Foreword…

Firstly, I would like to say a heartfelt ‘thanks’ to Wendy B.

Wendy not only helped edit this story, but I’m also grateful for her input and insight. It made a big difference.

Secondly, may I make a suggestion? It might be an idea to keep an hour free - put your feet up; enjoy a nice beverage and cookie. …And have your favorite video of Walker ready to play….  ;-)

Guardian

                                                                                                  By Pam G

Email: PG1701@aol.com

            “You’re such a dang know it all, Walker!”

            Walker grinned broadly at his partner’s exasperation. Knowing Trivette wouldn’t be able to resist reviewing the events to see if he could figure out Walker’s inspiration, he waited. Finally it came.

            “There we are, six suspects lined up against a wall.” Walker’s younger partner stopped while he thought. “Nothing happens. Then, out the blue, you know Schofield’s the guilty one.” Trivette looked directly into Walker’s face. “So? How did you know that?” He demanded.

            How could he ever explain? Trying to answer him seriously, Walker replied. “I listen to the spirits.”

            “Don’t get freaky on me! I HATE IT …” He made some attempt to stay calm. “When you do that! You always….” Stopping the tirade, Trivette spun round in frustration, and yanked up the tailgate on the Ram. It shut with a clatter, and Schofield, handcuffed in the back, was also curious.

            “So how did you know then?” He asked, as the Rangers went to get in either side of the vehicle. He flinched as their joint reply hit his ears.

“Shaddup!”

            Recounting the tale to C.D. and Alex in the bar and grill, Trivette paused. He allowed their chuckles to die down and directed his conversation to C.D. “I mean. Is this what you had to put up with C.D.?”

            Shooting a quick look in Walker’s direction, Alex knew he was secretly enjoying all this. His bemused, congenial expression warmed her, and she couldn’t help loving him more and more as the days went by. These exchanges only heightened her feelings for the red bearded Ranger. Giving a squeeze on his leg, she shook her head at him. It brought a big grin to his face and Walker winked.

            C.D. empathized with Trivette. “You have my sympathies, Jimmy! It is pretty well what I had to put up with. He obviously has not changed one darn bit!”

            Walker laughed, and stood up. “I’m just going to talk to Bill. I’ll be right back.”

            They watched as he made his way over to his colleague and they turned back to each other.

            Trivette leaned forward, as did they all. “And you’ll never guess what happened after that? I mean,” words would hardly come out his mouth quickly enough, “He’s unbelievable sometimes. Listen to this!” His hands gestured for emphasis. “We start back to the office when we get a call about a hostage situation…..”

            Pulling the Ram behind the cop cars opposite the drug store, Walker and Trivette bent low as they approached the officers at the scene. Most of the shopping mall had been sealed off, but mid-day by-standers still strained to see from the outer edges of the police-made perimeter.

            Walker nodded. “Frank. We were a couple of blocks away. Wondered if we could help?”

            Frank Preece was a young officer, and this was his first hostage situation. He gratefully looked over at the two Rangers and began the update. “Started with a 211. Developed into a hostage situation almost immediately. He’s got, oh, maybe seven inside?”

            From the safety of the vehicles, Trivette peered over the car roof to see inside the store. “You got a make on him?”

            “Naw. Caucasian. That’s about it.” Frank turned back on hearing his colleague shout.

            “Hey! He’s comin’ out.”

            “Hold your fire!” Anxiously, Frank looked at the two Rangers while marveling at their ability to be so calm. But then he reminded himself; they were seasoned cops. Best of the best. He was determined to learn all he could from them.

            When the door of the store opened with a crash, Walker and Trivette withdrew their weapons. They watched a white male in his mid forties struggle outside manhandling a terrified young woman. Her captor swung his handgun around the scene.

            “I swear! If you make a move on me, I’ll plug her!” He hugged the woman closer.

            Walker’s narrowing eyes scrutinized the kidnapper. “Wait a minute.” He said. Holstering his gun he stood up and placed himself in the line of fire.

Trivette grabbed his arm, trying to pull him back. “Walker! No, man.”

            Walker patted his partner’s arm. “It’s okay. Don’t worry.” Turning to the other officers he commanded, “Don’t shoot!” And with that, he strode purposely across the road.

            Alarmed, Frank looked to Trivette. The younger Ranger shrugged and turned back to the action.

            Without any hesitation, Walker approached. “Derek? Is that you?” he demanded.

            The pistol jerked around in the Ranger’s direction; the hostage-taker looking along its barrel. “ WALKER! Not you!” The voice went up an octave.” Dammit!”

            “Give me that!” Irritated, Walker grabbed the gun from the man’s hand and pried away the woman. “It’s okay, ma’am. You’re safe.” He pulled Derek towards the cars; the other officers now standing up in amazement.

            “Jimmy?” Frank looked at Trivette for answers.

            But Trivette didn’t know. In some amazement, he looked at his partner handing over the prisoner. “Walker? What …how?”

            Walker explained. “He’s got a psyche file longer than you. Loves attention, but hates -he says he hates - violence. The gun’s never loaded.”

            Frank laughed, “Well I’ll be …”

            Walker shook his hand. “We’ll leave you to wrap up. Catch us in the office for statements, huh?”

            “Sure thing, Walker. Thanks. Thanks, Jimmy!”

            Trivette waved a goodbye before calling out, “Say ‘hi’ to Alice for us.”

            The pair made their way back and Trivette gave a deep sigh. “Y’know, Walker.” He paused ominously, his voice when he spoke again, quiet, “The gun could have been loaded this time.”

            “Not with Derek. It was just what it was.” Walker gave a quick grin. He knew his partner was concerned for him, and he appreciated it. He made to lighten the moment. “Have you noticed geese when they migrate?”

            Trivette’s shoulders dropped, his look turned stern again. “Ohhh nnno.” The words were stretched out. “This is gonna be another Cherokee thing isn’t it?” There was a shake of his head first, “Okay,” he said flatly,  “I’ll buy it. What about geese when they migrate?”

            “Well. You may have noticed when they migrate, they fly in a V formation.”

            “Yeah, yeah.” The reply was tinged with irritation. “We all know that.”

            Walker tried to keep his face straight. “Some very observant people, will have noticed that one leg of the V, is longer than the other.” His eyebrows raised a fraction.

            First a frown appeared on Trivette’s face, then it was gone! And suddenly, he was enthusiastic. He was one of those observant people. “Actually, I have noticed that.”

            Walker carried on. “Do you know why that is?”

            There was silence and on reaching the Ram they stopped. Now feeling more and more as if he had walked right into Walker’s trap, Trivette was wary and impatient. “Well, why is that Walker?”

            “There are more geese on that side.”

            Walker could hardly contain himself at the blank look which crossed his partner’s face.

Trivette threw his arms up in the air. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

            “Just that, sometimes, things are as simple as they seem.”

            “What?” The young Ranger’s voice went incredulous. “Couldn’t you have just said that in the first place?”

            Grinning, Walker’s hand clapped Trivette on the back. “Have I told you lately how much I like having you as my partner?” And with that, Walker laughed….

            Trivette’s story telling ended; Alex wiped the tears from her eyes. “That is so funny.”

            Their friend looked to her, then at C.D. “He drives me crazy.”

            “Jimmy Trivette!” C.D. paused to let out another chuckle, “You’re as bad as he is. You love every dang minute!”

            “Well I guess he does make life interesting.” Trivette turned to Alex. “I’m telling you. You’ll have your work cut out when you marry this guy.”

            Walker rejoined them. “Fat chance, Trivette! She can twist me round her little finger.” He kissed his fiancée and beamed at her.

            Trivette excused himself to leave for the restroom and the three friends let him get out of sight before smiling wickedly to each other.

            “You reckon he suspects, Cordell?”

            “No, C.D.” Walker continued to grin. “And he’s been dropping hints all dang morning. That’s why I’ve been winding him up.”

            This brought more laughter.

“Oh poor Jimmy. D’you think we’ve been a bit hard pretending to forget his birthday?”

“Alex, you softie!” C.D. patted her hand. “This is great fun! Now! I got all the food ready for tonight, rung round Trent, Carlos and some of the guys. We’ll have a swell party.”

Alex grabbed Walker’s arm. “Listen up you!”

“What?”

“We all chipped in and bought him a Palm Pilot.”

“A what?”

“Cordell! It’s an eelectronic diary-type of contraption. It’ll work with his computer too. Isn’t that right, Alex? She chose it. It’s one of them new age confusions.”

The blond, stunning, Assistant District Attorney patted their old friend on the back “Well done C.D.! Even you’re going to beat Walker to the twenty-first century at this rate! Anyway, Jimmy’s going to love it.” Alex put out a hand in front of the Ranger. “Get your money out, mister. One hundred bucks.”

Walker reached for his wallet. “So …that’ll be thirty, and some change.”

“No. That’ll be one hundred bucks …each.”

“WHAT?”

C.D. cocked his head to one side. “Stop moaning and git paying. Do you know you’re marrying a tight fist, Alex?”

Alex laughed. “He coughs up eventually, C.D. Don’t worry.”

“The Lord loves a cheerful giver, Cordell.”

With Alex swiping the money from his hand, Walker feigned a pained expression.

“So Alex.” C.D. continued, “You make sure you get Jimmy here after work. Cordell? You pick up his cake, right?”

Alex’s eyes sparkled. “Yes! I love planning surprises.”

“Got it.”

“Good!” Their mentor looked alarmed, “Shh. He’s comin’ back. Change the subject. Oh! Talking about getting wed …”

Walker groaned. “Oh no.”

Alex slapped his arm. “Cordell Walker!”

 C.D. tried to remember, “When did we say the next planning date was? Y’know, to see we’re up to and what’s next on the agenda to be decided?”

“It’s Tuesday night.” Alex said firmly.

“What for?” Walker was incredulous. “What is there we haven’t decided on? I could have planned an invasion by now.”

Trivette rejoined them and grasped a chance for some small payback. “He’s getting cold feet.”

“Trivette! I’m not getting cold feet.”

Alex looked pensive. “There is one thing that concerns me.”

Walker’s mock chagrin stopped. Now anxious, he looked at her. “What?”

“Well.” Alex played with his hand. “In all these decisions about what I want.” She hesitated, “Trivette’s planned the music; C.D.’s worked out the menu.” There was another short pause. “The only one who never says what he wants in all this, is you.”

Walker gave a small smile, slipped his hand round her waist and planted a quick kiss on her lips. “I’ve got the only thing I want.”

“Oh.” Emotional, Alex threw her arms round his neck.

C.D. and Trivette looked unbelievingly at each other and back to Walker, who raised his eyebrows at them in a look of triumph.

“He’s good, Big Dog.”

“Too dang good. Cut that out! You ain’t wed yet!”

Still chuckling, Walker beckoned to his partner and slid out of the booth. “Come on. Day’s not done yet.”

Trivette seized the moment. “Anyone know what day this is?”

Walker grabbed his arm. “Friday! Now get going.”

With Alex and C.D.’s laughter still in their ears, the two friend’s good-natured banter carried on till they were out the door.

Alex smiled while looking for her purse. “I suppose I’d better get back as well.”

C.D. took an interest in all their comings and goings, deciding long ago that he was the best one to oversee this unusual group. Why they had all bonded so strongly was a mystery. But there was no denying the special friendship that had been forged over the years. Affectionately, he patted her hand. “What you up to this afternoon, honey?”

“I’m opposing a parole at a hearing at three. Actually C.D., this was one of your old arrests.”

“Well, if I say so myself, I did put quite a few away. Which one?”

“Remember Frank Jennings?”

The old man’s look changed to one of seriousness and apprehension. “Frank Jennings? Already? Thirty years gone by already? I can’t …it’s not possible.”

“Well, it hasn’t. He’s been incarcerated twenty years. It’s his first chance at parole.”

“Alex. Whatever you do, you can’t let this monster out. You have to stop him. Do you understand?”

“C.D.! Yes, I understand, but…”

“No buts, Alex. He can’t be let out!”

“I’ll try C.D. But the tendency is to let them out if their inside record is good. Jennings has okay reports.”

“Most evil, mean, son of a bitch I’ve ever met. He was twenty-five years old when we finally caught up with him. He’s responsible for heinous murders, cruelty to animals. He’s …he’s …” C.D.’s vocabulary ran out of appropriate words. “You want me to testify against him?” I saw some of his victims. The varmint has no regard for life.”

“Well, it more goes to his state of mind now. How’s he’s rehabbed, what he would do if he were paroled. But I’ll do my best to oppose it.”

