SURVIVAL

by Gail R. (Cavefever@aol.com)

            Walker and Trivette were still laughing.  It had happened at lunchtime.  They'd gone to C.D.'s for sandwiches and were told by Billie the waitress that C.D. was in the back room, doing a favor for Mabel. Billie had been instructed not to let anyone go back there.  Walker and Trivette, of course, immediately headed to the back room.  Opening the door, they caught C.D. wearing a wedding gown as Mabel made alterations. 

            After the initial embarrassment, C.D. grumbled, "Can I help it if Mabel's niece has the same dimensions as I do?"

            "He's the perfect model," Mabel said, "although I had to stuff tissues in the bra."

            "Mabel!" C.D. exclaimed as Walker and Trivette hooted with laughter.

            Also in the room were two little girls, who were to be flower girls in the wedding.  Mabel was going to hem their dresses too.  The girls were bored and Mabel was running out of things to keep them occupied.

            Finally, Mabel handed them a makeup kit. "Why don't you girls play beauty shop until I can get to your dresses."

            Walker and Trivette left at that point, with C.D. hollering after them, "Don't you two tell anyone about this!  I'll haunt you to your graves!"

            C.D. slammed the door behind them and locked it.

            A short time later, C.D.'s friends, retired Rangers Billy Selkirk and Frank Dodge, came into the bar.  Visiting from out of town, they had been invited by C.D. to spend a few days with him, planning to catch up on old times.  They greeted Walker and Trivette with handshakes and backslaps.

            "You guys are early," Trivette said. "C.D. wasn't expecting you until tonight."

            "We wanted to surprise him," Selkirk answered in a southern drawl.  "Where is he?"

            An utterly devilish expression came over Walker's face.  He put on a serious frown and drew the two retired Rangers in close.  "We were just getting ready to call for help, weren't we, Trivette."

            Trivette, receiving Walker's elbow in his ribs, played along, puzzled.  "Uh, yeah, we were."

            "What's wrong?" Dodge asked.

            "It's C.D.," Walker said quietly. "He's been depressed lately and he won't talk to us."

            "That doesn't sound like him," Selkirk said, very concerned.

            "No, it doesn't.  He hasn't been himself," Walker continued. "He just now ran into the back room and locked the door.  He won't let us in."

            Trivette was about to swallow his teeth.  He bit down on his tongue to keep his face straight.

            "He needs help," Dodge said, heading to the back room.

            "Let's go," Selkirk added.

            The four of them hurried to the room.  Selkirk tried the door, found it still locked, then banged on it.

            "C.D., it's Billy Selkirk.  Let me in!"

            "No!" Came C.D.'s anguished voice. "Don't come in here!"

            Dodge looked at the others.  "Help me break the door down."

            The four Rangers put shoulders and feet to the door and burst in.  There, standing on a chair was C.D., wearing the wedding gown.  Thanks to the two little girls, he was adorned with lipstick, blush, eye shadow and nail polish.  There was dead silence as Selkirk and Dodge took in the sight.  They were speechless.  Finally, Dodge turned to Walker.

            "You didn't tell us it was this bad."

            Selkirk took a patronizing but sympathetic tone. "C.D., we're your friends.  How long have you had this problem?"

            C.D., his face as red as a cherry, cut his eyes to Walker and Trivette, spitting fire at them.  He looked for something to grab, picked up Mabel's blow dryer and jumped down off the chair.

            "You guys are toast!" he yelled, chasing them out of the room.

            Now, driving toward the bar, they relived the wonderful prank.  C.D. had just called on the car phone to find out how much longer it would be before they arrived, then took the opportunity to ream them out again.  Trivette had to hold the phone away from his ear as C.D. hollered.  Recalling C.D.'s dumbfounded expression when they had burst into the room, Walker and Trivette laughed more.

            "It was priceless," Trivette grinned. "You're brilliant, partner."

            Still smiling, Walker cut down a back street.  It was nearing 9 p.m. and the dark street was deserted.  A quarter mile of warehouses filled the block.  Through a small window, Walker could see a light in one of the warehouses.  Outside, several cars were parked, including a Dallas PD patrol car and what looked to be an unmarked police vehicle.

            Walker's grin faded.  "Wonder what's going on in there?"

            Trivette picked up the radio and called the dispatch. "This is Trivette.  Walker and I are checking out a suspicious situation on Commerce Street."

            Parking the truck, they quietly entered the warehouse, immediately hearing gunshots throughout.  Advancing carefully, using the various crates and shelves as cover, they saw the DPD officer crouched behind a forklift.  Walker recognized the young man.  Moving closer, Walker whispered.

            "Chico."

            Chico Navarro turned, instant relief on his face when he spied Walker.  Trivette and Walker carefully moved to Chico's position.  Sporadic gunfire was still erupting, but it wasn't directed at them and didn't sound close by.

            "What have you got?" Walker asked Chico.

            "I'm not sure.  The unmarked car outside belongs to Tolliver -- he's a vice detective."

            "I know him," Walker said.

            "When I saw his car, I decided to check it out.  I've only been here a minute.  I still haven't seen anyone."

            Gunfire crackled overhead.  Walker glanced up.  There was a second floor to the warehouse.

            "I'm going up.  You two check it out down here."

            "Okay, sensei," Chico said fondly.

            Walker smiled at the term, meaning teacher.  Chico was one of his success stories.  A gang member from the time he was an adolescent, he was in and out of trouble, then forced by juvenile court to enroll in Walker's martial arts class.  It had taken some doing, but Walker transformed the angry, violent teen into a disciplined, cooperative, eager student.  He'd earned his black belt a year before joining Dallas PD.  He made no secret that Walker had turned his life around and heaped praise on the Ranger to the point of embarrassment.  Emulating Walker was Chico's goal, and the successes in his life were the ultimate rewards for Walker.

            Walker smacked Chico on the back, then with his eyes told Trivette to be careful.  Crouching, he made his way to the stairs to the second floor.

            Trivette and Chico advanced slowly, finally getting a visual on Joe McIntrye, another DPD detective, who was pinned down by hidden shooters.  Chico waved an arm to get McIntrye's attention, then motioned that he and Trivette would circle behind the shooters.

            The situation was extremely dangerous, Trivette knew.  They had no idea how many cops were here, who or how many they were shooting at.  The margin for error was great.  Trivette gripped his gun tightly.

            He and Chico spaced themselves about ten feet apart.  One advanced, then the other.  Finally they could see the two men trading fire with McIntrye.

            Chico, hearing a noise behind him, spun around.  Trivette could see Chico, but couldn't see behind him due to a stack of packing crates.  Trivette saw Chico's face relax and a hand go up in an okay sign.  Then suddenly, a shot rang out and Chico fell against the wall, his body jerking like a marionette.

            Before Trivette had time to react, his eyes saw a muzzle flash, then pain exploded in his head and he went down.

            On the second floor, Walker crept along the border of crates and packing material, working his way behind two men who were shooting at Ed Tolliver and his partner, Len Todd.  Soundlessly, Walker came up behind the men.

            "Freeze!"

            They spun around, no intention of freezing.  Walker shot the gun hand of one, then kicked the gun out of the second man's hand and added additional kicks to the man's chest and face.

            Tolliver and Todd, seeing the two shooters under control, stood up.  Walker looked at them.

            "You guys okay?"

            "Yeah," Tolliver said.  "Where'd you come from, Walker?"

            "We were in the neighborhood," Walker said.  He collected the guns from the shooters and handed them to Tolliver.

            There was no more gunfire from below.   Walker went to a wooden guard rail that overlooked the first floor.

            "Trivette," he called.

            There was no answer.

            "Trivette?" he repeated, this time his voice edged in urgency.

            Worried, he holstered his gun and turned to go search for his partner, but he stopped cold in his tracks, facing a gun held by Tolliver.

            There were no words, no explanations, no expression in Tolliver's eyes.  He pulled the trigger without a hint of remorse.

            Walker was propelled backwards, crashing through the wooden guard rail and falling to the floor below, hitting on his side with a sickening thud.

            Tolliver and Todd looked over the rail.  Walker lay still, blood spilling under him onto the concrete floor.

            "I wish it hadn't been Walker," Todd said.

            "Get over it," Tolliver told him. "Make sure McIntyre and Beckman got Trivette.  Then, clean up here."  He pointed to the two shooters who realized their death sentences had just been ordered.

            Two flatbed trucks were backing into the loading bay of the warehouse, followed by a black sedan.  Tolliver hurried down the steps to meet them, passing Walker's still form on the way.  Without a second glance, he kept going.

            A man from the black car got out, carrying a briefcase.  The two truck drivers followed him.  Tolliver met them on the loading bay ramp.

            "Al, you're a little early," Tolliver said.

            "I'm anxious for the goods, Tolliver."

            Tolliver gestured to a group of crates and opened one, showing Al the automatic weapons inside.  Ammunition was packed alongside.

            "Here it is.  You two guys hurry up and load the trucks.  There's been some trouble here."

            The two truck drivers began to carry crates to the flatbeds.  Tolliver looked at Al's briefcase.

            "It's all there?"

            "Of course.  It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Tolliver.  I'll call again if I need re-supplying."

            Tolliver flipped through the stacks of money in the briefcase.  "You do that, Al."

            Al, speaking briefly with the truck drivers, returned to his car and left.  Tolliver headed back upstairs with the briefcase.

            Walker felt the cold concrete under his face before he could force his eyes to open.  It took a moment for his memory to kick in, when it did, he was struck with the vision of a cop pulling a gun and shooting him.  Lying on his side, he tried to push himself up, recognizing the searing burn of a bullet wound.  He rolled onto his back, holding in the groan of pain that tried to escape his lips.  His hand automatically sought out the source of pain in his right side.  Raising his head, he looked at the wound.  It was low, just below the ribcage.  Feeling warm blood trail across his back, he knew the bullet had gone all the way through him.  The bleeding was steady.

            Voices in the distance jarred the rest of Walker's memory.  Trivette and Chico, they were somewhere in the building.  Rolling over, he got to his knees and slowly stood.  He ignored the pain and the nausea, his thoughts now on finding his friends.  Putting a hand on the wall for support, he stumbled toward the spot where he'd split up from Trivette.  Ahead he saw trucks being loaded.  He ducked between the storage shelves and continued past the trucks, seeing a limp form crumbled on the floor.  It was Chico.  Walker gently turned the young man over.  He had been shot between the eyes.  Walker closed his own eyes, fighting back the tide of emotion flooding through him.  He cradled Chico's head, the anguish stabbing at his heart, the memory of himself wrapping a black belt around Chico's waist too much to bear.

