Hide and Seek

 by leigh (starmaid@mailexcite.com)

"How ya doin' Cordell?" C.D. came to stand beside his friend, who was sitting in a booth at the back of the bar with a stack of notes and a handful of flyers spread on the table before him.

"I think I've about got everything set....I just hope I'm not forgetting anything," Walker said as he picked up one of the papers to study again, ".....I really want this to be a special surprise for Alex."

"I'll tell you one thing, son, for sheer surprise....you've already got it nailed! Alex is not gonna believe you took a whole week R & R without bein' sent to the hospital first!"  C.D. teased.

"Very funny, C.D.!" but Walker grinned in spite of himself.....it was true that usually he had to be forced off duty for more than a day or two at a time....and he had a strange knack for finding trouble, even when he was supposed to be relaxing.... Somehow, holidays always seemed to be the worst.....he'd have the best of intentions....but something would happen and Alex would wind up alone. He knew she understood, but he also knew that it hurt....and he wanted to make it up to her, at least a little......Valentine's Day was tomorrow, and this year Walker had decided he was going to give Alex something she would never expect....

Trivette strolled into the bar and looked around....spotting the two of them in the back he called out, "Heads up, Pard! She's on her way in!"

Walker scrambled up from the table, trying to push the papers into a neat pile, "Shoot! I forgot what time it was......"

C.D. chuckled, "Don't worry about it, Cordell.....I'll square this away.....you keep Alex busy 'til I'm finished...."

Walker breathed a sigh of relief, "Thanks, C.D.!" he said, as he grabbed his coffee and quickly headed for the bar, taking a seat on one of the stools just as Alex stepped through the door.

"Hi!" Alex smiled as she joined him, "What's up today, Cowboy?"

Walker took her hand as he gave her a light kiss, "Not much, Alex....slow day at the office for you, too?"

Alex sighed, "MmmHmmm.......isn't it great! Looks like I'm even going to get to have the weekend completely free.......nothing to work on at all......"

Walker turned away to hide a grin, Alex's less than casual remark about the free weekend was meant to be a subtle hint....

Alex was speaking again, ".......Walker? Walker, are you listening at all?"

"What? Oh sorry, Alex......I was just thinking about the stuff I have to do this weekend.....I have a full schedule." He answered honestly.

Alex tried to hide her dismay, and Walker pretended not to notice.

C.D. made an appearance at the bar, sliding Alex a coffee and freshening Walker's before disappearing into the kitchen.

"But I was thinking, Alex....maybe you and I could have breakfast tomorrow? It sure would be a great way to start the weekend....."

She thought for a moment, then replied, "Sure...What did you have in mind?"

"Oh, nothing special.....just breakfast, ...maybe at the diner? Give us a chance to catch up.....we've both been busy the last couple of days and I've missed talking to you......" Walker tried to keep his manner nonchalant.....

Alex was crestfallen, 'just breakfast at the diner',  she thought, 'he's forgotten ......'

But to Walker she said, "That sounds wonderful....what time?"

"How about I pick you up around 7:30?"

"Okay, I'll be ready.....uh oh.....I'd better get back, I have a deposition at 1:00. See you in the morning then......" Suddenly Alex was sure she wouldn't be able to hide her disappointment if she didn't get out of there in a hurry.

"Hey!" Walker cried, grabbing her hand again before she could slip away, "You haven't even had lunch! And your not leaving without saying a proper goodbye are you? Are you mad at me or something?"

"No, no, of course not.....What ever would I have to be mad at you about?.....I just forgot all about that deposition, that's all....I'm sorry....." Alex stammered, then kissed him quickly before making a hasty exit.

Trivette came to join Walker after she had left, "Alex suspect anything's up?"

Walker grinned, "Nope! She's certain I've no idea what day tomorrow is......boy, is she ever gonna get a shock........"

The next morning found Walker knocking on Alex's door promptly at seven-thirty, and when she answered he was ready to put "Operation: Valentine", as Trivette had jokingly nicknamed it, into action...

"Alex  Cahill, will you please be my Valentine!" he said as he proffered a huge bouquet of roses and baby's breath, then he swept her into a lingering kiss that fairly took her breath away.......

"Walker!" she said, shocked, as he released her at last, then she laughed, "You didn't forget...."

"Now how could I forget a day like today?" he teased, eyes twinkling, "I sure hope you still have that empty schedule for the weekend.....cause I've made a few plans...."

Alex eyed him curiously as she put the flowers in a vase near the couch, "What have you been up to, Cordell Walker?"

"Well, to start with.....breakfast at the diner is not really quite what I had in mind....would you mind terribly much if we went to the lake and had a breakfast picnic instead? ......then later I thought we could come back into town and catch that Valentine Matinee Show they're having at the Opera House....would that suit you? And then dinner and maybe some dancing at Ernesto's......If that sounds okay? Course we'll have to make an early night of it cause tomorrow....."

"Whoa! Walker....STOP! Are you alright? Is this really you?" Alex giggled, placing a hand to his brow.

Walker smiled broadly as he embraced her and kissed her again, "I'm fine, Alex......I just made up my mind that for once you were going to get your Valentine's Day.....no matter what! Are you ready to go?"

"That's what you say now.....RANGER Walker.....but we've been down this road before....." She said with a grin as she gathered her things and locked the door behind them.

"Uh uh, Alex.....I'm telling you.....this is your day, See?" Walker opened his jacket, "No badge, no gun.....no duty! Do you have any idea what a guy has to do to get permission to not carry his weapon for a day? Jeez!" he kiddingly complained as they stepped outside, then he added, "...........Oh, and take a look at our ride......."

Alex looked in the direction he pointed, but there was no truck! Next to the curb was parked a cherry red convertible with the top down.....she looked back at Walker, more than a little stunned, "Where's the Ram?"

"In the parking lot at the office." he responded simply, "this is a loaner.....no scanner, no radio! I ditched the cell phone, too! I'm telling you, Alex, I am one hundred percent, absolutely, positively off duty! In fact....that brings me to the rest of your surprise......"

She shook her head, bewildered, "There's more.....?"

"Oh yeah!" he grinned, "Best part.......tomorrow we hop a flight to the coast and board a cruise to the Islands! Happy Valentine's Day, Alex!"

For a moment Alex couldn't speak at all, she just stared at him in shocked surprise, finally she managed, "Walker.....I can't just take off on a cruise! I have a job...cases...."

"Not this week, you don't!" Walker said as he handed her a letter written on the DA's official stationary. "I'll save you the trouble of reading it, it says you are officially on vacation starting now.....no job, no cases, no excuses! We're going on a cruise! I took a week's vacation for it and by gosh, I'm sure not going alone!"

"YOU?" she cried, startled, "YOU took a week off......?"

Alex put her hands on her hips, "Alright! That's enough! Who are you and what have you done with Cordell Walker?"  she demanded.

Walker laughed as he opened the car door for her, "It's me, Alex." Then he reached to the dashboard, picked up a single pink sweetheart rose he had left there and offered it to her, "Alex Cahill, will you please be my Valentine?"

The day continued as he had begun it.....Walker had planned everything to make the day as special for Alex as he could imagine she would ever want....

The picnic at the lake included a radio that he had brought tuned to a slow country station....fruit and champagne...and another sweetheart rose as he asked her again to be his Valentine.

When he took her to the Opera Matinee, there was a rose waiting on her seat in the box he had reserved, which he again offered with his request.

Instead of taking her home before going out to dinner, he took her shopping....happily waiting as she tried on outfits until she found one to wear that evening....which he then bought for her. He disappeared for a while after taking her to a spa and salon to have her hair dressed, make up applied and a manicure....only to show up just as she was finishing, his hair freshly cut, beard trimmed and wearing a new suit that complimented the dress she was now wearing....and with another rose for her.

Dinner at Ernesto's was another surprise....he had arranged to have a private room, and then had it filled with candles, flowers and heart shaped balloons. As he escorted her to her seat, he again offered a rose.....

After their meal, they laughed and talked for quite some time, until he stood and went to a CD player in the corner and changed the music... before politely requesting the honor of the next dance....

As he took her in his arms the music began.......it was a Keith Whitley song......

It's Amazing how you can speak straight to my heart

Without saying a word you light up the dark....

"Walker....how did you manage to arrange all this without me knowing anything about it? You must have been working on it for weeks.........?"

"Carefully, Alex......very carefully......."

She slapped his arm playfully, "Oh, you!"

Try as I may I could never explain

What I hear when you don't say a thing....

"Jimmy must have helped? and C.D.?"

"They helped keep it a secret, like yesterday...Trivette warned me you were on the way into C.D.'s. In fact, about half the people in the justice department have been running interference for me, I'm afraid you'll be in for a little teasing when we get back next week, and of course your boss has been quietly rearranging your cases for me for a while now....but today’s plans were all from me, Alex......"

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me

The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall

You say it best, when you say nothing at all......

 "Is this real? Or am I dreaming this whole day?" Alex wondered aloud.

Grinning suddenly, Walker gave her arm a light pinch.

"Ouch! What was that for?"

"Still wondering if you're dreaming?" he chuckled.

All day long I can hear people talking out loud

But when you hold me near, you drown out the crowd....

"I love this song...it always makes me think......"

"...of you and me, Alex?" he finished, then kissed her tenderly.

