Grace, the desk sergeant picked up bright red cloth in her peripheral vision and knew without looking up that Constable Fraser must be standing at her desk.
"Oh, hi, Constable Fraser. Can I do something for you?" she said, with the intention of looking at him as soon as she finished the last sentence on the report she was writing.
"Sorry, Sweets, the name's Bergman. But I guess I'm in the right place to find Constable Fraser. Is he around?" answered a voice she didn't recognize. She jolted her head up to see not Fraser but another Mountie smiling at her.
Until this moment she'd figured that all Mounties had to be good-looking. Certainly all the ones that she had met, male and female, were easier than average on the eyes. But this fellow was plain looking, sallow of complexion, average height, with dark eyes, thin lips and a nose that proclaimed itself the most prominent feature on his face.
Her first impulse was to send him right through to the squad room. She was used to Mounties having the run of the place. When Vecchio was here, it was only Fraser; now the new guy seemed to hang out with many more. But this Mountie she hadn't met before and wasn't escorted by any of the 27th detectives (or any posing as 27th detectives). Better safe than sorry, she decided, and after all this was a police station. She couldn't just go letting anybody in.
Grace buzzed the new Vecchio's desk (she still thought of him as the new Vecchio even after two years). "Is Constable Fraser with you? There's another Mountie out here to see him. A Constable Bergman."
"Actually, it's Corporal," whispered the Mountie.
Grace gave him a glance while listening to Ray say "Fraser says put him on the line."
Pushing another telephone along the desk towards Corporal Bergman and she punched a couple of buttons on her own console. "You can pick up the line here, Corporal."
She silently blessed the technology that created the thin earpiece she now kept on all the time, even when not on the phone. It allowed her to listen in on the conversation without being detected. All she had to do was fail to click the release button and remain on what was now a three-way line. She'd have to remain perfectly silent, but she could handle that.
"Steve? Is that you?" came Fraser's voice. "Have you been demoted?"
"It's me, and I still have my exalted rank. The lovely lady who is listening in even as we speak must think every Mountie is a Constable."
Grace quailed and clicked off the line with an apologetic look at the visitor.
Bergman stayed on the line, listening and making short answers between pauses of listening.
"Got a PR assignment down here."
"Only a few days."
"Your C.O. told me where to find you."
There was another long pause. Finally Bergman drew a long breath and said, "Look, Ben. I'm in the same building as you are. Couldn't we talk face to face?"
"Okay, I'll wait out here." He replaced the receiver and pushed the telephone back across the desk to the sergeant. "Like I have any choice," he said to her, "It doesn't look like anybody's going to be letting me into the inner sanctum."
The sergeant was spared any need to respond to this remark by the arrival of Fraser, with Ray trailing along behind.
Fraser placed himself a few feet in front of the other Mountie and stood there, hands behind his back, impassive, for a moment. Then he said, simply, "Hello Steve."
Bergman was much more animated. "Whoa, Nelly! Who are you and what have you done with Ben Fraser?"
"I don't understand," Fraser replied, still deadpan.
Was that actually animosity Grace was picking up from Fraser's voice and stance? The sergeant wasn't sure; she'd never seen Fraser show dislike for anyone so she wasn't sure what it would look like on him.
"The glad rags, partner. I don't think I've ever seen you in serge. You look kind of silly. Out of your element."
Fraser hasn't even introduced me, thought Ray, standing behind his friend and watching his interaction with this other Mountie. Weird for Fraser to forget his manners. This dude really must be upsetting him. And Fraser looking silly in red serge? Ray seldom saw him in anything else on weekdays. This guy called Fraser "partner." What was that about?
Fraser made no answer but only looked steadily at Bergman. The other Mountie glanced down at himself and made a little moue of embarrassment.
"Oh, yeah. I'm in serge too, aren't I? But I've got an excuse. I just came from a photo shoot."
This made very little sense to Ray. This man wasn't a looker by any means. Who would want to photograph him when the likes of Fraser was available? Fraser's next comment explained it.
"Oh, then you managed to get into the PR section after all. I'm glad for you. You're a talented photographer."
