The Road Back
“They’ll be coming back soon. They’ll hurt me again. Can’t talk. Can’t sleep. Can’t say anything. How long has it been? Can’t talk. Can’t sleep.”
The once strong, proud Texas Ranger hung lifeless by the chains that bound his arms and legs. He was shirtless and his dirty, damp torso was covered with hundreds of cuts and bruises. The rubber club they had been using on him was enough to cause deep bruising and superficial contusions. But, it wouldn’t kill him. And that’s what they wanted. He couldn’t die until he had given them what they wanted – the location of the one witness who would send their boss to death row. Without that witness, there was no case. And, Walker was the only one who knew where he was being hidden.
Alex Walker paced her office. Her ashen face betraying the extreme pressure she was under. Her husband had disappeared on his way home from work over two weeks ago, and she and Jimmy Trivette were sure his disappearance had to do with the case that would climax in court today. Oh, God, please let whoever has him let him go now, she prayed silently to herself.
Dale Snyder had been arrested for the killing of three young prostitutes in a drug deal several weeks ago. Walker had been the arresting officer, and Alex was assigned the case. Her husband had managed to actually turn up an eyewitness, Bobby Malone, to the murder. It had been Walker’s idea to put Malone in a safe house with an agent to guard him. He had also insisted that only he know where that house was. The agent had been instructed to make no contact with anyone, and to bring Mr. Malone to court on the day of his scheduled testimony. Both Walker and Alex knew that Snyder was a mid-level hood who surely had friends who would be trying to make sure Malone never testified. Without Malone’s testimony, Snyder would probably be acquitted.
Alex sighed and picked up the phone. “Jimmy,” she asked when her friend answered, “any news on Walker?”
The Ranger swallowed hard, and then with a steady voice replied, “Not yet Alex. Malone is due to testify at 3 p.m. If he shows, then maybe whoever has Walker will let him go.” Trivette knew for certain that that scenario was not going to happen, but he had to give Alex that hope. “Try to be strong, Alex.” He continued, “Walker would want that trash to pay. You have to get a conviction.”
Without conviction Alex replied, “Sure, Jimmy, I will.” She hung up the phone and sat down behind her desk. Unwanted tears sprang to her eyes, and her shoulders shook as she cried uncontrollably.
“This is our last chance.” The scruffy-bearded one said. “We gotta make him talk, Frank!”
Frank, the beefy one, glared at the Ranger
tied up in front of him. He had spent days using his best torture methods on
this man. He delivered constant blows with the rubber club, inflicting severe
pain. He had not allowed the prisoner to sleep, waking him with painful blows
each time he dozed off.
Somewhere in the course of the two weeks, Walker had shut down. He no longer spoke, he no longer cried out in pain. He no longer had any conscious thoughts save for the one – do not talk. He subconsciously knew that he could no longer put coherent thoughts together, and so his decision not to talk at all would save him from making a mistake and giving the witness away.
Frank raised the rubber club and smashed it into a deep bruise on Walker’s forearm. A lightning bolt of pain shot up his arm and raised the comatose Ranger from his stupor.
“I see you’re awake now, Pig!” Frank shouted in his ear. He grabbed Walker’s hair and pulled his head up. His hate-filled eyes bored into Walker’s unseeing ones.
“You are gonna talk today Ranger.” Frank said evenly. “I am gonna beat the location of Malone out of you!”
With that he began to pound at Walker’s battered body with the club. His blows fell on old bruises, causing extreme pain. As his prisoner cringed and tried to protect his body from the rubber club, something snapped in Frank.
“Talk, you asshole, tell me!” He shouted raining blows down without pausing. Finally, exhausted, he stopped and glared at the silent Ranger. A twisted smile ran across his face. He reached down between Walker’s legs, grabbing his jeans and pulling his genitals forward. He raised the club, and brought it down forcefully.
Walker’s beaten body could stand no more, and when the club hit he screamed in agony. Unknown to Walker or Frank a homeless person had taken refuge in the old factory above the basement prison. The man heard the terrible scream and fled outside almost running into a black and white patrol car on the street. The officers followed the man and, using the element of surprise, were able to arrest Frank and his partner. They did not even recognize the man who hung unconscious in the cell.
