It can't have escaped anyone's attention that putting Ray Kowalski in as a replacement for Ray Vecchio wasn't the most believable scenario in the world. Oh, it worked just fine in the show as a clever and amusing way of dealing with the departure of David Marciano from the cast of due South. But in the real world? It would never work. As Ray says in "Eclipse": "We don't even look alike" - and what's more, there would be no need for such a deception.
So I started wondering, what would have happened if Ray Vecchio went undercover with the mob as
he did in the series, but nobody stepped in to take over his name and identity.
Passport: Part One
I was still being punished. No other way to explain Lieutenant Oberholser making me hand the Kelly case over to Tom Dewey and then sending me out to spend the rest of my shift at some shopping mall babysitting a pile of rocks. He didn't waste any breath trying to make it sound like anything but what it was: bullshit P.R. duty that could've been done by a rookie five minutes out of the Academy. He just gave me the address of the place and told me to go 'liaise' with some guy who worked at the Canadian Consulate.
"You going to give me a name? A description? How am I supposed to recognize this guy?"
Oberholser snorted. "Oh, believe me, you'll know him when you see him. He looks like something off a Christmas tree." He opened a folder on his desk, then pulled out a photograph and handed it to me. "Here you go. Here's your contact. Constable Benton Fraser."
I took a look. The guy was a whatsit, a Mountie. Decked out like Dudley Do-Right, red jacket and all. Weren't Mounties supposed to be like cops or something? Like us? Didn't look like any cop I ever knew. Can't tell the personnel pictures in our jackets from mug shots most of the time, and this guy looked like he was auditioning for recruiting poster duty. He was smiling, for Christ's sake, just like a little kid about to tear open his birthday presents. Just the type I was not in the mood to spend any time with.
"Oh, come on, Lieutenant. Isn't there anyone else you can send?"
Oberholser pursed his lips and drummed his fingers impatiently on his desk calendar, then peered at me over the top of his glasses. "You think this is a good time to be asking for special treatment, Kowalski?"
I knew it wasn't. It's not like I'd had time to forget the one-week suspension I'd been given after disappearing for a shift without calling in. Okay, maybe it was a dumb thing to do, but finding out I had a chance of maybe catching up with Marcus Ellery and settling a twenty-five year old score had knocked all thoughts of 'smart' or 'dumb' right out of my head.
And in the end, spending a day holed up in a crypt at the cemetery where Ellery's mother was getting buried had been a complete waste of time. Okay, not a complete waste - I ended up busting a pair of guys involved in some Cuban cigar smuggling deal - but as far as I could tell, Ellery never showed, and by the time I brought the cigar guys in for processing, my shift had already ended and I knew I was going to pay for my unofficial 'personal day.'
I was still paying.
"'No, sir' what, Kowalski?"
"No, sir, it's not a good time to be asking for special treatment."
"Good to hear we agree. Now how about you get your ass down to the mall before we have some kind of international incident on our hands . . . assuming you want to keep your job, of course."
I pushed the chair back and walked out of his office, but the truth was, I wasn't really sure how much I wanted to keep on humping the job. Hadn't been for a while.
Once upon a time, I guess I must have known why I wanted to be a cop. Hell, it was important enough for me to fuck up my relationship with my dad. He'd never hidden how much he hated the idea of me joining the force, and from the minute I put on the uniform, our phone conversations consisted almost entirely of him saying 'Hold on, Raymond, I'll get your mother,' and me saying 'Okay. Talk to you later." So, yeah . . . being a cop must have meant something to me back then. But after too many years of bad hours, bad coffee, and bad guys, it seemed like all I had to show for my life was a bad divorce I hadn't asked for and a bad attitude I couldn't seem to shake.
Seventeen minutes after I left the station, I arrived at Carey Plaza and went straight down to the courtyard level where this big rock thing had been set up. Walked around it a couple times, but I didn't have a clue what it was supposed to be. "Looks like a stone playhouse," I muttered to myself.
"Actually, you might want to think of it more as a message center."
I spun around and saw a guy in a bright red jacket and a cowboy hat standing just behind me.
"In a stark and seemingly barren environment such as the Yukon or Nunavut, an Inukshuk can tell you about the depth of the snow, or the directions to the mainland, or where the best seals are."
"Hey, great!" If I ever need a seal, I'll know where to come," I said, starting to grin for some reason. "All my friends have been asking, 'Ray, where do you get all those seals?'"
He tilted his head and looked at me for a second, then said, "Would you by chance be Detective Raymond Kowalski?"
