The Mason Delany Case

By Pam Gooderham

            Trivette flicked the button on the TV remote control, blinking as the different channels whizzed by.  He stopped at CBS; one of the better ones, as a reporter standing on the steps of a Dallas courthouse passionately finished delivering her oratory on the day’s events.

            “Can Alex Cahill pull this off?  Only time will tell as we enter day forty-five, in what must be her most difficult and demanding case yet. This is Diana Langley for CBS News handing you back to the studio.”

            Trivette looked pensive as the news story was replaced by an advertisement for American Express featuring Seinfeld.  Finally, just as Trivette switched off the TV, his mobile phone rang. “Trivette.”

            “It’s me.”

            Trivette recognized his partner’s voice.  “She’s not back yet, Walker.”

            There was a pause and Walker’s voice came back flat. “Okay. I’ll stop by the office again.  Stick some coffee on will ya?”

            Trivette started to rise from the settee “You got it!” Disengaging the phone he rummaged through Alex’s cupboards trying to find the coffee, when whooping with glee, he came across his favorite cookies and eagerly crammed one in his mouth.

**

            Walker pulled his truck into the Ranger parking lot, looking over determinedly as he saw Alex’s lonely looking car parked in her bay. He pulled alongside and made his way up to her office, stopping briefly outside the door to nod to Mark, a uniformed officer. He tapped very lightly and opened the door.

            Alex looked up at his arrival, her red-rimmed eyes barely leaving the paperwork in front of her. She said nothing at first. Awkwardly Walker stood by her desk until she acknowledged him and putting down her pen rose to the window scanning the impressive Dallas skyline. “Maybe another hour.”

            Walker crossed the floor and stood beside her. “Can I get you anything, coffee, pizza, some chocolate from the machine to keep you going?”

            She looked at him, a small smile crossing her face. “No, it’s okay. Thanks.”

            Walker’s heart went out to her. Clearly she was exhausted, the rigors of the trial showing themselves in her physical well-being. Unable to help himself he put his arms around her. “How about a small hug then?”

            Alex gratefully received his embrace, laying her head on his shoulder. “How about a big hug?”

            “Well, we can manage that too.”  Walker rubbed her back and neck trying to massage out the tightness in her shoulders caused by the hours she had spent bent over her desk.

            “You’re not going to say it are you?” she asked him.

            “I was thinking about it,” he admitted.

            “Don’t!”

            “Okay, Alex, okay.  I just worry about you, that’s all. I’ve never seen you battle so hard to win a case, but, if ever there was one to push the boat out for - it’s this one. So …er …how’s it looking now?”

            “The worst part’s over. We had so much forensic evidence it was crucial to get it across in a way that was both understandable and not boring. We did that I’m sure, and I’m certain the jury saw through their contamination of evidence attempt. It was also fortunate the witness who corroborated his alibi on the third murder slipped up in his testimony yesterday. That really went in our favor. We’re going to do this, Walker. I know we are.”

He sighed.  Despite the positive outlook he knew she wouldn’t leave any stone unturned now, regardless of how deadbeat she was. “Shall I tell Mark he can take you home in an hour?”

            She lifted her head to look at him. “Yeah. That should do it for today.”

            “Trivette’s already at your place, so everything’s okay there.” Walker picked a strand of hair from her forehead and gently smoothed the side of her face with the flat of his hand.

            Alex took his hand and kissed it. “Thanks. This was a nice break.” Separating, Alex moved to her desk as Walker reached for the door handle, and with a wink and a small smile he was gone.  Sinking down into her chair Alex turned her attention to the papers before her, and somewhat renewed, she continued to write with determination. It was actually an hour and a quarter later that she turned off her desk light and opened the door, peering round to see Walker and Mark quietly chatting. Mark quickly got up and took the heavy briefcase from her, and together they headed for the elevator.

**

            “Hey guys!” Trivette’s cheerful greeting met their arrival back at Alex’s apartment.

            “All quiet, pard?” Walker asked.

            “Yep. And no calls. Coffee’s made. Who wants a cup?” Walker and Alex both put up their hands. ‘Comin’ right up, and then I’m outta here.”

            Walker followed Trivette into the kitchen as Alex disappeared to her bedroom closing the door behind her.

            Trivette looked up as he approached. “Everything okay?”

            “As well as.” Walker replied.  Who’s driving her tomorrow, and who’s down to apartment sit?” 

            “Mathews apartment, Rodriguez driving, and I’m in court. Trivette handed Walker a coffee and picked up two, taking them through to the living room. In relative silence they sat down, getting up as Alex entered wearing a bathrobe.

            “At least I can relax when it’s you two here!” She smiled at them as she sat, took a sip of coffee and lifted her feet across Walker’s legs. He smiled and absentmindedly rubbed her ankles.

            “You must be starved. Whaddya want to do about a bite to eat?” Trivette inquired.

            Walker raised a finger. “Got it covered today. CD gave me something when I came to check things out before, so I put it in the icebox.  We’ve just got to heat it up.  Chicken Ding!”

            Trivette frowned, “Chicken Ding?”

            Walker smiled broadly, “Yeah. Chicken reheated in the microwave!” They all laughed, the atmosphere lightening. “Plenty for you too, Trivette.”

            “Sorry guys,” he drained his coffee and put down the mug. “I’m out of here. Anything else I can do here?”

            Walker checked with Alex by way of a glance in her direction, but she shook her head and as she removed her feet, Walker rose with Trivette and saw him out the door. “No, I think that’s it, Trivette.” He winked at his younger partner as they got outside, “Thanks pard.  See you in the morning.”

            “Night Walker.” 

            Walker securely locked the door and turned back to the living room.  “Pretend I’m not here, just make yourself at home,” he joked, before heading off to the kitchen.

            “What are you going to do?” Inquired Alex.

            “Fix dinner before you fall asleep again.”

Inside fifteen minutes Walker had re-heated the meal, added some rice, and brought it through.

There was silence for a few minutes until Alex suddenly grinned at him.

“What?”

She shook her head. “Oh nothing.”

Walker smiled back. “I know that look. What?”

There was a small laugh and she looked away as she spoke. “I could get used to this.” She flashed another glance into his eyes and quickly looked away, wondering with a small amount of apprehension whether she’d over stepped the mark.

When there was no answer she risked another peek into his face to see his expression one of a coy grin, and was there a slight blush on his cheeks to match that red beard of his?

Alex made a face. “Can you just forget I said that?”

It took a few seconds before he replied. “Well, …maybe I agree! But, for now - eat your supper!"

Since he had given a small chuckle after his sentence Alex was relieved. They made small talk from that point and it wasn’t long until fatigue caught up as she gradually unwound. Finally she excused herself. Standing up, Alex pointed to the blankets and pillow on the floor. “You sure you want to sleep on the sofa again? The spare bed would be much more comfortable?”

            “Thanks, but I’m happier here. I’ll hear more if anything goes on.”  He rose as Alex came over to kiss his cheek, and putting his arms around her, he gently returned her kiss and smiled. “See you in the morning,” he whispered, “sleep soundly.  I’ll keep you safe.”

            Looking at him gratefully, Alex closed her eyes briefly before opening them and grinning her reply. “What would I do without you?” She kissed him again, tightly held her forehead to his, and with reluctance, released him and turned to go. “Night Walker.” 

            He watched her disappear through the door and stood looking at the space she had vacated for a few seconds. As the warm feeling inside him grew, smiling, he collected the plates made for the kitchen.

Returning to the living room Walker picked up one of the blankets and laid it over Alex’s ample sofa, switched the cushion for a regular pillow and spread the second blanket on top. He walked towards the wall by the front door flicking off the main lights to leave on three large lamps around the room.  Walker turned off two leaving on the smallest, and returned to sit down. Removing his boots and shirt he carefully drew his gun from his belt, placing the weapon on the floor.  He flicked back the top blanket, lay down, deftly covered himself up and rechecked the position of his gun to make sure his hand could reach it instantly. Shuffling to find a more comfortable position and closing his eyes, Walker was asleep within a few minutes.

**

            Alex sat at her desk waiting for the moment she had come to dread. Her stomach churned with anticipation, her nerves stretched to the limit. What would he say this time? With her usual promptness, Vicky, her assistant, brought in the morning mail. Thanking her, Alex quickly discarded the majority searching for THE envelope.  There it was.  Alex ripped it open and viewed the contents, a one-page diatribe.

            BITCH.  IF YOU DON’T FIND A WAY OF LOSING THIS

TRIAL YOU WILL BE MORE SORRY THAN YOU’VE EVER
            KNOWN.  WE ARE JUST ABOUT TO FINISH THE CASE FOR
            THE DEFENSE - YOU BETTER NOT KEEP UP THOSE STUPID

            OBJECTIONS.  YOU HAD BETTER NOT HAVE A GOOD CLOSING

            STATEMENT. YOU HAVE TO LOSE.  OH YES MS CAHILL.

            IF MASON DELANY GOES DOWN YOU’RE HEADED FOR MORE

            MISERY THAN YOU CAN HANDLE.  I’LL MAKE YOU SUFFER!

            Alex shuddered.  It was the same format as before. She had given the first five or six to forensics, who found nothing, then decided to keep quiet about it. They weren’t going to go away, and she wasn’t about to be blackmailed. She was chilled as she reread his words - I’LL MAKE YOU SUFFER! 

Mason Delany was one of the worst serial killers, with eleven homicides to his name they knew about.  Not just murder, his victims had been so horribly tortured that the most hardened Rangers on the case had been affected at the scene, Trivette amongst them. Even Walker, his experiences in Nam rarely topped, had been very quiet the few days after the discoveries.  It had been the dedicated teamwork of Walker and Trivette and five other Rangers who finally found enough evidence on which to prosecute Delany.

            Delany had the money to afford it, and so had hired one of the country’s top attorney’s, Marcus Fielding. It was he who had given Alex such cause for concern. 

Begrudgingly she had to hand it to Fielding, he was exceptionally smart, well briefed, and masterful in his ‘stroking’ of the jury. He was a natural wit. Everyone loved the congenial joker who nurtured the buddy act for the jurors, becoming their instant friend, while making Alex out to be the simpleton, the out-of-depth counselor with a ‘jobs worth’ attitude.  Inside three weeks however, Alex had changed her strategy, taken a leaf out of Fielding’s book and slowly began to turn the tables on him. This is when the threats began.  Alex was pretty certain she had the case won unless she gave in to the blackmail, which was unthinkable, so with that in mind she placed this latest letter in a drawer with the others with a renewed sense of purpose.  There was a knock on the door followed by Trivette’s head round the doorway.

            He smiled at her encouragingly. “It’s time Alex.”

            As Alex rose, Trivette crossed the floor to take her briefcase, grimacing at the weight as he did so, and squeezed her arm lightly. “You ready?”

            “Yes, thanks Jimmy. Let’s go do it!”

**

            CD and Walker looked up at the TV screen watching the news coverage of Alex entering the courthouse for the morning session. CD looked in Walker’s direction. “She looks pretty haggard, don’t she?” CD’s voice was full of concern.

            “She’s that all right, CD.  I don’t think I’ve ever known her to be as stressed as she is now.  Did you get to the court the other day?”

            CD nodded emphatically, “Yeah. And I have to say, Alex was magnificent! She sure gave that hi-faloutin’ defense council a run for his money. Poetry in motion is what it wus.”

            Nodding, Walker smiled.  “Yeah, you have to hand it to her CD, she’s something sure enough.”

            There was too much in Walker’s answer that CD couldn’t help himself. “Really, son?” CD’s grin went from ear to ear, “Gosh, would never have guessed you thought that.”

            Finishing off the last forkful of breakfast, Walker knew he had been made. “Okay! Okay! This is the end of it CD, thank you very much.”

            “Oh, absolutely, Cordell, hot Jimminy, my lips are sealed.  S-E-A-L-E-D!” CD gave the sign of zipping up his lips. “More coffee?”

            “NO!  I know you when you get started. I’m outta here before you do! I’m home to do some chores before starting this afternoon.”

**

            The door to the small office in court was slammed shut by Mason Delany. The small overweight Caucasian was furious. “She’s making a meal out of you.  You’re money down the drain!” His finger pointed squarely at Fielding, who lifted his hands in a gesture of submission.

            “And just think what she’d have done to an inferior lawyer, Delany.  She’s good; I have to admit it. But my problem stems from the fact that you’re guilty and they have too much evidence on you.  I can’t work miracles.”

            “Then get out.  I’ll see you in court after the recess.  Send in Vickers.”

Fielding eyed Delany distastefully then slowly made his way out.  After a few minutes there was a knock on the door and Vickers entered.  Delany looked at him. 

Vickers was 6’ tall, thickset with a huge neck and shoulders. An ex-Marine, security guard, and general factotum to any wealthy mis-fit who required his services, Vickers had stopped short of being an out and out mercenary. However, his past employment record was still unsavory.

Finally Delany spoke. “You know what to do, without question, without any tales afterwards that this went wrong and that went wrong. You know EXACTLY what you’re doing? Yes?”

            “Yes, sir. I had a buddy who was associated with Caleb Hooks at the planning stage when he went for Walker before.  I know his initial principles were completely correct. There isn’t another way to take down a man like Walker other than using a tranquilizer dart.  After that, it’s plain sailing.”  Vickers head tipped back as Delany’s finger came close to his right eye.

