From "Sons of Thunder"

SUDDEN IMPACT

by Gail, Leigh and Londa

(I love Gail's original EMT character, Maisie, and one night while Gail and I were chatting I suggested it'd be intense if Maisie had been on the team that responded when Jimmy was shot in Sons of Thunder. For those who haven't seen it, a cop-killer is on the loose, and Trivette winds up in the wrong place at the absolute wrong time and is shot twice in the chest.)

"All units. . . shots fired at 2837 Angus.. . repeat. . . shots fired at 2837 Angus. Respond with caution."

Officer Jake Miller reached for the mike. "This is 1071, roger. ETA six minutes." He exchanged wry glances with his partner, Stan Thomas. "So much for a quiet shift."

"No kidding." Flicking on the lights and siren, Thomas said, "Let's go see what we've got."

They made the trip in less than five, pulling the squad car almost up onto the curb. Both officers drew their guns as they ran up the steps into the building.

An elderly lady met them just inside the door. "There's a man in the hallway, up on the third floor. Looks like he's been shot!"

"Okay," Miller said softly. "Go back to your apartment, ma'am. You'll be safer there, okay?"

She nodded. "Be careful!"

The officers nodded, then headed up the stairs to the third floor. As they turned the first corner, they saw a black man, apparently unconscious, lying across the hallway. Blood, from two wounds in his chest, covered his shirt-front. Thomas, who'd taken the lead, approached and knelt next to the injured man, checking for a carotid pulse. The guy was a goner. He met his partner's gaze, shaking his head. They'd both seen the Ranger badge, hard to miss. What the hell happened here?

Looking up, Thomas noticed the holes in the door. Poor bastard never had a chance. Checking on Miller's position, he nodded to the door, indicating they should check the apartment out.

"Police!" Jake yelled. When they got no response, he kicked in the door and they entered low.† "Ah, geez. It's Bill Douglas!"

Stan quickly checked out the rest of the small apartment to make sure their shooter wasn't still in the area.

Miller knelt to check on Douglas, then froze as he heard a choked gasp from the hallway. Whirling, he saw the Ranger move slightly as he tried to gulp in air. "Oh my God, he's alive!!" Reaching for his walkie-talkie, he keyed the switch. "1071... 1071 ... officer down, 2837 Angus. Repeat! Officer down, 2837 Angus!" Hooking the unit back on his belt, he rushed to the injured man's side.

"Hang on, Ranger. Help's on the way!" Jake pulled out his handkerchief, glad that it was clean. He pressed it hard against the wounds, flinching even though the injured man didn't react.

"I'm gonna see if I can keep the crowd back, Jake." Thomas nodded back down the hall to where they could hear a growing commotion.

"Good idea." Both men knew an 'officer down' call would bring out all manner of curiosity seekers in addition to police and rescue teams. And he couldn't spare his attention from the Ranger, now barely breathing. "C'mon, don't you quit on me. Thought you guys were tougher than that!"

Moments later, Thomas returned with their sergeant, Zeke Michaels. He knelt down next to the Ranger. "Shit, it's Walker's partner -- Jimmy Trivette! What the hell happened here?"

Two other uniformed officers had followed behind. Upon hearing the injured manís name, one of the men stiffened, then turned and whispered something to his companion, who nodded. The first man turned and jogged back down the hall.

"Damned if we know, Sarge," Miller answered, still kneeling next to the Ranger. "Where the hell's the rescue squad? This guy needs help. Now!"

"Teams are still sweeping the building. I'm not putting anyone else at risk." Michaels glanced at the apartment, seeing the body inside. "Damn. Isn't that Bill Douglas?"

"Yeah," Thomas answered. "I'm betting this is the work of our cop-killer again."

"Don't make assumptions," Michaels warned. Running footsteps could be heard down the hall and he looked up with a frown. "Who the hell--?" He broke off, relaxing as he recognized the man.

