Weathering the Storm
It was raining buckets, the third day in a row. Although it was a welcomed break from the searing heat Dallas had suffered over the summer, this cool October drenching unsettled Trivette. He sat at CD’s bar, picking at the salsa and chips the retired Ranger had placed in front of him. Rainy days took him back, way back, to Baltimore -- the dilapidated apartment with the leaky roof and the permeating chill that no amount of clothes or blankets seemed to relieve. Flashes of bad memories suddenly pelted Trivette like the raindrops outside --- he and his sisters hovering in a corner while his mother’s boyfriend, Roy, beat her. A slap across his face for looking at Roy the wrong way. A hole punched in the wall because the rum bottle was empty. Roy terrorizing a neighbor who tried to bring over a few sweaters for the girls to wear on cold, rainy days.
“What’s wrong with the salsa?” CD asked, startling him out of his thoughts.
Trivette glanced up. “Nothing. It’s fine.”
He scooped a mouthful on a chip to prove it, then moved to the fireplace to warm his hands. CD watched him curiously, frowning. Something was weighing heavily on the black man’s mind.
Trivette tried to chase away the painful memories. Rain. It was always the rain that dredged up the bad recollections. Until last May, that is. Something happened then that jolted awake a memory, a memory repressed long ago by the healing power of the mind. It was after Kim and Phil’s wedding, after Alex had been shot. He and Walker had tirelessly pursued Storm and his goons. The day they caught Beal and Storm -- the dreams started then. At first he ignored them, focusing instead on Alex and getting her back to good health, and then on Walker and Alex together, his reticent partner finally popping the question. It should have been a happy time, a time of great relief, but the bits of dreams coming almost nightly were disquieting and confusing. What was it about that day, the day Beal and Storm were caught?
A gust of wind shook the front window of the building, and suddenly, he had it. The memory rushed to the surface, fuzzy but intact. They’d held Beal out the window. Trivette normally didn’t like heights and wouldn’t look down, but in this case, when Walker asked “how’s the view?” he didn’t hesitate. It was for Alex. He glanced down at the ground and shuddered, but at the time he didn’t understand why. Now it blasted through the years of hidden subconscious layers.
He had been 5 years old. His mom was at work. His 14 year old sister Lisa screamed from the next room. He burst in, saw Roy pulling at Lisa’s shirt, ripping it off of her. Enraged, he’d run at Roy full speed and shoved him with all his might. The angry Roy fell against the open window, the screen gave way and suddenly Roy wasn’t in the room anymore. Lisa had not let him look out the window, down to the street four stories below. She’d held him until the police came, until his mother frantically rushed home from her day job. The policemen whispered around him, occasionally nodded in his direction as they spoke with Lisa. And then everyone left. His mother hugged him so tightly, telling him what he had done was the bravest thing a boy could do. He asked about Roy. His mother and Lisa exchanged glances, then told him Roy had decided to leave and never come back. For months afterwards that simple explanation placated his 5 year old senses, and finally the memory slid into a crevice of his brain, filed away from the light of reality.
The window --- hanging Beal out of the window. It didn’t click then. He’d been too focused on righting the wrong done to Alex, and on soothing the hurt that was tearing Walker’s heart apart. He’d do anything for Walker and Alex, even look down from a high window.
Now, five months later, he understood. He stared into the fire, numb.
The door blew open and Walker hurried in, wind and rain swirling inside with him.
“Close the door, dangit!” CD growled.
Walker passed his ex-partner a glare as he shook off his jacket and hung up his hat. His clothes were damp, his skin wet and cold.
“Did Alex call here?” he asked CD, hurrying to stand beside Jimmy at the fire.
“Nope,” CD answered.
“Trivette, have you heard from her tonight?”
Trivette, lost in his memories, didn’t hear. Walker, rubbing his hands near the warm flames, nudged his partner.
“Huh?” the younger Ranger.
“Have you heard from Alex tonight?”
“Uh, no,” Trivette stammered. He took a deep breath, then noticed the worried expression on Walker’s face. “Why? What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Walker answered. “I just figured she’d be back by now.”