            “Vickers,” Delany threatened.  “You’d better do this right. You screw up and if I have any money left after this, it’ll be spent on a contract on your head! Do you understand me?” The mercenary nodded soberly as his paymaster continued. “Don’t forget, I’ll be at home with Fielding and a few others so I’ll have an alibi. But let me have the tape as soon as you can and I’ll do the dubbing on it via electronic voice disguise. Now get out and earn your considerable amount of money!”  

Vickers didn’t want to stick around Delany anyway. He hated him. So with relief he turned on his heel and left.

**

            Walker mucked out the horses, replaced the straw, fed them and topped up their water.  Giving each one time for a rub of their muzzle before shutting the stable door, Walker honestly didn’t mind this particular chore.  That done, he headed back to the ranch for a well-earned shower and change of clothes.

He took his time in the shower, dried himself afterwards, and grabbed some fresh clothes.  Beige pants and a white, western-type shirt with metal fasteners on the pockets.  Walker put on his socks and boots, holstered his gun, and headed briskly out the bedroom when something made him stop at the flat landing on the mid-way point of the stairs.  He felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise and his intuitions cry out in alarm for him to be aware.  Quickly Walker did an about turn, returning to his bedroom where he shut the door behind him and strode over to the side window to peer out.  There were no signs of anything unusual. Gently opening the window he stepped outside on to the slanted roof and carefully made his way to the edge to peer over.  Two armed men were poised below him, waiting for him to emerge from the front door. 

Thinking for a second Walker strained to see as much of the perimeter as he could, but had fairly limited views of much else.  He’d have to gamble they were alone. He holstered his gun and readied himself to jump down.  Leaping off, he landed squarely between both men knocking them out - using their bodies to break his fall.  Walker checked either side of him quickly and ran ahead to the corner of the house. He tentatively looked round, but stopped short on hearing whispering voices coming towards him.  Readying himself, Walker waited until the first body appeared.

Automatically gauging height, weight, distance and relationship to the other two persons Walker now saw with him, Walker whipped his right leg in an arc to his left, catching the first man in the face.  As his right foot touched the ground and with his hips already positioned Walker’s right hand flew back, his fist felling number two in the group. The third attacker swung a right knocking Walker’s head back. Continuing the momentum Walker carried his head 270 degrees the left to complete the circle. As soon as the third man reached his vision, his left foot thundered back towards his assailant, finishing with a sickening thud to the abdomen. The man doubled in agony, and still in close proximity; Walker quickly lifted up his right elbow connecting to the chin for a crushing blow.  That was another out cold.

How many more would there be?  Walker waited quietly, listening, looking round him intently.  On hearing no other threatening sounds, he continued his patrol of the ranch to the next corner and paused once again. He chanced a quick look round to spot another two men. They saw him. A cry went up from one and Walker heard feet running towards the side of the house. Poising yet again to take them out, Walker saw their weapons coming round the corner first. He grabbed at the nearest gun, his palm gripping it tightly on the side away from Walker’s own body. The Ranger’s left hand grabbed at a shoulder, bringing the man’s back towards Walker’s body.  As the would be attacker struggled wildly to regain control of his weapon it discharged twice into the body of his companion who went down, the body rolling away to one side. 

Although the heat of the firing weapon seared his hand, unflinching, Walker’s right hand jumped from the gun to the man’s right wrist. Simultaneously his left foot banged behind his assailant’s left knee forcing him to kneel.  Grasping the right shoulder and placing his right knee behind the elbow joint of the man’s arm Walker whispered to him.

“Drop it unless you want your arm broke.”

The pain was self-evident, and the gun soon tumbled to the floor.  As it did so, Walker’s arm immediately went around his attacker’s neck. His arms locked, and within ten seconds the man was unconscious.

 Walker stood back, panting slightly, when he felt his body whipped to the side and a punch land on his right cheek with considerable force. He went down with a thud.  Someone’s foot sought its way to Walker’s solar plexus, but he managed to catch it in mid-air and sharply twisted the foot around. It caused a dull wrenching noise from the knee. There followed an agonized gasp from its owner, but now there were two thugs behind him not one. Releasing the damaged leg, Walker rolled to his left in time to dodge a boot to the face. Scrambling to his feet he narrowly avoided the second attempt.  A well executed spinning back kick knocked Walker down again, but this time he forward rolled to put more distance between him and his assailant in order to attack instead of defend.  The move worked this time. Walker neatly blocked a sidekick and a rounded kick aimed at his ribs. Walker spun away with his back right foot to plant his boot in his opponent’s face, to then whip back his leg which also caught the guy squarely.  Walker finished with two reverse punches and the last guy was done for.

Walker stopped briefly to catch his breath, draw his gun, and continue his search.  He saw no other signs of life as he patrolled round, finally reaching the first two assailants still out cold. Walker started up the steps intending to call in when he felt a sharp sting between his right shoulder blade and spine. He knew straight away what it was and cried out in pure frustration.

“Nnooo!” Pulling the dart from his back he threw it to the ground with utter disgust. His body whipped round to see the direction of the shooter while he still had time. Walker saw Vickers step from the protection of his Dodge truck. Already woozy and experiencing double vision, Walker drew his gun firing all fifteen shots in Vickers direction before the click of the chamber informed him he was out of bullets.  He threw the gun away. If I can just put him down before it’s too late, thought Walker! He ran as fast as he could on pure anger towards Vickers who looked in mild astonishment, but remained impassive as he watched Walker’s efforts. Walker covered only half the distance when his body drew back from its forward angle, his left leg buckling under him. 

“No!” Walker agonized again, but he couldn’t stop his legs from staggering as he finally tumbled ungracefully to land on his face in the dirt.

Vickers looked at him for a few seconds and turned him over. Walker was semiconscious and the Ranger’s eyes blinked rapidly as he fought with every part of his being to not pass out.

“Walker,” Vickers voice had admiration in it, “I can see now where Caleb Hooks went wrong. I always wondered how you could have beaten him until I saw you in action just now.  I brought nine good men with me, and man! You beat them all! I almost don’t like delivering you into the hand’s of dirt-bag like Delany, but, the money’s just too good.” Smiling he watched Walker’s eyes close and his body go limp before he surveyed the scene, watching as some of his men started to come round. He shook his head in obvious admiration.  “Yeah, Walker! You’re something else all right.”

**

            “CD’s!”  The bar in full swing, country and western music blared out and dancers strutted their stuff as CD answered the phone with one hand over his other ear.

            “CD is Walker with you?” Trivette grimaced at the amount of music in the background.  He glanced at Alex next to him, her worried face betraying her impatience to know the answer.

            “What’s that y’say?”

            Trivette shouted louder, “CD! This is important.  Is Walker with you?”

            The concern in Trivette’s voice wasn’t lost on CD as he took the phone into the kitchen and pulled the door to. “No, Jimmy. Haven’t seen him since this morning.” 

            An ominous silence chilled the airwaves between all three, as Alex didn’t have to hear CD’s reply, she could tell by Trivette’s face.

            “Jimmy you at Alex’s?”

            “Yeah.”

            “I’m coming straight round.”

            “Thanks CD.” Trivette put down the receiver and tried not to look into Alex’s face.  He thought of where else he could try to locate his partner, but couldn’t think of anywhere. Besides, the protection of his beloved Alex was Walker’s first priority.  He’d spent the last fourteen nights here when the threats against her had become heavy, so Trivette knew he would tell them if he were going to be late. His apprehension for his partner’s well-being interfered with his thought process. He paced the floor in order to focus on the next step.  Reaching for the phone again, Trivette dialed a number waking another Ranger at home, briefing him on the situation.

“…so Rod, get out to Walker’s place, but be careful huh?  I’ll join you as soon as CD gets here.  See if you can contact Brady and get him to join you. I’d feel happier if you were partnered just in case. Call me on my mobile if you find anything in the meantime, okay?”  Happy with the answer, Trivette replaced the receiver again, this time unable to help but notice Alex was completely rooted to the spot with fear.

“Alex, come on now.”  His voice was neither hard nor condescending, but trying to maintain a calm as much for his own benefit as hers. Her hand went to her mouth.

            “Oh, Jimmy.”  Her reply was tired, dejected, almost stilted as she tried desperately to control the flood of emotions building up inside her.

            “Alex. We don’t know anything’s wrong yet. He may just be a little late that’s all.”

            She turned away from him and sat on the settee, fingering the blankets Walker had carefully and neatly folded from the night before, the gesture almost paralyzing her with agony. Delany had made it quite clear he would make her life as miserable as she could ever have known, and now he knew her Achilles heel. Walker! 

She pictured herself arriving in the courtroom tomorrow knowing Delany had Walker a prisoner. Her stomach churned at the thought, but what could she do?  She might as well decide now as she knew without a doubt, regardless of what Trivette said, Walker had been taken.  So how was she going to play it?  Not a lot of choice really.  Can you imagine what Walker would say if he came back to find out that she had thrown the case to save him?  He’d never forgive her! The chances of his being released unharmed were pretty poor, but the chances of his escaping were excellent.  Walker had gotten out of more tight spots than beans in CD’s chili! That was the most likely possibility after all. He would escape, walk in as if nothing happened, and expect her to have gotten on with the job.  Sure she had mentally covered every permutation, Alex knew exactly what she was going to do.  Trivette’s face was overcome with surprise when she announced she was going to bed.

            “You are?”

            “Yes. Walker’s been taken, but he of all people would want me to continue.  Call me if there’s any change, but otherwise I’ll see you in the morning.” 

            Trivette stared in amazement as she strode off. He recounted the exchange to CD after their mentor’s arrival. “..so what do you make of that?”

            “Well, she’s figured it right by my book! But not an easy decision to reach that’s fer sure.  You get down to the ranch - let me know what you find, huh?” 

It was some three hours later Trivette returned confirming their worst fears.  Walker’s truck was still at the ranch; his gun found by the front steps, so now there was no question about it. Trivette called his superiors and they immediately assembled a task force.  As dawn approached, on the strength of the blackmail letters to Alex, they had successfully obtained search warrants for all of Delany’s properties. Teams were sent to each one to look for Walker in the hope of a quick result.

**

In the meantime, Alex sat at her desk wondering what the mail would bring now.  THE envelope did not contain a letter this time. It was a video.  Alex apprehensively held the edges with her fingertips; then taking a deep breath she rose to insert the tape, and grabbing the remote control she switched on both the TV and VCR.  As the flickering blackness replaced the blank screen she held down the fast forward, pushing the play button when a light appeared. Alex frowned as she tried to make sense of the picture when the image was suddenly brought into sharp focus.

Hardly able to breathe she recognized Walker in the middle of the picture.  He was sitting on the floor, his weight to one side on his left hand, and as it panned round to view him from the front, Alex realized something was definitely not right with him. The camera closed in and for the first time Alex saw a heavy chain binding his wrists. There was a similar one that manacled his feet together, both linked to a longer chain in the middle restricting his limbs even further.

She gasped as Walker attempted to stand.  He was completely uncoordinated, and looking at his glassy, unfocused eyes, she realized he had been tranquilized.  Alex recalled the last time this had happened to him at the hands of Caleb Hooks. It had taken nearly three days for his body to be clear of the drug and he had told her how much he hated it. 

“Alex,” he confided during one of the times she had visited him in hospital, “You have no idea the feeling of futility not being in control of your own body does to a guy like me.  I’d rather be shot any day.”

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, hoping the reality of the situation would disappear with it, only to open them again in time to see Walker stumble from his knees, unconscious. He rolled to the floor, the heavy chains clinking with his movements.  Alex tried desperately to keep her emotions in check but she felt so badly for him. If she could just be there to put her arms around him and comfort him, to help him as he had been there so many times when she needed help. Unable to contain herself, she touched the screen with her hands and a disguised voice broke the silence. The camera closed on Walker’s prostrate form.

            “Well Ms Cahill! You can’t say I didn’t warn you can you?  Better ditch the case now or you really will be sorry.” The screen went blank.

            “Alex we’d... oh my God what is it?”  Trivette ran to Alex’s side watching the color drain from her face.  He grabbed her arms, bringing her round to the other side of the desk, gently sitting her in the chair.  He threw open the door where he knew CD was chatting. “CD! Get some water in here!”  Trivette bent down on one knee, “Alex? What is it?”

CD rushed in with a paper tumbler full of water. “What’s up?”

Gratefully Alex took the water while handing the remote to Trivette.  He looked round at the now blank screen, and shot a look to CD as he waited the few seconds for the video to rewind, then pressed the play button.

Both he and CD watched in stony silence until he switched it off. 

Alex stood up with difficulty. “Let’s go,” she rasped. 

            Trivette looked at CD. “Will you get that to the ops room? Get them to make a copy and get the original to forensics for fingerprints. CD nodded, and rushed to comply as Trivette once again took the weight of Alex’s briefcase and they went out the door.

**

Walker took another deep breath, shakily came to his feet while he mentally cursed whoever had chained him.  His left wrist especially was too tight, and his whole arm throbbed in rebellion, but somehow or other he would need to forget it. At least, thought Walker, it’ll help me to stay focused, and he shook his head again, unsuccessfully trying to clear away the cobwebs. Looking around at his surroundings he guessed he was in an old storage room in a warehouse or mill judging from the concrete walls and floor. It was windowless, cold during the day and freezing at night. Probably ideal for the purposes of Marcus Delany who excelled in the discomfort of others. Walker looked to see if he could reach the small light in the ceiling, but it was way too high.

With one hand on the wall to steady him self, he slowly made his way to the door to check on the lock and hinges, looking for any half chance to escape. Just the motion of moving his head up and down at the door brought back waves of disorientation and nausea again.

