WISH  UPON  A CHRISTMAS  STAR

 

by

 

Gail  R

CAVEFEVER@aol.com

 

            Walker didn’t flinch, didn’t let a muscle twitch.  Hands held up in surrender, he stared cautiously at the barrel of the shotgun held at his chest, then peered into the eyes of Eddie Brewster.

            “This won’t solve anything, Eddie.  Think about it.”

            Eddie wiped sweat away from his face and glanced at the dozens of cops crouched behind cars and sharp shooters stationed on the rooftops, all with weapons trained on him.  He’d made parole yesterday and traveled all night to get home to Dallas, home to his wife and children.  It was Christmas Eve --- what a surprise it would be.  But the surprise was his.  What he’d found was an empty house.  Neighbors told him his wife had found a new man and the guy had taken in the kids too, treated them like his own.  Eddie got an address and broke into the house, threatened Lillie and her new man with the shotgun, chased them outside, then had holed up with his two kids.  His mind was crazy with anger and confusion.  When police arrived, he fired at them, yelled out that he would kill the children if they came near again.  SWAT teams and negotiators cordoned off the streets and took up their positions.  The kids begged for their mother, but Eddie ignored their cries.  The phone was ringing.  What to do?  How to make them go away?  They even brought his mother there, and she pleaded with him to give up and come out peacefully. He finally answered the ringing phone, and told them three words --- “Get me Walker.”

            It had been Walker who arrested him two years ago, but then the Ranger had spoken up for him at the trial, told the judge he thought Eddie was a good man who fell in with the wrong crowd.  The judge had been lenient.  Maybe Walker could make sense of all this.

            When the Ranger arrived, he talked to Eddie on the phone, then offered himself in exchange for the children.  Eddie hesitated, then agreed.  As Walker made his way to the door, the children ran out and into the arms of waiting officers.

            “They don’t even remember me, Walker,”  Eddie said.

            “They’ll get to know you again, Eddie.  It’ll take time.”

            “No.  I’ll go back to prison for this stunt, won’t I?”

            Walker didn’t answer, and Eddie knew it was true.  “Why did this have to happen?  I paid for my mistake.  You told me to do my time and then everything would be all right. But nothing is right. You were wrong.”  His finger hovered on the trigger of the shotgun.

            “Eddie, you can talk to her, work things out.  I’ll help.  Put the gun down.”

            Eddie looked around at the guns pointed his way.  They wanted him to die, they all wanted him to die. Lillie didn’t want him, the kids didn’t know him, and now he’d be going back to that hellhole in Huntsville.  An insane expression came over his face.  Walker felt alarm surge through his gut.

            “Eddie, don’t.........”

            But in a split second’s time, Eddie flipped the shotgun around and put it under his own chin.  Walker lunged to knock the gun away, but the blast reverberated through the afternoon air before he could get a hand close enough.  The seconds that followed seemed to stretch into surreal hours --- Walker watched in wide-eyed horror as Eddie’s head shattered in front of him.  For a moment the man’s body stood still, a headless corpse, fully upright, until the legs stopped receiving signals from the spinal nerves, and Eddie crumbled into a bloody mass on the ground.  Walker stared in disbelief, unconsciously holding his breath, not able to move, until a burst of adrenaline finally allowed him to feel his arms and legs again.  He felt his stomach lurch and turned away as police officers rushed in.  There was screaming in the background, cries of despair and the low murmurs of solemn policemen.  Walker gazed again at Eddie, making sure what he’d just witnessed had really happened.  A chill ran up his back as he saw the remainder of the man’s blood supply gush from the neck area and soak into the ground, brain matter splattered across the front porch of the house.  He felt numb, too shocked to do anything but stare.

            A hand gently took Walker’s arm.  “Come on, partner,”  Trivette spoke softly.  He led Walker away, toward the grouping of police cars.  “Take a breath, man.”

            Walker finally breathed in, then slowly looked at Trivette with anguished eyes.   “Oh God, Trivette.”

