Journey Of The Mind

By Pam Gooderham

The pain in his head was excruciating at worst, at best numbing; an irritant like unwelcome guests reluctant to leave. It blocked out all cognitive thought, blurred his vision and hid his memories. Life as he knew it was long gone, only vague shadows remained of warmth, caring and love, and reality now was harsh. Even for the toughest of the tough.

He'd stare all day at the tiny amount of light coming from a small dirty window at the far side of the room. It was so far away. He'd strain to get nearer, stopped by the heavy chain round his ankle, hardly seeming to notice the badly chaffed skin, or the warm rivulets of blood as they slowly made their way down towards his bare foot.

The last of the sun's rays would be disappearing shortly, and he'd be in darkness again. Raising his hand disconsolately to the window, his misery grew with each passing day.

****

The three friends quietly sat in the booth at the bar. They had made the usual small talk, caught up with each other's news and, as had become the habit, lapsed into silence.

C.D. glanced at Trivette and Alex. "Anyone want another drink?"

They looked up.

Alex thought, "Er…"

Trivette offered his glass. "I'll have another beer, please C.D.."

C.D. waited for a few seconds and prompted her again. "Alex?"

"Umm, I'll have …..Oh damn it! Just another coffee."

C.D. smiled. "All that for a coffee? How's your other decisions coming along?"

"Well, since you ask…. Not very well, actually."

"Alex honey, that was supposed to be a joke."

Impassively Alex looked up at him, her huge eyes beautiful, but, oh so sad.

"Yeah" C.D. conceded, "bad joke, I guess." He made for the bar.

"Poor C.D.. He tries so hard. Maybe we should make a better effort?" Alex looked directly into Trivette's eyes, gratefully accepting his embrace. She lay her head on his shoulder.

"What the hell we gonna do, Alex?"

She shook her head.

Trivette blew through his lips and gave a deep sigh. "In a way …." He paused, almost afraid to verbalize his thoughts; "it …would be better if we knew he was dead." Alex removed her head from his shoulder and sat upright. Trivette wished he could retract the statement. He grimaced and backtracked instead. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. You're angry with me aren't you?"

"No."

"Sure?"

"I've thought the same thing myself so I can hardly be mad at you, can I?"

"There you are." C.D. set down the drinks and reseated himself.

"You thought that C.D.? That you wished you knew he was dead?"

C.D. stared at the young man. "Hell no."

"Why not?" Asked Alex.

"We'll find him. That's why."

Trivette gestured with his hands. "It's been nearly two months now C.D. We've no where else to look, no other leads to follow up. He's not coming back." Trivette's voice broke. "If only I'd gone with him."

Alex rested an arm on Trivette. "You had a shoulder wound, Jimmy. Besides, delivering one, non-threatening prisoner for trial in Mississippi was no big deal. It was nothing for Walker. It would have been quicker for them to have flown but Burnside had a phobia so that's why they drove. It should have been nothing."

"Listen you two." C.D. set down his glass with a bang. "We bin all through this before. Can you imagine what Cordell would say if he heard you two talkin'? He'd have a fit! I don't know how but something's going to happen. Somehow, somewhere, we'll find him."

He tried again this time with logic instead of emotion. "The key to this is finding Sonny Burnside. Once we've found him, we'll be able to piece together what happened." He finished with a sharp nod.

"We've APB's out, the FBI's tried and there's nothing! How can you be so sure he'll surface after all this time?" Alex probed. She was a little irritated "he could even have skipped the country by now for all we know."

"Sonny Burnside's a two bit criminal and a creature of habit. That's how Cordell caught him twice before already. He'll come back to Dallas to see his Mom! I'll stake the bar and my best Chili recipe on it!"

"What if…" Trivette looked at them individually, "what if he disappeared with Walker too?"

C.D. lost his temper and rose to go. "What if! What if! I'm sick of your what ifs! Give up hope why don't you? Does it make you feel any better?" Having leant forward to deliver his last sentence he turned and quickly walked away."

Trivette shook his head. "I'm sorry Alex." His apology brought him a tight hug.

"It's okay. Forget it. I'm going around in circles as much as you." Alex whispered in his ear.

Trivette gave another squeeze. "If we could just know what happened to him. If we could know one way or the other."

*****

"Trivette." Texas Ranger Jimmy Trivette changed the phone to his other ear while he looked for a pen. "When?" He demanded. "No! Listen, tell Casey I'm calling in every favor anyone ever owed me!" There was a pause in Trivette's conversation while he wrote furiously. "Umm. Yeah. Yeah. I got it. Dave? Tell Casey, debt paid in full, man!" He slammed down the phone and pressed a pre-programmed button. "C.D.? I've gotta lead on Sonny!"

C.D. looked at his watch. "Sure about the source?"

"Yeah." Trivette's eyes darted backwards and forward assessing each passer by in the busy street. Another ten minutes passed and the radio burst into life.

"Trivette?"

"Yeah, Ron?"

"Coming to the corner… now! Your way."

"Thanks Ron. You and Kim go when you're ready. Units 3 and 4. He's on 23rd crossing Elm heading north. Make your move slowly." Trivette reached for the door handle of the Sebring. "Let's go."

They were on him before he knew what was going down. Burnside recognized Trivette at the last minute and ran in the opposite direction straight into Kim's arms. The middle-aged accountant cursed under his breath.

*****

Alex circled him again. "Let's start at the top."

"AGAIN?"

Trivette slammed the chair down hard stepping over the seat and sitting down with his arms across the back.

C.D. couldn't contain himself. "You're looking for a thick ear if you don't start partin' with information we can use."

Sonny sneered. "Why? Cause I won't say what happened to your precious Cordell Walker? Why should I?"

"Well Sonny." Alex's tone was patronizing. "The feeling is Ranger Walker's dead. Since you were probably the last person to see him alive, I'll do everything I my power to get you murder two. Reason enough?"

They let Burnside digest this information and started again.

"On the other hand," Trivette offered, "cooperate and whatever we uncover from your information and you'll be helping us with our inquiries instead of being the object of them. Isn't that right, Alex?"

"It is. Unless of course he did kill Ranger Walker."

"WHAT?" Sonny offered up open palms, "no way. That's hardly my MO, right? I've never killed anyone in my life! Fraud's one thing. Murder's something else. Ain't that the thing?"

"Your choice. We walk out of here with nothing and Walker's body's found," Alex pointed a finger in Burnside's direction, "you're an accessory to murder. I'll make it stick somehow. On the other hand…." Alex's gaze was unwavering until Burnside looked away. Alex rapped the table. "Okay, guys." She got up to leave. "He's made his choice. Let's go."

They followed her lead and Sonny let them get to the door before he called them back. "Alright, already! Shit. You ain't gonna believe me anyhow. That's what the trouble is."

They all sat down surrounding him. Trivette tried to be patient and took a deep breath. "Start at the beginning."

Burnside pouted and defensively folded his arms. "You ain't gonna believe this!" With reluctance he took a deep sigh and began. "We're about four hours into Louisiana. His truck has a blow out. We screw all over the road while he tries to keep control, but we get spun round, one wheel goes up an embankment and we roll over but end up right. I was shook up something awful, but Walker's unconscious, he musta taken a knock on the head, see."

Sonny looked at his audience. "Next thing I knows, up comes this huge truck. Y'know one of them monster things. Walker's come round and we both get out but he's staggering see, he don't look right. These jerks in the truck turn out to be complete weirdoes man, I mean you gotta see them, like something outta Deliverance! Scare the pants off me they did, the inbred morons."

"Get on with it."

"They don't say a word! I mean nuthin'! They stroll over to Walker, pistol-whip him over the head. Wham! He goes down like a sack of potatoes. Now I'm thinking, shit! I'm next, right? But then they see the handcuffs and woah! It's like long lost buddy stuff. They fish the keys outta Walker's pocket, take the cuffs off, tell me it's my lucky day and to take a hike! Like I'm gonna stick around, right? I take off to the bushes and they don't even look where I'm going. So I creep back to see what they're doin'. I mean we're in the middle of nowhere, so I gotta stick by the road anyhow, right?"

Alex's stomach was already in knots. "What happened next?" C.D. and Trivette knew she was trying to keep control.

"These guys are like locusts and they ain't even talkin' to one another. Two of them change the flat. The other one takes off Walker's clothes."

Trivette knew he hadn't misheard. "They took off his clothes?" He repeated incredulously.

"Yeah. Strip him right down to his briefs. Gun, wallet, watch, shirt and pants. Everythin'! Then as cool as you please boots him in the ditch. Then one of them gets in his truck, the rest get back in theirs and they all drive off. There's nuthin' left." Burnside's voice went up and octave. " Nuthin'!"

C.D.'s voice was husky and deep in contrast. "Did you check he was okay?"

"Yeah sure I did. I figures he'll come round in an hour or two but now I'm thinkin', hey! I hope he remembers I didn't do this. I mean, I'm the number one suspect, right? So I think well, I've got a few hours start so I make the most of it. So how do I know what happened to him after that?"

The three silently digested this new turn of events.

"Can you remember exactly where this took place?" Queried Trivette.

Sonny thought. "Well, not exactly, but I think we'd just passed some hick town. Louisville." He thought again. "Yeah I'm pretty sure that's what it was. Louisville, but it must have been a good ten miles back."

*******

The early morning chill made Alex shiver. "Hardly Dallas, is it?"

"Dallas it ain't! And I don't like it when we don't have jurisdiction either. Makes me feel naked." C.D. stated.

Trivette pulled outside the Sheriff's office. "Maybe they're real nice folks."

Sheriff Cotter fingered the picture and handed it back. "Uh huh. Nope. Ain't seen the likes of him. The description of those boys you give me? Can't rightly say it rings a bell either. Saddlers Creek's just up the road about twenty mile. They gotta a bigger population. You might find him there. He a fugitive?"

"No. He's a Texas Ranger."

Sheriff Cotter raised his eyebrows. "Really? Well, sure hope you folks find him. Anything else you think I can do for you let me know."

They filled out and milled around the car before getting in. "Well, Big Dog?" Trivette asked.

C.D. looked to Alex for confirmation. "Seemed straight to me."

Alex nodded.

