feigned authority laced each syllable as he spoke. "Ese!"

Carlos froze, his hand on his unmarked car's driver side handle which faced the karate school. He remembered the voice. Slowly turning to face the voice, Carlos issued a sarcastic smile to the curious onlookers. "What are you doing here, Manuel?"

The street-smart young man scoffed. "Checking up on our old amigo."

Carlos eyes narrowed towards Manuel. "And why would you be doing that?"

He shrugged in return. "No, reason."

"Then why don't you leave?" Carlos turned back to his car. To him the conversation was over.

"Why the cold shoulder?" Manuel stepped closer to Carlos. "You don't like your old buddies anymore? Ya cold on the Rollers now? Huh?"

Carlos turned around once more. "I put the Deuces behind me a long time ago. And I also put behind me everything that they stand for. Now I am for the other side of justice. And if you don't honor the law, I'll have to take you in."

Manuel and the others laughed. "You'd do that to a brother?"

"No." Carlos shook his head. "I'd do that to anyone who breaks the law."

"Oh, touchy now are we?" Manuel laughed, lifting his hands and backing away slowing with a laugh.

"By the way," Carlos cocked his head to one side softly. "If I catch you anywhere near my friends, you're done for." He pointed his index finger straight at Manuel.

Manuel scoffed and glared angrily at Carlos. He threw off his words with a toss of his head to his other friends. "C'mon. He's just a no good punk now. Let's get outta here." And the three sauntered down and across the street away from view.

Carlos watched their every step until they were completely out of view.

Trent had now made his way out of the dojo and was locking up. "Who were those guys?"

Carlos' forehead was wrinkled and focused on his thoughts. "A nightmare from the past."

"The Deuces?" Trent seemed surprised as he looked towards where Carlos was looking into the distance as he neared his friend.

"Yep." Carlos sighed and turned to his car. "C'mon. Walker's expecting us."

"Sure thing." Trent headed for his Stingray with purpose and revved the engine as he followed Carlos back to Ranger Headquarters.


Part 3


The usual busyness of the Company B Ranger Headquarters buzzed steadily as the silence hung over the two Rangers as they worked away at their desks, reading papers, signing documents, and researching files.

Trivette's eyes eased up over the file he was reading to see Ranger Walker intent in his research. He slid the file back up to cover his face. A few seconds later, the file came down again. This time, he completely set in down. "So…" Trivette cleared his throat. "What are you getting me for Christmas?"

The senior Ranger never stirred. "A gift."

Trivette rolled his eyes. "Duh."

"Well then…Why did you ask?" Walker continued reading.

Trivette mouthed his words back to him mockingly as he moved to type something in at his computer. He sighed. "Never mind."

Trent and Carlos entered, disrupting the now null conversation with intent upon their case at hand.

"Any update?" Trent was the first to speak.

"Not yet." Trivette admitted, closing the file on his desk with a sigh. "Seems these guys have gone low profile since their last offense."

Carlos shook his head. "Not for long."

Trivette looked towards Sandoval in earnest.

"Those three gang members who were released from prison last month paid me a visit within the past hour," Carlos continued.

"Where did this happen?" Walker inquired.

"Back at the dojo." Trent interjected.

"What did they want?" Trivette listened closely.

"It's more like what they were trying to prove." Carlos shook his head in disgust, sighing as he glanced downward. "They were young members of the Rollers when I was a part of the gang many years ago." He finally let the words come although it tasted bitter and just as bad to hear.

"I see." Walker sighed and leaned back in his office chair. "What do you think they were trying to prove?"

Carlos was indifferent, wishing the matter to stay in the past but pressing on to solve the issue of the present. "That I'm a coward for ever having left."

"That's a lie." Trent scoffed.

"Yeah. I know." Carlos took a step forward. "Yet knowing them, I can only imagine what they've been up to in order to have known I was at the dojo."

Trivette leaned forward. "You think they could be linked to the notes being left around?"

"I don't think so." Carlos sighed. "I know so."

"How?" Trent turned to his friend not because of doubt but of observation.

"Revenge." It was Carlos' only answer as he sank into the chair in front of Walker's desk. Trent moved to the one beside him.

Trivette eased from behind his desk and joined them, standing near Walker as Carlos' thoughts roamed and returned. "You think they are forging the other gang's mark?"

Carlos nodded intently. "Exactly."

"So that they hopefully can do in whichever gang it was that did them in long ago." Trent finished with a sigh of intrigue.

Walker nodded also. "So the Deuces were not to blame for the murder. But they never knew which gang actually framed them." He settled into his thoughts for a short moment.

"So they don't really want to hurt anyone. They are just out to get revenge." Trent sorted through the situation.

"Not quite." Carlos shook his head. "They still probably will be intent upon committing an offense. Or else the Falcons or Trey-Sevens will never be arrested for anything."

"True." Trent rose to his feet and paced the room in thought. "Is there any way we could catch them in the act?"

Walker heard the question and thought it through carefully. "No. If Carlos is being followed, they most likely can't be caught off guard then….Carlos, you know them best. What do you think their next move will be?"

Carlos thought through each threat that each note had put forth. You aren't gonna have Christmas if we have anything to say about it…I'm sure you'd like to know what we'd do next…Cowards never prosper. "They'll try to get to something that means a lot to me. Perhaps someone who I've been seen with a lot. I know they've followed me. It's like they have some personal vendetta against both me and the gang who did them in. Me for leaving and not helping them and the other gangs for obvious reasons." A thought suddenly struck him. "No…They wouldn't." He suppressed the fear that rose up in him at the instant this thought passed through his mind. "They'll go after Katheryn."

Carlos had risen and was gone before any of the others there could stop him. Trent and the Rangers were not too far behind.

"Get in," Trent called to his friend as he rushed passed Carlos and quickly got into his Corvette.

Carlos' thoughts were in a hundred different places as he managed to do as bid. The tires squealed and spun loudly against the pavement as Trent put the vehicle into drive and issued a silent prayer that perhaps their guess was wrong. Perhaps Carlos was wrong. It was a long shot for sure. He then followed with another silent prayer that they wouldn't be too late in their arrival at the church. For they truly had no way of knowing what to expect upon their arrival.

##

The still and quiet church echoed Katheryn's every step as her winter clogs sounded against the hard floors of the house of God. She took every step with a small smile on her face as she gripped her handbag at her shoulder and lifted her gaze around her in admiration.

Pastor Jones stood up from where he was seated at the far left of the altar and beamed a welcome to the young lady. "Katheryn," he smiled, giving her a warm embrace. "It's good to see you."

"You too, Reverend." The young lady grinned as she felt blessed through and through to have a shepherd in Reverend Jones.

"I haven't had much of a chance to speak with you since you started attending our little congregation. But I've heard numerous things about you from the Malloys."

"Good things I hope." Katheryn chuckled.

"Oh, absolutely." The Reverend's soft laugh echoed away. "So…What you brings you by the Lord's house on such a day as today?"

She took a step back with a smile and sigh. "I asked Trent to bring me so that I could ask if you need any help. I heard that Miss Angela was under the weather, and I just couldn't live with myself without asking if you needed any assistance until she returns."

"That is so good of you to ask." The Reverend sighed. "To be completely honest, I prayed so fervently yesterday for the Lord to bring by his angelic help." He laughed a little and sighed. "I guess he sent that angel in the form of you."

