Travis looked at the crumbling paint and decaying wood of what was once a grand ballroom. He was on the top floor of the old Mustang Building. It had once been a grand architectural marvel in downtown Fort Worth. The twelve story building had served as a hotel, complete with banquet hall, casino, movie theater, and indoor swimming pool. Tarnished brass chandeliers swung precariously from their rafter perches. Spider webs criss-crossed the ceiling, swinging from the ornamental oak-carved molding. The air was thick with dust and smelled of rotting wood. He saw termite tracks trailing up the fluted columns that supported the ceiling.
As he walked across the cracked and crumbling marble floor, he wondered vaguely how he could have been so stupid. Buying this place. Thinking he could restore it to its original grandeur and eloquence. He shook his head. It didn’t matter now. All that mattered is that he had to complete this deal with the arsonist. If all went as planned, his insurance would just about cover what he owed on this dump.
Hearing a slight noise, he looked behind him into the lengthening shadows at the back of the room. Although he was sure he had heard a noise, his eyes could detect nothing. A cold chill ran up his spine, and for a moment he thought of the stories the previous owners had regaled him with when they were showing him the building. It seemed a respected former Texas Ranger and his wife and child had once lived in this very ballroom when it was still a small group of rooms. The Ranger had been killed here, and his murder had never been solved. Travis remembered them telling him that they had seen the Ranger sometimes at night when they were cleaning the empty ballroom. He would be reading in a chair, or pacing the floor. When one of them got brave enough to approach the specter of the Ranger, he disappeared. With a shake of his head, Travis dismissed the noise and the stories and looked at his watch. Moody should be here soon he thought.
Also hearing the noise were the men Travis couldn’t see who were hiding in the shadows. Texas Rangers Cordell Walker and Jimmy Trivette looked at each other, and at their watches. They had been tracking Glen Moody for weeks now. They were sure he was responsible for a rash of arson incidents in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. They knew Travis Carter was in terrible debt, and needed cash fast. His bank was about to foreclose on his mortgage for this building, and he would lose everything. He was also heavily insured for this building. A prime candidate for an arson for insurance crime.
They heard the heavy elevator lumber to a stop. When the doors opened, a short, black-haired man stepped out followed by several bodyguards. Trivette pointed his directional microphone at them and turned on the recording tape. Wasting no time, Moody made quick plans for the arson job with Travis. They decided that they would do the job tomorrow night, and agreed on a price. That was all the Rangers needed, and they broke from their cover.
“Texas Rangers!” Walker said as he pointed his gun at the group. “You’re all under arrest. Hands up!”
Things began going very quickly then as the bodyguards decided to put up a fight. Several shots were fired. Two of the men went down. Moody broke for the elevator, but Walker cut him off. Meanwhile, Trivette was fighting with the last bodyguard. Walker chased Moody past some crates and old furniture. He saw Moody run up on a ledge and cut back. Seeing a chance to catch him, Walker jumped up on a large crate and vaulted off to land in front Moody. Too late he realized that the “floor” he thought he was landing on was actually the dust covered top of a skylight that had originally looked down onto the banquet hall below. The weight of his body falling was enough to shatter the glass, and Walker felt himself plunging down to the floor below. His last conscious thought was of his partner.
Walker opened his eyes. The sound of sirens and people talking and moving about assailed his ears. The light sent a bolt of pain through his aching head. He tried to sit up, but Trivette gently held him down by the shoulders.
“Easy Partner,” Trivette said softly. “You had a helluva fall. The paramedics are on their way.”
Walker tentatively moved his arms and legs. They were all working to his relief. “Trivette, let me up.” His voice sounded far away and barely audible.
“Nope,” Trivette responded. “Not until they check you out.”
Trivette watched as some other Rangers led Travis, Moody, and the bodyguards off in handcuffs. One of them was carrying the tape he and Walker had obtained. Great bust he thought to himself. Except for Walker falling through the skylight! He looked at his partner with concern.