Trivette agreed. "Me too. Saddlers Creek then."

"Hey Sheriff!" Snatching the picture from Alex's hand the young deputy ran into the back office. "Sheriff! These folks are asking after that Rambo-type we brought in a few months back."

The three exchanged anxious looks.

Looking at the photo Sheriff Raines slowly walked towards the desk. His hand found the swing door and he held it open, finally looking at them. "C'mon back folks. Coleman? Git some coffee in here."

The introductions over and they were all seated, Raines held up the picture again. "This guy come to the outskirts of town." Raines pulled a face "he don't look like this respectable and nice though! No sirree. He's a half-naked wild man. Honest, we tried to help him." Raines looked intently from one to another, "I swear to God. But he won't let anyone near him. We can see he's hurt, but every time someone approached he dadburn broke their arm! I'm telling you inside five minutes I got three outta my six deputies with broke arms! I figure he has to be an escapee from an asylum somewhere. Anyway, now we don't have any choice, we rush him and one of my deputies hits him over the head."

Alex's shoulders slumped. "Oh no."

"Miss! What was I to do?" He's almost naked. Breaks the bones of anyone who comes inside four feet of him! He's a one man army that's outta control!"

"Where is he?" Trivette was almost afraid to ask.

"There's a mental home about thirty miles from here. I contacted them and they took him. Now before you ask I sent a description throughout Louisiana but no one came forward and he didn't match any MP. But since you folks are from Texas it explains it!"

Alex was furious. "It's a disgrace we don't have a national Missing Persons register." She focused on the immediate. "Are there any procedures we need to complete to get him out?"

"I'll give you all you need before you go, but you'd better prepare yourself. I saw one of the attendants from the institution a couple of weeks ago. No one can do anything with him. He's had to be chained up and left."

****

"Whoo." Alex nervously patted her stomach.

"It's not just me feeling it then?" Trivette inquired.

C.D. looked around as they pulled in front of the remote building. "Doesn't look very pleasing from the outside, does it?"

Alex's voice was emotional. "It's awful. Did Sheriff Raines say this was a state facility? That can't possibly be right. Look at it! It's run down and dilapidated."

Trivette nodded. "Private or State they wouldn't be allowed to run it like this anyhow."

Proceeding up the steps to stand in front of the large dirty oak door Alex located the bell and pushed the button.

A disembodied voice came from a tiny speaker. "Miss Cahill and associates?"

"Yes." Alex replied.

There was no further conversation but a loud click. Pushing on the heavy door, Trivette stepped aside allowing C.D. and Alex to enter while he looked into the foyer. As he closed the door a clang elsewhere indicated the arrival of man in his early thirties wearing cut-off jeans and a T-shirt.

"I'm Ray Green. Excuse my appearance. We don't get visitors." He held out his hand to each one of them, checked that the front door was secure, and beckoned for them to come forward. Again unlocking the second door they all passed through and it was locked again before he led the way.

Their apprehension grew with each echoing step. C.D.s arm found it's way round Alex's shoulders. He'd seen her shivering and Alex was grateful for the contact as she pressed close to him. The slow walk continued through several more locked doors until Green stopped. They waited.

"Look." Green sighed. "I just work here. Conditions …er…they aren't what they should be. Me and the other few staff? We're attendants, not doctors. There's not a lot of money put our way so we cope as best we can." Green stopped again, unsure how to adequately prepare them. During his silence tortured, animal like noises were heard elsewhere from the clinic.

Green finally continued. "The man you knew as Ranger Walker has gone. We can't even get anywhere near this guy to feed him or do anything with him. He hasn't spoken since he was brought in; believe me, I spent the first week trying to communicate with him and before the next week was out I had two orderlies with broken wrists. We had to chain him so we could at least get into his cell. I'm so sorry. You ready? I'll remove the partition, there's a two way mirror."

The latches undone and the wood removed, a horrified gasp emitted from the trio.

"Dear God in Heaven!" C.D.'s statement summed up that which Trivette and Alex were unable to voice. They were rooted to the spot. "Snakes alive man." Astounded, C.D. continued, "you ..you can't keep a soul like this!"

"Ranger Parker, we don't have anywhere else to keep him. We can't get near him to help him. What else can we do?"

Walker was clad only in stained ill-fitting coarse brown pants and an oversized, filthy white shirt, which was undone. He was dirty, almost wild looking, his beard having grown out of control, and his hair, obviously unwashed for some time, had a peculiar brown stain on the right hand side above the temple. Walker stared at a tiny window, rocking backwards and forwards against the confinement of the thick chain embedded in the wall and attached to his right foot.

Tears streamed down Alex's face as she confronted Green, her voice breaking with emotion. "This is so wrong. What about giving him drugs to keep him calm? At least you'd be able to wash him, care for him."

"Miss Cahill, I'd like to do that, but no one checks on this place. I'm not in charge. I'm told there's not enough funds. We don't get much here and we try. You don't think I've thought about quitting a million times. It's soul destroying here." Green tried desperately to plead his case. He came across as genuine in contrast to the harsh reality they now confronted.

"I'm shocked beyond belief."

C.D. tried to get his thoughts in order. "We're gonna get him help and then young man, we'll see about bringing light to this place. It's not possible in this day and age to run an institution like this."

"Remember Quiet Rest? The senior's home you went in under cover at C.D.?" Trivette reminded him.

C.D. turned to look at him. "Well, I guess that's true." He turned to Green again. "Didn't it occur to you that something's not right here?

Green glowered at him. "You don't understand. This is a small place. Sometimes it don't do to make a fuss. I help them as much as I can."

"I'm going in, see if he recognizes me. Trivette glanced to Green. "Open the door."

Green placed the key in the lock and looked at Trivette.

"I know," Trivette pre-empted him, "I'll be careful."

Trivette's nose recoiled at the stench in the room as the door swung open. He looked back at Green again.

"No one wants to clean it they're so frightened of him and I do it when I can."

Green was becoming too defensive so the Ranger refrained from further comment and took a small step inside.

Walker's eyes had darted towards the sound of the key in the lock and the door opening, his look changing from a passive to an almost fearful awareness. He tenderly fingered the right side of his temple over the dark stain, tilting his head as he did so.

"Walker?" Trivette spoke gently.

There was no appreciable change in Walker's demeanor.

"Walker?" He repeated softly, "it's your partner, man. Remember?"

Trivette had taken another couple of steps forward. Walker lunged for him, but it was a sluggish, slower person than the old Walker. Trivette managed to jump away from his grabbing hand and move back to the doorway.

"Jimmy" came the soft voice, "I'm going to try. He won't hurt me."

"No Alex." Trivette shook his head. "He didn't show any signs he knew who I was. It's too dangerous."

"He's been attacked every time by men, not women." She turned to Green. "Are there women on your staff?" Green shook his head. "Can he differentiate between men and women?" Green shrugged. He didn't know. Alex turned back firmly. "I'm going to try."

Trivette looked to C.D. "What do you think?"

Looking at Alex C.D. asked, "do we have a say?"

She shook her head, adamant.

"Promise me you won't take chances. It's not our Cordell."

She nodded again, exchanged places with Trivette and stepped inside, gagging at the smell. Unable to help herself tears fell again and she stepped away from the room back into the corridor. Lightheaded and nauseous she collapsed in Trivette's arms. "Alex. Alex! C.D.?" Trivette looked to their mentor.

"Sit her down here, Jimmy. Alex? Listen to me. Listen. Sshhh, sshhh.." C.D. wiped away his own tears. "Dear God. Alex? Look at me, honey, we have to strong. Strong for Cordell's sake, don't we?" He waited until he felt her nod. "Pull yourself together, darlin'. I know it's hard."

Trivette empathized. "I know what you're thinking, Alex. Apart from the pain of seeing him hurt, you don't want him ending up in some other place like this. Well, it's not going to happen. I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure his spirit is free. But, we'll see how well we can get him first. We won't leave him on his own now, either."

"Hell no! We're not going to leave him at all now we've found him. We're going to get him help. Professional help. We're going to love and care for him like we've always done. No sir! He won't be alone any more, I promise you." C.D. thought about Trivette's statement. "Look, if we've done everything we can, and we don't think he's living a noble way fittin' the man we knew….I'll free him myself. Okay?" There was a long pause. "C'mon here." Placing an arm around them both, C.D. hugged his friends tightly. "Okay," he said again after a short time. He looked at Alex, her face fearful and anxious after this last exchange. "Try it Alex. If anyone can get through to him you can, but be careful!"

Alex nodded, wiped away the last tear and took a deep breath. She took another minute to compose herself while coming to a stark decision. She WOULD have to be strong for Walker's sake. For the man they all loved. She looked into the room to see him unchanged, upright, looking towards his freedom.

"Walker?"

His head lifted a few degrees and she took another step into the room, then one more. He stopped rocking and was very still.

"Walker. It's me Alex." Her voice was soft, reassuring and clear.

Outside Green shook his head at Trivette and C.D. and whispered, "I can't see this working. She's going to get hurt."

C.D. closed his eyes momentarily. Should he call her back?

Confidently Alex went in further holding out her hand. "Honey.  I'm here to help you."

Walker's head slowly turned in her direction, his hand reached for the right side of his head and he rubbed it gently, blinking several times as he did so. Then he sniffed the air.

Smelled her perfume? The only time Walker had ever commented on her perfume was when she wore this one. Anais Anais! Alex thought she saw a brief flicker of recognition but it was gone in a trice, or was it? Walker's face crumpled with a look of bewilderment, he slowly moved his back to the wall and despondently slid to the floor.

Alex's heart went out to him. Lowering herself to his level she reached out her hand again waiting for him to take it. As his face came upward and their eyes met Alex knew Cordell Walker was in there tortured and suffering. Jimmy was right. If they couldn't help him back they would end it for him. It seemed an eternity but Walker's hand finally looked for hers. She was within inches of a break through.

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?"

Alex jumped out of her skin and Walker recoiled at the voice. A look of sheer hatred now etched on his face he tried to get up.

ZAP! ZAP!

Walker fell to the floor with a thud.

"NOO! LEAVE HIM! LEAVE HIM ALONE!"

A hand grabbed her arm pulling her away, "you'll be hurt."

