Someone to Trust
By Katheryn Sandoval (FanFiction.net’s hearthandhomeauthor)

 


Part 1


This story takes place during the entire duration of the events that occurred in the episode "Lost Boys" and shortly after.

"That's what life's all about, people. Making the smart choices, not the fast choices or the easy choices. Making the smart choices—that's what life is all about." – Cordell Walker from "Mr. Justice"

Trent Malloy brought his prized blue Stingray to a halt in the parking space just in front of the entrance to a rather unkempt bar on 42nd. Katheryn exited the vehicle from the passenger side immediately as it came to a stop, rounding the front of the low-lying beauty to find her place by Trent who was busy closing his door as he stood there giving the building a quick once-over.

Heavy rock music filtered out into the spring winds as two patrons filed out of the building. Their arms were drooped over one another's shoulders as the two inebriated love birds struggled to find out exactly where they were going. They decided the brick column was sufficient enough as the muscular man clad in all-black motorcycle garb pressed the woman's back against the hard surface and planted a rather provocative kiss on the consenting female who couldn't quite control her belting laughs. Both actions were equally due to their choice in drink and the amount thereof.

Despite the man's unruly actions, Trent knew they had a purpose there and carried on, opening the door for Katheryn and easing in behind her. They ambled through the darkened room, meandering around tables and chairs as they made their way up to the bar. The same music they had sampled briefly outside now blared relentlessly against their eardrums. The instant blend of rock and dubstep seemed to cloud the judgment of a well-meaning person quite easily. Perhaps that was done on purpose.

Katheryn mulled these thoughts over as she walked by Trent, not desiring to veer away from him unless absolutely necessary. Not because she was afraid. She was far from feeling fear these days. Yet wisdom told her this wasn't an atmosphere to be trifled with. Danger could be hidden behind the simplest wrong move or wink of the eye. Unpredictability swarmed a haunt like this without a doubt.

Trent and Katheryn stopped at the bar in unison and took a seat.

A tall man in a white apron and cautious downward frown reached for the bar rag on his shoulder and scrubbed the spot of counter next to the twosome. He suspicious nature kept him from making eye contact with either person. "What'll it be?"

"Soda."

"Make it two." Katheryn nodded.

The burly man never flinched. He simply turned around to retrieve the order and soon planted two sodas in front of Trent and Katheryn with a thud.

Trent smiled to himself and reached for his wallet. He planted the amount owed plus an extra dollar or two on the shiny bar surface. "Say, I'm in need of a bit of information."

The bartender moved his eyes only as Trent spoke. "What kind of information?"

Trent slid a small photo across the bar in his direction. "His name's Ralph Martin. Know where I could find him?"

Katheryn shifted her gaze from Trent to the bartender with a lift of her eyebrows.

The bartender thought for a few seconds routinely before extending his large index finger and placing it on the face of the photo. He then slowly scooted the photo across the short distance, shoving it back to Trent. "Sorry. Can't help." He turned his back on Trent and Katheryn and started scrubbing the inside of a shot glass with his dirty bar rag.

"Hey!" A voice from behind Trent yelled in a raspy, demanding tone. "What are you two doing here? You don't look like regulars!"

Katheryn grimaced as she surveyed the scraggly beard and dirt-smeared face before her. "Gee, you're uglier in person."

The man towered over Katheryn with an empty beer bottle ready to strike. "What did you say?!"

Trent stood to his feet and blocked the man at his chest with his firm palm. "She said that she thinks you're uglier in person."

"Well, I..." The man reared back with a flaming anger and hauled forward with his beer bottle in hand, only for it to shatter into pieces against the bar when Trent dodged it.

Trent managed to defeat the man with a roundhouse hick after a few rounds of fist-fighting. Even Katheryn got in on the action when a scrawny little dude took a swing at her from behind. Big mistake. The bruise in the man's ribs in the shape of her elbow was proof enough.

"Ralph Martin," Trent jerked the man up by the collar to his feet, clicking a pair of handcuffs together around the man's wrists. "By the authority vested in me by the state of Texas, I'm placing you under citizen's arrest for theft."

"You can't do that!" The man tried yanking away from Trent's strong grasp to no avail. "That storekeeper was lying, I tell ya! You can't do this!"

Trent arched his brow. "Oh yeah?"

Katheryn stepped closer to Trent and leaned in on the angry man. She lowered her voice to a gentle and direct whisper, widening her eyes as she sighed. "Yes. We can. And we will."

##

Trent turned into 118 Providence Way with a slight rev of his Stingray's engine under the twilight of the evening. The headlights flashed brightly, illuminating the driveway as he turned off the engine and stood out the car. Katheryn emerged from the other side, shutting the passenger side door just a fraction of second after Trent shut his. The outside commotion must have been heard from inside the house since the front door swung open seconds later as the twosome made their way across the veranda.

Tommy grinned as he leaned out of the door. "Hey, Trent. Kath. What took you guys so long?"

Trent smiled and reached a hand to shuffle Tommy's hair around. "Sorry, little brother. I'll be sure to tell the bad guys about the schedule they're supposed to be keeping."

Tommy grimaced and tried to duck from beneath Trent's hand. Doing so semi-successfully, Tommy eased back into the house to let his brother and Katheryn come inside out of the spring coolness.

The Malloy's foyer greeted Katheryn warmly. Its walls seem to speak to her and tell her she was home. Katheryn handed her light jacket off to Trent as he slipped off his own leather jacket and hung it on the pegs nearby. From there she moved forward and paused, taking a deep breath. It was good to be home.

Trent smiled briefly before looking up to see his youngest siblings rushing down the stairs.

"Ty! Come back here!" Tandy chased her brother down the stairs and into the living room.

"Can't catch me!" Ty threw over his shoulder as he dashed for the dining room, through the kitchen, and back upstairs.

Tandy followed him as fast as she could. "Ty!"

Katheryn opened her eyes back up with a smile, knowing well that her moment of reverie was over. But it didn't bother her that much. Tandy and Ty's voices were a welcome interruption.

Trent laid a hand on Katheryn's shoulder and grinned. "Come on. Let's go see what smells so good."

"Gladly!" Katheryn chuckled lightly and let Trent lead the way into the Malloy's kitchen.

Strong scents of cooking homemade marinara wafted its way towards Trent and Katheryn as they strode from the foyer, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. Katheryn paused by the oven and reached for the handle, slowly easing the door open to take a peek. The smell of fresh garlic bread rushed out of the oven and into her face. The warm steam evaporated against her skin and left a bit of moisture as the young woman stood back to full height and let go of the oven door. She cringed slightly as the door let out a bit of a thud. So much for being sneaky.

Trent meanwhile had meandered over to the stove to peer over the large pot of simmering marinara. The deep, red sauce bubbled and popped as the meatballs within absorbed their flavors. Trent smiled a bit and turned as his mom entered the room from the dining room, nearing Trent with arms outstretched.

"I thought I heard you drive up." Mrs. Malloy pecked a kiss on Trent's cheek amid their hug and offered Katheryn a warm embrace. She glanced at the cooking food and shot the young folks a glare. "You two haven't been sneaking any food. Have you?"

"They may not have, but I did." Tommy flashed a cheesy grin as he crowded in and scooted by Trent with a spoon. He scooped up a bit of marinara and dodged away into the cover of the dining room before Mrs. Malloy had a chance to swat at his hand.

Katie grinned broadly and turned to Katheryn. "Would you like to help set the table?"

"I'd love to." Katheryn didn't hesitate a moment and crossed to the cupboard containing the plates. "How many, Mrs. Malloy?"

Katie thought for a second before answering. "Mmm…eight I think."

Trent licked some sauce off the spoon in his hand. "Eight? Is Walker not coming?"

"Nope." Tommy reentered the kitchen, deposited his used spoon in the sink, and leaned against the counter next to Katheryn by the plate cupboard. He crossed his arms against his chest. "And neither is Carlos. Walker called about fifteen minutes ago. Seems the case with Carlos' nephew is heating up some. Carlos doesn't want to believe Jesse could do something like murder. But the evidence isn't adding up very well."

Katheryn relaxed from stretching to reach the plates and turned to Trent. "Carlos hasn't called me since yesterday. Do you think everything's okay?"

Trent nodded. "I'm sure it is. You know how a case can get deep rather quick." He winked at Kath as he reached for the salt. "He'll call soon. I'm sure he will."

Mrs. Malloy returned to the stove and searched for Trent's eyes, her arms crossed against her chest in an unimpressed manner. "Trent? Why are you adding salt?"

"It needs just a touch."

"Since when did you become the chef of the family?" Tommy laughed and glanced at Katheryn with a smirk.

As soon as Trent and Tommy were sent upstairs to see to it that Tandy and Ty were behaving and preparing for dinner, Mrs. Malloy drew a fresh pot from the cabinet and set it in the sink. She turned on the faucet and relaxed a bit against the counter as it filled with water. Katheryn had reached the plates and set them neatly in a stack on the counter and was now counting silverware from the drawer.

"So…how's things been going with you and Carlos since going undercover last week?" Mrs. Malloy was all smiles.

"Things have been pretty good." Katheryn tried her best not to smile; that was almost a hopeless cause. Instantly, Katheryn sank into her thoughts. She let out a breathy chuckle as she tapped the counter, recalling all the things they had been through together. "I can hardly believe it's been over half a year."

"What's that, hon?"

"It's been almost seven or so months since I first met you all." She sighed, all of the events happening within that time frame rushing into her mind and playing out like an instant movie. "And it all seems to have passed by so quickly."

Mrs. Malloy turned off the faucet and paused once more. She slowly eased over to Katheryn's side and placed a hand atop the young woman's hand.

Katheryn lifted her eyes to Katie.

"Katheryn, dear. Treasure each moment. Time flies so fast for you young people until you get my age and realize your whole life passed by in a blur. I have little regrets. Me and Thunder, we had a good life together. And seeing what Trent and my younger ones are accomplishing makes me so proud." Mrs. Malloy paused amid a smile. "But some days I wish I would have treasured each moment a little more as time went by." She chuckled, "I have a feeling that you and Carlos have wonderful days ahead of you. Trust me. I know when I see the real thing between a man and woman."

"Oh, really?" Katheryn tried not to blush as she accepted Mrs. Malloy's admonitions with a grin.

Katie nodded. "Just…Don't be in a hurry. Enjoy the little moments."

Katheryn nodded, her smile fading as she slipped into a moment of thought. "And the big moments. Lord knows we've had a lot of those so far!"

Mrs. Malloy gave Katheryn's hand a soft pat as they shared a brief laugh before turning back to her pot in the sink and hoisting it out. She carried it carefully to the stove and set it on the large burner in the front, clicking the fire on with a soft turn of the knob.

"Katheryn!" Tandy called out as she ran into the kitchen, stopping at Kath to tug on her shirt.

Katheryn laughed and hoisted the little girl up into her strong arms. "What is it?"

"Have a slumber party with us!"

"A slumber party? I don't know about that." Katheryn chuckled lightly, gazing into Tandy's eager blue eyes.

"C'mon! It'll be fun! We can stay up late and watch a movie and paint our fingernails!"

"Just be careful she doesn't do your makeup for you." Tommy inserted dryly as he strode through the kitchen and left through the other side.

Mrs. Malloy hid a chuckle from her son as he walked through. Tandy did likewise. Meanwhile, a confused Katheryn couldn't help but wrinkle her forehead and question the situation.

"I don't get it." Katheryn looked from Tandy to Mrs. Malloy.

Tandy stopped laughing and leaned back, still keeping her hands around Katheryn's neck. She nodded up and down slowly as her eyes grew wider. "It's a rather long story."

Katheryn smiled. "Oh?"

Katie poured two boxes of raw noodles into the boiling water on the stove. "Back when Trent first came back home, Tommy wasn't the best fighter and decided to employ Tandy to use my makeup to cover up his bruises."

"Ah! I see!" Katheryn put a finger to Tandy's nose, triggering a giggle from the little girl as Tandy shrank back. "You naughty kids." Katheryn looked back towards Mrs. Malloy as the latter turned around with a broad smile at her daughter's antics. "I have just one question."

"What's that?"

"Did it work? The makeup that is."

"Nope." Mrs. Malloy feigned a stern demeanor to get her point across. "I was very cross with a certain young man." Katie relaxed and let a smile come to the surface. "Trent nearly choked on his food and Tandy and Tyler denied their involvement."

"Sounds like Carlos should have come and interrogated you two." Katheryn softly pinched at Tandy's cheek this time with a grin following.

"Oh, I got it out of them just fine. Believe me. Their actions spoke a whole lot louder than their words."

An engine rev and stall alerted the little group from outside. Both ladies crossed to the window and peered outside.

"Looks like Alex is here." Katie inserted first, wiping her hands on the towel she held. She removed her apron and tossed it aside, smoothed out her shirt and patted down a wayward lock of hair in hopes of making herself presentable for her guests.

"And there's Molly right behind her." Katheryn set Tandy down by Mrs. Malloy and started for the foyer with a broad grin shining the way as she stopped her light run in front of the door and reached forward for the handle. Opening the door, she was instantly greeted with Alex and Molly's warm smiles and embraces.

"Hello, Kath!" Alex eased back from the embrace and sniffed. "Hmm! Something smells good!"

The three ladies continued to exchange light laughs and warm greetings as they moved inside and into the Malloy's welcoming foyer. Gentle tones of twilight streamed through the windows the surrounded the door as Alex and Molly eased from their coats and found a place for them on the Malloys' coat rack nearby. The atmosphere was instantly welcoming. Light laughter from the youngest family members erupted from the distance and mingled with the light kitchen din as Mrs. Malloy continued putting the finishing touches on the spread she currently worked steadily to prepare for her family and friends. Tommy laughed aloud at some antic of siblings. Molly and Katheryn exchanged smiles as they listened, their gazes drifting as they searched for where they should go next.

Alex set a hand on Katheryn's shoulder. "I'm going to go see if Katie needs any help."

The two young women nodded their agreement as Alex eased passed them and into the dining room through to the kitchen.

Katheryn softly squeezed Molly's hand. "I'm going to go make sure the kids aren't messing up the dining room." She released her friend's hand with a smile and carried onward to attend to what she had stated.

"Alright." Molly was then left alone in the foyer. She wasn't in a hurry at all as she eased forward slowly, examining the familiar haunts of the home while the sound of her own footsteps reached her ears, creaking against the floor beneath her own weight. Hues of faint sunlight made their way inside from the nearby windows and highlighted the floor's wood grains neatly and precisely, guiding a careful path to the sliding doors to her right. Drawing her attention, Molly noticed that the door was open about a hand's width in the middle. She crossed her arms and glanced upward and around her. With no one near, Molly took another step forward, helping herself right to where she could get a slight view into the room. She had not yet been inside this particular room ever during all her visits to the Malloy home with Katheryn over the past months.

Molly eased her hands into the small opening and carefully slid the doors apart. The doors made a slight noise as they slid along the floor much to her chagrin. Maybe it had not been heard.

With now a greater view of the room available to her, Molly lifted her eyes instantly to catch a glimpse of a painting on the wall. It was situated immediately on the opposite wall above her and seemed to shine over the entire room. A soft grin eased its way onto her face as she recognized the building. Its etches and colors were the epitome of the First Christian Church of Dallas. The uncanny resemblance was a welcoming landscape. Its bright hues and quite accurate depiction was to be admired.

