by Gail R
VIETNAM -- 30 YEARS AGO.........
Walker crouched among the jungle foliage, glancing tentatively at his two companions, Dan Alderson and Jack Brannon. The three Marines watched as a fourth soldier, Evan Kraft, made his way toward a deserted village.
“I wish we’d never found out,” Jack whispered.
Dan shook his head. “I still won’t believe it until I see it. Kraft, dealing drugs with the enemy. Walker, you sure the information is good?”
Walker nodded and sighed sadly. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
Jack shook his head and touched his rifle tip to theirs. “Semper fi, guys.”
Kraft scanned the deserted village of grass huts, then hurriedly walked into the largest one. Walker moved forward, motioning for the others to follow. Silently they crept toward the hut. Hearing voices, they raised their guns and burst in, catching Kraft accepting a kilo of heroin from three Asian men.
“Don’t move,” Walker ordered as Kraft inched toward his pack.
The Asian men raised their hands in surrender. Drug paraphernalia and lab equipment filled the hut. Jars of chemicals and ether lined shelves.
Jack stared at Kraft. “Evan, I didn’t think it was true. Why, buddy?”
Kraft wet his lips. “Look, there’s more than enough here for all of us. I’ll cut the three of you in. We’ll step on this, this re-sell it to the troops. We’ll make millions.”
Angered, Walker grabbed Kraft by the shirt. “You’re finished, Kraft. Move it.”
As he herded the four prisoners toward the door, shouts and gunfire suddenly erupted from outside.
“Jack, keep them here,” Walker said as he and Dan ran outside, taking cover.
A dozen armed men rushed from the jungle, firing at Walker and Dan. They returned fire. Inside the hut, Jack pulled out a walkie talkie and radioed for help. Kraft seized the opportunity and tackled Jack. The three Asian men ran as Jack and Kraft tussled.
Walker, pinned down by gunfire, saw the three Asian men run out of the hut.
“Danny,” he yelled. “Go help Jack.”
Dan made a beeline for the hut. The enemy soldiers rushed Walker, who was out of ammunition. He lunged at the nearest man, using him as a shield as the others closed in. A hand to hand battle ensued, with Walker using his newly acquired karate skills to trounce his opponents. Another group of enemy soldiers emerged from the jungle just as two Marine helicopters swooped in, firing machine guns to provide cover for Walker. More gunfire crackled from the jungle. Walker kicked down the remaining soldier within his reach, then started for the hut. A sudden explosion of pain in his leg dropped him like a brick. More bullets sprayed the hut. A bottle of ether shattered and ignited. In seconds the hut was engulfed in flames. On the ground, bleeding from the bullet wound, Walker watched in horror as the hut burned. Not able to stand, he crawled toward the flames, but suddenly hands were grabbing him.
“We got ya, soldier,” a Marine was saying as several of them lifted him up.
“No!” Walker shouted. “Jack and Danny are in there.” He struggled to get out of their grasps. “Let me go!”
The Marines held him tightly, racing toward a waiting chopper.
“Let me go, dammit!” Walker yelled, still fighting to get to his friends as he was loaded into the helicopter. He stared in stunned helplessness as the hut burned. A medic tried to check his wound, but Walker pushed him away. Marines were swarming the village, taking prisoners. Just as the chopper lifted off the ground, Dan stumbled out of the hut, his face white with terror. He turned to the chopper and his eyes locked with Walker’s. Ever so slightly, Dan shook his head. Walker, squeezing his eyes closed, fell back onto the floor and let the medic take over..........
“I hate stakeouts,” Trivette grumbled to his partner. “Hurry up and wait.”
Walker, watching the empty parking lot through binoculars, didn’t answer. They were seated in the Ram, hidden by the night and a large dumpster. A half dozen police cars were spaced throughout the area, all poised to move in at Walker’s signal.
“How reliable do you think this snitch is?” Trivette asked, suppressing a yawn.
“Alex offered him a good deal if this goes through. I think it’ll pay off.”
Trivette peered at his partner with a slight smile. “Alex said she’s cooking for you tomorrow night. I thought you said ‘never again’?”
Walker frowned. “I never said that.”
“Guess I misunderstood.” Trivette snickered and turned back to the window.
After a moment, Walker added, “I never said it to her face.”
“Uh huh,” Trivette said, then under his breath added, “Coward.”
“What?” Walker asked.
“Nothing,” Trivette grinned. He opened an envelope, removing a photo. “This Rogue guy is so slick, we’ve never even gotten a decent picture of him.” The photograph was out of focus and taken at a distance.
“Same with Tuck, his second in command,” Walker added. “After tonight we’ll have perfectly posed pictures of both of them.”
“Yeah, mug shots,” Trivette laughed.
Walker sat up suddenly, pointing to the parking lot. Four cars pulled in.
“Everyone set,” Walker spoke into the radio.
Walker and Trivette watched as two groups of men met in the empty lot. For some reason, Walker’s eyes were drawn to one man in a baseball cap who lagged behind his comrades, as if not wanting the other group of men to see his face. The two groups exchanged duffel bags.
“That’s it,” Walker said. “Let’s go.”
All units moved in, roaring into the parking lot to cut off the cars. The suspects pulled out automatic weapons, showering the police cars. Jumping out of the Ram, Walker noticed a lone suspect, the man in the baseball cap, lie on the ground in a surrender position. The battle lasted a few minutes, becoming fierce as the suspects continued to spray bullets at the officers. Two officers went down. One of the suspects made his way toward a car, firing as he ran and got in. The suspect on the ground watched as another man also jumped in the car.
“Wait!” the grounded suspect yelled.
The car spun out, bashing a police car and managing to maneuver around it. The suspect then stuck his gun out of the window and shot out the tires of the nearby police units. Walker looked at the Ram, intending on chasing the suspect, but his truck was boxed in by the now disabled police vehicles. He watched in futility as the car got away. He noted the license plate, made certain the wounded officers were being attended to, then helped the other officers round up the remaining suspects. Trivette knelt beside the grounded suspect, one knee on his back, and frisked him.