Alex fought against it.

"YOU BASTARD!" Trivette threw a pent up right hook and the man lost his grip on the cattle prod. It fell with a metallic clatter."

"WILKS! Stop it." Green joined the melee.

Alex looked across the room to Walker, the electric shock had pole-axed him and he was lying on his stomach, parts of his body trembling with muscle spasms, his look one of sheer pain and confusion. Alex was gutted. She had never in her life seen such an expression of unabated misery. His condition ready depleted she guessed he would be unable to summon much energy to hurt her now. She rushed to his side, sat on the floor and gathered him tenderly in her arms. Careful not to touch the right side of his head she cuddled him tightly. "I've got you. I've got you." Alex reigned gentle kisses on the side of his face as she propped up his head with her arm. She would never let him go, never allow anyone to hurt him ever again. Angrily she looked up. Trivette was manhandling the intruder out of the room and some semblance of peace descended. "Walker. I'm sorry." Alex nestled her face in his, willing him to know who she was and that he would be safe from now on. She hugged him even tighter. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Her hand came round to press against his forehead and eyes. "Sshhh." She just wanted to wrap her body around him to protect him. To take away his humiliation and pain.

"You assaulted me! How dare you? Who are you?"

"Wilks, calm down. Let me explain." Green implored.

Trivette's finger loomed in Wilks face, "you go near him again, you hurt him like that again…"

"ALRIGHT!" C.D. broke them apart. "Everyone simmer down." Shaking his head he turned to Wilks, "just who are you, you think you can treat patients that way? He's ill, not a criminal!"

"He's a violent, scheming son of a bitch who should be put down! And if you value that lady's life you'll get her out of there!"

"Look!" Green tried to explain. "This is Assistant Manager, Greg Wilks. He was hurt when Walker first came in here. He meant well, he was protecting Miss Cahill. It's my fault I should have explained instead of him jumping to the wrong conclusion."

They all looked into the cell. Walker was slightly better now. Alex had sat with her back against the wall with Walker cradled across her lap. She must have been talking softly to him as they could see her lips move. They looked back at each other.

Wilks fumed. "I want you to know that I am totally opposed to this. If anything happens to her it's on your head Green!"

C.D. protectively glanced again into the room. It was quiet. He beckoned with his head for Trivette to keep an eye out and the young man turned to fully observe Walker and Alex while C.D. turned back to talk.

"This place is a complete disgrace. It's like something outta the dark ages. You told me you weren't in charge, who is?"

"Serge Milos." Green hesitated with Wilks there.

"How many patients have you here?"

"Only fifteen now."

Wilks chipped in. "They're due to close the place down next year, that's why there's no money spent on it and the patients will be transferred to a modern facility with more specialized care. It's being built now. They get doctors here if they need it." Wilks' defensive posture was unmistakable.

"I'm no doctor, but even I can see he has an untreated head trauma and his ankle is raw. He should be in a hospital bed," C.D. felt his anger rising again, "not treated by your methods."

Wilks could see the fight C.D. had with himself. He'd heard about the Texas Rangers and as his jaw still ached from Trivette's fist he decided it was better not to add fuel to the fire. He kept his voice even, "I thought the lady was in danger and he responds to it. It keeps him at bay."

"Ranger Parker? What are you going to do now?" Green asked.

Good question thought C.D.. He turned to the room. "Alex?" He raised his voice slightly. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine C.D.."

Wilks smiled to himself and edged along the corridor. He moved to the open door way and peered in.

The movement caught Walker's attention and in a second the tranquility was gone. The fighter in him returned and he leaped from Alex's arms, retaining her wrist.

She gasped loudly in surprise. His face a mask of fury, Walker lunged for the doorway to reach Wilks but the chain stopped his progress, he fell heavily and awkwardly and the tiny wrist in his grasp snapped like a twig.

"AHHHH!"

Releasing her immediately Walker crawled back. It was if he knew something bad had happened and couldn't work out what it was. Alex doubled over cradling the broken bone.

There was a joint cry "ALEX!" C.D. and Trivette pushed Wilks out the way and hesitantly entered.

Alex held her hand up to stop them, gasping against the pain. They complied. "Wait." She grimaced. "Wait," she said again. Beads of perspiration formed on her brow and she fought the throbbing. She looked to Walker; wide-eyed he was totally bewildered and alarmed. She held out her good hand, forcing a smile, never moving from her position on the floor. "It's okay. You didn't mean it. I know that. Ssshh." She stretched out her hand further. "Come on, take my hand. Keep Wilks out of his sight C.D."

Looking behind him Trivette motioned for the man to stay away from the door.

"I told you Green! But oh no! You wouldn't listen." Wilks whispered to his colleague.

"Come on, Walker, it's okay." She managed to grasp a piece of cloth on his sleeve and tugged lightly. Walker crawled along the floor a few paces nearer and reassured nothing was going to happen, moved closer again to within Alex's grasp. She beckoned for him to lay down his head on her lap. He looked around one more time, lay on his left side and lowered his head. Alex brushed away the matted hair from his forehead then slowly massaged the shoulder where Wilks had electrocuted him. Walker finally relaxed, sighed, and his eyes flickered closed. It was if he knew he was safe to slumber while she was here. Despite her pain Alex smiled and looked back. "He's okay for a bit," she spoke softly. They nodded back.

"You alright?" Trivette asked anxiously.

"Yes. Listen. This is what I think we should do. Ask Green if he has some Valium. If he hasn't, go out and get some." They nodded again as she pressed on ignoring the aching limb. "I think we should give him some until we get him washed and comfortable and in another room. We'll get him medically assessed. He'll definitely need a CAT scan and we won't be able to do it if he's unpredictable."

"That sounds good" C.D. agreed, "but what about you Alex? We have to get you some help."

She nodded and swallowed hard. "I'll be alright for a bit. Get a temporary splint and some painkillers and once we've got Walker into better conditions I'll find an ER."

C.D. gave his agreement. "We'll be back in a minute."

With only mild protest Green furnished them with everything.

Trivette went to the car and returned to explain, "my partner won't buy chocolate for himself, but you offer him the odd piece and he loves it." Trivette looked at C.D. "How many, two?"

C.D. looked over and Green nodded, "yeah, two should do it."

"Can we reduce it to one after he knows we're not gonna hurt him?" Queried C.D..

Green nodded and shrugged. "I guess you'll be the first to know if it doesn't work."

Trivette inserted two Valium in the square of slightly warm chocolate and stepped inside. He checked with Alex.

"He's exhausted, Jimmy. He's asleep, but I'm going to have to move, my legs are aching." She reached for the candy and placed it beside her and Trivette backed away again to sit on the floor. It would be the least threatening he decided. Her arm already protectively around his body, Alex gave Walker a squeeze. "Honey?" She said as softly and tenderly as possible.

Walker woke with a start, immediately fearful.

"It's okay, it's okay." Alex soothingly ran her hand up and down the top of his bare chest and the gesture seemed to calm him. Checking around the room he sat up, squeezing the top of his arm where the cattle prod had landed.

"Walker?" Alex offered the chocolate. He looked in her hand and uncomprehendingly back to her. Alex put it to her mouth, then to his lips. She smiled and nodded, and opened his mouth with the candy when he caught the sweet taste. Interested, he looked back to her and Alex gently pushed it in. "There. That tastes good doesn't it?"

Walker slowly rolled the chocolate square around his mouth, the pleasant flavor causing a look of confused amazement.

"See Alex. I told you my partner liked chocolate didn't I?" Trivette smiled at their small success. There was such a long road still to go.

"Green? How long will it take to work?" C.D. inquired.

"Not that long actually. Half and hour to really kick in."

"You able to last that long Alex?" C.D. raised his voice so she could hear. "You're doing great, darlin'."

"I'll hang on. I'll be relieved when he's more tranquil though."

Trivette smiled at him. "He enjoyed that." Trivette broke off another small bit and passed it over. Walker looked directly at him, this time making no threatening move at all. Trivette smiled again. Some fifteen minutes later Walker blinked several times and looked as if he were trying to focus. He sat back against the wall with a small thud.

C.D. came to the door again and stepped inside. Walker didn't even look in his direction. "There he goes. Let's help you up Alex."

"Wait one second, C.D." Before she stood up Alex tightly hugged Walker with her good arm. "I'll only be gone a few minutes." Walker looked at her blankly as she beckoned to Trivette. "Here's Jimmy to keep you company, Walker." Trivette helped her to her feet and steadied her.

"You alright?"

Alex nodded and was grasped firmly by C.D. "Out here, darlin'. You did a mighty fine job in there." Shock to her system or whatever, Alex broke down again. "I can hardly bear to look at him, C.D. What are we going to do?"

"We stick to the plan. Let's splint up that arm and get you something for the pain first."

Green rounded up some coffees. Refusing to leave Walker, Trivette had his drink inside, sitting on the floor next to him.

"Ranger Parker. I'm sure Wilks has gone for Milos. You might have trouble."

"We're used to trouble. Can I call you Ray?" Green nodded. "Sheriff Raines was very good. He got hold of a Judge who issued the relevant papers assigning Cordell to our care. There's not much Milos can do about it."

Green looked uncertain.

"Is there something else we need to know here?"

Green looked from one to another and nodded. "Although it's obvious …I don't have proof." His voice tailed off.

"What is it you suspect, Ray?" Alex prompted him, the painkillers were taking effect and she was starting to calm down.

"I think …" Green paused, looked about him one more time and lowered his voice further. "I know they're taking supplies meant for the hospital and selling them on. That's why we never have anything." The food's brought in every day already cooked and we heat it up but it's pigs swill. Since they arranged the transfer of patients and county installed a new computer system it's like we've been forgotten. It's like they think we're already shut down but we keep being paid and supplies keep coming. I've spoken to Serge many times about the conditions, but …he made out he'd hurt my family if I spoilt the deal."

He looked to see what effect this tale would have on them.

"Well, that would rightly account for a lot. Don't say anything now. Just carry on about your business as usual. Leave it to us. Here's what we want for now. A bathroom with a bath, clean towels, clean clothes for him. Is there another room we can use? If you have a spare cot we can share?"