Unwelcome memories of Caleb Hooks flooded back as the feelings of being drugged rekindled forgotten emotions.  Walker had taken longer to get over the experience than he had let on, the nightmares of fighting Hooks and his men recurring periodically for some months.  He was sure Alex had guessed, but despite all her best attempts to get him to talk about it, he had clamed up instead, making her annoyed.

            “What is it about you macho Rangers you can never admit you need help?” As she said it Alex had glowered at him, his silence infuriating her even further. He knew she loved him and cared for him, but he didn’t know himself why he chose to deal with it alone.  It was just his way. When she had shed a tear either out of rage or love and he had embraced her, he had to admit their closeness had started the healing process.  There was no way he would’ve admitted it though!

 Forcing a smile at the memory, Walker put his back to the wall for stability and tried closing his eyes, unable to decide, however, whether this made him feel better or worse. Staggering back the way he had come for a few paces, he finally slid down the wall to sit down while he tried to decide what to do. I hope, thought Walker, this hasn’t affected everyone’s position in the trial, as there could only be one reason why Delany had done this. That was to stop Alex Cahill! Alex would know he’d never allow it. She’d surely know he’d rather die than see that excuse for a human being escape justice. Yeah, Alex would know how he’d feel beyond a doubt. Somewhat reassured, Walker lay back on the cold concrete and closed his eyes.

**

            “Make sure you don’t make eye contact with Delany or his attorney,” Alex instructed Trivette.  Trivette had just opened the courtroom door for her, and Alex confidently strode down the aisle to take her place.  As Trivette looked at her nodding to a few acquaintances and colleagues, he marveled at her strength of character.  How in the world is she able to do that, he thought? Once at her table she turned around and whispered in his ear. “Get someone else to sit with me, Jimmy. You and CD put all your efforts into finding Walker, okay?”

            “Alex it’s already been taken care of, I was just going to mention it now.” Trivette signaled for Ranger Phil Davis to come over.

            “Hi Phil,” Alex greeted him, “Thanks for sitting with me.”

            “No problem Alex, you just concentrate on what you have to do and leave everything to me.”

            Alex smiled at him gratefully and turned wide-eyed to Trivette. “Jimmy, please, I know you’ll do everything you can, but try and find him.  Call me as soon as you know.”

            Trivette took her arm. “I promise you. Hang in there.”  With that, he walked briskly back towards the double doors and was gone.

            Taking a deep breath Alex selected the first papers she would need from her briefcase and sat down. Right you bastard she thought, this attitude’ll get you thinking!

**

            By mid-morning the teams had come up blank with their raids on Delany’s properties. And not only were they unable to find Walker, there wasn’t one clue to be found anywhere. Trivette and CD dejectedly walked back to Ranger Headquarters.

            “I wus so sure we’d be able to call Alex and tell her we’d found him.” CD voiced Trivette’s own thoughts exactly.

            “Forensics haven’t found any prints on the tape either, or any external noises which may have given us a clue to his location and we know Delany seems to have a cast-iron alibi.  So where does that lead us?”  Trivette looked to the older more experienced Ranger for inspiration as they took the elevator up to their floor.

            CD had been quiet as they made their way back to the office, and somewhat uncomfortably sat at Walker’s desk. He took off his jacket.  “Delany wasn’t there for the take down that’s for sure. So who could he have gotten to do it?”

            “Want me to go back through the known associates of Delany’s we have on file, CD?” Trivette asked. 

            “Yeah, and not only that, you’ll need help, but run them through for possible links to militia groups. Then get a listing of all premises owned by the known associates.”

            “That’ll take some time.”

            “That’s why I said get help. Where else can we start?”

            Trivette nodded.  There really wasn’t much option but take the police ‘long dog work’ approach, but with three of them on it they had come up with another two places to search.  The judge in question wasn’t entirely happy regarding the search warrants for these premises even though they had proven the ‘known associate’ connection with Delany.  Trivette suspected Judge Walberg of slight partiality as Walker had saved his daughter’s life some two years ago, but hey, Trivette wasn’t about to complain. However these searches too had come up empty.

**

            Trivette couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t bear to see Alex’s face and not have good news for her, so he sent CD to meet her and Phil and escort her back to the office.  CD then arranged to take her to her apartment when she was finished which left Trivette free to continue his research on the computer. As it happened another five Rangers had volunteered their time after hours. Such was Walker’s popularity almost everyone wanted to help. They were three quarters the way through their investigations when it was decided everyone should get some sleep and start again in the morning.  Those who needed to do their regular jobs being replaced by volunteers giving up their days off.

**

            The day started again precariously in Alex’s office with THE envelope.  This time Trivette, CD, and Bill Pauly from forensics were with her. 

Wearing gloves, Pauly carefully removed the wrapping and sealed it in a plastic bag. He took the video and inserted it into the player, and looked back to Trivette who looked at Alex.

“Why don’t you let me and CD watch first, Alex?” He suggested.

            “Play it, Jimmy.”  Alex’s calm was betrayed by the faintest tremble in her voice.

            Trivette sighed and rolled his eyes to Pauly to play the tape and the forensics expert quickly found the start. Trivette cast a quick glance to CD for reassurance and turned back to look at the screen.

            “Oh Walker!” Alex insides crumbled as soon as she saw him.

            Walker stood alone in an open space, his hands unable to come above his waist for the chain attached on his feet. He was filthy. His once white shirt, now a patchy gray and black, was loose over his beige pants, and they must have been slung round his hips instead of his waist causing folds of material to gather round his ankles. This normally fine warrior looked so incredibly vulnerable it made the pain of seeing him like this unbearable. Unsteadily, Walker looked warily around him, something giving him cause for concern, and the disguised voice taunted them again.

            “Well Ms Cahill.  Playing hard to get hey?  You were very good in court today. The thirteen successful objections you had will be very unlucky for you though....” the voice trailed off menacingly.

            Suddenly two hooded men grabbed Walker from behind. They held him firmly between them as a stocky, powerful third man hit him brutally in the face, again and again! And in the background someone counted.  When he became too heavy to hold, they kicked him while he lay on the floor. Blows rained to the Ranger’s face, ribs, and back until “thirteen” was heard.  There was barely a breath to be heard in Alex’s office as Walker’s friends watched in utter horror.  The voice started again.

            “I never give up Ms Cahill. The case for the defense rests now, Just the summing up and you can still influence the jury by how you give it.  You put it favorably for Mr. Delany and he,” the voice paused while their captive was picked off the floor; Walker’s smashed mouth pouring with blood as his face was wrenched towards the camera, “will be spared.  It’s up to you!”

As the video ended Alex buried her head in her hands. CD, still shocked by what he had seen, looked at Bill Pauly and nodded. 

Even Pauly was affected by the events. As he carefully ejected the tape and placed it in a plastic bag, his voice was full of emotion as he spoke. “I’ll get this to you as soon as I can.”  He left, closing the door behind him only to lean his back on it for a few seconds trying to regain his composure. Looking up, he saw a small gathering of concerned Rangers and colleagues who had been waiting anxiously to see what the day would bring.  They eyed Pauly’s reaction with apprehension and he blew through his lips before speaking. 

“It’s real bad.” He took a second to swallow hard, “But I guess he’s still alive.” Quietly they dispersed, and Pauly quickly headed for his lab – determined to do all he could to help.

            It was a few minutes before anyone in Alex’s office could speak, and finally CD approached Alex. “Honey.  I don’t think there’s many words I can use to express how I feel right now, ‘cept to say I know it’s mightily hard for you. But I know you’ve made the decision Cordell would want you to make.”

            Withdrawing her hands from her face Alex looked white as a sheet as she spoke. “Okay Jimmy. Let’s go.”

            Trivette looked anxiously at CD, who nodded in confirmation of Alex’s decision to go ahead.

            “Get back as soon as you can, son. I’ll be in ops,” requested CD. And he left the office after giving Alex’s arm a squeeze.  CD entered the operations room and looked at the grim-faced task force. “Y’all heard?” He asked. They nodded. “There has to be a break coming our way shortly. Most cases will give you somethin’ back when you put in enough effort as we’ve bin doin’. Let’s get at it. Give me the latest updates.” 

They sprung back in action again, checking and double-checking, waiting for that break to jump out.

**

            The chain rattled on the hard floor as Walker started to come round again and with a groan, checked out his injuries starting with his eyes.  They were almost completely shut. Experiencing double vision, Walker peered through the tiny slits to look for the dish of water he remembered had been left on the floor. It was near the door.  He slowly crawled towards the shape, a cough racking his body mid-way, and tried unsuccessfully to lift up the large stainless steel bowl. But he barely had the strength to sit upright.  Instead he put his mouth to the water and drank, a bloody trail appearing from his cut mouth like the wake from a boat. 

This is turning into a nightmare, thought Walker. He forced his mind to be strong. Okay, let’s think positive instead.  Trivette and CD will be turning this city upside down for me and I know they’ll never give up till they find me. What can I do to help myself?  I’ve got to get over this pain and become more mobile. With these thoughts in mind Walker slowly took a deep breath and rolled over on his front, bringing his knees up as he did so.  He stayed doubled over until he had managed to control the various sharp aches piercing his body and forced himself upright, the effort causing beads of perspiration on his brow. At least he’d achieved something!

He thought back to his childhood. Walker remembered the blows he suffered at the hands of bullies and bigots when, after he quit running from them, he continually took the punishment they dished out. He fought as best he could, but being small in stature at the age of ten, had always lost. Walker remembered the joy he felt when he won his first fight and stopped some of the bullying.  Running home as fast as he could he found his father, “father, father!  I won! I beat them.”

The picture of his father calmly looking up from chopping wood was as clear as day. “Cordell,” he had quietly replied taking his son by the shoulders, “I knew you wouldn’t give up, so this day had to come. Remember though, you only fight to defend yourself.”

Walker couldn’t stop his grin as he assured him he would. He paused, “how were you so sure I wouldn’t give up?”

John Firewalker smiled proudly, “it’s not the size of a man in a fight my son. It’s the size of the fight in a man which counts. You have always had the heart of a warrior. It will be your strongest weapon.”

Looking round his prison cell, and strengthened by those precious thoughts, Walker forced himself to his feet and stood upright. He took a few steps forwards, turned and came back, and pleased with himself, carefully lowered himself back down on the floor.

Walker’s head turned sharply as the bolts on the door were snapped back, the noise ricocheting through the building like pistol shots. The door flew open to rebound with a crash against the wall of the cell, and Jason Vickers loomed in the doorway. Vickers viewed Walker for nearly thirty seconds before walking over to the side and sitting crossed legged opposite him.  Replacing his presence at the door were two armed guards pointing their weapons directly at their captive.

Walker looked in their direction in case there was a half chance to make a move on them.

“Forget it Walker. I’d have been really disappointed if you hadn’t considered it though.” Vickers smiled, “Whoa! The floor’s freezing!”

Walker was silent.

“You’re a calm one for sure.”

Walker thought he detected a South African accent. “What do you want?”

“Oh nothing.” Vickers smiled again. “There’s nothing you can give me, do for me, or offer me. I’m only here to torture you for Delany.” Vickers voice was sing-songy and jovial, “What did you do to upset that man Walker?” As he observed him Walker had remained completely impassive. When he had mentioned torture Walker hadn’t twitched a muscle. Vickers was impressed. “What makes you so cool Walker?”

Walker’s voice was quietly commanding. “Knowing that everyday I put the likes of you and Delany away.” Walker paused, “My day with you will come.”

“Doesn’t ease the pain any though, does it? Won’t help when you’re dead, will it?”

Walker forced a grin “You don’t know much about Texas Rangers, do you? Even if I’m dead - they’ll hunt you down to the ends of the earth.” He leaned forward, “You can bank on it.”

The smile left Vickers face.  He tried a different tack, “Nice little filly you got in Alex Cahill.” Gotcha thought Vickers. It was imperceptible but there! Walker had held his breath for the briefest second at the mention of her name. Vickers brought out a mobile phone from his pocket and offered it to him. “Call her Walker.  Mr. Delany wants her to influence the case in his favor.”

Stoically, Walker shook his head.

“Yeah, I guessed you’d be like that. Y’know it’s going to get much worse for you if Cahill doesn’t play ball?”

“Alex won’t cave in. Seems to me, you’re set to lose in any event.” Walker raised his eyebrows as he finished off the sentence.

“Don’t push me Walker. I admire you up to a point but don’t get condescending with me.” Vickers got up and held the mobile in front of him again, “We’re kindred spirits.  Fighting men! I don’t want you to go out this way! I’m showing you respect and you won’t get another chance!”

“Thanks, but, I’ll keep my own self respect.”

The left side of Vickers top lip curled up in a sneer.  He pointed a finger at him, turned as if to leave the room only to whip his foot back in Walker’s direction.  Walker saw it coming but had no way to avoid the hit. His head was thrown backwards, the warm sensation of pain making him shudder. Vickers didn’t leave him time to recover. He set after Walker, who was now lying on the floor, and fiercely kicked him in the side. The Ranger moaned. He didn’t understand Vickers intention until the hit man got down on his knees beside him.  Walker recognized the digital beeps of a phone dialing.

“Tell her to throw the case, Walker.”

Alarmed, Walker tried to back away, his chains rattling along the cement. He shook his head. “No.”

Vickers caught the long, middle chain joining Walker’s wrists and ankles, and yanked down hard, bringing his prisoner twisting uncontrollably to lie at his feet. Beckoning to the guards they held the Ranger on either side while Vickers grabbed a handful of hair to pinion Walker’s head. The phone was placed to Walker’s mouth.