“We got ‘em Walker.” He said. “Moody will be going away for a long time.”
“Moody?” Walker said in confusion.
“Yeah, we were here to bust him for arson for hire. Remember?”
Walker closed his eyes and tried to think. Everything seemed to be swirling in circles in his head. He not only couldn’t remember this Moody guy, he couldn’t seem to remember what case they were on at all. Dizziness began to make him nauseous, and he leaned over unto his side to throw up.
Jimmy held his partner’s head while the red-bearded Ranger was sick. By then the paramedics were there. They quickly strapped Walker onto a stretcher and set off for St. Mathew’s.
Alex was pacing at the hospital by the time the ambulance arrived. Jimmy had called her. She watched as the pale, unconscious form of her husband was wheeled into a treatment room. The doctors as usual ignored her questions, telling her to wait outside. Jimmy arrived and they both sat nervously drinking some coffee in the waiting room. Finally, a young doctor approached them.
“Are you folks with Ranger Walker?” he asked pleasantly.
“I’m his wife, and this is his partner.” Alex replied. “Is he okay? Can I see him?”
“He’s going to be fine.” The doctor assured her. “He has a concussion, and some resultant short-term memory loss. He doesn’t remember the accident, and that may or may not come back to him. But, other than that he is fine. He can go home, if you will be there to keep an eye on him. The nurses told me that it would take a bigger man than me to keep him in the hospital overnight…” He finished with a grin.
Alex smiled warmly at the doctor and went in to gather up her injured hubby while Trivette filled out some papers for the hospital. Walker seemed quiet on the trip home, but listened good-naturedly to Alex’s lecture on “looking before you leap.”
It was late, so the two went directly to bed. It being a warm night neither wore any pajamas, sleeping nude was their usual routine during the summer.
The moon was high in the sky when Alex woke up feeling something was wrong. She automatically reached for Walker, but he wasn’t in the bed. Looking over at the window, she could see him sitting quietly staring out, almost like he was in a trance. She thought he was probably still asleep and dreaming, so she carefully approached him and touched his shoulder. Walker appeared to come out of the trance, and his eyes swung around to look at her.
“Alex?” He said in confusion. She noticed tears in his eyes.
“It’s me, Honey.” She said softly. “Were you dreaming?” She reached over and smoothed the hair from his forehead.
“He says I have to help him.” Walker said very softly. “But, I don’t know how…”
Walker dropped to his knees in front of his wife and wrapped his arms around her legs. He rested his head against her stomach. Alex’s hands moved to hold him when she realized he was crying.
Not knowing what to say, she reached down and brought him to his feet. She walked him over to the bed where they got in and she snuggled up to him, her head on his chest. He stroked her hair and back. Finally, he sighed deeply and spoke.
“You wouldn’t ever leave me would you?” He asked softly.
Stunned, Alex moved to look into his eyes. “No, darling, never!” She said. “Why would you even ask that?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “I just feel sad, and lonely. I don’t know why…”
“Honey, it’s probably just from that bump you got today.” Alex tried to reassure him. But, when she saw the look on his face, she knew he needed more than just words tonight.
She took his hand and gently kissed his palm and wrist. Then she trailed tender kisses over his chest, smiling when she felt his breathing become more erratic. Her hand ran through the velvet hair on his stomach, down over his bellybutton, and lower still. She cupped his testicles and rubbed them softly. His manhood began to grow stiffer and a small moan came from his throat. She circled his erection with her hand and began to rub up and down. Walker’s hips rose off the bed in rhythm with her strokes. When his manhood was completely firm, Alex swung her leg over him, inserted him into her moist opening, and lowered herself onto him. Sitting upright she raised up and down, stroking herself against him. She reached behind her and massaged him as she rode the wave of passion. His groans filled the air, and his hips bucked convulsively against her.