Katheryn only smiled towards the Reverend with a slight nod, her heart overflowing at the chance to work in God's house. Defeating bad guys wasn't the only thing that filled her with adventurous rush. The simple things often brought her a sense of satisfaction. It was why she had come to Dallas in the first place to help Miss Cahill in her community outreach endeavors. It was something that had always been on her heart and would never leave her tender heart.

A gentle knock rapped against the church doors. Its soft echo reached the twosome at the altar.

The Reverend smiled. "That's probably the children now. Say…Why don't I help with practice today to give you an idea of what we've been going over for the Christmas pageant. Then it's all yours from there. Is that okay?"

"Of course." Katheryn nodded.

The good Reverend patted the young woman on the hand with thankfulness and briskly moved past her to open the church doors for the children. He had almost reached the vast doors when one slowly eased open, stopping the reverend in his steps as a tall black-clad street gang member shadowed the doorway with a sideways smile and a sly plan.

Roscoe held his ground, staring the young man in the eyes. "What do you want, young man?"

The young man glanced around the sanctuary sarcastically and looked back, piercing the pastor's equally challenging gaze. "Her." Manuel's words were not with a note of disdain as he turned up his nose on the syllable.

Katheryn stood motionless at the altar…almost where a bride would stand…as she faced the back of the church with no emotion but with numerous silent prayers which turned and turned with her as she hoped this young man meant no harm. Yet that last word pierced her hopes and dashed them, bringing a panic to her heart that she denied with all her might. She had been successful so far.

"You can't have her." Roscoe stared the young man down even harder.

"Who's gonna stop me, ese?"

"I will!" Roscoe called out to the young man with authority. "And if not me than the Lord Almighty."

Manuel laughed his statement off as three more Deuces filed into the house of God.

Katheryn's eyes grew a bit larger as she quickly tried to devise a plan of escape. But how could she when their eyes were right on her? She could dart for the back room…the side door…under the pews. All these options seemed viable. But they would only chase her. She sighed inwardly….She would have to defend herself someway. Katheryn only prayed that they wouldn't hurt Roscoe before she had the chance.

The second Deuce drew out a match from his sagging jeans' pocket and laughed aloud.

Oh no! Katheryn's thoughts raged. They wouldn't!

The third gang member began tossing mounds of gasoline around the porch of the church and reached the inside, saturating parts of the foyer as he walked forward and into the sanctuary.

Manuel smiled ruefully. "Hand her over and spare the church. It's up to you…punk."

The invigorating stench of the liquid quickly reach Katheryn as she closed her eyes and tried to take a breath. But it was to no avail. She was too tensed inside. Instead her small, shallow breaths were all that kept her calm. It was enough… She opened her eyes to courageously face whatever was to come.

"Alright!" Roscoe feigned a surrender to the gang. "I'll hand her over!"

The third young man ceased from pouring the vile liquid and stood erect.

"Good choice." Manuel grinned.

"You just wait here." Roscoe turned to walk up the aisle.

Katheryn could not believe her ears. How could Reverend Jones do such a thing? Or…Was the good pastor concocting his own plan amidst these criminals? She prayed that it would turn out to be the latter.

Roscoe reached her and guided her up the aisle. He tried his best to speak where the gang could not tell that he was doing so. "As soon as we reach that middle pew, you turn around and find the back entrance. You run as fast as you can, Katheryn."

Katheryn barely nodded…Just enough that only Reverend Jones could have told.

The two reached that middle pew in a few seconds. Roscoe halted his step as a signal, causing Katheryn's swift nature to be put into high gear. She then spun on her heels with all her might and charged for the back entrance. Her arms pumped at her sides as she quickly reached the front and to the side, aiming for whatever door she could find. She had not been this way many times before.

Manuel screamed a curse into the air with great displeasure and ran after the young woman himself, slamming into Roscoe as he went. His body fell to the floor with a force as the other gang members reached him, tying his hands together behind his back and doing everything short but spitting in his face as they forced him onto the middle pew.

Katheryn panted softly as she ceased running. She had finally reached a door. She turned the handle with all her might. Yet it didn't budge. She slammed her body against it. Still nothing. Her aggravated sigh gave her the strength she needed as she leaned back and charged the door with the bottom of her foot. To no avail, she nearly collapsed at the foot of the door but held her ground as she recovered.

It was no use. Manuel's tall figure now had ran straight in front of her, catching her off guard and blocking her way as her panting voice caught in her throat with a small gasp. She swallowed hard, determined to face him instead of fear him.

Manuel gripped her arm forcefully and dragged her back to where Roscoe was now tied up at one of the pews.

She didn't fight his grip but cringed underneath his grasp. "You sure got a lot of guts to be committing an offense inside of a church."

"What does it matter?" His warm breath beat against her cheek as he glared into her hazel eyes with irreverent disdain. He just about threw her on the floor at Roscoe's feet.

On her own accord, she pushed herself up and sat on the pew next to her pastor. "You won't get away with this." Katheryn pressed further.

"Maybe." Manuel scoffed. "But it least it proves I'm better."

"Better than what?" Roscoe threw Manuel's words back to him.

"Better than that no good Detective Sandoval."

Katheryn's eyes quickly lifted back to Manuel's as he spoke that name. "What about Carlos?"

Manuel scoffed, bending down to the young woman with an evil smile. "I got his girl."

"I'm not his girl." Katheryn smiled sarcastically and glared into his eyes.

"You're with him all the time. What else would you be to him?"

"A friend!" Her voice echoed through the church. "And if you hurt any of my friends…" Her voice caught in her throat, causing her to stop talking. Yet she wished with all her might she could have finished putting that scoundrel back in his place.

"You'll do what?" Manuel's breath beat against her cheek once more.

Katheryn cringed and swiftly turned away. She could look at him no longer.

To the side, an anxious young man tossed a few dry matched up into the air and caught them as they fell back into his hand. He laughed gleefully as he did so.

And still the other gang member lifted the gas can. "I got more fuel here. Let's light the place up!" He raised the can over his head.

Katheryn slowly eased her gaze back to Manuel although it took all her courage to do so.

Her emotionless fervor seemed to pierce right into Manuel. "No!" He shouted angrily. "We'll take them with us. But let the church be."

The fourth gang member had been watching through the now closed door's window the whole time. He stirred from his watch and hurried to Manuel. "There's somebody coming, man! We gotta get outta here!" He darted for the back of the church.

The others wanted to run too but looked to Manuel to tell them what to do. "C'mon! What ya waiting on, man?"

"Yeah…What are you waiting on?" Katheryn glared at him.

"Shut up!" Manuel struck her on the face with a forceful blow, causing her to shelter her face against her right shoulder as she turned away from the evil before her. Her hands were tied now. There's nothing she could do.

The doors swung open with a violent force. Cool winds blew through the entrance as Carlos Sandoval's steps ceased in the entrance, his stance taken and eyes pointed to Manuel. He had his gun drawn and now aimed at the one who he used to call brother so many years ago.

The other two Rollers ran for the back door.

"Whoa now!" Manuel called out for mercy. His sarcasm held no fear as he took a step forward. "Somehow I knew you'd come."

Carlos' eyes were narrowed and his forehead wrinkled as he aimed the gun and stifled the rising anger within him. "You better not have hurt anyone."

Katheryn's gentle voice rose slightly in the form of a trifling moan as she lifted her head.