            Trivette. He had to find Trivette.  Searching the area, his eyes stopped on another limp form.  Oh, God, no.  He half crawled, half stumbled to Trivette's side.  It was also a head wound, but Trivette was breathing and Walker gathered him up into his arms.  A deep graze cut a path across the left side of Trivette's forehead.  Streams of blood rolled down his face, dripping onto his shirt.  Walker tried to rouse Trivette by gently shaking him, but Trivette remained unconscious.

            Walker's mind was growing foggy, the blood loss taking its toll.  He checked to see that he still had his gun.  He knew there were at least four assailants, counting the men loading the trucks.  There could be others.  He had to get outside to his truck.

            Someone was coming down the steps from the second floor.  Dragging Trivette behind a crate, Walker saw Todd, McIntrye and Beckman, another detective, go toward the outside door.  They were between Walker and his truck.  Walker drew his gun, but knew his aim would be unsteady and he didn't know how long his strength would last in a gunfight.  Another thought hit.  If he shot it out with them and they got him, then they got Trivette too.

            He holstered his gun, hearing one of the trucks rev its engine.  Getting out was the priority now.  If he could get inside one of the trucks, ride long enough to get onto the highway, then jump off, they'd be okay.  He took a deep breath and hoisted Trivette over his shoulder.  The bullet wound sent arrows of pain streaking across his body, but he made his way to the trucks, watching as the last crate was loaded on the flatbed and a tarp pulled down to cover the cargo.  As the driver opened his door to get in, Walker carried Trivette to the truck, laid him onto the bed, then climbed in himself.  He pulled Trivette under the tarp just as the truck drove out of the bay.

            Walker laid back against a crate, his head spinning and his breaths fast and painful.  He tried to think.  Phone.  Trivette's cell phone.  He searched Trivette's jacket but the phone wasn't there.  Trivette practically slept with the damn thing.  How could he not have it on him?

            Injuries.  Concentrate on injuries.  He knew he was losing a lot of blood.  He looked for something in the truck to use as a bandage.  There was a tool box, a tire jack and a roll of duct tape.  He glanced at Trivette -- he was wearing a tee shirt under his Oxford button-down.  Walker pulled his pocket knife out and, unbuttoning Trivette's outer shirt, used the knife to cut the tee shirt off of his partner.  He tore a strip to put around Trivette's head, tying it tightly, then folded two sections in thick layers and pressed them against his two wounds.  He taped them in place with the duct tape, then applied pressure with his hands.

            Minutes went by.  Walker could barely keep his eyes open.  He knew the blood flow had decreased considerably but he was weakened by what he'd lost.  He shook his head to keep himself awake.  Trivette was still unconscious, but his breathing was even and deep, which Walker took to be a good sign.

            Stay awake.  He thought about Chico, the terrible waste of his death, the terrible emptiness he would feel from the loss.

            His head bobbed, he pulled it back up.  He thought about Alex, her sunny smile, her tender eyes, her warm hands against his chest, her lips against his mouth.  Alex......  Alex..........

            The second truck had pulled out fifteen minutes ago.  On the second floor, Tolliver finished counting and sorting the money they'd made for selling arms and ammunition to Al's extremist group. 

            Todd came up the stairs.  "What did you do with Walker's body?"

            "Nothing yet," Tolliver answered.

            "What do you mean?  It's gone."

            Tolliver jumped up and looked over the railing.  There was a pool of blood where Walker had lain.

            "Mac," he yelled below.  "Did you and Beckman take the bodies yet?"

            "No," McIntyre called back.

            Todd became panicky. "We've got to find him."

            "He can't be far," Tolliver said. "I put a bullet in him, then he fell twenty feet.  Get Mac and make sure he didn't make it outside to his truck.  Then search this whole damn warehouse."

            They had already decided that if backup arrived, they would pretend they had just gotten there themselves.  But now Walker was on the loose somewhere.  Tolliver kicked himself.  He should have put another couple of bullets into him for assurance.

            "Trivette's gone too!" McIntyre yelled up to Tolliver.  "Navarro's here, though."

            Tolliver slammed his briefcase closed. "Find them!"

            A quick search of the warehouse found no one.  Tolliver, knowing they were running out of time, knew the answer.

            "They got out on one of the trucks."

            "We know the destinations, but we don't know the routes they're taking," Todd said.

            "Then we'll have to track the trucks down, one at a time," Tolliver told him.  "Mac, you and Beckman stay here and try to do some damage control.  If DPD shows up, you know what to say."

            Tolliver and Todd got into the unmarked police car and sped away.

            After not hearing back from Walker and Trivette, the Ranger dispatch sent a unit to investigate.  Outside they found the RAM and a DPD patrol car, inside they found the body of Chico Navarro and four unidentified males.  The forensics unit was called in, discovering a large pool of blood with no victim.  A few hundred feet away they found a tan Stetson, a blood spatter pattern staining the brim.  An intensive search inside and out of the warehouse turned up nothing.  Mark Sheridan, the Ranger on the scene, reluctantly placed a phone call to C.D.'s bar.

            "Where the devil are they?"  C.D. said, looking at his watch.  "It's 10:30."

            The bar was rolling, the Friday night crowd boisterous.  Selkirk and Dodge were on the dance floor, line dancing amid a host of lovely ladies.

            "Maybe they're afraid to face you," Alex giggled, having heard about the prank from Selkirk.

            "They damn well should be," C.D. grumbled.  He reached for the ringing phone.

            Alex sipped her drink, wishing Walker would hurry up.  She hadn't seen him all day and she missed the little things she had come to take for granted in recent months -- the way he casually put his arm around her without it feeling casual, the tender way he held her hand, the crooked smile that sent shivers up her spine and that quiet, calm voice that lately had been whispering sweet nothings into her ear.

            Smiling, she glanced at C.D., who was still on the phone, but the expression on his face caused her stomach to contract.  C.D. was very concerned,  his eyes in a frown, and he glanced at Alex, conveying deep worry to her.  Alex's mouth went dry.  Walker and Trivette late, a phone call -- an ominous combination.

            C.D. hung up the phone, his face pale and distressed.  Alex held her breath as he came towards her.  He motioned to Billie.

            "Take over, will ya, Billie."

            Then C.D. took Alex by the arm and led her to the back room off of the kitchen.  Alex couldn't bring herself to ask any questions, instead, she faced C.D., waiting for him to break the news to her.

            "That was Mark Sheridan on the phone.  Something's happened.  Jimmy called in to say they were checking out a situation.  When Mark got there, they were gone."

            "What do you mean, gone?"

            "They can't find them.  The truck is there, but they can't find Jimmy or Cordell."

            "There has to be some simple explanation," Alex said.  "Maybe they drove off with an informant, or they chased a suspect on foot away from the truck."

            C.D. was shaking his head.  "No, there's more.  They found Chico Navarro, dead.  And four other guys, unidentified.  Appears to have been a fearsome shootout."

            "Chico?"  Alex's eyes filled.

            C.D. put his arm around her.  "They're still looking, but....."

            "But what?"

            "They found....." C.D.'s voice caught.  He took a deep breath. "They found Jimmy's hat, it had blood on it, and lots of blood where none of the bodies were found."

            Alex's face paled.  C.D. hugged her tighter.

            "Forensics is typing the blood now.  Mark will let us know."

            Retired Ranger Selkirk walked into the room, halting suddenly when he viewed C.D. and Alex's teary faces.

            "What's going on?"

            As C.D. explained the situation to him, Alex gazed about the room.  Not too long ago this room had been transformed into a cozy, romantic setting, a dinner date that Walker had surprised her with.  There had been flowers and candlelight, music and champagne.  Shut away from the bar and the outside world, the two of them had spent a private evening together, laughing and talking, and fanning the spark that had existed between them longer than either of them admitted.  It had been one step toward firming their relationship, a relationship that now had moved forward to a level that kept a constant smile on both their faces.

            Selkirk listened intently.  "Where's this warehouse?  I think me and Dodge'll take a spin over there."

            Loud, clanging bells woke Walker with a start.  The truck had stopped moving.  He jerked himself up, slapping a hand over the stabbing pain enveloping his whole side.  Dammit, he'd fallen asleep.  Peeking out from the tarp, he saw they were at a railroad crossing, the cross arm blocking the tracks with flashing red lights and the incessant clamor.

            Walker looked at his watch, realizing with distress that almost an hour had passed.  He had no clue where they were or even in which direction they'd been traveling.  Tolliver would have figured it out by now and would be hot on the trail of the trucks.  Walker could hear the train lumbering along.  He knew this was their get-off point.

            "Trivette," he whispered, touching his partner's shoulder. "Come on, Trivette."

            But Trivette didn't respond.  Walker searched the truck for anything that might be useful.  He tucked the roll of duct tape into Trivette's jacket pocket.  There was another tarp, folded into a small square, and this he stuffed inside Trivette's shirt.

            Curious as to what was in the crates, Walker tried to pry one open with his fingers but it was fastened tight.  He considered using the tire iron, but was afraid the noise would alert the driver.  It really didn't matter right now what was in the crates.  Getting out of the truck was more important. 

            Scooting to the back of the truck, he pulled Trivette with him and waited for the train to pass.  Once it did, the truck started off again slowly.  Walker slid off the back of the truck, clutching Trivette under the arms and lowering him to the dirt road as the truck drove away.  Walker lay flat on the road, one arm around Trivette, until the truck was out of sight.  Then he grasped his partner under the arms and dragged him to the side of the road, into the cover of dense foliage.

            Walker stopped to catch his breath.  His side was aching fiercely, but Trivette's condition worried him more.  A mild concussion could cause unconsciousness, but so could more serious head injuries.  If the bullet had fractured his skull or had caused enough injury to induce brain swelling, the consequences could be dire.

            They both needed attention, Walker knew.  Each breath he took caused pain, higher up than the bullet wound.  It suddenly dawned on him that he had fallen a good distance to the first floor after being shot.  More than likely he had broken some ribs.  The second area of pain now made sense.

            He had to think, had to make some decisions.  He had no idea where they were.  The road looked infrequently traveled and he could see no lights to indicate a house was in the vicinity.  He thought about waiting by the road to flag down a car.  No.  Tolliver and his partners would be patrolling, searching for them.  Even if he flagged down a local, the authorities would be notified and police would respond.  At the moment, Walker didn't know which police to trust.  He didn't know how far this thing went.  Right now he trusted only one cop, and that man was unconscious.

