Greater Love Hath No Man......

By Pam Gooderham

C.D. tapped the receiver lightly in his palm looking around the deserted bar.  There was no music, no laughter, just silence. He looked back to the phone still unable to make the call.

            A Texan drawled from behind C.D. "Just do it old man."

            Still C.D. could hardly touch the dial, he felt sick to his stomach.

            "Invent some excuse if that's yer problem."

            But there was no problem.  No problem at all.  He knew he would just have to call and say be here and he would, no questions asked.

            The Texan was loosing patience, "Look, the choice is simple, them or him, you ain't gonna avoid it and we have a schedule to keep.  You do it now, you understand?"

            C.D. nodded. He understood only too well.  He would have to sell out one friend to keep two others from dying. What he didn't understand was why.  He dialed the number he had called a thousand times before and it rung twice.

            "Walker."  Walker had checked the clock as he picked up the phone. It was only 12.30 a.m.  He had been in bed an hour yet it seemed like twelve, but that was lack of sleep for you. He shook his head trying to clear the fogginess away.

            "Walker, I need you."

            Walker sat upright and threw the covers back reaching for his black jeans on the chair beside him. "I'll be right there C.D."

            That was it. Exactly as C.D. predicted.  Cordell Walker was one of two guys C.D. could count on not to ask questions and come to his aid anytime day or night. Their friendship was unshakable.  Till now?  To betray his ex-partner, his dearest friend, would have been unthinkable until this evening. C.D. turned to face his antagonist. "Why are you doing this?"

            The man in the ski mask stared back at him. "We need him."

            C.D. was almost pleading, "Why do you have Jimmy and Alex, and why do you need Walker as well?"

            "Don't think you're gonna be lonely, you're coming too."  He smiled through the hole in the ski mask at C.D.'s discomfort.  "It'll be clear to you shortly.  Let's just say that for high stakes you need high odds. Here, sit at this table in the center."  As the Texan's accomplices kept their guns trained on C.D., the man fiddled with the lights turning them all off except the one where C.D. sat.  He then dropped silently back into the shadows of the bar becoming as invisible as his cohorts, to wait.

            Finally, after an eternity, C.D. heard the sound of Walker's truck.  The sound, and the anticipation of what was to happen, quickened his breathing and heart rate until he could barely stand the sound of his own heart beat echoing in his ears. I didn't have a choice, he reasoned with himself, taking scant comfort from the thought. Oh my God, am I going to regret this day for the rest of my life?

            Walker strode into the bar looking at C.D. sitting alone at the table in the dimly lit room. "What's up?" he said as he took the chair opposite C.D. and looked at the dismay on his friend's face. 

            C.D. said only four words. "I'm so sorry, Cordell."

            "C.D.. "  Walker froze as he felt the cold steel of the shotgun at the back of his neck.

            "Ranger, this has a hair trigger and I'm not alone, please don't do anything foolish. Slowly, and I mean REAL slowly put your chest over the table, stay sitting."

            Walker slid forward gently, never taking his eyes off C.D., the look of amazement on Walker's face self-evident.

            "Now, spread your arms, stand up slow and move up to the center of the table. Keep it low, keep it slow."

            Walker complied and as he rose from the chair he felt it being removed.

            "Tape his feet first, they're the most lethal."

            Walker heard the rip of the packing tape being pulled out.  His feet were bound roughly six inches apart, so he could stand easily but not use his feet aggressively.  The man was right, Walker was extremely lethal with his feet.             Looking at C.D. and seeing the man's eyes misting up tore Walker to the quick.  As handcuffs were applied to his left wrist and his arm wrenched behind him Walker tried to pacify his friend. "I know you wouldn't have had a choice C.D., I know whatever hold they had over you would have left you no option."

            The Texan was irritated, "Shut up" he said curtly.

            With his right wrist being manacled behind as well Walker continued, "I don't blame you C.D.  Everything's OK between us."

            The words brought  a wave of coldness to C.D. not comfort.  Walker sounded as if he were saying this in case they never saw each other again.  He watched as four men took a limb each and unceremoniously lifted Walker out to the waiting covered truck.  He was surprised however when the main guy called out to be careful not to hurt him.

            "OK old man, just put your hands behind you, we don't have to bother much about you."  C.D. complied allowing himself to be lead to the truck as well.  Looking inside he saw Walker laying quietly on the floor, his head covered in a black bag. The men slipped a covering over C.D.'s head and he was assisted into the back of the truck.  Their two hour journey beginning.

            On a small bunk in a makeshift windowless room, Trivette wrapped his arm around Alex's shoulders. They both sat there in silence till finally Trivette rose once again and began to look round the room for a way out. 

            "You've already done that four times Jimmy."

            "My partner wouldn't stop looking. He taught me that the obvious is not always visible at the first glance. Strange but true on many occasions.  Y'know what else he says?"  Trivette carried on without waiting for her to reply. "He says that while you are still looking you keep hope alive.  Profound huh?"

            Alex sighed, "Yeh, he always is."

            Trivette sat beside her again and kissed her cheek lightly. "I'm a poor substitute I know, but can I watch out for you for now?" 

            Alex's reaction surprised him.  She flung her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Don't you dare call yourself a poor substitute James Trivette I won't hear of it."

            Trivette admitted to himself he liked the embrace, although Alex wasn't exactly his type.  To be ranked so highly by her he LOVED, just as well as loving their friendship beyond measure.  Trivette would die for Alex, he knew that, but if he could just do something to get them out of their present predicament it would be enough for now.  He lightly kissed her again and smiled his thanks as he released her then checked his watch. "What do you think? Blackmail, hostage exchange, revenge..?"  That last one sent a shiver through Alex so Trivette decided it may not be a comfort to explore the reasons why they were there any further. None of this made any sense at all, no explanations were offered at any time during their capture, their questions going unanswered.  Their captors were even laid back about it just not bothering to reply.  It was almost as if they had done this many times before, knew the routine and were pretty slick about the whole affair. Trivette rose starting his examination of the room once again, taking comfort from the belief he was doing something positive.

            We're right in the middle of nowhere that's for sure thought Walker.  The truck had been bouncing from side to side on unmade roads for at least a good half hour.  He was puzzled that he and C.D. had been laid on a mattress, it was if their captors were making sure that they arrived in good condition.  But what for?  It's not like your normal bad guys to be so considerate.  As the truck went over another big pot hole he silently thanked them however, they would have been really bruised by now otherwise.  He turned to where he thought C.D. was.  "You OK C.D.?"

            "Not my idea of a good night out".

            Walker allowed himself a smile in his black domain.  So long as C.D. was quipping he was OK.  His look changed as he remembered the moment he realized they had brought C.D. too.  He had pleaded for them just to take him, but no-one had replied. He just wished they'd left him behind.

            "Cordell?"

            "Yeh?"

            There was a pause as if C.D. was trying to find the right words. "They..."

            "What?"

            "They have Trivette and Alex too."

            There was a seconds delay as the enormity of C.D.'s words sank in. "NO!"  Walker's reply was full of pain.  He struggled at the futility of his situation, but not for long. A hand laid on his chest increasing it's pressure forcing him back down.

            An Oriental voice spoke for the first time with quiet authority, enunciating each word properly before continuing to the next, "That they are both well, and will stay that way is solely dependent on you Ranger Walker.  Do not struggle so, you will tire yourself needlessly, and you must conserve your energy.  Please relax.  We are but a few minutes away and all your questions will be answered. I give you my word." 

            The words were spoken with such clarity and conviction that Walker actually believed him.  Why do I need to conserve my energy he thought?  He laid back, relaxing as instructed, trying to put the questions out of his mind  and forcing himself to clear his thoughts in order to deal with whatever was ahead. Finally the truck came to a halt.