"Katheryn?" Carlos' anger grew stagnant and in its place was hope that she was alright.

"Carlos?" She returned weakly but with hope.

"Be careful, son!" Roscoe lifted his voice despite the gang's many threats.

Carlos' eyes were narrowed against the man before him as they looked above the weapon in his outstretched hand. "What do you want, Manuel?" He called out stridently as he took a few slow steps up the aisle. Katheryn and Roscoe came into his view out of the corner of his eye as he moved forward and neared the middle of the sanctuary where the two were being held captive on the pew.

"To take you down." The tall young man retorted with a laugh.

"Then leave them out of it. Let them go. If it's me you want, then fight me. A deuce would have never hidden behind a hostage to get their way. You're a coward now, Manuel."

Manuel was now agitated. Carlos' words were bitter to him as he cringed, stifling his growing anger and reached a swift hand inside his leather coat, drawing out a pistol and aiming it straight at Carlos.

"Carlos!" Katheryn softly gasped.

Carlos stood even firmer as the two aimed their guns towards each other. Carlos breathed hard as he inhaled. "I don't want to hurt you, Manuel. And you don't have to do this!"

"Try to stop me!" Manuel yelled as he shook the gun at Carlos. His unsteady hand and his weary eyes filled with fear and trepidation instead of authority and the sense of false justice he had once always stood for as a Roller.

Carlos was unmoved. His knuckles turned white as he held a firm grasp to the gun with both hands. His index finger was ready to pull the trigger at any moment. "Only you can choose, Manuel. Now…put the gun away."

Trent's shadow then filled the doorway as seconds passed them by. He was ready if need be, his frame shadowing the floor before him as he remained ready to come to his friend's aid. The Rangers were now in the process of chasing down, fighting against, and capturing the three runaway gang members that had since found the light of day outside. They would most likely not see the light of day again for a very long time. Now it was up to Manuel to decide which side of darkness he preferred for the future which laid before him. Yet vengeance and greed blinded his sight and fogged his better judgment…if he had any left that time as a gang member had not already erased.

Manuel slowly eased the gun down and sighed. It had nearly reached his side…and Carlos had almost relaxed…when the vicious young man raised his hand again and fired three shots in the air. Katheryn and Reverend Jones ducked below the pews the best they could as Manuel rushed away from them and toward the back of the church.

Katheryn watched as Manuel ran away. His shadowy figure disappeared from view and towards the back of the church. By near impulse, she rushed away from the pew and into the open only to see Carlos lying lifeless on the floor.

"Carlos!" Trent rushed to his friend's side. Both Katheryn and Trent had found their way to him at nearly the exact same time.

Katheryn's eyes filled with tears that she refused to shed as Carlos began to stir. She attempted a smile through the imminent fear that tempted her. "Carlos. I'm right here. Can you sit up?"

Carlos' eyes eased open as he cringed and grunted slightly, reaching his right hand up to his now blood-stained left shoulder as he tried to sit upright. Katheryn quickly wiped at a free-falling tear and smiled, thankful that he was still alive.

"I'm gonna go call an ambulance." Trent directed to them both just before he rushed away.

"Is he alright?" Reverend Jones called out over his shoulder to Katheryn.

"It looks like the bullet went clean through." She reported to Roscoe and a weary Carlos who was fully conscience despite the pain that seized his shoulder.

He leaned his back against the side edge of one of the pews and took a deep breath. "That's good I suppose," he managed, looking up into Katheryn's eyes. He searched for them, but couldn't find them. "Are you alright?"

She rolled her eyes. "Don't you be worrying about me."

Carlos smiled as he breathed hard, his forehead wrinkled as he willed away the pain. "Looks like you'll be wrapping the rest of the presents this year."

Katheryn laughed softly and shook her head. Inwardly, she wanted to scold him for making her laugh when he was hurt. It wasn't very nice. The bullet may have hurt Carlos' arm, but his humor was far from being damaged.


Part 4


The darkened interrogation rooms back at Ranger Headquarters were less than festive for the three Deuce Street Rollers that the Rangers had apprehended that morning. With Manuel's escape from the church grounds, it was up to the Rangers to get the answers they needed to take him down once and for all. Rangers Walker and Trivette each took one gang member. And an additional Ranger was brought onto the case to interrogate the third…Ranger Roberta Hunt.

Two hours passed and still not one of the gang bangers would speak up. They were each hard-pressed to say nothing to anyone.

Bobbie sighed as she approached the senior Rangers who waited just outside the door as she closed the heavy door behind her. "Nothing, Ranger Walker. He won't talk. And he won't take a deal."

"If Carlos was here, do you think he could get through to them?" Trivette posed the idea. Yet it was null as Carlos was currently being treated at the hospital. Both Trent and Katheryn had gone with him.

"Yeah." Walker released a discouraged sigh and led his fellow Rangers back to the Company B office. A thought entered his mind as he walked. He kept walking as he spoke. "Trivette, you said these guys were released from prison last month."

"Yeah." Trivette nodded, staying in step with his partner.

"On what reason were they released?"

Trivette thought about it for a second before he spoke. "Come to think of it, I think it was on a technicality."

Bobbie scoffed. "Yeah. A technicality alright. Probably a set-up."

"Or not." Walker opened the door to the Company B office and approached his desk.

The other Rangers stood watching with interest as Walker picked up the phone and dialed a number. A few seconds later, a voice from the other end spoke. "Alex…Can you pull the file on the Deuce Street Rollers case from several years back. Manuel Herrera was one of the young men on trial."

"Sure thing." Alex's muffled voice sounded from the other end of the receiver.

Miss Cahill arrived at the Company B office from her downstairs office shortly thereafter with papers and a file in hand. She handed the items off to Ranger Walker with confidence, looking to the others also as she explained what she had found out. "Manuel and the oldest two were found innocent of the charges they were originally indicted for after a retrial was called for. Apparently, an anonymous witness came forward with a tip that they were not the ones who were on the scene of the crime that night. After the trial, they were released and no other arrests were made due to a lack of evidence against any other gangs in that immediate area."

"Apparently they didn't investigate good enough." Bobbie inserted in a feeble manner with a sigh.

"Well, Bobbie, if what Detective Sandoval said was true, then you're right. Because they never questioned anyone outside of the Deuces turf." Ranger Walker concluded.

"And the Trey-Sevens' turf was outside of the area they investigated." Trivette finished, the revelation finally coming to him also.

Bobbie squinted in her confusion. "What I don't get is how they were found innocent so easy by one witness' tip."

Alex sighed. "Well, I can remember that Judge Prather was swamped with cases that month. I should know because I was too. A tip was just what he needed to get the case over with. He didn't need that retrial on top of all the original cases he had to deal with. It was just a bother to him."

Bobbie shook her head in disbelief. "Well...looks like we have some work to do."

Walker nodded. "Yep. We sure do. Starting with that anonymous witness."

##

Carlos sat upright in the hospital bed, his shoulder bandaged to the nines and his arm already placed in a sling. He was restless but tried his best to not let it show as Trent and Katheryn surrounded him with as much comfort as could be afforded to a person in his present state. Katheryn sat in the chair next to the bed with her elbows propped on her knees while both fists rested beneath her chin.

She smiled slightly as Trent spoke while standing across from her on the other side of the bed. "You know, Carlos, the doc said that you're one lucky guy. A little bit more to the left and you would have been a goner."