Molly's curiosity could not be trampled now. She eased the door open some more and proceeded determinedly inside. A host of trophies and awards scattered around at various places in the room garnered her attention immediately. A stream of sunlight highlighted the golden edges of the treasured items and attracted her even more. Approaching the first and largest one on the table nearby, she ran a finger gently alongside its edge and smiled, seeing the name Trent Malloy etched on the gold and silver masterpiece.

"This room has lots of memories." A voice startled Molly from behind.

Molly jerked away from the trophy by near impulse and spun on her heel, interlocking her fingers behind herself at the base of her back as she focused on Trent's muscular figure before her.

Trent smiled as he strode into the room, looking the study over with one hand in his jeans' pocket and the other at his side. "Yep. Lots of memories."

Molly struggled to keep her composure as she gathered her thoughts, glancing to her feet and swallowing hard. "I'm so sorry, Trent. I shouldn't have come in here without asking."

Trent shook his head. "Nonsense. You're practically family."

Molly was relieved and tried relaxing some to prove it as a soft smile climbed its way to her previously pale face. Color had returned to her cheeks as she felt a bit more comfortable with speaking now. Trent's voice and presence always seemed to do that to her. She shook away her wandering thoughts and turned back to the trophies. "Are all these yours?"

Trent nodded, a proud smile leading the way as he crossed the short distance and glanced over the table's contents next to Molly. "Yup. Mostly. Except this one." Trent pointed to one near the front. He tapped the label which read Thomas Malloy. "Tommy earned this one last year."

Molly grinned. "That's wonderful. If Tommy is anything like his wonderful brother, this table will be very crowded before long." Molly stifled her smile as she repeated her words mentally. She hoped and prayed they had not sounded as forward as they sounded to her.

"Indeed." Trent chuckled lightly.

Molly smiled again, catching a glimpse of Trent before looking back down at the trophies and then back up at Trent again. She then realized how tense she currently felt and willed herself to relax. It helped some. But not much. Hundreds of thoughts seemed to be rushing through her mind at a mile a minute. Yet she couldn't figure out why.

"Dinner is ready!" Katheryn's face appeared in the doorway and disappeared soon after. She slapped at the doorframe with a grin as she hurried off back towards the dining room across the hall.

Trent softly squeezed Molly's shoulder. "C'mon. Let's eat."

Molly almost said, "Okay." But the words never came and stayed locked in her throat. She slowly lifted her eyes to Trent to find his gaze was still intently upon her. The silence remained, lingered, and seemed longer than the five seconds it really was before they finally pulled themselves into the present and chuckled softly between themselves.

Trent stepped aside for Molly to go ahead of him. He took a deep breath once Molly's back was turned to him, still struggling to figure out just what had happened in that brief window of time.


Part 2


Katheryn felt a little bit of warm sunlight gently rest against her bare arm as she gazed down below over the railing of the dojo loft office. Trent's voice echoed up to her, mingled with that of his students' eager tones as he called commands and they repeated them back to him accompanied by the latest maneuver he taught them. A slow smile eased onto her face as she watched Trent conduct the class. Inwardly she wished to be a black belt sooner rather than later as she surveyed each move of every student and Trent's eager teaching as he looked upon each of his students with a smile. She was about to sink into her reverie even more when the regular phone line tore her out of it with a bit of a startle.

Katheryn reached for the phone by near impulse, placing the receiver to one ear and her free finger to her other ear. "Thunder Karate. Oh, hi, Ranger Walker." She glanced back over the railing, stretching a bit to see Trent still conducting the class before turning back to the call. Katheryn wrinkled her nose. "He's in the middle of a class. Should I tell him you called?" Loud kiais filled the entire dojo and sent an echo throughout. "Alright." She smiled. "You too. I'll tell him."

The phone made a bit of a ring as she set the receiver back against its home and hurried from her seat, skipping a step or two as she made her way briskly to the main floor of the dojo. "Trent!"

Trent glanced upward from where he currently was instructing a young student in the back of the room. He turned back to the girl. "Now keep practicing what I showed you. You'll be an expert at it in no time." Trent smiled and proceeded to maneuver his way through the class of eager karate students. He caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall as he walked. "Alright class. You did a fine job." He planted himself firmly in front of the crowd and focused his determined eyes proudly on every child there. "Keep practicing. And I'll see you all tomorrow. Tommy." He nodded to his younger brother who then stepped forward out of the crowd and placed his hands firmly at his sides.

"Face Mr. Malloy. Bow." The entire class did as bid. "Class dismissed!"

Katheryn waited at the foot of the loft office stairs and issued smiles and goodbyes to the students as they filed out of the class, each one talking to a friend or simply recovering with deep breaths from a job well done.

Trent and Tommy were close behind the crowd, easing closer to Katheryn as the students eased out.

"I'll be in the back changing if you need me." Tommy softly tapped at Trent's arm before hurrying off to the back rooms.

"Okay." Trent called out to Tommy with a slight grin before turning to Katheryn. "What's up?"

"Walker. He was on the phone just now."

Trent listened more intently now, knowing that if Walker called it had to be important. "Did he say what was wrong?"

Katheryn shook her head. "He just said he needs to speak with you as soon as possible."

"I see." Trent's forehead creased as he processed several scenarios in his head, including the possibility that Carlos was somehow in danger or needed help clearing his nephew.

"Alright. Ready to head out." Tommy beamed a grin, glancing back and forth between a silent audience as she strode forward. A sly smile eased to the corner of his mouth as he finally settled his gaze on Trent, noticing his big brother's intense thoughts. "What—what is it?"

"Walker called." Trent immediately pulled himself out of the worries and turned to Katheryn. "Can you give Tommy a ride home?"

Tommy rolled his eyes. "I should have my license by now."

"But you don't." Trent glared at him with wide, brotherly eyes. "So let Katheryn take you home. Got it?"

"Well, it's not like I have a car anyway." Tommy scoffed, a playfulness edging his tone.

Trent hid a smile as he turned to head to the back rooms to change. He stopped short with a half turn. "I'll call you both when I find out what Walker wants."

Katheryn and Tommy nodded, bidding Trent their goodbyes. Katheryn suddenly stopped short, turning to Tommy as Trent disappeared around the next corner away from view. "You know, I think I'll stick around here for a little while. Get in a bit of a workout before I head home."

Tommy sighed, his eyes rolling slightly. "But I need a ride."

Katheryn's sigh nearly gave way to the disappointment she dared release. She needed a workout. She wanted a workout. It would do her wonders to go at with the punching bag for half an hour. But it would have to wait. Perhaps she could call up Ranger Hunt or Officer Cooke sometime within the next day for some one-on-one. "Alright. I'll wait." A grin eased to her face. "But only because I'm a really nice person. And you're practically my little brother by adoption anyway."

Tommy scoffed as Katheryn moved in to tussle playfully with him a bit.

"Alright, I'll see you guys later." Trent emerged from the back rooms, picked up a duffle bag next to the bulletin board, and started for the door not noticing the light wrestling match occurring nearby. His thoughts must have wandered a bit.

Katheryn and Tommy laughed the moment off and cleaned the dojo up a bit before heading out, watching through the windows as Trent's Stingray roared into motion and accelerated away from the curb and around the corner. The sound had a bit more purpose in it; almost as if Trent's thoughts flowed to his foot as he stepped on the gas. Either way, his private investigation instincts were without a doubt in full working order.

Ranger Headquarters greeted Trent warmly. The courthouse's broad structure shadowing over him as he hurried up the steps and into the building, leaving his Corvette by the curb just behind Walker's Dodge. He reached the Company B office in record time, easing through the corridors and into the large office in a uniform stride. The door gently closed behind him in the wake of his purposed entrance as both Walker and Trivette looked up from their desk work at the same time.

Trent stopped in between the two Ranger's desk with a deepened exhale. "Walker. What do you need?"

"Have a seat, Trent."

Walker stood and eased from around his desk, straddling the front corner nearer Trivette's desk as he turned to face his protégé now seated and awaiting what the Ranger had to say.

"I received a call this morning from a good friend of mine. His name is Luther Dobbs. He served as Deputy Commissioner. A couple of years ago, I proposed a plan to Senator Hutchinson for a reform camp for convicted and imprisoned felons. It didn't go over quite well with either of them. But I asked them to at least give it a chance. They did. Dobbs was sent to evaluate my program. He thought for sure it would fail."

"What happened?" Trent was clearly intrigued as he sat up a bit straighter and stayed seated towards the edge of the chair.

"Well, Trent, it was not without its hard times. But after that six week period, eight out of my ten recruits turned their lives around. They now help lead the camp for other felons alongside Dobbs."

"That's incredible. You said eight made it through. What about the other two?"

Walker sighed. "One was killed after trying to run away. The other never seemed to catch on to the purpose of it all. He's back in Huntsville as we speak."

Trent shook his head with a sigh. "Wow. That's really something." He turned back to Walker. "But what does that have to do with me?"

"Dobbs called to let me know he will be away from the camp for a month or two and would like me to fill in. Since I did such a great job starting the program." Walker smiled. But it didn't last long. "Trouble is…"

"The case with Carlos' nephew," Trent finished Walker's statement with an understanding nod.

"Yep." Walker sighed. "But I told Dobbs all about you. And he thinks you'd be an excellent candidate for the job."

"Me?" Trent nearly chuckled.

"Yes, Trent. You. I have full confidence in you. You've been an instructor in the Army. This will be no different."

Trent nodded but that soon merged into a weak shake of his head. "But dealing with felons is much different than teaching dedicated soldiers hand-to-hand combat."

"Oh, it's not that much different."

Trivette scoffed from his place behind his own desk as he kept on pecking at the keys on his computer's keyboard.

Trent glanced over at Trivette and smiled, shifting his gaze back to Walker as the Senior Ranger eased off of his desk and reached for his Stetson.

"Well, I guess if you have all faith in me, who am I to question it?" Trent exhaled as the heavy thoughts drove him to his feet. "When do I head out?"

"Tomorrow morning. Can you do that?"

Trent processed the information against his own schedule. He'd have to lay out a schedule for the next six weeks for Tommy who would undoubtedly be leading the karate classes until he returned. He could always depend on Walker or one of his instructors from Kick Drugs to come in on occasion and lead a class. And then he'd have to entrust the protection agency to Katheryn until he returned. He would be asking Carlos to help Katheryn…as if he even had to ask that of his love-struck best friend.

Trent inhaled and exhaled sharply one time each before nodding resolutely, slipping his hands into his jeans' pockets beneath his leather coat with one last nod following. "Alright. I'll do it."

##

Katheryn settled into the chair at Trent's desk in loft office of Thunder Karate. Soft droplets of afternoon rain beat against the window, slowly signaling that spring was well under way. Rain never quite mellowed her out. It put her in rather a pensive mood, forcing a reflection of sorts as she tried to keep her thoughts on her work instead of the fact that Carlos was occupied with his nephew, Trent had left for Camp Justice that morning, Tommy was at school with Tandy and Ty, and Mrs. Malloy had Bible study to lead at church. Even Molly had an appointment to keep that afternoon that kept the two friends apart.

Katheryn let out a rather heavy sigh that blew her hair to the side of her face as she propped her chin on her fist, fighting off a frown brought on by all of these seemingly gloomy thoughts. She looked up from the pile of paper work she promised Trent she would have completed for him upon his return to see the darkened, empty dojo suddenly light up as a flash of lightning struck nearby. A clap of thunder settled over the street side a few seconds later. The storm would be over soon, Katheryn concluded in her thoughts and turned back to her task at hand.

It was almost five minutes later that Katheryn heard a brief sound of an engine as a vehicle came to a stop outside. The sound ceased as the engine was shut off.

Katheryn glanced at her watch, taking notice that the five minutes had felt more like thirty minutes. She arched a brow, scoffing softly as she waited subconsciously to hear the door to the dojo open and shut. She could briefly hear the anticipated outdoor noises as the door did open seconds later. Sounds of a closing umbrella and subsequent sigh followed as the person seemed to be gathering their composure upon being sheltered out of the rain.

"Katheryn?"

Katheryn turned in her seat as hearing her name called pulled her out of the silly little daydream. An inaudible stutter led the way as she opened her mouth. "Up here!"

Footsteps sounded through the short hall and traced the steps up to the loft slowly and carefully to reveal Molly. Her slender figure shivered slightly as she shed her coat and took a seat next to Katheryn.

"What are you doing here?" Katheryn beamed a smile.

Molly drooped her coat over her lap and shot a glance around the room. "Oh, I thought I'd come by and keep you company while you worked. Trent told me you said you'd do some work for him while he was away."

Katheryn nodded. "Yeah. Thankfully, Trent hasn't had a new case since last week. It's been sort of slow. But I promised him I'd keep a good eye on things." She ended with a firm smile which was quickly shattered by the piercing echo of the protection agency phone line's telephone ring.

Anxious glances were exchanged between the two women as they both turned to look at the phone by impulse, vaguely retracing Katheryn's last words in both of their minds as intense ring echoed against their eardrums.

Katheryn took up the device in hand and put it to her ear. "Trent Malloy. When all else fails."

Molly watched silently as Katheryn stepped into Trent's familiar role and wondered what would come of the phone call.

Silence weighed heavy in the vast room as only the settling rain showers seemed to taper into a light drizzle within that brief window of time.

Katheryn nodded as the person on the other end of the phone heartily introduced herself and seemed in decent spirits for a person in need of a private investigator. "And what seems to be the problem, Mrs. Wilkins?"

"Theft out at my ranch. The Lazy T. It's not a huge ranch. But we do alright for ourselves. I've called the police three times. And each time they sent an officer out to keep an overnight watch for twenty-four hours. Nothing ever came up. But without fail, something of value would disappear a few days later out of nowhere. I'm a gracious woman. All that's been vanishing is tools and supplies here and there. But now that they've stolen a prized horse, they've just gone too far. And…I've heard that Trent Malloy is good at what he does. So I wanted to give him a call."

Several uncertain thoughts cluttered in Katheryn's mind as she processed the woman's situation mentally, assessing the situation as Trent had taught her by default. Most of what she knew came naturally from simply watching him work. And that was nearly the best way to learn. That combined with the experience he had provided her with along the way gave her the confidence she needed to continue on in his absence.

Katheryn exhaled softly. "Is it okay if I come out to your place and take a look around? I'm afraid Mr. Malloy isn't available for several weeks. But I'm his partner. I'd be more than happy to help you." Katheryn could sense an edge of aggravation in the woman's deliberative sigh amid the brief silence.

"Uh, that'll be okay. Can you come by this afternoon?"

"Of course." Katheryn smiled and proceeded to jot down the woman's address as she dictated it to her. The pen settled against the desk with a slight echo as Katheryn released it and switched the phone from the cradle of her neck back to her ear. "Thank you, Mrs. Wilkins. I'll see you this afternoon."

"New case?" Molly spoke almost as soon as Katheryn had returned the phone to its base.

"Yep." Katheryn nodded and scooted the chair back to stand up. She reached for her jacket and the piece of paper that had Mrs. Wilkin's address on it before easing passed Molly. "I sure wish I could stick around."

"Where are you headed?"

"The Lazy T Ranch. It's about a twenty minute drive out of Dallas."