It must have been a good ten minutes before the back was rolled up, they assisted C.D. out and to his feet and brought Walker to a standing position beside him.  Their hoods removed,  Walker blinked getting his eyes used to their new surroundings. He looked round.  There were six ski-masked men all with weapons of different sorts.  But where was this place?  It seemed liked it was a warehouse or barn type structure, but tailor made, new, just erected, and what was that?  Squinting past the glare of an outside light Walker looked to the very far side of the structure.  Cars.  Lots of cars, maybe twenty or so at least.  No chance of getting a license plate.  He glanced behind him at the truck to see if he could make the license plate but was bought back round sharply.

            "Listen to me."  It was the Oriental again. "As you know we have your partner and Ms. Cahill. There will always be more than one weapon trained on you at all times.  If you take out one we will kill you with the other, AND," he paused for effect, "ALL your associates. I am about to remove your bindings.  You will follow me.  It will be just thirty minutes and all will be explained to you.  I will not repeat any of these warnings". 

            With that the tape on his feet was cut away, both their wrists were freed and the man gestured to them to follow. Rubbing his wrist Walker took as much stock of their surroundings as he could.  He was aware at one point of the sound of many voices that seemed to reach fever pitch at one time then settle down again. As they walked through the makeshift corridors, sometimes just partitions of black curtains, the puzzle became more complicated and confused not clearer.  They came to a door which was unlocked for them.  The man gestured for them to go inside. C.D. opened the door and they went in.

            "Walker, C.D."  Trivette jumped up from the bunk.

            "You OK partner?" Walker tapped Trivette on the arm.

            "Yeh, we're fine."

            Walker went over to Alex as she got up slowly from the bunk. He took her shoulders and looked at her.  She's maybe feeling the strain he thought to himself, she's unusually  quiet. He smiled at her and pulled her towards him, wrapping his arms around her tightly.  She responded the same. Trivette and C.D. came round and sat on the bunk together allowing Walker and Alex to share the moment in peace and quiet.  Still hugging Alex, Walker looked over at Trivette and directing his eyes towards Alex, raised his eyebrows in a "Is she all right?" gesture.              Trivette shrugged his shoulders. Walker's heart filled to the brim with love for her with the uncertainty of the situation, then bringing his right hand up he placed it to the side of her head, drawing her even closer to his body.  Finally he kissed her forehead and drew her chin up to look at him.

            Before he could say anything, she spoke at last. "I know, somehow things will work out so don't worry."

            "Absolutely, God willing, it will."  Walker was surprised at the enthusiasm he spoke with, but invoking God always had a way of renewing his faith, his optimism, even on occasions having an idea come into his head which got him out of yet another jam. Even should the unthinkable happen, he felt at peace and one with his maker and it always gave him comfort in times of travail. "Anyone got any ideas?"

            "I think we know as much as you - nothing," ventured Trivette.

            Walker frowned "Well were you told anything on the way in?"

            Trivette shook his head. "Nada. Zip.  What about you?"

            "Nope." He looked down at Alex who was still tightly attached to his torso. He liked it, but was meaningful of the warning given to him to conserve his energy. "Budge up guys, we'll sit beside you."  They shuffled along and Walker brought Alex to the bunk.  She finally released him and sat down once more. Sitting next to her, he automatically reached down and tightly held her hand.  He sat to back putting his legs up on the edge of the wooden bed. "Any water round here, I'm dying of thirst?"

            "No, 'fraid not." 

            They sat in silence.

Walker's eyes darted round the room. "I take it as read you've done a check round here to see if we can penetrate the confinement?"

            Trivette and Alex answered together "Ten times". They looked at each other and started to laugh, breaking the tension in the room, as C.D. and Walker looked at them from either end of the bunk, finally grinning themselves.

            Trivette snorted "Penetrate the confinement, HA, I suppose that's a marine term!   No, I just looked round the room to see if we could get out." 

            Walker chuckled at the dig "That'll do just as well."

            Their mood changed as a key was heard in the lock and the door swung open. Three armed men, still ski-masked swept in taking up various positions round the room. Even though they were hooded as always, they were quite small in stature and Walker wondered if they were all Oriental.  He felt sure the guy who had been addressing them and now stood to the fore was a Hong Kong Chinese but it was difficult to say.

            "Please", The Oriental commanded as he pointed at Trivette and C.D., "Come this way."

            As Walker sprung to his feet the three guns were cocked, the noise stopping him in his tracks. 

            The Oriental actually smiled. "I told you their safety depended on you.  They will not be harmed." As he beckoned for them to come they reluctantly followed, casting a final backward glance to their friends as they disappeared through the door. The three armed men were last to go leaving as swiftly and as silently as they had entered. They had such stealth it reminded Walker of smoke in a back draft situation.  He took a step closer to the door in frustration. He hated not being in control, not knowing what course to chart, but sighing, he turned back to see Alex had reseated herself on the bunk.  He looked at her.  She was wearing denims and a white crew neck T-shirt and looked lovely he thought, but oh so vulnerable, so unhappy, and there was not a thing he could do about it. It tore him apart. Grasping her shoulders he pulled her up, "Talk to me."

            Pulling away from him she sat down again, "..and say what?  Everything's going to be fine, don't worry?"

            Walker sat next to her, flipped his legs to the right 360 degrees so he was sitting facing her. "Don't push me away"  he spoke quietly.

            "Oh Walker," she looked at him.  "I'm so frightened for us all. It wouldn't be so bad if they had some of us, because we'd know the others would be looking, but when they have all of us, who's gonna come and rescue us?  I just figure that if I don't say anything I won't bring everyone to a negative conclusion. Oh damn, for a Counselor that was really garbled wasn't it?"  She touched his face. "I didn't mean to push you away."

            Walker pulled her head to his shoulder and rubbed her back and neck gently with his hands. Finally he broke the embrace swiveling round to sit facing the front again,  reattaching himself with an arm round her shoulders. "How about, when this is all over, I take you on vacation somewhere nice?  How about somewhere with sun, sand, palm trees?"

            Alex thought for a second. "And pina coladas?"

            "I'll even throw in a pina colada."

            Alex broke into a smile finally, "Just one? You cheapskate."

            They smiled, then sat in silence for a few minutes.  That was one of the nice things about their relationship, such as it was, it was comfortable enough that they didn't feel the need to talk all the time. It was enough just to sit in each others company and enjoy the moment.

            "Walker," Alex spoke finally, "Do you think Trivette and C.D. are OK?"

            Walker felt his stomach constrict.  It was the one question he hadn't been asking himself.  Why?  If you don't want to know the answer, don't ask the question he reasoned.  "I really don't know Alex.  I just don't know."

            They looked up simultaneously as the door was unlocked, standing as their captors entered yet again.

            The Oriental beckoned, "Miss Cahill."

            Walker felt Alex start to shake.  He pulled her behind him. "OK this is enough.  What the hell do you want with us?"

            "If this is upsetting you Ranger Walker you can walk with her, but remember the warnings I gave you earlier.  Don't try anything foolish, we are about to explain your roles in this.  Do you understand"?

Walker replied, his voice raw, "I don't understand, but I will obey your conditions.  For now."

            At the Oriental's gesture Walker and Alex went forward.  Walker frowned suddenly.  Something else didn't make sense.  All these guards, these armed men, they were wearing tuxedos!  Tuxedos?  Ski masks and tuxedos? Maybe I'm having a dream, a bizarre dream and I'll wake up shortly?

            They were led back part of the way they had come, turning right to pass through an opening in the curtain.  Walker looked through in astonishment.  He saw a make shift ring, with bales of straw marking out a circle, and looking down on it, people!  Around thirty/forty people.  Mostly men in ski masks, but some women too, wearing glittering elaborate masks covering half their faces.  They fell silent at Walker and Alex's entrance.