"Well, it's safer than prowling the wilds with you. But our C.O. likes us to wear the Disney get-up. Stupid, the hat blocks my light. So, are you going to introduce me to your friend?"
Ray edged out from behind Fraser at this reference to himself. Fraser shot him a look that Ray couldn't quite interpret any more than he could interpret Fraser's weird, detached tone of voice.
"Oh, of course. Ray, this is Corporal Steve Bergman. Steve, this is my partner, Detective Ray Vecchio."
Had Fraser emphasized the word "partner"? That's how it sounded to Ray.
As Ray held out a hand and Bergman took hold of it, Ray's gay-dar sounded the alert. Bergman kept hold of Ray's hand a trifle longer than he needed to, sought Ray's eyes and held them, raising his eyebrows just a trace. He's sizing me up, Ray thought, with surprise.
Still, he couldn't trust his gay-dar these days. Fraser remained a mystery, giving off available vibes but never acknowledging anything by word or deed. He, too, held Ray's hand a little too long, gave Ray strange looks from time to time, and may or may not have kissed him under water. It was very frustrating.
Then Fraser came out for the first time with something that wasn't neutral.
"You would have seen me in red serge if you'd been at the funeral," Fraser said, tersely.
"I wrote to you about that. I was snowed in."
"Don't you think I check the weather reports? You could have made it."
"OK, you caught me. I stayed away on purpose. I figured you had enough to cope with, what with losing your dad. You didn't need me in the picture. Look, do we have to talk about this now? Let's have some dinner when you get off. Ray, please join us. Unless, of course, you two already have something planned."
Fraser stiffened at this.
"Why would you assume that Ray and I have joint plans in the evening?" he said and, for sure, Ray heard animosity that Fraser couldn't hide under his politeness.
"Hey, it's no big. I'm in a strange city and I need to eat and I want company."
Fraser turned and gave Ray a significant look.
"I...uh...got stuff...uh...to do. Maybe some other time," Ray said, hoping he was reading Fraser's silent message the right way. It seemed he was, because Fraser seemed to relax a little.
"Yeah sure, some other time. Ben, you'll condescend to break bread with me, won't you?"
The Canadians arranged a time and place to meet two hours thence. Fraser was all business and Ray marveled that he didn't ask anything more of his countryman: his plans, what he had done that very day? What was it all about, that Fraser was being so cold to a man who called him "partner"?
Bergman turned to leave, raising his hand to his hat to salute Fraser and then swivelling and releasing the salute in the direction of the desk sergeant. "Bye, Sweets," he tossed off and made a jaunty exit.
Ray and Fraser watched Bergman leave and once he was out the door, Ray took a second to shoot a smile and wink at Grace. As a detective, he could hardly fault somebody else for being a nosy parker. Fraser remained still, staring at the door through which Steve Bergman had gone. Ray touched his shoulder to distract him.
"Dude called you 'partner', Fraser." Ray ventured.
"Ex-partner. We patrolled together for a while. I'm afraid Steve thought we were better friends than we actually were. I had trouble relating to him."
"You? You can get along with anybody. Even me."
"I know," Fraser didn't bother with his usual false modesty, which showed Ray how disturbed he was over seeing this other Mountie. "But with Steve...well, there were issues. I'll have to have dinner with him out of courtesy but it's not going to be pleasant. And I'm not looking forward to having him hang around the consulate."
"You want a ride home? Give you a chance to change before your big night out?" Ray offered.
"Thank you kindly, Ray, but no. I think I'll walk."
Without saying much more except perfunctory good-byes to the people he passed on the way out of the building, Fraser came back to Ray's desk, retrieved his Stetson and headed out the door.
Ray walked with him as far as the desk sergeant's station and after Fraser was safely out of the building, he turned and leaned an elbow on Grace's counter.
"Say, Grace, this is kind of weird, isn't it? Fraser and this guy have some kind of history and here's me not going to find out what it is."
"Um hmm," she hummed, cautiously.
"We know where they're going for dinner. It's a damned shame we can't go to the same place and listen in."
