Past Mistakes

By: Lelani

Justice Building Alex’s Office Tuesday 3:00 p.m.

Walker knocks twice on the outer door and then pokes his head in with a smile. His smile soon disappears as he takes in the scene before him. His wife Alex is sitting at her desk with books opened as if she were researching one of her cases. The desk lamp is lit casting a pool of light on her work area. Everything looks as it has hundreds of times, but Walker senses immediately that something is amiss. Alex who is known for her vibrant personality, whether she is laughing at a joke, crying with sorrow, angry at an injustice or passionate in his arms, is sitting motionless. Her expression is blank; there is no sparkle in her eye. She stares ahead of her and makes no attempt to acknowledge him.

“Honey, what is it? What’s wrong?” he asks concerned. Still there is no response; it’s as if she’s in a daze. “Alex honey,” he tries again. Coming to crouch down in front of her, he takes her hands in his. Her hands feel like ice and he begins rubbing them to warm them. Slowly, her eyes focus on his face and she crumples against his chest seeking comfort. Walker stands, but keeps her pressed against him so that her face is cradled against his abdomen and he strokes her hair as he searches for a clue as to what has caused this level of distress in his wife. Lying on top of an open book is a letter that is unfolded. Walker picks it up and reads a portion of it.

This letter is to inform you of a reversal in a conviction against Matthew Parks. Mr. Parks was convicted of the murder of his seven-year-old daughter, Ashley Parks in November 1992. As lead prosecutor in this case, you are hereby informed that subsequent DNA evidence has cleared Mr. Parks of these charges and he is being released…

Walker sets the letter down, not bothering to read the rest. Alex had prosecuted and won a conviction against an innocent man. He now knows why she is in this state of shock. His hand continues to stroke her silky hair as he gives her his support and love.

“Alex, you couldn’t have known. It isn’t your fault.”
”Not my fault?” she asks angrily as she sits back in her chair and glares at her husband. “That man has spent nearly a decade in jail because I convinced twelve people that he murdered his own daughter. I was so sure… That was the case that sealed my position here in Tarrant County. Because of that case, I got a great job, a wonderful husband, a beautiful home and a precious daughter. Because of that case, he lost his daughter, lost his home, lost his wife and lost his job. He has spent all these years in prison stripped of everything he cares about, including his freedom, while I went on with my life.”

“Alex, you were given evidence that led you to believe that he was guilty. If you thought for a moment that he was innocent, you would have looked deeper.”

“Would I? This was a long time ago Walker. I wasn’t the Deputy DA of Tarrant County with an established track record and a reputation for winning. I was the lady with the ‘nice legs and pretty blue eyes’ who was ‘playing at being a lawyer.’ I was trying to prove myself in a man’s world and I played to win.”

“Alex, you’ve never in your life played at being a lawyer. So people were afraid of your intelligence and your… tenacity, but you were an ethical lawyer from day one.”

“Really? How can you be so certain?”

“Because, I know you. I know that you NEVER put your career above someone’s life. When I first met you, you were defensive and you had your shields up at all times, but you weren’t uncaring or single minded. This is not your fault. The police who investigated the crime gave you what they thought was the primary suspect. Further investigation built a stronger case. There was enough evidence for twelve jurors to decide ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ that he was guilty of murder. This is not your fault.”

“Thank you Walker, but I have to bear the responsibility for this. I prosecuted him. Based on nothing but circumstantial evidence, I was able to convince that jury that Matthew Parks was able to murder his own seven year old daughter.”

“Alex, DNA evidence wasn’t admissible in court then, but it existed. Why didn’t this DNA testing occur then?”
”It did, but it was inconclusive. Her body was found several days after the murder took place. She had scratched her attacker, they found skin and blood under her fingernails, but she was buried in a shallow grave and it had rained. They just couldn’t get an uncontaminated DNA sample. That letter says that new techniques enabled them to go back and test the sample and that’s what proved that Matthew Parks isn’t responsible. Oh god, Walker! Not only did he lose his daughter, I managed to turn his wife against him. I had her convinced that her husband murdered their daughter.”

“But there must have been evidence.”

“Yeah, there was the fact that he had scratches on his hand that looked like fingernail scratches. He said they came from playing fetch with their Labrador Retriever. Then there was his alibi, he said that he was with his friend from work who had tied one on, but his friend couldn’t verify that. I don’t know, I can’t recall all the details right now. I’ll get a copy of the file sent to me and let you read it, but for now… I just want to go home.”

“Okay honey, I’ll take you home.”

“I drove my car today, it’s here.”

“That’s okay; I’ll bring you back in the morning. Let me tell Trivette that we’re leaving and you call Josie and tell her that we’re on our way to pick Angela up.”
Alex looks up at her husband and gives him a tight forced smile. She nods her head and lifts the receiver as he strides back out of the office.

Ranger Headquarters Thursday 11:00 a.m.

Walker is seated at his desk, his legs propped up on top of it as he reads a file. Sydney walks in and stops in front of his desk waiting to be acknowledged. She gets a puzzled look on her face as Walker continues to read. He is known for his ability to sense others and he has never made her wait like this before. She clears her throat and finally taps the toe of his boot. Walker looks up surprised to see her standing there and closes the file he was reading before he acknowledges her.

“Hi Syd, what can I do for you?”

“Walker, it’s the McNally case. I’m having some trouble with it and I need your advice.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, you know how you had Chen and I go in as cocktail waitresses to get close enough to McNally to eavesdrop on his conversations?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, it turns out that McNally has a thing for women in skimpy outfits and trust me the outfits Lisse and I have to wear there are skimpy.”

“I’ve seen them.”

“So you know what I mean. If the only charges we were going for against Roland McNally were sexual harassment charges, let me tell you, he’d be in jail by now.”

“I don’t think that those were the charges we promised to bring the DA.”

“No, we want to get him on extortion, but he’s not making it easy.”

“Sydney, I don’t understand. You’ve handled this type of stuff before. What’s the problem? Or is it Chen? Is she having trouble with McNally’s advances?”

“No, Lisse is handling it very well. It’s Gage.”

“Gage? Is McNally coming on to him too?” Sydney smiled at the mental picture this evoked. “I thought he was supposed to be playing the part of the bouncer.”

“He is, but he seems to be having trouble remembering that he can’t ‘bounce’ McNally.”

“Sydney, I have a lot on my mind. Do you think you could just spell it out in plain English?”

Sydney took a deep breath. She hoped she wasn’t making a mistake, but Walker wasn’t just her superior, he was also her friend. She needed advice and he was the best person to give it; he’d been through a similar situation. In fact, he lived with her problem everyday —working with the person he loved.

“I think Gage is being possessive and he’s jealous or something. Twice now I’ve had to physically hold him back from decking McNally when he gets a little too friendly.”

“And is this happening when McNally touches Lisse?”

“No.”

“So, it’s you.”

“Yeah.”

“All right Sydney, I’ll talk to him. I was afraid of this. Office relationships are never easy, I know.”

“You and Alex seem to handle it fine.”

“Sure, now, but we didn’t in the beginning.”

“What happened?”

“Hmmm… At first we were afraid to go anywhere near the romance issue.”

“And that’s just because you worked together?” she brazenly asked knowing from Trivette a little about how he’d danced around the ‘romance’ issue with Alex for years.
Walker’s response was a hard glare and Sydney quickly bit her tongue.

“Then, I wasn’t too happy when she dated those bozos she used to go out with.”

“Like who?”

“Oh, some tennis instructor, a professor… they were all namby pamby…”

“So you were jealous.”

“Maybe. Then I had a brief fling with a country western singer and Alex was less than pleased. Then when we did start dating, I wanted to keep it private and out of the office and she thought I was trying to hide our relationship. Let’s just say that it took us a long time to figure it out and find a compromise we could both live with. And work with.”

Sydney smiles at Walker, secretly not able to believe that he and Alex had ever had trouble, no matter who tells the story. Anyone looking at them could see how in love they are.

“So, what do you think I should do?”

“I think you should separate your professional life from your personal life. I’ll talk to Gage about the case and his conduct.”

“I don’t want to make this bigger than it is, I just want to be able to do my job.”

“I know, don’t worry, it’ll work out.”

Sydney nods and then asks, “What are you reading?”

“An old case file. Someone Alex prosecuted years ago.”

“Is that the case where they just released the guy because DNA evidence proved that someone else committed the murder?”

“So you know.”

“Yeah, she told me the other day when I caught her crying.”

“She was crying?”

“You didn’t know? She’s been doing that a lot lately.”

“Not around me. She never share’s how she’s feeling. She’s been walking around the ranch like she’s on autopilot. I haven’t been able to get her to open up to me at all.”

Sydney shrugs her shoulders not sure how to respond to Walker. “Maybe your opinion of her is too important and she doesn’t want to admit that she’s fallible to you.”

“We all make mistakes, Sydney. I know that Alex isn’t perfect and she knows the same about me. We try our best to do what’s right and sometimes we don’t succeed.”

“She knows that, but maybe it’s just too hard to accept right now.”

“The lead investigator was a Detective Simmons. I’m gonna try and track him down and see what he has to say about this. Maybe he can shed some light as to how the wrong man was even made the primary suspect.”

“Sounds like a plan. Does Alex know you’re doing this?”

“She gave me the file to read, but she doesn’t know that I plan to follow up.”
Sydney’s eyebrows rise up under her bangs, but she keeps her opinion to herself.

The Barfly Lounge 6:00 p.m.

Roland McNally sits at his customary booth with two sleazy looking business partners. He is talking in low tones and Lisse Chen is certain that a business transaction is going down. She just can’t get close enough to hear anything. Don Raymond knocks his plate of lasagna with his elbow and it slides across the smooth surface of the table and falls shattering on the ground. Lisse grabs a tray and a rag and tries to hide her grin. This is the perfect opportunity. She heads over and bends down facing the table so that her cleavage shows to full advantage. Without a word, she begins to scoop up the remains of the clumsy man’s dinner.

“Darlin’ you shouldn’t be doin’ that, let the busboy get it,” Hank Salem says.

“It’s all right, I don’t mind,” Lisse says in her sweetest voice. She turns slightly to give Roland McNally a view of her barely covered bottom as she picks up shards of glass and meatballs. Roland McNally doesn’t mind a show while he conducts business, so after dismissing the pretty Asian girl with the great ass, he resumes his conversation. He has trouble focusing as he watches the lower edge of the tight black leather mini skirt brush the backs of her upper thighs giving occasional glimpses of the scarlet red thong underwear she wears.

“Don, you lean on that meat packer with the attitude. If he thinks he can conduct business in this part of town without paying his dues, you make him see the error of his ways.”

“Okay boss, but the guy doesn’t scare easy.”

“Didn’t you say he’s got a son?”

“Yeah, he’s in high school, drives a sweet classic mustang.”

“Start with the car and if he doesn’t get the message, move on to the son.”

“You got it boss.”

“Hank, I want you to up the take on the liquor store. They haven’t been robbed once since we signed him up for the Safe House Security company. He needs to know that that type of security doesn’t come cheap. He’s got the results he wanted, now he can pay for them.”

“So instead of having our boys rob him, now they can just walk in and collect their fees. It’s a beautiful system boss. Coming up with this security company was genius. It gives our business that ‘air of legitimacy’ it was lacking.”

“Yeah, well don’t get carried away. Legitimate or not, I want to get my money. I provide a service to these businesses. They want to conduct business in a safe crime free neighborhood, well that costs.”

Lisse has cleaned the floor better than before the plate landed on it. She has no further excuse to linger and she knows that the only reason no one has asked her to leave is that they are busy staring at her front or her back and have forgotten that she was there to serve a purpose other than giving them a cheap thrill. She stands and looks at Don Raymond and says in her best drawl, “Can I get you somethin’ else handsome?”

“Oh yeah, you sure can darlin’. Why don’t you meet me at my place when you get off tonight and I’ll show you what else you can get me.”

“Knock it off!” McNally tells him as he smacks the side of Raymond’s head. He then jerks his head at Lisse signifying that she should leave. As she walks away, she hears him say, “You can have my leftovers, but I’m not through with that main course yet.”