            "Miss Cahill."  The Oriental's voice came from behind them.  Turning back they saw Trivette and C.D. manacled by their hands and feet to a chair each, with a vacant chair between them. Still somewhat shocked by the scene Walker marched up to them, resting his hand on Trivette's shoulder. "You guys OK?" he asked anxiously.

            They both nodded grimly.

            The Oriental went behind the vacant chair and repeated himself. "Miss Cahill."

            She stood frozen.  Walker checked one more time to see if he could make a move on them but it was clearly impossible without one of his friends being shot, the gunmen were too strategically placed. Walker went up to her, his breathing quickened as he hugged her. He spoke softly in her ear "We don't have a choice."  Taking her by the arms he pulled her gently to the chair and as she sat down he looked directly in her eyes whispering. "I love you Alex."              Withdrawing he looked in dismay to see her manacled in a similar fashion, but nodded approvingly to Trivette who had managed to reach out and grasp her hand. Walker then turned to face the Oriental. "OK, what's this about?"

            The Oriental strode with authority to face him, "You are too much of a principled man Ranger Walker, we could have offered you a great deal of money and your friends," he gestured in their direction, "would have been spared this ordeal.  You are looking at one of the foremost gambling organizations in the world.  Some of the bets here are for millions of your dollars.  We know you are one of the unbeatable fighters here in Texas and we need you to fight our champion."

            "To fight your champion?" Repeated Walker, "I'll do it, just let my friends go."

            "With such high stakes, so much money riding on the outcome?  I do not think so Ranger.  We have to ensure you will do your very best and we have perfected a way to do this.  Look up in the rafters Ranger."

            Walker followed his gaze.

            "Three snipers are aimed directly at each of your friends. This fight is to the death.  You loose, they loose."

            Walker swung back in horror to look at the trio, then back at the Oriental. "You're crazy!"

            "Accept it. Go now with these", he beckoned to two men waiting on the side, "and freshen yourself."  Stepping  closer to Walker the Oriental took care to slowly whisper,  "You need to get focused."

            Walker stared at him. He seemed genuine in his advise, and, if there was no way out,  Walker would indeed have to get very focused.  He looked up at the snipers again, sighing to himself.  There's gonna be no way around this is there? Deliberately avoiding the gaze of the others, he walked off with the guards.  They took him to a restroom and left him alone.  Walker checked, there was no obvious way out, and if there was, so what, he couldn't take it could he?  He relieved himself, washed his hands thoroughly, then swilled cold water on his face taking a drink as he did so. Standing in the middle of the room he exercised and stretched his muscles.  A few minutes later , the guards knocked on the door.

            "C.D.?"

            C.D. looked round Alex at Trivette.

            "What do you think?" The young man asked.

            C.D. blew through his mouth before replying "I'm really at a loss Jimmy.  I have never come across anything on this scale like this before and hope by the Sam Hill we never come across it again. Tell you one thing though, you can bet if this guy's a champion, Cordell will have his work cut out for him."

            "That's what I reckon.  And another thing.  Did you see the way Walker DIDN"T look at us when he went out?"

            C.D. and Alex nodded.

            Trivette continued, "Well I reckon he's psyching himself up for it. We penetrate his armor too much.  When he comes back, make it easy for him and avoid eye contact".

            "Jimmy that's a real good point". C.D. nodded enthusiastically as he spoke, " and I agree with your take on it.  You're right, son of a gun."  He turned to look at Alex raising his eyebrows at her.

            She nodded "I agree with that too."

            "Fine". C.D. Threw her a wink, "and don't worry honey, he'll come through this you watch."

            Aware of Walker returning they all looked elsewhere.  The Oriental gestured for him to take his place in the center.  Without introduction his opponent entered and stood opposite.  They sized each other up as the Oriental advised two minutes of warm-up kata would be permitted.

            Walker didn't mind the light blue T-shirt he had on, but was wishing he had a looser pair of pants than his black denims. Put it out of your mind, he thought to himself. He concentrated on his opponent as he took himself through some light basic blocks, kicks and punches. His opponent was not in a ski mask and Walker took pains to observe everything he could about him.  Oriental again, peak condition, maybe two inches taller than Walker. Walker observed his warm up kata thinking, he's good, but I'm better, I'm better, I'm better...... He forced his mind to think positive regardless of what he saw before him. Think, think.  Chinese definitely, so that means Kung Fu. Which variation? Shaolin, Dragon, White Crane,  Pa Kua?  Pa Kua could be a challenge.  Pa Kua is one of the most ancient and essentially a benevolent discipline with many healing techniques and sound age old wisdom's, it's also one of the deadliest of the martial arts from which most of the disciplines, including those of Japan and Korea have their origins based on. Walker visualized some of the attacks the man may execute then visualized each counter move.  He went through this positive visualization again and again, until a gong sounded, when he took himself slightly out of his concentration to come towards the center when beckoned.  The opponents faced each other.  Lights were dimmed brightening the center ring; voices became hushed with excitement and expectation.

            The Oriental spoke for the last time. "No rules.  Only one can win. Lee Chin, Walker, bow."

            They looked directly at each other as they bowed. Each brought their right leg to the back and raised their hands.  Characteristically Walker ground his left front leg by making small movements to the left and right.

            Lee shot forward feigning a front kick to the solar plexus but instead bringing his foot around and higher, connecting soundly above Walker's left eye, forcing him off balance. 

            Walker used the movement to his advantage falling on one knee, back-kicking to Lee's solar plexus, winding him.  On his feet again like lightening, Walker didn't even acknowledged the blow or the blood slowly making it's way down the left side of his face. 

            They squared off again. Walker dropped to his left knee sweeping his right leg 270 degrees round taking Lee's feet with him. Lee rolled to dodge Walker's follow up kick to his face. Rising quickly to his feet, he circled 360 degrees on the spot following up with his rear left leg looking to catch Walker with the trailing heel.  Walker blocked easily, and as Lee quickly changed feet to do the same move with his right heel, Walker ducked, rising with a palm strike to the face.  Lee's nose broke cleanly, the blow sending him on his back.

            Walker waited until his opponent was on his feet again and pursued his attack with a straight front punch.  Lee was taken by surprise with the quickness but just managed to steer his head clear. Using his left hand Lee grabbed Walker's outstretched right arm, inserting the closed fingers of his free right hand into Walker's inside elbow joint to the pressure point.  Walker could do nothing but bend his arm, Lee was then able to force it behind Walker's back.  Quickly changing hands, Lee simultaneously grabbed Walker by the throat while thrusting a foot behind Walker's left leg forcing him down. Walker tried to fall forward to shake him off, but Lee stuck like a limpet.  There was an agonizing yelp of pain from Walker as Lee's teeth sunk into the top part of his neck slightly below his right ear.

            Walker's adrenaline shot up, alarm bells ringing. That bastard is trying to find my jugular he thought, his mind racing through his options. Walker was lucky.  Bringing his left hand behind him he found Lee's eye socket with his index finger and stabbed wildly.  Lee immediately released and staggered a way holding both hands to his left eye. 

            Stumbling forward, Walker grasped the right side of his neck, and glancing to check Lee was still on the ground, he fell on all fours in agony, trying to regain his equilibrium. Obviously anything goes after all thought Walker bitterly, annoyed with himself that he expected Lee to be an honorable fighter. 

            Lee didn't waste his chance, nor the fairness Walker had shown to him when he was down. He raced over to Walker kicking him square in the mouth. The kick spun Walker's body up and over, landing him on his stomach in front of his friends. They watched in horror as blood poured from his mouth, splattering the dirt with spots of crimson. Shakily Walker struggled to his feet.

            Trivette looked away in dismay for his partner, any feelings for Walker's opponent now gone completely.