            “You did everything you could do.  You saved those kids, Walker.  In his state of mind, he might have taken them with him.”

            Walker nodded, knowing Trivette was probably right, but feeling like he’d failed anyway.  He took a few more deep breaths as Trivette squeezed his arm in support.

            “The kids didn’t see it, did they?”  Walker asked.

            “No, they were in the rescue squad getting looked over.”

            Walker sighed, allowed a small measure of relief to ease his mind.

            A woman suddenly broke out of the crowd and pushed her way to Walker.  He recognized her as Eddie’s mother.

            “You!” she screamed.  “It’s all your fault!  If he hadn’t gone to prison she’d have never left him, and he wouldn’t have done this!  You caused it!”  She started to beat her hands against Walker’s chest.  Stunned, the Ranger didn’t move.  Trivette grabbed her, restraining her arms.

            “Let me go!  It’s his fault!  I hate you, Walker!  I hate you!”        

            Her screams tore into Walker’s soul. He turned away.

            “My son is dead and it’s your fault!”

            Several officers rushed over and took the sobbing woman away. 

            Trivette put a hand on Walker’s shoulder.  “Let’s get out of here, partner.”

 

            Persuading Walker to go to C.D.’s for their Christmas Eve party was difficult until Trivette reminded him that Alex would be waiting for him there.  Trivette had called ahead while Walker changed out of the blood spattered clothes and showered.  Once inside the door, Alex pulled him close, the upsetting events of the day almost palpable in the tense muscles.  She smiled at him and the weariness started to lift.  Walker ran a hand through her silky hair, his eyes looking deep into hers, wordlessly expressing how he felt about her.

            C.D. was waiting at the bar for them.  He plopped a mug of hot cider in front of Alex, then put a glass filled with dark liquid in Walker’s hand.

            “Drink up, Cordell.  This will help.”

            Walker took a sip of the brandy.  It was not his way to drown sorrows with alcohol, but one drink wouldn’t hurt.  In fact, it may help him to relax, and it would certainly make CD feel better if he drank it.

            “Damn shame,”  C.D. murmured.  He suddenly put a hand to his stomach and grimaced.

            “Are you okay?”  Walker asked.

            “Yeah, it’s that new chili recipe.  It got to me, I think.”

            Alex rubbed Walker’s back soothingly.  “Jimmy said the kids might have been killed had you not talked him into letting them go.  Try to think about that.”

            “I’m okay, Alex,”  Walker answered. 

            His standard line.  Alex glanced at Trivette and gave a barely perceptible shrug.  C.D. motioned for Walker to take another sip of the brandy.

            “Well, if he was suicidal, we all know wasn’t nothin’ gonna stop him.  I just thank the Lord he didn’t take you with him, Cordell.”  He grabbed his stomach again, moaning.

            “C.D.?”  Alex said.

            The retired Ranger reached for a bottle of Tums.  “Dang habaneros.”

            Alex turned her attention back to Walker.  “You know Eddie’s mother was speaking from grief.”

            Walker nodded.  “I know. I’m really all right, Alex.”  He smiled at her, but his mind replayed the gruesome scene again -- Eddie’s face disintegrating into a million pieces of flesh and bone, the vivid eyes wide, then gone.  It had taken long months, even years to get past such grisly scenes from Nam.  He wondered how long it would be before he stopped visualizing Eddie Brewster’s life exploding in front of him.

            C.D, suddenly clutched his chest and groaned, staggering backwards.  The bottle of brandy fell from his hand and smashed on the floor.  Walker leaped over the bar, quickly followed by Trivette.  They each took an arm and eased the older man down to the floor.  C.D. grimaced and squeezed his eyes shut in pain.  He was pale, sweaty and clammy.

            “Alex, call  for paramedics,” Trivette said.

            “No,”  Walker replied,  “it’ll be faster if we take him.  Alex, bring the truck to the front door.”  He tossed his keys to her.

            “Oh Lord, Cordell........”  C.D. groaned.

            “Shhh.  Don’t talk, C.D.”