Again Grace let out a sound of acknowledgement without committing herself to actual words.
"If we could get somebody we trust, but Fraser doesn't know, and if they just sort of listened in . . . well, you never know what they would overhear. I'd be willing to spring for somebody's dinner while they do it."
Grace pondered for only a minute, wondering whether she could trust Ray and then decided to go along with it. "My cousin, Rick, just got assigned here as a patrolman. He hasn't met Fraser. I'll send him and his girlfriend if you'll go halfsies."
Ray dug into his pocket and brought out a wad of bills. He slipped it across the counter to Grace then dug into another pocket and brought out a pocket-sized tape recorder.
"Oh, you're good," said Grace.
"I'm a professional," answered Ray.
"This is great stuff," Grace whispered to Ray the next morning, dropping a file folder onto his desk. Inside the file folder Ray found the tape recorder he had left her the day before. Ray didn't risk listening right there at the 27th but waited until he got home that evening.
He made himself a big cup of coffee first, dropped Smarties into it, and then settled into an armchair with the machine.
There was a lot of chatter of other patrons but he was able to pick out the conversation of the two people he was interested in hearing. Fraser and Bergman made small talk at first, about people they both knew, breaking off from that subject briefly to talk of what they would order. Bergman asked what was good at that restaurant but Fraser declined to suggest anything, replying that their server would be the better one to make recommendations. Ray found this interesting, since he knew that Fraser was particularly fond of the lasagne at Ierfino's, and never hesitated to recommend it. Then Bergman continued to rattle on about what different people in their old detachment were up to.
A waitress arrived and they ordered. Ray was beginning to get bored. But for Fraser's failure to recommend the lasagne, nothing of interest to him was being said. There was the sound of food arriving and for a few more minutes there was no conversation. Then, suddenly:
Bergman: How can you just sit there and eat and say nothing to me? God, Ben!
Fraser: We've been talking all evening.
Bergman: It's been nearly four years. I was kind of hoping that when you saw me again you'd realize how much I care for you.
Fraser: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, you mean? It doesn't work unless the heart was fond to begin with. I told you I couldn't love you the way you claimed you to love me.
Bergman: Claimed? You mean you don't believe I was serious. Seems you can still hurt me. I was hoping I was over it.
Fraser: If you had loved me, you would have come to Dad's funeral. You wouldn't have cared what I might have said to you. You would have realized I needed support and that if I did snap at you it was only because I was grieving and not in control.
Bergman: Boy, you are some piece of work. I'm the one that went out on a limb. I risked humiliation and rejection to tell you how I felt. You sure repaid my honesty. You made me feel like a worm, a pervert worm on top of it. And then you have the nerve to kvetch that I didn't travel thousands of miles when I knew you'd probably spit in my face.
Fraser: I can't help how I feel, Steve. It's just the way I am.
Bergman: Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before. It's not you, oh my dear Steve, it's me. I've heard that one often enough. I can see now what I didn't realize before. You like blonds.
Fraser: There's nothing like that between Ray and me. We work together and we're friends. Why can't you believe me when I tell you I'm only interested in women?"
Bergman: Because it's either a lie, or you're fooling yourself. Tell me something: has there been another woman since Victoria?
Fraser: Yes, some.
Bergman: None of them worked out, did they?
Fraser: Actually, Victoria was here in Chicago a few years ago. Came looking for me.
Bergman: Oh, what was she after?
Fraser: She had quite a plan. She murdered her accomplice and framed me for it. Then she invited me to run away with her. I almost went.
Bergman: Yeah, you sure have a deft hand with the ladies. That kind of a relationship is better than what I can offer?
Fraser: I don't care to discuss it. Will you be staying in Chicago long? I guess I should have asked before.
Bergman: Don't go back to making conversation. We've gone beyond that. Ask me what you really want to know. You don't want to know how long I'm staying – you want to know how soon I'm going.
Fraser: Very well, when are you leaving?
Bergman: In a couple of days, after I've taken some nice promo shots of you, that tall drink of water you work with and your dark-haired lovely of a C.O. If I were into women I'd be on her in a heartbeat.