“Uuhh.” Walker panted, struggling against his captors. The effort caused the veins in his neck to bulge.

The familiar, but subdued female voice answered. “Alex Cahill.”

The sound of her soft voice pierced his heart like an arrow of pain. Walker tightly clamped his lips together, feeling the metallic taste of old blood mixing with new.

“Alex Cahill.” She said again.

He could hear the apprehension starting to rise within her. Walker quickly tried to think. Maybe there’s still a chance she’ll think it’s a wrong number. Struggling against the hands gripping him he sharply brought his knees up and twisted his hips round.  His leg struck out knocking one of Vickers bent up legs out from under him and Vickers wobbled, his hands coming up in front of him as he tried to keep upright. The action brought the phone directly in front of Walker. 

Alex’s voice became fearful. “Who is thi..”

Walker shot both feet out firmly and the phone left Vickers hand to arc in the air. They watched helplessly as it spun and tumbled, finally hitting the hard floor to shatter on impact.

There was the briefest pause before Vickers leapt to his feet, wildly kicking at Walker until his rage abated. Without further conversation he left the cell after pointing to one of his companions to pick up the pieces of phone on his way out. Then they too left the room and the door was slammed shut and bolted once more.

His eyes closed, Walker rolled over in agony. Despite his extreme discomfort his concern was for Alex. He could hear only her voice as she had answered the phone. It replayed over and over in his mind, ‘Alex Cahill’. He remembered her face, her smile.

He whispered through gritted teeth, “hang in there, Alex. …Hang in there.” Walker sighed. The extra pressure he knew would burden her even further. Regardless, Walker guessed she would see the case through. I’m sure I know her well enough he thought, and CD and Trivette’ll help her.  It’ll all turn out. It’s just got to.  As he tried to lay still and quiet in the room, Walker gradually dozed off, fatigue overcoming his pain.

**

            “And finally Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you have heard from expert forensic scientists that either fiber from Delany’s clothes, or his skin, taken from the fingernails of his victims, have been comprehensively proven to link him with each of the eleven homicides.” Alex’s voice dropped.

“You have had to witness sights and testimony no decent human beings should ever have had to endure in the course of their lives.  I’m sure that much of it will remain with you, as it will with me,” her voice broke slightly, “the officers investigating this case, and of course, the families of the victims. I would venture that it’s impossible, with the evidence you have heard, to come back with anything other than a guilty verdict on all eleven counts. By doing so, Ladies and Gentlemen, you will start the healing process for all concerned in this sordid affair.” Alex looked at each member of the jury individually as she slowly spoke her last sentence.  “For all our sakes - put Mason Delany away for good.” 

It was over.  Alex exhaled deeply, and started back to her table when the sight of Walker’s bloody face repeatedly flashed in front of her. Her legs buckled and she grabbed wildly for the edge of the table to steady herself, as people in the jury box and those watching the case gasped with obvious concern.

            Phil Davis was at her side in an instant, taking her arm, leading her back to her seat. “You all right?” He asked.

She nodded slowly, only to grab his arm hard again as the image of Walker being brutally kicked completely filled her mind’s eye. She blinked rapidly trying to rid herself of the image and her heart raced so wildly she felt it would explode.

            “Take a deep breath Alex,” Phil commanded. She inhaled deeply. Then exhaled. Finally letting go of Phil’s arm as she regained control.

            “Ms Cahill? I’ll allow a ten minute recess if this will help?” Judge Orsea’s concerned face came into view as Phil went back to his seat.

            “Thank you your honor. I’m fine now. Please accept my apologies.” Alex prayed the visions would stay away by forcing herself to think of the way Fielding would make his closing argument. Anything not to remind herself of what Walker could be experiencing right now. Despite her tiredness she sat upright, and looked at Fielding as he stood up after being invited by the judge to close the case for the defense.

**

It was early evening as Alex caught up with CD and Trivette in the ops room.  On seeing her slowly walk through Trivette stood up immediately to offer his chair, which she took gratefully.  Alex raised her eyebrows in their direction, knowing as she did so by the reaction of their downcast faces there was no news.

            “We’ve checked another three premises without success, “ Trivette appeased and when Alex failed to respond, “I hear your summation was short but effective?”

            Nodding slowly, Alex explained. “The jury has been here a long time, Jimmy. I felt it benefited our case to make it easy on them by not reiterating too many points. Especially as much of it is forensic. I think it was the right decision as Fielding was nearly three hours in closing - they looked half a sleep towards the end.”  Alex paused briefly, “So, what now?”

            They all looked round as Bill Pauly suddenly burst into the room, “We’ve got a partial print and a name!”  He had everyone’s instant, undivided attention.

            “Well, who?” Bellowed CD.

            “Guy’s named Jason Vickers. No previous, former Army sergeant, photo and details coming through the wire anytime!”

            Trivette patted Pauly’s arm.  “Appreciate you staying over, Bill.”

            “Least I could do.  Same time and place in the morning?”

            His question sobered up the group immediately. CD nodded, “yeah, I suppose.”  CD’s hand automatically found Alex’s shoulder and he kneaded it gently when the ‘wire’ suddenly burst into action. They waited eagerly for the first page to come off.

            “Okay.” Trivette read to them, “Jason Vickers. Six feet, dark brown hair, brown eyes..blah.. blah.  Former Army sergeant. Vietnam Vet. Dishonorable discharge for GBH while AWOL.  Blah, blah....er..here we are. Spent a lot of time in Mozambique as ‘military advisor’ to SWAPO - South West African People’s Organization. Returned to the States. Been a bodyguard to hoods and thugs by the looks of it, but no previous. Hhmm, odd for a type like that.”

            “Get copies of his photo and lean on all Delany’s associates again.  Get round every single one of them and ask if they’ve seen this man with Delany and where.”  CD picked up his jacket “Run a couple off while I take Alex back.”  CD had seen Alex looking wistfully at Walker’s desk.

            “CD I’d rather stay here for a while.”

            “Alex honey! You’ve had a hell of a day. Sure you don’t wanna go home and relax?”

            “How exactly am I going to relax, CD?”

He nodded. “Point taken. Let me get you a take out then? I wus going for one anyway.” Alex nodded.

            Trivette picked up the phone. “Now we’ve something definite to go on I’ll call in more hands to help again.

            With Trivette out making inquiries with the others, CD and Alex sat down alone to eat.  After a few mouthfuls both of them played with their food rather than ate anything.

            “How long d’think the jury will be out Alex?”

            “Impossible to guess - I don’t even try anymore CD.  However long, it won’t be soon enough though, or will it? She looked at CD impassively.

            “It’ll all work out, Alex.”

            “You can’t say that CD!  I just hope you’re right.” She paused slightly, “I keep thinking of him in so much pain...” her voice became a whisper, “It’s …it’s tearing me apart.” Strangely, she hadn’t felt like crying at all.  Not at anytime! She had felt lightheaded, nauseous, bone-wearily tired, but not like crying.  Her body ached. If they could just get him back…

They finally rang Trivette around 9pm and told him they were leaving for her apartment.  He arranged to see them the following morning, and although he hadn’t specified exactly why, they all knew.

**

            His effort to overcome his captors had almost worked.  Walker had come round feeling his most clear-headed since he’d been taken, but he still hurt all over and could barely see his eyes were so swollen.  He pretended to be unconscious on hearing the door of the cell open, while making a calculated guess there were two men.  As they bent down to check him out, and mindful of the limits of his chains, Walker lifted his hands and feet together whacking one in the face with his boots, while grabbing the other by the throat with both hands. Drawing him in close Walker brought up his knee striking the guard in the face. Both men were out cold. 

Walker allowed himself a small smile while reaching out to the wall for support and struggling to his feet. He tried not to breathe too rapidly in an effort to block the pains shooting up the inside of his back, and slowly made his way to the door. Cautiously he peered round the corner only to bump into a third man who appeared as startled as Walker.  Instinctively Walker let fly with a fist only to have the punch stopped short by his chains and allowing his captor to connect with a left and right hook to the face. The blow split one of his already swollen eyes, the warm blood oozing down his cheek as Walker landed on his back with a thud.  This commotion caused yet another guard to enter the scene and together they laid into him.

“Payback for having humiliated them at the ranch” as one informed him before dragging him out to the larger room. 

Between the ins and outs of consciousness the Ranger knew another bout of abuse for the video was about to start.  They removed the chains, strung him up roughly and the lashing started. It took Walker every mental strength exercise he could think of to combat the searing pain, each laceration seeming worse than the one before.

Now back in his cell he was so weak it had become impossible to keep track of time. And no longer could he ignore the gnawing hunger pains in his belly; they had not fed him since his capture. Walker could go without food for sometime, but with a cement floor he was unable to offset the pangs of hunger by digging for the odd insect or grub. Keeping up his liquid intake now was vital.

With both eyes completely shut he put one hand out in front of the other, thankfully realizing as he did so, that they had not bothered to re-chain him. It was reassuring when he had located the wall, but such was his condition, the Ranger could hardly work out if the door was to his left or right. He finally opted for the right, slowly making his way down on his stomach only to find that the bowl had been knocked over in the earlier struggle, and most of the water split.  He lapped the bottom of the bowl like a dog, taking in at least a few good mouthfuls.  It would have to do.

Part of the art of survival was to have a goal.  Now he’d found the water, what else could he do? Unable to come up with an answer his body began to allow the pain to overtake him, but he gritted his teeth and forced his mind to stay strong to keep it in check.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.”  Father Johnson had read those words from the Book of Hebrews last time he and Alex had gone to church and somehow it had stayed in his mind. Well, Walker thought, I hope I’m gonna get outta here, and although I can’t see it, I know the whole Ranger department will be looking for me.  There’s no way I’m giving up. He sighed deeply. It must be night too, he figured, because without his shirt and although his back felt like fire, it was cold! Real cold. And by morning, just about the time the video was being viewed, he was unable to stop shivering.

**

            It was pouring with rain that morning, the skies overcast and dark matching their mood. CD brought Alex into Ranger Headquarters and as they walked through the building you could literally cut the atmosphere with a knife.  The threesome and Bill Pauly silently waited for the mail for nearly ten minutes until finally Vicky rushed in startling them all.  They let Pauly take over, and quickly locating THE envelope, he checked the postmark.

            “Posted in a different location again,” he confirmed. The envelope went into the plastic bag as before and the tape carefully inserted into the video.  Pauly found the start.  It opened differently with just the voice, over which a slow continuous crack was heard. Trivette frowned, trying to work out what the noise was.

            “You’re a bitch Ms Cahill” (Crack). “You just wouldn’t give it (crack) up, would you?  You just (crack) had to see it though! (Crack). Let me ask you a question (crack) counselor?  What’s the best thing we (crack) can do with a half-breed? (Crack). The camera swung round to reveal Walker stripped to the waist, suspended by the wrists, his back a criss-cross of angry weal’s as the lashing continued.        

            “Oh, no!” Trivette turned on his heel to walk a few paces back, his hands resting awkwardly on his hips as he turned to look once again.

            “Oh, my dear Lord!” CD’ held his hands to his face.

            Only Alex, her face as stone, remained impassive.

            “(Crack) Nineteen, (crack) twenty, (crack) twenty one,(crack) twenty two!” 

            The counting and whipping stopped. Walker’s weak voice could be heard for the first time.

“Uughh”, he groaned, his head tipping back in an effort to alter his position.

Distraught, Alex felt as though someone were twisting a knife in her heart.

             “That’s how long your summation was Ms Cahill. Twenty-two minutes!  If that jury comes back with a damn guilty verdict I swear I’ll chop him up and deliver him to you piece by piece.” The picture stayed on Walker. “Your half-breed Ms Cahill! If he dies I want you to remember this is all your doing!” The picture ended as abruptly as the message.

            CD crossed the room to sit in one of the spare chairs. “Oh my.” His hands rubbed his eyes and he deliberately avoided the gaze of the others.

            Without further checking Pauly retrieved the video, placed it in a bag and wordlessly left the room to convey this latest grizzly outcome on Walker’s plight to the band of caring fellow officers outside.

            Trivette looked to see how this had affected Alex and was surprised to see her with her emotions intact.

            She swallowed heavily. “You guys better get on it,” Alex said dispassionately.

            Trivette looked to CD now regaining his composure, unsure what to make of her lack of emotion, but he nodded and went out the door.

            “You sure you’ll be all right honey?” CD double-checked. 

            Alex looked terrible. She fingered her eyebrows nervously. “Yeah.”  Her entire body felt completely numb. She looked back at CD and Trivette until they disappeared, wondering if the many happy times they had all shared together would ever come again. Or whether this was to be the end of everything they had known. 

Had she made the right decision to go on?  Oh yes, she’d done her duty. Done what was expected of her. But when she thought about it selfishly, no, she hadn’t. She finally admitted it to herself. Her decision had at the very least caused the man she loved immense pain and suffering, and at the very worst - his life.  Was it worth it?  No, she decided; no, it was not.  Even if Walker had been mad with her it would’ve been an easier decision to live with. He may have lost his respect for her perhaps, but at least he would be alive and well.  For a man as brave and compassionate as Walker, who had given so much and helped so many people over his life time, would it have been such a tragedy for him to accept something back just this once?

As Alex closed her eyes a tremendous feeling of foreboding overwhelmed her. Even if by some miracle he did survive, she knew they could never be the same again now. With robot like calm she left her office, entered the ladies restroom, and was violently sick.

**

            CD looked to Trivette.  Let’s get back Jimmy. I’ve just had another thought. We’ve questioned all the known associates, checked all their buildings, and come up bare, right?”