"Hmm," Molly breathed as she wrinkled her forehead, her eyebrows drawing nearer as the young woman dwelt in her own thoughts. She stood from her seat also and heeled Katheryn from behind as they descended the loft steps to the main floor of the dojo.

Katheryn paused at the foot of the stairs, waiting for Molly as she caught a glimpse of her friends' creased forehead and narrowed eyes. "What is it?"

"Oh, I, um," Molly stood straighter and tried pulling herself from her reverie, "The Lazy T Ranch. My mom has told me she has so many memories from her childhood there. Grandpa used to bring her up to Dallas to visit a friend and they'd try to spend a day on the trail and camp out in the woods of the Lazy T Ranch before heading home."

"That's sweet." Katheryn smiled and started forward again. "Would you like to come with me?"

Molly grinned as the twosome stepped into the cool aftermath of the rain showers that had pounded Dallas not ten minutes ago. "I'd love to."

Katheryn smiled her approval and circled the front of her Stingray intent upon boarding as she nodded to Molly, indicating for her to get in also. She quickly let the top down on the beauty to let in the afternoon breeze. The storm had passed thankfully. Now there was only that all too familiar rising scent as the asphalt was dotted with little pools of rainwater here and there, reflecting the daylight let in dimly by the clouded skies above.

With a firm crank of the engine, Katheryn stepped on the gas and accelerated away from Thunder Karate in pursuit of what seemed was unfolding into her first case alone without Trent. Inwardly she whispered a prayer that she would be able to handle it. But at the same time, she tossed her worry-filled thoughts aside. After all, it was just petty theft from the sound of it. How difficult could a case of theft be? She had handled the case of Ralph Martin fairly well alongside Trent. Therefore Katheryn concluded and convinced herself that this case couldn't be much different than that one. Or at least that was what she kept reminding herself as she merged onto the various roads of the Dallas Metro area in search of the Lazy T Ranch.


Part 3


Trent placed his right hand securely on the doorframe of the bus entrance as he put one foot in front of the other, carefully making his way down the few narrow bus steps while glancing over the landscape before him. A bit of sunlight finally made its way into the camp, glistening somewhat as it wedged through the tall wire-topped gates that Trent had just traveled through. The same sunlight was busy casting itself overtop the bus itself, sending a broad shadow over Trent and his muscular figure, clad in a plain black t-shirt and cargo camouflage pants which were folded neatly at his ankles just above the taupe combat boots that completed his attire. A nickel-plated whistle around his neck that settled against his chest and camo military cap put the finishing touches on the look that made him instantly feel as if he was back at the military base, training non-skilled wannabes into warriors and soldiers into fighters.

"Are you Mr. Trent Malloy?"

Trent turned back to a forward gaze to see a young man in complete beige uniform. A black cap and a clipboard tucked underneath his arm complete the stranger's appearance as he extended a hand. Trent let out a slight smile and accepted the proffered handshake. "Yes. I'm Trent Malloy. And you are…"

"I'm William Cody, sir. But everyone used to call me Billy Boy."

"Billy Boy." Trent's light laugh echoed a bit, softening the introduction between the two strangers. "Um, I was told that Luther Dobbs was going to meet me here. Is he inside the office?"

Billy shook his head. "No, sir. Mr. Dobbs was called away at the last minute. But he told me to welcome you and that there's a note waiting for you on his desk."

"Thanks, William. And where are the others?"

Billy threw a slight nod to the side. "Mickey is getting the bunks ready for the new recruits, and Luis is finishing up a bit of paperwork Mr. Dobbs left for him to do while he was away."

Trent forehead wrinkled. "Is it just the three of you?"

Billy nodded with a tight-lipped smile.

"I don't understand. Walker told me there were eight of you."

"There was. Now it's just the three of us ever since the others found jobs outside the camp and are starting new lives."

Trent smiled. "That's wonderful news. I'm sure Walker will be pleased to hear how far you all have come since he left."

"I bet he would." Billy grinned, clearly proud of how much of an impact Walker had had on him and the other young inmates who needed a life change and attitude adjustment.

"Well, lead the way." Trent turned around and gave the bus driver a nod as he bent low to retrieve his duffle bag. He stood watch for a very brief second as the bus left a small cloud of dust in its departure. The rains had dried up quite well it seemed within the past few hours.

"Sure thing." Billy grinned and whirled around into a light march as he led the way to the offices.

After briefly picturing in his mind what all was going on back home in Dallas as he stood there in the shadows of Camp Justice, Trent turned and followed Billy up the non-existent path to the office he would occupy as the director and commander of Camp Justice for the weeks to come.

##

"This here's Maverick. That's ole Wyatt Earp. And that's Little Joe."

Molly and Katheryn exchanged fond smiles as they followed Mrs. Wilkins alongside her pasture fence. Mrs. Wilkins had insisted she introduce them to the other residents of the property before they got down to business.

Katheryn lifted a hand to block the sunlight that pestered her at her eyes. It seemed the storm couldn't keep it from make a brief appearance before sunset. "Do you always name your horses after Western heroes of the small screen?"

Mrs. Wilkins laughed a little as she sauntered ahead of them, her wrists relaxed against her denim shirt's hem while her hands stayed secured in her pockets. "I always told him it was silly. My late husband that is." The kindly lady whirled around on that last note as if she had to explain. "My Willy always insisted every new horse be named by a favorite western television character." She laughed some more. "I bickered with him about it every time. I'd say, 'William, no other rancher will ever take us serious. What if we have to sell one of them? We'd be laughed at for sure.'"

Mrs. Wilkins stopped walking and turned around to face her guests. She swallowed hard as a small tear formed at the corner of her eye while she forced a smile. "I kinda wish I wouldn't have pestered him about it so much now." Her tight-lipped smile relaxed into a sigh as she turned back to her pasture and set a foot against the fence.

Katheryn was torn as she noticed the glistening tear in the woman's eye. But her newly-developed PI instincts pushed her to help the woman the only way she truly could. She stepped forward slowly and joined the woman at the fence, leaving Molly in admiration of the horses in the pasture nearby. "Mrs. Wilkins, can you tell me any more details besides what you told me over the phone?"

Mrs. Wilkins sniffed away her deep reverie into memory lane and turned to Katheryn. "Of course. Um, Remington is the horse's name. The only one my late husband actually let me name. He's a mustang. Very valuable. Whoever stole him either doesn't care or is very stupid. Or both."

"And is there anyone who has threatened you? Perhaps made offers on the horse at any point?"

Mrs. Wilkins shook her head. It seemed to aggravate her that she couldn't offer more information.

Katheryn's investigative instincts suddenly kicked into overdrive as she stood there contemplating the information she had just received. Little emotion could be seen on her face as she thought through the questions she knew she should ask. When was the horse stolen? How much was the horse worth? Did he come from a valuable line? Had there been anyone vying to purchase him? Moreover, did Mrs. Wilkins have any enemies? Was this just a rash string of thefts with no intent or reason?

Mrs. Wilkins seemed to be settling into her own thoughts as she clicked her tongue and whistled aloud towards the bay in the distant pasture. She smiled a bit as the steed lifted its head and whinnied with a snort or two before springing into a gallop towards the woman. As the horses stalled at the pasture fence, Mrs. Wilkins reach a hand to stroke its mane, uttering little sweet nothings to the horse as it bobbed its head up and down to issue his approval.

Molly eased up beside Katheryn with arms crossed and a slight grin. "That's sweet."

"It sure is." Katheryn glanced at Molly with a smile.

"I sure do miss riding."

"Me too. We should get out to Ranger Walker's place sometime soon for a ride."

"Oh, that would be lovely! I'm sure Tandy would approve."

"She would." Katheryn chuckled slightly, picturing the little girl's bright blue eyes shining in the sunlight every time Bubblegum's name was mentioned these days.

"Alright. You go now." Mrs. Wilkins softly patted the horse and directed it away with more her words than her strong hand as she turned to Katheryn. "Somehow that old mustang is all I have left of my husband. Can you promise me you'll do everything you can to find him?"

Katheryn noticed another tear at the corner of the woman's eye as she hesitated to make a promise she wasn't quite sure if she'd be able to keep. "Mrs. Wilkins, I can assure you I'll do everything within my power to find Remington." She closed her promise with a tight-lipped smile.

Mrs. Wilkins then stepped forward and eased her hands out of her jeans pockets, drawing out a piece of paper and extending it to Katheryn. The two women briefly locked eyes as Katheryn reached out a hand to accept the piece of paper. She even caught herself hesitating slightly as she noticed the seriousness in the woman's eyes. But pressing onward, she took the paper and unfolded it carefully.

It read, Thanks for the horse. Too bad your husband was as stubborn as this blasted horse. Perhaps I wouldn't have had to take him if Willy had of given in to what I wanted. Have a good one. – A friend

"Some friend." Molly scoffed as she read the note from beside Katheryn.

Katheryn raised an eyebrow as she nodded in agreement. She then raised her gaze from above the piece of paper to Mrs. Wilkins. "Where did you find this?"

"It was nailed to the barn the morning I found Remington was missing." She sighed.

"Do you have any idea who could have written the note?"

Mrs. Wilkins shook her head and glanced at her feet, clearly ashamed that she couldn't help very much. "I'm sorry I didn't show that to you earlier."

"Oh that's okay. You've had a lot on your mind." Katheryn offered the woman a smile. "Thank you for telling us what you could. I'll look into this right away."

Mrs. Wilkins nodded limply as she walked the two ladies back to Katheryn's Stingray. "I do wish I could help you more. But I just…" She let her statement fall and mingle with the afternoon winds that played at her shirt hem. The woman reached a hand to smooth her denim blouse as she came to a stop with Katheryn at the driver's side door. "You have my number?"

Katheryn nodded firmly and offered a final quick smile as she climbed into her Corvette. "See you soon, Mrs. Wilkins."

Mrs. Wilkins watched as the Corvette roared forward, kicking up a bit of mud against a nearby tree. Her eyes were barely watering as she wiped at a free-falling tear before lifting her hand for a soft wave just before the Corvette passed through the gate and disappeared over the little hill just beyond.

##

Trent felt the leather of the office chair slowly contour to the shape of his back as he relax into its comforting surroundings. It wasn't a recliner or anything like that. It barely had cushioning. But it seemed a far cry better than the hardened seats of the bus he had just traveled by for a couple of hours. With a relaxed sigh, Trent unfolded the piece of paper in his hands that had his name on it. He held the paper steadily in front of him and focused his attention on every word before him.

Malloy: Walker has told me all about you. In light of your accomplishments and the trust I have in Walker, I have no problem with you taking over Camp Justice for the beginning duration of the next camp. As you are reading this, a bus load of young men are most likely in route to the camp to begin the reform that is entrusted to your hands. I have every confidence that you will do well for Camp Justice and the young men who will be under your supervision until I am able to return in several weeks. I do regret that I won't be there to see you through the first week. For that period of time will be the hardest to endure. But I trust you. And I know you won't let me down. I am sending someone to help you lead the camp for ever how long you see fit. He will be arriving there soon after you arrive. His credentials include several successful years on the police force and extensive martial arts training along with a wide range of accomplishments such as undercover work. He comes highly recommended. God Bless, Luther Dobbs.

Trent's eyebrows arched in unison as he leaned forward from the relaxing chair, forcing himself upright and out of the slouch he had caught himself in while reading the short letter. He laid the paper down on the dimly-lit desk and stood up away from the desk, lifting his gaze as the sound of a car engine drew him outside. The car had stopped, delivered a passenger, and left in a faint cloud of dust before Trent could quite make out the figure before him. Yet remembering the note he had just read, he started connecting the dots in his mind and moved forward, extending his hand to the stranger with confidence.

"You must be the help Dobbs sent me." Trent ended his statement with a tight-lipped smile, glancing over the confident-looking sandy-haired fellow in jeans that had seen better days and a t-shirt of equal comparison.

The muscular figure before him let his duffle plop down on the ground with a slight thud as he raised a toothy grin and accepted Trent's hand. The two muscular men exchanged a very firm, friendly handshake. "I suppose so. The name's Gage. Francis Gage."

"It's great to meet you, Gage." Trent released the handshake and stepped aside, glancing over the property near them with a sigh. "Well, our recruits will be arriving any minute now." He turned back to Gage with a nod. "I'll show you where to bunk and get ready. Then I've got to make a quick phone call."

Gage followed Trent determinedly as he looked left and right briefly while in stride, finding his footing as he traced a path behind Trent into the building in front of him.

As soon as Trent had showed Gage the room where Trent had already set up his own bunk, he set his focus on the phone call he had mentioned, returning to Dobbs' office space and the said device that awaited him on the desk. He settled into the chair again and moved closer to the desk, reaching for the receiver and placing it to his ear.

Trent dialed the dojo and waited for an answer that never came. After receiving the same when calling his own home, Katheryn and Molly's apartment, Carlos' apartment, and even Ranger Headquarters, Trent returned the phone to its home and directed his eyes to the clock high on the wall as he let out a sigh. Everyone seemed to have gone their separate ways this afternoon. Quickly assuring himself it was not because of danger that he couldn't get ahold of anyone, Trent roused his own thoughts with a mumbling of words and firmly stood from his seat. Memories of his days in the military went through his mind instantly as he caught a glimpse of the oncoming bus through the office window. The camp, his own attire, the atmosphere, and the very feeling of being an instructor again brought back so many feelings he had since put to rest when he chose to leave the army a couple of years ago upon Thunder's passing.

Trent clasped his lips together, inhaling and exhaling deeply before putting one foot in front of the other towards the door. There was no turning back now. Dobbs and Walker were depending upon him. And he would not let anyone down on his watch. These vulnerable young inmates whose life would depend upon him in the coming days would need everything he had to give them. Everything that Trent had lived for that made him who he was.


Part 4


The slow din of C.D.'s that morning surrounded Katheryn and Molly with the right atmosphere for deep thought. The gentle rays of morning sunlight. The quiet country tunes in the background. C.D. minding his regulars from his place behind the bar. It was the perfect condition for pensiveness.

Katheryn's forehead was creased quite intensely as she focused on the piece of paper in her hand while gently resting her other hand on the edge of the table with her fork slightly dangling over her plate of food. Molly sipped at her coffee a bit at a time, getting in quite the amount while Katheryn never stirred the entire time. It seemed that deducing the mysterious note was all that was on the blooming private investigator's mind. A few minutes passed before Katheryn finally was able to deter herself from the diabolical note and acknowledge her best friend.

Molly smirked a bit as she hid her smile behind a bowed head.

Katheryn cringed, taking a quick glance at each of her sides. "Was I that obvious?"

Molly nodded, unable to speak through her near-laughter.

Katheryn sighed and looked back to the piece of paper. The corner was already soft from her gripping it so long these last few minutes. She then willingly set it down on the table as she relaxed in her seat and actually managed to think through some viable possibilities as to who would have written the note.

Molly stole a glance at her friend just before she cleared her throat with a sound emitted on purpose and not by chance. "Um…"

Katheryn raised her eyes and eyebrows towards Molly, her bottom lip slightly sagging as she nearly said something but stopped herself.

"I, uh, after you dropped me off at the dojo yesterday after we visited the Lazy T Ranch, I decided to go to the library. I've been meaning to do a bit more research on my namesake from back in the 1800s."

Kath beamed a smile, her approval freely given as she listened. "Did you find out anything new?"

Molly barely nodded as she played with her food with the prongs of her fork. "Maybe. I was wanting to find out more about how she and her husband John met."