By chance? This had to be my contact. "I go by Ray. You're Fraser, right?"
"Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," he said. "It's . . . it's a pleasure to meet you."
He extended his arm, and as we shook hands, I got a look at his eyes for the first time. I don't know when that picture Oberholser gave me to look at had been taken, but even though Fraser was wearing the same uniform he'd had on in the photograph, that was just about where the similarity ended. This was no kid; he had to be in his late thirties at least. He was good looking, but a hell of a lot more . . . tired or something than the guy in the picture had been. Looked like he hadn't been doing that recruiting poster smiling thing in a while.
"Listen," I said, sticking my hands in my jeans pockets. "We've still got some time before this gets going, and I haven't eaten anything today. I'm going to go over to the counter and pick up some green food thing. How about we get us a table and you can tell me why Canada sent us this pile of stones."
The corner of his mouth raised slightly. I don't know if I'd really call it a smile, but it was something. "The Inukshuk."
"I'd like that. Let me try to locate my companion, Diefenbaker, and I'll be over to join you momentarily." And then he was gone, before I had a chance to say "Companion?"
They didn't have much in the way of green stuff for sale downstairs. Most days, I'm really more of a burger and fries guy, but I'd been feeling weird since just after I got to the mall - maybe I was getting sick or something - and I figured skipping the CPD recommended daily allowance of grease for one meal wouldn't kill me. There were signs that said there was a serious food court somewhere up on the third floor, but no way would it have been a good idea for me to just disappear when I was supposed to be working. Again. Instead, I bought a wilted spinach salad and a couple of bottles of overpriced water, then headed over to one of the empty tables down in the court.
I'd just taken the plastic lid off of the salad container and set it down on the table when a pair of paws planted themselves on my right thigh and something started licking at my ear.
"Down. Get down!" I yelled, turning my head away and trying to push the animal off me at the same time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw those puffy pants and shiny boots that Fraser'd been wearing. "Fraser! You here? This your 'companion?' You want to get him off me?"
"I'm terribly sorry, Ray," he said, then reached over and turned the dog's muzzle to face him. "Diefenbaker! Get off now."
"Gross!" I said, wiping the slobber off my cheek with a paper napkin. "What's the matter with your dog? Is he deaf or something?"
"Yes, he is deaf, actually, but he lip-reads, so if you speak directly to him, he's generally quite good at following directions. Although . . . strictly speaking, he's not a dog, or at least not entirely. His lineage is rather obscure, but at least one of his forebears was a wolf."
I looked suspiciously at Diefenbaker, who was staring up at me with a weirdly intense expression. If that was hunger I was seeing on his face, I sure hoped he was a vegetarian. "He's a wolf?"
"Half, but having lupine ancestry is actually quite common among the canine population of Northern Canada and Alaska." He reached down and let his hand rest on the wolf's ruff. "Ray, if he's making you uncomfortable, I can ask him to return to the Consulate for the rest of the afternoon."
Okay, so he had a deaf, lip-reading half-wolf who'd go back to the office if he was asked. This day was getting stranger by the minute. I looked down at the wolf. He suddenly looked less like he wanted to eat me and more like he was grinning at me, so I grinned back. ""Nah, he's okay. You want to stay, huh, Dief? Want to help us keep an eye on the big pile of stones?"
Dief yipped, and I reached over to pat him on the head, inadvertently brushing my hand against Fraser's hand as I did. I looked up and saw that Fraser hadn't moved back much. In fact, he'd leaned in closer. People must not be so worried about their 'personal space' up north.
"You think Diefenbaker'd go for a hard boiled egg? I've got extras in the salad."
Fraser sighed. "I believe he'd eat just about anything you put in front of him. It's all I can do to get him to agree to avoid chocolate, onions, walnuts, and turkey skins."
"That some kind of specialty dish up in Canada?"
He cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes, but that ghost of a smile was back on his face. "You know, offhand I can't think of any recipe which calls for both turkey skins and chocolate, with or without the onions and walnuts, although I suppose it's possible that one exists. No, those are the food items most often considered injurious to canines."
"Not eggs, though, right?"
"Not as far as I know."
"Okay, then." I took one of the eggs out of my salad and placed it down on the floor in the plastic bowl cover. The wolf finished it in less than a second and looked back up at me expectantly.
"Don't be greedy, Diefenbaker," Fraser said. "Ray was already more generous than you should expect on a first meeting. There's some perfectly good kibble waiting for you back at the Consulate."
