Texas Lightning
By Katheryn Sandoval (FanFiction.net’s hearthandhomeauthor)

 


Part 1


This installment occurs around the same time as the episode "Eyes of a Ranger" and explains Carlos' absence while exploring what the rest of the gang was up to at the same time.

Tommy Malloy dragged himself up the stairs for the hundredth time, securing a suitcase in each hand as he arrived at the top and turned back downstairs with a raspy sigh. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the rather heavy objects and turned to finish his descent. He plopped the suitcases at the base of the stairs and hurried back upstairs for another load just as Tandy and Tyler hurried past him and down the stairs.

"Sheesh!" Tommy shook his head as he just barely missed colliding with his younger siblings.

"Thomas Joseph Malloy!" Mrs. Malloy called midstride as she hoisted the largest suitcase at the base of the stairs and started for the door. "Get a move on! We've waited to take a vacation for three years. We don't want to be late for our flight."

"Are you sure you don't want to come with us, Trent?" Katheryn pleaded as she took the suitcase from Mrs. Malloy and grunted softly as she lifted it into the trunk of the Malloy's car.

Trent smiled, willing away the intense desire to change his plans that very second. "I'm sure."

Katheryn took a deep breath. "I can't believe you and Carlos won't be coming with us." She pouted some on that last note.

"I know," Trent returned penitently. "If it makes you feel better, we would come in a heartbeat if it wasn't for something important having come up."

"Like what?"

"Ranger Walker didn't say. But he told Carlos not to make any plans. So it must be pretty big. You know Walker. He wouldn't ask it of us if it wasn't important."

"Oh, alright." Katheryn tried to smile receiving the next suitcase that Mrs. Malloy had brought and hoisting into the trunk next to the first one. "Even Molly couldn't come."

"Oh?" Trent took the next two suitcases as he listened.

"She's down in Austin. Something about her grandmother being in the hospital."

"That's too bad. I hope her grandmother will be okay."

"Me too."

"Alright then." Trent clapped his hands together and looked over the trunk, closing it as Katheryn slipped in one last small item and stepped aside. The trunk closed, locking in place as Trent's firm hand pushed down on it.

Carlos' unmarked police issue slowly came to a stop alongside the street away from view. He quickly exited the car, hurrying up the walkway up onto the veranda. Trent's voice alerted him from the side, causing him to shift his gaze as he then turned ambling away and into the driveway where Trent and Katheryn was.

"Hey, guys! Sorry I'm late."

Katheryn neared Carlos as he ceased his step, catching his breath at the same time. "You're just on time. We are packing the car now."

"I see." Carlos inspected the stuffed car and the suitcases still coming from the house by way of Tommy's trusted hands. "You do know there's a capacity limit to those airplanes. Right?"

"Don't worry." Tommy rolled his eyes. "These are the last ones. I'm certain of that."

Trent chuckled, taking the smaller suitcases from Tommy and putting them in the passenger seat of his Stingray.

"I'm gonna miss you guys. You know that right?" Katheryn smiled from the corner of her mouth as she looked towards Carlos.

Carlos nodded. "It's only a week."

"I know. You'll call, right?"

"You can count on it." Carlos ended with a grin. It had been almost two weeks since their first date at Uppercuts. And somehow the feeling of being separated was difficult for him to think about as well…although he refused to show it on the outside for the time being.

Tandy then scurried past them, giggling and carrying on with Ty as they prepared to get into the car to leave.

Carlos smiled at the sight and then turned to Trent. "I'll see you later at Ranger Headquarters. Walker wants to speak with us as soon as we can get there."

Trent nodded. "You got it."

"Well," Carlos inhaled, "I guess that's goodbye. Have fun."

"We will!" Tandy called after Carlos with a broad grin.

Carlos' chuckle faded in the distance as he called a quick goodbye to Katheryn and continued back to his car, waving behind him as he went. He slowed as he came to a stop by the driver's side door and opened it, climbing in just as his radio sounded. The static echoed in the small space as he closed his door behind him and focused on the voice that followed.

"We have a 10-35 at the corner of Wright and Mason Avenues. I repeat…robbery in progress at the corner of Wright and Mason Avenues."

Carlos took hold of the mic, his forehead creased as he deliberated the situation. "Dispatch, this is Detective Sandoval. I'm about eight minutes ETA of location."

"10-4, detective. Call for backup?"

"Yeah." Carlos returned the mic to the radio, and pressed the accelerator, speeding forward and away from Providence Way as he set forth his pursuit on the unknown ordeal ahead of him.

He descended upon the location a short while later, bringing his car to halting stop by the dilapidated drugstore just near the corner of the street as per the information told him. Yet something wasn't quite right as he glance the area over, put the car in park, and slipped on his sunglasses just before exiting the vehicle and shutting the door behind him.

The entire corner was desolate. Not a body in sight as he drew his gun to his chest and slowly took steps forward. He stepped up onto the sidewalk and continued alongside the drugstore, easing forward towards the attached bank just ahead.

He turned swiftly into the open bank, its ghostly interior echoing the winds that passed near him as he turned. He aimed his pistol forward as he moved onward. A presence neared him from the side, startling him as he quickly aimed the gun at the moving structure. "Walker," Carlos sighed, lowering his gun as his heart rate returned to normal. He wiped at the bead of sweat that eased from his forehead.

Walker laid a hand on Carlos' shoulder. "I'm sorry we had to do that to you, Carlos. But this had to be as secret as possible."

Carlos chuckled below his breath, shaking his head. "That's alright. What's up?"

Walker stepped aside, allowing another man to step forward. His straight posture accented his well-pressed suit and tie as he stepped forward extending his hand towards Carlos. "David Sullivan. Head of security for the governor of Texas."

Carlos accepted the man's hand, giving a firm couple of shakes. "Detective Carlos Sandoval. Great to meet you, sir."

"Likewise." The gentleman issued a flat and distant smile as returned to his full height. He seemed to be inspecting Carlos thoroughly in everything he did. "Well, I might as well get down to the matter at hand. The governor is planning to visit the city of Dallas in the coming week and would like to see the law enforcement structure of Dallas in person. Not officially by any means. Just as an onlooker. No reports will be made. He simply would like see how justice is served on the everyday level.

"Our security detail is already here in Dallas planning for his arrival and surveying the areas on his schedule. We will have the best of our security with him at all times. Yet he has requested special escort from law enforcement headquartered here locally. Naturally, he turned to the Texas Rangers for their advice. Ranger Walker has referred us to you. You come highly recommended, Detective Sandoval."

Carlos chuckled nervously with a glance toward Walker and back at David Sullivan. "Well, um, I'm honored."

"That you should be." Sullivan's emotionless mien shadowed his deep voice. "It's not every day a police detective is selected to be the governor's head body guard for a week."

"That's the truth." Carlos arched a brow as the magnitude of what had been put before him began to sink in.

"Although, I must warn you, detective."

"Oh?"

"We requested this meeting in secret not for fun. There have been suspicions that the governor is being followed by an old friend of his. Nothing to be alarmed about. Only a precautionary measure."

"I see." Carlos nodded and shifted his weight to his other foot as he crossed his arms. "Well then…When do I start?"

"Right now, detective. The governor's plane awaits you at the private airstrip near here. It will take you straight to the governor's mansion in Austin."

Walker nodded. "You'll have an hour to head back and pack a bag."

Carlos quickly processed all the information and nodded again. "Alright. Um, I guess I'll be seeing you, Walker."

"Keep in touch." Walker followed the detective out to his police issue. "Be careful, Carlos."

"I will." He opened the door to the car and looked over the top at Ranger Walker. "Thanks, Walker. I appreciate you putting in the good word for me."

"You're welcome, Carlos."

Carlos beamed a smile as he sunk back into the driver's seat and buckled up, put the car in drive, and hurried off to his loft apartment…still processing all that he had heard in the last several moments.

##

"Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard flight 247 in route for Salt Lake City, Utah. Skies look clear today in beautiful Dallas Fort Worth, and we expect a smooth flight and a landing on time at our destination in approximately two hours and forty minutes. Once again we thank you for choosing to fly with us today and we hope you enjoy your flight."

Numerous sounds of clicking seatbelts and closing overhead bins continued on for a few more moments as the passengers of the vast non-stop commercial flight found their seats, obeying the instructions given by the flight attendants for a safe flight. Three seats in the middle aisle about midway in the plane in coach were occupied by the two youngest Malloys and their mother while Tommy and Katheryn took the two seats on the right of the middle aisle next to the window.

Tandy's wide eyes took it all in, looking up the aisle and back as she twisted in her seat.

"Tandy," Mrs. Malloy called to her daughter in a low tone. "Please sit still, hon."

Tandy settled back into her seat. "Yes, ma'am."

Katheryn too settled into her seat as she eased by Tommy into the narrow space. He slowly stretched back out with a yawn as she sat down next to him.

"Why are you so tired?"

Tommy exhaled. "Must have been all that suitcase lifting up and down the stairs."

"It wasn't that bad." Katheryn chuckled.

Tommy laughed it off softly and turned to look out the window. Katheryn did likewise. The immense aircraft slowly pulled back and away from the terminal, taxiing carefully past many other waiting airplanes as it neared the runways ahead. Up ahead of them another plane was soaring up into the sky, curving left as it began its journey. Soon they would be up there too.

Coming to a stop parallel on the runway, the roar of the aircraft's engine was heard. Then it accelerated, moving slowly forward as it eased into high speed and charged forward. It lifted, the wheels curling up and into the bottom of the plane as it soared away from Dallas Fort Worth International airport.

"Well, here we come, Utah." Tommy grinned as they sailed into the heavens, leaving their home and safe haven behind for the week to come.

##

Carlos arrived at the private airstrip a prompt forty-five minutes later. Showing his credentials at the gate, he was quickly approved, the gate whizzing open for him to enter. Upon parking in the reserved parking space that the security officer had issued him a pass for, Carlos exited his police issue, locking it as he slipped on his sunglasses and reached through to the passenger side of the car for his rather stuffed duffle bag before closing the door firmly behind him.

He paused and glanced over the place before continuing forward away from his car. In the distance in front of him was the runway which currently played host to an incoming Hawker 800 luxury private jet. It's glimmering reflective lines bounced the Texas sun every which way, highlighting the path around it with intense light as it touched down upon the hard surface beneath them at a high speed. Carlos squinted beneath his shades as he trudged onward, lowering his gaze to the ground as he slipped his free hand into his pocket, gripping his duffle with his other hand.

From the hangar nearby emerged Sullivan who was accompanied by two other suited men in darkened shades.

Carlos looked on cautiously to Sullivan. "Hope I'm not late."

"Hardly." Sullivan smiled. "You're early in fact. Please…follow me." The tall gentleman began walking out into the light and started towards the now stagnant Hawker that had stalled to a stop in the open distance. Those two other gentleman followed him.

Carlos inhaled and did as he was told, adjusting his grip on his luggage as he moved forward.

As he strode forward, he observed the mid-sized jet and its quiet engine roar that hummed ever so softly. He then caught a glimpse of the door to the aircraft as it gently whirred, carefully easing forward and descending downward and to the ground before them.

"Follow me, detective," Sullivan threw over his shoulder as he never stopped but continued up the narrow stairs and into the Hawker.

The other two gentlemen stopped short, either one taking a position on either side of the little staircase. Carlos glanced them over with a sarcastic thought passing through his mind that he knew was best kept to himself as he issued a soft grin and climbed the stairs behind Sullivan.

Sullivan turned a sharp right into the passenger cab and indicated the available choices of seating. "Pick a spot, detective."

Carlos looked over the choices of seating as he deposited his duffle on one of the seats and selected the first armchair-style leather seat by the window to his left. The door to the aircraft slowly closed, leaving the other two gentleman outside and Carlos with the ever-rude Sullivan.

Sullivan never said another word, taking his place in the seat he must have dubbed his own on trips past as indicated by the personalization to the area…a coat thrown across the back of the seat and papers scattered on the provided table, just to name a few things Carlos noticed before turning his gaze back to the window.

As he waited, Carlos thought about Katheryn and the Malloys. They were probably in route to Utah by now.

"Just a reminder, detective…" Sullivan interrupted his thoughts, not looking up from the paper in his hand. "Smoking and drinking isn't allowed on this aircraft."

Carlos arched his brow with a grin. "Don't have to worry about that with me, Mr. Sullivan."

"Good," Sullivan returned as if he were speaking to an enemy rather than a friend.

His flattened tone put Carlos on edge. Carlos creased his forehead in confusion. Sullivan's behavior was rather odd in his opinion. But the detective had not been around people in his realm before to know. If this man's attitude was any indication, Carlos began to wonder if he was being demoted rather than being given a golden opportunity. He had not expected red carpet to be put before him of course. But a little courtesy never killed anyone.

Sullivan continued to read the page intensely. "We will be arriving in Austin within the hour. There you will be picked up by a limousine and taken to the governor's mansion. From that point, you will meet with the other members of the security team to learn of everything that is planned for the governor's visit to your fair Dallas. After which you will have lunch with the governor as was his personal request. You will stay the night before you both will return to the aircraft by way of the limousine first thing tomorrow morning. We should arrive back here in Dallas at approximately nine in the morning. The governor will be staying at the Maywood Hotel upon his arrival. You'll take the room adjacent to him for the two nights he'll be staying there. Do you have any questions?"

Carlos smiled to himself sarcastically. "No, sir. I don't believe I do."

"Good."

"Well, actually…"

Sullivan sighed softly.

"…I was wondering if cell phone usage was permitted at any point in the days to come."

"Don't be ridiculous, detective." Sullivan tossed the sheet of paper onto the table and drew up another, glancing towards Carlos briefly as he did so. "Of course you can make calls. That is…whenever you have a moment to yourself. Which I doubt you will."

"I see," Carlos shook his head with an all-assuming smile as he turned to gaze out the sunbathed window.

The runway quickly moved beyond them as the plane accelerated forward…soon finding itself within the shelter of the skies above on the start of its impending journey to the capital city of the great state of Texas.


Part 2


"You wanted to speak with me, Walker?" Trent ceased his walk in front of Ranger Walker's desk at half-past three as was the time Carlos had indicated.

"Yeah." Walker's reverie was stolen as Trent spoke up.

"Sorry about that." Trent chuckled, easing his hands out of his pocket as he took a seat in front of Walker's desk.

Walker grinned. "Don't even give it thought." His grin faded. "I've just been researching on something regarding the governor to help Carlos out."

"Speaking of Carlos…" Trent glanced around with a smile lacing his lips. "Where is he at? Am I early?"

Walker set down the file in his hands. "He won't be joining us, Trent."

"Oh?"

"And unfortunately, I'm not allowed to reveal why."

"C'mon, Walker." Trent chuckled. "Doesn't being a PI give me certain privileges?"

Walker smiled. "Unfortunately not in the governor's eyes."

"Oh…I see." Trent's smile faded as he nodded. "What does Carlos have to do with the governor?"

Walker playfully glared at his protégé with a faint smile.

"Sorry." Trent shook his head…a soft laugh following. "So…Where does that leave me?"

Ranger Walker drew in a deep breath before speaking. He stood to his feet, rounding his desk as he started forward. "Follow me."

The twosome arrived at the Ranger gym moments later to find a young man hard at work on the punch bag hanging from the ceiling in the far corner of the vast room. His eyes glinted with the spark of a fighter as beads of sweat poured from his brow.

"Mark!" Ranger Walker called to the young man as they made their way around the large boxing ring.

The young man ceased his intense workout, turning around to face Walker. He slipped off his bulky gloves and removed the mouthpiece from his sweaty lips. He grinned, "Hey, Ranger Walker! Hey…I meant to say thanks for letting me use the Ranger gym while the one down at the center is being remodeled."

"No problem. Mark, I'd like you to meet a friend and fellow black-belt…Trent Malloy. Trent, this is Mark Wimbourne."

Mark eagerly extended his hand to Trent of which Trent heartily accepted. "Nice to meet you, Trent."

"Likewise," Trent greeted with a smile.

"Mark here is wanting to learn more karate skills. He's a good boxer. But he told me he'd like to add some karate. I told him I knew just the person he should speak to."

Trent pointed to Walker. "Mark, believe me. This man is a better teacher than I'll ever be."

Mark chuckled. "You come highly recommended, Trent." Mark nodded towards Walker. "I trust Ranger Walker's judgment fully."

"If you say so," Trent surrendered with a light laugh.

"Trent, would you mind taking Mark by your dojo sometime and teaching him a few things?"

Trent smiled. "Absolutely. I'd love to. And we can even set him up for a few classes while we're there."

"No." Mark was quick and his voice defensive.

"Okay. Um…" Trent shifted his gaze to Walker, unsure of why the young man was so defensive.

Walker looked onward to Mark with reassuring eyes. "You can trust Trent, Mark. I promise."

Mark wasn't so convinced. Yet he regretted having been so rude. "I—I'm sorry. Mr. Malloy."

"Trent…" Trent smiled. "Call me Trent. And that's quite alright. Everyone can be a bit nervous at the thought of doing something new."

