ON DEADLY GROUND

One Sheepskin Jacket

($648.37)

by Londa Pfeffer

(Walker's friend, Paco, a DEA agent, goes missing and is suspected to be kidnapped by a Mexican drug lord. Walker goes down to Mexico to rescue him without government support.)

            I found the truck eventually. It was right where I'd left it the night before, of  course. Though I didn't bother to point that out to Trivette. He didn't seem to be in the mood to appreciate it.

            Guess I couldn't blame him. I'd at least managed to grab a few hours sleep before everything started picking up speed. My partner, on the other hand, had driven straight through the night to find me, and then spent the next twenty-four hours helping me rescue Paco Cruz.

            He didn't have to do it. In fact, I'd specifically told him not to, that it wasn't his fight. Not that I didn't want him around. But I knew the high risk of getting caught, and I didn't want Trivette mixed up in it. He was young, just starting his career as a Ranger. If we were discovered and turned over to the authorities he had a lot more to lose than I did.

            He knew all that of course. And still he came down after me. It meant a lot to me though I tried to cover it up. He had nothing to prove to me, really. I already knew how far he'd go to help a friend. His solid loyalty to Randy Warren after all the years in between told me all I needed to know about my partner's views on friendship.

"Does anybody know where you are?" I asked as we climbed into the truck.

He tried to smother a yawn before answering. "Not exactly. I called in sick yesterday. Said I might be out a couple days."

"Good." I pulled out onto the road and headed us in the direction of the motel.

He leaned his head back, closing his eyes. "Why?"

"What would you rather do ... head back to Dallas now or go back to the motel and sleep for a few hours?"

"Oh--" He had to stop for another yawn. "I vote for sleep."

"That's what I figured." A thought occurred to me. "Where's your car?"

“Home. I decided to rent something less conspicuous." And before I could comment he glanced across and shook a warning finger in my direction. "And don't diss my car!”

That made me laugh. "I wouldn't dream of it. When are you going to return it?"

He looked confused for a moment. I prodded, "The rental?"

“Oh.  They have an office back in town. I already dropped it off.  Figured I'd ride

back with you, split the driving."

Good idea," I said.

“I thought so, too," he said smugly, settling back again.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. Alex thinks I don't give Trivette enough credit.  The truth is, I'm afraid if I do, his head will swell. He knows he's good.

Within minutes he'd fallen asleep. I didn't try to keep him awake, the peace felt good. I've always been comfortable with silence, to me it's an old friend. Not to Trivette. I'd slowly grown used to that. And most of the time I could tune him out when it didn’t require an answer. He never seemed offended.

It took nearly an hour to get back to the motel, and by the time we pulled in I felt

as tired as Trivette. As lumpy as I'd found the bed the night before, I knew I wouldn't

have trouble sleeping now.

Trivette hadn't stirred the entire time. I reached over, shaking his shoulder gently. "Hey, Trivette. Wake up."

"Umm?" His head lolled to the other shoulder, and he snuggled down further in

the seat. He must've been tired. Usually he complains he can only sleep in his own

bed.

I fought the impulsive desire to leave him sleeping in the truck. He'd never let me hear the end of it if I did. Bad enough that I was going to have to listen to him complain about his jacket all the way home.

A more forceful nudge to the arm did the trick.

"Um?" He blinked several times, trying to orient himself without much success. “Where are we?"

"Back at the motel." Looking at him more closely, I couldn't help frowning. "How

long has it been since you've slept?"

"What day is it?"

I had to think about it. "Sunday."

"Too long."

"Trivette--"

"Okay, okay. I pulled off the road for a couple hours on the way down here."

"What about before that?"

He looked rebellious, but answered, "I guess Thursday night, after I decided I was gonna follow you."

A part of me wanted to lay into him for going without sleep so long. But I was no better. I wondered briefly if C.D. had been as exasperated with me all those years ago. Probably worse.

"C'mon," I hopped out of the truck. "Let's get inside. I think we both could use some decent shuteye."

"Now you're talkin'." He followed without hesitation.

# # #

We chose sides, stripped and crawled in. At least the sheets looked reasonably clean. I've slept in worse places.

Trivette must have fallen asleep the minute his head hit the pillow. I didn't get that lucky. Whether from leftover adrenaline or being tired beyond sleeping, I couldn't relax.

Rather than disturb my partner with tossing and turning, I crawled out of bed, slipped on my pants and sat in the room's only chair.

With nothing better to do I studied Trivette as he slept. Even after nine months of being partners, he still continued to amaze me. I'd told him in no uncertain terms that this was my fight, but he'd disregarded that. And Paco told me he owed Trivette his life. I had to admit, without Trivette I'd never have been able to get Paco out in time. Even with Cobra's help. Trivette's unexpected electronics knowledge had made the siege on the compound possible, not to mention successful.

After C.D.'s retirement I'd resisted being partnered and Captain Price hadn't pushed. Until Trivette came on board. Price figured I'd be the best choice to break him in. Told me it'd be temporary. But as the months passed I got comfortable having a partner, and the captain never brought up the subject of reassignment again.