            “Right.” Trivette replied, glancing over briefly with one eye on the road ahead.

            “He’s got several legit businesses. A car hire, couple of dry cleaners, ‘bout four video rentals and an accountancy firm. Let’s get everyone round to each one and show the regular, law -abiding staff the picture of Vickers. See if they’ve seen him!”

Without further ado, Trivette complied and various Rangers were sent to each one while CD and Trivette checked out the nearest, a video rental shop. Before they left they called on Alex in her office and advised her of the new line of inquires.  She didn’t reply.

            “Waiting for the jury must be the worst bit, huh?” Trivette ventured, now completely unsure what Alex’s reaction was going to be at any given time.

            “Yeah.”

            “Alex,” CD offered in desperation, “You wanna come along for the ride?  It’s not too far away and we can always get you back when you’re notified the jury’s in.”

            “No. Thank you CD.”

            “Okay.  Hang in there, honey” Alex nodded and they left for the elevator. “Jimmy!” CD commented, “I’m mighty worried ‘bout that little gal. I’m not too sure she can take much more.  You know she’s not cried once? Not while I’ve bin there anyhow.”

            “Not with me either, CD. Man, this is a nightmare! I don’t know what else we can do.” 

Trivette swung the car into the car park and within a few minutes they were talking to the staff.  They telephoned employees who were not on duty and spoke to them, but no one was able to help.  They hadn’t even seen Delany for ages, let alone anyone else.  They sat in the car for a few minutes when a call was tagged for them.

            “Trivette? It’s Mike at the accountants.  I think we’ve been given a break!”

**

            The door to the cell opened quietly, and Walker forced his consciousness to come to the surface as gentle hands eased him up to a sitting position. On the point of delirium with hunger and pain, he tried to identify the rescuer.

“Trivette?” Came the hoarse whisper.

            “Yeah pard.” Vickers smiled devilishly as he punched the dial on the phone.  His task was almost over. He only had to wait for Delany’s instructions on how and when to kill Walker and then he’d get the rest of his money. He may as well have some fun to pass the time!

            “Need …food……water……”

            “We’ll get ya some.” He kept a hand on Walker to stop him falling backwards as he waited for the phone to be answered.

            “Alex Cahill.” Came back the unsure voice.

            “Alex, hi! It’s Jimmy. Here’s someone to speak to you.” Vickers turned to Walker “Just tell Alex you’re okay will you? She’s worried about you.”

            Alex frowned.  What was going on?  That wasn’t Trivette. She pressed the phone to her ear as a slow, weak voice came on.

            “Alex. …Trivette’s …here.” Walker’s breathing was a slow pant. It took all his strength to speak, “…I’m… okay…so you…don’t…” The voice suddenly trailed off as Vickers let go of Walker’s arm and the wounded Ranger rolled to the side.

             “Walker!” Oh no, thought Alex. He thinks Trivette’s with him. Shocked at the depths of their maliciousness, Alex knew now Trivette would never find Walker. Neither did she get the chance to say goodbye, the connection having been already lost. She could have at least told him she loved him. She replaced the receiver cursing the lack of her presence of mind only to have it ring again immediately, making Alex’s already delicate stomach flip as she picked it up.

Alex could hardly breathe. “Alex Cahill.”

            “Ms Cahill? The jury’s coming back.”

            She looked at the clock. It was 4pm. “Ththank yyou,” she stammered  “I’ll be right there.”  The district attorney had everything ready, but now her body was numb. She opened the door to see Phil coming towards the door, and together they started for the courthouse again. As they stood in the elevator Phil noticed Alex sway a little. 

            “Alex?” He questioned.

            “There’s nothing anyone can do, Phil.” He knew by the tone that she wouldn’t appreciate being questioned further about it, so they embarked upon the rest of the journey in silence.  Their timing was good. They had seated themselves for only a few minutes when the request for all to rise was given.  Alex couldn’t help but be aware of Delany staring at her, and finally, unable to help herself, she made eye contact with him. The hideous toad smiled at her with evil intent. As the bailiff began to speak, Alex forced herself to turn away.

**

            Ten Rangers surrounded the mill waiting for Trivette to give the word. He spoke to Mike again. “So the accountant said that Delany was about to buy this place?”

            “Yeah.  He’s gonna join the rag trade. Sweat shop effort. But the sale’s only just in the process of going through. It’s supposed to be vacant.”

            “Still no word from the legit owner?” CD questioned Trivette.

            “No.  Look, I say we do it. We worry about the consequences later if there are any. If Walker’s in there – we’ve gotta get him.” Trivette checked his gun.

            “Dispatch to Trivette.”

            “Yeah! Go ahead.”

            “Verdict’s in. Guilty on all eleven counts.”

            Together they smiled at the news, but then realized this also spelled out Walker’s death sentence. As one they decided to hang the consequences, all drawing their weapons as Trivette gave the signal to go to the rest of the team.  They broke down the front, back and side doors simultaneously, entering with extreme caution.

Three running bodies criss-crossed with each other on the ground floor of the warehouse in a vain effort to get out. The Rangers held their fire, wary of the danger of cross fire between them and they closed the circle on three men.  One was Vickers.  Trivette made a beeline for him, and completely out-numbered, he and the others gave it up without a shot being fired. The whip used on Walker and the video equipment were quickly discovered.

            “Spread out! He’s here somewhere,” yelled Trivette. 

The mill was on three floors and resembled a rabbit warren. They dispersed in different directions to search room by room.  

Trivette went towards the back, his gun still drawn, although he was pretty sure there were only the three men now in custody.  He peered through the worsening light, finally taking out a small pocket flashlight light and checked out each room either side of the corridor until he saw a door locked with bolts to the top and bottom. 

Slowly sliding the bolts back he opened the door to peer in the darkened room and took a step inside.  There was only blackness. He shone the tiny flashlight around when a movement close to his leg startled him. Jumping back Trivette swung the light in the direction of the sound only to recoil in horror at the bloody, shivering body at his feet. His adrenaline sky-high, his heart pumping, Trivette shone the light again and recognized Walker’s swollen face. 

“Oh dear God.” whispered Trivette. He backed into the corridor and yelled at the top of his voice, “OVER HERE. GET AN AMBULANCE!”  Trivette walked back in the room and bent down, shining the light again only to feel repulsion at the state Walker was in.  Trivette chastised himself. This was his partner!

A trembling hand reached out for him and the weak voice of Walker mumbled hopefully. “Trivette?”

            “It sure is pard.” Taking a deep breath, Trivette took his friend’s hand and squeezed it carefully. “We got you now. Everything’s gonna be okay.” Walker’s hand was like a block of ice. “Oh man! You’re freezing!” Trivette sat on the floor next to him. “I’m gonna sit you up a bit.”

Walker could barely move.

Trivette reached down, carefully lifting Walker’s upper body across his own as he leant back against the wall. Setting him across his chest for warmth. Watching he didn’t touch Walker’s back, he started to gently rub his partner’s upper right arm to warm the limb as Walker’s head fell on Trivette’s chest.

Walker rambled incoherently between gasps for breath. “Alex …she’s…” His face contorted in agony, “I…need help.” He summoned the last remnants of his strength to find his partner’s hand. “You …caught them?”

His young partner gripped him protectively, “Sshhh. Yeah, we got them. Don’t worry about anythin’. Just take it easy.”  Trivette looked up at the sound of running feet to see Mike’s head appear round the door. The larger flashlight helped considerably to illuminate the room.  He pulled a face in horror, but Trivette put a finger to his lips to advise him not to say anything.

As more Rangers entered, elsewhere someone found the main lights and the room suddenly lit up. There was silence as Walker was seen properly for the first time and the extent of his injuries brought home.

Trivette swallowed heavily, and tried to find his voice. “Guys. Let’s have your jackets.”

They rushed to comply, gently placing the garments over Walker’s shoulders with Trivette’s hand still rubbing Walker’s arm, trying to get an ounce of heat back into him. With more Rangers appearing jackets were quickly removed, and soon Walker was in a cocoon of coats. 

“Better?” Asked Trivette.

            Walker didn’t seem to comprehend, but Trivette knew they still hadn’t stopped the shivers.

            CD dropped to his knee with a bottle of water in his hand. He exchanged a look of despair with Trivette and almost too emotional to speak asked,  “You …you need some water, Cordell?”

The mention of water brought a reaction. Walker blindly reached out in front of him as CD rushed to remove the top off the bottle.

Walker could hardly drink it down quickly enough, spilling as much as he swallowed.

            “Whoa, whoa! Take it easy, son.  Just take it in sips,” CD commanded, regulating the flow, “There you go. Slowly, best not have too much now.” 

            CD easily wrestled the bottle away and the Ranger again rested his head on Trivette’s chest.

Their friend’s voice was barely audible, “Need …food…” Trivette, CD and Mike looked at each other.

            Mike’s shoulders sagged. “We’d better make sure we tell the hospital he may be starving as well!”

            CD tried to conceal his outrage and he patted former partner’s arm. “Don’t you worry none. We’ll take you home, son. We’ll get you outta here first, then get you some help.”

            “Thank God.”  Trivette looked across the now crowded room. “The medics are here.”

            The small band of Rangers watched in silence as Walker was lifted up into the ambulance by the EMT’s. With sirens blaring, the vehicle pulled away. Noticing the despondent look on Trivette’s face, Mike put an arm around his colleague’s shoulders.

            “You did all you could, Trivette.  What ever happens, don’t start by blaming yourself. Walker’s the toughest guy we know! He’ll get over this, you’ll see.”

            “Yeah. You’re right, but…” Trivette looked away, “I just wish…”

            “I know. I know.” Mike interrupted.  Turning towards the sound to the side of them they watched the suspects file out of the building towards the waiting cars. 

Vickers eyed Trivette, smiled, and with his annoying singsong voice taunted them.  “Another five minutes…”

            “YOU SON OF A B…” Trivette launched himself towards the prisoner.

            “TRIVETTE!” Mike and two other Rangers rushed to grab him and together they struggled to stop Trivette’s right fist from smashing in Vickers face. “Let him go, he’s not worth your career!” They held him back until Vickers was placed in the car and it hastily moved down the road. Trivette took a swipe at the wheel with his foot as it sped past and then regained his composure.

            “Okay, okay!” He held his hands up. “I’m okay. Sorry.”

**

            Trivette stood impatiently with his mobile while looking down at his shirt, stained with Walker’s blood and still damp from the spilled water. “Can you look round and see if you can find her, or see if Phil’s there?”  He looked at CD sat on the chair in the hospital waiting room and shrugged.  Finally after what seemed an endless wait, “Yeah, Phil? You know where Alex is?”  Trivette listened.  “Uhhuh. Hmmm. Okay Phil. Thanks.”  Trivette sat down heavily.

            “Maybe she’s gone to her apartment?” Suggested CD.

            Trivette was annoyed.  “Why couldn’t she have waited till we contacted her? Or why not get Phil to take her?”

            “She’s under the impression with Delany guilty and going straight down it’s over.  She said as much to Phil didn’t she?”

            “Yeah, but....  she doesn’t know we’ve found him.”  Trivette was really irritated.  He rubbed his eyes wearily.  “Shall I go and see if she’s there? Maybe she’s so tired she’s not picking up the phone?”

            “Wait till we hear from the doc then I’ll stay with Cordell, you go look for her.  How does that sound?”

            The younger man nodded his agreement, was silent for a few seconds, then sighed. “He sure was a mess wasn’t he?”

            CD sniffed. “Yeah. He sure wus. Bastards! He’ll be fine though, y’know what kind of man he’s like. He’s the toughest guy I ever knew. Y’know Jimmy, there aren’t many men who’d get over what he’s been through. But with him? You don’t hafta doubt at all.  He’ll get over it.” He looked round to smile broadly at Trivette.

            Trivette finally returned the grin in measure, “Yeah! Obstinate as they come, thankfully.”

            The doctor having given the okay, the pair found his room and went in quietly to see Walker laid on his right side, sleeping.

He was attached to a heart monitor that quietly bleeped at calm, regular intervals, and had an IV in his right arm.  Bare from the waist upwards, they could see he was black and blue all over where they had beaten him up, his back a mess of sore looking stripes. Both eyes were shut, one with ugly black stitches across the upper lid.

CD and Trivette couldn’t help but be shocked. It had been a hard time for all of them. Trivette put on his hat.  “I’m gonna find Alex.”  He laid his hand on CD’s arm for a bit of reassurance.    

CD patted it. “We’ll get some food when you git back?”  Nodding, Trivette quietly left the room.  CD thought it was hot in the hospital, but maybe it was him.  He removed his hat and jacket, hung them up, and standing next to Walker’s bed, the old man gently picked up Walker’s left hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He blinked away a tear, gave the hand a squeeze once more, and placed it carefully back on the bed. Looking behind him, CD reached for the chair and gratefully settled himself down. About an hour and a half later the door creaked announcing Trivette’s return, stirring both CD and Walker out of their respective slumbers. 

            Walker groaned slightly as he moved, “Alex?” he asked.

            CD quickly went to his side, “No, son. It’s me and Jimmy.”  CD looked questioningly at Trivette as the young man signaled, and silently mouthed to him.

            {“I can’t find her!”}

            CD frowned. Annoyed, he mouthed back to him. {“Whaddya mean you can’t find her?”}

            Trivette held up both hands.

            “CD?”

            CD looked back to Walker, “Yeah, Cordell.”

            “Is everythin’, okay?”