Alex had just finished her cross-examination of Bobby Malone, who had turned out to be an excellent witness. She was sure that the jury would convict Dale Snyder on the strength of his testimony alone. But, it gave her no pleasure. Her heart was so heavy with worry for her husband, that she at first didn’t even realize someone was speaking to her.
“Mrs. Walker, there is a phone call for you. Would you like to take it in the hall?” A clerk was asking her.
Alex strode quickly to the phone. It was Jimmy. His terse voice explained quickly. “Alex, they found Walker. He’s been taken to St. Mathew’s.”
She almost couldn’t believe her ears. Her knees gave way and for a second she was lightheaded. Jimmy’s voice brought her back and she asked, “Is he okay Jimmy?”
There was a pause, not long, but too long. When Jimmy replied his voice was guarded. “Let’s talk about that when you get here Alex. He’s alive, and not in danger. The rest I need to tell you in person.”
Jimmy watched as Alex came down the hall of the hospital. His mind still had not figured out how to tell her the awful truth of what had been done to her husband, his partner. An angry flush crept up his face as he thought about it. He wanted to kill the creeps who were responsible. But, Walker would need to testify against them, and he was a long way from being able to do that. Maybe Alex could get through to his partner. Jimmy still held out that hope.
Alex rushed into Jimmy’s arms and hugged him tightly. “Where is he? I want to see him!” She demanded.
“The doc wants to talk to you first,” Jimmy replied. “He said to come to his office.” He led her down the hall to a door that said, “Michael Davis, MD Chief of Psychiatric Medicine.”
Alex’s eyebrow’s raised. “A psychiatrist?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy responded quietly.
The two knocked softly, and went in. Dr. Davis had them sit. He was secretly taking Alex’s measure as the introductions were made. His patient would need a strong support system, and he decided this woman was the best he could have.
“Dr. Davis, can I ask now what is wrong with my husband? And, why does he need a psychiatric doctor?”
“I specialize in prisoners of war Mrs. Walker. I am very well-trained in treating the effects of the kind of torture your husband has endured the last few weeks.”
“Torture?” Alex asked as tears began to form in her eyes. “Please tell me he is okay Doctor…..I want to see him!”
Dr. Davis reached to pat her hand reassuringly. “He is badly bruised and cut, but sustained no permanent physical damage. However, he was kept awake for several weeks by the beatings, and this has effected him mentally. It is called sleep deprivation. I have seen this many times, and believe me, it can be treated with time and patience. Are you prepared to help me?” He looked at his two companions.
Jimmy and Alex looked at each other and then at the doctor. “What do we do? What do we do to help him get better?” Jimmy asked.
“Be very patient with him. He has been beaten all over, Mrs. Walker. You will have to clean and dress the cuts on a daily basis. I can’t stress enough to be very gentle with that. He has been through enough pain. He hasn’t slept, and I know you think that he should, but it will be very difficult for him. For the past few weeks every time he tried to sleep, he was beaten severely. His mind equates sleep with pain now. It will help if you allow him to sleep on a couch or a chair with friends around, preferably talking. His subconscious mind will hear the sounds of his friends’ voices and maybe that will reassure him enough to allow him to sleep. When he awakens, and he will frequently, reassure him about where he is, and that you are with him.”
“We can do that.” Jimmy said. “We’ll all help Alex – me, Big Dog, and Gage.”
The doctor looked pointedly at Alex. “There is one more thing. Your husband is aphasic right now, but I believe that will change over time as his memories fade.”
“Aphasic?” Alex repeated. Her nerves tensed. “That means he can’t talk?”
“Yes, can’t talk, or won’t talk. Was there something these criminals wanted him to say?”
Alex nodded. “They wanted him to give up the whereabouts of a prosecution witness we were protecting.”
Dr. Davis nodded. “That makes sense then. A good soldier knows that when he becomes weak or disoriented he may say something he doesn’t want to say. So he simply does not say anything. It is easier to focus the mind on that.”
“Can I see him now?” Alex asked again.
Smiling at her obvious love for his patient, the doctor told them the room number. He wanted to keep the Ranger overnight, but would discharge him in the morning. He told Alex that he would have detailed instructions and medications for her then.
Alex took a deep breath before entering the room. When she opened the door, she was stunned by how her husband looked. Walker was sitting curled up in a corner of the hospital bed. His eyes stared out the window, and Alex cringed when she realized his body was gently rocking back and forth. Like a child seeking self-comfort when his parents offered none. His face was bruised, and she could see bruising on his arms as well. The hospital gown covered the rest of him.