"Is it a good love story?" Katheryn sneaked in another smile.

Molly chuckled lightly. "Well, there isn't much information on that according to the librarian I spoke to. But I did find a small story that was published in a Utah newspaper just after the turn of the century. Molly was interviewed by an eager female reporter around 1903 about the famous journey she and John Mason survived thanks to the legendary bounty hunter Hayes Cooper."

Clearly intrigued, Katheryn scooted to the edge of her seat, forgetting all about the meal before her as she let her fork fall with a slight clank onto the plate's edge.

"Apparently Molly and John were successful in joining their fellow believers in Paradise Valley."

"That's good to hear. It would have been a shame had their journey been taken in vain."

"Indeed! I also read in that newspaper excerpt that Molly and John had another child about a year after the journey. She would have been my third great aunt."

The two ladies exchanged smiles of intrigue and satisfaction over the sentiment.

"Was there anything in there about how Molly and John met?"

Molly sighed. "Not much. But she did say they met through her best friend when her best friend visited John's family."

Katheryn caught a glimpse of an underlying thought behind her best friend's shining eyes as the latter's statement trailed off. "Molly," Kath reached a hand forward, just barely touching Molly's. "Is there something on your mind?"

Molly quickly shook away the thoughts with a grin. "No. Of course not." She sighed, lifting her eyes upward and back down again. "How could I lie?"

"You're definitely not good at it at all."

"Well, thinking about my namesake and the woman I favor so much had me thinking of…"

"What?"

"It's silly."

"Spill it!" Kath grinned.

Molly sighed yet again. "I wanted to know how their relationship began in order to know…"

"To know what?" Katheryn was desperately urging Molly on at this point.

"To know if John was anything like Trent." Molly tossed out the final words as quick as possible, leaving the space between them silent as she reached to take a sip of her coffee.

Katheryn couldn't help but smile. "You mean…."

Molly's cheeks gently turned a pale pink before returning to their normal shade as she convinced herself inwardly that she was a mature adult who could handle such feelings in a proper manner. She finally gave in and nodded a bit to answer her dear friend's burning question.

Kath couldn't hide her smile but tried for courtesy's sake to suppress it. "I thought I noticed something going on the other night in the Malloy's study."

"Nothing was going on." Molly quickly inserted, immediately knowing how wrong her words were as she repeated them mentally. "Trent was just showing me the trophies."

"Right." Kath half-rolled her eyes, clearly unconvinced.

Molly sighed. "Trent's a very nice person."

"I'll say."

Molly slapped at Katheryn's arm, drawing a chuckle from her. "Two can play that game, you know."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing. I don't know what I'm saying," Molly quickly inserted and reached for the note near Katheryn in order to change the subject. "So, what have you figured out from this message so far?"

Katheryn sighed. "I have no idea. It's definitely a threat. But they did a good job of not making their identity very obvious."

"Well, it's quite obvious that whoever wrote the note had something against Mrs. Wilkins' husband."

"Clearly." Katheryn sighed sharply, burying her face in her hands. "Oh, I wish Trent were here."

Molly reached a hand to Katheryn's shoulder. "Hey, what kind of talk is that? You're getting to be just as good as him. You can handle this. Besides, do realize how much you've managed to do on your own when you shouldn't have over the past few months?"

Katheryn smiled. "Yeah. Thanks for the confidence. But you and I both know that experience plays a key factor here."

"True." Molly relaxed and reached for her fork as she felt her appetite returning since changing the subject of the conversation.

Katheryn shoved in one more bite of C.D.'s good cooking as she rose from her seat. "Alright. I'd better get going. I got to go to the H.O.P.E. center. Josie's going to let me use her computer to check my email. Mrs. Wilkins is sending me a photo of Remington to use in the search."

Molly confidently bid her best friend goodbye with another brief word of affirmation before lifting a hand for a wave as Katheryn passed through the entry of C.D.'s and into the shoes of Dallas' newest blooming set of private eyes.

##

"Hey, Josie!" Katheryn beamed a smile, entering the H.O.P.E. center swiftly. She nearly stumbled forward as two young children scurried in front of her soon followed by an out of breath Josie Martin.

Josie waved off the kids as she gasped in a bit of air, taking advantage of Katheryn's presence as an excuse to rest. "Hey, Katheryn. It's good to see you." She swallowed hard, almost having caught her breath fully. She chuckled. "Those are our newest recruits. Seems they need a little discipline."

The two women exchanged a light laugh.

"Alright, let's get you set up at my computer." Josie then led the way through the halls to her tiny office space near the kitchen. They rounded the corner into the little room, Katheryn following eagerly as she continued to ponder her case at hand despite the noise-filled corridors of the center.

Katheryn smiled, taking notice of the commotion. "Seems busy today."

"You're telling me!" Josie sat down at her desk, clearly enjoying the soft leather surroundings as she sat upright and leaned forward over the keyboard with a sigh, entering a few numbers and letters as the computer clicked on. "Say, when are you coming back? We could really use your expertise around here again."

"Expertise?" Katheryn nearly scoffed. "Josie, you manage this place wonderfully." She glanced out the door and back to Josie. "But I will admit, I do miss being here on regular basis."

"I imagine working as a private investigator has its perks thought." Josie lifted her eyes with a sly smile over the monitor.

Katheryn then let her handbag fall onto the side table nearby and settled into the arm chair near Josie's desk. "I suppose. It's been fairly exciting so far. Trent and I took down a man for petty theft the other day before he left for Camp Justice. And we've managed to do a few odds and ends jobs for some folks. Nothing big though."

Josie continued to look at the monitor. "Oh, nonsense. All cases aren't any more important than the other. They all help people in some way. You got to remember that."

"True." Katheryn smiled. "Still, I love some action every once in a while."

Josie's tittering laugh echoed a bit as she kept her eyes on the screen.

Katheryn cocked a glance, suspicious of Josie's response. "What?"

"You are starting to sound like Detective Sandoval these days."

"I am?" Katheryn couldn't deny that she kind of liked the sound of that. Although at the same time she hoped it was a good sign.

"Yep." Josie stood abruptly and sighed. "Well, here you go. I've got you logged in. Just enter your username and password; and you'll be good to go."

Katheryn rose and circled the desk before her, situating herself at the desk and doing as Josie said.

Josie stopped in the doorway with one hand on the doorframe as she left. "If you have any questions just come and get me. I'll be…" She glanced down the hall. "I'll be somewhere hunting down those two little desperados."

"Will do." Katheryn flashed a smile over the monitor as Josie disappeared around the corner just before her email inbox flashed onto the screen, drawing her attention back to the device.

Katheryn propped her elbow on the desk and cradled her chin on her fist as she scrolled, clicking several boxes before going straight to the delete button and clicking it with a sigh. Finally reaching the important messages, she smiled faintly at the recognition of Mrs. Wilkin's email address and opened up the email.

Miss Katheryn: Included in this email is the photo of Remington that you requested. I have also taken the liberty of including a list of my ranch hands and helpers both past and present in case it can be of any help to you. There are also some names of some folks we've done business with in the past. I hate to think of anyone I know being guilty of horse thieving. But I guess it would be better to know than not to know. Have a good one, Mrs. Wilkins.

Katheryn took a deep breath as she scrolled through the names provided for her in the email, inwardly breathing a prayer of thanks that Mrs. Wilkins had definitely helped make the task a bit easier. At least she had somewhere to start her search. This was all settled in her mind, solid and without question as she read each name, until her eyes widened a bit upon reading the final name on the list. She scooted back in the chair away from the monitor in shock. Her hand hovered over the mouse as she swallowed hard and glanced around her subconsciously. No, it has to be a different person, she repeated in her mind several times before looking at the monitor once more to make sure she had read the name correctly. Sure enough in black and white as clear as ever was written a name Katheryn wished never to see again face to face.

##

Katheryn's gaze met with one perplexed police detective from across the table in the middle of Uppercuts after she had waited a few minutes upon arriving to her and Carlos' scheduled meeting time. He had insisted they talk as soon as Molly managed to get word to him about Katheryn's daring plan. One mention of her plan when she had returned to their apartment was all it took for Molly to step up and call Carlos despite Katheryn's opposing arguments that everything would be alright. There was nothing he could do right now with Jesse's case while Trivette and Walker continued to investigate suspects, namely Blade, a man no one was sure was quite who he had seemed like on the surface. Spending time with Katheryn over a necessary cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart talk seemed like the logical way to fill in his free hour.

Carlos sighed, running a hand through his dark hair before settling his gaze on the girl whose actions both made him vehement just as much as they made him love her more. "Tell me again what it is you're planning."

Katheryn sipped her coffee and returned it to the table, fumbling with the mug's handle as she let the silence hang for a length of time. "I'm going to go undercover at the Lazy T as a ranch hand."

"A ranch hand?!" Carlos blurted out, a laugh edging his voice as his voice rose in intonation.

With a touch of a sarcastic smile tightening her lips together, she drew another sip from her mug and set it back down.

"You can't be serious."

"Well, I am." Katheryn turned to look Carlos in the eyes. She saw both bewilderment and concern mixed with admiration and fear all in one, penetrating her heart as she stared into his convincing brown eyes.

Carlos lingered a bit on that gaze, still unsure if he was actually upset at her or simply concerned. He dearly hoped silently that his actions wasn't conveying the former. "Kath," Carlos softened his toned, easing in closer to the table with his hands folded against the hard surface. His gaze seemed to drift as he looked over his hands and then back to Katheryn. "You can't go undercover as a ranch hand."

"Why not?" Katheryn didn't hesitate.

Carlos' pleading smile gave way to a sigh. "It—it's dangerous. That's why. You seriously think you can be a convincing cowboy and still investigate the situation?"

"Yes. I believe I can."

Carlos took a deep breath. "Kath, you could get yourself hurt."

"Well then I'll just have to take a chance." Katheryn leaned in, her hand gently hovering near Carlos' folded hands. "I promised Mrs. Wilkins I'd help her find her horse Remington. And it has become quite clear that there's more than meets the eye with the burglaries she's had at her ranch. Please, Carlos." She slipped her hand between his, covering the bundle with her only free hand. Her eyes met his as she spoke. "It's my first chance to solve a case on my own. How hard could it be? It's probably just some former hand with an ax to grind. I'll catch him in the act soon enough, and it'll be over."

Carlos tried looking in her eyes but couldn't. He sighed as his gaze darted from their hands, clasped together, and then back towards Katheryn's searching eyes. All he could picture in his mind was something terrible happening to her. It tore him up just thinking about it. "Okay." He let a long sigh go, gently removing his own hand from underneath Kath's and placing it on top of hers. "How can you be so stubborn?"

Katheryn simply smiled and leaned forward, pecked a meaningful kiss on Carlos' lips, and hesitantly drew away from the moment, slipping into her jacket as she took it off of the back of the restaurant chair. She then lingered a bit, pausing by Carlos as he reached out for her hand.

"Be careful." Carlos was looking her directly in the eyes and was as serious as could be. His tone was even. And his eyes narrowed just barely as for a brief moment he willed it to be only himself and Katheryn in the room. Yet the numerous patrons, rock and roll music, and laughter-laced echoes seemed to quell that hope rather quickly.

Katheryn clasped her lips together amid her smile and let Carlos draw her a bit closer to him. He stood, still gripping her hand and leaning in for a mutual kiss this time.

"I will," she whispered before wishing with all her heart she didn't have to leave as she slipped away and out of Uppercuts in one swift motion. Any hesitation and she just might have changed her mind.

Carlos watched Katheryn leave the building with a smile tempting his demeanor before he finally surrendered, his entire ordeal with his nephew Jesse flooding back into his mind and reminding him of reality. He grunted a bit as he stood to his feet and nodded a goodbye Joe behind the bar as he pushed his chair into the table. Carlos was almost to the door when his cell phone rang. He reached for the device from inside his coat pocket and flipped it open, placing it to his ear.

"Detective Sandoval." For a moment he struggled to hear the voice on the other end through the bar's din and wondered if he shouldn't have taken the call outside. "What? Jesse confessed?!" Carlos tensed and then relaxed, clearly taken by surprise by Alex's announcement. He turned back to the doorway a hand in his pocket wrinkling his leather coat at his waist. An urgency to be on his way welled within him. "Alright. Thanks. I'll be right there."


Part 5


Trent Malloy and Officer Francis Gage had already spent twenty-four hours laying the proving grounds for the six inmates they had been sent yesterday afternoon. Most of the incarcerated felons had cooperated with minimal bickering or objections. At least minimal as to what could be expected from ones who didn't even want to be there in the first place.

Trent stepped out and into the fresh, morning air the next day, his gaze drifting as he surveyed and pictured in his mind what was to be accomplished that day. It added a bit of a renewed vigor to his discouraged soul, still a bit offset from yesterday's rather sluggish start. Thankfully most of the recruits were willing. Yet not all of them seemed to be getting the message and heart of the matter very quickly.

With a nod and one last glance towards the horizon, Trent snugged his military cap on his head, donning a clean but identical uniform as the one he wore yesterday. As he walked, Officer Gage was headed towards him from the opposite end of the camp. He too wore the exact same uniform and paced confidently across the yard, his combat boots crunching the grass with a muscular fervor as he went.

"Morning, Gage." Trent dipped his head just barely. "Are our recruits ready for their second day?"

Gage sighed, his head bowed briefly and a smile edging his lips. "Ready as they'll ever be I suppose."

Trent smiled. "Yeah. What do you say we give them a wake-up call?"

Gage grinned a bit also. "Absolutely."

The two men had turned and were walking side-by-side up the trail to the bunkhouse when a small dust cloud rose in the distance soon followed by what appeared to be a patrol car.

Trent's eyes narrowed beneath furrowed brows as he ceased his step, gazing towards the oncoming vehicle. "I wonder what that's about."

"Beats me." Gage too was perplexed and followed Trent to meet with the police officer who emerged from the vehicle once it had stopped in front of the office.

Trent stood before the uniformed officer, catching a glimpse of someone in the backseat of the car. He kept his eyes on the officer as he spoke. "Officer. What brings you by Camp Justice?"

"Are you Trent Malloy?"

"Yes, sir."

The officer muttered something under his breath as he turned and opened the backseat door. "Alright, Sims. Out." He turned back to Trent as he waited for the inmate to obey his order. "You got another recruit here, young man."

Trent had not received word from Walker or Dobbs since yesterday and began to question why this happened so suddenly. "Who authorized this?"

"Ranger Walker did."

Trent nodded and relaxed. If Walker had authorized it, then there was no issue. "Good. Thank you, officer, for bringing him here."

"Don't thank me." The officer scoffed as he eased back into the driver's seat and sped away, leaving another cloud of dust and a bit of disdain behind in the wake of his hasty departure.

Trent shook his head and sighed, not believing how rude the officer was to him before he looked to the inmate and began to sense something familiar about the man. He was about Trent's height, muscular yet a bit overweight, nearly bald, his cheeks were pinched back into an angry gaze, and his hands were handcuffed in front of him against his all-white two-piece jumpsuit.

With a widened gaze, Trent took a step forward, his arms falling to his sides as he peered into the eyes of the young man before him. "Sims?!"

The young man lifted his mud-smeared face, casting a bit of disdain Trent's way as he spit a stream of repulsiveness onto the ground that separated him from Trent.