There was a pause here, then Bergman spoke again:
Bergman: Whoa, that bothers you? You're after her yourself, eh?
Fraser: I'm not after anybody. But we have had . . . contact, the Inspector and I."
Bergman: "I'll bet. It must be nice to be able to swing both ways. I wish I liked women, life would be so much easier.
Then Bergman's voice dropped very low, so that Ray had to strain to hear.
Bergman: I wouldn't be in a position for guys like you to despise me.
Fraser: Why must you dramatize things? I never said I despised you.
Bergman: No, you just look at me like I'm covered with slime, and cringe when I touch you.
Fraser: Steve, please.
Bergman: No, really. You already turned me down. You don't have to be so blatant about hating me. I told you I love you, is that an insult?
Fraser: Steve, I don't want to talk about it.
Bergman: You never want to talk about it but I need an explanation. I don't believe it's just that you don't like guys. I want to know if it's me. Tell me the truth.
Fraser: There's nothing to explain. I just don't happen to love you, Steve. Why must you take it so personally? There are a million people out there I don't love.
Ray imagined Fraser waving his arms at this point, to indicate the multitude of people in the city around them.
Bergman: I'm not one of the millions, Ben. I'm right here and I love you and I want you. That means something, damn it!
Fraser: Keep your voice down.
Bergman: Why can't you love me? What's wrong with me that you can't love me?
Fraser: Steve, people are looking.
A third voice: male, deep, and very polite, was heard at this point saying "Is there a problem, gentlemen?"
The tape cut out here. Ray cursed under his breath.
The rest of the consulate staff found Corporal Bergman to be much more outgoing and personable than the rest of the RCMP officers that comprised the Police Liaison Office staff. This seemed natural to them, since he was, after all, in Public Relations. Bergman made no secret of the fact that he and Constable Fraser were ex-partners and regaled anyone who would listen with anecdotes about this or that adventure he and Fraser had shared.
Thatcher was the one to notice that unless he had to be with Bergman for purposes of work, Fraser could never be found in the same room with the visiting Mountie.
Bergman stretched his announced two-day visit into four and on the last day, Turnbull prepared a going-away supper for all the Mounties to share. Bergman's flight out of Chicago wasn't until late at night and Turnbull reasoned that with their work all done and some time to kill before Bergman needed to be driven to the airport, why not have a party?
To Turnbull's disappointment, Fraser came into the consulate's kitchen, cast an eye over the goodies being prepared and declared that he had no appetite. He would be in his room and would Turnbull be a good fellow and drive Corporal Bergman to the airport since he, Fraser, was feeling a trifle under the weather.
Turnbull began to stammer that he'd be busy with washing up later but Fraser didn't wait to hear the rest of his protests. He drifted out of the kitchen.
Bergman turned up in the kitchen moments later, grinning, making a big show of sniffing the air, loudly and comically smacking his lips. His jovial act lasted only until Turnbull told him Fraser was not going to be joining them.
At this, the other Mountie's said, "Avoiding me, is he? Well, that throws a pall over this party, doesn't it? I'd better go have a word with him."
Bergman headed out of the kitchen, leaving the woebegone Turnbull to look helplessly around and wonder to whom he would be able to feed what would certainly be a considerable amount of leftovers. He was slightly heartened when Inspector Thatcher strode into the kitchen, peered into the pot in which leek soup was simmering and announced that she was hungry and ready to begin supper.
"I was expecting Corporal Bergman to be sitting at the table already," she said, seating herself at the kitchen table where Turnbull had laid places for the four of them. She did not mention anything about Fraser.
"He's not coming and neither is Constable Fraser," Turnbull told her, sadly. "I don't know what I'm going to do with all this food. Corporal Bergman said he was going to talk to Constable Fraser. Maybe he'll persuade him to come back."
Thatcher doubted this would be the case, given what she had seen of Fraser avoiding his former partner so pointedly. Curious as she had been about what the problem was between the two men, she hadn't asked her deputy about it and she most certainly wouldn't be so impolite as to question the new arrival about a personal matter. Gone to talk to Fraser in his room, was he? The temptation to eavesdrop was as irresistible as the consulate walls were thin.
