Alex grabbed the phone by the nightstand, trying to answer it before the ringing woke Angela. "Hello." She said sleepily.
"Mrs. Walker?" The voice asked.
"Yes, this is Mrs. Walker." Any grogginess she felt a moment ago had left her. "Who is this?"
"Mrs. Walker. This is Agent Jason Tobias. I've been working with Rangers Walker, Trivette and Gage on a case."
"Yes, I'm aware of the case. Agent Tobias, what's wrong?"
"Mrs. Walker, the Rangers were on an undercover assignment that I can't get into over the phone, but something went wrong and we believe that all three of them are dead."
Now the pause was on Alex's end of the line. She sat with her mouth partially open, tears flowing down her cheeks, rocking back and forth. She took a ragged breath and tried to compose her voice before speaking. "What do you mean you believe that all three of them are dead? Do you have any proof? What are you basing this speculation on?"
"Mrs. Walker. I want to answer all of your questions and I will as best as I possibly can, but first I need to contact the other Ranger's wives. I'll call you when I know where the four of us can meet."
Agent Tobias hung up and Alex continued to sit on the edge of the bed, rocking back and forth, softly crying.
The calls weren't easy for Agent Tobias to make. He had met these three women and admired them for their strength. He called Erica next. He knew that she and Jimmy had only been married for a year and that unlike Alex and Sydney, Erica wasn't involved directly with the Texas Rangers and didn't always understand the role Jimmy played.
The phone rang and Erica glanced at the clock before reaching for it. It was 2:00 a.m. "This had better be good." She answered.
"Mrs. Trivette. This is Agent Jason Tobias. I've been working with Rangers Trivette, Walker and Gage on a case." He relayed the same message to her that he had given to Alex just a few moments earlier. Her response was quite different.
"You have to be wrong, Agent Tobias. You have to be wrong! My Jimmy is alive! I'm his wife, I would feel it if he were dead. Don’t you understand, if he were dead, a part of me would be dead too!" She sobbed into the phone.
"Mrs. Trivette. I want to answer all of your questions and I will as best as I possibly can, but first I need to contact Ranger Gage's wife. I'll call you when I know where the four of us can meet."
Erica trembled as she let the phone drop to the floor. "He can't possibly be dead. He can't be."
The phone in the Gage household rang twice before Sydney answered it. "Hello."
"Ranger Cooke. This is Agent Jason Tobias. As you know, I've been working with Rangers Gage, Walker and Trivette on a case." He paused for a moment. "I'm sorry, are you still using your maiden name, or do you go by Gage now?"
"It doesn't matter." Sydney replied, sounding somewhat annoyed. "What's wrong?
"I didn't say anything was wrong."
"No, but if it weren't you wouldn't be calling me at 2:00 a.m., my husband would."
"Mrs. Gage, the Rangers were on an undercover assignment that I can't get into over the phone, but something went wrong and we believe that all three of them are dead."
Sydney let herself sink to the floor. She felt as if she were drowning and she didn't want to come up for air, not if Gage wasn't there to hold her.
"Ranger Cooke!" Tobias yelled into the phone.
"I'm here." She whispered.
"Ranger Cooke, I need your help. We've lost them and two of our own. They're all presumed dead, but nothing has been confirmed. Can we meet at your office, in say twenty minutes."
"I'll be there in ten."
Sydney quickly dressed and grabbed her gun on the way out the door. Something didn't feel right about this whole thing. Had Tobias already called Alex and Erica? She picked up her cell phone and dialed Alex's number.
"Hello." Alex sobbed.
"So he has called you?"
"Oh Sydney. Honey, are you OK? Why don't you come over to the ranch and stay?" Alex tried to maintain her composure on the phone.
"Alex, listen to me. I'm not convinced that the guys are dead. I'm meeting with Tobias in my office in about five minutes and I plan to get to the bottom of this. Now what can you tell me about the case? I only have what Gage told me and that's not very much."
Alex took a deep breath. "You know that part of this was to take place across the boarder, right?"
"OK. Tobias is supposedly working closely with IA on this one. There's a federal prison in Arizona that's been transferring the inmates who are serving life sentences to someone in Mexico. At least they call it transferring, they're actually selling them."
"Selling them? For what?"
"That's what the guys were supposed to find out." Alex signed. "I didn't want Walker in on this one. I'd already read too many reports to feel even close to comfortable, but when a Federal DEA Agent turned up dead after going in undercover, there was no deterring Walker, and Jimmy and Gage weren't going to let him go in by himself."
"That much I knew."
"Unlike when they were at Copperhead, Walker, Gage and Jimmy all went in as inmates this time. They have no one on the inside and they're relying on Tobias to get them out of this."
"Alex, I'm at the courthouse now. I'll call you after I meet with Tobias."
"Have you talked with Erica yet?"
"I keep getting a busy signal. I think I might just drive over."
Sydney gingerly ran up the steps to the Ranger headquarters and opened the door. She found Agent Jason Tobias sitting at her desk. "I guess I'm a little ahead of schedule. Sorry."
"Not a problem." Sydney replied as she sat her keys down on the desk.
Tobias stared at her. "Are you as tough as they say you are?"
"I need to know if your performance record has been, in any way, inflated?"
"You have impeccable training in the martial arts, you're very computer literate and you've handled some very difficult undercover assignments."
"I see you've done your homework. Now, may I ask why?"
"You and I are going in as guards at the Federal prison in Arizona. I've already arranged it. I'm trying to get us both assigned to the transport bus so we can, at the very least, locate an inmate who saw the Rangers when they were transported."