A silence fell among the friends as they realized the magnitude of Trent's statement.

Carlos sighed. "I still don't see why they wanted to keep me overnight."

Katheryn sat upright, folding her hands in front of her and away from her face. She glared toward Carlos with care. "They just want to monitor you, silly. That was quite the hit you took."

"Yeah." He raised an eyebrow with disdain. "I suppose you're right. But you guys don't have to stay…that is…if you don't want to."

Trent looked towards Katheryn. "You hear that? He's trying to get rid of us." He smiled.

Katheryn stuck out her bottom lip towards Carlos and feigned a sniffle followed by a soft smile.

"You two." Carlos nearly rolled his eyes as he shook his head.

Trent's light chuckle faded into a smile as he rounded the front of the bed and nodded towards Katheryn. "We'll go see how Ranger Walker is doing with finding Manuel. How's that?"

Carlos nodded. "I just wish I could go with you."

"I know it, buddy." Trent pointed his finger at Carlos. "Now you listen to the doctor. And get better so that we can come get you tomorrow."

"Sure thing." Carlos tipped his head back and smiled at Katheryn as she remained seated.

Trent turned back as he rested his hand on the doorframe. "You coming, Katheryn?"

Katheryn nodded. "You go on ahead."

"You sure?

Katheryn nodded once more.

"Alright then. I'll see you both later." Trent waved his goodbyes and ambled down the hospital hall away from sight.

The monitors in the room beat steadily and surely filling in the silence that fell into the room.

Carlos looked towards Katheryn in earnest. "You didn't have to stay."

With the silence broken, Katheryn knew she'd have to say what weighed heavy on her mind sooner or later. She had to tell him. "I wanted to stay." She forced a smile.

Carlos smiled softly and turned to the window admiring the streak of sunlight before turning back to Katheryn as she opened her mouth to speak.

"Carlos…"

"Yeah?" He faced her with intrigue.

"Back there…at the church…I don't know what came over me."

"What do you mean?"

She struggled with her words inwardly. Sorting them out served as an even harder task. "I could have helped…instead of running. I could have tried…"

Carlos raised his free hand with a shake of his head. "Don't even go there. It's not your fault."

"Oh, I know that." Katheryn was quick to insert. "I have played it over and over in my mind since this morning…and I don't know what came over me for me to have not tried to defend myself in some way. I could have tried. I don't know." She buried her face in her hands and sighed.

"I see." Carlos glanced downward.

"I mean…For pity's sake I fought a serial killer off to a degree a few weeks ago." Katheryn raised her gaze back to Carlos. "You'd have thought I could handle this." She outstretched her hands in front of her as she gestured in earnest on that last syllable.

"Don't be hard on yourself. You'll be just fine. I can't tell you how many cops I've seen that go through a period of time where they just aren't able to fight…"

"But that's the thing, Carlos. I wanted to. Why didn't I?"

Carlos shook his head before looking into her eyes. "I don't know." He paused, glancing downward before lifting his gaze back to Katheryn once more. "But one thing I do know is that you are the most complex and challenging young woman I've ever met. You challenge me and often times overwhelm me with how much you can handle. So don't let one measly slip-up get you down. You're a great fighter. Trent could vouch for that. I'm sure you'll do great in the future."

Katheryn could not take her eyes off of Carlos as he spoke. His words seemed to make everything right again as she smiled to tell him she understood. "So…" She grinned. "What are you getting me for Christmas?" Katheryn stifled a soft laugh that rose up from her.

Carlos looked her with raised eyebrows and a confused expression. "Who said I was getting you anything?" He tried not to smile.

"Well then…I might not get you anything then." Katheryn teased.

Carlos laughed softly. "Alright…If that's the game you wanna play."

A soft knock sounded open the opened door of the hospital room.

Katheryn turned around with her broad smile still beaming from her face as she saw a woman a bit older than her standing in the doorway. She wore darkened slacks and a deep mahogany button-up. A silver Ranger's star was situated firmly on the left of her chest.

"You must be Katheryn." The woman smiled.

"Um," Katheryn stood and crossed to the Ranger with a return smile. "Yes…Yes I'm Katheryn. And you are?"

"My apologies." She shook her head. "I'm Ranger Roberta Hunt. But everyone calls me Bobbie."

Katheryn shook her hand firmly and nodded. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise." The Ranger looked past Katheryn. "And how's the patient here?"

"Sore." Carlos sighed.

Bobbie chuckled. "Hopefully not for long."

"Indeed."

Bobbie looked towards Katheryn. "Ranger Walker sent me over to check on you and make sure you don't need anything. Do you need a ride home or anything?"

"Well, I was planning to stay." She looked towards Carlos.

Carlos smiled. "I'll be alright. I won't go anywhere."

Katheryn suppressed a chuckle and turned back to Bobbie. "I guess a ride home would be nice."

Bobbie smiled. "Great."

Katheryn was preparing to leave when Carlos' voice stopped her short. She turned back to face him with a smile.

"Could you tell Trent to run by my apartment and pick up a few things?"

"Sure." Katheryn nodded. "I mean…" She glanced at Bobbie then back to Carlos. "I'm sure I could run by if you'd like. It wouldn't be any trouble."

Carlos offered a reluctant smile. "I don't know. I mean…Trent's been to my apartment before…."

"So you're afraid I can't handle it." Katheryn interrupted him.

"No," he inserted with a rising intonation.

"Then what are you saying?" Katheryn's eye focused on Carlos with a pressure beyond words.

Bobbie stifled a laugh as she waited by the door. Her light snicker could be heard within the pin-drop silence as Carlos' stared blankly at Katheryn, his mouth gaping slightly open.

"But you'll be alone." He tried his best to win the unwinnable war before him. He was grasping at straws now…much to his own chagrin.

"No I won't." The young woman shook her head. "Ranger Hunt here is my ride. She'll be with me."

Carlos' sigh of surrender was short-lived as he bowed his head, shaking it slightly. He thin slipped her a note with a glance that was full of sarcasm.

"Then it's settled." Katheryn took the note carefully and marched away. A smile eased beyond her lips as she walked past Ranger Hunt.

Bobbie returned her smile, making brief eye contact as Katheryn went by. Bobbie nodded to Carlos. "Good day, detective."

Carlos nodded cordially and lifted a hand as a goodbye. Now alone, Carlos' thoughts turned to the case at hand. Although he knew that the others would insist he leave the case to them and rest, he couldn't. It had hit too close to home for him to just let it be. He trusted the Rangers of course. It wasn't a matter of trust. It was the fact that someone he had known as a friend…as a brother…as a Deuce…still walked a failing path. He had put Carlos where he was now. And yet Carlos still wanted to help him in any way he can.

Carlos also wished that perhaps they would be able to take Manuel alive…so that he would have another chance at life…at truly living life. He also had thought about what charges Manuel would have had on him…had he not survived…had Manuel taken his life.

Carlos shook away that bitter thought as he came out of his reverie. The repetitious tones of the hospital monitors at his side and the traffic and speakers of the outside corridors pulled him back to reality, causing him to remember everything…everyone he could have never seen again had Manuel successfully accomplished what he in his sickened mind had sought as justice.