            Dad burn it, thought CD! He doesn’t miss a dang trick. He came back quickly, “Sure! Everythin’ but you that is... you sure are a sight.”

            “Yeah, I’ll bet.”

            “Let me get you some water here.”  CD poured water from the container into a small cup. “Now don’t you do anything, let me take the strain.”  Trivette came round the other side of the bed and lifted Walker’s head while CD placed the cup in Walker’s hand and helped him lift it to his mouth.  After Walker had finished, Trivette laid his friend’s head back carefully.

“How you doin’ pard?”

            “Good. …Alex...she …?”  His voice started to die away.

            “We’re all fine,” Trivette quietly lied, “We just want you to rest and get better.”

            Walker sighed as CD and Trivette looked at each other. They refrained from speaking and with relief, after a few minutes, they heard the regular pattern of breathing as Walker slept again. Trivette beckoned for CD to come outside.

            “Whaddya mean you can’t find her?” CD was on the point of irritation now.

            “How else can I put it?  She isn’t at her apartment, not at the office, and no one knows where she is.”

            CD checked his watch. “Nearly 10pm.  Where could she have gotten to? Any signs of foul play at the apartment?” he asked as an after thought.

            “No, but..” Trivette thought it through, “I maybe mistaken, but …it could be that a few of her clothes were gone. Although it was orderly I mean, not out of place.”

            “Look. Let’s not jump to conclusions now. She may have been taken out to dinner by someone. Let’s have something to eat ourselves. We’ll try again in an hour.”

**

Trivette was by Walker’s bedside the next day when his partner woke with a start, in

obvious pain, and briefly confused by his lack of sight.  Walker’s hand went to his back, but he stopped, not wanting to touch it, and groaned. His body stiffened as another wave of pain hit him.

Trivette was there in a second. “Walker? It’s okay, you’re in hospital. I’m gonna find the doc, ask him to give you something.”

            “Trivette,” Walker sucked air as he fought the fire on his back, “Don’t let them sedate me. I don’t want to be like that again.”

            “Okay! Okay. I’ll make sure.” Trivette hurried away, returning just a few minutes later with the doctor who examined Walker carefully again. He took his blood pressure and temperature, then left to return with a hypodermic. “Wait a minute, doc! Just a painkiller, right? No sedation?”

            “Yes. If that’s what he wants.  He may have been extremely cold during his imprisonment, but it helped deaden the pain. Now he’s back to normal temperature he’s feeling the full brunt of it, but I promise you, this is just a painkiller!”  He awaited Trivette’s consent before proceeding, and at the young Ranger’s nod, injected the hypo into the IV. “There you go. Call me again if you need me.”  With that he left.

            Trivette grabbed Walker’s arm reassuringly.  “It’ll soon kick in. Can you see anythin’ yet?” He asked.

            Walker felt the swollen eyelids with his hand “Not really. I think it’s a bit better though.” He tried not to make a face while attempting to shift out the stiffness of his limbs, and change his position to see if he could lie on his other side.  As he lifted his body off the bed Trivette was there in an instant, helping him to take the weight, and gently easing him over while untangling the IV.

            “How’s that?” Trivette asked.

            Walker grimaced, and wasn’t entirely sure.  He finally forced himself to relax and the pain became more bearable. “Thanks Trivette.” There was a slight pause. “Will Alex be in today?” 

            There was more than a bit of hope in Walker’s voice, although Trivette guessed he’d tried to disguise it. Trivette eyes closed and he wondered if the moment had come when he had to come clean. “Maybe,” he still hedged, “She’s been really tired out herself. I know you’ll understand she needs her rest too.”

            “Oh yeah, sure. She’s okay, isn’t she?”

            “Oh yeah.  Yeah.”

Thankfully for Trivette, two nurses entered. They asked him to leave while they saw to “Ranger Walker’s needs.”

Trivette didn’t need a second bidding to go.  Telling Walker he’d see him later, he rushed back to the office to find CD pacing the floor, Phil and Mike with him. “What’s the news?”

            “She’s took off.”

            “Took off?”

            CD waved a paper in front of Trivette to read. He shook his head. “This doesn’t make sense.”

            “Doesn’t it?”  CD sat next to him. “She was under pressure way before this thing with Cordell. Yet she never cried or broke down and it was her decision to carry on with the trial. Can you imagine what she felt every time she saw that blasted video? It had to come out in someway. She couldn’t take it. She’s resigned, taken a few clothes and gone. Taken herself away from having to see what might have come about if you hadn’t found him.”

            “Man! Why couldn’t she just have waited to see if we got him first?”

            “And if we hadn’t? What does she do? Wait for the first parcel with a piece of him in it?”  CD raised his eyebrows. He instinctively knew he was right.

            “So you think she’s gone of her own free will, no coercion?”

            “I do.”

            “CD? What the heck we gonna tell Walker?”

            On day three Walker could finally see.  He felt much better, was off the IV and monitors and could even sit upright in bed, his back healed enough to rest on the pillow.  This was how CD and Trivette found him when they called in to say hello before work.

Walker eyed them properly for the first time, their body language telling him exactly what he had suspected since yesterday. “Good to see you guys, finally,” he ventured with a small smile.  “Thanks for all your help. It’s appreciated.”

            They smiled back at him. “Hey” Trivette voiced for them both, “No problem.”

            “But what is it you’re not telling me?  Is it Alex?”  Walker felt his stomach tighten and his heart begin to beat rapidly as he saw their crestfallen faces. Walker could hardly bear the wait as they both sat down before speaking.

            Trivette raised his hands in a gesture of futility. “Walker,” he shook his head... “She’s gone.”

Walker digested Trivette’s statement, placing his head slightly to one side, puzzled. “Gone? What’d you mean gone? You mean, she’s …” he could hardly get the word out,

“dead?”

            Both CD and Trivette responded together “No!”  “No!” 

CD grasped the nettle. “Cordell,” he started, “We think that, well, after the verdict came in. Maybe the strain of everything got too much for her. She er, left a resignation letter on Vicky’s desk, took a few clothes and went.”

            Walker looked blank as Trivette nodded at CD’s statement. He was hurt.  His voice was etched with pain, “Did she know.. I was alive?”

            “No!” Trivette could handle this part. “The verdict came in just before we found you. As far as Alex knew, the next time she saw you, you’d be chopped up in a box!  Delany had successfully carried out all the other atrocities, so she could be forgiven if she thought he was gonna carry out this one too.  From what we know Alex left immediately after the verdict was announced and she was no longer needed in court.  I’m pretty sure she couldn’t take what she thought was coming next and she just, chose to go.”

Walker was silent for a while.  He looked away. Both CD and Trivette felt deeply for him.  They knew what Alex meant to him, and correctly guessed that this emotional pain was now greater to bear than the physical one he’d just come through.

            CD sat on his bed. “Cordell. You have to understand the pressure that little lady wus under.  You think back to when you were guarding her at night. Think about her mental state then! She was already plumb tuckered out before you got taken.  Then she had to watch the videos of you being beaten. Have you any idea what that would’ve done to her?  She made a decision not to give into the blackmail and do her bit in court, but my guess is she feels some responsibility for what happened to you, and if you had died, she couldn’t handle it. So she left.” 

            They were all silent for a while. Finally Walker asked, “Could you run trace on her credit cards? See where she’s gone?”

            Trivette was nodding. “We’ve already got it in place. But she hasn’t used them yet.  We also have an APB out on her car, but so far no joy.”  He paused. “Will er, you be okay?”

            Walker nodded soberly. “You’d both better get back to work.”  They took this to mean Walker needed to be by himself, so they made their excuses and left, promising to see him later.

Gone!  Walker felt numb. She was quite within her rights to go, if she felt like it, which went without saying! But to go like this! That was difficult to deal with. Closing his eyes, Walker imagined her in his arms, laughing and warm, her eyes full of love.  He’d longed for that moment so much over the past six days. Now it wasn’t to be after all, and he felt absolute despair.  “Where have you gone Alex?” He whispered to himself.

            They were subdued for their evening get together at the hospital, which fortunately was frequently interrupted by well-wishers and fellow Rangers, all of whom steered clear of mentioning Alex. By the end of the evening Walker looked tired. CD and Trivette prepared to leave when Walker stopped them.

            “Guys.  What happened. It was just one of those things.  There’s no one to blame.” Walker had an uncanny knack for reading a situation perfectly. Both Trivette and CD secretly berated themselves for not keeping a closer eye on Alex. Neither one spoke, confirming Walker’s supposition, all three, feeling her absence. CD and Trivette nodded and made their way out.

            The next morning CD arrived at Walker’s room to find him struggling to get dressed. He had on his pants, but was bent double on the bed trying to put on a sock. Exhausted, he lay on his side at CD’s arrival. 

“CD, I need to get outta here.” Walker knew he wasn’t fit enough to go home alone. He still needed care for a few more days, and CD was his big hope to get out.  He looked as hangdog as possible in an effort to persuade him.

            “Don’t look at me like that, Cordell! Dang and blast it! The hospital will have a fit.”

            “Have I ever stayed as long as they wanted?”

            CD sighed heavily. “No, I guess not.”

            “CD! I’ve had it with here.”

            “Oh!”  CD snatched the sock out of his hand and wrestled it on Walker’s foot, then the other one, and was in the middle of putting on his boots when Trivette came in.

            “A break out?”

            “Sort of.” Came Walker’s reply.  “Trivette? Will you get the discharge papers from the nurses station for me?”

            “You’ve bin here so many times and never stayed the course - I’m surprised they didn’t give them to you themselves!”  He went out the door, cussing mildly.  By the time he came back Walker had on a half done-up shirt and a jacket that CD had brought him from the ranch the day before. They all looked round as a nurse stormed in with a wheelchair. 

            “Might have known it, Cordell!” She bellowed.

            “It’s nuthin’ personal Nurse Halliwell. You know I think you’re the best!”

            “Then at least go out according to the rules!”

            Walker looked at the wheelchair. “I hate it!”

            “Humor me!”

            They eyeballed each other for a few minutes, as CD and Trivette kept well out of this one.  Walker secretly thought he may be unable to make it to the door; it was a long walk from where they were, so he acquiesced. 

            Nurse Halliwell could read him like a book.  As he lowered himself into the wheelchair she whispered to him, “One you owe me don’t you think?”

            He looked behind, unable to stop himself giving her a smile. Without further ado, she whisked him out the door, leaving CD and Trivette tagging along behind.

            Even Walker was surprised how weak he was.  Just getting dressed and the ride to CD’s had completely drained him, and his insides hurt like hell again. Trivette had a job helping him out of the car and between them, CD and Trivette half carried him up the steps.

            “Just set him on the porch seat for now till I git the door and everything,” CD grumbled.  He felt as if this had been a big mistake and Walker wasn’t fit enough yet. But as they lowered him down and CD fumbled for his keys to let them in, the old man looked back towards Walker and stopped. 

Walker had his eyes closed, enjoying the sun on his face. The Ranger took a long breath, drinking in the fresh, sage-scented air with relish, his face a picture of relief.

CD sighed.  I bet, CD thought, there were times Walker musta wondered if he’d ever enjoy this again! And he smiled to himself.  Maybe this was the right thing after all.  He caught Trivette’s eye and they both enjoyed Walker’s reaction to his newfound freedom.  Going up behind him, CD placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s warmer today. You set here a spell. I’ll bring you out a cup of coffee.”

            Without looking, Walker caught CD’s hand before his ex partner could remove it. He gave it a squeeze, his voice full of emotion. “Thank you CD.”

            CD patted him gently, “It’s okay son. You enjoy.” CD returned to the door smiling at Trivette on the way, and opened up his house, holding the door for Trivette as he went inside.

**

            The day passed fairly uneventfully for CD and Walker.  Walker had sat outside on the porch mostly, apart from a few hours in the afternoon when CD insisted he go to bed and rest properly. Trivette arrived at dusk, just as the last few red rays of the sun disappeared over the horizon.  Walker looked at him hopefully as he briskly walked up, but he shook his head in the negative.

            CD came out to meet him, “I’ve made supper for you too,” he told Trivette, “Can you stay?”  CD looked from the young man to Walker and back to Trivette. “Nuthin’?”

            Trivette shook his head again, “Naw.  Yeah, I’d love to stay for a bite to eat CD. Thanks.”  He brought them up to speed on the day’s happenings in the Ranger world, different cases and results, then paused.

They both looked at him. 

“They’ve …er …appointed a new ADA to take over from Alex.”  An awkward silence followed.

            CD couldn’t contain himself, “He or she?”

            “She,” replied Trivette.

            “What’s she like?”

            Trivette raised his eyebrows, “Stunner!  Brunette, five eight, unattached! Seems to know what she’s doin’ too.”

            “Well, I guess it had to happen with Alex officially resigning and all.”  With a bit of difficulty, Walker rose from the table and looked out the window. “I wonder where she is and what she’s doing? I wonder if she’s all right?” He voiced what they had all thought periodically since Alex had left.

**

            It was two days before Walker was fit enough to go back home, and the Sunday night before he went back to work he strolled on to the porch.  Although the night was cold he was barefoot and unclothed from the waist up.  His back was recovering nicely, but the healing lash marks caught in his clothing, so with relief he had removed his shirt to enjoy the freedom and ignore the chill in the air. 