"Yeah…I suppose that's my problem."

Trent grinned and slapped the young man on the back in a brotherly fashion. "Now…What do you say we get going?"

"Right now?"

"Why not?"

Mark forced a smile as he cautiously agreed and followed alongside Trent out of the Ranger gym, heading for Trent's Stingray that waited by the curb.

"So…" Trent began, accelerating the car forward and into the street. "How did you meet Ranger Walker?"

Mark fought the desire to ignore his new friend. "I, um, I met him down at the center in Deep Elm. I was planning on joining up with the Falcons. But Walker…He, uh, he helped me make a better choice." Mark turned his head away and gazed at the passing scenery, trying not to continue the conversation any longer.

"That's great." Trent grinned as he returned his focus to the road before them in search of Thunder Karate. He glanced over at the young man only once more and still remained unconvinced that Mark was being as straightforward as he presented himself to be.

##

"Admit it, mom. We're lost." Tommy hung his head low as he let his arms droop by his sides. He circled around the rented SUV, his sleeved arm brushing against the front silver structures as he crossed to the other side which faced miles and miles of nothing but woods. He stared at the vastness for a short moment…the quiet filling his ears.

"No we're not." Tandy's bottom lip sagged as she followed her brother, leaving her mother with Katheryn by the driver's side door.

"Yes…We are." Tommy crossed his arms and sighed aloud. The pin-drop silence echoed the cold winds around them as he looked off down the road in front of them. Nothing but lengthening two-lane road that continued for miles and miles. He turned and looked behind him. The same.

"Let's see here…" Mrs. Malloy's eyes narrowed upon the map in her hands as she gently relaxed against the parked black Suburban at her side.

Katheryn stood before her with arms crossed, ready to aid in way possible. She glanced at her wristwatch. Four o'clock. It would be getting dark soon, and Carlos promised to call. She knew she'd miss his call. The only cell phone reception they expected to have was at the resort that awaited them. Then they'd plan to hike up to a cabin about fifteen miles south of the place after one night's stay. It was a pretty place Miss Cahill had reported. Secluded. Away from the hustle and bustle of life with a view of mountains unlike any other. But apparently it would have to wait.

"We traveled Highway 80 until we came to…" She squinted harder, surrendering soon after and handing the map to Katheryn. "Hon, can you make out what that says?"

Katheryn took up the map and squinted also. It appeared that some of Tandy's jelly donut had met its fate with the needed map. "I can't tell. But…from what I can see…" She raised her eyes to meet with Mrs. Malloy's concerned mien. "I think we missed a turn at…Kimball Junction."

Tommy overheard the conclusion and slowly made his way back around. "I told you it was right not left."

"What's that son?" Mrs. Malloy queried.

Tommy's aggravated sigh waned as he spoke. "When we took the exit off Highway 80, we should have taken a right not a left."

"Why didn't you speak up?" Katheryn questioned the young man.

Tommy's aggravation continued to swell as he outstretched his arms in explanation. "Because at the time…I was battling a flying jelly donut that was being waved in my face." He glared at Tandy who had inched her way back to the little group.

Tandy's face showed a little girl begging for mercy as she looked into her mother's eyes.

Mrs. Malloy sighed, glancing around them. "Well then, let's get back on the road."

A sudden bellowing growl emanated from nearby woods, stilling everyone there in their tracks.

Tommy swallowed. "That was close."

"Yeah." Katheryn's eyes searched the woods beyond as her feet remained planted on the road's asphalt. "A little too close."

"Get in the car now, kids. Now, please." Mrs. Malloy stifled her fears as she urged her children onward.

The youngest Malloys did as they were told, leaving Tommy and Katheryn as they continued to hear a subtle rustle in the trees.

"That's just snow melting right?" Katheryn chuckled dryly.

"I hope so." Mrs. Malloy remarked softly, placing her hand on the driver's side handle, opening the door and climbing aboard the vehicle with no desire to exit until they reached the resort.

Katheryn and Tommy followed soon after, glancing over their shoulders at the unseen menace…protectively in search of whatever had loomed nearby in search of them.

##

Carlos cautiously deposited his duffle bag on the delicate bed before him. The entire room seemed to glisten as historic relics from history gone by looked his way from every which angle. It was intimidating somewhat. To think that he had been honored to be offered such a room…in the governor's mansion at that. It was nearly unthinkable. Carlos sighed as he took it all in. From the canopied bed to the paintings and the bust sculpture of Sam Houston that he could only guess could cost millions.

Carlos neared the sun-bathed windows and drew away the thin curtain that remained. He squinted as the sun hit his eyes, looking over the manicured lawn before him. He grinned slyly and turned back to the bed, unzipping the bag and drawing out a few needed items but keeping the majority of them inside. No use getting comfortable, he had reminded himself.

Among the items he selected was his cellular phone…He picked it up with one hand and then reached back into the bag to find the slip of paper he had scribbled Katheryn's number on...At least the number of the resort they would be staying at before their camping adventure.

A mature male voice sounded from the other end. "This is Sammy of the Adventure Scape Resort and Hotel speaking. How may I be of service to you?"

"Yes," Carlos paced the room slowly as he spoke, admiring the one painting of the Alamo before him as he ceased his step. "Can you please forward me to the Malloy's room?"

"Most certainly." The elderly gentleman looked over the ledger. A few moments of silence followed. "Um, I'm sorry, young man. But the Malloys have not arrived here yet."

Carlos' creased his forehead and glanced at his wristwatch. "I see." His concern showed on his face as he realized they should have been there well before he called. Carlos had even figured Katheryn might be cross with him for calling late. But he had been unable to find a moment to himself until now. After all, he had not planned this diversion from the usual whatsoever. He planned to explain it all once he heard Katheryn's voice. "Thank you, sir. I'm sorry to have taken up your time."

"That's quite alright." The elder gentleman smiled.

"I will call again later. Thank you again." Carlos then hung up, sighing sharply as he fought the instincts that welled up within him. He was starting to get like Trent and Walker when it came to sensing things. He shook it off and softly tossed the phone onto the bedding just as a shadow fell over the open doorway. He turned…For some reason he was a bit more jumpy today. "Oh…Good evening, Sullivan."

"Good evening." Sullivan invited himself into the bedroom, shutting the door behind him carefully. "I wanted to take a moment and brief you on a small matter."

"Sure." Carlos smiled jovially, putting aside any ill thoughts he had conjured about Sullivan on the trip to Austin. It was not hard to come up with them.

"The governor has another intention for visiting Dallas that is none of your affair. Neither is it mine. Therefore…If he happens to mention anything to you…ignore him."

"Wait a second…" Carlos arched a brow. "Then how do you know about it if he doesn't want you to know about it?"

Sullivan scoffed…a smile tempting him at points. "I have my ways. Now play it cool, detective." With that, Sullivan turned to go, stopping short as he put his hand on the door handle. "Oh, and detective, I'd watch my back if I were you." He opened the door wide, easing into the hall and turning back. "The governor would like to see you now."

Carlos was too busy processing the threat that seemed to pour from the mouth of Sullivan to realize what Sullivan had said last. Still the words sunk in, causing him to finish up what personal time he had salvaged out of the last ten minutes and get a move on to meet with the governor. He still couldn't believe it. Why him? No use asking dumb questions, Carlos concluded as he eased into the hall himself. Yet caution stopped him. He quickly diverted back into the room, drawing his weapon from the duffle and slipping it below his overcoat and into his slack's back waist at the base of his back. He let his shirt and coat fall over it as he moved back into the hall, tracing the short distance to the stairs and descending them.

A beautiful little girl greeted him at the foot of the rounded staircase, having gazed up and watched him come down with amazement in her eyes as she gripped a cabbage patch doll in her arms. Her blonde pigtails softly hung at the sides of her head, brushing against her reddened cheeks as she watched the stranger before her with deepened interest.

"Well, hello there." Carlos gave the little girl a toothy grin and patted her on the head. He continued onward a few steps only to know that the feet behind him was following the same trail. He stopped…and turned around. He bent down low, squatting down to her level. Carlos smiled yet again. "Say…What are you and your doll doing following a stranger around, huh?"

The girl hid a sneaky smile behind her doll.

"That's what I thought." Carlos then rose back to his full height.

"Sally Anne!" A feminine voice called, rushing down the stairs toward him.

Carlos glanced upward to see a woman in her forties earnestly in search for someone.

The lady reached the first floor and soon caught of glimpse of the little girl by Carlos and rushed to her side, squatting in midstride as she looked the girl in her bright blue eyes. "Oh, Sally Anne, don't you run that far from momma. You hear?"

The girl nodded slowly and penitently.

The woman rose to full height and face Carlos with caution. "And you must be the detective Sullivan told us was coming."

Carlos grinned. "Yes, ma'am." He extended his hand cordially for a handshake. "Detective Carlos Sandoval with the Dallas Police Department."

Accepting Carlos' handshake warily, the woman quickly scooped up Sally Anne into her arms, issuing a forced smile as she turned back towards the staircase. "Well, it was nice to meet you." The twosome disappeared onto the staircase.

"Likewise." Carlos' forehead wrinkled as deep thought overcame him. A rude mien seemed to be common in these parts. He sincerely hoped the governor himself held himself with a bit more regard than the others of his own household.

##

Mrs. Malloy closed the driver's side door of the Suburban firmly behind her as she strode away from the large SUV, gazing over the vast resort before her with Tandy by her side. The boys soon found their way out of the vehicle and neared their mother and sister while Katheryn also strode away from the vehicle and joined the group in front of the SUV.

After a few brief seconds of admiration, the little group continued inside to the lodge that served as the main office. Its broad logs and tall ceilings invited them right in. And the crackling fire inside the fireplace just inside was a welcome warmth to the chill outside.

"Well hello there." An older gentleman in his mid-sixties greeted them with a smile from behind the counter. "You must be the Malloy family."

Tommy arched a brow as he stopped at the desk and folded his arms. His suspicion rose. "How did you know?"

"Well, son, there's not a soul left on the registry that was scheduled to arrive today except a Malloy family." He ended his explanation with a hearty Santa-like laugh before turning to Mrs. Malloy. "I'll need you to sign a few things, ma'am."

"Sure thing." Mrs. Malloy grinned and picked up the writing pen fashioned after an Indian arrowhead.

The gentleman sauntered over to the other side of the counter to retrieve the necessary papers. As he returned, he seemed to be remember something important. He set the papers in front of Mrs. Malloy and indicated the few places that required her signature. She set to signing them as the kind man returned to speaking to the group as a whole. "You know, a young man called here not thirty minutes ago asking for you all. Didn't leave a name though. Just said he'd call again later. I figured I should let you all know."

Katheryn stepped up to the counter with a smile. "Thank you, sir. I…I mean…We appreciate it. Very much."

She stepped back next to Tommy who currently was having difficulty stifling a grin while he kept his head bowed and his hands stowed away in his jeans' pockets. He leaned in to Katheryn. "You know…You never did tell us about your date with Carlos."

"What's there to tell?"

"Oh, nothing I guess." Tommy rocked on his heels.

Katheryn thought back to that day in her mind for a brief moment since Tommy had brought it up. A smile crept onto her face as she recalled the little note that waited for her when she and Carlos had arrived at the table Butch had so kindly reserved for them in a private corner of his bar. The little piece of paper had read, "I suppose it's no use hiding behind the guise of a secret admirer any more. Here's to a good evening tonight and many more like it to come in the future. Sincerely, Carlos."

She still had that note tucked gently away in the back cover of her Bible. A small glance at it every morning when she did her devotions had since garnered a prayer of thanks for Carlos in a different way than she had prayed before.

"Alright, Mrs. Malloy. Here are two room keys for one night in our lodge."

Katheryn shook away her reverie in time to take one of the keys from Mrs. Malloy as she handed it to her.

"Will you be needing anything else, ma'am?"

"No, sir. I believe that's all for the time being." Mrs. Malloy smiled her thanks as she took a step back from the counter.

"Wonderful. Then please do enjoy your stay, folks."

"We intend to!" Mrs. Malloy grinned and directed the littlest of her charges toward the door. "We've got some unloading to do."

Tommy sighed. "Tell me about it."

Katheryn could only smile over the exchange as she followed them all back outside to the SUV as she remained simply thankful to be on this wonderful vacation in a most beautiful location in Utah.

The crimson tide of the sun meeting the earth had already commenced. Its paled winter rays sheltered itself against the snow-capped mountains as she tucked behind them for the night. It would be getting dark rather quickly now. And rest was the thing needed for the tired troops to be ready for an adventurous day to come on the morrow.


Part 3


A hazy quiet settled over the governor's study as Carlos was escorted into the room by one of the bodyguards. His rigid demeanor shadowed his every step as Carlos followed him into the room.

"The governor will be in soon. He's had a small delay with a matter that has kept him on the phone. But he is on his way down." The tall man reported to the detective before turning away as his earpiece sounded, sending necessary information to him on the double. He returned his gaze after the voice faded. "Please, make yourself comfortable." And with that the bodyguard went his own way, shutting the door firmly as he left.

"Easier said than done," Carlos mumbled and began a polite tour around the room.

In the center of the room was the governor's desk. The organized clutter atop the shiny maple surface consisted of a family photo, a few scatter papers, a plaque, a trophy of some kind, and other usual office nick-nacks. A broad floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelf took up the wall opposite Carlos as he walked behind the desk, stifling his investigating urge to instead scan the titles on the bookshelf before him.

It was a grand collection. The governor had a wide range of tastes from the European classics and non-fiction accounts to encyclopedia editions. Carlos even caught a glimpse of a title on martial arts. He smiled, thinking to himself that Katheryn would have loved to see this collection.

"Good afternoon, young man." A voice caused Carlos a slight surprise as he turned, being alerted of a presence in the room. "I do hope you haven't been waiting very long."

Carlos shook his head, beaming a nervous smile. "No…No…Not at all. Just a couple of minutes."

"Good! That's great!" The gray-haired gentleman issued a jovial demeanor as he took his place behind the desk with the confidence of a leader. He waved a hand softly before himself, hovering over the scattered papers. "Please, be seated."

Carlos eased his hands from his pockets and moved towards the double chairs that angled towards each other facing the governor's desk. He took a seat in the first one there and tried to appear relaxed. Yet he could feel the muscles in his arms tensing beneath the undue stress. He had been a police officer for six years. How come meeting the governor was so nerving?

"Let me get right down to business." The governor folded his hands on his desk and raised his eyes to meet with Carlos' focused gaze. "First, I want to apologize for springing this meeting on you, detective. But I wanted to speak with personally before dinner or any other trivial activity. Now, about the matter at hand…About two weeks ago I expressed to my team the desire to go to Dallas and see the law enforcement scene at work. Now of course I will be needing security. But I also knew that my own security knows only so much. They can protect me of course. But I began to think it necessary to have an actual member of the Dallas law enforcement on my team for my visit so that I can see the city through their eyes, being guided by their opinion of what is making the city tick these days. Naturally, I wanted the best. So I turned to the Texas Rangers. Ranger Cordell Walker informed me that you would be the best man for the job. I can see here in the file Walker sent me about you that you are one of the DPD's best having been promoted to detective recently. And…Let me be honest…I don't know you, Detective Sandoval. All I see is words on a sheet of paper. And while that can say a lot about a man, it's the heat of the battle that truly proves him a worthy candidate. So…Tell me, detective…Why should you serve on my team in the coming days?"

A silence hung in the room for a brief moment before Carlos raised his head slightly. With confidence he spoke… "I joined the police force to truly make a difference. To protect lives and serve justice the right way. And I would do no less for anyone…whether it be a child in the street…or the governor of the greatest state in the US."

The governor deliberated Carlos' words. A slow smile rose to his face seconds later. "Well said, Detective Sandoval. Here is your itinerary."

Carlos reached forward to take the piece of paper handed him.

"We will leave for Dallas first thing in the morning. I trust Sullivan has briefed you on all you need to know?"

Carlos stifled a sarcastic smile. "Yes, sir."

"Very well then," the governor grinned and rose to his feet, extending his hand to Carlos while straightening his suit with the other hand. "I'm pleased to have you join us, Detective Sandoval."

Carlos shook the man's hand firmly. It held a confidence beyond what Carlos had expected. "The pleasure's mine, governor."

The jovial man rounded his desk and showed Carlos to the door cordially. "I trust you've had a chance to call home? Family is very important to me, detective. Do you have a family of your own?"

Carlos chuckled, folding and slipping the itinerary into his inner coat pocket. "Not yet, sir. But…I do have someone who is significant in my life. She's on vacation with some close friends of mine in Utah. I haven't been able to get her on the phone yet."

"That's too bad. Please…Do feel free to use the phone provided you in your room, detective. And best of luck with the young lady." The governor's eye twinkled as he gave Carlos a hearty wink and stepped outside the doorway next to the detective.

Carlos grinned. "Thank you, sir."

"And dinner will be at eight I believe. Sullivan will see to it that you find your way to the dining room."

Carlos nodded and bid good evening to the man whom had been so down-to-earth that he hadn't even seemed to be a powerful government leader…which he indeed was.

