Alex is planting bulbs along the sidewalk while Walker, with Angela on his back, is in the nearby corral trying to teach Little Ranger the handkerchief-untying trick. Alex looks up when she hears the rustle of shrubs and sees a little sprite pop through the hedge. It is Amy Hodges, the 8-year-old daughter of their nearest neighbor to the south.
Breathless, Amy runs up to Alex, squats down next to her and says in a sweet high-pitched voice, “Can I help?”
Alex responds to this endearing request by placing her arm around Amy’s shoulder. “Sure, honey. Does your mommy know that you’re over here?”
“Yeah, she watched me from the front porch, I waved to her before I came through your bushes. She said as long as I wasn’t a bother, I could stay for thirty minutes. I really wanted to come over and give Angela this.” Amy reaches into her Barbie backpack and pulls out a well-loved doll. “I’m getting so big now that I don’t need all of my dolls, so Mommy thought Angela might want to have this one.”
“This look’s like a very special doll, I’m sure Angela will love it. What’s her name?”
Alex holds the doll close, stands up and reaches for Amy’s hand and leads her to the corral. “Let’s go over to Angela and see what she thinks about her new baby, shall we? Walker, look who showed up with a present for Angela?”
Walker turns around with a look of unexpected delight on his face, kneels down and opens his arms as Amy runs to him.
“Well, my most favorite eight-year-old neighbor.” Kissing her on the forehead and setting her down, he says, “So, what is this about a present for Angela?”
“I know she doesn’t have many baby dolls, so Mommy and I found one that I don’t need anymore, ‘cause I’m getting so big.”
Walker reaches behind him and releases Angela from her backpack, then leans her forward to accept her ‘new’ present. Angela giggles in delight and eagerly holds out her hands, as she sees the doll being transferred from Alex to Amy and finally to her.
Supporting Angela as she tries to walk towards Amy, Walker says, “How is your kitty doing Amy?”
“Oh, gettin’ bigger and bigger. Mama says it must be from all of the mice she finds in the barn. She has to sleep out there, you know, since Mama is ‘lergic to cats. Alex, you know she’s not any ordinary kitty, Daddy says her mama and daddy are genuine champions; they won lots and lots of awards. She’s a real no-tail kitty, you know, they’re supposed to not have a tail.”
Alex kneels down to Amy’s level and gives her a quick hug, “Baby doll, it looks like your thirty minutes are up, you’d better skidaddle so your mommy lets you come back for another visit soon.”
Alex stands up and leans close into Walker as they hold Angela and think to themselves that, sooner than they like, Angela will be running, talking and growing up.
Ranger Headquarters Monday:
The Rangers are settling down for their regular morning meeting.
“Gage, I’m still trying to get that spaghetti sauce off my walls!”
“Syd, I thought you were supposed to read the directions on that new pressure cooker, how was I to know there was a seal you had to make sure was closed before turning it up high?”
Trivette chuckles as he moves towards the conference table where Sydney and Gage are already sitting.
“Sydney, were you allowing Gage to cook for you again?”
“Well, Francis here got a pressure cooker from his sister for Christmas, and he wanted to try to make some fancy sauce. It didn’t quite work out the way he thought it would…”
Defending himself, Gage playfully pokes her in the ribs and says, “I was trying to recreate this great sauce my mom used to make. I would have read the directions if I hadn’t been so distracted…” he finishes, looking pointedly at Sydney.
Turning a suspicious shade of red, Sydney shrugs and says nonchalantly, “You can come over anytime you want and finish the job you started.”
Walker enters the room. Hearing the last part of the conversation, he raises an eyebrow and exchanges a look with Trivette. They both are happy that Sydney and Gage are being more open about their relationship, yet are not allowing it to affect their easy rapport with their co-workers.
Lisse and Cooper are the last to arrive. They have been working undercover on tracking a group that is involved in the mutilation and sacrificing of farm animals.
Walker sits down, leans back in his chair and reaches for his favorite chipped brown coffee mug. “Any new developments on your case?”
Looking exasperated, Lisse glances up at Cooper. “Walker, we’re running up against a brick wall. We’ve interviewed all of the ranchers affected. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to where these sickos hit.”
Cooper chimes in, “We did discover that all of the animals had taken some sort of prize in their county or state fair. They were prime animals. In each case, the animal was mutilated on site, and a sort of altar was left behind in a remote section of the property. Animal control officers think that certain body parts are taken from the animals, then sacrificed by this group at the makeshift altar. No other useful evidence is left behind. The tire tracks vary, the shoe prints are different, and no implements are being left with fingerprints. We’re just having a tough time cracking this one.”
“Our biggest concern is that this will soon spill over into people being the target.”