Leaning his head back against the pillow behind his neck, Carlos sighed roughly, closing his eyes against the troubles he could do nothing about. To be bedridden was not the high life of an officer. And it was by no means a delight to him. He decided to think good thoughts…about his life…family…friends…anything to take his mind of off the current circumstance he found himself in.

His first memory was that of the day he first struck back up his friendship with childhood friend Trent Malloy when he came home after his father passed away. He remembered the haphazard way he was called to the scene of jewelry heist only to find out it was well under control by the time he got there. He smiled a bit as he kept his eyes shut, the scene of the defeated foe lying helpless on the mall floor flashed before his memory. Carlos then recalled the moment he was promoted to detective nearly a year later. For him, it was a dream come true…And it still was.

Opening his eyes he sighed. Getting back to being who he was…a detective…was the only thing pressing in his mind. There was work to be done. He should be solving cases not counting ceiling tiles.

Now you listen to the doctor. And get better so that we can come get you tomorrow. Trent's voice echoed in his mind. Carlos rolled his eyes and surrendered, laying his head back rather forcefully in an attempt to get some much-needed…and required rest.

##

It was well past suppertime and the skies had since grown quite dark when Trent and Katheryn finally pulled into the Malloy driveway in his Corvette. The twosome traveled the short path up to the porch, arriving at the porch landing quietly. Gentle sound and harmonies of "Silent Night" reached their ears, and distant voices could be heard. A little girl's laugh. A young man's playful defense. A mother's warning as a child attempted to do test his bounds and see how far he could go.

Trent leaned towards Katheryn in a whisper. "I have a feeling that the Christmas spirit has officially arrived to the Malloy household. Katheryn smiled her approval and wished Trent would unlock the door so that she could settle her curiosity and visualize the pleasant sounds they only heard through the door at the moment.

Trent reached for the door and opened it ever so slowly and quietly. He held the door open for Katheryn, standing to the side with a smile as Katheryn made her way inside. She quickly but carefully slipped out of her coat and so did Trent.

The two eager ones eased closer to the living room, following their ears and their noses as a fresh pine scent began to reach them. As predicted, a newly-cut tree awaited them in the candle-lit room. A cassette player sat off to the side, playing an array of Christmas carols. Christmas lights lined every inch of the floor while beads and ornaments were scattered everywhere on both furniture and tables.

"Trent!" Tandy squealed and ran over to her big brother.

Trent laughed heartily as he scooped the oncoming little girl into his arms. "You having fun?"

Tandy nodded eagerly with a smile from ear to ear. She then revealed to Trent a small ornament in her hand. "Mama said this was my baby ornament."

"Sure was." Trent nodded firmly and gently took up the item in one hand as he held on to Tandy was his other arm. "I remember it well. We got it for your first Christmas when you were a baby and gave it a special place on the tree just for you."

Tandy grinned towards her brother in delight.

Trent gently set her back down on the floor, handing the small piece back to her. "Now you go pick out a good spot for it."

The little girl nodded eagerly and went to do as bid.

"Christmas in the eyes of a child." Katheryn issued a smile as she took in the scene before her.

Trent walked forward and sorted through a small box of ornaments that had been laid aside on the side table.

"What are those?" Katheryn peeked over his shoulder.

Trent smiled. "These are rather special. It's a collection of ornaments that represents the people outside of our family who we consider family." He looked towards Katheryn hoping that had made sense. He turned back to the box and drew out an ornament that was in the shape of a police car. In black letters was scribbled a name that she couldn't quite make out as the ornament swayed. "This one is for Carlos."

Katheryn smiled and took it in her hands.

Trent continued to explain as Katheryn admired the piece. "You see, each person outside of our family who we consider to still be our family has a special ornament on the tree."

Katheryn was rather pleased by the tradition as she handed Carlos' ornament back to Trent carefully.

"Here's one for Walker and one for Miss Cahill." Trent continued to sort through the little shoebox. "Here's one for Roscoe and Adam. Everyone special has one."

"That is so lovely, Trent." Katheryn continued to show her approval on her face.

Trent turned to her swiftly. "Come to think of it…We haven't given you one yet."

Katheryn chuckled nervously. "I suppose not."

"Mom." Trent called to Mrs. Malloy.

"What is it, son?" Katie crossed the room. Her arms were filled with poinsettias and décor for the rest of the house.

"We've yet to assign an ornament to the newest member of the family." Trent's eyes communicated an extra undertone as he spoke.

Mrs. Malloy's soft gasp was nearly undetectable but showed her legitimate concern. "You're right, Trent." Mrs. Malloy deposited the items on the already crowded sofa. "I'll be right back." Returning moments later with yet another time-worn shoe box, Mrs. Malloy took the lid off of the little box and put it safely beneath it. She neared Katheryn with a smile. "It's your pick, darling. Any one of these. I've collected them over the years for just such an occasion."

Katheryn took the box into her arms and thanked Katie before retreating to the kitchen where she found a seat at the kitchen table and set the box before her. One by one, she inspected each ornament with delight. Each one was unique and special. Each one she liked. A small chuckle escaped her as she came across several karate-inspired pieces. It seemed fitting enough she concluded.

Then she came across a rather unique ornament fashioned after a set of binoculars. "Hmm…" she sighed as she inspected the little thing. "I think I found the one." She smiled, satisfied with her choice as she pushed away from the table and made her way back to the living room with the ornament in hand.

The five persons there were well-engrossed in decorating the space when she entered. She cleared her throat. "I think I found it."

Trent clapped his hands once as he met her halfway across the room. She extended her arm, handing the ornament to him. He took it gently from her and inspected it. "Tommy, the marker."

Tommy ran softly over to him and gave him the black ink marker. With slow precision, Trent etched Katheryn's name onto the bottom of the ornament before handing it back to her. "How's that?"

She smiled. "Works for me!"

"Now find a home for it on the tree." Mrs. Malloy urged stepping out of the way.

The multi-colored lights shown bright against Katheryn as she eased closer and closer to the rather beautiful tree, looking the tall evergreen over a few times in an attempt to find the perfect home for "her" ornament. One bare spot drew her attention as she eased forward and hooked the ornament in place. Perfect she thought to herself, stepping away and admiring the place. Yep…It was perfect…situated pristinely inches away from Carlos' on one side and Trent's on the other. Katheryn sighed as she noticed the strategic placement and how it was ever so much closer to Carlos' than to Trent's. Her now faded smile reappeared again as she looked the entire tree over. "Perfect. Simply perfect." And the rest of her evening was well-spent with the Malloys in bringing even more Christmas cheer to the place that already had enough love of family to go around. Yet Katheryn basked in it. She loved it. And she inwardly wished she could stay there in it forever.


Part 5 (final part)


Nearly two weeks had passed since Carlos had faced off with Manuel Herrera in the church and had failed to apprehend the young gang leader. All tips had led to a standstill. No one came forward, the other gang members remained silent, and the anonymous person who had caused the retrial could not be traced. It seemed as if Manuel had disappeared. But they all knew that was nonsense. No criminal ever was lost or non-existent. He was there. He had just yet to be found.

Christmas Eve was in two days. No other notes had been left, and everyone one waited anxiously to see if all would go well in the days to come. After all, the threat had been made that Pastor Jones would not have a merry Christmas if they had anything to say about it. The Christmas Eve service was near. Could it be that it was a target for something bigger? Had Manuel laid low this whole time to only bring about his intentions at such a time? The Rangers considered it to be a strong possibility.

