Second Chance

By: Sandbox (Lisa)

sandbox@alaska.net

Alex woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off. As she snuggled closer to the broad, muscled back of her sleeping Ranger, she thought over how her life had changed after the birth of Angela. It had now been 8 months since that miraculous day in May when they thought they had lost her before even coming to know her. Alex remembered how hard it had been to leave Angela at HOPE Center after her 12 weeks of maternity leave were up; but she felt fortunate that the center was near her office and that she was able to visit at lunch every day to play with and to nurse her baby. Sometimes Walker was able to join her there, and it was the highlight of their day for all three of them. It still surprised her how easily Walker had taken to caring for a tiny infant. She thought that his large hands, that were better suited for taking down criminals, would be clumsy in handling a baby so small. He has quickly become adept at changing her and insisted on giving her the final bottle of the night with milk Alex expressed from the previous evening.

She felt a slight breeze from the partially open window rustle across her face and heard a small cry from the other room. She got up quietly so as to not disturb Walker, turned off the alarm and crept into the baby’s room whispering, “it’s okay, angel baby, mama’s coming to get you.”  Angela was lying in her crib cooing up at her, making little smacking sounds with her lips. Alex quickly changed her then brought her back to bed to nurse her, enjoying the quiet intimacy of the early morning time spent with her family. Walker stirred and placed his little finger next to his nursing daughter, gently stroking Alex’s breast and his baby’s face. He leaned over and kissed Alex good morning and wrapped an arm around her so he could snuggle both of them closer.

Too soon, it was time to get ready for the coming day. Walker got ready first, and tried to feed Angela cereal while Alex finished dressing. She had more fun spitting it back at them than actually eating the bland gooey stuff. When Alex came downstairs, she was surprised to see that he already had their breakfast cooked and the table set. Angela was strapped into her bouncy seat, gurgling happily, already fed and cleaned up.  “My, my, aren’t we getting organized in the morning – feeding the baby and having our breakfast ready as well - I think I’ll keep you around!” 

“Well, I think we are beginning to get this dad-gummed cereal thing down; more went in her this time than on the floor.” Alex walked over to him, wrapped her arms around him and said, “Honey, have I told you lately what a great dad you are and that I love you?” Walker lingeringly kissed her back then they sat down to eat and talk about their upcoming day and evening plans.

They discussed the upcoming evening, when Alex and Walker were to attend a $100 a plate dinner hosted by local politician Sean O’Donnell. He had recently befriended the Walkers and wanted to help contribute to Kick Drugs out of America. The dinner was to benefit that same organization.

“The drycleaners are delivering your tux to my office, and I have my evening dress ready to go. Josie said that there is a new child-care worker who’s starting today and will be working the evening shift. She’ll be watching Angela tonight, and I want to spend some time talking with her to make sure she’s comfortable caring for our little Angel. Since you’re driving me there for lunch, you can meet with her as well. Then we can go to HOPE Center around 6:00 p.m. and have plenty of time to feed Angela, change and be at the dinner by 7:00 p.m.”

“What do you know about this new worker, what kind of screening did Josie do?”

“Walker, you know… the usual:  background check, courthouse check, call references… Josie said she really checked her out; in fact, we’ve both known Felicia for over a year, she used to be a client of HOPE Center. She has two teenagers that we have really helped turn around and about 6 months ago we helped her leave an abusive situation.”

Walker’s sixth sense perked up and he said, “Abusive situation, what is that all about? Where is the husband now? Is he still a threat?”

“No, I really questioned Josie about that before we hired Felicia. HOPE Center is certainly in the business of helping people, and she was well qualified for the job, but the board would never authorize the hiring of someone who would put others in danger. Last we heard, Michael Donovan had returned to Ireland. The divorce is final and he didn’t contest custody of the kids.”

Walker leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and grinned when Angela reached up to grab his beard and poked a small finger into his mouth. “Hon, sorry, I kinda jumped on that. I see so many bad things during the course of my day that I want so much to keep evil away from our baby. Of course you would do a thorough job of screening anyone who cares for the kids at HOPE Center." Then, realizing what else she had spoken of, said in a resigned voice, “Alex, you know how I hate to wear a tux. Won’t a jacket and bolo do?”

“Walker, Mr. O’Donnell went to all of this trouble to organize this event for KDOOA, and you’re receiving an award. Besides, you know what seeing you in a tux does to me…”

 “Well, if you put it that way, maybe a tux is a small price to pay for the benefits down the road…” he replied suggestively.

After clearing up the breakfast dishes together, Alex made a quick inventory of the baby bag. Because they were planning an evening out after work, they chose to ride together. Walker promised to stay out of any trouble that day that would make him late for their date. Talking baby talk in a way that made Alex quietly giggle to herself, Walker carefully carried out Angela and her bag, and was strapping her into the Ram while Alex, carrying her evening clothes and Walker’s shoes, locked the door and came out to join them. They talked about inconsequential things while they drove in. It was such a luxury to share a bit more of their morning together. They never knew when Walker would have to work late, or even overnight, on a stakeout.

They brought Angela into HOPE Center together, each giving her one last kiss before resuming their short drive to their respective offices. They walked in together and parted company at the elevator. Alex was looking forward to seeing Angela again around noon and then would try to be there again at 6:00 p.m. so she could nurse her before their evening out.

Walker strode into the Company B headquarters, put his hat up on the rack near his desk, and sat down to have a short meeting with his team to see how they were all progressing on their respective investigations. He looked over to Trivette first.