“Pig,” Lisse mutters under her breath. She passes Gage who sits at the bar nursing a club soda. It’s early for a place like this. They have a limited dinner menu and mostly people looking for a place that’s not too loud to enjoy a drink and a quiet business discussion frequent the place. By eleven it will be filled with drunken louts and prostitutes. For now, Gage has little to do. His real job, according to Roland McNally, is to act as his bodyguard. He’s just not let close enough to hear the business meetings yet.

Sydney walks in ready for her shift and heads to the bar to pick up a tray. Gage nods to her and asks how she is.

“Fine, I had a talk with our Cowboy friend.”

“Everything okay?” he asks her.

“It will be,” she states and heads to take the drink order for the group of construction workers who just entered.

“Well, look at what we got here,” one of the men says as she approaches the table.

“You boys want menus or just drinks?” she asks.

“Depends, you on the menu?” the one with the big mouth asks.

“Not tonight, the special is lasagna.”

“What’ll it take to add you to the special?” he persists.

“More than you got,” she answers and looks to the others to get their orders. “You boys want beer or somethin’ stronger?”
The man with the big mouth reaches out and places his hand at the back of her thigh sliding it up under her skirt. Sydney steps back and slams her tray on the man's head. The tray cracks and Gage has the guy by the collar and the arm instantly.

“I got it,” Sydney tells him. “He was just being friendlier than I was in the mood for,” she finishes.

Gage hauls the man up and half carries him to the back exit. He doesn’t bother answering Sydney’s attempt to defuse the situation. He shoulders open the door and bodily lifts the dazed man tossing him into the garbage dumpster. He slams the lid down and returns inside without a word.

Sydney has taken the other men’s orders without incident and is at the bar waiting for Glen Cooper, who is also undercover as the bartender, to fill the order. McNally approaches her and asks her what happened.

“The guy didn’t know how to keep his hands to himself. I handled it, but that macho creep you got acting as a bouncer decided to make more of it than he needed to.”

McNally nods his head and motions for Gage to follow him to the backroom.

Glen sets the drinks on the new tray Sydney has found and asks her, “You think that was wise?” His eyes follow where Gage and McNally have gone.

“I’m not the one jeopardizing my job here,” she says and heads back to the table.

McNally seats himself behind the desk in the office and says to Gage. “I noticed you got a thing for that waitress.”

“Not really,” he shrugs his broad shoulders.

“I don’t see you getting’ upset when someone hassles one of the other girls. Just remember, this is my club and my rules. That girl can take care of herself. Your job is to protect me. If you’re spending your time on her, it puts me at risk.”

“I know my job. I’m not going to let anyone get the drop on me. You’re as safe as houses with me around.”

“That better be true. If she proves to be too much of a distraction, I’ll have to let her go.” There is steel behind McNally’s voice; he means what he says. He can find another waitress. Finding a bodyguard as skilled as Frank is another story. He thoroughly checked him out and he watched him pound one of his best men into hamburger meat. Frank said that he has a military background and that’s where he learned the martial arts moves. Wherever he learned his fighting style, there’s no doubting the man’s skill.

“So we understand each other?” he asks Gage, already knowing the answer.

“Yes boss, I got it.”

McNally nods and Gage knows he’s been dismissed. He heads back out to the bar. Facing Roland McNally after his blunder is nothing. He’s afraid of facing Sydney later. She’s likely to tear strips off his hide.

Walker Ranch 10:00 p.m.

Alex is sitting in her office at her computer when her husband enters carrying a cup of herbal tea.

“Hi honey, I thought you might like this,” he says as he sets the cup down on the corner of her desk.

“Thanks,” she says without looking up.

“What are you working on?” he asks her.

“Just work,” she says without elaborating.

“Don’t you get enough of that at the office?”

“Hmmm…” she says noncommittally. She still hasn’t lifted her eyes from the screen and is scrolling down reading some text.

“Alex,” Walker tries again. This time she doesn’t even hear him and he heads back out of the office in defeat. He heads into Angela’s nursery and stands watching his baby girl sleep. A part of him wishes that he could protect Alex from all the bad things in life the way he’s still able to protect his innocent daughter.

An hour later, Walker heads back into Alex’s office to find that she’s still at it and her tea is sitting cold and untouched on the desk next to her. “Alex, it’s after eleven,” he informs her.

She looks up startled. “Oh, okay, I’ll be in soon.”

“Alex, you’ve been at it for hours. You need to get to sleep.”

“When I’m finished,” she says beginning to sound irritated.

“Alex, you’re exhausted. You sit in here night after night and barely sleep. You won’t talk to me. Honey, I just don’t know how to help you.”

“I don’t need your help,” she says.

“No? You need someone’s help. You’re blaming yourself for a mistake that happened nine years ago. Are you ever going to forgive yourself?”

“I don’t know Walker. What’s the statute of limitations for ruining a man’s life?”

“You sure are one powerful woman.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, all by yourself you managed to ruin a man’s life. I guess everyone else involved in the case can sleep at night knowing that you’re shouldering the blame all alone.”

“Walker, I know that you want to help, but there’s nothing that you can say or do that’s going to fix this. I can’t fix this. I just need you to let me have some time to try and deal with it. Is that asking too much?”

“Alex, you’re the one who’s always telling me how I need to share my feelings with you. We’re married now. We have a daughter. You don’t have to face the world alone. I love you.”

“Honey, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I don’t deserve your love.”

Walker’s jaw drops open. He knew that this was a serious matter, but he had no idea that Alex has fallen so deeply into a pit of guilt. “How can you say that? I love you. It’s not about earning it, it just is. You have helped more people than I can count. Now you find that there is one man who has suffered because of something you unwittingly did. That doesn’t make you a bad person.”

“You can’t make a list of the good things I’ve done and say that they erase what happened to Matthew Parks. Did you know that his wife — correction— his ex-wife was killed two years ago in a car accident? Apparently she began drinking after he was sentenced for murdering their daughter. She was driving drunk and ran into a telephone pole going seventy five miles an hour.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve been researching it. His parents both died while he was in prison. He has no family. He was an only child and now that his parents are dead and his ex-wife and child are dead, he has no one. So not only did he spend nine years locked away in prison, now that he’s out, he’s alone in the world.”

“Again, none of that is your fault.”

“No? What about the fact that he was diagnosed with HIV four years ago?”

“What?”

“Yeah, I managed to get into his prison record. He was in the infirmary for a knife wound from an attack by another prisoner. He tested positive for HIV. He told the doctor that he’d been repeatedly raped while he was in prison, so he had no idea who he had contracted it from. So, not only did I get an innocent man convicted of murder, I managed to get him the death penalty.”

“Alex, I don’t know what to say or do to make this go away. I tried to reach Detective Simmons today to ask him about his investigation, but he wasn’t in. I left a message. I imagine he’s feeling some of the same things you’re feeling over this.”

“Walker, this is my problem, let me deal with it.”

“In case you forgot, we vowed good times and bad. I’m your husband and what affects you also affects me. Do you remember the last time we made love? And what about Angela? You spend less and less time with her. Don’t you think she’s affected by this too?”

“Walker, I’m dealing with this the best way I know how. Please don’t make me feel any worse than I already do.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel worse, I’m just trying to make you realize how much this has affected our family. I don’t know how, but you have to get over this and put it behind you. Maybe you should get counseling or something. Whatever it takes Alex, I’m here for you.”

Alex finally looks Walker directly in the eye and says, “Thank you, but if you want to help me, then leave me alone and let me deal with this in my own way and in my own time.”

Walker accepts defeat — for now. He strides over to the computer desk and leans over to kiss her cheek. He gets a look at the computer screen. She’s reading the trial transcripts, going over line for line what was said, looking for past mistakes. Mistakes that meant an innocent man went to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. “Don’t stay up too long,” he says and leaves the room to go to sleep in their big lonely bed.

Ranger Headquarters, Friday 1:00 p.m.

Gage enters the office having been summoned by Walker. He walks over and turns a chair around to sit straddling it with his arms crossed on the back of the chair. “You wanted to see me boss?”

“I wanted an update on the McNally investigation.”

“Chen overheard a conversation between McNally and two of his men admitting that their security company is a front to extort protection money from local businesses. She also heard him order damage done to a meat packer son’s car. We’re trying to track that down. If the car doesn’t work, they’re supposed to damage the son. We want to get there before that happens.”

Walker nods, “and this thing with Sydney?”

“What thing?”

“The thing where you act like a jealous lover every time some creep gets a little too friendly?”

“Hey, I’m the bouncer, I’m supposed to keep the customers from hassling the waitresses.”

“Is that how McNally sees it?”

Gage has the grace to blush, knowing that he’s busted. “How would you like it if Alex had to dress up and parade around in front of those creeps in that skimpy costume?”

“I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, if my partner had to do it, I wouldn’t be thrilled either, but I’d know it was a necessary part of his job.”

Gage chuckled, “Like when Trivette went undercover as a male stripper?”

This drew an answering smile from Walker. “Gage, Sydney’s your partner. If you can’t figure out a way to mix the relationship with the job, then one is going to have to go. She is no less able to handle herself and some drunken creeps than she was when you thought of her as just another Ranger.”

“I know. I’m sorry; I’ve been a real jerk. Trust me, she’s let me know too. I’ll do better, I promise.”

“That’s good enough for me,” Walker says and they get back to the specifics of the case.

Alex’s Office 3:00 p.m.

Alex is preparing a brief for an upcoming trial when there is a knock and her husband opens the door far enough to poke his head in. “Alex?”

“Yes?” she answers him cautiously. She’s still smarting from their conversation the night before. She knows that he’s nearing the end of his patience with her, but it seems that the more she learns, the more guilt she feels.

“I spoke to Detective Simmons. He said that he’s doing much the same as you, going over old case files, looking for new evidence. He said that everything he has points to Parks as being the murderer. He also said that he would send copies of everything he has to me to look over. If Parks is innocent, then there’s still a killer out there somewhere.”

Alex looks stunned. Somehow with all of this going on, she hasn’t even considered the fact that there is now a nine-year-old unsolved murder to add to the books. “I hadn’t given it much thought.”

“Simmons said that finding the real killer is about the only way he can think of to start putting this right.”

Alex nods her head in agreement. “Did he say that he’d keep us informed?”

“He did.”

“Good. I have to get this finished and then I thought I’d knock off a little early today and go pick up Angela. You’re right about what you said last night. I’ve hardly spent any time with her lately. Now that she’s starting to wean herself, I’m only nursing her a couple times a day and that’s about the extent of our contact.”

“Good, I’m glad you’ve made that decision. I need to check in with Chen and Cooper and then I’ll be home as well.”

“How is the McNally case coming?”

“There are some new leads, but nothing concrete yet. Trivette and I are going to leave the others on the case while we follow up on that drug bust we made last Wednesday.”

“Sounds like you’re planning to keep the DA’s office pretty busy.”

“Better the DA than the Coroner.”

Alex nods her agreement. “I’ll see you at home then. I’ll make you turkey meatloaf for dinner.”

“Mmm… my favorite.”

“I know. I just wanted to say I was sorry for the way I’ve been acting lately.”

“I know. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Walker smiles at her admission; she hasn’t told him that since finding out about Matthew Parks. He walks over to her desk and kisses her lips gently. He stands up and says, “I’ll finish that later — at home.” With that, he turns and strides out of the office.

Ranger Headquarters 5:15 p.m.

Walker is standing behind his desk putting away some last minute things. “Trivette, I’m heading home for the weekend and I suggest you do the same.”

“You really think we can both take a whole weekend off?”

“I don’t know partner, but if my marriage is to survive I’m going to have to try.”

“How are things with Alex? I haven’t seen her in a month of Sundays.” Jimmy has noticed that Alex’s frequent trips to their office to check in with her husband have stopped completely. Having her ‘drop in’ throughout the day is something he has gotten used to over the years. It’s a habit she began long before she and Walker were even dating.

“Things are pretty tense, but I’m hoping to start changing that this weekend. And you better get home to your pretty fiancée. I have a feeling she’ll be happy to spend some time with you as well.”

“Yeah, she seems to like having me around for some reason. Actually, this weekend we’re supposed to go look for places to hold the wedding reception.”

“But you haven’t even set a date yet.”

“No, but apparently, that would be putting the cart before the horse. Erika says that some places are booked well in advance and so we need to decide where we want it and then find out what dates they have available.”

“So you’re going to let some business determine your wedding date?”

“Welcome to the world most of us live in partner. Not all of us get to have a huge reception at Mark Cuban’s estate whenever the whim takes us.”