“I’m a cop,” the suspect said.
Trivette found a wallet and opened it as Walker neared them.
“He’s a Fed,” Trivette told his partner.
The Fed hauled himself up, then did a double take at Walker.
Walker scrutinized the man, his eyes opening wide in disbelief. “Danny?”
The two men embraced as Trivette watched, perplexed.
“It was Kraft,” Dan said to Walker as the two men stood apart from the confusion in the parking lot.
Walker shook his head. “Kraft died in the hut, in the fire.”
“That’s what I thought too. That’s what the brass wanted everyone to think. Saved them from an embarrassing black mark on their records, that’s for sure. Wouldn’t want the public to know a special forces Marine was dealing heroin to his own troops.”
Walker paced, trying to take it in. “How did you get involved?”
“About two years ago, I was on assignment in Chicago, trying to break up a drug ring there. I recognized him -- I’ll never forget those wild eyes -- but he got away. I’ve been after him ever since. He moves his operation around, never gives me much time to track him down. But this time, I almost had him.” He stomped his foot in frustration.
“Why weren’t we notified?” Walker asked, more than frustrated himself. “If we’d worked together we could have gotten him.”
“There wasn’t time. I only found out about the buy a few hours ago. How did you know about it?”
“An informant,” Walker answered, then he frowned. “How were you going to take them down all by yourself?”
“I had help, a man on the inside of Kraft’s organization. He was the other guy who got away tonight.” Dan leaned close to Walker. “Walker, I need your help to catch him. We need your help.”
“Jack and I,” Dan whispered.
Walker felt his stomach twist, an incredulous look on his face. “Danny, Jack died in the fire. His body was positively identified.”
“That was the other cover-up,” Dan asserted.
“What are you talking about?” Walker asked, still stunned.
“Jack didn’t die, but he was burned pretty bad, including his face. Not even his own mother would recognize him. He wanted Kraft some kind of bad for what he’d done. The CIA was involved, and they came up with the perfect scenario -- let the official report read that Jack and Kraft died in battle, but in reality, Jack became an operative and went after Kraft.”
“How long have you known about this?”
“Like I said, I stumbled across Kraft about two years ago. I only found out about Jack a year ago. I’d been undercover with a rival drug ring, and one night we shot it out. This guy with a scarred face got the drop on me, and I thought for sure I’d bought it, but he whispered ‘Semper Fi’ to me, and I knew it was Jack. We only had seconds, but he told me what was going on, that he’d infiltrated Kraft’s organization and was compiling names and places for a huge bust. I’ve been trailing them ever since, waiting for Jack to make his move.”
Walker ran a hand across his beard, still reeling with the information that Jack and Kraft hadn’t died.
“I know this is a big shock to you,” Dan continued, “but now that you know, you can help me take Kraft down and bring Jack in.”
“The guy we’re after is known as Rogue. If he’s really Kraft.......”
“It’s him, trust me,” Dan assured him. “And Jack, he goes by the name of Tuck. That’s his cover.” He suddenly broke out into a smile, taking the Ranger’s shoulders. “Damn, Walker, it’s good to see you.”
“Same here,” Walker replied.
“One more time, Minton,” Walker said, leaning into the suspect’s face. “Where is Rogue?”
“Who?” Minton smirked.
Alex threw up her hands. “We’re wasting our time, guys.”
Walker and Trivette nodded in agreement. Walker caught Trivette’s eye.
“Your loyalty is impressive, Minton,” Walker began. “I wonder how I’d feel if I’d been left to the cops while my boss got away clean. Trivette, how would you feel?”
“Knowing I’d been left to take the rap? I think I’d be a bit pissed,” Trivette answered.
Alex jumped in. “And two police officers were wounded. That’s attempted murder. God forbid one of them dies, then it’s death row.”
Walker and Trivette headed for the door with Alex following.
“Would you leave me like that?” Walker asked Trivette.
“Heck no. I have some honor, you know. And besides, you’d find a way to get in here and silence me.” Trivette made a cutthroat motion.
Just as Walker’s hand reached the doorknob, Minton broke. “Okay, okay. I’ll tell you where he was hiding out. But he’s probably long gone by now.” He looked at Alex. “What kind of deal are you offering?”
Alex let a smile slip in Walker’s direction. “You give us the address, and if anything comes from it, then we’ll deal,” she told Minton.
Dan was waiting for Walker in the Ranger office. “Did you get anything?”
Walker nodded. “An address.”
“Great,” Dan answered. “I just checked in with my office. They said for me to take all the help I could get. Guess that means we’re working together again.”
Walker nodded, smiling. He still couldn’t get the incredible revelation out of his head. All these years, he assumed Kraft and Jack had died that terrible day in Nam. He’d been evac’d to a hospital and had heard through the grapevine that Danny was being treated for injuries too, but it was two weeks before they saw each other again. Danny had come to visit him in the hospital, strangely reserved, and Walker realized how hard Jack’s death had hit him. Danny and Jack had been inseparable since they’d first met. Two days later, Walker heard that Danny had been shipped home. No such luck for him. Nighthawk was back in action as soon as he was back on his feet.
“Walker?” Alex was touching his arm, frowning at him. “You’re a hundred miles away.”
“Farther than that,” Walker replied, gladly letting the visions of the jungle dissolve from his mind. Dan was with Trivette at the younger Ranger’s desk, staring into the computer screen. Walker looked at Alex. “What’s up?”
“I just want you to be careful, okay? We know these guys don’t hesitate to shoot cops.”
Walker gave her an admonishing gaze. Since they’d become engaged, they’d agreed that nothing would change in their work relationship, yet it had, subtly so. Months ago she would have pleaded with him to be careful with her eyes only. Now she spoke the words. But he didn’t mind.