“Walker, I heard from Adam McGuire. He said counterfeit American currency is showing up in Ireland. It has the Dallas Federal Reserve marker on it, so he thinks with the trouble here in the past, there’s still a hard-line group of anti-peace supporters doing business in the metro-plex. He thinks the money is being used to buy guns and ammunition to support the rebel cause. I have a lead on a black market ink source I’m going to check out; you’re welcome to come if you’d like.”

“Gage and I got a lead on a factory that has been placing orders for a certain type of paper that is used for very few types of printing, the main one being U.S. dollars. We thought we would go by there today and see if they do more than just print fortunes for cookies,” said Sydney wryly.

“Well, it looks like we have a full morning planned. Let’s meet back here around 2:00 p.m. and see what we’ve turned up. Trivette, I’d like to go with you, as long as we’re back at noon. I want to take Alex over to HOPE Center to feed Angela. We shared the truck today so I need to drive her, but aside from that, there’s a new caregiver starting today and I want to meet her. She’s working the shift tonight that will be watching Angela while Alex and I attend the KDOOA benefit.”

Gage said, ”Oh, yeah, that’s tonight? Is that where you’re receiving that award from the Presidential Commission on Drug Abuse for positively influencing the youth of America?”

“Something like that,” replied a humble Walker. “Trivette, ready to roll?”

“Hey, partner, if you’d like to leave the truck for Alex in case we get waylaid by the bad guys, I’d be happy to drive,” said Trivette teasingly, knowing he would always lose the fight to drive. In the beginning of their partnership, it had been a constant bone of contention between them. In the past few years he had come to realize that one of his partner’s many strengths was keeping his cool under pressure and being able to drive with the skill of a racecar driver when things got tough. “Yeah, right,” said Walker, grabbing his hat and heading out the door ahead of Trivette.

Sydney looked at Gage, who was innocently eating his second breakfast of the day and said to him, “as soon as you finish those powdered sugar donuts, we can go check out the paper manufacturer.” Then she affectionately wiped powdered sugar from his chin and front of his shirt.

“Hey, Syd, I was going to get to that.”

“Well, you look perfect now,” she replied out loud, and privately thought that he did indeed look perfect. She gave herself a short moment of indulgence to think what it would be like to kiss the sugar off of his chin and proceed to his lips. Wouldn’t that give him the surprise of his day! ?

Walker and Trivette were driving to the ink manufacturer. Their goal was to find out the names of possible buyers of a specialty ink. “Hey, partner, how are things working out now with Alex back at work full time?” asked Trivette cautiously, knowing his partner was very private about his personal life, but truly wanting to know if his closest friends were adjusting okay. “Well, now that Angela is sleeping through the night, we’re all doing a lot better.” Trivette nodded, remembering many a morning that Walker came in looking dazed from sleep deprivation. “I think Alex enjoyed the time off to bond with the baby, but I could tell the last few weeks that she was getting a bit stir crazy, wanting to get back to the action of her job. DA Moody has been trying to give Alex cases that are involved, but maybe not as time consuming. He’s turned out to be quite a great fan of Angela’s. He and his wife have watched her a couple of times for a few hours in the evening here and there, and really seemed to enjoy her.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know personally, but they say having a baby really changes your life.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure. After my parents died I kinda blocked out my emotions so as to not ever get hurt on that level again. Then Ellen came along and cracked the wall. Then later, I never thought I could love anyone as deeply as I love Alex. But a baby, through their very innocence, touches you on a much deeper level. It adds a new dimension to a marriage as well.” Chuckling, he continued, “ I guess now that we are sleeping again we are just beginning to appreciate how Angela has made us a real family.”

Trivette appeared unmoved by his partner’s out-of-character admission, but was, in reality, deeply touched by Walker sharing with him on this level. As he saw the building approaching, he said gruffly to Walker, “looks like this is the place,” and quickly got out of the truck after Walker put it in park.

Walker got out as well, and led the way into the ink manufacturer. He politely asked the receptionist for the manager. She asked what it was regarding and he replied, ”Texas Rangers, ma’am, we have a few questions he might be able to help us with.”

She showed them into the manager’s office. He was a typical corporate type, sitting at his desk reviewing ledgers on his computer, wearing a suit too small to cover his corpulent midsection, and mopping his brow on this unusually warm January morning. “What can I do for you two gentlemen?” he asked, as he clumsily tried to rise from behind his desk.

Trivette stepped closer and said, “we don’t have a warrant, but we understand your company manufactures a special type of ink that mimics currency ink. We wonder if you would be kind enough to let us look over the names of your customers?”

“Well, that is privileged information….” The manager said hesitantly.

“We’d be happy to come back with a search warrant, but that just takes time and might turn up more information than we’re really looking for,” countered Walker, putting his hat back on his head and acting as if ready to take his leave. “Come on, Trivette, I am sure Alex would be happy to find a judge to give us a search warrant.”

Trivette looked at the manager and said “hey, man, last chance to do yourself a favor, what do you say?”

“Okay, I’ll pull the list up on my computer screen. You can write down whatever interests you, but be quick about it. I have clients coming here in an hour and this doesn’t look good,” he said nervously, getting up the rest of the way, mopping his brow again and quickly exiting the room so Trivette could move behind the desk and begin looking over the names.

“Walker, here’s that company again, Irish Rose Enterprises.” This company had come up during other parts of their investigation, but so far, they had been unable to crack into it or find any solid bricks-and-mortar proof of its existence.

They left the office and both walked over to the reception area, where the manager was standing by a water cooler drinking from a paper cup. “Who is your contact for Irish Rose Enterprises?” demanded Walker, in a tone that brooked no denial.