Detective Lincoln Roberts halted in shock as he stared at the scene before him. "Oh my God. Jim..Ē

Michaels knew Roberts and Trivette had worked together and become friends before Trivette had joined the Rangers. Climbing to his feet, he laid a hand on the younger manís arm, squeezing gently. "Why don't you stay with him, Linc. Might help him hang on if he hears a familiar voice."

"Thanks, Sarge." The detective dropped to his knees next to his friend, grabbing Trivette's hand. Leaning close, he whispered, "You better not check out on me, man. 'Cause you still owe me tickets to a Dallas game, y'know."

Michaels looked at the two officers who'd been first on the scene. 'Jake, you stay with him, keep the pressure on that wound. Stan, you come with me. We need everyone we can to canvas this building."

Maisie waited anxiously in the stairwell, still huffing and puffing from the run up three flights of stairs, while the slew of policemen checked out the entire apartment building. She was chomping at the bit. The call had come in as a shooting, then, as her squad unit pulled up to the apartment building, the subsequent message revealed the victims were police officers, one dead at the scene, the other critical. Maisie had raced up the stairs, her rotund body surprisingly quick, her partner Paul lagging behind as he hauled the medical kit. In her years as a paramedic, she had come to know many of the Dallas law enforcement officers, called many of them friends, and a special few she considered family.

Now, pacing on the step, Maisie's patience was stretched to the limit. Just beyond her, around the corner in the hallway, a police officer lay wounded but she wasn't allowed access to him until the whole building had been searched and deemed safe from the shooter.

"The hell with this," Maisie muttered to Paul. She bounded up the last few stairs, shoving aside the DPD officer in her way, and rushed to the hallway.

Two officers knelt beside the wounded man, offering comfort but displaying helpless expressions. They both sighed in enormous relief when Maisie rounded the corner and hurried to them, the DPD officer trailing behind and ordering her half-heartedly to go back to the safety zone. Maisie ignored him, focusing on the two bullet holes in the chest of the wounded man and hearing his raspy struggles for breath. As she opened the medical kit Paul placed between them, Maisie glanced at the wounded man's face, and the hallway suddenly started to spin.

"Dear God in heaven. Jimbo?" She touched Trivette's arm, but got no response.

Emotions roiled to the surface. She fought back the sorrow and panic, trying to remain professional. What Trivette needed now was a sharp, uncluttered, non-emotional brain dictating his care. As she cut away his blood-soaked shirt, Paul wrapped a BP cuff around Trivette's arm and frowned at the reading. Paul rarely spoke, but Maisie could read his expressions like sign language. She cringed at the look her partner passed to her now. Jimbo was in serious trouble.

The two paramedics worked frantically, starting IVís, oxygen and administering medications. A sergeant Maisie didn't recognize knelt beside them and sadly shook his head.

"He's not gonna make it, is he?"

In a flash, Maisie grabbed the officer's collar and jerked him to within inches of her face. "It ain't over till the fat lady sings," she snapped. "Now, do you hear me singing?"

He shook his head, regretting that he'd verbalized his thoughts. A second rescue unit arrived, saving him from further ire.

"Backboard him and transport," Maisie ordered.

As they complied, Maisie, her work temporarily done, allowed another horrifying thought to break free of her subconscious. Two officers were down. Was the other one

-- the DOA -- Walker? She took a step forward to peek into the apartment. Groups of police officers stood around the body, obstructing her view of the victim's face. Part of her wanted to turn and run, not wanting to know if her beloved Walk-Man lay dead on the cold floor. She took another tentative step into the door of the apartment. Her stomach twisted in knots. She turned away, not able to force her eyes toward the body.

A tall officer noticed her and headed her way. Maisie backed off. She didn't want to hear it, couldn't bear it right now.

Trivette was being eased onto the gurney. She needed to go with him. But in her heart she realized she had to know. She turned back to the doorway to see the body once and for all, but the tall officer was blocking her view.

"Damn," he muttered sadly. "Bill was a good guy."

"Bill?" Maisie said in a shaky voice, unsure she'd heard correctly.

"Yeah, Bill Douglas. Looks like he never had a chance."