“Where’d she go?” CD asked as he ladled a bowl of chili from the pot on the stove.
“To Austin. Some foundation wanted to talk about a donation to her HOPE project. She said she’d call to let me know what was going on.”
“Maybe she’s accepting a big fat check.” CD gestured to the chili. “Sit down here and eat this, Cordell. Alex is fine.”
Walker sat down at the bar, glancing at his watch. He looked outside at the nasty weather and tried to hold back the nagging worry. I should have insisted she take the truck.
Trivette wandered back to his salsa bowl and sat next to Walker. The two of them ate in silence, both lost in their personal anxieties.
CD gazed at the solemn, troubled faces. He knew what was bothering Walker. The red bearded man had driven himself to exhaustion since Alex had started back to work, making certain she was safe, checking out threats against her office, walking her to and from the building, even sitting in on some of her more challenging court cases just to make certain the bad guys knew they’d have to get by him to have a shot at Alex. A classic case of overprotection. He was getting better, though, as evidenced by the very fact that he let her go to Austin alone. In the weeks following the shooting, Walker wouldn’t let her go to the kitchen by herself, much less take a solo drive. But tonight, with the storm, CD knew Walker was berating himself for letting Alex go alone. Now she was late and Walker was churning inside. CD recognized the signs well.
Jimmy was another matter. CD had noticed a few things here and there for some months now, but for the most part Jimmy seemed back to normal since the shooting. Until tonight, CD hadn’t worried about the younger Ranger. But now, the distressed expression on Jimmy’s face sent up a red flag.
CD again watched his two best friends in all the world. So different in their ways of dealing with adversity. One needed to talk out his problems, the other clammed up. CD felt a fatherly pride sweep over him. It was his job to help these two work out their difficulties by listening to the talker and prying open the clam. He needed to break the mood, jolt them out of their worries. He took a small plate of cubed cheeses out of the refrigerator and put it beside the two Rangers, wondering how to start a conversation. Walker nodded his thanks and tossed a few cubes into his chili. Trivette fingered a white cheese chunk.
“Is this Monterey Jack?”
“No, this is Dallas, Jimmy,” CD replied, then roared with laughter.
Walker chuckled and even Trivette cracked a smile.
“That’s better,” CD smiled. “You two look like someone pissed in your oatmeal.”
“Eww,” Trivette groaned, and he and Walker pushed away their food bowls.
CD snickered some more, then leaned over the bar, eye level with his friends. “I have a feeling this is gonna be a long night. How about if I put on some fresh coffee.”
Walker nodded, but Trivette stood up. “No thanks. I need to go.”
“You ain’t going nowhere, Jimmy. Look at that weather out there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an ark float by. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be here among friends than home alone?”
Walker suddenly glanced up at CD, catching a hint of concern in the older man’s voice. Then Walker peered at Trivette. The warm brown eyes were filled with confusion and uncertainty. Damn, he hadn’t noticed when he’d come in, too wrapped up in his own worries over Alex. Usually he wasn’t one to pry into others’ problems --- he left that up to CD --- but now he suddenly felt the anguish emanating from his partner. He knew he had the power to change the younger man’s mind. A word from him is all it would take.
“Stick around, Trivette,” Walker said quietly.
CD caught Walker’s eye and smiled in appreciation. Trivette hesitated, then shrugged and reseated himself. The phone rang and Walker jumped up, pouncing on it before CD could even turn in that direction.
“Hello, CD’s.” They saw Walker’s eyes roll and he let out a sigh of frustration. “No, we don’t deliver.” Pause. “Yeah, I’ll take it up with the management.” Walker put the phone down and began to pace.
“Did you try her cell phone?” Trivette asked.
Walker nodded. “Yeah, all evening. I’ll try again.” He picked up the phone and punched in the number, then shook his head and dropped the phone again. Damn, I should have gone with her.
“She’s all right, Cordell. She’s probably being wined and dined by some rich, good looking fella at this foundation.”
Walker scowled at the older man. “Are you trying to make me feel better?”
CD snickered, then slapped Walker’s arm. “She’ll call soon. Worrying won’t change anything.”