The manager’s hand began to shake and he sloshed water out of the cup onto his already stained tie. “Weeeell,” he said shakily, “I don’t know his real name, and he was gone for quite awhile and just recently got back in town. I think he went back to Ireland or something.”

“Well,” said Walker, getting impatient after looking at the time and realizing he had a lunch date he didn’t want to be late for and would be if he didn’t find out the information he needed quickly, “what name did he use and what did he look like?”

“He went by Mick D. and he looked like a black Irishman. You know, tall, like 6’2”, black hair, darker skin, and he spoke with a definite Irish accent,” replied the manager nervously, knowing the Rangers could make life much worse for him; and wanting to give them the information they wanted so they would leave the building and stay out of his cozy little operation.

“Anything else?” said Walker dangerously.

“This is probably beside the point, but he has a really bad temper, and last time he was in here he was talking about making his old lady pay for deserting him.” This last statement sent a cold chill through Walkers attuned body, but he couldn’t put a finger on why it disturbed him.

“Okay, thanks for all of your help, sir,” said Trivette, sensing his partner’s disturbance and ushering them both out the door.

Once they were in the truck heading back to Ranger headquarters, Trivette said, ”Partner, tell me what happened back there?”

Walker, not feeling the need to lie to his closest friend, said, “I don’t know, something about this Mick D. I’ve never heard of him before this, but there is something about him that I sense is very evil and dangerous.”

Trivette replied seriously, “is this one of your Cherokee Moments? I’ve really grown to respect them. What should we do, check with our sources and see if they’ve heard of this guy and what he might be up to?”

“No,” said Walker, thoughtfully, “thanks for your concern, let me just simmer on it for awhile. It’ll come to me.”

Back at headquarters, Walker was heading down the hallway towards Company B headquarters when he turned a corner and collided with Alex. “Sorry, ma’am,” he automatically said, reaching out and touching her arms with his hands to soften the collision. Then, upon realizing it was his lovely wife, he slightly tightened his extended hands and snuck a quick kiss, since they were almost pressed against each other anyway. Alex, with a surprised look on her face, whispered in a low voice that was for his ears only, “Are you starting tonight early, honey?” To which he replied in the same low seductive voice, “I’m ready if you are!”

At that point, Trivette, who had witnessed the entire thing said, “Walker, I thought you were in a hurry to get Alex to Angela, what’s this smooching in the hallway business all about?”

Walker turned slightly red and said tersely, “I’ve found her now. I’ll be back in an hour. Why don’t you make yourself useful and go ahead and look into that Mick D. character.”

“What was that all about?” questioned Alex.

“We went out to that ink manufacturer and found out that one of their clients is Irish Rose Enterprises. Their contact is a guy called Mick D. He’s been in Ireland for a while, and is now back in town. Do you have everything you need?” 

“Yes, I’m ready to spend the next hour cuddling our little darling.”

“Okay, and I think I’ll use the time to simmer some more over this investigation. There’s a loose end out there that’s eluding me.” The elevator opened and Walker guided his wife into it, then out the doors to the truck.

A few minutes later they arrived at HOPE Center. Josie greeted them and showed them into the baby room, where a pretty, petite redhead was busy singing a little ditty to two babies that she was feeding. Her voice had a lovely Irish lilt to it, and was very pleasant to listen to. For a moment, Walker was entranced by the musical voice and the words. It was a song he remembered his mother singing to him when he was little. He shook his head a bit to clear it as he heard Alex say, “Walker, honey, this is Felicia Morgan. She’s the caregiver that just started today. She said that Angela had a good morning and should just be waking up from her nap in the sleeping room. Why don’t I go feed her while you get acquainted with Felicia?” At that, Alex left the room and Walker held out his hand to Felicia, saying, “nice to meet you. Alex said that you were originally a client of HOPE Center?”

“Yes, about a year ago I was desperate to get away from my husband. I had been trying to make it work because of our two children. A friend referred me to this center’s woman’s counseling group. Through that group, I found the courage to leave my husband. Now the kids and I live in an apartment nearby and, thankfully, this job opened up.”

“Don’t you get any support from him?” asked Walker in a kindly manner.

“No, actually, he went back to Ireland a few months ago and I haven’t heard from him since. That is best for the children. I don’t want to go into all of the details, but it was not a good situation for them. I actually have Alex to thank for helping me turn my life around and for this job; and you to thank for helping re-focus my children.”

“How’s that?” asked a puzzled Walker.

“Well, the high school they go to has a KDOOA program, and their school counselor suggested that they join it about six months ago. My son was quickly becoming enamored with a gang, and my daughter’s grades had fallen and I was really worried about the friends she had begun to hang out with. I know it was because of the stress at home, but I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, they knew they needed to make some changes, and agreed to go to KDOOA for a month. After that they were hooked, and have really settled down. So, Ranger Walker, I want to thank you for your involvement with the program. Alex tells me I will be watching wee Angela tonight while you go to the awards ceremony, and that you are receiving their Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award.”

Chuckling, he said, “that’s right, and Alex has convinced me I need to wear a tux. By the way, awards aside, the reason I try to volunteer my time with that program is to hear stories just like yours. There’s such a need in our city for positive role models. Kids today, more than ever, need to be able to believe in themselves and their abilities. That’s the only way we’ll save them.”

At that moment, they were interrupted by Alex, arriving from the other room bearing little Angela. “Look, Walker, her first tooth is starting to come through.” Alex cooed, and sidled up next to Walker so he could look into Angela’s mouth as Alex held her.