I couldn't ask for better back-up, to be honest. He's different enough from me that our strengths dovetail, making us even better as a team. He's younger and quicker, while my experience and martial arts compensate. When we were first paired he'd warned me about his temper, while I'm usually slow to anger. And while I'd joked at first about his proposal to modernize the DPS, I'd gotten a copy and read it. It actually made sense. The man's intelligent. He's definitely the kind of cop we need these days.

And on a personal level, we'd struck up an easy friendship. We'd been spending time together off-duty, getting acquainted. I knew he was curious about my background, but he seldom asked. Instead he let me tell my story at my own pace.

For his part, he'd freely talk about college and even his football days, but rarely mentioned his childhood in Baltimore. I knew from C.D. that he'd grown up in the ghetto, but that was about all I'd learned. It was like his life didn't begin until he got to Penn State. And since so much of my own past was better left untouched I didn't question him. He'd tell me what I needed to know when I needed to know it.

His biggest fault is that he's too trusting. When we were taking down that coke lab, he didn't even want to know why I wanted his sheepskin jacket. I admit it was a rotten thing to do. And telling Alex he'd fudged his expense account had been just as bad. It's just that he's an easy target. And he doesn't hold a grudge ... long.

A thought hit me as to how I'd replace the jacket. I'd planned to buy him a duplicate, but on second thought, remembered his frank admiration of the native handiwork he'd seen on the reservation. Satisfied, I nodded to myself.

A yawn ambushed me, and my eyelids felt heavy. I pushed to my feet, stripping off my jeans and climbing back into bed. This time, I dropped off immediately.

Six Weeks Later

“Cordell, Jimmy. I heard about that bust today. Good job, boys." CD placed two

beers on  the bar. "These are on the house."

“Thanks, CD" I grabbed the drinks, motioning Trivette to follow to our usual booth.

“Good news travels fast," Trivette commented, accepting his beer and taking a long sip.

I  nodded. "Especially when it means scum like Masker are off the street. That was good work, tracking him through his computer contacts."

'"Yeah, well--" He seemed embarrassed by the praise.

“Hey, Jimmy!" C.D.'s voice called through the crowd. The bartender made his way over to our table, carrying a cardboard box. "This came for you today. No return address. You been orderin' from those catalogs again?"

Knowing the contents, I struggled to hide my grin behind taking a swig of his beer. Perfect timing.

“What catalogs?" Trivette squawked. "C.D., if this is your idea of a joke--"

“Why don't you open it and find out?" I suggested mildly.

Digging for his pocket knife, Trivette cut the tape and opened the box. His eyes grew wide as he dug through the packing and reached soft material. Pulling it free, he whistled as he got a good look at the contents.

"One sheepskin jacket," I told him, grinning. "Worth somewhere around six hundred fifty dollars."

"Well, ain't that somethin'," C.D. mused, fingering the jacket. "This from the

reservation, Cordell? Mighty fine work."

I nodded, agreeing with him totally. The black sheepskin jacket had leather fringe on the shoulder yoke and arms, with intricate beadwork adding an extra touch. The fleece collar and lining guaranteed the wearer would remain warm.

"Hey, C.D.!  How 'bout some service?" a customer called from the bar.

"Be back later, boys," C.D. told us.

"Walker--" Trivette shook his head. "I can't accept this, man."

"Why not?" I asked, puzzled. "Don't you like it?"

"Like it, I love it! It's incredible."

"Then what's the problem?"

"I already got my reimbursement check. I thought I told you that."

"Yeah, so?" I knew the voucher had gone through. After all, I'd been the one to convince Alex to go ahead and process it, admitting I'd conned her into giving my partner a hard time.

"So? It's like gettin' paid twice. It's not right!" he argued.

I'd expected something like this. Taking a deep breath, I said, "Then consider it an apology for the joke and thanks for the help down in Mexico. You made the difference."

He shot me a disbelieving glance, then looked around as if expecting somebody

to join us.

"What is it?" I wondered.

"I'm just tryin' to figure out when the real Walker is gonna show," he grinned,

taking the sting out.

"Ouch!" I do ride him hard sometimes, but only because he's worth it. He'll be a

legend in his own right someday.

"Y'know, I may have this framed." Trivette studied the jacket again. "Yeah. I might just have to do that. With a plaque that reads, 'This is what an official Walker apology looks like.' What d'ya think?"

"Trivette--"

"Gotcha!"

I shook my head, bemused. He's learning ...

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I was telling people what to do when you were just a gleam in your daddy's eyes.

C.D. to Trivette in THE RAINBOW WARRIOR

Life's funny ... you can sleep off a drunk, but you can't sleep off ugly.

C.D. in THE ROAD TO BLACK BAYOU

You look like somethin' a coyote et [ate] and puked over a cliff.

C.D. to Trivette in PAYBACK