Walker was a mess. Blood seeped from his cut left eye, trickled from inside his mouth and careened from his neck, pooling at the collar of his T-shirt and running down his shoulder.

            Still rising, Walker turned yet again watching his opponent come forward, but Lee's punch was too obvious and Walker ducked easily, connecting with a blow underneath with his left ridge hand to Lee's throat. Lee's body fell heavily to the ground and Walker followed up by placing his knee in Lee's ribs and striking to the face with a blow which fractured Lee's cheekbone.

            As Lee's knee thudded into Walker's back he rolled a couple of times out of reach and both men came to their feet again, circling each other warily.

            C.D. felt his nerves pitched to their limit and looked at Alex with concern.  If I'm having a job dealing with this she certainly must be, he thought with anguish for both his friends. Straining against the handcuffs and shuffling the chair a mite closer he grasped for her hand, holding it tightly. Alex had her eyes closed but looked over gratefully at C.D.'s thoughtfulness. A single tear, determined to make it's presence felt, fell down her cheek despite all her best efforts to hold it back. She couldn't help but look back to the ring and the man she loved.

            Somehow Walker seemed to get his second wind and caught Lee with two good spinning back kicks.  As Walker executed a third and spun Lee round, and off balance, Walker got a strangle hold round Lee's throat.  All I need he thought, is ten seconds to shut off his blood supply and he'll be out, but Lee was well aware of his intentions and grasped and clawed wildly against the hold, finally sinking an elbow into Walker's ribs.  It wasn't a particularly good strike, but enough that Walker was unable to keep his grip. Lee was quick in his response, and although only able to grasp the third and little finger on Walker's hand, Lee's swift movement yanked them to the side breaking them both with a sound of snapping twigs. 

            Walker gasped as Lee broke his hold, this time getting a good purchase on his elbow strike to Walker's ribs. The Asian made the blow using all the force he could summon with the power of his chi. 

            Walker knew for sure that Lee must have broke at least three of his ribs, leaving him doubled over in agony and vulnerable. Turning sharply to face Walker, Lee altered his body weight to his left, stomping a sidekick to Walker's right shin.  There was a sickening thud a Lee scored right to the center of Walker's lower leg, whipping it from under him.  Walker collapsed in a heap unable to decide which part of his body hurt the most.

            A stillness descended on the crowd, who up until this time had been quite lively in their efforts to spur on the fighter their money was riding on. Everyone sensed a death blow in the making. 

            Lee was buoyant.  His face was turning black and blue, his eye he had to keep shut and his cheek bone and nose were fractured, but he still had the power of his hands and feet. Lee played to the crowd as he sensed victory and a great deal of money coming his way again.  He would give the crowd something to cheer for.  Lee indicated he would wait till Walker was on his feet again.   

            Not an easy feat for Walker. His right leg was not broken but traumatized enough that it wouldn't take his full weight. He had his right hand and the two first fingers on his left hand which were good.  So this time holding his right hand and arm tightly over his broken right ribs, Walker attempted to get on his feet for a second time.

            Trivette was ripped apart inside. Oh my God, he thought looking up wildly at the snipers, he's not gonna make it. For the first time he felt a deep fear in the pit of his stomach, his mouth becoming as dry as a bone.  As he looked at Walker still trying to get to his feet, Trivette felt a wave of love and admiration for the man who still wouldn't give up. Trivette closed his eyes for a second, I would give anything, he thought, to be able to help you now.

            Somehow Walker managed to get himself upright.  He looked briefly to Trivette, Alex and C.D. almost as if to remind himself why he had to keep going, and then looked to Lee. Inevitably Walker knew this was to be the last confrontation.   Bowing to Lee to buy time and hopefully force Lee into the same formality, Walker adopted the defensive positions they had taken to start the fight with. He was unable to take his right leg so far back, just to merely balance his weight on the tip of his toe. Walker brought his hands to the front ignoring the irregular angle on his left hand. 

            Lee knew this was going to be easy.  Looking at the crowd once more with half a smile, Lee bowed to Walker and assumed the same position.  They looked at each other.  Lee knew Walker couldn't move so his was the attacking movement for the taking.  Lee tightened his stomach. He would execute the classic forward punch to Walker's head felling Walker for the last time then follow up with a killing blow to Walker's neck.  Lee readied himself for these two final planned blows, then made his move.

            It all happened like lightening. Pivoting on the balls of his feet Lee punched for Walker's head with all his power.  Ignoring any pain Walker blocked with his left arm while stepping forward on his right leg.  At the same time he brought his left hand up and over Lee's head, his two good fingers finding Lee's eye sockets and pulling back. Simultaneously bringing his right hand following behind, he trapped it under Lee's chin and walked forward forcing Lee backwards and to the ground.  With Lee's head still firmly in his hands Walker tightened his stomach, grasped either side of Lee's head and twisted it to one side sharply.  The sharp snap of Lee's neck breaking was heard all round the barn and his body went limp as Walker released his grip on him. 

            Doubled over, stumbling on one leg Walker tried desperately not to fall in case he couldn't get up again.  He was completely spent. Holding his right side, he limped painfully round to look for the Oriental, continuing the turn to look back for the position of the snipers.  They had withdrawn! 

            The Oriental appeared as Walker decided he couldn't take another step forward.  He felt weak to the point of nausea and aware of his body beginning to shake. He had not taken a life in this manner since Caleb Hooks and was more deeply disturbed than he realized. The Oriental bowed to Walker in deference as the rest of the building galvanized into action.  Trucks were brought up, people began to leave quickly, the building was being leveled already.

            "You are a surprising man, Ranger Walker, and excellent fighter.  We could not be more pleased with your performance," the Oriental smiled beneath the mask.

            "You'll honor the terms?" Gasped Walker, looking decidedly shaky.

            "Yes." Looking round at the teams of men dismantling the building at a breakneck speed, the Oriental continued, "We will need a few minutes only."  He walked towards the others expecting Walker to follow, but Walker was unable to go further. Ignoring him, the Oriental spoke with Trivette.  "We will leave a truck two miles down the road.  You will soon be released and you will walk to get it.  By that time most will have gone from here and we will be picked up by helicopter from a point not far from away. You will not be able to trace us. By the time you return with the truck and get back then make it to the nearest phone we will be long gone."

            "You sick bastard I hope you rot." Trivette just couldn't contain himself any longer, he felt complete rage against the sight he had just witnessed. 

            The Oriental was completely unfazed by the outburst and carried on, "it will be but a few minutes longer."

            "Walker," screamed Alex.  She had not been able to take her eyes off him, watching him as he had attempted another step only to crash to the floor.  She fought against the handcuffs in her desire to comfort the man that had given everything to save their lives.  "Release me," she screamed at the Oriental, then as a last plea, "Please."

            He looked at Alex for a few seconds and then nodded, pulling the handcuff key out of his pocket and undoing her feet first, then her hands.  She ran for all she was worth to Walker's side and gently rolled him over.  He groaned, semi conscious.  "Sshhh, Walker, it's over."  She cradled his head in the crook of her arm while looking to see which was the worst of his injuries.  She put her hand over the wound to his neck stemming the blood slightly.  Walker opened his eyes at her touch, but made no attempt to speak.  Alex lightly kissed his forehead. "Try to relax, you're safe now.  We'll get you to some medics as soon as we can."

            A shout went up from the last of the dismantlers and the Oriental unlocked one of Trivette's wrists. He left without further conversation, got into a car and it roared off down the road. Trivette undid his other wrist, his legs, released C.D., and without preamble, ran out of the building shell down the road to get the truck as fast as his legs would carry him.

            As C.D. unlocked the last handcuff the building became quiet. He quickly joined Alex who was assessing Walker's injuries.