            Trivette, his eyes wide with worry, glanced at Walker.  They both recognized the symptoms of a heart attack.  Trivette took the older man’s hand.

            “Hang in there, Big Dog.  We’re not going to let anything happen to you.”

 

 

            Twenty minutes later, Walker, Trivette and Alex were pacing in the ER waiting room.  A nurse wearing a reindeer patterned scrub top approached them. 

            “We’re running some tests on Mr. Parker now.  I don’t have any answers for you yet.”   She turned to Walker.  “Ranger, he’d like to see you.  Normally we’d wait till he’s more stable, but.......this seems urgent, he’s begging us........”

            Walker felt a knot form in his chest.  Alex squeezed his arm and Trivette, looking very frightened, nodded to his partner.  The nurse led the red-bearded Ranger into C.D.’s room.  Heart monitoring equipment surrounded the bed, and an IV line dripped drugs into the older man’s arm.  Tubing delivered oxygen to his nose.  His face was ashen, his eyes filled with pain and anxiety.  When he spotted Walker, he stretched out his hand and the beeping of the heart monitor increased noticeably.

            “Cordell,”  he gasped, short of breath.

            Walker took his hand and tried to give a reassuring smile.  “Take it easy, C.D.”

            “Cordell, listen to me.”  He pulled the Ranger closer.  “This isn’t how I want to go.”

            “Who says you’re going anywhere?”

            “I know this ain’t good.”  He tapped his chest and drew a painful breath.  “I always figured it’d be in a shootout, or maybe just keelin’ over while I’m fishin’......but not like this.  Get me out of here, Cordell.”

            “C.D., just relax and let them take care of you.”

            C.D. gripped Walker’s hand tighter. “Please, Cordell.  I don’t want to die with tubes stuck in every orifice I own.  I want to go home.  Take me home.”

            Walker shook his head.  “Let them figure out what’s going on.”

            “Please, Cordell.”

            “No.”

            “Dammit, what kind of partner are you?”

            The words stung Walker with the ferocity of a thousand hornets.  He stared at C.D. in stunned dismay.  Tears were flowing down the older man’s cheeks.  He was speaking out of terror and panic -- Walker understood that -- but his heart felt ripped out nonetheless.  To honor his former partner’s desperate request would hasten his death.  But C.D.’s wish was an anguished plea for help --- how could he refuse that wish?  He squeezed C.D.’s hand, swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded.

            “Okay,”  he answered in a tremulous voice.  “If it gets to that point, I’ll take you home.”

            “You promise?”  C.D. was desperate.

            Walker nodded, afraid to use his voice.  He looked into his ex-partner’s eyes and all that had passed between them through the years seemed to spill out in that instant.  The adventures, the arrests, the successes and failures, the laughter and tears, the unshakable bond of friendship. 

            The nurse politely cleared her throat.  “We need to do some more tests.”

            Walker nodded, cupping both hands around C.D.’s, then gave the older man’s arm a gentle pat.  C.D. relaxed, calmer now and passing his gratefulness to Walker with a wan smile.

            The red bearded Ranger slowly made his way back to the waiting room.  Alex and Trivette met him with questioning eyes.

            “How is he?”  Alex asked.

            “Scared,”  Walker said softly.

            “What did you say to him?”  Trivette wondered.

            Walker sighed.  “I made a promise.”  He couldn’t say anymore, a fact that Alex and Trivette recognized right away.  They knew to back off.  Pressing him now would only push him away.

            “I’m going to get some coffee,”  Trivette said.

            “I’ll go with you,”  Alex added, but she wanted more than anything to stay with Walker and hold him.

            As they headed for the snack area, Walker stationed himself in front of a window and looked out into the evening.  Weariness overcame his thoughts.  Why did life go this way for him?  The turmoil he seemed to keep in constant reach affected all those around him.  It was his fault C.D. retired from the Rangers.  The ambush that shattered the older man’s knee had been meant for Walker.  And Trivette, how many bumps and bruises and worse had he suffered by following Walker into a dangerous situation?  Did Walker’s risk-taking habits induce Trivette to do the same?  Risks the younger man wouldn’t chance if Walker wasn’t there to lead him astray?