She crept around to the side of the bed he was on. He showed no sign that he knew she was even there. She sat on the edge of the bed, and very slowly reached out to touch his face. Reflexively, Walker ducked his head trying to cover himself. He stayed like that for several moments, his body shaking. Alex began to quietly talk to him. Reassuring him about where he was, and who she was. It almost killed her to know she couldn’t touch him and give him any comfort that way. So she continued to softly talk, telling him about the trial, the ranch, their horses, and, of course, their black lab Ranger.
Finally, he seemed to calm down. Alex wasn’t sure, but she thought that in the one moment that he actually made eye contact, she saw a brief glimpse of recognition in his gray eyes. She sat with him through the night, never leaving his side. He dozed occasionally, but always woke with a cry of pain. Alex would sit near the bed and talk about anything she could think of just so that he would hear her voice. When the morning came, she was exhausted.
The nurse was just finishing getting Walker dressed when Jimmy arrived. Alex was outside waiting in the hall, looking very tired. She told Jimmy about the night and what had been done to her husband, and she was angry. These animals needed to pay for this. Jimmy agreed, but they both knew they would need Walker’s testimony, and he wasn’t talking. The nurse came out and they quickly moved into the room.
“How’s he doing, Alex?” Jimmy said softly. One glance at Walker had told him that his partner was still very ill.
“He didn’t get much sleep, Jimmy.” Alex said. She looked at Walker who stood staring, not aware of their presence. “But, he let me touch him this morning, and….”
“And what?” Jimmy picked up on her reluctance to tell him.
Alex looked at Walker, sadness in her eyes. “And, I think he may have actually recognized me. I am pretty sure of that.”
“I am sure of it,” Jimmy said quickly. He gave her a reassuring hug.
They met with the doctor, who was actually pleased with Walker’s progress. He gave Alex prescriptions and instructions, and sent them on their way. Walker stared out the passenger window of his Dodge Ram on the way to the ranch. Jimmy had thoughtfully gone to get it to bring him home in. He thought the familiar vehicle might make Walker feel safer. Alex agreed and thanked him for the gesture. Indeed, it did seem as if the Ranger appeared a little more relaxed.
C.D. met them at the ranch. He stared hard at Walker’s bruised and beaten face. Shaking his fist in anger, he gestured silently to Jimmy. Had he spoken, Trivette knew his words would have been: “Take those bastards down, Jimmy!” But, aloud C.D. fussed over Walker, calling him “son”, saying how they were all here for him now. Walker remained passive, never making eye contact, never talking. He did allow Alex to take his arm and lead him into the house.
“Woof!” The welcome home bark of Ranger echoed in the hallway. The big, black dog clattered across the wood floor, sliding to a stop in front of his master. Walker stopped, and to everyone’s amazement he put a hand out and patted the lab’s head. The dog licked his hand and whined.
Alex couldn’t help but grin. “He missed you a lot darling.” She murmured softly. She was stunned when her husband turned to her, looking at her face for the first time. Slowly, as Alex held her breath, his hand came up. As he touched her face, she reached her own hand up and very gently stroked his beard. She was ready for him to flinch away from the touch, but he allowed it.
C.D. came into the hallway. Seeing the tender scene in front of him, and not realizing what it was taking for Walker to let her touch him, he strode over to the couple and threw his arm around Walker’s shoulders. The result was immediate. Walker flinched and backed away from the older Ranger. The look of pain and fear in his eyes was unmistakable as he sank to the floor and once again began the rocking motion that Alex had seen in the hospital.
C.D. was stunned. He looked helplessly at Alex, fear and guilt all over his face.
“It’s okay C.D. You didn’t know,” Alex quickly said. “He just can’t be touched right now.” Tears sprang to her eyes. “They hurt him really bad, C.D.” She said in a cracked voice. C.D.’s bear arms went around his favorite girl. He wished there were some way to end all this. Put everything back the way it was. But, that was not possible.
He looked down at the rocking form of his friend. Hugging Alex tighter, he quietly asked, “What do we do now?” She lifted her head from the shelter of his arms and wiped the tears away.