"How many undercover operations have you actively participated in, Agent Tobias?" Sydney asked.
"A few." Came the answer.
"How many is 'a few'?"
"Two, but . . ."
"In that case, I think I qualify as your superior here. First of all, we don't want to be assigned to the transport bus, at least not the official one, that won't be the one taking the prisoners to Mexico."
She continued. "Second, the guards that are in on this will wise up to two new guards really quick and either shut the operation down or quiet it down so we won't be able to find any leads to Gage, Walker and Trivette."
Tobias shook his head. "I wasn't thinking Ranger Cooke." He looked up at her and appeared to have tears in his eyes. "I'm so sorry I got your husband and the other Rangers involved in this. I was just . . . I wanted revenge so badly for my partner."
"The Fed that was killed last month?"
"No, I'm the one who needs to apologize to you. I got in way over my head on this one and I really thought that the Rangers could take care of themselves in there."
"You didn't give them any back up?" Sydney yelled back.
Tobias shook his head. "I thought they could handle it."
"You sent them in on a virtual suicide mission. I can't believe that Walker didn't check it out more thoroughly than that."
"I told him that he'd have the back up if he needed it, not actually thinking he would need it."
"But instead you left them on their own, knowing full well what was going on in that prison! Why is there no back-up from the Feds?" Sydney stood to her full 5'2" height, but somehow managed to tower above Tobias who had sulked in his chair.
"They didn't believe my story. Jensen knew I was right, but . . ." He paused. "I don't have the best track record with my superiors, OK?"
"That's all you have to offer? 'You don’t have the best track record with your superiors'."
"I'm sorry! I’m sorry! What else do you want me to say?"
"I want you to tell me that we're going to able to get my husband, Walker and Trivette out of Mexico, Arizona or wherever they are in between. I want you tell me that they're alive and I can expect my husband to hold me in his arms again. I want you to stop being such a sniffling, little coward and get up and do your job!" Sydney was yelling at the top of her lungs.
"Yes ma'am." Tobias cowered as Sydney stormed out of the office to cool down.
"Marcus, have you changed the status in the computer of those in the next shipment?"
"Yes sir. I listed all three as deceased."
"Cause of death?"
"They were killed in a prison riot."
"Good. Have the inmates ready for transport in thirty minutes."
The guard nodded as he headed to the area of the prison reserved for solitary confinement. Once there, he paused briefly before the gate, waiting for it to be unlocked. He then proceeded to a spot in the narrow passageway, where he knew he could be heard in all of the cells. "Evans, Tolliver, Jessup!" He yelled as he approached the cells. "On your feet. You're moving out!"
Walker, Trivette and Gage stood, their backs facing the door of their cells. The guard carefully approached Walker's cell first. He placed a pair of handcuffs around Walker's wrists through a small opening in the door. Once they were in place, he ordered Walker to his knees and then opened the door and placed a pair of shackles around his ankles and hauled him to his feet. Another guard pushed him against the wall of the passageway while Trivette and Gage were taken from their cells in the same fashion.
The guard paused when he opened Gage's cell door. "How's the eye, Jessup?" He bellowed, laughing afterward.
Gage didn't respond. Walker and Trivette both were shocked when he turned their way, revealing a four inch cut above his left eye, resulting in the eye being swollen shut.
The guard noticed Walker and Trivette's gaze. "Eyes to the front, unless you want my baton upside your head too."
Walker leaned against the wall and thought while the guard prepared to shuffle them off to the transport vehicle. "Man, am I sorry I ever got involved in this one. We're no closer now to knowing what happened to that agent than we were three weeks ago when we came in. Now Gage is hurt and I don't know how bad and who knows where they're taking us now."
"Move it Evans!" The guard yelled, bringing him out of his daze.
The three inmates were loaded onto a small transport bus. The guard wrapped their chains around a small iron post in front of them. "Hey, you can't transport us in cuffs and irons!" Trivette yelled.
"I can do anything I want. As far as they system is concerned, the three of you died in a prison riot yesterday!" The guard laughed again as he climbed on board and gave the driver instructions.
Walker looked to his right at Gage, who looked as though he might pass out at any moment. "Gage." He whispered. There was no response. "Gage!" He whispered again as the bus cranked up.
Gage turned towards Walker. In the sunlight, Walker could tell that the whole side of his head was badly bruised and the cut above his eye still oozed. "Walker?" Gage whispered in an uncertain voice.
"Hey, shut up back there, before I beat some sense into you!" The guard shouted.
Gage looked stared straight ahead, not really looking at anything.
"Hey, can you at least tell us where we're headed?" Walker yelled.
The guard smiled. "You're going on a hunting trip in Mexico!" The smiled turned into a hearty laugh.
Trivette sat and thought about Erica and what this must be doing to her. After hearing the guard say that the system showed that the three of them had been killed in a riot, he was certain that she, Alex and Sydney had been notified of their deaths by Agent Tobias. "Hang on Erica. You have to believe that I'm alive." He thought as he closed his eyes. "And I have to believe that the three of us are going to get out of this mess."
Sydney returned to the office to find Tobias still sitting in her chair, his head hung low. She slammed the door on purpose, so he would jump.
"Ranger Cooke! I wasn't sure you'd come back!"
"What choice do I have? My husband and my bosses are out there with no back up. Someone has to go in and get them out. If you can't get anyone else in the bureau involved, then it looks like it's up to me and you." She said angrily.
"Where do you want to start?" Tobias asked.
"First of all, I want to know why we can't get anyone else at the bureau involved? If they lost an agent and they know that there's something fishy going on inside that prison, why aren't they willing to get involved. Don't you have any pull at all?" Sydney paused, and noted that Tobias was staring at the floor.
