Night Thoughts

by Alison Wilson

Dreamlessly, Walker slept. At least until the ringing of the phone finally penetrated through the deep sleep which he had welcomed.

Even before opening his eyes Walker knew that it was day from the sunlight which announced its presence past the thin curtains of his bedroom. He let the phone continue ringing and raised his wrist to check his watch. "Dang," he said, amazed that he had managed to sleep so long. Sleeping like the dead, he thought, and frowned. Why had he thought that? It was over. No more episodes of uneasy spirits of the dead to dominate the living in any way.

What was dominating was the persistent ringing of the phone. Walker lifted the receiver and spoke into it. "Yeah?"

"Are you deaf?" Trivette demanded, irritation masking concern over his tone, which was a bit louder than usual. "I've tried calling and calling. Never any answer. If you refuse to pick up the phone, why isn't the answering machine on? And are you all right? I was considering driving to the ranch to check on you."

"Sorry," was the unexpected reply.

The apology was sincere, but Trivette was still not entirely pacified. "What were you doing?"

"Sleeping," Walker admitted. "More than I planned. Still, I guess my absence gave you a chance to crank up the computer and catch up on some paperwork."

"You wish," Trivette retorted. "Actually, I did one report for you that you can just sign and take credit for, but most of my time was spent trying to calm down a certain lawyer who needed you in court today and had to beg for a continuance from Judge McKitrick since you weren't there and couldn't be tracked down within the hour. It's not like Alex could juggle the list of witnesses, since you were essentially it besides me, and even I can only repeat myself creatively a certain number of times,"

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," Trivette confirmed. "Are you all right? Seriously. I didn't think sleep was that high on your list of 'things to do,' at least not when you have other responsibilities. After what just happened, are you. , . ready to go on as usual?" It was a little, just a little, easier to try to phrase his worry over the phone than face-to-face where he was sure Walker would just joke his way out of the issue or change the subject.

"I was born ready," Walker said wryly.

            Trivette decided not to reply to that. Walker listened to his breathing for a few seconds. This "I can stay silent longer than you can" scenario was one he could win ­easily, so he just refocused his gave on his watch. In less than a minute Trivette spoke again. "It's past noon. Want to meet me at CD's for lunch?"

At the mention of lunch, Walker suddenly realized that he was hungry. "Sure.” He wondered if Alex would be there, but didn't ask since it didn't matter. Eventually he would see her.

"Good. See you there in about an hour?"

"Yeah," Walker agreed. "Hey, did you manage to calm Alex down much?”" Not much, but once she gets over being annoyed, you'll be forgiven like

always," Trivette answered cheerfully. "I took the worst of her mood for you.  Don’t you ever feel like fantasizing of strangling Alex?"

It was a clearly rhetorical question and not even one meant literally. Yet Walker  did not like the image it presented in his mind. It made him uneasy. The idea of strangling Alex had not entered his thoughts, but it somehow seemed weirdly familiar.

"No," Walker said sharply. He hung up, not wanting to try to continue the conversation.

            Bending over the sink, Alex cupped her hands over the cool water and splashed it on her face. She was still careful not to get her "dry clean only" blouse damp.  Drying ­her face with one of the paper towels provided, she then tossed the towel into the waste basket. She went back to her office to get a folder to take home to study.

Once the folder was tucked into her briefcase, she was locking the door of her ­office when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Stifling a startled cry, she turned to see Walker. "You scared me," she explained, annoyed at the blush that she knew had  appeared. It was silly to be scared, but she had not heard anything it was late, with most of the people long since gone home.

"You don't have to be scared of me," Walker told her.

She locked the door and met his surprisingly serious look. "I know," she replied.  "I'm sorry about missing court. I don't know why I slept so long. Anyway, I have

no excuse, so go ahead and yell at me or hit me or whatever," Walker said, only slightly less seriously.

He didn't get yelled at or hit. What he got was a friendly smile. "I pick whatever.

Let's go to my place and order pizza and sit on the couch and just be together.” "Just us?" Walker asked.

"You got a problem with that?" Alex challenged.

It wasn't as if he'd admit it, and he had set himself up for such a situation so didn't immediately see any honorable way out of it. "No."

Once they were at Alex's she gave him a catalog to amuse himself while she changed out of her work clothes. He'd phoned in their pizza order and gave the pages of the catalog only a cursory glance. Soon Alex returned, wearing jeans and a cotton  shirt. "I'm hungry. Are you?"

            Her remark was not a double entendre yet that interpretation was the first which came to mind for Walker. He shook his head slightly, not in reply but as if to shake off more unclear thoughts. "Pizza will be here soon," he said.

Alex tilted her head as she looked at him. "What's wrong?" "Nothing," he said. "Why would anything be wrong?"

"I don't know. It's just the way you looked, and the way you looked at me."

Was this going to become some discussion about feelings? It had better not be, since Walker felt even more uncomfortable in that area than he might usually. "I can't do anything about how I look, but if it makes you feel better, I'll try not to look at you," he suggested.