Returning to the Sam Houston guest room which he would be occupying for the night to come, Carlos decided to unpack a few more items for the evening. As he stood over the duffle bag on the bed before him, he glanced upward toward the far corner of the room where there remained a small television set and a telephone just like the governor had told him.

A sly smile crept onto Carlos' tired features as set down the change of clothes in his hands next to the duffle bag and crossed the room. After all, it wouldn't hurt to try calling again.

Carlos picked up the receiver and placed it to his right ear, carefully dialing the number of the resort with his left hand. He waited patiently as he heard the phone ring on the other end.

The same courteous gentleman from before answered. "Must I assume that this is the same young man calling from earlier this evening?" He smiled as he spoke.

Carlos chuckled dryly as he remained amazed at the instincts of the older gentleman. "Yes, sir. It is."

"Well, you are in luck, son. The Malloys arrived promptly fifteen minutes ago. They should be settling into their rooms by now."

"Thank you, sir."

"No thanks necessary. I'm glad to help. I'll just forward your call here…"

A soft dial tone struck Carlos' ear as the man switched the call from the front desk to the Malloys' room. It was Katheryn's voice that he heard next. "Hello?" A loud guffaw sounded behind Katheryn as she proceeded to hug the wall that the phone was near, hoping to hear who was on the other end.

"Kath?"

"Carlos," Katheryn smiled, pressing the receiver closer to her ear and glaring at Tommy with a stern expression and soft waving of her hands to tell him to quiet down. "How are things back home?"

"I don't know."

Katheryn's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

"I haven't been in Dallas since this morning."

"Oh?"

"Yeah…Walker had a little surprise for me. In fact…I'm in the governor's mansion right now."

"Oh really?" Katheryn was clearly surprised as she glance at Tommy who stood near her. He wasn't eavesdropping at all. "I assume it's business not pleasure?"

Carlos chuckled. "Yeah. Something like that."

Unknown to either party was a third party…waiting in the shadows by the threshold of Carlos' room.

"I wish I could say more," Carlos continued. "But I'm not supposed to say much."

"I understand." Katheryn frowned although she understood fully and even agreed with the terms. "When will you be heading back to Dallas?"

"Tomorrow morning. But I'll still be away so to speak."

"I see. Will you be able to call again?"

"I'm not sure. But I hope so." Carlos suppressed a growing smile as he half-turned. He was suddenly startled by a shadow coming from outside. He stretched a bit, willing away the edginess that tempted him as he knew he was overreacting.

"Are you still there?" Katheryn's voice pulled him from the moment.

He shook it off with a sigh, returning with a smile. "Yeah…Yeah I'm still here."

Katheryn relaxed as she heard his voice again and smiled.

"I wish we could talk more, Kath. But I've gotta go for now."

Willing away disappointment, Katheryn nodded. "Okay. I'll talk to you later then?"

"You can count on it."

The twosome ended the telephone call on pleasant terms although both wished to talk more.

"Was that Carlos?" Mrs. Malloy grinned as she neared Katheryn, smiling as she hung up Tandy and Tyler's outfits for tomorrow in the mini-closet nearby.

"Yes." Katheryn smiled and moved to help Katie with the unpacking. She crossed to the other hotel room which was conjoined by a single door, returning seconds later with a few camping supplies Tommy had asked for before the phone had rang.

"Is everything good back home?"

"I guess." Katheryn frowned. "Except…Carlos is not in Dallas. He was at the governor's mansion just now."

"The governor's mansion?!" Tommy inserted. "What's he doing there?"

"He couldn't say."

"Tandy," Mrs. Malloy called before she continued. "Well, I guess I should call Trent and check on him."

Tommy laughed under his breath. "I think he can take care of himself, mom."

"Just the same…" Katie glared at her middle son playfully. "…A mother has that right."

Tommy returned to his camping gear with a slight roll of his eyes laced in a smile.

Katheryn laid a hand on Mrs. Malloy's shoulder. "Would you like me to call?"

Mrs. Malloy thought for a brief moment before speaking. "Um…I think I'll call. But thank you for asking, hon."

Katheryn grinned her understanding and slipped back into the adjacent room to finish her own unpacking for the hours and days ahead.

Mrs. Malloy glanced at the clock on the wall and quickly thought through where her oldest son would be at this time of day…alone…with no one else to attend to. She smiled. The answer was quite obvious. Picking up the telephone receiver, Katie dialed the number to the dojo and waited as it rang steadily.

Meanwhile, the last hour had been steadily filled in with an introduction to Tae Kwon Do movements to an eager learner in the presence of the best teacher in Dallas at Thunder Karate.

"That's it!" Trent called aloud from across the dojo as his faithful student demonstrated his latest success. "Keep it up! Higher! That's the best one yet."

Trent's attention was turned immediately to the loft office above them as the regular line buzzed away on his desk. "Keep practicing," he patted Mark on the back briskly as he softly hurried away and up to the little office area. Trent drew up the telephone to his ear. "Thunder Karate. This is Trent Malloy speaking."

"How are you doing, son?" Mrs. Malloy grinned.

Trent smiled immediately at the recognition of the voice. "Mom! How's Utah treating you?"

Mrs. Malloy sat down on the corner of the hotel's bed, stretching the phone's cord as far as it was willing to go. "Okay so far. And how are you?"

"Pretty good. Walker asked me to tutor a young man in the martial arts some. I'm not sure yet, but I think he's got something on his mind. Hopefully the kicks and punches will help him out."

"I hope so too, son. It worked so well for you, Trent. I'm glad you are passing that on to others."

"I'm glad to, mom." Trent glanced over the loft to the classroom below to find Mark sitting off to the side of the classroom with his face buried in his hands instead of continuing his practicing as Trent had told him to. "I gotta go, mom. Say hi to the others for me."

"I sure will, son."

"Have a good time." Trent smiled one more time before saying goodbye and hanging up the phone. He hurried away from the loft office and arrived at Mark's side. "Mark? What's wrong? I told you to keep practicing. Why are sitting down?"

Mark raised his head slowly. He hung his hands one over each knee as he remained seated. "I'm sorry, Trent. I just can't."

Trent was confused slightly. "What do you mean? You were doing great a second ago. What changed so suddenly?"

Mark bowed his head again. "It's hard to explain."

Trent shook his head with a sigh. "Mark…Your heart has to be in this for it to do you any good. For you to learn anything from the martial arts. It's more than a mere sport." Trent took a seat near the young man. "What's troubling you?"

Mark sighed sharply, his voice full of agitation as he glanced around the room and then back at the blue floor beneath them. "I was wrong to take this class. I'm doing it for all the wrong reasons. And it's not fair to you…or to Walker."

"Mark, it doesn't matter why you wanted to in the first place. It's a good skill to have no matter what."

"I know…" Mark jerked upwards to his feet and paced away from Trent a few steps before stopping. He crossed his arms against his uniformed body. "It's just…You wouldn't understand, Trent. I can't keep this going." He whirled back around to face Trent. "I'm sorry."

Mark then turned to leave only to be stopped by Trent's strong hand as he sprang forward and eased in front of the young man. "Mark…I'm not just a karate teacher. If there's something truly wrong, I can help. And so could Walker."

Mark turned away and sighed roughly yet again. "It's not that! I—I just can't…"

Trent took hold of the young man's shoulders and looked him in the eyes determinedly. "Mark…Never say you can't. You'll fail every test in life with that kind of attitude."

Mark rolled his eyes softly and surrendered, letting Trent loosen his firm his grip as they returned to the chairs nearby. "Well, it's simple…I wanted to learn karate so that I'd have a fair chance of taking my father down…wherever he's hiding at."

"I see." Trent focused his eyes on Mark sternly as he listened kindly.

"You see…I've never met my father. At least I've never met the man who really is my father. My mom married another man after she found out she was gonna have me. A convenience thing I guess." Mark rolled his eyes. "So my real father probably doesn't even know I exist. But I'm gonna find him if it's the last thing I do."

"Mark," Trent laid his hand on Mark's shoulder. "Don't be hasty. I know you want to find your father. But a mindset of revenge isn't the right way."

"I don't want revenge." Mark tore into the air as he stood swiftly and turned to face Trent. He calmed down a bit before speaking again. "I just want him to know he made a mistake."

"Mark…How can you be so angry with a man who may have never known you existed?"

Mark turned away…unable to admit that Trent was right. He was fighting a battle of no means by being angry at a man who had so far done nothing wrong.

"Look…" Trent stood and faced Mark. "Will you let me help you find your father? It won't be easy. And you'll have to do this my way. But will you let me help?"

Mark was not hasty whatsoever in making his decision as he turned away yet again and thought through what Trent had offered. He crossed his arms and sighed…still looking away. "Fine." He turned back to face Trent. "Okay…I'll try it your way."

Trent offered a reassuring smile. "Great. Now what do you say we get back to those kicks?" He slapped Mark playfully on the back as they moved towards the middle of the dojo.

Mark grinned and nodded as Trent moved back in front of him, reaching for the master's shield and lifting it high for Mark to give it his all. For his heart was finally back in it this time around as he kicked high and proud, garnering much praise from his sensei and friend.

##

The small room echoed with the breaths of the men within them. Their taunting shadows caressed the walls around them as they huddled around the table in the middle of the room. One man sat across from the other…still…and focused. As a desire of power burned within them.

"I don't like that Sandoval fella. Not in the least." It was Sullivan who pounded his fists against the table, speaking up first.

"What do you want to do about it?"

"I don't know. But one thing's for sure. He's not here just to play bodyguard and get famous for a week. No…" Sullivan scoffed. "He's hiding it pretty well."

"How do you know?"

"I overheard his phone conversations. Besides he fed the governor a complete bogus cover story. And the governor responded by saying he could use the phone in his room!"

"But…Isn't that what it's for?" The other man applied cautiously as if afraid of Sullivan's wrath.

"I suppose." Sullivan surprised the other man by responding evenly and calmly…But it didn't last for long as heat rose to his face and anger overcame his demeanor. He managed to keep all outbursts at bay thankfully only to see the veins in his hands bulging from his skin as he coped. "I should be the next governor," Sullivan glared into the eyes of the other man. "You hear!" He calmed yet again. The flux in his emotions grew more undetectable by the second. "Now…About Sandoval. I overheard his conversation on the phone. Apparently he has friends vacationing in Utah. But I seriously doubt that."

"But he could be telling the truth, Sullivan."

"And then he could be feeding us a load of bull and going to feed us to the lions the moment our plan is uncovered! Don't you see?!" Sullivan threw his chair clear across the floor as he stood up and paced the small basement room. "That detective isn't here to escort the governor. He's here to blow the whistle on us!" He breathed hard as he thought through his plan. "We—we will have to execute the plan sooner than I wanted to I'm afraid. And Sandoval will just be a victim that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile…I want someone up in the air now and headed to Utah to check on this supposed family vacation the good detective insists is the reason for his frequent phone calls."

"Why?"

Sullivan leaned over the table, his fists supporting his weight as he leaned into the other man's face. "Because I said so."

The man backed off and sunk into his seat slightly, wishing he hadn't questioned Sullivan in any way or form. He looked up at Sullivan over his spectacles as Sullivan slowly backed away and turned towards the door, pausing once as he rested his hand on the doorknob and glanced back at his partner. "You know what to do." And with that…his shadow drifted out into the hall and back up the stairs onto the main floor of the governor's mansion, returning to the guise of protector and confidant to the leader of Texas.


Part 4


(Insert here the events from the episode "Eyes of a Ranger" up until Walker asks Trent to look after Kelly Wyman for the time being.)

Eager faces and swift preparations led the way into the rather pleasant start of the following morning as Katheryn and the Malloys prepared for their hike to the secluded cabin. Camping supplies were packed and set on the ground in front of the rental Suburban just outside the resort, awaiting to be carried on the backs of their owners up the long trail to their destination.

Mrs. Malloy sighed as she squatted downward and helped Tandy with the buttons of her coat. Her face glistened with a smile as she looked into the cheery eyes of her little girl. She glanced upward at Tommy. "Will you help Ty with his coat, son?"

"Yes, ma'am." Tommy smiled and finished the last button of his own overcoat before crossing the short distance and aiding his little brother with his.

Katheryn had since finished her preparations to guard against the biting cold and had set to work on adjusting her large camping pack onto her own back. She grimaced a bit as it pinch at her arm but sighed with relief once it slid into place perfectly onto her back. Smiling, Katheryn proceeding to buckle the strap across her chest and middle before testing them to be sure it was tight enough…but not too tight. Settling on one setting, she relaxed and took a deep breath, turning her closed eyes to the mountains and breathing in the fresh mountain air with a delighted smile caressing her face.

Tommy smiled from the corner of his mouth as he neared her, reaching for his own pack that waited with the others at Katheryn's feet. "Leave some oxygen for the rest of us please."

Katheryn opened her eyes, stifling a laugh as she punched Tommy playfully on the arm. He returned with a hearty laugh as Tandy marched over to them.

"Where's mine?" Her eyes twinkled as she looked over them.

Tommy looked into his little sister's eyes with care. "Don't you think you're a bit young to be carry a pack, Tandy? They're sort of heavy."

Tandy pouted. "I'm not too young!"

Mrs. Malloy proceeded to retrieve her own pack. "I'm afraid Tommy's right, hon. These are much too heavy for you. Perhaps in a few years you can help." She offered the little girl a smile only to see the glint fall from the little girl's eyes as she crossed her arms and turned away with a pout. "But I tell you what…" Tandy faced her mother with a renewed interest. "…There's a couple water bottles that need some tender loving care on the hike. Can you help carry those?"

Tandy nodded eagerly…the grin having returned to her soft features.

Tommy handed off the said water bottles to the smiling little girl and never heard another ill word from the little one.

"Alright, guys." Mrs. Malloy inhaled and exhaled. "Let's head out. We've got quite the hike ahead of us."

Fifteen…Maybe twenty minutes passed as the Malloys were well into their hike when a local patrol car slowed to a stop next to the Malloys' black Suburban. Its brakes squeaked ever so softly as the driver put the car in park in the space next to the SUV and eased the door open. An older gentleman emerged from the car all clad in police uniform. His sunglasses were sheltered by his brimmed hat and his arms were open to the bare cold. Yet it didn't seem to bother the rigid man who took in a deep breath, clasping a toothpick between his teeth and proceeding into the nearby resort office.

"Well, good morning, officer." The same gentleman who had welcomed the Malloys smiled as the officer entered the building.

The robust officer glanced over at the raging fire in the stone fireplace and turned back to the counter on the right. His voice was muffled has he tried his best to keep the toothpick in his mouth. "Good morning yourself, Williams. How goes the resort business?"

Williams grinned. "It's doing alright. Going good. And you…You locked up anyone recently in that rusty old jail of yours?"

The officer grinned sarcastically and plopped a stack of papers onto the desk in front of the older gentleman. "Be obliged if you could distribute these among your boarders."

The elder gentleman lifted one of the papers into his limited view with a slightly shaky hand. His squinted at the words as he read. "Oh, my." He looked up at the sheriff. "I'll get right to it." He scurried around from behind the counter and aimed for the elevator. "Have a good day sheriff."

The sheriff smirked. "You too, Williams." And he went his way.

Williams knew the entire building by heart, having memorized nearly everything he need to know and more in his thirty years there. In no time he slipped one of the pieces of paper under each door whether occupied or not so that those coming or going would know about the disturbance. After completing the entire round of all three floors, the tired gentleman returned to his place at the front desk and rested his weary bones in the chair by the corner, reading a leftover piece of paper carefully with a shake of his head. Slowly and to himself, he read aloud, "Bear on the loose. She is dangerous and we advise all visitors to refrain from hiking until further notice."

##

The shiny silver hubcaps of the limousine sparkled under the intense Texas sunshine as the vehicle came to a slow stop in front the governor's mansion. From the mansion came two suited gentleman both clad with hidden firearms and intriguing sun shades that hid any emotion they possessed. The two traced the path to the long car and ceased their step in front of the door. One of them opened it as the other stood by on the other side. Once the door had been opened, that guard also stood at attention on the other side with hands folded atop each other in front of him. Forward they both gazed…unmoved…and untouched…as the doors to the mansion opened and through them first came Sullivan in the lead. The governor was right behind him. Another guard took up the rear just before Carlos exited last.

Carlos squinted as the rays hit his eyes. He glanced briefly at the duffle in his hand which currently housed his trusty shades. He shrugged it off inwardly and kept a keen observation about him as he walked.

Once the group had reached the limousine, Carlos was forced to stop as the governor, Sullivan, and the other bodyguard made their way through the narrow entrance of the vehicle and took their seats. As he waited, his gaze drifted. More out of investigative instinct rather than curiosity. Although he was curious about the premises nonetheless. Who wouldn't be with so much history wrapped up in such a place?

"No it couldn't be." Carlos breathed as his gaze fell upon two women who stood afar off by another car.

One of the women was older. The other was younger…And looked a lot like Katheryn's roommate Molly. Carlos shrugged it off. It couldn't have been.

"Sandoval…" Sullivan's sharp-edged voice tore into Carlos' thoughts.