"There used to be a small ward for staff in the old days when we were full. I'll get clean linen for you and you can use those beds. There are bathing facilities there, use them. I'll get the things you need and come back and show you."

"Thank you."

They waited till Green had gone. Alex held her broken wrist in her hand and blew through her lips. "This is a complete nightmare isn't it?"

C.D. nodded. "We'll get him cleaned up and in bed then we'll get that arm reset for you. I'll send Jimmy out to get some food at that place we passed about five miles back. My gut tells me we need to get him away from here as soon as possible, even if we stop further up and telephone in." He gave her a squeeze. "Hang on a little longer, Alex, okay?"

*****

"….so, Green says this handcuffs key will unlock the leg iron. I think it will, partner, I think it will. Let me see here. Where's the lock? There it is…." Trivette looked up at his partner to see him docile and unmoved. Trivette smiled as a click indicated success. "You're gonna feel much better without this, aren't you?" He carefully eased back the bracelet wincing at the bits of raw skin still attached to the crusted remnants of old blood. Trivette chased off a fly. "Aw man! This is a mess." He straightened out Walker's leg to get a better look but knew he was without the medical supplies to clean it up. Trivette tried to shake the depression that swamped him. He watched as Walker's lips moved and his friend dryly tried to swallow. Now there was something he could do for him. "You want some coffee, partner? Here you go." He held the mug to Walker's lips and watched as Walker drank. "That's better isn't it? We'll get you some other nice things to drink just as soon as we can."

Looking around the room Trivette spotted moldy food strewn in various corners, old dirty tin plates and one upside down ancient tin mug on the far side of the room. He viewed the tiny basin and filthy toilet. Pulling Walker a little way from the wall Trivette put round a reassuring arm.

Walker?" Trivette didn't notice Alex and C.D.'s arrival. "I'm so sorry I didn't go with you partner. I could have been there for you. Maybe stopped this from happening. Saved you from having to suffer so much. I'm ……so sorry." Trivette looked up at the feel of a hand on his arm.

"Let's see if he'll stand up."

Taking an arm each Trivette and C.D. pulled their friend to his feet holding on while they saw if he could stand alone. He swayed a little, looked at them innocently and reached for a steadying arm from Trivette. Then his gaze happened on Alex. He took a lop-sided step towards her over compensating for the lack of chain. He looked down for it and back to her again and stopped, reluctant to go over the threshold of the cell. Wide-eyed he looked for instruction.

"Here you go, Cordell." They guided him through the door and down the corridor as Green had shown them.

*****

Alex was bitter. "Hardly time for modesty. Just get those disgusting rags off him and put in the trash!" She instructed.

Peeling off the shirt first they exclaimed in dismay. Besides being undernourished Walker was covered in old and new marks left by the cattle prod.

"Can you blame him for reacting to Wilks like that? The guy is a sadist if ever I saw one." Trivette continued to discard the clothes and it took only seconds for Walker to be up to his shoulders in soapsuds and water.

"Y'know," Trivette ventured, "I think he's enjoying it." C.D. and Trivette were crouched by the bath, their sleeves rolled up and holding a huge sponge each.

"Doggone it! I think you're right. I think he's trying to wash some of the dirt off. He's always such a clean guy it must be awful for him like this.

Alex came close. "Here's some shampoo. Be careful."

Walker caught her eye and stared even though she returned to sit on a chair by the side. Her arm ached and she felt exhausted. She noticed his look and smiled.

"U huh! He's not gonna allow it." It wasn't a threatening action Walker simply removed Trivette's hand after the first sponge of water over his head. Trivette tried again and patiently Walker removed it again.

C.D. placed a hand over Walker's shoulders. "I'll be real gentle, Cordell." No. Walker fended him off too.

"Walker?" Came the soft tone. Alex kissed his cheek. "Taking the sponge from Trivette she  dipped it in the water and directed it to the back of Walker's head and slowly squeezed. It took a second to repeat the exercise this time to the left side of his head and as she dipped the sponge in once more, Walker tensed in anticipation. The water trickled down the bad right side without hurting. Walker became still again as the shampoo was applied in the same order, and as gently as possible Alex lightly massaged his scalp. Walker lowered his head as Alex got to the sore part so she decided to avoid most of it. They'd done well after all, why risk it? Concentrating on rinsing as best she could, it was a relief to pat as much of it dry as possible. Finally they were done. It was a great improvement, more than they could have hoped for since his hair had been over his collar when he left those months ago, and now it was down his shoulders.

Finishing, she kissed him again, reveling in the wide-eyed look of appreciation she received in return. Helping him out they dried him, dressed him in crumpled but clean clothes, and they headed to the small dorm. C.D. lifted back the bedclothes and sat Walker on the edge of the bed. Sitting on a chair directly opposite Trivette dispensed antiseptic and a bandage for his ankle while C.D. did what was needed. Once finished, C.D. patted the mattress and tried to ease his former partner back, but either Walker didn't understand or was unhappy in someway as he remained rigid and upright. C.D. tried to figure out what was wrong, finally looking at the others. "Why wouldn't he want to lay down, do you think?"

Trivette shook his head. "Not sure."

"Maybe he hasn't laid down properly since it happened?" Ventured Alex. "Maybe he's worried about his head when he lays back, I think that could be it, especially if his head's hurting all the time as he keeps holding that bad bit on the right side."

C.D. sighed. "That could be. Okay, Jimmy? You go the other side of the bed and I'll take this side. Grab an arm and with the other hand support his head at the back. Ready? Three!" They could feel Walker holding on grimly until his head was safely on the pillow. Alex had lifted his legs with her good arm and finally Walker relaxed slightly. C.D. pulled up the bedclothes putting Walker's hands out on top, as he liked them. "There you go. Now we're talking."

The three smiled warmly as Walker adjusted to this new feeling, becoming more and more comfortable. His hand came up to the side of his head and he fingered first the pillow, then the softness of the blanket. There was a look of overwhelming gratitude as he separately viewed each face looking down at him.

C.D. gave Walker's hands a reassuring squeeze. "Okay, buddy. That's more like it isn't it?" The elder man sat on the side of the bed and sniffed hard. "I can't believe this is happening." He grasped Walker's hands, giving them a reassuring squeeze. "Gosh. I'm tired." C.D. added.

"Look Big Dog. You rest in the bed next to Walker. Let me take Alex to get a cast on her arm and we'll bring some food back. No! No, buts. Please," he added. The old man nodded. Trivette checked the door. "Lock it after we go. Did Green say who was on duty now?"

"Fellah named Francis."

"Okay, I'll let him know we're going out the staff back door with the key Green gave us. We'll be back as soon as we can." He looked over C.D.'s shoulder to check on Walker and spoke quietly. "He's fast a sleep already. We give him another Valium with the food, yeah? We can't afford anything else to go wrong now." C.D. nodded. Trivette helped Alex off the end of the bed, "C'mon."

*****

"Where the hell have you been? I've been waiting hours for you!" Wilks glowered at the scantily dressed woman draped around Serge Milos.

"What's it to you? What's wrong?"

"Get rid of her! We got problems at the asylum."

Just a few minutes later they were seated. Wilks gratefully accepted the long neck waved in his direction.

"Okay, Greggy-boy! What's the panic?"

"That Rambo that was brought in? He's a freakin' Texas Ranger! He's brought two other Rangers and a freakin' Assistant District Attorney looking for him. They went mad when they saw how we kept him and the others. Raines from Saddler's Creek got them legit papers to take him away. What we gonna do? It's over isn't it?"

His mood now dramatically changed Milos weighed up the options. "We'll have to take them out."

Wilks voice was unsure. "All of them?"

Milos nodded. "We'll never get away with what we've done, there'll be a huge public out-cry." He looked at Wilks directly. "We'll blame it on Rambo. Say he did it. We've enough witnesses who'll testify how violent he's been. They still there?"

"Yeah. Leaving in the morning. They got him doped-up on Valium. You want me to get the boys together?"

Milos nodded. As Wilks went to go Milos grabbed his arm. "Ray's gotta go too. He's always been the weak link."

There was a moment's hesitation and Wilks nodded and left.

*****

Three raps on the door had C.D. going to check. "Jimmy?"

"Yeah. Open up C.D."

C.D. smiled as they entered and looked at Alex's arm. "How's it now, honey?"

Alex kissed him as she went by, "still throbbing, but much better."

"You bin right quick! My that food smells good."

Trivette explained. "We found a walk-in in Saddler's Creek that helped us and a KFC. Might not be too hot, but better than nothing. We got Chicken Pot Pies, crispy chicken pieces and two large potato wedges. Hey! Walker's awake?"

Alex left the food on the table and sat on the bed next to Walker. He carefully watched her every movement as she placed an arm round him, kissed him gently and smiled.

"When I woke up he was layin' in bed awake, and when I got up he sat up too. I just been talkin' to him. He's still a mite shaky, but he's been no trouble."

"See if you can get him to the table and we'll give him something to eat and drink." Alex looked over as she unpacked the meal. "We've got water, orange juice, cans of coke."

"C'mon buddy." C.D. grasped Walker's arm and steadied him during the short walk to the table while Trivette pulled out a chair for him. Walker smelled the food and was obviously hungry. He snatched a chicken piece from the box, stepped a few paces away to crouch on the floor and stuffed it in his mouth. He looked around while he was eating.

There was a dismayed silence.

"It's okay, no one's gonna take it off you." C.D. said placatingly. He looked at the sober faces of the others and shrugged, grabbed another piece of chicken and started eating. "I feel a bit like that myself! No harm done." When Alex and Trivette didn't join him he stopped. "Look. He's lost at least ten pounds. Food's been scarce here. It's understandable, so don't be so surprised. We'll get him right. Give him a minute to eat that." They ate without conversation and C.D. watched until Walker was nearly done and held out a potato wedge. "Here. We'll share these." Walker scrutinized the scene before moving forward and taking it slowly from C.D.'s hand. "Good huh?" C.D. stated. "Want another? Here," he patted the chair next to him. "Sit here." There was hardly a moment of hesitation before Walker sat, taking another wedge. C.D. lightly clapped him on the back and looked at the others. "That's all it needs. No fuss necessary!"

