Crossed  Wires

by Gail R. (Cavefever@aol.com)

Walker had been caught completely off guard, and now, hands cuffed behind his back, he lay face down in the straw, the assailant's foot on his backside.

He had come home from work, stopped in the house long enough to put down his gun and cuffs, then grabbed a couple of carrots before heading to the barn.

Amigo and Cookie gobbled down the carrots, then cavorted in the corral while Walker mucked the stalls.  He'd taken a break to work out a knot in his lower back, both hands reaching back to massage the kink, when the cuffs had been slapped on and in the instant that followed, a hand pushed him forward at the same time a foot tripped him.  As he fell face first into the straw, the assailant wisely stayed clear of the Ranger's legs.

Now the assailant's foot pushed on his hip.  "Tell me what I want to know, Walker."

Walker spit a piece of straw out of his mouth.  "No."

"I mean it, Walker.  You tell me now or it's going to get ugly."

Walker stubbornly shook his head.  The assailant knelt down beside him, hands poised over the Ranger's ribs.

"You leave me no choice.  I'm going to have to..........tickle you!" 

Alex let her fingers fly across his ribs.  Walker jerked and jolted involuntarily, laughing and begging for her to stop.  It was downright humiliating for a Texas Ranger to be so ticklish, but only a handful of people knew, including Alex, and Walker had forced a vow of silence on her some time ago.

"Okay, stop!" he said, trying to catch his breath, then rolled on his back, trying his best to pass her a glare.  "You're a cruel woman, Alex."

"Me?  You're the one who said you have a surprise but wouldn't tell me until Saturday.  It's only Wednesday.  How do you expect me to wait another three days?"

Walker struggled to sit up, then held out his elbow for her to help him stand.  She grinned at the hands locked behind his back.

"This is very effective.  Who invented these things?"

"Alex......."

"Oh. all right," she laughed, thoroughly enjoying the fact that he was at her mercy. "Where are the keys?"

Walker shot her a sullen look.  "Trivette has them."

Her smile instantly disappeared.  "Oh no!"

He nodded his head, a ticked off expression on his face.  He jiggled his hands in the cuffs to emphasize his predicament to her.

"Walker, I'm so sorry.  What are we going to do?  Should I call Jimmy?"

"Are you kidding?  How would we explain this?  It'd be all over the department tomorrow."

She nodded, her face fretful.  "I've really done it.  What should I do?"

Walker suddenly broke out into a grin.  "Gotcha."

Her stunned expression quickly turned to playful anger, then massive relief.  She smacked his arm in annoyance.

"You creep!"

She moved to tickle him again, but he backed away quickly in self defense.  "Uh uh.  You want to know the surprise or not?"

That stopped her. "Okay.  Where are the keys?"

"My right pocket."

She reached into his front jeans pocket, not resisting the urge to squeeze his leg.  He cut her a wicked smile as she withdrew the keys, then unlocked the cuffs.

Rubbing his wrists, Walker smirked.  "You think you're pretty smart, don't you?"

She nodded, smiling smugly.  "Okay.  Out with it.  What's the surprise?"

"I've changed my mind.  I'm not going to tell you."

"Walker!"  She went after his ribs again be he easily caught her hands, then wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides.  She struggled uselessly against his strong hold, then gave up, her head against his chest.

"Please tell me," she said pitifully, looking up at him.

He could almost never resist her baby blue eyes and this evening was no exception.

"Okay."  He considered leading her on a little longer, but her eyes melted away the ornery notion.

"Cookie's pregnant," he said with a smile.

The shock of unexpected, sheer delight illuminated her face.  "Really?  Are you sure?"

"Yeah, Dr. Rhodes was out here the other day."

"Oh, Walker!"  Alex gushed, throwing her arms around his neck.

He hugged her back, his arms engulfing her small frame. 

Alex released a contented sigh.  "Walker, I'm so happy."

"About Cookie?"

"Yes, that too."

She picked up her head and gazed into his eyes, meeting his smile.  He leaned down and kissed her tenderly, then, arm in arm, they strolled out to the corral to watch their horses prance.

The next morning, Trivette got into the office early and logged on to his computer, raising an eyebrow at the readout of e-mail.  Two messages were for him, seven were for Walker.  Trivette shook his head in wonder -- Walker receiving e-mail.  The man didn't even know a mouse from a hard drive, yet his karate students and now others were sending him messages via Trivette's screen address. 

It had begun almost a year ago, when Walker had secretly given Trivette's e-mail address to one of his karate students with instructions to plant a virus -- not a lethal one, but enough to annoy Trivette -- onto his computer.  The resulting virus had created total calamity for Trivette -- his computer had spouted love poetry and professed undying love for the Ranger. 

Trivette sat down at the computer.  The maddening part about it was Walker still refused to learn the system -- instead, he was content to let Trivette print out his mail for him and stack it on his desk.  But as the karate students spread the e-mail address around, notes to Walker became more frequent.  Trivette tolerated and understood -- the kids wrote to Walker telling of problems, or to ask martial arts questions, to talk about tournaments, or just to say hi.  It never bothered them in the least that Walker didn't return an e-mail.  Instead, he'd remember each letter and discuss details in person with the sender.

But now Trivette's e-mail address, JTTR, had spread beyond the students, passed out like a phone number.  A dozen or more notes concerning the Kick Drugs Out of America tournament on Saturday,  a message from the body shop mechanic about a new bumper for the RAM, a reminder from the dentist about an appointment, notes from other police agencies requesting or responding to information, there had even been a message from Maisie, the paramedic, who had volunteered to cook at the Kick Drugs tournament.  Trivette was sure Walker was giving out the screen address freely, probably laughing behind his back, knowing Trivette was at his beck and call printing out his mail.  Probably in retaliation for Trivette having called his partner a dinosaur when it came to computers.  The T-Rex was now receiving more e-mail than anyone in the entire department.

Grudgingly, Trivette pulled the first message to Walker out of the printer.  He tried not to read personal messages but hey, he reasoned, if they were coming through JTTR, then the messages technically were his.  And Walker usually discussed the messages with him anyway, especially if they were work related.

Trivette's eye caught the name on the first printout -- "An admirer."  Hmm, he thought to himself.  This was the third message Walker had received signed as such in two weeks.  He plopped it onto the desk.

The printouts continued as Trivette read through his own mail.  When the printer was quiet, Trivette picked up the stack of Walker's mail, noticing the last message was signed by a Dr. Rhodes.  He knew Walker never went to a doctor willingly and his curiosity heightened.  With a hint of guilt, he read the note:

                        Ranger Walker,

                        I saw her again yesterday.  Pregnancy confirmed.

                        Everything looks good.  The three of us need to sit down

                        to discuss specifics on diet and exercise.  I know you'll

                        take good care of her.  Congratulations!

                        Dr. Rhodes."

Trivette's mouth dropped open, his eyes wide with shock.  Alex was pregnant.  Alex and Walker.  Oh man, Alex and Walker!  Trivette felt a childlike giddiness flow through  him.  Obviously they wanted to keep it a secret for now, and as much as Trivette wanted to shake his partner's hand and slap him on the back, he wouldn't do that.  He'd pretend he hadn't read the note so Walker could tell him in his own laconic way.  Trivette didn't want to spoil the surprise.

A hundred thoughts crossed through Trivette's mind.  The surge of excitement suddenly gave way to doubt.  Surely this wasn't planned.  He knew Walker and Alex were a definite couple -- and it was about time -- but this probably was not the order in which they planned to do things.  Maybe they were upset about the news.  Their relationship was difficult enough, with more ups and downs than an elevator.  They had finally reached an understanding, or so it seemed to Trivette, and things had been looking mighty cozy.  But now, with this unexpected news, how would this affect them?  Would they even go through with it?  The doctor's note had been upbeat, not even slightly hinting that this could all be swept away by a simple procedure.

Walker strode in, jolting Trivette from his thoughts.  He watched his partner pour himself a mug of coffee and carry it to his desk.

"Morning, Trivette."

"Hi, Walker."

Trivette buried the note from Dr. Rhodes in the stack of letters and headed to Walker's desk.

"You got a bunch of e-mails today.  Here you go."  He put the pile of notes down.

"Thanks," Walker answered, but he made no move to thumb through the stack.

"When are you going to let me set you up with your own e-mail address?  I even thought up the perfect screen name:  T-Rex,"  Trivette chuckled.

Walker glanced up, a slight smile pulling at his mouth, but he didn't answer.  Instead, he opened a file that had been lying on his desk.  He ran a finger down the page.

"This gang of bank robbers - their weapons, their clothes and their methods - it feels military."

Trivette was studying Walker's face, looking for the slightest trace of worry or distress, but there was nothing on his partner's face to read.

"Trivette?"

"Oh, sorry.  Yeah, I've got a search going on the computer.  I'm running the MO through.  Maybe we'll come up with a name."

Walker nodded, sipping his coffee, frowning as if he was preoccupied, Trivette assumed.  He stood beside Walker's desk, awkwardly drumming his fingers against his leg.  Walker looked up at him questioningly.

Trivette managed to stammer.  "Uh, you got another letter from your admirer."  He pointed to the top letter on the stack.

Walker picked it up and read aloud:

                        Ranger Walker, I read in the paper yesterday how you

                        arrested four drug dealers who were pushing in the high

                        schools.  You should have killed them on the spot, but

                        I know a man of your morals will let the courts handle it.

                        You haven't answered either of my other two letters.

                        I'm starting to feel like you don't care about me.  Please

                        write back.

                                          An admirer.           

" 'You should have killed them on the spot'?"  Trivette quoted.  "She's starting to sound scary."

"I know, I was just thinking about......"

"Ranger Bodine."

Walker nodded, recalling his showdown with the obsessed man who'd murdered several men to prove he was tougher and more cut out to be a Ranger than Walker.  It was that same night that Walker had first told Alex what she meant to him, and then later had playfully pretended not to remember the conversation.  But Alex had understood, had known he recalled every detail of their talk, had waited all this time until he finally came to terms with his feelings regarding their relationship.  She hadn't given up on them for a moment and gradually, he had felt the barrier around his emotions break down until now he could admit what he'd known all along - they belonged together.

"What are you smiling about?" Trivette asked.

Walker quickly came out of his reverie and peered at Trivette.  "How do you know it's a 'she'?"

Trivette shrugged. "It just sounds like one. You want to write her back?"

"No."  Walker flipped the letter to the pile, then returned to the robbery file.

Trivette shuffled his feet, still observing his partner closely.  Walker again looked up.

"What?"

"Nothing.  I....um.....nothing."  Trivette returned to his desk and sat down. It didn't look like Walker was going to go through his mail any time soon.

Alex breezed into the room, heading straight for Walker's desk.  Trivette couldn't help notice the extra lilt in her step, the brighter than usual smile.  She waved at him as she sat on the edge of Walker's desk.

"Morning, " she said, her face radiant.

Walker smiled back. "Hi. Get any sleep?"

"It was tough."

Trivette tried not to eavesdrop, but he couldn't resist.  Alex reached for Walker's mug of coffee and took a sip.  They were still smiling at each other, sharing an unspoken secret, and Trivette could see Walker's eyes twinkling.  They were unquestionably happy.  He needn't have worried. 

Alex lowered her voice, nodding slightly toward Trivette.  "Did you tell him?"

Walker shook his head. "Keep it secret for now."  He leaned to her ear and whispered something, causing her to beam with delight.  "It's just an idea,"  he said.  "Think it over."

Trivette strained to hear their whispers but couldn't make out the words.  But he could see the joy on their faces and denote excitement in their body language.  Trying to appear disinterested, he cut one eye to his partner's desk, saw Walker reach for his coffee mug from Alex and take a sip.  They were always doing that--- in here, in Alex's office, at C.D.'s---and they didn't seem aware of the intimate nature of the act.  It was more a habit, the casual sharing of a drink by two people who were very comfortable with each other.

They've taken it further than comfortable, Trivette smiled to himself.  He couldn't contain his antisiness and hopped up, trying to appear nonchalant as he approached Walker's desk.

"You're looking radiant today," he offered.

"Thanks, Trivette," Walker teased.

Trivette rolled his eyes.  "I meant Alex."

Alex laughed.  "Thanks, Jimmy.  I feel radiant."

Trivette almost bounced on his toes, but resisted the urge.  He noticed that Walker was still smiling -- hadn't stopped since Alex entered the room eight or nine minutes ago.  This must be a record for him, Trivette noted.

"How's the Gibson case going?"  Trivette questioned.

"Very good,"  Alex answered.   "I think we'll get to closing arguments today."

Walker raised an eyebrow.  "Then let's celebrate – C.D.'s tonight at six."

Alex grinned, her eyes dancing.  "Okay, six it is."

Walker glanced at Trivette.  "You're coming, aren't you?"

"Oh, um, sure.  Wouldn't miss a celebration."  He emphasized the last word and Walker frowned slightly, puzzled, but Trivette was smiling as he returned to his desk.

Alex got up to go. "Well, I'm due in court.  How's the tournament looking?  Everything on schedule?"

Walker nodded. "The kids are really getting excited." 

Alex took another sip of Walker's coffee as he held the mug, then pecked him on the cheek.

Trivette didn't miss it.  He was thoroughly surprised when she hurried to his desk, gave him a kiss on the cheek also, then strolled out of the room, turning to wave at Walker one more time.  Walker winked in reply.

Trivette almost couldn't stand it.  Knowing a secret but not able to share it --- even with the parties involved --- was killing him.  He'd never been good at keeping secrets anyway, but he knew this was one he'd have to honor.  Hopefully Walker would tell him soon and the torture would be over.

Walker finished his coffee and stood up.  "Come on, Trivette, let's go check out some military suppliers."

"You think these bank robbers bought their stuff locally?"

Walker shrugged. "You never know.  We may get lucky."

***************

A four vehicle accident clogged the highway.  Walker could see rescue and fire units ahead and personnel scurrying between the vehicles involved.  He steered the RAM onto the shoulder and drove past the traffic jam, stopping at the accident scene.