“Alex, we’ll be fine.”
She smiled an okay, still holding his arm. Trivette caught Dan staring.
“That’s the Assistant DA.”
“And a mighty friendly one she appears to be,” Dan grinned.
Trivette led him to the couple. “Dan, this is Alex Cahill.”
Dan nodded knowingly, shaking her hand. “So you’re the one who’s captured Walker’s heart. I can see why.”
Alex gave him a bashful smile. “Thank you.”
“Danny,” Walker began, back to business, “what can you tell us about Kraft? Any habits that might help us track him down?”
“He likes seclusion, and he’s got a passion for a sport.”
“Which one?” Trivette asked.
“Paintball?” Alex said, turning up her nose. “You mean that silly war game, where you go into the woods and shoot globs of paint at each other?”
Dan nodded. “But it’s not silly to those who play it. They play on teams and they take it very seriously.”
“Doesn’t Ed Moss run one of those games?” Trivette asked Walker.
“Ed Moss?” Alex said with concern. “He’s a shady character -- suspected of arms dealing but we’ve never been able to prove it.”
Walker was nodding his head. “He owes me one,” was all he said.
“I’ll make sure we get the word out,” Trivette said.
“You guys better get going,” Alex told them.
“Yes ma’am,” Trivette said playfully as he gathered up his coat and hat.
Alex caught Walker’s arm again as he headed for the door, squeezing it, imploring him to be careful. He winked and was gone, leaving her sighing.
It was well into the wee hours of the morning when Walker, Trivette and Dan neared the address Minton had given them. Creeping onto the porch, they peered into the windows. Three men were loading money into a bag. Walker motioned for Trivette to take the back, then, a minute later, he kicked the door in. The three men scattered. Walker punched one, then kicked another in the gut, doubling him over. As Trivette rushed in from the back, Walker finished the third man off with a series of elbow blows and kicks. Dan smiled.
“I see you kept up with that karate stuff.”
“A little,” Walker responded.
Trivette let out a sarcastic chuckle.
Dan grabbed the only conscious suspect and shook him. “Where’s Kraft?”
“Who?” the man asked.
Dan shook him again. “Kraft! Where is he?”
The suspect had a bewildered look on his face. Dan pulled back his arm and balled up his fist. Trivette intervened.
“Whoa, Dan. They know him as Rogue, remember?”
Walker took Dan by the arm and pulled him away from the suspect. Dan moved back reluctantly, then checked the rest of the apartment. Walker put a foot against the suspect’s ribcage.
“Where’s Rogue?” Walker asked.
“I don’t know,” the suspect answered. “He took off. He said we could have what was left here.” He gestured to the money.
Dan glanced around the room, his eyes stopping on an ash tray. “Walker, look.”
He picked up a whole, unsmoked cigarette, broken in half. “Jack was here. This is his sign.”
Walker stared at the cigarette, then reached down to the suspect and yanked him up to his feet.
“You’d better tell me anything you know, right now.” His voice was a low growl and the suspect shuddered visibly.
“He’s......he’s got a couple of labs, I only know where one is. A warehouse on Williams Street.”
Trivette grinned at his partner. “I’ll set up the raid.” He pulled out his cell phone.
Walker looked at the cigarette again, then sighed at Dan. “Well, there’s nothing else here. Let’s get these guys in the truck.”
In an hour, dozens of police and Rangers raided the lab, and after a battle, eight arrests were made and large amounts of drugs were confiscated. Rogue/Kraft was not there, but Dan found another broken cigarette. Solemnly he held it up for Walker to see.
In a secluded farmhouse, Rogue/Kraft listened on the phone, anger building in his eyes. He slammed down the receiver and looked at the man beside him, a man with a horribly scarred face.
“They got the warehouse lab. A Texas Ranger was in charge. Probably the same one who screwed up the buy. I want him, Tuck. Find out who he is and take care of it.”
CD’s was filling up with the breakfast crowd. Walker sat at the bar with Alex beside him, Trivette standing nearby. CD leaned over the bar.
“That’s quite a tale, Cordell. All this time you thought Jack and Kraft were dead.”
Walker nodded as Alex wrapped her arm around his.
“Were the four of you close?” she asked.
Again he nodded. “In the jungle, friends were your lifeline.”
“Must have been quite a blow to you when you found out what Kraft was doing,” Trivette said.
Walker nodded for a third time, not saying any more, not wanting to relive the painful memory.
“You two never got to bed last night, did ya?” CD said to Walker and Trivette.
Trivette shook his head. “No, we talked to the suspects till about an hour ago.”
“Where’s Dan now?” Alex asked.
“He went back to his motel room,” Walker answered.
“Why don’t you boys go get some shut-eye,” CD advised them.
Walker stood up. “I’m going to go talk to my snitch again, see if he can get another line on Rogue.”
“I’ll talk to the suspects some more,” Trivette added. “There’s got to be some clue to where Rogue has disappeared to.”
“Be careful,” Alex said as Walker leaned over to give her a kiss.
After they were gone, CD gazed at Alex. “I hear you’re cooking tonight.”
“Well, honey, let me be brutally honest. I know you can’t cook worth beans. Cordell went through a whole bottle of Maalox last time. How about if I help you out.”
Alex feigned indignity.
“Now calm down,” CD continued. “They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, you’ve already won his heart, you don’t need to blast a hole in his stomach.”
Alex couldn’t help but giggle. “CD!”
He winked at her. “Okay, here’s the plan........”
Dan paced in his motel room as he spoke on the phone. “Jack, tell me where you are...... No, you don’t have to finish it. Let me and Walker come help you now..........Jack, wait........”
As the line went dead, Dan hung up the phone in frustration. They were so close to nailing Kraft, so close to letting Jack come out of deep cover to lead a normal life again. It was fortuitous to have run into Walker now. The fates were with them. The four of them were together when this started, now the four of them would finish it.