He reached up and pulled her down against him. Hardly breaking stride, she extended her legs down and he rolled them over with the smooth movement of practiced lovers. As soon as she was on the bottom, Alex spread her legs and wrapped them around his muscular back. She could feel him getting even bigger inside her and knew his climax was near. Reaching down between them his fingers found her center and with practiced expertise he rubbed her just the right way. A fiery ball of pleasure began to spread through Alex’s being. She wrapped her arms around her husband amazed that he was still moving with all of her weight clinging to him now. Feeling her climaxing around him Walker shifted his weight onto his hands, and with forearms extended down, as Alex hung on, he drove himself into her in one final thrust, exploding in ecstasy.
Alex held him tightly as his breathing slowed. All too soon he slipped from her and moved off her onto his side. He pulled her into his arms and clinging together, they fell asleep.
Trivette was amazed to see Walker sitting at his desk next morning. “Man, I wasn’t expecting you.” He said, noting that Walker seemed tired and had dark circles under his eyes. Walker looked up at him and Trivette was startled by the intense sadness that he saw in his partner’s eyes.
“I’m okay, Trivette.” Walker said unconvincingly. He attempted a weak smile, and Jimmy decided that he must speak to Alex as soon as possible.
The two Rangers worked on paperwork for most of the morning. Jimmy had given Alex a quick call when Walker had left for a few minutes. She told him about how sad Walker had seemed the night before, and that she was a little worried about him. Jimmy related to her that he was seeing the same thing. After lunch, the men were driving back toward the courthouse when Walker suddenly turned the truck in the opposite direction.
“See something?” Trivette asked.
“No,” Walker replied. “I just want to check something out.” They rode for a bit in silence until Walker pulled up in front of the old Mustang Building and stopped.
“You want to check something here?” Jimmy asked, but Walker didn’t say a word. He got out of the truck and walked up to the entrance. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked, and Walker opened it and walked in. Jimmy scrambled to keep up.
Once inside, Walker only advanced a few steps, and to Trivette’s surprise he seemed to sway on his feet. Jimmy rushed over to steady his partner, but Walker slumped to his knees his head in his hands.
“I can’t….I….what do you want?” Walker mumbled the words as if he was talking to someone. Suddenly, his back stiffened and he moaned slightly. Trivette pulled his partner’s hands away from his face. Walker was extremely pale and his lips were blue. Thinking it must be a stroke or heart problem, Jimmy grabbed him around the waist and literally dragged his partner outside.
Laying Walker down on his back, Jimmy reached for his cell phone, but stopped when he saw Walker’s face. The color was back, and as he watched, his partner’s eyes fluttered open.
“Trivette?” Walker sat up, looking around in confusion. Getting unsteadily to his feet he looked at his partner. “What is this? Why are we here?”
Trivette looked at him in confusion. “Walker, this was your idea. You said you wanted to check something out here.”
Walker swayed a little, and Jimmy grabbed him. “That’s it. I don’t know what’s going on, but you are not well enough to be working!” He said firmly, leading his partner to the passenger side of the truck. He helped him inside and then climbed into the driver’s seat. “I’m taking you home.” He said, expecting an argument. But, Walker merely stared out the window, the look of infinite sadness settling over his face again.
Alex was already home when Jimmy pulled up in the truck. Seeing him driving gave her instant cause for alarm. Walker never let anyone drive his truck. She immediately noticed the melancholy slant of Walker’s posture as he exited the truck. Jimmy just shrugged.
Alex took her unresisting hubby by the arm and led him in the house. He told her was really tired, and trudged up the steps to the bedroom. She stayed downstairs to talk with Jimmy.
“What happened?” She asked.
“He said he wanted to go to that old Mustang Building to check something out. He went in, and Alex, I thought he was having a stroke! His face was all pale and his lips were blue. I had to drag him out of there. When we got outside he got better, and I brought him home.” Jimmy explained.
“If he isn’t better by morning, I’m going to take him back to the hospital for a check-up.” Alex stated. “He isn’t well. He seems so sad, I don’t know what is going on.”