"Never mind." Alex wrinkled her nose at that idea. "Even though you slept through a lot of it, we've both had a hard time the last few days. Let's just relax. You do know how to relax, don't you?"

"Yes," Walker said, and settled on the couch to prove it. He didn't move away as Alex sat near him, but did not reach out to touch her either. Her blouse was white. She'd been wearing a white dress when ... he couldn't remember anything else but the dress, plus her hair being drawn up as if for a special evening out.

"Walker." Her voice jolted him away from the incomplete, haunting memory. He blinked. "What?"

"You're looking at me like that again." Alex's voice revealed her puzzlement.

"Why?"

"I don't know," Walker said honestly. "Tell me something. When was the last time we were alone?"

"Now?" Alex said, knowing that wasn't the answer he wanted. "You mean before this?" He nodded affirmatively. "It's been a while." She paused to think, since the question seemed so important to Walker that she wanted to be able to give him a more precise answer. "I guess we haven't really been seriously alone since my birthday."

Before Walker could really absorb that information, the doorbell rang. Alex got up to answer and paid the pizza delivery boy, who was still a junior in high school who was part of the "Kick Drugs Out of America" program that Chuck Norris started. Walker recognized the voice before he got a good look at the boy's face. It was just automatic behavior on his part to be alert for a possible hostile visitor rather than a completely normal one since he had so often seen Alex become a target for various bad guys.

There was no point in hiding his presence; the boy would have noticed his truck parked nearby. Walker joined Alex at the door. "Hey, Chad," he greeted his student. ·How's it going?"

"Busy night," he admitted. "I've got two other orders to deliver in this area."

"And you came here first?" Walker guessed correctly. "Thanks, but next time do it right and don't play favorites."

There was no real censure in Walker's tone but it was still clear that he meant it.  Yes, sir," Chad answered. To Alex he said, "Thanks for the tip, ma'am."

She smiled. "You're quite welcome. Bye." Once the door was closed, and Alex headed toward the table with the pizza box, she complained lightly. "I wish he wouldn't call me ma'am. It makes me feel old."

"Company policy, probably," Walker said, amused. "Besides, you know employees often get told to address anyone over the age of, say, eight, as 'sir' or 'ma'am,' so don't read too much into it."

"True," Alex admitted. She opened the box and then looked at him meaninqfully.

"I could give you the same advice about whatever it is that's bothering you."

He managed a genuine smile. "Could? You just did." "Are you going to take it?"

"The advice? Maybe. For now let's just eat."

So they did, and for a while all was as usual. Alex was content just to have company and did not press for prolonged conversation. They were watching an old John Wayne movie. Walker had seen that one a few times before, but it was new to 

Alex.

At a commercial break Walker abruptly reached for the remote and turnedbthe TV ­off. "What?" Alex asked. "You don't like commercials for feminine products?" she teased.

His answer, although entirely unrelated to the actual question, surprised her.

"What I don't like is those bruises on your neck. How did you get those?"

The complete change of subject made no sense to Alex. "What are you talking about?" she asked. She had absolutely no idea. Walker had gone from an arm across  her shoulder to playing with her hair to evidently having moved the neckline of her shirt and thus seen bruises that she wasn't aware existed. She'd put on slight touches make-up in the morning and glanced at her reflection a couple times that day, but there had been no reason to pay attention to her neck so if there actually were bruises there as Walker stated, that was news to her.

She let Walker offer a hand to her as he stood and then led her into the bathroom. He flicked on the light and stood close to her. "No, don't look at me.  Look in the mirror," he instructed.

The mirror did reveal bruises. Alex reached up to touch her neck, fingering area. The bruises were definitely real and not some trick of light. The lighting in the bathroom was quite sufficient yet she had no possible idea how the marks had appeared on her body. She let her hands fall to her sides and looked at Walker.  I don't know," she said. "I don't know."

"I think I do," Walker said.

Alex shook her head. There was no logical reason why he would know if she did not. Still, she asked, "How?"

Walker still had absolutely no actual memory, but he knew how to answer.

Wordlessly, he reached for Alex's neck, and fit his hands over the bruises. There was no actual pressure, no intent whatsoever to harm her. Alex did not resist, but silently continued to look at him with the same trust clear in her eyes. Walker tilted his head in the direction of the mirror to indicate she should again look to it for answers, to compare the match his hands made to cover the bruises.

Obediently Alex looked at the mirror and knew what Walker was trying to tell her. She looked back at him. "I did that," he said. "I have no idea how or when, but I did." 

He would have removed his hands, but Alex reached up to keep them in that damning position. "No," she said firmly. "It wasn't you."

For a moment he had allowed her to dominate, but now Walker with deliberate haste removed his hands and resisted the impulse to try shaking some sense into Alex. He felt guilty of something and did not want absolution. He wished he could produce the logical explanation that the lawyer side of Alex would be forced to accept as fact; he simply could not since he had no memory of his troubling spirit-induced dream and knew that Alex would not accept or believe a paranormal scenario as a possibility.