Two victims were being loaded into a rescue squad, three more with minor injuries were sitting on the roadside being attended to by paramedics, one of them Maisie.

Trivette headed over to the fire unit to see if he could be of any help.  Walker approached Maisie, who was applying a temporary splint to a woman's arm.  Beside her was another medic, a woman Walker hadn't seen before.  She was tall, dark-haired and attractive, maybe fortyish, he guessed.  The male patient she was talking to suddenly stood up angrily.

"I'm hurt and I demand to be taken to the hospital right now."

"Sir," the dark-haired medic explained patiently, "you'll be transported as soon as a squad is available.  The most seriously injured have to be taken first."

"You're taking the black people first," the man snapped.

Maisie spun around to the man, her hands on her hips.  "That's not true, jack.  Don't matter if you're white, black, pink or green plaid, the ones hurt the most go first.  Why don't you sit down."

"I don't take orders from nig......"

A firm hand on his shoulder stopped him in mid-sentence.  Walker pushed the man down.  "The lady said sit."

The man glared at Walker but sat down.  Walker followed Maisie and the other medic to a waiting squad.

"Thanks, Walk-Man.  I thought I was gonna have to add to his injuries."

Walker smiled, knowing the rotund black woman could probably do some damage if she wanted to. "Do you need any help here?"

"I think DPD's working on traffic, and Kris and I have the injuries under control."  She motioned to the other medic. "Oh, Walk-Man, this is my new partner, Kris."

Walker nodded and shook Kris' hand.

"I'm pleased to meet you,"  Kris said, smiling.  "I've heard a lot about you from Maisie."

"Oh?" was all Walker replied.  Maisie had seen him through some rough injuries.  He was grateful for her medical expertise and considered her a good friend.

"Don't worry, Redbeard,"  Maisie teased, "I didn't tell her where your birthmark is."

Walker felt the color rising to his cheeks and was relieved when Trivette arrived at that moment.  Kris stuck out her hand.

"Hi, Ranger.  I'm Kris."

"Nice to meet you," Trivette answered.  "Call me Jimmy.  Where's Paul?"  he asked, referring to Maisie's long time partner.

"He went back to school, Jimbo,"  Maisie said.  "He's going for his MD."

"Good for him," Trivette said.  "I never knew he wanted to be a doctor.  Of course, I never knew anything about him.  He could never get a word in."

Maisie frowned at him, poking a finger in his chest.  "Watch it, Trivette."

Kris took Walker's arm. "I understand you're a martial arts instructor.  I'm very interested in learning.  Could I join your class?"

"I only teach youth classes right now," Walker said, "but I can give you a few names of karate schools in the area."

Kris looked disappointed.  "How about private lessons?"

"I don't do private lessons -- I just don't have the time.  Try Mr. Chan's school.  He's very good."

"Okay, thanks,"  Kris replied.

Walker put a hand on Maisie's shoulder.  "You want us to stick around?"  He nodded toward the irate patient.

"Nah, I can handle jerks like him.  But thanks anyway, sugar."

Maisie patted Walker's beard as she always did.  "Nice to see you upright for a change."

Walker rolled his eyes at her, then smiled as he and Trivette headed back to the truck.

Kris handed Maisie a medical bag.  "That is one fine hunk of man."

Maisie nodded. "They both are, but don't tell Jimbo I said that.  He might start to think I like him.  Then he'll be sending me flowers, serenading me outside my window....."

Kris laughed. "He seems like a gentleman too.  Walker, that is."

"He's as good as they come, honey."

"So, what does a girl have to do to get his attention?"

Maisie raised an eyebrow.  "You'd have to be named Alex."

"I didn't see a ring on his finger."

"There may be no ring on his finger, but there's a lock on his heart.  Forget it, girl, he's spoken for."

Kris sighed and shrugged.  "Well, can't blame me for trying."

********************

When the Company 6 rescue squad returned to the fire station, Maisie headed for the kitchen.  Snack time.  Kris went to her locker in the sleeping quarters, getting out a large envelope.  She then hurried to the bathroom, locking the door behind her.  Opening the envelope, she pulled out three photographs and laid them on the counter.  The first was a Dallas police officer, the second a Tarrant County deputy, and the third was a red bearded Texas Ranger.

Kris put the first two photographs back in the envelope.  She'd made her choice.  She'd met all three of the officers now and there was no comparison.  Cordell Walker was the one.  He was everything she wanted --- handsome, rugged, intelligent, always in the middle of the action, and a nice guy to top it all off.  He hadn't answered her e-mails though, and the others had, but she could overlook that.  Now that she'd met him, there could be no other.

She looked in the bathroom mirror and smiled.  She was a good medic and Maisie had laughingly said they could count on Walker needing a patch up job with every full moon.  Maybe she'd get a chance soon to prove to Walker how good she was --- and if not, she'd have to manufacture the opportunities.  That was easy enough, she'd done it before in other places.  She picked up the photo of Walker and pressed it close to her heart.

*****************************

Walker and Trivette tracked down Cobalt, a snitch who still dabbled on the wrong side of the law but who usually cooperated when a deal could be cut.  He had no useful information for them regarding the military type bank robbers who had hit three Dallas banks in two weeks.  Several other leads also proved to be dead ends.  By 5 p.m., Walker and Trivette were heading back to Ranger HQ, at a loss over where to go next with the case.

"Maybe my computer will have a name for us when we get back,"  Trivette said.

"I hope, or else we'll have to wait until they hit again.  I think it'll be soon."

"How do you know?"

"Just a feeling."

Trivette took note.  Walker's feelings had a way of materializing.

"They'll make a mistake and we'll nab 'em,"  Trivette said with confidence.

Walker nodded, hoping the same.  Trivette glanced at Walker.  The suspense was killing him.  Why wasn't Walker talking about "the news?"  It was so exciting.  If anyone should be a father, it was Walker, Trivette thought with a smile.  He had such a way with kids.  Was he just waiting for the right time?  That was it --- Walker had made a point of inviting him to C.D.'s tonight, when he and Alex would be there together.  They wanted to tell him together.  Trivette felt a giggle rise up and managed to suppress most of it.  Walker viewed him strangely.

"What is with you today, Trivette?"

"What do you mean?"  he replied innocently.

"You've been bouncing off the walls all day.  You look like you're going to bust."

"Hey," Trivette said, not able to wipe the smile off his face.  "I'm just a happy guy."

Walker peered at Trivette and shook his head.

"What about you?"  Trivette countered. "You've had that shit-eating-grin on your face all day."

"Have not."

"Have to."

Walker let a beat pass. "So what?  Is there a law against shit-eating-grins?"

"No.  I'm just wondering what it's all about."

There was no answer from Walker, just that enigmatic smile.

"Who would eat it anyway?"  Trivette added as an afterthought.

Walker met Trivette's eyes and they burst out laughing.  Trivette smiled inwardly too.  He had Walker laughing, it shouldn't be too hard to get him talking now.  He only had to turn the subject to Alex.  Now, how to be sneaky, not obvious?  Mention how bright she looked this morning........  Trivette opened his mouth to speak just as the police radio crackled.

"Any available unit, silent alarm at Dallas Union Bank."

Trivette and Walker glanced at each other.  In the next instant Walker slammed the gas pedal to the floor and Trivette responded to the radio.

"This is Ranger Trivette.  Walker and I are about three minutes away."

Walker parked the truck a half block away, then he and Trivette ran toward the bank, guns drawn.  Four armed, masked men were rushing out of the bank.  A Dallas PD unit was already there, an officer confronting the robbers.

"Freeze!"

The robbers fired at the officer, who ducked for cover.

"Hold it!" Trivette yelled.

The robbers ran back into the bank, firing at Walker and Trivette and they closed in, stopping behind a parked car, guns aimed at the bank's door.

"Come on out!"  Walker called inside.

They could hear loud voices, then screaming.  Two of the robbers appeared at the door, each holding a hostage.  The first robber, his arm around the neck of a pregnant woman, shuffled outside, his gun to the woman's head.  The second robber had a man in the same hold.

"Let them go,"  Walker said, moving closer, still using cars as cover.

"You come near us and they die,"  the first robber growled.

The pregnant woman began to sob.  Additional police and rescue units pulled up, making the robbers more nervous and desperate, Walker knew.  The robbers pushed their hostages forward, heading toward a car that was presumably their getaway vehicle.  Walker and Trivette followed.

The pregnant woman suddenly stumbled and fell.

"Get up!"  the robber shouted angrily.

She screamed hysterically, curling up on her side and covering her face with her hands.  The robber grabbed her by the hair, yanking her part way up.  The woman cried pitifully, then went limp in the robber's grasp.  He couldn't pick her up without lowering his weapon.  In fury, he pointed his gun at the woman.  Walker knew he was going to kill her -- he was close enough to see the man's eyes -- and the expression he read there gave him cold chills.

Walker jumped out from behind the car and raced straight for the robbers.

"Walker, no!"  Trivette yelled, then prepared to provide cover for his partner.

The robbers, stunned at the sight of a Texas Ranger breaking cover and running right towards them, turned their weapons to Walker, but Walker fired first as he ran, hitting the first robber, then the second.  A hail of bullets struck around him from inside the bank as he leapt on the pregnant woman, covering her with his body.  Trivette and the other officers returned fire, giving Walker the chance to scoop up the woman and dash back to Trivette.  He passed the woman to Trivette's waiting arms, then turned to run back.

"No, Walker!  Wait!"  Trivette yelled futilely.

The second hostage was on the ground, protected from the guns inside by the concrete base of a light pole.  Walker hustled to him, miraculously untouched by the gunfire from inside the bank.  As he neared the cowering man, an explosion from inside the bank knocked him down.  The bank's front window was obliterated, shattered glass becoming deadly projectiles.

Walker, trying to shake off the stun of the blast, rolled onto his side and saw that the hostage was all right, shielded by the concrete.  More gunfire blasts could be heard -- automatic weapons -- and suddenly Trivette was grabbing Walker's arm and dragging him to safety.  Another officer rescued the hostage.  A SWAT team had arrived and was entering the building.  In a few moments they had the remaining robbers in custody and rescue personnel moved in to aid the injured customers in the bank.

Walker and Trivette sat on a curb, Trivette out of breath and Walker's head still reeling from the blast.  The extent of his actions had not yet sunk in; it still seemed surrealistic to him.  A hand on his shoulder helped shake the fog from his mind.

"You catch any of that glass, Walk-Man?"  Maisie asked, moving around to look at him up and down.  "I should have known.  Feel like you can walk?"

Walker frowned, then looked down at his shirt.  Blood spots peppered the light blue denim.

Trivette, also noticing the injuries, stared harshly at Walker and snapped,  "What the hell did you think you were doing?  Running out into the gunfire like that.....without saying anything to me....you just took off.  I know it was a pregnant woman, but you didn't think at all, did you?  You never do.  You could have gotten yourself killed!  Man, that was so stupid!  Where is your brain?"

"Trivette!"  Maisie said sternly, jolting Trivette out of his tirade, then she toned down her voice.  "Lighten up.  Walk-Man's still in a bit of shock here."  Her eyes frowned quizzically at him.

Trivette realized he'd gone overboard, but thinking of what could have happened still shook his being.  Walker was going to be a father, he'd have to learn not to take so many chances.

Walker looked at Trivette, stung and confused by his words.  His ears were still ringing from the explosion, he felt no pain from the shrapnel wounds.  His mind was still too muddled to reply to Trivette. 

Maisie gently took one of Walker's arms, then glared at Trivette.  "Are you gonna help me get him to the squad, Jimbo, or do you want to browbeat him a little more?"

Chastised, Trivette took Walker's other arm and they led him to Maisie's waiting squad.  Walker was recovering his wits quickly.  He shook his arm out of Trivette's hold and sat down on the step of the rescue vehicle, then peered curiously at his partner.

Trivette needed to cool down.  He looked away from Walker uncomfortably.  "I'm going to find out what happened.  I'll be back in a minute."  He turned and left.

Kris could hardly contain her excitement.  She didn't think it would happen so soon --- the same day they'd met.  And now he was hurt, he needed her help.  She brought a medical kit out of the squad and started to unbutton Walker's shirt, her hands quivering with the thrill of the moment.

"I can get that,"  Walker told her and worked on the buttons himself.

Maisie appeared from the back of the squad with her own gear.  "Hang on, Kris.  Nobody tends to Walk-Man except me.  It's an unspoken rule around here."  She waited to see Walker's response and finally got a slight smile. "That's better."  She patted his beard, relieved that he was coming out of the shock.  But was his numb state due to the explosion or to Trivette's rantings, she wondered?

Walker opened his shirt, now feeling the dozen or so cuts sprinkled across his right side.  Most appeared to be minor nicks.

Maisie, taking a look at the wounds, nodded in Trivette's direction.  "What was that all about?"

Walker shook his head. "I don't know."

"Sounded like PMS to me.  I reckon he'll get over it."

Walker touched a hand to an ache on his forehead, bringing back bloody fingertips.  Kris opened a gauze dressing and pressed it to the cut.

"Thanks,"  Walker said, absently taking it from her and holding it in place himself.  His gaze shifted again to Trivette.

Kris stepped back, feeling useless and a bit rejected.  This Ranger didn't want her touching him but didn't seem to mind Maisie fussing over him and wiping at the pattern of cuts on his chest.  She'd have to try harder, dissuade Maisie from taking over.

Walker was puzzled.  What was with Trivette?  He watched as his partner spoke with the SWAT team commander, pointing out where they'd taken cover, pantomiming the gunfire.

Walker took in a painful breath as Maisie touched one of the larger cuts.

"Sorry, sugar.  There's a chunk of glass in this one."

"Can you get it?"  Walker asked, inspecting the piece of glass embedded in his side.

Maisie knew what this was leading up to.  "You're not going to the hospital, are you?"

Walker shook his head. "I have somewhere to be at six.  It's important."

"I bet the name Alex comes in to play here somewhere.  I'm being dumped again."