“You do that Alex. You do that …because you know what?”

She shook her head.

“If he gets out you’ll find dead people where ever he goes. He plain likes killing, and this is one leopard who ain’t going to change his spots.”

“Okay.” Alex said seriously. “I’ll stand my ground, and we’ll hope for the best.”

**

            “SURPRISE!”

            Trivette gasped. “You didn’t forget!”

            “Happy birthday Jimmy!” Alex kissed his cheek.

            “Congratulations!”

            “Hey, Trivette! Well done, man.”

            “Thank you Trent, Carlos!” Trivette held up the huge card and swung it above his head to the others in the room. “Thanks everyone!”

            Amid various similar shouts and wishes, the younger man turned to his partner. “You rattlesnake.”

            Walker laughed. “Happy birthday, Trivette.”

            “Here Jimmy. This is from the three of us.” Alex passed over a squarish box adorned in black and gold metallic paper.”

            Trivette turned to wink slyly at Trent and Carlos. “I’ll give you ten bucks Walker doesn’t even know what this is!”

            Walker frowned. “I do too!”

            “What, then?”

            “Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, Trivette.” Walker hedged.

            “That’s okay.” Trivette came back fast. “I’ll relinquish my surprise so you can tell me what it is.”

            C.D. laughed. “Cordell’s never gonna remember this. Okay Jimmy, put me down for ten.”

            “C.D.!”

            Alex put her hand up. “I’ll go with that.”

            “Isn’t the faithful fiancée supposed to support her husband to be?”

            Trent’s eyebrows raised and he laughed. “Looks like he’s got you Walker.”

            “I know what it is. It’s …a …electric …palm …” Walker’s head tipped slightly forward in concentration. “Palm …” He grimaced and shot a ‘help’ look to Alex.

            She smiled nicely and was silent.

            “Palm …dang it! …Something!”

One side of Trivette’s mouth lifted as he thought through Walker’s staccato sentence. C.D. and Alex reveled in Walker’s discomfort.

            “Wait a minute!” beamed the younger Ranger, ‘It’s not a …Palm Pilot?”

            “There you go!”

            C.D. and Alex nodded enthusiastically.

            “No! Oh man!” Trivette’s voice pitched higher. “I can’t believe it!” He ripped open the package and dived in the box. “Oh wow! Thank you. Thank you very much.” He turned to his partner to use an admonishing tone, “Electric palm something!”

            “I didn’t want to spoil the whole surprise.”

            Alex squeezed against her fiancée. “Cordell Walker! You’re incorrigible!”

            Walker stabbed her shoulder. “You just wait the next time you need help, lady!”

And above the resounding laughter, C.D. came to her rescue, “C’mon everyone. First one’s on the house!”

            Alex savored the pleasure of being in Walker’s arms as they gently made their way round the small dance floor. His body was solid, complete muscle. But then she loved everything about the red bearded Ranger. His looks, compassion, shyness, bull headedness. It made no difference which quality or physical description came to mind love for him flooded through her body. She snuggled closer; grateful it was reciprocated so obviously when Walker tightened his grip around her. Life could only get better.

            “I think Jimmy’s had a great time!” she murmured contentedly.

            “He sure has.” Walker raised his head. “Hmm, looks like C.D. is waving to us.” There was a reluctance to break away. “Better see what he wants.” Separating, Walker tipped her chin upwards and held her gaze.

            She could see his eyes brimmed with love. Say it! she longed to herself. I know you feel it. Can’t you break down the barriers and say it? Alex held her breath. She got a huge grin instead.

            She was puzzled. “What was that for?’

            Walker’s beard tickled her chin when he kissed her. “I need a reason?” And her unfathomable, crazy Ranger kept firmly hold of her hand as he marched them back to the booth.

            C.D. held up a pot. “Coffee?”

            Alex checked by way of a look to her fiancée. “Please.”

            C.D. passed over the hot cups, glancing quickly in Alex’s direction as he did so. “Haven’t had a chance to ask you what happened this afternoon.” It was asked in an unusually even, controlled fashion.

            “I’m sorry. I tried my best.”

            Their mentor glowered angrily, and cussed softly.

Walker glanced from one to the other. “What?”

            Alex turned slightly in his direction to update him. “I went to oppose a parole application this afternoon, but the decision went against us. C.D. is worried the man is a danger to the public.”

            Walker looked to his former partner.

            “Oh, it was ‘fore your time with me! Frank Jennings. No regret about taking a life. He’s completely without feeling. We could only prove manslaughter and aggravated assault on two counts, but we had another five murders down to him.”

            “You’re thinking he’ll carry on where he left off?”

            “I know it, Cordell. See,” C.D. tried to get them to understand, “he doesn’t think about raping and killing. He just does it if he gets upset. It started here, out the blue, when he moved to Texas from Mississippi. We checked down there, and we think he killed his folks. He musta been  …oh, about sixteen, then. They couldn’t prove that either. He’s one slippery customer. Your crime rate starts to go up, you know where to look. Right?”

            Walker nodded, “Thanks.” He slapped his old friend on the back. “Don’t worry, okay?”

            Inexplicably overcome by a strange feeling of foreboding, C.D. sighed heavily. “Okay.” He covered Walker’s hand with one of his own, tapped lightly and sighed once more. “Okay, buddy.”

            Trivette beamed at them as he walked over to receive three grins back in return. “This has been great! Thanks guys!” The birthday boy patted the Palm Pilot now securely attached to his belt. “See this? Everything I need, right here.” He turned to Walker. “If I add an entry while we’re out, all I gotta do is download it to my PC when I get back, and all the files are updated!”

            Walker’s shoulders sagged. He looked at the other two. “Now see what I’ll have to put up with?” Amidst the ensuing good-natured laughter, he reached for Alex’s hand. “Well, shall I get you back home?”

            “Walker?”

            In the privacy of the lobby outside Alex’s apartment, Walker’s arms went firmly around his bride to be, and she received a kissed before he replied. “Hmm?”

            “Just think. Less than a month, and we’ll be going home together.”

            “Mmmm.” The Ranger kissed her again with a growing passion.

            “You sure you don’t want to come in for a coffee?” Alex tempted.

            Walker fought with himself before replying. “You still up for that horseback ride in the morning?”

            “Oh yeah. I’m looking forward to it.”

            There was a pause while the ramifications were thought through, and he looked pained. “Ah, …I’d better go.”  Holding on to her warm body somewhat tightly, he felt her silent chuckle.

            “I know what you mean.” She became pensive again. “Walker?”

            “Yes!” He took a beat and continued gently, but firmly. “I do.”

            “What? I haven’t said it yet.”

            “Just lately you ask me nearly every dadgum time. “Yes! I’m sure I still want to get married.”

            Alex frowned. “Oh,” she sighed. “Nearly every time, huh? I’m sorry. It’s just …”

            “Alex,” he interrupted. ‘It’s not that I want to get married.” When Walker paused at that point, her expression became one of anxiety. He smiled and traced the side of her face with his finger. “It’s that, I want to marry you.” Her look softened, her eyes misted, and Walker thought she was the loveliest, nicest person on the face of the earth. He couldn’t stop his own heart racing as he spoke in his quiet way. “I know what I want. I’m not going to change my mind.”

            Alex stared into the gray blue, sincere eyes.

            “Will you relax about this now?”

            She nodded obediently, with a hushed, “Yes.”

            “I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”

            Her voice was still husky. “Okay.” She reached up, kissed him again, and waited while he unlocked the door.

He pushed it open, beckoned for her to go in, and stole one more kiss. “Night. Lock the door.”

            Almost in a dream and overcome by emotion, she smiled. “Night.”

            He waited till the door was closed and heard the bolts snap into place. With more than a little regret, Cordell Walker headed for the stairs.

**

            Trivette tried to think against the sounds of the crime scene. Officers called out to each other, a siren whined down as yet another police car arrived, and the hushed yet combined murmuring of gathered onlookers contrived to spoil his concentration. 

            “Jimmy? M.E.’s here.”

            Trivette looked up. “Thanks Eric.”

            Rachel McCollagh was brunette, five feet seven, and despite her grim occupation, as bright and bubbly a person as Trivette thought he’d likely ever meet.

“Jimmy Trivette! Just the very man.”

            “Hey, Rach.”

            “I want you to do me a favor.”

            “Oh no, no, no, no, no!”

            She laughed. “You’re getting as big as cynic as your partner! This is not a good sign.”

            “The answer is still, no.”

            “But you don’t know what I want.”

            “Rachel McCollagh! You try and get me on a blind date every time you see me. Have I got desperation tattooed on my forehead or something?”

            “Photographs?”

            “All done.”

The medical examiner had opened her bag, donned rubber gloves, and had begun to look over the body of a young girl in her late teens. She had mentally started her preliminary observations, but this didn’t detract her from their conversation as she worked.

            “Look. A friend of mine has just moved to Dallas. Ron and I are out of town this weekend, and I just need someone to show her the sights for a few hours. Where’s the threat in that?”

            Trivette tried to catch Rachel’s eye. But as she skillfully avoided his look, his retort was delivered with some degree of accusation. “Oh, let me guess. This wouldn’t be a female friend?”

            “Sarcasm does not suit you, James.” She chivvied him around the body and they swapped sides. “Okay. I’ll just tell her that people in Dallas are aloof and uncaring. Forget it. She can stay by herself all weekend. So be it.”

            “Well don’t be like that.”

            “No problem.”

            “Rachel!”

            Trivette looked away as her observation of the body went to more intimate parts. “Just a few hours then?”

            McCollagh smiled. He was a real nice guy, Jimmy Trivette. He and Marsha would get on great. “That’s it.”

            “Okay,” Trivette said disparagingly, hardly believing the sound of his own voice. “Let me have her number.” Inexplicably he became riled. “And just dang well tell her I’m calling so I don’t have to explain who I am like a jackass.”

            “Okay, okay! Gees. Keep your hair on. It’s no big deal.”

            Trivette fumed silently.

“Rachel!” a soft voice spoke.

            “Oh, hi Walker.”

            “What we got?”

            “It’s bad.” Rachel looked round the rear of the gas station. “My guess is this one’s been dead for about four hours. Body was reported at 6.30am, so the crime was committed between two and three a.m. How come no one reported it earlier? This gas station’s usually open all night.”

            Walker looked at his partner to acknowledge he was imparting new information. “Seems like whoever did this turned off all the lights, made it look like it was closed.” He indicated towards to the bystanders. “Couple of them said they pulled in, but thought it was shut. They left without getting out their cars.”

            “She’s been shot once, close range, looks like a thirty eight.” There was a pause. “There’s something else you guys need to know.” Rachel carried on. “She was sexually assaulted at some point.”

            “At least you’ll get DNA from the semen.” Trivette speculated.

            “If it’s there.” She held out a scrunched up foil she was about to place in a small plastic bag. “Looks like he used a condom from the store. Might want to have the Uni’s spread out, see if they can find it. It’s not in the near vicinity.”

Walker nodded, “Okay.”

She held out the cellophane bag, which now contained the evidence, and raised her eyebrows. “I’m hoping the wrapper might have some prints on him though!” There was a brief look down at the body. “A guess, but I think he may have committed the assault after she was shot. She may even have been dead at this stage.”

Walker and Trivette stared at her.

Trivette shook his head. “Nice guy.”

“Why do you think that?” Walker queried.

Rachel bent down and picked up the lifeless hand, turning it over. “No sign of putting up a fight. Nothing under the nails, or broken nails, which would indicate she put up a struggle. No bruising on the wrist where he would have used force to hold her down.”

Walker was thoughtful. “Umm.”

“She certainly wasn’t a willing participant.” Trivette mused.

“No,” Rachel agreed, shooting a look round. “The locale would hardly turn me on. Where’s the other body?”

Walker pointed. “I’ll show ya.”

They walked together towards the downed body of a slightly older male.

**

            By Friday the bustle of their busy office somehow added to the determination of the two Rangers to find some link between the five deceased now pictured on the large whiteboard.

            Trivette ran a hand through his hair. “Let’s go over it again then.” He pointed. “Monday, first two victims - gas station. Motive - robbery. Next one on Tuesday. A guy at an ATM machine. He’d just drawn cash. So, motive again must be robbery. This one the same day,” the Ranger continued, pointing to the photograph of a middle aged woman, “Jewelry stolen.” His finger lowered to the images of three black youths. “Last night, outside a nightclub. Nothing taken and ballistics have the same weapon used on all the victims. Why kill them?”

            “Cos they just got in his way.”