“Let’s see my big girl’s new tooth,” Walker whispered to the baby, and inspected the little white protrusion peeking out of her gum. “Is this supposed to be happening so soon?” said Walker in a concerned voice.

Felicia and Alex shared an amused look and Alex replied, “Honey, all babies are different. Her doctor said to expect her first tooth anywhere between 6 and 9 months. She is just on the early side.” Then, cuddling Angela closer, said to her in a baby voice, “Just as we would expect for our perfect little girl, doing everything earlier than other babies. You couldn’t even wait your turn to be born, but had to do that faster too, didn’t you?”

They played with Angela for a while longer. Time sped by, and too soon it was time to leave. Walker, who had been playing peek-a-boo with the baby, gently handed her over to Felicia. After one last kiss, they walked out the door together. Walker opened the Ram door for Alex, then got in himself and drove them both back to work.

They reached their floor and before parting, Walker gave her a quick wink, squeezed her arm and said, “I promise I’ll be at your office at 6:00 p.m. so you can take care of Angela before the dinner.” “Okay, honey, good luck with your investigation,” said Alex, already thinking about the briefs she had to file before she could call it a day.

Sydney, Gage and Trivette were already back at headquarters and were seated around Walker’s desk. They had just begun recapping their morning adventures to Trivette.  “Grab a seat, Walker,” said Gage as he noticed Walker walk in and hang his hat up on the rack. Walker came over and sat on the corner of his desk. “Syd was just about to give Trivette an overview of the day, but now that you’re here, we’ll give the blow by blow, eh, Syd?” he said, giving Sydney a playful punch.

She gave him a business-like look and began. “By the time we arrived, it looked like someone had tipped them off. No one was there and it looked like they had left in a big hurry.” Walker and Trivette glanced at each other; each guessing that a certain nervous manager had made a few phone calls after they left his office. Sydney continued, “they left a few pieces of counterfeiting equipment, and we found this on the floor,” she said, handing Walker a piece of paper that looked like an invoice. Indeed, it was. The billing was made out to Irish Rose Enterprises and was for the special type of paper.

“Hmmm, seems as if we are right behind them,” said Walker thoughtfully, rubbing his chin between his thumb and forefinger. “I wonder who the leader of this Irish Rose Enterprises is?” he said, voicing his thoughts out loud. “Sydney and Gage, why don’t you do some investigating into who rented that warehouse, and maybe track down the phone records. We need to find the head guy of that organization before they set up their operation again. Trivette, did you have any luck finding out anything about Mick D.?”

“I’ve put some feelers out with our contacts in the Irish community, but so far no bites.”

“Keep going in that direction and see what you can dig up. I need to leave here by 5:45 so Alex and I can take care of Angela and get to the benefit tonight. I’m going to do some calling of my own. Let’s all meet again tomorrow morning to see if anyone came up with enough information to shed some light on Irish Rose.”

In what seemed like no time, it was 5:45. Walker tidied up his desk, and was putting on his Stetson when Gage looked over and said jokingly, “Walker, I hope you have better luck figuring out the bowtie tonight than you did at your wedding.” Walker, remembering how Mark had had to figure it out for him, grinned and said, “don’t worry, Alex knows how to work those things. We’re changing at HOPE Center.”

Sydney, trying to hold in her laughter at the thought of their fearless leader fumbling around with a fancy tie, said, “good luck on your speech tonight, boss, you really deserve to be recognized for all of the work you do with KDOOA.”

“Thanks, see you all tomorrow,” said Walker, looking at all three of them.

 “Walker, I’ll walk with you. I’ve got a date with Erika and need to leave, too.”

“So, Syd, have any plans tonight?” said Gage.

“No,” she said, “ I thought I’d just keep checking on those warehouses, but I could pretty easily be persuaded to change my mind. What were you thinking of?”

“Well, I’ve got a couple of steaks with our names on them; and we could maybe watch the pay per view fights?”

She thought about it for a minute, then, giving her quirky half smile, looked at him and said, “why not, it beats continuing to run into dead ends. I think we’ve worked 12 hours a day for the past two weeks trying to track down this Irish Rose, maybe we deserve a break. I can be ready whenever you are.”

Gage held out his hand to her to help her out of her chair, and said, “no time like the present. Why don’t we take my car, I’ll be happy to run you back over later.”

She accepted his hand in the spirit of friendship in which it was offered, stood up, let go and left the room with Gage.

Walker said goodbye to Trivette at the elevator, then continued to Alex’s office. Knocking softly, he poked his head in and said quietly, “Ready, honey?” Alex looked up from the brief she had been intently studying and said with some surprise, “is it almost 6:00 p.m. already???”

“It is. What else do you want me to carry for you?” Walker asked, reaching to the hook behind her door and grabbing his tux and the garment bag containing her evening dress.

“If you can just get those two, I can carry the shoes and my briefcase.” She stood up, pushed her chair in, reached for her briefcase and purse, and gave him a quick kiss as she walked out the door he was holding open for her.

After safely hanging their clothes on the hook in the back seat, they drove the short distance to HOPE Center. They used the small span of time to separate themselves from their day and listened to their favorite country station. They were personal friends with the DJ, and Alex gave Walker an affectionate poke in the ribs when the voice on the radio said, “ … and events around town tonight, there is a Kick Drugs Out of America benefit tonight hosted by Sean O’ Donnell.  Among the award recipients tonight for outstanding community service is our favorite Texas Ranger, Cordell Walker. If you are listening tonight, Ranger Walker, I want to personally thank you for all of the work you do for KDOOA. And now, in honor of Ranger Walker, I’m going to play one of his and his wife’s favorite songs, “Stars over Texas”.”