"Agent Tobias, how long have you been with the bureau and how many field assignments have you had?"
Tobias cleared his throat before answering. "I, uh."
"If I check your badge number with the Federal records, am I going to find your name?" Sydney glared at him.
He stood silently and then stared at her. "Yes, but not where you expect to find it."
"That's what I thought! You have a lot of explaining to do and you had better do it quickly!" Sydney was fuming.
He stared at her for a moment. "I am a Federal Agent, but not with the DEA or FBI. I work with the federal medical examiner's office. I was in on two separate autopsies of inmates that were found just this side of the boarder. I did a little snooping and found both had been listed as dead several months earlier, in the federal prison in Arizona." He looked up to see if Sydney was listening. When he was satisfied that she was, he continued.
"There was no possible way these two men had been dead for several months. Two weeks at the most and both had died of gunshot wounds. There was also something else I found to be odd."
"What was that?" Sydney managed.
"Are you familiar with entomology?"
"That’s the study of bugs and how they effect a corpse, right?"
"Exactly. I found bugs on these bodies that are endogenous to Mexico."
"And how did you manage to rope the Texas Rangers into this? Especially, Walker?"
"Ranger Walker knows me and my family. When I presented the evidence to him and told him that I wasn't getting any help from the bureau, he felt that he had to do something."
"So what about Agent Jensen, or was there ever an Agent Jensen?"
"Yes, there was an Agent Jensen. I gave my findings to him and he took them to his superior. They sent him in and he was killed.
"If they sent him in, where are they now? Why haven't they done anything?" Sydney hammered him with questions.
"I don't know Ranger Cooke. I've tried contacting Agent Bowles, that was Jensen's superior, but he won't take my calls. I have no idea if they're on top of this or it they just let it go. Jensen wasn't one of Bowles' favorites and he may be glad to be rid of him."
After riding for well over half of the day, Walker looked through the bars over the windows, and noticed that they were approaching the boarder. The bus slowed as the driver stopped to produce papers on the inmates. Walker could hear the boarder patrol as they were allowed through the checkpoint and into Mexico.
Walker and Trivette both noticed how quiet Gage had been throughout the ride. The only time they had heard him at all was when he whispered Walker's name as they were pulling out of the prison yard. He stared straight ahead, his head leaning precariously against the window.
The bus slowed about thirty minutes after they crossed into Mexico. "Last stop boys!" The guard yelled and then got off of the bus and stretched his legs. He returned and stood at the front of the bus, facing Walker, Trivette and Gage. "I'm taking you off one by one and you'd better not give me any trouble."
Trivette was the first to be taken off. The guard released the handcuffs from the iron bar and then re-fastened them behind Trivette's back and roughly pushed him to the door. Once he was off of the bus, he was forced to his knees. "Head down, Gringo." A voice from behind announced.
Walker was next, followed by Gage. Gage stumbled slightly when he was pushed from the bus. His stumble was met with the guard's reprimand of a slap on his head. Gage immediately fell to the ground. "On your knees, Jessup!" The guard shouted. Gage slowly pulled himself to his knees, his body visibly trembling all over.
"What's wrong with him?" The Mexican man asked the guard when he looked at Gage.
"He just needs a little extra discipline every once in a while. Of course, I doubt you'll keep him around long enough to worry about that."
The Mexican stood in front of Gage and grabbing a handful of hair, pulling his head up to look at his face. "You will be the first in our hunt." He spit as he spoke, taking note that Gage didn't respond. "What's the matter Gringo, cat got your tongue?"
"He was a real smart mouth. That's why I broke his jaw." The guard laughed as he slapped his baton in his hand.
Walker and Trivette turned to each other and then to Gage. "So that's why he hasn't said anything. He can't." Walker thought.
"Tobias, we leave in twenty minutes." Sydney said as she hung up the phone.
"A little town just across the border."
"You know where they are?"
Sydney nodded. "I called Jensen's superior, Agent Bowles and filled him in on everything. They've had people in place for almost three weeks, but since you didn't let them know that you had involved the Rangers, they had no idea who Evans, Tolliver and Jessup really were."
"How did you know their undercover names?"
"I checked the Arizona federal prison files for the past two weeks. All three were listed as killed in a riot on the same day, so I punched in their names and viewed their files, along with their mug shots."
"One of us has to be, Tobias." Sydney replied in a serious tone.
"I deserve that." He replied. "So the Feds have really had people in place all this time?"
"Yes. Why are you so surprised?"
"I didn't think they took me seriously. Jensen and I were friends and I knew he would believe me, but Agent Bowles is a strictly by the book kind of guy. This wasn't exactly by the book."
"Well, he expressed his opinion of having the Rangers involved, but I believe his respect for us has somewhat deepened after our conversation." She picked up her jacket and her weapon. "Let's go. We're going to miss our flight."
Walker, Trivette and Gage were all three placed in a cell that would have almost been too small for one person, but at least their restraints had been removed and Walker finally got an opportunity to talk to Gage and see how injured he really was.
Gage sat in one corner of the room and rested his throbbing head in his hands. Walker squatted next to him and put his hand on his shoulder. "Are you going to be alright?"
Gage nodded. "I think so." He mumbled.
"We're going to get out of this. I promise you."
"How?" Gage asked through clenched teeth.
Walker looked at Trivette. "We'll figure something out."
Trivette looked at Gage's bruised face. "What on Earth did you do to tick off that guard anyway?"