Drinking from the Long Neck he carried, Walker sat on the top step, gazing up at the stars.  With much regret he remembered the last time he had been injured, and how he had deeply hurt Alex by rejecting her help.  He had been in a lot of pain, was fed up with his progress or lack of it, and she had pulled up in the car with a cooked meal.  Ungratefully, he had been irritable and rude, and finally, close to tears, she had left.  Walker recalled how awful he’d felt afterwards, and how he’d tried to make it up to her.  It had taken a long time for her to forgive him! Surely this wasn’t to be his last memory of Alex trying to help him recover?  Getting hurt was part of the job! A necessary evil in the line of work he had chosen. But inevitably it caused frustrations which, by the nature of the beast, you took out on the one who meant the most to you.  That was Alex. He would give anything right now to see her pull into his driveway with a home cooked meal!

Looking wistfully in that direction lights unexpectedly appeared moving towards the house.  It was CD.  Unsure whether or not to be happy at his arrival, Walker made a mental note not to alienate another friend.

            “You want a beer CD?”

            “No, I ain’t staying too long Cordell.”  CD joined Walker to sit on the top step alongside him. He looked at Walker’s back. “That’s healing pretty good!”

            “Yeah. It’ll be fine.”

            “Fantastic thing the body, Cordell.”

            “Yeah.”

            They sat quietly, appreciating the beauty of the stars for a few minutes.

            “Where can she be CD?”

            Sighing CD shook his head.

             “If I just had somewhere to start looking...”

            CD squeezed his arm. “Something will give, son. You’ll see, Just hang in there.  It’ll work out.”

**

            He was well received by everyone at work, and then the moment came after a couple of hours, when the new ADA came to talk to Trivette.

Trivette stood up as she approached; noticing her somewhat pointed glance at his partner. “Er, Walker,” he ventured, “Lemme introduce you...” Walker stood up and came around to the other side of the desk. Trivette continued, “This is ADA Sarah Meadows. Sarah, this is my partner, Cordell Walker.” 

            “Sarah, pleased to meet you.”

            “Oh, pleasure’s all mine Ranger.  From what I can gather from Alex’s files we should be seeing quite a bit of each other. She seemed to pick you two for quite a lot of work.”

            “Well,” Walker hedged, “We did work well together.”

            “I’m sure we’ll have the same relationship. Jimmy? I came down to ask if you would bring in a felon. Here are the papers.”

            Trivette looked to Walker, who nodded and gestured for him to give the go ahead.  “Sure Sarah. Consider it done!” He smiled.

            “Thanks.” Sarah went to go but turned back to Walker. “Oh, just one thing Ranger Walker. I’m not sure why Alex was in the habit of accepting sloppy paperwork. But I’ve noticed you tend to leave out two sections on your arrest forms.  Can you fill them in from now on, please? I like everything by the book, so we may as well do it right from the start.”

            Walker looked at her stonily. “Duly noted counselor.”

            “Great! Your paperwork seems to be excellent, Jimmy!”  She pointed to the warrant in Trivette’s hands.  “Well, you’d better get on it.”

            Returning back to his desk Walker shot a defiant look at Trivette.  “Get us both another cup of coffee, partner, will you?”  He sat down while skillfully avoiding their looks, picked the phone up and dialed a number.

            Awkwardly, Trivette glanced from Walker to Sarah and back again, and smiling at her, he made for the percolator.  She looked at Walker with something approaching disdain and left the room.

            The routine, non-eventful week continued until Friday, when Walker’s phone rang.

            “Walker? Gordon Cahill.”

            “Gordon.  I was going to call you this weekend.  Any news?”

            “That’s why I’m ringing.  Alex left a message on my voice mail, but I can’t decide whether I’m relieved or not!”

            In a split second Walker’s mood changed from one of elation to apprehension, “Why?”

            “She’s definitely ill or something, Walker. She wasn’t my Alex at all. She sounded almost, well, like a zombie or something.”

            “Did she say where she was?”

            “No. But she’s got a job in a diner! If you can believe that!”

            “Well, there’s nuthin’ wrong working a diner, but, Alex loves the law. It’s her passion. A diner? That’s not Alex!” Walker frowned.

            “She just said she was fine and not to worry and she would call me every so often. But, oh my! She sounded awful.  You know her as well as me Walker, she can be pig headed and headstrong.  I thought her going off was maybe something like that, and when she was ready she would surface again, but not any more. I’m really worried about her now.  What else can we do?”

            Walker thought for a while. “Why wouldn’t she have used her credit cards?  Where could she be she isn’t using her car? I’ve even had APB’s out in surrounding states.  Wherever she is she must have got there by car, because the airlines have come up blank. Trivette’s interviewed all the staff in the greyhound station, shown her photograph around, and they don’t recall seeing her! Same for the train station.” Walker paused briefly. “Did she say when she would call back?”

            “No.”

            “Gordon. I know this is goes against the grain, but I want you to have a trace put on your phone. If I can just get an idea where to look, even if we don’t get all the number, it’ll be something. Will you do that?”

            There was a few seconds silence as Gordon Cahill thought through Walker’s request. “Okay Walker. I’ll get it arranged now and call you if she rings in again.”

            “I’ll never stop looking for her, Gordon. I don’t mind if I find her and she wants to be left alone, but I at least want to know she’s well and have us part as friends.”

            “I know and I’m grateful. I’ll be in touch. Bye for now.”

Thoughtfully Walker put down the phone and updated Trivette.  “Get me a map of Texas

and surrounding states will you Trivette? And a pair of compasses!”  As Trivette complied Walker cleared his desk, putting papers and stationery on the floor so he could spread out the map. 

“Now,” he reasoned, “she hasn’t used her credit cards, and went by car.  How many miles do you think her tank of gas would go?”

            Trivette blew through his lips as he thought. “280 miles?”

            “Yeah. I reckoned, say 260 miles. I’ll work on a twenty-mile leeway. Let’s say she paid for the gas with cash.”  Walker put the compass point on the scale of the map and the pencil on the other end until the scale, until the compass was equal to 260 miles. He put the point as close to Alex’s apartment as he could reckon, and drew a circle. He then doubled the circle and drew it again, then tripled it, drawing a third circle. He looked at Trivette pointing to the first circle. “Keep this between ourselves Trivette. Gordon Cahill said she was working in a diner. You can bet that’s on a main highway somewhere.  If we write down every major highway these circles cross, we can check the diners in the vicinity to see if they have employed new staff within the past three weeks. We can request the highway patrol to make inquiries with some of the diners further out. We may come up lucky.”

            “Whew. That’s gonna take sometime!”

            “Yeah. But at least we’ve got somewhere to start now. Let’s write down the details of the highways and put out the requests.”

            By Wednesday of the next week they had checked out several themselves, coming up blank, and had received ten more confirmations of diner’s with new staff. Walker rang from CD’s to obtain a description from local law enforcement officers who had been down there.  He refrained from putting out Alex’s name, photo or description, for obvious reasons. It was different from putting out an APB on her car or credit cards, which may have been stolen.  Walker looked across to CD and Trivette as he replaced the receiver.

            “Well, Cordell? Any joy?”

            “Yeah, I think so CD.  I didn’t want to check their names in case they became suspicious. So, we’re left with three descriptions which may match, and the diners are within thirty miles of each other. I can check out them all at the same time.”

            “You want me to come with you?” Trivette asked.

            Sighing, Walker shook his head.  “I’d better do this alone Trivette. Maybe she does want her privacy.  I’ll play it low key to see what happens. I’ll take a mobile with me just in case Gordon calls again with some news.”

            CD poured them more coffee. “Whaddya think you’re gonna find?”

            Walker grimaced, “I don’t know. First I want to make sure she’s okay. I want her to know she didn’t do anything wrong, and, she’ll always be welcome back here.”

            CD nodded. “You’ll make sure you give her our love, won’t you?”

            “Yeah, I’ll do that for sure. Trivette? Do you think you can hold the fort again?  I seem to have you doing it too often these days!”

            “No problem pard.  I’ll keep Ms Meadows at bay too!  I just pray it comes out okay, man. With Alex I mean.  As long as she’s well. That’s all that counts!”

**

             As it was, four hours into Oklahoma Walker found Alex.  He pulled up to a parking lot away from the diner windows, and walked back to look through them without being too obvious. Walker gasped as he saw her. He stared, unable to take in her gaunt appearance from the last time they had been together. 

Her beautiful, fair, bouncy hair had become lank and unkept, and even from this distance, Walker noticed her normally radiant complexion was now dull and patchy.

It was Alex’s body that showed the most change. She had lost a lot of weight in such a short time and moved so slowly from table to table. Surely it must be obvious to everyone she’s ill thought Walker.  Stunned and shocked and while still staring at her, he became aware of a tall, dark presence by his side.  

Tearing his eyes away from Alex he looked at the huge black man wearing a white T-shirt, black pants and semi clean apron, now looming over him. 

            The man eyed Walker suspiciously “Do you know this lady?” He asked.

            Walker searched the man’s eyes before quietly replying, “yes.”

            The dark presence eyed the Ranger star on Walker’s checkered jacket “She in trouble?”

            Walker shook his head, “No.”  He thought for a minute, “I’m her friend.”

            The man replied quickly, frowning,  “Are you …Walker?”

            “Yes, I am.  Has Alex mentioned me?”

            The man held out his hand, “Well not exactly. I’m Joey Meachin an’ this is ma diner. Come upstairs to ma home, we need to talk.”

            Surprised, Walker took his hand “Cordell Walker.”

He followed Joey up the stairs to a spacious sitting room where Joey made the introductions to his wife, Alma.  They offered him a coffee, which he declined with thanks. He wanted to see Alex as soon as possible. 

            “We’re sure glad someone thinks enough of this gal to come a lookin’ for her,” ventured Alma, “she ain’t well at all, not wun bit. I guessed she’d done run off. You both be married?”

            “No, but she means everything to me.  I was...injured, and I think Alex may mistakenly feel she was to blame. We didn’t know where she was till now.” He stopped, somehow not wanting to tell these strangers his business, but at the same time feeling they did owe them some explanation. “How’d you know my name if she didn’t mention me?”

            “Oh man,” Joey threw his hands in the air, “she screams it every darn night that’s how.  Look. She came in late one night in a state.  Her car had a flat, she had nowhere to go and looked on her last legs.  So Ma and me we took her in for the night. She stayed in the staff house over the side and the next mornin’ I fixes her car.  I kin tell she’s in no fit state for travellin’, and we persuade her to stay another night. During this time Alex sees our sign for a server and asks if she can do it. We says sure, we kinda liked her by this time, she’s a nice lady, but we just thought she wus tired, when really she’s ill!”  He looked at Walker for confirmation.

            “Well, I think she’s suffering from stress she hasn’t dealt with yet. That’s why I’m here.”

            Joey looked awkwardly at Alma. “I don’t rightly knows how to say this. Y’see, we’ve bin discussin’ what the blazes we can do with her as she ain’t rightly a good advertisement for the diner, what with her lookin’ sar darn poorly an’ all, but she’s such a nice lady, we didn’t know how to tell her!”

            Walker looked at them gratefully, “I don’t know how to thank you folks for your kindness.  It sure was lucky Alex happened by here.” He paused for a second. “I don’t know what effect seeing me’ll have on her, but, if we need to stay over another night...” Walker didn’t even have to get the request out.

            “Sure, sure” Joey interrupted, waving his hands in the air, “you stay as long as it takes. Just get that gal better, okay?”

            Walker stood up and shook hands with them both, “thanks once again.” 

They both went down the narrow stairs and Walker stopped before entering the diner and took a deep breath. He tried to rehearse what he could say to Alex, but as nothing seemed right he decided to play it by ear. 

Opening the door firmly he entered the restaurant and looked for Alex while Joey stood behind him.  Walker hoped he didn’t look too shocked, although he felt it. He walked up the room and stood behind her to observe her more closely as, almost in slow motion, she finished setting down some tableware. She was wearing pale blue jeans and beige knitted overtop, both of which hung on her thin frame looking a size too big. Walker felt his heart racing with anticipation as she finally turned in his direction.  Alex’s reaction was immediate and fraught. Her hands shot to her mouth, her breathing became rapid and she backed away, her eyes like saucers.

            Walker put a hand out reassuringly, “Alex, ..  it’s okay.”  She continued to back slowly away until the wall stopped her. Moving her hands to cover her eyes she turned away in an effort to block out his image. One of the regulars misconstrued what was happening and got up to defend her.

            “Zek!” Yelled Joey, “it’s not what you think, leave it.”

            Walker stepped forward to try again, “Alex, everything’s fine, don’t worry...”

Vision after vision of the whip across Walker’s back flashed through Alex’s mind. Dizzy, she swayed, finally collapsing as Walker managed to catch her in his arms before she fell. The Ranger looked to Joey who beckoned and held the door open for him, leading them to the side of the building whereupon Joey fumbled for his keys and unlocked another door.  He held it open for Walker and gestured for him to go through.

“It leads up to Alex’s room”, he explained. 

Thanking him Walker went by and started up the staircase, reaching the top as Alex started to stir. He looked around quickly. Just one medium sized room, a kitchen off to one side, and a smaller bathroom opposite.  It was clean, sparse, with only a double bed at one end, and a fairly comfortable looking sofa in the middle of the room. 

With Alex beginning to struggle to get out of his grip, Walker opted for the sofa and sat down at one end with Alex on his knee, the back and side of the sofa affording him some support. He held her gently but firmly as she desperately tried to get away from him, and finally, in her weakened condition she stopped, panting and exhausted. Without releasing her, he turned slightly to his left, sliding her half off his knee and half on to the sofa so her head was more to his shoulder.

“Shhh, shhhh,” he kissed the side of her head as she remained rigid in his arms, “you know I won’t hurt you, relax, everything’s going to be fine, I promise you.”