Walker smiled but rolled his eyes at her.  "Just do it, please, Maisie."

"Okay, but promise me you'll go get checked out later.  Some of these pings need stitches."

Walker nodded halfway, paying more attention to Trivette than to what Maisie was saying.  His partner was pacing, obviously bothered by something.

"Krissy,"  Maisie said,  "hand me the forceps and the number one scalpel."

"Scalpel?"  Kris replied.  She made no move.

With a questioning glance at Kris, Maisie rummaged in the medical kit and found the items she needed.  "This is gonna hurt, handsome."

"You shouldn't be doing this,"  Kris said as Maisie nabbed the piece of glass with the forceps, then sliced a tiny section of skin to widen the cut.  Walker clenched his teeth as she eased the chunk of glass out.  Now unobstructed, the wound bled freely.  Maisie held a wad of gauze pads over it.

"Once the bleeding slows down I'll fix you up with some surgi-strips.  You okay, Walk-Man?"

Walker nodded, letting out the breath he'd been holding.

"Krissy, slap a couple of strips on that head cut."

Kris put her hands on her hips.  "This isn't right.  I'm going to report this."

Walker and Maisie looked at her.

"Report what?"  Walker asked.

"You refused to go to the hospital, there's nothing we can do about that.  But she just performed minor surgery on you and that's out of her realm.  Only a doctor can do that."

"I asked her to,"  Walker said, becoming irritated.

"It doesn't matter.  She shouldn't have done it."

"Look,"  Walker said, standing up, "I asked her to do it, she did it, it's over.  I don't think a report is necessary."   He never raised his voice but his tone was commanding nonetheless.

Kris huffed, then walked away.  Walker resumed his seat on the squad step.

"Maisie, I'm sorry if I got you into trouble."

"Don't you worry, handsome.  I'll tell her where she can file her report."

"Maisie!"  he chuckled.

"I don't know what her problem is.  Maybe she and Jimbo should get together -- two crabs in a stormy sea."

Walker chuckled again, but he glanced toward Trivette, wondering what the heck was going on.

Maisie finished up a few moments later.  Walker looked at his chest and stomach area -- bandaids covered five or six minor scratches, surgi-strips held together a few deeper cuts.  Maisie taped a thick dressing over the cut where she'd removed the glass.

"Remember, you promised to get this looked at later tonight."

"Yeah, yeah."

"I mean it, Redbeard.  I'll hunt you down."

He stood up. "It's not hunting season.  I'd have to arrest you."

"Oh!  Does that mean handcuffs?"  She winked at him.

Walker shook his head, smiling.  "You're bad, Maisie."

"I know, but you love me anyway."

"That I do," he smiled, putting his arm around her for a hug.  He gestured to his injuries.  "Thanks."

She nodded as he headed toward Trivette.  He noticed Kris standing by herself near the rescue squad.  She didn't look his way.  Walker hoped he hadn't gotten Maisie in trouble with his usual insistence that he be treated in the field if possible.  He hated hospitals.  He'd check with Emergency Services tomorrow and make certain she was in the clear.  But for now he was worried about his partner.  Trivette was talking with Bob Denny, the SWAT team commander.

"Walker,"  Denny said at his approach. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

Denny stuck out his hand.  "That was awesome, buddy.  Someone was looking out for that pregnant woman when you answered this call."

Trivette, who had avoided Walker's eyes, suddenly frowned in thought.   What a weird twist of fate.  He hadn't looked at it from that angle.

Walker shook Denny's hand, a bit embarrassed.  "What caused the explosion?"

"A grenade.  They were trying to create a diversion so they could get away out the back door.  they ran right into our arms."

"What about the people in the bank?"  Walker asked.

"Some glass cuts, like yours, but all minor.  They were damned lucky."

"Weren't we all,"  Trivette muttered.

Walker cut him a glance, then looked at his watch.  "I'll send a report over later, Bob.  I need to be somewhere."

"Okay, Walker.  Hey, again, what you did was pretty incredible.  There's no doubt you saved that woman's life.  You deserve a medal for this one."

Walker, embarrassed,  brushed him off with a wave of his hand.  Irritated with Trivette but trying to understand his reaction, Walker decided to let the subject drop unless Trivette brought it up again.

"Ready to go?"  he asked Trivette.

"Yeah."

The ride in the truck to C.D.'s was awkwardly quiet.  Trivette kept his gaze out the side window.  He'd come down hard on Walker, probably too hard and at an inappropriate time.  Words would never stop that part of Walker's being that selflessly put others before himself.  Would having a child make a difference?  Trivette was beginning to doubt it would.  You can't change a leopard's spots, you can't hold back the ocean tides......

Walker glanced at his watch -- it was 5:50.  Alex was meeting him at six.  He'd be cutting it close.  He suddenly realized his shirt was a mess.  The last thing he wanted Alex to know was that he'd been in some trouble today.  No need for her to worry over something that was over with and done.  No need to spoil tonight's celebration.  He looked over his shoulder into the backseat, then reached a hand behind his seat to feel for clothing.  The moment's distraction caused the truck to veer onto the shoulder.  He jerked the truck back onto the road.

"Geez!"  Trivette uttered, grabbing a hold on the door's arm rest.  "What are you looking for?  I'll get it, you keep your eyes on the road."

Walker, both hands back on the wheel, glanced at Trivette.  At least he was talking to him now.  "Sorry.  Do you see a clean shirt back there?"

Trivette scanned the backseat.  "No, there's only a jacket."

"Toss that up here, will you.  Maybe I've got a shirt at C.D.'s."

Trivette knew Walker wanted to hide his injuries from Alex.  He pulled the jacket into the front seat, then thought again about what Bob Denny had said.  The pregnant woman would be dead now if Walker hadn't been there today.  She and her unborn child--- two lives --- would be lying on a slab, the family grieving, their lives shattered and hearts broken.  Fate had put Walker in the right place at the right time --- the trade-off, a few minor glass cuts.  Maybe fate knew what it was doing.  Maybe I should relax, Trivette thought.

"Walker, um, I.......I'm sorry about earlier.  I don't know what happened.  You scared me, I guess."

Walker peered at his partner, deciding to let it go.  "It's okay.  Forget it."

Trivette nodded, grateful to be off the hook so easily.  "By the way, the next time you get one of those feelings of yours, let's take the afternoon off."

Walker chuckled and nodded.

They arrived at C.D.'s at six on the nose.  Walker briefly scanned the parking lot, didn't see Alex's car.  He and Trivette hurried inside where C.D.'s eyes widened when he viewed Walker.  The grey-blue shirt had a dozen spots of blood on it, from nickel size to one several inches in diameter.

"What in the hell happened to you?"

"C.D., is Alex here yet?"  Walker asked quickly.

"No, not yet."

"Do I have a clean shirt in your closet?"

"Yeah, I think so.  Hold on, I'll go get it."

Walker stepped into the doorway of the kitchen and started to unbutton his shirt.  Trivette, watching the front door, suddenly waved his arm.

"Here she comes!"

Knowing there was no time to change shirts, Walker quickly put his jacket on over the shirt, then stepped out of the kitchen just as Alex approached.

"Hi," she smiled, reaching for a hug.

"How was court?"  he asked, his arm going around her.

"Great.  We got the conviction."

He smiled at her. "Was there ever any doubt with you prosecuting?"

She smiled at his compliment, then put both arms around his waist and squeezed.  Walker tried not to grimace, but Trivette cringed.

C.D. came out of the back, holding a shirt.  "Here you go, Cor........"

Trivette snatched the shirt from him.  "Thanks, Big Dog.  I spilled mustard on me  today."

C.D. now understood what was happening.  "Okay, Jimmy.  You can change in the back."

Alex gazed at Trivette's shirt with a frown.  "I don't see any mustard, Jimmy."

Trivette wiped at the imaginary stain with his hand.  "Oh, it's there."  He disappeared into the back room with the extra shirt.

Alex looked up at Walker.  "Hey, what's this?"  She lightly touched the cut on his forehead.

Walker had forgotten about that one.  "Oh, um, I ran into the truck.  Left the door open.  It was really stupid."  He took her arm before she could ask more questions.  "Let's go sit down."

They settled into a booth.

"Take your coat off and stay awhile,"  Alex smiled.

"I'm a little chilly.  I think I'll keep it on for awhile."

"You're not catching cold, are you?"  she asked with concern.

"No, I'm fine."

Guilt assaulted Walker's conscience.  In a span of two minutes he had told Alex three lies.  She looked at him closely, frowning.

"You look really tired."

"Yeah, long day.  I want to hear about the trial."

"Okay, how about some coffee first?"

"How about a beer tonight?"

"Okay," she smiled.  "You stay here and relax.  I'll get them."

Trivette had changed shirts and was standing at the bar with C.D. when Alex approached.

"C.D., we'll have a couple of Killians Red."

"Okay, honey,"  C.D. replied, going to the refrigerator.

Trivette frowned. "Alex, should you be drinking beer?"

She looked at him oddly, then laughed.  "Jimmy, I'm over twenty one."  Her gaze fell to the shirt. It was an old fashioned Ranger shirt that only one person she knew of wore.  "Isn't that Walker's shirt?"

"Yes," he said at the same time as C.D. said "No."

She paused to give them a look of total confusion, but before they could think up excuses, a news flash popped up on the TV over the bar.

            A bank robbery today turned fatal for two of

            four would-be robbers at the Dallas Union Bank.

            Just one hour ago, the gunmen took hostages and

            tried to escape police.  In a daring, heroic rescue,

            the life of a woman hostage was saved by Texas Ranger

            Cordell Walker.  The unidentified woman was

            reported to be in stable condition.  Ranger

            Walker, who was injured at the scene, was

            unavailable for comment and is being treated

            at a local hospital.

Film footage showed the bank, cordoned off by police.  There was a fleeting shot of Walker, flanked by Trivette and Maisie.  The bloodied shirt was plainly visible.  Alex's face grew stormy as she looked at Trivette and C.D., realizing the cover job they had been pulling.

"Uh oh,"  Trivette mumbled.

Alex glared at him, picked up the bottles of beer and returned to the booth. 

"Here you go,"  Alex said, sliding into the seat beside him and handing him a bottle of Killians.

"Thanks."

They each savored the first frosty sips, then Alex stared into his eyes.  Walker knew she knew.  Oh shit.

"What?"  he asked innocently anyway.

"Did you think I wouldn't hear about it?"

He considered playing dumb, then saw Trivette waving from the bar and pointing up to the TV.

He sighed. "I'm sorry, I just didn't want to worry you."

"I thought we were past that."

He nodded as she took his hand.  "I'm always going to worry about you.  You can't change that."

"It's just that I didn't want to ruin the evening.  We've got a couple of things to celebrate --- the Gibson case, the Kick Drugs tournament ---- and Cookie."

She grinned at that, then touched his jacket.  "Let me see."  She pulled the jacket open and saw the pockmarked shirt.  "You were supposed to go to the ER, weren't you?"

"Yeah, I need a few stitches."

"You talked Maisie out of it again.  Come on, I'll drive you."

"No, later.  Let's just sit back for awhile."  He stretched his arm out, inviting her to cuddle against him.  She happily complied.

C.D. and Trivette, watching from the bar, looked at each other.

"It went better than I expected,"  C.D. said.

"Yeah, well, they have other things on their minds."

"Like what?"

Jimmy wrinkled his face in frustration.  "I can't tell you."

"What do you mean, you can't tell me?"

"I just can't.  It's something I found out by accident."

"What?"

"I can't tell you."

"You can't leave me hanging like this, Jimmy.  If it concerns Cordell and Alex, I oughta know."

Trivette considered this.  If he told C.D., gained an ally, they could both work on Walker to keep him out of harm's way.

"C.D., if I tell you, you've got to swear it won't go any further."

"Jimmy, I'm hurt that you'd think I'd blab a secret."

"Okay, okay.  I'm sorry.  But this is something we're not supposed to know yet.  There's a reason I'm gonna tell you.  But it has to stay between us."

"What the hell is it!"  C.D. yelled.

Nearby patrons glanced at them questioningly.  Trivette grabbed C.D.'s arm and took him behind the bar, leaning close to the older man's ear.

"Alex and Walker are having a baby,"  he whispered.

C.D. had been holding a tray of empty beer bottles.  It fell from his grip, crashing to the floor.  His mouth flew open.

Alex and Walker looked over at the commotion, then returned to their cozy state.  When C.D. recovered from the shock, he grabbed Trivette's arm.

"How do you know?"

"Never mind.  I told you it was an accident."

"Sounds like that's not the only one."

Trivette shook his head.  "You'd never know it, they're dealing with it fine -- happy as clams."

They both turned to look at Walker and Alex, snuggled up together, talking softly, smiles on their faces.

"You've got to help me keep Walker out of trouble.  He's got to stop taking so many chances."

"Like today."

"Exactly."

"It won't be easy. He's as muleheaded as they come.  But you're right, the man has to settle down now."  C.D. grinned suddenly.  "A baby --- I can't believe it!  I feel like I'm gonna be a grandfather."

Jimmy giggled. "I know.  I've been jumping inside all day.  I just hope they tell us soon.  I figured it would be tonight."

"Let's head over and sit with 'em for a spell."

They strolled over to the booth, catching a few words from Alex before Walker shushed her.

"........to pick out a name,"  she was saying with a grin.

"Mind if we join you?"  C.D. asked.   He and Trivette sat down before Walker or Alex could answer.

"You look lovely tonight, Alex,"  C.D. said.

"Why, thank you,"  she replied, a little puzzled by the huge grins facing her.

"So, what's new?"  Trivette asked.  He barely contained a giggle of delight.

Walker and Alex passed perplexed glances.  Trivette and C.D. were acting awfully strange.

"Actually we do have something to tell you,"  Walker began.

Trivette and C.D. grabbed each other's arms under the table.  "What?" they asked in unison.

"Not only did Alex get the Gibson conviction today, but she got a commendation from the Governor for her efforts."

The smiles waned.

"Oh, that's great, Alex,"  Trivette uttered.