            "C.D. rip the sleeves off your shirt, I need some cloth."  Alex was business-like as she decided what to do. C.D. obliged after a tussle. Alex tore a slim strip off one of the sleeves and gave the large piece back to C.D., "here" she said, "stem the blood on his neck, it seems the worst at the moment."

            C.D. sat on the floor next to them and spoke to Walker as he applied the cloth to his neck.  Walker groaned slightly. "Hang on in there, son, this has to be done.  Trivette's gone for transport, he'll be back soon and then we're outta here."

            Alex stole a glance at Walker, "Walker I'm putting some binding round your fingers so they are protected."  Taking his left hand she wound the cloth round pulling the last two irregularly angled fingers in and binding them together.  Walker made no murmur at her efforts.  She sighed with relief when it was done, making a face to C.D. as she finished. "What else do you think C.D.?"

            "Give me the other shirt sleeve Alex and I'll see if I can damp it with some water somewhere."  Alex obliged and C.D. went off to the rear of the building frame where there  looked to be a stand pipe.

            "C.D.," Alex asked on his return, "what shall we do about this?"  She pointed to Walker's right ribs where a circle of blood had appeared on his T-shirt.

            C.D. lifted Walker's hand away to examine it mouthing silently to Alex "It doesn't look good at all," then in a normal voice,  "I don't think there's much we can do 'bout that really, it needs strapping but we don't have anything that's right fer doin' it with.  Best leave it." He looked towards Walker to see if he had caught his clandestine worry.

            Alex shuffled up towards Walker's head.  He opened his eyes. Smoothing his brow with her hand softly, "You OK?" She asked lovingly.

            There was no reply, Walker just continued to look at her. Taking the damp cloth from C.D. she carefully wiped the blood away from his mouth and beard. C.D. and Alex both looked up as they heard a roar of a vehicle.

            "Gosh" C.D. exclaimed, "That boy musta run like the wind."

            Trivette had, he thought he had probably broken all his best times, his T-shirt damp down the front and back with his efforts.  Trivette reversed the truck back until he was as close as possible with C.D. banging on the side to tell him when to stop. Trivette jumped out.  "How we gonna do this?"

            C.D. thought for a moment.  "He's probably best lying full length in the back of the truck, we can't get all of us up front anyway."

            Trivette went over to a bale of hay, "In which case it's better if we put down a load of hay.  It'll soften the ride back.  Whadya think?"

            C.D. was already starting to haul the bale, "Good idea".

            Together they lifted it on to the back of the truck and managed to release the wire.  As C.D. went for another couple, Trivette spread it out to make a thick bed.  Finally they were ready.

            "This ain't gonna be too easy is it?" Mused Trivette. They all looked at the prostrate Walker, now semi-conscious again.

            C.D. took charge, "Alex take his head and protect the wound on his neck, but Jimmy you're gonna have to watch those ribs. C'mon get the other side." 

            They all positioned themselves and hoisted together.  Alex guided Walker's head on the truck and as the men slid him along, he came to grimacing.  Alex bounded on the back of the truck lifting his shoulders to help them. Once they were all on they repositioned him in what was deemed the most comfortable position and C.D. elected Jimmy to drive as he would stay with Walker and Alex. Trivette would have stayed in the back, but was relieved he got the driving job.  Turning back to ask if they were ready he set off down the unmade dirt road once again.

            Walker still hadn't spoken, he continued to focus on Alex, almost as if he could keep out other thoughts by thinking only of her. C.D. hung onto Walker's body while keeping the compress against his neck as the truck lurched backwards and forwards.

            "Sorry," Trivette called from the front, "there's not much I can do about it."

            Walker was holding his right ribs with his right hand, his left broken hand against his chest, and he didn't moan much as the truck rattled his body from side to side. Alex lay side down snugly to his left in an effort to stop the movement, placing her hand on the top of his head. She looked in his eye's, and gave a small smile whispering, " I love you."  Walker seemed to welcome the sentiment, returning her look with a softening of his eye's and a small half smile.  The smile suddenly vanished as he became distressed, closing his eye's, his hand finding a new pain in his stomach.

            "C.D.," Alex commanded, "roll him on his left side".  She had spotted his stomach convulsing. As they rolled him over he coughed spewing out more blood than vomit.  Alex held his head until he had finished, "It's OK, don't worry about it. It's OK.  Jimmy, stop the truck and let me have your T-shirt."

            Trivette complied, "It's sweaty though."

            "Least of our worries."  Taking it from him she split it in two, and lifting Walker's head placed the T-shirt under the spillage.  She wiped his mouth with the damp shirt they still had. Walker felt so bad he couldn't be bothered to be embarrassed, although he was. He had to endure yet another episode of being sick before they came to the highway.  He looked at Alex, he couldn't see C.D. although he felt him hanging on for grim death. She was trying so hard to convince him not to be upset by the unsightly mess he had created.

            "It's OK, just take it easy, it doesn't matter", she spoke softly to reassure him, smiling as she continued, "I still love you."

            She's as beautiful a person inside as she is on outside Walker thought, and it sure must be love for her to put up with all this.

            Finally they came to a gas station and took their bearings. Trivette rang in and within ten minutes they heard the thuwmp, thuwmp, thuwmp of the medivac chopper.  Walker grabbed Alex's hand one more time before he was taken away.  She kissed him on the forehead, the only safe place she knew wouldn't hurt, "We'll be with you as soon as we can."

            Walker knew they all would. The thought gave him comfort and he was grateful for it as they ascended into the dawn sky.

            It took longer for them to make it to the hospital than they had expected.  As they watched the helicopter into the distance in relative silence they became aware of their own shock and discomfort, almost as one they sank to the sidewalk as their knees became slightly shaky. Trivette and C.D. thanked the officer who gave them blankets, for without shirts, whether it was shock or just a plain cold morning, they had come to realize they were freezing in the waking chill. Then after a ride back to the big city they had their individual accounts to relate to authorities before they could plan to meet up once again.  C.D. and Alex decided to go to their respective homes and change, to meet back at Ranger headquarters and they would go from there to the hospital together.  As Trivette already had a change of clothes at work this gave him his first opportunity to fire up his computer looking for international leads on the gambling ring while he waited for them. His research was so far unsuccessful when C.D. and Alex came for him.

            None of them could face the prospect of eating until they had seen Walker and been reassured that he was going to be OK. The surgeon made himself available on their arrival.  C.D. knew him from previous occasions when other Rangers had needed his services thus C.D. knew him to be "a good guy to have on your side", he had informed Jimmy and Alex as they waited for him to arrive.

            Dr. Beyer kept the pleasantries to a minimum as he updated them on Walker's progress.  He was going to be fine by all accounts.  Surgery had gone well. Fingers reset, a couple of stitches inside his mouth, the ribs had been realigned and the internal bleeding caused by their raw edges stopped.  The bite to the neck had been sewn up, and Walker had been given a big shot of antibiotic to prevent infection to the wound.  They could do nothing about his leg but encourage the bruising to come out, so they would give him a bit of physiotherapy and massage to help the process along, but he should be able to put some weight on it in a day or two.     The trio were quite buoyant as they found their way to Walker's room, and indeed he looked a lot different from when they last saw him.  He was awake, and appeared relaxed, laying back on a pile of pillows, but to their dismay he visibly tensed at their arrival, his face portraying a look of defensive concern.

            "Cordell, how ya doin' buddy?" C.D. ignored the look on Walker's face.

            "Fine, thanks C.D.  (Pause) Are you guys OK?" Walker inquired. His eyes seemed to bore right through them as he looked at them individually.

            They nodded, unsure of what to make of the unexpected reaction of their arrival.  An awkward silence ensued.

            "OK, man" Trivette grasped the nettle. "what's goin' down?"

            Walker looked away giving the trio time to glance at each other in an effort to find someone who knew what was taking place here. No one did.