He forced himself to focus on Alex's next pause. "It wouldn't be you. You know why?" She didn't pause. "Tell me one time, one single time, Cordell Walker, that you have ever raised your hand at me in violence or with any intent to harm me."

He had no answer for that. "Tell me," Alex demanded calmly, persistently. "Just because we don't remember it doesn't mean it didn't happen," Walker finally suggested.

"It didn't happen. Period."

"So tell me why those bruises are there," Walker made his own demand.

"I have absolutely no idea, but it wasn't you, so don't keep making that ridiculous suggestion. "

It was clear that he would not be able to convince her, and actually Walker didn't want to keep forcing the issue. "I'm sorry," he said, not entirely sure exactly what he was apologizing for, but feeling the need to do so.

"That's twice today you've said 'I'm sorry' to me. Would you quit it?" "Yes, ma'am," Walker said meekly.

"Now, what did I just tell you?"

"You don't like to be called that, and I'm not allowed to apologize ... " Walker hesitated. "Was that the correct response?"

She looked at him as a teacher might at a slow student. "No. Well, yes, but that was not what I meant. What did I tell you about your ridiculous suggestion, actually your ridiculous statement, that you were the cause of those bruises on my neck?"

"You said it didn't happen," Walker replied obediently if not entirely convincingly. He still got that expression which said he wasn't saying the right thing. "Say it

again, and leave off the 'you said' part," Alex instructed.

It wouldn't hurt to do that. Whatever actually had happened, it was over. "It didn't happen," Walker said.

That time Alex was content with his response. "Good," she praised him. "Now, end of that subject. Promise?"

He nodded affirmatively. That got him a sisterly pat on the arm. "Good," Alex repeated. "Now can we go watch the end of the movie? And don't tell me how it ends."

He couldn't resist teasing her after their intense conversation. "What happens

is—“

Alex interrupted him with a finger on his lips, then kissed him. "Be nice."

Slightly startled by the thorough kiss which he had at least managed to return,

Walker kept silent as Alex switched off the bathroom light and followed her back to the

couch to continue watching the movie. While he had on a few occasions opted to kiss

Alex simply to get her to shut up, she had never used that tactic with him. Served him

right, and he was grateful that they had slipped back into their familiar mixture of friends

and not-yet-but-could-easily-become more than friends routine.

Still a part of Walker, the Cherokee part which knew that not everything had a logical explanation, wondered about those bruises. He didn't want to go ask any of the elder Indians who might furnish him with an answer, so he went to the man who had raised him after the death of his parents for possible answers. After all, he regularly called Uncle Ray at the Oklahoma reservation, so he simply brought up the issue. Uncle Ray already knew about the construction site and other events so it was not necessary to give him the background information.

"So what's your question?" Uncle Ray asked calmly. His manner transferred

itself over the phone and that helped relax Walker.

"Could I have done t?" "Not exactly."

"Define 'not exactly,'" Walker said.

"You don't know what happened, and I won't try to guess, because I might be wrong. Maybe you did have a dream and it included an out-of-body experience that somehow left a physical manifestation, those bruises you saw, but there was no way that you could have been influenced or used to the extent of actually truly causing harm ­to Alex or anyone you care about or love."

"How do you know?"

"Washo, you already know the answer to that. Evil has powers, but they are limited."

"Alex swears it didn't happen, that I didn't do it, and there's nothing I can say to

convince her otherwise. She made me promise not to bring the issue up again."  "Was that such a hard promise to give to a woman you love?"

"No, but ... Uncle Ray, I wish you'd quit saying that."

"Why? You do love her, don't you?"

He could deny it, but it would be a lie, and now the only lies he told Uncle Ray

were ones of omission. "Yes."

"You should tell her sometimes. Women need to hear the words." "I can't."

"Yon only think you can't. I think some day you will tell her, and it will be as easy as breathing."

Sometimes Uncle Ray was very, very right, but he did also sometimes make mistakes.  Walker tried to lighten the subject. "You just want grandkids," he accused truthfully but without annoyance. Eventually he wouldn't mind settling down, being married and having kids.

"That, too," Uncle Ray admitted cheerfully.

"I didn't think just because I asked you this, we would end up discussing something else," Walker said. "Thanks. I have to meet Trivette in about an hour better shower and change. He says he's allergic to horse hair, but I think he just

doesn't want any shedding on his new suit. This is supposed to be a slow day, so we're doing interviews and then he's doing his laundry here while we play chess."

"Who won the last time?"

"Trivette, but I swear he plays against that darn computer and gets scenarios that I've never heard of and which shouldn't work but do."

"Well, you'd have heard of them if you didn't have this computer phobia," Uncle

Ray said cheerfully.

"It's not a phobia. I just don't like them! Talk to you later, okay?" "Okay. Be careful, and remember what I said about Alex." "Yeah," Walker agreed casually. "Bye."

After hanging up the receiver, the Ranger pondered the assurances that had been given to him by both Alex and Uncle Ray, and smiled as he imagined the response he'd get from Trivette.

"It didn't happen," he spoke aloud to himself, and was finally able to accept a . truth he already knew. Evil did, no matter what, have only limited power.