            Walker laid back on the grass, still in shock over what had happened.  A cop, a fellow officer had shot him, and probably wounded Trivette too.  And Chico.  Unrelenting sorrow washed over him.  It still seemed dreamlike to him.  Chico, the smiling face, the friendly dark eyes, the bullet in his forehead.  Walker closed his eyes, trying to block out the memory.

            Trivette moaned.  Walker was instantly by his side.  Although it was dark, enough moonlight was present for Walker to see Trivette's face.  The large brown eyes blinked open.

            "Trivette?"

            "Walker," Trivette said slowly, "what happened?"

            "You've been shot, a graze to the head."

            "That's where this headache's coming from."

            Walker allowed a tiny amount of relief to lift his mood.  Trivette seemed coherent.

            "Where are we?"  Trivette murmured.  He didn't try to move.

            "I'm not sure.  We hitched a ride."

            Trivette frowned as if losing his train of thought. "Walker, what happened?"

            "You were shot, in the warehouse.  Remember?"

            The frown remained on Trivette's face. "Where are we?"

            "I don't know."

            "What happened?"

            Walker groaned inwardly.  Short term memory loss resulting in repeatedly asking the same questions.  Signs of concussion.

            "Never mind, just rest."

            Trivette seemed content with that answer, although he still bore a confused gaze.  A few moments later he was out again.  Walker knew they had to find help or somewhere to hide.  He didn't underestimate Tolliver and Todd.  They were no nonsense, intense cops.  Whatever they were involved in, they weren't going to leave witnesses.  They'd hunt them down.

            Walker got to his knees, pulling Trivette to a sitting position and draped his partner over his shoulder, then struggled to stand up.  Pain wracked his body with every step, but he forced himself to keep going.  He headed away from the road, deep into a forest of scrub pines and brush.

            Alex couldn't tear her eyes away from the large ring of blood on the concrete floor.  One of the officers on the scene had suggested it belonged to one of the deceased, that he had wandered before dying elsewhere.  Or it could have been a shooter who got away, Mark Sheridan told her.  But gazing at the red puddle, she knew who it belonged to.  Something inside told her the blood was part Cherokee and part Ranger.

            C.D. put his arm around her. "Alex,  I wish you hadn't come."

            "I had to, C.D..  I had to see for myself."  She had dried her tears, pulling herself together to be strong for Walker and Jimmy.  When they were found, she wanted them to see a coherent woman, not a basket case.

            The warehouse was buzzing with activity -- detectives, forensics and the coroner.  Mark Sheridan ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and headed toward them.  He had Trivette's hat in his hand, encased in a plastic bag.

            "I've got the results," he told them. "Do you know their blood types?"

            C.D. and Alex nodded.  It had been very useful and saved time, especially with Walker, to be able to tell ER personnel the blood types.

            Sheridan held up the hat.  "This was O positive."

            C.D. nodded swallowing hard.  "I guess we figured as much since it is Jimmy's hat.

            Then Sheridan gestured to the blood pool. "That's A positive."

            Alex closed her eyes and suddenly the room was twirling.  C.D. caught her and held her close.

            "Lots of people have that blood type," he told her, not convincingly.  He knew as well as she did that it was Walker's blood.

            Alex's facade of strength crumbled.  Tears rolled down her cheeks.  "Oh C.D., where are they?  What could have happened?"

            "Maybe they're being held hostage," Sheridan suggested.

            "By whom?" Alex asked, thinking.  At least a hostage scenario would mean they were alive.

            Sheridan shrugged.  "Until we find some leads here, we have to play the waiting game."

            Selkirk, standing on the second floor above them, called down to C.D..

            "Check those pieces of boards over there, C.D.  Check for blood."

            C.D. picked up the jagged remnants of the wooden railing, scattered to the sides of the pool of blood.

            "Yeah, there's blood here."  C.D. saw what Selkirk was implying.  Whoever lost this blood had fallen through the rail.

            "Come on up here," Selkirk said.

            Alex and C.D. hurried up to Selkirk.  Two bodies, covered with sheets, lay nearby.

            "Look at this," Selkirk said, pulling the sheets away from one victim.  "They've both been shot in the back of the head, execution style, but this one has a bullet wound to the hand.  And look at this."  He pulled the sheet back on the second victim.  Alex grimaced at the sight, then noticed what Selkirk had seen.  There was a perfect, dusty outline of a bootprint on the man's shirt and one on the face to match.

            "Only one person I know of leaves a bootprint on you like that," Selkirk said.

            "Cordell," C.D. nodded.  "And the bullet to the hand, that too."

            "There were no guns found on the victims," Selkirk went on.  "Apparently Walker already had the drop on them.  Someone else entered the picture."

            C.D. nodded in agreement, then pointed to the broken railing.  "Why would he go to the railing, expose himself unnecessarily if there were still shooters at large?"

            "Good question, buddy.  Somebody took him out right by the railing, he smashed through it and fell below."

            They moved to the edge and glanced below.  The pool of blood stared back.  Alex turned white and sat down.  She saw it in her mind, saw Walker take a hit, his face twisted in pain, then saw him fall backwards and over the edge.

            C.D. patted her shoulder.  "This is all on the assumption that it's Cordell's blood.  In all likelihood it isn't.  It probably belongs to another shooter, maybe one Cordell got after these two."

            Selkirk caught a look of warning from C.D.. "Yeah, probably so."

            They returned to the first floor, where Dodge had just finished talking to McIntrye.

            "You guys hang on," C.D. said to the retired Rangers.  "I'm going to take Alex outside."

            Putting an arm around her, C.D. escorted Alex outside to his car.  The cool night air helped her breathe.

            "You stay here, honey.  And try to think good thoughts.  I'll be out in a minute."  He kissed her forehead and headed back to the warehouse.

            Alex's gaze fell on the RAM, parked near the warehouse door.  She stepped out of C.D.'s Jeep and went to the truck, climbing into the driver's side seat.  She could smell Walker -- a hint of his cologne, the leather of his boots.  The sweet scent of hay from the truck bed drifted into the window.  In the back seat she saw his gym bag, unzipped, containing his gi and his decorated black belt.  She took the belt in her hands, caressing it, feeling a respite from the worry by touching his things.

            On the passenger side seat she noticed Jimmy's cell phone.  She pushed the power button, noticing the batteries were dead.  Probably why he'd left it in the truck, she thought.

            "Where are you guys?" she whispered, tears falling again.

            A hand reached in the open door and touched her gently.  "Alex?"

            It was Maisie.  The paramedic units had been called in, but were now preparing to leave since there were no injured victims, just bodies.  The coroner's unit was taking over.

            Maisie motioned Alex out of the truck.  She rubbed Alex's arm in a motherly fashion. "They're gonna turn up.  That Walk-Man has more lives than a cat."

            Alex burst into tears and Maisie enveloped her in a hug.

            "I'm not sure I can take this anymore, Maisie.  It just happens too much."

            Maisie, keeping one arm around Alex, was thoughtful. "What do you think you can do about it?  He's not gonna change."

            "I know, and I wouldn't want him to.  It's that compelling sense of right and wrong that gets him into all these messes, but I admire him so for that integrity.  But........"

            "But what?"

            "But I can back off."

            Maisie raised an eyebrow.  "Do you really think that would make a difference?  Do you think that by ending a relationship your feelings just quit?"

            "I don't know."

            "Yes you do.  You can't cut off your emotions just like that.  Your pulse is gonna triple its rate every time you see him, your heart is gonna yearn for what it knows is right.  Think about it, sugar.  If you go home right now, pretend it won't work, that he's not for you, where are your thoughts gonna be?"

            "Right here," Alex answered quietly, "with him."

            Maisie nodded knowingly.

            Alex wiped her eyes.  "If only he was a normal man, with a normal job...."

            "And if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his butt every time he moved."

            Alex had to chuckle.  She looked at Maisie's round face, the amiable mahogany eyes. "You should have your own talk show, Maisie."

            "No thanks, sugar.  I've got my hands full with Rangers and DA's and such."  She patted Alex's arm again. "You gonna be all right?"

            Alex nodded, then hugged the paramedic. "Thanks, Maisie.  I know why Walker loves you so much."

            Maisie put her hand to her chest dramatically, playing.  "Oh, if only.  Be still my beating heart."

            Alex smiled as Maisie took her arm and led her into the warehouse.

            Inside the warehouse, Dodge motioned C.D. and Selkirk aside.  "Something here smells."

            "How so?" C.D. asked.

            "That yahoo over there claims he and Beckman got here just before the cavalry.  They found the victims.  Apparently Chico Navarro never radioed that he was leaving his vehicle."

            "But Jimmy did," C.D. said.

            "I know, that's the stinky part.  McIntyre says they never heard Trivette call in, never even knew that Walker and Jimmy had been here until Sheridan showed up looking for them."

            "Baloney," C.D. said.  "Every lawman in the Metroplex knows Cordell's truck.  It's parked right at the door.  Didn't McIntyre say he came in that door?"

            Dodge nodded.

            Selkirk frowned.  "A lot here doesn't add up.  That scene upstairs.......I don't like it."

            "What are we gonna do about it?" C.D. asked.

            "I think McIntyre and Beckman need a shadow," Dodge said.

            C.D., at loose ends, wandered around the warehouse, finding himself at the pool of blood once again.  Cordell was a strong man and tough as nails when the going got rough, but if this was his blood......C.D. felt a shiver run through him.  He looked away, his eye catching a glimpse of a blood spot several feet away.  Beyond it was another, then another.

            "Billy!  Frank!" he called.

            They rushed to him.

            "Look, there's a blood trail."

            "Yeah, but is it leading to or away from the puddle?" Dodge asked.

            "Let's backtrack it," Selkirk said.

            The splatters of blood led to the body of Chico Navarro, then changed direction and led directly to an evidence marker.

            "This is where Jimmy's hat was found," C.D. said, a hint of excitement in his voice.

            From there, the blood spots increased noticeably.

            "Either he's bleeding heavier now......"  Selkirk said.

            "........or there's two of 'em together, both bleeding,"  Dodge finished.

            The three Rangers exchanged glances.  C.D. felt hope stir in his belly.  Maybe Cordell and Jimmy were together.  Even if they were wounded, their odds would increase dramatically if this was the case.

            The blood trail ended at a loading bay.

            "There was a vehicle here and they got on it," C.D. said.

            Dodge touched a fresh oil spot on the floor.  Then he walked outside the bay doors, into the dark fenced in loading yard.

            C.D. was pacing, but Selkirk caught his arm. "This is all speculation, C.D..  These blood trails could belong to any of these guys here."