“You guys go on in the kitchen. I think I can get him on the couch. Maybe he will doze off for awhile. He needs to sleep.”
C.D. and Jimmy moved into the kitchen doing their best to talk about everyday topics. Alex could tell their playful banter was very strained, but she hoped Walker wouldn’t notice. Bending down, she quietly began talking to him, telling him where he was, who she was. Gradually the rocking stopped and he made eye contact with her. Taking his arm very gently she led him to the chair. She gently removed his boots and put his feet up on the footstool. All the while, his eyes followed her every motion.
Soon, the others joined them in the living room. They ate pizza, drank ice tea, and got very involved in a game of monopoly. Trivette was the best player, and whooped aloud when he took Park Place from an angry C.D. Alex glanced over to see if the sound had bothered Walker, but he was actually dozing in the chair. She poked Jimmy and pointed. The three smiled knowing their friend was getting some needed rest.
It was after midnight when C.D. and Jimmy finally had to leave. They both promised to take turns coming to the ranch to watch Walker so Alex could get some sleep. He sat staring out of the window as they left, not seeming to even hear their warm good-byes.
Alex walked over to her husband and knelt in front of him. “Will you come upstairs with me, Cowboy? We’ll get you some pajamas, and into your own bed?” His gray eyes turned from the window and focused on hers. With a slight nod he stiffly rose from the chair and allowed her to lead him up the steps.
Once upstairs, Alex began to unbutton his shirt. She secretly thanked God that he didn’t cringe away from her touch. Taking off his shirt, she was very careful not to wince at the sight of the bruises and cuts. Hesitating, she put her hands on the waistband of his jeans. When he didn’t move, she undid the button and zipper. Carefully she removed the jeans along with his socks. Normally, if she were undressing him by this time his manhood would be straining to be set free from his boxers. But, there was no sign that he was at all affected by her touch now. She removed his boxers and couldn’t stop the gasp that came forth when she saw the deep bruising. Her heart leapt to her throat when she thought of the excruciating pain being hit there must have caused him. Quickly she slipped a pair of soft sweats on him and had him lay down on the bed.
Although he wasn’t sleeping, Walker lay very quietly. Alex tried desperately to stay awake in case he needed her, but her exhausted body betrayed her. Soon she fell into a deep sleep, not awakening until morning. Immediately she reached for her husband, but he was not there!
Throwing on a T-shirt and shorts, Alex ran downstairs searching for him. When she couldn’t find him in the house, she looked outside. Finally, she saw him sitting under a tree with Ranger. She approached them slowly, but Walker did not acknowledge her presence. His hand lay on Ranger’s back. His eyes gazed across the pasture.
“Hey, Cowboy,” Alex said. “Are you getting a little hungry? How about coming in for breakfast?”
Walker turned his head and looked at her. His face lit up, and his mouth moved, but no sound would come out. After watching him try several times to say something, Alex reached out and softly stroked his beard and placed her fingers over his lips.
“It’s okay. You don’t need to talk yet. Give it some time, Darling.” She said gently. She took his hand, helped him up, and together they walked into the house.
For the next several days life at the ranch was peaceful. Alex talked her husband through his terrible nightmares, and eventually Walker’s bruises began to heal. He became more and more like his old self. Even smiled occasionally. But, he couldn’t seem to talk. Alex had begun a system of hand signals for him to indicate his basic needs, but she missed their conversations. Despite all his progress, she still felt distant from him. It was Dr. Davis who actually came up with the solution to this problem.
Alex and Walker strode down the hospital corridor for his weekly check-up. They met Dr. Davis at the door to his office, and he suggested they go to the sunny courtyard outside for their visit. Looking directly at his patient, Dr. Davis asked Walker to meet him and Alex there. It was the first time that her husband had been told to go somewhere alone since he was hurt, and Alex was a little worried. But, Walker gave them a quick smile and nod before he headed off in the direction of the courtyard.
“Time to give him a little more freedom, Alex.” Dr. Davis said as he ushered her into the office and gestured for her to sit down.
“I know,” Alex sighed. “It’s just that he seems so far away still. And, he hasn’t spoken a single word.”
The doctor cleared his throat. “Alex, I have to ask a personal question. Before the beatings were you and Walker physically close? I mean, did you have an active sex life?”
Alex felt her face redden. “Uh, yes, I believe we did. Why would you ask that?”