Old Mister Webster could never define

What's being said between your heart and mine....

Alex rested her head on his shoulder, "This whole day has been wonderful, Walker......"

Walker lifted Alex's chin to look into her eyes, "Alex....I know I'm not very good at letting you know how I feel......I was hoping this day would remind you, for all those times when I get so dang busy that I forget to......."

"Just the way you look at me and touch me tells me that, Walker.....but thank you for wanting to show me too......." Alex reached up and kissed him softly.

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me

The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall

You say it best, when you say nothing at all.....

The song ended, but Walker and Alex just kept dancing.........

The evening wound to a close just before midnight, Alex was being held happily in Walker's arm as he escorted her back to the car for the drive home......but Walker paused beside the fountain in the courtyard.....he had claimed one last rose from where he had hidden it at Ernesto's.... this time it was a red long stem American Beauty with a ribbon bow tied to the stem......but as he turned to offer it to her there was a sudden sound behind them......

Turning quickly, Walker placed himself between Alex and the noise, only to discover they were surrounded by four figures standing just beyond his range wearing masks and holding what looked to be semi-automatic weapons! Cursing under his breath that he wasn't carrying his own gun, Walker began to take a defensive posture, but  the figure who had taken position in the center spoke in a harsh whisper as he lifted his gun menacingly.....

"Uh uh! Don't make a single move that might make me have to kill you! Just stand still and nobody dies tonight!"

One of them moved in from the side and grabbed Alex's arm, pulling her away from Walker....and as Walker shifted position to defend her.....a second  rushed in from the opposite side and slammed the butt of his gun into the side of Walker's head.... Walker's world went black as he dropped heavily to the ground.....

"Walker! NO!" Alex cried, struggling to get to him.

But the one who had grabbed her held on firmly and pressed a cloth against her face....chloroform, she realized....but it was already beginning to take it's effect....as she felt herself going under she heard the one who had struck Walker laugh....

Walker woke to blinding pain, lights, sirens and Trivette's face looking at him worriedly.

He immediately tried to rise, "Alex....."

Trivette held him back, "Relax, Walker.....not just yet, you took quite a knock! You've been out for a good ten minutes.....and that's just since someone coming out of Ernesto's spotted you and went back inside to get help.....the cops that responded to the call recognized you and contacted me....."

"You don't understand, Trivette.....Alex......" Walker began.

"Yeah, I understand......just let the med-tech's look you over, then we'll talk about it.......they left a note......" Trivette replied.

"Note? Show me the note!" Walker tried again to rise quickly, but his head began to swim and he faltered....

"Take it easy, man!" Trivette forced Walker back down, putting his coat on the ground to pillow Walker's head, "just let these guys do their thing and then we'll talk....just relax a minute..."

But Walker really had no choice, a wave of dizziness and pain swept over him and he was unconscious again before Trivette had finished speaking.

Trivette watched grimly as the semi-conscious Walker was loaded into the ambulance. Reaching to the ground to retrieve his coat, he saw the rose lying on the ground near the fountain....someone had stepped on the bloom.....destroying it, but as Trivette picked it up he saw that the ribbon bow was still in place....along with the diamond ring Walker had tied there.....for a long moment he stared at it....this was a part of the days plans that Walker hadn't shared with him.... probably hadn't mentioned it to C.D. either.......Trivette carefully removed the ring, pocketing it before discarding the remains of the flower, then he flipped open his cell phone.

"Big Dog? Better meet me at County, Walker's had some trouble tonight and I guarantee they're gonna have some trouble with him. Yeah, it's bad, but not that way.....somebody knocked Walker out and grabbed Alex.....now they're looking for him to play some kind of game to get her back. No, Walker doesn't know about that yet....he's still out of it from the crack he took...but when he finds out I don't think hell or high water is going to keep him in that hospital.... Okay......I'll meet you there in about thirty, I have to finish up  here......"

When Trivette and C.D. arrived at the hospital, they asked at the desk for Walker's location...but then didn't need to be told....they could hear him arguing furiously with someone from a room just down the corridor....Entering the treatment room they found Walker being held down by several large orderlies, as another attempted to fasten restraints on Walker's arms and legs... He was struggling madly and using language they normally didn't hear from Cordell Walker!

"Hold it.............Hold it!..........HOLD IT!" C.D. called with a bellow of authority that brought a semblance of control to the room. "What in Sam Hill is going on in here! Son....you take them dang ropes off that boy! That there's a Texas Ranger and ain't no one gonna tie him to no bed! Nosiree! And as for you, Cordell! You quit that fuedin' and catterwallin' and calm yourself down or I'll knock you one myself! Is that understood!"

Walker stopped struggling, he was breathing heavily from his efforts and there was evidence that the wound on his head had begun to bleed again. The orderlies, after an assenting nod from the doctor who had entered the room a moment behind C.D. and Trivette, removed the restraints they had managed to apply and left.

C.D. turned his full attention on the doctor now, speaking in a normal tone of voice, but with no less a commanding nature for all that, "What in thunderation did those boys think they were doing? Tryin' to strap down a Texas Ranger like that?"

"I'm sorry, Mister....?"

"Parker.....Captain C.D. Parker......what was going on in here?" he replied, taking full advantage of his only semi-retired status to claim an authority they might not otherwise accord him....

"I'm sorry Captain Parker....but we couldn't tell we had a Texas Ranger in that bed.....what we knew we had was a man with a serious head trauma who regained consciousness and almost immediately began to refuse treatment and attempt to escape from our care! And none to gently, I might add, .....one of our orderlies may have a broken arm!"

"Cordell.......?" C.D. turned to Walker accusingly, "You break some boys arm?"

"Didn't break it...." Walker answered somewhat sullenly, still embarrassed by the situation he'd been found in, "just twisted it a little......"

Successfully battling to contain a grin, C.D. turned back to the doctor, "Doc....I'm sure Cordell is right sorry for the way he behaved.......AIN'T YOU SORRY, Cordell!"

"Yeah, sorry......" Walker answered obediently, if less than enthusiastically.

"Like I was saying, I'm sure he's sorry.....but he was coming out of a bad situation where someone took a good crack at him and I'm sure it was just the leftovers from the fight he'd been in....why he's normally tame as a kitten, Cordell is...... so can we just get on with mending his broken head and seeing to it that WHAT'S LEFT OF HIS BRAINS don't go leaking out all over the place?" he turned to look at Walker sternly again as he made the last comment.

Not quite convinced by the 'tame as a kitten' remark, the doctor nonetheless approached his less than cooperative patient. After he had rechecked Walker's wound, replacing the soiled bandage, and when he was satisfied that no further damage had been done in the scuffle, he left the three alone in the treatment room.

Once left alone at last, Walker glanced from C.D. to Trivette, conveying his desperate worry to them both with a single word....one they had known was coming.... "Alex....."

Going quickly to his partners side, Trivette told him, "We'll find her, Walker......"

He decided now would not be the time to mention the crushed rose by the fountain.

"Trivette, I know I was sort of out of it back there, but did you tell me something about a note?" Walker asked, still looking somewhat woozy but pulling himself to a sitting position anyway.

"Yeah, we found this pinned on your coat when we got there." he passed Walker a typewritten one page note that he had pulled from his pocket. "By the way, this is just a copy, the lab is already giving the original a once over to see if they can find anything to help......"

Walker read the note silently, then began to swing his legs off the treatment table, "I'd better get going."

C.D. put a hand on Walker's arm, the bluster he had used in front of the doctor and orderlies was gone, replaced by concern, "Hold on there, Cordell.....you've taken quite a blow there.....you can't just take off at a run.....let Jimmy and me handle this for a little, while you get some rest....."

"C.D. ....." Walker began, but Trivette interrupted,

"Big Dog..... I can tell you that nothing is gonna keep Walker here in the hospital tonight, I figure we'll be better off helping him now than trying to find him later when he's off on his own.....here, take a look at this."  He handed the copied letter to C.D..

C.D. read the note quickly, then blew out a sharp whistle as he looked again at Walker and Trivette, "What kind of fellers pull a crazy stunt like this......?"

Walker looked at him miserably, "The kind that took Alex......"

Trivette and C.D. were helping Walker off the bed when the doctor  reentered the room, "Hey! Hold it right there! That man has a possible concussion and he's not going anywhere but upstairs to an observation room for the night, Ranger or not!"

Walker gave the doctor a ferocious glare, "Doc, I'm not staying,  I have things I need to do....."

The doctor had backpedaled a few steps at the sincerity of the gaze Walker was giving him when C.D. broke in....

"Doc, Cordell ain't gonna be staying here tonight. Now, normally I'd be on your side in this thing....but the same fight that got his head busted got his lady taken.....and we all need to go find her........You try to keep him here tonight and I'll guarantee you two things.....first off, he won't be here come morning anyway.....and second, you'll have a couple more busted heads around here for your trouble! You could be the most help if you'd get Cordell some aspirins or maybe an ice pack....from the looks I'd say he's got a whopper of a headache......"

As they helped Walker out of the emergency room, C.D. asked, "So, where do we start?"

"With the note," Walker answered, "they want to play....and if they want to play they have to explain the game......the note is our first part of the rules, and must have some clue about where to look next....Let me see it again, Trivette."