Once the officer cleared the doorway, Maisie could finally visualize the victim. Dark hair, no beard. Although sorry for the man's death, she felt a surge of relief rise up. Moving beside the gurney, she helped carry Trivette down the stairs.

The ambulance ride seemed interminable. Trivette cracked his eyes open, the influx of fluids and drugs giving him a temporary burst of strength. Maisie smiled at him as she gently wiped beads of sweat from his forehead.

"I got you, Jimbo. Just take it easy. Everything's fine. But I'm afraid your fancy shirt is history."

Maisie, the injured man realized through a fog of disorientation. And she's being nice. I must be in bad shape. Memory returned in a rush and he fought to marshal his strength to speak.

"Douglas?" To his surprise, it came out as a bare croak, but Maisie caught it anyway.

"Shhh," she soothed. "Don't you worry about him."

He took a deep breath, wincing as the pain stabbed through his chest. "Important. .

Maisie's eyes clouded. "I'm sorry, Jimbo. He was DOA when we got there."

"Damn," he rasped. "Only lead... we had..." Getting... real hard ... to breathe. God... ....... He suddenly gasped, coughing up blood, his eyes rolling back.

Paul put the stethoscope to the Ranger's chest. "No breath sounds!"

Maisie grabbed an item from the medical kit. "I'm gonna tube him." The paramedic proceeded to intubate Trivette, then attached an ambu-bag to force air into his lungs.

"Hang on, Jimbo," Maisie begged. "Walk-Man won't like it if I let you go. You hear me? Don't you quit on me!"

They arrived at the hospital moments later. The trauma team took over as Maisie and Paul raced the gurney inside. Several police officers followed. Maisie caught one by the arm.

"Does his partner know?"

The officer shook his head and held up a cell phone. "No, he's in a meeting with the mayor. Can't be reached."

Maisie frowned. "Let me have that phone." She ripped it from his hand and dialed the courthouse. "Give me the mayor's office... hello? My name's Maisie and I need to speak with Ranger Walker. It's an emergency... I don't care if the Pope is speaking, get Walk-Man now, or I'll come down there and put my fist so far up your-- Okay, that's better."

In the mayor's office, a secretary slipped into the conference room where the mayor was speaking to a room full of task force leaders and press. She quietly tapped Walker on the shoulder and whispered, "I'm so sorry, Ranger, but there's a woman on the phone, she wants to speak to you and won't take no for an answer. She says her name is Maisie."

Walker's heart skipped a beat, then raced with adrenaline. There could only be one reason Maisie would call him out of an important meeting. With the others in the room watching curiously, Walker bolted from his chair and ran to the secretary's phone.

"Maisie?"

"Walk-Man, I. . ." Maisie's voice suddenly faltered.

"Where is he?" Walker asked hoarsely.

"At St. Mathews," she replied, grateful not to have to explain anymore. "Hurry, Walk-Man."

The Ranger dropped the phone and raced out.

Fear propelled Walker through the door of the secretary's office to the hallway. As he ran for the elevator, he nearly plowed into Alex, exiting a court hearing.

"Walker!" She gasped as she saw his expression. "What is it? What's wrong?" A chill ran down her spine. A ten-thirteen, meaning an officer down, had forced court into recess for the morning. Could it be... Oh God, please... not Jimmy!

She wasn't even sure he'd heard as he continued past and stabbed the elevator call button. She followed in silence and they rode the car down to the ground level. As the doors opened, Alex found she had to run to keep up with her companion as they headed for the street. Thankfully, Walker didn't usually lock the Ram or she had the feeling she'd have been left behind. As it was, she'd barely hopped in and shut the door before he'd started the engine and pulled out into traffic, lights and siren blaring.

Once they were on their way, Alex asked, "What happened, Walker?"

"I don't know," he admitted softly. "Maisie called me, pulled me out of that meeting with the mayor and city council. You and I both know there's only one reason she'd do that."

"Oh, God," she whispered, feeling blood drain from her face. "No..."

"What?" he questioned sharply, turning briefly to look at her. "Alex.. . what?"