How well Walker knew that. Worrying didn’t protect Alex from the crazed cult leader Bodie, or from LaRue, or Dewey Baker, or Mitch Cutter, or Max Kale, or all the other psycho nutcases who tried to stop her from putting an end to their tyranny. But then, not worrying about her made no difference either. Storm proved that........
Walker snatched up the phone again and called the state police dispatch. “This is Ranger Walker. Do you have any accident reports between Dallas and Austin involving a green Sebring?”
He waited while they checked. Trivette and CD listened anxiously.
“Okay,” Walker said in obvious relief. “Thanks.” Where is she?
CD poured the newly dripped coffee and pushed a mug toward Walker. “Here ya go, Cordell.” He laid a gentle hand on Walker’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Sit down, buddy.”
A second mug was handed to Trivette. “Jimmy, your face is longer than a Sunday sermon. What’s on your mind, son?”
Trivette looked at the two men staring at him, their eyes urging him to get it out. He let the coffee steam rise up to his face, taking in the rich aroma, then put the mug on the bar and tried to begin.
“I don’t know where to start. I think I........I remember something from my childhood.....it’s been bothering me for awhile now but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly......I did something, I think.......I was very young.......” He trailed off.
“What did you do?” CD pressed. “Or think you did?”
Trivette swallowed hard and looked up to their faces. “I think.....I think I killed a man.”
Their stunned faces gazed at him.
“Go on,” Walker said.
Trivette told them about the memory, and how holding Beal out the window was the trigger. “It’s the rain, and Beal. I didn’t put it all together until just now. They told me Roy walked away, but he couldn’t have survived a fall like that.” He suddenly felt chilled all over. His imagination pulled up a vision of Roy’s body, splattered on the pavement below the window.
“Sounds like he deserved what he got, the snake,” CD said.
“Whether he walked away or not,” Walker said, “you were justified in protecting your sister. Your intent wasn’t to push him out of the window.”
“How do you know?” Trivette asked, anguished. “I can’t remember if I meant to or not. Maybe I did! Oh, God, how do you know?”
“Because I know you, Trivette,” Walker replied softly yet factually.
Trivette looked up at his partner, and suddenly the memory wasn’t so disturbing. That simple declaration -- because I know you, Trivette -- was the statement he needed to hear. The weight carried by those words was enormous, the faith shown by those words was indescribable. Trivette recalled other words Walker had spoken within the last year that carried the same assurance, the same huge amount of gravity --- he must have used a silencer ---
Trivette met Walker’s unwavering gaze of confidence. “Thanks, partner.”
CD put an arm around Trivette. “Is Lisa the sister that lives in Florida now?”
“Why don’t you call her, Jimmy. Ask her about that day. Maybe she needs to talk about it too.”
Trivette considered this, then looked at his partner. Walker nodded in agreement.
“Use the phone in the back office,” CD said gently.
With a sigh of resolve, Trivette headed for the back office. Walker moved to the front window and stared out at the downpour and wind. Would he ever be able to look at rainy weather again and not think of the name Storm? Alex, please be all right.
CD came up behind him. “Now, your turn.”
“You aren’t fooling anybody. Stop worrying about Alex.”
“I’m not wor...........”
“Oh, cut it out, mulehead. It’s me you’re talking to. I know what’s going on in that thick skull of yours. You’re worried sick about her.”
“Can you blame me?” Walker said with some heat.
CD put a hand on his shoulder. “No. No, I can’t. I was right there with you when her blood was spilling in your hands, and I watched her fighting for her life those days in the hospital. It’s hard to let go after you’ve seen something like that happen to a loved one. Lord knows she and Jimmy and I have been in the same boat a bunch of times when it was you lying in the hospital. But Cordell, you know as well as I do that we can’t control fate. You couldn’t know about Storm but you’re still beating yourself up over it. You’ve got to get past that, and you’ve got to give Alex room to breathe.”
Walker turned away from CD, nodding. He knew his former partner was right, but knowing and doing were two different things.
“I know, CD. I’m working on it. But.......” His voice dropped to a whisper. “It’s so hard........”
CD gave his arm a pat. “I know.”