Walker found the snitch, Lenny, standing in his usual spot on a street corner. He pulled the Ram to the curb and got out. Two cars back, Dan sat in a rental car, having followed Walker. He watched as Walker questioned Lenny. The skinny, balding snitch shrugged his shoulders and shook his head as Walker spoke . Dan turned his head to look at an argument going on across the street. When he looked back, Walker was gone. Dan scanned the street corner, looked at Walker’s truck, then around the sidewalks.
“Looking for me?” Walker was suddenly beside the car window.
Dan sighed. “You’re still good, Walker.” He got out of the car.
“Why were you following me, Danny?”
Dan shrugged. “I thought I’d talk to this snitch after you. I might not be as nice as you.” He punched a fist into his palm to emphasize his point.
“He doesn’t know anything,” Walker said, moving toward his truck as the car phone started to ring.
Dan followed. Lenny, standing against the building, inched forward. Walker reached through the open window and picked up the phone.
“We got a break, partner,” Trivette said from his office. “DPD spotted the car that got away last night. 405 Pfeffer Ct.”
“405 Pfeffer Ct,” Walker repeated, motioning for Dan to get into his truck. “We’ll meet you there, Trivette.”
Lenny, standing behind them, ran for a pay phone as they pulled away from the curb. He dropped in some coins and dialed.
“This is Lenny. That Ranger that’s on your tail, I know where you can get him. How much is it worth?”
Trivette arrived at the same time as Walker and Dan. A car was parked in the drive. Walker recognized the license number as the one that got away. Guns drawn, they entered the apartment at 405 Pfeffer. It was empty. Checking behind doors and in closets, they found nothing. Dan called them into the kitchen. On the table was an ashtray with a broken cigarette.
“We need to pull Jack in,” Dan said with concern. “It’s getting too hot.”
Walker nodded as they left the apartment and walked outside. A car suddenly careened around the corner. Gunfire sounded. They dove for the ground, returning fire.
Trivette’s car was hit, glass shattering and the tires blowing. Walker jumped into the Ram, followed by Trivette and Dan. They chased the car, swerving in and out of traffic, gaining. The car suddenly hopped the median and became airborne, flying over the guardrail and off an overpass. Walker slammed on breaks. They got out of the truck and looked down below. The car was on its roof, flattened. There didn’t appear to be any survivors.
Trivette shook his head. “Who besides us knew we were going to the apartment?”
“Lenny,” Walker replied flatly.
They pulled up to the corner, looking for Lenny. Not seeing him right away, they spread out. Walker checked out an alley, finding Lenny behind crates of trash. He’d been shot several times but was still alive. Dan came up behind Walker.
“Stay with him,” Walker said. “I’m going to call for help.”
As soon as Walker was out of sight, Dan leaned his knee into Lenny’s chest. “Do you believe in the pearly gates, my friend?”
Lenny nodded, his face screwed up in pain and fear. “Tell me where Rogue is. He’s got my friend Jack. I bet that’ll earn you a ticket to see St. Peter.”
Lenny coughed, blood frothing out of his mouth as he attempted to talk.
When Walker returned to the alley, Dan shook his head. “He’s dead.”
Walker came into CD’s looking weary. Alex and Trivette waited for him at the bar. CD took a look at his former partner.
“Cordell, you look like you been rode hard and put away wet. Matter of fact, you do too, Jimmy.”
Walker sat down beside Alex. Trivette spoke up. “Well, now that we’re out of leads, I guess we can get some sleep.”
Alex looked at Walker. “The three men in the car were all DOA?”
He nodded. “Danny’s sure disappointed.”
“Where is he now?” Alex asked.
“Right here,” came a voice behind them. Dan sat down with them. “Can I have some coffee, CD?”
“Sure thing. Coming right up.”
Trivette’s cell phone rang and as he spoke into it, he caught Walker’s eye. “Thanks, we’ll be right there.” He stood. “That was Ed Moss. A couple of guys just came in to play paintball --- they match the descriptions of Kraft and Jack.”
Walker, Dan and Trivette were running out the door before Alex could even say “be careful.” She looked at CD, who shrugged, then patted her arm.
Ed Moss ushered them into his office, in the back of the main building of his paintball business.
“There’s just the two of them, Walker, but I’m pretty sure it’s who you’re looking for. They’ve already gone out in the field.”
“Are we going to wait until they come out?” Trivette asked.
“No,” Dan said. “If we go in after them, we’ll have the element of surprise.”
Walker considered that. “He’s right, Trivette. Let’s end it now.”
Moss shook his head. “You’d better wear protective gear. There’s a lot of guys out there today -- four teams so far. Take paint guns with you and they’ll never know who you are until you drop ‘em.”
As he spoke, Moss pulled out goggles, chest pads, paint guns and paintballs. “They’re on the red team -- red arm bands. Here, you guys wear blue.” He handed them blue arm bands.
“Where do we find them?” Trivette asked, glad he’d worn jeans today instead of a suit.
“Your guess is as good as mine. There’s twenty acres out there. Most people play until they’re out of ammo or their team is wiped out.”
Walker, Dan and Trivette headed for the door. Moss pulled Walker aside. “We’re even now, Walker.”
Walker gave Moss a knowing glance and nodded, then followed the others out of the door and into the woods.
“Split up, meet back here in a half hour,” Walker said. “And be careful.”
Trivette nodded as Walker took off into the trees. Dan looked at Trivette.
“Why is Moss helping? Alex said he was a bad character.”
“He’s definitely not a Sunday school teacher. But last year his seventeen year old daughter was raped and beaten. Walker nailed the guy responsible, made him suffer a little bit first, if you catch my drift.” Trivette flashed a smile. “Moss was very appreciative.”
“It sure paid off,” Dan said. He headed away from Trivette. “Make sure your arm band is visible. Remember, everyone out here is gonna be shooting paint at you.”
Trivette nodded and took off.