****

"Open the door, Jimmy. I'm gonna take him outside. It's still daylight and lovely and warm."

"C.D.? Is this a good idea?" Alex was anxious.

"He's had another Valium. He's not been any trouble and you know what being outside means to him. It can't hurt. Open the door."

Exchanging glances Alex and Trivette summed up the situation. Trivette smiled. "Okay, why don't we all go outside for a bit of air?" The door was unlocked.

Walker sat on the bed and C.D. smiled as he grabbed an arm. "C'mon, Cordell. You're gonna love this." Meekly Walker stood up as bidden and C.D. firmly took the Ranger's hand. "You and me'll take in the evenin' air."

Hesitating for a second by the door and blinking at the evening light Walker followed behind his mentor.

C.D. pointed. "See that old garden, son? There's a bench; we'll sit on that a spell. Yessiree." Walker followed luxuriating in the fresh clean woodland air. He looked about him, took in the new smells, and gloried in his freedom.

Trivette placed an arm around Alex as they watch the pair slowly walk down the path together. Sitting Walker on the bench C.D.'s arm went around his former partner's shoulders and they sat quietly.

Alex shook her head at the sight. "He's going to take care of him no matter what happens isn't he?"

Unable to remove his gaze from the twosome Trivette nodded before speaking. "But, when you see them like that …..leaves you choked, doesn't it?"

Alex squeezed Trivette for reassurance. "First thing tomorrow we get hold of Mark Brown. He's a first class neurosurgeon at Memorial. He'll tell us the best thing to do. I want him away from here as soon as possible."

"Me too. I don't trust any of them. Alex?" He paused. "What'll we do if we can't get him right?"

Her bottom lip and fighting back the emotions that lay under the surface, Alex was unable to speak.

****

Milos stabbed at the map. "Here! We'll stop them here. It's five miles away from the clinic. That should be enough. If we call Raines after it's done we may get away with it, and you never know, we might even get Rambo back. At least he makes a fight of it unlike those other morons!" His laughter resounded round the room. "Okay. Git some sleep. They'll leave early I'm sure, and we need to be ready. Everyone know what to do?" He checked round the room. "Okay! No one be late now. And before you ask, you'll all get your cut afterwards."

****

"Well? Whaddya think now, Alex?" Alex turned in their direction. They had gone to the bathroom before turning in and she had been wondering what was keeping them. Now she knew. She gasped.

"Oh my! He let you do that?"

"He was no problem," Trivette confirmed.

His hair cut, his beard trimmed and shaped he looked liked Cordell Walker again. Alex smiled broadly. "That looks great, you did a wonderful job. He's bound to feel better now."

"Couldn't have him as he was before. This is more fitting." Trivette turned to C.D., "we got him some new clothes when we went into town. He can wear them tomorrow."

"Now that was a mighty good idea."

It took only a minute and Walker was back in bed.

"Night Walker." Alex looked into his eyes. Instead of fury and fear they were calm and trusting. She ran a hand down his cheek and fingered his beard. "Please God," she whispered quietly, "make him better." Bringing up the covers an inch or two further over Walker's chest, she willed him her love, kissed him again and turned away. "What time shall we get up in the morning?"

Trivette had it all thought out. "It's light about 5.30am, We'll get out of here for six. Make a good start. Once we're away we'll ring ahead and if we get the okay for him to go in the chopper, we'll have one waiting at the border." There was a general nodding of heads as they agreed with the plan of action.

Checking everyone was okay and the doors were locked for a third time Trivette finally lay on the bed and tried to relax enough to get some sleep. His head hardly seemed to hit the pillow when daylight flooded through the curtainless windows, and only half an hour later they were in C.D.'s sport utility heading out.

"Seems funny Ray didn't show up." Alex commented.

"Whole place is funny." Trivette quickly glanced back. "you two okay?

Alex looked down at Walker. His eyes wouldn't stay open and he was laid to his left with his head on her shoulder, her good right arm around him. "He wants to sleep and I want to make sure his head is secure."

"If you need to stop or want a change, holler darlin', I'll take a spell." Alex looked to C.D. and agreed and they continued for a while.

"Woods are right pretty." C.D. commented.

"They're beautiful. C.D." Trivette looked over quickly and concentrated on his driving. They continued for a time in silence. Trivette peered ahead "what's that in the road?" They scanned about as the vehicle closed in. "A detour? Out here?" Trivette's face said it all.

C.D. flipped open the glove box and pulled out a handgun. "Not out here there ain't."

"Hang on, Alex." Trivette's cry came almost at the same time as he slued the vehicle round one hundred and eighty degrees some fifty yards from the road barrier.

Alex hung on to Walker for grim death, both hands firmly protecting his upper body immobilizing his head while they were rocked backwards and forwards. Shots rang out. Automatically Walker's right hand went to his hip and he wanted to look towards the action. "Walker! No. Keep still. No, no! Ssshhh. That's it."

"Alex!" C.D. commanded. "Reach behind you, there's a shotgun."

Alex found it immediately. Walker looked at the weapon being passed forward and his hand made for it, C.D. snatching it out of reach as Walker's fingers touched the stock. The old man shook his head in disbelief. "Not this time, buddy." He muttered.

Milos ran from the bushes. "IN THE TRUCKS! GIT AFTER THEM! DON'T LET THEM REACH THE MAIN ROAD!" There was a scramble of bodies and within seconds a screeching resounded as the two vehicles rushed to pick up speed in pursuit.

"Wilks! Try for the tires!"

In the lead car Wilks stuck his head out the window adjusting for the wind assaulting his face. He aimed the rifle as best he could against the rucks and bumps and let off a couple of quick rounds. The first ricocheted off the highway, the second, aimed higher, hit the wing mirror on the passenger side and with an amazing bang shattered in pieces.

All four ducked. "Alex," Trivette pleaded, "get your head down. Sit on the floor if you have to!" Two more zings rang out as Wilks missed again. Trivette weaved the car from side to side. He shouted to his mentor "C.D.! I don't want to go all the way back to the clinic. There's a side road just up a head. I think it'll lead to the other highway. It's the one we took when Alex and I went to town. It's busier. More chance of help."

C.D. agreed. "Do it!"

"Hang on!" Trivette left it to the last possible minute before pulling the wheel tight over, their bodies flung hard to the right and the smell of burning rubber filled the cabin.

One of the pursuit trucks passed the turning; the other made it round after leaping over the verge and back on the road. A new shooter took aim and fired, the bullet harmlessly piercing the bodywork. Trivette zigzagged the GMC Jimmy across the road and heard the bullets whiz past again. It seemed an eternity but the crossroads became visible.

BANG! Trivette did everything possible to keep control but their blown tire sent the vehicle from one side to the other. Gaining some control Trivette refused to stop, and with some measure of relief, fought with the steering wheel to turn the vehicle in the direction of Saddlers Creek and, hopefully, to Sheriff Raines. Some two hundred yards later he turned, shaking his head at C.D. "It's no good C.D.! We're gonna have to pull over."

"Nurse it over there, Jimmy." C.D. pointed to the other side of the road towards a disused, boarded-up building that looked to have been an old general store. "Alex." C.D. matter-of-factly explained their usual procedure in these situations. "Jimmy'll pull up next to the far corner of the building. Soon as we stop I want you and Walker to get out using the door as cover and get behind the wall. Okay?"

Alex's heart beat wildly. "Okay, C.D."

"They're nearly on us C.D." Trivette's arms felt like lead where he'd struggled to keep car headed in the right direction and he fought again to give them the best angle. He braked hard. "That's the best we're going to get."

He ducked as bullets hit the windscreen. The breaking window showered him with thousands of pieces of glass. Worriedly he looked behind him, but Alex had already got out dragging Walker behind her. Trivette could see his partner fighting the drug.

As more bullets rained around them C.D. opened fire. He hit one of the six thugs with his first shot. "You old beauty," C.D. muttered to himself under his breath, "when yer good, yer just plain good."

Trivette yelled to him over the noise. "Where's the extra rounds?"

"I got them for the handgun. The one's for the rifle are in my backpack."

The second truck carrying Milos braked hard, stopping by their colleagues on the old forecourt.

"What'll we do now?" Wilks voice was a whine. "They could be hold up there for hours. Sheriff's department will come by soon."

"Shaddup and let me think. Keep firing." Gunshots rang out once more.

Pieces of brick showered the party as a bullet hit just over Trivette's head. Trivette felt a tug on his leg and looked down. With Alex hanging on to his torso Walker was using Trivette's leg to try and get himself on his feet. Trivette gave a small shake of his head, he knew it had to be pure instinct with Walker, and after a tussle he prized Walker's hand away and turned back to the battle.

He and C.D. froze. They both heard it at the same time.

"Sirens?" Trivette questioned.

C.D. agreed. "Black and whites. Thank God." Their eyes searched in either direction and then they saw them coming from behind the direction of the shooters. All firing stopped.

"WHAT'LL WE DO?" Wilks was panic-struck.

"KEEP Calm! Leave it to me." Milos ran into the road waving his arms. "Hey! Help us." He waited until the police cars ground to a stop and ran towards them.

Trivette was puzzled, "what's he doing?"

Drawing his gun Raines and a deputy rushed from one car, a single deputy out of another. "Serge? What the dickens is going on here?"

Hesitating to leave his cover, Trivette waved over to Raines. "Sheriff? We need your help."

Milos knew he had the upper hand. "Sheriff. We wanted to release Rambo into the custody of professional psychiatric care but they wouldn't listen. They insisted on taking him. Sometime this morning Rambo killed Ray Green. They're covering up for him. He can't be allowed to travel it's a danger to the public. They started shooting at us when we went to take him back."

"Shit!" Raines sighed. "Put your hardware away, boys. We'll take it from here." He nodded to their fallen comrade. "Get him some help."

After a nod from Milos the guns were stashed in the vehicles. The three men shuffled alongside the back vehicle.

"Serge?" Said one. "You won't need us now. We'll get back to the clinic, huh?" They backed away tentatively. Milos glowered at them. He knew they would be making their getaway.

Raines nodded. The last thing he needed was a crowd of trigger-happy civilians. "I'll need a statement from you boys. Make yourselves available later on, okay?" He shouted over. "Ranger Parker? Put your guns away. We need to talk."