"Just keep everything warm, Turnbull. I shouldn't be too long," she said, rising again and leaving the despairing Turnbull no choice to keep stirring the soup and basting the ducks.
Ray tried not to think about it but of course the more he tried not to think about it the more he brooded about what he had heard Fraser say on the tape.
Fraser's agonized voice played and replayed in Ray's head: Why can't you believe me when I tell you I'm only interested in women?
Didn't Ray know from Fraser's history that this was true? Fraser would have run off with that Metcalfe woman if Vecchio hadn't shot him. Ray would never have met the Mountie. If things had gone the way Fraser had really wanted, he would have been long gone a year before Ray would ever become Vecchio.
And yet, and yet . . .
Ray's gay-dar couldn't be that wrong. It never had been before. No man looks at you like Fraser had looked at him that day when they quarrelled on the docks unless he meant business.
It was all so confusing.
But one thing was clear to Ray from what he had heard. Gay or straight, Fraser had made it clear that he found being loved by a partner to be disgusting. He'd told that Bergman off, sure enough. Ray didn't think he could stand being on the receiving end of a rejection so blatant if it came from Fraser. He was used to being brushed off; that was an all too common part of his existence. But not by Fraser. Better to stay in hiding than to risk hearing Fraser say the same words to him as he had to Bergman: I just don't happen to love you.
Thatcher, as she proceeded through the corridor towards Fraser's bedroom, was forming a mental picture of Bergman standing outside Fraser's closed door, talking to him through it. She was wondering where she could place herself to overhear without being seen. Luck was with her, in that the voices of both Fraser and Bergman were audible from inside Fraser's room when she got there. Their voices were coming through so loudly that all she had to do was remain around the corner in the hallway, just out of sight in case on of them opened the door. During her approach she heard what seemed to be an impassioned plea from Bergman that was just winding up as she pressed her back against a wall and listened more carefully.
Bergman: . . because I don't want to leave without hearing the truth from you, once and for all.
Fraser: For the love of God, Steve! There are only a few more hours until you have to catch your plane. Don't force me to hurt you at this late date!
Bergman: I deserve the truth. Don't bullshit me about only wanting women. We both know that's a lie. Am I really so loathsome that you can't give me a chance? You know how much I love you.
Thatcher almost gasped out loud, but was able to control herself.
Fraser: Just . . . go . . .away.
There was a long pause, and the sound of footsteps. One of them was pacing inside the room. Then they started speaking again.
Bergman: There's really only one explanation. It's because I'm Jewish. You and that missionary upbringing of yours – you can't bring yourself to fall in love with a Jew.
There was a heavy slam, a hand hitting a wooden surface very hard. Along with it came a sound Thatcher had never heard before and it made her flinch. Fraser was shouting in uncontrolled anger.
Fraser: Shut up! Damn you, just shut up!
Bergman: I hit the truth, didn't I? That's why you're so mad. Admit it.
Fraser: I said shut up! All right. You'll force me to tell you. It's not because you're Jewish. It's not because I want women. I've tried women and they've poisoned me every time. I loved a criminal. I loved a married woman. I loved my commanding officer. Every single time I set myself up to be hurt!
Bergman: I'd never hurt you. I love you.
Fraser: And I don't love you! Is that so hard to understand? Do you need it any clearer than that?
Bergman: That blond guy. He's taken my place in your heart.
Thatcher was so focused on the conversation happening behind the closed door, she failed to hear Turnbull's approach. He got close and she jumped.
"I heard shouting," Turnbull whispered to her, "Is everything all right, sir?"
Thatcher only put her finger to her lips to enjoin him to silence. He understood and aligned himself beside her, pressing his tall body against the same wall.
Fraser continued to shout.
Fraser: You don't have a place in my heart! You never did. I've told you that often enough and still you continue to pester me. And then you wonder why I don't want to be around you.
Bergman: Ben . . .
Fraser: Ray doesn't love me. He's infatuated with his ex-wife and he'll never give me a thought. Never. And that's my loss because he's a good man and a sensitive man and a dedicated police officer. And you, Steve, you're none of those things.