            C.D. pulled a chair up nearer to Walker's bed, "OK son, out with it."  His demeanor made it clear to all he wanted answers.

            Walker looked back at them all again, searching for something in their eyes. He was having difficulty to voice his concern over whatever that was.

            "Walker," Alex's soft voice relieved the tension, "If something's troubling you, it troubles all of us.  We can't go through the like of last night and not be there for each other."

            "She's right man".  Trivette took the other chair and offered it to Alex, but she refused, instead gesturing to Walker if it was OK to sit on the very end of the bed.

            He nodded his consent, then looked down. "I...  I need.." he faltered as if he was unsure how he could phrase the problem, then continued slowly, " I need to know if...things have changed between us."  He looked down again. This was taking a tremendous effort for him and he seemed to tire in front of their eyes. They looked puzzled at his question.

            "Why do you feel things should have changed between us, what things?" C.D. asked.

            "You have to be honest with me C.D., I need to know the truth,"  Walker came back, and with that the whole issue building up inside him, overflowed. "I should never have done what I did last night, and you should never have witnessed it. I snapped a man's neck in my hands like a piece of celery, I...I don't know.." he started to stumble again, "..how you can look at me and trust me the same way again."

            They thought about what he had had said, realizing for the first time they had been so concerned about his physical well being they had forgotten about the emotion drain the horrors and strain of the night had placed on him.

            Alex was first to respond, "Walker, how can you say that?  Of course we trust you, we.."

            "Wait a minute Alex" C.D. interrupted her, "is this all there is to it?"  C.D.'s age and wisdom seemed to sense something else.

            Walker came back. "Alex, when I hold your head in my hands to kiss you are you gonna be wondering about me? Or you Trivette, next time we wrestle in the gym and you feel my hands round your neck, or you C.D., when we josh at the bar and I always get you in that headlock. Are you sure there isn't going to be part of you that has a doubt about me after what you saw?"  Walker was almost breathless.

            "None-what-so-ever." C.D. laid the words out individually so there could be no mistake, "no way Jose - and I don't have to check with them either", he continued, gesturing to Trivette and Alex, "because I know I speak for all of us. Y'know something else?" he asked looking directly at Walker.

            "What?"

            "I'd have been more danged worried about you if you HADN'T shown any remorse over what happened, that's what I'd have been worried about.  You're looking to find a way to punish yourself because you feel remorse over what you did to that guy when you didn't have any choice in the matter. If you'd a HAD a choice and you chose that way, THEN I'd have a doubt over you, sure I would.  But plain truth is if you hadn't done it we'd all be dead. I thank God you had the strength to keep going, never giving up, then had the courage to end it and save us.  Maybe you need to make your peace with God over this Cordell, so He can give you the peace to live with the decision we're all glad you made."

            Walker digested the suggestion C.D. had made, then nodded slowly, "Maybe you're right," he said finally.

            C.D. turned to Trivette and Alex and issued another no argument suggestion, "Why don't you two get down the restaurant and I'll join you in a minute, you can see him later."

            Obediently they silently waved their good-byes as they left.

            C.D. left the chair and sat on the bed next to Walker on his good left side. "Son, these guys messed with your body, don't give them permission to mess with your head as well.

I want for you to rest easy over this, so let me tell you something.  You just think of the negative life those slime balls cause then you think of the four of us who try so danged hard everyday to make life better for folks.  To make life safer for folks, to make life more decent for folks to live their lives in.  You had to do what you had to do.  You understand? It hasn't changed the way we feel about you."  C.D. grasped Walker by the shoulders and pulled him very gently towards him without embarrassment and hugged him.  "We love you, son, and we're thankful for your strength to do what had to be done."

            Walker closed his eyes.  He needed this warm contact from the man he admired, the man who was as much a father as Uncle Ray had been.

            C.D. released him and smiled, continuing, "and those two idiots I've just ordered to the canteen would do absolutely anything for you too.  OK?"

            Walker broke into a grin at C.D.'s unfair description of their mutual friends. There was a different look altogether in Walker's face as he spoke. "C.D., I don't know how to thank you. I felt sure you seeing me doing something so awful would change things between us."

            "It's the trauma of the experience, you're exhausted, and naturally upset by what happened.  Keep it in perspective, yeh?"

            Walker nodded, "Yeh."

            "Listen, get some rest.  I'll tell them we're squared away and take them for a bite to eat. We'll come back this evening OK?"

            "Sure thing C.D.", and thanks once again."

            C.D. winked at him on his way out.  Walker lay his head back on the pillows closing his eyes wearily.  Maybe things would somehow get back to normal after all.  Within a few minutes he was sleeping peacefully for the first time in thirty six hours. Consequently it was a completely different guy who greeted them when they returned later.

"Hi guys" he smiled.

            They returned his smile with a fair amount of relief. Going right up to him this time.

            Alex kissed his cheek, "My, my, don't you look different."

            Trivette stuck his hand out, "Hey pard."

            Walker took it gratefully smiling at him, "Hey pard.  You find anything?" he said hopefully.

            Trivette shook his head. "Bin through Interpol files, got my FBI buddies to check, spent all afternoon on it, nothing so far. Don't worry I'll keep on it."

            Walker nodded.  They chatted generally about this and that and what was going on in the office.

            "Cordell would you mind if Jimmy and I left you for an hour.  Remember Rob Bennett from Company A?" 

            Walker nodded.

            "Well he was in our neck of the woods in pursuit of a felon and took a slug in the leg. He's here somewhere and we said we'd go and see him."

            "No problem. Tell Rob I said hi will you?"

            They went out the door.  Trivette looked behind mischievously.  "We'll stop by to pick you Alex."  He looked at Walker and pointed his finger "Behave" he warned.

            "Get out Trivette" Walker scolded playfully, then turned his attention to Alex.  "At last."  he said and looked at her. She looked all in and his heart went out to her.  He carefully shuffled to the right side of the bed and beckoned her around.

            "What are you up to Cordell Walker"? she asked eyeing him  up suspiciously, a half smile forming on her face.

            "Come on Alex, lay here for a while and rest with me."

            "What if someone comes in?"

            "So, we're not doing anything we shouldn't.  Come on, you'll make a sick man very happy.  It'll help my recuperation!"

"Just for a few minutes then." Kicking off her shoes she started to hoist herself on the bed and stopped. "How will I know if I'm hurting you?"

            "Don't worry, you'll be the first to know.  Just keep to my left side and we'll be great."

            She got comfortable taking great care not to knock into him or make too much movement on the bed to jar him, then lay snugly under his arm, her head on his chest. "Is this OK for you?" she inquired.

            "It's just great.  There's only my neck that hurts a lot but since that's on the right, we're good."  He found the light switch by feeling behind him with his right hand and turned the main room light off, leaving only the small overhead reading light on. Reaching up he angled it away from them, the result making a cozy feel to the room matching their mood. He kissed her forehead tenderly. "Alex" he whispered, "thanks for everything you did for me earlier, it was horrible for you."

            "Thank you for everything you did for us, it was horrible for you too" she responded quietly, then adding "This is wonderful isn't it?"

            "It sure is" he responded closing his eyes contentedly, and that's how C.D. and Trivette found them when they returned just after an hour later.

            C.D. woke Alex calmly "Alex, honey." They both roused. 

"We'll see you tomorrow, Cordell." C.D. tapped him on the arm.

            Walker altered his position as he spoke, "Listen guys, don't worry about seeing me during the day, I know you have things to sort out and I'll probably sleep anyway.  If you can, just come at night OK?"

            "Of course we'll come at night, heck," Trivette responded.

            They left Alex to say her good-byes.  She turned to face him and looked into his eyes. "You're awfully hot y'know.  Sure you feel OK?"