"I really don't remember." He closed his eyes and leaned his back against the wall and let his mind drift to Sydney.
"Flight 322 non-stop to San Antonio will now begin boarded at Gate 3."
"That's us." Sydney said as she grabbed her carry-on bag.
"We'll be taking a helicopter from there. It's all lined up."
They boarded the plane and took their seats. As they sat down, Agent Tobias noticed that Sydney's face showed her concern for her husband. "Ranger Cooke. I have a good feeling about this." He tried to comfort her.
She smiled and nodded. "Thank you."
Erica sat on the floor in front of the couch playing with Angela. Alex smiled, knowing that the sweet little girl could take anyone's mind away from their troubles, at least for a little while.
She cleared her throat as she entered the room. "Hi you two." She greeted as she sat down on the floor beside of them.
"Any word from Sydney yet?" Erica asked hopefully. Alex shook her head. She saw the tears forming in Erica's eyes.
"Erica, we have to believe that they're all alive."
She nodded quickly, trying to choke back the sobs that were building in her throat. "I know." She made a feeble attempt at a smile. "I know."
"Jessup! Front and center, hands behind your back!" A guard yelled with a distinct Mexican accent.
"Gage, don't move."
"Walker, I don't think I can take another beating right now." Gage whispered in a muffled voice.
"I won't let that happen. Just stay down and keep your eyes closed, like you're unconscious."
"That shouldn't be too hard. I feel like I'm half way there already." Gage mumbled as he closed his eyes.
"What's the plan?" Trivette asked.
"We're going to jump the guard and then all three of us are getting out of here. You be ready to help Gage when I take the guard down."
The guard put his hand on the bars. "Jessup! You dare to disobey me? I said up and front and center!"
"He's been that way for about an hour now. I think he's unconscious, if he's not dead." Walker faced the agitated guard.
The guard's look of agitation quickly changed to desperation. "He can't be dead. They have a client already lined up." He fumbled with the keys until he got the door unlocked. Once inside the cell, he approached Gage and lightly kicked at him with the toe of his boot. "Jessup! Jessup!" He bent down and shook Gage's shoulder. There was no movement. Upon seeing this, Walker was a little concerned that maybe Gage actually was unconscious.
The guard stood. "Damn it! My boss is going to kill me! I had nothing to do with beating this guy and now I'm gonna pay the price for it." He gestured wildly with his hands.
Suddenly, Walker caught him from behind and was able to lift his weapon from his gun belt. "Trivette, help Gage!" Walker ordered as he held the gun on the guard. "You, put these on." He pulled the handcuffs from the guard's waist and handed them to him. "Do it now!"
The guard slowly put the handcuffs around his wrists. Walker stepped out of the cell and clanked the door shut, taking the key with him. He joined Trivette and Gage in the hallway. "How are you holding up, Gage?"
"I'll be fine." He replied.
"I hope you said you'd be fine. I'm sorry, but I can't really understand you all that well right now."
Gage nodded and motioned with his hand for them to move forward. Walker nodded in reply, taking the lead with Trivette bringing up the rear. They cautiously moved through the empty corridors, staying close to the walls. As they approached the door to the outside, they were caught off guard by the wailing of sirens, inside the building. "They've escaped!" Someone yelled from a distance.
Walker had to ram his shoulder into the door twice before it would give. The three of them ran across the dusty yard and into a small grove of trees where they hid. "We're not going to be safe here." Walker said as he turned to Gage and Trivette.
Sydney and Tobias were among the first to leave the plane. They entered the terminal and were immediately met by two men in suits. "Agent Tobias? Ranger Cooke?"
"Agent Bowles." Tobias greeted as he shook the man's hand.
"Agent Bowles. I'm Sydney Cooke." She held out her hand.
"We've got two of our own waiting in the chopper. Here, both of you change into these. You'll be less suspicious." Agent Bowles handed Tobias and Sydney each a pair of Army fatigues. "The compound where the Rangers are being held is just a few miles from here. All of their people wear this same get up. You should fit right in."
Sydney slid the fatigues over her street clothes, as did Agent Tobias. "Do your men have a plan to get them out?" Sydney asked.
Agent Bowles nodded. "We wouldn't be here, if we didn't." He replied sarcastically. "Ranger Cooke. I don't really have a lot of sympathy for the three Rangers in there. They got themselves into this mess by going along with Agent Tobias here."
"Who convinced Ranger Walker that he had tried to alert the FBI and DEA of what was going on in the Federal Prison in Arizona and no one except Agent Jensen would listen to him!" Sydney replied with vigor. "You have a lot of nerve trying to blame my husband and our bosses for this mess."
"Your husband? I wasn't aware of another Ranger Cooke."
"Ranger Gage is my husband."
"Oh. He's the one that's injured."
Sydney stood in shook for a moment. "Injured? How bad?"
"One of the guards in Arizona beat him up with his baton. One of our guys witnessed it."
"One of your guys witnessed it and did nothing?" She was seething.
"We didn't know that he was a Texas Ranger, remember?" Agent Bowles replied with extreme sarcasm, while staring at Agent Tobias.
"We'll continue this talk later. Right now, I want to get out to that helicopter and get to the compound where the Rangers are being held."
"Good luck. I hope you make it back."
"We'll be back alright, with Rangers Gage, Walker and Trivette." Sydney stared him down and then turned to make her way to the helicopter with Agent Tobias.
"Ranger Cooke. No one ever talks to Agent Bowles the way you just did."
Sydney didn't seem to hear him. She was too busy thinking of Gage and how to get him, Walker and Trivette out of that compound without losing any of them.