            C.D. nodded slowly.  "I know."

            Dodge called to them from outside.  He was standing next to a man, unshaven and dressed in tattered, dirty clothing.  Homeless, C.D. guessed.

            "I think he saw something," Dodge said.

            "No, I didn't," the man answered. "I already told that other officer I didn't see nothing."

            "What officer?" Selkirk asked.

            "The one with the skinny mustache."

            "Beckman," C.D. said.

            "You just told me you were asleep right over there," prodded Dodge.  "You have to have heard the gunshots.  What did you see?"

            "Nothing!" he said, very agitated.

            Alex was suddenly with them. "Please," she said to the man, her eyes pleading.  "My friends are missing.  Can you tell us anything that might help?"

            The homeless man looked at Alex, her red eyes and anguished face.  His eyes, at first fearful, now conveyed compassion.

            "Well, I did see some trucks pull out of here a while ago."

            "What kind of trucks?" C.D. asked.

            "Rental trucks.  Elliott Rentals.  They were big flatbeds."

            C.D., Selkirk and Dodge looked at each other.  They had a lead now, they needed to make plans.

            "Let's roust the truck rental place right now, find out the destinations of those trucks."  C.D. said.

            "We'd better keep our investigation under wraps," Selkirk added.  "I don't trust that McIntyre fella.  If he's involved, there may be others."

            C.D. shuddered.  Cops involved.  He hoped Selkirk was wrong, but his intuition was agreeing with the retired Ranger.

            Alex smiled at the homeless man.  "Thank you.  What's your name?"

            "They call me Nighthawk, ma'am."

            Alex's heart jumped.  It was too incredible to be a coincidence.  In Vietnam, Walker's special forces codename had been the same.

            "Are you all right, ma'am?"

            She nodded.  "Thank you.  Thank you so much."

            Walker had lost track of time.  His steps were methodical, robotic.  He had switched Trivette to a fireman's carry when his shoulder could no longer bear his partner's entire weight.  Now his back and neck were rebelling.  He tried to ignore the taxed muscles and the pain of his injuries.

            Trivette had not regained consciousness again, a fact that concerned Walker greatly.  Maybe he should have waited beside the road for a car.  Maybe by now they'd be on the way to a hospital.

            A root caught his foot and Walker fell hard, face first, Trivette's weight crashing on top of him.  For a few moments the pain in his side was so intense he couldn't move.  He drew his legs up, curled in a fetal position until the pain gradually subsided into a dull ache.  When he could finally move again, he wormed out from under Trivette and checked his partner.  He was still out cold, but again Walker noted that his breathing and pulse seemed normal.

            They were in a shallow gully that was mostly grass covered.  Trees surrounded them.  Walker had no more strength.  They'd have to stay the rest of the night here.  He positioned Trivette on his side with his head on the upside of the gully to keep it elevated.  Taking the tarp out of Trivette's shirt, Walker opened it up and spread it over Trivette, then crawled underneath with him.  Lightheaded, Walker gave in to his exhaustion and closed his eyes.

            From the Elliott Truck Rental Agency, C.D. learned that the two trucks had been rented by Al Blankenship.  He had given a Dallas address.  A warrant was put out for him.

            Alex had refused to let C.D. take her home.

            "I wouldn't be able to sleep," she had told him.  "And, I just don't want to be alone."

            C.D. understood and allowed her to tag along with him.  They spent the rest of the night driving around the warehouse area in hopes of finding something, anything, to help find Walker and Trivette.  In the meantime, Dodge and Selkirk tailed McIntyre and Beckman.

            Trivette opened his eyes and blinked.  His head was aching, but for the life of him he couldn't remember why it hurt or why he was apparently sprawled out in the grass.  A blanket, no, a plastic covering of some sort was spread over him, protecting him from the heavy dewfall.  Without moving his head, he used one arm to push the covering away.  Daylight hurt his eyes, intensifying the headache.  When his vision adjusted and he focused, he realized with a start that Walker was lying beside him.

            "Walker," he said, his voice hoarse.  He reached to touch Walker's arm.  "Hey, partner."

            Walker didn't move.  Trivette, still not certain he wanted to move his head, stared at Walker, not recalling the two-toned shirt his partner was wearing.  Odd pattern too.  And it was torn, the shirt tail out.

            Comprehension hit Trivette with a surge of adrenaline.  He sat up and was hit with a bout of vertigo.  He fought it off, his concern not for his headache anymore but for Walker.  He pulled open Walker's shirt, seeing the homemade bandages held in place with duct tape.  Trivette lifted an edge of the bandage to get a look at the injury.  It was unquestionably a bullet wound and Trivette suddenly had a hazy flashback.  A warehouse, gunfire, Chico.  He turned his attention back to Walker.  He'd lost a good deal of blood judging from the bandages and his shirt, but the bullet hole was clotted with dark clumps of dried blood.  He then rolled Walker over slightly to view the exit wound.  It too had clotted.  Then Trivette noticed something else.  Walker's whole right side, from just under his arm to the bottom of the ribcage was discolored with purplish-black bruises.  He lightly touched his fingertips to the ribs, feeling at least two bumpy, uneven areas indicating broken ribs.  Walker moaned as Trivette worked his fingers down the entire ribcage, his hand coming up to push Trivette's hand away.

            "Take it easy, partner," Trivette said.

            Walker opened his eyes and turned his head toward Trivette.  His mouth was very dry and at first the words didn't come when he moved his lips.  He needed a drink of water.  Clearing his throat, he tried again.

            "You okay, Trivette?"

            "About as okay as you are."

            "I'm ready for round two."

            Trivette chuckled.  "I don't think so.  I think we've both been KO'd."   He laid his head down as the vertigo assaulted him again.  "My head feels like a cannon hit it."

            "It was a bullet," Walker said. "You've got a crease on the side of your head deep enough to lay a finger in."

            "I can't remember too much about what happened.  I know Chico was there."

            Walker sighed, closing his eyes in emotional pain. "Chico's dead."

            "Oh no," Trivette said softly. "I'm sorry, man."  He suddenly had a memory of Chico falling against the wall, then the blaze of a muzzle flash and feeling himself hit. "I didn't see who shot him, or me either."

            "Cops," Walker whispered, his voice struggling with the thoughts.

            "What?"

            "Tolliver got me.  Todd and McIntyre were in on it.  And Beckman."

            "Oh my God."

            They were quiet for a few moments, the only sounds being the morning songs of birds and the breeze in the trees.

            "Where are we?" Trivette asked.

            "I don't know."

            "How'd we get here?"

            "By truck, then on foot."  Not feeling too much like talking, Walker didn't elaborate.

            "You carried me?" Trivette asked, incredulous.

            Walker nodded.

            "How did you do that?  You've been shot, you've got busted ribs."

            Walker shrugged.  He was sure Trivette would have carried him had the roles been reversed.  Trivette put a hand to his aching head.  Walker never ceased to amaze him.

            "You think they're after us?"

            "Yeah," Walker answered.  "We need to get moving."

            They lay still, neither feeling the energy to move.

            "You first," Trivette said.

            Walker reluctantly made a motion to get up, grimacing the whole while.  He was terribly stiff, the pain intensified by the movement.  When he made it to his knees, Trivette attempted to rise also.  He was hit with dizziness.  Walker caught his arms to help steady him.

            "I think if I keep my eyes closed I'll be okay."

            "All right.  Lean on me."

            They helped each other to their feet, but Walker, supporting Trivette's weight, felt his legs buckle and he fell to hands and knees.  Trivette fell with him.  He clutched his head to quell the dizziness.

            Walker thought about another attempt at standing, then went down on his elbow and eased himself down on his uninjured side.  He was breathing heavily, a cold sweat seeping out of his pores.

            Trivette cracked his eyes open and viewed Walker's ashen face.  "Man, we're in trouble."

            Walker held his side and nodded in agreement.

            Tolliver and Todd, driving separate cars, had caught up with the two trucks by the early morning hours.  One truck had blood stains in the back.  Using a map and details furnished by the driver, the two detectives waited till daylight, then traced the truck's route, checking every intersection, every stoplight, any place the truck may have stopped or slowed down enough for Walker and Trivette to have jumped off.  By midmorning they reached a set of railroad tracks.  Pulling off the road, they searched the area.  Todd found what they were looking for.

            "Over here."

            He pointed to the brush beside the road.  The foliage was mashed down, blood spots scattered among the greenery.  Tolliver scanned the surrounding ground.

            "Look at the depth of these boot prints.  One of them's carrying the other.  They won't get too far that way."

            Tolliver went to his Bronco, got out a map and spread it on the car's hood.  Then he picked up the car phone and called McIntyre.

            "Mac, we know where they are.  They're headed across a piece of land up near Rockville.  Here's what I want you to do.  Come north to route 411.  Pull off before you get to Rockville and start searching the woods there.  We'll be chasing them from the other direction.  Should catch them right in the middle."

            Tolliver fingered the map, then turned to Todd. "There's a logging road here, then we can bushwhack with the Bronco.  Come on."

            They got into the Bronco and headed into the woods.

            Thirty minutes had passed.  Neither Walker nor Trivette had spoken.  They both lay still, hurting and weak.  Walker finally got to his knees and forced himself to stand.

            "Come on, Trivette.  Tolliver's a hunter.  He'll have us tracked down soon."

            Trivette dreaded moving.  As long as he stayed still, the dizziness was held at bay.

            "Why don't you leave me here.  You can go for help faster by yourself."

            "Uh uh.  You'd be a sitting duck for him."

            "Walker....."

            "Try, Trivette.  I'll help you."

            Trivette slowly pulled himself up.  He knew Walker wasn't going to leave him, would probably carry him again if necessary.  The thought of that feat amazed Trivette once more.

            Keeping his eyes closed, Trivette stood up.  Walker had his arm, then led him to a tree and leaned him against it.

            "Hold on while I get this tarp."

            "Why bring that?" Trivette asked.

            "In case we have to spend another night out here."

            "I don't like the sounds of that," Trivette griped.

            "Me either, but we may not have a choice."

            Walker linked his left arm through Trivette's arm and began to walk, hoping some of the stiffness and pain would lessen as his muscles warmed.  Trivette had a death grip on his arm and the uneven forest floor made travel more difficult.

            "We need water," Walker said, feeling dehydrated from the blood loss.  "There should be a stream in here somewhere."

            "Drink directly from a wild stream?  You gotta be kidding."

            "Unless you have a bottle of that fancy water in your pocket, I don't have any other suggestions."