Bergman: I . . . I . . .
Fraser: Do you want more? You're a selfish man. Even when you talk about us, what do you say? 'Why don't you love me, Ben?' Over and over! God, what a whiner you are! That year of patrolling with you was sheer Hell, Steve. Sheer Hell. Now you accuse me of anti-Semitism. What's that about? Where does that come from? You don't know me at all if you can even think something like that!
Bergman's voice was very quiet now, his words indistinguishable to the two eavesdropping Mounties.
Fraser seemed to have also run out of steam.
Fraser: I didn't want to be that blunt.
There was more mumbling from Bergman, to which Fraser replied.
Fraser: That would be a good idea, I think. But he won't want to drive you. He's probably too exhausted from slaving over a hot stove. Poor man, we really should go taste his wares but I couldn't eat a bite.
Bergman was audible now and the joking tone they were used to hearing from him was back in evidence.
Bergman: I'll go eat something. You've broken my heart so I guess I'll go drown my sorrows in food.
Thatcher and Turnbull exchanged a brief look of panic and then dashed together back down the corridor towards the kitchen.
Now that Nancy had a baby, she didn't get out to for coffee with her Canadian friend, Margaret, as often as she used to. But every now and then she just had to get her husband to stay home with the baby so she could dress up a little, go meet a girlfriend, be served something frothy and over-priced. Chez Lynne was the perfect place to sit and have a thoroughly grown-up coffee date.
"I haven't had pantyhose on for a month," she confided to Margaret, "And I'm damned if I know why I miss it." They both laughed and sipped their lattés. "So what's new with Constable Cutie?" Nancy went on.
"Your good-looking assistant. Fraser. Any action in that area?"
Margaret sighed and sipped for a while instead of answering.
"Meg, you're a Mountie. Don't you always get your man?"
Elspbeth Welsh had never had occasion to meet Inspector Thatcher but she knew about her and about Fraser and Turnbull from the many stories her husband told about them. She had about half an hour to kill between her shopping and her hair appointment and Chez Lynne was conveniently placed for a quick, pleasant lunch. The establishment was filled with women, alone, in groups, or friends in pairs like the women who sat opposite her. They'd been chatting all the time Elspbeth had ordered food, waited for it to arrive and then started eating. They hadn't been saying much Elizabeth was interested in, but they were sitting so close to her that she couldn't help but eavesdrop in a passive kind of way.
Her listening became much more active when she picked up on certain key words: good-looking assistant, Fraser. Mountie. She made a point of not looking at them, which was fortunate because at that moment, Margaret glanced around to make sure nobody she knew was around.
Then Margaret laughed softly at her own caution. Who in this café, miles from the consulate and the 27th, could possibly know her?
"Nothing's happening and nothing's going to happen, Nance. I found out he's bi," Margaret said at last.
"Sucks to be you, girlfriend," the other woman teased, then reached her hand across the table and took Margaret's hand in her own. "Sorry, that just slipped out. But bi isn't the end of the world is it? You might still have a chance."
"I don't think so, Nance."
Margaret related what she had overheard between Bergman and Fraser. Nancy had to agree that things didn't sound promising for a relationship between her friend and her eye-candy deputy, considering he had lumped Margaret with the other "poison" women in his life.
"And he does seem to have a thing for that Ray person, whoever he might be," Nancy opined.
"That Ray person is one of the detectives at the station where Fraser hangs around all the time."
"You know what I think, Meg? I think he's one of those gay guys who don't want to admit he's really gay. He keeps going after women he shouldn't have."
"What's wrong with me?"
"You're his boss."
Margaret stirred her coffee absently, thinking this over. "Meaning business and pleasure aren't a good mix. You may have a point. Did I ever tell you about this C.O. I had in Ottawa?"