The young woman conveniently turned away. And a staunch ray of sunlight beamed into Carlos' view. He sighed and entered the vehicle, taking a seat next to Sullivan across from the governor.

"So," the governor grinned as he looked towards Carlos. "I was curious about where your lady friend and her friends were vacationing. Utah is a splendid place. I've been there a couple of times myself. Park City is just beautiful. Is that where they are?"

Carlos smiled. "Yeah. Not too far from there. They were planning a hiking trip."

"Have you been there yourself, detective?"

"Yeah," Carlos stifled a chuckle. "Indeed I have. Just this past year in fact. It didn't turn out so great thanks to three brothers who had it in for us."

"Us?" The governor raised a brow.

"Rangers Walker and Trivette, assistant DA Alex Cahill, myself, and my best friend Trent made a vacation out of it."

The governor chuckled. "And you didn't invite a certain young lady?"

"Unfortunately no. And she hasn't let me forget about it. But she had the opportunity to get some training with a Ranger while we were gone. So I don't think she holds it against me too much."

"And I'm guessing you were just friends."

"Something like that." Carlos tried to hide his growing smile as he spoke.

The governor grinned. "I'm sorry to pester you, detective. I just like hearing about the lives of the people that work for me…ever how long that may be. I don't ever want to be impersonal with any of my bodyguards. You all are just as important as I am."

Carlos nodded. "I completely understand, sir."

Sullivan's piercing eyes went to and from the twosome's friendly conversation as he absorbed every detail through his keenly-listening ears as they made their way to the private airstrip and the plane that awaited to take them to the Dallas…and whatever lay ahead.

##

Seven of the eight miles were traced by the steady steps of the Malloy clan and Katheryn before the first moan came due to aching feet and growling stomachs. The way had even become steeper than at the start, causing weariness to set in even quicker especially among the young ones.

After finally reaching a bit of flatland in a clearing near a beautifully-sounding gurgling creek, Mrs. Malloy stopped and began detaching her large pack from her body. "Alright. Let's rest here for a while."

Tandy immediately plopped down on the grassy area, sighing softly as her head sagged. "Momma, I'm tired."

"I know sweetheart." Mrs. Malloy offered a faint smile as she searched for her daughter's eyes across the short distance.

Both Katheryn and Tommy proceeded to free themselves from their own packs as Ty found a spot to occupy on the ground near his sister.

"Thanks for the help." Tommy playfully scoffed as he grunted one last time, the pack falling to the ground as he made a slight bit of eye contact with his younger brother.

"No problem," Ty grinned, provoking his older brother.

"Oh, I see how it is." Tommy nodded, feigning a bit of aggravation at he hurried forward and tackled his now cackling brother on the ground. They rolled in the grass for a few seconds…Ty at the full mercy of his brother as he kept yelling for Tommy to stop.

Yet Tommy didn't stop. "Say uncle! Say it!" He guffawed as he tickled Tyler even more.

"No! I will not!" Ty screeched through his perpetual laughing fits.

"Say it!"

"No!"

"Say uncle!"

"UNCLE!" Ty finally screamed. His voice echoed into the mountains around them as the ladies of the group hid smirks and smiles as they watched the silliness that unfolded.

Tommy reluctantly backed off of his brother and smiled, punching Ty on the arm ever so softly. "Ah, I'm just teasing."

"I know you are." Ty glared, pointing a finger at Tommy. "And I'll get you back."

Tommy rolled his eyes. "Right."

A sudden roar echoed nearby, quieting the entire group and putting fear into their eyes.

"Momma?" Tandy's voice shook as her eyes scanned the area around them.

Mrs. Malloy slowly eased back up to her feet, searching the area with her eyes also. "It's alright, sweetheart." Yet her faltering voice caused her to doubt her own encouraging words.

Katheryn remembered the sound from yesterday as she eased closer to the others. "That sounded mighty familiar."

"Yup," Tommy chimed in.

"Maybe we'd best be moving on." Mrs. Malloy neared her pack.

Ty's eyes grew large as he spotted something moving in the faraway distance. "Or be climbing some trees!" Ty stood to his feet quite swiftly with his armed outstretched as he pointed to the opening in the winter woods. "Tommy!"

Mrs. Malloy spotted the moving figure next. She stifled the crippling fear that welled up in her and rushed back, gathering up Tandy in her arms as she looked to the others. "Run!"

And running was all they could possibly do as they abandoned their packs, charging forward into the unknown paths before them while eager paws trampled the grasses they had just escaped from.

Not much space remained between them and the bear as Katheryn glanced over her shoulder. Suddenly she tripped. Her foot had snagged against a fallen branch.

Tommy immediately came to a halt and doubled back, crouching low to give Katheryn his hand. They were up in no time thankfully…but the bear was too close. They had no place to go…accept up.

"C'mon!" Tommy yelled and gave Katheryn a leg up as she hoisted her weight up onto the nearby tree, taking hold of the first outstretched branch and pulling her weight upward as fast as she could so that Tommy could follow.

Just as Tommy had reached the first branch, the bear had reached the foot of the tree…and now pawed aimlessly at them from below.

"Tommy!" Katheryn called out as she perched on a single, sturdy branch a few feet above Tommy.

Tommy grunted a bit as he pulled himself up some more, just barely dodging the swiftly waving paw of the bear below.

The beast tore into the air with bellowing howls as she made her objective known. Yet she had failed at securing Tommy in her grasp as he made it to the height Katheryn had and now perched on a sturdy branch on the opposite side of the broad-trunked tree. The bear turned, growling her disappointment softly as she paces the ground at the foot of the tree. She ambled away softly, giving the two tree occupants a small window of freedom.

Tommy panted hard, struggling to catch his breath. "Can you see Mom and the others?"

Katheryn stretched a bit over a hanging branch in her face to see in the distance. She slowly shook her head. "No. I—I can't see them."

Tommy sighed quite roughly as he watched the creature below in earnest.

"You think she'll go away?"

"I don't know." Tommy exhaled.

The determined creature turned indecisive quickly as she paced the area below them…somehow secretly hoping they would come down to her or something.

As the creature continued its fickle deliberation, Katheryn scanned the wooden area beyond them once more. She squinted and focused hard. But to no avail. "Do you think they made it to the cabin?"

Tommy thought for a moment. "Maybe. It's only about a mile away."

Katheryn sighed and rested her forehead quite forcefully on the thick tree trunk before her.

Tommy glanced her way and noticed her agitation, feeling every bit of angst that she felt and even more. He turned back just in time to see the bear giving up and prancing away from the direction they had all came from. Tommy grinned. "Looks like we're getting somewhere now."

Katheryn gently withdrew her head from the tree and blew at the free-falling locks in her eyes as she too noticed the bear's surrender. She smiled as Tommy glanced her way. Victory gleamed in both of their eyes as they began thinking through what they should do next.

Tommy's smile faded as looked at the ground below.

"What?" Katheryn frowned.

"That's much too far to jump."

Katheryn leaned forward slightly, surveying the area also. "You're right."

"And we don't have ropes or anything. All that was in our camping packs."

"We really should try to go back and get the packs."

Tommy shook his head. "We'd never make it. I say we try to make it to the cabin and forget our packs."

"But all our food and emergency supplies were in them, Tommy. I'm the oldest here. I say we go back."

Tommy raised his eyebrows sarcastically. "And let that bear pick our scent back up fairly easily? No way. Count me out."

Katheryn sighed sharply, leaning her head back from agitation as she gazed at the cloudy skies. "You're right." She returned her eyes to Tommy.

Tommy looked off to the distance…already assured of the fact. He glanced one last time at the ground below before scooting forward and attempting his decent.

"Tommy," Katheryn whispered loudly. "What are you doing?!"

"Getting outta here. What do you think?"

"What about the bear?"

"She should be gone."

"And what if she's not?"

Tommy rolled his eyes as he held onto the trunk with all his might and slowly crawled downward. "C'mon. We can make it," he finished, jumping from the trunk onto the cold ground with one final thud.

Katheryn apprehensively followed, turning her body completely around as she guided her foot to the first small branch that stuck out of the tree below her. Slowly and easily, she made her way down much the same way as Tommy had as the young man slowly watched her descent. She too jumped on that final crawl and took in a deep breath, straightening her clothes as the twosome glanced around themselves eagerly.

Katheryn quickly patted Tommy on the back as she sprung forward into a soft run. "Let's go!"

They didn't stop running for the next half mile when a clearing suddenly opened before them, revealing a welcoming cabin. The twosome ceased running long enough to catch their breath and look the place over. Behind them, they could hear the nearing sounds of paws hitting against the grasses below.

The door to the cabin swung open instantly as Mrs. Malloy appeared in the doorway. "Come on!" She yelled urgently as she saw them coming in the distance.

The twosome exchanged wary smiles and charged forward, nearly colliding as they eased into the cabin's narrow doorway. Mrs. Malloy secured the door behind them almost instantly. Their faces were red and flushed from the run as they nearly collapsed onto the floor but managed to stagger to a stop.

Mrs. Malloy rushed to Tommy and embraced him, bringing Katheryn into her embrace also. "I'm so glad you two made it. I was so worried about you both." She drew back and looked them in the eyes.

Tommy smiled and wriggled from his coat, taking Katheryn's also as she eased out hers and placed them both on the pile by the door.

From the other room ran Tandy and Ty. "Katheryn! Tommy!" They called in unison, raising their voices with joy lacing every syllable.

Katheryn scooped up Tandy into her arms for a warm embrace.

"Did you see the bear?" Tandy grinned.

Katheryn chuckled. "Yes, Tandy, we did." She rolled her eyes towards Tommy.

"My God," Mrs. Malloy clasped her eyes shut briefly, taking in a deep breath as she placed her hand over her chest. "When I realized you two had fallen back…" Her words trailed off as she swallowed hard, willing away the tears that ensued.

Katheryn offered a reassuring smile, setting Tandy down and crossing the short space to give Mrs. Malloy a hug. "I can assure you," Katheryn drew away from the embrace, "that no part of me desired to trip over myself back there."

Gentle chuckles floated amongst the Malloys as Katheryn smiled her approval.

"What do we do now?" Tommy crossed to the fireplace and reached his hands out toward the licking flames.

Mrs. Malloy paced the short distance to her older son and rested her weight on the large stone mantle. Sighing, she looked towards Tommy, hope having faded from view. "I don't know, son."

Tommy chuckled. "Katheryn suggested we dodge back for the packs before we ran for the cabin."

Mrs. Malloy looked to Kath with a glint of humor in her eyes. "The sentiment is well-appreciated, hon. And I mean no offense, but thank you for not doing that. For your own sake."

Katheryn simply smiled as she settled into a chair at the plain wooden kitchen table that served the eat-in kitchen appropriately. She propped up her elbow on the table, her fist supporting her chin while she tapped the table continuously with the index finger on her other hand. A silence settled over the room, being replaced by the soft winds outside, the fireplace's welcoming tones, and Katheryn's tapping finger as she tried to think through a solution to the problem.

Everyone else was trying the same thing. Searching the files of their mind to figure out how they would get out of there safely…or merely survive…with no cell phone, little reception that would make any difference, no food, no weapons, and only five dry matches and small stack of wood that was being eaten up by the blazing fire rather quickly.

"There's gotta be something." Tommy finally broke the silence as he turned lethargically towards the open floor of the cabin and paced to where Katheryn remained. "No one will even miss us for a day or two since we told everyone that cell reception was bad up here." Tommy let his arms fall to his sides in surrender with one swift motion as he spun on his heel and crossed his arms, pacing to the front cabin window by the door. He eased one arm from his chest and gently moved the white-laced country curtains. He slowly inhaled. "And besides all that…"

Mrs. Malloy raised her eyes to meet her son's voice.

"…We got company."


Part 5


"Yep. Just like I figured." The dark-shadowed man slowly lowered the binoculars from his eyes as he gazed over the secluded cabin from afar. He chuckled ruefully a bit before dialing a number on his cell phone. All he got was a dial tone. He threw the technological device across the ground, breathing a curse into the air as he did so with an angry fervor before reaching for his binoculars. "I guess I'll have to do it myself."

"What do you see?" Back in the cabin, Katheryn rose from her chair rather quickly and moved to Tommy's side, rounding the window to the other side swiftly as to not be seen. She smiled to herself with satisfaction that her friendship with Carlos, Trent, and the Rangers had paid off and benefitted her more than she gave it credit for. "I should be a PI or something."

"What?" Tommy turned his head.

"Oh, nothing," Katheryn shrugged.

Tommy turned back to the window as his finger gently held the curtain at bay. "I only see one guy right now. I can't tell if he has a weapon or not."

Katheryn eased to the other side of the broad curtain and quickly claimed a peek before letting the curtain settle back into place.

"Tommy! Don't let that man see you!" Mrs. Malloy sharply whispered.

"He can't, mom. He's too far away."

"I wouldn't be so sure." Katheryn admitted, looking Tommy in the eyes as he looked her way.

Tommy sighed and backed away from the window, settling his back against the closed wooden door. "This would be a swell time for that bear to pay a visit."

Katheryn stifled a chuckled as she reached for another peek outside. "I could be wrong, but I think that bear may be occupied with our lunch right now."

"That's true." Tommy crossed his arms again and reached for the curtain once more.

Mrs. Malloy crossed the space and laid a hand softly on Tommy's shoulder, looking over him towards the man who waited outside. "Tommy…Just be careful, son."

Tommy turned to face his mother with a closed-mouth smile. "I will. But I'm not a black-belt for nothing."

"I know." Mrs. Malloy sighed.

"What am I? Chopped liver?" Katheryn grinned at the young man. "I may be a few belts away from my black belt still, but I can give you a run for your money, Thomas Malloy."

Tommy scoffed playfully. "Challenge accepted."

Katheryn turned back her jovial gaze to the dire situation at hand. It had helped to lighten the mood…But it had not gotten them any closer to a solution.

##

Trent Malloy cruised down the Dallas freeway in his open-top Stingray as the spring sunshine tempted the barely detectable winter blues that still hung over the city. Yet it wouldn't be long before the temperatures rose considerably to the unbearable Texas heat that was the reputation of the place.

Reaching for his cell phone, Trent dialed Mark Wimbourne's number with ease and put the device to his left ear while resting his elbow on the door of the vintage car and gripping the steering wheel with his opposite hand. Trent softly leaned his head back as he waited for someone to pick up. Yet no one did. He dialed again. Still no answer.

Trent arrived at Thunder Karate a short while later with a long face and confused thoughts just as Walker came to a stop in front of the dojo from the other side of the street.

"Hey, Trent." Walker grinned as he eased from the truck and shut the door firmly behind him.

Trent shook away his reverie. "Oh, hey, Walker." He looked upwards toward the karate school. "Come on in."

Walker's brow furrowed as he walked, noticing Trent's deep thoughts. "You must have been a mile away."

"Or longer," Trent chuckled, opening the door to Thunder Karate and entering for Walker to follow. A coolness surrounded them as they adjusted to the change of atmosphere. Trent immediately headed for the loft office with Walker close behind. "What brings you by the dojo, Walker?"

Walker climbed the last of the stairs and slipped off his Stetson, holding it steadily in front of him as he eyed his protégé from across the short space. "I was hoping to ask how Mark Wimbourne is doing."

Trent sighed intensely his eyes falling upon the exact place they had exchanged heated words just yesterday. He turned his eyes to Walker, hope failing to show on his face. "He's a handful, Walker. He really his. He's got so much anger in him over his father."

Walker nodded. "Yeah. Mark's never met his father."

"So I was told. And he doesn't even know Mark exists."

"Does he know where his father is?"

"No…but I told Mark I'd help him find his father."

Walker seemed reluctant to be happy about Trent's endeavor. "I know you want to help, Trent. But don't you think you may be promising something you may not be able to keep?"

Trent nodded, knowing full well that Walker was right. "I know. But it seemed the only way to level with him. It was the only way I was able to get through to him."

Walker sighed. "Anything I can do to help?"

Trent beamed a smile as he reached for a piece of paper on the desk before him. He extended the item to Walker. "This is all that Mark was able to tell me that he knows. I was wondering if you can help me track down a police officer by that name. It's right there at the bottom."

Walker read the name, wrinkling his forehead. "A police officer?"

"Yep," Trent nodded. "Mark said his mother told him he was a cop for a short time when she first met him. Then he quit the force to become a lawyer. By the time Mark was born, he was well out of their lives and had made another whole life for himself."

Walker slipped the piece of paper into the inside chest pocket of his coat. "I'll have Trivette run it through his computer. Anything else?"

Trent reached for the phone and began dialing Mark's number again. "No, sir. I think that's it for now. I've got some more fishing to do myself."

Walker smiled and headed for the stairs. "Stay safe," he called behind him as he landed on the first floor and aimed for the door.

Trent chuckled softly just as the third dial tone sounded against his ear. Then another…before the call was ended entirely. Trent began to sense something was wrong as he replaced the receiver onto the phone and relaxed into the back of the office chair, interlocking his hands behind his head as he leaned back. He settled into his thought quickly before a thought seized him. He quickly moved from the office and headed to the main floor and then back to his Stingray, locking up the dojo before climbing into the vintage beauty and accelerating towards his next destination.