Walker and Trivette turned to see semi-retired Ranger Captain C.D. Parker.

“That’s all. You’re looking for logic and motive all the time. He don’t have any. It’s on a whim.”

            Walker studied his old friend before speaking. “I know,” Walker said evenly, “Frank Jennings.” There was a small pause. “ I’ve checked twice with his parole officer. He’s got an alibi for each one, hasn’t violated the conditions of his parole.”

            “Cordell. If you never believe another word I say, believe me this time.”

            Walker gave a slow, sagely nod, and a small sigh. “I believe ya.” He turned to Trivette. “We’ll go rattle the cage then. See what slides out.” He checked his watch. “Have lunch first, huh?”

            “Bob Gray dropped me here, Cordell. Can I hitch a ride back?”

            “Sure C.D. I’ll go check on Alex.”

            Trivette went back to his desk and stared again at the telephone number Rachel McCollagh had given him. It was the weekend already, and he still hadn’t rung her friend. Damn his unwillingness to say no! Snatching up the paper, he punched in the number hard and waited till it was picked up. “Hello. Marsha Graham, please. Oh, er. Hi. Er… My name’s Jimmy Trivette, I’m a friend of Rachel McCollagh’s.” He didn’t have to say anything further, but waited and listened. “Oh I see. That’s great. Well, er, how about I pick you up Saturday morning?” He gave a nervous laugh “No, not too early. We’ll have some lunch; see some sights?” Receiving a positive response Trivette wrote down her address and they set a time. “Eleven a.m. I’ll be there. See you tomorrow. Yeah. Bye.” Deep in thought, Trivette held the phone against his chin before setting it back on the base.

            “Date, huh?”

            “No C.D.! Not a date.”

            The elder man’s skin creased round the edges of his eyes. “Sounded like a date.”

            “It’s not a date. I’m helping out Rachel McCollagh. Showing a friend the sights. I haven’t even met her!”

            “Her?”

            Trivette pursed his lips. “If you breathe a word of this to Walker…”

**

            It would take about an hour to get to the address Jennings had given his parole officer. Keeping his eyes on the road a head, Walker’s mind filtered back in to his partner’s voice.

            “…and another thing. I can write on the pad with the wand,” Trivette tried to hold the Palm Pilot in front. “What can I enter? Let’s say, …oh, I’ll just put my name.” The words were stretched to coincide with his writing. “Jji’mmee Triv’vvette. Then, I enter.” The wand dotted furiously over the touch sensitive pad,  “And look!” He made an effort to flash the small gray screen in front of Walker’s eyes. “See? It’s recognized my handwriting and made a digital entry for me. Fantastic, huh? And I can even use any phone line, plug it in, and I can check my stocks and shares anytime I want.” He ended with a flourish. “I can even tell you the time in Mongolia!”

            Walker sighed. “Well, if I want to know the time in Mongolia, it’ll come in handy then.”

Now given the chance, Walker knew exactly how to change the subject to a more appealing one. “C.D. says you have a date tomorrow.”

            There was silence.

            “It’s not a date, man.”

            “Oh.” Walker gave a loud sniff.

            “It’s not a date!”

“Okay.” The elder Ranger smiled as Trivette shook his head. Pleased with

himself, Walker enjoyed the sudden quietness until they reached their destination.

Parking away from the address in the lower class neighborhood, the Rangers crept up to the front of the dilapidated, paint-weary house while blindsiding the front windows. Trivette knocked on the door and they waited for a reply. On hearing a noise from inside, Walker called out.

            “Texas Rangers. Open up.”

            Standing either side of the door, their hands slowly reached for their weapons.

            Trivette glanced at his partner. “There’s someone in there. I’ll take the back.”

            Walker nodded, gave Trivette time to go around, and aimed his foot at the weakest part of the door. It shattered with the force of his right boot. Walker took cover until he’d peered through to see an empty hallway. His next moves were made with equal caution, and continuing his tour, he acknowledged Trivette as his partner made his way in from the rear. From the safety of the wall next to the living room, the door was slowly pushed open, this time revealing a person. Both men aimed their weapons directly at the presence.

            “Freeze!”

            The woman tried to comply, but her legs buckling beneath her, she tumbled to the floor.

            Quickly easing back the hammer of his gun, Walker rushed to catch her. “She’s been beaten up. Call an ambulance.”

            “No! No! Please! Don’t. …I’ll be fine.”

            Trivette stopped. He and Walker exchanged glances. The woman was in her late twenties, short fair hair, and supported a bloodied cheek with a corresponding black eye. Her lack of balance was evidence of concussion.

            Walker supported her. “You’re hurt pretty bad.”

            “I said I’ll be all right! Be a darn sight worse if I go to hospital and cause a fuss. Just leave it, …okay?”

            Walker shook his head. “Did Frank Jennings do this to ya?”

A hesitant pause was followed by a pained, panted reply. “I know you mean well. But I’m not testifying. I can’t. He’ll kill me.”

            Trivette tried. “Ma’am. We can help you, we …”

            “Look!” Her head swung in Trivette’s direction. “ It’s appreciated. But leave it, please.”

            “Okay, okay.” Walker looked about. “Let’s get you on the sofa.”

            “Here.”

            Jackie Durham couldn’t understand it. Why would these two Texas Rangers be so kind to a loser like her? She took the tea from the younger of the two and watched as he sat down in a chair opposite his partner.

            “Jackie? Do you know where Frank is?”

            The white one had a real soft voice, the kind that you wanted to respond to somehow. She nodded. “Yeah, he’s gone hunting with some buddies. Won’t be back till Monday.”

            Trivette tried again. “Tell me why you live like this? We have a friend that runs a shelter. We can get you away from here, help you get your life back together. Jennings has only just been released from prison, you can’t have known him that long. Why stick around?”

            “He picked me up at the pool hall. Turns out it was just a few hours after he got out.” Jackie’s voice became bitter, “he made it quite clear what would happen if I left.” Her eyes widened, “He got his goons to fetch my stuff from my apartment and told the landlord I wouldn’t be back. There’s nowhere to go where he won’t find me. But,” she double-checked, “you’re saying you can get me a place?”

            Walker nodded. “A room, and a means to start a new life. It’s your decision.”

            “I can’t testify against him, I just can’t. If that’s a condition …”

            “It’s not. There’s no strings attached.”

            There was a note of incredulity, “Why do you want to bother with the likes of me?”

            “Jackie,” Walker knew it was time to be blunt. “You stay here, Jennings will kill you. I think, you know that all ready.”

            Trivette gave a small smile and looked to Walker before addressing her directly, “And why shouldn’t we help you?” He smiled again. “Whaddya say? Gotta be worth a shot?”

            They were right. Deep inside she knew they were, but what would happen if he found her? He did provide for her, but …  It was another few seconds before she gave them a small nod with her head.

**

            Saturday was bright, the sky light blue and cloudless. The temperature approached a more than livable mid seventies, and sitting comfortably on a wall in Los Colinas, Marsha looked over again at the bronze horse statues. They were breath taking.

            “…so,” Trivette finished off, “That’s how we saved a herd of Mustangs.”

            “That must have given you a great sense of achievement. Did Walker let Santana go, after all?”

            “Oh yeah.” Trivette sighed at the memory, “He was torn up about it. But he’d given his word to the horse and for him there’s going back.” Realizing how long he must have been speaking, now slightly self-conscious the Ranger stood up, “Enough of me talking. C’mon. There’s some nice shops down here. I’ll buy you a coffee.”

            He led the way down the stairs into the quaint courtyard. This wasn’t as bad as he expected. Marsha turned out to be Afro-American. He thought she was a year or so younger than himself and quite a stunning looking lady. She was a good listener, too. She even asked some intelligent questions, which meant she was at least paying attention.

            Marsha stood in the middle of the stone bridge and looked either side to observe the canals. “This is great.”

            “It is pretty neat.” Trivette pointed, “The Marina café. We’ll sit outside, huh?”

            She even liked non-fat, decaf latte like he did! Trivette smiled inwardly. “So, how long d’you think you’ll be in Dallas for?”

            There was a show of hands and a raised eye. “Who knows? It’ll be a couple of years anyway, I guess.”

            “Plenty of work for a computer programmer, that’s for sure. I’m into computers.”

            “I guessed that.”

            Trivette smiled. “Oh yeah? How’s that?”

            “Well it’s a guess. But, if that’s a Palm Pilot on your belt …?”

            A hand hit his side, “Yeah! I just got it.”

            Marsha sat forward. “I’ve been thinking of getting one of those. What do you think of it so far? What can it do?”

**

            There was a snort, some small whining, and general stamping of feet coming from the horses in their stables.

            Sauntering over to the veggie box, an exasperated Walker called out behind him, “Okay, okay.”

            Alex laughed. “You’ve got these horses spoiled!”

            “I know. Big mistake to give them a treat after every ride.” He tipped a handful of carrot pieces into Alex’s hand for her to feed Angel, while he saw to Ranger. Once both animals were appeased, they made their way back to the house.

            Walker automatically reached for Alex’s hand. Mentally, he wondered why. But couldn’t think of any logical reason except it always felt reassuring to him, and right, and what the heck? He liked it. Then the thought was gone as he spoke. “I got some stuff together for lunch.”

            “Ha! And C.D. says you can’t cook!”

            “Well, we’ll only end up with a BLT, so don’t go bragging yet.” He gave a small chuckle. It was nice to have Alex in the kitchen helping. In fact it was nice to be together period. There was one thing he needed to do first, though. “I’ll just call the center, see how Jackie’s doing.”

            Alex overheard the one sided conversation. “Okay?” She reconfirmed from what she had gleaned.

            Walker nodded. “She’s much better physically. Think Josie is worried about her mental state though. She thought she’d been quiet.”

            Putting down the knife, Alex looked up. “Josie think we need do anything right now?”

            “No. She thought Jackie would be better after more rest. I said we’d go visit tomorrow after church.”

            “That” Alex slipped her hands round his waist and kissed him, “is a good idea. Now, no more work.”

            The sandwiches made and eaten, they made their way to the porch to finish their coffee, sit quietly, and enjoy the afternoon sun.

On one end of the swing seat as Walker took the other, Alex stretched back and closed her eyes to bask in the heat. She seemed to have only just relaxed, but must have dozed off for a few minutes. Somewhat embarrassed, she looked about sheepishly to find her husband-to-be observing her. There was no mistaking the look on his face. His eyes had a light, warm glaze, and she could tell his breathing was heavier by the increased rise and fall of his chest. She loved him so much, and there was no doubt it was reciprocated. But he was finding this difficult.

            “I’d better go, …hadn’t I?”

            Walker gave a slow nod. She was beautiful. Slender body. The way her chest was outlined. Even the way she wore her clothes. But he could go on and on. Unable to help himself he leaned across, slowly bringing his lips to meet hers. Walker stopped briefly to savor her perfume, and continuing forward, closed his eyes on contact, tenderly kissing her. His head moved slightly from side to side as he experienced the fullness of her mouth, and the subsequent pleasure that surged through his body. He pulled back and took a deep breath.

            “Ah, you’d better go,” he said regretfully.

            Walker smiled as she flung her arms round his neck and whispered, “You’re a man in a million. Y’know that?” Alex fingered the hair behind his neck, winding it round her finger and then leaned back to look at him. When her fingers touched his soft ginger beard, it was done with such wonder it was as if it were the first time. But finally taking a deep breath to steel herself, she gave Walker a quick squeeze and made to go.

            The Ranger followed her to her car. “I’ll pick you up for church tomorrow, then.” He closed the car door after her, and secretly wished for her not to go.

            Oh, Walker! Alex silently pleaded with her whole being. Why don’t you ask me to stay? But the only words that came out of her mouth were, “Great. Usual time?”

            He nodded, and took her offered hand, running his fingers over the soft skin.

            Alex smiled wistfully. “Bye. Thanks.”

            Waiting until she had disappeared from view, Walker slowly made his way back inside.

**

            The phone was answered on the second ring. Despite the years gone by, Walker’s time spent in Vietnam had altered his sleep pattern. It made him resigned not only to the fact he would always be a light sleeper, but always instantly awake. He wondered how he would deal with this when there was another person sharing his bed. But it was a problem he was happy to address. The thought of Alex being next to him when he woke up filled him with pleasure.

            “Walker.”

            “Ranger Walker this is dispatch. We had a 911 call from the HOPE shelter regarding a disturbance. Units responding report a kidnapping and are requesting your assistance.”

            “Tell them I’ll be right there. Ask Ranger Trivette to meet me.”