Walker had come upon two men with yellow arm bands. Instead of confronting them, he slipped around them, easily escaping their notice. A few minutes later he heard the sound of the CO2 loaded paint gun, and a shout of victory went up along with some yelling and cussing. He crept through the trees, viewing the yellow team splattered with orange paint. A single man ran away as the yellows griped.
“Shit, how did he sneak up on us like that?”
“I don’t know.”
Walker moved into the open, startling the two men. He fired his paint gun at them, knowing he’d have to hit them or they’d attack him first. That was the game.
“Damn!” One of them yelled as a pink paintball burst open on his chest. They held up their hands in surrender.
Walker didn’t mince words. “What color team was the guy who just hit you?”
“Red,” they answered together.
“All right, thanks.” He trotted off, leaving the two yellows scratching their heads.
Kraft had seen the lone blue team member hit the yellows. He raced into the woods, realizing the blue was following him.
Trivette had run into an ambush. A trio of green arm bands plastered him with paint rounds.
“Geez,” Trivette yelped. The balls stung, even with the protective padding. Laughing, the greens ran off but Trivette heard them hollering a moment later. He followed their voices, rushing into the middle of a battle. The greens were being pelted by a man wearing a red arm band. Even with goggles over the man’s face, Trivette could see his scars. The greens suddenly turned on Trivette again, and he found himself firing back, just to get them to stop. Then he heard Dan’s voice.
“Jack! It’s me.”
Jack turned, lowering his weapon as he peered at Dan. Kraft, nearing their position, suddenly hollered out.
Jack/Tuck pulled his paint gun up and peppered Dan. Trivette pulled his real gun and charged Jack/Tuck.
“Drop it, man. Texas Ranger. Dan, go get Kraft.”
Suddenly the green team appeared and pelted Trivette again. Dan charged them, his badge coming out. Jack/Tuck raced into the woods.
“Hold it! We’re cops! You guys beat it.”
The green team stopped, stunned. “Who are you after? We’ll help,” one of them offered.
“No, this isn’t a game,” Trivette said. “Head out.”
Trivette and Dan ran after Jack.
As Kraft and Jack ran, Kraft said, “The blue team is cops. This is gonna be fun.” He pulled a real gun and Jack did the same. They met the fifth team, orange. After an exchange of paint, Kraft approached the five men.
“We need your help. We’re cops. A couple of crazies are out here. They’re wearing blue. Think you could help us get them.”
“This is as real as it gets,” Kraft prodded.
The orange team members nodded.
Walker was waiting. He had belly-crawled up a slight rise and witnessed Kraft saying something to the orange team. He strained to get a better look at Kraft and Jack, his emotions roiling as the day in Nam came blasting back into his mind. Could this really be them? The dark, deepset eyes were unmistakably Kraft’s, but as for Jack, the scarring was too severe. He’d have to hope Jack recognized him. They were coming his way. He griped his service gun.
The yellows had followed Walker, intending on revenge. As Kraft and Jack ran into a clearing, the yellows, hollering loudly, burst out of the woods at the same time Walker stood up. Kraft turned his real gun toward the yellows and fired. One of the men screamed and fell. Walker aimed at Kraft, but a sudden barrage of paint from the orange team rained on him. A paintball splashed his goggles. He ripped the goggles off, rolling as Kraft fired at him, missed. Trivette and Dan arrived, the green team right behind them. Paint and bullets flew. Shouts and whoops filled the air. The confusion was enormous as the paint teams showered each other, not realizing Kraft and Jack were using live ammo. Trivette caught himself aiming the paint gun in one direction, his service gun in another. With a shock of horror, he realized he almost pulled the trigger of his real gun at the green team. He threw down the paint gun, hoping the other teams would take it to mean surrender. As he ducked behind a tree, Jack aimed and fired, the bullet slicing off a branch beside Trivette’s head.
Walker, also pinned down by paint balls, finally rushed the orange team and fought hand to hand to subdue them. The field of participants were now covered with paint, the arm bands barely distinguishable. Dan tried to pick out Jack. Kraft aimed at Dan and fired, grazing his arm. Dan fired back, hitting Kraft, but then realized he’d used his paint gun. Jack swung his gun around and took a bead on Walker’s back as the Ranger struggled with aggressive team members. Trivette saw Jack pull the trigger and too late yelled for Walker to duck. Trivette shook with relief when blue paint burst open on Walker’s back. Walker spun around as Jack raised his real gun. Walker locked eyes with the man, lowering his own gun, giving Jack a chance to recognize him. But Jack leveled his gun at Walker. Taking no chances, Trivette fired at Jack, hitting his gun hand. The gun fell. Jack stared at Walker a split second longer, then slipped into the crowd of battling men, as an orange blind-sided Walker and took him down. Walker threw him off and jumped up.
The teams, taking great delight in challenging Walker, didn’t notice the men on the ground who’d actually been shot. The melee was in full swing when Kraft and Jack took off. Trivette tried to follow, but the orange team pounced on him. Dan too fought off the over zealous greens. Finally, Walker had numerous men on the ground and held his gun up in the air, firing several times. The fighting stopped.
“Oh God,” Trivette uttered, looking around at the wounded men.
Walker grabbed a yellow. “Go get help. Now!” He knelt down next to a wounded man. “Take it easy. Help’s on the way.”
“What happened?” he asked. “Who are you guys?”
“We’re Texas Rangers,” Trivette said, picking up Jack’s gun by the barrel, hoping to get fingerprints.
“Danny, are you all right?” Walker asked.
Dan, holding his arm, nodded. Walker looked around at the bewildered, paint covered men. This was their hobby--- guns, goggles, camouflage, guerrilla tactics, make believe war.
Walker couldn’t wait to get out of the place.