Margaret launched into a story that had nothing to do with any Mountie Elspbeth knew, so she tuned out and continued eating, thinking about Fraser and the new Vecchio. Wouldn't it be a shame indeed if Fraser had feelings for this other man and the affection wasn't returned? She remembered seeing Fraser once at the station, as handsome a man as anybody would want. She smiled to herself as she slipped a forkful of salad into her mouth. Yes-sir-ee, if she were 30 years younger and not married to Harding....Casting her mind back she tried to form a mental picture of the "new Vecchio" but none came. How might poor Fraser let this man, whoever he was, know that he was interested. It was a pretty problem and she continued to think about it for the rest of the afternoon.
As luck would have it, Harding was in the mood to talk about his detectives at home that very night. They were enjoying a before-dinner cocktail – Elspbeth had found that this indulgence relaxed her husband when he came home from the station and made him much more agreeable.
"Kowalski's moody enough at the best of times but, God, this last week he's been moping around like he's lost his best friend," Welsh complained from his favourite comfy recliner.
"Has he?" Elspbeth replied, "Do you think it might be something to do with romance?"
Welsh didn't go quite so far as the push his recliner into an upright position, that was too much trouble after a stressful day, but he did look past his elevated, slippered feet, with a puzzled expression. "Why would you think that?"
She tried to be casual. "When a man is moping around, there's always a good chance it has something to do with an affair of the heart."
Welsh considered this logic. "I don’t think so. But now that you mention it, he might be lonely for the Mountie. Fraser hasn't been around much this week. According to Grace, there was this other Mountie that came down for a visit. Maybe Kowalski's jealous."
It was Elspbeth's turn to study her husband's expression and try to figure out what he meant by that last remark. There was no hint of the general disdain Harding usually showed when talking of anybody in a homosexual relationship. While she knew her husband to be a kind man, she also understood him to be somewhat straight-laced. He would never actually put Kowalski to any tangible disadvantage if he discovered the detective was gay but he might very well cough, stammer and be uncomfortable in his presence and for sure he would scowl when talking about him. But, no, Harding wasn't scowling at all right now.
"It might be nice if you got him to open up to you, Harding. You know, take a fatherly interest."
"Kowalski's got a father. They get along fine," Welsh pointed out.
"Even so, he'd be more productive if he weren't moping around."
Welsh commenced a series of grumbles, which usually meant he was considering taking her suggestion about something but didn't want to actually come out and admit she might be right. Elspbeth left the matter there, rose from her own chair and went into the kitchen. She called back to him to come in to the kitchen for supper in twenty minute's time.
As she put on the potatoes to boil, it occurred to her that Kowalski would be unlikely to confide in Harding if he loved any man. He'd be as alert as she was to Harding's attitude towards any homosexuality among his detective squad. But perhaps if the problem were something else: a woman, his health, his parents, he might tell Harding about it. If he refused to speak up, that might just be the signal that he was in love with another man and that man might be his Mountie friend.
With the potatoes now dealt with, she shook a couple of handfuls of snow peas from a plastic bag into a colander. Why do I even care about any of this, she wondered as she ran the peas under cold water. The answer to this question would never occur to her although any of her family and friends could have explained it easily. She was a kind-hearted soul and liked to see people happy.
Elspbeth questioned her husband over dinner the next night whether or not he had had a chance to talk to Kowalski. He was slightly surprised, but not too surprised, by her interest in the man but didn't think to worry too much about it. That's how Elspbeth was – she worried about people – whether Welsh thought they were worth worrying about or not. He told her that he had made an attempt to draw out the younger man in conversation but Kowalski had only snapped at him Welsh was more surprised when his wife did not urge him to try again. She seemed to be satisfied with the report that Kowalski was sullen and didn't want to talk.
Well, if she was satisfied, so was he. There was a basketball game on that he wanted to watch and he thought no more that night about Kowalski or any other of his detectives.
Elspbeth sat with him, doing needlepoint, while he watched the game. Her attention was mostly focused on counting the stitches in her pattern but it was nice to have his company while she did that. So, the detective remained taciturn, did he, she pondered as she worked. That could easily mean he was lovelorn over some man and if that man were the Mountie, wouldn't that be nice all around? Oh, except for that Inspector woman, but that friend of hers was right. She'd be better off not to love one of her own staff.