By the time the song ended, they were at their destination. Alex, anxious to see Angela, did not wait for Walker to open her door, but instead hopped out and lightly ran up the steps and into the house. Walker took a more sedate pace after placing the evening clothes carefully over his arm and locking the door of the Ram.

Felicia and Josie greeted him. “Alex already took Angela upstairs into the spare guest room.”

“That’s fine, no hurry. How was Angela’s afternoon?” he asked, looking intently at Felicia.

“Oh, we played, tried more oatmeal and had a long nap. She was just starting to look for her mama when you both showed up,” replied Felicia in her beautiful lilting voice.

“Well, I think I’ll go join them,” said Walker, tipping his hat at them both. He bounded up the stairs, quietly knocked on the door, and then entered. The innocence and beauty of his family always struck him anew when he watched Alex nurse their baby. She was sitting peacefully in the shaded room, blinds drawn, contentedly nursing Angela and talking quietly to her. She looked up as Walker came into the room and was warmed by the depth of the love she saw in his returning gaze. Softly she said, “honey, why don’t you take a shower. I imagine you had a pretty busy day and would enjoy one before putting on your tux. There are fresh towels in the adjoining bathroom. I set up everything you need in there. Then I’ll get ready and you can play with our little angel.”

He hung the clothes on a hook, leaned down to kiss her cheek, and then went into the bathroom to take a much-appreciated shower. After dressing, he came out of the bathroom dangling his bowtie from his outreached palm. “Okay, I give up, can you help me with this blasted tie?” Rising from a blanket on the floor where she had been playing with Angela, Alex quickly fixed the tie, kissed him and pronounced, “all fixed. Too bad you’re already so fancied up. I wouldn’t have minded a minute or two of pre-dinner fun to whet your appetite for later.” With that, she grabbed her own clothes, placed the finger and thumb of her free hand around his chin, and brought his face to hers for a quick kiss with a hint of things to come, then headed into the bathroom to do her final preparations for the evening ahead.

“My, my, don’t the two of you make a grand couple!” said Felicia, as they came down the stairs together and Walker handed the baby over to her.

Alex gave her last minute instructions. “We should be back by 10:00 p.m. at the latest. She should be okay, but if she gets a bit restless, go ahead and give her a little bit of formula.”

“Oh, we will have a merry time together, you two don’t worry about a thing, just enjoy your evening,” said Felicia, ushering them out the door.

About an hour after they left, Felicia had settled down the other two babies she had for the evening and was rocking a sleeping Angela. She was startled by a violent pounding on the locked door. Company policy required them to lock both doors after 6:30 p.m. She had promptly re-locked the doors after the Walkers had taken their leave. She wasn’t expecting any of the parents to return until 10:00 p.m., and wondered who it could be. Then she heard a voice that turned her blood to ice and sent a terrified chill down her spine.

“Felicia, I know you’re working in there. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll teach you to leave me and turn my own flesh and blood against me.”

“Michael! Oh, merciful heaven, you’ve returned!” she whispered.

Josie, hearing the racket in her upstairs office where she had been working late to finish some paperwork, came rushing down the stairs in time to hear her. “Felicia, who has returned?”

“Mick, I mean Michael, my ex husband. He went back to Ireland a few months ago and said he would never return. He said he would try to start a new life. That the counseling had really helped and he couldn’t live in the same country as us knowing how he had destroyed his family and ruined any chance to be together,” she replied in a quiet tone that did nothing to cover up the terror in her voice. “I can tell he is on something, that’s the voice he used to use just before a violent episode, only he sounds so much worse than I’ve ever heard previously.”

Josie was already dialing 911, but the cord had been cut. She ran back up to her office to call from her cell phone, and was talking to the operator when she heard breaking glass. While she was calling from her cell phone, Felicia was using her last free minute to gather up the 3 sleepy babies and quickly carry them to a small storage room down the hall. As she placed them in blankets on the floor and closed the door, she said a quick prayer to the special saint of children to protect them and keep them quiet. She then made her way back down the hall and was startled as a window broke to her right. The flying glass cut her cheek. As she turned to see where the glass had come from, she was grabbed from behind. Her arm was twisted behind her and she heard a familiar voice whisper evilly in her ear, “did you think I would really leave you forever and not punish you for taking my children away from me? A marriage is forever; no divorce paper is going to stop me from keeping what is mine. If I can’t have you here, I’ll have you in hell!!”

The Walkers had just finished their dinner, enjoying the company at their table, which included the Mayor and the Chief of Police. In spite of the good company, Walker had continued to have a feeling of trepidation, but still hadn’t been able to put a finger on it. Alex noticed he had been quieter than usual that evening, and teasingly said to him, “ what’s wrong, honey, worried about your speech?”

“No, that’s not it. I’ve just had this feeling all day that there’s something wrong, and can’t get rid of it.”

Alex, having a great respect for his intuition, said “well, let’s just hope that this is one that will go away with your speech.”

Shaking his head thoughtfully, Walker said, “I don’t think so, but I hope you’re right.” At that moment the MC began to announce that it was award time.

“Our first award tonight is from the Presidential Commission on Drugs – for the person in our community who has been most influential in young peoples lives to show them an alternative to using drugs. Our recipient is our very own Ranger Cordell Walker.”