"You got it, Sheriff." C.D. peered round the corner. He pointed. "HEY! Why you lettin' them critters go? Stop them! Sheriff? These men ambushed us."

Raines hollered back, "they think their patient is a danger to the public, and now that he's murdered Green, I can't let you take him back. I'll have to consult higher up to find out what we do in these circumstances."

"Green? Dead? Wait a minute Sheriff. We've bin together all the time. Walker hasn't left our side. He's bin quiet. We've had him doped up on Valium. I don't know what's happenin' here, but he's" C.D. pointed to Milos "spinnin' you a line."

Milos spread his hands out, "Sheriff, I don't know you well, but you DO know me. Who you gonna believe, the likes of strangers or your own kind? What am I goin' to gain? We have to have an investigation. They can't up and leave!" Milos swallowed hard. All he had to do was play a few cards right and he could make for the border.

Raines nodded. "Ranger Parker. I'm going to have to take you in until I get this mess sorted out. You can see that can't you?"

C.D. looked to the others. "If you were him, Jimmy, you'd dang well do the same wouldn't you? He's not doing anything I wouldn't do given the same circumstances."

Alex's eyes blazed. Protectively she tightened her grip round Walker. "He's not going with Milos. I won't let that happen. He'll kill him."

Trivette sighed and spoke directly to C.D. "We can't make a stand against fellow law enforcers just doing their job, but I gotta agree with Alex. What we gonna to do?"

"If we can prove he's controllable Raines may let us stay together." C.D. had barely got the sentence out when they heard a scuffle. They looked down to see Walker crawling on all fours towards them, Alex gamely hanging on with one good hand, her light blue denims scouring the concrete as he dragged her behind. "Oh Geez!" Both he and Trivette bent down grasping Walker under the armpits and dragging him back from the corner before he had a chance to be seen.

Alex blew through her lips; "I'm sorry, but even doped up he's so damn strong."

"Don't worry, honey, we got him in time." C.D. reassured her, "but they ain't going to let him be with us like that! That's for sure."

"Who's got the Valium?" Trivette clicked his fingers, "quickly…."

C.D. pulled them from his pocket.

"Give me another one C.D. and I'll get him to take it. If you buy us sometime it'll kick in and they'll think he's no trouble." Rushing, Trivette bent down. "Sorry about this Walker." He took the white pill from C.D. "Hold his arms. With Alex one side and C.D. the other, Trivette prized open Walker's mouth. Walker's eyes had changed from anger at being shot at and not being able to respond, to surprise. He tried to shake his head. With one quick aim Trivette threw the small pill down the back of Walker's throat. His partner swallowed instinctively and the annoyance returned in his face.

"Ranger Parker?"

"Keep them talking a bit C.D., I'll help Alex."

C.D. resumed negotiations. "Sheriff Raines. I'm talkin' to you as one law enforcer to another. I know that what you're suggestin' is good police procedure, and we'd do the same in your place, but I before we give over our weapons, I want some reassurances, one cop to another."

Raines glanced at his deputies. "What kinda reassurances?"

Walker looked from Trivette to Alex, obviously unable to comprehend the current events. Trivette hugged him. "I'm sorry, pard. It had to be done." He looked into Walker's eyes; "You gotta stay quiet for us now. Can you do that for me?" Trivette felt Walker's body relax a little. The black man smiled, placing his hand behind Walker's neck and squeezing gently. "There you go. Just ten minutes and you won't be a bother to anyone." Trivette whispered to Alex. "You alright? Your arm okay?"

Alex gave a deep sigh and nodded. "It's throbbing like mad, but the least of our worries right now." She gave him a stern look. "I'm not going to let Milos have him, Jimmy."

"I know, I know." Trivette gave her a hug. "Let's see what C.D. can come up with."

"Sheriff, you're dealing with three high profile Texas Rangers and an Assistant District Attorney. I can give telephone numbers to call that'll confirm it. Before too long you're going to have Commissioners, Senators, and even Congressmen making you the center of attention." C.D. paused for a second and continued. "Now. You can either be seen as the hick Sheriff who put the wrong guys in jail, or the hero Sheriff that uncovered murderers, racketeers, and several cases of manslaughter at the clinic if I'm not mistaken. You got some mighty big decisions to make. You need to make the right ones. We'll come in if you take Milos and Wilks and as many as of their boys as you can still find. You'll soon discover the truth and let us go. Whaddya say?"

"I don't like being dictated to."

"You're a good man, Raines, I can sense it, and I can understand that. I actually sympathize with your position." C.D. looked down behind him. Walker was certainly more complacent.

Raines responded after a short pause. "Okay, Ranger Parker. We'll take you all in."

"WHAT? You can't do that?" Milos backed away.

"Look Serge, I'll take you all in, whoever's telling the truth goes. What you worried about?" Raines frowned at the look crossing the man's face. Milos tried to regain his posture. He may yet get a chance to get away. "Yeah. You're right. See if they give themselves up first, then."

Raines shouted over again. "Come out with your hands up."

"Raines?" C.D. asked. "I want your word we can stay together. If Milos has Walker taken away, he'll die."

"I can't jeopardize my men the same way we did when we first saw him. If he did kill Green he's still a threat to everyone he comes in contact with. I can't do it. I'm sorry."

"He's not a threat now, Sheriff, I promise you."

Wilks cast a sneering look to Milos and smiled. "He is Sheriff. He's broke the woman's arm already!"

"Ranger Parker? Has he broke Miss Cahill's arm?"

C.D.'s shoulders sagged. "Yeah, but, he's not a threat now, you have my word. Let us stick together. We'll come quietly, I promise you."

There was silence before Raines responded. "I'll compromise. He stays in travellin' irons. That's the only way I'll agree to it."

Turning to the others C.D.'s hand wearily rubbed over his face. "We'll have to agree." He announced. "He's being reasonable given the circumstances."

"No!"

C.D. bent down. "Alex. We're outta bargaining chips. At least we stay together."

"What if they take us into custody and haul Walker off anyway?"

C.D. looked at the three of them. He felt very tired again. "We'll have to take that chance. I don't think he will."

"You're right C.D. We're not going to get better than this. Do it."

Rising to his feet C.D. approached the corner again. "Okay. That's fair. He's put in travelling irons, but we all stay together until you make inquiries, and you take Milos and Wilks as well. Agreed?"

"That's right. Drop your weapons."

C.D. sighed and raised his voice again. "Give us the irons. We'll put them on."

Raines nodded to his deputies. One reached in the trunk of his vehicle, grabbed the chains and walked to the end of the store. Trivette came to meet him.

"That's far enough. Give us a moment." Trivette went back to the group, and nodded to C.D.  "Get him on his feet." Taking an arm each they stood Walker on his feet. Trivette unraveled the leather from the chains, placed the thick belt round Walker's waist and buckled it up from behind, making sure it was comfortable. He avoided Alex's face, knowing she was upset. Each taking one of Walker's wrists they snapped the handcuffs in place. Trivette bent down. He took care with Walker's right ankle, ensuring it was as lose as possible and secured it, and did the same for the other leg. He stood up. It took a minute for Walker to realize what was happening, and then he tried to move. Fear etched in his eyes once more.

C.D. took one of Walker's arms. "Come on then, let's get this over with."

Ignoring Alex's sobs, they came round the corner of the building together, C.D. and Trivette holding their weapons by the barrel while trying to support Walker between them. He continually stumbled under these new conditions.

The deputies looked to Raines and he nodded. One of the deputies shouted. "Put your weapons down!" They complied. Two more police cars reached the scene, their sirens dying down as they approached. The deputies moved forward, aiming their guns. Raines nodded to other officers and they gestured for Milos and Wilks to put their hands behind their backs.

"It's okay Walker." Trivette kept a hand on him, protectively trying to reassure him. "It's okay."

"Put your hands behind your head!"

The three obeyed, casting anxious looks between them. The handcuffs were smartly applied. Two deputies grabbed Walker's arms and forced him forward. He was confused by his new limitations and fell against them.

"Please! Don't hurt him. He's just not coordinated." Alex's eyes pleaded for reason.

The two deputies holding Walker went one way, the three friends hauled in the other direction.

"Wait a minute!" Trivette's head swung towards Raines, "You said we could be together."

"He goes in a car by himself. You'll be together when we get to the station. I'll keep my word."

"But." Trivette couldn't argue. Walker's head had turned to watch them as he weakly fought not to go. His eyes spoke of betrayal and bore into their hearts as the distance between them grew and the struggle to get him in the car continued. Finally he was shoved in and the door slammed behind him. His eye's never left the threesome as the car sped into the distance and away from view. Without speaking they were split again as Trivette and Alex went in the back of one car, and C.D. was taken to Raines'.

"Sheriff." C.D.'s voice was cold. "You'd better be a man of your word, or God himself won't be able to help you!"

Anxiously Trivette looked to Alex. Her face had become ashen and he watched as she swallowed heavily several times. They had just managed to get the handcuffs around the cast on her arm, but had cuffed her to the front, so she was able to rub a hand over her brow.

"Alex? We'll be out in a few hours, you wait and see." She was silent. "Walker'll get over it. We'll make it up to him. It'll be alright."

"He thinks we betrayed him. You saw his face. He thinks he's going back to the clinic."

Trivette became annoyed. "Well we didn't have many options. You think we liked it any more than you did?"

With a deep breath Alex lay her head back on the seat and closed her eyes. It was nearly fifteen minutes later the police car pulled up at the station. Led through the same office they had seen previously, another door was unlocked. They were directed to the back and stood before six lock-ups.

"Walker!" Alex went to his cell. Still shackled, he stared at the natural light coming from the high window. Her face fell. "Oh Walker." Alex watched as they removed their cuffs and the deputy opened the cell next to Walker's. She turned sharply. "Wait a minute, we want to be together."

"Sorry, miss. Sheriff says he's on his own."

Trivette knew it would be useless to argue; he gathered Alex by the shoulders and they walked inside, the insidious clang of the cell door closing making their stomachs churn. He watched as Alex prized her hand through the bars and tried to grasp Walker's arm. She squeezed further but was unable to reach him.