Looking suddenly alarmed, Walker stands up and begins pacing the room anxiously. “Trivette and I ran into this several years ago, before any of you joined us. I thought we shut that group down.”
Filling the rest of the group in, Trivette rises and stands next to Walker. “They were bad news. These guys kidnapped Alex and a group of kids, and they were being prepared for a sacrifice at midnight on Halloween. Fortunately, Walker had a solid hunch on where they were keeping everyone, and we got there before anyone was hurt.”
“Alex was shaken for months after that. She still has nightmares sometimes about that night. Until then, I thought I’d seen the worst evil imaginable, but that topped it by a mile.” Looking at Trivette, trying to lighten the mood, Walker continues, “Partner, remember our very helpful source, maybe we should pay her another visit, hmmm?”
“If you want to keep that beautiful wife of yours happy, I suggest you tell her where you’re going first! Remember that hole you had to dig yourself out of when Alex showed up at C.D.’ s just in time to see you, I mean, Cassandra, kissing you?” Sensing a chance to dig a little deeper, he continues, “From what I saw, you weren’t resisting too much, either.”
The four junior Rangers are by now very intrigued to see their warrior leader looking exasperated and turning a bit pink.
“Trivette and I talked to the owner of a magic shop. Her name was Cassandra. She was very helpful with our investigation. When it was all over she showed up at C.D.’s for his Halloween party. She and Alex met later that night and actually hit it off.”
Opening the door to the conference room and stepping in just in time to hear his last sentence, Alex walks up to him, puts her arm around his waist, gives him a quick kiss on the cheek and says, “Who did I hit it off with?”
“Remember Cassandra from the magic shop?”
Flashing a sexy grin at Walker, she looks at the others and says, “Oh, yes, we were fine after I let her know that her spells were no match for my own brand of magic. I’d been working on my own special cowboy love potion for years when she came along, and I’d already pretty much perfected it by then. It was just a matter of time until I finally caught my cowboy. So, what brings up Cassandra?”
“Those animal mutilations are on the rise. Lisse and Cooper are running out of leads, so Trivette and I thought we’d visit Cassandra and see if she’s heard anything.”
Keeping her arm around Walker’s waist and leaning into him, Alex whispers for his ears only, “Just let me know if you need a refresher on that potion?”
Giving her a quick kiss, he looks at Trivette and in a mocking manner that shows he’s once again turned the tables on his partner and says, “So, looks like we’ve got Alex’s blessing, ready to go?”
Seeing Trivette and Walker saunter through her front door, Cassandra slinks around her counter, looks Walker up and down, holds her hand out to him and begins speaking in her definitively seductive British accent. “So, handsome, my spells must be working, what can I do for you today? Do you want me to describe what I would like to do to you?” She then languidly brushes her fingers from his jaw line down his chest.
Trivette stands to the side and tries to smother a chuckle as he sees his mighty partner squirming in embarrassment.
Businesslike, Walker takes a step back. “Cassandra, Trivette and I were wondering if you could help us out on another case.”
Realizing the seriousness of their visit, Cassandra drops her sex kitten act and quietly cocks her head to show she is listening.
“There have been more and more cases of animal mutilations and evidence of sacrifices. So far, it’s limited to livestock, but we’re concerned that they might tire of animals and cross over into human sacrifices. Do you know of any groups that have moved into the area that might be responsible?”
Placing her graceful hand alongside of her beautifully sculpted face, Cassandra thinks for a moment. “Well, there is a group of high school kids from the school down the street that have been frequenting my place. I’ve sold several of them the Satanic Rituals book that you borrowed a few years ago. At first they seemed like harmless kids, just trying to be different than their parents, but over the past few months they have changed, you know, really starting to believe this stuff.”
Taking Cassandra’s hand in his, Walker squeezes it and says, “Thanks very much, this might just give us the lead we need.”
Retrieving her hand and looking intently at Walker, she reverts to her old persona and says in a seductive voice, “Anytime, handsome; if that blonde’s spell quits working, you just come right on down here and Cassandra will take good care of you.”
Walker quickly grabs his hat from the counter, touches the brim with his hand and politely says, “Thanks again, ma’am,” then walks rapidly out the door with Trivette.
As they get into the truck, Trivette begins his ever-present ribbing. Walker holds up his hand. “Trivette, I DON’T want to hear it.” For once, Trivette decides it’s safer to be quiet.
After a few minutes of driving and listening to Walker’s favorite country music, Walker looks thoughtfully at Trivette. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“That it’s time for Lisse and Cooper to go back to school?”
“Right on target, partner.”
Lisse and Cooper, dressed in faded worn jeans and t-shirts, walk into the office.