“It’s one way to get close to him now that you will both be equal. Making love is a way of being very intimate without talking. Maybe he is feeling distant from you too, but he can’t break through that inability to speak. I think it would definitely be worth a try.”
“But, I thought that…all his bruises….” Alex found herself stammering, something she seldom did.
The doctor smiled reassuringly. “He is fully recovered now. You don’t have to worry about hurting him.”
Alex smiled. “Thank-you doctor. You’ve given me some ideas.”
Dr. Davis grinned and told her to get started right away. He joked that he was sure Walker would rather be spending time with her than his doctor.
Well, here goes nothing, Alex thought to herself. She had set the dining room up for a romantic, intimate dinner with her husband. The only light came from the soft glow of the two candles on the table. There was wine and music playing quietly in the background. She herself had changed into a flowing silk lounging gown, its layers clinging to her nude body underneath. She had sent Walker upstairs to get his shower. She was hoping that this wasn’t all so obvious to him that he got scared and closed up on her. But, on the other hand, it had been weeks since she had felt his intimate touch, and she missed it!
Walker appeared at the top of the stairs. He was wearing a pair of workout pants and a white T-shirt. One glance at him and Alex knew he understood what she was up to. She held her breath as he descended the stairs, looking at his face for any sign of fear or uncertainty. But, Walker’s eyes showed only approval as he looked at the lovely meal set before him. He reached Alex and his eyes traveled over her as well. A little uncertainly he put his arms out to draw her into a hug.
With a sigh of pleasure, Alex slid her arms around his muscular frame. It had been so long! She buried her face into his chest and smelled his sweet, musky scent. She felt him tense ever so slightly, and not wanting to rush him, she stepped back.
“I bet you are famished. Sorry dinner is so late, but as you can see, I wanted to make you a special meal tonight.”
Walker grinned and moved to hold the chair for his wife. Once he had her seated, he moved across from her and seated himself. They both finished their meal quickly. The old uncomfortable feeling creeping back into Alex, as they ate in silence. Her ability to make small talk without any verbal feedback from Walker was growing thin. Walker seemed to understand that, and she could tell that it was causing him pain to not be able to communicate in words to her. Several times she would see him trying to talk, and then shaking his head in frustration when no words came out.
When she saw that he was finished eating, she stood up and picked up her wineglass. “Walker let’s go for a walk outside. It’s warm and there’s a gentle breeze.”
He stood also and picked up his glass. Together they went out the back door, Walker stopping to grab a blanket off the nearby chair. The moon was a brilliant orange globe that lit their way perfectly. They walked the short path down to the little stream that bubbled and gurgled its way across their property. On the bank of the stream, Walker spread the blanket out, and they both sat down.
Alex sipped her wine. “You know honey, this reminds me of the very first time we made love.” She looked at his face. “Do you remember? The float trip? I was so unsure of what was going to happen that night. I didn't know if you wanted me as just a friend, or something more.” She shook her head and laughed softly. “I guess I found out, didn’t I?”
Walker’s eyes darkened. He reached over and took the glass from Alex’s hand. She still wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do. What if for some reason he couldn’t perform? What would that do to his already shattered ego?
But, her husband did not seem unsure of himself. He gently caressed the side of Alex’s face, and then he brought his lips down on hers. As his lips gently moved across hers Alex moaned softly. She fought the urge to crush his lips in the mind-numbing kiss that her body craved. As if reading her thoughts, Walker increased the pressure. His tongue parted her lips and began to explore her mouth. As their tongues dueled, their breathing became heavy and they leaned into each other.
Coming up for air, their lips parted. Walker looked deep into Alex’s eyes, and the message was very clear to her. He wanted her very much, but he wasn’t sure how to please her. She took his hand and placed it on her breast. As he gently massaged her, she felt tendrils of desire race through her body. She slowly unbuttoned her gown and bought it off her shoulders. It fell softly to her waist, exposing her firm, round breasts.
Putting a hand on either side of Walker’s face, she slowly urged him forward. When his lips closed on her breast, she almost screamed at the pleasure of it. He sucked and licked each rigid tip. Gently he took her nipple between his teeth and pulled, sending a spasm of desire through her. By now Alex was groaning aloud. Her hands restlessly moving over Walker’s shoulders and arms, wanting so much more, but not daring to ask.