“It wasn’t a whim Trivette. He offered and it was just such an opportunity to give Alex the gigantic wedding she’s always wanted that I couldn’t say no. Anyway, he owed me. I helped him out with some stuff and it was just his way of saying thank you.”

“You never exactly explained about that. What ‘favor’ did you do for the guy?”

“Trivette, you know that I’m never going to tell you that.”

“But I’m your partner.”

“Not even my wife has been able to get it out of me and trust me, she’s used much more persuasive techniques than you have.”

“Yeah, I guess I can’t compete with Alex when it comes to persuasion.”

“No, you sure can’t. I’m going home and see if I can persuade her right now.”

“Good luck, partner.”

“Later.”

Walker strides out and Trivette sits back in his chair smiling after him. He’s been worried about Alex too, but he knows that Walker won’t let her get too far into this guilt trip she’s on. He remembers when he thought he’d shot that little boy in an alley. He had sunk deep into a bottle of booze, but Walker had forced his way into his home and into his misery. He shuddered as he remembered that purge stuff he’d made him drink. He wouldn’t wish that stuff on anyone.

Walker Ranch 6:00 p.m.

“Honey, I’m home,” Walker shouts out as he enters the front door. He’s grinning, knowing that Alex will pick up on the cue. It’s a running joke between them that he announces himself when he comes in. She hates it when he enters a room unexpectedly and she didn’t even know he had come home.

“We’re in here,” comes the answering shout.

Walker determines that the sound is coming from the kitchen, which works for him, because that’s where the great smells are also coming from. He walks in to see his seven-month-old daughter seated in her highchair with Cheerios placed on the tray. She has begun to expand her diet and she loves the challenge of picking the tiny treats off of her tray and putting them in her mouth. Of course, smearing goo back on her tray is all part of the game.

“Hi precious,” he says as he bends to kiss the sparse blond hair on her head. She looks up grinning and offering her daddy one of the slimy Cheerios. He pretends to eat the offering and smiles back at her. She again gathers up a small treat to feed him. “You eat it, sweet pea, mommy’s fixing me my dinner.” He kisses her again and then heads to where his wife is standing peeling potatoes at the counter watching the play between her husband and daughter.

“You better not ruin your appetite, I’m fixing all of your favorites,” she warns him with the first smile he’s seen from her in awhile.

“Don’t worry, my appetite is working fine,” he says as he stands behind her and slides his arms around her waist. He pulls her back against him letting her feel how ‘hungry’ he is.

“You do know that Angela won’t be going down for at least another three or four hours,” she tells him.

He moans and nuzzles her neck. “I’m going to feed the animals and then head upstairs to shower. I guess I better make it a cold one.”

“Not too cold,” she says causing his stomach to knot in anticipation.

“Not to worry, a blizzard couldn’t dampen my appetite tonight,” he tells her. With a final grind against her backside, he steps back and scoops up Angela. “Come on angel face, let’s go feed the horses.”

“Make sure you put her hat and gloves on with her jacket, it’s pretty cold out there,” his wife admonishes him.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep her all bundled up.”

After getting his daughter dressed for the trip to the barn, he decides that he could have already finished his outdoor chores by now. “You know Angel, you’re going to have to learn how to do all this yourself soon. No wonder mommy’s always late to everything, I’ve never seen so many buttons and snaps in my life.” He continues to grumble good naturedly as he slides her into the backpack and straps it on. Angela loves riding on her daddy’s back while he does the barn chores. She gets a birds eye view of everything and he’s always in motion.

One hour later, Walker returns to the house to find that Alex is setting the table. He walks in to ask her for help in getting Angela out of her perch.

“Honey, I think she’s gone to sleep. Should I wake her up or let her sleep?” he asks.

Alex ponders the question. A nice quiet dinner with just the two of them, it is tempting. “Let’s let her sleep until dinner is over and then we’ll wake her up for her dinner and bath,” she decides.

“Okay then, I’ll need help getting her out of this.”

“Take it off first and then I’ll hold her while you slide it off of her,” his wife suggests.

They work in tandem and manage to get Angela out of the pack without waking her. Walker heads upstairs to shower while Alex removes her baby’s outerwear and finishes putting supper on the table.

When Walker enters the dining room, there are candles burning on the table and everything looks and smells great.

“Thank you, honey, it looks like you went to a lot of trouble.” He nods to the flowers, the candles and the set table.

“Well, you said last night that I’ve been neglecting you and Angela and I thought about it and you’re right. I can’t fix my mistake, but ruining my relationship with the two most important people in my life isn’t helping either.”

Walker takes her hand and squeezes it, “We’ll figure something out.”

She smiles at him and serves him his dinner. They eat a companionable meal and Walker fills her in on the office happenings that she has been so out of touch with. She tells him about a new case the DA just assigned her and they fall easily back into a pattern that they’d established in their short marriage.

After dinner, Walker feeds Angela while Alex goes to take her shower. Then they flip a coin to see who gets to wash the dishes and who gets to wash Angela. Walker loses and he starts drawing the dishwater while Alex heads upstairs with Angela.

They watch a rodeo on television that Walker wants to see and Alex nurses Angela when she gets tired and fussy. She still nurses, but more and more, Angela uses it for comfort rather than nutrition. Still, Walker loves to sit on the couch with Alex leaning against his chest with their daughter latched onto her breast. A rodeo that would have gotten his undivided attention in the past is barely competition for the sight of his wife feeding their daughter.

Walker takes Angela when she’s finished nursing and lays her against his shoulder. He pats her back to burp her as he sings her a lullaby in his deep gravelly voice. His wife teases him about not being able to carry a tune, but his daughter loves hearing her daddy sing.

Alex takes the opportunity to head into the master bedroom and get ready for bed. She has made a silent vow that this weekend will be devoted solely to her husband and daughter. She slips off her nightgown and drapes it over the bedside lamp. It has a dual purpose, it dampens down the brightness of the light creating a romantic glow and it says without words that she wants to spend the night making love.

Walker enters the room and knows immediately that he has been reading the signals right all night. Just before Alex got the letter about Parks, she had had her first menstrual cycle since Angela’s birth. It’s been nearly two weeks since the couple has made love and they’re both fairly certain that it’s a new record for them. Walker steps into the room and immediately begins removing his clothing. His wife sits on her side of the bed with the sheet tucked under her arms across her breasts, watching his every move. Her bare shoulders glow in the muted light.

She never ceases to admire his muscular frame. He is as fit as when she first met him. Her eyes glow with wanting by the time he reaches the bed and lifts the covers on his side to slide in next to her. They meet in the middle of the bed in a passionate embrace. His kisses rein over her face and upper torso as her hands go around his back to slide up and down either side of his spine. The night will be filled with lovemaking, fast and passionate and slow and loving.

Ranger Headquarters Monday 9:00 a.m.

Walker has escorted his wife to her office and left her with a kiss that is as filled with as much love and passion as the first they shared Friday night. Despite two days and three nights of loving, neither is sated. As he enters his own office, all he can think of is how soon he can get off work to take his wife back to bed.

Trivette looks up as Walker enters and after a brief survey of his partner’s expression, he sighs a sigh of relief. “Good weekend?” he asks already knowing the answer.

“Great weekend, you?”

“Mmm… probably not as good as yours, but it wasn’t bad.”

“Did you find a place to have the reception?”

“No, Erika and I couldn’t agree. She wants an indoor affair while I want more of an outdoor feel to it. I know they say that marriage is compromise, but does it have to start this early?”

“Partner, if you can get through all the compromises you’ll have to make for the wedding, you’re home free by the time it comes to the marriage.”

“Is that true?” Trivette asks hopeful.

Walker remembers the disagreements about what furniture goes where, who pays the cable bill and who pays the feed bill, who washes the dishes and who cooks, choosing between one charity function and another… He looks at Trivette and says, “No, sorry partner, but it doesn’t get any better. It does get a little easier after you establish some ground rules, but it’s a never-ending compromise. I even had to switch my brand of toothpaste.”

“What? Your toothpaste?”

“Yeah, Alex uses a different brand and she was adamant that she couldn’t switch.”

“So why not have two tubes?”

“Because then it became a problem with too much clutter on the bathroom counter and we had to compromise on what could stay and what had to go. It seemed silly to have two toothpaste tubes.”

“Oh man, that’s bad. Are you sure it’s worth it?”

Walker stops to think about the manner in which he was awoken that morning. He has a vision of Alex’s hair splayed across his abdomen while her mouth… “Definitely it’s worth it,” he says, keeping the image to himself.

Trivette grins wondering what’s put that look on Walker’s face, but knowing better than to ask. “I’m thinking that maybe we should set a date and then find a place that’s got that day open and settle it that way.”

“Trivette, when it comes to the wedding, let her have her way. It’s more important to her than it is to you. She’s dreamed about this day her whole life.”

“Talking to you is starting to be more and more like talking to Alex,” Trivette observes.

Walker grins at him. “She does have a way of changing the way a man thinks,” he admits.

“I was thinking maybe we should plan to get married on your and Alex’s anniversary. That way you and I could remind each other every year.”

Walker chuckles, “You’d have a long wait for that day to be on a weekend again. Are you sure you want to wait as long as I did to marry the woman you love?”

Trivette pretends to consider it, but shakes his head grinning. “No, I don’t want to wait till I’m old enough to be a grandpa before I start having kids.”

Walker’s response is to throw a ‘stress ball’ at him. The department psychologist passed out the balls to them several weeks before. The Rangers were supposed to squeeze them in their hands when they were feeling stressed. They were filled with sand and molded into different shapes. Unfortunately, all the Rangers Walker worked with had followed his lead and used them to launch at whichever Ranger was causing the stress. Walker had dutifully reported to the psychologist that the balls were having a positive effect on the stress level within his team. All was well until one day when the psychologist walked in during an all out battle between Gage, Sydney, Cooper, Chen, Trivette and Walker. Balls were flying all over the office and with a defeated shake of his head, the psychologist walked out of the office and never again mentioned the balls.

Walker turned to the work waiting on his desk. There wasn’t a message from Detective Simmons, so after wrapping up pressing issues, he called his department.

“This is Ranger Walker for Detective Simmons, Homicide.”
”I’m sorry Ranger, I guess you haven’t heard.”

“Heard what?”

“Detective Simmons committed suicide this weekend.”

“He what?”

“He swallowed his revolver sir.”

“Oh god, I just spoke to him. He didn’t give any indication that he was in a state that would warrant this type of action. Was there any note or anything?”

“Just one word on a piece of paper on his desk. It said, ‘sorry’ that’s it.”

“He was looking into a nine year old murder case.”

“The Parks girl?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Do you think you could send me copies of whatever he had? He was planning to send it to me.”

“Let me connect you to his partner, Detective Brooks.”

“Thank you.”

Walker waits while the call is transferred. He knew that Simmons felt bad about what had happened to Parks, but surely he hadn’t killed himself over it. Walker thought that he’d better keep a very close eye on Alex. He couldn’t conceive of her doing something like this, but who ever suspected that someone would choose to end their own life? Guilt can be a tricky thing.

“Brooks here,” came a voice from the other end of the line.

“Detective Brooks, this is Ranger Walker, I’m sorry to hear about your partner.”

“Yeah, I can’t believe it. I never thought he would do something like this. I knew that the Parks case was really bothering him, but to do something like this. It just isn’t like him.”

“I know, it doesn’t make sense, but these things never do. Were you a part of the Parks case?”

“No, I signed on a couple years later. I know about it through Simmons, that’s it.”

“Who was Simmons’ partner then?”

“Clay Newman, but he’s dead now too.”

“How long ago?”

“He died of a heart attack just last week. I wonder if that’s what put Simmons over the edge. He took off to go to his funeral on Thursday.”

“Yeah, I tried to reach him Thursday and he wasn’t in. Well, I wondered if you could send me the file on the Parks case. He said that he was looking back over it trying to come up with another suspect.”

“He was and I have it now. I’ve been assigned the case to try and figure out who the real murderer was. I’ll be happy to send you the file Ranger, but do you mind my asking your interest in the case?”

“My wife was the prosecuting DA in the trial.”

“How is she doing?”

“Better, but it’s been a difficult time.”

“From what I understand, she put the defense attorney to shame.”