Jimmy took Alex’s car. They agreed that she could just ride in with Walker in the morning. Alex made sure all the lights were out, and the doors locked and went up to bed.
Walker lay on the bed, clothes still on. When she came in, he sat up and swayed slightly. Alex was by his side in a moment. She steadied his shoulders and tried to get him to make eye contact.
“Honey, what is it? Are you dizzy?”
Walker looked at her, a strange look coming over his face. His eyes seemed vacant, and he spoke so softly that she could barely hear him.
“Find the box. He wants me to find the box.” Walker bent over in sudden pain. “Don’t leave me!
Please, don’t leave me!” he almost shouted.
Alex held on to him as tightly as she could. “Walker please, I won’t leave you! I’m right here!” She repeated again and again to him. Finally, he straightened up. He rose and walked to the door and headed down the stairs toward the front door. Panicked, Alex followed wondering what he was doing. When she saw him grab his truck keys, her heart turned cold, and she followed him out the door.
She practically had to run to keep up with him as he strode toward the truck. She grabbed his arm trying to slow him down, to make contact, to bring him out of his trance. But, he easily broke her grip and climbed into the cab. She barely managed to run around the truck and climb in the passenger side before he had the truck in gear and was rolling down their drive.
Alex was scared that he might wreck the truck and hurt someone in his condition. But, his driving was perfect. He didn’t say a word even though she tried to get him to talk. Finally, he pulled the truck to the curb and stopped. They were in front of the Mustang Building once again.
Getting out, Walker strode to the door and went in, Alex right behind him. It was dark, and she reached for the light switch on the wall. Miraculously, the lights came on. Walker had already crossed the room, and was waiting for the elevator. Alex slipped in beside him just as the doors were closing. He seemed not to even know she was there on the ride up to the top floor.
Just as they neared the top floor, Walker reached out and pressed the button to stop the elevator. He turned to Alex, and she saw recognition in his features.
“Alex?” Walker said uncertainly. “Where….what….?”
“Honey, we’re in the old Mustang Building. You were in, like a trance. I followed you here.”
Walker frowned for a second. Then, he said, “I remember. There is something I have to find here. A box, I think. It will help me solve Tate Shaw’s murder.”
He nodded. “He was a Ranger. About forty years ago he was living here with his wife and son. He was having marital problems, and on the night his wife left him, he was murdered, but no one knew. She was expecting him to come after her, and was devastated when he never did. A few days after she left, she called the office and when they said he wasn’t coming to work, she came to their apartment here. She found him shot to death. They knew he had been working on an undercover drug bust, but they never found his killer.”
“Oh, Walker, how awful!” Alex said. “How do you know all this?”
“I just do.” He said simply. He punched the button and the elevator began to move. They traveled to the top floor and got out. Walker found a light switch, and a weak bulb lit the dusty room.
He turned to Alex. “Look for a box that is hidden somewhere. It’s not very big…that’s all I can remember.” The two split up and began searching the large area. Neither noticed the dark figure concealed in the shadows.
Their search lasted for several minutes. Finally, Alex scraped some stiffened wallpaper off a table. The “table” she noticed was actually a very old desk.
“Walker, over here.” She called. Walker came up behind her and saw the desk. He forced open several drawers, but found nothing. The last two drawers were wide, but not very deep.
“That’s funny,” he said. He looked behind the desk and at the side. “These drawers should be deeper.”
He pulled both drawers completely out, and then peered into the space he had created. “This is it.” He said to Alex. Reaching in, with a powerful tug, he pulled out a small box. The little padlock on the box was so rusty that it gave with one yank. Walker lifted the lid off the box.
Inside, there were several notebook pages with notes, and a small tape recorder. A remote microphone was propped into a hole at the back of the box.
“Look, Alex, this tape recorder is still set on record.” Walker commented. “I bet Tate Shaw was recording an undercover drug deal the night he was killed. We could have a recording of the killer's voice on this tape.” He picked up the small machine and handed it to Alex, just as they both heard a sound from across the room.