"Alex, let me try." Swapping places Trivette just made it. He could tell the Valium had really kicked in now; Walker's eyes were completely unfocused.

"Try and get him to lie down." Alex's voice came from the side of him and she looked round. "Excuse me?"

The young guard by the door looked up from his paperwork.

"Please. Do you have a pillow and a blanket we can have?" There was a moment's pause as he considered it, then a nod of the head. A few minutes later he returned and stuffed them through the bars. "Thank you. Thank you very much." Awkwardly she reached through the bars again, laying the pillow on his bunk by the bars of their cell while Trivette slowly forced Walker to turn around. His partner's legs moved unnaturally against the shackles, the chains clinking with his movements, but gradually Trivette managed to guide him and pull him back so he sat on the end of the bunk. Easing Walker's body on the left side to face them, Trivette gave one more big reach and brought up Walker's legs at the same time.

At the other end, Alex adjusted Walker's pillow to make him more comfortable and after two or three tries, covered him with the blanket. His heavy eyelids closed almost immediately. Sitting crossed-legged on the parallel bunk in their cell, Alex put her hand through the bars to fix the collar of the shirt they had bought him yesterday, and very tenderly smoothed his brow. She sighed again, and with a measure of relief watched him slowly fall asleep.

"C.D.! You alright?" Trivette jumped up at the sight of him.

C.D. waited until his handcuffs had been removed, the door was unlocked, and he entered the cell to join them. "Yeah. I'm fine." He turned back on the deputy who had brought him in. "Young man. We're entitled to a phone call each. I'd like to do that now."

"You'll get your phone call, but when Sheriff Raines gits back, sir."

C.D.'s head came forward, "but that ain't likely to be for at least an hour or two. I need that call now, son." Regretfully the deputy shook his head. They all look up at the sound of Wilks and Milos brought into custody and placed in the cell the other side of Walker. Alex tightened her grip on Walker's arm, afraid he would hear the voices he had instinctively come to hate and become an awaking giant, however Walker didn't even stir.

C.D. bent beside his former partner, scrutinizing him carefully, and though the bars gently patted Walker's upper arm. "Oh Cordell, Cordell." C.D. looked round, accepting Trivette's outstretched hand to help himself upright.

"Here C.D. Sit here." Trivette motioned for him to sit next to him. "Where's Raines?"

"Gone to check on Green. Looks like were set here for a spell." He nodded to Walker "we could've got him some help by that time."

Deputy Fairfax consulted with his colleague. "Jim? Raines needs me to check on some things. You'll be on your own till they all get back. You be okay with this lot?" He looked to the prisoners.

"Sure Doug. See you later."

It was quiet for a few minutes after he left.

"RAMBO!" Wilks shouted suddenly, and he laughed waiting for Walker's reaction.

Walker's body twitched and although his eyes remained closed, his sleep became agitated. His arms and legs fought against the shackles, his head moving from one side to the other. Grasping Walker's hand tightly, Alex moved her free hand slowly up and down the top of his cheek, stroked his beard and ended by gently rubbing the top of his chest. "It's okay Walker. We're with you. Ignore it. Sshhhh."

"Jim?" Milos turned his attention to the young deputy in charge. "How can you see this happen? We've known each other years. We've bin drunk together for Pete's sake. They're the murderers. Can't you let us out and we'll stay till Raines gets back with the proof?"

"You can stay in there till he gets back, then, can't you." Jim's eyes hardly left his paperwork.

Alex smiled and Milos glared in response. "Okay, that's fair enough. Can we get some water in here?"

Alarmed, Trivette shot C.D. a look. Together they both rose, wondering if the guard would agree. Finally he slowly nodded his head and moved to the sink with a metal mug, filled it with water and headed back.

"Deputy? Watch it now." C.D. anxiously looked on.

"Shut up! You're the danger not us." Milos looked to Jim Barnes and shook his head, "see how they try and split us Jim? You gotta be so careful." Reaching through for the mug it was with lightening speed Milos pulled Barns' arm through the bars with great force, crushing the young man's face against the cold steel. The three friends jumped in alarm, watching as the deputy's gun was taken from his belt and a single shot fired at close range into his body. Still holding him close to the bars, Milos reached for the keys and unlocked his cell before dropping him down. Wilks grinned to Alex while wiping a tongue round his fat lips.

Milos smiled and looked at them as he triumphantly placed the key in the lock of Walker's cell. Alex shook her head. "No! No!" Her heart beat faster and faster, "what do you want with him

Now? Can't you let him be? Hasn't he suffered enough? You're going to have to kill all of us because if you hurt him again we'll never give up till we find you, I swear to God!"

"Look Milos, you want a hostage take me." C.D. pleaded. "I'll come quiet, do whatever you want me to do. Please. Don't hurt him again."

Walker had awakened at the sound of the gunshot and now, in a heavy daze, was roughly manhandled away from the bunk. Between his lack of stability and Alex trying to hold him back, it took two goes for them to get him upright. Wilks and Milos dragged him on his knees out the cell holding him between them to stand in front of his three friends. His left arm firmly holding Walker's, Milos pointed his gun into the cell with his other hand. C.D. and Trivette immediately stood in front of Alex.

"You boy scouts are such heroes!" Milos spat the words out. "As far as anyone'll know Rambo tricked poor young Jim here, took his gun and shot you, but didn't have enough bullets left to finish us off. We'll get back in our cell, throw the key out and have us one neat alibi."

Wilks laughed. "Shit Serge, I don't know how the hell you think of them but you come up trumps every darned time."

The three had been watching Walker, observing as the voices penetrated his mind and he struggled against the drug in his body. His expression had changed before their eyes from one of sleepiness to alarm, and just as Milos raised the gun to shoot, Walker leaned heavily towards the sound of the voice he despised. They careered to the right, he and Milos falling together and Wilks leaping over both of them in an effort not to stumble too.

"YOU STUPID." Wilks' boot caught Walker in the ribs and he rolled with the force of it towards the back of the cell.

"WALKER!" Alex pummeled the bars in sheer frustration.

Milos took a second to get his wind back and looked for the fallen gun. Just as he bent to pick it up a deep voice came from behind.

"Hold it right there, Serge! Don't move a muscle." Milos stopped in mid stride and looked back to see Sheriff Raines standing in the shooting position, his gun trained squarely on him. Milos' eyes drew back to the gun.

"Don't do it!" Warned Raines.

C.D. looked at Trivette. They could tell. Slowly taking Alex with them they stepped to the back of the cell.

Milos took one more look at the position of Raines and his deputies. "I sure as hell ain't going behind bars!" He dived full length for the weapon, got one hand on it and turned to fire. At least four bullets hammered into his body, and he was dead within seconds. The guns now trained on him, Wilks meekly put up his hands.

Raines shouted orders as he kicked the fallen gun out of reach and made his way towards Walker. The noise of the bullets had somehow distressed him and he was bent over, his head in his hands as far as the chains would allow.

Raines was quietly commanding and pointed to Wilks as he walked. "Put him back in his cell and don't forget to read him his rights. Check on Jim and call for an ambulance. Unlock Ranger Parker's cell and put Milos' body below." He squatted down next to Walker and eased the Ranger upright, putting his arms round him. "Its okay now, son. The ordeal's over, I promise you." The Sheriff beckoned and clicked his fingers. "Get me the key to these travelling irons!"

With an arm round Alex, C.D. and Trivette gave a huge sigh of relief, hugging each other while Alex tried a smile in spite of her tears. They couldn't wait to get out, to be with Walker. To finally get him the help he needed, but each secretly thought the same. Would it be too late for him now?

****

C.D. anxiously looked round the theatre prep room. Nurses and surgeons were scrubbing up and preparing for the forthcoming operation. They had got Walker back to Memorial Hospital by helicopter the same day and it hadn't taken Mark Brown long in his assessment. Walker had a huge blood clot pressing down on his brain and he was lucky to be alive. Brown thought the tranquilizer had probably saved Walker's life as it stopped his blood pressure from rising, and more bleeding inside his skull. There was a tiny depressed fracture over the stressed area and a further fracture of the skull about two inches away that needed further investigation. They would clear the blood clot while at the same time cutting over the depressed fracture, and they should both heal naturally over the next six months. Would he recover fully? They weren't prepared to predict the unpredictable. C.D. recalled Mark's voice.

"I know you're desperate to have me say he'll be the same Cordell Walker we've always known, but I'm so sorry…you know I can't give that kind of guarantee. Frankly," he had shaken his head, "I think it's an unrealistic expectation, but I certainly wouldn't want to be the one to take away your hope. I have known a few patients make a full recovery, and it seems like his brain tissue has had a constant supply of oxygen. I'll know better once I'm in."

Take a way your hope, C.D. thought to himself. He's alive. You have to thank God for that. Is it too much to ask, God, to let him be whole again? He cast a glance at Trivette beside him. They were both wearing hospital gowns waiting until they were ordered out while Alex had gone with Mark. C.D. looked down at Walker and smiled. He nudged Trivette in the ribs and as the young black man looked at him C.D. pointed in Walker's direction. "Alex told him to stay put on that gurney and don't move. Look at him."

Wide eyed, Walker watched the activities with some concern, but other than to turn his head from one side to the other, made no other move to go. That's why C.D. and Trivette were there. They had reduced the tranquilizer to a minimum and if Walker suddenly decided he didn't like what he saw, hopefully he would listen to them without anyone getting hurt. They watched as deep in conversation Alex re-entered with Mark. She hadn't looked at Walker, but continued round his bed still engaged in the discussion.

Trivette grinned. "You see that C.D.?"

C.D. smiled. "Yeah. I saw it. I guess this Cordell Walker fell in love with her too."

Walker eyes had changed the minute she came into the room. They had narrowed and softened and causing the merest lift to the corners of his mouth. His eyes never left her as she rounded the foot of the bed and stood a small distance away from him.

"Alex!"

Alex looked up towards Trivette then followed his gaze. His arm outstretched as far as it would go Walker was trying to grasp her hand. Smiling, Alex stepped a few paces nearer and took his hand in hers. There was no doubt about Walker's pleasure, it caused grins all round. Mark Brown glanced at them. "Well." There was regret in his voice. "You'd better go now."