Dief whined piteously, then lay down with his head on Fraser's boot. Funny thing was, though, he wasn't looking in Fraser's direction at all, but he'd still seemed to get the gist of what he was being told. Had to wonder if he really was deaf.
"You give him his meals at your office?"
Fraser cleared his throat before he answered. "Ah. Well, actually, the Consulate is serving a dual purpose for Diefenbaker and myself at the moment. I found myself unexpectedly without lodgings, so I've been living at the Consulate as well as working there."
I tried to imagine what he could have done to lose the place he'd been living in. He threw too many wild parties and got himself evicted? Couldn't imagine that happening with this guy. "You been camping out at your office long?"
"Not terribly long. The fire which burned my apartment building down was . . . two months ago now, I believe. I'm sure Diefenbaker and I will find alternate accommodations soon, though."
"Your place burned down?" He averted his eyes and looked off somewhere over my right shoulder. What was up with me today? You'd think he was some kind of suspect the way I was grilling him. "Hey, sorry. It's okay if you don't want to talk about it."
"No, that's quite all right. I have no . . . Ray, would you turn around slowly and tell me what you see approximately seven meters to your right."
I turned - and it was just as well he'd said 'slowly,' because I needed the extra time to do the whole 'a six mile run is ten kilometers, and a meter's sort of like a yard, and a yard's three feet, so seven meters is about fifteen feet' thing. For a second I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be looking at, until I saw two guys over at a table with a good-looking blonde, both pushing their chairs back and starting to get into each other's faces.
When the older guy grabbed the younger guy's collar, Fraser and I stood at the same time, but before I could make a move, I heard an old lady, maybe thirty or thirty-five feet away, calling for help. I started heading over her way, but then Fraser called my name. I turned and saw some punk kid in a denim jacket running through the crowd with a purse clutched in his hand. I grabbed the nearest chair and slid it up the aisle into his path, and the kid, who had too much momentum going to get out of the way, hit the ground hard, still holding what must've been the old lady's bag.
Once I got Purse Boy cuffed, I got my glasses out, then turned to see how Fraser was getting on. It looked like he'd kept the two guys from throwing any punches so far, but they were yelling at each other, and the blonde looked like she was maybe going to start taking a swing at somebody any minute now.
I shook my head. No way could I leave Fraser stuck in the middle of that mess by himself.
"Come on," I said, hauling the purse snatcher to his feet. "We got a stop to make before you and me go down to the station."
He nodded, but he was biting his lower lip, and I could see him dart his eyes over to the inuk-thingy. I frowned. There was nothing to see over there except some bald guy in a dark jacket looking at the rocks.
No, there was nothing to see over there except some bald guy in a dark jacket pulling a knife out of his pocket and aiming it in the direction of Fraser and the two men.
Even as I yelled his name, I couldn't see how this was going to end without somebody getting a knife stuck in them. I started to move, but I was too far away to get to the guy before he threw the knife, and there were way too many civilians between me and him to risk drawing my gun. And Fraser? His back was to the guy. There was no way he was going to be able to turn around in time to see what was happening, much less . . .
. . . much less grab the knife out of the air when it was about six inches from sinking into the older guy's chest, but that's what he did.
Knife Guy must have been as surprised as I was because he just stared at his hand for a second like he wanted to cut it off for betraying him, and before he could even consider disappearing, Fraser was right there, tying him up with the rope he wore on his uniform.
"Yes, thanks to your quick response."
"Mine? You're the one with the lightning reflexes. That trick you did with the knife? It's going in my report, but I'm telling you, there's no way anybody's going to believe it. I barely believe it, and I saw you do it."
Still holding onto the guy with the knife, Fraser looked a little uncomfortable. Maybe he didn't like people gushing over him.
"Sorry. Acting like a dork, huh? So listen . . . I'm going to have to take these two over to the station for booking, but don't worry; I'm not going to cheat you out of credit for this bust. It's yours as much as it's mine."
I'd barely gotten the words out before Fraser was shaking his head. "It's probably better if you take full credit for this, Ray. My official police powers are largely nullified by the capacity in which I'm serving my government, and my superior officer, Inspector Thatcher, has expressed a strong desire that I not. . . that the members of the RCMP currently posted to the Canadian Consulate here in Chicago not overstep our bounds."
It sounded to me like maybe he was the only one that this Thatcher character was thinking of when the 'don't overstep your bounds' rules were handed out, but he was looking uncomfortable again, so I just nodded.