When she could stand no more she sat forward and pulled his T-shirt from his body. Carefully, she began to run her fingers over him, knowing she had to be very gentle. She rained kisses over his shoulders and chest. She licked his rigid nipples and was rewarded by a small groan. Walker suddenly pushed her gently back on the blanket. When she was laying flat on her back, he carefully removed the rest of her gown. To Alex’s surprise he gently spread her legs and began to rub her womanhood. Seeing his look of concentration and love drove her wild with expectation.
Walker gently spread her with his fingers and lowered his head to taste his beautiful wife. Alex stiffened, and then relaxed as his tongue began to caress her most intimate place. He shifted so that he was lying on his stomach and reached out to put a hand on each of her breasts. Pinned as she was gave Alex an incredible sensual experience as Walker’s hands and tongue drove her relentlessly upward. Her hips bucked upward as a tremendous wave of pleasure engulfed her. Non-coherent sounds escaped her lips as her climax exploded.
When she returned to earth, she realized she was cradled in her husband’s strong arms. Looking into his smiling face, she softly said, “Damn, Cowboy, you sure know how to make up for lost time.” In response Walker pulled her close for another passionate kiss. Alex felt the tension begin again between her legs, and she knew it was now or never.
“Walker,” she said quietly. “I want…I need to feel you inside me. Make love to me, please?”
Her words were like a catalyst. Walker stood and removed his shoes and socks. He undid his pants, and Alex held her breath hoping that he would be ready for her. She did not have to worry. Her husband’s manhood bulged against his shorts. When he had removed them, he laid down next to her. She ran her hands over his stomach and thighs. She slowly touched her tongue to his manhood and began to kiss and lick him there. His response was to grow even more. Finally, he pushed her onto her back again. He knelt between her legs and gently guided himself into her. He looked up into her eyes, and the distance that had been between them for so long melted away. Never taking his eyes from her face, he began to move. His strokes were long, and his manhood felt so good as it rubbed the walls of her center. Oh, how she had missed this most intimate of acts between two lovers. She was a part of him now, and he a part of her.
Her hands came up and cradled his face. “I love you so much!” she whispered to him. Walker’s thrusts became less steady as his body began to jerk with passion. He drove into her blindly, wanting to fill her with his love, and be filled by hers. Alex’s fingers gripped his heaving back as she arched against him lost in the throes of passion. “Now, Walker, now!” She panted aloud. Walker’s body pistoned into her driving them both to new heights of passion. Finally, their grip on reality was broken and together they exploded into the light.
“Alex, I love you!” Walker breathed into her
Alex could not believe she’d heard it. Pulling his head up from her shoulder, she looked at him in amazement. “What did you just say?” she asked in disbelief.
Walker grinned and rolled off her onto the blanket pulling her with him. As he gazed into his wife’s loving eyes all thoughts of the torture and beatings disappeared. Replaced by warm and tender comfort. “I said, I love you Alex.” He teased, that old gleam back in his eyes.
Alex sat up and laughed. She tickled her husband gently on the stomach, “Say it again!” she demanded. Walker fought for breath as he battled her friendly onslaught.
“I LOVE YOU!” He good-naturedly shouted as he pulled her down on top of him. “But, I think I need to show you as well as tell you.” he said with a wink before pulling her into a passionate kiss. And as the golden moon looked on in approval, two lovers again became one in body, in heart, and in soul.
Trivette looked up as his partner and Alex strolled arm in arm down the courthouse steps. Walker’s testimony had put Frank and his accomplice behind bars for a good long time. His only fear was how testifying might have affected Walker.
“Hey, Partner,” Jimmy smiled. “It’s all over now.” His statement was almost a question, and Walker picked up on it.
“Yeah, Trivette. It is all over. I think I can move on now.” Walker smiled at his two companions. “You guys were lifesavers, you know that?”
Trivette, who had managed to find out how Alex had gotten Walker to talk, just shrugged and began to walk to the truck. “I, uh, think Alex did a little more lifesaving than I did!” He called back over his shoulder.
Walker came to a dead stop. He turned to his wife. “You told him!” he demanded blushing furiously.
Alex grinned impishly as she looked at her embarrassed hubby. “I did not.” She said simply, breaking into a giggle and sprinting toward the truck, leaving Walker standing red-faced on the steps.