            They moved slowly, with Walker evaluating the terrain and heading to where there would hopefully be a stream or water source.  It didn't take long to find one.  A small brook bubbled restlessly through a marshy area.  They knelt down at the water's edge and dipped hands into the water.  Walker was on his third handful before Trivette could bring himself to sip.

            "I can't believe I'm drinking from a wild stream.  It's probably teeming with bacteria and cow poop and who knows what else."

            "Drink, Trivette.  We may go awhile before finding more."

            Trivette took a small sip, then a bit more. "Well, it's not as bad as that Cherokee purge you forced on me."

            Walker had to smile.  The green liquid from White Eagle had lived up to its name some months back, helping Trivette rid his system of the bender he'd been on when he mistakenly thought he'd shot a child.

            "I didn't force it on you."

            "The heck you didn't.  When you stand over someone with that steely look in your eyes and say 'drink,' that's force."

            "You deserved it.  You got in a right cross," Walker said rubbing his chin, recalling the punch Trivette had unleashed in a drunken rage.

            Trivette lay back in the grass, still fighting dizziness.  "I've always wondered about that night.  Why didn't you hit me back?"

            "Wouldn't have served a purpose.  You weren't very rational at the time.  Besides, you weren't mad at me, it was just frustration."

            "Maybe so, but I believe that frustration busted your lip."

            Again Walker smiled.  "Just don't do it again."

            "I promise."

            Walker laid down beside Trivette.  He still felt extremely thirsty but his stomach was rebelling at the amount of water he'd just taken in.  He closed his eyes, hoping the queasiness would calm down.  The bullet wound was terribly raw and sore, the injured ribs painful with each movement.  He didn't know how much longer he'd have the strength to walk.  They'd better find help soon.  At least Trivette seemed better, although the vertigo and headache were continuous.  Walker had taken notice of his partner's pupils -- they were equal in size and both reacted evenly to light.  A positive sign.

            He rolled onto his side, his stomach still churning, the weariness overpowering.

            C.D. and Alex had retreated to the bar.  There was nothing else they could do but wait for the phone to ring.  Finally Selkirk called in.

            "We're on to something, C.D..  McIntyre and Beckman are out of their cars, headed into some scrub land."

            "Where are you?" C.D. asked.

            "About 50 miles northeast of the city."

            "Hold on."  C.D. rummaged for a map, glancing at Alex as he did so.  She was asleep at the end of the bar, her head on her arm.  Even the lunch crowd noise hadn't awakened her.  She had been up all night with the retired Rangers, trying to plan their strategy and figure out their next moves.  Since none of them could officially lead an investigation, they'd enlisted the help of Mark Sheridan, a Ranger that C.D. trusted completely.  Sheridan was skeptical when they relayed their suspicions about McIntyre and Beckman, but he didn't interfere with their plans to follow the two detectives.  So far there had been no sign of Al Blankenship, the man who had rented the trucks.  C.D. and Alex felt certain he was a key player in the mystery.

            C.D. unfolded the map and got road information from Selkirk.  "Okay, if they stopped on route 411 near Rockville, and they've headed west onto some property.....Oh my, that's a large piece of wilderness.  It belongs to a hunt club, so it says on the map.  But since we're not in hunting season, there's nobody out there for hundreds of acres.

            "Then what are they hunting for?" Selkirk asked.

            "Cordell and Jimmy would be my guess," C.D. replied.

            Alex, her subconscious hearing their names, picked her head up and blinked at C.D..

            "Think Sheridan could get us a chopper?" Selkirk asked.

            C.D. was adamant.  "He damn well better.  You guys keep those two lowlifes in view.  And be careful"

            "They found something?" Alex asked, hopeful.

            "Maybe."  He told Alex what Selkirk had said, but she shook her head.

            "There's no evidence of anything against McIntyre or Beckman.  The department will never authorize a helicopter."

            Her prediction was correct.  Sheridan tried but the request for a helicopter was turned down.

            Alex and C.D., at a loss at what to do, left in C.D.'s Jeep to join Selkirk and Dodge.

            Walker was out of it.  Trivette had seen him lie down after drinking the water, his forehead furrowed in pain, until finally he fell asleep and his brow smoothed out.  Peace in sleep.  Trivette hated to wake him, but like Walker, he knew Tolliver would be looking for them.  Whatever they'd stumbled in to, the detectives were willing to kill fellow officers over it.  He knew Chico's death had cut deep into Walker's heart, a terrible pain to add to his injuries.  He worried about the damage the bullet had done.  It looked like it had gone through flesh and muscle only, but he wasn't certain.  Internal bleeding was a definite possibility, and the fact that they'd had to keep moving only worsened things.

            Trivette let 20 minutes go by before he shook his partner.  "Walker."

            Walker lifted his head and realized he'd fallen asleep.

            "We'd better move, partner," Trivette said.  He reached a hand out to Walker.

            Walker, looking groggy,  nodded, took the hand and they pulled each other up.  Trivette's head began to spin again, prompting him to latch on tight to Walker's arm.

            "Dammit, I'm sorry, Walker."

            "It's okay.  Just hold on."

            Walker headed east, judging by the sun's position.  He had no idea where it would lead them, but he knew it was away from the road.  He felt certain Tolliver had found their trail by now.  Walker had competed in a shooting match with Tolliver a year ago, beating him.  Tolliver, a sore loser, had then invited Walker on a hunting trip, challenging him to see who could make the most kills.

            Walker had responded, "I only hunt if I need food."

            "Figures," Tolliver had snorted, taking that as a sign of weakness.

            Although Walker considered Tolliver hot tempered and egotistical, he never figured him to be dirty.  It was always a tough blow to learn a cop had been turned, but when it was one you knew.....

            They walked for an hour, their pace slow, but they fell into a rhythm, neither leaning fully on the other but enough to keep each other going.

            Trivette, trying to keep his eyes closed to ward off the dizziness and double vision, occasionally peeked out of his lids to see where they were going and to keep a check on his partner.

            Walker fell into a trance-like state, putting one foot in front of the other by rote.  He was using all his mental training to block out the misery of his injuries.

            Trivette was the first to hear the vehicle.  It was still some distance away, coming from behind them.

            "Walker, do you hear that?"

            Walker stopped, forcing his mind to snap  to attention.  He listened, heard it, then quickly looked around for somewhere to hide.  There was nothing but trees.  His mind raced back 30 years, to his Nighthawk days in Nam.  He'd been separated from his company and had to hide out from the VC until reinforcements arrived.  He'd climbed a tree and sat high in the branches for eighteen hours as the enemy troops scoured the floor below for him.

            "Come on," Walker said, pulling Trivette toward a low, wet area of ground.  "Take your shoes off."

            "What?"

            "Do it!  Hurry."

            Trivette sat down and did so as Walker pulled off his own boots, then hid their shoes in a thicket.  They slogged in the mire, then Walker led Trivette toward an oak tree.  It had large spreading branches and lots of thick foliage.

            "Climb the tree, Trivette."

            "I can't, I'm too dizzy."

            "I'll be right behind you.  It's our only escape."

            The vehicle drew closer.  With no other choice, Trivette opened his eyes and started to climb the tree.  Walker stayed close behind him, keeping one hand hooked around Trivette's belt.  Trivette fought the vertigo.  His stomach rolled and he took a few deep breaths to keep from being sick.  Walker encouraged him with a hand to the back, a shoulder against his knees to give him a push to the next branch.

            Finally they were high enough in the leaves to be hidden from below.  Trivette wrapped his arms around the limb and squeezed tightly, keeping his eyes shut just as tight.  Walker too had a grasp on the tree trunk, the exertion of climbing making him feel cold and clammy and lightheaded.

            They heard the vehicle approach, then stop.  Voices could be heard as Tolliver and Todd got out of the Bronco and scouted the area.  At one point they passed directly below the tree.  Walker moved a hand to his gun, just in case one of them glanced upward.

            "Here!" Tolliver called to Todd.  "Their tracks lead to this bog.  They know we're following them."

            Todd looked at the shoeprints that disappeared into the muddy water.  "How are we going to find them now?"

            Tolliver, squatting beside the bog, gazed around the area.  He looked up toward the numerous trees.  Walker felt a jolt of adrenaline hit.  He slowly drew his gun.  Trivette, eyes closed, remained absolutely quiet.

            "We'll follow the bog.  They can't be too far ahead of us."  They returned to the Bronco and drove off.

            Walker let out a breath.  Trivette did too.

            "Man, I'm sure glad you know what you're doing  out here."

            "That was too close," Walker said.  He scanned the terrain from his perch in the tree.  "Looks like higher ground, rougher terrain over there.  They wouldn't be able to drive it.  We'll even the odds if we're all on foot."

            Trivette allowed one eye to open, viewing Walker. "Even the odds?  They're healthy, they have food and water, they have lots of guns."

            Walker cast him a sardonic smile.  "We have duct tape and a tarp."

            Trivette let out a laugh.  "You've seen too many MacGyver episodes."  He grabbed the tree branch again as dizziness washed over him.  "Can we climb down now?"

            Walker took hold of Trivette's belt again and began to guide him down.  It was awkward, trying to back down himself, his side banging against limbs and the tree trunk, and then trying to place Trivette's feet in branches.

            Trivette was fighting a particularly wicked round of vertigo.  Even with his eyes closed, he lost the sense of up and down, relying totally on Walker to get him down.  About six feet off the ground, Trivette thought his head was spinning off of his body.  He lost his grip on a branch, then struggled to find a foothold for one foot that was in transition.  Walker tried to catch the foot and put it in the crotch of two limbs, but Trivette panicked, swinging the foot wildly.  He felt his foot kick Walker's chin, then felt himself falling.  Walker frantically grabbed for him.  One hand still had the belt and he tried to stabilize Trivette with it, but Trivette's falling weight pulled Walker with him.  The two of them tumbled to the ground.

            Trivette was blacking out, his head twirling like he was on an amusement park ride.  He fought to stay conscious, sweat breaking out all over his body.  He got to his hands and knees, his body in an upheaval.  He vomited, his body jerking with each retch.  In a few moments his stomach calmed and he dropped onto the grass, trying to control his rapid breathing.  His head slowly cleared.  All he wanted to do was stay still, immobilize his head.  How did he let Walker talk him into climbing a tree?

            Walker.  Trivette's mind suddenly jumped.  Walker had fallen too, he'd heard him hit the ground nearby.  Forcing himself to roll over and open his eyes, he saw Walker a few feet away, curled onto his side, his eyes closed, his body drenched in sweat.