            And Alex --- how many times had she been harmed, been in danger, been terrified out of her mind because of the number of enemies he’d made over the course of his career?  Why did she even consider accepting his proposal, knowing their life would always be that way?

            A door led to a small courtyard off the waiting room.  A fir tree was brightly decorated, it’s colorful lights shining in the darkness. Walker stepped outside and stood looking at the sight, his thoughts so incongruous with the season of joy.  If it came down to it, could he keep the promise he’d just made to C.D.?   Please don’t let it come to that.             Other questions suddenly rushed to the surface.  Could he have said something different today to change Eddie Brewster’s ultimate decision?  Should he ask for Trivette to be given a new partner, knowing the younger man would never question his tactics and would follow him, loyal to the end, even into hell?  Should he go through with his commitment to Alex and risk losing her to someone bent on revenge?  Or should he cut himself off from everyone and stop hurting them with his doomed touch?

             He looked up at the star on top of the tree, the symbol of peace and hope, its light mesmerizing, suddenly seeming sentient.  If I promise to never let anyone get close again, will that keep them safe?  I wish to stop hurting those I love.   

            A tender hand on his back startled him.  Alex wrapped her arm around his and looked at the Christmas tree.  She followed his gaze to the star.  “Stars have always been special to you and me, haven’t they?”

            He nodded, watching the star radiate its warm light.

            She started hesitantly.  “I was wondering..........”

            “Wondering what?” 

            “Wondering what wish you just made on that star.”

            He looked away from her, afraid to show the emotion on his face, but she turned his head to her with her hand.

            “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.  But if you ever want to, I’ll listen.”

            He pulled her into his arms, holding her as tight as he could without hurting her.  Could he ever let this wonderful woman go to fulfill the promise he’d just made?

            “Alex, I........I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”

            She knew now where his thoughts were.  He’d been there before, many times.  She suppressed a surge of panic.   “Oh Walker, nothing can hurt me as long as I’m with you.”  She held him close, aching for him, wanting so badly to relieve the heaviness in his heart.  She gazed at the star and made a wish of her own --- Please let something happen tonight to show him how special he is, to give him peace of mind.