"Yeah,"  C.D. added with forced enthusiasm.

Again Alex and Walker looked at each other in quandary.

"Anything else you want to tell us?"  Trivette asked.

Alex decided sarcasm was the way to deal with the two of them.  "Yes, I'm going to get my nails done tomorrow."

"Pink or blue?"  C.D. questioned as Trivette kicked him under the table.

"All right,"  Walker said impatiently, "what's with you guys?"

"Nothing,"  Trivette said, shrugging. "Excuse us a minute."  He grabbed C.D.'s arm and pulled him back to the bar.

"They're not going to tell us tonight."

"Maybe they're just not ready, Jimmy.  We'd better stop pressing them."

"Yeah, okay.  But I don't know how much longer I can stand it."

In the booth, Walker and Alex shrugged off their friends' odd behavior and relaxed again as Walker put his arm around Alex once more.  He drained the last of his beer, finally feeling the tension of the day beginning to dissipate.

Alex put her arm around his waist, startled when he flinched.  She'd forgotten about the glass cuts.

"That's it.  We're going to get you taken care of."

Walker sighed but didn't object.  He was ready.

Alex stood up. "I'm going to go powder my nose, then I'll drive you."

"I can drive myself, Alex."

She leaned over and stared him straight in the eye. "Don't argue cause you know I always win."

He shook his head in futility as she walked away.  It was true, she almost always won.  He pondered that -- what was it about her that made him such a pushover?  A moment later, a voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Ranger Walker?"

Walker looked up to see Kris, the paramedic, standing beside the table.  Surprised, he didn't say anything.

"Hi, um, I was told I might find you here.  I just wanted to apologize for this afternoon.  I'm new and I have a tendency to do everything by the book."

"There's nothing wrong with going by the book,"  Walker answered.

"Maisie said you two have an understanding."

He smiled sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess you could call it that."

"I was thinking about the legal ramifications."

"You don't have to worry about that."

"So I see.  But, I just wanted to say I'm sorry."

He nodded his okay.  She shuffled her feet, as if waiting for him to invite her to sit down.  She motioned to his empty beer bottle.

 "Can I buy you another one?"

"Uh, no, thanks.  We're on our way out," he replied, standing as Alex returned, taking his outstretched hand. "Alex, this is Kris, Maisie's new partner."

Alex smiled and put out her hand.  "Hi Kris, nice to meet you."

Kris hesitantly shook Alex's hand, her face suddenly somber.

Alex continued. "Walker's got Maisie wrapped around his finger.  Or is it the other way around?"

Walker bumped her jokingly, a playful scowl on his face.

Kris forced a small smile.  "Well, I have to go.  Bye."  She was out of the door in seconds.

Walker and Alex said their goodbyes to C.D. and Trivette, then headed out.  Outside, Kris watched from her car as Alex and Walker drove off together.

Trivette sat at the bar, idly cracking peanut shells but not eating the nut.  It was near closing time, the staff was cleaning tables and floors.  C.D. wiped the bar down one last time, then looked at Trivette quizzically.

"Jimmy, they'll tell us in due time.   You got to be patient."

"I know, Big Dog, it's not that."

"Then what's on your mind?"

Trivette fingered a peanut, his thoughts whirling in his head.  "When you were partnered with Walker, did he do stuff like this a lot?"

"All the time, you know that."

"Did it ever make you..........did you ever feel........."  Trivette struggled for the right words.  "I'm wondering why he was the one who ran to help the pregnant woman and not me."  He looked down at the peanut basket and sighed.

C.D. put a hand on his shoulder.  "Jimmy, you've got nothing to feel bad about,"  he said softly.  "It took me a long time to realize that Cordell isn't normal.  He's missing something --- a piece of DNA somewhere --- the piece in charge of self preservation.  You can't measure yourself by what he does --- it's like comparing apples to oranges."

"Or heroes to cowards."

"You stop yourself right there. 

Trivette, still avoiding C.D.'s eyes, cracked another shell.

"Are you listening to me, Jimmy?  You are no less a Ranger, no less a man than he is.  Cordell would be the first one to tell you that.  You're just different.  You're so very special in your own right."

Trivette finally looked up and C.D. smiled warmly.  "Believe what I'm saying, Jimmy."

Trivette smiled appreciatively at the sentiment, then chuckled.  "Missing a piece of  DNA?"

"Yeah, explains a lot, doesn't it?"

They both laughed and Trivette stood up.

"Like lack of computer savvy, stubbornness, orneriness....."

"Don't stop there,"  C.D. laughed.  "I bet we can list two dozen things."

C.D. reached for Jimmy's arm as he headed for the door.  "You okay, Jimmy?  Did you understand what I was telling you?"

Trivette nodded. "Yeah, thanks, Big Dog."

"Goodnight, Jimmy."

********

Trivette shook his head when he checked his e-mail the next morning.  Three for Walker, none for him.  Sitting down, he thought again about the events of the previous day.  The pregnant woman would be dead had Walker not intervened.  Trivette felt the sense of inadequacy creeping up again.  But there had been many officers on the scene and none of them had done what Walker had done.  Maybe it was as C.D. said --- Walker was the abnormal one.  I'm just more aware now because of the situation.  He's going to be a father.  I need to watch out for him.

Glancing back at the e-mail, Trivette frowned as he noticed one from an anonymous source.  He glanced at Walker's desk --- his partner was not in yet, in fact, was late.  Trivette clicked the letter open.

"Oh man....." he whispered, reading it.

You didn't answer me.  Now I've done bad things.

                        There is still time, but remember, I don't like rejection.

                        Don't force me to do more bad things.

Trivette got a chill.  The note was not specifically threatening, but what did he or she mean by "bad things?"  And was this person actually a threat to Walker?  He decided to answer the note, maybe appease the anger.

                        Dear Admirer -- I'm Walker's partner, James

                        Trivette.  This is my screen address.  Walker

                        doesn't answer e-mail as a rule.  Don't take it

                        personally.  You sound upset.  Can I help you

                        with something?

Trivette's finger hovered over the mouse, ready to send the message.  Was he doing the right thing?  Would Walker be pissed because he was interfering?  No, Walker would never know, and this was one way Trivette could help keep his partner safe.  He clicked the mouse and the mail was sent.

Walker hustled in.

"Hey, you're late,"  Trivette informed him.

"I know.  My tire was flat in the driveway this morning.  Damn thing was slit open.  I can't remember running over anything."  He sat at his desk, shrugging.

"Did you get stitched up?"

Walker nodded.

"I was kinda hoping you guys would come back by C.D.'s."

"It was late when we left the hospital.  Alex was tired."

"Yeah, she needs her rest."  Trivette cut an eye toward his partner to view any reaction.  There was none.

Jill, the secretary, walked into the office waving a piece of paper at them.  "Hey, you two, got a warrant fresh off the press.  One Gerald Balducci."

"Hot damn!"  Trivette grinned.

Walker smiled too, taking the warrant from Jill's hand.  They had finally gotten hard evidence against the burglary ring leader.  Anxious to arrest him, they rushed into the hallway, meeting Alex coming out of the elevator.  A splotch of dirt streaked her blouse.

"What happened to you?"  Walker asked.

"Oh, when I went out to the car this morning, I had a flat tire."

"That's strange.  I had one too,"  Walker told her.

"I tried to change it by myself."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"I called the auto club.  They took care of it."

Trivette frowned. "You shouldn't be doing things like that, Alex."

Alex chuckled. "Jimmy, I can change a tire.  Walker taught me, or should I say, made me learn how to do it.  But I couldn't get the lug nuts undone.  They were too tight."

"Still, it's not something you should be doing,"  Trivette re-emphasized.

Alex looked at him with a slight sneer.  "What is this?  Next you'll be saying women shouldn't have the vote."

Trivette fumbled for an explanation.  "Oh, um, no......I meant, um.........."

"Quit while you're ahead,"  Walker advised him.

Trivette took his advice.

Walker gave Alex's hand a squeeze as he and Trivette got into the elevator.  "Talk to you later.  We got the warrant for Balducci."

"Be careful,"  she called as the doors closed.

***********

Two muscular men were tossing a football in the front yard of Balducci's house as the RAM drove up.  Trivette knew they were body guards.

"Let's call for backup,"  he suggested.

Walker viewed his partner with mild surprise.  "There's only two of them, Trivette.  And by the time backup got here Balducci would be gone."  He got out of the truck without giving Trivette time to answer and purposefully strode toward Balducci's front door.  The two goons stepped in front of him and a scuffle ensued before Trivette even caught up to Walker.  In thirty seconds, the men were prone and moaning.

Trivette cuffed them. "Wait for me next time, huh?"  he said sharply.  "There may be more inside."

As if in answer, the front door burst open and three more men bolted out to take on the two Rangers.  Walker took one down immediately with a powerful punch while Trivette tussled with the second.  The third man faced off with Walker, eager to show the Ranger his prowess in karate.  Walker fended off the first kick easily, then popped the man in the chest with a roundhouse kick of his own.  The man recovered quickly and attacked again.

The first man to be knocked down came to his senses, drawing a knife from an ankle sheath.  He lunged for Trivette, whose back was to him.  Walker caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and leaped for the knife-wielder, his hand enclosing the man's wrist to wrench the knife away.  It had been only inches from being plunged into Trivette's back.  Trivette, giving a final punch to his adversary, turned at the last second and saw the man go down, his wrist broken.  Trivette felt cold chills ring his spine as he realized how close he'd come to being stabbed.  He caught Walker's eye for a split second but the third man, gaining a few seconds as Walker was occupied with the knifeman, summoned his chi and launched a hard kick into Walker's ribs.  Walker fell down with a groan.  Trivette drew his gun and pointed it at the assailant as Walker hauled himself up.

"On the ground!"  Trivette ordered the man, then he glanced at Walker.  "Are you okay?"

Walker nodded, but held a hand to his side.   Trivette noticed blood --- the stitches had been torn.  Walker dropped his hand, hurrying into the house, leaving Trivette with the men.

"Wait!"  Trivette yelled, but Walker returned in seconds, pushing Balducci in front of him.

In a few moments they had the six men in the back of the truck, their hands looped around the rail and secured with flex cuffs.

Climbing inside the RAM, Trivette eyed Walker with exasperation.  "Why didn't you wait for me before you went running in the house?  Balducci could have been waiting with a shotgun."

"He wasn't,"  Walker said flatly, not wanting to have this conversation again.

"Walker......"

"Don't start, Trivette."  It was a quiet, menacing command.

Trivette blew out a frustrated breath.  Continuing now would only tick Walker off more, then he'd never listen to reason.  Some guardian angel I am, Trivette lamented to himself.  It was Walker who had done the protecting today.  Trivette sighed again, then turned to Walker.

"You saved my bacon back there.  Thanks."

Walker nodded. "You've saved mine before."

"Not recently."

Walker studied his partner's face.  "Trivette, what is going on with you?"

Trivette shook his head.  "Nothing.  Never mind."

Walker started to press, then changed his mind.  He himself wouldn't talk about a problem until he was ready --- he'd give Trivette the same courtesy.  He dropped a hand to his side, touching the tender cut that was oozing blood through his shirt.

Trivette noticed. "I'll get these guys booked if you want to go get stitched up again.  You won't even have to get out of the truck."  He left unspoken that Alex would never know.

Walker nodded his appreciation.

*********

Once Trivette herded Balducci and his men into the lockup, Walker drove to Fire Company 6 which was located around the corner from Ranger HQ.  He hope it was Maisie's shift --- the hospital was not on his list of places to go.  If he had to, he'd stick a bunch of bandaids over the cut.

He put on his jacket, not wanting to draw attention to the spot of blood, and walked into the station.  In the bay, several people were doing routine maintenance on the fire trucks. Walker waved a hand to them as he stepped into the living quarters.  A fire fighter was on the couch, reading the paper.  He looked up, surprised.

"Hey, Walker. What's up?"

"Hi Tom.  I'm looking for Maisie.  Is she here?"

"Yeah, she's in back --- she has kitchen duty.  I never miss a shift when it's her turn to cook.  Damn, she makes some fine food."

"That's what I hear.  She's going to cook at the Kick Drugs tournament Saturday."

"Ah, you're in for a treat. I don't know what she's fixing today, but I can't wait."

Walker headed toward the kitchen.  "Maybe she'll let me sample it."

"Just leave some for the rest of us,"  Tom called as Walker disappeared into the back.

Walker caught the delightful aroma wafting from the kitchen and followed it.  Kris was peeling potatoes at the sink but Maisie was not in the room.

"Ranger Walker,"  Kris said, surprised.

"Hi Kris.  Where's Maisie?"

"Oh, she stepped out for a few moments.  Can I help you with something?"

Walker hesitated, then, "Um, no, that's okay."

Kris put down the potato and wiped her hands on a dish towel.  "You sure?  Is there a medical problem?  Something from yesterday?"

"Uh, yeah, but I can take care of it.  Thanks."

He turned to leave but Kris took his arm.  "I'm a good medic."

"I'm sure you are."  He moved his arm to his side, asking her to let go in body language, but she hung on.  As he subconsciously backed away a step, she finally released her hold.  With a hint of discomfort, Walker cleared his throat and headed for the door. "Tell Maisie I'll see her later."

"Tell me yourself,"  came a rich, booming voice as Maisie hustled into the kitchen, carrying a grocery bag. 

Walker took it from her and set it on the counter.

"Thank you, Walk-Man.  I had to grab a couple of things from the market for my dinner."  She peered at the Ranger.  "What's up?"

Walker nodded his head toward the door and she followed him out of the kitchen, toward the truck bay.  Kris pouted as they left.  He definitely preferred Maisie to her.  Why?  Just because they'd known each other for a long time?  He didn't even give me a chance.  I need to go to the next level.

"You popped your stitches, didn't you?"  Maisie admonished as they reached the rescue squad.

Walker nodded sheepishly, suddenly feeling like a naughty boy being sent to time out.  She pulled her medical kit out of the back of the squad and motioned for him to sit.