"Court's in recess right now," she explained, swallowing hard. "Judge Mahon ordered it because Officer Reynolds was called in to assist on an 'officer down' call."

"Damnit, that fits," Walker said. "About all Maisie could tell me was where he'd been taken. And to hurry." He kept replaying her voice in his mind, and the worry in her tone twisted like a knife in his gut. Whatever had gone down, it was bad. Had to be or the EMT wouldn't have called.

What the hell had Trivette stumbled across? He'd been searching for connections between the murdered officers when Walker had left for his meeting. If it was something dangerous, where had his back-up been? Then again, it might not even be related to the cop-killings. After all, they had other open cases, each as dangerous in their own right. Damn!

Silence fell between them as Walker sped toward St. Mathews.

As Walker and Alex entered the emergency room, they were both stunned at the number of police officers already gathered. The show of support touched Walker. Such a display was standard when a fellow officer was shot, but many of the officers were familiar faces, men and women who'd personally worked with Trivette through the years. He hadn't expected word of the injured officer's identity to spread so quickly.

The crowd parted, making way for someone from the back. Walker had a good idea who that might be.

"Walk-Man--" Maisie finally cleared the crowd. Nodding her head, she said, "Follow me. I know a place we can talk."

Walker and Alex followed the EMT down the hall to an empty examination room. The Ranger was glad for the privacy. As soon as the door shut behind them, he said, "What happened? How bad is he?"

"Bad," Maisie admitted, looking at both of them. "He took two bullets in the chest. One's still in there."

Walker felt the room spin. This isn't happening! Dimly he heard Alex gasp, and it pulled him back to reality. Reaching out, he took her hand, pulling her close.

"No one's really sure what happened yet. Only that there was another cop shot. He was dead on the scene. Retired guy named Bill Douglas."

The name teased at Walker's memory, but he didn't have time to consider why as the door flew open. C.D. came in, breathing hard, his eyes suspiciously moist.

"Cordell... son, you'd best come quick. Things are getting mighty rough in there. Jimmy... well, he's not doing too good. His heart..." The older man swallowed, then continued hoarsely, "His heart's stopped, Cordell."

The red-bearded Ranger bolted from the room, his face a stony mask. C.D. followed next, with Alex and Maisie trailing behind. As they rushed out of the room, Alex heard the EMT whisper, "Dear Lord, Jimbo... not again." She wondered at the statement but now was not the time to question.

As Walker approached the Trauma room, he could see through the doorway as they applied paddles to his partner's bloody chest, trying to shock his heart back into rhythm. He couldn't help flinching in response. Dammit, Trivette --you have to hang on, buddy! Keep fighting!

It took an eternity before the cardiac monitor settled into a steady rhythm again. An instant later Walker heard the doctor shout, "Alright, we got him! Let's get him to Surgery, people. Now!"

They rushed Trivette to the elevator, past his waiting friends and some of the gathered officers. Walker cringed as he saw the bullet wounds and Trivette's closed, unconscious face. And yet he couldn't look away, watching until the elevator doors closed off his line of sight.

Maisie laid a hand on his arm, squeezing lightly. "He's tough, Walk-Man. And he's still alive. That in itself is a miracle." She could see her words fell on deaf ears.

Walker shook himself mentally, trying to pay attention to her. But he found himself drawn back to the trauma room. Stepping inside, he froze as he saw the flat-line strip still hanging from the cardiac monitor. He reached out a hand to touch it, unaware he was trembling.

Alex stood in the door, watching. Her heart ached, not only with her own pain but with the knowledge that she was helpless to ease Walker's burden, too. She looked to C.D. for help, but shock silenced her. Tears ran freely down the older man's face, his eyes riveted on something behind her. Following his gaze, she nearly gasped as she saw the bloody remnants of Jimmy's t-shirt and shirt, the crimson standing out stark against the white cotton.

Suddenly the answer came to her. She knew Walker would not be able to ignore C.D.'s pain, and it might ease his own to help his old friend. The blonde stepped closer to Walker, reaching out and putting an arm around his waist to pull him close. To her surprise, he turned, hugging her hard.