Trent arrive at the said destination a brief ten minutes later, parking his car at the edge of the suburban street and easing from the comfortable leather seats, planting his feet on the asphalt street as he surveyed the houses before him. Mark's was house number 214. He slowly ambled to the sidewalk, and observed the said number on the next house down as he directed his steps up its walkway and porch steps, stopping to ring the doorbell. He was forced to ring the small bell yet again before he heard a stir on the other side.

The door eased open with ample caution as a tired face suddenly appeared in the small space. "May I help you?"

"Um, yes, ma'am. Is this the Wimbourne residence?"

"Afraid it is," the middle-aged woman glared at Trent.

The decrepit porch creaked softly as Trent adjusted his stance as he spoke. "My name is Trent Malloy, ma'am. I've been teaching your son karate and he asked me to help him with a search for his father. I was hoping…perhaps you'd speak with me?"

The woman eased the door open maybe one…or two inches more, allowing her to survey the stranger before her with extreme detail. "What do you want to know?"

"May I come inside?"

The woman shook her head and took her stand.

Trent raised an eyebrow softly as he distinctly received the message the woman was trying to send. "Okay. Um, can you tell me if you have any idea where Mark's father is today? Have you kept in contact any over the years?"

"No," the woman interjected quickly and sharply. "That nincompoop was headed for bigger and better things than to bother with me when I found out I'd be having Mark. I don't own him nothing. I cut off all ties after that last time we talked when Mark was two."

Trent's intrigue grew. "You spoke to him after Mark was born?"

"Yep," she rolled her eyes. "Worse decision I ever made. Practically made me feel like a front-page gossip column story the way he tried to deny my existence when I tried to meet with him."

"What was his line of work at that time?"

"He was still a lawyer then. A darn good one too…until politics started taking him over. After that, I gave up all hope of ever seeing him again and remarried when Mark was five."

"I see…And he hasn't tried to contact you at all?"

"Not one single time." She inhaled and exhaled sharply on that last note. "Now, if that's all, I really should be getting dinner on. Mark'll be home any second." She moved to close the door when Trent stopped her.

"Wait...Mark isn't here?"

The lady scoffed softly and nodded towards the road going south. "No. Of course he isn't. He's always at the community center doing stuff late in the afternoons."

Trent nodded genuinely, hoping the woman would see the thanks in his eyes. "Thank you, ma'am. You've been a great help." He turned and descended the porch steps.

"Anytime." The woman's eyes sunk and her mouth sagged as if she didn't care very much.

Trent traced the steps back to his Stingray rather quickly and started down the road again in search of the said community center. Coming to a rather unkempt facility with the words "Community Center" written above it, Trent parked the car and stood out of it, closing his door behind him and finding his way to the door. Sounds of children at play reached his ears as he placed his hand on the doorknob, observing the bars that held the windows of the door captive while he made his way inside.

His eyes adjusting to the darkened room, Trent noticed nearly ten boys, all in their late teens, shuffling a basketball around and shooting hoops. It wasn't a serious game by a long shot. And among them as Trent had hoped was Mark, clad in a t-shirt, well-worn jersey, and the shorts to match the rugged theme.

Cheers erupted from the group as Mark made a basket after leaping into the air and sending the ball cascading through the basket.

Trent smiled softly as Mark landed back on his feet, reaching forward for the free-rolling ball as he spun on his heel, bouncing the ball back across the court, and raising his eyes to finally be alerted of Trent's presence. He tossed the ball over to one of his buddies before nearing Trent was a mien of curiosity.

"That was a heck of a shot, Mark." Trent beamed to his friend.

Mark wasn't in the mood for fun. "What are you doing here, Trent?"

Trent grew serious to match the apprehension of his young friend. "I called you three times with no answer. If you want me to help you, Mark. You've got to be open to talking with me."

"Sorry, Trent," Mark sighed. "But momma don't answer the phone these days."

"I just came from your house, Mark."

"You find out what you wanted to know?" Mark was stern and straightforward in his tone.

Trent glared at Mark, attempting to find out what Mark was holding back. But it was to no avail. "She said she spoke with your father when you were two."

Mark shrugged it off. "So?"

"She led me to believe your father is of some sort of prominence."

"Maybe."

"Look, Mark. If you already have an idea of who your father is…then I should know. Have you tried speaking with him already?"

"Look, I don't know who my father is!" Mark snapped, regretting it immediately as he turned his face away.

Trent sighed. "I'm sorry, Mark. But honesty is the only way we'll be able to make any progress."

Mark didn't turn back to Trent but turned around completely this time and headed back onto the court. "I've got a game to get back to."

Trent surrendered to this losing fight, sighing beneath his breath as he aimed for the door. He paused once and turned back. "Don't forget our next lesson is tomorrow afternoon after lunch."

Something of a nod escaped Mark as he tried to ignore Trent, waving his hand behind him in the air as he continued on with what he was doing as he got back into the game.

Trent slowly turned back towards the door and eased it open. Its hinges creaked as he released the door behind him, the Texas sunrays hitting his eyes, causing him to squint against them as he made his way back to his Stingray and aimed for home. For there was nothing further he could do today.

##

About seven other individuals rounded off the little crowd of tourists that had included Molly Mason and her mother. The two ladies soon joined up with said crowd, quickly maneuvering the quiet street once the limousine and accompanying cars had moved down the road and the additional security had cleared and returned to the governor's mansion ahead of them.

"This was a wonderful idea, honey. I've always wanted to tour the governor's mansion." Molly's mother beamed a smile towards her daughter as they hurried across the street. "I think I'm feeling a bit better already."

Molly soft smile graced her demeanor as she glanced upward at the vast structure before them with a jovial sigh. "I just wish grandma could have come with us." She willed away a tear that threatened her eyes as they came to a stop behind the others who had arrived at the entrance of the mansion.

Molly's mother turned, reaching a hand towards her daughter's and searching for her longing eyes. Molly's eyes met her mother's as the older woman spoke. "I know. I'm sure she'll be up and about in no time. You know your grandma. She's as strong as an ox. And she's got that John Mason gumption to boot."

Molly finally let herself laugh softly at the memories she held of her grandmother over the years. It was an emotion she had yet to let sweep over herself since coming to Austin a few days ago. It was true. Her grandmother did have that Mason strength in her that had carried her ancestor across the country on the Paradise Trail not a bit over one hundred years ago.

Their walk down memory lane was soon brought to a stop as the small crowd was alerted to the presence of a woman who stepped from the doorway clad in business-like attire and donning a bright smile and stack of papers in her slender arms. "Hello, everyone. My name is Anne. And I have the distinct pleasure of being a tour guide for you all today. We can't do these tours all the time but we have the opportunity to offer them every once in a while. And let me say I am proud to be here today. There is so much history wrapped up in this one building that I can't wait to share with you all. As you enter the mansion, I will be handing out a sheet of paper to each of you that outlines some rather fascinating facts about the place. You can keep these of course." The woman then moved to the side, standing in front of the guard who stood at the left side of the doorway. She smiled even brighter as the crowd eased forward and into the open door one-by-one, excepting the papers she offered as they walked.

Molly and her mother each accepted their papers and offered cordial smiles to the kind lady as they proceeded forward and into the beautiful home.

The little crowd dispersed slowly as they all made their way past the single-entry door, gently whispering endearing comments about the various features of the foyer.

Directly to Molly's right and left were the same identical set-ups…one on each side…a two-candle sconce surrounded by an overlooking silver angel which hovered on the wall over a small side table clad with a single center ending in four legs on the bottom. Its top was minimally decorated. Just a simple lamp adorned each table. The ceiling of the entryway was adorned in an elaborate crystal chandelier that shined ample light on the broad blues and pastels of the area rug below.

Molly's mother leaned in to her softly. "How ever did you get us this tour, sweetheart?"

Molly's facetious smile gave her away. "I have friends in high places now, mama, since I moved to Dallas."

Her mother smiled approvingly, turning her attention back to the beauty before her, pointing privately to the nearby couch. "Do you think they'll let us take that pretty red sofa home?"

Her daughter's knowing eyes gave her the dreaded answer before her lips could move. "Unfortunately not," Molly smiled, turning to admire the piece even more. "But it is rather beautiful I must say."

"Before we continue on our tour," their leader began once everyone had had a chance to take in the foyer, "does anyone have a question?"

Molly slowly raised her hand with apprehension lacing every motion.

"Yes?"

"Um," Molly softly chuckled. "Where's your bathroom?"

The lady smiled, easing over to Molly while still speaking to the entire group. "The bathroom is right down this hall." Then to Molly directly, "I'll show you to it if you'd like."

Molly nodded and proceeded to follow the woman forward, winding the few turns as she kept up with her leader. The kind lady came to a stop at two doors. "Here we are." Molly placed her hand on the first doorknob, triggering a quick reprimand. "No! I mean…" the lady chuckled aloud, softening her tone, "That door leads to the basement. Here…" she stepped back, "…try this one."

Molly shook off the little conversation and grinned softly as she opened that room instead, pushing her way into the darkness of the room and feeling for the light switch. Once she was through several minutes later, she slowly eased from the room and shut the door behind her with care and consideration. She rose softly from her bent position and wheeled around only to be met with a man and his armload of papers as a loud gasp from her mouth that frightened them both, sending all his items cascading into the air and to the ground before them.

"Oh I'm so sorry, sir!" Molly bent low and scooped up all the papers before her into a pile.

The gentleman was hard at work on another pile to his side as he hurried to relieve her of needing to help him. "It's okay, miss. I've got it. You go on."

Molly continued to stack the papers she had collected, insisting it was alright when her eyes fell upon the words of the page that graced the top of the stack. Can't trust Carlos Sandoval. Utah. Send a man up there right away.

The man noticed her light peruse of the pages and quickly snatched the stack away, glaring her in the eyes. "Thank you, miss. Good day." He then marched off and into the room next to the bathroom…the same one the lady had insisted she avoid…leaving his stern voice echoing in Molly's confused thoughts.

Molly remained there in the hall…still…unmoved…in a bit of shock from what had just occurred. It took her a few seconds of recovery and processing before the magnitude of what she had read with those few fleeting seconds suddenly struck her. What did her roommate's friend have to do with the man she had just been snubbed by so rudely? It was too mysterious…too odd…She surrendered with a sigh as she realized she would not be able to enjoy the rest of her day with the knowledge of this weighing heavy on her mind.

Molly's feet carried her quickly back to her mother's side. She gently laid a hand on the woman's arm as she leaned towards her ear in a whisper. "We've got to go, mom."

Her mom brushed her daughter's direct statement off with a smile. "What do you mean, Molly? We just arrived."

"Trust me," Molly insisted as she met with her mother's gaze.

Her mother knew that look in her daughter's eyes that she currently looked into. She slowly nodded, having learned from many times in the young woman's past what that look had always meant. It was no joke. Something had gone awry. And she had only to follow her daughter away from the beautiful place to know what this was truly all about.


Part 6


"Did you do it?" Sullivan's voice merged into his cellular device as he glared towards Detective Sandoval from across the aircraft by the cockpit entrance.

"Yeah…yeah…uh…I got it done, Sullivan. Nothing to worry about."

"That's not what it sounds like to me."

"No…no…really, Sullivan. It's all good. I traced Sandoval's call to a resort near Park City, Utah. My buddy Miller's been there all month. So I called him up and told him to take care of it."

Sullivan's elongated sigh hid his frustration. "Good. At least you're doing something right."

"Well…" the other guy's voice faltered.

"What is it? You had better not be hiding something from me, Morris. Speak."

"I, um, I think a young lady might have read my notes when I dropped them in the hallway."

Sullivan clenched his free fist intensely, the veins showing with a threatening bulge as he refrained from slamming his fist into the wall of the plane. He exhaled sharply. "You clumsy little fool! What was on the paper?"

"J—just the detective's name and a few odds and ends. Nothing a stranger could figure out."

"You'd better hope so, Morris." Sullivan sternly issued to the other party and quickly shut the phone and sighed, running a hand through his hair exasperatingly before coming back to reality and stepping into his act. He crossed the short space back to detective Sandoval and the governor with a feigned grinned, unbuttoning his coat as he sat down in the reclining aircraft seat.

Sullivan lifted a narrowed, suspicion-laced gaze towards detective Sandoval.

Carlos returned it…as if he was searching for something…but couldn't decide just what that was as he brushed the thought aside and tried to shift his focus back on the job at hand.

##

The distant figure slowly eased from his meager cover behind the large trunks of several clustered trees at the edge of the woods and lifted his hands high into view. His rather large footsteps graced the cold, wet grasses beneath him as he inched his way forward…in earnest…having left all his belongings in the nearby brush, abandoning one demeanor and guise for another.

"He's on the move," Tommy called out, breaking the forlorn silence as he straightened his posture and intensified his watch on the man outside.

Two sets of eager feet scurried across the short distance…one crawling onto the chair and pushing herself up and underneath the lacy curtain while the other squeezed in between Katheryn and the chair to try and catch a glimpse.

Mrs. Malloy sighed and shook her head in defeat. It was no use keeping those two corralled for long when "adventure" lie ahead. She was tempted to reprimand the twosome…but held her tongue instead, crossing the room to the vacant window on the other side of the cabin front to claim her own view of the stranger.

"Hey there!" The voice called out with a grin as he kept his hands in the air. "I was wondering if you folks could help me." He chuckled. "Kinda got rooted out of my camp by that old mama grizzly."

Tommy backed away from the window and turned to Mrs. Malloy. "He seems sincere enough."

"I know." Mrs. Malloy warily looked on the man with concern. He seemed to be telling the truth. "Let me handle this." Katie quickly went to the door placing her hand on the handle and looking upwards with closed eyes and a silent prayer before she eased the door open and put one foot in front of the other. Soon she was fully on the porch and had eased the door closed…but open just a bit. She crossed her arms. "What do you want?"

The man grinned…a little too much for comfort in Katheryn's opinion as she raised a brow, doubtful of the man's sincerity.

"Well, ma'am. I've got myself a prop plane not too far from here. Thought maybe you could use the transportation."

"How did you know we were here? And who says we were planning to leave?" Mrs. Malloy cocked her eyes at the man sternly.

Tommy smiled as he witnessed and admired his mother's familiar tenacity. He glanced at Katheryn and leaned in to her in a whisper. "You remind me a lot of mom."

Tyler and Tandy giggled only after Katheryn showed Tommy a smile of approval.

"Um, well, that cabin hasn't been used in a couple of years. Just figure who ever found it was in need of shelter…for some reason."

Mrs. Malloy stared at the man for a short moment. "You mean this isn't the Pruitt cabin?"

He shook his head with another unnecessary smile. "No, ma'am. The Pruitt cabin is still about seven miles out that a way." He pointed north.

Mrs. Malloy sighed and cradled her head inside her palm for a short second as a light laugh beset her. "Well, if that don't beat all. Does that mean we're trespassing?"

"Afraid it is, ma'am."

Mrs. Malloy lifted her head with doubt. "And you said you had a plane nearby?"

"Sure do." The man grinned. "Just about a mile west of here."

"Well…I suppose I'll have to talk to my children. Just wait here, sir." Mrs. Malloy turned back and headed for the inside of the cabin only to be overwhelmed by Tommy as she entered.

"You're not possibly going to take him up on that ridiculous offer!" Tommy followed his mother as she paced to the kitchen area. "And was that about the Pruitt cabin?"

Mrs. Malloy sighed and stifled a laugh. "Son, I fed him that to confirm what I feared. He's no more a kind man offering help than I am the queen of Sheba."

Tandy giggled from her little spot by her younger brother and Katheryn behind her.

Tommy grinned. "Oh, I see." He backed away, realizing his mother had everything under control. His smile faded. "But how are you going to get rid of him now?"

A deafening silence fell over the room following the staunch reality of Tommy's sharp words. He had not meant them to sound sharp…But they did hold much honesty towards the situation at hand.

"Time's up!" The stranger's voice echoed in their ears, causing them to turn their attention towards the front of the cabin. "Now I've got a gun pointed straight towards your doorway. You can either let me in…Or one of you gets hurt. It's all up to you."

##

Molly Mason had no time to waste as she hurriedly packed her belongings back at her hotel room and quickly hurried to leave. Her mom had dropped her off there after they had left the governor's mansion with little assurance as to why her daughter was so preoccupied.

"It's okay, mama. Trust me," Molly had assured in earnest as she rested her hand on her mother's just before she had rushed away from the passenger side of the car and into the hotel.

Her mother had made her promise to call though as soon as she had arrived back in Dallas. She had also made Molly promise to explain everything once she was settled back into her apartment. Molly had unashamedly and quickly agreed. She had nothing time. But she also had no time to lose. That is…if anything was really wrong. This was indeed a wild goose chase she had set herself on.

With that in mind as Molly zipped up her second suitcase securely, she paused, placing a finger to her cheek and her other hand on her hip while she paced the short distance of the floor in front of the well-made bed. A thought had seized her. She quickly crossed the room to the telephone and dialed a number, praying that someone would pick up.