There was a brief pause of dismay before they said their good byes, and C.D. and Trivette filed out. Alex held on to Walker's hand and nodded to Brown who in turn gestured to the anesthetist. He stepped forward. They didn't have to anesthetize a patient having brain surgery, but with Walker's propensity for the unpredictable it was the only way.

Trustingly Walker looked directly in Alex's eyes. "Honey," she said softly, speaking only to him, "I'm so sorry. It's the only way we have of getting you back well again." She tightened her grip as the rubber band was knotted round his other arm, the area sterilized, and the needle looked for a vein. Torn apart, she watched as his look turned from trust to puzzlement. Alex bent forward to nuzzle the side of his head and whisper in his ear. "Walker. I love you so much."

His eyes flickering shut and his hand becoming heavy in hers, Alex waited another few seconds before giving him one final kiss. With the realization she could finally do no more, Alex ran out the room and down the corridor.

*****

The damn eternal wait in hospitals wore heavily on Alex this time. Walker had come through surgery without complications and Mark Brown was pleased. He was administering a mild sedative for twenty fours hours in order to keep Walker's body functions to a minimum, giving the bruising inside his skull a chance to heal, and then they would be able to assess the extent of his recovery over the next few days. Alex sat with Walker while C.D. and Jimmy had gone to the office to file their reports.

She held his hand, looked at him and sighed. With having to sterilize two parts of Walker head in preparation for the surgery there had been little choice but to shave off all his hair. She knew he would be embarrassed, and was unable to stop herself rehearsing different ways to make light of it. Poor Walker! As if he hadn't gone through enough humiliation.

Alex tried to analyze her feelings. None of this altered the fact she loved him dearly, but how would she reconcile a mental deficiency? The vision of C.D. leading Walker to sit in the garden came to mind and Alex smiled; she could cope with that. If Walker ended up that way, between her and C.D. they would look after him. She thought about the situation being reversed, and Walker having that decision to make with one of them, and she knew he would never contemplate giving up on them; he would decide the very best option regardless how difficult it would be. Alex reveled in the bond between them all and the depth of their combined friendship. They were an odd foursome she realized. From the depths of her mind came Jimmy's suggestion of freeing Walker's spirit if they deemed the situation hopeless for him, and just as quickly she buried the thought, unable to deal with it in her present state of fatigue.

Alex squeezed Walker's hand again and leaning forward lightly kissed his cheek several times. His eyes opened again. He had made several attempts to come round over the last six hours and Mark Brown said it would happen very gradually. "Honey? How are you?" She asked quietly. She hadn't a response previously and didn't expect any this time.

"Alex?"

She hadn't heard C.D. and Trivette slip in the room. "Hi." She turned to face them.

C.D. studied her. "Why don't you go home for a spell?"

Alex didn't reply.

Trivette nodded to C.D. "I'll stay with Walker."

Gathering Alex by the shoulders C.D. led her outside. "Alex? You okay?" He sat them both down on the ample settee in the waiting room and continued to hold her. When there was no reply, he tried again. "Come on, Alex. Get it out your system. C'mon darlin'." He felt her warm tears dampen his shirt. "That's okay, sweetheart, we've all bin through a lot this time. Don't fret about how you feel. It's okay, y'know. You're tired and need a rest. That's what you need. But, Alex ….there's something else." C.D. paused for a minute. "We heard from Jefferson County DA. Nice fellah called Crane. Obviously they need a statement from you pretty darn quick, well" he rushed the words, "you can understand that plain enough."

"Yes, it's been on my mind. I thought they would have sent someone out here by now."

"We've done ours, but …he wants you to go down, help prepare the case with him ….just for a few days. ."

Alex pulled back and stared at him. "And leave him?" C.D. knew she meant Walker.

C.D. nodded. "Yeah. He's in no danger now; we just gotta give him time. See how he is after the surgery. There's nothing we can do but wait. Here's what I think you should do. I'll take you home. You have a rest in your own bed and whatever you do, don't set the alarm. When you wake up call me here, I'll tell you how things are. You come by and see him, then take off for Jefferson County. Sure as bees like honey, there's one thing here we do know! Cordell would want them critters behind bars so they can't hurt anyone else! Right?"

Alex nodded enthusiastically. "That would be his priority, but, leave him now….?" C.D. left her to think for a few moments and smiled as Alex slowly nodded her agreement. "The one thing we do know" she reiterated, "..he'd sure want the guys who did this."

*****

Alex placed the hot cup of coffee on her desk, sat in the comfortable leather chair and picked up the receiver. Dialing the familiar telephone number for Walker's ranch, she settled herself for a long phone call.

"Hey !" She smiled at the sound of Walker's partner. "Caught you all together? Great!" She laughed then listened.

"Well, I'll tell you Jimmy then you can relay it, save me repeating myself three times. The indictments are served, finally! DA Crane and I put together a real tight case. Wilks won't be getting out in this lifetime that's for sure." Alex paused, somber for a second. "They found the remains of two patients in the grounds. Homicides. Forensics found evidence of abuse in both cases. One of the other orderlies testified against Milos, Wilks and a third man. Too late for Milos of course but it'll put the others away for a very long time. It's caused a real big scandal down here. Even word of resignations at the top."

She took a sip of coffee. "I can't say I'm surprised it made the papers there as well. Whole thing is unbelievable! Oh! And guess what else we found?" She carried on after Trivette's affirmative reply.

"Remember Burnside told us about the monster truck? The morons who did this to Walker in the first place? We found them late yesterday! One of them was one of Raines deputies! They never thought Walker would live to tell the tale. When he staggered into Saddlers Creek and went to the Sheriff's office for help, it was the same deputy that assaulted him in the first place. Walker hadn't become violent he was simply defending himself. The deputy wasn't connected to the clinic, it was just the most incredible, unfortunate set of circumstances. That should make Walker feel a bit better." Alex could hardly wait. "Jimmy? Put him on will you?"

She waited then smiled, shaking her head. "Hi C.D.. Yes they found the morons." She reiterated. She could hear Trivette recounting the news in the background. "No. Sadly Walker wasn't the first. The teams are just sifting through their ranch. They've already found one body. Seems that they were dealing in vehicle parts; there's all sorts of wrecks on their land. Walker's truck isn't too bad and I'll bring his gun back. We couldn't find anything else." Alex bent down and slipped off her shoes with a satisfied sigh. "I'll be back tomorrow. Yes. Yes." Alex prayed for patience. "Yes! C.D., please …will you put Walker on?" She nicely cajoled him again and waited.

Winding the telephone cord around her finger Alex was aware of her heart beating faster. Ridiculous she admonished herself, but inexplicably she was nervous. "Hi. How are you today?" She waited as he gave his reply, reveling in Walker soft voice. It was so sexy. That hadn't changed anyway. Her heart beat even faster and Alex was aware her efforts to remain cool were fading by the minute. "Yeah, six months will seem like an age to be off work, but it's understandable. Anyway, I'll help you pass the time" she giggled, "we'll make it fly bye."

There was a brief silence between them. She knew Walker wouldn't say much with C.D. and Trivette there. He finally spoke again and she had to respond. "I know. I'd never have gone if I'd known it would take so long. Seems the longest three weeks of my life, but I know, I know, since you made such excellent progress we got our priorities right."

Alex's eyes flashed blue. "I'll never forget seeing you when I came to say good bye and those two 'friends' of mine deliberately not telling me you'd come round during the night! When the first thing you said to me was you'd have my hide if I didn't go! Well, my face must have been a picture!"

They both laughed and the chuckling from her continued as she listened again. Suddenly she was serious. "I can't wait to see you either. Only a few hours more." Alex suddenly realized. "Walker! You whispered that so Trivette and C.D. couldn't hear didn't you? She grinned at his attempt to hedge. "Don't give me that flannel, cowboy! Honestly!" They both laughed again. "I better go Walker. Take care. See you tomorrow then." Her eyes sparkled and her face beamed. "I will. Bye." The bye was delivered in a husky low voice. Replacing the phone Alex cleared her throat and tried to focus on the job in hand.

*****

Her car turned into the ranch and Alex frowned. It was all in darkness, not a glimmer anywhere. Suddenly her headlights picked up a lone figure sitting on the porch and she swallowed hard, her nervousness all consuming! She chided herself and tried to get a grip.

Walker stood up as she got out, reached into the hallway and the subdued lights lit up the homely  porch. He came to a stop and half turned in her direction.

Alex's heart went out to him. He always did this when he was in a situation he was uncomfortable with. He gave a small glance into her eyes, quickly looking away while he kneaded the knuckles of one hand in the palm of the other. Usually she loved this trait. It was completely endearing. It was normally reserved for dinner parties when he wore his tuxedo and felt out of his depth.

Alex also felt dismay for him, watching as he awkwardly ran a hand through his hair.

She tried to break the ice and laughed nervously. "Actually a crew cut suits you." He gave a small half smile as she continued "C.D. said you always used to wear it like this during your Marine days." He nodded, looked as if he was about to say something but instead bit his bottom lip. Alex couldn't help but see his pointed stare at the cast on her arm and he looked away again.

Alex held up her bad arm and took a step towards him. "Look. We've told you. This was an accident." As Walker turned to face her Alex was astonished at the pain in his eyes. He looked again at the cast, then to her and shook his head in complete dismay. "Walker. Don't feel like this." Alex stood in front of him. "You didn't do this on purpose, it was an accident."

She could tell he wanted to believe her so much, but still he held back. "Walker! Let it go or I'll feel guilty about going to Jefferson County and leaving you." She threatened. As he looked up she held out her good hand.

Obviously thankful he immediately reached for her fingers, pulled her into his chest and hugged her. She could tell he was trying to hold her as close as possible without hurting her, repositioning his arms around her body several times before being comfortable with his grip. She looked up to see his eyes tightly closed. "Walker. It's okay now."

Walker placed his forehead against hers for a few seconds, pulled away and smiled. He ran his hand lightly over the contours of her face and slowly his head reached down, his eyes closing again as their lips met. They were warm, passionate and reassuring. Inside, Alex's heart over flowed for joy. She felt his care and love. Melting into his body, Alex had no doubt ….Cordell Walker was back.