"Sims?" Trent repeated, still stunned by the man's presence. "Is that you?"

"Yeah," he scoffed. "And I remember you too. A lot of good it did me."

Trent took another step forward. "What are you doing here?"

"What does it look like? I'm on vacation."

Trent glanced at the ground with a sigh on his lips as he tried to ignore the young man's sarcasm. He lifted his eyes in time to meet with Sims' angry gaze. "I'm serious, Sims. You're the last one I ever expected to find here. Why are you here? When did you quit the military?"

Sims was a bit hesitant to answer before he raised his head a bit higher and exhaled. "Not long after you left. I got me an offer I couldn't refuse."

"What happened?" Trent pressed further.

"I quit."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that." Sims grinned. He clearly wasn't a man of responsible hygiene. With another scoff-laced chortle, the bound criminal stepped forward and passed Trent, running into him just barely and on purpose as he cast a defiant glance towards Gage and continued towards wherever he thought he was going.

Trent's train of thought stalled as he pictured in his mind his days back in the military that had acquainted him with Sims. He breathed outwardly, his mouth held tightly closed to the emotions running through his mind.

"You know him?" Gage glanced over Trent's shoulder from behind him.

Turning around to face Gage, Trent opened his mouth trying in vain to release his disappointment with a deepened sigh. "Yeah. He was under my command when I was a combat instructor in the army."

"So you're Army?"

Trent nodded, catching a glimpse of Sims loitering around the bunkhouse entrance.

"I was Marine myself before starting as an officer in Port Arthur." Gage began to catch on that the conversation was going nowhere and gestured behind him with a slight cock of his head. "Ready to get going?"

Trent was not as prepared for today as he was yesterday. If he had been, he definitely was nowhere neared prepared now. But he drew from his inward strength and willed himself to set aside all thoughts of doubt. He set his jaw and took a deep breath, stepping forward and passed Gage to lead the way. "Ready as I'll ever be."

##

Mrs. Wilkins tapped her finger to a steady, inaudible rhythm upon her kitchen table as she peered out the sun-bathed window to her pastures just outside. She held her eyes open at a steady width, darting them from one corner of her eat-in kitchen to the other. The steam from her coffee cup dissipated by the second as the seconds turned into minutes. Restlessness stirred within her as she tapped her foot anxiously, her sighs almost echoing against the stomach-turning silence of her lonely home. Suddenly she sprang from the chair, its wooden feet sliding forcefully against the floor beneath no doubt having left a mark as she hurried away from the table, just barely avoiding tipping her coffee over as she did so.

Mrs. Wilkins was across the property in no time flat, entering the bunkhouse while willing herself to calm down and act normally as if nothing had stirred her thoughts. She nodded a smile to Billy her handyman and continued forward to where Katheryn was unpacking her suitcase on the bunk next to the window. "Settling in alright?"

Katheryn couldn't deny that the woman's present startled her just a bit as she spun on her heel in defense mode. She smiled instead, taking a deep breath that she hope had not been seen. "Yes. Yes, I'm settling in quite well. How are you holding up, Sarah? Anything else happen before I arrived?" Katheryn turned to the nightstand and squatted low, tucking a couple changes of clothes into the rather large bottom draw that was allotted to her.

"No, um, everything seems to be pretty quiet around here for a change." Mrs. Wilkins ended with a light chuckle as she rocked on her heels just barely, keeping her hands secured inside her jeans' pockets.

Katheryn stood to full height and turned back to the woman with a hearty grin. "That's great." She then forced the smile away. Getting this undercover role into full swing was all she had to concern herself within from now until the culprit was found out. "I'm going to need you to help me, Sarah. We're going to have to set some sort of trap for the thief. Nothing obvious. Just something that will attract him back here tonight or tomorrow night. Can you remember the exact pattern of events the day before each of the robberies took place? Perhaps we can somehow stage something similar since the thief was so attracted to your place those same nights."

Mrs. Wilkins was finally able to set aside her worry-filled thoughts long enough to sink into thought mode, recalling the several instances Katheryn spoke of. "There were a few common denominators now that I recall. I let all the hands off those nights to go into town for some fun. Only Billy here stayed behind. He doesn't care much for their version of lively fun. Um, the barn was freshly cleaned each time. Organized well too. We try to keep it straight, but sometimes you need an extra day to get it really up to par."

Katheryn nodded. "Anything else that you can think of?"

Mrs. Wilkins shook her head.

Katheryn gripped Mrs. Wilkins' arm with a tight lipped smile, noticing the tear forming at the corner of the woman's eye. "We'll get him back. Don't you worry about a thing."

"I—It's not that," Sarah was quick to insert.

"What's the matter?" Kath's forehead wrinkled intensely, dipping her slightly to read Mrs. Wilkins' solemn expression.

"I may have left out a detail or two when we first spoke the other day."

"Oh?"

Mrs. Wilkins cleared her throat, crossed her arms, and shifted her weight to her opposite foot. "There is someone I might suspect that did this."

Katheryn only looked onward with intrigue, her hazel eyes glistening as she listened.

"Hoskins."

"Dole Hoskins?" Katheryn jumped in before Sarah could say another word.

Mrs. Wilkins' eye lit up as she straightened her posture and redistributed her weight to both of her feet. "Yeah. How—how did you know?"

A scoff nearly crossed Katheryn's lips as she remembered the last time she and that villain had crossed paths. "Yeah. We've met." She could almost feel his breath beating against hers all over again as she answered Mrs. Wilkins. All she could do was picture Molly's fear-filled eyes, Trent's struggle to save them when he had troubles of his own, and Carlos' daring Oscar performance that had helped them all to work together and take down Dole Hoskins. Another scoff crossed her lips. Hoskins had been released not long after he was taken down no thanks to Anthony Maynard, a leading crime boss and rich mafia leader in the Dallas area that had kept his nose clean over the past months.

With a curt nod, Mrs. Wilkins turned to leave. "I'd best get back to the house."

Katheryn reached a hand onto her arm and creased her forehead. "Wait. What was Hoskins' involvement with the Lazy T? The last I heard, he was bailed out by a local crime boss. What would he have anything to do with you, Sarah?"

Mrs. Wilkins took a very deep breath, exhaling forcefully as she raised her gaze to the dust-layered ceilings and then back down to Katheryn. "He—He's my husband's brother."

Katheryn refrained from letting her mouth hang open from surprised as her heart skipped a beat and her eyes grew a bit wider. She quickly suppressed these responses and shook her head. "I don't get it. Why the different last names?"

"My William was the oldest. His mama remarried a frightful man after Willy's pa passed away. They had a son."

"I see." Katheryn now understood the relation but still couldn't shake the fact that Dole Hoskins would have anything to do with a ranch that wasn't even his. "But I still don't understand. What was his business here?"

"Willy wouldn't sell half of the ranch to Dole when he was dropped from the police force in San Antonio. Dole had come begging to him after he was fired. Willy wouldn't hear of bringing him on as partner after he found out the little odds and ends ways that Dole had managed to make money in the time it took him to look us up.

"When Willy put his foot down about the hold situation, Dole took it personal. I think the grief of seeing how bad his little brother had turned helped to bring his health down some. I wouldn't deny it if it didn't contribute to his death." Sarah choked up a bit that time, bringing her hand to her lips as she muffled her oncoming sob.

Katheryn laid a hand on her shoulder for comfort, wanting to embrace the woman if only she would let down her defenses for her to do so.

"I had hoped it wouldn't be Dole. I really did." Mrs. Wilkins tried her best to be optimistic.

"I know." Katheryn nodded. She searched for the woman's eyes and found them as she raised her tear-stained face towards her. "Thank you for telling me. Hoskins definitely isn't a man to be messed with. Now we've just got to focus on getting Remington back to the Lazy T and Dole back in Huntsville where he belongs."

##

Katheryn crouched warily beneath the cover of a few lone bushes by the back porch of Mrs. Wilkins' ranch house as the moon rose overhead and lit a fine path straight to the Lazy T barn a ways off. It was the perfect cover. And conditions had been set on the ranch to make it exactly the way things had been on the other nights the Lazy T had been robbed.

Looking up every few minutes as the clock ticked away another hour, Katheryn began letting her thoughts drift. They mainly fell to Carlos and what he was doing right now. She glanced at her watch. Nine o'clock. He had called an hour before sunset to check in on her and tell her what had happened. Jesse's best friend Bobby Landrum had come forward that afternoon and told everything. Jesse was innocent and would not be spending another unnecessary day in juvenile hall. Meanwhile, Jesse revealed that his mom, Carlos' sister Theresa, had been kidnapped by most likely the same goons that had cornered Bobby and Jesse. John Blade was no doubt the guilty one to blame for the whole ordeal, all the way back to the beginning when officer Sal Ochoa's partner Bill Sadler had been murdered in cold blood. Carlos still admitted every day the rage he fought when he had to witness one of their own gunned down in such a diabolical manner. It was what had made it even harder to believe that his own nephew could have been guilty of such a crime. Thankfully, he wasn't guilty.

Katheryn had not yet had a chance to meet Theresa, save brief comments Carlos had made in their many conversations together. Still, Katheryn offered up a silent prayer as she remained hidden in the darkened brush that both Theresa and Carlos along with the Rangers would come out of this one safely. After doing so, she forced herself out of her personal thoughts and set her focus on Dole Hoskins and what she hoped would be his next appearance to the Lazy T Ranch.


Part 6


Twenty long minutes passed before a slightly drowsy Katheryn was alerted by a flickering light in a single window of the barn up ahead. It disappeared and merged back into darkness before she really had a good chance to study in. She let out a raspy sigh filled with disappointment as she let her body relax. Her muscles eased out of their tension slowly as she worked a kink out with a slight bend of her neck to the side, rubbing the area with her free hand at the same time and pressing her fingers into the sore spot. Finally feeling relief, she secured her vigil back into place, leaning forward slightly and raising her binoculars into view. Nothing. Nothing for miles it seemed. This night was beginning to feel like a futile effort, resulting in nothing more than a painful muscle strain and unnecessary sleep deprivation.

Katheryn was just about to entertain the thought of moving forward and investigating the source of the mysterious light emanating from the barn's window when she suddenly felt a light breeze wisp across her side. A shadow then flitted across her quickly as the figure it belonged to quickly crouched down beside Kath under the cover of the landscaping. She could faintly hear the slight wrinkling of his leather coat as he bent low towards her.

Katheryn grimaced vaguely as she instantly recognized the face before her. No amount of moonlight or lack thereof could trick her into thinking the face was that of anyone else she knew. "Carlos?! What are you doing here?"

"Looking for a thief." Carlos shot a smile Kath's way. "What else?"

Katheryn fought the urge to roll her eyes and quickly took her eyes off of Carlos as she clasped her lips tightly together.

"We found Theresa," Carlos continued a bit more somberly this time, setting aside his sense of humor the best he could in light of Katheryn's cold response. "Blade had her. I took her home and stayed up with them awhile. I was going to stay the night. But there's only so long you can argue with your big sister. She wins every time." He smiled a bit on that thought. "I was headed back to my apartment and realized the thrill of the chase must have left me with some extra energy."

"So you decided to come here?" Katheryn scoffed, not allowing Carlos a chance to finish his explanation. It was a habit she disliked greatly. And it seemed to rear itself at the most darned of times.

"Yes." Carlos' voice was even and full of the most love and consideration he could fill it with. "You and I both know that if Trent had been able to have a say, he would have wanted you to have backup."

Katheryn knew Carlos was right and didn't dare argue as she willed her cheeks to cool off in unison with her slightly flared attitude. Her shoulders relaxed while she unfolded her arms from against her chest. "You're right," she sighed. "But you know I was rather looking forward to solving this case on my own."

"I know."

"And you know if Dole sees us together my cover is broken for sure."

"You're cover never was there. He'd recognize you from before."

"True."

"Wait," Carlos suddenly stopped his automated train of thought and blurted out as he wrinkled his forehead intensely. "Dole? Dole Hoskins?"

Katheryn stayed silent, inwardly fuming at herself for her slip of the tongue. She had managed to keep that name under wraps for as long as she could.

"Hoskins is the thief?" Carlos continued, still a bit on edge that Kath had withheld this information from him when they had talked yesterday over coffee at Uppercuts.

Katheryn exhaled sharply and thought through the file of questions in her mind in an attempt to change the subject slightly. "Did you happen to see the light when you arrived?"

"Yeah. Do you think it could have been Hoskins?"

"Don't know." Katheryn inched forward again and viewed the barn through her binoculars. "Mrs. Wilkins did say that Joe was working late tonight. I thought it may hinder our pattern. But he seemed to have been subtle about his work. That's the only activity I've seen."

"You think we ought to go check it out?"

Katheryn was on the verge of a grin after hearing Carlos ask her all the questions and not vice versa. "You don't have to let me lead, you know."

Carlos cocked a smile. "Yeah. But you said you wanted the chance."

"But you are far better than me at these things. I need you."

Carlos could have nearly been knocked down by a feather at the realization of Katheryn's last words. He shook it off with a blink, mumbling under his breath something as he confirmed to himself just how overwhelming this girl could be at times.

Meanwhile, Katheryn was busy catching her voice in her throat after hearing herself say "I need you" over and over in her mind even after the single sentence had come out of her mouth. Her blushing cheeks could have nearly lit a path in the grassy patches below. Thankfully, the struggle was felt more than seen. Although that was no comfort to the victim at this point.

Katheryn barely had time to stumble over her thoughts before a gunshot sharply rang out from inside the nearby barn, interrupting what train of thought was left between the two of them. They both remained poised, ready to launch forward at any second, side-by-side. It was kind of hard to figure out who was the sidekick for whom.

Relaxing somewhat, Katheryn turned to Carlos with a sarcastic smile. "Maybe I forgot to mention that Joe doesn't carry a gun."

Carlos nodded at the statement with a breathy chuckle. "I figured as much." He then drew his firearm from his side holster and prepped it for fire. With one last glance over the horizon, Carlos started forward. "C'mon. Let's go."

Without hesitation, Katheryn sprang forward behind Carlos and followed him as he traced a straight line to the barn door. Carlos spun around, planting his back against the barn wall with his hands clasping his weapon near his chest.

Katheryn followed suit right up beside him, panting softly as she looked over Carlos to the barn door. "Ready?"

Carlos nodded, turned so that Katheryn could see his face, and began counting down from three. At the end of the count, Carlos rounded the corner, throwing open the barn door towards himself while outstretching his gun in his other hand. He quickly returned both hands to the weapon as he inched forward, pointing the gun from one side of the building to the other as Katheryn followed him.

Had Carlos not been attentive, he would have nearly stumbled upon something at his feet beneath the darkness of the structure. There was only just enough moonlight to let a body know just where exactly they were within the large building. Not nearly enough for Carlos to know what he had come upon. He nodded to a lantern nearby. "Kath, can you light that lantern?"

Katheryn didn't say a word as she scurried to the wooden post and removed the lantern. She slightly moved it around to check for oil. There was plenty. She then reached for the dry matches in her pocket and drew a single one out, striking it on the wooden post before putting the fiery flame to the woven cloth wick beneath the glass dome. Lowering the lever, the light immediately broadened and lit her own path. Katheryn cringed a bit as she noticed how close she had come to stepping in horse manure before turning to lift the lantern by Carlos over whatever he had found.