“Who was the defense attorney? I have the file here somewhere…”

“His name is Gerald Dawson. He’s got a private practice now, mostly ambulance chasing stuff.”

“Can you send his number with the file? I think I’ll contact him as well. Is the judge still on the bench?”

“Judge Curry? Oh yeah, he’s still hearing criminal cases. He’s tough as nails. I wouldn’t worry about him, I don’t think he knows what guilt is.”

“Okay thanks, I appreciate your help and if I find anything that might aid in your investigation, I’ll let you know.”

“Appreciate it Ranger.”

Walker hangs up the phone with a concerned furrow to his brow. There’s a lot of information to digest and he isn’t sure where this case is headed. Now more than ever, he worries about Alex and wonders who the real murderer was.

Sydney’s apartment 12:00 p.m.

Gage has come over to have lunch with Sydney and to try to work out the difficulties they’ve been having combining their work with their relationship. Gage invited himself and he’s worried about the reception he’s going to receive. He stands in front of her door with a bag of take out in his hand and the other hand poised to knock on her door. Taking a deep breath, he knocks twice. He waits and when there is no response, he knocks again. He hears a muffled, “I’m coming” through the door and waits patiently for her to open it.

Sydney opens the door and stands there in her short robe with her wet hair swept up in a towel turban style. She has had to alter her sleeping habits working undercover in a bar and she only woke a short time before and has just gotten out of the shower. She has nothing on under her robe and she has no makeup on her face. These thoughts flash through her mind and are then followed by the memory of her last encounter with Gage.

“What are you doing here?” she asks him with hostility.

“So, not the welcome I was hoping for, but at least you didn’t slam the door in my face.”

“I should after what you said last night.”

“Sydney, look, I’m sorry. I brought food and an apology. I know I acted like a jerk last night. I wanted to talk about it. Anyway, it’s all your fault.”

“My fault? You’re the one who followed me out to my car and then beat up some schmuck who tried to get himself a date.”

“What can I say? The guy was pawing you and it made me mad.”

“I can take care of myself. I always have and I plan to continue. I don’t need you riding in to save me.”

“I know Syd. I was a jerk, but you’re the one who has me so mixed up I don’t know my head from my tail.”

“You probably have a tail too. In fact, I think you’ve grown horns.”

“Are you going to let me in?”

Sydney stands there debating. Finally, she steps back and allows him to enter. “I need to change, I’ll be back.”

“Don’t change on my account,” he says as he admires her legs under the short robe and the way it molds her figure. He is well aware of the fact that she has nothing on underneath and it’s having a definite effect on him.

“You seem to have enough trouble using your head to do your thinking, I’m not giving you any more excuses,” she informs him as she heads towards her bedroom.

Gage lays out the meal and is seated when Sydney returns looking about twelve in her jeans and t-shirt and her hair combed straight and wet. He looks again at her t-shirt and revises his age estimate to fifteen.

“Do you want me to grovel first or do you want to eat first?” he asks her.

“You grovel, I’ll eat,” she decides as she picks the taco up and begins chomping on it.

“I know that I’m not handling this relationship stuff very well, but you gotta remember, I spent my childhood looking out for my sister and I think some of that has rubbed off on you.”

“I’m a trained Texas Ranger. You can’t even classify me as a rookie anymore. I can outshoot, outfight, outsmart most men and I don’t need you getting yourself or someone else killed because you think your job is to take care of me. If you blow my cover at The Barfly, then that leaves Chen alone. Is that what you want? She’s the rookie here.”

“I know, you’re right. Just tell me how I can stop overreacting every time I see some creep try to touch you.”

Sydney starts in on her second taco and chews it while looking at him through her lashes. “Maybe you could stop thinking of me as your property and start thinking of me as a person in my own right who is capable of making my own decisions.”

“I do think of you that way.”

“Really? ‘Cuz I gotta tell you, you’re reminding me of that macho creep I went out with at the police academy.”

“The one who hit you? You think I’m like that?”

“I don’t think you’d ever hit me, but there’s more than one way to disrespect a woman. If I saw another woman hitting on you, would you expect me to pound her face in?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why is it okay for you to do it in the reverse?”

“It’s not okay. I get it. I know that I’ve been wrong, I just don’t know how to change. I worry about you and I don’t want anything to happen to you. Sydney, you know how I feel about you. If something bad happened to you, I don’t know how I would continue living.”

Sydney’s eyes soften at his confession, but she is determined to make him change the way he responds to perceived threats towards her. “Bad things happen to people Gage. When I signed on as a Ranger, I knew that I was putting myself in a situation where I’m more likely to get hurt than the average person. I’m willing to take that risk because it makes me feel good to do what I do. It’s my risk to take Gage, not yours.”

“Okay, I get it. I’m a macho pig and I need to let you make your decisions about your safety yourself. I have to tell you though, if we do end up together and have children, I don’t know if I’m going to be okay with you continuing to put yourself at risk.”

“And I don’t know that I would want to have children with someone who was in a dangerous profession either. I guess that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross sometime down the road. For now though, I need to know that my partner has my back and trusts me to have his.”

“I do trust you. How about if we come up with a signal that means it’s okay for the other one to lend a hand in a situation.”

“I thought we already had a signal.”

“What signal?”

“When we’re outnumbered five to one.”

Gage grinned at her, “one riot one Ranger?”

“You got it.”

“Does this mean I’m forgiven?”

“I guess,” she agrees.

“Good, ‘cause I’m starved,” he says as he digs into his six tacos.

Sydney rolls her eyes as she watches him. ‘What was I expecting, Romeo?’ she thinks to herself.

Walker Ranch 10:00 p.m.

Walker has filled Alex in on what he has found out during the day about the Parks case. She also has information about what Parks was up to. She has managed to track him down and discovered that he was placed in a job at a feed store delivering feed to local farms and ranches. It’s a job that the prison social worker found for him. Prior to being sent to jail, he had worked as a track coach for a local junior college. Alex is debating on whether or not to try and contact him. Walker doesn’t think that it’s a good idea, not until they have something concrete on the real killer.

The two sit on the couch watching the local station air the 10:00 news. Angela has had trouble getting to sleep and Alex is nursing her hoping that she will nod off soon. It’s been a long day and she knows that Walker is ready to head to bed the first chance they get.

“Walker?”

“Yeah, honey.”

“Did you stop and get more condoms on your way home?”

“Yes I did,” he answers sounding less than thrilled.

“Hey, stop complaining.”

“I’m not complaining,” he denies.

“Yes you are, you’re just not doing it with words.”

“Well, you know I don’t like having to use them.”

“I’m not thrilled with the idea either, but we both agreed that it’s too soon to start on a second baby and I don’t want to take the pill as long as Angela’s nursing. Now that I’ve started cycling again, we have to use some kind of protection.”

“I know, I just prefer… spontaneity.”

Alex laughs, “Honey, I’ve never known you to lack spontaneity regardless of the situation. We’ve been lucky, you know that I could have already gotten pregnant. It’s not unheard of for women who are breast-feeding to become pregnant. It’s less likely, but it’s not a full proof system.”

“I know, I just prefer it when it’s just you and me and no barriers.”

“Well, Angela isn’t going to keep this up for too much longer. Maybe I’ll wean her completely by the New Year and then I can start back on the pill.”

“Do you want to go back on it? I mean, we are going to want another one fairly soon aren’t we?”

“Let’s save that discussion for a later date, shall we?”

Walker tightens his hold on Alex and squeezes her back into his chest. Angela is all but asleep. He watches as she stops pulling on Alex’s nipple and dozes and then works her mouth again a few times before dozing again. He is just about to comment on how he thinks he can sing her the rest of the way to sleep when a story on the news catches their attention.

“Judge Curry has had a long and distinguished career. He is known for being tough on crime and his record indicates that he rarely gives second chances. Recently, the judge has been bothered by a case that was reversed based on new DNA evidence. Matthew Parks was found guilty of the murder of his seven year old daughter in Judge Curry’s courtroom nine years ago. He sentenced Parks to the maximum sentence, twenty-five years to life on November 17, 1992. Since that time, new evidence has cleared Matthew Parks. Friends and colleagues speculate that learning that he’d sentenced an innocent man weighed heavily on Judge Curry’s heart leading to what was presumably a heart attack that caused him to drive his car into oncoming traffic. Curry plowed head first into a loaded refrigeration truck. The driver of the truck suffered minor injuries, but Judge Curry was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Alex sits up ramrod stiff when the reporter begins announcing the tragedy. Angela begins to cry as she senses that all is not well with her mother. As the station goes to commercial, Walker switches off the television with the remote.

“This is just too coincidental,” Alex observes.

“I agree. First, the senior detective who investigated the case and has since retired, suddenly dies of a heart attack. Then the other investigator commits suicide. Now the presiding judge has what is being called a heart attack that causes him to swerve his car into oncoming traffic. Three deaths in the span of a week, all key players in a nine year old case.”

“So do you think they were all murdered?”

“I’d say that it’s a definite possibility. The question is whether Parks is behind it or the real killer.”

“My money is on Parks. I mean, why not? He has nothing to lose. His HIV status has made his days numbered. I don’t know if he has full blown AIDS or not, but if he does, then he really has nothing to lose. Besides, no one has any leads on the real killer.”

“You’re forgetting the DNA evidence. If the killer is someone close to the crime, maybe he or she is afraid that they will become a suspect and be asked to submit to a DNA test. A match would be all it would take.”

“Maybe, but I still think that it’s Parks.”

“Me too, I just don’t want to narrow our list of suspects too quickly. I’ll call Detective Brooks and let him know our suspicions. Everyone else who may be a target should be given protection. I’d say that you are probably target number one,” he tells his wife.

“Probably, but I don’t still live in the area.”

“I’ll tell Brooks that I’ll take care of getting protection for you. Why don’t you get Angela down and I’ll make some phone calls. Is there anyone else that might not be obvious whom I should add to the list?”

“The police that investigated are both dead as is the judge, that leaves the lawyers and the jury. There’s no one else off the top of my head,” she answers as she heads upstairs.

Walker lifts the receiver to call Detective Brooks.

Ranger Headquarters Tuesday 10:00 a.m.

Trivette is seated at his desk working on his computer. Walker is sitting at his desk talking on the phone. Walker hangs up the phone and looks over at his partner. “I just got off the phone with Brooks.”

“Did he have anything new?”

“Oh yeah. Parks is missing and both the defense attorney and the foreman of the jury have been found dead. All were staged to look like deaths of remorse.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Detective Simmons supposedly leaves a note that says, ‘sorry’ and then kills himself. Detective Newman and Judge Curry supposedly die of heart attacks brought on by guilt. The defense attorney, Gerald Dawson was found hanging from the ceiling beam in his law office. There was a note in the typewriter that said he was a failure and couldn’t live with himself. The foreman of the jury supposedly jumped off of a ten-story building he worked in. There was a message on his computer screen in his office that said he couldn’t live with what he’d done. Each death was staged to look like natural causes or suicide, but I’m betting that in each instance, they were murdered and the scene was staged. Now that they know what to look for, I imagine that the crime scene teams and the coroners will find inconsistencies.”

“You have a team assigned to Alex right?”

“Yeah, first thing this morning, and we will be carpooling until this is over. I had a long talk with her about not falling for something similar to what the Chairman pulled to get her alone. This man doesn’t have the resources that guy did, but he still has managed to cause a great many deaths.”

“What can I do?”

“I don’t know Trivette. For now, I need you to take the lead in this McNally case. They’re close to breaking it wide open. Gage said that the meat packer has agreed to wear a wire when he meets with McNally’s flunky. I figure that as soon as we get one we’ll get them all. They’re not the brightest bulbs. If you can take that on, I’ll focus on keeping Alex safe and figuring out a case that is nine years old.”

“You got it partner. If you need me to research something or you need backup, I’m there.”

“I know, thank you,” Walker lets Trivette see the sincerity in his eyes. They are partners and best friends and both know that they would lay their life down for the other.

Alex’s Office 2:00 p.m.

Walker is allowed to pass by the two bodyguards standing watch outside Alex’s office door. He knocks once and then strides in. “Hi, honey.”

Alex looks at him and smiles a tight smile. “Hi yourself. Are you here to check up on me?”

“Sort of I guess. I wanted to know if you had anything more on your end.”