She talked to the other two agents on board and they all decided that Sydney's rescue plan had a better chance of working than theirs.
"Walker, there's nowhere to hide and it sounds like they're all around us." Trivette whispered.
"They are." He replied and then looked at Gage. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine." Gage nodded his head. "Don't worry about me, I can handle myself."
"You may have to if we make a run for it." Walker replied.
Everyone was forced to look towards the North as they all heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. The men in the compound turned their guns towards the inbound chopper and had their fingers on the triggers. "Hold your fire!" A man yelled as he exited the building. "Hold your fire and that's an order!" He repeated. The men dropped their guns.
The helicopter landed and Sydney, Agent Tobias and the other two agents got out. The pilot of the helicopter then took off.
"Welcome, welcome. I am Antonio Mandez. I am most pleased to meet you all, especially you Senorita. I must confess I was most intrigued when my contact in the states said that he had a woman who was interested in the hunt."
"And why would that surprise you so?" Sydney remarked in a flawless Spanish accent.
Mandez smiled at her. "We have just not had someone so beautiful as you as a guest here."
"Um." Sydney remarked. "When is the hunt to take place and do I have an opportunity to meet my prey beforehand?"
"Patience Senorita. The prey has momentarily escaped, but we should have no problem rounded them up as they cannot get very far on foot. That is part of the charm of the hunt. There are many traps scattered about and there is the chance that they prey, as you call it, may become trapped, giving the hunter a better opportunity to shoot."
"Does that not take the challenge out of it? I do not wish to participate, unless I am assured that I have effectively chased down my prey and taken it all on my own."
"Ah. A very independent and opinionated woman, I see."
"Yes, I am independent and I was promised a true challenge here at your compound. So far, you have talked of nothing but easy prey."
Walker strained to hear the conversation that was taking place several yards in front of their hiding place. "Gage, that sounds like Sydney."
Gage listened closely. "That is Syd. What's she doing here?"
"Saving our bacon man. Saving our bacon." Trivette smiled as he listened to Sydney's conversation with Mandez. "Look, the other three with her are posing as her men. It looks like she's got Mandez over a barrel already."
"Senor Mandez, might my men and I have a place to freshen up and check my weapons. Once that is done, I would like to begin the hunt."
"But Senorita, I have already told you that the men I had lined up for you have escaped."
"Good. The challenge should be all the greater then, correct?"
The three Federal agents accompanied Sydney inside the building. There were escorted into a small, private room, where she broke down one of the rifles and checked it. “This has to look good. The rifles get blanks, but my .45 and your side arms get the real thing.”
“How are you going to let your people know the plan?”
“I know where they are. I’ll get as close as possible and hope I can make contact without raising suspicion.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Senor Mandez. “Senorita, I trust that you are now ready to begin your hunt.”
“Yes. I am.”
“May I be so bold as to ask your name, Senorita.”
“I do not wish to give you my name. I would not want it to be found in your files if ever your operation was raided by the authorities.”
“I can assure you, there is no possibility of that happening.”
Sydney laughed to herself. If he only knew that he was talking to a Texas Ranger and three Federal Agents, not to mention three more Rangers were on the grounds of the compound. “I still do not wish to give you my name. But if you insist on something, you may call me Senorita Gonzalez.”
“Gonzalez, that is much like ‘Smith’ in the United States, is it not?”
“It is.” Sydney turned and the three agents followed her.
As she stepped outside, she stared out at the horizon and held her hand out. “My rifle.” One of the agents laid the rifle into her hand without a word.
“Your men, they do not speak?” Mandez asked.
“Only when spoken to.”
“Perhaps I should take a few pointers from you on keeping my men in line.”
“We will accompany you and your men on this hunt.” Mandez stated.
“No. I prefer to hunt my own way, without people, other than my own.”
“But you are unaware of the location of the traps I spoke of earlier.”
“Then we will wait while you map them out for us.” She stared at him for a moment. “Now!”
“We’re sitting ducks out here.” Trivette said as he looked around for another place to hide.
“We have to wait and see what Sydney has planned.” Walker replied.
“Do you think she can pull this off?”
“I know she can.” Gage mumbled.
“She’s outside with the three feds again.” Walker replied as he peeped out from their hiding spot. “She’s got a rifle with her.”
“A rifle?” Trivette asked. “She’s really planning on hunting us down?”
“She has to make it look good. If not, they’ll kill her.” Walker replied, momentarily forgetting that Gage was with them.
Gage’s heart began to pound quickly. “Walker?”
“She’ll be fine, Gage. I know she’ll come through for us.”
“OK, Senorita, here is a map of places to stay away from. These traps are all potentially deadly. I cannot assure you that the three men you seek will not find the traps themselves. If they do, there will little left of them to hunt.”
Sydney nodded as she studied the map. “Come.” She motioned to the agents.
They headed out across the clearing and towards the small grove of trees. Once they were out of plain sight, Sydney stopped at the edge of the trees. “Gage, Walker, Trivette.” She whispered.
“I’m right here Sydney.” Walker whispered from underneath a pile of brush. “I’m next to your left foot.”
Sydney continued to look straight ahead. “There’s only one shot at getting all of us out of here. My rifles are loaded with blanks. I’ll shoot at you, but I need each of you to make it look good. The feds have one man on the inside who will be used to confirm your deaths. Once you’ve been confirmed dead, I’ll throw a tantrum and make sure that Mandez lets me keep the bodies to dispose of us I see fit.” She paused. “How’s Gage? Agent Bowles said he was injured.”