"Not a problem. Too bad we're not partners, though. You deserve at least half the credit, and besides," I said, grinning, "if you're as good at writing up reports as you were with the circus knife act, I could use you."
Small smile. "Actually, Ray, I've been given to understand that my reports, while quite comprehensive, lack a certain . . . verve."
I laughed. "My reports have verve."
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me at all."
I narrowed my eyes and stared at him for a couple of seconds. Coming from anyone else, that comment probably would have been some kind of a dig, but I didn't get a 'jerk' vibe from Fraser.
He had that half smile back on his face, though. Kind of a goofy smile.
The kind of smile that made me want to smile back, and nothing had made me feel that way in a hell of a long time.
" . . . Ray . . . Ray."
Shit. I must have zoned out there for a minute. That was weird.
"Sorry. What were you saying?"
"I was just suggesting that now might be a good time for you to take the two gentlemen in for processing."
Okay, that sucked a little. It looked like Fraser'd just joined the long line of people who wanted to get rid of me, but he was right. I had to get the ball rolling.
"Yeah, I'd better get a move on. You're going to be okay here all alone, right?"
"Certainly. The odds of encountering a second knife-wielding miscreant today are astronomical." He sighed. " To be honest, my role here at the dedication was never intended to be anything more than ceremonial."
He didn't seem too thrilled with that, but he looked like he was an old hand at doing the ceremonial thing.
"Okay . . . so . . . look, I'll make sure your rope gets back to you, and . . . . "
"It's called a lanyard, and . . . there's no rush, Ray. I have a spare."
"Your lanyard. Right. And, um, in case I don't see you again, I just want you to know, it's been a pleasure meeting you. Weird, but a pleasure."
His eyes widened slightly, then he smiled. "It's been a pleasure for me, as well."
I nodded, then started to work on getting the witnesses to agree - kind of begrudgingly, in most cases - to come down to the station the next day and give statements.
Finally, though, I couldn't think of another reason to keep hanging around the mall, not that I was even sure why I was trying so hard to find a reason. I began to walk toward the exit, towing the two perps along with me.
I stopped. Turned back to face Fraser.
"Would you . . . would you like to go and get something to eat with me this evening - when we've both finished with our other responsibilities, of course?"
Man. I was blown away by how good that felt. Someone asking to spend time with me when it didn't have anything to do with work, well, there hadn't been much of that lately. At least I didn't think the invitation had anything to do with work. Nah. It couldn't have anything to do with work.
I rubbed my jaw. Looked somewhere off to the left of Fraser. "So . . . is this, um, work-related?"
"Oh no, Ray. It wasn't a work date I had in mind."
I heard a snort behind me. I wheeled around and glared at Knife Guy.
"You got something you want to say? You've decided to forget about the whole 'right to remain silent' thing?"
He shook his head.
"Didn't think so." I looked at Purse Guy with narrowed eyes. "What about you? You getting a sudden urge to talk?"
"No. No, I'm cool."
"Good to hear."
Five hours later, I'd started to think dinner was going to be me heating up a can of Beefaroni-for-one after all, when I saw a wolf-less Mountie-shaped flash of red out of the corner of my eye.
"Hey!" I waved Fraser over, then pushed myself back from the desk so that my chair rolled across the aisle and pulled Dewey's chair out from under his desk.
"Here," I said. "Have a seat."
"Are you sure I won't be inconveniencing anyone?"
"Nah. Dewey left for the day, and the night shift's still on their doughnut supply run."
I kicked back off of Dewey's desk and rolled across the aisle, right into the corner of my open desk drawer.
"Are you all right, Ray?"
"Yeah." Apart from feeling like an idiot. "So how'd everything go after I left?"
"Very well, actually. The Provincial Minister seemed extremely pleased with the turn out for the official dedication of the Inukshuk. Quite a crowd had collected by the time he began his speech."
"Huh. I wouldn't've thought that'd be much of a crowd grabber. No offense, you know, but . . . . "
"Oh, no offense taken at all, Ray. And I suspect you're correct in your assumption that a speech being presented by a foreign official would ordinarily not be much of a draw for mall shoppers. In this case, however . . . well, I overheard a number of the assembled group express a belief that after the Minister concluded his speech, there was going to be a knife-throwing demonstration."
I leaned back in my chair and laughed. "And I'll bet you anything you didn't tell them any different, did you?" Of course he didn't. The RCMP probably issued vouchers for every person he lassoed into listening. Collect enough and you get a free toaster or something.