"What if we lose him?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Oh Walker--" Tears sprang to her eyes as he echoed her own unvoiced thought. Taking a step back, she said, "We have to believe that he's strong enough to survive this. And we have to be strong for each other now." Gently placing her hands on his face, she turned his head so he could see C.D., still lost in his own world of pain.

As she'd hoped, the sight of C.D.'s anguish jolted Walker into action. Giving her a grateful hug, he moved to his mentor's side. Putting an arm around the ex-Ranger's shoulder, he gave a gentle squeeze. "C.D.? I think it'd be better if we went upstairs to wait, don't you?" He hoped the older man wouldn't look too closely or he'd see through Walker's careful facade.

C.D. scrubbed roughly at his eyes, deliberately avoiding meeting anyone's gaze, then cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. That's probably a good idea, Cordell. We won't hear anything down here."

Maisie had stayed out in the hallway, giving the friends some privacy and time to deal with the shock. Walk-Man was her soft-spot; there wasn't anything in the world she wouldn't do to erase that lost look from his face.

As they stepped out into the hall, the EMT approached Walker. Reaching up, she gave him a quick hug, then stepped back to pat his beard. "I'll be prayin', Walk-≠Man. We all will."

"Thanks, Maisie." Walker managed a small smile.

As the three friends rode the elevator to the Surgical floor, Alex asked, "How did this happen?"

Sighing heavily, Walker admitted, "I don't know. But you can be damned sure I'm going to find out."

C.D. scratched his head as he tried to put his thoughts in order. "I might be able to shed some light on that, Cordell. Hank told me Jimmy got a phone call about half an hour after you left for your meeting. The guy said he had information on your cop-killer.

The younger man paled, hearing Alex's sharp intake of breath in the same instant. His mind reeled as he tried to put the pieces together. Had Trivette been set≠up? Had he been a target all along? Since no link had yet been found between the slain officers, Walker had to admit the possibility. But then what about the other cop. Douglas? Where did he fit into this whole picture?

Whatever had gone down, the Ranger knew one thing for certain: his partner hadn't suspected any trouble. If he had, he wouldn't have gone without back-up. Trivette probably never knew what hit him.

The car stopped on the fourth floor and the three friends exited. Walker spotted the nurses' station and approached it, Alex and C.D. following. The young woman sitting behind the desk looked up from the chart she'd been working on.

"Can I help you folks?"

"I'm Ranger Walker. My partner, James Trivette, was just brought up from the ER a few minutes ago. Can you please have someone let us know when he's out of surgery?"

"Of course." Pulling a chart, the woman made a notation, then looked up at Walker for the first time. Her face flushed and she swallowed hard before continuing, "We have a waiting room down the hall, if you'd like. There's also a chapel--"

"We know," Alex sighed, linking her arm through Walker's. "We've been here before. Thanks."

Checking the chart once again, the nurse warned, "It's going to be awhile. Chest wounds usually require four to five hours." Looking up, she noticed the silver stars pinned to both C.D.'s and Walker's shirts and realized they probably already knew they would be here for a long wait.

When his companions failed to answer, C.D. said, "Much obliged, ma'am." Lightly grabbing Cordell's arm, he steered the younger man away from the desk and down the hall.

Walker twirled his hat in his hands as he paced the floor from the door to the window, trying not to look at his watch. Thirty-one minutes. They'd only been here a little over half an hour and already it felt like eternity.

"Cordell--" C.D. tried again. "Sit down, will ya? You're gonna wear out those tiles."

The red-haired man met his friend's gaze before shaking his head. Glancing at Alex, his expression softened. The blonde had curled up on the sofa, staring out the window at the bright, sunny afternoon. It should be pitch black outside, Walker couldn't help thinking. At least that would match the mood inside.

Turning to begin his circuit again, the Ranger felt his tension mounting. He'd never been good at waiting around in hospitals. Too many memories. Bad memories.

I need to get out of here. Making a decision, he settled the Stetson onto his head and cleared his throat.

Alex and C.D. both turned, giving him their attention. The ex-Ranger said, "Cordell? Where're you goin'?"