Trivette once again handed over the piece of paper and Walker read aloud, "We've come to visit your playground, Walker. Tonight you're going to play hide and seek with us.....Alex Cahill is hidden somewhere in Dallas....If you can find her within twenty four hours.....you win, but if you're late.....she loses....."

"What are we supposed to get out of that? They coulda put Alex anywhere and we don't even have a place to start looking......" C.D. said with disgust.

"There's got to be something......" Walker crumpled the page in frustration and placed his hand to his head, shielding his eyes....

Trivette reached over and put his hand on Walker's elbow, offering support, "Partner, you gonna be alright here?"

"I'll be okay, Trivette. I have to be....I'm the one they want to play with......"

Alex woke to a dim light. Opening her eyes slowly, she tried to take stock before she moved...in case anyone was there with her. But she found herself completely alone. She sat up slowly, realizing she had been placed on a thin mat, and began to look around her. She was in a large room of some sort, in the dim light she could see neither door nor window. What light there was, was cast by one of those battery operated closet lights fastened far above her.....she reached out and touched the wall closest to her, it was cool.....metal. Suddenly she was aware that there were some things lying next to her....a small bottle of water, some crackers, a thin blanket...... Picking up the water bottle, she could see that it was a commonly available commercial brand and still sealed.......nevertheless she sniffed it carefully and then tasted a tiny drop to be sure it wasn't tainted in some way before allowing herself a full swallow, her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Glancing around again, she realized a letter had also been left with the other items.....Alex opened it curiously. It the dim light it was difficult to pick out the words, but finally she was able to decipher the whole thing:

______________________________________________________________________________

Miss Cahill

You are the goal in a game of hide and seek. The room you now occupy has been sealed. If Ranger Walker can find you before twelve a.m. February 16th- he, and you, win the game.... However, if he fails to locate you by that time, a tank of carbon monoxide will be automatically released into this chamber, ending the game. The water and food with which you have been provided are perfectly safe, they are to help you remain comfortable until  the game is over. Your location is secret and isolated, so it will do you no good to waste your energy attempting to call for help, of course.....you may do as you please. The light source is battery operated, and to be fair and warn you....it is doubtful that it will extend the full twenty four hours............Good Luck.....

Alex shuddered as she read the words. It was sick....sick. To force Walker into some sort of game....her life hanging in the balance if he failed! She looked at her watch - it was two am. She had been here for a little over two hours  already.....Where was Walker now? Was he all right? How badly had they hurt him? Her thoughts slipped back to the moment they had struck him......she had seen the blood begin to flow......

Alex shook her head determinedly, willing the image away, she was not going to sit here and think of that!  It would be too easy to lose control.....  Walker would need all the help he could get, he would have Jimmy and C.D. with him by now, she would try to find a way to help from here if she could! Whoever was behind this had told her the light might not last.....so she would have to use it now to try and find a way out...she stood and began to examine the room.....

Trivette, C.D. and Walker were in Trivette's car, driving aimlessly. They had gone briefly to the office, where Walker had retrieved his stored gun and badge and had officially filed the report of Alex's kidnapping.......but now they had been debating where to begin....without a starting point.... Dallas was just too big a place to search.....

Walker uncrumpled the note and reread it, "Playground.....?" he said softly to himself.

"What's that, Cordell?" C.D. asked.

"Playground, C.D. ....they said my playground......." Walker repeated thoughtfully.

"Well, that's just to fit with the 'game' thing ain't it?"

"I don't think so.....my playground......where I play.....?"

Trivette and Walker spoke in unison, "C.D.'s!"

"My place? You think them crazy fellers have hid Alex at my place?" C.D. queried.

"No, C.D., I don't think Alex is there, although we'll look to be sure......but I do think that the next piece of information they will give me will be there. Head on over, Trivette.....let's check it out...."

When they arrived at C.D.'s Bar and Grill they checked the exterior carefully before going inside. There was no sign of tampering on any of the locks, but Trivette and Walker both cautiously drew their weapons before entering the darkened building. After a quick check to be sure the establishment was empty, C.D. went to the kitchen and flipped all the switches, flooding the rooms with light. A more thorough search gave no sign of Alex....and no further information from her captors, Walker sat wearily at one of the tables, cradling his still throbbing head in his hand.

"Looks like I was wrong about this," he said, "I just can't figure any other place they might consider my 'playground' to check out.....I was so sure we'd find something here......"

"We'll find Alex, Cordell." C.D. put his arm around Walker's shoulders, "Let me put a pot of joe on and we'll all sit here for a spell and see if we can't reason this thing out. We still need to figure who's behind this whole nasty thing.... if we can find that out.....we won't need to play their dang game!"

Ten minutes later, at exactly two-fifteen, C.D. was just setting three cups of hot coffee on the table when the phone behind the bar began to ring.

"Now, who in the world would be callin' here in the middle of the night?" C.D. wondered as he began to rise.

Walker jumped to his feet and grabbed the phone before C.D. could get halfway up. "Yeah, Walker."

"Very good, Ranger Walker...." someone began, from the sound he knew they were using some sort of electronic filter to alter the voice. "We didn't think you'd pick up our little hint for some time yet...."

Walker reached down quickly and tapped the record button on C.D.'s answering machine as he responded, "I'm here, so let's get this over with! Where's Alex? If you've hurt her in any way....." He took a deep breath, struggling to maintain control, then continued,  "It's me you want..... Let her go and I'll meet you anyplace.... anytime..."

"Not so fast, not so fast......this is a game, Ranger Walker.....we want to play......do you think we went to all this trouble just to let you call 'uncle' so quickly? The lovely Miss Cahill is just fine for now....and whether she remains so is completely up to you.....all you have to do is find her before midnight tonight....that's when the game is over......"

"You son-of-a......"

"Uh uh uh! Ranger Walker.....temper, temper.....you don't want to make us mad and hang up before you get your next hint do you? That's one of the rules.....if we have to break off, you inflict a one hour penalty .....Miss Cahill would lose precious time......"

Walker gritted his teeth, "I'm listening......"

"Much better!" the voice said approvingly, "Now, find Miss Cahill's case load and you'll find information that might help you find her..........good luck!"  The phone line clicked dead, and Walker turned as he hung up his extension. Trivette and C.D. were right behind him.

"What was it, Cordell? Was it them?"

"Yeah, it was them, C.D. ......guy on the phone said Alex is okay until midnight tonight....he also said if we find Alex's case load, we'll find some information there...."

Walker was suddenly aware of the answering machine shutting itself back off after the connection had been broken, he reached down and picked the message tape out of the machine.

"Trivette, whoever was on the other end was using some sort of electronic converter to change the sound of the voice......I caught some of it on the tape here, do you know anyone who might be able to work on it in a hurry? Maybe give us an idea of what the real voice sounds like? Or pick out some background noises?"

Trivette took the cassette from his partner's hand. "Yeah, I know a couple of guys who should be able to do something with it.....I'll take it right over and have them make some copies and see what they can come up with."

"Good, that's a start at least.....We're going to need every minute if we're going to find Alex before midnight AND get whoever's behind this.....You take care of that and C.D. and I will see if we can 'find Alex's case load'...... Meet us back here in, say, an hour?"

"Okay, I'm on my way.....keep your cell phone handy...." Trivette said as he rushed out the door.

As Walker turned, C.D. was already grabbing his keys and heading for the door as well, "Let's go, Cordell....."

Alex had spent the last hour and a half completely exploring her prison. It had been difficult in the dim light, but she had searched every inch she could reach. The room was round, or perhaps better described as oval, and the entire thing was constructed of steel or some other strong metal. There was no sign that there had ever been any type of windows and the ceiling was somewhere far above her head, hidden in darkness, and she had no way to reach it....She HAD located the door. There was no inner handle, it had been removed and a metal patch welded tightly into place over the resulting hole. With her fingers she had probed the doors edge, but there was nothing to pry onto, even if she had had a tool....and she could feel no indication of any air leaking in through the crack....a sure sign that the door had indeed been sealed. She had taken off her shoe and tried pounding in the lower corner, hoping to break the seal, but the shoe wasn't tough enough and she wasn't strong enough to do any real damage. Exhausted for the moment, and growing ever more uneasy at her situation, Alex finally conceded that there was little she would be able to do from here to help Walker either find her or free her....she would have to wait and trust in him to release her from the outside. She gathered the few things they had left her and positioned them close to the feeble light, then curled up, wrapped the blanket around herself and tried to sleep.....hoping that would help the time pass more quickly.......

Walker and C.D. had phoned the District Attorney on their way, and he was with them now as they searched Alex's office.

"What is it you're hoping to find, Walker?" he asked.

"We're not really sure, Sir," Walker responded, "That's why we had to call you out here tonight. The kidnappers said that if we found Alex's case load, we'd find something that might help us find her....I only know part of the cases Alex is currently working on....the ones I've been involved in.....I was hoping that you could help us fill in the gaps. Is there a file somewhere that outlines everything she has going now? An assignment list of some sort.... or anything like that?"

"Walker, I can tell you the trial cases I've officially assigned to Alex....but there are dozens of minor items that she might be working on at any given time....until they develop into something viable, most are rarely presented to me...." he shook his head, "Only Alex herself would have notes on everything she's working on, and she would most likely keep them filed some way that makes sense to her....we could search all night and not even know if we found everything you need!"