            Trivette dragged himself to his partner. "Walker!"

            Walker moaned softly.  He could hear Trivette somewhere in the distance but he couldn't make himself answer.  His mind was teetering on the verge of darkness, the comfort of unconsciousness beckoning to him.

            The bullet wound had reopened.  Trivette put his hands on both bandages and applied pressure.  Walker moaned again, louder this time, the acute pain bringing him back to lucidity.  He opened his eyes.  The bullet wound burned and Walker could feel that a rib had snapped, could feel the jagged edges scraping against his chest wall.  Not wanting to worry Trivette any more than he already was, Walker kept mum.

            "I'm sorry," Trivette said, upset. "I couldn't hold on."

            "I was supposed to be holding you."  Walker gave him a reassuring nod, fooling him into thinking he was all right.

            "Yeah, you were, weren't you," Trivette said, breathing a sigh of relief.  "You sprung a leak."  He pushed against the bleeding wound.

            "You kicked me," Walker said, a hand going to his jaw.

            "I guess that's two you owe me for.  They say paybacks are hell, but Walker paybacks make hell look like Disneyland."

            Walker clenched his teeth in pain, but he found Trivette's comment amusing.  "Watch out for the Cherokee purge."

            "No thanks.  I just purged all on my own."

            Walker gazed at his partner's face with concern. "You okay?"

            Trivette nodded, but Walker could see him swaying, fighting the dizziness.

            "You've got a leak of your own," Walker said, noticing fresh blood seeping through the bandage around Trivette's head.

            "Hey, this is my tee shirt, isn't it?"  Trivette said, denoting the bandages covering the wound.

            Walker had to chuckle.  "Yeah, it's the first time I've worn Calvin Klein."

            "And you feel really special, don't you?"

            "Special isn't exactly the word I'd use to describe how I'm feeling."

            "Probably 'En Vogue' would better describe it."

            They were both in pain, both feeling sick, but the conversation struck them as funny.  They began to laugh.  Walker raised up on an elbow, then had to lie back down, weak from laughing.

            Trivette, still pushing on Walker's bandages, finally got control of himself.  "What are we laughing at?  We're in a hell of a mess."

            Walker, a remnant of a smile still affecting his lips, nodded in agreement.  "I know.  We need to hole up somewhere."  He knew the giddiness was a symptom of their injuries.

            Trivette, satisfied that the bleeding was stopped for the most part, tore off some duct tape and reinforced Walker's bandages.

            "Jeez, duct tape with Calvin Klein.  I hope Mr. Blackwell doesn't hear about this."

            "Then everyone will want it," Walker added and they started laughing all over again.

            Trivette helped Walker up, noticing the grimace of stabbing pain as his partner moved.  Arms around each other, they retrieved their shoes, then slowly and painfully made their way to the rugged terrain Walker had seen from the tree.

            Selkirk and Dodge had followed McIntyre and Beckman deep into the hunt club property.  Both skilled as outdoorsmen, the two Rangers easily stayed hidden while tailing the detectives.  By dusk, the detectives returned to their car and drove away.  Selkirk and Dodge, their truck hidden off the road, headed to Rockville, the small town a few miles up the road.  C.D. and Alex were waiting for them at the town diner.

            "Someone else is in on it," Dodge told C.D.. "They had a cell phone and they kept checking in."

            "From what we could hear," Selkirk continued, "there's another person or persons searching from a different direction."

            C.D. was angry.  "That's enough for me.  Evidence or no evidence, we know Cordell and Jimmy are on that hunt club property. I'm going to call every Ranger in the Company and get a search going."

            "Without authorization?" Dodge asked.

            C.D. nodded.  "You know how they all feel about Cordell and Jimmy.  They'll be here.  They're Rangers."

            Dodge and Selkirk nodded, pride shining in their eyes.

            Alex, her eyes red and weary from lack of sleep, was already reaching for her cell phone.  "I'll get us a helicopter.  The governor owes me a favor."

            Selkirk nodded.  "We'll have to wait till daybreak.  It's some nasty terrain in there.  We can stay the night here in town."

            Alex paused in her dialing.  "They'll have to spend another night in the open.  What if....."  She gazed at C.D., leaving her terrible fears unspoken.

            C.D. put his arm around her.  "Cordell knows what to do, honey."  As he tried to alleviate her worries, his own were brewing.  He knew Jimmy and Cordell were both hurt.  He silently prayed they were strong enough to make it through another night.

            Walker and Trivette were shivering.  The weather had taken a turn for the worse -- cold rain was falling.  They'd found shelter beneath a rocky overhang and had rigged the tarp to cover the front of the shelter, giving them additional protection from the downpour and to help keep in their dwindling body heat.

            There was not enough room to lie down.  They sat side by side, their backs against the rock wall.  They'd found another water source, but now hunger gnawed at them, weakening them further.  The area was as Walker predicted -- inaccessible by car so they felt reasonably safe for the night.

            "A fire sure would be nice," Trivette said. "So would a couple of blankets.  And hot coffee."

            "Trivette...."

            "Okay.  Sorry."

            Walker had been very quiet, except for a cough that was becoming more frequent.  Trivette forced an eye open to see Walker try to stifle a cough, his hand going to his ribs to hold them.  His face looked flushed.  Trivette was worried.  Walker was getting worse and the fall from the tree certainly hadn't helped things.  He tried to think of something positive to say.

            "So, what's with you and Alex lately?"

            Walker looked at Trivette oddly.  He'd just been thinking about Alex, how he wished he was snuggled by her side in front of the fireplace.  Trivette was reading his mind, catching on to the Cherokee thing.

            "What do you mean?"

            "You know what I mean.  You guys are inseparable lately.  I've noticed things over the past few months.  You think you're so clever, but I know.  You're always smiling that silly smile.  See, you're doing it now."

            "No I'm not."

            "Yes you are."

            Walker was smiling.  How could he do anything else when he thought of Alex?

            "So?"  Trivette pried.

            Walker shrugged evasively.

            "You're not going to tell me, are you?"

            Walker didn't say anything, but he flashed another smile at his partner.

            Trivette became pensive.  "I had a girlfriend, back in Baltimore, who made me feel like smiling all the time."

            "What happened to her?" Walker asked.

            "She died in a gang shootout."

            Walker quickly lost his smile.  "I'm sorry."

            Trivette nodded.  "Yeah, me too."

            "You don't say too much about Baltimore."

            "There's not much to say.  I was aimless, a little wild.  I joined a gang because they said they'd be my family."

            "Were they?"

            "No,"  Trivette said softly.  "None of them would have carried me."  He looked at Walker with gratitude.

            Their eyes met, the unspoken thoughts exchanged.

            "Your football coach got you out of it, didn't he?"

            "Yeah.  I think he was a lot like Uncle Ray was to you -- a guiding force, a guardian angel even."

            Walker agreed by nodding.  As diverse as his background was compared to Trivette's, he felt they had something in common.  They'd both been confused, disillusioned kids.  After his parents had been killed, he felt lost and unwanted, not comfortable on the reservation, but not knowing where else to go.  It was Uncle Ray who finally got through to him, teaching him that acceptance was his own responsibility.

            "So anyway," Trivette said, "after my girlfriend was killed, and with the help of my coach, that's when I decided to turn my life around, straighten up my act.  I never dreamed I'd end up as a Texas Ranger, though."

            "I'm glad you did," Walker said, turning to look at Trivette.

            Trivette opened his eyes and gazed back, appreciative. "Yeah, me too."

            They were quiet for awhile, the rain pelting the tarp and rolling down near their feet.  Walker shifted his position, setting off a round of coughing.  Exhausted, he laid his head back against the rock and closed his eyes.  In a few moments he was out.

            Trivette pulled his knees to his chest, still in a brooding frame of mind.  A troubled black kid from the inner city partnered with a half white, half Cherokee Ranger.  Such extremes in ethnic backgrounds, philosophies and style.  They were worlds apart yet fate had tossed them together with no regard to wants or desires, and Trivette thanked those mysterious forces every day.  Walker had become an enormous part of his life -- his teacher, his partner, his friend.  He couldn't imagine a future that didn't include the red-bearded Ranger.

            As thunder rumbled in the distance, Trivette, his head pounding, tried to get some sleep.

            Thunder crashed.  Walker jumped, realizing with a bit of embarrassment that his head had been resting on Trivette's shoulder.  He glanced at his watch -- two hours had passed.

            "Sorry, Trivette," he said, straightening up with a cough.

            "Hey, I've leaned on you more times than I can count."

            Walker put one hand to his head, the other to his chest.  He was feeling worse, could feel his reserves slipping away.  "How's your head?"

            "Not too bad as long as I keep it still,"  Trivette replied.

            Trivette had not been able to sleep.  The storm raging around them was fierce, keeping him awake with his worries.

            "Do you think anyone other than Tolliver knows where we are?"

            "I doubt it," Walker responded, guilt washing over him.  If he hadn't fallen asleep on the truck, they'd have been fine.  Or maybe if he'd stayed in the warehouse, stayed hidden until help came......  The doubts were eating at him.

            "Man, if you hadn't gotten us out of that warehouse, Tolliver would have our bodies scattered all over Dallas by now."

            Walker looked at Trivette, dumbfounded.  How was he reading his thoughts?  That was usually his forte.  Reverse Cherokee?  Maybe the head injury had made him psychic, Walker laughed to himself.  Whatever the case, Walker's doubts eased.

            "Alex and C.D. are probably going crazy," Trivette said.

            Walker hated to think about that.   How many times had he caused Alex worry and heartache?  Seen her cry quietly when he was okay, and openly agonize when he wasn't.  How fair was it to her?  They'd had the discussion before and she'd made it clear that is was a condition she accepted and could deal with, but Walker still had guilt whenever a situation arose.  What was Alex doing now?  He knew C.D. was taking care of her, but it shouldn't have to be that way.  It should be him taking care of her, not causing her emotional pain and worry. 

            When he saw Alex again-- if he saw Alex again -- they'd have to talk seriously, decide once and for all which way to go with this thing.  But could he accept the answer if she decided it wasn't worth it?  Would his heart let her go that easily?

            "Hey," Trivette said, reading his mind again. "She's okay.  She's one strong lady."

            Trivette knew his partner was prone to suffering in silence and wouldn't talk about it if he didn't want to.  So it was a total surprise when Walker said, "Why does she keep putting up with it?"

            "That's an easy one, partner.  She loves you." 