Trivette had gone home and showered and changed, then returned to the office
ahead of Walker and Dan. He sat at his computer and read the military reports in front of him. Jack Brannon, killed in action. Evan Kraft, killed in action. He then pulled up a file for Dan Alderson -- honorably discharged. Alex strolled into the office and peeked over his shoulder, taking a second to pick pink paint out of his hair. Trivette looked at her.
“They list Jack and Kraft as killed in action, just as Dan said. And Dan’s record is impressive --- he did several campaigns, lots of medals. On the personal front, he’s divorced, has one daughter. But.....”
“But something doesn’t feel right,” Alex said.
“You feel it too?”
She nodded. “Maybe it’s just because the military is always so secretive.”
“Could be,” Trivette shrugged.
“Falsifying accounts of two soldiers’ deaths is no small matter.”
Trivette sat back in his chair. “I think this is bothering Walker more than he’s letting on. You heard him when he told us the story -- he couldn’t get to the hut to help them. Even though he didn’t say it in words, he felt responsible for Jack’s death.”
“I know,” Alex sighed, “and now he finds out Jack didn’t die. All these years he’s been holding that pain inside --- for nothing.”
“He’s pushing himself to get Rogue, or Kraft, whichever name he uses now. We need to watch him, Alex.”
“I know,” she said. She had plans to make him forget his worries. Tonight, dinner by candle light on the balcony of her apartment, under the stars, no distractions. She smiled in anticipation and pulled a photograph out of an envelope. “Here’s the only picture available of Rogue’s right hand man. He’s known as Tuck.”
Trivette stared at the fuzzy photo, obviously taken at night and from a distance. The scarred face, however, was unmistakable. “Jack,” he sighed.
Alex nodded. “Once we get his prints back, think the military will fess up?”
“I don’t know, Alex, but I bet we’re getting ready to open a hornet’s nest.”
Walker and Dan came in, their clothes still splattered in bursts of orange, blue and pink. Alex couldn’t help but smile, but she passed Walker a look of relief, thankful that he was okay. She motioned to Dan’s arm.
“Are you okay, Dan?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Just a few stitches. I can’t believe he got away again. Now we’re out of leads.”
Walker sat down at his desk and handed Dan a stack of papers. “Better get cracking on this.”
“Ugh,” was his response.
“Dan,” Alex ventured, “from what Jimmy told me, Jack was very vicious out there today.”
“He had to make it look good. If Kraft ever suspected he was undercover, it’d be a death sentence for him.”
“Is it possible..........” she began, and Walker watched her closely, knowing where she was headed. “Is it possible Jack may have turned?”
Dan’s face reddened. “Never! How could you think that? He’s just doing his job.”
“Easy, Danny,” Walker said quietly. “She’s just doing hers.”
Dan took a deep breath and nodded. “I’m sorry, Alex.” He ran a hand over his face. “I’m really tired.”
“Look, Danny, go get some sleep,” Walker said. “You can worry about the reports later.”
Dan blew out a breath. “All right. Call me if anything comes up, will ya Walker.”
“Sure,” Walker answered.
He stopped in front of Alex. “I’m sorry I blew up. It’s just that Jack is so dedicated to getting Kraft.”
“It’s okay,” she answered. “I understand.”
As Dan left, Alex sat on the edge of Walker’s desk. “Why doesn’t Jack just get out?”
“He probably feels he has to see it to the end,” Walker answered. He rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“You’re tired too. We’ll do dinner another night.”
“No,” he said, reaching for her hand, “I wouldn’t miss it. What are we having?”
“Something exotic,” Alex smiled. “But if you change your mind, we can always put it off till tomorrow.”
Walker glanced at his watch. “By the time I finish with all this paperwork, it’ll be tomorrow.”
Alex leaned close to him and lowered her voice. “By then end of tonight, you’ll wish tomorrow never comes.” With a wink, she walked out of the office, leaving Walker with a smile on his face.
“What’d she say?” Trivette asked.
“She said you look good with pink hair.”
Trivette smirked, then ran a hand through his hair, finding a few more pink wads. “Geez,” was all he said.
An hour later, Walker stood up. “I’m done. How about you?”
Trivette nodded. “Almost. One more form to read over. You heading to Alex’s now?”
“I’m going to stop at Dan’s motel first, make sure he’s all right. See you in the morning.”
Trivette rose from his desk, ready to call it a day. The fax machine beeped just as he reached for his coat.
“Ah, the fingerprints, I hope,” he murmured to himself.
He pulled off the paper coming through, his eyes growing round as he read it.
Hurrying to the door, he saw Dan’s jacket on the chair. He went to it, picked it up. A pack of cigarettes fell out of the pocket. Funny, he hadn’t seen Dan smoking. On impulse he pulled one of the cigarettes out of the carton. It was broken in half. Trivette sucked in a breath and frowned, trying to figure out the implications. He reached for the phone and dialed Walker’s car phone-- no answer. Trivette pulled the file on Dan, tried another number.
“Mrs. Alderson? This is Texas Ranger James Trivette. I wonder if I could ask you a few questions about your ex-husband?”
A few moments later, Trivette frantically punched in another number.
“Alex, is Walker there yet?”
“No, what’s up?”
“We’ve got trouble.”
Dan quickly ushered Walker into the motel room, the phone to his ear. “It’s Jack,” he mouthed, then into the phone he said, “Jack, Walker’s here. Let him talk to you. You’ve got to get out now. We’ll take it from here. Jack, please!” Dan handed the phone to Walker.
“Jack?” The line was dead. Walker shook his head. “He hung up. What’s happening?”
“He’s losing it, Walker. I have an address. I’ll tell you about it on the way.”
Once in the RAM, Walker tried Trivette’s number. Busy. A few minutes later he tried again. Still busy. He put the phone down. Maybe it was premature to call for backup. He’d wait until they reached their destination and checked out the situation..
They pulled up to a farmhouse, staying far enough off the road to avoid being seen. A large barn was nearby, along with other outbuildings. A few men with guns were visible.