"How's the arm?" Katheryn cringed as she traced the hall of Ranger Headquarters in between Trent and Carlos. They had just come from the hospital from picking up Carlos. Trent's threat of rest hadn't worked after all to secure Carlos a fast release. But his first wish to be back on the case with the Rangers. If Manuel had stayed hidden for this long, something big was surely to come. Carlos could sense it.

"Still pretty sore." Carlos admitted. "Doc says the sling can go in a month if I'm lucky."

"That's great." Katheryn smiled as they neared the Company B office. She stifled a growing giddiness that rose up within her.

"What's up with you?" Trent suppressed a chuckle and only smiled towards her instead.

"Oh, I'm just looking forward to tonight." Her smile ceased as she glared once toward each of them in all seriousness. "Y'all will be there. Right?"

"Of course, Katheryn." Carlos grinned and nodded to reassure her.

"Good." She sighed with relief. "Then if you'll excuse me…" She halted her step and whirled on her heel to face the two young men. "I'm off to the Ranger gym."

"The Ranger gym. Whatever for?" Trent's eyes showed his growing intrigue.

"Ranger Hunt invited me to workout with her some. Perhaps go a few rounds of kickboxing." She couldn't stop grinning as she playfully punched Trent on the arm.

"Well, we wouldn't want to keep you then. Would we, Trent?" Carlos crossed his arms in front of him as he looked towards his friend.

"No, I suppose not." Trent chuckled.

"Great!" Katheryn bid them goodbye and hurried away. She silently wondered to herself as she walked with lightened steps if perhaps she had been slightly too enthusiastic. She shook away the reverie, assuring herself it was alright.

"That girl…" Trent shook his head.

"Yeah." Carlos' smile was no longer there as a gazed headlong at Katheryn's disappearing figure. "She sure is something."

"Speaking of…" Trent tried his best to pull Carlos back into reality. "I do believe we have a certain Christmas present to pick up sometime before Christmas Day."

Carlos came out of his daydream with a nodding smile. "That we do." He laughed heartily…almost pleased with himself…and pushed open the door to the Company B office with his free hand.

"Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes." Trivette grinned broadly as Carlos neared his desk.

Carlos only smiled. "I guess I should be saying it's good to be alive."

Walker gently set his coffee cup back on its coaster. "That it is." He chimed in.

"Any update?" Trent broke in, hating to shadow the reunion.

Trivette leaned back in his office chair with his hands interlocked behind his head. "Nope. Not a thing. It's as if Manuel Herrera fell off the face of the earth."

Carlos scoffed. "He didn't. Trust me." He nearly rolled his eyes.

"What do you mean, Carlos?" Walker's eyes narrowed.

"I—I just know him, Walker. We were like brothers. He hasn't disappeared. He's smarter than that."

"Then maybe you'd know where he might hide." Trent glared towards Carlos.

Carlos sighed. Apprehension laced his tone of voice.

Trent sensed that Carlos was hiding something. Yet that was not like him to do that. "Carlos…Are you protecting him?" Trent didn't like the sound of the words even as he spoke them…let alone how they could have possibly sounded to his good friend.

"Not exactly." Carlos sighed, bowing his head as he struggled inwardly.

Trivette leaned forward, giving his full attention. "Do you know possibly who the anonymous witness could be?"

Trent's eyes widened in agreement. "Yeah. Could it have been a gang member?"

"I doubt it." Carlos regretted his words even as he said them. He paused…his forehead wrinkled as he prepared to speak again. "Because…it was me."

Ranger Walker nodded…as if his suspicions had just been proven correct.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Trent's agitation grew.

"I guess part of me had hoped Manuel would give himself up." Carlos sighed and turned away from view, pacing a step forward and then back to face the Rangers again.

"Wait," Trivette wrinkled his forehead amid his confusion. "How were you the witness?"

Carlos sighed yet again, gripping the bridge of his nose with his finger and thumb as he warded off the haunting memories of the past with closed eyes. He released it finally and let himself be seated in front of Walker's desk. "I had just joined the police force when I was assigned patrol of the very neighborhood I grew up in. It was around midnight when I saw some gang members hanging around that store. I watched from the distance as they went in. After I called for backup, I just waited to see what would happen. There were too many for me to take down alone. But by the time backup arrived, the gang had already escaped."

"How did you know for sure it wasn't the Rollers though?" Trent queried.

"A tattoo." Carlos focused on his words and not one person in the room as he answered. "As the leader passed under the streetlight, I saw the tattoo of the Trey-Sevens' leader."

"Then why wasn't the Trey-Sevens indicted?" Trivette posed. "If you testified that it was definitely a Trey-Seven that was there."

Carlos shook his head. "That was hearsay that the tattoo actually belonged to a member of the Trey-Sevens. There was no proof. The only proof I had to offer was the fact that none of the Rollers that had been charged had a tattoo like the one I saw on the young man who left the scene of the crime."

"I see." Trivette shook his head. "Sheesh."

"Because of what I knew, Manuel always saw me as a threat. He figured that I would try to prevent him from getting revenge on the gang that put him away."

"So even though you help to prove his innocence, he still needed you out of the way." Trent concluded.

Carlos nodded. "Yep."

Trent scoffed. "What brother he was."

Carlos sighed. "He was a good kid. He just made a few bad choices along the way."

"So where do you think he'll go?" Trivette continued.

"He still wants revenge against the gang that put him in jail." Carlos settled into his thoughts. "But you haven't received any reports of gang-related deaths in two weeks?" He looked towards Walker.

"Not one." Walker sighed. "But supposing he tried to get on their good side?"

"Come again?" Carlos leaned his head slightly back.

Walker stood and paced towards Trivette's desk. "Manuel's a smart young man. He knows that after trying to prank the Falcons, they would most likely be on his trail."

Trivette nodded. "You're right, Walker. So if he's on the run…where would he go?"

Carlos shook his head as the unthinkable came to his mind. "He's in danger."

"Well, of course he is." Trent looked to Carlos.

"No…I—I mean…" Carlos struggled. "I think the Trey-Sevens may have tried to approach him…get him on their side."

"That would explain why he's supposedly disappeared." Trivette concluded.

Carlos shook his head. "I don't know."

"Your instincts were pretty accurate last time, Carlos." Walker encouraged him to continue.

Carlos thought through all the times he and Manuel had spent gangbanging and for the life of him could not come up with a reasonable scenario for the young man's disappearance. He thought about all their old haunts and hideouts. He thought through various comments the young man had made over time that might hint to something. Nothing. Carlos kept drawing a blank. He stood to his feet and paced away from them and then back.

"Walker!" A voice alerted the group as the person to whom it belonged bounded into the office space. One of the junior Rangers halted near the group. "There's been a shooting."

##

The four men arrived at the scene of the shooting about fifteen minutes later. The place was just five minutes away from Carlos' childhood home. Situated on Trey-Seven turf, the dilapidated warehouse building was surrounded by streams of police tape and at least five DPD cars surrounded the little area. Their flashing lights and static radios reverberated throughout the yard.

Carlos eased from Trent's Stingray and crossed the lawn, readying his badge as he approached one of the officers. "What happened here?"

The officer was quite nonchalant as he turned to Sandoval. "Some gang member got in a fight with another gang member." He scoffed. "At least another punk is off the street for good." The officer pushed himself off his patrol car and started forward.