            Not waiting for the response Walker reached for his jeans on the chair, and five minutes later was in the truck heading into Dallas. He ignored the fact he was incredibly weary. To take his mind off things after Alex had left, he’d tackled a drainage ditch that needed deepening. It had taken longer, and was harder work than he’d expected, and he finished the backbreaking task as darkness descended. So with some resignation and a rub of his right shoulder to ease the ache from his labors, he concentrated on what he’d find when he arrived at the scene.

            “Josie? You okay?” Walker hurried over to HOPE’s live-in care assistant. Still being treated by medics on the scene, the shaken twenty-eight year old look relieved to see the Ranger. She put out a hand to him and was given a hug before Walker continued.

“What happened?”

            “Jackie! Despite everything we said she must have called her boyfriend. He broke down the door. Wouldn’t listen. He punched me in the face, went straight up to the rooms and dragged her out by her feet. I promise you,” Her voice was impassioned, “there was nothing I could do.” She was hugged again.

“I know, I know. Take it easy. I’ll call Alex have her come and sit with you.”   Walker spotted his partner. “Trivette!”

The Ram raced through the streets as Trivette checked they had covered all possibilities.

“So! Jennings came back early.” His mind raced. “We updated Sam on the scene. Did he put out an APB?”

“Yeah.”

“Alex was coming down to help Josie?”

“Yeah.”

“We try the same address first. If they’re not there?”

“Well,” Walker thought. “We’ll try the pool hall next. If we don’t get a result we’ll wake up Art Smith his parole officer.” Walker looked across “Can’t believe he’s been this good since he got out.”

“Looks like C.D.’s been right.”

Walker was somber. “Looks like.”

After the initial search of the house, the two Rangers met each other mid-way. Trivette raised an eye.

“Try upstairs.”

Walker led the way, pausing before his head peered round the staircase. He shot a quick look round, but it was quiet. He moved on, and they split up on reaching the landing to individually check out each room. That done, it was apparent no one was in.

“Trivette!” Walker called from the main bedroom.

His partner went straight there. The place was in disarray, as if there had been an earlier altercation. Bent on one knee next to the night table, Walker looked up at his arrival and held out a distinctive earring.

“Recognize this?”

The younger man only took a few seconds of scrutiny. “Jewelry from the woman robbed on Tuesday.”

Walker nodded.

Trivette smiled. “Looks like we got him!”

“Let’s try the pool hall.”

From the safety of the Ram the two Rangers studied the leisure building. It was one story, situated on the edge of waste ground, and gave the appearance of being popular. Men would come out and in; there was the occasional high-pitched yell of someone winning his game. It was a place that was happening.

“Radio for back-up.”

Trivette stared at Walker for a second, and called it in.

They waited in the early hour chill for the minutes to pass, and their colleagues to arrive. Barely two minutes had gone by, when the noise in the building suddenly died down causing a moment of silence. Then a high pitched scream of a female voice pierced the air.

“Let’s go!”

Both Rangers were reaching for the door handles before Walker’s directive had left his lips. They raced across the road and burst through the double doors with a crash. It took a second to sum up the scene.

About twenty men formed a semi circle with Jennings in the center. A half-dressed Jackie cowered in the middle of them. There could be no question each man was waiting his turn with her.

Jennings was six feet tall, not overweight, but solidly stocky. His head spun in the direction of the noise, and he and Walker locked on to each other.

When Walker stared at Jennings, a pair of black, dull, soulless eyes returned a chilling silence of evil intent. They were almost shark-like. Unusually transfixed, Walker tried to shrug off the apprehension to hit his stomach.

The sight of the shiny Ranger badge outlined on Walker’s denim gray shirt, galvanized the already boisterous gathering. Jennings made straight for Walker with a fierce right hook. Walker just managed an outside block with his left hand, his right replying with a smash to the face. Jennings staggered back as Walker dealt with a second, then a third man coming towards him.

Trivette had downed two in the same amount of seconds. With some men hesitant to join in, others couldn’t wait! Some bigots in the gathering relished the fact that Trivette was black, and he was quickly swamped by bodies. Blows came down at him from all sides.

Tightening his stomach as his body whipped around, Walker’s trailing back heel clipped yet another assailant in the face. The Ranger took two blows to the face, and another. His ribs pounded, but he managed to snap an elbow uppercut, which took out a gangly young thug.

Walker knew the situation was dangerous. Liquored up, on a sexual high and too many of them; this is one situation they had to leave. Alarmed, he watched Trivette covered by attackers. Walker made for his gun when a searing slash to his right arm stopped him momentarily. Ignoring the pain and the blood already staining his shirt, he turned waiting for the knifer’s next move. When the blade lunged again he deftly trapped the outstretched arm. Walker’s palm-strike towards the elbow easily broke the joint. A pained yell followed. The Ranger ducked the next two blows from other attackers and found himself with a bit of free space. He pulled his gun at the same time Trivette was viciously whacked from behind with the weighted end of a cue. His partner dropped like a stone. Walker fired twice in the air, and pointed his weapon round the room. The men stopped abruptly, and slowly closed the circle on the two Texas Rangers.

“Stay back!” One cautious step at a time, Walker, his head reeling from blows, headed towards Trivette, all the while quickly pointing the gun from side to side. “Stay back!” he repeated. Without looking, he reached for the back of Trivette’s jacket and shirt; he began to pull him towards the door.

“You must be Walker.” Jennings leered at him, holding up outstretched hands either side. “See how frightened I am, Walker?” Jennings moved towards them.

“Don’t come any closer, Jennings.”

Walker continued to back up. Now beginning to laugh, the men moved forward as one; the threat Walker might shoot them losing its impact. Still breathing heavily, Walker’s adrenaline was sky high.

One man made a rapid move for them and without blinking, Walker’s aim was true. The man’s leg buckled, a bullet piecing the meaty part of his thigh. The advance towards them stopped, and the mood changed again - the sea of faces becoming even more menacing. Taking advantage of the slight impasse, Walker reached down and in one swift movement, using all his strength, lifted Trivette over his shoulder and aimed the gun again before they could close in.

Jenning’s voice was cold. “Get the guns from behind the bar.”

“Any man moves and he’s dead!” Walker stood straight and commanding. “Move away from the door!”

They complied, and finally the sirens of approaching cop cars filtered into hearing. The men backed away, as did Jennings. He pointed at the Rangers.

“You ain’t heard the last of me, Walker. Let’s go boys!”

Scattering bodies left the room like rats on a sinking ship; the emergency exits of the building thrown open in a free for all to get away. Wary, Walker looked from either side for a sudden attack, the appearance of a hidden gun, or anything else that could go wrong and threaten them further.

“Walker!”

One of the last to leave, Jennings ran out the door pointing behind him and was gone. Walker looked to see Jackie gasping on the floor. Her hands round her throat, blood seeped uncontrollably through her fingers.

“NO!”

Walker carefully placed Trivette on the floor and raced across the now deserted pool hall; but turning Jackie’s body upwards, he knew it was too late. His hands covered hers in an effort to staunch the bleeding, and he peered into the huge, fear filled eyes.

“Jackie.” What could he say? Walker watched as her eyes closed, and she lapsed into final unconsciousness.

**

            “Walker!”

            Fully dressed and sitting on the bed, Walker immediately reassured the alarmed Alex and C.D. “It’s okay. We’re both okay.” 

Anxious, they looked at the stitches being inserted to his right arm just above the elbow. Alex rounded to his opposite side and tightly, but gently hugged the Ranger.

            “I’m so relieved you’re all right.” Alex kissed the side of his face. “Where’s Jimmy?”

            Walker motioned with his head. “He’s next door.” His looked went to his mentor, “He’s had a good beating. Got a bit of concussion. He can leave, but he’ll need to be with someone, just in case. I’ll take him home with me.”

            C.D. smiled, silently thanking God they were both going to be fine. “You might need some rest yourself, son. You both come back with me. And don’t even think of arguing.”

            It wasn’t necessary. Walker knew they could handle it, but he wasn’t in the mood to resist. Besides, there were times when it was a comfort to let C.D. take the reins. There wasn’t anyone else he’d trust to watch out for them, that’s for sure. They could get some rest, he could make a few phone calls and start his snitches looking for information. On Monday he would start the hunt for Jennings. Accordingly, he nodded and watched as the old man smiled.

            C.D. recognized the pained expression which had passed over his ex-partner’s face and waited.

            “I should have listened better.” The Ranger looked him square in the face. “Maybe Jackie would still be alive.”

            “For the life of me I’ll never know why women stick with abusive men, Cordell. She was safe. She rang him. Nothin’ you could do ‘bout that. Nothin’ at all, buddy. Don’t you give it another thought, you hear?” Their mentor nodded his head in emphasis, “I mean that.” C.D. gently added a pat on the leg to comfort him, and then he was out of the room to see his other ‘son’.

            The Ranger turned to Alex. She was still clinging to him, her hand giving small rubs to his back. He could tell she was naturally unsettled by these latest events. In an effort to lighten the mood, Walker tried to rally her and winked at the doctor sewing up his arm.

            “Couldn’t give her a few tips on that, could you doc? We’re getting married soon.”

“You!” Stepping back, Alex joined in the chuckles coming from both men. Gazing in his eyes, she silently thanked him for his consideration in trying to cheer her up.

Walker picked up the unspoken message and gave another small smile. This happened more and more lately. They would just need to glance at each other and they could pass a message between them without ever speaking a word. Walker had no way of knowing that the strong intuitive bond they had developed was to have tragic consequences.

**

            Alex was mad with Walker! Although in bed he’d already been on the phone over half an hour. She could see he was exhausted, but knew from past experiences that Walker would put the requirements of the job over his own needs. It didn’t matter this meant pushing himself to the limits. He wasn’t about to change, either. She waited until he was satisfied he could do no more right now and replaced the receiver. Now finished he looked all-in, and she knew by the way he was favoring his arm the anesthetic was wearing off. She rightly guessed it hurt like hell.

            “Here!” She held out a painkiller and a small glass of water, and they exchanged determined looks. Well, mister, two could play at that game!

            Walker reminded himself that Alex could be very obstinate when she had a mind to. Would it really hurt him to be pampered? Was it a sign of weakness as he had been afraid of? If he was going to be married, maybe he should chill out more. He took the capsule, swallowing it without water, and couldn’t help but grin at her expression as the glass was replaced on the small table by the bed with a loud clink.

            “Macho, bull headed …”

            The grin was still on his lips when he interrupted her list, “Is this your best bedside manner?”

            Alex blew threw her lips, her expression exasperated. “Will you go to sleep and get some rest?”

            “Only if you give me a kiss first.”

            The Ranger knew she wasn’t quite sure whether he was being facetious or not, so a small raise of the eyebrows to complete his expression of longing clinched it. Alex leaned forward across the bed to reach his mouth. Placing his arms round her body, Walker kissed her with passion, only to tip her off balance at the same time. Her feet lifted from the floor. Her body close to and his arms firmly around her, only the sheet separated them.

            She freed her lips from his, “Walker!” And glanced awkwardly at the door to make sure C.D. wasn’t standing there.

            “I know my old partner. If the door’s closed, he won’t come anywhere near here.”

            “You’re in this bed because you need your rest.” Alex hauled herself upright and a hand went to straighten her hair. Suddenly emotional, his fiancée knelt next to him, her eyes misty. “You are …” She shook her head. “I love you so much.”

            Walker lay his head back on the pillow. Her words had a steamroller effect. Her love and concern overwhelmed him. He gestured for her to come near once more.

            “C’mon.” He beckoned, and at her slight hesitancy added, “please. Stay with me awhile.” Alex slipped on the bed and was devoured by his arms snaking round her. They were strong and warm, and Alex could never remember feeling so secure. Bring up her leg to rest below his groin, his slight twist in her direction had her snuggly in a cocoon. She tilted her head to look firmly at him. There was no question of his unspoken and undying love. It was written in the emotion that now gave his caring eyes a misty glaze. It was in his powerful body - which now promised to protect her. And it was written across his heart - that beat so strongly she could feel it in her soul. As Alex rested back and closed her eyes, one of his huge hands covered her head, and she felt him sigh deeply.

Walker soon succumbed to fatigue, and the pair slept soundly and contentedly together.