Fraser brushed his thumb across his eyebrow. "I'm not a betting man, Ray."
Totally deadpan - not even a hint that he knew that what I said had just been a, whatchamacallit, a rhetorical statement thingy. Something, though - maybe that little quirk at the corner of his mouth - told me he knew. Oh, he knew, all right.
Too bad Fraser didn't bet. With that bluff thing he had going on, he'd make a helluva poker player.
'You get some brownie points with your boss, at least?"
He stiffened up - just a little - and rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb before answering. "To be honest, it appeared that Inspector Thatcher was not best pleased with the use to which I'd made of my time, at least not initially."
"You're kidding! She know you caught a knife-throwing . . . uh . . . miscreant?"
"I informed her, of course, about what transpired. However, as I think I mentioned earlier, active participation in the apprehension of criminals - particularly when the crime in question doesn't involve Canadian nationals - does fall outside my current job description."
"So . . . what? She's pissed at you for stopping someone from getting killed because he's American?"
"Oh no, Ray. I wouldn't say . . . 'pissed,' exactly. In fact, when the Minister was informed by a representative of mall security about the events of the afternoon - which were rather exaggerated in the telling, I'm afraid - both he and the Inspector agreed that no harm was done to Canada's image."
"No harm?" Jesus. What was wrong with those people?
"Ray, it really isn't worth getting upset about. A dangerous man was taken into custody before anyone could be hurt, and no official reprimand seems to be forthcoming, regardless of the reservations Inspector Thatcher may have had about my actions. All in all, a relatively successful afternoon, I'd say."
"Well, yes. I understand her perspective. Now that I'm no longer working with Detective Vecchio on an ongoing basis, it's understandable that Inspector Thatcher would wish me to focus all my energies on the job to which I've been assigned."
He took a deep breath and brushed his thumb across his eyebrow again. Some kind of nervous habit, there. Maybe poker wouldn't be his game.
"I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons which don't need exploring at this juncture, I . . . remained."
"Jesus. Sorry, Fraser. You get the guy who killed your dad?"
He nodded. "I did. Or rather, Ray Vecchio and I did. Ray was the detective in charge of the case, and over the course of the investigation we formed something of a . . . ."
Fraser smiled. "That's quite a good way of describing it, Ray. Yes, we formed a . . . duet, and we were allowed to work together on matters of mutual interest to our respective governments, although our partnership was largely unofficial. He was - and remains - a very good friend as well as being a good man to work with."
I have to admit that just hearing about this guy was making me a little jealous. Or maybe not jealous, exactly, but . . . envious or something. I hoped this Vecchio knew how lucky he was. All I had to work with was Tom Dewey sometimes, and even if you ignored the stinky fish and bacon smell, Dewey was not the sort of partner who was going to do you much good when someone started throwing knives around.
"Sounds like a good guy."
Fraser nodded, then said a little wistfully. "He is . . . he was."
I frowned. That didn't sound good.
"Um . . . Fraser? You okay?"
"I'm fine, Ray. It's just that Ray Vecchio . . . ." He glanced over his shoulder. "Is there somewhere to speak that might afford more privacy?"
I got up from my chair, and we walked down the hall between the squad room and the break area. I stopped in front of the door to the supply closet, and Fraser opened the door, but even though the closet was empty, Fraser drew back as if he'd seen a ghost.
"No good, huh? Okay, let's find somewhere else."
There really wasn't anywhere else that wasn't crawling with people except the can down at the far end of the hallway. He might think that was a weird place to talk, but it wasn't like we had a whole lot of options.
I opened the door. "This okay?"
Fraser looked inside and nodded. "This is just fine, Ray."
I leaned against the sink and listened as he told me about how he'd gone up to Canada for his first vacation in over a year, only to find that while he was gone, his apartment had been burnt down and his best friend had gone undercover with the mob for an 'indeterminate period of time.' Translation? Fraser lost just about everything he had, including his only chance to do any real cop work while he was stuck in the United States. With Vecchio out of the picture for the time being, the whole unofficial liaison thing had been shelved, and Fraser went back to being pretty much nothing more than a paper pusher in a bright red jacket.
"Too bad I couldn't have taken his place over at the 2-7. I could have pretended to be Vecchio."
He smiled his first smile in twenty minutes. "That's . . . that's just silly, Ray."
I smiled back. "Yeah, I know. But at least you could have kept being a real cop."
He just looked at me with a sad kind of smile on his face and I just looked back, neither one of us talking anymore. God, the man had nice eyes, even though they looked like they'd seen way too many bad things recently.