"Waiting here isn't going to get me any answers. I'm going to check out the scene. You two stay here. If there's any word, you know how to reach me."

"Walker, be careful," Alex whispered, walking over and giving the man a tight hug. "The cop-killer is still out there and we have no idea how he picks his targets. You could be on the list, too."

"Well, he made a mistake when he picked his last one," the Ranger growled.

"Alex is right, Cordell," C.D. stated. "Don't you go taking any chances, y'hear me? Worryin' over one of you at a time is more than enough for an old man like me to handle."

Walker nodded. "I know, C.D. I'll be back as soon as I can."

Alex stood in the doorway of the waiting room, watching until the dark-hatted Ranger disappeared into the elevator at the end of the corridor. She found herself running a hand through her hair wearily as a deep sigh escaped her lips.

"Alex, honey... you okay?" C.D. asked, glancing over at her.

Managing a wan smile, the blonde turned away from the corridor to face him. "I'm fine, C.D. Just worried about Jimmy." And Walker, her mind added automatically. "I wish someone would tell us how he's doing."

"To tell you the truth, darlin'," the retired Ranger began, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders, "at this point, I'm mighty glad they haven't said anything. You know that gal out at the desk was right about how long it could be. And so long as they're in there, it means Jimmy's still with us and fightin'." Urging Alex toward the chairs once more, the older man continued, "Why don't you sit on down and I'll go find us some coffee, okay?"

Nodding, she settled onto the seat gratefully. "That sounds wonderful, C.D. Thanks."

As the elderly man turned to leave, Alex twisted to peer out the window again. Below her she caught a glimpse of Walker's Ram as it turned from the parking area into the flow of traffic on the street beyond. As worried as she was for Jimmy, the blonde found her heart aching for his partner as well. Oh, Walker, she wondered. What will happen to you if we lose Jimmy? The grief in Walker's eyes and voice as he'd turned to her in the trauma room would haunt her for a long time.

Slowly she turned away from the window, her eyes automatically seeking the door to the surgical units. Somewhere inside Jimmy was fighting to survive. Please, Jimmy. Please stay with us. Walker needs you. We need you.

Without effort her thoughts drifted back to when she'd first met Ranger James Trivette. He'd been newly promoted, brash and cocky with a hefty dose of street smarts somehow mixed with a firm grasp on the value of the computer age in law enforcement. And he'd found himself partnered with Cordell Walker, a man who'd made himself a legend even among the legendary Texas Rangers. A man who embodied the image of the original Rangers and the idea they'd taken as their code. One Riot, One Ranger --that was Walker through and through.

No one, except perhaps C.D., had believed the pairing would last beyond the conclusion of the case to which they'd been assigned. Even she'd been certain Walker would find some way to rid himself of the 'new man' and regain his solitary status. He neither needed nor wanted a partner.

But Jimmy had plans of his own, and they didn't involve being shut out or shuffled off. He'd taken an untried course and been the one to throw Walker off-balance. Rather than stand in respectful awe of his new partner's mythic status, the younger man had offered Walker the chance to prove himself! It had been a good move. Curiosity had kept the bearded Ranger coming back, looking for the explanation to the enigma of Jimmy Trivette.

He never quite got his answer, but they soon found their strengths balancing each other, creating a force that was greater by far than either of them alone. And so, somehow, against the odds and all logic, the two men had meshed as a team. After that, it hadn't taken long for a strong friendship to develop, in spite of their differences.

Pulling her feet up to rest on the couch, the ADA wrapped her arms tightly around her knees, hugging them close to her chest. Blinking back threatening tears, she bowed her head, trying to stop trembling. Still lost in her memories, she didn't realize C.D. had returned until he sat beside her and placed his arm around her shoulders.

"Alex, darlin', don't you fret now. It's gonna be okay."

The gently spoken words brought a lump to her throat and a single tear escaped, tracing a path down her cheek. "Oh, C.D.," she whispered. Lifting her head, she leaned on the elderly man's shoulder. "I'm was just thinking about when Jimmy and Walker first started working together. We've all come so far since then."