Sydney, who is working on a report, looks up. “Any luck?”
Noticing the junior Rangers’ return, Walker, Trivette and Gage walk over to Sydney’s desk.
“There’s a pretty creepy group of kids there. We think they’re the ones that Cassandra is talking about. Cooper and I are trying to get in with them.”
“We heard them talking about an after hours club where they’re planning on partying tomorrow night.”
Lisse chimes in, “I thought I’d ask Cooper here out on a date. He’s kind of the shy type, and I figured it’s been months since he’s had a decent date, so he’d jump at the chance to hang out at a drug-filled club until 4:00 in the morning and try to make friends with a sadistic group of people.”
Cooper walks up to her and playfully puts his arm around Lisse’s shoulder. “Sounds like a dream date, I can hardly wait!”
Walker and Alex are preparing dinner.
“Walker, do you think that Angel’s foal will be worth more because of how she placed in last year’s State Fair?”
Walking up behind her and moving her hair out of the way before gently kissing her neck, Walker whispers into her neck, “Why? Do you want to make a lot of money, retire and become a horse breeder?”
Laughing and leaning into Walkers chest, she says, “No, although that does sound appealing at times. I thought maybe we could donate the foal to the fall auction for H.O.P.E. Center.”
Turning her around in his arms so that he can have better access to her lips, he murmurs, “Not only beautiful, but smart, too. She’s your foal, so if you want to donate her, okay by me. I think it’s a great idea.” As the kiss deepens and exploring hands begin to roam, a loud “DAAADAAA” and banging interrupts them. They both look at their daughter, who is sitting in her high chair tossing her Cheerios and spoon in the air, yelling loudly, trying to get their attention.
Laughing as she picks her indignant daughter up, Alex says, “What was that our friends with kids used to tell us about kids being the best kind of birth control?”
Walker leans over to Alex and manages to sneak in another kiss and says suggestively, “That may be true, but I can stay up longer than she can.”
Looking at his midsection, Alex replies, “I can vouch for that, honey. Just keep that thought; I think she’ll go to bed very soon.”
Lisse is chatting with some of her new friends, and looks around the crowd for Cooper. She is doing her best imitation of a drunken high schooler.
“I’m telling you, my friend Cooper would really like to go with us. Let me find him, he’s supposed to be taking it easy tonight since he drew the short stick and is the designated driver. He’ll take us wherever you want to go.” Spotting Cooper, she says loudly so he can hear her over the music, “Hey, Cooper, over here, my new friends here were just telling me about another kind of party they’re going to that really gives you a high, wanna drive us?”
Cooper comes over to the group and slings his arm around Lisse and nonchalantly looks over the group. “Why not, what do we have to lose? Our parents think we’re all tucked in our beds, fast asleep dreaming of high SAT scores. I’m up for more excitement, where are we going?”
The leader of the grungy group steps forward and gives Cooper a disdainful look.
“We have a little initiation party you might enjoy. It started at one place tonight, and by now has moved on to a second location. If you’re brave enough, let’s get in your car and I’ll give you directions on the way.”
Leaning sloppily on Cooper, Chen says to the group in general, “Can you wait just a little minute? I need to powder my nose, if you know what I mean.” She then goes into the ladies room, makes sure she is alone, and calls Sydney and Gage, who are in the parking lot in Gage’s classic sports car, awaiting their next move. “We’re heading to some location, I think we may have struck the jackpot.”
Roused from their heated discussion on who was the greatest boxer of all time, Sydney replies, “Okay, we’ll follow you, and when we appear to be getting closer, we’ll notify the county sheriff so it looks like the suspicious activity was reported by some local up late.”
“Gage, they’re coming out of the building, let’s see how this tracking gadget Trivette installed on Cooper’s car works for us.”
They drive for about twenty minutes then turn off the main highway and onto a deserted gravel county road. A few miles down the road they turn into a rutted road that passes by a barn. The farmhouse is located several hundred feet on down the unpaved path, slightly hidden behind a small hill. The lights at the farmhouse are out, as would be expected this early in the morning. The barn has shadowy lights emanating from the dusty window, such as a lantern or flashlight would give off, as people move in front of it. As the car ignition is turned off, Lisse and Cooper give each other a silent look as they hear chanting and a low cry of pain that is suddenly cut off, as if an animal is suffering and then suffers no more. The shadows start to move more rapidly, as if figures are performing a twisted demonic dance. Never one to give into fear, nonetheless, Lisse finds herself valiantly suppressing a shudder and opens her front passenger door as the group in the back seat also exits the car. Cooper follows suit and opens the door on his side.
Suddenly acting very sober and alert, Lisse says to the person behind her, “So, what’s this all about? You promised us an exciting night.”