Fraser tilted his head to the side, then took a slow step toward me. He looked as confused as I felt. What was going on here?
I looked around Fraser's shoulder to see Oberholser glowering at me from the doorway.
"Am I going to see those reports sometime today, or have you decided they can wait until after your little tea party comes to an end?"
"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir . . . you'll have the reports on your desk. Just going over some of the particulars of the case with Constable Fraser here."
Oberholser looked at him for the first time. "This the Mountie I sent you over to work with?"
I nodded. "Fraser, Lieutenant Warren Oberholser. Lieutenant, this is Constable Benton Fraser."
Fraser extended his hand. "Lieutenant, it's an honor to meet you."
Oberholser narrowed his eyes, then shrugged and took Fraser's hand.
"Yeah, yeah . . . same here," he muttered. "Reports, Kowalski. Today."
He headed back to his office, slamming the bathroom door behind him. I slumped against the stall door.
Fraser looked at me. "I take it your Lieutenant is displeased about something?"
"Long story. It takes exactly two hours to tell. But at the moment, he's pissed off about the arrests."
I frowned. "What does that 'ah' mean?"
He gave me that crooked grin of his. "Ray Vecchio used to ask the very same thing. To be honest, I'm not always entirely sure what it means."
I smiled, then looked toward the door and shook my head. "Yeah, well if it means 'Ray, I can't believe that your lieutenant would have preferred that the knife of the Man in Black had found its target before he was taken into custody' then, yeah, I'm right with you on that 'ah' thing."
"Surely you don't truly believe that to be the case, Ray." .He looked appalled.
"Yeah, looks like I got my 'ah' translator working." I sat down on the edge of the sink. "I don't have to believe or not believe anything, Fraser. Soon as I'd finished processing the purse snatcher and Maigot, who - surprise, surprise - turned out to be working together, Oberholser called me into his office and asked me flat out when I'd started moonlighting as a bodyguard for mob guys."
"I take it that the target, Mr. Bennett, has connections to organized crime?"
"They're a little disorganized at the moment, but yeah, you take it correctly. Trust me on this, Fraser - if the lieutenant could have found a way to put me back on suspension, he'd have done it. The department's been looking for a way to get rid of Bennett for years, and the way Oberholser sees it, the fact that he's still alive and kicking is due to me being a screw up."
Fraser shook his head. "No, if there is any blame to be meted out, then logically I would be the one at fault for catching the knife, but . . . .Ray, do you feel your lieutenant's attitude is the correct one?"
"Hell, no." I slid off the edge of the sink. "Last time I looked at my job description, it said I'm supposed to 'serve and protect' everyone, including the scumbags. But it's not like it matters what I think. I've been spending so much time in the lieutenant's doghouse recently, I'm starting to get fleas."
He tilted his head to the side for a second, then straightened up and nodded his head once, briskly. "Yes, well . . . then perhaps it would be a good idea if we were to finish the reports as he requested.".
I frowned. "Uh, Fraser? We don't have reports to finish. Just me."
"True enough, Ray. However, my paternal grandmother always said 'two heads are better than one,' and as I was an active participant in today's events, I might be able to provide some assistance."
"The fact that you're not going to get anything to eat until I'm finished wouldn't have anything to do with your offer, would it?"
"Of course not, Ray."
I grinned. "Uh huh."
He walked to the door and held it open for me. "After you, Ray."
Man, this guy had to be the most polite cop I'd ever met in my life. It was kind of contagious, though.
"Um . . . thank you."
I'd already begun to figure out that knife throwing and politeness weren't Fraser's only skills before I left him at the mall, but by the time he'd typed up my report for me at a hundred words per minute and got the old printer to work when nobody else'd been able to make it print in weeks and was able to order our dinner at Sing Wu in Chinese, um, Cantonese . . . I started to wonder if there was anything he couldn't do or anything he didn't know.
" . . . .no, no . . . you've got to eat the fortune cookie, Fraser, or else the fortune doesn't come true. It's like a law or something."
He raised an eyebrow and looked at me with complete disbelief before picking up the fortune cookie and nibbling at the corner.
"Well? Is it working?"
"I don't think six seconds is long enough to assess the validity of a fortune that promises a long life."
"Let me see, okay?"
He handed the fortune to me across the table. You shall enjoy a long life filled with excitement. Heh.
"A long life filled with excitement . . . in bed. Good fortune."