"What the devil am I going to do with you, Redbeard?"

Ten minutes later, patched up again and nibbling on a plateful of Maisie's Jamaican jerk chicken, a grateful Walker headed back to Ranger HQ.

**********

Walker put his karate students through their last drill, then dismissed the class.  He'd let his assistant, Lee, run most of the session, not wanting to compromise the surgi-strips Maisie had applied to the injury.

Once changed into street clothes, he walked out of the gym with a group of the students who were chattering away about their newest skills and pumping him for information on the tournament coming up.  Walker couldn't help but smile.  He considered their enthusiasm his biggest reward.

Parts of the school were being renovated.  Construction supplies and tools were piled around.  A stack of bricks rested on the edge of the roof, fifteen feet above the ground.  As they passed under it, Walker felt small chunks of masonry hit his head and shoulders.  Glancing up, he sucked in an alarmed breath as the stack of bricks wavered, then spilled over the side.

"Look out!"  he shouted, diving to push as many of the students as possible out from under the path of the bricks.

The bricks hit all around, some shattering on impact.  Walker felt one thump against his shoulder.  There were cries of pain and lots of confusion.  Rubbing his shoulder, Walker sat up and quickly assessed his students.  One, Shannon, was bleeding from a cut on top of her head, another was holding a wrist he'd fallen on.  Several had minor cuts and scrapes, none appearing serious.  Looking upward, Walker chilled as he saw a dark shape peek over the edge of the roof, then disappear.

Lee rushed out of the gym.  "What happened?"

"Call for help, then stay with the kids," Walker said.  He jumped up and ran to the back of the gym, finding stairs to the roof.  Climbing up, he saw no one at the edge overlooking the students.  He looked out over the parking lot and an adjacent field from his vantage point.  No one.  Going to the roof's edge, a sheet of white paper caught his eye, weighted by a single brick.  Using his shirttail, he picked up the note by a corner and read it under a dim security light.

            I told you not to reject me, Walker.  Tell your

                        partner to stay out of it or he'll be next.

Boiling mad, Walker returned to the students just as a police unit arrived. Lee was rushing out of the gym with towels.  He tossed one to Walker, who put it against the cut on Shannon's head.

"Did someone do this on purpose?"  Shannon asked.

Walker ground his teeth.  "Looks like it."

"Why?"  she asked as a tear streamed down her face.

Walker put an arm around her, guilt beginning to gnaw at him.  "I'm going to find out."

A civilian car pulled up and Kris jumped out.  She hurried to Walker.  "I was nearby, I heard the call on my car scanner.  Let me help."

"Thanks,"  he said, letting her take over Shannon's care.

Walker checked on Juan -- probable broken wrist.  The teen was upset.

"I'm supposed to compete Saturday, Ranger Walker."

Walker put a consoling arm around him.  "There'll be other tournaments, Juan."

Kris watched Walker go from student to student, his concern so touching, so real.  This had been a good set-up.  She'd win him over now.

The company 6 squad roared in.  As Maisie and other paramedics swarmed around the students, Walker backed away to give them room.  He rubbed his shoulder again.  The brick had caught him on the boney edge of the joint and he felt a lump rising already.  As Shannon was loaded into a squad, Kris approached Walker.

"Are you hurt?"  She nodded to his shoulder.

He shook his head, not much in the mood to talk. 

"Let me check,"  she persisted, but, preoccupied, he turned away, not hearing her.

He glanced around again at the dozen or so students, some with abrasions and cuts, some just plain frightened.  Someone was going to pay for this, he promised himself.  Noticing one of the younger students off by herself, Walker knelt beside the youngster.

"Keisha, are you okay?"

She nodded but reached out a hand to him.  "I saw somebody up there."

Walker took her hand, then gazed upward. "Could you see a face?"

"No, it was too dark."

Walker motioned for the DPD officer to come over.  "Keisha, tell this officer everything you saw."

Walker stood up, giving Keisha's hand a squeeze for reassurance.  She gave him a hesitant yet grateful smile.  "The bricks would have hit me if you hadn't pushed me out of the way."

"I'm just glad you're okay." 

As the officer led Keisha to his car, Walker blew out a breath of pent up anger, rubbing his sore shoulder again.  He kicked a brick, sending it flying into the street.  Maisie came up behind him and put a hand on his arm.  "The kids said someone did this on purpose."

Walker nodded, the fury burning in his eyes.  Maisie led him to a bench and sat down beside him.

"Meant for you?"

Again he nodded.

"Walk-Man, when it comes to Rangers, you're the best.  There's always going to be some scuzzy shitwad trying to prove he's better.  But notice how they always do it the coward's way?  Never face to face.  That's because they know they'd never measure up in a confrontation."

Walker listened to her words, absently massaging the throbbing shoulder.  She was right for the most part -- the few who had arranged confrontations had swayed things their way.  Bodine -- he'd used Evie as a hostage.  Hooks -- he'd used knock out darts and a cage.  Schrader -- he'd used the Dragonfly helicopter.

"Tonight's no different.  The punk tried to catch you from behind.  But it could have been a lot worse."  Her hands moved smoothly, surreptitiously as she spoke, pulling his tee shirt off his shoulder to get a look.  Walker, still deep in thought, hardly noticed.

"You could have chipped this bone.  Can I talk you in to an X-ray?"

Walker suddenly realized she was touching his shoulder, snapped out of his rumination and faced her. "Oh....... no, Maisie, it's just a bruise.  I'm fine."

She locked her eyes onto his, making certain she had his attention.  "If you let it get to you, he wins.  Fight it, Walk-Man.  Fight it for all you're worth."  She patted his beard, then pulled a chemical pack out of her medical kit. "We'll compromise with an icepack, okay?"

Walker held the ice pack that she laid on his shoulder, then smiled in awe at the paramedic. "Maisie, there's no such thing as compromise with you.  You always win and you're always dead on with your assessment."

She grinned broadly.  "It's a girl thing."

He nodded, chuckling. "Yeah, must be.  I never win with someone else either."

"And Alex and I plan to keep it that way,"  she laughed, standing up.

Kris, mouth agape, watched from the squad as Walker stood  and gave Maisie a hug.  What did she have to do to gain his acceptance?  What kind of spell did Maisie have over him?  And Alex -- what did a rugged cowboy see in some priss like her?  Kris got into the vehicle.   This was going to get rough, for Walker and for Alex, and she'd be there to pick up the pieces.

Trivette had settled into his apartment for the night, putting on a Jonathan Butler cd to help him mellow out.  It had been one frustrating and unnerving day.  He'd come close to being seriously injured or even killed.  Had it not been for Walker.......  He shook his head, knowing he was annoying Walker with his sudden over-protectiveness, but after today he wondered who was watching out for whom.  Maybe it was as it should be -- partners covering each other -- and he should forget about his silly plan to keep Walker extra safe.  What if it backfired?  What if he made Walker so paranoid that he suddenly began second guessing himself, looking over his shoulder -- things so against his nature that it induced him to make mistakes?

Trivette leaned his head back against the couch and propped his feet on the coffee table, his fuzzy slippers keeping his toes toasty.  The warm, slightly haunting melody of  Song For Elizabeth calmed his mood.  If Walker would just tell him about the baby, he could drop this charade.  Maybe he should tell his partner straight out that he knew -- that he'd read the e-mail from Dr. Rhodes.  Walker appreciated honesty, but not intrusion.  Trivette vacillated again.  Damn, what a dilemma.

A loud knock on his door startled him.  He hopped up and answered it.  Walker strode in.

"Hey partner.  What's up?"  Trivette wondered.

"Sorry to bother you,"  Walker began, taking in the fuzzy slippers with a raised eyebrow, "but I need your computer."

"You need my computer?  And I need a drink."

"Yeah, so do I."

Trivette frowned, now realizing Walker was upset and that this was more than a social visit. "What's wrong?"

Walker handed him the note left on the gym's roof.  "Recognize the tone?"

"Yeah, your admirer."  Trivette took note of the dusty residue of a forensics exam on the paper.  "No prints?"

Walker shook his head. "Can you pull up the other letters on your laptop?"

"Sure.  Where'd this come from?  What happened?"  Trivette made his way to the kitchen with Walker following, pulling two beers out of the refrigerator.  He handed one to Walker.

"Someone dumped a load of bricks on me from the roof of the gym tonight."

"God, are you okay?"

"Yeah, but there were students with me.  A couple of them got hurt."

"Bad?"

"No, thank God, but it could have been major."  His eyes filled with anger.

Trivette booted up the laptop, still scrutinizing Walker.  "Somebody's stalking you, partner.  Somebody who doesn't care if he or she hurts innocent kids along the way."

Walker nodded, his teeth clenched in ire --- and Trivette saw a flash of guilt run through the blue-gray eyes.

"Don't start blaming yourself.  You said the kids are okay.  This is obviously a nut case."

Walker sighed, took a sip of beer, then peered at Trivette.  "What did the note mean by 'tell your partner to stay out of it'?"

Trivette grimaced with guilt as he met his partners eyes.  "You got another letter this morning.  I answered it.  Look, here it is."  He moved the mouse, clicked on mail sent  and showed Walker the reply he'd sent out.

Walker nodded, not appearing angry at Trivette's interference.

"Okay,"  Trivette continued.  "Here are the letters."  He opened them one by one, reading the first one aloud.

                        Ranger Walker, I'm new to Dallas but I have heard much

            about you.  Your efforts to fight crime are commendable

                        and I like how you don't take crap from anyone.  I'd be

                        honored if you'd be my friend.   An admirer.

Trivette rubbed his chin. "It almost sounds like a teenager, or a groupie."

Walker read the letter again, several times, then shook his head.  "Go on to the next one."

"Okay.  This is a week later."

                        Ranger Walker, the Farley bust was excellent.  He

                        won't be attacking women anymore, will he?   Or

                        saying bad things to them either since you broke

                        his jaw.  More than ever I'd like to meet you.

                        Please write back.   An admirer.

Trivette shrugged, then pulled up the third letter.  "This is the one about the drug bust -- when he or she said you should have killed them on the spot.  Here's today's note again."

                        You didn't answer me.  Now I've done bad things.

                        There is still time, but remember, I don't like rejection.

                        Don't force me to do more bad things.

"Is there some way to trace these?"  Walker asked.

"Yeah, but I'd have to go through the server.  It'll take time."

"The server?"

"Never mind, T-Rex,"  Trivette smiled. "But most of the letters have no return screen name.  There's something called a re-mailer -- it's a way to send mail anonymously.  We're out of luck there."

Walker leaned back on the couch, then sat up quickly.  "The third letter -- he knew about the broken jaw.  That never got out to the media."

"You're right.  So who would know about that?  The other police on the scene, his lawyer, the doctor who treated him......."

"I'm going to find out,"  Walker said, standing.

"Wait.  Don't go yet.  You can't talk to any of them until tomorrow anyway.  Have another beer."

Walker studied Trivette's earnest face.  There was still something on the younger Ranger's mind  -- maybe this was his way of saying he was ready to talk about it.

"Okay,"  Walker replied, following Trivette to the kitchen.

Trivette handed him another beer.  How to get Walker to talk, to open up, to spill the news?  Short of prying his mind with a crowbar, there was one way Trivette knew of.

"Hey, you know that roll tackle you did the other day?  How do you know when to start it?"

As they returned to the living room, Walker pointed for Trivette to stay still, then stood about five feet away.

"When your opponent is about this close --- as soon as he makes a move  --- start the roll."

Trivette set his beer down.  "Let me try it."

"Trivette......."

"Come on, Walker, I won't hurt you."  He snickered as he goaded.  "Make a move."

Walker rolled his eyes, then nodded.  He made a motion for Trivette, who dropped to the floor and rolled toward Walker.  Walker easily jumped over him, still holding his beer.

"You rolled too soon.  Try again."

Trivette got up and tried again with the same results.  A third try yielded no success for the younger Ranger.  Frustrated, he slapped the floor.

Walker chuckled. "It just takes practice.  It also helps if your opponent isn't looking for it."

"The element of surprise,"  Trivette muttered.

Walker nodded as Trivette stood up.

"Well,"  Trivette began,  "thanks for the lesson."

Walker turned his back and took a step toward the couch.  As soon as he moved, Trivette leaped to the floor and rolled, knocking Walker's legs out from under him.  He crashed to the floor, his beer flying out of his hand, hitting the wall.  Landing with a groan, Walker rolled over and grasped Trivette's arm.  The ensuing wrestling match knocked over a table and lamp.  The two Rangers rolled into the wall, then into the middle of the room again, grunting and laughing as Walker finally pinned Trivette face down.

"Okay, I give,"  Trivette laughed.  He sat up as Walker released him.  "But you were right about the element of surprise."

Walker smirked as he sat up, putting a hand to his side.

"Oh geez,"  Trivette said suddenly.  "I forgot about your stitches."

"I'm okay.  I gotta admit -- you got me."

"Yeah, right before you got me."

They chuckled, sitting side by side on the floor.

"It was the slippers,"  Walker laughed.  "Who would believe someone in bunny slippers would attack."

"They're not bunnies, they're just --- fluffy."

"Right.  Ranger Fluffy."  Walker started to laugh again.

Trivette grinned broadly.  His plan had worked.  Walker was relaxed and enjoying himself.  Still sitting on the floor, he cleared his throat.

"Walker, I need to tell you something."

Walker nodded, encouraging him to continue.  Finally, he was going to find out what was going on.

"I uh, read something......something that belonged to you.  And, maybe I did a bad thing but.........."  His voice trailed off and Walker jolted upright in alarm.  The phrase jarred both of them, striking both with the same thought.  Now I've done bad things....

"Oh, hell!"  Walker said, jumping up. "The flat tires.  They were slashed.  That means he's after Alex too."

He raced for the door. "Trivette, call her and make sure everything's okay.  Tell her I'm on my way."  He stopped suddenly at the door, meeting Trivette's eyes.  "You're on the list now too.  Watch out."