In a gravelly voice, the person says reverently, “Our master requires fresh blood, he tires of animals and will be very glad to meet you.”
The chanting in the barn stops and Lisse hears a rushing behind her as two of their passengers suddenly dart towards her to grab her. At the same time that she begins to fight for her life, she hears sirens in the distance. She jumps out of their way and delivers a kick to the midsection of the one nearest her. Cooper, on the other side of the car, is dealing with his own group of misfits. As the sirens become louder, the band of worshippers already in the barn take off for the cars they left parked behind the structure.
Lisse finishes tangling with her two, who have decided it is a good idea to leave the future sacrifices alone for the time being. Lisse collapses against the side of the car next to Cooper and wipes her brow. “That was a little too close for comfort. These kids aren’t just harmless misguided teenagers. I think Walker was right, they’re close to crossing over to some very serious crimes.”
Sydney and Gage pull up next to them and note the fleeting panic in Lisse’s face. Gage gets out of the car and walks up to her, puts his arm around her shoulder and gives her a little brotherly shake.
“Ready to see what they were up to in the barn?”
For a fleeting moment, Lisse leans into him to absorb some of his solid strength. Then she nods her head in affirmation and looks at Cooper. “Well, partner, looks like we hit the big time; let’s go check it out.”
By this time the homeowners have arrived at the scene, having been awakened by the sirens.
The sleep- mussed couple walk up to Cooper.
“What in tarnation is going on down here? Where’d the rest of your friends go? I’m pressing charges against you as soon as I can get the attention of one of those officers.”
Startled by the man’s accusations, Cooper realizes that he is dressed very similar to the teens that recently vacated the scene. Cooper holds up both of his hands in front of him. “I’m sorry, I think you’re mistaken, sir. Ms. Chen here and I are Texas Rangers. We’ve been investigating animal mutilations in the area and followed some kids here that we thought might be involved. “
Seeing that the man still did not believe Cooper; Gage steps in holding his badge up. “Sir, the gentleman is telling you the truth. All four of us are Rangers, and we’d like to ask you some questions. But first, we need to see what was going on inside your barn. It would be better if you waited here until we have a chance to check things out.”
Realizing that Gage spoke the truth, the man suddenly becomes very agitated and runs into the barn ahead of the Rangers. “I’m not waiting out here. My prize bull Texas Tornado is in there, if those kids have messed with him, why I’ll…” and he storms off to the barn, where he let’s out a howl of agony. “Oh, God, how could this have happened?” His wife rushes into the barn and begins silently weeping at the sight that greets her. Her husband is draped over the body of his beloved bull, crying in disbelief. The bull has had several vital organs removed, and appears to have suffered before it ended its struggle with the dark forces.
The four Rangers and the local authorities follow the couple into the barn, where they all momentarily stand around helplessly looking at each other, not knowing whether or not to intrude on the farmer’s private agony. Sydney stirs from the group and walks over to the man and kneels down beside him.
“Sir, I’m so very sorry that this happened. As Lisse and Cooper told you, we’ve been tracking this group for weeks and this is the closest we’ve gotten to them. We’ll find them, sir, I promise.”
He looks up at her with stricken eyes and tears running down his face. “I raised Tornado from a calf. Last fall, he took best in show for his category at the State Fair. The unique thing about him was, he was gentle. His mother died soon after he was born so I fed him with a bottle until he could go on grain. He even spent the first few weeks of his life in Maudie here’s laundry room, because he had to be fed so often. You get those kids that did this!”
“We will, sir. If you think of anything at all that you think would help us with our investigation, please give me a call, here’s my card.”
Amy awakens to the sunny and warm spring-like day. She bounces out of bed and runs to the barn, which is always her first stop of the day, so that she can feed her kitty and give it some cuddles before church or school.
She skips into the barn and dances around in the dust motes that are filtering down from the hayloft and reflecting in the sunlight that comes through the slats of the barn. Suddenly, she stops in horror as she sees her beloved kitty sprawled in an unnatural position on the barn floor. The eyes seem to look funny, and when she stoops down on her little legs to examine closer, she gasps when she notices that the eyeballs are missing from their sockets. She runs out of the barn screaming and crying as she heads for the back door of the house. Her mother and father, upon hearing her screams, run out the kitchen door as Amy runs in, and they all collide with each other.
Amy is scooped up safely in her father’s strong arms. She is hysterical and it takes her several minutes to calm down to wrenching sobs and then quiet weeping when she can finally tell her alarmed parents what she has seen. “I wwwwent out to the barn to play with Belle-Kitty and shshshshe …….” Haltingly she continues, “She’s ddddead, and someone really hurt her bad before she ddddied!”