“Well, the DA has relieved me of all of my current cases so that I can focus on this. I’ve been going over the trial transcripts and the only inconsistency I can find is that Ryan Cotton, the witness who was supposed to provide Parks with an alibi gave some strange answers. I didn’t catch it at the time, but he said that he and the football coach, had gone out drinking and that’s all he remembered of the night until waking up the next day with a hangover in his own bed.”

“How is that strange?”

“Well, Parks testified that he was called by the football coach, a Stuart Hudson, who said that Ryan Cotton had had too much to drink and needed someone to take him home from a local bar. Parks said that he drove out there and Cotton was outside in the parking lot propped up in his car. He said that he drove him home, put him to bed and stayed the night on Cotton’s couch because he wanted to check on him often. He said that he’d never known Cotton to drink more than a couple of beers and he wanted to make sure that he was okay. The next day, Cotton drove Parks over to pick up his car from the bar. This part of his alibi checked out and Cotton collaborated it, but he couldn’t tell us that Parks had been at his house all night. We all assumed that Parks had taken his drunk friend home, went back to his own house where he killed his daughter and buried her in a shallow grave out in the wooded area between his house and Cotton’s and then gone back to Cotton’s where he waited till morning to establish an alibi.”

“Where was the football coach, Hudson, during all of this?”

“That’s the weird part. No one ever asked that question. I don’t know why it was missed, but if Hudson went drinking with Cotton, why did he call Parks to come pick Cotton up? And why put Cotton in his car and leave him there? If that is what happened, then it makes sense that no one saw Parks at the bar, he never went in.”

“Sounds like we better track down Brooks and let him know.”

Alex picks up the phone, agreeing with Walker. When she finally gets through, Detective Brooks has some news for her. She has him on speakerphone so that Walker can hear as well.

“We’ve got eight of the remaining jurors in protective custody. Two were found dead in apparent suicides and one we haven’t been able to track down yet.”

Alex fills him in on her suspicions about Hudson.

“I’ll get someone over to put Cotton under protective custody now and I’ll put an APB out on Hudson. If Hudson is the killer, then we should be able to prove it with that DNA sample we have. How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine, I have bodyguards assigned to protect me at work and my husband is on duty the rest of the time.”

Alex looks up at Walker and smiles a smile of gratitude to him.

“Your husband is with you, correct?”

“I’m here,” Walker answers.

“Good, this is information I wouldn’t want to give your wife while she was alone. We got a search warrant for the motel where Parks has been living since his release from prison. He apparently has been plotting his revenge for some time. There was evidence that pointed to his guilt in the murders of those who have been killed, but the most important thing we learned is that those people were secondary to the person he holds to blame.”

“Alex?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. He apparently has been cutting out clippings about her career from newspapers since he was first imprisoned. He has newspaper pictures of her since she joined the Tarrant County DA’s office. He even had pictures of your wedding and other personal events that made the Dallas papers.”

“But he doesn’t live in Dallas,” Alex stated.

“No, but he subscribed to all the major Dallas papers. You’re his primary target and I’d say that whatever he has planned is probably fairly elaborate.”

“All right Brooks, thank you for the information. I’m going to take my wife home now, you have the number there don’t you?”

“Yes, I have it.”

“Please call us if you find anything else out. I plan to keep Alex and Angela at the ranch until Parks is captured. I’ll have guards posted there.”

“I’ll keep in touch. Watch your back,” Brooks advises before hanging up.

“So we’re going home?” Alex questions her husband.

“We are. Maybe we’ll stop and get some supplies and we can fix up my ‘office.’ You’ve been wanting to tackle it ever since we’ve been married.”

“Are you sure? I thought that room was one of those nonnegotiable things about our marriage.”

“Marriage and nonnegotiable don’t belong in the same sentence. I’ve been lecturing Trivette on the art of compromise. I thought we could stop and get some paint and wall paper and maybe even a lamp.”

“What about a new armchair?”

“You cut deep woman. Okay, you can go online and order me a new armchair, but it better be comfortable.”

“It will be I promise.”

Walker grins at his wife glad that he has managed to focus her attention on something besides the danger she’s in. She’d been trying to refurbish his ‘office’ for as long as he can remember. It’s a small room that is tucked behind the main living room. It has a television/VCR in it and is where he keeps personal items that he doesn’t want to share with guests that visit his home. It had been Uncle Ray’s favorite place and Alex had been in his life for years before she even knew of its existence. When she had banished his antler lamp, it had moved to his ‘office’. It fit in fine with the décor in there, early American shabby. He uses that room when he just wants to get away and think. She has always respected his privacy when he goes in there, but she’s itched to get her hands on it and make it more attractive.

“Walker?”

“Yes darling?”

“I love you.”

“I know.”
Alex smiles at his confidence. She likes the sound of that. It can only be a good thing that he is that confident in her love.

Walker Ranch 11:00 p.m.

Walker switches off the overhead light as he pads over to the bed. Alex is sitting propped up against the headboard with paint samples in her hands. Walker lifts the covers on his side and slides underneath them scooting over towards her. He reaches his hand out and begins rubbing her tummy through her silky nightgown. Alex lightly slaps his hand away.

“Do you think this color I got for the walls is too dark?” she asks her distracted husband.

“Uh uh, I think it’s just perfect.”

“Walker, you haven’t even looked at it. I wanted taupe, but maybe I should have gone one shade lighter. The wallpaper for the bottom half of the wall tones really well with this color though. I’m just afraid that it will end up too dark. It’s such a small room; maybe I should have gone with a light color. I wanted it to be masculine though since it is your room.”

Throughout her ‘decorating discourse’ Walker has continued to try to get his wife interested in what he’s interested in. He has kissed her shoulder, blown into her ear, nuzzled her neck, nibbled her chin, licked her clavicle and all to no avail. She merely bats at him with her hand as if he were an annoying mosquito.

“It’s over Alex,” he says with finality.

“Hmm… what’s over?” she questions.

“Us. The passion. The romance. Maybe even the marriage. It’s over.”

“That’s nice honey. You know, if I go with light colored furniture, it should be okay. How about that bookshelf that’s stored in the garage? You know the one that I had in my condo? It’s a light maple and it’s got glass doors on top. It would make a great place to display some of your trophies that you have in boxes. You know — that’s actually a great idea. I can get an armchair that color and your desk is a maple isn’t it? It’s hard to tell it’s so cluttered, but once the books are on the shelf and the trophies are in the case and the plaques are hung on the wall… This has possibilities.”

“I’d want shared custody of Angela and the horses. In fact, maybe we could still manage to share the ranch. I’ll stay in my new and improved office while you continue to transform the rest of the house. Or maybe I could move into the barn. There should be more space if you’re planning to take some of the stored furniture out of there. I could just set up that old bed frame in one of the stalls. As I remember, that mattress was pretty comfortable. ‘Course, it’d be cold in the winter and it wouldn’t be safe to light a fire, but I’ve got Cherokee blood in my veins, I could manage somehow.”

“You know, all we need is a theme. We have the Native American and Old West themes in other rooms. I kind of think we should go for something else, but what? It should be masculine. What about your martial arts? You have so many trophies… But what is there to decorate the room that has martial arts as the theme? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had their day in the sun or the sewer or whatever. No, that’s not gonna work. No martial arts. I don’t see you liking a border of Sumo wrestlers in there do you? And law enforcement. What could I do with that? Sure, we could make it into a Texas Ranger room, but we’ve kind of already got that in the downstairs guestroom. What else do you like to do? Fishing? You know, I could find some neat fishing stuff. Or we could go with hunting. I just have a problem with hunting, you know? I know it’s part of your heritage and all that, but I just don’t want the house decorated with it. Of course, it’s your room and it would make that ugly antler lamp fit right in. In fact, I could use that as the inspiration piece for the room. What do you think?”

“I think it’s going to be lonely and cold out there in the barn.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Our divorce.”

“What?!”

“Irreconcilable differences. That’s what the paper will say. I don’t think they have a box to check that says Decorating differences.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about a man in desperate need of loving and getting nothing but wallpaper and decorating themes thrown at him.”

“Oh cowboy, are you feeling neglected?”

“Uh huh.”

Alex reaches under the covers and pulls the bottom of her nightgown up and over her head tossing it onto the nightstand lamp. It’s the only light on in the room and now only silhouettes can be seen.

“I’m sorry darling. What can I do to make it up to you?”

“Stop talking,” he says as the two shadowy figures meld in the middle of the bed.

Moments later, Alex pushes against Walker’s chest and her head separates from his. “We can’t do this,” she says.

“Really, I thought we were pretty good at it.” His comment is followed by an “Ouch!” as she pinches his chest.

“There are guards outside of the house.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, we can’t do this with them out there.”

“Alex, there are two men sitting in a car parked behind the barn. How is that related to this?”

“I can’t make love to you when there are two men out there in the freezing cold wondering how snug we are in our bed.”

“Alex, I doubt they’re wondering about our sleeping arrangements.”

“But Walker, they’re out there because of me.”

“They’re out there because someone is trying to kill you. There’s a difference.”

“Not in my book.”

“So what do you want to do? Sleep on the floor without covers so you can be miserable too?”

“No, of course not. I just thought that maybe we could take them some hot soup or something.”

“It’s all taken care of. They each had a thermos with them, I checked.”

“Still.”

“Alex…”

“Yeah?”

“If you don’t shut up and kiss me, I’m not going to let you decorate my office.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Wanna bet?”

The two figures meld back together.

“Walker?”

“Now what?”

“You never said if you wanted to go with a fishing or a hunting theme.” Her sentence is punctuated by a gasp. “There, yes… Oh Walker…”

The question is never answered that night.

One week later Tuesday 10:00 p.m. Barfly Club

Gage is sitting at the table with Roland McNally and Hank Salem. He has finally been allowed close enough to hear some of their conversations.

“So you got things cleared up over there at the liquor store?” McNally asks his hired thug.

“Yeah, it took some persuading, but I think he finally sees it our way now. Shame though, he’s not gonna be able to work for two weeks according to the doc. He has to pay the help to keep the place open in his absence. I found him someone though who’ll do a good job of looking after the place ’till he’s up on his feet again.”

“Good, maybe next time he won’t be so resistive. Hope the neighbors hear about what happened.”

“Oh they will. My guy Tony, he’s known for never shuttin’ up. He’s the guy I got covering the shifts until the owner can come back to work. He’ll make sure everyone knows what went down.”

“Good, good. Now I just wish that idiot Don would get here. He’s supposed to be havin’ a ‘final’ conversation with the meat packer.”

“Don’t worry boss. Don’s an old pro when it comes to handlin’ the likes a him. He’ll be here shortly, you mark my words.”

‘Not likely,’ thought Gage.

Same time in the freezer at Snyder & Son Meat Packing

“Your kid was lucky, Snyder. That cowboy with the kung fu kicks hadn’t come along when he did and the kid wouldn’t be near as pretty. In fact, he’d look a lot like his car.”

“You stay away from my son. You hear me? You no good punk! I’m gonna chop you up and mix you in with the ground beef.”

“Now don’t make threats there, Snyder. Look around you. There’s you, me and four of my best men. These men know how to cause great pain and they know how to cause permanent damage. You get my meaning?”

“I got you, you snake. What does your boss McNally want? Blood? I’m not gonna pay him all my profit in protection money.”

“Now Snyder, there you go using those ugly words again. You know that we’re a legitimate security company and in this neighborhood a businessman such as yourself needs protection.”

“You tell McNally that Snyder & Son doesn’t pay money to a weasel. Security company my ass. You’re trying to extort money from me, but Snyder doesn’t pay creeps like you.”

“What can I tell you Snyder? You either sign up for Safe House Security or suffer the consequences.”

“What consequences? You already destroyed my son’s car and tried to injure my boy. This neighborhood would be plenty safe if you and your boss Roland McNally lived in Huntsville.”

“I don’t think you’re in any position to threaten us Snyder. Roland McNally expects to be paid or your business will suffer and so will you. Let me give you a demonstration. Vince, show Mr. Snyder what happens to people who aren’t protected.”

“That’s it, let’s go!” Trivette who had the ear phones on announced. Suddenly, the freezer door slams open and four police officers and two Texas Ranger’s burst in guns drawn. Snyder takes the opportunity to grab a meat hook and slams the blunt side of it into Don Raymond’s abdomen. Once the man doubles over in pain clutching his gut, Snyder loops the curved hook into the man’s lapel and hangs him from the rack. Don Raymond flails around screaming and moaning.