To the sound of resounding clapping, Walker stood up and walked to the podium. After shaking the MC’s hand and receiving his award, he began his speech. “I started Kick Drugs out of America several years ago. As a law enforcement officer, I was seeing an alarming trend…” at that, he was interrupted by a uniformed policeman, who came up behind him and whispered something in his ear. “Oh, God!” Immediately he looked at Alex as the color drained from his face. He rushed down from the stage, gripped her arm with a vise-like strength, and rushed her to the foyer of the building. Alex had never seen this level of rage playing on his face. “Walker, what’s wrong! Tell me right now, you’re scaring me!” Walker, noticing for the first time that he was bruising her with his grip, knowing that what he was about to say could destroy her, gently placed a hand on each side of her face, looked deeply into her eyes and, with all of the strength he would take to the mission said, “Alex, someone has broken into HOPE Center and has taken everyone hostage.” He held on to her as the implications of his statement settled in and she collapsed, sobbing in disbelief, into his arms. As he held her she said, “Walker, who is it? What do they want?” and then, trembling and barely able to speak it, “has anyone been hurt?”  He continued to hold her and looked questioningly at the policeman.

“We got a call about 15 minutes ago from someone named Josie. She said she’d been upstairs doing some paperwork when a man named Mick D. (at that Walker imperceptibly tightened his grip on Alex) broke into the house looking for his ex-wife.”

As calmly as he could, Walker said, “has anyone been hurt?”

“Right now we have Josie on the cell phone. The house is surrounded by units, and he’s threatening to kill a woman named Felicia. He doesn’t know that Josie is in the house.”

“What about the babies; I think there were three there tonight?”

“Josie said that this Felicia hid them, and so far they haven’t been discovered.”

By this time, Alex was hysterical. Not only was Angela in danger, but so were Josie - one of her best friends - and Felicia, someone she had personally worked with to free her from the same monster that was now holding all of them under his control.

Walker, with the resolve of steel in his voice, held her tightly to him and told the patrolman, “Call my partner, James Trivette, as well as Rangers’ Francis Gage and Sydney Cook. Tell them all to immediately meet me at HOPE Center.” Then, supporting Alex, he rushed out to his truck, gently helped her inside, got in himself and sped off with lights flashing. As they drove the short distance, he tried to control the rage that he felt inside, and at the same time comfort Alex and plan his attack. He knew that if he was to be successful, he needed to use the centering focus that he had learned in the martial arts. Alex huddled against him, sobbing and clinging to his dinner jacket. “Walker, what are you going to do? These aren’t some strangers that are in trouble; they’re our friends and daughter. If anything happens to them, if anything happens to Angela, I don’t think I would survive.” Walker, thinking she was only mirroring his own thoughts, softly rubbed her arm with his free hand and said in a tense voice, “Alex, they’re calling Trivette, Gage and Sydney; they should be there when we arrive, and as God is my witness I’ll bring our daughter back to you.” Alex, losing herself in his mountain of strength, quieted.

Gage and Sydney had finished dinner and had just sat down on his couch to watch the fights when his phone rang. Sydney had been thinking that maybe tonight they would move to the deeper level, which they had been dancing around. She heard Gage say, “When did it happen? He’s already on his way? You’ve already contacted Trivette? Okay, yes, she’s here with me, we’ll be right there.”

Alarmed, she stood up, and was already reaching for her coat. When Gage hung up, she said,  “Gage, what’s up?” He walked over to her, put his hands on her shoulders, looked down at her and said, “everyone at HOPE Center, including Josie, Angela and two other babies, have been taken hostage. Walker and Alex were notified at the dinner and are on their way. Jimmy’s on his way also. We need to go now!”

Always ready for action, Sydney ran out the door ahead of him.

Walker slammed his rig to a stop in front of the police barricades. Gage and Sydney arrived at the same time. Sydney rushed over to Alex’s side and helped her out. Alex was no longer hysterical. Her inner voice was telling her that she needed to collect herself so that she did not distract Walker from what he did best: unemotionally judge a tense situation and analyze the best way to have a positive outcome. She only prayed that he could divorce himself from his emotions in this instance. She stumbled out of the Ram and clung to Sydney. Gage, and by this time Trivette, raced over to Walker to see what the plan of action was. Sydney and Alex made their way slowly to them. They were all met by the first responding officer. He still had Josie on the phone.

Walker barked, “Let me talk to her.” After being handed the phone, he said, “Josie, where is he now?” They couldn’t tell because all of the shades were drawn.

“He is in the front room, by the fireplace. I think he has a gun, and I hear him saying over and over ‘you are not getting out of here alive, you had no right taking my family away from me. We were supposed to be married forever.’ ”

Alex, remembering the day she walked through the vintage house with Walker, while deciding whether or not to buy it to found HOPE Center, reached out her hand and touched his sleeve. “Walker, remember the old coal shaft in the basement? Someone later installed wall steps for better access? There is a trap door in the back storage room that isn’t blocked. If you can get into the basement, you might be able to get into the house that way and not alert him like you would if you came up the basement steps.”

“Alex, that’s a great idea! Trivette, you and I will go into the house through the basement. Sydney and Gage, on my signal you break in the front door.” Then handing the cell phone back to the responding officer, said, “does the SWAT team have four headsets we can use?”

Walker removed his coat and tie, and then put on the headset. He turned to directly face Alex, reached for both of her hands, looked deeply into her eyes and said softly, “I will bring our baby back to you.”