            Wondering where Alex had gone, C.D. tentatively looked around the partially open door. A small laugh accompanied the shake of his head as he observed his dear friends. Despite feeling like an intruder, he couldn’t help but stop and take in the sight of the resting couple. The old man had never seen them look so happy. Despite being fast asleep, they still clung tightly to each other as if they didn’t dare let go. It was beautiful, and their mentor swallowed hard against the emotion he illicitly shared with them. His head turned slightly and he spied a spare old gray blanket on the side. With gentleness belying his form, Walker and Alex never even stirred as he lovingly covered them up and slipped from the room.

Some hours later Walker looked down at the beautiful woman in his arms. Alex looked so serene when she slumbered. Her warm, slim body made him feel good. He savored the moment, vowing never to lose the memory. Not far from his thoughts was the recollection of her lying in a coma after being shot. He never guessed he would have felt so alone without her. But faced with the reality she may not recover, the depth of pain that tortured his soul amazed even him. Without him realizing it she had become a part of him, and he could no longer bear the thought of a life without her.

            Occasionally Alex stirred contentedly and reached up to give his arm a reassuring squeeze. Her reaction, having realized it was his bad arm she was lovingly crushing, made Walker grin. He would get a lot of mileage from that! Yet again he leaned forward to kiss the top of her head. Yeah, he was very lucky. The red bearded Ranger couldn’t help but cozy up a bit more.

            Returning to norm for dinner was a slightly sheepish affair. They approached only to be met by a stage whisper as C.D. cleared his throat.

            Trivette’s eyes raised to the sky and he laughed along with Walker and Alex. “Oh very subtle Big Dog!”

            They found their seats at the dining table and beamed round the room while C.D. retaliated.

“I meant to ask you, Jimmy. How was your date?”

            Delighted to have the attention off them, Walker and Alex raised respective eyebrows as they grinned.

            “What?” Only reacting slightly taken a back, Trivette stopped for a second. To their surprise he leaned forward and replied seriously. “She - was very nice.”

            The three friends exchanged looks.

            Staring into space, Trivette took another second. “Very nice,” he reiterated somewhat absentmindedly. “I’m seeing her again next week.” Suddenly self-conscious, the subject was changed. “Er …how are we gonna get Jennings tomorrow?” 

They all waited for Walker, watching as the Ranger’s eyes furrowed in thought first.

            “We’ll go see Jennings’ parole officer. He must have suspected something wasn’t right. Alex?” He looked to her, “I’d like for you to check the phone records at HOPE, see what number Jackie called, and if we can trace it.”

            “I’ll do that first thing.”

            Walker nodded and was silent.

            Their mentor stabbed at his knee with his finger. “There must be something I can do? I wanna help put this manic away. I did it once, I can help again.”

            “There is C.D.” Walker sat forward, his left arm on his knee. “Go through the file, check see if there’s a record of all the places you found Jennings at before. There might have been something left out: a house he visited often, a friend’s name not recorded.”

            “Yeah, I can do that. Goin’ through the file will jog my memory too. You got it Cordell!”

            That decided on, the food was passed around and the camaraderie continued.

            Despite immense activity the next day and throughout, by Wednesday every single lead was exhausted and every name associated with Jennings checked out. It was if he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. Walker was furious with Art Smith. Jennings had come to the parole officer’s home and threatened his wife and new born child. Now fearful, Smith had covered the fact not one of the parole conditions had been met.

            “Walker, I swear. I’ve been in this job ten years and sure, I’ve been threatened before. But I’ve never met anyone like Jennings. I’m sorry; I’m really sorry.”

            Walker was sorry, too. This was now another dead end.

            The Ranger picked up the ringing phone. “Walker.”

            “It’s me.”

            Walker frowned, “Cobalt?”

Trivette looked over.

            The voice on the phone was exasperated. “Yeah! Who else you think would stick their neck out by ringing you like this? Like I want to run the risk of being associated with you two more than I have been. We need to meet. Preferably without that freaky partner of yours tagging along like he’s gonna jump me or something.”

            Walker’s mind sifted through the unintelligible parts of Cobalt’s conversation. “What about?”

            “Like how often do I call you Walker? Like this isn’t important or something? Then I wouldn’t be ringing you, right? I’m risking big time here and you’re gonna owe me after this, man!”

            Walker had a tendency to quickly become exasperated with the two-bit arms dealer. Now was no exception. “Alright, alright. Where?”

            “Er …how about the park? Yeah that’d be good. There’s a bench on the south side of the small pond. Thirty minutes, right? And leave the lunatic behind.”

            “Thirty minutes. This better be good, Cobalt.”

            Approaching the bench with caution, the Rangers looked around at the peaceful park setting. Hardly anyone in sight, they sat down on the bench a few yards from tall oleander shrubs. The pond was situated in front of them. Mallards and swans fought for the last remnants of bread left by a previous passerby, while other waterfowl looked hopefully at Walker and Trivette.

            Walker glanced back and gave a stage whisper, “Cobalt! I know you’re in the bushes.”

            His partner looked surprised and turned to look back as well.

            There was an annoyed retort. “I’m doin’ you a favor and this is the thanks I get -you bringing him near me?”

            “It’s a park; I have to keep him under control.” Walker grinned to his partner.

The reply coincided with waggling branches. “Very funny, I don’t think.”.

            Trivette tried to appease him. “You come and talk to us. I promise I’ll be nice, Cobalt.”

            “I’m not coming out. I’ll tell you from here.”

            Walker raised his eyes to the sky. “Well, we haven’t got all day.”

            “You didn’t hear this from me, right?”

            “Get on with it!”

            “Well see there’s this arms deal going down. Not that it’s anything to do with me I just heard about it sorta. But, anyway,” there was a loud sniff, “this guy’s got a small army, man. He’s buying up stuff like there’s gonna be a war or somethin’. But see the thing is, one of my, well he’s an associate, kinda, but not really …”

            Trivette and Walker passed each other a wearisome expression.

            “ …did somethin’ stoopid and this guy’s gonna kill him. He’s worse than your partner and that’s sayin’ something. He’s bad Walker. Even us respectable crooks want him gone. His name is Jennings, Frank Jennings. He … SHIT!”

            Walker pulled Cobalt from the shrubs by his lapels. “Where can we find him?”

            Alarmed, Cobalt looked around Walker to keep his eye firmly on Trivette. “Alright! Don’t let him touch me. I…it’s, I only know where he might be found, like I’m not sure for certain, see?”

            “Where?”

            “He’s supposed to keep his stash in the country somewhere and he’s transporting it. I’ll know the address soon. When I tell ya you’ll have about an hour to pick him up, and that’s it. That’s all I gotta tell and I shouldn’t have told you that much, see…but I have, right.”

            Walker studied the snitch’s eyes. “You don’t know where he is now?”

            “No! I just told you that, like I just said.”

            “How soon?”

            “Soon! Like they give me an itinerary or somethin’? Next couple of days is what we figure. Just take him out after that, okay?”

            The Ranger released his hold and looked at his partner who in turn looked at Cobalt.

            Trivette scowled. “We appreciate you coming forward, citizen.”

            Cobalt laughed sarcastically, “Yeah, right.”

            “Look Cobalt, you double cross us …”

            “Shit! No way, man! I mean …it’s not like I wanna be pals with the likes of you two or nothin’, but I wouldn’t do you a double cross. No way. You think I’m crazy or whatever? I just wouldn’t do that okay?” Being released from Walker’s grip he straightened up and smoothed out his shirt. “Just be ready to move when I call ya. You

won’t have hardly anytime.” He gave a pained expression and his arms opened up. “Can go now?” he demanded.

            “Yeah. You can go.” Walker stared after him, Cobalt’s mumbles to himself being heard as he headed back along the track. The Ranger looked about him and beckoned for them to leave.

            C.D. replenished the coffees. “That’s all he said?”

            The young Ranger nodded. “Yeah. In a few days. A place in the country! He’d call us, and we wouldn’t have much time after that. So, whaddya make of that, Big Dog?”

            “Pesky little critter, Cobalt. But he’s hasn’t messed with you before, has he?”

            Trivette had just placed a cookie in his mouth so he shook his head.

            “How come you’re so quiet, Cordell?”

            It was a few seconds before their friend replied. He sighed, “C.D. We need a task force on standby. We’ll be prepared.” He looked at Trivette. “I can’t see what he’d gain by spinning us a line.”

            C.D. warmed to the task. “I want to be in on that, Cordell. I’ll standby with the task force and be ready to roll. Oh yeah. There is a place we can check out tomorrow; it wasn’t on the file.” The older man shook his head and wrinkled up his nose, “Hell of a long shot I admit. I seem to recall an old loggin’ place bought by his uncle some thirty years back. I’ve asked land registration for the details, as I can’t even remember where it was. We had occasion to visit when we were looking for him one time. Chances are it won’t even be there now, ‘course.”

            “That’s good C.D.” Walker looked about the saloon and turned back. “Alex say she’d be late?”

            “Nope, but you don’t haveta fret your red head about her,” C.D. smiled patronizingly, “she just walked in.”

            Shooting a gnarled look at his former partner first, the grin appeared on the Walker’s face even before he had a chance to turn towards her.

            “Hi guys!” came the female bubbly greeting.

            They smiled broadly. She always had this way of lighting up a room. The bar full with the dinner rush, Walker gave up his seat and beckoned for her to sit down.

            “Thank you!” Alex’s eyes gleamed.

            He bowed slightly from the hips, “My pleasure.” And they quickly kissed.

            “How about I buy you guys dinner tonight?” Alex beamed at them.

            “Got my vote!” Trivette looked at C.D.

            The old man laughed, “I’ll have a pretty lady buy me dinner any day.”

            Alex turned to Walker, “ Well?”

            The Ranger narrowed his eyes. “Depends why the lady is buying dinner.”

            His partner chided him, “Walker! Gees, man. This is your fiancée.”

            C.D. agreed. “He’s right Cordell. A man shouldn’t oughta be suspicious of his intended!”

            Walker grinned at them. “She’s got an ulterior motive. She’s happy about something, too.”

            Alex grinned knowingly. “Well as it happens I am happy about a lot of things.” She got on to business, leaning towards them in her enthusiasm. “But remember Josh Collins? Retired from the DA’s office last year? He had a big place out at Shackelford? He called me today. He’s moving closer to his family, into a small apartment. He said if I can come out first thing in the morning, I can have as many items as I want for the HOPE center. Beds, linen, chairs …great huh?”

            Walker exaggerated nodding his head. “I knew it.”

            “What?” Trivette stared at him. “This means Alex will have more rooms available now, it’s great news.”

            “Yeah, but think about it. How’s she going to get the stuff back to the center? And don’t you think she’ll need two willing volunteers to help?”

            They all laughed.

“Oh right! I see.” Trivette replaced his coffee on the bar. “It doesn’t matter! It’s our pleasure to help, Alex.”

“Thank you Jimmy!” She rounded on Walker, “See how nice your partner is?”

“The only thing is, Alex. We’ll need to do this early, before work.” Walker updated her on the latest events regarding Jennings.

“I see,” she said finally. Josh said the house is open, we can go anytime. But it’s out Fort Griffin way. Off the 183 on the 209” Alex pulled a face, “Means we’ll need to start really early to get you back on time.”

“Well,” Walker paused. “Really early it is then.” He turned to C.D. with a huge grin, his hands apart in front of him. “Big steak, C.D.! I mean …big steak!”

**

            There was a definite chill in the morning air, but it was losing against the rising sun. Trivette still shivered and blew threw his fingers. “You know how I hate the cold. Put some heat on will, you?”

            Walker fiddled with the temperature controls. His quick glance at Alex, seated between them, caught her nodding off. He smiled. Five thirty in the morning didn’t produce the best conversations. The road isolated and reasonably straight, Walker abandoned hold of the steering wheel with his right hand, opting instead, to discretely hold her hand.  That had the net result of her partially opening one eye, giving a small smile, and then Alex dozed again. It was a good forty-five minutes later they looked for the turn off to Josh’s old ranch.

            The radio shattered their concentration. “Dispatch to Walker.”

            Trivette pulled a face. “Now what?”

            Walker reached for the mike. “Go ahead.”

            “Walker. We have a call for you from a Mr. Cobalt. He said it was urgent.”

            Still looking for their turn off, Walker frowned before replying. “Patch him though.”

            There was a crackle of static first. “Walker? Forget it. We’ve blown it. It’s too late. I should never have said anything ‘cos you’ll be mad now and that ain’t fair. But instead of gettin’ all mad just try and remember I was helping. It’s not my fault.”

            There was no option but wait till Cobalt had finished his verbal diarrhea. “Cobalt! What’s happened? Explain slow!” Walker pulled the Ram over to the side and they sat motionless, waiting for the next installment.