Carlos looked toward him in disbelief as he walked away only to have his gaze drawn by two other officers who currently was leading a gang member out of the building in handcuffs.

Trent had caught up with him by now as they both stood at the edge of the tape. "Is he one of the Falcons?"

"Nope." Carlos bowed his head and raised it again. "He's a Trey-Seven."

Another officer then escorted a second young man from the building. There was no sign of Manuel Herrera anywhere.

"I'm gonna head inside." Carlos threw over his shoulder as he stooped below the police tape and stood back upright once he was on the other side.

"Alright." Trent waited where he was.

The Rangers caught a glimpse of Carlos from a distance and started towards him as he entered the building.

The dark and dingy place wreaked and was quite the unpleasant sight as Carlos put one foot in front of the other, entering the building. In the far corner he could barely see a group of medical technicians at work. He then saw what he had fear the most. He stopped in his tracks as he watched.

"Alright," the medical examiner called to the others in the group. "Let's get 'im out of here."

Another worker zipped up the leather body bag and tagged it before standing to his feet with a hard sigh. They had failed to save the young man's life.

The group hoisted the body onto the gurney and pushed it forward. The Rangers stepped aside as the group came through the door. They then continued inside once the group had exited.

"Carlos?" Trivette neared the detective. "You alright?"

"Yeah." Carlos shook his head and sighed, still disturbed slightly by what he had seen although he had expected it to happen.

The medical examiner neared Carlos and the Rangers. "I'm going to assume you aren't kin."

"I wouldn't say that." Carlos attempted a smile. "But we weren't related if that's what you mean." He lifted his badge.

"Good." The woman sighed. "Then you won't mind seeing to it that the officers out there get this." She extended her gloved hand to reveal a note. "Seems the paramedics said he kept saying 'Sandoval' over and over while pointed to his pocket. This was found in his pocket."

Carlos accepted the note slowly. "I'll do that."

The M.E. left the scene with only a solemn nod.

The Rangers continued to look to Carlos as he slowly unfolded the paper and read aloud. "'Carlos…I'm sorry'." His voice broke slightly. Carlos swallowed hard and continued. "'I'm sorry. But it has to be this way'." Carlos looked up…All emotion gone from his face. "He died trying to help me."

Ranger Walker only listened intently as he stood behind Carlos.

"He found out the Trey-Sevens were the guilty ones and came to get revenge. But he ended up giving his life instead." He hung his head low and turned to face the Rangers slowly.

"Let's go home." Walker gripped Carlos' shoulder softly, knowing what Carlos must be going through.

Carlos nodded, "Yeah. That's a good idea," and followed the Rangers back to where Trent waited.

"You alright, buddy?" Trent noticed the regret in his friend's eyes.

Carlos nodded limply as he rounded the front of the Corvette and got in, shutting the door swiftly. Trent moved away from where he leaned against the back end of the Stingray and nodded to the Rangers before getting into his car and starting it. The Rangers returned to Walker's pickup and sped away, leaving the two friends in silence.

"Was it Manuel?" Trent broke the silence as Carlos sat there unmoved.

Carlos nodded.

"It's not your fault." Trent tried to help but found the words to be cliché as he spoke them.

"I know that." Carlos' voice was flat and indifferent. He paused as his thoughts raged. "But…but somehow I wish I could have helped him. I knew there's so many gangs…but he was a brother." He shook his head and sighed. "I was one of the lucky ones. He never had the chance."

Trent listened as only a true friend could.

Carlos feigned a sarcastic smile. "You know, it's funny how your past comes back around to you years later."

Trent nodded.

"I just wish I could have been there for Manuel before it was too late." Carlos finished with yet another sigh.

"Perhaps you'll get the chance to help someone else out there in the future." Trent tried consoling Carlos the best he could.

"Maybe." Carlos stated with apprehension as he turned to face the other way. He could not erase the past from his mind no matter how hard he tried.

"But, meanwhile," Trent put the car into drive and revved the engine forward, "I do believe we have a pressing matter to attend to."

Carlos finally smiled despite the gruesome moment he had just faced. "You're right. You are definitely right."

The two comrades arrived at a house in the Texas countryside some time later. It was already late afternoon, and the cool evening winds already shifted around them as they traveled. The little place was quite secluded but quaint. A cabin-style ranch house awaited them as they meandered the driveway.

Carlos grinned as he slipped off his sunglasses. "Nice place."

"Yep. Sure is." Trent put his car in park and step out. "First time I've actually been to Jordan's house."

Carlos quickly followed Trent as he continued to admire the vast stretch of land they stood on. "You said Jordan knew your dad?"

"Yeah. They were friends from what I remember."

The house's door swung open and a smiling older gentleman emerged. "Trent! How are you son?" He offered a handshake of which Trent heartily accepted with a smile. "Now…" The man continued grinning in delight. "If you'll follow me around back, I'll show you my little gem you asked about."

Carlos couldn't stop smiling as he and Trent followed the man to the back of his abode.

"The price still stands." The gentleman spoke as he walked. "Fifteen thousand. And that is a steal, young man. Perfect mint condition with all the bells and whistles. It's basically like yours, Trent. Just a perty red finish. You still looking to buy her?"

Trent circled the item a couple of times, stooping to look here and there as to give it a rightful inspection. "Yes, sir. I believe we are."

Carlos whistled. "She's a beaut."

"That you are right, young man." The gentleman still smiled. "That you are right."

##

Deep darkness settled over Dallas as the evening of Christmas Eve approached and many congregants filed into the First Christian Church of Dallas. The turmoil of the month past had long been forgotten, and the joys of the season had replaced all gloom. The yearly candlelight service was something the entire Malloy family looked forward to. And now Katheryn and Carlos could be counted in that assumption as well.

Among the crowd on the second pew sat Mrs. Malloy. Tandy and Ty sat on either side of her while Trent was next. Carlos was right there also and lastly was Katheryn. The Rangers, Miss Cahill, and even C.D. joined them, warming the pew directly behind them.

As the clock struck eight o'clock, Reverend Roscoe Jones rose from his seat at the far left of the altar and made his way to the pulpit following the beautiful singing of "Joy to the World" by the choir.

He silently opened his Bible to Luke 2 and lifted his deep, reverential voice over his sheep. "'And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. All went to be taxed, every one into his own. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. So it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night; and lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. The angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. This shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

"Good will towards men," Roscoe stated firmly as he lifted his eyes from the Bible before him and faced the congregants. "Every day the Lord calls us by a higher calling. He asks of each of us to show love. But beyond that…he came to earth to be an example. And a fine example he was. But are we following that example? Are we doing our part to bring that good will towards his children that the angels spoke of?

"This Christmas, I ask of you to show some good will. Everyone's way is different I suppose. But when even the littlest thing is done from the heart and is directed by the Lord, it can mean a world of difference for someone in need."

The reverend paused and a smile eased onto his face as he inhaled. "Now according to your program, it is now time for our littlest sheep to perform their pageant for us all." Delighted smiles drifted through the crowd. "But…I have a little surprise in store for you all that wasn't printed on the schedule." Pastor Jones nodded towards Katheryn.

Carlos turned to see her grinning as she eased out of the pew and up to the front. Nodding towards the piano player, notes of "O Holy Night" began to fill the little church. Katheryn then lifted her voice with the music…much to the others' surprise.