"Cordell, seems to me what we need is Alex's daily schedule......wouldn't that help point us toward everything she's been lookin' into lately?" C.D. suggested. "Where do ya suppose she keeps that?" he continued, poking into one of the drawers on her desk.

Walker's head snapped up, "C.D.! That's it!"

"What? What's it, Cordell?"

"Her case load! I keep forgetting these guys are playing! and they're playing with words too! We don't need to find her CASE files......we need to find her briefcase! That's where she keeps everything she needs from day to day......and Trivette and I have certainly joked enough about it being a load! How could I be so stupid to not see that......"

C.D. began searching near the file cabinets and desk, "Well, Cordell, I don't see that anywhere's around here......"

"No.....it wouldn't be here.....she takes it with her every night, so it must be at her place....." Walker turned to the District Attorney, "I'm sorry to have dragged you out of bed unnecessarily. C'mon, C.D., let's go!"

"Don't worry about it, Walker!" The DA shouted after them as they rushed out the door toward the elevator, "You just find Alex! She's the best I've got!"

Walker used Alex's spare key to enter her apartment, after checking to be sure that nothing had been disturbed or tampered with.....They searched the apartment to be sure Alex wasn't hidden right there, then Walker found her case where she had left it beside the coat rack. After making sure that it also hadn't been tampered with, he broke the lock and opened it. The briefcase was stuffed with files, a couple of law books, her appointment calendar and a myriad of other things that she might need in the course of a days work.....

Looking over Walker's shoulder, C.D. let out a low whistle, "Boy Howdy! Who'da guessed she could put so much in just one little case like that? Cordell, We're supposed to be meeting Jimmy back at my place in 'bout fifteen minutes......I don't think we got time to even start tryin' to sort all that out......"

Walker shut the case back up, "You're right about that, let's get back to the bar.....there's more room there to spread this out anyway......"

"Yeah, and it sure looks like we're gonna need the space......." C.D. commented as they stepped out of the apartment, Walker relocking the door behind them and pocketing the key.

They spent the next several hours trying to make sense out of the contents of Alex's briefcase.... collecting the names of the principals in all her current cases or investigations....studying her appointment book....reading notes....and trying to figure out what in there might be the 'help' that the kidnappers promised Walker in locating Alex.

"Walker......there's just no telling what these guys had in mind," Trivette said as he reread the list of cases and defendants they had written. "We've got minor drug busts up to major fraud and everything in between here.......and we don't even know if it's really one of her cases that's supposed to help us....."

Walker took a sip of coffee from his cup, it was cold, "I don't know either, Trivette.....but we've got to find it.....they haven't called back here, so it looks like I need to get to wherever it is they want me next....or we're not getting any more help....."

"I know that, Walker....it's just so.....so..... Listen, I'm going to get a couple of guys and we're going to start checking out the people on this list from her cases.....It's the only thing I can think to do at this point...."

"Yeah, go ahead, Trivette.....and thanks," Walker acknowledged, "If you come up with anything...or hear from those guys you gave that tape to, give me a call....right?"

"You know it."

C.D. poured fresh coffee as Walker began to flip once more through Alex's calendar...looking for anything that would stand out....something to lead him to the next place....something to lead him to Alex....

Alex woke with a start. Was the light dimmer now?....she wondered again how long it would last. Checking her watch she could see that she had slept for perhaps six hours, it was now just after eight a.m., although in the absence of natural light it could as easily have been eight p.m. She allowed herself another swallow of the water, but stayed away from the crackers....her throat still felt dry....probably the residual effects of the chloroform they  had used when bringing her here.... Wherever here was..... She wished she could sleep again already. Awake she had to think of the helplessness of her situation, and the image of Walker being struck down outside of Ernesto's kept playing itself over and over in her mind.....there had been so much blood, and so quickly.....what if he were hurt worse than they had planned....what if he were lying in the hospital still.....what if they had killed him?

"Stop it, Alex Cahill!" She spoke the words aloud to make them real, more real than the fantasies her mind was playing, "Walker is fine....he's out there looking for you and he'll be here soon! He'll be here very soon and....and.....we'll go on that cruise he promised....."

She needed to relax....the fact that she couldn't get out was making the room seem smaller than it was, and she could feel her heart beat and respiration’s rising....

"Slow breaths, in and out....distraction....I need a distraction...." What was bothering her most was that she had nothing to do but think.....it would be easier if she had a way to occupy herself.... keep her mind off this.....she had some important cases coming up....without her notes it would be tough....but maybe that was just what she needed.....she stood and began pacing the room, imagining herself in the courthouse......Alex began rehearsing her opening statement in 'State v. Hawkins', a case involving a man who had bilked a number of elderly people of their life savings on a phony investment scam....it was a complicated case....she would need to lay this out very clearly to help the jury understand..... "Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury...." she began.....

Walker still sat at the bar at C.D.'s, his head resting in his hands. His head was still pounding, but worse, he was stumped....he couldn't find the link.....Alex needed him and he couldn't find it......

Lifting his head determinedly, he began flipping again through one of Alex's law books...he would not quit until he found it....he had to find it.....as he turned the page to one of the book- marked pages, one citing a case involving industrial espionage at an oil refinery in Arkansas, he picked up the card used to mark the passage. Flipping it over, he saw it wasn't just a blank piece of cardstock, but a postcard....one of the kind tourists pick up....

"Hey, Cordell...." C.D. asked from over his shoulder, "how come Alex has a picture postcard from the Wheaton Inn? I know it's a nice place....but it's right here in town....not like she'd need to stay there......"

"The Wheaton is one of the spots where Alex meets regularly with her women's support group, C.D.  She probably was working there one evening before the ladies arrived and used the card to mark......." Walker exploded off the barstool, "That's it! It's gotta be it!"

"What makes you think so, Cordell? Alex has all kinds of stuff in here......"

Because it's the only thing in the briefcase that doesn't pertain to her job, C.D. .....even this appointment book only has notes for cases and depositions and such.....the women's support group is personal, like her work with the children's home......so maybe she didn't put this in here....maybe someone else did instead......It's gotta be it, C.D. ....."

C.D. looked at him doubtfully, "That's an awful longshot there, son. It could be just like you said....that Alex was workin' before a meetin' and just used that to mark her spot......"

"Yeah, it could be just that, C.D. .....but this is the only thing I've got right now.....I have to check it out....Do me a favor, call Trivette and tell him where I'm heading.....ask him to meet me there as soon as he can?"

Walker grabbed his hat and was out the door before C.D. had a chance to answer.

He arrived at the Wheaton Inn ahead of Trivette. Unable to simply sit and wait, he made a circuit outside the building....looking for anything unusual or suspicious. He'd accompanied Alex here more than once, lending his support to the group and giving instructions on some simple techniques that the women could use to escape from a dangerous situation, so he was familiar with the layout of the grounds and building. When Trivette finally arrived five minutes later he was sure the exterior was clear and was ready to go inside.

"How you want to handle this, Partner?" Trivette asked as they mounted the steps.

"I dunno, Trivette, we're just going to have to play it by ear for now....the word about Alex's kidnapping hasn't hit the streets yet....so let's keep it low key......."

When they walked inside they were greeted warmly by Sue Wheaton, one of the owners, "Hi, Ranger Walker, we were wondering when you were going to show up!"

"You were expecting me?" Walker looked around sharply.

"Sure, Alex's secretary called early this morning and said you'd be stopping by to pick up the cell phone she left here.....You know, that's the strangest thing, the last meeting she had here was three nights ago....and not one of us noticed that phone on the shelf in there until after he called this morning to say you'd be coming by for it....."

Walker thought fast, forcing an easy smile he said, "Uh yeah, well Alex kind of has me on a hunt.....she probably....ummmmm...... had someone slip in and leave it for her....."

Sue Wheaton laughed, "Oh! She has you on a treasure hunt, does she?"

"Yeah, .....uh.....where can I find the phone?"

"It's right here......but how is a phone going to help you?" She smiled, reaching behind the desk to pick it up and holding it out to him.

"I'm not sure just yet....but I'm sure....ah.....Alex.....has that all figured out......" Walker took the phone from her hand, "Thanks Mrs. Wheaton.....and you have a good day..."

"You too, Ranger Walker!  Oh, and good luck on your hunt!" She called behind them as they hurried back out the door.

Once back at Walker's truck, they stopped to examine the phone. It was a common make, the kind that could be rented and set up by anyone coming in off the street.....

"So....what do we do with it? Wait for them to call?" Trivette queried.

Walker climbed into the Ram and started it up, "No, I don't think so.....but we need to do a little work before we go any further with this...."

"What have you got in mind, Walker?"

"We need to try and get ready to trace a call on this.....and I want to know where it's from, who set up the account and when.....meet me back at the office and fire up that computer of yours.....we need some fast answers......"

Back at Ranger Headquarter's, Trivette began a computer search to track down the source of the cell phone while Walker began working on setting up a triangulation search and tap on the phone, he was hoping to be able to not only locate the other end of any calls to or from the phone, but also wanted another recording of whatever conversation took place.....

The phone rang at Trivette's desk, picking it up quickly he had a short conversation before hanging up the phone and approaching Walker. "My buddies have been working on that tape I gave them, they finally were able to filter out the masking....so now we have a good tape of the person you spoke to. No identifiable background noises though....They're sending a copy of it right over, should be here in about fifteen...."