Walker takes out Vince with successive blows to the man’s already ugly face. His nose is crooked from spending his youth in street brawls, so Walker figures one more dent in it from him won’t matter. Trivette uses a more traditional fighting method to subdue another of McNally’s thugs. As soon as the man thinks he has his fight technique figured out, he switches from Baltimore street fight to Tae kwon do footwork that he learned from Walker. The man goes down with a thud. The other two men are subdued and cuffed by the police and after they are all rounded up, Walker makes an announcement.

“I’ve got the whole conversation on tape and witnesses. You’re all going down for a long time. The DA will listen to just one of you to cut a deal. You want leniency, give us McNally; think about it. You’ll each get an opportunity to sing to the DA once we take you in.”

The men are led out one by one, but Don Raymond is held back momentarily to give him a chance to ask for the plea bargain.

“What do you say Raymond? We have enough on tape to put you away. You want to talk or take the rap for McNally?” Trivette asks.

“I know more than those other guys. You want to talk to someone, I’m you’re man.”

“I’m sure the Deputy DA will be glad to hear that. She’s waiting for you now,” Walker states.

When Trivette had called him at home to say that the bust was going down that night, he had taken Alex and Angela to the Justice Building. Alex had gotten the necessary warrants so they could wire Mr. Snyder for the meeting with Raymond. She was waiting to get enough from Raymond so they could take McNally down as well.

Justice Building 11:30 p.m.

Alex walks around the small interrogation room looking ultra professional. Walker is able to see paint flecks in her hair that are the same taupe color as his office, but they aren’t obvious unless you’re looking for them. He watches his wife extract enough information from Don Raymond to get warrants for the arrest of Roland McNally, Hank Salem and several other men on McNally’s payroll. Trivette calls Glen Cooper who is undercover at the Barfly as the bartender and gives him the word that they are on their way. Cooper passes the message on to Lisse Chen, Sydney Cooke and Francis Gage. The Rangers are out in force to shut down McNally once and for all.

Alex walks back into her office. Only the desk lamp is on and instead of heading straight for her desk, she goes to the corner where the porta crib is set up. She looks down on the sleeping baby.

“Hey Angel, daddy’s gonna get the bad guys and then mommy’s gonna charge them and then we’ll all head back home. Okay baby?” Angela lifts her hand up to her mouth and inserts her thumb as her mother speaks quietly to her. Alex smiles and then heads back to her desk to get as much of the paperwork done as possible. It’s going to be a long night.

Barfly Lounge 12:45 a.m.

Walker sits outside the Barfly and watches as people begin leaving. There are still plenty people inside, but the more who leave, the fewer they will have to endanger while arresting the owner. He is willing to wait to as close to closing time as possible to catch as few innocent bystanders in their net as possible. He sits in his pickup truck with Trivette seated next to him.

“Boy it sure is cold. Once the weather decided to turn, winter really got here fast.”

“Don’t start Trivette, I have to hear it from Alex every night.”

“What? You and Alex have nothing better to do at night than talk about the weather? If that’s what parenthood does to you, I’m gonna convince Erika to hold off awhile.”

“Have you ever met your fiancée Trivette? Once that woman gets a notion in her head, there’s no stopping her. If you get in her path, she’s going to just mow you down.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence partner. Actually, Erika reminds me of one of my other favorite ladies in that regard.”

“I take it you’re speaking of my wife.”

“None other. That lady is a pit bull in heels. I admire you man. You’ve managed to keep up with her for, what is it, eight years now?”

“About that. I have to admit, there’s never a dull moment with Alex around.”

“So why are you guys spending your evenings talking about the weather?”

“She’s worried about the bodyguards sitting out in the car at night.”

“Oh man, if I had a dime for every time you and I froze our butts off on a stakeout.”

“Yeah, apparently it’s only a problem if people are sitting outside in the cold for her sake. I mean she didn’t seem to mind that I was coming out here with you tonight to sit out here and wait for McNally.”

Trivette chuckles, “she knows that you enjoy the challenges of Mother Nature. After all, you’re the one who voluntarily goes into sweat lodges.”

“There’s nothing voluntary about it. First it was Uncle Ray who kept making me go and now White Eagle.”

“Wait a minute. If you hate going into the sweat lodge, how come you dragged me in there with you?”

“Hey, you’re my partner. Why should I suffer alone?”

“Funny man. You know, I think I should go in and sit at the bar and order a drink. I’ll beep you when it’s a good time to call in the cavalry.”

“I think I should go in and sit at the bar.”

“No way man. Don Raymond recognized you as ‘the cowboy with the kung fu kicks’ who saved Snyder’s son from a beating. What if one of McNally’s goons inside saw you there too?”

“No one else saw me. You just want to go inside where it’s warm.”

“My momma didn’t raise no dummies. I’ll beep you. You sure you got your beeper on?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it on vibrate.”

“So, now you’re resorting to cheap thrills. I guess Alex really is neglecting you. You want me to give you some tips on how to romance your lady?”

“Trivette, get your butt outta here before I practice my ‘kung fu’ kicks on it.” 

Trivette is laughing as he exits the Ram and heads inside to where it’s warm.

An hour later, there are few people left except for some too drunk to drive and waiting on taxis. McNally is at a back booth talking to Hank Salem and wondering why Don Raymond hasn’t checked in yet. Gage is included at the table and realizes that McNally is getting nervous. He looks over at Trivette and nods his head. Trivette reaches into his jacket pocket and pushes the beeper.

Two minutes later, Walker enters announcing that he is there with warrants for the arrest of McNally, Salem and several of their cohorts. There are four police officers flanking him and McNally thinks that they are the entire crew of arresting officers. He gets cocky and begins a fight. He doesn’t count on his bodyguard, his bartender and two of his waitresses fighting on the side of the law.

When Trivette joins the fray after getting a couple of bar patrons safely behind the bar, McNally’s forces are outnumbered. Still, Sydney has her hands full with a seven-foot cousin of Don Raymond. Gage is focused on subduing Hank Salem and when he finally accomplishes that, he turns to find McNally. He wants to get his hands on the creep who has disrespected Sydney throughout this assignment. He finds that Chen has McNally well in hand. She has far better technique than any martial artist Gage has ever known with the exception of Walker.

Walker manages to take it easy and allows the rest of his team to take down the suspects. They’ve invested a great deal into this operation and he doesn’t want to steal their thunder. One of McNally’s ‘enforcers’ tries to escape and he fells him with one blow to the back of the neck. No spinning back kicks, but still, he likes to contribute. After rounding everyone up and sorting out the innocent customers from the criminals, they are handcuffed and taken to the Justice Building.

Alex is waiting and she manages to depose a few key figures before calling it a night and leaving it for Phil Holland to work on in the morning. She’s missed work, but has enjoyed spending time with her family. She just wishes it could be under better circumstances. Walker comes in to carry the porta crib and other baby paraphernalia while Alex carries her sleeping daughter out to the Ram.

“Angela slept the whole time. She didn’t wake up once,” Alex brags.

“You know what that means don’t you?”

“What?”

“She’ll be up bright and early tomorrow all full of energy while you and I will be dragging around.”

“That’s okay, you can get up with her.”

“Thanks honey.”

“Anytime.” She grins over at her husband and then reaches her hand past the baby seat to rest it on his upper arm. Gone are the days when she could snuggle against him while they drove home. The baby seat has seen to that. ‘You gotta give something to get something,’ she thinks. She looks down at her daughter. ‘It’s worth it,’ she decides with a smile.
”What are you smiling about?” her husband questions.

“I was just thinking that I can’t snuggle up to you with the car seat in the way.”

“Yeah, I miss that. Once Angel Face here moves into a booster seat, she’s going into the back.”

“By then we’ll probably have another one to fill up the spot.”

“You think so?”

“Well, we don’t want to wait too long. I want Angela to have siblings close to her age and besides, as long as it took you to ask me to marry you, a lot of good ‘reproductive time’ got wasted.”

Walker laughs at her. “I have a feeling that you’ve got a few good years left in you.”

“It was you I was referring to,” she jokes.

Alex shares a smile with him and leans back to doze as he navigates the roads home with the bodyguards in a car trailing them.

Walker Ranch Wednesday 10:00 a.m.

Angela had woken up at her usual time, but Walker got up and took care of changing her and brought her into Alex who nursed her. They had both fallen back to sleep and Walker went down to his office that was still under construction to hammer in the picture hangers Alex had asked for. She had settled on a mixture of themes so that the overall theme was simply ‘Walker.’ She had brought in the bookcase and placed his martial arts trophies in the display case. His metals from his days in the marines were mounted on black velvet and stood on the second shelf along with awards from his ranger days.

Alex had organized his books and albums on the shelves and interspersed framed photos of people who had played a significant role in his life. His TV/VCR were on a small entertainment unit and she had put the few videos he had into the small cabinet beneath it. The armchair she’d ordered was an overstuffed leather chair that reclined. It was the same maple color as the wood furniture and he hated to admit it, but it was far more comfortable than the old tattered chair whose springs were shot. She had added a small table that sat next to it with his favorite antler lamp and room for a drink or a book. The curtains were simple burlap material hung on a cane fishing pole with fishing lures hanging along the top as decoration. She’d had him clip off the hooks and file them down so that they had blunt ends. The desk was neat and organized, but there was room for him to get messy while working on a project and she vowed not to complain. She had marked on the wall the places she wanted nails to hang his plaques and certificates and also places she wanted to hang more framed photos.

Walker enters the room and looks around with a smile flirting around his lips. The room was actually very nice. Alex had remained true to her word about making it a room he would enjoy spending ‘alone time’ in. He looks over to the armchair and this time a great big grin explodes on his face as he remembers ‘initiating’ it with her two nights previous. There were certainly things they could do in it that the old chair would never have supported. All in all, he was glad that he had suggested the decorating project as a means for keeping Alex’s attention off the Park’s case. He picks up the hammer and gets to work.

Alex awakens to find Angela lying next to her with a pillow on the other side of her keeping her from rolling off the bed. She smiles and quietly gets up and places her pillow on the other side of Angela while she goes to take her shower. Half an hour later, the two are up and dressed and ready to go find daddy.

“Wow, this looks great!” Alex exclaims as she sees that Walker has put on the finishing touches of plaques and pictures. “Do you like it honey?”

“Yes, I really do,” Walker agrees with a smile.

“Really? You’re not just saying that to be nice are you?”

“Alex, when have you ever known me to say something just to be nice?”

“All the time. I know that tough exterior hides a marshmallow heart.”

“I really like my office, honest. Want to know what my favorite thing about it is?”

“What?”

“The chair.”

“Really? You really like it? I was so sure that you’d make me send it back and you’d haul that old thing back in.”

“They wouldn’t take it back after we ‘christened’ it.”

The color rises in Alex’s cheeks. “That was a one time deal. This is your room and I’ll respect that.”

“Don’t say that! You can come in here wearing that black lace thing anytime you like.”

“No, this is your room, you wanted it to stay masculine. I’m not going to interfere in here. Now that it’s finished, I’ll stay out.”

“Honey, you said that you wanted this room to reflect my personality right?”

“Yes, that’s why there’s a little bit of Indian mixed with a little bit of Cowboy. There’s a little bit of outdoors and nature mixed with a little bit of indoors: books and introspection. There’s a little bit of family mixed with a little bit of work. It’s all balanced, like you.”

“But don’t you get it? You’re what balanced me. What’s a man without a woman? Certainly not balanced. I can’t think of any more masculine fantasy than you wearing that black thing that shows just enough skin to get a man’s blood all flowing south.”

“You are wicked bad Cordell Walker.”

He walks over to her and lifts Angela up in his arms and lays her on the sheepskin throw rug that lies in front of the television. Then he turns to Alex and scoops her up in his arms and sits with her in his lap.

“See? This chair was built for two. I’m planning on having you in this position on a regular basis.”

“Walker…” she protests as he begins kissing her and playing with the buttons on her blouse.

“Don’t worry, we can try other positions as well,” he jokes as his fingers tickle and tease.

“Walker…” she tries again, but is lost in the kiss that silences her protests.

Angela plays on the rug for a bit and then turns herself over and raises herself up with her arms so that she can get a better view of her mommy and daddy who seem much more interested in each other than in her. This is completely unacceptable to the infant who is convinced the world revolves around her. She lets out a piercing cry.