            She let go of the embrace and took his hand.   “Come inside.  Jimmy has coffee for all of us.”

~~~~~~

           

            Thirty minutes went by with no word from the medical staff.  Walker sat quietly, brooding, thinking about the promises -- the one he’d made to C.D. and the one he’d offered to the Christmas star outside.  Both would be terribly hard to keep, but a promise was a promise.  A wish was just a wish.

            Alex and Trivette exchanged worried glances, concerned about Walker’s silence.  They knew he was internalizing, anguishing over C.D. and Eddie Brewster, but both recognized that something else was going on inside the Ranger’s mind, and they both felt helpless to do anything about it.

            A family rushed into the ER, several of them supporting a very pregnant young woman, all of them talking hurriedly and overtop of one another.  Walker barely noticed, his thoughts still far away, but Alex watched as the young husband helped his wife into a wheelchair, gave her a kiss and patted her belly.  He accompanied her, holding her hand as an orderly wheeled her into a room.  The two other family members, probably the girl’s parents, Alex assumed, flitted about nervously.  The woman suddenly fixed her eyes on Walker and marched toward him.  Alex sat up alertly, defensively.  What was on this woman’s mind?

            “You there.  You’re Ranger Walker.”

            Walker looked up.  The woman’s face was vaguely familiar.  Her expression was intense.

            “Yes ma’am.”

            “Don’t you remember me?  About four years ago you arrested my daughter for drunk driving.  You put us through hell.”

            Walker sighed heavily.  Trivette stood up, angry that this woman would intrude on their privacy.  He stepped between Walker and the woman protectively.  Alex took in a breath, about ready to deck the woman.

            “Yes, you put us through hell,”  she continued   “and I can’t thank you enough.”

            Walker gazed up at her in surprise.  Trivette moved aside to let the woman speak.  He and Alex watched Walker’s face.  The woman continued.

            “You told us at the time that you had options -- you could have brought her home and let us deal with it, or you could have arrested her.  You decided on the latter because you wanted to open her eyes to the dangers she was imposing on herself and others.  Well, it worked.  She spent a night in the lockup, then had to go to court, attend traffic school and perform community service.  She dumped the no-good friends she’d been drinking with, finished school, and got married to a wonderful man.  Now she’s giving me a grandchild on Christmas Eve.”

            The woman paused, putting her hand on Walker’s arm.  “Your judgment turned her life around, I’m sure of it.  How can I ever thank you?”

            Walker was still gazing at her with a stunned look on his face.  He cleared his throat.  “I’m glad I could help, but your daughter made the choices that turned her life around.”

            “You’re the one who gave her those choices,”  she replied, shaking her head. “What you did was no less than a miracle.  And now another miracle is about to happen.”

            The woman’s husband called to her.  “Jean, they’re going to let us go into the labor room.”

            Jean smiled broadly at the three of them, then looked into Walker’s eyes.  “God bless you.”   She scurried off to join her husband.

            Walker felt Alex’s smile and gave one in return.  He stood and walked to the window again.

            Trivette followed and stood beside him.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked for arresting someone.”

            Walker smiled.  He was pretty amazed himself.  “Once C.D. arrested a set of twin sisters.  They were exotic dancers.  They thanked him for getting their lives on the right road.  To show their appreciation, they came by HQ one day and left him their G-strings.”

            Trivette laughed out loud.  “Oh man, I bet he turned ten shades of red.”

            “He was real flattered, until one of them said he reminded her of their granddad.”

            Trivette laughed again, picturing the retired Ranger’s face in the scenerio.

            “It would be hard to get along without C.D.,”  the younger Ranger voiced, suddenly sad.

            “Yeah, sure would,”  Walker responded.

            “He got me interested in the Rangers with his stories of you and him as partners.”

            Walker had to chuckle.  “You know not to believe all of his stories.”

            Trivette smiled.  “Yeah, I know.  But the one he tells about the shootout when his knee got hit.........wow, what a tale.”

            “It was an ambush meant for me,”  Walker said.  He’d never told Trivette that before and wondered why it spilled out now.

            “I know all about that,”  Trivette answered, surprising him.  “C.D. told me you blamed yourself, but he also said that was hogwash.  He said you were partners, and what was meant for one was meant for the other.  He also said more than his knee would have been shattered if you hadn’t pulled him out of the gun battle.”

            “It shouldn’t have been him,”  Walker sighed.

            “It shouldn’t have been anybody.  But it happened, and you were there to pick up the pieces, just like you always are for me.”

            Walker looked at the younger man.  Trivette was sincere, a slight frown on the earnest face.

            “It goes both ways, Trivette.  Today, without you there..........”

            “Hey, we’re partners,”  Trivette replied.

            A rescue squad roared up to the ER doors.  Two paramedics, one of them Maisie, rolled their charge into the trauma room.  Once turning the patient over to the staff, Maisie made her way through the waiting room, spying Walker and Trivette at the window.  She hurried over to them, looking them up and down.