When the tape arrived, they listened to it closely, but neither one recognized the person speaking....it would be good evidence when they caught the kidnappers....but was of no use to them now.....

Trivette got another call and turned to his partner again, "Okay, Walker....we've got the source of the phone, Johnston and Harris are on the way there to take statements and hopefully get a description of the person who rented it....now what?"

"The triangulation units are in place and we've got teams stationed all over the city set to move in if we get a location....so now we make a phone call......" Walker replied.

"But to where? They haven't given us any number to dial....."

Walker picked up the phone and pressed the 'redial' button.

"Of course....." Trivette said, as he moved over to another desk where he could listen to the call as it was recorded......

The phone was answered on the first ring, the same electronic voice that Walker had heard before came on the line, "You're slowing down, Ranger Walker......Miss Cahill has only thirteen hours left.....what took you so long?" A crackling laugh echoed over the line.

Trivette glanced over to see Walkers face, it was a mask of hate and frustration....and the pencil he held in his hand snapped under the pressure he suddenly applied to it.....

"I'm here now.....Where's Alex?"

"You have to find her.....you've been told that before......"

"I want to talk to her.....I need some assurance that she's okay! I'm not playing your little game any more unless I can speak with her......."

"Oh, I'm sorry Ranger Walker....but that's impossible.....in order for you to speak with Miss Cahill, we would have to open the door of her chamber.....that would void the game.....you're just going to have to trust us......Alex Cahill is alive and well, we did not harm her in any way......but she will die at midnight tonight......if you don't find her, that is.......that's when carbon monoxide will be released into the room she occupies.......she's such a lovely, refined lady.....we'd certainly hate to see that happen........"

Walker grimaced, "I'll find her! And then I'll find you........"

"Careful, Ranger Walker.....don't make us impose a penalty......."

Trivette was on another phone, speaking quietly.....as he snapped the phone back onto its cradle, he gave Walker a quick nod....

"Say what you have to say, I'm listening........" Walker interrupted.

"Very well, Ranger Walker, follow Miss Cahill's trail and find another hint....." the phone clicked dead.

Walker looked at Trivette, "You got a location?"

"Yep! And not far from here either.....we have two men there already, watching the exits and making sure nobody leaves....."

Walker grabbed his hat, "Are we sure someone's inside?"

"One of the men reported seeing someone pacing by a window, holding a phone....we have to assume it was the same person you were talking to....."

Walker, Trivette and half a dozen other Ranger's who had been waiting rushed out the door.

The Ranger's met up with other law enforcement teams about half a block down the street from the location  the call had been traced to. Reports from the men watching the building indicated that all the exits had been covered and no one had attempted to leave the building.

What they found when they entered the house surprised them all.....not a ruthless gang of killers, but several average looking young men, hanging around and watching a ball game on TV caught completely by surprise, they offered no resistance.  As the others were being cuffed and escorted out of the house one was brought by Trivette to where Walker was standing...

"This is Robert Payne," Trivette informed him, "Age twenty-eight, recently of Phoenix, Arizona..."

Walker studied Payne's face, searching his memory for a reason for this person to have taken Alex. "Have we met before?" he asked slowly.

"How would I know you?" Payne responded, "What's going on here? What are you guys bugging us for? We haven't done anything....."

As soon as he heard the young man speak, Walker reacted, grabbing the boy by his shirt and pressing him hard against the wall....getting right into his face, Walker demanded, "Where's Alex?"

Payne didn't even blink, "Alex? Who's this Alex guy? What makes you think I know anything about anyone named Alex?"

When Walker looked like he was about to lose control, Trivette interfered, drawing Walker off, "You'd better give this up,.....this isn't going to go your way......" Trivette held up several pieces of electronic equipment that had been lying around the room, "between this stuff and the trace to this location....we've got you nailed....and I'm sure a search warrant will turn up more....tell us where Alex Cahill is and it will go a whole lot easier on you later...."

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Payne insisted, "That stuff is for the computer course I'm taking at night, we have to build one from scratch.....You don't have anything that can link me to any Alex Cahill....and I don't know where she is....."

"Uh uh!" Trivette caught his slip, "I thought that you didn't know any Alex.....how did you know Alex Cahill is a woman? You're making mistakes....and we've got more on you than you think....you should have paid more attention to those computer courses of yours."

Trivette held up a small tape player, "Recognize this?" He said as he played the tape of Walker's first conversation at the bar, with the electronic voice.....

"No? Then how about now, maybe this will sound more familiar?" He inserted a second tape in the player and activated it, the same conversation was played...this time with the electronic masking removed....the voice speaking to Walker was easily recognizable as Payne's......

He finally looked a little shaken, but Payne remained silent.

"Tell us where Alex is....you don't want to go down for her death, murder of an officer of the court is a capital crime in Texas....tell us where to find her and save your own life....." Trivette continued.

"I have nothing to say......" Payne insisted.

Walker made a rush toward him, but was stopped by several of the other Rangers.

Payne calmly held out his hands to have cuffs put on them, saying to the police officers still there and Trivette,  "I want to talk to my lawyer....I'm not answering any more questions until I speak to my lawyer......"

Alex leaned against the wall, using the time constructively had helped....she felt much calmer. The room was even dimmer, it was obvious the tiny light wouldn't last much longer......where was Walker? She knew he had to be looking everywhere for her....It was more than twelve hours since she had first awakened here....how much longer would she have to wait.....he had to come soon....he just had to....

She felt warmer.....was she outside somewhere? Exposed to the sun? No.....if that were the case, in this metal room it would be like an oven inside.....the warmth was her own body heat....it had no where to go....nothing to diffuse it.......she realized the room would get warmer still as the time wore on....She took another drink of the water, it was lukewarm and stale now, but at least it was wet.....

"Walker would tell me to take my mind some place else....some place better than here....where?" She asked herself, "a better place.....a better time....before all this began....."

Alex sat on the mat, then took the blanket they had left her and using it to pillow her head leaned against the wall. Closing her eyes, she began to replay the previous day in her mind.....starting with Walker's knock on her door....she would concentrate on it, visualize it, relive every moment as it had happened....it had been a wonderful day......a perfect day.....

Walker waited at his desk. His actions at the house when he'd gone after Payne had left him in the cold when it came time to interrogate the suspects, he knew it was his own fault.....but it didn't make the wait any easier.... Finally Trivette appeared.

"Well?" Walker asked quickly, "Any of them break?"

"Yes and no." Trivette began, "The others have admitted their involvement in the scheme, but Payne was the ringleader. They all claim the whole thing was his idea...It started out as sort of 'what if' thing, and before they knew it.....it was happening....he convinced them it would be fun and that he'd really let Alex go before the deadline....it was supposed to be just a prank. They said Payne was the one who hit you, that was the first time they realized he was playing this for real, but by that point they were so far in that they couldn't get out......they had to go along......or at least that's what they thought.....and when it came time to actually hide Alex, he took her alone....none of them know where. Best they can tell us is that he was gone somewhere between forty-five minutes to an hour....."

"How'd they manage all this? Get to Alex's briefcase.....know about the Wheaton..... about dinner at Ernesto's?

"Seems one of them has a girlfriend who was working here in the building as a temp for a while....we checked her out, they had used her for information, half the people in the building knew bits and pieces of what was in the works with you for Valentine's Day....but the girl wasn't involved.....and was genuinely shocked about the whole thing......Other than that, they said they just followed Alex....broke into her apartment one evening.....stuff like that....."

"What about Payne? Has he had anything else to say?"

"Not a word. Not about Alex and not about why.....he has a record here in Dallas, but we haven't found any connection to you....and supposedly he had some trouble in Phoenix, too, although no charges were ever pressed......the report should arrive soon on that........and of course, we're still digging...."

Walker took a deep breath, expelling it slowly, "Then we're going to have to find her without him....Call C.D. and ask him to gather up all the stuff we took to his place this morning and bring it on over here....we'll need copies of the tapes and the note too. Let's put it all together in the conference room down the hall..."

"What are you looking for, Walker?"

"I don't know, Trivette....but maybe if we look at it all at once, something will stand out....."

Walker, Trivette and C.D. sat around the large table in the task force briefing room. Spread before them was the contents of Alex's briefcase, the original note, the cell phone, and two separate tape players....each one with a looped version of one of the two phone calls Walker had participated in....posted on the wall was a large map of the Dallas area with a large circle drawn around a section of it, a tack marked Ernesto's in the center.....outside, Dallas was growing dark as evening approached.....

C.D. looked at the map, "Cordell....how'd they come up with this search area? Seems to me that boy coulda taken Alex almost anywhere....."

"The others said that Payne was only gone for maybe an hour at most, C.D., and the house where they were staying was only a few minutes from Ernesto's. That means perhaps a half hour to wherever he put her and a half hour to get back to them.....Ernesto's is located right here in the Metroplex, and it's pretty well patrolled twenty four hours a day....with a kidnapped woman in his car, we have to assume he wouldn't risk any high speed travel.....so the circle represents the maximum distance he might have been able to travel, with a buffer of another ten miles out in any direction...." Walker explained.

"It's still an awful lot of ground to cover, ain't it? Gets pretty far out of town....."

Walker looked at the map, a deeply troubled look on his face, "Yeah, it does.....we need more....."