Amy’s mother hugs her daughter, who is still encased protectively in her father’s arms. “Don, I’m going to call Cordell. Please don’t go out there yet.”
Walker and Alex are just cleaning up the breakfast dishes when their phone rings. Walker has his hands deep in suds, so Alex reaches for the phone. “I’ll get it, honey; you just keep working on those dishpan hands. Hello, Mary? … Just calm down, sweetie, now what happened? Oh my God, is Amy okay? We’ll be right over, Mary. When we hang up call the sheriff, okay?”
Walker dries his hands and begins to gather up Angela. “What’s up?”
“Amy found her cat in the barn, and it looks like it has been mutilated and then killed. Do you think they’re still there?”
“No, they do their awful deeds in the middle of the night, then leave the remains to torture the owners. Lisse and Cooper were working on cracking the case last night, we’ll check in with them later. Let’s go over and see what we can do for Amy now. “
Walker carries Angela in her backpack and Alex walks alongside them, as they take the shortcut through the bushes to the Hodges’ house.
Don and Mary are standing in the middle of their yard, Amy still clinging tightly to her daddy’s neck. Walker walks behind Don, peeks over at Amy who is snuggled into Don’s neck and gives her a warm pat on the back. Amy replies with a tremulous smile. Alex walks over to Mary and gives her a hug.
“Alex, why don’t you take Angela from me and stay here; I’ll go into the barn and see if there’s anything I can do.”
Walker goes into the barn and observes the disgraced, dishonored body of the cat and a small altar with burn marks and dried blood that had run down the sides.
The sheriff arrives with a deputy and joins Walker in the barn. “Got anything, Walker?”
“Hi, George. No, nothing. These creeps go around the countryside mutilating animals and horrifying their owners. We’ve been trying to track them because we’re afraid they will soon tire of animal victims and move onto human ones. I had a team tracking them last night. They haven’t checked in yet.”
“We had some excitement last night just down the road from here…”
As if on cue, Walker’s cell phone rings. It’s Lisse, giving a report of last nights’ excitement.
“Walker that was the creepiest position I’ve ever been in. We went with them to a barn about ten minutes from your place. By the time we arrived, the main group had already killed the man’s prize bull. Sydney and Gage thankfully showed up with the locals, but the kids had a head start and got away. I swear they were going to try to add us to their pot. Just as the Sheriff arrived, they were saying something about ‘their master requiring a greater sacrifice’. I never much went in for this devil worship stuff, but there is something truly evil going on here. We did make a dent; Cooper and I know the names of several of the kids in the group. After school Friday we went to the principal’s office on the premise that we needed to go over our schedules and got the addresses of the kids we knew were a part of this group at school. Last night, before the police arrived, the ones we rode with said something about the party having started at another place and moving on to the current one. Do you know anything about that?”
“Unfortunately, it looks like they made a visit to our little neighbor’s barn and killed her cat.”
“Is she the one you and Alex talk so much about?”
“Yes, that’s Amy. She’s pretty shaken up. I’d better get back to them; keep in touch. You’re okay?”
“Yeah, boss, just fine, thanks to Sydney and Gage’s back-up.”
“That’s what being a part of a Ranger family is all about. Stay in touch.”
Walker closes his cell phone and turns to the Sheriff with a questioning gaze. “I guess you already know about last night’s action? Do you think it’s the same group?”
“Appears that way. Walker, I’ll finish up this report and give you a copy of both occurrences’ reports. Do you want any help from my boys?”
“Let’s have you hold off just now. It’s not isolated to just this county, so the Rangers’ resources are better used for this. I’ll have Lisse and Cooper check into the kids they know are involved. I’ll keep you in the loop, George.”
Walking out of the barn together, they turn towards the small huddle surrounding Amy. The Sheriff pats Mary on the back and holds his hand out to Don.
“Don, Mary, I think I’ve done about all I can here. Take care, and if you need us again for any reason, here’s my home number and my cell number. Amy, Walker here’s going to catch the guys who did this to your kitty, and I’m going to help him. We’ll make sure they don’t do this to anyone else so no other little girl is saddened by the loss of her special pet.”
With tears still staining her face, Amy tries to give the gentle man a small smile. “Thanks, Sheriff, I hope someone makes them know how much hurt they did last night.”
“Me too, honey.” The Sheriff pats Amy on her back, shakes Walker’s hand, then drives off in his car.
Alex calls to see if Don and Mary are still up to coming over for the long-planned barbecue at the ranch. “Mary, I certainly understand if you all aren’t feeling up to coming over. Do you just want to reschedule later?”
“No, if it’s okay with you, we’d like to keep our plans. I think it will help Amy.”
“How is she doing?”
“As well as can be expected, but she really doesn’t understand.”