"Thunder Karate. This is Trent Malloy speaking."

Molly smiled, relieved that she had not dialed the number in vain as loud kiais were heard in the background. "Trent, this is Molly Mason."

Trent put a finger in his other ear and smiled as he raised his voice over the class below as his students continued to practice. "Molly…It's good to talk to you again. Katheryn told me that you were Austin. Is everything okay?"

"Um, yeah. My grandmother should be on the mend. Look…I, um, don't want to sound ridiculous or anything. But…"

Trent wrinkled his forehead as he focused on the young woman's soft voice which seemed to falter and hesitate. His brotherly instincts welled up as he spoke. "What is it?"

"Um…" Molly chuckled nervously and sighed, finally resolving to tell all as she stopped pacing and faced the mirror to gaze at her pathetic smile. "I think there may be trouble. But I don't know exactly."

"Trouble with what?"

"I don't know…I, um, saw something at the governor's mansion when my mom and I went there for a tour this afternoon." She grinned at her image and turned away with a smile. "You know…This is silly. I don't know why I called. I'm probably interrupting your work."

"No!" Trent stopped Molly quickly, catching a glance of his class from the loft and knowing good and well that he should get back to the class. He couldn't depend on Tommy helping him lead since he was away. "Um…No, please. I'm a good listener. What did you see?"

Molly shut her eyes tight, sighed, and opened her eyes back up, turning to pace the floor slowly as she crossed her arm on top of the arm that supported the phone on her ear. "There was this man…I practically crashed into him in the hall. When I did, a ton of papers spilled on the floor. As I was gathering them up for him, I caught a glimpse of one of the papers before he snatched them away rather rudely."

"What did the papers say?" Trent urged her to continue.

Molly remembered back to the moment as best she could. "It happened so fast. They said something like, 'Carlos Sandoval. Utah. Send a man up there right away.' I don't know what to think of that since Katheryn's in Utah. It startled me somewhat."

Trent's thoughts raced as he thought through the words. "That is rather suspicious. And you didn't recognize the man?"

"No." Molly shook her head with undue regret.

Trent sighed and stood up off of his desk. "Thanks for letting me know. When are you headed back to Dallas?"

"Right now." Molly crossed back to her suitcase and checked the zipper as the cord of the phone became taught from the distance between her and it.

"That's good. Call me when you get here."

Molly picked up the suitcase with one hand and set it on the floor below. "Will do."

"Talk to you later." Trent waited for her goodbye and then returned the phone to the receiver, hurrying back downstairs to conclude the latter part of his class. It was almost past lunchtime. Mark Wimbourne would be arriving at any moment.

On the other end of the line, Molly too returned the phone to its rightful home and rushed forward, quickly easing her purse onto her shoulder and taking up a suitcase in each hand as she struggled to get past the heavy hotel room door. But she did so successfully, its weighted lock slamming shut into place as she hurried away from the room in search of the elevator.

Within two hours, ten miles separated Molly from the Dallas metro area as storm clouds rose overhead. Torrential rains threatened her pressing journey and caused her to be forced to slow down even more than she had hoped. But it was better to be safe than to risk wrecking.

Molly sighed as she pressed the brake petal, coming to a complete stop behind other traffic who had also had their view blinded by the pouring rains. Spring had come indeed…and with a fury…Molly concluded as she took a deep breath, relaxing in her seat as she kept her hands propped up on the steering wheel. She glanced about her, the rains hindering even the slightest view around her. Molly looked back at her speedometer which registered at zero miles per hour. She would be delayed.

Surrendering to the final result, Molly rested her elbow on the window, propping her cheek onto her fist…only to be startled by a flash of intense light to her left. She regained her composure and her footing on the pedals while she took a deep breath. That little bit of Texas Lightning had come a bit too close for comfort.

##

"Walker," Trent quickly made his way into the Ranger Headquarters office as a bolt of lightning flashed just outside, illuminating the office as clap of thunder sounded within seconds. He ceased his step at Walker's desk, glancing towards the window. "Geesh, it's really come down out there."

"Yup," Walker nodded, glancing at Trent's slightly soaked attire. "Need an umbrella?"

Trent chuckled. "No, I'm alright. But I'm not so sure about others."

Walker creased his forehead with concern. "What do you mean?"

Trent sighed. "Mark never showed up for our lesson today."

"The weather could have kept him."

"I know," Trent admitted, moving to take a seat. He let out an aggravated sigh as his weight settled into the chair. "I thought about that. I even called his home and the community center where he hangs out a lot."

"Still nothing?"

Trent shook his forlornly, wishing he had better news.

Their discussion was partially interrupted as Miss Cahill made her way into the office with another woman at her side.

Trent immediately stood to his feet as he caught a glimpse of the woman. "Mrs. Wimbourne. Is something wrong?"

Mrs. Wimbourne tried her best not to let the tears fall as she looked towards Trent, willing away the feeling that she had feared the most. She seemed like a different woman…more contrite…more worried for her son than before. "I'm so sorry I was so rude to you, Mr. Malloy."

Trent attempting to alleviate her worries with a smile. "That's okay. You had every right to be cautious. And please…call me Trent."

Mrs. Wimbourne forced the tears away with a sniffle and a chuckle. "Okay…Trent."

"Now," Trent helped Mrs. Wimbourne to the office chair he had occupied seconds before. "What do you need?"

Mrs. Wimbourne accepted the offer of the seat and set her purse next to herself as she dabbed at her nose with a tissue softly and sniffed a bit more, forcing herself not to cry anymore. "It's Mark. He's been gone from the house for far too long. And he didn't call to say where he was going."

Miss Cahill notice her difficulty speaking and eased up beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "She came by the H.O.P.E. center this afternoon. I've been helping her find work placement since she was laid off last month. I told her she had better speak to you, Walker."

"Good thinking." Walker nodded towards Alex with an affirming smile before turning his focus to Mrs. Wimbourne. "Can you provide me with a list of all the places Mark visits regularly?"

Mrs. Wimbourne nodded warily. "I can. But it would do no good. Besides the community center and Thunder Karate, he stays in his room most of the time."

"Have you caught him sneaking out any?" Trent queried.

Mrs. Wimbourne wanted to deny the thought but couldn't deny the possibility. "I wish I could say for sure. But I don't know." Tears welled in her eyes. "Ever since I told him about his father a year ago…everything I know…he just shut down. He wasn't the same boy I grew to love since he was born." She drew a tissue to her lips, hiding the sob that she could not stop. "Ranger Walker, my son is not a bad boy, sir. But…" She stifled her sob once more.

"But what?" Trent looked with love into the woman's tear-filled eyes.

"I've always been afraid he's try to get revenge against his father. As long as he didn't know who he was…there wasn't any danger of it. But…"

Miss Cahill squeezed her shoulder softly. "It's okay. Take your time."

Mrs. Wimbourne took a deep breath. "One day, Mark came home from school. He was tired and wanted a snack. I wasn't feeling too well that day and was napping on the sofa. I told him there were cookies in the fridge from the day before and that he was welcome to them. A few minutes later, he comes into the living room with that day's newspaper and asks me what this article was about. He had saw my name in it." She paused for a breath before continuing. "I told him it was nothing and he needn't worry about it. But he read it anyway.

"The article was practically a gossip strip about how this woman went up into the courthouse one day and confronted one of the lawyers after a trial that he was the father of the woman's child and should face up to his past." She stifled another sob as she looked up into Ranger Walker's eyes. "That woman was me, Ranger Walker!" She turned to Trent. "It was me! I made such a fool of myself that day. But what made me even angrier was how Mark's father played along with the others and denied me. I spent many happy months with him. We were young and stupid. But he knew who I was that day. I have no doubt about it."

Trent sighed. "And Mark saw the name of the lawyer in the paper?"

Mrs. Wimbourne nodded amid her tears.

Ranger Walker leaned forward, his hands folded on the table. "What was the lawyer's name?"

The fervent mother wavered and hesitated before she took a deep breath and closed her eyes only long enough for the words of his name to be said. "David Sullivan."

Walker's eyes widened as she said the name, the memory of the untrustworthy handshake of the governor's top security guard flashing before his memory when they had met to discuss the possibility of Detective Sandoval joining their team.

Trent shifted his gaze, catching a glimpse of Walker's deep reverie. "What? What is it, Walker?"

Walker sighed sharply, reaching over towards his phone without answering Trent. He place the phone to his ear and dialed a number swiftly. "Yes. This is Ranger Walker. May I speak to Detective Carlos Sandoval?"

A brief paused passed as Trent, Miss Cahill, and Miss Wimbourne all waited with confused intrigue.

"Thank you," Walker returned the phone to its home a sighed rather sharply. "He's on his way back to Dallas."

"I don't get it, Walker. What's the connection here?"

"David Sullivan is the governor's top security officer now. His rap sheet matches up quite well with the account Mrs. Wimbourne has given. And if I have figured it right," he stood to his feet and reached for his coat and Stetson. "Their plane should be arriving back soon."

"Not in this weather it won't…" Trivette stopped Walker in his tracks as he strode into Ranger headquarters. "But we've got a situation over at the airport, Walker. A young man in his late teens was apprehended by security for trying to smuggle a weapon onto the premises."

"Into the private hangar?"

Trivette's eyes narrowed. "How did you know?"

Walker ignored the question and continued forward towards the door with Trent on his heels. "You stay here, Mrs. Wimbourne. It's safe for you right here."

Agitation overcame Trivette as he let his arms fall forcefully to his sides. He reached for the Stetson on his own desk and rushed to catch up with Walker and Trent who were already half way to the elevator. "I wish someone would tell me what's going on!"


Part 7


Twenty seconds seemed like twenty minutes as a gaping silence continued, drifting from ear to ear and being heard despite its gripping quiet. A silence that was heard…and felt…clung to Katheryn as she glanced at the Malloys one by one…in determination of what might be going through each of their minds. Tommy's eyes were straightforward…pointed towards the doorway as he leaned forward just barely…his intent nothing short of being ready to defend his family against whatever evil awaited them on the other side of that wall. Mrs. Malloy too held a protective mien about herself…her eyes searching that of her youngest and her heart issuing a fervent silent prayer issued from her lips with no words being heard. Her eyes shut only briefly as she did so, opening them soon after only to be reminded of the dangers her children now faced. Perhaps for a brief moment she had regretted coming here for a vacation. But how were they to know such diabolical intentions had been set before them? And for what reason? So far the only one they had offended on this trip was the grizzly bear.

Then Katheryn's eyes shifted downward to Tandy and Ty who remained huddled by her side...their happy eyes having been turned to a calm fright in moments since the stranger had threatened them with his loud voice across the yard. Katheryn frowned…unable to bear the fact that they were defenseless. But they were strong despite it all. They had been through worse in the past. She then decided there that she would do all in her power to help protect the little ones. She knew Tommy would help Mrs. Malloy. But as much as Tommy wanted to and felt he had the ability to, he could not help to protect them all.

"Alright!" The voice boomed into the little cabin, awaking them all from the sleep of hopefulness they had since sheltered themselves in. "Times up! You're surrounded…So don't even think of trying to escape!"

Tandy's whimper sent Tommy into a righteous anger that he tried his best to stifle. He started for the door, prepping in his mind everything his black belt training had taught him. Katheryn dove forward, grabbing him by the arm softly as their paths merged.

"Don't be foolish." Katheryn looked into Tommy's determined eyes as he let out a forceful sigh.

"I've got to do something!" His low, raspy whisper reached Katheryn's ears. Anger laced every syllable as he tried to calm himself with every bit of strength he could muster. "I can't just let them walk in here."

"I know." Katheryn tried reasoning with the young man. "But getting yourself killed won't help any of us."

Tommy finally made secure eye contact with Katheryn and knew in his heart she was right. It was foolish. He shrank back and away from Katheryn's grasp, wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead as he returned to Mrs. Malloy's side.

Katheryn slowly opened the door with great apprehension as thoughts of doubt began raging in her mind regarding what she had just told Tommy. She shut her eyes tightly and eased the door open, stepping away and securing her arm around the two youngest Malloy children just as the stranger pushed his way through the entrance.

He stopped mid-stride, looking Katheryn over with a lustful smile before continuing forward, survey the entire living space from floor to ceiling while gripping his rifle in both hands. "Nice place." He let out a laugh as he stopped by Katie and Tommy, looking them in the eyes with an evil fervor. "Too bad it's gotta burn." He stuck out his bottom lip sarcastically before letting a roaring laugh pass over the same lips upon his return to the door way where he called for his other goons and set the rifle aside, snatching the rope from his helper as the second man aimed the gun at the Malloys.

The first man gathered up the four kitchen chairs and placed them in a circular pattern in the open area between the kitchen and living area. "Over here!" He barked to Mrs. Malloy whom he pressed down into the seat upon her reluctant arrival and tied her securely to the chair's back. He did the same to Tommy, but not without some difficulty with the fiery teen. He then jerked Katheryn by the arm and secured her to another chair before pairing up Tandy and Ty to the fourth and final chair.

He stood to his feet and looked over the little group with a grin as he took up his rifle back in hand. "Stay warm," was the goon's last words before he backed out slowly and gave orders to the other man to pour kerosene all over the cabin. The other man did as bid, soaking every inch of the place and at the Malloys' feet with the entire jug of the strong-stench liquid. He scurried out of the cabin with a hearty chuckle and shut the door securely behind him, leaving the Malloys and Katheryn in a wake of fear they had never anticipated would come.

##

Carlos Sandoval shook his head as he peered out the tiny window of the Hawker 800. Restlessness welled inside as he anticipated the coming end to their flight from Austin to Dallas. Thankfully, the journey was indeed coming to its end.

No longer had fleeting thoughts of the moments to come passed through Carlos' mind than a bolt of lightning suddenly flashed in the faraway distance. Its home inside a fearsome storm cloud of darkness rolled before them, hovering over the city of Dallas.

Carlos blinked back a moment of shock as his eyes widened. "My, that's some storm brewing out there."

"Indeed." The governor overlooked the book in his hands and reached to catch a glimpse of the fervor outside. "I do hope this won't cause a diversion."

"I hope not either." Sandoval willed away the mutual concern that pricked at him inside. His eyes narrowed as he tried to feel comfortable in the same space as Sullivan who seemed to watch every move he made. It didn't come easy.

"Governor…" A uniformed pilot dipped out of the cockpit entrance and neared the three men. "It seems there's a big storm hovering over Dallas. We are being told to land elsewhere. And we are also being told the airport is on lock down."

The governor surrendered reluctantly, sighing with one last glance out the oval window before looking back towards his trusted pilot. "My, my! Very well. I suppose it must be that way." He smiled at the detective. "Although I was rather looking forward to getting in some time of touring the city today. Seems the weather decided to pry into our plans, eh detective?"

Carlos nodded amid his smile, acknowledging the governor and keeping a keen perception on the man at his side. For some reason…Carlos could not shake the concern he held about the man.

The pilot grinned slightly, and dipped back below and into the cockpit just in time…as without one single warning, lightning struck the wing, sending the craft into a temporary chaos of turbulence.

The detective braced himself against the wall of the plane as it swayed and rocked, sending anything of value cascading across the floor and opposite wall of the aircraft. The plane rocked back onto its other side, sending every loose item back across the narrow space and into the passengers' space. Carlos barely missed being hit over the head with an oncoming book as the plane rested back into normality. He eased his hands back down, keeping his eyes in keen perception of the area around him. He quietly caught his breath as he caught it in his throat with a hard swallow.

Quickly unbuckling, Sandoval rushed over to the governor. "Governor! Are you alright?"

The governor was leaned against the wall of the plane, a narrow streak of blood easing downward from his reddened temple as his eyes lethargically fluttered open. He let out a small groan as Carlos search for a handkerchief of some sort to aid the man's injuries.

Carlos quickly located one in the governor's inside coat pocket and swiftly brought it to the man's head, applying a courteous amount of pressure to the wound. Carlos threw a glance toward Sullivan. "You should've been able to aid him first, Sullivan."

Sullivan remained on the edge of his seat as he had already unbuckled a fraction of a second after Sandoval had. He lightly chuckled, edging the emotion with a scoff. "It seems you have everything under control."

Carlos only smiled a facetious smile as he directed his attention back towards the waking governor. "Governor?"

The man attempted a smile as he looked at his caretaker from beneath his glasses, his chin pressing against his sunken chest. "Maybe I should hire you permanently, detective."

"Mayday! Mayday!" Carlos caught the urgent words that came from the cockpit as the plane entered yet another brief moment of turbulence. It wasn't nearly as bad as the first. But it seemed as if they were headed straight for the storm as the flashes of lightning became more frequent by the second.

Carlos tried his best to remain level-headed as he attended to the governor when a noise was heard faintly from his disheveled duffle bag on the far side of the plane. The rolled up, wrinkled mess of a bag called him from afar, capturing his attention. He flashed another glance at Sullivan. "Here. Make yourself useful."