"Walker....what's happening with that last hint he gave you.... 'follow Alex's trail'?" Trivette asked.

"We've got some men going over her car....in case that's what he meant, and the DA and a couple of people from her office are trying to put together her movements over the last week....but she's done a lot...it's a slow job and we don't even know if we're on the right track....." Walker added.

The door to the room opened, and a Ranger stepped in carrying several large pieces of rolled paper.

"Harris," Trivette greeted him, "What have you got for us?"

Ranger Harris set the papers on the table, then picking them up one by one he began tacking them next to the map, speaking as he did so, "The car was no good....we couldn't find anything in it or on it to indicate any unusual activity at all....this is a listing of Alex Cahill's movements for the last seven days....or at least as much as we were able to put together, there are still some gaps that we haven't been able to fill...."

Walker approached the lists, looking them over carefully he pointed out several of the blank spots, "Here, here and here we can rule out.....Alex was with me.....and this is when she was meeting at the Wheaton with the ladies support group....." he looked to a large empty space on Thursday between two and four in the afternoon, "but where was she during this? Middle of the work day......and nobody had a location on her?" he asked.

Harris shook his head, "We've spoken to everyone in her office and all over the building....the secretary said  Miss Cahill got a call around one that day, and right after that she cancelled a meeting scheduled for one-fifteen and went out in a hurry.....all she said was that she had to interview a possible witness....a couple of hours later Miss Cahill was back and never said a word about it again. We've checked out every name in every investigation we know she was working....but we can't find anyone who knows about a meeting with her that day....so it's a blank...."

"C.D. ....where's Alex's appointment book from her briefcase? Maybe she made a note of it in there...." Walker began shuffling through the items on the table.

"Here it is, Cordell.....but there's nothing here.....was an appointment written in, but it's been all crossed out, must've been something got canceled......"

"I don't think so, C.D.," Harris said, "According to the secretary Miss Cahill usually left Thursday and Friday afternoon's free unless she absolutely couldn't get out of it....like court or something big that came up.....and her schedule was really light at the end of this past week........"

"Yeah, Alex said it gave her a jump if she could use the end of one week to prepare for the next," Walker added, "She said that way she could relax over the weekend and come in fresh on Monday....and still be ready to go......" He reached over and picked up the appointment calendar, "So....what was so important that Alex scheduled it during her prep time.....but still got canceled?"

Trivette came over and studied the page with Walker, but the notation had been scribbled over darkly and was impossible to decipher.

"Y'know, Walker....it's possible the lab might be able to do something with this....if she used a different pen to cross out the original writing....they may be able to separate the two...." Trivette commented.

Walker looked at his partner, "Do you think they could get it in time? If this is what we need...."

"I don't know," Trivette answered honestly, "but we're going nowhere fast here, may as well give it a shot..."

Walker handed the book over, "Okay, Trivette....see if you can get them to put a big rush on it...we're running out of time........"

A short time later Trivette was back, "They think they may be able to do something with it, Walker, and don't think it will take very long.....Shannon in the lab said she'd give me a call as soon as they had anything..."

Walker rubbed the back of his neck, "Okay, Trivette....while we wait for that....help me out here....let's see if we can put all these pieces together somehow....We know that Payne wanted to play this like a game, he likes to play with words too.....so after he got me to C.D.'s, he sent us looking for Alex's briefcase....."

"Right..." Trivette continued, "and in the briefcase you found a postcard from the Wheaton tucked in one of her law books.....which led us to the phone, on the phone he said to follow Alex's trail....and we're trying to track her movements....so what have we missed?"

"That isn't all he said on the phone, more than once he said that we lose if we take more than twenty-four hours to find Alex....."

C.D. added, "Yeah, and in that last call he said that Cordell couldn't talk to Alex, but at midnight carbon monoxide would be sent into the room with her"

Walker looked up , "That would have to mean one thing....wherever Alex is being hidden....she isn't using oxygen tanks......so it must be a place that could be sealed tight and hold enough air for a person for a full day and night.....How big a place would that have to be?"

"Pretty good sized, I should think..." Trivette responded, picking up the phone, "I'll see who we can find that can give us the answer.....but what good do you think that will do?"

"It will help us narrow down the places to look, once we get a direction to go in....at least I hope so...." Walker looked up at the clock on the wall......eight p.m.....

Alex opened her eyes slowly....she hated to end the visualization....but she was getting sleepy and needed to move around, she didn't want to fall asleep....she wanted to be awake, so she could hear Walker if he came and started calling to her.......the room was much warmer than it had been before and she felt dull and listless. The room was in total darkness, the light had finally gone out while she had her eyes closed, but it didn't matter....nothing mattered but time.....how much time? Lifting her arm to look at her watch, she pressed the tiny button to light up the face....in the total blackness even the pale light from the watch made her blink....it was eight fifteen.....where was Walker? He had to find her soon....or had the note been some sort of trick....perhaps they had never intended to let him find her? Alex slowly sat up and shook her head to try and clear the cobwebs.....realizing that she mustn't think that way, Walker would find her....she just had to be patient and wait. Reaching beside her in the darkness she found the water bottle....it was almost empty....she took the last few swallows gratefully. Almost without realizing that she had done it, she began thinking again about the terrible threat in the note that had been left....carbon monoxide....it would replace the oxygen, stealing her breath.....would she just fall asleep? or would it be more difficult? would her body struggle? would she die here, alone and in the dark? would anyone ever find her?

"Stop it." she commanded into the darkness, her voice sounded like a shout... "Walker and Jimmy and C.D. will find me....and we'll find out who did this....."

That was a question....she had been wondering all day who was behind this, and why..... "Was it Walker they wanted to hurt? or me? or both of us? or were we just random victims of some sick mind?......"

Right now it didn't really matter...nothing mattered but time....time to wait.....and it was so quiet.....under her breath Alex began to sing....a song to make her feel stronger....braver.....to give her something to hang onto in the oppressive darkness......

"It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart....Without saying a word, you light up the dark....."

Alex giggled suddenly, Walker had always teased that she couldn't carry a tune in a bucket....well here she was...in a giant metal bucket....and she thought she sounded pretty damn good! She kept singing lightly, concentrating on the last time she had heard the song......

Walker paced. In spite of increasing pressure, Payne was refusing to reveal Alex's location....and Walker was seriously considering a private visit with him....it would destroy the case, possibly his career as well....but if it saved Alex's life.....

The door opened suddenly and Trivette rushed in, "I heard from Shannon in the lab, they were finally able to get the notation out of Alex's appointment book," He walked to the board, writing in the empty  space at the bottom of one of the pages tacked there as he continued, "It said, 'two p.m., Smith, Bonner's, rear booth, illegal dumping?, Olsen Oil'....."

"Anybody been over to Bonner's?" Walker asked.

"Yeah, I just came from there, and the waitress who was working that afternoon remembers Alex being there too. She said Alex arrived about one-thirty and waited almost two hours, then she got a phone call....the girl said when Alex left right after that, she was really steamed.....and another thing....I did some fast checking, Olsen Oil is clean. They just went through a voluntary in depth examination by the EPA....absolutely no violations of any kind....not even a hint of anything like illegal dumping......."

"Which explains why Alex blocked out the entry like that....she was ticked that somebody sent her on a wild goose chase....." Walker thought for a moment, "Y'know.....that could be the link we've been looking for....."

C.D. looked toward Walker, "What do you mean by that, Cordell?"

"Olsen Oil......That's not the first reference to the oil industry I've seen today...." Walker began sorting through the things on the table again, "I know there was something else....Yeah....here it is! The postcard from the Wheaton....."

"Well that postcard don't have nothing to do with oil..." C.D. began.

"I know that C.D., but I found it here....in this law book of Alex's.....and the page it was marking was for a case involving the oil industry in Arkansas....but we've seen everything Alex has been working on, and none of them involve the oil business right now, so why would she mark a case that did?......and there was something else....." Walker paused, then spoke sharply, "Trivette! Play the tape of the second phone call!"

Trivette reached over and pressed the play button on one of the machines....and the conversation between Walker and the kidnapper began again.....

Suddenly Walker said, "There! That's it! Rewind and replay just that section....." As Trivette did so, he said, "Did you hear it?....He was playing with words again....."

"Cordell....I'm sorry, son, but you've lost me......"

But Trivette looked interested, "Yeah! I heard it Walker......he said Alex was a 'refined lady', right? Like maybe in .....refinery?"

"Exactly, Trivette......that's three things pointing us in one direction!" Walker, Trivette and C.D. surrounded the map, studying it intently, "Here! The abandoned refinery on Tanner....it's the only place that fits inside the circle.....That's got to be it!" Walker glanced at the clock as they hurried out the door....eleven fifteen.......

Alex struggled to stay awake....she was so tired, just sitting here was exhausting....she hadn't thought that was possible....... Perhaps it would be better to just allow herself to go to sleep?

"NO!" she cried, she would not give up.....it wasn't over yet......and if they did release the gas in here, she would be awake.....to try and survive, to buy Walker as much time as she could!

Walker, Trivette, C.D. and several dozen other law enforcement vehicles converged on the refinery complex at eleven-thirty.

"Man!" Trivette whistled, "This place is HUGE! Where do we start, Walker?"