“Poor thing, we try so hard to shield our children from evil and still it finds them. We just have to trust their guardian angels with the rest.”
“You’re right about that. We’ll come over around 3:00 as planned.”
4:30 p.m. Walker Ranch:
Dinner is over; Walker is in the barn feeding the horses while Alex is sitting on the porch with Angela, quietly talking with Don and Mary. Amy gets up from Don’s lap and walks dejectedly to the barn. Alex shares a somber look with Don and Mary as all three watch Amy wander towards Walker.
Walker is in the middle of cleaning out a stall when he hears the barn door open and the slight rustling of little feet tramping across hay. He puts his pitchfork off to the side, draws a bandana from his back pocket and wipes his brow as he watches Amy walk towards him. She has her eyes downcast and is kicking her feet in the loose hay. As she nears him, he sits on a nearby bale of hay. She clambers up on his lap and snuggles close.
“Do you want to talk about it, Amy?”
Walker tightens his arms about her and waits for her to continue.
“It makes my mommy and daddy really sad if I talk about Belle-Kitty. Why did someone do that to her, Ranger Walker? She never hurt anyone. All she ever wanted to do was play and be petted. Are they going to come back and get me, too? It all makes me real scared; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep again.” Amy collapses against Walker, sobbing against his chest.
“Honey, do you know what my mother told me when I was your age and I had something bad happen to me?”
Amy sniffles against his chest and replies, “What?”
“She and my father held me close while my mother recited the Ninety-first Psalm over and over. That is one of my favorite bible passages, and whenever I get scared I just say it over and over in my head, then I’m not afraid anymore. Do you know that Psalm?”
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Amy shifts her position so she can look into Walker’s eyes. “No, can you tell it to me?”
“It goes like this…”
Ranger Headquarters, Thursday Morning Meeting:
The meeting in the conference room has already started when Trivette walks in, looking tired, but with eyes lit up like a little boy’s on Christmas Day. “Hey, you guys, sorry I’m late. I’ve been up most of the night working on this computer simulation of where our Satan Worshippers will strike next.”
Lisse and Cooper had just been telling the group that the kids they had arrested had no idea where the next hit was. The kids were told every Friday morning and the location always changed. Now that the group had been picked up and questioned, they had lost their best lead. All of the kids were too afraid of the leader finding out they were a plant to find out the upcoming Friday’s location.
Cooper stands up and holds out a chair for his exhausted compatriot. “Trivette, we’ve come up dry again. I hope you’ve got something, so we can put these guys away for good!”
Trivette takes the offered seat and proceeds to hand out several sheets of paper to each person in the room.
“The first sheet is a map of where the incidents have occurred over the past six months. The next is a sheet about what they all have in common with each other. You’ll notice that they have been hitting a county at a time, generally clustered around a five mile radius in each county. In each case the animal involved had won prizes at the county or state fair. This information is easy to obtain by looking up newspaper records at the library or on the Internet. All of the incidents have occurred on Friday and Saturday nights, when these punks are off from school the next day.” Then, looking intently at Walker, he continues, “My best guess, based on this model, is that they will hit your place tomorrow night. Angel and her foal’s recent prize winnings were too easy to find. The local equestrian news letter even had a full color photo of Alex and Angela posing with your horses at the winners circle plastered right across the front page.”
The usually introspective Walker appears shaken for a moment. He then intently studies the information in front of him for a few more minutes. “Trivette, I think you’re right. We’ll all stake out my place tomorrow night. Can Alex and Angela stay with Erika tomorrow night? I don’t want either of them around when this goes down.”
“Sure, partner, I was going to suggest the very same thing.”
Walker is standing at the front door with Alex and Angela. He is holding Angela and gives her one last cuddle. “Now you be good for Mommy and Aunt Erika. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, then we’ll have the whole weekend left to play.” He then turns to Alex and gives her a warm loving look, then envelops her in his arms.
“You take care of business and return safely to us tomorrow, okay?” Alex whispers in his ear.
“I will.” Walker eases away and delivers a set of promising kisses to Alex’s and Angela’s foreheads before he hands his little cherub over to her mother’s arms.
“Walker, I know these are just kids you’re going after, but this satanic sacrificial stuff gives me the creeps. I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of evil worship, remember? They’re not driven by anger or greed or vengeance. They truly believe this is what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s what they’ve chosen to put their faith in. To me, that makes them so much more dangerous then your average bad guy.”
“Alex, we have a stronger power protecting us. We’ve got the ‘Good Guy’ on our side. Those kids are playing with fire, and they’ll soon find out that they’re sacrificing more then a few defenseless animals. Try not to worry too much, honey. I love you.”