Following Walker’s lead, Trivette placed a headset on his head, and then they both headed around to the back of the house. Walker knelt by a basement window and pulled a glasscutter and his handkerchief from his pocket. After seeing his partners questioning glance, he said, “I had it in my truck. While we were driving over here I was trying to figure out how to get into the house and remembered I kept this in the glove box.”  With that, he began to cut a circle near the latch. When it was almost finished, he pressed on the glass with the handkerchief and levered it out onto the ground. Then he reached in and unlatched the window. After raising it, he shone a small flashlight down to be sure the floor was clear, then jumped quietly down. Trivette followed him.

“That coal shaft should be around this corner,” whispered Walker, as he walked around the corner and shone the light on a door. He turned the knob and opened the door into a small room with a metal ladder going up the far wall, ending in a trap door at the ceiling.

“Good job, Alex!” whispered a triumphant Trivette. “Where does this lead, Walker?”

“There’s a small storage room at the other end of the house from the living room, near the kitchen. I don’t think they use it for anything. If it’s unlocked, as Alex says, we should be able to enter unnoticed through that closet and position ourselves outside the living room. Ready to go up?” he asked, glancing back at Trivette.

“Right behind you, Partner.”

Walker crept up the steps mounted into the wall. He gently pushed at the trap door, and when it would not move, took his pocketknife out of his pocket and ran the blade around the edges. He pushed again and it slowly began to give way. The door was hinged, so as he emerged into the dark closet, he carefully pushed on the door so that it was fully extended and the hinge was flexed out and locked in place. As Trivette climbed up the ladder, he heard his partner softly swear, “what the devil?” Trivette quickly popped his head up above the floor level; he was astonished to see by flashlight the image of his partner carefully cradling his sleeping infant, with a look of fierce protectiveness on his face. 

“This must be where Felicia hid the babies just before he broke in,” Walker said, glancing at the other two sleeping infants, cradled on the floor by blankets. “Have you figured out yet that this guy holed up in here is our same Mick D.? I knew there was something bothering me after talking to Felicia this afternoon, but she called him Michael, and said he’d gone back to Ireland for good. She must’ve changed her name back to her maiden name after the divorce. That was the missing piece.”  Gently placing his precious sleeping bundle onto the floor, he stood up with resolve, closed the trap door and gestured to Trivette to follow him. He paused at the door to the closet they were in and partially opened it. Seeing nothing in the kitchen, they both stepped out into the room and closed the door behind them.

Turning on his headset, Walker whispered,  “Sydney, Gage, come in.”

“We’re here, hidden by the bushes near the front door, and ready to go on your signal,” replied Gage.

“Trivette and I are in the kitchen now. The babies are safely sleeping in a closet near the kitchen. Let Alex know for me. We’re leaving them there until this is resolved. We’re going to move down the hallway to the living room. I’ll keep the headset turned on.”

As they began to creep towards the assailant, they heard a gun cock and the whimpering of a woman. “Please, please, Michael, please think of your children. They have already been through so much and are doing so well now. Please don’t do this to them.”

In a maniacally loud voice, they heard, “you should’ve thought about that before you went to your women’s group and were brainwashed into leaving me. Why didn’t you think about them when you were tearing our family apart?”

By this time, Walker and Trivette had reached the end of the hallway where it connected to the living room. They were hidden by the pillars that were at the entrance to the room. Walker peered around the pillar and saw Felicia cowering on the couch, bruises on her face. Mick was standing menacingly over her, pointing his gun directly at her head.

Walker said tersely into the headset, “Sydney, Gage, distraction NOW!”

At the sound of the front door being crashed in, Mick was momentarily distracted. That was all Walker needed. He swept into the room and flung himself across Mick’s back. At the same time, Trivette ran in and grabbed Felicia, pulling her out of the room. He handed her to Sydney and Gage, who took her out to a waiting ambulance. Trivette ran up the stairs two at a time and went into Josie’s office, where he found her huddled under her desk, still in contact with the police by cell phone. She shakily hung up and gratefully accepted his extended hand to help her from under the desk.

After the initial surprise attack by Walker, Mick was putting up quite a fight. When Walker knocked him down he failed to knock the gun out of Mick’s grip. Mick righted himself at the same time as Walker and pointed the gun at him. Walker performed a spinning kick to knock the gun out of Mick’s grip. Mick stumbled and then was successful in knocking Walker squarely on the jaw. Recovering quickly, and unable to contain a small portion of his swelling anger, Walker finished him off with a double kick to his head and another kick to his chest. As Mick fell the last time, Walker, muscles tensing in his jaw, drew his gun and said, “ Just give me a reason to pull this trigger!!”

After ushering Josie out the front door to the waiting officers, Trivette returned just in time to see his partner seething in vengeance over the assailant. He walked over to him and calmly said, “Why don’t I take over while you get the others out.” Then he nodded towards the hallway, not wanting to let on to Mick that Walker’s own daughter was hidden in the house. Walker said into his microphone, “the situation is contained; send in the team to get the assailant out of here. Send Sydney and Gage back in to help me with the others.” Then he tore off his headset and purposely strode down the hallway. Sydney and Gage quickly joined him as he opened the door into the closet.

As he knelt and gathered up his sleeping baby, his whole persona changed. He gathered her close and motioned with his head to Sydney and Gage to pick up the other two infants. For a minute, Walker just knelt there, holding Angela close, saying a quiet prayer of thanksgiving. Then, realizing Alex would be beside herself with worry until she held her baby, quickly led the way to the kitchen and out the back door.