"Oh my gosh," a slight gasp escaped her lips before she could figure out the exact source of her fear.

At their feet was the body of handyman Joe with a dainty little note placed strategically over his chest with a rock as a paperweight.

After holstering his gun again, Carlos reached for the paper without skipping a beat. " 'This is what happens to those who get in my way. Refuse to follow the rules and you will never live to see your best friend again'."

Katheryn's wide eyes quickly met Carlos' gaze as the two young investigators turned to face one another. "Oh, God, He's going after Molly."

##

Only a few lights were left sporadically on throughout the entire first floor of the Malloy home as the nighttime hours closed in on a successful beginning to young Tandy's ideal slumber party. True, Katheryn wasn't able to make it. But Molly had stepped in her absence once hearing of her best friend's plan to see that the little girl would not go disappointed. She remembered the feeling well when she herself was a little girl and knew that she could make it happen for Tandy. Besides, it was a perfect way to get her mind off of what she believed was a dangerous situation for Katheryn to be putting herself in. Hopefully Carlos had kept his promise and checked in on her like she had suggested. Molly never wanted to sound overprotective. She just cared that much about her friends.

"Okay, you sit here, Ty." Tandy tapped the seat of the dining room chair and circled to the side nearest the kitchen entrance. "Go on. Take your seat!"

"Tandy, do I have to?" Ty groaned and sauntered limply across the room followed by a grinning Tommy who was busy quelling his chuckles.

"Don't laugh, Tommy," Tandy glared at her older brother. "Because you're next." She pointed directly at the head of the table with a stern expression gracing her usually gentle features.

"Alright," Molly announced her presence as she strode into the dining room from the kitchen, a steaming casserole dish in hand. "One special dish of lasagna is ready for one special little girl's tea party."

Tandy grinned and clapped eagerly, following Molly from behind as she rested the dish in the middle of the long table.

Tommy rolled his eyes. "So where's the tea?" He turned to Molly. "This is a tea party isn't it?"

Tandy pouted. "I forgot the tea." She then crossed her arms firmly against her chest and planted herself in the nearest chair nearly on the verge of crying.

"It's okay, sweetheart." Molly quickly removed the pot holders from her hands and tossed them on the buffet before kneeling by the little girl's side, stroking a tear away with the back of her index finger while offering a broadening smile that she hoped Tandy would catch. "I make some right now. What's your favorite, Tandy?"

"You don't understand," Tandy sniffled.

Tommy stepped forward, drawing Molly's glance. He hesitated just a bit before speaking. "Moses got into the only batch of tea we had. Mom's going to get some more soon. We just haven't had a chance to."

"I see." Molly searched for Tandy's eyes again, silently digging through options to remedy the situation. She glanced at her watch and then looked to Tommy. "Can you watch your brother and sister for a few minutes? Miss Cahill's place isn't too far from here. I can go borrow some from her and be back in thirty minutes or so."

"But the food'll get cold." Ty's lips drooped as he rested his chin on the table while casting salivating glances to the fresh pasta nearby.

"I'll put it on warm in the oven." Molly rose resolutely, removed her apron, and straightened her blouse before reaching for her purse. She turned to Tommy one last time as they stood in the foyer. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Lock the door behind me, Tommy."

Tommy nodded lamely as Molly hurried outside into the darkness, finding her way to her car in the driveway at a quick pace. Her feet's patter against the porch and then the steps down to the concrete drive gently echoed to her ears as she made her way in the darkness. The only sheltering light was that of what escaped from inside the home.

Mentally, Molly wished she had turned on the porch lights. But it was too late now. She was already to her car and was just about to insert the keys into the door when a cold hand eased over her lips, clasping itself tightly to her mouth and muffling her soft screams. A second hand eased around her waist in a futile attempt to keep her from resisting.

Before she even knew what had happened, she felt her handbag fall to the ground at her feet, her keys jangling helplessly to the solid surface with an echo as in seconds she was blindfolded and being carried across the yard. Although blinded, she could barely sense that they were crossing a portion of the grassy front yard as she heard screeching tires come to a halt by the sidewalk. A van door slid open and into place nearby. Another voice barked a command to another. And she helplessly was shoved into the side of the van from behind, nearly catching her foot on the vehicle's edge as she dove forward helplessly collapsing at the feet of her capturers.

It was too late by the time Tommy heard the commotion and bounded forward and out of the house, the front door swinging violently open in his stride as he ran down the steps and the sidewalk path leading to the street only to watch as the van's tires squealed and turned, rounding a corner out of the neighborhood just barely as far as the young man could see.

##

Ranger Walker had just about drifted off to sleep in the comfort of his quiet ranch home when his nightstand phone rang incessantly by his side. Bypassing a groan or two, he tossed over to his other side, softly throwing off the covers from his bare chest as he reached a hand to put the device to his ear. "Ranger Walker," he responded nearly at a whisper.

"Walker, we may have a problem here," Carlos' voice echoed in the quiet of Walker's bedroom as it reverberated through the telephone.

The detective turned around, one hand in his pocket as he caught a glimpse of Katheryn comforting Mrs. Wilkins off to the side of the barnyard. It seemed Joe's death had affected her. Perhaps it had brought back memories of experiencing her husband's death. Flashing police lights lit up the entire yard as Detective Sandoval's partner arrived on the scene in her Crown Victoria, coming to a halt by the other DPD cars and approaching the other uniformed officers who were busy securing yellow tape around the barn entrance.

Walker forced himself awake as soon as he heard the detective's voice and sat upright. "What happened?"

"Katheryn has been helping a woman named Mrs. Wilkins to find a stolen horse. But after tonight, I don't think this just about petty theft. They've killed someone now. Mrs. Wilkin's top hand, Joe Tracy."

"Is Katheryn okay?"

"Yeah." Carlos stole another glance at Katheryn in action, doing what she did best. "Yet I'm kinda glad I came when I did. But we think Molly may have been kidnapped."

"Molly Mason?"

"That's what Katheryn thinks." Carlos stifled a chuckle. "She's got instincts like you these days, Walker." He paused briefly before continuing. "The killer left a note on the body. Said if Katheryn didn't follow the rules, she wouldn't live to see her best friend again. Kath called their apartment with no answer. She was supposed to be at the Malloy's I think."

Walker sighed, settling briefly into his thoughts before standing out his bed. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Alright." Carlos closed his cell phone and stuffed it back inside his inner coat pocket just as Katheryn was pulling away from Mrs. Wilkins and helping lead her to speak with Detective Kelly.

"So that's your new partner?" Katheryn folded her arms against her chest, glaring at Carlos with a twisted smile.

Carlos nodded, noting a hint of feigned jealousy in Katheryn's eyes. "Yeah. Just transferred from the force in Austin. Good officer."

Katheryn wanted to discuss the subject further but held her tongue, turning to see Mrs. Wilkins in tears yet again as she spoke to Carlos' partner. "I do hope she'll be okay."

Carlos noticed Kath shiver a bit and almost suggested they go inside. "Why don't I take you home? Detective Kelly should have this under control. I can crash on your couch just to be sure Hoskins doesn't try to get to you."

Katheryn smiled at the notion. "Thanks. But if Hoskins has Molly, I don't think I'll be doing much sleeping anyways."

"Just the same…" Carlos slipped his hand into hers, pulling her arms away from her chest and closer to himself. "We'll start coming up with a plan then over a cup of coffee. How's that?"

Katheryn squeezed his hand slightly before slipping it away with a grin. "That'll work. Let me go get my things from the bunkhouse."

Carlos nodded and smiled his approval as he watched Katheryn leave the crime scene area and trace a path to the bunkhouse. His thoughts in that moment were very fond as he watched the intense police lights shelter Katheryn's walk as she hurried across the yard, rounding the corner into the building. His thoughts were short-lived though as he felt his cell phone vibrate yet again within his coat pocket.

Carlos reluctantly turned away, facing the barn and the commotion as he reached for the device yet again and placed it to his ear. "Detective Sandoval."

"Carlos," Tommy's voice was raised slightly as he peered out the window of the Malloy's living room in some futile effort to see Molly returning to them. "It's Molly. I think she was kidnapped."

Ever since seeing the hope fade from Katheryn's eyes after reading the note Hoskins had left at the scene of the crime, Carlos had loosely held on to the hope that perhaps it was a mind game. That he hadn't really acted upon those words. But he had. "What happened?"

"She was going to head to Miss Cahill's and borrow something for Tandy. Next thing I knew I heard a van speed away and her stuff was laid out on the ground by her car.

Carlos turned by reflex as he saw Katheryn emerge from the bunkhouse, a disheartened frown overcoming her features. "Alright, Tommy. You guys stay put. We'll be right there." Carlos hung up and met Kath half way. He searched for her eyes as she came to a stop in front of him.

"It's gone." She raised her eyes to his.

"What's gone?"

"My things. My set of keys. It's all gone."

"Are you sure?"

Katheryn glared at Carlos. "Of course I'm sure."

Carlos approached Detective Kelly and told her to pass on the information to Ranger Walker when he arrived and then turned back to Katheryn. "C'mon. Let's go. We've got to get over to the Malloy's."

"Wait," Katheryn hurried alongside Carlos as they traveled the distance to where the detective had stashed his unmarked police issue away from view. "What about my things?"

Katheryn and Carlos stopped at their respective sides of the vehicle and peered at each other from over top the car.

Carlos sighed. "Your instincts were right, Kath. Tommy called. Hoskins has Molly."

Katheryn quickly let her weight sink into the passenger side of the vehicle for fear she'd fall there instead. This was all her fault, she kept repeating to herself as she stared straightforward to where the police lights still flashed intensely at the Lazy T barn up ahead.

Carlos also got into the car and shut the door, leaving them both somehow alone and virtually the only ones there in the world for a brief second. The car's lights remained on and repelled the darkness away only to reveal Katheryn in her state of uncertainty.

Carlos turned just slightly to face Katheryn with a sigh. "Kath, we'll find her."

"Oh, I know." Katheryn nodded, looking out the window to the distant stars while tightening her crossed arms against her chest. "I—I just keep thinking that if I hadn't have been so stubborn…"

"No, Kath," Carlos interrupted. "You did what you thought was right. You had no idea that Hoskins would come after both of you."

"But that's the thing, Carlos. I had a feeling it might have been. Don't you see? When Hoskins got out of prison, he began seeking revenge. All this was just a set up to draw me in. And it worked."

"What do you mean?"

"I think Mrs. Wilkins isn't all who she says she is, Carlos."

"What makes you say that?"

"It just seems too odd. Dole happens to her brother-in-law who just happens to be out of prison when these string of robberies just happen to take place?"

"You've got a point."

"And she just happens to call on Trent Malloy when he leaves town, leaving me to handle the case."

"Yeah," Carlos sighed. "There's definitely something not right here." Carlos gave the crime scene one last elongated once-over as his thoughts raged before reaching for his seatbelt, putting the vehicle in drive, and turning in his seat as he reversed the car and turned around to head for whatever awaited them next.


Part 7


A thick quiet settled over the office space as Trent bent over a stack of papers, each one outlining the information concerning all the inmates in the camp and under his supervision. Where they were from. What crimes they had committed. How long of a sentence they were serving. After three days of intense training and hardly any progress, Trent had to go back to these guys' past. Find out what they were about. Perhaps see what it was that made each young man tick. It was an investigative instinct he would gladly never shake. And perhaps it would help to make progress for each of them.

Officer Francis Gage had been a major help for one particular inmate. After finding out that Gage too had come from a household filled with tragedy, the young man easily opened up and allowed Gage to pull the anger he had locked inside of himself for so long through intense training. He had even already gained some distinctive skills in martial arts. Maybe he had been trained some before. Or perhaps it was due to a kindling of the fire that was already within him. It had just taken the right person at the right time to blow on the flame.

Trent lifted his eyes to the clock. It was almost ten thirty.

"Long time no see."

Trent quickly shifted his gaze from the clock to the doorway to see the ever-familiar Sims standing before him, casually leaning against the edge while donning a police uniform complete with a pistol pointing directly towards his own chosen victim.

"I should have known." Trent never moved a muscle, locking eyes with the man that seemed like a total different person from the one he had known in the Army. "How did you do it?"

Sims cast a sarcastic glance over his attire and grinned. "Oh the outfit? That was the easy part. The hard part was getting one of my buddies to make a convincing police officer and deliver me here to you." He ended with a brief, airy chuckle.

"How do you know Ranger Walker?"

"I don't. Except I know someone who does. And from what I hear, he has a pretty slight score to settle. Unfortunately, it involves you…and your friends."

Trent's thoughts raged a mile a minute as he listened, deducing what each cocky syllable from Sims could be interpreted as. "What do you mean my friends?"

"Oh don't play dumb!" Sims threw a glance out of the window as his face turned red, hoping that his raised voice had not alerted the others on the premise.

"Why are you doing this, Sims? What changed?"

Sims scoffed. "Had to pay those bills somehow, eh?"

"You made a decent amount back home working for the mill there before you joined the military." Trent feigned a faint smile. "Or was that a lie too?"

"You're good, Malloy. You're good." Sims cackled gently and shook the gun a bit towards himself and the doorway. "Get up! We're going for a little drive."

Trent stayed put. "And if I refuse?"

Sims' eyes narrowed as he his anger grew stronger. "Well, let's just say a certain young woman may not live to see the light of the next morning. How's that?"

Trent slowly stood to his feet, cautiously approaching Sims and contemplating whether or not he should try to take him down now. But if Sims wasn't lying, it sounded as if he had a hostage. He hadn't revealed a location but had made it clear it wasn't within walking distance. That aside, he concluded that someone might be in need of his help. Only Sims knew where this supposed hostage could be and could lead Trent right to the place in question. And then again, that could be a setup too.

"Move it!" Sims shoved the pistol into Trent's side and started for the main entrance. "Go right when you get to the door. There's a Jeep waiting in a cluster of trees opposite of where your other buddy is with the other inmates. Now get a move on."

Trent silently mused whether or not Officer Gage had heard any of Sims' outbursts. Part of him hoped he hadn't. In some odd way, Trent being taken captive may be the only way to save whomever else Sims had thought to capture. Defeating him now could possibly mean not finding them at all. So he remained silent and ambled forward and out into the crisp, spring breeze, turning right and aiming for the Jeep he could barely see tucked into a nice corner of oaks at the edge of the property covered in endless darkness.

##

It was almost midnight before Ranger Walker brought his Dodge Ram to a stop in the Malloy's driveway and quickly traced a path to the front door to find Katheryn, Carlos, and Mrs. Malloy mostly pacing the foyer while praying and casting aside their negative thoughts. Detective Kelly had delivered Carlos' message to Walker successfully, bringing the senior Ranger to the Malloy home as quick as he could thanks to the sparse late night traffic.

He glanced just beyond the group as he removed his Stetson, taking notice of Tommy settled on the first few steps of the staircase, his hands folded at his face and his thoughts far from where he sat.

Katheryn spun on her heel just as she ceased pacing in front of the doors leading to Thunder Malloy's study, turning to face Walker in earnest. "Any news?"

Walker shook his head. "Nothing yet. How are the kids, Mrs. Malloy?"

"A little shaken up." Mrs. Malloy sighed and glanced briefly towards Tommy behind her. "I sent Tandy and Tyler up to bed not too long ago. They insisted upon staying up. Especially Tandy. She was about in tears over the thought that Molly…" Katie stopped abruptly as her words caught in her throat.