“He’ll be fine. He probably has a concussion and I know he has a broken jaw. He’s in some pain, but he’ll be OK. Your plan sounds good. I’ll clue in Gage and Trivette and we’ll be ready when you fire.”
Sydney took a few steps forwards. “OK. I need you to run on three. I’ll miss this time. One, Two, Three.” Walker took off running. Sydney held the rifle in firing position. She pulled the trigger and swore slightly as she ‘missed’.
“Did you clue him in?” Agent Tobias asked. Sydney nodded.
“Trivette, Gage, Sydney has a plan. She’s loaded the rifles with blanks. When she fires at us, we need to each make it look like she’s killed us. One of the feds is already on the inside and he’ll be the one to confirm the kills. She plans to throw a tantrum to get Mandez to allow her to take our bodies with her. She’ll give us a signal when she’s ready.”
Trivette and Gage both nodded.
“Alright, Gage, you’re first, then you Trivette and I’ll go last.”
Gage stood up and ran towards the edge of the wooded area. “There!” Sydney shouted. Gage stared at Sydney as she held the rifle up and fired at him. He turned his body so it appeared that he took the impact of the bullet in his chest. He hit the ground on his back and let his head turn to the right. “One down, two to go.”
Trivette was next. As Sydney approached the tree he was hiding behind, he made a run for it. She stood and as he was moving, she fired. Trivette pretended to feel the impact in his left side. His hands went to his side and Sydney fired again. He pretended to feel this one in his chest and hit the ground. “One left.”
Walker eluded Sydney for about thirty minutes to give her performance more credibility. He then ran across her path, about 40 yards in front of her. She aimed the rifle at his chest and pulled the trigger, but nothing fired. Walker didn’t realize that the rifle had malfunctioned until he was already in mid-fall. He hit the ground on his stomach and immediately jumped to his feet.
“Senorita, we will assist you on the final man.” Mandez’s voice boomed over the compound’s P.A. system.
Sydney stood and waved both of her arms over her head, indicating that she didn’t want the assist. Either Mandez didn’t see her, or didn’t want to see her, because in a matter of seconds a small Jeep arrived with two of Mandez’s armed men. One of them spotted Walker running back into the grove of trees. He aimed and pulled the trigger. Walker hit the ground.
Sydney was almost beside herself, not knowing if Walker was dead or alive. “You imbecile! I did not ask for an assist! I was doing fine on my own!”
“We were just following orders, Senorita. Senor Mandez sent us out and said you were having difficulty on the last man.”
"My rifle malfunctioned. That does not warrant him sending you to assist me with this hunt!” She sounded extremely angry. Truth be known, part of her was very angry; Angry with herself for not getting the shot right the first time.
Senor Mandez drove up and jumped out of the Jeep. “Senorita, I am most impressed with your abilities.”
Sydney pointed the rifle at Mandez. “You idiot! I did not ask for an assist!”
“I know, but you missed the shot.”
“My rifle malfunctioned! You sent out someone to take the shot for me because my rifle malfunctioned!"
“I apologize Senorita. If you would like, I could arrange for another hunt for you next month.”
“No! What I do want is to take my three kills home with me.”
“Take them home? That is a most unusual request.”
“I have my reasons.”
“I am sorry Senorita, that is not possible. We would be taking too great of a risk if the bodies made it out of the country.”
“I said nothing of taking them out of the county.”
“Yes, but I know that you are from Texas you will be returning there, correct?”
“Yes and I will be taking my three kills with me!” She pulled out her wallet from her pack. “Here, another $3,000.00. Will this get the bodies?”
“$1,000.00 per body? That is quite a profit.”
“Yes, it is. Would you please let me have the bodies and take this $3,000.00 as a donation to your compound.”
Mandez took the $3,000.00 and motioned to one of his men to help load the bodies into the helicopter.”
Once the helicopter was loaded, Sydney stood with Mandez and the three agents. “Senorita, I would welcome your presence back to my humble abode anytime you desire.”
“Thank you Senor Mandez. I greatly enjoyed the challenge and I will most assuredly be back.”
“Good. I look forward to it.”
Sydney stepped into the large helicopter and closed the door as the pilot got the rotors going and lifted off.
“My God, we did it!” Agent Tobias shouted. “You did it!” He hugged Sydney.
“Let’s get the body bags opened. They’re not very easy to breath in.”
Sydney opened the bag Gage was in and two of the agents opened the bags containing Walker and Trivette. Gage lay motionless as Sydney unzipped the bag. “Gage?” She ran her fingers through his hair and then felt for his pulse with her fingers. “Gage, come on honey.” He still remained motionless.
“Sydney, what’s going on? Where are Walker and Gage?” Trivette asked as his bag was unzipped and he had a chance to take a deep breath.
“Gage has a pulse, but he’s unconscious. I don’t know about Walker yet.”
Trivette got up and went to where Walker lay. “Walker? Walker, can you hear me?” He yelled as he saw blood on Walker’s shirt and began to apply pressure on his chest where the bullet of Mandez’s man had struck him.
Gage’s head lolled from side to side and he moaned slightly. “Gage?” Sydney called to him.
“Syd?” He replied, still through clinched teeth.
Sydney knelt beside of him. “Just hang on honey. I know you must be in a lot of pain. We’re almost back in San Antonio.”
"Where's Trivette and Walker?" He asked.
"Shh. Don't try to talk right now." She placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Walker's been hit." She replied, choking back her tears.
"One of Mandez's men. I fired the first shot above his head. Mandez decided that the little woman needed some help."
"Is it bad?" Gage mumbled.
"I don't know yet." She looked towards Trivette, but his attention was focused on Walker.