“He said a huge buy was going to go down any time now,” Dan said.
“We need backup,” Walker said. He picked up the phone and dialed Trivette’s cell phone, finally getting through.
Trivette grabbed the phone. He had picked up Alex and now they were in a patrol car, headed for Dan’s motel. Every time he had tried Walker’s car phone, he got a busy signal.
“Trivette, I’m at a farmhouse on Stoney Creek Road. I think Rogue is here.”
Dan suddenly jumped out of the truck. “There’s Jack! They have him!”
Walker squinted into the fading light. Three men were going into the barn; the one in the middle was Jack/Tuck. It wasn’t clear to Walker if the man was being forced inside or not.
“Danny, wait!” Walker said, but Dan took off. Walker dropped the car phone and sprinted after Dan.
“Walker!” Trivette yelled into the phone. “Walker, wait, I have to tell you something! Walker!”
Trivette dropped the phone and glanced at Alex, flooring it.
Walker caught up with Dan and held him back. “Wait, Danny. Back up is coming.”
“It might be too late. Jack’s in trouble.”
Walker pulled Dan into the cover of trees near the barn. “Let me look around. You stay here.”
Walker crept to the barn and peeked in. A huge drug lab lay spread out inside. Several men were packing the finished product into bags. Jack/Tuck stood waiting, arms folded across his chest. As he watched, Walker suddenly heard voices coming from the house. He hid as more men, including Rogue/Kraft went into the barn. Walker again peeked in, watching as a briefcase of money was given to Rogue. The bags of drugs were given in exchange.
“Tuck, go get the other bag,” Kraft said.
Tuck disappeared into the back of the barn. Walker clenched his teeth. There were too many for them to take alone. Backup had better hurry.
Trivette pushed the police cruiser hard. Alex gripped the arm rest and held on as they raced toward the farm. Behind them, patrol cars followed. Alex glanced at Trivette, her mind churning with the staggering information they’d just learned.
“Jimmy, this is going to crush him.”
“I know. Let’s just hope we get there before anything happens.”
Walker wondered how long he could keep Dan calm. His friend was pacing, mumbling about getting to Jack in time.
“He’s okay, Danny. His cover isn’t blown.”
“It’s just a matter of time. Kraft’s gonna figure it all out.”
Walker sighed, glancing into the woods behind them to make certain none of Kraft’s men were patrolling.
Suddenly, Dan rushed past Walker and burst inside the barn, gun drawn. Cursing, Walker had no choice but to follow, drawing his gun also.
“Freeze! Texas Ranger.”
The startled men raised their hands. Kraft/Rogue stared at them, doing a double take, not believing who he was seeing.
“What’s the matter, Kraft,” Walker said, “deja vu?”
Dan looked around.
“Jack!” he called out. “Jack, where are you?”
Kraft frowned. “Jack?”
Dan grinned. “You didn’t know. All this time he’s been in your midst and you didn’t know.” He scanned the barn again. “Jack, we got him. Come on out.”
“Everybody on the ground,” Walker ordered. “Toss your guns.” They complied. Dan took a few steps nearer the back of the barn, searching for Jack.
“He probably got out the back door,” Walker told Dan.
Suddenly there were voices outside, more of Kraft’s men. Kraft shouted. “Cops!”
Walker ran to the doorway, seeing two men draw their weapons.
“Keep them covered,” Walker ordered Dan, motioning to Kraft and the others.
Walker ran outside. The men fired at him. Taking cover, he returned fire. In the barn, his gun still trained on Kraft and the men, Dan heard a movement in the rear of the barn.
“Jack!” he shouted.
He turned his head away from the men for a second. Grabbing the opportunity, one of the men jumped up and lunged at Dan while the other men scattered. Another gun battle broke out. Dodging the gunfire, Kraft ran out the door. Walker got the second of his two opponents, then saw Kraft getting away. He chased him, tackling him. Getting to their feet, they grappled, with Walker throwing Kraft over his shoulder and then delivering a series of kicks and punches. Kraft fell limply to the ground.
“Walker! I need help” Dan yelled from inside.
Walker ran toward the barn. At that second, Kraft reached to his ankle and pulled a hidden gun, aiming at Walker and shooting. Walker fell forward, a hot jolt piercing his leg. Kraft ran for the barn door. Dan was crouched behind a crate, exchanging fire with two of Kraft’s men. Dan turned just in time to dodge the round Kraft fired, then shot back, hitting Kraft’s gun hand. The gun flew backwards. Kraft lunged for Dan and slugged him hard, knocking him down. Dan, growling with fury, jumped up tackled Kraft. They wrestled, rolling around on the barn floor. Outside, Walker struggled to get up, a hand to his bleeding leg, and staggered to the barn.
Sirens could be heard. In the barn, Kraft got free of Dan long enough to reach his gun. As he aimed at Dan, Walker, getting to the doorway, struggled with his own gun and shot first. As Kraft went down, he fired his gun, but the shots went wild, hitting the store of chemicals on the shelf, igniting a flash fire . Walker’s leg gave out, causing him to slide to the floor. Dan ran to him.
“I got you, buddy,” Dan said as he helped Walker to the doorway. He stopped suddenly, jerking his head up.
“Jack is calling me.”
Walker looked around the burning barn. He couldn’t see or hear anyone. The drug dealers had scattered to escape the fire..
“Jack!” Dan called out. He eased Walker down in the doorway and rushed back into the flames.
“Danny!” Walker called.
Walker tried to get up, to go after Dan, but Trivette was suddenly there, pulling him outside, away from the fire.
“No!” Walker yelled, fighting Trivette. “Danny and Jack are in there.”
The barn, now totally engulfed, rocked as an explosion knocked Walker and Trivette down. Walker tried to crawl toward the barn, but Trivette grabbed him.
“He’s gone, partner. Dan’s gone.”
“Jack......” Walker uttered.
But Trivette sadly shook his head. “Jack was never there.”