Sullivan apprehensively took the kerchief from the detective and moved closer to the governor, taking Carlos' place as the detective rushed to his duffle bag to find the incessantly ringing cellular phone. He grabbed the device, raising back up to his full height and flipping open the device to place it to his ear. He paced the short distance back to his seat as he regained his footing while he spoke. "Detective Sandoval?" Carlos was nearly sure there would be no answer. It was a miracle enough that the phone had even received a signal in the first place. "Hello? Detective Sandoval speaking." He tried once more for good measure and nearly hung up…until he heard a faint cry on the other end. His forehead wrinkled intensely as he focused on the noise he heard. "Hello?" It was another soft cry that made its way over the cell phone as Carlos listened, his agitation growing more uneasy by the second as a thud sounded between the devices, leaving nothing but a silent string of questions looming in Carlos' confused mind.

##

The harsh, licking flames of the fire that engulfed the cabin burned hotter by the second. The rising smoke lifted higher by the moment, growing with intensity as the roar of the flames echoed into the woods around it. Ashes sprang from the scene, landing in the vacant footsteps of the goons that had since scurried away from the scene, not leaving a trace of their existence behind. The ones who would find the place in cinders would assume that an accident had occurred and nothing more, they had thought aimlessly as they escaped the property.

An entire half-hour passed…The cabin was gone…Not even a splinter was left in the wake of the building's destruction. Nothing…nothing whatsoever was left. No one could have survived the blaze. Not one person would have been able to find shelter…a way of escape…a way to live.

An eagle cry overhead blazed an aerial trail over the place almost forlornly, looking down upon the single brick fireplace that remained exposed to the elements of the outdoors surrounding it. Gentle winds blew against the smoky smolders of what remained amid the pile of rubble. Above all, an eerie silence fell among the place. Its finality tempting the very atmosphere with its taunting noises. Yet among the sounds came another…a distance away…maybe one hundred yards from the cabin. A pile of brush shuffled and shifted. A small cloud of dust lifted from the fallen foliage that seemed to covering a moving object beneath it. Slowly yet fervently, a wooden trapdoor squeaked ever so softly. Its weather-worn hinges told an unheard tale of years of non-use and abandonment. The door itself showed its rotten outer and its dirty interior.

Two or three coughs echoed and mingled with the cool winds as footsteps sounded upon a ladder below the surface. Through the door's narrow opening came Tommy Malloy first, his entire person layered in a thin film of dust as he ascended out into the open nearly collapsing onto the grasses as he found his footing onto the earth above.

Underground, Mrs. Malloy hoisted little Tandy onto the ladder. The little girl's short arms and legs stretched far as she grunted softly, determined to conquer the adult-sized ladder and make her way to her brother who knelt above her, his arm extended as he coached her along. She finally made it, allowing Tommy's loving grasp to hoist her from the ladder and onto the ground above. Tandy sighed sweetly, her body exhausted as she relaxed onto the grasses near Tommy as the young man returned to help Ty who was steadily climbing his way up now.

Within a short while, the entire family had made their ways up the ladder, leaving Katheryn coming last with the satchel of what few items they could salvage secured about her neck. The weight of the bag wasn't much. But it was enough to add to her efforts of climbing the ladder up to Tommy who waited to ensure she was safe before relaxing.

Reaching the top of the ladder, Katheryn reached over her head and eased the satchel's strap back over her head, taking hold of the entire item and tossing it on the ground before issuing one last grunt as she landed on the ground next to Tommy.

Tommy reached behind her, shutting the trap door with a loud thud as he then surrendered to the tiredness that overcame his body, falling flat on his back near his siblings.

"Praise be to the Lord for getting us through that one." Mrs. Malloy struggled to catch her breath as she looked on her brood with thankfulness welling in her heart.

They had breathed in quite a bit of smoke. It was a miracle none of them had passed out…or worse.

Katheryn sat with her legs extended outward and her upper body supported by her hands as she leaned back softly. She let her head lean all the way back, gazing at the hazy skies above while breathily steadily. Each breathe seemed to clear the way that the death-threatening smoke had just come inches away from stealing her breathe entirely.

"Did…that…call…go through?" Tommy panted softly, regaining his composure with every inhale and exhale.

Katheryn took in one large breathe and released it. "I don't know. I think so. It was so chaotic in there. But…I think I heard Carlos' voice." She smiled sarcastically. "Although I don't know if I was merely dreaming it…hoping it was real…or that it really was real."

Tommy stifled a chuckle. "Let's hope it was real."

"Amen to that." Mrs. Malloy managed a brief grin, turning to her children for one more gaze as it struck her that they had been mere seconds from losing their life…had not divine intervention occurred…and Tommy conveniently tripped over the area rug when he was attempting to loosen himself from the ropes that had held him bound. He had done so successfully…only to tip out of the chair as it got hung up on that stupid rug. But Tommy was thankful for the fall now…since the small area that was exposed had revealed a trap door that they all prayed led to the outside as Tommy rushed to untie his family, pressing onward into the narrow tunnel one by one as they traveled the darkened distance to what they hoped would be safety. And safety it was…at least for the time to come.

Tommy glanced around them. "We gotta get outta here."

Katheryn did likewise. "Yeah. But what about the bear? And what about the fact that we are far too exhausted? Tandy and Ty need rest…and food. We all do."

"Katheryn's right, son." Mrs. Malloy nodded.

"But what do we do?" Tommy's aggravation grew steadily as his thoughts raged.

Katheryn lifted her weight off the ground and crossed behind Tommy, lifting the satchel and carrying it back to her resting spot as Tommy looked onward with intrigue. His eyes narrowed and his eyebrows arched as he focused on the young woman's quiet task.

Katheryn lifted what few items she had managed to grab out of the bag and laid them before her. With each one, she announced what the item was. "Two apples, one bottle of water…" She glanced at the item. "…which is conveniently out of date." She tossed it on the pile. "A piece of firewood no bigger than a mouse. A notepad. And…" Katheryn fumbled around the bottom of the bag. Her eyes growing just a tad wider as she realized what the item felt like. It couldn't be. She lifted it out to confirm that it was indeed what she had hoped it would be. A cell phone. A confused grin laced her complexion. "What…? How could it…?"

Tommy's smile came and went. "Doesn't matter. The signal out here is horrible."

Katheryn frowned. Yet her smile returned as she flipped open the device forcefully and dialed a familiar number. Thunder Karate. She placed the device to her ear and glared at Tommy. "But it wouldn't hurt to try, now would it?"

Tommy shook his head with a look that said "I suppose not" as he turned back to his own little world of relaxation.

Katheryn waited…and waited….There was no answer. But there was a dial tone as loud as could be. She grinned. "It's ringing!"

Tommy jerked back up and looked towards her. The others looked onward at Katheryn with hopeful smiles.

Katheryn frowned. "But there's no answer."

The rest of the little group frowned in unison.

"Let me try again." Katheryn quickly dialed the H.O.P.E. center. A number she was even more well-acquainted with. It rang again much to the young woman's delight.

"Hello?"

The voice on the other end filled Katheryn with such a strong elation that a small squeal passed over her smiling lips, garnering the attention of the others rather swiftly and eagerly.

"Josie!" Katheryn stifled a growing grin. "Is that you?"

"Uh, yes, it is." Josie Martin's nervous laugh was a relief for Katheryn to hear.

Katheryn attempted to calm herself, gathering her thoughts quickly but carefully to relay to her friend. "We need help. A fire burned our cabin to the ground and a bear is on the prowl. We have no supplies and no energy to reach the bottom of the mountain before dark."

Josie's eyes grew wider with surprise. "Oh, my, goodness! Are you all alright?"

Katheryn nodded, pressing the phone against her ear only to hear a dose of static in the line. "Yes."

Josie spoke up louder as the signal began to fade. "Are you still at the cabin?"

Sever static flooded the line and nearly took it over as Katheryn managed to answer affirmatively…just before the line went dead entirely. She sighed roughly, tossing the phone to the side. "It died."

Mrs. Malloy smiled at the young woman with a glint of hope in her eyes. "At least they know where we are and what happened. That's the important thing."

Katheryn managed a smile as she looked towards Mrs. Malloy. Her motherly comments seemed to always be the right thing she needed to hear when she needed to hear it. Katheryn only hoped that like all the other times, her words would prove true in the time to come.


Part 8 (final part)


Mark Wimbourne gazed towards his tapping fingers. His foot tapped from underneath the table he was forced to sit at, causing an odd harmony between the two while he refused to look up at the two security guards who held him here against his will.

Just outside the door could be heard the steady sound of a charter's engine readying itself for its next flight…most likely hoping that the rains would taper off. Yet that seemed like a hopeless wish right now as lightning illuminated the little office where Mark waited. It felt more like a haphazard interrogation room to the lad who had simply wanted nothing more than to be sure his father knew he existed.

Mark's thoughts raged as he willed away the looks from the nearby officers. It had not been hard to get the information he needed from Ranger Walker as they had engaged in petty conversation just days before. The Ranger had mentioned his having to leave to handle something that was supposedly a secret. Yeah…And it just so happens the newspapers had gotten wind of the governor's soon visit to the area. It had been a long shot. But with the governor's frequent talk about how much he had admired the Rangers over the years, it had seemed obvious to Mark that the Rangers would somehow be involved. And after meeting Ranger Walker when he volunteered to teach a class at his local community center, he had known it was his chance to gain a closer chance at seeing his father…the head of security for the governor of Texas.

A loud gust of wind swept into the small room as Ranger Walker led the way inside out of the rain. His eyes instantly fell upon the young man at the other end of the mostly vacant table. He ceased his step and eased off his Stetson, setting it to the side as Trivette eased up next to him while Trent secured the door behind him and followed in their steps. "Mark, your mother's worried about you."

Mark refused to make eye contact with the Ranger, knowing well that nothing the lawman would say would get him any closer to the closure he ached for. He turned his head away and sighed.

Trent exhaled sharply and circled the table to the other side, pulling out one of the chairs and quickly taking a seat in it to meet with the young man's wary gaze. "Mark…Tell us what's going on. Why were you trying to smuggle a weapon here?"

"It's none of your business!" Mark threw at Trent, shifting his gaze to his now folded, shaking hands in front of him. He cringed slightly as he willed back tears he refused to shed. It wasn't like him to cry. He was a guy. He just didn't do that sort of thing. Why was this so hard to keep welled up inside?

"Mark," Trent's voice softened as he tried to regain the young man's trust. "We can't help you if you don't tell us what you were doing. And we want to help you, Mark. We really do."

Mark finally raised his head, searching for some sort of reassurance from the Ranger that what Trent said was the truth. Mark received his answer with a single, firm nod from Ranger Walker. Turning his head back towards Trent, he inhaled and exhaled before continuing. "I heard that the governor was arriving in Dallas today. I—I knew my father would be with him. And I was so mad at him for treating us like—like street scum or something." Anger cast a glint in the young man's eyes. "So I borrowed my uncle's hunting rifle…and—and I came down here hoping to tell my father that I mean business."

Trent shook his head. "You know better, Mark. That's not the way."

"Nor is letting him ignore us or me ignore him!"

"Mark," Walker took a step closer to the young man. "I know you're angry. I would be too. But trying to kill him would never be the right thing, Mark. And deep down…I think you know that."

Mark shook his head, stifling the tears. "I know. But seeing mama struggle to make ends meet for us week after week don't help me feel any better about it."

Trent exchanged a glance with Walker.

The door then sprang open once more. An airport official emerged, closing the door only slightly while keeping a finger or two on the doorknob. "Ranger Walker?"

"Yes?" Walker turned to face the visitor.

"The rain seems to have tapered off some. The governor will be arriving any moment now once they give the pilots final clearance."

Walker nodded and thanked the gentleman before turning back to Mark. "You will have to pay the consequences for trying to bring a weapon here, Mark. But if you cooperate with us, I'll do everything in power to make that punishment as low as possible. You're a good kid…far from being a murderer."

Trent nodded. "I agree. I know a good way to rid yourself of the anger you've got locked inside, Mark. It won't go away overnight. But if you'll trust us, we can help you, Mark. But you've got to let us help. It's the only way."

"Trust." Mark scoffed softly, a fake smile accompanying the notion. "That's something I've found hard to come by these days."

Trent and Walker listened intently.

"But it's not impossible." Trent locked eyes with Mark intently and fervently, communicating to the young man far more than any mere words could convey.

Mark finally nodded, giving in to what he secretly hoped was the right thing. It felt right. It seemed right. Yet he hoped it was right. For as he admitted it all, a little bit of the anger began to leave his sullen state of mind, leaving in its place a solitude of happiness that had long been gone from the young man's heart.

In the wake of the unreachable silence had seen the fade of the rain and in its place was the soft hum of the Hawker 800…as it eased its way into the hangar adjacent to the little office, coming to a complete stop and leaving behind the tumultuous rain drops that had almost seen to its demise not moments ago.

Three more security guards filed into the hangar, surrounding the limousine that awaited at the foot of the plane's entrance.

That familiar whiz echoed in the large outbuilding as the door to the Hawker slowly made its way to the concrete below, leveling out and steadying itself to a stop to ready the steps for the passengers' descent.

The first to make an appearance through the plane's opening was Sullivan as he led the way for the governor who was being carefully assisted by Carlos Sandoval as they slowly made their way down the steps.

Walker, Trivette, and Trent slowly made their way out of the office.

"What happened?" Trivette hurried over to assist the detective, leading the governor inside to the office with the others in tow.

Carlos sighed. "Had a little run-in with some turbulence."

Trivette nodded and helped the governor to a chair at the table in the room. "As soon as you feel up to it, governor, we can see to getting you transported to your hotel."

The sage man issued a soft laugh despite the headache he warded away willfully. "Nonsense, Ranger. Don't treat me like anyone special. I want to be a civilian for a day."

Ranger Walker grinned. "That's almost impossible, sir."

The governor surrendered with a sigh. "I suppose you're right, Ranger. I suppose you're right."

Walker eyes shifted from the governor to Mark who had remained nearby the whole time. "Mark, I'd like you to meet our governor. Governor, this here is Mark Wimbourne. He wanted a chance to meet you today."

Mark didn't seem pleased by the cover story the Ranger fed between him and the distinguished man before them. But he played along with a forced smile, keeping his hands to himself under the table. "Nice to meet you, sir."

"Likewise." The governor beamed his pleasure at making the young man's acquaintance and turned to Sullivan. "Sullivan, I've a splendid idea. Why don't you take the young man for a short tour of the Hawker?" He glanced back at Mark. "I'm sure he would love to see it. After all, it isn't everyday a young person gets a chance to meet the governor. What do you say, Walker?"

Walker met with Mark's undivided gaze. "That's up to Mark."

Although he seemed emotionless, Mark inwardly relished the thought of having his estranged father all to himself.

Mark never made eye contact with Ranger Walker as he fastened his eyes on the man across the room named Sullivan, examining him through and through until he saw nothing or no one else in the room but him. It was as if everything disappeared…and in its place was simply the burning anger that Mark had harbored for years towards the man. He thought of how hard his mother had worked to provide for them over the years. How she held two jobs just to give his the chance to get to college. Now he saw him for the first time. He knew what he looked like. He knew who he was. Yet as close as they had come, they were still worlds apart.

"Mark?" Walker stirred the young man away from his reverie.

"Um," Mark nodded. "Yeah. Th—that's fine. I'd love to." He swiftly stood, scraping the steel legs of the chair beneath against the floor below as he slid it away from his standing body.

Walker and Sullivan briefly made eye contact, communicating silently an entire story untold to the rest of the room.

Trent neared his mentor as Sullivan and Mark eased out of the room and into the open hangar. His voice was low and whisper-like. "Do you think Mark knows?"

Walker nodded, a moment of serious contemplation preceding his words. "Yeah. He does."

##

Alex Cahill's steps sounded continuously upon the floor of the busy Ranger Headquarters office as she paced back and forth in front of Trivette's desk, awaiting any word that she could pass along to Mrs. Wimbourne. Her arms were crossed and her gaze steadfast as she marched back and forth, glancing once or twice at the worried demeanor of her new friend. Secretly she wished she could make everything better for the woman in an instance. To rid her of all the embarrassment and disappoints she had been dealt over her lifetime. But wishing that would do no good. For all she could do now was what she was already doing…being a friend and support as her son struggled through whatever battle raged in his heart.

Trivette's phone rang violently on his desk causing Alex a small startle as she jerked out of her reverie and reached for the phone by near reflex. Mrs. Wimbourne scooted to the edge of her seat, awaiting what news would come.

"Walker?" She spoke almost instantly before the device was secure to her ear.

"Alex, it's me."

Alex's eyes narrowed as she realized to whom the shaky voice belonged. "Josie? What's the matter?"

"It's Katheryn and the Malloys. I just got a call from Katheryn, but the single went out. Their cabin burned down. They don't have any supplies. And it'll be getting dark soon. What should we do, Alex?"