            Trivette risked opening his eyes to look at Walker, nodding to him.  Walker gazed back, a warmness spreading through his soul, but he didn't say anything else.  Trivette's assessment was true, Walker knew that.  So why was it so hard for him to tell Alex that he felt the same way too?

            Trivette gave him a few minutes of silence, then decided to change the subject.  "I wish I'd had a camera when they busted in on C.D.."

            Walker recalled C.D. in the wedding gown and makeup and had to smile.

            "And Selkirk and Dodge, I thought they were going to call Crossdressers Anonymous," Trivette added.

            Walker chuckled, grabbing at his side.  Until Selkirk and Dodge caught on, the prank had been doubly delicious.

            "We're never going to hear the end of it," Walker said.

            "I hope not," Trivette answered, and Walker caught his drift.

            They exchanged glances, the dismal extent of their situation passing between them.  Settling back against the wall, they rested once more.

            Just before daybreak, the Rangers were gathering in Rockville.  Dozens of Dallas PD officers and county deputies also arrived.  The word had spread.  C.D. Parker felt that Walker and Trivette were somewhere in the 800 acres of the hunt club, and they were coming to join in the search.  Teams were being organized, sections of land being divided into search grids.  The governor had promised Alex her helicopter.

            Mark Sheridan rushed to C.D..  "We got him!  Al Blankenship.  He rolled over on McIntyre and Beckman.  And guess who else?"

            C.D. and Alex waited for the answer.

            "Tolliver."

            C.D. scowled.  He'd never liked Tolliver and knew Cordell didn't either. "Probably means Todd is in it too."

            A county deputy overheard them.  "Len Todd?"

            "Yes, why?" C.D. asked.

            "We found a car parked off of route 744.  It was registered to Len Todd.  Looks like another vehicle, a 4x4, was beside it.  The tracks lead into the hunt club property."

            Sheridan was clenching his teeth.  "I'll pass the word.  Tolliver and Todd are in there and they're dirty."

            The helicopter came into view.  C.D. turned to Alex.

            "You keep the fort down here."

            "No way," she replied.  "I'm going with you."

            "Alex, honey...."

            "Forget it, C.D., I'm going."  She crossed her arms and glared at him.

            C.D. relented.  "Now I know what Cordell has to put up with."

            Tolliver and Todd had spent the night in the Bronco, awaking at first light.  Tolliver considered the map.

            "Walker's a smart one.  I think we overshot them.  If I was hiding out, I'd head to the high ground."

            Todd looked at the map.  "We'll never get the Bronco in there."

            "Then we'll walk."

            Trivette awoke, careful not to jostle Walker, who'd had a bad night.  He'd finally fallen asleep again but couldn't stop shivering.  Trivette had pulled him across his lap, putting Walker's back against his chest in hopes of transferring some body heat to him.  It had helped, although Walker had still been restless and feverish, with spasms of cough off and on.

            Trivette's legs were asleep from Walker's weight.  He slowly moved one to get the blood moving, unintentionally waking Walker in the process.

            "Sorry, man."

            Walker pushed himself up on one elbow, trying to chase the sleep from his brain.

            Trivette shook out his legs.  "Don't you ever tell anyone you were sleeping on my lap."

            Walker shot him a cutting glance.  "Don't worry."  He sat up all the way, grimacing with pain, the movement triggering cough.  He slapped a hand over his throbbing ribs, then looked at Trivette, nodding toward his lap. "Thanks."

            Trivette nodded with a worried smile.  It was almost nine a.m.  The sun was out, all hints of the night's storm had vanished, except for pools of rainwater collected in pockets in the rocks.  Trivette pulled down the tarp as Walker slowly dragged himself to one of the pools and drank from it, urging Trivette to do the same.

            "Now we're drinking acid rain," Trivette grumbled.  He noticed that the dizziness had improved somewhat, or maybe it was just because he'd held still all night.  Whichever, he was grateful that he could keep his eyes open without the world spinning before him.

            His stomach growled.  "Sure would like to be having breakfast at C.D.'s now."

            Walker nodded in agreement.  There were a lot of things he'd like to be doing now. "We'd better get moving.  Tolliver will have figured out where we are."

            They stood, both underestimating how weak they were.  Sitting down and sighing, they tried again, this time holding on to each other's arms.  Walker was finding it hard to stand up straight. His right side kept him hunched over, his arm guarding his ribs.  Trivette was hit with the dizziness again.  Faltering, he gripped Walker's arm.

            "We're a pitiful twosome," he murmured.

            "I know," Walker answered.

            "We need Maisie," Trivette chuckled, "Her and her 'good juice'."

            Walker nodded.  Good juice was Maisie's term for pain medication.  He had been the recipient of her juice numerous times, as well as her jokes, her barbs and her opinions.  But beneath the loud, playful exterior, he knew Maisie was a superb paramedic with a heart of gold.  Yeah, he'd like to see her now too.  But as they stumbled along, clinging to each other for support, he knew the sad truth.  No one other than Tolliver knew where they were.

            In a short time, Trivette knew Walker was in trouble.  Each step for his partner was an effort to stay upright, each breath a raspy gasp for air.  Trivette fought off his vertigo and put Walker's arm across the back of his shoulders, supporting most of his weight.

            "Hang on to me, partner."

            Walker complied wordlessly, feeling himself losing the capacity to think clearly, but knowing he could rely on Trivette.

            They reached an exposed bald of the ridge.  Rocky outcroppings dominated the scenery.  Trivette was half carrying Walker now.  Feeling extremely dizzy, Trivette stumbled, causing the two of them to fall to their knees.  At the same instant, a bullet struck the rocks behind them just where they had been standing. Trivette grabbed Walker's arm and shoved him hard to the cover of the boulders, diving after him as more bullets struck.

            Tolliver and Todd, positioned nearby, showered the boulders with rounds.  Walker, through a haze of pain and weakness, drew his gun.  He and Trivette looked at each other, knowing they were in a bad spot.  All the detectives would have to do is wait them out, and in the shape they were in, that wouldn't be long.

            "Walker!"  It was Tolliver.  "Save us all the trouble and come on out."

            "Go to hell!" Trivette shouted.

            "However you want it,"  Tolliver returned.  They sprayed the area with gunfire to punctuate the sentiment.

            Walker heard movement, then made an attempt to peer around the boulder.  He got a shot off, nicking Todd on the arm as he moved to better position.  The motion sent a scaling knife of pain through Walker's chest.  He sucked in a sharp breath and clutched at his ribs.

            "Trivette,"  he managed to say,  "can you see?"

            "Yeah, enough."

            "Here."  Walker handed him the gun.  "They're flanking us."  He leaned his head back on the rock, struggling to stay conscious.

            Trivette got off a few shots at Tolliver, temporarily pinning him down.  But Todd moved closer on the other side. 

            Walker turned to Trivette, who was holding a hand to his head to keep the dizziness at bay, the graze on his head oozing fresh blood.  It was just a matter of time now.  He looked down at himself --- the  bullet wound was bleeding again, his life spilling out on the ground.  He fought off the urge to close his eyes, to give in to the fuzziness creeping into his brain. 

            Walker again looked at Trivette, wanting to tell him what a great partner and friend he was, how his life had been enriched by knowing him, how he felt closer to him than any other man he'd known.  So much to say.

            "Trivette......." he said softly, then words failed him.

            Trivette swallowed the lump in his throat.  He nodded his understanding to Walker, then held out his hand.  Walker shook it warmly, smiling.

            Time was running out.  Tolliver advanced, shooting.  Bullets ricocheted all around them.  Trivette gripped the gun, knowing he wouldn't get a clean shot, but he was determined to go out fighting.

            Walker wondered if their bodies would ever be found.  Would Alex ever know what had happened?  He burned inside thinking of the pain she'd go through.  He wished for more time, wished he'd have told her how he felt.  Alex, I love you.

            In the helicopter, Alex was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling.  Her eyes opened wide, her heart beating rapidly.  She grabbed the pilot's shoulder and pointed west.

            "Go over there!"

            "Do you see something?" C.D. asked, peering at the rocky terrain ahead.

            "No, but, it's Walker......I hear him." 

            She looked at C.D., and in her eyes he saw the same look he'd seen in Cordell's eyes more than a few times.  The Cherokee sense, Walker's uncanny intuition.  Alex's eyes were revealing the same.

            "What do you hear?"  C.D. asked her.

            "He's saying goodbye....."  Her eyes began to fill.

            "Hurry," C.D. told the pilot.

            Walker and Trivette heard the helicopter a few seconds before it became visible.  Trivette held the gun in the sunlight and flashed a reflection skyward.

            Alex saw it and pointed.  The chopper pilot flew over them, radioing their position.  In moments, swarms of Rangers were climbing the ridge.

            Tolliver and Todd ran, but waiting for them were Selkirk and Dodge.  The retired Rangers cuffed the two detectives.

            "So, you boys been hunting?"  Selkirk said gruffly.  "Appears we're the ones who caught a couple of varmints"

            Dodge pulled out a large hunting knife. "Should we skin our catch, Billy?"

            "They ain't worth stuffing and mounting,"  Selkirk replied as Sheridan ran toward them.  Leaving the detectives in Sheridan's charge, Selkirk and Dodge ran to the ridge top where Alex and C.D. were getting out of the helicopter.  They hurried to the boulders, finding Walker and Trivette sitting limply against the rock, too exhausted to move.

            "Oh Lord," C.D. said.  He knelt beside them, not knowing what to do first. 

            Alex took a look at Walker and gently took his hand, clinging to it as tears filled her eyes.

            "Oh Walker," was all she could say.     

            He gave her a reassuring smile and took her hand.  He didn't feel much like talking.  Pain was infiltrating every fiber of his body, but he gazed into her eyes and whispered, "I love you, Alex."

            She took in a startled breath.  She had known it was true, but he'd never said it aloud.  She smiled at him, her fingers lightly touching his lips.  "I love you too."

            C.D. put an arm around Alex and tenderly pulled her away from Walker.  "We're going to get him in the helicopter now, honey.  You'll have plenty of time later for all those good words."

            With a great deal of reluctance, she let go of his hand as Rangers moved in to carry him to the chopper. 

            "Where'd all you guys come from?"  Trivette asked, stunned, as more officers gathered around.

            "It's a long story," Selkirk told him. "I want to know how the hell you guys survived out here, all shot up like this."

            "That's a long story too,"  Trivette answered.  He caught Walker's eye, and the message of friendship passed between them, a bond now stronger than ever. 

            C.D. turned to Trivette.  "Jimmy, your head looks mighty sore."

            "Oh, it's you, C.D..  I didn't recognize you without your dress."