Trivette is having a similar conversation just inside the door with Erika. “I know this one is worrying you, but don’t let it. We’ll have all six of us there. These guys may be tough against defenseless animals, but now they’re going to have to deal with something that can fight back.”
“I’ll try not to worry. I love you, Jimmy.”
The Rangers kiss their melancholy women goodbye, and drive in Walker’s truck to the ranch, where the four other Rangers join them.
All is quiet until around 2:00 a.m. Walker and Trivette are hiding in the hayloft, Gage and Sydney in a deserted stall, and Cooper and Chen are lying down in the bed of Walker’s truck. Everyone, except Walker, is dozing off, waiting for something to happen.
They are roused from their nap by the sound of several cars moving up the driveway. The lights are turned off on the cars as they stealthily approach the barn. The three groups of Rangers all sit up, on quiet alert. Ten people emerge from the three cars. They creep towards the barn and enter the structure, which is lit only by the light of the full moon that is sifting through the windows. The first four enter the barn. A set of flashlights and a kerosene lantern are enough to dimly illuminate a small area inside the barn.
“This is the place. There are a prize mare and a foal here. And, if we’re really blessed, we can grab that baby inside and make her our first human sacrifice.”
“Ohhh, that gives me chills just thinking about it, I’ve been dreaming of the day we can sacrifice our first human.”
Hearing this, Trivette places a strong hand on his partner’s shoulder, restraining him. Walker looks at him and gives him a nod, letting him know that he understands and is prepared to follow their pre-designated plan of action. The Rangers inside the barn are to wait until all of the worshippers are inside the barn, and talking about what they planned to do there that unholy night. Once everyone is inside, Lisse and Cooper, who are perched in the Ram, are to move immediately outside the barn door until back-up is needed or the group inside tries to escape.
All ten have entered and are murmuring amongst themselves about where the mare and her foal are hidden. Four of them get to work on assembling their makeshift altar while the rest head for the stalls at the west end of the barn. Gleaming machetes, axes, and sharpened butcher knives are unwrapped from a red cloth before they are placed on either side of the altar. A pungent aroma filters into the barn as the cult leader lights a metal basin filled with incense. Angel and her foal are whinnying in alarm as the young besiegers try to force them from their stalls. Angel struggles to defend herself and her foal by pinning two of the boys with her solid midsection against the back wall of her stall. Two others whack her hind legs with a club and she trots backward in pain.
“That horse tail ‘ll be hangin’ from my rearview mirror by morning,” said one of the boys who had been cornered by Angel’s powerful weight. “Let’s get this hunk of horse meat over to the altar so we can put her out of her misery.”
Walker gives Trivette the signal that he has heard and recorded enough, and that it is time to move.
One after the other, they leap from the loft onto conveniently placed hay bales on the floor. Sydney and Gage hear their movement and burst out from their hiding place. The ten are startled, but quickly turn to action. The three nearest the barn door run outside and are stopped by Lisse and Cooper. Inside, the leader has reached for the closest machete and is wildly swinging at Walker. Trivette sees his partner holding his own, but helps Walker even the odds by throwing a large hunting knife towards the ground near him. Walker leans forward and catches the knife by the handle in midair, then spins around and throws it at his attacker’s chest. Just as that attacker falls to the ground gasping his last breath, a second villain sneaks up behind Walker with a garrote. As he is preparing to bring it past Walker’s face and down to his neck, Walker senses his presence and grabs the garrote with both hands, kneels, then flips the attacker over his head where he lands with a loud whoosh on the ground. Walker then gives him a fierce kick to the head to knock him out. With bleeding hands, he reaches for a pair of nearby work gloves and quickly puts them on.
After Trivette threw the knife to Walker, he disposed of his two younger attackers by grabbing them by their respective collars and smashing their heads together.
Sydney and Gage use techniques they learned during their wrestling training to fight the three remaining evildoers.
In a matter of minutes, it’s over. The local authorities have arrived, summoned by Lisse after the cars were spotted creeping up the driveway. The Sheriff and his deputies take away the nine survivors, who have been arrested and read their rights.
The other Rangers head back to their respective homes. Walker and Trivette, after tending to Walker’s hands, experienced the need to feel the solid warmth of the love of their families and drive together to Erika’s apartment. Erika and Alex are up waiting, having been given a call that the stakeout was over and that they were heading back.
Trivette quietly unlocks the door to his fiancée’s apartment. Alex and Erika are sitting anxiously on the couch, and quickly rise to be embraced by their strong warriors who have come home to be replenished. Walker holds Alex close and relishes her warmth. After a few minutes, the couples sit in the living room as Walker and Trivette tell them about Angel and her foal’s close call. Both women shudder at they visualize the hellish scene that was being described.