Reacting quickly, Walker drew his gun and took his wife’s arm. Putting a finger to her lips, he motioned for her to be quiet and follow him. Using boxes for cover, they moved to the elevator. They got in and shut the door, but Walker again stopped the car.
“Alex, I want you to take this and go down to the Ram. Use the radio to call for backup.”
“What are you going to do?” Alex really didn’t want to hear the answer.
“I’m going to see who is up here snooping around.” He said. “I’ll be right behind you.” He smiled and kissed her on the forehead.
Alex knew there was no point to arguing with him. They opened the door and he slipped out. As she rode the elevator down, a sense of foreboding crept over her.
Upstairs, Walker’s trained eyes perused the dark ballroom. He didn’t see the man with the gun until the flash of the muzzle as it fired caught his eye. Instinctively, he dived, but it was too late. A fiery bolt of pain coursed through his right side. He lay almost helpless for a few moments battling to stay conscious against the onslaught of searing pain. His right hand moved to cover the bullet hole, and he felt large amounts of warm blood spurting out onto the floor. If he didn’t keep pressure on the wound, he knew he would bleed to death in a matter of minutes.
“Too bad it had to be you.” Walker heard a familiar voice say. Looking up, he was shocked to see the face of Dale Smoot, a retired Texas Ranger!
“I couldn’t let you figure this one out Cordell.” He said leveling the gun at the wounded Ranger’s head. “I had to kill Shaw when he found me out years ago. I never knew that he had made a tape, until you and that pretty wife of yours led me right to it. So, I’m gonna take care of you now, and then her.” He shrugged, “It’s not even for me anymore, I’m too old. But, I can’t have my kids and grandchildren hear about how their old man was a drug smuggler. It doesn’t jive with my image.” His twisted smile was the last thing Walker saw before unconsciousness took him.
Alex felt the elevator stop, and looked up in confusion. The numbers said she was on the sixth floor, but she had pressed the button for the first floor. As she watched, the elevator jerked and began moving back up. She pressed the buttons in desperation, but the elevator didn’t respond. It continued to climb until it reached the top floor. It stopped, but the door stayed closed. Alex waited in the gloomy light, fear and worry over her husband’s fate on her mind.
Dale Smoot extended his arm and aimed his gun at Walker’s unmoving head. His fingers closed on the trigger. As he was about to pull it, he felt a strong grip close on his wrist. Confused, he struggled, unable to see who, or what, was pushing his hand. Slowly, the hand with the gun in it was pushed around so that the barrel was pointing toward his head. As he screamed in terror, he watched his own finger squeeze the trigger. The gun fired, and Smoot fell to the floor, dead.
Alex jumped when she heard the shot. A second later, the elevator doors opened and she emerged into the ballroom. Seeing the slumped figure of her husband, she ran to his side. The bullet hole in Smoot’s forehead gave her the grisly news that he was dead. She bent over Walker, seeing blood flowing from his open wound. Pulling her sweater off over her tee shirt, she held it firmly to his side stemming the flow. Walker groaned in pain, and his eyes fluttered open. Outside the building, the sounds of loud sirens could be heard.
“Someone must have called, Baby,” she cradled his head. “I never made it to the Ram.” Walker rested his head on her thigh, as she smoothed his hair and prayed the paramedics would not be too late.
The elevator opened and the paramedics swept into the room. Walker was placed on a stretcher and whisked off to the hospital quickly. Several Rangers stayed to work the crime scene and wait for the coroner to finish with Smoot’s body. Alex could hear them mumbling about the former Ranger. Everyone assumed his death was a suicide. As they rode down in the elevator, Jimmy slipped his arm around her.
“You look a little pale,” He said quietly. He held up the tape recorder. “I found this in the elevator. Is it important?”
Alex looked at the machine. “Yes, Jimmy, it’s important.” She said. “I think a very good Texas Ranger has sent us the evidence we need to solve his murder.”