            “The meet. It’s goin’ down now. I only just got wind of it, see. So you won’t get to it, it’s too far out. An’ Jennings ain’t going now, he’s sent his right arm, Ross. And it ain’t my fault, okay? So like I’m to blame?”

            Trivette looked to his partner. “If we could still get to Ross, though.”

            Walker was nodding before Trivette had finished his sentence. “Where’s it going down?”

            “On the 183. It’s out Woodson way.”

            The Ram was already being turned round. “We’re out by there now. Where exactly?”

            “Shit, Walker. I’d heard about this Indian hokum stuff you got goin’, but I didn’t put any store by it, man! You’re out by the 183? Now? You’re puttin’ me on, joshing with me, yeah? That’s it.”

            “Damn it, Cobalt! Where exactly are they meeting up?”

            Trivette peered ahead. “This is remote. They picked a good spot.” He pointed to the left. “Looks like the turn off up there. What’d he say? Two miles up here?” Having already contacted C.D., Trivette carried on to comment on their old friend. “C.D. is amazing. He turns out right all along about the logging plant!”

            Alex glanced at Walker. “If the choppers are assisting with a drugs bust, and C.D. won’t have enough time to get the task force here, what are you going to do?”

            Walker didn’t exactly know himself. “We’ll think of something. Right now though, I’ll have to do something with you. You be okay if we leave you here?” Slowing down the Dodge, he pointed off the roadside to a thicket of shrubs and bushes. “You could hide there till we come back.” 

            Alex’s face was aghast. “I’m not hiding in there. Why can’t I stay with you?”

            “Alex! I don’t know what we’ll be up against. How many there’s going to be. It’s too dangerous,” he added forcefully.

            “He’s right, Alex.” Trivette concurred.

            “I’ll stay in the truck. I mean you’ll keep the truck out of sight, right?”

            Walker sighed. “Yeah, but”

            “I promise” she interrupted, “I won’t get out. You’re not leaving me here on my own in the middle of nowhere!”

            Relenting, he drove for another half mile before Walker spotted something suitable. Off the road, the undulating dirt sloped away into a dip and was sheltered by scrub. Walker eased the Ram down and pulled up in the hollow. He turned to Trivette. “Be a mile up there by my reckoning. We’ll go on foot.” His finger pointed and waved in front of Alex’s nose. “I mean it, Alex. Stay here!”

            The District Attorney held up both hands. “Okay!” She quickly made a point of looking at them individually. “Take care.” Alex watched them run away from the truck before heading on a parallel course up the rough dirt track.

            Both Rangers were in good shape. It didn’t take long to cover the mile or so and the timber yard came into view. Sheltered by the rise of the terrain, they observed for a few minutes.

            There was an old farmhouse to the far side, a small shack a little way off, and remnants of old wood cutting machinery discarded years ago and aged by time. They had spotted four men so far. They guessed, by the way one was directing operations, that he must be Ross Cobalt had talked about. They also recognized two others from the pool hall. The men had spent the last few minutes hauling crates into the back of an SUV. Walker guessed at rifles, and it looked like a few Claymores from the shape of them, but no ammo as he could see. Perhaps they hadn’t completed the deal yet he pondered.

            Trivette gave a slight turn in his direction. “Seems like they’re finishing up. We need to make our move now.”

            Walker nodded. “I’ll take the flank. Let’s do it.”

            Trivette allowed him a few minutes to cover the extra ground and crept up. The brush was kind and offered protection, but was sparse the closer he moved up. Getting nearly seventy-five yards from them, Trivette couldn’t risk it further and made his play as all four came out together.

            “TEXAS RANGERS! FREEZE!”

            All the men spun in his direction.

            “HOLD IT!” Trivette commanded. He motioned with his gun as his words stopped them with their hands reaching for their respective side arms. “Don’t think about it, gentlemen. Nice and easy now. Weapons on the floor. Let’s do this the easy way?”

            Unsure, no one moved for a few seconds, and the three men looked to Ross. He hesitated.

            “Or you can do it the hard way,” came Walker’s optimistic voice from the far side.

            “Damn it!” Ross gave a curt nod, and slowly reached for his shoulder holster.

            “Slowly,” Trivette reminded them.

            Walker smiled and the pair closed in. When the four guns were dropped on the floor, they issued more instructions for the men to lay face down on the ground. There was a reticence on their part. Walker hurried Ross up with a push.

            “On the floor. Come on.”

The men made a start for the floor when a gunshot rang out. It missed Trivette by a whisker, and the Ranger ducked and made an awkward turn to look behind him. Ross seized his moment and dived for Walker’s torso. Walker was bent double when the six-foot, two hundred-pound man thundered into his stomach and took him down. He recovered in seconds, took advantage of Ross’ unbalance, and tipped him to the side. Rising on one knee the Ranger’s other foot shot out and clipped the thug in the face. There was a grunt of pain, but the recipient of Walker’s wrath was not going to be beaten easily. Ross lunged again for Walker, taking him in a bear hug. Walker smashed against Ross’ ears with the palms of his hand and breathed in a lung full of air once released. The fight continued, with Walker conscious of leaving Trivette to face three attackers. After a big effort to get in position, he managed a right leg on a second assailant.

“Thanks. Glad you could make it,” Trivette shouted over.

Walker grinned for a second, and Ross went down when a well executed right leg spun from the back catching him unprepared.

Suddenly, Walker was overwhelmed with new men arriving on the scene. The martial artist spun and kicked, but was weighted down by men on every limb. The unexpected extra manpower changed the tide for them.

“WALKER!”

Walker heard his name, not realizing it was the third time Ross had yelled. He looked over to see Trivette on his knees, a handgun pointed in the nape of his partner’s neck. Panting, he paused and sized up the situation.

“Your turn to hit the deck, Walker,” Ross crowed.

            Furious, the Ranger gritted his teeth. And with no other option, complied.

            He was prodded in the ribs by another man. “Keep your arms out. OUT!” His arms were kicked until they were at right angles to his body, Trivette the same.

            “Ross.” An Afro-American whispered into Ross’ ear. Ross beckoned.

            “Go back. Check it out. It’ll be their vehicle. Blow the tires and disable any comms.”

            The black man took a comrade and hurried to the white Chevy Blazer they had arrived in. They were speeding down the track and out of sight within seconds. Walker shot a look at his partner to see the same worried expression. Alex! Walker thought. His stomach lurched in worry. He looked around. Guns were trained on them both. He’d have to think of something pretty quick.

            “Ross. There’s a task force headed here already. Give it up. It’s Jennings we want.”

            “Shut it!”

            Walker kept trying. “Far as we know murder’s not on your rap sheet. You won’t get away with killin’ two Texas Rangers. You know that.”

            There was pause in the proceedings and Ross was quiet. He looked thoughtful and moved a few paces away. He looked over at the Rangers, and finally came back starting to say something when the noise of the returning vehicle was heard. It negated the progress made to date - Walker could tell. Two of the goons with weapons pointed at him looked up at the sound. Walker jumped up from his prone position trying to alert his partner to make a move at the same time.

            “Trivette!”

            Launching himself at the nearest gun, Walker had disarmed the thug before a blink an eye. But it wasn’t enough. Ross pistol-whipped him from behind and his body landed back on the ground with a thud and was still.

            “Walker!” Trivette hadn’t been able to move, someone’s knee was still firmly in his spine. He squirmed trying to see. “Walker,” he said again, anxiously.

            “Let me go!”

            Trivette’s heart sank. Alex! He tried to look the other way and prepare her. “Alex. You okay?” He fretted.

            “Walker! Oh no.” Alex ran beside his body and looked over to Trivette. “Oh Jimmy!”

            “I’m alright.”

            “SHUT IT!” Ross gestured angrily. “WHO THE HELL CARES!” He pointed at a shack on the side of the barn. “Get some ropes! Get them secured in there till we see what Jennings wants to do with them.”

            Alex shook the unconscious Ranger, “Walker? Walker!”

She was hauled out the way by a rough hand and watched as Walker was bumped

and hauled over to the dilapidated tool shed. Trivette groaned as his head connected with the door support on the way in. Alex tried desperately to control the butterflies in her stomach and keep her wits about her.

            Anxious for Walker, Alex saw him being dragged in with them. The door booted open creaked against the rusty hinges, and she was led to the far side of the little used workshop. Her head strained to see Walker and Trivette, and she witnessed Walker dumped on the floor with a thud. Trivette was thrown in and set upon almost immediately by Ross’ three goons, with the other three lashing Walker’s hands and feet.

            Coming around, Walker’s head thumped with the beat of a thousand drummers. He watched as they roughly manhandled his partner. In a similar fashion, Trivette’s hands were bound behind him to the wooden upright opposite. Walker’s adrenaline shot skyward when he realized Alex was a prisoner too. Alarmed, he looked at her fearful face. Her hands were fastened above her head to an equipment support rack, but other than that she didn’t appear hurt. Ross cut in before he could ask.

            “You’ll suffer when Jennings gets here. He’ll take you apart, Walker!” Ross laughed loudly, “but not before he’s had his way with your friends.” Walking to Alex he bent down and fondled her cheek. Alex winced, pulling away from him.

            “Leave her be you son of a bitch.” Walker struggled against the ropes cutting into his wrists, blood from his previously cut arm already seeping through the tough fabric of his light blue denim shirt.

            The Ranger’s anger didn’t alter Ross’ mood. He looked over with a smile. “He’s going to take her in front you, Walker! Have his way with her. He probably won’t even do anything to you! He’ll know the best way to mess with you is to have you watch your bride to be bein’ defiled.” The last word was pronounced as two long syllables, and his glee was further heightened as Walker’s teeth gritted together. “Oh yeah. Jennings has started his research on you. Knows quiet a bit about you already!” Blowing Alex a kiss Ross then bent down to Trivette.

            “And you know what I hear?” Ross’ hand laid seductively on Trivette’s leg, “I hear he likes good looking men like you even more!” He clicked with his tongue and winked as he went on, “you know what I see one time? He kept this guy alive for three days. Just had his way with him, over and over till the guy died. Internal bleedin’”. Ross’ eyes narrowed, “He got a taste for it in jail! Oh yeah, you’re in for a real thrill!” He checked his watch. “He’ll be here in about an hour. Get some rest, huh?” Ross looked at the others and made to go. “Who’s got the mobile? I’ll give Mr. Jennings the good news then.” He smiled as he left.

            The door closing on them, the three looked at each other.

            “You alright, honey?” Walker anxiously checked on Alex, observing the nod of her head. “Trivette?”

            “I’ve been better. That last threat hardly fills me with joy.”

            Walker pulled at the ropes behind the wooden pillar which tied his hands behind him, looked either side, and then around the room; his frustration more than obvious. Both Alex and Trivette kept silent so he had a chance to think.

            His mind raced through the various options. There were plenty of tools in the storeroom to cut themselves free, but getting near any of them would be the problem.

            “Alex.” Walker nodded in her direction. “Can you lift up your feet and try to dislodge the shelf above your head? There’s an old hacksaw blade at this end. If you can get it to fall off, maybe I can get it.”

            Looking to see what he meant, Alex nodded. Shuffling to adopt a better position she raised her legs, and taking a breath, shot her feet above her head. She could just reach the underside of the slatted wooden boards.

            Walker nodded for her to continue to see what effect the next hit had. The shelf seemed to be secured by a few nails pinning it in the middle of a small support rail half way along.

            “Keep going.”

            Trivette tried to twist round to view her progress. “You can do it Alex. Go for it.”

            After five efforts Alex rested. Walker looked round to see if there were any other viable options. He tried to pry away the ropes away from his wrists, but it was fruitless.

            “C’mon, hon. Try again.” Her next effort rattled the shelf, and the hacksaw blade moved down a fraction.

            “Yeah, Alex!” Trivette beamed at her. “You got the measure of it.”

            “I knew if anyone could do it, you could,” Walker encouraged. “Try again.”

            Surging with optimism, Alex’s stamina was renewed. The next two attempts moved it to the edge of the shelf.

            “Take a break now,” Walker commanded.

            Puffing, she nodded her thanks. Walker directed his comments to his partner.

            “It’s right on the edge. If the next hit is a good one, it’ll dislodge and arc my way.” His partner nodded. They waited another few minutes and Walker smiled at her. “Okay. Everything you got. Big effort.” He waited till she primed herself.  “Pretend I’m beating you at darts and you’re getting mad.”

            Alex grimaced, and with a huge karate type “haah” the shelf partly flipped off, the blade spun in mid air and twisted round as it came down to fall in Walker’s direction. He beamed at her.