Angela’s tactics are quite effective. Alex jumps off of Walker’s lap and hurriedly closes her blouse. She scoops her demanding daughter up in her arms and with a scolding look directed at her husband; she heads out to fix her daughter something to eat.

Walker sits in the chair with a grin on his face. He’d seen the regret in his wife’s eyes even though she’d tried to mask it. He gets up and follows her out of the room.

The phone begins to ring and Walker walks over to answer it. Alex had headed upstairs with Angela to let her play while she works in her office on a case that she is preparing.

“Hello,” he says into the phone.

“Ranger Walker?”

“Hi Brooks, you got anything new?”

“No new bodies if that’s what you mean. It looks like Parks has gone underground. We have everyone involved in the case accounted for.”

“Anything more on the DNA evidence?”

“Bingo. It’s a match to the football coach, Stuart Hudson.”

“How did you manage to get Hudson to agree to a DNA test?”

“We didn’t, he’s in the hospital with what looks like a self inflicted gunshot wound.”

“Wait a minute, I thought you said Parks went into hiding.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure he’s responsible for Hudson’s injuries, but we had him staked out and no one saw anything. Hudson is in ICU and they say his chances are 50/50. We managed to get a blood sample from the scene, believe me there was plenty. With all the new evidence, we confronted Ryan Cotton and he finally spilled the whole story.”

“Should I get Alex so she can hear this?”

“I don’t know, you might want to tell her about it yourself. I can fax the information over if you have a fax machine in the house.”

“Yes, Alex has one in her office, I’ll give you the number.”

After giving, Brooks the number, he listens as the detective fills him in and then he hangs up the phone to find Alex.

Alex is sitting at her desk reading the papers that her fax machine is spitting out. She looks up at her husband and confirms that he knows what they say.

Walker looks over at Angela who has fallen asleep. He scoops her up and takes her into her nursery and lays her in her crib so that he and Alex can discuss the latest events in the case. When he returns to Alex’s office, she is ready to talk.

“So Hudson is in ICU.”

“Yeah, Detective Brooks doesn’t know how Parks got to him, but the scene looked very similar to others that Parks is believed responsible for.”

“I can’t believe Hudson killed that little girl over a gambling ring.”

“Alex, it was huge. They had gotten into a really shady crowd and when Parks panicked and threatened to go to the police, Cotton and Hudson cooked up the scheme to keep him quiet.”

“But how did he end up killing Ashley Parks if as Cotton says, he was just supposed to kidnap her?”

“Brooks says it gets pretty complicated. Apparently, the three men all worked in the athletic department at the Junior College and did some friendly wagering. Hudson had a problem and he got into debt with some mob related people. He managed to drag Parks and Cotton in with him. They made some bad bets and then when they were unable to pay off the debts they were coerced into fixing games at the college. We’ve seen it before; local sports can generate big gambling dollars. Hudson was giving steroids to the athletes without their knowledge. The crimes just kept getting bigger and bigger. Parks and Cotton were just along for the ride, but the point is, they did go along with it.”

“So what happened? If Matthew Parks and Ryan Cotton had gone along for all that time, why did Parks suddenly get a conscience?”

“Apparently, one of the track stars they’d been doping collapsed. Parks had given him speed mixed in his sports drink before the meet. It turns out that the kid had a bad heart and he collapsed on the field. When the doctors ran a tox screen, the results came up positive. The kid swore he hadn’t taken anything and there was no reason to suspect the coaches at that time, but Parks was worried. The investigation died down, but Parks realized that another incident would blow everything wide open. He wanted out.”

“So Hudson and Cotton cooked up some hair brained scheme to kidnap his daughter?”

“They were more afraid of the mob than of the police. Hudson got Cotton to play along. Hudson called and said that Cotton had tied one on. Parks knew he rarely drank. He must have figured that because he was feeling guilty, Cotton was suffering the same fate. Hudson called Parks and told him to get Cotton home before he shot his mouth off while he was drunk. Hudson said that he had a meeting with their bookie and he couldn’t miss it. He told him that he was leaving Cotton in the car so that no one would hear what he was mumbling about.”

“So while Parks went out to deal with Cotton, Hudson went to kidnap Ashley?”

“According to Cotton, he was just supposed to take Ashley out into the woods and leave her there. The bookie was supposed to call Parks and tell him where he could find his daughter, but also tell him that it was a warning. They wanted Parks to know that the mob could get to Ashley or his wife at anytime and that he better continue to cooperate.”

“So what went wrong?”

“Apparently, little Ashley was quite a fighter. She screamed and kicked and clawed Hudson.”

“Hence the DNA evidence.”

“Yep. Hudson tried to get her to be quiet and he accidentally suffocated her. I guess he panicked and buried her in a shallow grave in the woods they were originally going to leave her in. It was about midway between Parks’ house and Cotton’s house.”

“So when Parks went home and found his daughter missing, he was as surprised as anyone.”

“Yeah, he got the phone call saying she’d been kidnapped and that he better keep quiet if he wanted to see her again, but they weren’t able to find Ashley until a dog found the shallow grave and they dug up her remains. Parks had no alibi, but he also had Hudson planting evidence to make it look like he was the killer. He put the shovel in Parks tool shed, the locket Ashley wore was found along with hair fibers in the trunk of Parks car, he had a scratch on his hand… The police were given false leads and Cotton played along with Hudson afraid for his own life.”

“And then I got pulled into the whole scheme and completed their scam by getting Parks convicted of a crime he didn’t commit — killing his own daughter. I wonder why he didn’t try to defend himself though. I mean, you’d think he’d be willing to rat out Hudson and Cotton if he suspected they were behind his daughter’s death.”

“Maybe they convinced him that it was the mob who killed his daughter and then told him something would happen to his wife or other people he cared about if he did. I don’t know, it might have been his own feelings of guilt for what happened to his daughter.”

“Well, he clearly doesn’t feel guilty now. He’s blaming everyone except himself.”

“Prison changes a person. Does this make you feel any better about your part in all of this?”

Alex sits quietly reflecting. “I suppose it makes me feel a little better, but I still regret not figuring this out years ago.”

“I know, but it wasn’t because you were sloppy or that you didn’t care. You were caught up in a conspiracy and you had no idea that one even existed.”

“So now everyone connected with the case is being protected, but somehow Parks got to Hudson.”

“But he isn’t going to get to you. I plan to personally protect your body,” he says waggling his eyebrows at her.

Walker’s attempt to lighten the mood is unsuccessful. “Walker, I’m tired of being locked up in our own home. We’ve been here for nearly a week. I have been able to go ahead and get some work done on upcoming cases, but what about you? You haven’t been able to do your job for a week now.”

“Alex, remember what you said about my office reflecting my life and that it’s a blend of family and work?”

“I remember.”

“I can’t think of a time when my family and work were more blended. I’ve been on assignment for the last week. As a Ranger I was assigned to protect the Deputy District Attorney of Tarrant County. As a husband, I’ve spent time with my wife and taken steps to keep her safe. This week has been anything but wasted.”

Walker steps over to where Alex is sitting in front of her computer and pulls her up into his arms. He begins to kiss her and then he stops and leans his head back looking at her. “Too bad we’re not in my office, I have this great armchair that’s big enough for two.”

“Maybe, but I’m just across the hall from this great master bedroom with this really comfy bed that’s big enough for two to lie down on.”

“I like your thinking lady,” he says as he leads her out of her office.

Walker Ranch 1:30 p.m.

The sound of Angela waking is broadcasted across the baby monitor. Walker turns down the volume and looks at his sleeping wife. She hasn’t been sleeping well and he decides to let her continue her nap. He picks up his clothes that are strewn on the floor. At one point, he grabs a handful of clothing and separates a pair of ladies underwear from it. He tosses the wisp of material onto the end of the bed and then heads out to tend to Angela.

“Hello Angel, did you have a good nap?” Walker talks softly to his daughter as he changes her. He carries her downstairs where he heats up some baby food and feeds her. After she demolishes some pureed food, he decides to try and get some work done out in the barn. Walker bundles her up in her jacket, hat and gloves and places her in the backpack. He straps it onto his back after donning his own jacket and heads out. Working in the barn with Angela strapped to his back is one sure way to keep her amused. The stroller doesn’t roll well over the rough ground at the ranch and she loves the motion caused by his walking. On the way out, he greets the two police officers assigned to protect Alex. He tells them where he will be and saunters on over to the barn.

Alex wakes and stretches, a smile playing on her lips as she remembers how she fell asleep. She looks over and sees that Walker has gotten out of bed. She gets up and dresses and heads out to the nursery to check on Angela. Seeing the crib empty, she decides to head downstairs to look for her two favorite people. Alex calls out to Walker when she doesn’t see him in any of the downstairs rooms. She stoops and looks out the front window to see if he is in the yard. She sees one of the policemen lying down at an odd angle at the end of the front porch. Her eyes scan the area, but she is unable to find the other officer.

Alex heads into the kitchen and picks up the phone, she gets no dial tone. Her cell phone is upstairs and she pauses to debate going up to get it or not. She decides that time is of the essence and she rushes into Walker’s newly decorated office and unlocks the safe where his handgun is kept. She checks to make sure it’s loaded and then heads towards the laundry room.

Opening the back door slowly, she scans the area and doesn’t see anyone. She then crouches down and rushes over to the hen house. Keeping the small buildings in the back of the house between her and the barn, she manages to round the corner and sees the second officer also lying on the ground. She can’t tell if he is dead or merely unconscious.

Alex pauses to think. The policemen have radios on them, but they are in the open and if Parks is looking, he’ll see her. She looks over to the Ram, but she knows that she won’t be able to get to the radio in it without being spotted. She wonders if she made a bad choice coming outside instead of getting to a phone. She decides that second-guessing herself is accomplishing nothing. Her husband and her baby are in danger. She knows it. She has to get to them.

Alex heads back to where the garage is. They rarely park their cars in it, only in the winter when the weather is bad. It makes good cover though to circle and get to the wooded area behind the house. She makes it to the tree line and continues to edge closer to the backside of the barn. She can see the horses in the corral closest to the barn. They are snorting and tossing their heads. If she thought for a moment that Walker and Angela were safe, the horses’ behavior verifies that they aren’t. Alex makes it to the back of the barn with her heart racing. She uses the outside ladder to climb up into the hayloft. Walker stores hay in the loft and pushes it out of the opening in the top where it falls into a feeder. It’s a method he uses only in the worst winter weather, but it allows her to enter the barn without going through one of the ground floor entrances.

Alex shimmies into the square opening and crawls across the hayloft on all fours praying that none of the boards creak and give away her presence. She knows that many of the boards do creak as she and Walker have made love in the rafters many times in the years they’ve been lovers. She places each hand and knee carefully until she has come to the edge of the hayloft and can peer over the edge to see the ground floor.

The site that greets her causes her to clamp her hand over her mouth to stifle the scream. Angela has fallen asleep in the backpack and is blissfully unaware of the danger she is in. Her father is sitting on the top step of a ladder, his neck in a noose and his hands tied behind his back. Parks is circling the ladder, pacing in anticipation of her arrival. All he has to do is kick the ladder out from under Walker and he will be hung with his infant daughter on his back.

Alex tries to digest the horrific scene. In her mind, she sees Parks kicking the ladder and watches as Walker swings from the rope, his neck broken while Angela screams. Alex takes slow deep breaths trying to keep herself together. Suddenly, her gaze is drawn to Walker. She gasps quietly as she sees that he is looking directly into her eyes. She glances down at Parks and sees that he is checking the doors. Then he walks back to the ladder and shakes it.

“I wonder what your wife will think when she watches you swinging from this rope. I wonder if she’ll be able to live knowing that you’re dead because of her? I’m no baby killer, but I wish I were. I’d rather kill your daughter so that she’d know what it was like to have her daughter dead. Of course she’ll never know what it’s like to be locked up in prison for killing her own daughter. Maybe I will kill the baby. I might as well; it’s not going to make a difference now. Yeah, now that I think about it, I will kill the baby. I’ll wait till she’s watching though. That way she’ll get to see her family killed. I didn’t get to see my family killed; I had to dream about it night after night in that prison. Wondering if they were afraid, if they suffered. I know my wife suffered. Maybe not when the car crashed and killed her, but she suffered plenty up until that point. And my daughter, she must have suffered too. She put up a fight. She was always a fighter. She got that from her mother, I was always an easygoing kind of guy. That is until Alexandra Cahill, Assistant District Attorney came into my life and said all those lies about me. She stood there in that courtroom and said that I had killed my own little girl. I could never hurt Ashley. Could you hurt your daughter?” Parks doesn’t wait for an answer as he continues with his tirade.