Walker took a few seconds, then cleared his throat. “And tonight, it’s this damned storm, and she was supposed to have called by now.”
Now CD nodded in agreement. Alex would never make them worry like this.
“If she’d decided to stay in Austin for the night she’d let me know,” Walker said grimly.
“Let’s give her five more minutes, then we’ll go looking for her,” CD stated.
As Walker nodded, Trivette came out of the office. His face held an expression of calmness laced with a hint of sorrow.
“You guys were right,” he said. “Lisa needed to talk about it too.”
“What’d she say?” CD asked.
“She said it wasn’t the first time Roy had attacked her, and he’d tried to get at my other sisters too. My mom wanted him to leave, but she was too afraid of him to throw him out. She was afraid he’d hurt one of us in retaliation.”
“What did she say about that day?” Walker questioned.
Trivette sighed. “She said Roy was drunk, and I shoved him into the wall, but when he tried to stand he staggered and fell out of the window. He died instantly.”
Walker and CD listened intently as the story spilled out of Trivette’s mouth. It was obvious the black Ranger was relieved to know the truth, but the painful memories of Roy and what his family went through would linger on.
“Lisa said she was so happy that Roy was gone, but she and mom decided never to talk about it again because they didn’t want me to know what had really happened. Lisa said I was her hero from then on.”
“Lisa’s a good judge of character,” Walker said, smiling softly.
Trivette’s eyebrows went up as he glanced at his partner. CD grinned.
“Thanks, you guys.”
A strong gust of wind shook the building. Walker and CD passed a look between them, then headed for their coats. Trivette followed.
“Wait, I’m going too. She should have called by now.”
CD pulled out a map and flattened it over the bar. They gathered around it.
“We’ll each take a different route,” Walker said. “And keep in touch by cell phone.”
“I’ll go here,” Trivette said, tracing a line on the map.
“All right,” Walker said. “CD, you take the interstate.”
Someone in a hooded raincoat came in the bar, the wind and rain blowing in fiercely.
“Shut the danged door!” CD yelled, still poring over the map.
“All right already,” was the annoyed reply.
The three men turned as one to see Alex standing just inside the door, a small puddle forming around her feet as the water rolled off her coat.
Walker took in a breath and hurried to her, hugging her tightly. “Why didn’t you call?”
She looked up at his face. “I did. I called your office when I left Austin, but you’d already left.”
“Why didn’t you answer your cell phone?” Walker asked.
“It never rang,” she replied, pulling the phone out of her bag. She pushed a few buttons. “Oh, the battery is dead.” She giggled, then noticed the three men weren’t laughing with her. “The traffic was really slow because of the weather. You weren’t worried about me, were you?”
Walker hugged her again, his eyes catching CD’s. “No,” they answered in unison.
“We just wondered if you’d decided to stay overnight,” Walker said.
“I would have called you if that had happened,” she answered. “I got a later start than I’d planned.”
CD folded up the map and slipped it under the bar. “Some handsome preppy guy took you to dinner, didn’t he?”
Alex smiled wryly. “How’d you know that?”
“Uh oh,” Trivette snickered.
Alex took Walker’s arm. “And after he gave me a check for the HOPE project, I told him I had to get home to my handsome, rugged guy. I knew you’d be worried.”
“Who, me?” Walker said innocently.
He walked Alex to the bar, his arm around her waist, not yet ready to let go of her, his heart pounding with enormous relief. CD pulled out a fourth coffee mug and poured a fresh round for them all. Alex took a sip.
“So, what’d I miss tonight?”
Walker looked away and reached for the sugar bowl as Trivette examined his hands. CD cleared his throat.
“You didn’t miss much, honey. Us boys were just doing some talking.”
“Oh? What were you talking about.”
Walker and Trivette were still peculiarly quiet.
“The weather,” CD replied.
“Uh huh,” Alex answered, knowing something had transpired. “And what did you decide about the weather?”
CD’s eyes twinkled. “That no matter how nasty it is outside, the sun is always shining when you’re with the ones you care about.”
Trivette gave CD a grateful nod. Walker took Alex’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I like that forecast,” Alex smiled.
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