The ex-Ranger nodded and hugged her a little tighter. "That's true, sure enough, Alex. Cordell more than any of us. He's been allowing folks in again. Wasn't sure I'd ever see the day he let that happen."

"That's what scares me, C.D.," Alex whispered. "I don't think he did 'let it' happen. It just did. I'm so afraid if we lose Jimmy, we'll lose Walker, too. He'll pull so far back, we'll never reach him again."

"Then we'll just have to trust that won't happen," the gray-haired gentleman told her. "You keep good thoughts, darlin'. We're gonna stay right here, so Jimmy knows we're waiting on him. He's having a tough go of it, but he's gonna be okay. Believe it and it'll be so." C.D. squeezed the blonde's shoulders again, gazing toward the doors to the surgical units as he silently added, It just has to be so.

As the Ranger pulled up to the apartment building, the first thing he noticed wasn't the various police vehicles still on scene, it was his partner's car. I need to arrange for it to be moved. Guess Ranger Headquarters would be as good a place as any. For now. He didn't want to think too far ahead at this point.

The officers on the door nodded as he approached. One nodded toward the stairs, just visible inside the door. "Crime scene's on the third floor, Ranger."

"Thanks," Walker said. Heart pounding, he entered the building and climbed the stairs. The silver star pinned to his shirt gained him unquestioned access. He slowed his pace as he rounded the corner and saw the men and women with white gloves in the hallway ahead.

A tall, black man in street clothes stepped out of the doorway as Walker approached. The badge tucked into his belt identified him as a detective. The man glanced briefly at the Ranger then took a closer look upon seeing the silver star.

"Excuse me... are you Ranger Walker?" he asked.

"Yes." Walker swallowed hard as he saw the bloodstains on the wall and the pool on the floor.

"You don't know me, but I've heard a lot about you from Jimmy," the man explained, extending his hand. Walker shook it automatically. "My nameís Lincoln Roberts. Jimmy and I worked together in Narcotics."

The Ranger nodded as the name finally registered. "He's mentioned you."

"Is there any word yet?" Roberts questioned. "I, uh, was at the hospital for awhile but I couldn't stay there. Figured I'd be able to help Jimmy better if I was here." He shifted, leaning back against the wall.

For the first time, Walker saw the gaping holes in the door to apartment #21. Habitually he noted they were about chest high for an average man. His stomach clenched as he realized they were bullet holes, which meant.. . .

Whirling, he saw the corresponding hole in the wall, currently being picked at by one of the forensics team. Looking for the bullet that passed through, he realized numbly.

He shook himself mentally, realizing Roberts had asked a question which needed an answer. "He's in surgery now. We won't know anything for awhile."

The black man shook his head sadly. "I gotta tell you, Ranger. . .I thought he was already a goner when I first saw him laying there."

A goner. The words rebounded through Walker's mind as he once again surveyed the scene. It occurred to him that if Trivette didn't make it, he was standing at the murder site. The thought filled him with an all-too-familiar anguish. It's not going to happen that way! Trivette's strong, he'll pull through. It's not his time yet!

"Got it!" The brunette woman who'd been carefully digging in the plaster held up a large pair of tweezers for all to see. In their grip was a misshapen lump of metal that Walker recognized as a bullet. One that had passed through-- He cut the thought off viciously.

"Is there enough left to be able to tell what caliber?" he asked.

The woman looked doubtful. "Hard to say, Ranger. But we'll give it our best shot, you can count on that."

Walker nodded. Looking at Roberts, he saw his own emotions mirrored on the younger man's face. In an effort to help distract the man, he pulled out his keyring and removed the spare set Trivette had given him. Handing it over to the detective, he said, "I think it'd be better if one of us moved Trivette's car. I need to get back to the hospital. Can you--?"

Roberts accepted the keys with a nod. "Sure. Where should I take it? His place?"

"No. Park it in the lot at Ranger Headquarters," Walker directed. "There may be something in it that could give us a clue."