Trivette nodded as he punched in Alex's number.

Walker stayed at Alex's apartment the rest of the night, sitting in a chair with his gun on his knee.  Alex, too concerned to sleep, had made coffee and sat with him.  They had talked a bit, dozed some, and the night thankfully continued uneventfully.  Trivette dutifully checked in with them every hour.

The next morning, Trivette phoned Walker one last time.

"Guess what?  My tire's slashed."

Walker sighed, worried. "Be careful, Trivette."

Walker followed Alex to the courthouse and escorted her to her office, stopping by the assistant's desk on the way out.

"Jess, no one goes in to see Alex unless you know who it is.  If anyone gives you any trouble, call me."

Jessica nodded. "Okay, Walker,"

Trivette was already at his computer when Walker reached his desk.

"Did you get your tire changed?"

"Yeah.  He didn't leave any evidence that I could find.  Did you and Alex get any sleep?"

"Not much."

"Maybe this'll help.  I got a lead."

Walker planted himself on the edge of Trivette's desk to listen.

"Remember I told you one of the notes had a return address -- a screen name -- and the others didn't?  Well, the one came from a local cyber cafe."

"A what cafe?"

"They're coffee shops where you sit at a table with a computer that has internet capabilities.  You can surf the net or send out mail."

"Why would anyone want to ruin a good cup of coffee like that?"

"Stay with me, T-Rex,"  Trivette said.  "The web service was able to trace the mail to this cyber cafe."  Trivette handed Walker a piece of paper with the address. "This may do us no good.  The cafe doesn't have to keep any records or names of who is using its computers.  But it's a start."

Walker nodded. "Okay, let's check it out."

"Hold on,"  Trivette said,  "let me check the rest of our e-mail."

Walker smiled as he went back to his desk.  A stack of regular mail sat on top. He'd never gotten to it yesterday.  Among the letters was a manila envelope, his name hand-written on the outside.  Walker got ready to open it, but laid it down when Trivette called him over.

"Uh oh, your admirer.  There's another letter.  Let me finish deleting this junk mail and I'll open it."

Ranger Josh Burke walked into the office, going directly to the coffee pot.

"Josh,"  Walker said,  "I got the tickets to tomorrow's karate tournament for you and your son.  On my desk, yellow envelope."  He pointed from Trivette's desk.

"Thanks a million, Walker,"  Burke said, moving toward Walker's desk.  "My kid will be on cloud nine."  He picked up the manila envelope and stuck his finger in the edge to tear open the seal.

Walker approached him. "Wrong envelope.  It's over........"

BOOM!  A blast shook the desk and sent smoke and debris flying.  Walker heard Josh Burke cry out in pain and at the same time felt a hot sensation shoot across his eyebrow.  Ignoring it, he rushed to Burke, who was holding his hand, screaming in pain.  Blood was gushing from the hand.

The response in the room was instantaneous.  Rangers, some with guns drawn, swarmed.  An alert went through the building.

"It was a letter bomb,"  Walker said, grabbing a towel beside the coffee pot and wrapping Burke's hand.  He could see a finger was missing.

"Sit down, Josh," he said calmly, guiding Burke to a chair.  "Help's on the way."

Walker caught Trivette's eye and motioned to the blood-spattered floor.  He mouthed one word --- finger.  Trivette grimaced but started the search.  Walker saw him wrap something in a handkerchief.

"Ice,"  Walker instructed, and Trivette rushed to put the severed finger on ice.

Ranger Mark Sheridan rushed into the room.  Alex was right behind him.  She sighed with relief to see that Walker was okay, but felt her stomach turn as she viewed the bloody towel Walker was compressing around Burke's hand.  There was blood on Walker's face and she noticed him blinking his eye as it watered freely.  She grabbed Trivette's arm.

"My God, what happened?"

Sheridan spoke up before Trivette could answer.  "The Captain's going to evacuate the building.  The bomb squad is on it's way to look for any other explosives."

Burke was still moaning, turning very pale.

"Trivette,"  Walker said,  "help me get him on the floor."

They stretched him out, raising his feet to counteract shock.  Walker still held the towel firmly.  He glanced at Alex, his eyes revealing anguish.  Trivette took her arm.

"Come on, Alex, you'd better evacuate."

"Okay, I'm going to get my briefcase from my office first."

She hurried out.  Moments later two units of medics arrived, among them Maisie and Kris.

"Whatcha got, Walk-Man?"  Maisie asked, going straight for Burke's hand.

"Letter bomb."

Maisie slid her hands in Walker's place and took over.  Walker moved out of her way, giving her room to work.  The other medics went to work also, getting Burke onto a stretcher, recording his vitals signs and hooking up an IV.  As Kris saw her chance and headed for Walker, Trivette handed the iced down finger her.  Muttering under her breath, she ran into the hallway to pass it on to another medic, then quickly returned.

Maisie glanced at Walker, reading the emotional agony in his eyes.  As the other medics rolled the stretcher out, Walker turned to the wall, his hands against it, suddenly slamming a fist through the wallboard.  Maisie, stopping at the door, let the stretcher go and watched Trivette approach Walker.

"He'll be okay,"  Trivette said softly.

Walker smacked the wall again.  "It blew his goddamn finger off.  It should have been me."

"It wasn't your fault,"  Trivette stressed, taking Walker's arm.

Another hand touched Walker's back.  "You listen to your partner, Walk-Man.  We already had this conversation last night.  The fault lies with the scumbag who did this."

Walker turned from the wall and sighed, knowing she was right, but still feeling the horrible guilt. First his karate students, now Josh Burke.

Maisie reached up to pat his beard.  "I'm going down with Burke.  Let Kris take a look at this eye, okay?"

Walker nodded, suddenly aware of the discomfort above his eye.  He sat down with resignation.  Kris quickly moved to his side, trying to mask her excitement.  I finally get to touch him, to show him I'm as good as Maisie.  Maybe he'll notice me now. "You probably need a stitch or two," she said, probing the wound above his eye, her fingers tingling, finally touching the Ranger.

Walker was in agreement --his eye was red and watery, felt full of sand.

Trivette had moved to his desk, glancing at the computer screen as he gathered a few files to take out of the building with him.  He had opened the mail from "admirer" just as the letter bomb went off.  Now he read the note and his heart rate shot up.

"Walker! The new letter -- it says 'Walker- Boom, Cahill-Boom'."

"Oh God,"  Walker uttered, jumping up, knocking Kris down as he did so.  He flew to the door, Trivette right behind.  On the floor, Kris' mouth dropped open in anger and humiliation..

Alex reached for her mail to put into her briefcase.  She noticed an envelope on her desk that hadn't been there before.  Her name was hand written on it.  Curious, she picked it up and grabbed a letter opener, pointing the tip into the seal.    

Walker tore into the office, diving toward Alex.   "Nooooo!"  he yelled as he knocked the envelope away and tackled her at the same time.

The envelope exploded harmlessly in mid air as Walker and Alex hit the floor.  Alex shook with fright.  Walker helped her sit up, then hugged her tightly.  She clutched his shirt, the thoughts of what had almost happened sending waves of terror through her mind.

Trivette knelt beside them.  "You both okay?"

Walker nodded for them.  Alex continued to keep a death grip around Walker's neck, her head buried against his chest.  A few soft sobs escaped her throat.  Trivette stood and walked to the doorway to give them some privacy.

Kris came in the room and went straight to Walker.

"Not now,"  he told her, but she put her medical kit down and took out a package of gauze.  "I said not now."  Walker's voice was cool, commanding.

Trivette motioned Kris to him.  "You'd best leave him alone right now.  I'll make sure he gets the eye taken care of."

With a last glimpse of Walker holding Alex, Kris left the room, her face a mask of fury.  It was obvious he didn't care about her or appreciate her medical abilities.  Now she'd have to do something drastic.  Now he'd have to pay.

Fifteen minutes later, with the bomb squad roaming the building, Alex finally let Walker help her to her feet.  She managed a tiny smile as he put her face between his hands and wordlessly gazed into her eyes.  She let a bigger smile take over -- Walker so often said things with his eyes that he couldn't express verbally.

Once outside, Trivette led them to a rescue squad that had just pulled up.  Maisie got out and smiled at Walker.

"We delivered Burke to the ER.  They've already got him in surgery."

Walker sighed, absently wiping away the trickle of blood from his eyebrow..  Maisie frowned.

"Didn't Kris take care of you?"

"Something came up,"  was all Walker said, his arm pulling Alex closer to him.

"Come on, Walk-Man.  Let's take you in and get you stitched up."   She pointed to the squad.

"Take Alex too,"  Trivette said. "Walker tackled her pretty hard."

"I'm fine, Jimmy,"  Alex answered.

"I think you should get checked out,"  Trivette persisted.

Alex frowned, but Maisie put a hand on her arm.   "Come on, Alex.  Ride in with us, cause you know what will happen if I get Walk-Man alone in my squad.  I might not be able to restrain myself."

Trivette chuckled as Walker shook his head.  Smiling, Alex took Walker's arm and they climbed into the squad.

***********

Walker insisted that Alex stay at his ranch until the "admirer" was caught.  She'd agreed, not just in fear for herself but for Walker too.  They were safer together, could watch out for one another.  After picking up a few things at her apartment, they headed to the ranch.

Trivette ran down the slim leads -- checking the cyber cafe and interviewing anyone who would know about the suspect with the broken jaw.

C.D. left the bar in Mabel's capable hands and arrived at Walker's ranch just after noon, loaded with groceries.

"Why don't you two try and get a nap in?  I know neither of you got any sleep last night, and after today's excitement, you've got to be exhausted."  He put a fatherly arm around Alex.  "Especially you, honey.  You need your rest."

"I'm too wound up, C.D.,"  she replied.

Walker, peering out of the window, agreed with a nod.  He had nervous energy to burn.  "I'm going to check around."

As he went outside, C.D. shook his head.  "How many times has he checked around now?"

Alex shrugged as she watched him go into the corral, her heart aching for what he was feeling.

Walker's presence drew Amigo and Cookie immediately.  Amigo nuzzled Walker's shirt.

"Sorry, boy, I forgot the carrots."  He gave the horse a tender pat, then scratched Cookie on the forehead, her favorite spot.

Walker was rolling inside, despite the calmness of the horses.  Some maniac was stalking him, hurting anyone who got in the way, hiding in the shadows. A coward, Maisie had called the assailant.  Walker tightened his fists in anger.  Slashed tires, injured students, Josh Burke, and almost Alex.   It had not been an easy couple of days.  And whatever was going on with Trivette -- his sudden over protectiveness, it was becoming more than an annoyance.

Walker turned around, startled to see Alex standing behind him.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to sneak up on you,"  she said.

"It's okay, my mind was wondering, I guess."  He put his arm around her.  "You shouldn't be out here.  He might be nearby." 

"Then you shouldn't be out here either."  She lightly touched his bandaged eyebrow.   "It's you he's after."

"You'd never know it by the body count."

"Walker, you can't help what's happened."

"Josh Burke plays the banjo in a band."  He kicked at the corral gate.  "It was meant for me.  It should have been me."

"Oh, Walker,"  Alex said softly, putting her arms around him.  She hugged him tightly, trying to take away the emotional pain he was enduring.

He sighed deeply, then took her chin in his hand.  "Alex, if anything had happened to you......"

"Shhh," she told him.  "You made sure it didn't.  And now I'm here and I feel very safe."  She laid her head against his chest as he kissed the top of her head.

They walked into the barn, with Cookie following.  She neighed for attention.  Alex let go of Walker and stroked her horse.

"Hello, little momma.  How are you feeling?"

"She seems to be doing fine."

C.D., worried about his two charges, approached the barn.  He stopped just outside the door when he heard Alex's next sentence.

"I talked to Dr. Rhodes.  He's not sure of the due date.  He said he could do an ultrasound."

"Did he say when?"  Walker asked.

"Next week."  She smiled, again putting her arm around Walker.  "What do you want -- male or female?"

"It doesn't matter to me.  Whatever it is, it'll be beautiful like its momma and smart like its father."

"Smart?  How about devilish and sly?  You know we didn't expect this."

"Yeah, must have been the full moon -- that evening in the pasture,"   Walker said with a wink.

C.D. cringed and covered his ears, not wanting to hear any more details.  In the pasture?  He muffled a snicker.

Alex laughed, then glanced over at Amigo.  "Naughty boy."

C.D. had heard enough.  He cleared his throat loudly and stomped his feet as he entered the barn, catching Walker and Alex in an embrace.

"Excuse me, but I'm taking orders for supper.

"You mean we're not having chili?"  Walker teased.

"Hell no.  We're eating healthy tonight.  That's especially important now, don't you agree?"  His voice and face tried to coax the secret out of them.

Walker gave a slightly perplexed smile.  "Anything'll be fine, C.D."

"I know it is for you, Cordell, you're a damn garbage can.  But I thought for Alex we'd have a fruit salad, grilled chicken, some veggies, and milk for calcium."

Alex, mystified by the sudden concern for her health and diet, began to ask him what it was all about, but the sound of a car approaching stopped her.  Walker instantly drew his gun and motioned for Alex and C.D. to stay inside the barn.  Cautiously, he peered out and ran to the cover of a nearby woodpile.  Trivette's car pulled up.  Relieved, Walker put his gun away and stepped out to greet his partner.  Alex and C.D. joined them.

"I've got good news,"  Trivette began.  "Josh is out of surgery and they got the finger reattached.  It'll be awhile before they know if it was successful, but the doctor is very optimistic."

Alex broke out into a grin and put an arm around Walker, rubbing his back.  He let a sigh of relief escape, then gave her a smile.

"Come on, we'd better get inside,"  he said, glancing around.  They headed for the house.

C.D. held Trivette back.  "Jimmy, have I got something to tell you!"

"What?"

"She's having one of those ultrasound things, and the night it happened, there was a full moon in the pasture.........."

************

Trivette and C.D. washed the supper dishes, then checked the doors and windows again to be sure all was secure.  They then headed for the den, finding Walker and Alex both asleep on the couch.