Trivette looked at her, not understanding. “I’ll explain later Jimmy,” She said tiredly. Tears filled her eyes when she realized how close she and Walker had come to losing each other. She thought about Tate Shaw’s widow, and how the elevator had somehow brought her back to Walker when he needed her. She wandered about why Smoot had decided to kill himself, and then the truth dawned on her. Shaw wanted to let his family know why he hadn’t gone after his wife that night. He wanted the Rangers to know who had killed him, and why.
Alex thought about how their lives had been saved that night. “I’ll tell them.” She promised the tortured spirit of Tate Shaw.
Alex and Walker pulled up in front of the modest frame house. Walker had mostly recovered from his wound, but there was one thing left for them to do. They walked up the sidewalk hand in hand. Knocking on the front door, they waited for a response in silence, each lost in their own thoughts about what had happened that night. The tape was indeed a recording made the night Tate Shaw was killed. The voice of the killer was unmistakably that of Dale Smoot. Since Smoot was dead, Walker and Alex were here to complete the last task to finish before the old murder case was closed. They looked up as a small, white-haired woman answered the door. Her hands shook slightly as she wiped them on her apron.
“Mrs. Molly Shaw?” Walker asked. When the woman answered in the affirmative, he introduced Alex and himself. Then he asked if they could come in. Mrs. Shaw opened the screen door and showed them into a tidy, but modest living room.
“Please sit down.” She offered them something to drink, but they politely declined. She finally sat down across from them.
“Mrs. Shaw, I’m here to tell you something about your late husband.” Walker began. “We’ve solved his murder.”
Mrs. Shaw gasped and her hands clasped together. “Go on.”
“Your husband was killed by another Texas Ranger. He was working on an undercover case, and the night he was killed he had obtained a tape recording of his killer. That Ranger was dirty, and had been committing illegal drug transactions.” Walker hesitated, and then continued. “I know this is probably too little, too late, but the Captain would like me to present you with this award.”
He handed a large envelope to Molly. “This is for meritorious service, above and beyond the call of duty ma’am.” Walker’s voice shook slightly with those last few words, and as she took the envelope from him, Molly Shaw smiled her gratefulness. She took the engraved plaque from the envelope and looked at it.
“Tate would have been very proud of this.” She smiled sadly. “Thank-you Ranger Walker.”
They stood up and shook hands again. Molly showed them to the door and watched as they started down the sidewalk toward the Ram. Suddenly, Alex grabbed Walker’s arm.
“I’ll be right back,” She told him. “I need to tell her something.” She turned and hurried back to where Molly Shaw stood in the doorway.
“Mrs. Shaw,” Alex said quietly, “there is something else you need to know. Something your husband said, at the end of the tape. I think he knew he was going to die before he could get help.” She looked at Molly, questioning if she should continue. The older woman nodded, her clear brown eyes fixed on Alex.
“He said that he loved you. He wanted you to know that he was going to do whatever it took to get you back. And…..” Alex stopped, uncertain if she should tell what his last sentence was. But, Molly took her hand and quietly asked what else her dying husband had said. Alex licked her lips and said….
“Don’t leave me, Molly. Please don’t leave me!”
Molly Shaw’s sigh was audible. Her hand tightened on Alex’s and tears filled her eyes. “He really did love me….” She whispered. “Thank-you, Mrs. Walker. You’ve just given me more than any award could ever do.”
Alex hugged the older woman, and went back to where her husband stood waiting for her. When she got near him, her arms reached out and closed around his strong torso. She pressed her head against his chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat. Closing her eyes, she told him that Tate Shaw was finally at peace with his family.
“I love you, Alex.” Walker said abruptly. His arms pulled her close and he squeezed her to his body. “I love you so much!”
Alex looked up into his gray eyes. “What brought that on?” She asked, knowing that he did not often express his love for her so readily. But, Walker just smiled and, turning her, walked with his arm around her to the Ram.
It may have just been the wind, or the rustling of the trees. But, Alex was sure she heard a voice whisper “thank-you” in the cool spring air.