"Come on Walker. You can't die, you have way too much to live for man." Trivette encouraged.
Agent Tobias laid his hand on Trivette’s shoulder. "Ranger Trivette, we'll be landing in San Antonio shortly. An ambulance will be waiting for Ranger Walker and Ranger Gage."
Trivette nodded. "Thank you."
Sydney tore her attention away from Gage long enough to check on Walker. "How is he?" She asked Trivette.
"Not so good. He's hit in the chest." Trivette looked up at her. "What happened? I thought you were shooting blanks."
"I was, but Mandez sent his men in to help me with Walker."
Trivette shook his head. "What are we going to tell Alex?"
Sydney blinked back her tears once again. "The truth." She replied.
The helicopter landed at the airport in San Antonio and was greeted by Agent Bowles. The feds were the first off of the helicopter, except for Agent Tobias who lagged behind with Sydney.
Trivette helped lift Walker onto a waiting gurney and Agent Tobias helped Gage from the helicopter to another gurney. Sydney stayed by Gage's side as he was loaded into the ambulance.
"Ranger Cooke. You need to be de-briefed." Agent Bowles said as he grabbed her shoulder.
"I'm not one of yours, Agent Bowles. There were three of your guys with me every step of the way and I feel certain that they can efficiently de-brief you on the situation."
"I'm sorry Ranger Cooke, but I really must insist that you accompany me." Bowles pulled his sidearm and stuck it in Sydney's ribs.
Sydney reluctantly allowed Bowles to lead her back to his car, all too aware of the gun still in her ribs and very unnerved at the thought of being alone with this man.
"Go." Bowles instructed the driver. They pulled away quickly. Bowles picked up his cell phone and dialed out. "Take care of the loose ends." He hung up and smiled an evil grin at Sydney.
"You see, my dear. You've done your job too well. I had such a sweet deal set up with the warden at the federal pen in Arizona and with Mandez. It all flowed so smoothly, that is until Tobias stumbled onto us." He looked at her sympathetically for a moment. "I am sorry that he involved the Texas Rangers. This plan was set up to only kill those who were outcasts of society."
"You do understand, don't you?" He continued. "We had never harmed anyone who mattered. The men who participated in the hunt were all either death row inmates or serving life sentences with no chance of parole. They were a burden to the good taxpayers of our country. They weren't important."
Sydney glared at him with disgust. "I understand that you, the warden and Mandez devised a very sick game that involved hunting human beings down like animals and killing them for trophy kills.
I understand that you allowed my husband to be beaten by a guard at the prison until his eye was swollen shut and his jaw broken.
I understand that Ranger Walker is fighting for his life because of your greed. And Agent Bowles, I understand that your greed will be your ultimate downfall."
"Shut up!" He backhanded Sydney. She recoiled against the plush leather seats of the car. She ran her tongue along the trickle of blood that seeped from her lip.
Gage fought off the paramedics, jumped from the gurney and ran towards Trivette as Walker was taken out of the ambulance and rushed into the ER.
Trivette was talking to Alex on his cell phone, trying to tell her about Walker's condition.
"Where did he take her?" Gage asked as loudly as he could.
"Just a minute Gage." He turned back to the phone. "Alex, I've got to go. I'll see you when you get here. Give my love to Erica." He hung up the phone. "Who Gage? What are you talking about?"
"One of the Feds took Syd."
Trivette put his hand on Gage's shoulder. "Gage, calm down. You need to be checked over."
"Not until I find my wife!"
Agent Tobias ran into the ER, almost bumping into Trivette. "Ranger Cooke is in trouble!" He announced breathlessly.
"What kind of trouble." Trivette asked, focusing on Gage's reaction.
"Agent Bowles is behind this whole thing. He set it all up and he has Ranger Cooke."
"How do you know this?"
"I just found the other two agents that were with us in the compound. They had both been shot in the chest. Agent Martin wasn't dead when I got there, but there was nothing I could do for him. I tried to get him to lie still and wait for help, but I guess he knew that he wasn't going to make it. He told me everything he knew. He has proof hidden away in a locker a bus station in DC."
"Where would Bowles have taken Sydney?" Trivette asked.
"She's a liability, but so are we. He needs her to get to you guys."
"So you think he'll try something here at the hospital?" Trivette asked.
Tobias nodded. "It would make sense. In route to Dallas would be easier, but he can't risk any of you talking about what happened."
Gage leaned heavily against the wall. "Ranger Gage?" Agent Tobias helped steady him.
"Gage, let's get you in here and have a doctor take a look at you." Trivette, with Agent Tobias' help, guided Gage into the ER. Gage was in too much pain to put up a fight.
After a thorough examination of Gage, the doctor met with Trivette and Agent Tobias in the hallway. "Your young Ranger friend has a broken jaw and a concussion. I'd really like to keep him overnight, but before we put him under, he was insisting that he had to find his wife."
Trivette nodded as he continued to listen to the doctor. "I've wired his mouth shut to keep his jaw in place and he needed a couple of stitches in the cut above his eye. He'll need to see his own doctor when he gets back to Dallas. The wires can be removed in a couple of weeks if everything looks like it’s lined up correctly."
"Thank you doctor, can we see him now?"
"He's a little out of it right now. We had to give him a mild sedative to put the wires in place. He'll probably be out for another hour or so."
Agent Tobias nudged Trivette. "There he is with Ranger Cooke."
Trivette looked down the hallway at the nurse's station and saw an older man with a petite woman on his arm. At a glance he didn't recognize Sydney, but when she removed her sunglasses, the face was unmistakably hers.