"Finally,"  C.D. whispered to Trivette.

Trivette nodded. "Walker said they'd be fine, but I'm gonna stay the night.  I have a feeling....."

"You going Cherokee on me, Jimmy?"

Trivette chuckled. "Wouldn't that be wild.  No, since they're both zonked out, I want to stick around, watch over things."

"I'm staying too,"  C.D. stated.  "I'm gonna break out a deck of cards.  Want to go a round of rummy with me?"

"Sure."

********

A few hours later, around 2 a.m., Walker stirred.  Alex was snuggled against him, her head on his outstretched arm.  Without waking her, he gently pulled his arm free and sat up.

Something was wrong.

From the kitchen he heard C.D. and Trivette talking quietly, an occasional laugh punctuating their conversation, and outside the raucous chant of crickets and night frogs chimed pastorally.  But his adrenaline was pumping, his senses fully on alert.  Then he heard it, the faint whooshing sound from outside.  And then the panicked cries of the horses reached his ears.

Jumping up, he ran to the window and peered out --- the barn was glowing orange and red.

"Oh God!"  he yelled and scrambled for the door.

Trivette and C.D. were immediately behind him.  Alex sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

Trivette had to kick his legs into high gear to catch up with Walker.  Half of the barn was engulfed in flames, the doorway a blazing barrier.  Never hesitating, Walker bolted for the doorway.  Frantic, Trivette grabbed his arm, pulling him back.

"You can't go in there!  It's too late!"

Walker jerked his arm away and continued.  Trivette dropped and rolled, upending Walker who fell hard on his side.  He felt the stitches tear again.  Furious, Walker got to his knees glaring at Trivette, but picked himself up to go on.  Trivette tackled him.

"Dammit, Trivette!  Let me go!"

"Walker, don't go in there!  Think of the baby."

"That is what I'm thinking about!"

He pushed Trivette away.  The horses' screams were unbearable.  Trivette grabbed Walker again, but this time the bearded Ranger reacted instantly and flipped Trivette over his shoulder to the ground.  Walker ran to the barn doorway, covering his face with an arm and rushed inside.

Amigo and Cookie were huddled in their stalls in the back corner.  Thick smoke surrounded them but the flames had not yet reached their position.  The heat was intense, the smoke choking.  Walker grabbed Cookie's mane and pulled her toward the door.  She resisted, lurching and screaming.  Trivette was suddenly beside him, and together they forced Cookie through he burning doorway.  Walker felt cold water blast him, turned to see C.D. with a garden hose spraying him down.  Trivette led Cookie away as Walker returned for Amigo.  Alex took Cookie, then watched as Trivette started back inside again to help Walker.  Suddenly the doorway collapsed in flames, forcing Trivette back.

"Walker!"  Alex screamed.

Reaching Amigo, Walker tried to pull the horse out of the stall, but the roar of the fire and the dense smoke terrified the horse.  He kicked and reared.  Walker felt his skin tingling from the intense heat, the smoke suffocating his lungs.  He turned to see the doorway engulfed in flames, cutting off his escape route.  Pushing behind Amigo, Walker rammed his shoulder into the wall of the barn, trying to knock a hole to the outside.  He next tried kicking, finally knocking a section loose.

Outside, Trivette had the same idea.  He raced to the back of the barn, estimating where Amigo's stall would be and began pounding on the boards with a shovel.  C.D., with the hose, followed, as did Alex.  She pulled at the wall boards with her fingers.

"Walker!"

Trivette saw Walker's foot poke through the wall.  He jammed the shovel between the boards and pried.  Walker blasted the wall again with his shoulder.  A section of wall went down.  Trivette pried more loose and opened a large area.  Amigo, smelling fresh air and seeing the opening, bolted past Walker, knocking him down.  Trivette barely got out of the way as Amigo raced by him.  Trivette reached into the hole and grabbed Walker's arm, pulling him outside just as the entire roof caved in.  Walker's shirt was smoking from the heat.  C.D. hosed him down as Trivette dragged him away from the fire.  Walker sat up, coughing and gasping for breath.  Alex dropped to her knees beside him and threw her arms around him, sobbing quietly.  The four of them watched wordlessly as the barn was consumed in flames.

***********

It was 5 a.m.  Daylight was brightening the eastern sky.  Walker sat on the woodpile, staring at the smoldering lumber that has once been his barn.  The Farmer's Branch fire department had extinguished the last flames an hour ago, finding in the rubble a charred gas can.

"Arson,"  was the word Captain Eddie Vick had uttered to Walker.  Arson, Walker said to himself for the hundredth time since he'd wearily plopped down on the logs.  A blanket was around his shoulders and he vaguely recalled Trivette putting it there.  Somewhere in the fray he'd lost the bandage protecting the cut over his eye and a splotch of blood on his shirt signified the torn stitches.  His clothes, still damp, now chilled his burnt skin.  He pulled the blanket around him tighter as Trivette approached, taking a seat beside his partner.

"Alex?"  Walker asked softly.

"She's finally asleep.  C.D.'s with her."

Walker nodded, his gaze never leaving the destroyed barn.  Trivette remained silent, allowing Walker the quiet he seemed to need.  Walker finally looked away from the embers and faced Trivette.

"I'm going to come down so hard on this piece of shit -- he'll wish a truck had hit him instead."

Trivette nodded in agreement.  "At least the horses are okay."

Neither of them had mentioned Trivette's struggle to keep Walker out of the burning barn.  It wasn't necessary --- Walker knew his partner was only trying to protect him, and had then risked his own life to help.

Walker frowned suddenly.  "How did you know about the pregnancy?"

"That's what I wanted to tell you at my place.  I read an e-mail from Dr. Rhodes."

Walker nodded. "We were going to tell you soon."

Trivette couldn't contain his grin.  "I figured you'd get around to it sooner or later."  He slapped a congratulatory hand on Walker's back, causing his partner to flinch.

"I wish you'd go get looked at.  You almost cooked in there."

Walker shook his head.  He didn't want to leave the ranch unattended now, but the tournament was scheduled to start in a few hours.

A truck pulled into the driveway.  Walker and Trivette both stood and drew their guns.  Walker recognized it as his neighbor and nodded an okay to Trivette.  Two more trucks followed as Walker approached a tall man.

"Walker, we heard what happened.  Eddie Vick called us.  We want to help."  The other men gathered round.  They were each carrying rifles.

"Thanks, Joe, but I don't think anything can be done right now.  Trivette, this is Joe Martin, Ralph Hamilton and Doug Barnes."

Trivette shook their hands.

Ralph stepped forward. "Eddie said you wouldn't leave in case this psycho comes back.  We know your big Kick Drugs tournament is today, so we're gonna patrol your ranch for as long as you need us.  Some of the other ranchers along the river are on the way too."

"We'll keep the horses here in the corral," Doug added.  "Nothing will happen to them."

"And you know how our wives are," Joe continued.  "They're already cooking hams and casseroles to bring over here."

Walker was speechless, then smiled in humble appreciation.  "I don't know what to say."

"Say okay,"  Trivette grinned.

Walker chuckled and shook hands with each of the men.

"Oh, and Walker,"  Joe said,  "as soon as you're ready to rebuild, you know we'll all be here."

Walker swallowed the lump forming in his throat, nodding.  "Thanks."  He turned to Trivette.  "I'm going to check on Alex, then take a quick shower."

Trivette nodded, then looked at the men as Walker went into the house.   "This is really great of you guys."

"Not at all,"  Joe said.  "Walker's been there for all of us at different times, it's about time we can return the favor.

The other men agreed. 

"My old tractor wore out,"  Ralph began.  "The bank wouldn't give me loan for a new one.  Walker lent me the money."

Joe continued. "I had a horse in difficult labor.  The vet was out of town.  Walker came over, stayed up all night with us and delivered the foal.  We would have lost them both without him."

"I have a son with muscular dystrophy,"  Doug told Trivette.  "Last year he had to go into a wheelchair full time.  Walker got us tickets to a rodeo -- my son loves the bull riding -- and while we were gone, Walker went to our house and built a wheelchair ramp for Nick to use."  Doug cleared his throat to hold his emotions back.  "You don't forget things like that."

"And the list goes on,"  Joe said. "Walker's there whenever anyone needs help."

"He's never told me any of this,"  Trivette said softly, touched.

"Does that surprise you?"  Doug asked.

"No,"  Trivette smiled.  "No, it doesn't."  He gestured to the rifles they held.  "You guys be careful, huh?  If you see anything suspicious, call for help, don't be a hero.  This person doesn't care who gets in the way."

They nodded their understanding.

********

Walker was in the shower when the phone rang.  Trivette answered it.

"Jimbo, this is Maisie.  I just checked in at the station -- the word is going around fast.  Does he need me?"

"Yeah, Maisie, he does.  But he said no to being checked out -- you know how he is.  He's planning to be at the tournament all day."

"What time is he gonna get there?"

"Eight o'clock."

"I'll meet you there at 8:05.  How's that?"

Trivette smiled. "Okay.  That oughta work.  Thanks Maisie."

Trivette relayed the conversation to C.D. as Walker came down the stairs, looking better with the smoke and grime washed away.  He tiptoed into the spare bedroom and gazed at Alex, her face peaceful in sleep.  Trivette watched as Walker covered her with a blanket, then leaned over to give her a tender kiss on the forehead.  With a smile, Trivette visualized how it would be seven or eight months from now -- Walker leaning over to kiss two sleeping loved ones.  Walker pulled the door closed as he met Trivette in the hallway.

"She'll be fine,"  Trivette assured him. "A small army is assembling out there.  Your neighbors are something else."

"Yeah, they are,"  Walker answered with meaning.

C.D. approached them. "Cordell, you've got an hour or so before you have to be at the gym.  Why don't you catch a nap.  You haven't slept for two nights now."

"No, I have a better idea.  Trivette, get your laptop.  I want to send a message."

When Trivette pulled up the one e-mail address they had for the admirer,  Walker dictated an answer for Trivette to type.

                        Stop playing games and face me.  Or are

                        you too much of a coward for that?  You

                        name the time and place.

                                                                        Walker

"Sure you want me to send this?"  Trivette hesitated over the mouse.

"Send it."

*******

When Walker and Trivette drove into the gym parking lot, vendors and activity booths were already setting up.  Walker waved at Marjorie Packard, the coordinator for the activities as he walked toward the gym.

"Walker, I heard what happened.  Are you okay?"

"Yes, thanks."

"Everything's great on this end,"  she told him.  "All you have to worry about is the competition."

"Thanks, Marjorie.  You're the one who's made it work every year."

"I hardly think so."  She shooed him inside and returned to the parking lot.

Trivette and Walker entered the locker room.  Walker set his duffel bag down and began pulling off his boots.  Trivette looked at his watch.

"What time do the kids arrive?"

"The first match is at nine,"  Walker replied.

The locker room door squeaked as it opened, and Walker registered surprise when Maisie strode in, carrying her medical bag.  He was midway in unbuttoning his shirt, but stopped as he stared at her.

"Keep going, Walk-Man.  The word is you tore those stitches again."

Walker cut an accusatory glance at Trivette.  He'd called Maisie.  What was this overprotective crap?

"And let me see that cut over your eye.  Who took the bandage off?"

Irritated with Trivette, Walker snapped,  "I lost it, probably the same time someone tripped me and ripped the stitches."

"So I was supposed to let you run blindly into a burning barn?"  Trivette exploded.  "That was so stupid."

"If it was so stupid, why did you come in to help me?"

"Why do you think?  Somebody had to think about Alex and the baby."

"That's what I was doing!"

"Geez, man, I'll never figure you out."

"Trivette, we got the horses out and everyone's all right.  Let's drop it, huh?"

Trivette raised his hands in surrender.  "Fine.  I'm going to see if I can help set up mats or something."  He huffed out of the locker room.

Maisie had been inspecting the re-injured cut, getting an earful of their conversation.  She removed a wad of gauze Walker had taped tightly over the injury.

"Baby?"  she questioned, an eyebrow raised.

"Foal.  My horse --- Alex's horse is pregnant."

"Hmmm,"  she nodded in understanding. "It must have scared Jimbo pretty bad when you dashed into a burning barn.  Don't be too hard on him, handsome.  He was just worried for you."

"I know,"  Walker replied with a sigh, feeling guilty that he'd brought the subject up with Trivette again.  He grimaced as Maisie squeezed the edges of the cut together, then taped new surgi-strips over it.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.

"You mean other than this---"  he gestured to his side --- "and volunteering to cook all day?  You're incredible, Maisie."

"Both for a good cause,"  she grinned.  "But this is the last time I'm gonna tape this.  Understand?  Next time it's back to the ER."

Walker nodded sheepishly.  "Yes, ma'am."

"Why are you putting that karate get-up on anyway?  You're not competing?"

"No, but I'm sparring with some former students."

"Walk-Man, you've got stitches in your side, a messed up eye and a back that looks like a lobster's.  And you're gonna spar?"

"I'm not worried.  I've got my personal paramedic here."

"Hmph.  And I thought you only loved me for my body."

She finished with the surgi-strips, slathered his back with aloe vera, then stood up to leave."

"Okay, you're good to go.  Come over to my booth when you get a break and get some chicken.  It's better than C.D.'s chili."

"Don't let him hear you say that."

She headed for the door, talking as she went.  "I love men's locker rooms.  All the funny looking sinks on the wall, all the half-dressed men.  Hmm  hmm."

Walker laughed, then called out his thanks as she disappeared through the door.

********

In the parking lot, C.D. and Alex had set up the chili stand next to Maisie's booth. Long lines waited at both stands for food.  Kris and Trivette were selling drinks for each booth.

Kris watched Alex and a jealous rage filled her.  It would be all over today.  She would get rid of Alex, and Maisie too.  Then she'd have Walker all to herself --- he'd need her.  She was going to hurt him again.

"What are you doing here?"  Walker asked Alex as he approached them at lunchtime.

"I'm not going to let some lunatic keep me away from the most important event of the year for you."