Walker nodded and looked again towards Tommy with a brief nod to Carlos. "Excuse me." He eased passed the little group and approached the young man. "Tommy?"

Tommy Malloy looked up from his hands and sighed. "Ranger Walker. I know what you're going to say. I didn't see anything. The van was gone before I ever had a chance to see a license plate number or anything. I didn't see any faces. Nothing." He exhaled sharply, fighting the urge to turn and run up the stairs. Failure was not something he could cope with very well.

Walker's usually steadiness of emotion continued as he deliberated his words. Carlos and Katheryn briefly glanced at each other, silently determining if Walker could encourage Tommy or not.

"Tommy, the fact that you knew it was a van could help us a lot." Walker tried in vain to bring the young man from his discouragement.

Tommy nearly scoffed but held his tongue as he looked back up towards Walker. At least his interest was piqued a little bit now. "How?"

"Can you remember what the van looked like?"

"No, sir." Tommy shook his head and turned back to gaze at his hands fisted together into one, his knuckles turning white from the pressure as he squeezed them together.

Walker sighed. "Well, if you remember anything…"

"Ranger Walker?" a faint voice from above echoed downstairs, interrupting Walker midsentence.

Walker's gaze quickly shot upwards as little Tandy was slowly easing down the stairs. Her pajamas were pressed against the stairwell as she hugged the banister with each step she reluctantly took.

Mrs. Malloy rushed forward, stopping beside Tommy at the base of the stairs with one hand on the post. "Tandy, darling. What's the matter, sweetheart?"

Tandy reached the first landing and reached her bare arm to wipe against her tear-stained cheek followed by a sniffle. "I—I saw her get kidnapped."

"Molly?!" Mrs. Malloy was on the verge of taking the little girl into her arms but controlled herself instead, listening to the little girl's words. "Why didn't you say something earlier?"

"She was too scared." It was Ty's voice that could be heard this time from overhead.

Mrs. Malloy and Walker both shot glances upward as the boy stopped beside Tandy. Katheryn and Carlos had quickly made their way to the Ranger's side by this point, listening intently as the moment unfolded.

With a slight glimmer of hope in his eyes, Walker offered a faint smile as he squatted downward, still looking towards Tandy. He lowered his voice as he spoke. "Could you tell what you saw, Tandy?"

"Well," Tandy hesitantly glanced towards Katie then Katheryn. She even looked at Carlos before returning her eyes to Ranger Walker with confidence. "I remembered that I forgot to tell Miss Molly what tea flavor to get. That is, if Miss Cahill had it."

"Go on," Walker encouraged with a smile.

"I had just opened the side door at the driveway when I saw a bad man grab her before she left. I quickly got back in the house because I was scared." Tandy frowned, clearly ashamed that she had not had more to offer.

"Oh, sweetheart." Mrs. Malloy opened up her arms for the little girl to run into.

Tandy was quick to accept the offer, shedding a few more tears as she replayed the entire scene in her mind all over again.

Katheryn nearly gave in to shedding a couple of her own had Carlos not turned to interrupt her thoughts.

"Tandy's lucky the guy didn't spot her."

Katheryn nodded. "Yep." She sighed. "I can't imagine what she must have thought after seeing that. Poor thing."

Carlos caught a glance of Katheryn, taking note of her reddening cheeks and tensed facial muscles as she looked onward at the Malloys. He arched a brow. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"If I could just get my hands on that infamous Dole Hoskins," she managed to speak through gritted teeth, leaving the rest of her statement to Carlos' imagination.

Carlos knew what Katheryn was capable of doing to someone that tried to mess with her friends. He managed to set aside a brief moment of admiration with a simple smile as Walker turned to face the twosome.

"And that's exactly what we're going to start doing, Katheryn." Walker turned back to Mrs. Malloy. "Can you and Tandy come by Ranger Headquarters in the morning to see if Tandy can remember what he looked like? Perhaps a few details could help the sketch artist."

Katie nodded, still sheltering Tandy in her arms as she looked back. "Absolutely, Ranger Walker."

Katheryn's instincts had been right. She wouldn't get much sleep, she concluded while the majority of the Dallas Fort Worth metropolitan area flashed passed her in the darkness as Carlos followed Walker closely from behind, aiming for Ranger Headquarters. Even with what description Tandy might be able to provide for them in the morning, there still was a lot of gray area that would need to be investigated in order for them to trace a straight path to Molly and her capturers.

Ranger Headquarters was desolate and bare as Walker led the way up the broad steps and into the vast building. These late hours were never popular hours among those who worked in the building. Thankfully there was still light.

Descending upon the Company B office, Walker immediately found his place behind his desk and reached for the phone, dialed Trivette, and informed of the important details ending with a request that he come to Headquarters as soon as possible.

Both Katheryn and Carlos exchanged smiles as they heard Walker's gentle command, imagining just what Trivette was doing right now. He was probably tossing off the bed covers with a groan as he tried to get himself awake. Some people just didn't take to the process very well.

Trivette arrived in less than half an hour and took his place in front of his computer, glancing back over his shoulder as Walker leaned over him to speak.

"Trivette, see if you can find out just what Dole Hoskins has been up to since being released from prison last year."

Trivette stifled a yawn. "Sure thing."

Katheryn also stood behind Trivette, her arms crossed as she focused on Trivette's fast work. Carlos also stood opposite of Trivette on the other side of the structure, casting a glance over the Ranger's steady work.

"Alright," Trivette announced and backed away from the keyboard. "Dole Hoskins was released from prison when his bail was set by mafia ringleader Anthony Maynard last year. I have one record here showing that he left the country for a while before hooking up with Maynard's goons it looks like." He paused and squinted at the monitor. "Hmm…That's interesting."

"What's that?" Katheryn leaned in past Trivette to get a better look.

"Seems he was charged for theft about one month ago. It was a big enough offense to land him a short sentence in jail. But a Mrs. Wilkins put up his bail for him."

"She what?!" Katheryn blurted out and instantly felt sorry for Trivette's eardrum as she backed away. She squinted her eyes and turned a gaping mouth to face Carlos in disbelief. "How could she?"

"Well, you yourself sensed she had more to do with the whole situation than she was letting on."

Katheryn knew Carlos was right. "But still…. I can't believe she would completely support him. I just can't. What would she gain?"

"About a million dollars," Trivette interrupted, drawing the others' gaze back to him. "Mrs. Sarah Wilkins seems to have her name on an offshore account along with Dole Hoskins and another man… James Sims." Trivette turned in his seat to offer Walker a confused stare. "You ever heard of him?"

Walker and Carlos both drew blanks there and retreated back to their thoughts to sort out the information Trivette had dug up so far.

"So far," Carlos inhaled and turned to Katheryn, "we have a shady lady who led you to believe she was in need of finding her horse. We have Hoskins trying to come back for revenge against those that took him down last year. And we have a new name." Carlos was having a hard time connecting the dots. "It doesn't make sense."

"The most conniving ones never do," Walker sighed and glanced back at Trivette. "Is that all you came up with?"

"Nope. Seems Sarah Wilkins and Dole Hoskins owns a little warehouse south of here. In fact, it's not very far from Camp Justice." Trivette's forehead creased on that note, surprise overtaking him silently.

Walker too was surprised. "Do you have an address?"

"Sure do." Trivette pecked a few more keys on his keyboard.

"Alright. I'll call Alex and see if she can get us a warrant." Walker turned to Carlos. "Carlos, see if you can contact Trent. If Hoskins is holed up nearby, he may be able to give us a hand."

"Sure thing." Carlos quickly shifted his weight forward and crossed the room to borrow a telephone. Seconds later he turned to Walker just as the Senior Ranger was also getting off of the phone. "No answer. Walker, I don't like this. If Trent was there, he would have answered the phone."

Katheryn approached Carlos, taking note of his narrowed eyes and wrinkled forehead as he crossed his arms in front of himself. Katheryn took advantage of the moment and slipped her hand through his arm.

"He probably went to bed early. The schedule there has to be tough."

"True." Carlos nodded and briefly smiled. "Still, I don't know."

"Trent can take care of himself." Katheryn smiled. "Or is the Cherokee rubbing off on you too?"

Trivette was instantly awake and jerked around to look at Katheryn. "Hey, who told you about the Cherokee?"

Katheryn only smiled as if she were completely innocent and laid her head briefly on Carlos' shoulder before drifting away from the little group to the conference table in the middle of the vast room. There she decided to settle down and prop her elbows on the tabletop, folding her hands near her face to offer a brief prayer that Molly would return to them all safely as soon as possible.


Part 8 (final part)


Trent could feel the cool evening winds stinging at his bare arms as he put the Jeep in park, refusing to give in to the negative thoughts as he felt Sims' gun gently press into his ribs. He lifted his gaze, spotting a worn-down warehouse about the size of a single football field awaiting them in the distance. As far as he could tell, no one was standing guard outside. Quiet laced the atmosphere eerily accompanied by early summer crickets.

"Alright, get out! And don't try nothing funny!" Sims barked the order, his voice echoing in the small space between them.

Trent slowly stood out of the Jeep and waited for Sims to follow. "You still don't have to do this Sims."

Sims only howled a cackled as he scooted through the driver's side, jumped out of the vehicle with a maniacal glee, and pushed Trent forward, poking him with the weapon from behind. "Hands behind your head. Move it! Right into that warehouse up there."

Trent reluctantly did as he was told, watching his step as he glanced at his feet and stepped over a small concrete barrier and into a vast room. Once his eyes had adjusted to the even deeper darkness that surrounding him like a thick blanket, he noticed a figure pacing a corner of the room. Distracted by the pitter-patter of dripping water, Trent gave the entire space a once-over and cringed slightly. "Hmm, who does the decorating around here?"

"Shut up!"

Trent grimaced as he felt the gun snug against his already sore ribs. "Sorry I asked." He tried to laugh the pain away but the laugh never came.

Dole Hoskins raised one glance from across the room and laughed aloud. "Long time no see," his voice echoed.

Trent scoffed beneath his breath, barely smiling. "Dole Hoskins. So you came back to get revenge?"

"Oh, no. Nothing like that." Dole smiled, his scraggly facial hair bunching together as his emotions went from jovial to solemn in a split second. "Well," he chuckled, "maybe just a little bit." With that he stepped away from his stationary stance to reveal Molly tied up in a chair just behind him. A piece of tape across her mouth muffled her faint cries as she tugged at the ropes that held her hands behind her and her feet together at her ankles.

Heat instantly rose to Trent's face as he snapped his hands away from his head, feeling the urge to spring forward and take down Hoskins for good.

"Not so fast." Sims grinned and cocked the gun, still imprinting it in Trent's side.

Trent raised his head to Hoskins and exhaled sharply. "If you lay one hand on her, I swear…"

Dole Hoskins's laughed interrupted Trent's plea and spread through the entire warehouse before he calmed down a few seconds later. "Alright. Tie him up good, Sims."

##

Katheryn slowly lowered the binoculars from her eyes and quickly lowered herself in between Carlos and Ranger Walker behind the darkened shelter of the distant brush. Passing off the sightseeing device to Carlos she sighed, "There's just one outside. He's dressed like a cop. But you won't believe who he was aiming his gun at."

"Who?" Carlos smiled, assuming Katheryn was teasing him.

Katheryn's voice was flat and her face drained of most of its usual jovialness. "Trent."

Carlos raised his astonished eyes to meet Katheryn's before looking past her to Walker. "Trent?" He scoffed and turned back to catch a glimpse of his best friend. "So Hoskins is out for revenge after all."

"Yep." Katheryn sighed and watched as Carlos raised himself slightly to view the scene through the binoculars. Without the aid of the device, she could barely tell that the two figures were now entering the broad warehouse to their distant right.

"I guess we can safely assume he isn't a cop." Carlos passed off the binoculars to Walker, smiling downward at Kath.

Katheryn returned his smile with a sarcastic scoff. "Yeah. I'll say. Wanna bet he's Sims?"

"No bet necessary." Carlos crouched back down beside her and quickly tucked a stray lock of Katheryn's blonde hair back behind her ear. "You know I believe you."

Katheryn quickly fought the urge to blush, knowing that the slightest loving notion from Carlos these days could easily distract her. She knew Carlos wasn't distracting her on purpose. Still, she had to keep her head on straight for this mission. Molly's…and now Trent's life depended upon it. Instead, she smiled convincingly as she locked eyes with him and reached for a quick grasp of Carlos' hand in hers. It would have to do for now.

"Alright, guys." Walker rose to his feet as he spoke. He drew the walkie-talkie to his lips, pressed the button on the side, and whispered, "Take your positions."

Carlos and Katheryn quickly followed suit, getting to their feet with little difficulty save that of their briefly-stirred emotional state.

"10-4," Trivette's voiced echoed from the small device in Walker's hand followed by a brief cloud of static.

Walker huddled near his two younger crime solvers and tried his best to keep his voice low. "Trivette and Hunt have the back of the warehouse covered. I'm going to take the front. Carlos, you and Katheryn wait out here just in case they make a run for it."

Carlos nodded. "You got it."

Walker then drew his gun to his chest, clasped in one hand as he moved forward into the next patch of brush. He tucked himself briefly behind a patch here and there as he worked his way to the warehouse unseen, finally arriving at the barely opened entrance to the building and hiding briefly with his back against the wall as he waited for the appropriate time to barge into the outlaws' haunt.

With Walker gone, Carlos and Katheryn fell into their roles quickly, preparing to spring into action the moment even one goon showed his face beyond the others' grasp.

##

"And what exactly do you plan to do with us?" Trent's gaze shifted from Molly by his side to Hoskins who paced in front of them.

"Nothing at the moment." Hoskins laughed. "Let's just say, you two are bait. Once your friends get here," Hoskins stopped in front of Trent, bending low as his hot breath seethed from his filthy mouth, "then I'll kill all of you."

"Then you'd better start with me."

Hoskins wheeled around in a heartbeat…maybe less. His eyes pierced the darkness as he squinted to make out the figure from whom the voice he had heard originated.

Taking about three slow, steady steps, Walker left the cover of the shadowed interior and made his way into the brief spotlight that encapsulated Hoskins, Sims, Trent, and Molly.

Sims quickly raised his gun to Walker, cocking it in place for a definite point-blank shot.

Hoskins forcefully placed his hand on top of Sims' gun and pushed it downward, shooting an evil eye to him in earnest. "No!" He turned back to Walker, still harboring that same diabolical emotion in his narrowed eyes. "Walker's mine."

Sims seemed agitated at the direct order but willingly lowered his weapon and instead backed up a few paces, lifting his weapon to guard their prisoners instead.

Trent held his gaze for what seemed like longer than a brief moment. He seemed to be asking Sims a host of questions with just one look. Why? Why had he chosen this path? He had been a stellar student of combat in the Army. He could have had a bright future and a medal-laden career in the military. But he chose this way instead. Trent's only explanation was that someone had made him an offer he felt he couldn't turn down.

Just as Walker holstered his gun, Dole Hoskins dove forward with his fists raised, launching his right fist directly into the Ranger's face. Walker immediately blocked the attack with his left arm and drove his own right fist into Hoskins' middle, causing the goon to double over.