"Okay." Staring at the keyring, Linc smiled wistfully as he ran his fingers over the Cowboys emblem emblazoned on leather.

Walker noticed the gesture. "I guess Trivette will always have a lot of the Cowboys in him."

"Probably. But I'm not sure it's for the reasons you think, Ranger Walker." At Walker's questioning glance, Linc continued, "Jimmy uses stuff like this as a reminder of where he came from. What he's doing now is what's important to him. Being a Ranger, that's what matters. That's what lets him make a real difference."

The Ranger nodded. He remembered an early conversation with his partner over how a street kid from Baltimore had made it into the elite Texas Rangers. The pride in Trivette's voice had been unmistakable. And deserved.

Walker knew the younger Ranger lived in his shadow a lot of times. But he also knew that as the years passed, Trivette's own reputation had been growing as a force to reckon with.

"Listen, I'm gonna drop Jimmy's car off and head back to my office. I want to be available in case word comes..."

"Thanks, Lincoln." Walker once again shook hands with the detective. He watched Roberts head off down the hallway. Once the younger man had disappeared around the corner, the Ranger turned and entered the apartment.

An officer raised a hand as if to stop him, then saw the badge and nodded. "Sorry, Ranger. We've had a lot of curious people trying to get past the barricades."

Walker looked around. "Who's the officer in charge?"

"That would be Sergeant Speare." Nodding toward another room, the patrolman said, "He's in the bedroom. I'll get him."

"Thanks." The Ranger used the time to study the room. He could see from the bloodstains where Bill Douglas' body had lain. More forensics people were dusting the apartment, looking for prints or any physical evidence that could give them the lead they so desperately needed.

The slain officer's service revolver lay on the floor and Walker knelt next to it. So Douglas had expected trouble? The thought further confused the Ranger.

"It looks like it's been fired," a deep male voice informed. "We're not sure by whom, yet."

Walker climbed to his feet. He exchanged handshakes with Sgt. Garett Speare. "Any leads yet?"

Speare nodded to a small table. A newspaper article related to the cop-killings lay face up. "Nothing concrete, but I'd bet that article ties in.

"The cop-killer," Walker murmured. "How many times was Bill Douglas shot?"

"Just the once."

"Were you able to find the bullet?"

Speare nodded. "It was still lodged. We'll know more once they've done the autopsy"

"Damnit, this isn't his usual pattern," the Ranger said. "He's never shot two men at the same time. Why now?"

"I wish I knew. I suppose the only one who can really answer that is your partner." Speare hesitated a moment. "How is Trivette? Any word yet?"

Walker's eyes clouded at the mention of his partner. His mind kept replaying the sight of the doctor shocking Trivette's heart back into rhythm. "He's still in surgery."

"We're all pulling for him, y'know. He's a damned fine man."

"Thanks, it means a lot to hear you say that." A strong urge to be with his friends suddenly rushed through the Ranger. Knowing he wouldn't find any more answers here, he said, "Call me if you find out anything, Garett. I'm going back to the hospital."

Walker blinked as he stepped out from the apartment building into the bright afternoon sunshine. Taking a deep breath, he slowly exhaled, then looked around the street. He noted the Stealth was now gone. And he knew soon the forensics team and Speare's people would be gone, too.

And eventually the apartment owner would get someone in to clean the blood and patch the hole in the wall, get a new door installed on apartment 21. After that, all traces of today's brutal shooting would be gone. Except for the photos of the slain officers and other collected evidence, stored somewhere in hope that a face would be put to the nameless killer, and that someday he'd be brought to trial.

But not so for Bill Douglas' family and friends. He was gone, leaving them alone with their memories.

And not so for Trivette, whose life now hung precariously in the balance. And Walker knew that even if his partner did survive, his road to recovery would be long and arduous.

It's worth it, Trivette. You hear me? Life's worth the pain. Stick around awhile longer, partner. We'll face it together.

Taking another deep breath, Walker climbed into the Ram and started the engine. He'd done what he could, now he'd have to wait for the forensics and ballistics reports.

Right now, his place was with his friends.