Trivette pulled Tobias out of the hallway and into Gage's room. "We'll have to take him out when he makes a move on Gage."
"Where's Ranger Walker?"
"He's still in surgery and I have two guards on that floor already." Trivette put his hand on Tobias' chest. "Your information had better be right. My reputation is on the line."
"No sir, the lives of your friends are what's on the line."
They positioned themselves behind the empty bed against the wall and waited for Sydney and Agent Bowles to enter. Their wait was short.
The door opened abruptly and Sydney was shoved inside. Trivette could see from his position that Bowles forced her in at gunpoint.
Sydney touched Gage's cheek lightly with her hand. "How touching." Bowles scoffed. "Here." He handed her a syringe. "Inject this into his IV."
"No!" Sydney shouted and threw the syringe to the floor.
Bowles backhanded her again. "Shut up!" He said in a forceful whisper. "You'll have every nurse on the floor in here."
"Good. If it keeps you from killing my husband."
"It won't." He picked up the syringe and moved towards Gage's bedside. Sydney pulled at him from behind and a fight quickly ensued. Bowels backed her into a corner and raised his hand, preparing to hit her.
Sydney held up her arms to black the blow. Trivette came up behind Bowles and punched him in the ribs. The sudden impact caught him off guard. He quickly turned to face his attacker.
When he turned, Sydney found enough room to execute a spin kick, landing her foot into the small of Bowles' back and pushing him toward Trivette.
Trivette slugged him in the jaw and Bowles fell to the ground. Sydney hurried to check on Gage, needing to know for certain that Bowles was unable to harm him.
Gage was just beginning to wake when Sydney stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers. "Hey sweetheart." She said softly.
He slowly opened his eyes and tried to speak, forgetting about his broken jaw. "Syd."
"Shh. I'm right here." She reached for his hand. "Your jaw is broken and they've wired your mouth shut." She explained.
Trivette and Agent Tobias escorted Agent Bowles out of the room and to the security guards who handed him over to the state police.
Sydney stayed with Gage and encouraged him to go back to sleep. She then spoke with his doctor and told her that he agreed to stay the night for observation.
"Good. I was very hesitant to release him with that concussion." She shook Sydney's hand. "I'll check on him again before I leave."
"Thank you." Sydney replied. "Oh, doctor. How is Ranger Walker?"
"He's in ICU. I believe he's Dr. Wong's patient."
Trivette saw Sydney at the end of the hallway, waiting for the elevator. "Sydney, hold up."
"Where have you been?" She asked.
"I had an associate in DC do me a favor." He grinned. "We've got the evidence against Bowles. Tobias is with the State police and the Feds right now." They boarded the elevator. "Alex should be here by now."
"I haven't seen her." Sydney replied.
"She would have gone straight to Walker's room." They stepped off of the elevator and proceeded to Surgical ICU where Walker was recovering from his surgery. They stepped in and smiled when they saw that Walker's eyes were opened and Alex was by his side.
"Alex." Sydney whispered. "How is he?"
"He's going to be fine." Walker replied. "How's Gage?"
Sydney smiled as she bent down to hug Walker. "He's going to be fine too."
Alex stood and hugged both Sydney and Trivette. "I'm sorry I didn't check in on you guys when I got here, but I was just so worried about Walker. Jimmy didn't give me much to go on, only that he'd been shot."
"That's all I knew at the time." Trivette replied as he moved towards Walker's bedside and started a conversation with him.
"So how is Gage?" Alex asked again.
Sydney sighed. "His jaw is broken and he has a concussion, but the bruising and the bone will both heal."
"Jimmy!" Erica exclaimed as she entered the room.
Trivette grabbed her hand and walked into the hallway with her. "I didn't know you were coming with Alex." He said excitedly.
"I wanted to be here. I needed to see you and know that you were alright. Plus I didn't want Alex traveling alone. She was so distraught when she hung up with you."
He hugged her close and kissed her. "I'm fine. Not a scratch on me." He smiled. "Well, maybe a scratch or two."
The following day Sydney stood in Gage's room, helping him get dressed. His face was still swollen and bruised, but he didn't seem to be in much pain this morning.
"I feel bad about . . ." He mumbled, but noticed that Sydney didn’t understand him. He thought for a moment and then smiled slightly. "Syd." He called out and then pointed two fingers towards his eyes, indicating that he wanted her to look at him. He then began to sign. "I feel bad about leaving without Walker."
Sydney smiled and nodded. She admired her husband's ability to adapt to almost any situation thrown his way. "I know, but Dr. Wong wants to keep him here a few more days."
"I know." He signed. "Are Trivette and Erica going back to Dallas today?"
"Yes. Trivette said he'd keep in touch with Alex and if she wanted him to, he'd even fly back down and help her get Walker home."
"Good." He pulled Sydney into his arms and whispered in her ear. "I love you."
"I love you back." She nuzzled his right ear for a moment and then pulled away. "Are you ready to go?"
"Definitely! I can't wait to get back and sleep in my own bed with my beautiful wife."
"This past month without you hasn't exactly been easy for me either, but you're supposed to be recuperating."
"Syd, the only thing I can't do right now is give you a real kiss and whisper sweet nothings in your ear, but I promise I'll make up for that as soon as these wires come out. As soon as we get home, I want to . . ." He continued to sign as the color began to rise in Sydney's cheeks.
"Gage! I can't believe that you would say things like that in public."
"How many people in this hospital would you guess could read sign language?"
"Not that many, but still."
"I told you I couldn't whisper sweet nothings in your ear. I didn't say I couldn't communicate them."