            “You two okay?”

            “It’s not us,”  Trivette explained.  “It’s C.D.  We think he’s having a heart attack.”

            “Oh, I’m so sorry,”  she answered.  “Is he still in the cardiac room?”

            Walker nodded.  “Yeah, they’re running some sort of tests.”

            “Don’t you worry.  That C.D. is as tough a dried leather.”

            Alex joined them.  “Hi Maisie.  How’s BJ?”

            “He’s great.  I’m getting off work right now to go home to him.”

            “Well, you tell him Merry Christmas for us,”  Alex said.

            Maisie nodded, then looked at Walker.  “I heard about what happened this afternoon, Walk-Man.  Unit 7 was there, they said you did your best to get that boy to surrender.”

            “Yeah, well, my best wasn’t enough.”  He turned back to the window.  Maisie checked Alex and Trivette’s expressions, could see that something was churning inside Walker.

            “What matters is that you tried,”  Maisie told him. “What matters is that you give a damn.  Do you remember where you were two years ago tonight?”

            Walker nodded.  It would stay with him forever, coming onto the scene of a gang fight, finding 10 year old BJ, stabbed and near death.

            Maisie continued.   “I’ll never forget that sight, pulling up and seeing you in the headlights, doing CPR on that child while the gang members were still flashing their knives at you.  If you hadn’t been there, if you hadn’t cared enough to help, BJ would be gone.”

            “She’s right, Walker,”  Trivette added.  “Eddie Brewster didn’t want help.  He wanted out.  No one could have stopped him.”

            “Look at all the people you’ve helped, like that young woman having the baby,”  Alex said.  “You’ve touched so many lives.”  She took his hand.  “Including mine, and I thank God for that every day.”

            Walker smiled at the three friends facing him.  He let their words sink in, let them soothe his aching soul.  They were just the reassurance he needed to hear.

            “Maisie!”   her partner called.  “The squad’s leaving without you.”

            Maisie reached up to pat the red beard.  “You listen to your friends.  And please keep me posted on C.D.”

            “We will,”  Alex said as Maisie rushed out the door.

            Walker strode to the courtyard, outside to the Christmas tree.  Alex and Trivette watched in puzzlement from the doorway.  The Ranger glanced up at the star, taking in the pale yellow light.  The wind blew gently, shaking the tree so that the star swayed to and fro.  Its light shone in his face, reflecting off the sudden pooling of water in his eyes.    In that instant, Walker knew he was released from the earlier promise. Now he had a new promise, a vow to remain in the lives of his friends as much as he could, a wish to never be apart from them, physically or emotionally again, and not extending a touch of doom, but a touch of love.

            There was one more promise, the one he’d made to C.D.  If it came down to it, he’d make good on it.  But the prospect of the vow burned a hole in his heart.  What would they do without C.D.?

            “Walker?”  Alex called.  “The doctor is here.”

            Walker hurried inside to hear what the cardiac specialist had to say.   They huddled around the man.

            “We’ve ruled out a heart attack,”  the doctor began.  “It looks like a gallstone attack, which can often mimic heart problems.”

            There was a collective sigh of relief and the doctor smiled.  “We’ve started him on medication for it, but he may need surgery if this treatment doesn’t work.  However, you can expect a full recovery either way.”

            Alex flung her arms around Walker as Trivette shook the doctor’s hand.

            “You can see him if you like, but he’s a bit groggy.  The pain medication does that.”

            They followed the doctor into C.D.’s room.  The retired Ranger’s face lit up.  Alex leaned down to kiss him.  Next in line, Trivette hugged him.  When Walker approached, C.D. held out his hand to him.  The red-bearded Ranger took it.

            “You made me a promise tonight, Cordell, and you’ll never know how much it means to me.”

            Walker looked at his former partner, then at Alex and Trivette.  He’d made more than one promise tonight, and had received a few in return.  The promise of hope, friendship and love, and the promise of never being alone with your troubles.          

            “I do know,”  Walker replied.  He nodded with a smile to his former partner.

            “What would I do without you,”  C.D. murmured, growing drowsy.  “What would any of us do without the others?”

            The comment snapped Walker to attention, a revelation he’d always known but sometimes had to be reminded of.

            Minutes later, C.D. was asleep.  Trivette, not wanting to leave him, stood vigil as Walker and Alex returned to the waiting room.  Alex immediately went outside to the courtyard Christmas tree.  Walker followed, coming up behind her and putting his arms around her shoulders.

            “What are you doing?”  he asked her.

            “I needed to thank the star.  My wish came true.”

            He smiled.  “Mine too.”

            “Promise me we’ll be together always.”

            “Forever,”  he whispered.

            They peered up at the star, its brilliance driving away the darkness, their wish settling among its points, and they both noticed that the heart of the star grew brighter.

 

THE  END      

           

           

           

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