Walker gathered all the searchers together for a moment "We'll have to divide up and search as fast as we can.....Trivette found out that the space she must be in would have to be a pretty good size....and it's has to be someplace that could be sealed tight.....so don't bother checking small spots, places with windows or vents, anything like that....everybody got a radio? Good.....if you find anything, contact me right away....."

Alex heard the sound and jerked her head upward. It was a distinct thunk, and a slow hissing....she looked at her watch, exactly midnight....so, it had been the truth.....they were releasing the gas.....she lay down on the floor, folding a corner of the blanket and holding it tightly over her nose and mouth.

"Hurry, Walker...." she said quietly.

By nearly midnight, much of the huge complex of buildings remained to be searched.....Walker was growing ever more desperate....stepping quickly out of a building he and Trivette had just searched, he stopped suddenly.

"Walker?" Trivette stopped beside him, then drew silent.

"Where are you, Alex?" Walker studied the buildings around him, there wasn't enough time to search them all....the time was gone.....he thought about the size of the area they had to be looking for, the type of area it had to be.....his eyes probed the darkness, looking for someplace that would fit.....he scanned to his left....turned to the right, then jerked to the left again and took off at a run, Trivette right behind him......

Alex knew she was losing the battle....she just couldn't keep herself awake any longer...her mind was fuzzy, her head spinning out of control...... "I'm sorry, Walker...." she whispered into the dark, and closed her eyes.....

Walker and Trivette raced to the door of the building that had caught his attention, and with barely a pause he kicked the door open and continued inside.....shining his flashlight around him....

"Where, Walker?"

"The tanks Trivette! Inside the tanks......"

There were half a dozen rows of large tanks that had been used somehow in the refining process..... Trivette began on one end, Walker on the other and they raced from one to another.....looking for the one that might be Alex's prison......

"Trivette!" Walker shouted, "Over here!" he had found one where the door was clean....all the others had been caked with dust and grime from years of disuse.....he cranked the gear handle, but the door wouldn't open easily, he began kicking it until finally it gave just as Trivette reached him.....as the door opened there was a rush of gas escaping that was so intense they both gasped......it was fifteen past midnight.....shining his flashlight into the black interior at first he saw nothing, then on the opposite side and to the right.....Walker rushed inside, even with the door open the air was bad...

"Please.....please don't let me be too late......"

Reaching Alex's side, he rolled her onto her back.....the blanket fell away, her face was terribly pale and still....Walker dropped the flashlight and scooped her into his arms....rushing with her to the door and the fresh air outside.....

"Trivette, radio for help! Hurry!"

Walker could see that Alex wasn't breathing, he bent his head even as he carried her out the door, pressing his mouth to hers and attempting to force air into her lungs.... "Breathe, Alex.....breathe....." he whispered desperately as he forced another breath.

Trivette reached out and touched Alex's neck, "There's still a pulse, Walker....it's faint and slow, but......."

Laying Alex down on the ground outside, Walker positioned her for mouth to mouth and offered another breath, and then another and another....he could hear running footsteps approaching.....

"C'mon, Alex...." he whispered to her, "don't leave me now.....c'mon......breathe....."

Then he heard the most wonderful sound he could ever imagine........She drew a ragged, shallow breath on her own.......

The med-techs responding to Trivette's radio message finally arrived, taking over from Walker and beginning to gather vital signs and administer oxygen.....Alex didn't regain consciousness as they placed her on a gurney and rushed her to a waiting helicopter to be taken to the hospital....

Walker, feeling the adrenaline that had kept him functioning through the long hours disappearing, tossed his keys to Trivette......"You drive...." was all he said as they climbed in.... Trivette picked up the radio mike as he drove, relaying a message to C.D. and arranging for him to meet them at the hospital......

The doctor was waiting when they arrived at the hospital, "Miss Cahill is going to be just fine." he assured them. "She's suffering from minor dehydration and some after effects from the carbon monoxide poisoning... but they will pass....you got to her in time. She's also awake, and refusing to rest until she's spoken to someone named Walker.....is that one of you?"

C.D. slapped the relieved and smiling Walker on the shoulder, "You betcha boots, Doc! Cordell is right here!"

"You can go in and see her, but please....keep it short, okay?"

Walker nodded as he entered her room.

Alex was lying with her eyes shut, but she opened them as soon as she heard the door opening....seeing Walker she smiled and reached to take his hand. He bent and kissed her gently, then sat in a chair beside her bed, still holding her hand.

"Doc says I can only stay a couple of minutes..." he said quietly.

She reached up and touched the side of his head near the bandage that had been applied to the wound from being struck, "I'm so glad you're okay," she said. "I was so frightened for you....."

Walker placed his hand over hers on his face, holding it there for a minute, "I'm sorry, Alex....." he began.

Alex looked confused, "Sorry? Why?"

"I almost didn't find you in time....I was almost too late....I'm so sorry......"

She cocked her head and lifted an eyebrow, "Sometimes you WILL dwell on mights and almosts won't you, Walker? You DID find me in time....and you WEREN'T too late....."

"But......"

"But, nothing Cordell Walker!" She paused,  ".....You know what I'm sorry about?"

He shook his head.

"I'm sorry we missed that boat! I really wanted to get you on that cruise! I was looking forward to seeing you in shorts!" She giggled.

He laughed, which is what she had wanted.....her eyes drifted shut for a moment and Walker touched her brow lightly.

"You get some sleep," he said, "I'll be here when you wake up......"

Alex opened her eyes again, protesting sleepily, "No....you go get some sleep, too....I'll be fine..... y'know....we'll have to find a way to spend the rest of that vacation you took....I still can't believe you took vacation time....." Then she closed her eyes again as her voice drifted away.

Walker kissed her tenderly one more time as she slipped off to a restful sleep at last.

When Alex woke the next morning, it was to find Walker sound asleep in the chair next to her bed... She smiled softly.....she should have realized he wouldn't leave her alone the night before....turning to her side, she studied him carefully....The bandage on his forehead needed to be changed, he still wore the soiled suit from the night this had all begun, and he looked worn out....even in sleep....

When the door began to open, she looked up to see Trivette and C.D. peeking into the room. Signaling them to silence, she motioned them into the room and sitting up, gave each a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Hiya, Counselor...." Trivette said softly, then grinning toward Walker he added, "Sleeping beauty here must've snuck back in after the docs left last night, they told him to go home....but he wasn't too happy with the idea......"

"Don't wake him," she whispered.

C.D. nodded agreement with a smile, and reaching over to the other bed, claimed a spare blanket, which he draped around Walker, careful not to disturb him....

Kissing Alex once more on the forehead, he whispered, "We'll come back and see you later, honey....we just wanted to see that you were really okay.....you rest easy now......."

"I will, C.D. ......bye, Jimmy....."

They waved silently as they tiptoed back out the door.

Several hours later, Walker woke to find Alex watching him.... "Hi, sleepyhead," she greeted him.

Checking his watch, he realized it was nearly noon.... "You should've woke me," he said, "I only meant to close my eyes for a minute...."

She grinned, "You looked like you needed the rest......besides, there's been a parade of doctors and nurses through here this morning.....one of them even changed that bandage and cleaned the gash on your head and you never even stirred....I don't think I would have had much luck rousing you....."

Walker looked embarrassed, "Yeah, well, I was a little tired I guess...." then he stood, shaking off the blanket that still rested over his legs, and moved to the side of her bed. He sat down beside her on the bed and embraced her tightly...... "I'm so glad you're okay, Alex......."

The doctors kept Alex in the hospital for one full day for observation, but now C.D., Trivette and Walker sat in the visitors room, waiting for the Alex to be discharged.

Trivette shot a quick glance at C.D., who nodded, and then turned to his partner, "Walker," he began, reaching into the pocket of his jacket and pulling out a piece of folded tissue paper, "I found this outside Ernesto's the other night......I figured it was time to give it back...." Trivette opened the paper to reveal the ring he had removed from the broken rose and held it out to his partner...

Walker glanced down at it, then looked quickly away, standing and turning to stare out the window as he said, "You hang onto it, Trivette, I......I can't use it now....."

"What in the world are you talkin' about, Cordell? Why in tarnation not!" C.D. sputtered, "Timing might not be what you'd been lookin' for.....but.....you kin make it right again....."

"I can't use it......because....... I can't ask Alex to marry me...." Walker said slowly.

C.D. looked at him in disbelief, "Course you can, Cordell! You know she loves ya.....and Jimmy and me know you love her....so what in the world could keep ya from marryin' if that's what you both want?"

Walker turned to face them again, "I just can't!" he repeated. Then he sat heavily on the seat near him, "I've been thinking it over since yesterday....all last night....there's just no other way.......I'm gonna break off with Alex and request a transfer out of Dallas........."

Trivette was stunned, "Just like that? You're just going to pack up and leave? After everything that's happened, after all you two have been through together......you're just going to end it?"

"No! Not just like that!" Walker's eyes flashed, "It ain't gonna be easy......Hardest thing I've ever had to do......You think I want to hurt her, and know she's gonna hate me for it?.......You think I want to let her go?...... Of course I don't!.......but I can't let things like this happen to her anymore! Alex deserves better! She deserves someone who won't be pulling her into situations like this! She almost died the other night! Because of me! Because I care about her, and someone wanted to get at me......"