            “Well done, honey!”

            “Remind me never to play darts with you, Alex.” Trivette winked as he spoke, taking in her look of pleasure. He turned to Walker.

            The Ranger was stretched out as far as his legs would go, his tied feet tantalizingly eighths of an inch away. Stopping and altering his position Walker stretched out again, still coming up short.

            Walker licked his lips and took a breath, and his arms almost coming out of their sockets, he forced his body out while closing his eyes in discomfort and determination. The ropes had already cut into his wrists, and blood seeped from underneath the bindings. Ignoring it, Walker shot another look to see if his direction was good. It was. The tip of his boot connected, and with great care not to send the blade farther away, a huge extra surge pinned it to the floor and his foot brought it in an inch or so closer. Panting, Walker relaxed for a few seconds.

            “You got it now, pard.”

            With new resolve Walker reached out again, and the old blade slid up as far as his feet could take it. Swinging his hips to one side he used his knees to bring it even nearer, but it was still a few feet away from his hands. Twisting his left leg round, it was soon apparent that wouldn’t work, so this time Walker laid to the left of the post. Using his right heel he hoisted his foot nearer and nearer his outstretched fingers. Finally he stopped and rested. He looked confidently at the others.

            “I’ll get it next go.”

            They smiled back, never doubting for a minute.

            With a quick inhale, Walker set about the task yet again, and thankfully his fingers wrapped around the serrated metal edge. It took three attempts to get the right angle before he could start sawing effectively. It didn’t matter to Walker that each lunge sliced into the side of his wrist; he had to get them out before that manic arrived. Ten minutes later the ropes snapped away.

            “Oh Walker.” Alex gasped at the sight of blood seeping through his shirt cuff.

            Not responding to her worries, he released his partner first and finally hurried over. He couldn’t help giving her a kiss before he cut away the ropes pinning her down, and once free, he felt the pleasure of her body in his arms. He kissed her several times, and grasping her hand firmly, he turned to Trivette and handed her to him.

            “Watch her.”

            Trivette knew he was only one of two people Walker would say that to. He nodded confidently and waited for Walker to brief them. Walker observed the activities outside for some minutes before crouching back.

            There’s two vehicles between the house and us. They keep coming in and out. I’ll get to the first, call you over when it’s clear. We’ll go into the house; start taking them out. Alex?” Walker drew in the dirt with his finger. This is the first car. And just here,” he drew a small box to the right and behind, “is a wood pile. You get behind that, wait for us to come and get you. Okay?”

            Her face distraught once more, she tried to smile to mask it. Placing his arm behind her, he kissed her.

            “Be fine. You see.” His hand ran down the side of her face and with reluctance he turned to Trivette. “Ready?”

            “Yeah. Let’s get outta here.”

            Walker crouched by the door and opened it a fraction. It creaked annoyingly. When there was no reaction to the noise, Walker took a chance and opened it further and calmly made it to the side of the red SUV. He bent down, checked each direction was clear, and waved over to the door.

Like a greyhound, Trivette guided Alex down behind the pile of rough-cut logs, giving her hand a quick squeeze before getting the signal to join his partner. As soon as they were together, Walker clapped Trivette on the shoulder and made off for the second vehicle, a Chevy Blazer.

            He froze at the sound of voices.

            “Ray? I’ll get it. Which one?” Awaiting the muffled reply, the thick set Afro-American strode quickly from the house heading for the cars. He rounded the Chevy as Walker crept stealthily round the front to avoid being seen. The guard suddenly had another thought, and turned to the SUV instead. Walker’s quick reaction to the ever-changing situation was automatic; and with cat like instincts, he crept behind the unsuspecting henchman. Once the Ranger’s arms were locked around the muscular neck, ten silent seconds later the guard was laid on the ground. With relief, Walker seized the gun from his belt and in triumph held it up for Trivette to see. His partner smiled. It was Walker’s own Taurus. Unable to resist a smile at Walker’s pleasure, Trivette joined him.

            “Back or front?” Walker whispered.

            “Back.” Running up to the wall, Trivette was out of sight almost immediately.

            Walker ran to the front door. It was still ajar and he quickly peered in. They must be in the living room. Well, it was now or never. The more they delayed, the nearer it brought Jennings and the main team. His gun firmly in his outstretched hand, Walker rushed the lobby and was immediately confronted by a guard coming down the stairs. He must have just used the bathroom because he was still adjusting his belt, but the sight of Walker made him reach for the gun his shoulder holster. Walker fired. No time to stand on ceremony now. The shot brought mayhem and confusion, and he heard commotion from the back.

            Rushing in the main room, four of them were already out of their seats in alarm.

            “Freeze!” Walker dropped and rolled, narrowly missing the bullet whizzing over his head. He continued to roll towards the sofa, picking off a shot as he did so. It found its mark and a young thug’s body crashed backwards through the side window. Now there were shots from the back. Walker fired another few rounds and moved to the other end of an old green sofa.

Naylor, Ross’ second in command, raised his head up to pick off a shot as the other guard made a run for it. Walker exchanged five rounds of fire before Naylor finally slumped over. Walker rushed to get the fallen weapon; but seeing the magazine was empty, he threw it down in disgust. Walker knew he didn’t have that many rounds left either. He tried for the hall, but stopped himself by the door. He flinched as the escaped guard narrowly missed him with a burst of fire.

“Walker? I’m with you, man.” Trivette’s hushed voice came somewhere from the side.

            Walker tried to be equally as quiet. “How many d’you get?

            “Three.”

            “That means there’s still two out there. I know where one is.”

            Looking behind him at the broken window, he quickly moved across the living room with his feet crunching on the shattered glass. He picked up the semi-automatic from the dead man’s hand. Alert and tense, Walker started to run as the noise of a vehicle ignition reached his ears, and as soon as it came in sight, he fired at the tires several times. The driver spun the Blazer at an angle. Walker’s bullets ripped through the gas tank and an orange fireball erupted skyward. The burning Chevy jumped upwards, smacking into the SUV with a similar bang, half impaling itself across the hood.

            “ALEX! GET BEHIND THE BARN. FAST AS YOU CAN.” Damn it! That was their means of escape going up in smoke! Walker considered trying to rescue the SUV, but already the rampaging fire had been drawn under. It’s flames ever hungry.

            “TRIVETTE?”

            “Yeah?” came his partner’s voice from somewhere inside.

            “There’s one loose.”

            Trivette thought for a few seconds and opted to go back through the kitchen to the front. Stealing a quick glance around the corner he’d taken only a few steps when the SUV exploded. Almost immediately he heard another two shots fired, and the last assailant ran from the cover of the house. Trivette took his time and fired once; the man fell instantly. Trivette ran towards the inferno, his expression falling as he observed the burning log pile. “Alex? You okay? ALEX?”

            “She’s okay,” Walker waved him over and turned to smile at her. He hugged her tightly with one hand. “All right?”

            Alex nodded, and the three gazed at the damage.

            “Well, there goes our ride back.” Walker turned to Trivette. “How many rounds you got left?”

            The clip was competently examined. “One.” Came the disgruntled reply. “You?”

            “Out.”

            “For arms dealers they weren’t packing much. Check inside, see what we can come up with and hope it isn’t him who had the phone.” Walker pointed to the burning body in the vehicle. Walker looked back along the dirt track that led to the main road, and back the opposite way. He nodded with his head. “We gotta get out of here. We’ll have to head towards the woods in case we run into Jennings. He’ll be here shortly.”

            “Jennings is a tracker. We know that from his childhood. He’ll be able to follow us easily.”

            Walker sighed. “I know, Trivette, but, we don’t have any other options. We’re too far from the road; and in the other directions, the terrain is too hostile to cover distance quickly. Let’s go. We’ll need every second to stay ahead of him. I took out one gunman on the stairs. We’ll take his weapon with us.”

            Leading them back into the house, Walker suddenly froze in the hallway. “He’s gone!” They looked about anxiously. Walker automatically placed Alex firmly behind him. “Trivette, check the bodies for the phone.” Picking his way around while Alex clung to his back, the Rangers checked each body while keeping one eye out for the missing gunman.

            Walker whispered with annoyance. “It isn’t here. We’d better get out of here then.”

            Moving out of the farmhouse and along the side of a cornfield, Walker hurried them as he checked behind.

            “C.D. must be in the area with a task force by now. We’ll be picked up as soon as we get to a phone.” Hurrying along, Trivette’s voice was clipped and short as his feet grappled with the uneven terrain.

            His statement echoed Alex’s concerns. “He’ll be so worried about us.”

            Trivette shot a quick look behind him to Walker. “How far do you think before we get to a road?”

            “I don’t think it’s far, two miles at most.”

            Something made Walker look behind again. Appearing from the cover of the tall corn he saw the wounded figure of the remaining gunman take aim. “WATCH OUT!”

            Leaping towards Alex and Trivette, Walker threw himself around his friends as two shots rang out. His body jerked, pitching them all forward to the ground. It seemed to be slow motion as Trivette simultaneously went for his gun, while trying to get out from under Walker’s body. Free at last, the Ranger’s eye was steadfast as he returned fire, and the thug’s body spun backwards, falling awkwardly in a heap and was still.

            “WALKER!” Alex’s voice was high pitched and full of fear.

            Walker’s arms tried to lift his body off the ground, but he sunk back down as a firey pain consumed his torso. “Ughh,” he panted, breathing rapidly, trying to get some control and understanding of what happened.

            “Hold it, pard.” Trivette’s calm voice belied his own fear, and he looked at the two growing red stains on either side of Walker’s spine, right in the middle of his back. Trivette’s jaw dropped and he tried to think, but his partner had other ideas.

            “We’ve …got to keep going.”

            “You can’t walk like this…”

            “Help me up, damn it.” Walker’s teeth gritted together, and he began to haul himself upright. Trivette dived to help.

            “Walker …”

            Now on his feet, Walker stared at him. We’ve got to get some distance from them. Now let’s go!”

            They took a few faltering steps and Alex, her face ashen with dismay, slipped under his other arm to help support him. Holding Walker firmly, Alex and Trivette felt his body getting heavier and heavier as they hurried towards the woods.

            She concentrated on the task at hand, just trying keeping their balance and be in step together. But unable to help herself, Alex looked up to see his face. It was grimaced and pouring with sweat. She knew it had to be bad for Walker to show pain. Consequently, an even heavier terror gripped her further.

Trivette struggled to take more and more of Walker’s weight. After only half a mile into the forest, the wounded Ranger asked them to stop.

            “Wait,” panted Walker. He took a minute, looked about him, and nodded with his head. “Put me down…by the base of that big sycamore tree.” He braced himself for the short haul over and held his breath as they set him down gently. Even that small jolt sent waves of agony through his body. He waited until it had abated and looked up to see his friend’s faces desperate and fraught. Swallowing hard to fight the emotion, Walker summoned a smile to the woman he loved. He had to play this carefully. “Alex, sweetheart.” He held out his left hand and tried to sound as normal as possible, “Come give me a hug.”

            “Wh…what?” Of all the things Alex expected from Walker, this would have been the last one she’d guess he’d say now. She looked as puzzled as she felt.

            Walker gestured slowly with his head and smiled again. “Come on.”

            Sinking to her knees and scrunching her legs past the side of him, she very gently wrapped her arms around his body. His back was cold and sticky from the saturated blood. Alex spread her limbs trying to warm him. Her throat formed a huge lump as she fought back the tears.

            Walker kissed her lips, her cheek, and forehead. And came back to her lips to press firmly against them. After a few seconds, he moved her head to the crook of his shoulder, and kept it in place with one hand caressing her hair. Knowing she couldn’t see forward, he looked up to his partner and give an imperceptible shake of his head. He was dying.

            Trivette’s eyes widened and he went to speak, but Walker motioned him to silence. With a look that made Trivette’s world fall apart, in denial, the young man gave a negative shake of his head. But Walker conveyed the inevitable to him by means of a long blink and stared at his best friend. Still with Alex oblivious to the exchange, Walker held out his right hand to say a final goodbye.

            Trivette fought with every ounce of his strength to disguise his feelings. Their direct looks exchanged nothing …yet everything. Their unique partnership …and their unerring friendship. The many years they’d shared together seem to flash before them in that one precious moment. Bending to one knee, Trivette squeezed Walker’s hand hard in both of his, and witnessed his nod and small smile of thanks in return.