            "Actually" he said, drawing the blankets up, "I feel cold.  You couldn't do me a favor and grab that other blanket for me please?"

            She obliged.  "Sure you don't want me to pop up during the day tomorrow?"

            "Really, no, I'll be fine.  I can imagine how much chaos all this has brought, try and get yourself sorted out.  I'd really miss you if you didn't come over in the evening though."

            She kissed him tenderly several times.  "As if I wouldn't. Get some rest. I'll be thinking about you."

She unfolded the blanket and spread it out over him making sure he was comfortable.  He shivered slightly so she drew the blanket up higher over his shoulders then kissed him again.

            "Night Alex", he smiled back at her.

            She stopped at the door briefly and looked back at him with affection, then turned hurrying to catch the others up.

            They were all busy the next day catching up on various reports, tasks and the usual menial chores that had gone unattended in their absence.  Eventually they agreed to meet at a restaurant enroute to the hospital to have a bite to eat before seeing Walker.  That done, they strolled into the hospital.

            Alex held up some periodicals, "Look, I got him some hunting, shootin' and fishing magazines.  What did you get Jimmy?"

            "I got him some of the paperwork he shoulda read last week", Trivette pulled a face of glee, "no excuse now eh?"

            Alex punched his arm, "You rotter Trivette."

            They both laughed as they swung round the corridor and knocked on the bedroom door and entered. Conversation ended abruptly as they looked in the room, stopping in their tracks.  The room was empty.  Trivette looked back at the number on the door.  221.

            "It was 221 wasn't it?" Trivette queried, although he knew damn fine it was.

            C.D. spun back on his heel heading back out when a young nurse hurried towards them.

            "Oh my, I was supposed to look for you, but we were so busy. I'm so sorry, you should never have found out this way.  Dr. Beyer has given strict instructions to be paged on your arrival, I'm really sorry.  We had tried to get you earlier but no one could reach you." She wrung her hands together anxiously.

            "Young lady, where is Ranger Walker?" C.D. asked.

            The nurse went to an office and opened the door, "Please sir, if you wouldn't mind stepping in here for some privacy, Dr. Beyer is on his way to see you. Please."

            The three had a collective moment of hesitancy before complying with her wishes, a chill descending heavily over them.  The nurse left closing the door, and no one said anything.  They stood up as one as Beyer entered and spoke immediately,

            "I am sorry we couldn't get hold of you, we have tried."

            Trivette's voice had a rasp, "What's happened doctor?"

            Beyer sat gesturing for them to do the same, "Please have a seat. It started during the night and became increasingly intense as the day progressed.  He picked up a massive infection from the wound to the neck.  You see, a human bite, is far more deadly with bacteria than either a dog or cat. A human being has many more germs in his mouth.  We were aware of this and had given him a large, broad spectrum antibiotic when he was admitted just in case, but the bacteria took hold and an infection set in. It became apparent just before dawn, so we took blood samples and they are at the lab now. Once we've isolated the specific bacteria and treat it with specific drugs he'll be in with a better chance.

            Alex gasped, "He's still alive then."

            "Yes," Beyer replied, but I might as well tell you that his situation is very grave, and..." he paused, "it doesn't look too good.  It wouldn't be fair on you if I didn't warn you that his chances of coming out of this are very slim."

            "Oh my God I don't believe this", Trivette stood up and went to the back of the room. "This is so damn unfair.  He...he looked great when we left him last night. Why didn't you call us earlier?"

            "Ranger Trivette," Beyer stood up to join him, "it came on so quickly, he was poorly this morning then got progressively worse so quickly.  Despite our efforts he lapsed into a coma around three and by the time we'd dealt with the situation and tried to contact you, we just couldn't raise you. Believe me we tried, but to be truthful the speed of the infection caught us by surprise."

            Alex had had her hand over her face for sometime while Beyer was speaking, finally she found her voice, "What now doctor?  What is being done, what's there to do and what can we do? You see you're dealing with a fighter, and he's going to survive this, so what can we do to help?"

            "Well, the onset of infection like this elevates the blood temperature dramatically, and that's the fight at the moment, he's in ICU where nurses have packed his body with ice to force his temperature down.  The lab is working on the bacteria now and we should get the results anytime and I'll be able to administer a specific antibiotic.  Then it's up to him. If you can spare the time, you can sit and talk to him. We believe a patient in a coma fairs better when the brain is stimulated by a voice.  It doesn't matter what you say as long as you chat, hold his hand.  It may help. Are you ready to see him?"

            If the truth were known they weren't, but they nodded their agreement and in a numbed state followed Bayer to another floor.  Beyer stopped, turning to them before they entered. "He's not on a ventilator just yet, although if his condition deteriorates further we'll put him on one, so his breathing may be a little labored. It's just to prepare you so you are aware of what we intend to do, OK?"

            They nodded once more and entered the unit, standing towards the back of the room.  Walker was flat out on the bed, and attached to a heart monitor.   He was naked but for a large white towel over his hips half way down to the middle of his thighs, and the strapping over his ribs, his body outline packed in bags of ice.  He breathed with a low labored wheeze each inhale and exhale, giving the occasional moan in his unconscious state.  An IV replaced fluids lost by the high temperature and they saw for the first time the massive, deep, black bruise on his leg.

            As a moment of panic set in Alex fought her way out of the room, overcome, tears streaming down her cheeks.  She felt drawn in by C.D. leading her to a chair. 

            "Now Alex, come on." C.D.'s own voice was beset by emotion.

            She sobbed and sobbed, all the pent up strain of events catching up with the present crisis.

            C.D. waited patiently until she was done, and looked to Trivette, giving him a sign to find some Kleenex. Trivette was back in a few seconds, parking himself in a chair next to them.

            C.D. tried again, "Alex, honey, you were right before, he'll beat this, we just know he will."

            "It's Trivette who is right,"  she said, blowing her nose on a tissue, "This is so unfair."  The statement caused tears to fall again.

            "I know, I know. I know it's unfair."  C.D. pulled her to him, "There's nothing we can say that's gonna make it different, we've just gotta find the strength he showed yesterday to help him now."

            "How are we gonna do this?" Trivette asked.

            C.D. sighed, "Well let's see". He thought for ten seconds or so. "We may be in for a long haul here. Alex are you up for doing a shift on your own?"

            She nodded with a sniffle, "yeh, I'm OK again, I just.."

            "Yeh I know," C.D. spared her the explanation. "Well how about I take the first shift, Trivette you make sure Alex gets home safely and you take the next one, then after you've had some rest Alex you relieve Trivette?" 

            They nodded and so started the watch. A day and a half later Alex walked in to spell Trivette. "What's new?"

            Trivette smiled, "You have to hand it to him Alex, he's fought to stay off the ventilator and he's not giving in. His temperature has come down a degree and a half too. That's one tough guy!"

            Alex smiled, "That's great Trivette."

            Trivette took a step to the door and changed his mind, "Will you be OK or do you want me to wait a while with you?"

            Alex shook her head, "You better go." Trivette kissed her and before he could get the statement out she pre-empted him. " I know, I know, call you if there's a change. Of course I will."

            Trivette smiled and left.

            Alex looked to the nurse, "Hi Angela.  How is he?"

            "Well, I think he's holding his own very well. There's no factual evidence on the monitors except a slight decrease in his temperature which is great, but I could swear a few hours after receiving the specific antibiotic he seemed different."

            Alex smiled.  They had come to know all the nurses on the various shifts and found them to be nice, caring people, now as much caught up in Walker's battle as the trio.

            Angela walked to the door. "Like a little privacy Alex?"

            Alex smiled again, "Thanks."

            "I'll just be over at the nurses station, call me straight away if anything changes and I'll pop in every ten  minutes or so.  You want a coffee?"