Fraser tilted his head. "Are you certain that's what it says, Ray? I don't recall, the, um . . . ." He didn't even finish the sentence, just ran his thumb along his eyebrow, like he'd done earlier.
"The 'in bed' part?"
"You never heard that before? Huh. I thought adding that to fortune cookie fortunes was part of the rule book they give you when you start high school in North America. Maybe it's just a Chicago thing."
Fraser shook his head. "I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that most young people in Canada are familiar with that tradition, as well, Ray. My own upbringing was rather . . . ."
He gave me a small smile. "You could say that."
"What about slug bug? You and your friends did that, right? You know, when you see a Beetle, you punch someone in the arm."
"What does seeing an insect have to do with . . . ."
"Not an insect, Fraser. A Beetle. You know, like Herbie? The Love Bug?"
"Ah. You must be referring to a member of the popular musical group, although I still don't . . . ."
If this had been anybody else, I'd have figured I was being played because if you're anywhere near my age, you just know this stuff.
He shook his head again.
Okay, you know this stuff unless you're Fraser
"Yeah, stay away from those things. 'Cause you know, if you drink a Coke after you've eaten Pop Rocks, your stomach explodes or something."
"Pop Rocks were something you ate when you were a child?"
"Yeah. Bought them every day for a whole year on my way home from school ."
"Ray, I think it's highly unlikely that a combination of these . . . rocks and a beverage, regardless of how much carbonation it contains, would lead to a reaction sufficient to burst the walls of a child's stomach. It's far more likely that this is an urban legend, something akin to the tale of the Mexican Pet or the stories of alligators growing to mammoth proportions in the sewer system of New York City."
"You've heard about the alligators?"
"Well, I've read books which . . . ."
"Because one of my buddies in high school, his cousin's neighbor used to work for the Sanitation Department in New York, and he said his boss had seen them. Nineteen, twenty foot long or something." I leaned forward, talking in a whisper. "He said they glowed in the dark, from all the radioactive chemicals down there."
"I see," he said hesitantly. "And do you believe this to be . . . an accurate representation of conditions in the New York sewer system?"
I couldn't help it; I had to laugh. "Yeah, Fraser. I believe it. Like I believe in the Easter Bunny - who's also twenty foot long and lives in the sewers of New York."
He smiled. Okay, first he looked relieved that I wasn't a complete idiot, but then he smiled. "You were, ah . . . ."
"Yanking your chain? Yeah. Sorry about that," I said, still laughing, "but come on . . . twenty foot, glow-in-the-dark alligators? That's like believing in . . . what've you got up north where you're from? The Abominable Snowman?"
He stopped smiling. "You're thinking, no doubt, of the Himalayas, but that particular legend's real enough, Ray - or at least it has its roots in fact. When I was a child, I went hunting for scorpion fish with some friends, and from beneath the ice, we could hear the sound of a Qallupilluq nearing us."
"Qallupilluq. A troll-like creature which wears a feathered parka. Among the Inuit, it's well known that Qallupilluit grab children when they walk too near cracks in the ice. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that Innusiq and I ran all the way home that day."
I stared at him. "A feathered parka? You're making this up."
He shook his head. "Oh no, Ray. The feathered parka is quite real. Innusiq told me that Qallupiluit lean toward duck feathers, but other sources say that the feathers of the loon are more commonly used."
"You, my friend," I said, narrowing my eyes, "are totally full of shit."
He smiled. "I can give you a book about them, if you'd like."
I got up from the table and put on my jacket. "I won't read it."
"Did you know," he said, rising from the table with me, "that if you harpoon a Qallupilluq and then . . . ."
"Not listening." I clamped my hands over my ears. "Do you see this? It's me not listening."
"Perhaps you'd be more interested in . . . ."
"Fraser? Shut up."
He laughed. "Understood, Ray."
It didn't take much time for me to figure out that there wasn't much chance of getting Fraser to shut up, even if he promised he would. Not for long, anyway. Of course, it didn't take long for him to figure out that I usually didn't want him to shut up, no matter how many times I said it.
I'd never known anyone before who knew so much useless shit that turned out to be useful. Okay, I'm not sure that I was going to be able to use the fact that imaginary Canadian trolls wear feathered coats (which turned out not to be bullshit after all) in my everyday cop life, but listening to Fraser talk about stuff was kind of like going back to college, except without the crappy grades this time.