            Alex stared ahead, avoiding his eyes, straining against him as her breathing tried to return to some kind of normality but she felt so weak and confused.  Was this yet another dream about to turn into a more terrifying nightmare? As her efforts to flee tired her further, her eyes grew heavy. But she daren’t go to sleep. She had to fight it!

            It almost broke his heart to see her struggle to get away from him, but unsure of what else to do, Walker continued to hold her, consoling himself with the thought that the one thing he didn’t want to do was lose her again. Not when she was like this.  It was almost as if she couldn’t see him, her mind was trying to obliterate him from her memory. 

He looked down, watching her fight to keep her eyes open. “You look so tired,” Walker whispered softly, “close your eyes Alex, get some sleep.  I’ll keep you safe, you don’t have to worry.”  Knowing she was unable to resist further, he kissed her gently on the forehead, drawing her head to his chest.  It took a few minutes before she began to relax, her exhausted body giving way to sleep.

Since Alex showed no signs of putting up a further fight, Walker let her go briefly to pull out the edges of his jacket and wrap them round her body as he cuddled her close to keep her warm.  The room was cold.  Looking down beside him he spotted a blanket laying in a heap on the floor. Slowly so as not to disturb her, he reached down, pulled it towards him and spread it out so it snugly covered them both. His foot reached out and ‘hooked’ the leg of the small, solidly made coffee table, which he drew closer to prop up his legs. Finally, when he concluded there was nothing else he could do to make her more comfortable, he began to relax.

He looked down at her once more.  Oh, Alex, he thought, I wish none of this had happened.  If I could just turn the clock back.. . He didn’t even finish the thought, it was stupid, he couldn’t change things, he’d just have to do all he could to make them right again.  His heart went out to her and he kissed her again. Leaving his head next to hers he wearily closed his eyes.

            They must have stayed this way for nearly three hours.  Walker could have done with changing his position, but didn’t move for fear of waking her. He became elated when, as she stirred in her sleep, she moved to snuggle closer to his body, her arms wrapping themselves around his torso. Whether it was for reassurance or just warmth, Walker didn’t care, his heart soared at the gesture and he contentedly closed his eyes to doze. It was shortly after that the demons came for Alex. 

Walker woke up aware of her thrashing in her sleep, murmuring softly and incoherently. He glanced at her, the room now dark but for the illumination of the large diner sign which bathed the room in a yellowish light. The nightmare worsened as she started to talk loudly.

            “Oh no, Walker, dear God, what have I done to you...Walker” her voice broke “no, no, no..”

            Acting on the spur of the moment Walker decided to wake her.  He took her arms, gently shaking her, “Alex, it’s just a dream, wake up..  Alex!”  He shook harder until finally her eyes opened and she gasped as she saw his face.  “Look at me Alex, it’s all over.”

            She started to tremble and was anguished. “They …hurt you so much.”

            “I know, I know, but you’ve got to let this go, it wasn’t your fault!”

            “It was my decision to go on!” Her face was distraught.

            “It was the right decision, you did the right thing. You did what I’d have wanted you to.”

            “It wasn’t right for me!” She cried forcefully, “but I had to do it or you would have hated me for it! Don’t you see? Then Delany would have walked free and maybe killed again and I couldn’t have lived with that either!”

A tear started to trickle down her cheek and Walker recalled CD’s warning that she had not cried once throughout the whole ordeal.

He held her close, their foreheads touching. “I may not have liked your decision Alex, and I’d probably have been difficult for a while” he conceded truthfully, “but, I could never hate you. This has been so difficult for you.” He paused for a moment, “in many ways, maybe I had the better deal.  I’m sorry you had to bear this, but it’s time to put it past you. You can’t allow yourself to be destroyed by something you could not possibly prevent.” 

As he had been whispering her tears really started, all the pent up worry, frustration and heartache finally tumbling out.  Alex sobbed from the pit of her being. 

Walker held her and comforted her, finally leaving briefly to grab a box of tissues which she used in abundance. He ordered her to breathe deeply as the threat of hyperventilating grew; such was the depth of her outpouring of sorrow.  She tried to catch her breath as Walker left again, this time returning with a small towel he had moistened with ice water from the refrigerator. He tenderly pressed it to her brow and face. 

Alex closed her eyes. It was so wonderfully cool. “Ttthank yyou.” Her voice was weak and she felt so exhausted again.

Walker gave her a sip of water from the bottle beside him, and after replacing it, he adopted the same position as before.  Gasping for the longest time while he held her, finally she gave in to sleep once more.

            The next time Walker opened his eyes Alex was sitting upright, looking at him strangely.  Without stirring he calmly made eye contact and gave her a small smile. Alex just looked, but then her hand came up as if to touch his face, only to draw it back hesitantly.  Slowly he moved his hand to hers and still smiling, guided her fingers to touch his cheek.

His voice was soft and reassuring, “See, I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about, everything’s going to be okay.”

Fixing his eyes again, Alex touched his face for herself this time, and frowned, as if she couldn’t quite figure it out, then sadly she looked downwards.

Walker rubbed her arm lightly and affectionately. “You’ve been through so much. I’m sorry this happened to you.” He waited for a reply but there was none. “How do you feel Alex?” He held his breath to see if she would respond, then changed tack to see if he could get an answer another way. “You hungry or something, would you like me to make you some tea?” Alex sighed heavily and Walker decided to decipher this as a yes.

Getting up carefully he plucked a pillow from the bed to replace it where he had been sitting. She allowed him to gently lay her down and he covered her with the blanket. Taking a moment he tenderly smoothed her brow with one hand while squeezing her hands with the other, and giving her a small reassuring smile, rose to head for the tiny kitchen. 

Flicking on the kitchen light, Walker took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and walked over to the small stove to light the gas, putting the small teapot on top of the ring while looking round for the mugs and teabags. Glancing back briefly, he saw her follow his every move.  “How about an omelet?” He suggested.

She shook her head.

“My omelet’s aren’t that bad, Alex!” Was there a hint of a smile?  “Tell you what, I’ll make a slightly larger one and we’ll share, how about that?” A short time later the omelet was being turned out on to the plate. “It looks quite good, Alex.” Walker was fairly pleased with the result, “I found a few mushrooms and a bit of cheese and a tomato. I think it’s gonna be one of my better efforts!” 

Alex had sat up as he brought the teas over. Passing hers to her directly and placing his on a coaster on the small coffee table, he returned to bring back the meal. She made room for him on the sofa and he sat down using her bent knees as a prop for his arm. 

He tried a mouthful, “Hhhmm, not bad.”  Slicing off a small piece he offered it to her.

She shook her head. 

Walker raised his eyebrows. After a short pause Alex agreed and Walker took another couple of forkfuls. “See, it’s not too bad is it? Want some more?”

Her appetite whetted, Alex enjoyed it more than she guessed she would. She nodded as Walker took out a spare fork from his shirt pocket, gave it to her, advising her to “dig in.”  He moved closer so she could get to the meal more easily, and tried to slow down his intake by drinking several mouthfuls of tea to make sure she would have plenty. 

“Well, lets see if I can give you some of the news you missed.” He went on as they ate, to tell her how much she was missed by CD and Trivette and how they sent their love, and about her Dad and Vicky at the office. Just fillers, any snippets of information he could pass on which he thought would not provoke too much of a reaction.  She still didn’t say anything but he ignored it and carried on as normal as they ended the meal and sipped their teas. 

Alex had just put down her mug as Walker decided to try news on the new ADA who had taken over from her. She frowned, but he continued.  He described her in detail, then stopped suddenly and sighed deeply.

“You’ll never guess what, Alex? She told me my paperwork was sloppy! You know I hate to fill out those two sections on the arrest forms and you always did it for me. She told me I had to do them myself.  Sloppy is what she said!” Walker’s face was a picture of incredulity and disbelief, but as he had been looking down when he said it he couldn’t imagine the reaction he would get from the story until he heard a quiet giggle!  He looked up in amazement as the laughter continued and he started to smile.  He pressed on, “and then, Alex, to make matters worse, she tells Trivette that his paperwork is perfect!  Can you imagine!  He hasn’t stopped preening himself since it happened!” 

Alex rolled over laughing, holding her hand to her face! 

Walker could see why she thought that was so funny and together they laughed at the absurdity of the whole thing! Finally as the laughter subsided, they looked in each other’s eyes.

            “Oh, Walker!” Alex held her arms out for him and he reached to embrace her.

Walker closed his eyes and tightly held on to her while at the same time trying to be careful. He kissed her cheek several times while staying in the embrace. He didn’t want to let her go. “Everything’s going to be fine, Alex, you’ll see. We’ll work it out together.” He felt her nod in agreement.  “Tomorrow we’ll head back to the ranch and you can stay till you get your strength back.”

            “Okay.” She whispered 

            “We’ll have all the time in the world to talk and work things out, I just want you back to normal and giving me a hard time again!”  Looking at her, he knew she had grown tired with all the emotion. “Why don’t you get into bed and get a good rest, I’ll take the sofa?” He suggested.

            Alex nodded and within ten minutes she was in bed. She forced herself to keep awake until she saw Walker appear from the bathroom and head for the sofa. He took off his boots, laid his gun on the floor, and loosened his shirt. “Walker?”

He was there in an instant sitting next to her. 

She sat up to tightly hug him. “Are you.. all right?” Alex felt his breathing deepen as he kissed her cheek and neck.  Before he had a chance to answer he felt her shudder as her fingers traced the scars on his back through his shirt. “Oh God.”

Sternly he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back. “You made the right decision. They were going to kill me regardless of what you did.”

“But how do you know that?” Alex replied in almost a whisper.

“They didn’t feed me.” Walker stated plainly.

Alex tried to comprehend.

“They never once gave me any food, Alex. There’s no point if you know you’re going to kill someone. They showed me their faces, and, they spoke openly about Delany. There was no way they were going to let me live.”

“So,” she reasoned, “it wouldn’t have made any difference… what I…” her voice trailed off.

Walker was nodding slowly. “Right,” and he reinforced, “and you did good.”

His hands still on her shoulders, he felt the tension dissipate and her muscles finally relax. This was a good sign. He smiled and drew her close once again. “In answer to your earlier question if I’m alright. I am now Alex. I am now.”

There was silence for a few seconds while they enjoyed the togetherness and Alex took a deep breath. “Will you ….just lay beside me?” She asked tentatively.

Walker couldn’t think of anything he wanted more.

Walker flipped back the blankets. Removing his shirt he climbed into bed and replacing the cover over them, turned to switch off the small table light. Reaching for her head he drew her close, cuddling her with both arms as she nestled contentedly against him. Feeling him kiss the top of her head several times, and reassured by his warmth and tenderness, she smiled in the darkness

Within a few minutes, both were blissfully asleep.

**

            They returned to the ranch the next day after saying their fond good-byes to the Meachins, promising themselves in the truck to come back and properly thank the couple.

            The day after they returned back Trivette and CD called by Walker’s ranch to be met by him in the drive.

            Trivette grasped Walker’s arm, “How is she now?”

            “Well she had nightmares again last night, but all in all she’s doin’ good.”

            CD was still concerned, “She okay ‘bout seein’ us?”

            “Yeah, she’s looking forward to it. C’mon.” He led the way up the porch steps to the front room to find Alex propped up on the chair, her feet on a stool and covered with a blanket.  Although gaunt and weary, she gave a huge smile as they entered.

            “Hi guys.”

            They exchanged hugs and kisses and Walker sat on the edge of the chair, his arm around her. He had put coffee on to brew and the smell invitingly invaded the air as the firelight flickered giving a warm feel to the ranch.

With their support and friendship Alex continued regain her strength at Walker’s, ably assisted by CD’s constant efforts to cook wholesome meals due to “Cordell’s lack of culinary expertise!”

They did discuss the ramifications of the case, but concluded there wasn’t a lot that could have been done differently. They had to chalk it down as ‘one of things that happens, over which you have no control.’ Even with hindsight this still wasn’t easy to resolve, so it was truly time to leave it and move on. 

The new ADA moved to Arizona about two months later and Alex, now her usual bubbly self, got her job back much to the delight of all concerned.

Alex headed for CD’s after her first day back and smiled as she entered to see CD, Walker and Trivette look over with pleasure as she approached.

            Walker gave a huge grin, “Hey counselor!”

            “Alex, how’d the first day back go?” Trivette inquired.

            CD held a pot of coffee over a mug waiting for her answer.

            “Yes, please CD. It went pretty good really,” she confirmed in Trivette’s direction, squeezing Walker’s arm as she hoisted herself on a barstool.

            Walker looked at her warmly, “Well, what shall we drink to?” He questioned, holding up his own coffee mug.

            They all thought for a few seconds, when CD had an idea, “I got it!” He held up his cup “May the good guys always win!” He said firmly and sagely. 

They nodded, smiling as their mugs clinked together.

Walker’s free hand found it’s way round Alex’s waist, as they agreed, “May the good guys ALWAYS win!”

Footnote: Jason Vickers tried vainly to plea bargain for giving up Delany but Alex wouldn’t hear of it. Delany had already been sentenced to death so as far as she was concerned, “ he couldn’t be punished further.”  Consequently she threw the book at Vickers and he received life for his part in Walker’s abduction.  Four of his co-conspirators were eventually apprehended and received lesser sentences ranging from six to ten years.  As for Delany?  The State of Texas never executed him.  His lawyers continually fought for a stay of execution until a fellow prisoner brutally murdered him some twelve years later.

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