Walker took a deep breath before continuing more slowly, "If....if I pull out, she'll have a chance to find someone who can give her everything she really deserves.... not a whole lot of worry and pain and fear....."

"Walker..." Trivette began, but C.D. lay a hand on his arm and shook his head silently... then motioned Trivette to wait outside.

After Trivette had left, C.D. pulled a chair around so he could sit and look in his friends eyes, "Cordell....you have this all backwards..... 'twasn't you that almost killed Alex.....you were the one that saved her life! You can't just walk away now without giving her some say in it! .....besides, Cordell, Jimmy ain't had a chance to tell you, but........"

Walker looked at the floor as he cut C.D. off, "Yeah, I can C.D. .......I have to walk away...... Alex'll understand someday....at least I hope she will......all I know is that I can't let her be put at risk any more on my account....she'll be better off without me draggin her down....." Then he stood sharply and left the room.

Trivette came back in as C.D. stood and watched Walker leave, "Well? Did you do any good?"

"Nope. Not one danged bit......You know Cordell.....damned if he can't be muleheaded sometimes! Once he's made up his mind about something....it's near impossible to get him to see any other way and he's got his mind made up that he's got to let her go..... he wouldn't even let me tell him what you put together about all this mess......"

Alex wondered what was going on in Walker's head. He'd never once the whole morning attempted to take her hand, let alone offered an embrace or a  kiss.....and he had been utterly silent as he drove her home from the hospital and walked her to her door. He had accepted her invitation to come inside, but once there....he just stood staring out the window.....Alex knew there was something that was troubling him deeply, and hoped he would share it with her soon. She was used to his long silences, but this had a different feeling to it....

"Walker? Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?" She asked as she brought him a cup of coffee and then sat down on the couch, sipping her own.

"Yeah......" he started, then fell silent again.

She waited a several minutes before trying again. Putting her cup down she stood again and went to his side, took his coffee and set it down as well before physically turning him to face her, "Well......then....out with it..." she insisted.

He gave her a long look, studying her face, trying to memorize it.... He could feel a lump forming in his throat and an aching in his chest. "Alex......" he began at last, "I guess...... you and I, we've been through a lot together....and you know how much I care about you....how I never want to see you hurt....."

She nodded, but something in the way he was looking at her as he spoke made a hard knot begin to form in her stomach..

"Alex.....there just isn't any good way to say this.......I'm leaving Dallas. I'm gonna sell the ranch and transfer out of here....so.....so, I guess this is gonna be goodbye.....I'm sorry........."

Alex stopped breathing, her eyes filled with confusion. "Walker.....? Where.......where did that come from?" she stumbled, tears already streaming down her face, "After all this time? Everything that's happened? Only two days ago you gave me the most wonderful day of my life...... remembering it was what kept me going when I was so scared....I thought.....I thought.......How can you just leave.... now.... after that?"

"I'm sorry, Alex....it just has to be this way......I never, ever, wanted to hurt you....but....but...." he turned away from her, his shoulders slack, his head lowered.

Something about the resignation in his voice and the defeat in his posture suddenly brought Alex to life once more, "But nothing!" She cried angrily, shaking away the tears as she twisted him back around to face her again, "You can't just leave me behind! You can't just undo all the things we've felt and said.....I'm.....I'm in love with you Cordell Walker.... and.... and I'm not going to let you go that easily!"

She took a deep breath, "So you have some serious explaining to do...... if you think you're going to head out that door and out of my life with just goodbye and good luck....."

She took his face with both of her hands, forcing him to look at her, and searching his eyes. "Tell me that we never had anything together! Tell me that you don't want to see me anymore! Tell me you don't love me, Walker! Look at me and tell me those things and I'll let you leave right now if that's what you want!"

Walker struggled with his words, "I......I......I CAN'T, Alex! I CAN'T tell you those things........."  He suddenly opened up, the words rushing out with the force of a dam breaking, "I DO love you! That's just the problem! People that I love wind up paying for that.....For most of my life, I managed to keep clear of caring about anyone too much, cause whenever I let someone get too close..... I knew what would happen! Same thing that always happens! But...... then..... I met you......and I wanted you in my life so much that I let myself believe I could change it! I convinced myself I could make it different! But I can't! ......I can't, Alex......and.....and you almost died! Payne would have let you die....because of me! Because he wanted to play some stupid game with me!"

He backed a step away from her, a look of desperation on his face as he continued, "Don't you understand? I can't let that happen to you anymore, Alex!  I have to go........I don't want to..... I HAVE to!"

Alex looked at him closely, the wall he usually surrounded himself with was down. She knew she'd never seen this deeply into his soul before....and it was filled with anguish and a lifetime of loneliness, "Oh, Walker.....You didn't cause what happened the other day...it wasn't your fault...."  She reached for his hands as she closed the distance between them once more.

"Alex, the fact is, that if you didn't know me....if we had never met....you wouldn't have been put in the middle of that......" his voice caught suddenly and he dropped his eyes from her gaze as he backed away a step once more....

"But Walker," She questioned, "Don't you know? Didn't Jimmy tell you? .......Payne was after me! He just figured that taunting you made it more fun, that was his style.....he never intended for you or anyone to find me.....he never thought you'd be able to figure out his 'clues' and get to me in time! Walker, don't you see? Payne was from my past, not yours! If I had never met you....I'd be lying dead in that old refinery......"

Walker looked up again, "What are you talking about, Alex? Why would he want to hurt you?" he reached across the distance he had put between them and touched her face gently, adding, "How could anyone want to hurt you?"

"It goes back a long way, Walker, more than ten years. When I was just getting started in the District Attorney's office here in Dallas. I was assigned to prosecute a rape charge against a group of young men who had assaulted a young girl and her boyfriend after a high school dance.

Payne had been the leader, Bobby, they called him then....He was a troublemaker, a bored teenager with the attitude that nothing and nobody mattered but himself...... still, he always had a crowd of followers.... something about him just drew people in and they couldn't seem to say no when he made up his mind he wanted to do something....

This particular night he and some of his friends snuck some liquor into the dance and they started some trouble before they got caught and thrown out. Bobby saw a young couple leaving about the same time to go 'park' .....and he decided he wanted to have some more fun......he goaded the other boys into coming along with him.....they followed the two to a secluded spot and Bobby and the others dragged the boy out of his car. They beat and kicked him half to death.... after that they attacked the girl.....it was a vicious, horrible crime and the oldest of the boys involved was only seventeen....Bobby Payne. I fought to have them all tried as adults, but Bobby was the only one that I won on....he was shocked, figured he was going to get off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist as a juvenile......even tried as an adult he only got three years, he actually served less than half of that.....

After the trial he promised he'd 'get' me, but what convicted man doesn't make that threat? I forgot all about it.....I guess he didn't.

Jimmy said that after Bobby was released he moved to Phoenix, that was where his family had gone to try and escape from the stigma of the trial, and Bobby only came back to the Dallas area about six months ago....I guess he saw me on the news or maybe heard my name mentioned by that girl that had been working as a temp in the building, ......anyway, he decided it was time to get his revenge..... it was me he was after the whole time! It had nothing at all to do with you....."

Walker had listened closely to all she told him, but ........ "It doesn't change things, Alex....this whole thing just made it clear again.....I've been fooling myself.....being with me, puts you in the line of fire......How many times have you been put in danger because of our relationship?.......Because someone knows how I feel about you?.....and...... I can't promise you that won't happen again...." he lowered his gaze once more.

She put her hands on her hips, looking at him with a mixture of tenderness and exasperation, "Have I ever asked you to make me that promise, Walker? I'm a big girl, y'know..... Don't you think I've known all along where the door is if things ever got to be too much? Don't you think that whether I'm willing to take that risk is my decision to make?  What was it you told me once about each of us choosing our own destiny?"

Then she raised her eyebrows and challenged him, "And for that matter, you seem to have conveniently forgotten all the times I've managed to get into trouble that had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I knew you! .....Like when I was being held at that cult compound? ......Or when I was kidnapped along with that businessman by LaRue? ......Or how about when Max Kale decided to blow up everyone he held responsible for putting him in prison, and didn't care if he took half of Dallas with him?  Or any of a dozen or so other messes I've stumbled into! I seem to get into my share of mischief all by myself, Cordell Walker, thank you very much! But....... the fact that I got out of any of those situations in one piece sure had a lot to do with having you looking out for me and caring what happened!"

Walker stood silent, not looking at her and not acknowledging her words.

She watched him closely as he worked it through, wondering if she had managed to get through to him... finally she asked the question she had to ask....

"So....what's it going to be, Cowboy......." Alex stood back, squared her shoulders and lifted her chin defiantly, "Are you really planning on riding off into the sunset?"

For a moment, Walker turned away again......but at last he turned to face her once more, he looked her steadily in the eye and then stepped toward her as he reached out and took her hands in his own.

"I guess not, Alex," he finally said simply as he smiled at last, the ache in his chest melting away, "I guess I just couldn't do that.....to either of us......"

As she squeezed his hands in return and gave him a radiant smile, Walker was suddenly sure he'd just made the best decision of his life.... and tomorrow he'd get that ring back from Trivette after all.....

Alex  reached over to the vase on the table beside the couch, and pulling one of the  roses out of the bouquet, held it out to him. "Cordell Walker, will you please be my Valentine?" she asked softly.

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