Trivette and Ranger Hunt had since burst into the back of the warehouse, guns outstretched as they shouted simultaneously for Sims to hit the deck. He did throw his gun down but feigned his surrender, sending a hard punch to Trivette and receiving just as equal of a punch and subsequent roundhouse kick from Ranger Hunt.

"Thanks." Trivette recovered quickly, offering the brief appreciation to his backup before reaching behind him and drawing his handcuffs out. Trivette rolled Sims' over and straddled him as he jerked the groaning goon's arms around to his back all while reading him his rights as the handcuffs ratcheted in place.

Ranger Hunt immediately hurried forward to free Trent and Molly.

Taking hold of Hoskins' shirt collar, Walker pulled him to his feet only to have Hoskins throw another punch at his face. That punch was successful at meeting its target but was quickly turned against the goon when Walker dove in with his hand upon Hoskins' wrist, twisting it downward and around until the leverage allowed the strong Ranger to bring the criminal into a chokehold, taking them both down to the ground. Hoskins was out cold in seconds and the sound of ratcheting handcuffs echoed around them.

##

It felt as if every muscle in her body would not relax as Katheryn kept hidden behind the brush next to Carlos while they awaited any sign of an escaping criminal or rising action that would require their assistance. She tried her best to stretch an area here and there all over her body as quietly as she could. Hearing the crunch of a leaf beneath her foot, she stopped her stretching session short and sighed.

Carlos glanced at her with a teasing grin. "Tired already?"

"No," Katheryn retorted and swatted at his arm. "This isn't the first time I've done this tonight you know."

"True." Carlos returned his watch to the warehouse door, still smiling but not for the same reasons that Katheryn had assumed had originally sparked his joy.

With another sigh, Katheryn felt the need to look beyond the warehouse. It was a sudden sensation. Almost as if she couldn't control the urge as she turned her neck, stretching a bit to view beyond the rackety old building to the road behind it.

"Carlos!" Katheryn's whisper pierced the night air and caught the detective's quick attention. "Look." She pointed towards the distant road.

In the distance, a vaporizing cloud of dust misted into the air. On the surface, it seemed as if someone was making their getaway at a rather high rate of speed.

Without giving it a second thought, Carlos holstered his weapon and hurried his step. "C'mon. Let's go!" He called over his shoulder as he aimed for his Crown Victoria which was secluded near the edge of the woods out of view next to Walker's Dodge Ram and Trivette's Mustang.

Katheryn was just a fraction of a second behind Carlos as he climbed into his unmarked police issue and flipped on the dashboard lights while Kath jumped into the passenger side and shut the door. They were in pursuit of the runaway car in a matter of seconds, the car's tires screeching furiously through the dirt path as Carlos accelerated forward and away from the warehouse site.

"There!" Katheryn called out just as Carlos clocked in at eighty miles per hour, drawing closer and closer to the speeding car by the second.

"Hang on!" Carlos shouted just before he swerved onto the two-lane highway seconds later, throwing them both to the right of the car as the wheels squealed in unison, the brakes resisting the suddenness of the sharp turn. Carlos held tightly to the steering wheel with both hands and straightened it, quickly returning to speed and heeling the car from behind as quickly as possible.

Another fourth of a mile or so and a couple hundred yards of pasture land flashed past them as Carlos pressed onward with the chase until the car ahead suddenly came to a dead halt. The driver quickly got out, abandoning the vehicle in the ditch nearby and breaking into a sprint across the nearby empty corn field.

As Carlos slowed up behind the now vacant red Ford, Katheryn hovered over the handle of the passenger side door with her right hand, glancing eagerly towards Carlos just as he put the car into park once stopping alongside the road.

"I got him!" Katheryn threw open the door and darted for the corn field before Carlos had a chance stop her.

Within seconds she had reached the escapee and overtaken him, sending them both to the ground in a heap. Although Katheryn was on top, she immediately lost her leverage and was underneath the suspect in a fraction of a second. His weight didn't seem that difficult to manage which surprised Katheryn as she struggled, gritting her teeth while letting a few punches go onto the person's face. The third punch finally did them in and sent them rolling off onto the ground all on their own. Katheryn quickly sprung to her feet and straddled the person as quick as she could to get a good look at them.

Nearly losing her balance to the shock, Katheryn prayed silently that it was the darkness around her that was playing tricks on her. It couldn't be. Yet as she reached her hand to remove the ball-cap from the suspect's head, long-flowing brown locks of hair gently cascaded against the grasses beneath the unconscious woman, proving what Katheryn had feared. The face belonged to none other than Mrs. Sarah Wilkins.

##

"So it was all a ploy?" Trent's eyes narrowed as he leaned against the bar in C.D.'s. The places lively tunes filled in the gaps where the shock of the last few days had definitely left a few open places.

"Yep!" Alex nodded from farther down the bar.

Katheryn sighed. "So there was no horse or anything?"

Carlos turned to Katheryn from the stool beside her, gently gripping a coffee cup as he relaxed against the counter. "When we questioned Sarah Wilkins, she confessed that she and Dole had been in a relationship for a while. Joe was trying to buy back the ranch from her and save it when he threatened to tell the cops about her side job with Hoskins."

"And after she knew she'd be an accomplice to murder, she wanted a deal quickly." Trivette finished Carlos explanation.

"It's such a shame," Katheryn frowned. "She seemed like such a good woman. I can't believe I didn't see through to her real colors."

"I think she was." Walker stood up off of the barstool and crossed to where Katheryn sat, offering her a smile. "You can't be too hard on yourself. You care for people. That's what counts."

Katheryn accepted Walker's encouragement with a tight-lipped smile and turned back to her tall glass of sweet tea.

"By the way, Trent," Walker placed his hand on Trent's shoulder. "Dobbs called me and told me to let you know you did a great job at Camp Justice. He'll be finishing out the camp with Officer Gage's help and wanting to let me know you did a good job at giving those young men a good start in the right direction."

Trent nodded. "Thanks, Walker. If it's okay with you, I'd like to go back and help any way I can before I have to testify at Hoskins' and Sims' trials."

"That can be arranged." Walker smiled. "I'm sure he'd welcome you gladly."

With one last smile of thanks, Trent glanced towards Molly on his other side. "Say, um, can you come with me this afternoon?"

"Where are we going?" Molly was caught off guard but smiled anyway.

"I've got something I need to show you over at Walker's ranch." Trent stood up with another smile beaming from his face. If he was trying to keep a secret, he wasn't good at it.

Molly took one last sip of her coffee and stood also. "I'm available now if you'd like to go ahead and go."

"Suits me." Trent turned to the rest of the gang and lifted a hand for a goodbye wave. "Bye, guys. We'll see you all later."

Katheryn and Carlos exchanged fond glances once the twosome were out of earshot.

"I wonder what they're up to." Carlos snickered.

Katheryn elbowed him playfully. "As if you wouldn't know."

##

Gentle streams of afternoon sunlight bathed Trent's Corvette Stingray as a cloud of dust settled behind the blue beauty. The length of Walker's pasture fence slowly merged into view of the Ranger's ranch house in the distance. Trent put the car in park with a sigh and a glance towards the broad pasture in front of the house before he unbuckled and quickly got out of the car, crossing to the other side to open the door for Molly.

Molly's wavy blonde hair gently bounced against her shoulders as she stood up out of the car, offering Trent a smile before surveying the vast country beauty before them. "Oh, I've missed coming out here. Katheryn and I were just saying the other day when we visited the Lazy T that we ought to get out here and ride more."

Trent smiled as they fell into step next to each other, him leading the way to the front pasture fence next to the driveway. "Well, I have no doubt you'll get to do that more in the future."

"Oh?" Molly stifled a chuckle just before raising her gaze to see a dark steed bounding towards them from across the property. "Well, hello there." Molly reached forward, stretching across the fence to stroke the mane of the beautiful black horse. "What's your name? It should be Beauty. You are a gorgeous creature." She turned to Trent. "I've never seen this horse here before. Did Walker get a new one?"

Trent couldn't hid his insatiable smile as he slipped his hands in his pockets and gently leaned against the fence. "I guess you could say that."

"Trent." Molly narrowed her eyes and glared at him. "Why are you grinning? Come on, what's his name? At least tell me that."

Molly then turned back to the horse with a smile and petted him some more to solidify the already tight bond formed quickly between them as she silently waited for Trent to answer her question.

"His name's Remington."

Molly smiled. "That's a pretty name." But then her smile faded into an even line, her gaze shooting to her right to offer Trent another glare. "Wait. Remington?! Isn't that the name of Mrs. Wilkins' horse?" She rolled her eyes softly as she remembered how the woman had lied to them.

"Yes. It's the same horse."

A doubtful smile played at her lips. "I don't understand."

Trent moved from off of the fence and stepped a bit closer to Molly, reaching his hand towards the horse as he spoke. "When Sarah Wilkins was questioned and investigated further, Walker and Trivette found out that she was in some deep debt. So deep that apparently she thought it was a good idea to get close to her wayward brother-in-law to get the money she needed. They found Remington here holed up near that warehouse. Sadly she used him as a pawn to get to all of us so that she could get on Hoskins' good side.

"All her property was confiscated and sold at auction immediately to cover her debts. And, um, I decided to buy Remington." Trent paused, glancing over the pasture as the winds danced between the trees. He surveyed Molly's profile and exhaled softly. "He's all yours."

Molly's eyes grew wider and her smile bigger as she turned to Trent in shock, her mouth gaping open a bit. "You—you bought this horse?!"

Trent nodded amid his thin-lipped smile.

Molly nearly leapt forward, throwing her arms around Trent in an embrace of which Trent did not refuse, putting his own arms around her and nearly lifting her off her feet as he held her close.

"Thank you, Trent! Oh, thank you so much!"

Trent only smiled and looked into her soft-seeking eyes as she pulled away from the embrace still grinning from the shock of it all.

"How did you know? How did you know I was wanting a horse?"

Trent chuckled. "Katheryn's only good at keeping secrets when she needs to. Besides, she said your birthday's coming up soon."

"Not for at least a month or two," Molly countered.

"Still," Trent raised his brows and focused his words, controlling his smiles. "I wanted to give you something special."

Molly petted Remington one more time before she realized the meaning in Trent's serious tone of voice and turned to face him. She smiled and barely nodded, acknowledging his words. Her look of sincerity was almost all that it took for Trent to know she truly did appreciated such a gift.

##

A bit of wind played at the tip of Katheryn's long blonde hair as she stood up and out of her Stingray into the overcast atmosphere that greeted her at 423 White Oak Street. She fought off a slight chill as she stood glancing over the top of the closed convertible to the H.O.P.E. center up ahead. A bit of a smile played at her lips as she heard the faint sound of children at play in the playground behind the center. Katheryn also noticed a few open doors and open windows. It was definitely an active day at the center.

Molly had soon exited the car also, interrupting Kath's brief train of thought as she noticed her friend's pensiveness. "You ready?"

Katheryn forced a nod, pulling herself from her reverie. "I sure am." She grinned and moved from her place, rounding the front of the classic sports car and watching her step as she stepped onto the sidewalk. Katheryn took a deep breath as they walked in sync and glanced upward in time to see Carlos emerging from the center. A smile played on his features as he accompanied another woman out of the building.

"Katheryn." Carlos smiled and stopped in front of the two girls, casting a worry-filled glance to rather enormous dark bruise that had formed on Kath's arm since her tangle with Mrs. Wilkins several days ago. "Are you sure you should be up and about?"

Katheryn nodded, crossing her arms against her chest and nearly rolling her eyes. "Of course I am. It's just a bruise. I've had worse."

Carlos chuckled. "If you insist." He then noticed a bit of confusion in Katheryn's eyes as she looked from him to the woman by his side. "Oh, Katheryn, I'd like you to meet my sister Theresa. Theresa, this is Katheryn."

"Katheryn," Theresa extended her hand with a broadening smile. "I've heard a lot about you." She then shot a sisterly glance to Carlos. "But not enough it seems." Theresa offered a sincere smile to Katheryn. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Carlos' breathy chuckle told Katheryn he had not told his sister much about his blooming social life since the two had slowly become a couple of sorts.

Theresa proceeded to elbow her brother softly. "Come on, Carlos. I'm your older sister. You can tell me these things."

Carlos grinned. "I will. One day." With that in mind he reached forward and stole a kiss from Katheryn. By the way Katheryn returned the kiss though, it was a lie to say that he had stolen anything.

"I see," Theresa whispered beneath her breath with a smile as she looked to Molly.

"And what would you be doing at the center here this afternoon?" Katheryn tried changing the subject following such a spontaneous notion from Carlos.

Carlos slipped his hands into his pockets as he stood back beside his sister. "We came to drop off Jesse and Bobby. They are going to be doing some community service."

"That's great." Katheryn smiled. "I can think of no better way to start serving a sentence like that than by helping others at the H.O.P.E. center."

"I second that," Molly chimed in.

"Yes." Theresa chuckled. "Just tell that to the two young men inside whom Miss Cahill just directed to clean the restrooms."

The group shared a brief chuckle before Carlos stepped forward and searched for Katheryn's eyes. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure." A bit of worry shadowed Katheryn's eyes as she fell into step with Carlos for a brief amble down the sidewalk.

"I wanted to talk to you about something."

Katheryn arched a brow. "Oh?"

"I know you're getting close to earning your brown belt with Trent. But after what happened this week, it got me to thinking. If you're going to be handling anymore cases on your own in the future, I really wish you'd consider carrying a gun."

Katheryn clasped her lips together, bowing her head into a nod. She finally understood what his concern was all about. She raised her eyes to meet his. "You do know I'm not against that whatsoever. I'd love to learn. I just haven't had the time or opportunity."

"Well, I think you should make the time." Carlos halted his step and turned, taking Katheryn by the shoulders gently and looking into her captivating hazel eyes. "I could have lost you the other day. I know I didn't. And I know you can hold your own. You're one of the toughest fighters I've ever seen besides Trent and Tommy. And you can kick some serious butt." He paused and smiled briefly, triggering a grin from Katheryn also before both of their smiles faded back into a straight line. "But that was a close call. And I don't know what I would've done had you…" His words faded into the cool breeze as he briefly turned away.

Katheryn took a moment to absorb his words before she reached up her hand to her own shoulder and squeezed his hand in hers as she brought it down to their sides. She then leaned forward and pressed her lips to his briefly, pulling away with a smile brightening her face. "What do you say we head to the shooting range?"

"Right now?" Carlos raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"Right now." Katheryn grinned.

A smile slowly broadened on the detective's face. "Should I consider this a date? Now, you know it won't be that easy at first. You'll have to learn a few things before you can just dive in."

"Sure. And...I think I'm up for the challenge." Katheryn couldn't wipe the grin off of her face as they turned to walk back towards the H.O.P.E. center. For it would take more than a man like Hoskins or a desperate woman like Sarah Wilkins to ever separate her from those she loved.


So this conclusion didn't turn out completely how I imagined it would. But I needed to close this chapter up and move on. The next episode in the series timeline will tackle lots of emotion. I'll be tracing some very treacherous territory and hopefully digging into some areas I haven't traced yet in all of my stories. My characters will grow as I step back into their world to open a new phase in time for Katheryn and Molly. So you will definitely see a carry over of emotion from this story to the next story after "Return to Paradise Trail" that will also tie up some loose ends seen in "Someone to Trust." Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who read my stories and review them. I appreciate it more than you know! God Bless, 'Kath'