I don't really know how to say this without sounding like a complete dork, but being around him was almost . . . inspirational or something. Listening to him talk made me think more. About the big stuff like justice and honor and duty, yeah, but about other stuff, too - like what it meant to get in the car and drive when I was only going three blocks or whether dogs might be smarter than people because they can understand us when we talk and we can't understand them. Well, most of us can't.
It was weird that I ever got a second chance to listen to him at all because after that first day, Fraser and I didn't have any real reason to spend time together. I mean none. We didn't work together. We didn't live anywhere near each other. We didn't even have any of the normal things in common that two guys who end up hanging out together usually have, like if both of us played golf or . . . I don't know, collected stamps or something. But some kind of mojo was working, because the day after we met, I ended up driving right past the Canadian Consulate.
I slowed down.
Maybe I even stopped for a second.
By the time I noticed the car in back of me had stopped honking and its really pissed-off driver was getting out and heading my way, I decided I might as well go in and say hello to Fraser.
As I parked the car across the street from the Consulate, I realized that I'd driven by the place probably a hundred times, but that was the first time I'd paid any attention to it. Of course, I'd never had any particular reason to notice guys in puffy pants, red jackets, and Stetsons standing like statues before I met Benton Fraser.
I crossed the street and nodded at the Mountie who was standing guard duty before I opened the front door and walked inside. It was dark - and at least ten degrees cooler than it was outside. Hadn't these Canadians ever heard of central heating?
Nobody was sitting at the reception desk, but I could hear voices from an office down the hall.
" . . . won't be a problem, Sir."
"Good. See that it's not, Constable."
The first voice was Fraser's, but who was the one he was calling 'Sir?' It sure as hell didn't sound like a guy to me. When the door to the office opened, the person Fraser followed out into the hall sure as hell didn't look like a guy, either.
Fraser saw me and his eyes widened. "Ray, what are you doing here?"
Okay, maybe that wasn't the greeting I was hoping for, but before I could feel like I'd just been caught sneaking across the border without a passport, he smiled and beckoned me over to his side.
"Ray, this is Inspector Thatcher, my superior officer. Sir, this is Detective Raymond Kowalski."
She looked me up and down - and not in that good way - before extending her hand. "Good afternoon, Detective. What can we help you with . . . today?'
"Nice meeting you, Inspector. I was just in the neighborhood. Thought I'd come in and see if Fraser was about to be sprung."
She took a look at her watch. "Good Lord, is that the time?" She turned toward Fraser and glared. "Constable, why didn't you tell me that it was past six? I'm positive I informed you that I had a . . . a meeting with the Brazilian Ambassador this evening."
"Sorry, Sir. It must have slipped my mind."
Thatcher shook her head and sighed. "Well . . . in future, please be more attentive, Constable. You may not have a full understanding of the importance of diplomatic encounters, but I'll thank you to remember that keeping track of my schedule is part of your official duties."
"Detective Kowalski? If there's nothing further, I'll take my leave."
Couldn't be soon enough for me. "Yeah, see you around, Inspector. Enjoy your . . . um . . . meeting."
Thatcher narrowed her eyes for a moment, but she left the Consulate without saying another word.
I watched her go, then turned back to Fraser. He didn't have much of an expression on his face, but if I was any judge of body language - and I am - he was a little embarrassed. I got that. It's bad enough being reamed out in private, but getting jabbed at by your boss (even in that stick-up-the-backside formal kind of way) sucks when it's in front of someone you barely know.
"She never told you about her date with the Brazilian guy, did she?"
Fraser didn't answer immediately (which I took to mean 'Hell no'), so I changed the subject. "Anyway . . . I was just wondering if you wanted to go get a drink or maybe get something to eat."
"No, Fraser . . . March 16th, 2005. Of course now."
He smiled. "I don't drink, Ray, but I'd be glad to join you for dinner."
After a quick debate about whether we were going to do Mexican or Italian, we picked up some antipasto and lasagne at Giuseppe's and took it back to my place, then watched a little t.v. before I ran him back to the Consulate.
The next day, Fraser showed up at the 18th just before quitting time and didn't even bother to come up with any bullshit about just happening to be in the neighborhood. Instead, he held up a bag of freshly butchered musk ox and asked if I'd be interested in sampling a traditional Inuit dish. No, I never asked where he got musk ox in Chicago, but it turned out to taste pretty good - and not even remotely like chicken.
By the fourth day, there wasn't even a question about whether we were going to get together or not; it was just this thing - kind of like the law of gravity or something.
Without really knowing how it happened, Fraser and I had become friends.
To be continued...
Comments, critiques, chit chat: Beth H