Another thought came to her as she worked, concentrating on her stitches and tuning out the dull drone of the sports noises on the television. Grace, the desk sergeant. If anybody knew the latest doings in the station, it was that nosy woman. She's seen Grace at a few office parties over the years and knew her well enough to pass the time with her in some idle chat, if by any chance she had a good reason to be at the station at all.
A good reason to come to the station wasn't too hard for Elspbeth to manufacture. All she had to do the next morning was sneak her husband's lunch out of his briefcase before he left and then drive over mid-morning to bring it to him. Once at the station, she stopped at the desk sergeant's station, and was relieved to find Grace on duty. She started with some light probing about Kowalski's latest mood and was pleased to find Grace eager to tell some tales. But now wasn't the time, the desk sergeant told the lieutenant's wife. Can you hang around until lunchtime, so we can go somewhere outside of the station and talk?
Indeed Elspbeth could, and they agreed to meet at a delicatessen three blocks away at quarter after noon.
Intrigued, Huey jotted down the time and place he just happened to overhear as he walked by and then walked over to Ray's desk. He ripped the sheet out of his notebook and tossed it on the desk saying, "Grace and Mrs. Welsh are getting together to talk about you. Today – here's where and when."
Ray stared down at the slip of paper.
"You owe me one," Huey told him and walked away.
It wasn't easy to slip into the restaurant without Grace seeing him, but Ray had been a detective enough years to be able to handle moving around a crowded public place without being seen by the person he was stalking. The larger problem was getting to hear what the women would say in the din of the lunchtime rush.
In anticipation of this, he had taped some two-sided adhesive to his trusty tape recorder. Ray saved the twenty dollars we would have bribed the waiter to plant the gadget under their table because the two women went off to the bathroom together before ordering. Ray chuckled to himself at the sight of the two of them heading off towards the back of the restaurant, clutching their purses to their sides for safety. Oh, ladies, Ray thought, you better worry more about what people are going to plant on you than about what they might snatch from you.
Fortunately, Grace only took an hour lunch and needed fifteen minutes to walk to Vince's Deli and fifteen minutes to walk back to the office. Ray only needed to wait the remaining half hour while they talked and then, when they had left, he retrieved his tape recorder.
Back at his own apartment that evening, Ray first listened to Grace's description of a recorded conversation he'd listened to a dozen times over between Fraser and Bergman. Damn, she had good recall. Her description was accurate right down to the nuances of the men's voices. In exchange for Grace's information, Mrs. Welsh had to supply a story of her own, about the conversation she had overheard which was in turn about a conversation the Inspector had overheard between these two very same men.
Ray huddled in his living-room chair, physically cringing in anticipation of what he was about to hear. Grace's account was nothing new, but he was terrified of what revelation the Lieu's wife might come out with.
Fists clenched, he listened. As he listened his fists relaxed slowly, although his back remained curved and he stared straight ahead at nothing – transfixed.
The tape ended and he let it run for a moment before thinking to switch the machine off. Fraser wasn't turned off by Bergman because Bergman was his partner. He was turned off because Bergman was Bergman. Fraser thinks I don't want him. He wants me and he thinks I don't want him. It was such a shock that Ray needed to make a specific, nearly physical effort to push the idea into his brain. Fraser wants me. Me.
And here I've been avoiding him because I was afraid that he'd hate me if I let slip that I love him.
So why am I sitting in this chair? Fraser wants me and I'm sitting in a chair. What's up with that?
Slowly, Ray eased himself out of the chair. His legs were a little unsteady but with some concentration, he straightened and walked towards his front door. His jacket and keys were hanging from hooks and he grabbed them and was about to head out the door when he thought he should perhaps call Fraser first. Now that Fraser was living in the consulate, he had access to a telephone and had even gone so far as to keep one in his own room.
He turned back to the telephone on a little table beside the couch, then changed his mind. No. No telephone. I want to see him. Doesn’t matter if it's after-hours, somebody will let me in. The Canadians know me – somebody will let me in. I need to see him and touch him. Right now. R
ay slid his jacket over his shoulders and palmed the keys.
I'm going to go see him and touch him.