Walker looks directly at Alex and looks down at Parks. The message is unmistakable. She is going to have to shoot him. She can’t confront him or he will kick over the ladder. She can’t give him the time to do that. He isn’t going to negotiate. He’s killed several people in the days leading up to his final coup. He wants Alex to suffer and he isn’t going to be reasoned out of it.

Alex puts aside her feelings of guilt and all of her protective instincts rise to the fore. Her husband is in danger and so is her daughter. She has to shoot Parks and her aim better be deadly accurate. Alex takes several deep breaths and positions herself flat on her stomach. She checks the gun and makes sure the safety is off. She lines Parks up in her sites and then she looks one last time at Walker and Angela. Angela starts to stir and whimper slightly. Parks whirls around and looks up to where Alex is. His foot kicks out toward the ladder and the gun he holds whips up to aim at Alex. He’s seen her. Alex squeezes the trigger and Parks is blown back by the impact of the bullet. His foot makes slight contact with the ladder and it teeters. Alex holds her breath as she watches to see if it will stay upright.

Angela is screaming now startled by the loud sound the bullet had made. Walker uses all of his balance skills to keep the ladder upright. “Alex! Get down here and steady it!” he shouts.

Alex flies down the loft ladder and grabs the bottom of the ladder Walker is perched on. Walker’s hands are tied behind his back and with the noose around his neck, there is nothing he can do but sit helplessly waiting for rescue. Alex is shaking so badly that she is afraid to climb up the ladder for fear of knocking it over. Taking a calming breath, she climbs up one rung at a time until she is at the top. The ladder shakes and wobbles as she reaches up with tears streaking down her face and unloops the rope from Walker’s neck. Just as she gets it off, the ladder collapses from under her.

Parks was mortally wounded, but he isn’t dead yet and he uses all of his remaining strength to crawl to the ladder and push it over.

Walker’s hands are still tied behind his back. He leaps forward and to the side trying desperately to land on his feet. His usual roll to break the fall is impossible with Angela strapped to his back. He would have crushed her. He lands with a hard impact on the dirt floor and falls to his knees. Alex has retained hold of the noose and now she swings suspended in air from the rope. Her arm is caught in it and she can’t get loose. She watches in horror as Parks raises his gun and aims at Angela who is still perched on Walker’s back.

“Walker!” Alex screams.

Walker falls face first onto the ground and rolls slightly so that his body shields Angela from Parks’ bullet. It flies towards Walker and catches him in the shoulder. Parks lifts his hand to fire again, but the strength has ebbed from his body and his hand falls lifeless to the floor.

“Walker! Walker!” Alex screams as she dangles several feet above the barn floor.

“I’m all right, Alex,” he says as he rolls onto his belly and uses all of his strength to rise to his knees and then his feet.

“Walker, I can’t get myself free. The rope is around my wrist and my body weight is keeping it pulled taught.”

Walker walks under Alex’s flailing feet. “Careful not to kick Angela. Stand on my shoulders Alex. That should loosen the rope enough for you to slip out of it.”

“But Walker, your shoulder, you’ve been shot.”

“Alex, if one of us doesn’t get loose, we’ll never get out of this.”

Alex tries her best to stop the swing in the rope and then puts her foot on Walker’s good shoulder. She kicks him in the head a few times, but finally manages to steady herself. Once her foot is secure, she places her other foot on his left shoulder that had taken the bullet. She stands on his shoulders to try and loosen the grip the noose has on her arm.

Walker tries to bite back the shout of pain as his wounded shoulder bears her weight. Angela continues to cry a fear filled cry. Alex manages to loosen the noose and slip her wrist from it. She grabs the rope in both hands and pulls herself up off of Walker’s shoulders.

“Walker, move over toward the door,” she instructs him. She swings herself gaining momentum until she lets go and sails through the air landing on the stacked hay bales against the barn wall. She scrambles down and runs to Walker, circling around to his back. Alex works frantically to untie the knot in the rope binding his wrists. Once he is free, he is able to allow his arms to swing forward.

“Get Angela,” he instructs Alex.

She undoes the belt that fastens the backpack to his waist and slides the shoulder harness off. Walker flinches from the pain of moving his shoulder, but manages to bite back the cry of pain this time. The backpack is set on it’s metal frame onto the ground and Alex lifts Angela out of it and cuddles her to her neck shushing her.

Walker goes over to Parks and checks for a pulse, there is none. “Did you call in reinforcements?” he questions.

“No, he cut the phone line and I was afraid to take the time to go upstairs for the cell phone.”

“I better radio for some help.” He strides out of the barn, his wife close behind with Angela still cradled close.

Walker checks both police officers and finds they are breathing. Parks had hit the first over the head with the butt of the gun from behind and shot the second with a silencer before he could react.

Walker heads to the Ram and radios dispatch to have rescue vehicles dispatched. He looks over to Alex, but she has raced inside to get cloths to staunch the flow of blood from the officer who’d been shot and from Walker. She hands her husband a clean cloth diaper and says, “Here, apply pressure to your wound.” Then she races to the felled officer and provides similar treatment.

Several minutes later, the sound of sirens shatters the calm as the paramedics and police arrive. Organized chaos ensues with Alex in the center directing traffic until Trivette arrives. He has Erika with him and they head straight to where Walker sits at the end of the ambulance getting his shoulder taped up and immobilized for transport to the hospital. The two unconscious victims have been tended to first and the first ambulance to respond transported them. The coroner’s wagon is being dispatched to deal with Parks’ body.

“Ma’am that’s a nasty rope burn on your wrist, you better let me take a look at it,” one of the paramedics says to Alex.

All eyes focus on the wound and Walker gasps as he sees just how badly her wrist has been mangled. He hadn’t noticed with all of her rushing to and fro.

“My god Alex, that must hurt like hell,” he states in concern.

“Not as bad as getting shot in the shoulder,” she assures him.

“And how would you know?” he challenges.

She just looks at him with her eyebrows raised as he remembers that she had been shot in the shoulder back before their relationship had become a romance.

Erika steps forward and takes Angela from her mother’s arms. “I’ll hold her while they work on you,” she offers.

“Careful of her neck, I don’t know if she may have gotten whiplash when Walker leapt to the ground.”

Trivette looks at Alex, but her face is white and she is grimacing with pain as the paramedic pours sterile saline solution on her wound. He decides that the story can wait.

The entire Walker family is transported to the hospital for treatment. Angela checks out fine. Alex has her wrist cleaned and bandaged. Walker has surgery with local anesthetic to remove the bullet lodged in the soft tissue of his shoulder. By nightfall, they have each been released. Trivette and Erika have arrived in Alex’s Dodge Durango and they transport the exhausted family home.

Trivette volunteers to feed the horses while Erika prepares supper for everyone. Walker and Alex relate their story and then seeing how tired they are, Trivette takes Erika and leaves.

Walker Ranch 11:30 p.m.

With Angela all tucked in for the night, Mr. and Mrs. Walker head to their own bedroom. Alex goes into the bathroom and runs a warm bath. She walks back into the bedroom and grabs her husband’s good arm steering him into the bathroom. Alex carefully undresses him making sure not to jostle his wounded arm. Once he’s stripped down to nothing but bandages, she guides him into the tub. Alex has only filled the tub half full, so the water doesn’t reach Walker’s shoulder. She places a thick towel at his back and applies enough pressure to get him to relax against it. Walker sighs as he relaxes under his wife’s careful ministrations.

Alex picks up the natural sea sponge and dips it into the warm water. She squeezes a liberal amount of liquid soap into it and begins soaping her husbands aching and bruised body. The only sounds are the sloshing water and occasional moans of pleasure that escape Walker.

After she completes her task, she places another towel over his injured shoulder and then covers that with saran wrap carefully covering the area completely. She then pulls the showerhead over to wet his hair. She turns off the water and applies shampoo lathering it into a thick rich lather. She leaves it to soak as she strips off her own clothing, wraps her injured wrist in the same saran wrap and steps into the shower stall. Alex uses economic movements to cleanse her body and hair. She is careful not to allow her wrist to get directly under the spray of water. After rinsing her hair, she wraps it in a towel turban style and then wraps a large bath towel around her body.

Alex returns to where Walker is all but asleep. She rinses the shampoo from his hair and takes a towel to dry his head. Her hand reaches down into the water to release the plug and detours to sensitive areas to wake him up. Walker’s eyes pop open at his wife’s bold moves and he smiles at her. “Don’t start what I can’t finish,” he warns.

Alex grins into his eyes and leans forward to place a kiss on his lips. She whispers against his mouth, “I can finish for you.”

He chuckles at her and is able to stand with her help.

Alex dries him with another large towel and then guides him over to the sink where she makes him sit so that she can blow dry his hair. She unwraps the saran wrap and removes the towel. The blow dryer dries his hair and any dampness on the edges of his bandage. She then replaces the immobilizer so that he won’t accidentally injure himself while sleeping.

She turns the blow dryer on herself and begins to comb through her hair with her fingers. Walker sits with his eyes level with the edge of the towel that just covers her breasts. He doesn’t understand how women are able to wrap towels so that they won’t come off in a hurricane, but when men wrap a towel around themselves, they slide right off. His tired mind tries solving the conundrum, while his hand reaches up to tug at the towel until it pools around her feet. He enjoys the view even more as she continues to dry her hair uncaring that he is enjoying the show. Once her hair is dry, she unwraps the saran wrap from her wrist and checks to make sure her bandage is dry. She then gets the pain medication they have each been prescribed and gives Walker his with water. Hers is milder because she is still nursing. The exhausted and aching husband and wife climb into bed and shift until they find a comfortable position and finally fall into a deep sleep.

Alex wakes up screaming from her nightmare of Walker hanging from a noose — dead. Her screams have woken her husband and he tries to comfort her without moving his shoulder. “Darling, it’s all right. It’s over. Alex, let it go.”

Alex regains control of her breathing and snuggles her face against his chest careful not to cause him any pain. “I have never in my life been more frightened. I know I’ve said that before, but this time, I was afraid of losing you and Angela and that changed everything.” “We’re both fine Alex, thanks to you. I was so impressed by how calm you stayed throughout the whole ordeal.”

“Calm! Walker, I was anything but calm.”

“I know that you were frightened, but you managed to keep your emotions under control and do what you needed to do to save us. This time, it was you riding in to the rescue.”

“I think I actually crawled in.”

“Don’t knock it Alex. You saved my life and Angela’s today.”

“You saved Angela’s life when you took that bullet meant for her.”

“Alex, I would do anything in the world to protect both of you. Even climb onto a ladder with my hands tied behind my back and allow a man to put a noose around my neck.”

“I wondered how he got you up there.”

“He had a gun trained on Angela, I had no choice. Thank god you came along when you did.”

“Thank god the bullet actually hit him.”

“I know, your marksmanship was amazing. Have you been practicing?”

“Only when you make me. It was different though than shooting at a target. This was a live breathing human being and I killed him.”

“He killed himself Alex. You only pulled the trigger.”

“I still feel that I played a role in creating the monster he became.”

“Alex, people make choices in life and he made bad ones and then worse ones. There were a lot of places where he could have changed his own fate. You played a very small part in his life and in his death.”

“All those times you saved me, did you feel scared?”

“To death. If anything happened to you, I would have to live with the guilt and I would have to live without you. That would have been a life sentence I couldn’t live with.”

“But what about way back when we barely knew each other. Remember the time you pulled me out of the line of fire and I got shot in the shoulder?”

“I remember. It was awful. It was also when I realized that you were the most stubborn woman I’d ever met and that you were full of fight.”

“Right now, I don’t want to fight. Angela should sleep a couple more hours. Think we can figure out a way to make love?”

“Everything has been so opposite today. You saved me and then you pampered me tonight. I think you’ll have to take point again in this case. I also think you’ll have to be on top.” “Well, at least that’s not unusual,” Alex giggled and then lost herself in her husbands loving embrace.

The End