To lighten the tone, Walker says, “Trivette, I may have Cherokee Intuition, but I think your computer modeling skills are coming in a close second. Thanks, partner, for figuring this out tonight.”
“My pleasure, partner. You’ve got your secret weapons, and I’ve got mine. That’s what makes us such a great team.”
Walker Ranch – 5:00 a.m.:
Alex is snuggled into the safe warmth of her Ranger and is in the shadow world between sleeping and waking, when she finds herself wandering in a dark, fog-filled cemetery. She sees shadows of unsettled spirits wandering past her, as she huddles behind a large, crumbling tombstone. Above her, a tree is eerily creaking in the wind. To her right, she sees a small red light begin to grow as it nears her. Suddenly, out of the light appears a tall dark haired figure dressed entirely in black. She remembers this figure and begins to tremble. She has so much more to protect than she did when she first encountered Lucifer. As he approaches her, she stands with her back to the decrepit stone and shouts, “No, no, you cannot have her, she is innocent and God is protecting her!”
Alex’s fear-stricken shouting abruptly awakens Walker. She is trembling and has tears running down her face as she continues to moan, “No, no, no…”
All of his fierce protective instincts rise to the surface as he raises himself up on one elbow and wraps his other arm around her shoulder, then gently shakes her as he leans close to whisper in her ear, “Alex, honey, you’re safe. It’s only a bad dream. Angela is safe in her crib. Alex, please wake up.”
As her gentle warrior’s voice seeps through into her dream, she sees Walker coming up behind Lucifer and battling him, much as he did in the past. As Lucifer falls for the last time, Alex runs to Walker, then realizes she is waking up in his arms.
Still softly crying, she buries her face into his bare chest and takes a deep calming breath, then whispers, “Oh, Walker, it was so awful! I haven’t had that dream in such a long time. This time he was after Angela. I tried to protect her, but he kept coming closer and closer. Then you showed up.” Trying to stifle a sob, she continued, “Walker, even in my dreams you take care of us. I love you so much. Will you do something for me?”
Holding her even closer in his protective embrace, he replies, “Of course, honey, anything.”
“Will you make love to me and make me forget the evil in the world.”
“It would be my pleasure, ma’am.”
Epilogue – Sunday Afternoon – Walker Ranch house:
Walker and Alex are nestled into each other on the front porch swing while Angela slumbers beside them in her stroller. The temperature is balmy and the sweet breeze is blowing just enough to soothe the spirit. Alex is reading a book while Walker’s eyes flutter as he verges on dozing, and he tells himself that his napping daughter has the perfect idea on how to spend a positively peaceful Sunday afternoon. He is reluctantly brought back to full consciousness when he hears footsteps rustling through the bushes that border the ranch. A soft smile decorates his face as he sees little Amy charging, full force, towards the swing. Mary and Don jog behind her, but can’t stop her from plopping herself playfully onto the lap of her favorite neighbor.
“Whoa! Hello to you too, young lady,” Walker chuckles, as he steadies the shaking swing so Amy and Alex won’t topple to the ground. “What brings you over here on a beautiful day like today?” he teases her. “You should be out playing on your swings or riding your bike instead coming over to visit a couple of old folks like us.”
Alex swats him on the arm in protest. “Speak for yourself, old man.”
“Whadaya’ have, Mr. Walker? Mama and Daddy said that you had something you wanted me to see, so here I am.”
“I’m just funning you, Amy. Mrs. Walker and I asked you to come over here today because we have a surprise for you. Do you like surprises?”
“Oh, yes, that’s the bestest of all!”
“Okay, then, close your eyes.”
Walker stands up and takes Amy’s little hand in his own and begins to lead her to the barn. Alex gently lifts the stroller down from the porch and, along with Don and Mary, follows them to the barn. Walker stops in front of the large stall that currently houses Angel and her foal, then reaches down to lift up Amy.
“You can open them now, honey.”
Amy opens her eyes and notices that the foal has a big pink ribbon tied on the top of her mane. She gasps in delight and clasps her hands over her mouth in excitement.
“You… you mean this is my surprise?”
Alex, having parked the stroller a safe distance away, walks up to Amy and lifts her from Walker’s arms into her own, gives her a hug, sets her down then walks into the stall as Walker opens the gate for them.
“This is your very own horse, honey. She’s ready for a new home and your mom and dad already said that you’re big enough to take care of her if you want to keep her. What do you think?”
Nodding her head up and down emphatically, Amy replies, “Oh, I can do it. Belle-kitty gave me good practice taking care of my own animal. Is it really okay, Daddy?”
Don and Mary kneel down in front of their precious daughter and, in unison, say, “Yes.”