Walker, fogginess now taking over his mind, stared at Trivette with incredulity. “What?” With horror filled eyes, he watched as the barn collapsed.
Trivette dragged Walker further away from the inferno as police units moved in. Alex ran toward them and knelt by Walker’s side.
“Walker, oh God.”
Trivette tied a bandanna around the bullet wound, slowing the flow of blood. Walker looked up at him.
“What?” he repeated in utter confusion.
Trivette looked at Alex. “Later,” she said, brushing her lips against Walker’s forehead. “We need to get you to help first.”
“Tell me now,” Walker said, grimacing.
Fire trucks and rescue units were pulling in. Walker gripped Alex’s hand, demand in his eyes. “Tell me.”
Trivette sighed. “Kraft’s accomplice wasn’t Jack. The prints came back......he was some guy called George Tucker --- Tuck. We talked to Dan’s ex-wife, Walker, and.........”
“And what?” Walker forced himself to stay alert, to hear what had happened.
Alex took over. “Walker, Dan retired last year due to deteriorating mental health. That day in Vietnam, in the hut fire, Jack really did die. He was on fire, totally engulfed, and Dan........Dan shot him to keep him from suffering anymore.” Tears were streaming down Alex’s cheeks.
Walker stared in disbelief, then looked at Trivette. “It’s true. When Kraft re-surfaced, it was too much for Dan. The guilt took over and he went over the edge. He became delusional. Walker, he was chasing a ghost, one that his guilt created.”
Walker felt shock sweeping over him, the combination of the wound and the sorrowful facts he’d just learned. He sagged in Trivette’s arms just as the medics rushed over. As he was loaded into a rescue squad, he glanced toward the still burning barn, half expecting Danny to come staggering out. But only gray smoke rolled out of the door, dismal and ghostly. Walker closed his eyes and let his mind shut out the pain.
“He’ll be okay,” the surgeon told Alex, Trivette and CD. “We were lucky it was a small caliber bullet. He’ll be in a cast for awhile, though. Barring complications, he just needs time to heal.”
The three friends looked at each other, knowing the physical healing would be the easy part this time. When they were finally allowed to see him, Walker was quiet, not willing to talk about it much, still absorbing all that had happened. After some small talk, CD took a deep breath and eyed his former partner.
“Cordell, I’d loved to tell you to forget about this, to put it behind you, but we all know that ain’t gonna happen. Wars leave scars that never go away.”
Alex took over, sitting down on the bed beside him. “Poor Dan. He must have led such a tortured life. What he did for Jack was heroic.”
Walker finally met her eyes, his face still pale, his voice quiet. “I wish he’d told me. When he came to see me in the hospital, I knew something more had happened. Maybe if he’d talked about it.......”
CD smiled kindly. “You willing to take your own advice?”
Walker glanced at CD, then let a small but sad smile form. “I’m okay, CD.”
Alex pulled his hand up to her cheek, emotions rising in her throat. She’d almost lost him to a ghost from the past. When would those ghosts stayed buried? When would he say more than “I’m okay.”
Trivette read Alex’s mind. “Tell us more about that day, when you found out Kraft was dealing to soldiers.”
Walker hesitated, then sighed. He gave Alex’s hand a squeeze. “All right,” he said.
It was late afternoon a few days later when CD’s car pulled up to the ranch. Trivette and CD got out, opened the passenger side door and gave a hand to Walker, who stepped out slowly, using crutches. Alex came out of the house and hugged Walker.
“Welcome home. How do you feel?”
“I’m fine,” Walker answered. “Glad to be home.”
“Not as glad as that hospital was to get rid of you,” CD chuckled.
Alex led him to a porch chair. “Sit down and rest. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”
She winked at CD and returned to the house.
Trivette sat on the steps. “We tied up all the loose ends on Kraft’s operation. We figured that before he died, Lenny must have told Dan the location of the farmhouse.”
“Tuck was captured yesterday,” CD added. “He was trying to buy an airline ticket. It was liked you’d guessed -- he got out of the back of the barn when the trouble started.”
Trivette continued. “One of the survivors at the farmhouse spilled everything else. They took out Lenny after he set us up. And destroyed my car.”
“Oh quit mooning over that car, Jimmy,” CD admonished. “Look at the bright side. Cordell’s patched up, a major drug ring is gone, and Alex is fixing us a scrumptious dinner. Ain’t that right, Cordell. Cordell?”
Walker looked up. “Sorry, CD. I was just thinking about war, how it can twist even the strongest mind.”
Trivette nodded. “The kind of decision Dan had to make that day should never happen.”
“Let’s hope it never will again,” CD added.
Alex came out onto the porch. “Dinner is served.” She took Walker’s arm and led him inside, Trivette and CD following. They all sat at the kitchen table.
“Wow, this looks great, Alex,” Walker said.
“And it smells wonderful,” Trivette added.
“You must have slaved over this for hours,” CD snickered.
They began to eat. Walker’s face lit up as he swallowed.
“Alex, this is delicious.”
“Thank you,” she smiled.
Walker picked up his glass of water. A piece of paper was stuck to the bottom of the glass. He pulled it away and looked at it.
“What’s that?” Trivette asked. “A little love note?”
“I hope not,” Walker replied. “It’s from CD.”
“What does it say?” Trivette wondered.
Walker read it aloud. “ ‘Alex, remember to pour the orange sauce out of the plastic containers so he won’t know this is from a caterer. CD’ ”
Trivette snickered as Alex gained a very guilty expression. CD rolled his eyes.
Walker leaned over to his lady. “It’s the thought that counts.”
She smiled warmly and gave him a kiss. Then Walker grinned evilly.
“Besides, I don’t think I could stomach Maalox tonight.”
Alex’s eyes flared and she reached to smack him, then thought better of it. She put an arm around him. “I’m just glad you’re home and you’re okay. No more war games.”
“Amen,” CD said for them all.