He took her hand, concerned.  "It's important, but not the most."  He squeezed her hand affectionately. 

C.D. gave Trivette a slight kick and they grinned.  "We're watching her, Cordell.  Don't you worry."

"How's it going in there?"  Trivette asked.

"Great.  The kids are having a good time."

"We're going to come inside in a little while and watch some of it,"  Alex said.

"Have some chili, Cordell."

"Uh, I'll pass, C.D.  I really want a piece of Maisie's chicken."  He stepped over to Maisie's booth.

"Traitor,"  C.D. called after him.

"How's the tape job holding up?"  Maisie asked, tonging a drumstick out of the pot for Walker.

"You think I'm going to let any of my former students slam me to the mat?"  he grinned.

"Ha,"  Maisie laughed.  "Kris, give this cocky man a drink."

Walker held up a hand in polite refusal to the soda Kris offered.  "No thanks.  I've got one over there."  He pointed to C.D.'s booth, then waved as he left. 

With her jaws tightening, Kris watched as Walker reached for Alex's glass of iced tea and took a drink.  Alex leaned over to take a bite of the chicken leg.  Kris wanted to barf.

"Don't you two know about germs?"  Trivette scowled.

Walker rolled his eyes, then motioned Trivette aside.  "Seen anyone suspicious?"

Trivette shook his head.

"Don't let Alex go anywhere alone."

"Don't worry.  And I checked the laptop a short while ago.  No reply to your message.  I also called the ranch for you -- everything's fine."

"Thanks, Trivette, and......sorry."

Trivette nodded, a smile acknowledging the apology.  "KO  'em, partner."

**********

The tournament finished up in the afternoon.   Awards were given, the crowds and competitors had gone home and the cleanup process was over.  Walker, tired but happy with the success of the event, headed to the locker room to change back into his street clothes.

Trivette, Alex, C.D. and Maisie remained in the gym, chatting about the money raised for KDOOA and the smiles of the youngsters who participated.

Walker too was thinking of the students --- the excitement in their eyes, the confidence they were learning, the discipline which would carry over into their everyday lives.  And he thought about all the help he'd received to pull the event off.  The friends and strangers who volunteered their time to plan, organize and follow through with every detail, the donations from businesses and civic organizations.  He wondered how he could ever express his gratitude to them all.

He set his nunchakus on the bench by the lockers, happy he hadn't clobbered himself during the demonstration due to his lack of recent practice.  Moving to his locker, he untied his black belt.

He sensed the presence of someone behind him before he heard a sound, but as he turned, something slammed across his injured side and he doubled over with a shout of pain.  The next blow hit his head.  He crumbled to the floor, semi-conscious.  A foot pushed roughly against him.

"You said to name the time and place.  I choose here and now."

Walker shook his head to clear it, feeling a stream of blood running down his face.  He blinked away distorted vision, looked up to see Kris standing over him with a gun in one hand and the nunchakus in the other.

"You should have answered me.  Just a little note would have helped."

Walker tried to form words, then pushed up on his elbows.  Kris kicked them out from under him.

In the gym, Alex headed for the locker room.  "I've got to ask Walker something,"  she told Trivette.

"Wait, I'll go with you."

"No, it's private, Jimmy."  She gave him a crafty smile.  Tomorrow was Trivette's birthday.  She and Walker had been discussing a surprise for him.  Now would be a good time to talk about it.  Trivette accompanied her to the locker room door, then returned to C.D. and Maisie once Alex was safely inside.

Kris turned at the sound of the door, swinging the gun toward Alex.  With a gasp, Alex stopped immediately, her eyes wide with surprise and fear.  Then she noticed Walker on the floor, looking very dazed, his face bloody.

"Oh my God, Walker?"

"Don't move,"  Kris ordered.  "It's your fault.  He'd have noticed me if you weren't around.  You and Maisie.  The two of you are next."

Alex took in a deep breath, realizing Kris was a very sick person.  She took a small step forward, her hands outstretched non-threatening.

"Kris, he did notice you.  He told me so."

"You're lying.  I've been watching.  I've followed you everywhere."

Alex got a chill up her spine.  She glanced at Walker -- he looked unconscious.

In the gym, Maisie picked up a bag full of cooking supplies.  The handle broke and the items tumbled to the floor.  C.D. and Trivette knelt down to help her pick them up.

"Well, it's been that kind of week,"  she laughed.  "My TV's on the fritz, my shoestring broke, and I had a flat tire."

Trivette and C.D. were instantly alerted.

"Flat tire?"  Trivette asked. 

"Yeah, it was busted wide open.  Why?"

"Coincidence?"  C.D. said to Trivette.

Trivette shook his head.

C.D. continued. "Who do Maisie, Alex and Cordell have in common?"

Trivette grasped Maisie's arm.  "Where's Kris?"

"I don't know. She was here a bit ago."

"Alex and Walker!"  Trivette said, alarmed.

In the locker room, Walker tried to pull his thoughts together.   His head was reeling.  He looked up to see Kris holding the gun on Alex.

"Kris, let's talk about it,"  Alex said to placate her.  "If you care about Walker, why are you hurting him?"

"Because I'm a medic.  I hurt him so I can help him."  She moved closer to Walker, his head on the floor, his eyes closed.  She touched a finger to the blood on his face.  "See, I can fix this for him.  Then he'll appreciate me."

Walker suddenly grabbed for the gun, but Kris was moving at the same time.   She leaped up, kick him in the side and aimed the gun at him.

"No!" Alex screamed, springing forward to tackle Kris.

With the gun in her palm, Kris hit Alex on the side of her forehead.  Blood welled up from a gash and Alex went down.  Walker got a hand on Kris' arm and yanked her away from Alex.  The gun went off, the shot aimed to the ceiling.  Still dazed, Walker's reflexes were not responding.  As he tried to wrench the gun away, Kris pummeled him with the nunchakus, knocking him down again.  She swung the gun around, her finger poised to squeeze the trigger.

Trivette burst into the locker room, roll blocking into Kris, sending her flying.    She screamed and fought as he pinned her, then got out his cuffs.

"No!  Let me help him.  He's bleeding."  She began to cry pitifully.  Trivette dragged her to a sink and cuffed her to the plumbing.

Walker scrambled to Alex as Maisie and C.D. reached them.  Alex sat up, her hand to her head.  Walker wrapped his arms around her tightly.

"You okay?"

She nodded. "You?"

He also nodded.

"I'll be the judge of that,"  Maisie said.  "Let me have a look."  She did a quick assessment of both their head gashes, then directed C.D. to grab paper towels.

"You're both suture material,"  Maisie said with a shake of her head.  She held the paper towel to Walker's head as C.D. pressed one to Alex's.

"Let me bandage him, Maisie,"  Kris said, whimpering.  "I'll do a good job.  Please."

Maisie stared at Kris, then shook her head with pity.

Trivette closed his cell phone.  "Help is on the way.  Maisie, you need to screen your partners more thoroughly."

Walker, still seeing a few stars, caught Trivette's eye.  "Nice roll tackle, Ranger Fluffy.  Thanks."

Trivette nodded, grateful he had finally been able to keep with his plan of protecting his partner.

"Ranger Fluffy?"  Maisie asked.  "I don't think I want to go there."

Alex laughed, then reached again for Walker, noticing blood showing through his white gi.

"Oh no, Walker."  She gently touched his side.

"Walk-Man,"  Maisie said,  "I give up."

"It wasn't exactly my fault,"  Walker responded.

Trivette rubbed Alex's arm.  "I'm going to call Dr. Rhodes."

"Why?"  Alex asked.

"To meet us at the hospital."

Walker and Alex looked at him strangely.

"Trivette, what are you talking about?"  Walker asked.

"Alex, I'm sorry, but I know about the baby.  So does C.D."  C.D. nodded, smiling. "I think it needs to be checked out."

"Dr. Rhodes already checked her,"  Walker said, meaning Cookie.  "He came last night after the fire."

"I didn't see him,"  Trivette said, puzzled. "But I mean now.  Alex has a head injury."

"What's that got to do with the baby?"  Alex asked.

"Alex, you can't take these things lightly,"  C.D. said.

"What things?"  Walker asked.

"Physical injuries, emotional stress.  None of it is good for the baby."

"Cookie's fine!"  Alex said.

"Who's talking about Cookie?  I mean you,"  Trivette said. "Walker, don't you have something to say about this?  After all, it's your baby too."

"I had very little to do with it, Trivette,"  Walker said to the total confusion of C.D. and Trivette. "It was all Amigo's doing."

"WHAT!"  C.D. and Trivette said in unison.

Alex touched Trivette's arm.  "What are you two talking about?"

"The baby.  Your baby."

Walker and Alex looked at each other in bewilderment.

"Actually, it's your baby,"  Alex told Trivette.

C.D. gasped as Trivette's eyes grew round and wild.  He held up his hands defensively as he looked at Walker.

"This isn't true, partner.  Alex, I think your head injury is worse than we think."

Maisie suddenly stood up.  "Quiet, everyone!"

They all obeyed, passing bewildered glances back and forth.

"Now, Alex,"  Maisie began.  "Who's pregnant?"

"Cookie,"  Alex replied emphatically.

Trivette's mouth dropped open.  "You mean, you and Walker aren't expecting a baby?"

"Trivette!" Walker said.

"No,"  Alex laughed.  "How did you ever get that idea?"

Trivette stammered. "I read an e-mail to Walker from Dr. Rhodes.  It said the pregnancy was confirmed and .........uh, who is Dr. Rhodes?"

"The veterinarian,"  Walker said flatly, groaning at the confusion.  "Geez, my head hurts."

C.D.'s face grew stormy.  "Dadgummit, Jimmy, can't you get anything right?"

"You thought I was pregnant?"  Alex laughed again.

Trivette nodded, looking at Walker.  "All this time, I've been trying to keep you out of trouble because I thought you were going to be a father."

"So that's what all of this has been about,"  Walker said.  "Damn, Trivette, do you know how many times I've wanted to wring your neck this week?"

"I feel incredibly stupid,"  Trivette said.

"There's a good reason for that,"  Maisie said.

Trivette glared at Maisie, then frowned in puzzlement at Alex.  "What did you mean it's my baby?"

"That's the secret we've been keeping,"  Alex told him.  "Walker and I decided to give the foal to you."

"We were going to tell you tomorrow on your birthday," Walker added.

Trivette's face melted into a mixture of expressions -- surprise, joy, wonderment. "Really?"

They nodded, smiling.

"My very own horse?"  He grinned broadly.

Sirens could be heard as police and medical personnel pulled in.  Kris was taken away, still sobbing and rambling about taking care of Walker's injuries.  As Maisie helped Alex and Walker into the rescue squad, C.D. held Trivette back.

"Damn, Jimmy.  Part of me is awful disappointed."

"I know what you mean, Big Dog.  I liked the sound of 'Uncle Jimmy'."

"And Grandpa C.D."

They watched Walker cuddle Alex protectively as she sat beside him on the stretcher, leaning close so he could plant a kiss on her cheek.

Trivette smiled. "I have a feeling we'll be hearing Uncle Jimmy and Grandpa C.D. one day."

C.D.'s eyes sparkled. "I have the same feeling, and that ain't no Cherokee ESP."

********

Walker and Alex sat on the porch swing at the ranch, rocking slowly with the chimes of the evening crickets.  Each sported a bandage covering a stitched gash.  C.D. lounged in a nearby chair.  Inside, Trivette put down the phone and strolled outside into the cooling air.

"Turns out Kris Warner is an alias.  She's done things like this before, but never to this extent."

"How so?"  C.D. asked.

"She was married to a police officer about ten years ago.  He was apparently a real sicko -- not only beat her but was in to self-mutilation.  To prove she loved him, he made Kris fix up his injuries.  She became a paramedic, but soon after he left her and she went off the deep end.  She moved around, chose a cop in each new town she settled in and 'accidents' would begin happening.  Then she could get close by using her medical skills.   You happened to be her fixation in Dallas, partner."

Alex shook her head. "I can't help but feel sorry for her, wanting so desperately to be needed that she caused injuries to occur."

"I know what you mean, honey,"  C.D. began, "but it's hard to feel sorry for someone who sends letter bombs, hurts children and burns barns."

"At least she's getting help now,"  Trivette added.

Alex, her legs folded beside her, arms looped around Walker's arm and head on his shoulder, looked up at his pensive face."

"You're very quiet."

He leaned over and kissed her head, replaying the past few days in his mind.  The letter bomb had almost gotten her, and in the locker room, the outcome could have been drastically different.  He sighed deeply.

"I'm just glad you're okay."

C.D. stood up, motioning Trivette to follow him.  "I'm gonna work on those dinner dishes.  Give me a hand, will ya Jimmy?"

"I can help,"  Walker said.

"No, you two invalids stay put.  Hear me?"

"Yes sir,"  Alex chuckled.

They rocked in silence, enjoying the quiet.  They could see Amigo and Cookie frolicking in the corral.

"Jimmy seems happy about the foal,"  Alex smiled.

Walker nodded.  He thought about the misunderstanding -- what Trivette had been thinking all week --- and a chuckle escaped.

Alex laughed too. "I know what you're thinking.  If Jimmy only knew."

"Knew what?"  he teased, knowing full well where this was going.

"Oh, if he only knew about a certain evening we took the horses out for a ride--- there was a full moon and we stopped in the pasture...... remember?"

"How could I forget,"  he murmured in her ear.

With a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, Walker pulled his lady love closer. 

The End

  ** thanks to Ina and Jeanette for the one detail that made this a much better story;  and to my Leigh pea for her excellent red pen work --  as always -- and for coming up with a title for the danged thing!! 

                                               g.r.      

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'Walker Texas Ranger' and it's characters belong to CBS Inc., Top Kick Productions and maybe other copyright holders. This story and the author is in no way connected to those copyright holders and intends no infringement on their copyrights. The story is only meant as an entertaining tribute to a great show and it's cast and crew. This story may be distributed and copied freely, in its entirety, for personal use.

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