            "Thanks Angela, you're a real gem."

            Angela left leaving the door ajar slightly, and Alex turned to get a good look at Walker today.  Angela was right, he did seem different, and was it her imagination or was his breathing easier? She went over to him and kissed him on the lips.  Then taking an iced towel from the bucket changed the one on his forehead.  Pressing it gently, collecting the beads of sweat on his brow. "Hey cowboy.  How are you today?  I think you're making progress, I really do." Alex went on to tell him everything that happened at work, and who all was asking after him. That list went on for a while as the world and his brother seemed to want their prayers and best wishes passing on. Cordell Walker had certainly influenced a lot of lives for the better and as word had spread the Ranger department had been inundated with calls regarding his welfare.  One rookie was now assigned to his calls.  Angela appeared with her coffee and disappeared again quietly. 

            Alex was half way through the coffee when she smiled. "Do you remember the very first time I hugged you Walker?  It was after you helped me with young Lisa from the fair.  You and Uncle Ray looked after her on the ranch after she had been raped till we got a conviction. Remember when she was going she gave you a hug and I said I'll have some of that.  Do you recall what you said as I was leaving?  You said you could get used to that, and I said that was all I needed -  a crazy cowboy!"  She laughed at the recollection, squeezing Walker's hand. "Boy I sure didn't know what I was letting myself in for did I? Have you driven me crazy or what?"  Alex checked round the room to make sure Angela hadn't slipped in.  "This is going to shock you Walker, but do you have any idea the number of times I have desperately wanted you to make love to me?  I wanted to seduce you at least twenty times I can think of.  Remember that Mustang case we worked on when you came with me to meet that guy and he was shot in the fountain?  We both got wet and we went back to my apartment and I changed into my bathrobe?" Alex laughed with pleasure at the memory, "You were so uncomfortable, but you looked so cute I just couldn't help flirting that night.  Your face when I crossed my legs and allowed the robe to open to the top of my legs was bliss to watch.  I tell you Walker, I don't know how I kept my hands off you that night.  You are one sexy guy.  You really drive me crazy d'you know that?" She sighed, "In fact I don't know how I put up with it.  Couldn't you for once not do the right thing and instead throw your arms around me and make mad passionate love to me? Your trouble is that you're too much of a Mr. Nice Guy, a gentleman one hundred percent. Providing it's with me of course, don't you fancy throwing caution to the wind just once?"  As Angela came back Alex changed the subject. Then before she was aware of it, C.D. was by her side ready to take his shift.  It was becoming a routine.

            The next day came and Trivette was waiting for Alex to turn up. "Oh by the way big guy," Trivette rattled on, "just where on earth have you put Winston Tracy's statement, y'know the one you worked on the night we got kidnapped.  I've had everybody searching high and low and we can't find it.  I can't imagine where you put it, you're usually so good about these things. I know you took it to study as you thought he was inconsistent with his facts, but where?"

            "Hey Trivette", Alex breezed in, "what's new?"

            "Hey yourself Counselor" replied Trivette. He turned to talk to her, "temps down a bit again."

            Alex squeezed Trivette's arm, he look tired she thought.

            "Glove box of my truck."

            It took Trivette and Alex a second to realize neither of them had made that statement, then they both stared at the body in the bed beside them and gasped. They rushed either side to look at Walker.

            "What did you say"? asked Trivette.

            "Tracy's statement, I put it in the glove box of the truck.  I looked at it and was gonna bring it back that morning."  Walker's voice was weak but coherent.

            They stared at him then broke out into smiles. Trivette squeezed Walker's arm.  "I'd better get the doc and ring C.D. I've never been so happy to hear anyone in all my life."  He high tailed it out the room at a rate of knots.

            "Walker" exclaimed Alex.  She held his hand and closed her eyes in a prayer of silent thanks.

            Beyer came in with an entourage and asked Alex to leave while they checked him out.  She was still sitting in the corridor with Trivette when C.D. rushed in. "He's OK then?" 

            "Looks that way big dog, but we'll know soon, they've bin in there ages." Trivette punched him on the arm. "I won't half be glad when this is over."

            Beyer came out smiling. "Is he normally this stubborn when he's well or is it a side effect of the illness?" he queried jokingly.

            C.D. smiled "That means he's real well, doc. Whadya think?"

            "He'll need a couple of days to get his strength back, but amazingly he's going to be fine.  Wish I had results like this every time.  Well done you guys, a lot of this was down to your efforts as much as ours."  With that he took off down the corridor.

            The nurses came out laughing, "you can see him now" said one.

            They went in once more to find Walker alert, his bedding changed and him washed.  The ice, monitors and much of the earlier trappings gone except the IV.

            "Gave you a scare huh"? Walker asked sheepishly.

            "You could say that", C.D. admonished kindly, "and" he continued, "that's it, no more.  I want you all to promise not to get hurt or sick, I'm so fed up of hospitals I ain't coming back after this for a long time. Y'all understand?"

            "Yes C.D.", they replied and laughed.

            "How did you know I was looking for Winston Tracy's statement?" asked Trivette, puzzled.

            Walker shrugged, "You asked me didn't you?"

            "Yeh I know, " Trivette reasoned, "but you were unconscious."

            Walker attempted to explain, "It was the strangest thing, I could hear you all talking to me and telling me things but I was too weak to respond, it was if every part of me was incased in lead and I couldn't find a way to break out.  I was so grateful to hear you though."

            As Alex digested this latest revelation she felt herself turning beetroot red from head to foot.  She tried as nonchalantly as she could to avert any attention to herself. Maybe, she thought, he wasn't like that when I was with him. She could hope. "Sorry?"

            C.D. was speaking to her. "I said we'd better let him get some rest, we'll come back later OK?"

            "Sure C.D." she responded.

            Trivette and C.D. left leaving Walker and Alex alone.

            "No surprises when we come back this time Walker" she warned him.

            "Definitely not" he agreed vehemently. " Thanks for everything Alex", he held his left hand out for her to take which she did. With little effort he suddenly pulled her closer, trapping her over the left side of his body with his arm. He kissed her passionately and she gasped in shocked surprised. He looked wickedly in her eyes "Y'know I can change Alex."

            For a fleeting second Alex wondered whether this was a completely different Walker to emerge from his coma, until she saw the corners of his eyes and mouth start to curl up as he was unable to keep a straight face.  He HAD heard her.  Releasing her he laughed out loud unable to contain himself any further. She covered her face with her hands in embarrassment as he enjoyed the moment.

            "Gotcha" he laughed triumphantly. Then pulling her reluctantly towards him, he kissed her lovingly.  "You slay me, d'know that?"

            They laughed together, relief flooding over in the knowledge that all would be well after all.

            As it was it didn't take too long for things to get back to normal, or as normal as they can ever get in their line of work.  They were even closer for the ordeal, proving that usually something positive can come out of a negative incident if you look hard enough, and ending yet another chapter in the life of Walker, Texas Ranger.

From The TIMES of London

Dateline - Houston Texas

International Gambling Ring Smashed

In a unique effort that united law enforcement agencies in North America, Europe, and the Far-East, the worlds largest and most violent gambling ring was smashed in a series of combined raids at various homes throughout the world.

The ring that was supported by exceptionally wealthy people was headed up by an as yet unnamed Hong Kong Chinese national who was arrested during the raids that netted a total of 37 alleged murderers and kidnappers.

The exercise was the result of a two year investigation headed by the Texas Rangers, and led by Ranger Cordell Walker. Walker, who was involved in the raid that netted the ring leader in Taiwan, had pursued him  around the world during the investigation following an incident in Texas where Ranger Walker was forced into a fight to the death.

The investigation had at times been exceptionally dangerous, and had involved several violent encounters with members of the organization..............

But that, as they say, is another story.

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