Alex was tensely standing at the waiting ambulance talking with Felicia, who was having her minor scrapes and bruises tended to. When she saw Walker come around the side of the house holding their child close, she ran quickly to him, tears streaming down her face. With his own emotions bubbling dangerously close to the surface, he pulled her hard against him with his free arm, burying his face in her hair. She threw her arms around him and they held each other for what seemed like an eternity, then both were brought back to reality by the squirming of their infant. She had slept through her entire ordeal, and was waking up looking for her evening feeding. Walker and Alex’s tears mingled as their faces touched when they both gazed down at their wakening daughter.

Trivette, Sydney and Gage soon joined them. Trivette said, “everything okay?” “Yes,” replied Alex, still clinging to Walker and glancing up at their good friends. “Thanks, you guys, for being here to make sure everything did turn out okay.”

Trivette said,  “Walker, they are booking him tonight and we get first shot at him in the morning.”

Sydney said, “Maybe we can finally put this Irish Rose Company to rest. I wonder who the boss is?”

“Well,” said Gage, “with any luck we’ll find out tomorrow. Can I give you a ride back to your car, Shorty, or are you still up for the rest of the fights?”

“I’m not letting a bad guy ruin the rest of my evening. Let’s go back and see who wins the bet.”

“Fine by me. See you guys tomorrow,” said Gage, as he and Sydney walked back to his car.

Trivette gave Walker a pat on the back and Alex a hug, then took his leave as well.

Later, as they lay entwined in bed, Alex’s head resting on the curve of his shoulder, she whispered, “you know, all of the other dangerous situations we’ve been in before were somehow related to our jobs. Tonight could have happened to anyone, and the only reason it turned out okay is because of your job. You kept your head together and brought him down before he could harm anyone. I’ve never been happier that you’re a Ranger than I am tonight. Because of you, we’re still a family.” At that, she softly began to cry.

He gently kissed her lips and began to explore her warm body with his free hand. He murmured seductively into her ear, “what about my reward for wearing that tux tonight?”

Responding in kind, she said, “Well, Cowboy, we’ll just have to see about a very special reward for you,” and began a long, deep, sensuous kiss.

Bright and early the next morning, Trivette and Walker were shown into a holding cell containing the notorious Mick D.

Mick immediately stood up and closed in on Walker. He loomed over him, looked down and said menacingly, “You had no business interfering with family discussions.” Walker, facial muscles tensing, gave him a shove back down into the chair, stood above him and said, in a tone that only thinly veiled the inner rage he felt, “listen, buddy, I’m going to give you one chance to make it go easier on yourself, then I will gladly hand you over to the DA, so that she can bring charges that will put you away for the rest of your life. Or maybe end your miserable existence quicker with a needle. Who is in charge of the arms shipments and counterfeiting?”

“You don’t have anything on me!” Mick shouted, beginning to rise from his chair. Walker shoved him back down and gave him a couple of names that had Mick visibly paling and sinking back into his seat. Then Walker looked at Trivette, nodded and left the room. As Trivette began to walk out of the room, he looked back one last time and said,  “ Last chance…”

Mick shook his head resignedly and said quietly, “wait, maybe I do know something.”

Trivette, almost out of the room, turned and walked back in. “Okay, who is your boss.”

“I always dealt with a courier, but one time I followed him to the boss’s office. It’s Sean O’Donnell.”

Trivette’s jaw dropped. Quickly recovering, he said, “that’s a pretty big accusation, what proof do you have?”

“One time I taped a conversation with him. I keep it with me at all times. They took it when I checked into this luxury hotel.”

At that, Trivette rapidly walked out of the room. When he reached the door, Mick yelled, “so what about my deal?”

Trivette shook his head in disgust, and replied, “I’ll let the DA know you were cooperative.”

Walker was waiting for him in the hallway. He put his arm around Trivette’s shoulder and said, “good job, partner. I was in no mood to play the good cop. Let’s go find that tape.”

Back at Walker’s desk, they set up a recorder. Alex, Sydney, Gage and Trivette were gathered around. As they turned it on, clear as day they heard the recognizable voice of their benefactor, Sean O’Donnell.

After a few more minutes, Walker turned it off and said to Alex, “Heard enough, Counselor?”

“With that tape, I have enough to get you the warrants you need. Give me fifteen minutes,” she said, as she turned and quickly walked out of the room.

As Walker and Trivette were escorted into Sean’s office by his secretary, he ended his phone call and stood up to shake Walker’s hand, saying, “I just got off the phone with our local police. I’m glad everything turned out fine with your family. Did you find out any more about the scum involved?”

Walker, handing him a piece of paper instead of shaking his hand, said, “as a matter of fact we did. Sean, this is a warrant for your arrest in connection with a counterfeiting operation and buying stolen arms. You have the right to remain silent….” Walker continued the Miranda warning as he cuffed O’Donnell and pushed him out the door in front of him, then passed him off to waiting officers. As O’Donnell was led out, he shouted back at Walker, “What’s this all about – after all I’ve done for your organization!! Just wait until my attorney gets done with you, you’ll be volunteering full time, because no law enforcement agency will touch you!!”

That evening, they all gathered at C.D.’s. It had been over a year since C.D.’s death, and they all were finally dealing with their grief and were coming out on the other side of the tunnel, so that now the memories the restaurant evoked were happy - if tinged with a slight melancholy edge - verses the raw pain they felt soon after the funeral. Trivette and Erika were holding Angela up and were moving her feet in time with the country music. “Partner, it looks like she got Alex’s dancing feet instead of your two lead ones.”

Tickling Angela under the chin, Walker replies, “all I know is that she’s got her mothers beautiful blue eyes, and I can already tell it’s going to be hard to win an argument with her when she gets older.” Everyone joined in the laughter as Angela gurgled up at Walker.

The End