Alex leaned on Trivette's desk, her hip slightly atop the surface as she began to understand the situation. "Oh, my." She paused for a brief moment to sort through her thoughts as a fax machine whirred from across the room and two or three other Rangers filed in and out of the office. She absentmindedly gazed at the scene as she thought quickly. "Walker and the others aren't here. And—I really don't know how we could help in time." Concern laced her shaken thoughts as she sighed, turning her head towards the window. The window was laced in a deep red overcast as the sun tried to make a final appearance following the storm's quick leave. But sunset would have its way in the end, resulting in the most beautiful array of pinks that lined the sky. Alex inhaled. "I'll try to get in touch with the local law enforcement. See if they can put together a search party. We have no idea if fowl play was involved. Best to be on the safe side."

Josie quickly agreed, bidding her close friend good luck and allowing her to leave the phone and set to work to help Katheryn and the Malloys in whatever meager way possible. Yet something was surely better than nothing.

"Was that Ranger Walker, Miss Cahill?" Mrs. Wimbourne broke into Alex's thought the very second Alex returned Jimmy's phone to its rightful place.

Alex cross the short distance back to Walker's desk and laid a loving hand on Mrs. Wimbourne's shoulder. "I'm afraid not. In fact…We have another problem on our hands. Some friends of mine are on vacation in Utah. Their cabin burned down and they have no way to survive the trip back down the mountain."

"Oh, no." Mrs. Wimbourne looked to Alex with concern in her eyes. "I do hope they will be okay." She chuckled softly. "Sort of makes me feel foolish about worrying over Mark. Their problem seems so much worse than mine."

"Nonsense." Alex offered a smile, searching for the woman's tear-stained eyes. "I assure you we will do everything in our power to help your son, Mrs. Wimbourne. You can rest assured."

"Still," the woman insisted, looking up to Alex. "I want you to be sure you see to your friends."

Alex nodded, pressing her lips together into a closed smile as she offered unspoken understanding to the kind woman before turning back to her task at hand.

She had just reached a hand out towards Walker's phone to dial a number when the door to Ranger Headquarters suddenly burst open, and in strode a soaked and anxious Molly Mason.

Miss Cahill's eyes rose instantly to the young woman and widened as the young woman came closer. "My lord, Molly! What happened?"

Molly dismissed her notion quickly. "Never mind that." She took a deep breath, painting and recovering from her brisk travel to where she currently stood, resting against Trivette's desk.

Alex notice a small drop of rainwater fall onto a sticky note and secretly wondered if Trivette would be mad about it. She eased from behind Walker's desk and offered a smile and her hand to the weary girl. "Here. Have a seat."

Molly inhaled and exhaled one good time. "Thank you, Miss Cahill."

"Now..." Alex sat against Walker's desk and looked into her eyes. "What's the matter?"

Molly took another deep breath. "While my mother and I were visiting the governor's mansion earlier today, I ran into a man in the hall and aided him in spilling his papers all over the floor. As I helped him pick them up, he was anxious to snatch one away from me. From what I read on the paper before he snatched it back angrily, it had Detective Sandoval's name on it plus the word Utah and something else. I called Trent before heading back. I haven't been able to get ahold of him since."

Alex nodded. "He's with Walker and Trivette at the airport."

Molly blinked away the confusion as she sighed. "What is going on, Miss Cahill?"

Alex shook her head. "I don't know. Have you been contacted by Katheryn any?" She rounded the desk to the other side, reaching for Walker's phone once more as she awaited Molly's response.

Molly couldn't understand the meaning of Miss Cahill's question. She creased her forehead and shook her head. "No. Why?"

Alex dialed a number and waited. "I think they're in trouble, Molly. Their cabin burned down and they don't have any supplies."

"Oh, no." Molly's concern was apparent as she refused to accept that anything bad could happen to her best friend and the Malloys. "Are they okay?"

"I think so." Alex manage to squeeze in those last words before a voice pulled her to the phone conversation from the other end. "Yes, sheriff. This is Tarrant County Assistant DA Alex Cahill. I have reason to believe some friends of mine might be in dire trouble in the mountains up there." A short paused followed. "Yes. No. I—I'm not sure how long they've been up there."

Molly could see and sense the tension emanating from Miss Cahill as Alex struggled to get through to the hard-headed Utah sheriff. She frowned slightly. It was beginning to seem hopeless.

"Yes. I know that, sheriff. But surely you can send a search party or something! These people's lives are at stake. Do you care about that?" Alex sighed sharply, raising her gaze to the ceiling and dropping it back down low to her feet while crossing her arm into the other that held the phone to her ear. "Thank you." Shallow gratitude followed those last words as Alex brought the phone away from underneath her blonde locks at returned the device to its home on Walker's desk. She shook her head, sighing sharply as she turned her attention to the two women before her. "He was impossible! He gave me the we-can't-go-out-and-search-until-morning speech before practically accusing me of nosing into an affair that was none of business. The gall! Thankfully he promised to send out two deputies and scout the area before dark."

Molly refrained from using an unchristian word as she bit her lip, forcing a feeling of anger away. "I just wish I could do something."

Alex nodded. "Me too." She sighed. "But I suppose we've done all we can for now."

Mrs. Wimbourne reached her shaky hand over to Molly's leg and rested it there, drawing the girl's attention and causing her to turn to face the kind woman. She pursed her lips together, offering Molly a smile. "We can pray. I haven't done that in a long time. But—but it seems appropriate."

"That's right." Alex smiled her approval and took Molly's hand in hers as Molly took hold of Mrs. Wimbourne's.

Molly glanced approvingly at the two woman before bowing her head and taking in a breath. "Dear Lord, please watch over my dear friend Katheryn and the Malloys. Please keep them safe. Give Tommy, Tandy, Ty, Katheryn, and Mrs. Malloy strength. And guide them home back to us safely. Amen."

"Amen." Miss Cahill squeezed Molly's hand ever so softly before easing away and to Trivette's desk.

A silence fell among the women as the goings on around them continued despite the eager tension that hung in the atmosphere. Molly settled into silent prayer while Alex paced the short distance, glancing vigilantly at the telephones every few seconds…as if it would help to bring news any closer to them. Waiting seemed harsh. But they had done all they could do. For everything was in God's hands now.

##

"Stop it!" Mark voice penetrated the close quarters of the Hawker 800 as they reached the end of the supposed tour.

Sullivan's breathy laugh didn't cover his sarcasm very well. "What?"

Mark wheeled around and pointed his finger at Sullivan. His depth of emotion was a mingling of pain and anger. Of guilt and regret…for somehow not being able to get the justice he felt he deserved. He gently shook his head and glared towards the carpeted floors…the same floors still strewn with books and objects that had to be rehomed since the incident earlier that afternoon. Mark slowly raised his eyes back to his escort. "You don't even know who I am. Do you?"

Sullivan was confused but didn't let it show. It was as if he enjoyed letting the kid make a fool of himself as he grinned casually. "I'm afraid I don't, boy. Am I supposed to?" His eyes widened a bit with sarcasm as he spoke those last words.

Mark willed away the tearful anger that locked up in his throat. He swallowed hard, wanting with all his might to be rid of the man before him. He instead waiting a short second…the silence his prelude to revelation. "I—I'm your son."

Sullivan's eyes widened some…disbelief become his trademark of emotion as he stood before this punk who had the nerve to say such a thing. "What's your proof, son?"

"Is my word not good enough?"

"I'm afraid not. Not with something like that."

"My mom's name was Angel Simpson when you met her. After you left her and me, she married a man named John Wimbourne. He adopted me. And gave me the life you should have! The life fathers were meant to give their sons. But you abandoned my mom! How dare you!"

"Now you listen here, boy. I don't know where you heard the name Angela Simpson. But I've never met the woman. And you…" He pointed his finger rather rudely towards the young man. "…You are not my son." Sullivan turned to leave, clearly aghast by the accusations put forth by Mark.

"I should have killed you." Mark's words seared through Sullivan's hardened heart, stopping him in his diabolical tracks.

"What…did…you…just say?" Sullivan enunciated as he slowly turned back towards Mark.

Mark was far from being afraid as he looked into his father's evil eyes. "I should have killed you!" Tears stung at his eyes. The words didn't sound as good as they had before now. He wanted to take them back. This man was everything Mark knew he was. Evil. Disparaging. Neglectful. But somehow Mark felt the words no longer had a place on his lips.

Sullivan suddenly took the young man by surprise, taking hold of Mark by his neck and spinning on his heel, all while bringing the boy against the plane's wall with one sudden slam. Mark struggled for breath as Sullivan's chokehold intensified on him, cutting of what air he had left. Sullivan's eyes bulged with a fury, his lips pursed in anger as he tightened his grip. "This is what you get for ruining my life, boy! I could have been the governor! I should have been the governor! But your momma changed all that didn't she! Told me she was pregnant with you." Mark continued to gasp for air to no avail, the grip crippling what will he had left in him. "With all the tabloids and rumors, my career as a lawyer ended. I was forced to climb the ladder to servanthood to another. To be second best! You hear me!?"

Mark's eyes slowly drifted towards the back of his head, his mouth still open from trying to gasp for air. A numbness overcame him…setting him on the brink of unconsciousness as he slowly felt his body weaken, reaching the brink of collapse. Sullivan's grip had not lessened…not even once.

It seemed that as quick as it had started, it began to dissipate as Mark fell the short distance to the floor, his lungs filling with air as his father doubled forward in front of him, revealing Ranger Walker in a return to fighting stance upon wielding a successful roundhouse kick to Sullivan's vulnerable back. Carlos was not far behind and rushed to Mark's aid, coaching him along as his breathing returned to normal.

Sullivan was not down for the count yet as he slowly regained consciousness and was nearly ready to fight again…only to be met by the blunt end of Carlos' pistol as the goon attempted to draw his own weapon at Walker.

"Thanks." Walker sighed, stooping forward to kick the gun away and cuff the man.

Carlos nodded, taking a few deep breaths himself. "No problem." He turned back to Mark. "You alright, buddy?"

Mark managed to nod as he coughed a few times continuously. "Yeah. I—I'm fine."

"Good." Carlos smiled and helped Mark up, leading him out of the plane ahead of Walker.

The senior Ranger hoisted the man up by his suit's collar and carried the limp man forward, stirring him back to life only enough to not fall over. Back-up that Trivette had called for soon arrived, pressing Sullivan into the back of the police issue and hurrying away from the premises, leaving Mark standing there…watching…taking in the scene before him…most likely realizing what a dire mistake he could have made had the Rangers not intervened.

Surrounded by Trent, Carlos, and the Rangers, Mark glanced around at them all. "I—I'm sorry. Please accept my apology. I was wrong." He looked away to his shoes. "Killing my father would have made things worse. Especially for my mom."

Mark's eyes turned back to his friends as Ranger Walker placed a hand on the young man's strong shoulder, offering a smile while doing so.

"We're glad you chose the right thing, Mark." Trent offered a smile as well.

"But if you all wouldn't have come…I hate to think what could have happened."

Carlos stepped forward and grinned. "Just doing our jobs."

Mark eyes suddenly widened. "Where's my mom? I've got to see her. She'll be worried sick."

"Calm down there, big guy." Trivette laughed and pulled his cell phone out, dialed his office phone and handed the phone to Mark with a big grin.

"Thanks!" Mark beamed and put the phone to his ear.

"Hello?" A feminine voice answered.

"It's Mark Wimbourne. Can I speak to my mom please?"

A stifled squeal reached Mark's ear as Alex turned to Mrs. Wimbourne, covering the mouthpiece as she smiled ever so broadly. "Mrs. Wimbourne…"

"Yes?" Mrs. Wimbourne braced herself for the worst.

Alex smiled and extended the phone, stretching the cord a bit as it became taut. "How would you like to speak to your son?"

The worry, fear, and anxiety drained from the woman's complexion with one swift sigh as an overjoyed smile fell into its place. "Would I?" She hurried over to Miss Cahill's side and took the phone with ease, pressing it to her ear. "Mark? Is that you?"

"Yes, mama. It's me."

"Oh, praise be! It's so good to hear your voice. Where are you? What have you been doing?"

"I—I saw my father, mom."

Mrs. Wimbourne frowned. "I see."

"He—he wasn't at all what I imagined my father would be like."

Mrs. Wimbourne fought back the tears. "I know, son. He changed over the years. I never wanted you to get hurt. I'm so sorry from hiding anything from you."

"No…Don't apologize, mom. Perhaps it was better I didn't know much growing up. At least now I know who my real father is. Yet I never got to tell him how much he meant to me before he died."

Mrs. Wimbourne nodded as memories of her husband rushed into her thoughts. "He was a good man, baby. And all he ever wanted was for you to be a good man too."

"Thanks." It was hard for Mark to express all the depths of the gratitude in his heart. He ended the conversation simply like that, offering his mother one last "I love you" before returning the phone to Trivette. "Miss Cahill said she would like to speak with one of you."

Walker took the phone courteously. "Walker speaking."

"Walker," Alex sighed. "The Malloys and Katheryn may be in trouble. Their cabin burned down and they are stranded in the mountains. I got hold of the sheriff up there. But he wasn't of much help."

Walker's straight face met with Trent's as his protégé looked onward with oblivious interest. "Okay. We'll be right there." Walker shut the phone and returned it to Trivette. "Trent…"

Trent had no idea what was wrong. His eyes shifted between his friends as he admitted a breathy chuckle. "What is it, Walker?"

Carlos noticed the concern in Walker's eyes also. Katheryn's image fleetingly passed through his mind. "What's up, Walker?"

"It's your family, Trent. They may be in trouble."

Trent's smile faded rather quickly. Carlos' eyes grew wider with even more concern.

"Their cabin burned down," Walker continued.

"Let's go!" Trent nearly called over his shoulder as he and Carlos climbed into his Stingray nearly in sync. Trent nearly spun his tires as he sped away, Walker and Trivette heeling them closely from behind in Walker's famed pickup.

Trent had since put the top down on his Stingray, the coming night air now whipping against the twosome's faces as the sports car sounded its intense course through the street of Dallas.

The ride was mostly a silent one…Trent's mind focus solely on his mother and siblings while Carlos could not rid Katheryn's face from his mind.

For the first time since he and Katheryn had met over Walker's desk at Ranger Headquarters, Carlos nearly felt helpless at the thought of losing her. It was a sensation he had yet to feel from a serious relationship. He had never been serious before. He had no reason to be. No other girl had ever suited him. No other girl had quite made him feel like Katheryn had in the months since they met last fall.

"Thinking about Kath?" Trent tossed over to his best friend, noticing his deep reverie.

Carlos relaxed his creased brow and took a deep breath. "Yeah."

"They'll be fine."

"I know. I'm—I'm just a little preoccupied."

"Why's that?"

"I think I just realized that…" Carlos struggled to say the words.

"What?"

"I realized how empty life would be without her." Carlos flashed a sarcastic grin. "That sounded so cliché."

"It's not cliché." Trent forced a smile despite the flood of emotions welling within him. "It's actually kinda nice to hear you say that about a girl…and actually mean it."

"Very funny." Carlos focused his eyes on the road as they came to a screeching halt in front of Ranger Headquarters.

Both Trent and Carlos were out of the car a fraction of a second before it had even come to a full stop and were headed for the stairs leading into the vast building before them while the Rangers followed them closely behind.

Trent was first inside Ranger Headquarters, pushing the door open with a fervor as he hurried inside, greeted my Miss Cahill and surprised by Molly's presence. He glance back at Alex. "Have you heard from them?"

"Thank God you all are back." Alex shook her head. "I'm sorry, Trent. Nothing yet."

Carlos stepped forward. "I think Katheryn may have attempted to call. But the line was too weak."

Alex turned to Walker. "What should we do?"

Walker sighed. "Pray."

"I've been doing that already, Ranger Walker." Molly met with Trent's gaze next, exchanging sentiments that only a look could convey.

Trent understood and returned them back with a nod. "Thank you, Molly. That means a lot to me. Thank you."

Molly offered a final smile, remaining unsure why Trent's sincerity had affected her as it did. She quickly turned away, hoping her impulsiveness had not seemed so obvious and awaited what was to be done next. To her relief, Trivette's phone began ringing intensely.

Trivette quickly took hold of the phone and raised it to his right ear. "Trivette." A rather long pause followed as he listened to the voice on the other end, setting the rest of the gang on edge. "Thank you very much, sheriff. I'll let them know."

Trivette tried to hide a smile but couldn't as he hung up the phone and turned back to the others. "That was the Park City sheriff. A news station helicopter was scouting the area this evening, planning to report about a bear that was loose. They spotted the Malloys and Katheryn instead after that and centered in on reporting about the burning cabin. They called for help and a rescue chopper was sent in to get them all. Mrs. Malloy said to pass along this message that they'll be arriving on the first plane back home in the morning."

Cheers, smiles, laughter, and eager handshakes and embraces filled the room amongst Trent, Carlos, Molly, Alex, and the Rangers as the news settled among them. Perhaps the strongest emotion in that room at that moment was relief…and thankfulness. Thankfulness that the ones they loved so dearly had been protected from harm yet again. They would all be together again soon. Very soon. Yet as Carlos could attest to within that brief moment of happiness, the reunion could not come soon enough.

(Insert the remainder of "Eyes of a Ranger" episode)