            Heads turned to look at C.D..  He frowned, flustered.  "Dad gummit, Jimmy, I'm gonna make you and Cordell feel so miserable, you'll think these past two days were a picnic."

            Trivette grinned broadly as he was lifted up and also carried to the waiting helicopter.

            The governor had sent Alex a large state helicopter.  They were able to wrap Walker in a blanket and stretch him out on the floor between the seats.  Alex sat with him, holding his head and shoulders in her lap.

            Trivette sat next to C.D..  Needing to keep his head still, he balked somewhat when C.D. put an arm around him and drew his head onto his shoulder.

            "Hush, Jimmy, it's nothing to be embarrassed about, " C.D. fussed.

            Trivette, tired and his head splitting, mumbled, "It's better than Walker sleeping in my lap."

            "What?" C.D. chuckled.

            Walker groaned, but not from his pain.  He was too exhausted to explain, but he managed to mutter, "Aw, Trivette...."

            Alex, her eyes teasing, smiled at him. "I'm sure there's a good explanation."

            "Well, I for one sure want to hear it," C.D. said.

            "Later, Big Dog," Trivette said quietly, feeling himself falling asleep.  "We're awfully tired."

            Walker, too, was finding it hard to keep his eyes open.  His body was shutting down, no longer needing it's defenses for survival.  The crisis was over and now it was time to sleep and heal.  He had so much he wanted to say to Alex, but she was shushing him, encouraging him to relax and let go.

            Before he knew it they had landed at the hospital and he was being wheeled by stretcher into a trauma room.  The voices around him seemed very far away, very disjointed.  But he knew Alex was still holding his hand and he heard her tell someone, "His blood type is A positive."

            Then her hand was gone and everything went dark.

            Alex had been outside the trauma room for nearly 30 minutes, and still no one had come out to tell her what was going on.  Jimmy had already been taken to a room on the floors.  C.D. accompanied him, telling Alex he'd be back as soon as he got Jimmy settled in.

            A familiar face strode across the waiting room and waved to Alex.

            "Maisie," Alex said, very glad to see her.  The big black woman engulfed her in her arms.

            "We had the scanner on at the station house.  I heard the pilot radio in.  How are they?"

            "Jimmy has a bad concussion but he'll be fine.  They've already taken him up to a room.  Walker's in there.  They haven't told me anything yet."  She wrung her hands.

            "Did you ride in with him?"

            "Yes.  He has a bullet wound, but I think there's more."

            "How about if I go check it out for you, sugar?"

            Alex was hoping she'd say that. "Please."

            Maisie went through the trauma room doors.  Alex could see her talking to a doctor, then the doctor pointed to X-rays attached to a lighted viewing board.  Maisie studied the X-rays, then moved out of Alex's sight behind a curtain to Walker's bedside, nodding to the nurse watching over him.  He appeared to be sleeping, IV fluids and a unit of whole blood dripping into his veins.  He was receiving oxygen through a nasal canula and a blood pressure cuff was wrapped around his arm, automatically flashing out the reading every few minutes.  Heart monitor leads were gelled to his chest and Maisie recognized the regular pattern of a heart in no distress.  She pulled back the blanket to peek at his injuries, satisfying her medical curiosity, then, as she covered him back up, he stirred.

            She gave him a playful frown. "Couldn't you have waited for my shift, Walk-Man?  You hurt my feelings."

            He smiled slightly, but couldn't get words out.

             "Shhh.  They've got the good juice going.  Whatever you say now will be honest and uninhibited.  Might get yourself in trouble."

            He almost chuckled, but the effort set off a spasm of cough.  Maisie took his hand, letting him squeeze it until the painful bout was over.

            "They're gonna fix that in just a while," she said gently to him, her hand lightly touching his ribs.  "You rest, Redbeard.  Alex is awful worried about you."

            He closed his eyes as she patted his beard, then Maisie returned to Alex in the waiting room.

            "He's doing fine, they're stabilizing him before they take him to surgery."

            "Surgery?"

            "He's got a punctured lung.  There's a piece of a rib poking right in it.  How in the hell he walked around like that, and with a bullet hole all the way through him, I'll never know."

            Alex knew.  Jimmy had filled them in on some of the details of their ordeal.  Walker kept going to take care of Jimmy, and vice versa.  When one was out of it, the other took over.

            "The doctor said you can stay with him until they take him up."

            Alex's worried face brightened.

            "Come on,"  Maisie said, leading her to Walker.

            Alex took Walker's hand as Maisie smiled. "Take good care of him, sugar.  And remember what we talked about."  With a wink, Maisie was gone.

            Walker was drifting in and out, the good juice numbing his pain and his senses.  He felt Maisie take his hand again.

            "Maisie....." he murmured, not able to force his eyes to open again.

            Alex shook her head, holding his hand to her cheek, but before she could tell him Maisie was gone, he was speaking again, his words soft, effort-filled whispers.

            "......will Alex.....will she think...... it's worth it?"

            Alex's eyes filled with tears.  She kissed his hand, then leaned down to his ear and said softly, "Yes, very worth it."

            Walker, after the surgery, slept the rest of the day and most of the night, waking occasionally to see Alex or C.D.'s face, but too groggy to speak to them.   When he awoke the next morning, tired but alert, Alex was there to greet him with a smile.  She leaned over and kissed him.

            He smiled at her, then with a granular voice asked, "How's Trivette?"

            "See for yourself," she said, nodding to the next bed.

            Trivette, sitting up among pillows, held up a hand to wave.  "I'm not seeing double anymore."

            C.D. was in the chair between the beds. "Listen, you guys, when one or the other of you gets into trouble, it's hard enough.  But when it's both of you, well, don't do this again!  I can't take it."

            "We promise, Big Dog."

            Walker frowned, trying to remember all that had happened, still chasing fog out of his mind.  "How did you know where to find us?"

            "It was C.D. and Selkirk and Dodge," Alex said.  "We went to the warehouse and they figured out exactly what had happened.  They were incredible."

            "Just goes to show you, there's no such thing as a retired Ranger,"  Trivette smiled.

            C.D. beamed and nodded, then caught the look of thanks from Walker's eyes.  He smiled, proud to have been part of the rescue.

            C.D. continued.  "We had to be careful, though.  We knew cops were involved, but we weren't sure who and how many.  But we got 'em all, Cordell.  Tolliver and the rest of 'em.  They were running guns."

            "The other shooters at the warehouse were their supposed partners,"  Trivette added, "until Tolliver decided to phase them out of the cut.  They decided not to go peacefully."

            Alex squeezed Walker's hand.  "There was a homeless man at the warehouse.  He gave us the lead on the trucks.  His name is Nighthawk."

            Walker blinked in surprise.  He hadn't thought of his Nighthawk days in a long while, until he and Trivette had climbed the tree.  Now to hear the name again --- it had to be more than coincidence.

            "I'd like to meet him," Walker said.

            Alex nodded.  "You will.  He's going to testify for us."

            A painful memory crossed Walker's mind.  He looked at Alex with sad eyes. "Have you seen anyone from Chico's family?"

            She nodded.  "Yes.  His mother came by to see how you were.  She's handling it okay."

            "It's so senseless," Walker whispered, his heart aching.

            "I know," Alex said with understanding. "His mother said to tell you that Chico found happiness and purpose because of you.  She wants to have a memorial service for him when you're well enough to attend.  I think she'd like you to speak at it."

            Walker nodded.  He'd spoken at too many services, none of them easy.  He wondered when the day would come when the violence would end, when the death of friends and loved ones would occur timely and naturally.

            He propped himself up a bit, looking at the bandage across his chest.  Alex explained.

            "You had a punctured lung.  One of the broken ribs did it.  They sewed up the bullet wound, said you'd be good as new in a few weeks."

            "I'll be outta here tomorrow," Trivette bragged.

            "So will I," Walker said and Alex rolled her eyes, knowing they'd have to sit on him to keep him down.

            "Just do what they tell you for once, please," she asked.

            Selkirk, Dodge, Sheridan and a half dozen other Rangers came into the room.  They had pizzas and sodas, and a few six packs smuggled in a paper bag.

            "Hey, Walker, welcome back to the land of the living," Selkirk grinned.

            Dodge laughed.  "We hear you boys had a good old time -- playing in the mud, climbing trees, climbing rocks, sleeping out."

            Sheridan handed out plates and pizza slices. "We got a veggie pizza for you, Jim."

            Selkirk winked at Walker, then from a bag, pulled out a Mason jar of green liquid.  "I got a special drink for you, Trivette.  A Walker original."

            Trivette looked at the Cherokee purge and felt his stomach flip.  He put a hand over his mouth, thinking he'd have to run for the bathroom.

            "Just kidding," Selkirk grinned. "It's food coloring.  Calm down, Trivette."

            Smiling, Alex turned back to Walker as the others worked on the food.  She played with the hair on his forehead. 

            "Jimmy said you carried him that whole first night.  That's all he could talk about at first.  I don't think he'll ever forget it."

            "He did his share of carrying too,"  Walker said.

            C.D., standing between the two beds, looked from Walker to Trivette.  Always one to show emotion, he smiled but felt a lump in his throat.

            "Sounds like you boys took good care of each other."

            There were murmurs of agreement from all the officers in the room.  Trivette and Walker exchanged glances, fully appreciating the truth behind C.D.'s statement.  Both knew they couldn't have survived without the other.

            Selkirk held up a can of beer.  "Here's to partners."

            Beers and sodas were lifted and enthusiastic comments were shouted out.  Trivette held up the jar of fake Cherokee purge and nodded to Walker with a smile.  Walker returned the smile then sighed, silently thanking the powers that had made Jimmy Trivette his partner.

            The noise level of the room rose considerably.  Alex knew it wouldn't be long before the nurse came in to kick them out.  Walker declined a slice of pizza, not yet ready to tackle solid food.  The group crowded around Trivette's bed, purposely giving Alex and Walker a little privacy.

            Alex gave Walker a sip of soda, then stared at him with pondering eyes.

            He gazed back.  "I meant what I said."

            "So did I," she replied.  She leaned over to kiss him again.  "So?"

            "So?" he answered.

            "What does this mean?"

            He squeezed her hand again.  Trivette glanced over at his partner, recognizing immediately what was going on between Walker and Alex.  It wasn't the whispered words, or the body language or the dreamy expressions in their eyes --- it was Walker's face.  He was smiling that silly smile again.

*****

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

'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.

All original author and copyright information must remain intact.

Any sales or other uses of this document are expressly forbidden, without the specific consent of the author(s).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------