 Swallowing several times before he could speak, Walker summoned another smile. “Pard,” he said, his voice deceptively even, “I reckon the road is only half a mile further. If you and Alex go on, you can make it faster without me.” His look fixed Trivette until his partner replied, his voice raspy.

            “Yeah. Makes sense. Alex and I’ll go get help as quick as we can.”

            “And leave him?” Alex withdrew her hold of Walker to look behind her at Trivette.

            Walker spoke first. “Will you do that for me, honey?” His heart breaking, he kissed her for what he knew would be the last time, and gently pushed her away. “I need for you to go as fast as you can and reach the road.”

            “But…” She was confused, her mind didn’t seem to work. “I’ll stay. I’ll stay and help you!”

            “Alex. It’s safer if you go with Trivette. You make sure I get help, okay?” Walker looked at his partner, his voice now hurried. “They can only be twenty minutes away at most. Get out of here.

            Ignoring his own feelings, Trivette grabbed at Alex’s hand and pulled her away.

            “But…” She fought him.

            Now there was urgency in Walker’s voice, “Do whatever you have to, but go, Trivette!” He commanded again.

            Alex looked directly at Walker and resisted. “Walker…”

            Picking her up and hoisting her over his shoulder, Trivette hurried away without looking back. Desperately trying to choke back his own emotion, he ignored her protests to stumble and run as fast as he could. Four or five hundred yards further he placed her on her feet, retaining hold of her hand. She had stopped fighting him by this time, and silently trudged behind him.

            Walker withdrew his gun. It was out of bullets, he knew that. But Jennings didn’t! He could at least threaten; maybe it would hold them for another minute. Besides, he knew he just had to aim it at them and they would shoot him. It would be a quicker and more preferable end than if they got him alive.

            “Jimmy!” Alex tripped and fell beside him.

            He went to help her up but she exclaimed in pain, holding her leg. “I’ve hurt my ankle. Jimmy, please! Run to the road. It’s got to be just over the rise of that hill. Get help for him, please.” The plea came from her soul.

            Trivette looked towards the brow of the daisy-covered bank a few hundred yards ahead, and back to her.

            “Please. You might be in time. WE HAVE TO TRY!” She almost screamed at him.

            He pointed at her and was stern. “Stay here and don’t move!” With that, Trivette sped away.

            Watching him disappear down the other side, Alex quickly got to her feet and ran back the way they had come.

            Maybe he wouldn’t even make it until Jennings got here. Walker was numb. He had never felt like this before. Devoid of his strength, and cold to the core! Ignoring it, he looked at the trees and shrubs around him. The woods were never silent, but the bird song and quiet rustling of the branches were peaceful; and scenery was pretty. Hokahay! That was Cherokee. It meant  ~ a good day to die. Plenty worse places to go out, he thought, ignoring his discomfort as much as he could. He couldn’t feel his legs now, and the pain in his chest had dulled to a steady ache.

Alex! Walker’s eyes closed and regret flooded through his being. Please God, he prayed, help her to get over this. He choked back the realization of their lost years, and the future that now wasn’t to be.

There was a noise behind him. He struggled even to try and turn his head. Could they have circled him already? He picked up the gun again, fingering the familiar metal for what he thought was the last time.

            “Walker?” Came the soft voice, “it’s me.” Alex carefully fell next to him, sitting as before and willing her warmth back to his body.

            He could hardly believe his eyes. The split second delight at seeing her was beset by the horror and danger she was in. He could hardly get the words out initially. “Wha…? No! Alex!” Distraught, Walker shook his head. “They’ll be here any minute! You’ve got to get out of here. Run quickly.”

            She shook her head. Her voice was deceptively calm and controlled. “No, honey,” was her whisper. Her arms lovingly wrapped around him, and she placed two small kisses on his cheek.

            He knew Jennings would be merciless. Walker was anguished, “Dear God! You’ve got to go! Please…” he was desperate. “Please. You’ve got to get out of here.” There was a pause, and for the first time in his adult life a few tears fell openly from Walker’s eyes. “You don’t understand. …I’m dying.” His voice broke,  “I’m not going to make it anyway. You have to save yourself.” He hugged her, and tried to push her away, but he was weaker than he could ever remember.

            Alex held his face in her hands, her voice heavy with resignation. “I know, my darling. I know. Look at me.” She said evenly.

            Walker stared into her face and gasped. The morning sun streaming through the trees had picked up the fairer strands of her hair making them shine with a radiant golden glow. Her expression was one of complete contentment and belonging. “I know, honey,” she repeated dejectedly, bringing his head to rest against hers. Alex’s heart ached. “I know.”

            Walker pleaded. “It’s not possible for me to love you more than I do.” His voice was reduced to a whisper. “So I can’t let you stay.”

            “Listen,” Alex explained softly. Holding his head in her hands she kissed him again and gave a tiny smile. “Maybe Jimmy will make it back in time. Maybe Jennings won’t find us. Whether he does or not,” she gave a small shake of her head and ran a hand tenderly over his hair before speaking with complete conviction “…I’m am not going to leave you alone now.”

            “I beg you to go. Alex! Do this one last thing for me!”

            Alex smiled the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen. “No.” She found his lips, kissed them gently, and backed away a fraction to wipe away his tears with her hand. She hurried, anxious there wouldn’t be enough time to tell him. “Walker…I want you to know how much I love you. How much you mean to me. I started to live the day I met you! I only have one regret now…” Despite her bravery, Alex’s voice broke, “and that is …I never became your wife.”

            Locked in each other’s gaze, there was a few seconds of silence.

            A twig snapped deep in the bushes on the opposite side of the clearing. Oh dear God! Walker braced himself. It was too late now; she would never get away. He cupped his hand to her face. “In the presence of God, I Cordell Walker, take you, Alexandra Cahill, to be my lawful wedded wife. From this day forward …until the end of time. Say your vows to me.” He commanded, as gently as he could. Walker felt her hand increase its grip around his.

            Her voice was angelic. “In the presence of God, I, Alexandra Cahill, take you Cordell Walker to be my lawful wedded husband. From this day until the end of time.”

            Walker summed a smile. “I love you …my wife!” He spotted Jennings heading for the clearing. “Honey. Come here, put your face in my neck.”

            Alex snuggled up as tight as she could, closed her eyes, and nestled her head against him as close as possible.

With a huge effort to summon the very last of his reserve, his arms increased their strength to entwine them together. She’d taken a risk coming back for him, and would now pay with her life. How could this happen? Wasn’t there anything he could do to protect her?

            “Oh dear God, Alex. I love you so much.”

            “I love you, Walker.”

            Walker watched carefully and Jennings spotted them after a few yards.

            Alex quietly whispered. “The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. I love you, Walker. He leads us…”

Picking up his weapon, Walker aimed it straight at their evil assailant.

            “I can only be two minutes away from you at the most Jimmy. Hang on, son.” Trivette was so numb he could hardly string two thoughts together, but finally he spoke into the cell phone to agree with C.D.

            “Okay. Just hurry will you?” Blinking heavily he hurriedly returned the phone to its owner. “I appreciate you stopping. Thank you.”

            “Hey pal, no problem. You want some water or something?” Asked the concerned truck driver.

            Trivette had already started back and turned to reply, “When the other Rangers get here, point them over that rise and tell them to hurry! I gotta get back!” But before he could move again, bursts of machine gun fire resounded through the air. He ran for all he was worth.

            “JIMMY!….JJIIMMY.” It took C.D. twenty minutes to spot the forlorn figure of the young Ranger sitting in silence next to an old tree. “Jimmy?” He turned back to the others and shouted. “OVER HERE GUYS!” The old man clambered through the brush. “Why didn’t you call out?” C.D. stopped abruptly on reaching the clearing. “Oh my … …Oh …my…” His hand reaching for his face, deep sobs immediately racked his body. It was a few minutes later before he could look again at the bullet-ridden bodies of his family.

Standing up, Trivette embraced him. In a breaking voice he tried to explain. “Walker …asked me to get her away.” A tear rolled down his face. “He …he knew he wasn't going to make it, …he’d taken two bullets earlier. Alex, she …she must have guessed he was dying.  I dragged her with me, but, she tricked me into believing she had sprained her ankle.”

Trivette’s jaw dropped and the two men looked at their dearest friends. As brutal as the bullets had been, it hadn’t separated Walker and Alex. They were locked together in each other’s arms; Alex draped over the chest of her beloved Ranger. Both looked peaceful in death.

The old man took in the sight one more time and tightly closed his eyes. He thought about them at his home last Sunday night when they lain together happily, and how he had covered them over. That would be, he decided, how he would remember them. He waited until the memory was firmly in place, and sat down heavily on a log nearby. His tears started again when he spoke to his fallen friends. “I give you my word. We’ll get that son of bitch, Jennings! Every Ranger in Texas will see you avenged.” C.D. bit his lip and his voice trembled. “Oh dear God!” He shook his head in anguish. “Cordell, Alex. We’ll stay with you …’til the others get here. Jimmy and me, …we’ll watch over you. Don’t you worry none, now. …You won’t be alone.”

                        Five years later….

            “Jimmy Trivette! You’re unbelievable!”

            Trivette looked lovingly at his wife. “Tell me you don’t mind?”

            As they walked quickly through the cemetery the beautiful woman squeezed her husband’s hand. ‘Heck no! I should be used to this by now.”

            They slowed as they approached a double grave; it’s sunken heart headstone bearing the name of Cordell Walker on one side and Alexandra Cahill on the other. Trivette released his hold on Marsha’s hand, and lovingly placed the small bundle in front of him as he bent down.

            “Hey guys! Whaddya think of number three? She's a girl. Two boys and now a girl. Am I the luckiest guy alive or what? I wanted you to see her as soon as possible. We called her Michelle after Marsha’s Mom, and Alexandra after you Alex.” Trivette moved the white blanket from his baby daughter’s face so they could see more clearly. “She’s wonderful isn’t she? Well, we gotta fly; we have to pick up Cord and C.J. from their Grandma’s. See you later guys.”

            Placing the tiny baby safely in the crook of his arm, he reached again for his wife’s hand. “Thanks.” he said simply.

            “I just wish I’d known your special friends, Jimmy.”

            Trivette sighed. “Yeah, I do too.” He smiled at her. “They would have loved you.”

Acting on impulse Trivette kissed her and became momentarily serious, giving a small shake of his head. “I can’t imagine any relationship having the rocky start we did. But the way you helped C.D. and me through the Jennings trial …” his voice died off and his look was incredulous. “You were so kind, so understanding,” Trivette gave a small laugh, “You put up with so much!” Suddenly he smiled again. “They would have loved you, sure enough.” He couldn’t help but laugh now. “Even Walker would have loved you!”

            His wife joined in his mood. “Okay then, how do you know that?”

            “Well,” chuckling, Trivette mischievously looked back at the grave and winked. “He was such a dang know it all, Walker!”

                        Epilog

            “Oh she’s so cute!”

            “She’s beautiful sure enough.”

            “Oh Walker! I’m so pleased he’s happy.”

            “Know it all! Sheesh. He doesn’t realize he’s become just like me.”

            “How’s that?”

            “His new partner looks at him …the same way he did with me. Yesterday they were at a drugs bust. Shooting breaks out, and they thought they’d got all the hit men. Suddenly, Trivette turns and fires out of the blue - nailing the last gunman just in time. His young partner looked at him in amazement, and asks how he knew. He smiles and riles him just the same way I used to do with him! But Trivette doesn’t realize he only turned around to see the shooter because I blew in his ear!”

            “Your parents are so lovely! They were your guardian angels, weren’t they?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Did you know that all the time?”

            “Sure.”

            “Why didn’t you say?”

            “Alex, I kept telling him to listen to the spirits!”

            “Cordell Walker, you take the biscuit! But, I’m glad you picked Jimmy to watch over.”

            “Who else am I going to pick?”

            “Jimmy and Marsha are having C.D. over for the weekend. You know how he loves doing their garden and playing with the kids. He’ll be joining us soon. He’s going to love it here, and I know he hates it in that rest home. I just can’t wait to see him again.”

            “It’ll be special for us.”

            “And, Jimmy will be fine with his family.”

“Well, my beautiful soul mate! Until the next danger comes and we have work to do, come here and give me a kiss. Have I told you how happy you make me?”

            “Yeah, but I never tire of hearing it. I love you with all my heart, Cordell Walker. Ummm! Ummm! …Oh gosh. Y’know, I love kissing you. …Ummmm. …Wonderful. Oh, this is bliss, isn’t it Walker?”

            “Heaven, Alex. It’s heaven. Mmmm.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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