"I had no idea." Miss Cahill leaned in to Walker with a broad smile. "Her voice is beautiful."

The Malloys and Carlos were equally as stunned as she continued to amaze them all…especially Carlos. That he was overwhelmed was an understatement.

As the song ended and the little ones of the church filed to the front after her, Katheryn took her seat by Carlos and was unable to stop smiling. She had finally done it. And how good it had felt!

"That was wonderful, Katheryn!" Alex complimented as she leaned forward and whispered to the grinning young woman.

"I'll say." Trent beamed also as he looked her way.

Katheryn wanted to ask Carlos what he thought of her performance but held her tongue as she wasn't sure where his thoughts were in that moment of time.

The evening went by far too fast. But the sleepy and eager faces of the youngest Malloys were bright with anticipation for what the next morning would bring.

As Katheryn made her way inside the Malloy home, she noticed Trent and Carlos off to side next to his Stingray in deep conversation.

"And you'll be here first thing in the morning?" She heard Trent say with eagerness before bidding good evening to Carlos and watching the detective drive away.

Katheryn awaited Trent as he walked up the walkway and eyed her with narrowed eyes.

She smiled. "What are you up to, Trent Malloy?"

"Nothing." Trent brushed it off innocently as he eased passed her and into the warmth of the house.

Katheryn rolled her eyes with a smile and followed him, shutting the door for good as she entered.

Mrs. Malloy descended the stairs with a sigh. "They are in bed…finally." She chuckled softly.

Trent smiled. "I bet they won't sleep much though."

"Indeed." Katie lamented as she pictured them fast asleep on her lap come tomorrow afternoon. But she enjoyed the thought almost as much as she lamented it.

"Well I'd best be getting my shut eye too." Katheryn stifled a yawn. "Night, Trent."

"Good night." Trent offered her a smile as she eased passed Mrs. Malloy and ascending the stairs to the room she still occupied.

"That means you too young man." Mrs. Malloy lifted her voice so that it could be heard far away.

Tommy emerged from the kitchen. "Alright. Alright." He was also munching on something as he walked.

"What are you eating, young man?"

"I was hungry." Tommy pleaded his case instead of answering the question.

Katie only smiled. "You get to bed now, you hear?"

Tommy hurried up the stairs and did as bid.

"I think I'll turn in too, mom." Trent planted a kiss on his mother's forehead before turning up the stairs.

"Good night, son." Mrs. Malloy smiled as she watched the last of her brood fade out of view. It was a rare moment that she was left alone amid the hustle and bustle of her home. She sighed roughly and turned towards the living area, approaching the Christmas tree. She stood with arms crossed as she lifted her gaze to the star that sat high up on that tree. Thunder Malloy had chosen that star almost twenty years ago.

Katie chuckled. "Thunder…its times like these I miss you even more." She sniffed hard and willed away the tears. "I still don't know what to do without you here. But you'd be proud of your son, Thunder. He's a man of integrity…one of strength…You'd be mighty proud of him. And I was right, Thunder. We are just fine. No, not every day is perfect by a long shot. But we are doing just fine. I love you, sweetheart. Merry Christmas, Thunder Malloy." A tear finally fell free upon her face. She wiped at it slowly and turned to prepare for bed herself. She'd surely need the energy for the grand day to come on the morrow.

And the morrow did come quickly…too quickly she had concluded as little voices arose from the hall and footsteps bounded down the stairs.

"It's Christmas!" was the first sound Katheryn heard when she awoke. A sly smile eased onto her face as she slid out of bed and wrapped her robe securely around her. She decided to be mature and slowly made her way down the hall instead of running.

Trent had already been dragged downstairs by his little siblings as Katheryn found her way to the living room and questioned if Trent was even half awake yet.

Trent rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah. Go ahead and open that one." He attempted a genuine smile as he looked up and noticed Katheryn. He motioned for her to come closer.

Tandy grinned as she unveiled a new doll and threw her arms around her big brother. "Thanks, Trent!"

"You're welcome." Trent chuckled aloud.

Katheryn laughed heartily at the merry scene and then turned to Trent. "I'm gonna go get some clothes on."

"Alright." Trent nodded as Katheryn turned back to the stairs. She passed Mrs. Malloy along the way with a smile.

Katheryn had almost finished with her hair, the last thing she did in the mornings when an engine in the background drew her attention. She smiled as it reminded her of Trent's Stingray but then frowned. He was already here. That couldn't have been his Corvette she heard.

She straighten her hair quickly, and hurried downstairs with piqued curiosity. It was Carlos who stepped through the door as Trent greeted him. Despite her confusion, she welcomed Carlos warmly. "Merry Christmas, Carlos."

"Feliz Navidad to you too." He smiled mischievously. "You look lovely this morning."

"Thank you." Katheryn nodded with thankfulness.

Trent and Carlos exchanged a silent communication.

"What?" Katheryn stifled a chuckle.

"Well," Trent smiled. "We have something for you."

"Oh?"

"Yep." Carlos smiled nervously this time. "Right this way." He stepped aside and indicated for her to step outside.

She reluctantly took a single step forward with a chuckle. "You guys." She looked into Carlos' eyes as if she was waiting for reassurance that this wasn't a joke.

He smiled. "It's alright. Trust us."

"In fact…" Trent quickly drew a blindfold from nearby and slipped it around Katheryn's eyes.

She couldn't stop chuckling ever so softly as she waited for someone to guide her outside. Carlos quickly jumped to her aid, slipping his hand into hers and started forward. Katheryn gripped his hand as they walked side by side into the winter air with no idea what she was getting into.

"You guys are ridiculous." She smiled and wrinkled her nose beneath the blindfold.

Trent followed behind the twosome as they crossed the yard, making their way to the driveway.

Tandy had made her way to the open door and had commenced a soft giggle. It wasn't long before the rest of the family had made their way to the little porch and watched from afar.

"Alright." Carlos stopped and eased in front of Katheryn. "Keep your eyes closed."

"Okay." She stifled yet another nervous laugh.

Carlos then eased the blindfold from her face and shoved it in his leather coat pocket. He quickly moved to the side. "Okay. Open your eyes." He grinned.

Tears filled her eyes as she saw what was before her. Her breath caught in her throat and words failed her. She lifted her stunned face to Carlos and then turned around to Trent. The two men could not hide the smiles on their face as they watched her reaction.

Katheryn finally found her voice. "How did you get it, guys?"

"I have friends." Trent stated slyly.

"I don't know what to say…" Katheryn's voice faltered again as she grinned.

Carlos looked into her eyes lovingly. "You don't have to say a thing."

"That's good." Katheryn scoffed. "Cause I can't talk right now." She chuckled. "Is this real?" She approached the gem and touch the door.

Trent couldn't stop smiling either. "Yep. Sure is."

"Is it the same as yours, Trent?"

Trent nodded. "Just red instead of blue."

"Thanks, guys." Katheryn stated genuinely as she looked towards them both.

Her eyes were now watered again as she wiped at her eyes. It was almost too much. She knew she had needed a car since she had moved to Dallas. But this? Her dream car? A Stingray Corvette just like Trent's? It was all too overwhelming as she looked to the eyes of her dear friends. They didn't have to do this…but they did. She tried to keep her composure…but it was much too hard as she reflected upon just how blessed she really was to be among these wonderful people.