Ray stood staring, legs apart, arms still stretched forward, holding his gun. No part of him could move. He saw Fraser fall backwards from the steps of the train and for a moment Ray's mind didn't register what had happened. Victoria had a gun pointed at Benny, Benny ran towards her, then Benny jumped up on the train, then Benny fell down off the train. Somewhere among those events, he, Ray, fired his own gun.
At first Ray could only watch as Fraser fell though the air and hit the ground. With the clamour of trains all around, Ray imagined, rather than actually heard, the sickening thud of flesh hitting concrete. The momentum of the fall rolled Fraser a few turns along the platform, then he finally came to a stop, facing upwards.
Awareness came to Ray: I shot Fraser! He fell because I shot him! Ray took off across the platforms that separated them to where his friend lay. He knelt by Fraser's side and rested his hand lightly on his partner's chest, and as if to pass strength from his own body to his friend's.
"I should be with her," Fraser looked up at Ray. He was trembling all over, "I was going with her, you know."
Fraser's words, in his pain, were clearer than Ray's. "I'm sorry, Ray. Oh God, I'm so sorry. I was going with her."
"No. . . " This was the only word in Ray's mind now, "No . . . no . . . "
Fraser's trembling got worse. A pool of blood formed in his mouth. He let out a short cough and a tiny wave of blood spilled over his lips and trickled down one cheek. He looked up at Ray. "I'm so sorry . . . Forgive . . ."
Behind and around him, Ray could make out voices. Someone was calling an ambulance. Why hadn't he thought of that? "Just hold on, man. We're getting you to a hospital. You're going to be fine. Just hold on."
"I don't think so, Ray. I think . . . " Fraser coughed again, sending another rivulet of blood across his face. "I was just crazy, Ray, but it's okay now . . . your house is safe." It was guilt that Ray saw in Fraser's eyes as he looked up at him.
Ray had seen death so many times and felt its effect in so many different ways: Fellow officers downed in the line of duty - the sickening mix of rage, relief and guilt - that could have been me. Victims he could not save - the gut-wrenching loss of an innocent life. Criminals stopped by his own gun - the grim, guilty satisfaction no policeman ever wanted to admit feeling. But this . . .
This was more horrible than any death he had ever known. From that throat was supposed to come naive, annoying, charming questions - not the rasping, rattle of a man's last breath. The trusting blue eyes - they should be clear, sparkling - not clouding over. Worst of all was the rancid, obscene smell of a body losing control in its last moment of life. No! Not that smell! Not from Fraser! Sweet Jesus, please not that smell! The trembling stopped and Fraser lay still.
So narrow was Ray's focus that all he could see was the friend he had killed with his own hand. Then other hands entered this field of awareness. Hands reaching to take Fraser away from him. Ray swatted at the hands, as if they were flies defiling the body of his friend. But there were too many. They lifted Fraser away. Fraser's limp arms hung down, his fingers curving delicately, holding the empty air.
Ray rose to go after him, but more hands held him back. He struggled against them, flailing, and everything went dark.
For a while afterward Ray knew only snippets of time. Experiences came and went, fading in and out like dreams. But Ray knew they were not dreams. It was all real; somehow he knew that. But none of it made sense.
An official room with a lot of official people, all firing questions at him. The questions make no sense. These men sound very serious and seem to be suggesting that Ray could have hurt his partner in some way. Ridiculous.
A much more comfortable room, with armchairs and many other padded seats. Sombre music. Flowers - so many that the odour sickens him. People walk past him to one side of the room, pause there to look at something, and then walk back past him again. Many of them glare angrily at him. Why?
Inside a church. Frannie and Ma sitting on either side of him, crying. Maria and Tony trying to shush the kids behind him. A coffin with a Canadian flag draped over it. Benny must be on duty at the funeral of some Canadian bigwig. Why would he want the Vecchios there?
Outdoors. The smell of freshly turned earth. Some guy with his shirt on backwards. The guy keeps droning on and on. The sound of clumps of soil hitting hollow wood.
Ma crying at the supper table. Food tastes lousy. Frannie's not eating, either. Or talking.
Sir, I'm calling to tell you my gun's missing from my house. And my shield. Get some rest? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
The ceiling of his room. It feels as though he's been staring at it for a long time. The mattress of his own bed beneath him is very warm. It feels as though he's been lying on it for a long time. A fuzzy taste in his mouth. He probably hasn't eaten or brushed his teeth for a long time, either.
Riding in the back seat of a car. Frannie's car, not the Riv. They must be outside Chicago. He can see green fields and cows. Benny would like this, a chance to get out of the city. Should have invited him along. Haven't seen him for a while.
In the darkness, Fraser could make out the faces of his parents, but nothing else. Nothing but blackness anywhere. "Mum . . . Dad . . . I'm scared."
"He's frightened, Caroline. He needs some familiar surroundings."
Caroline concentrated briefly. The Frasers found themselves in a one-room log cabin, very similar to the one in which Caroline had died. In one corner Benton slept peacefully on a cot while his parents stood over him. Caroline held a Hudson's Bay blanket.
"This is a lovely cabin. He'll feel at home here." said Bob to his wife. "I wish I could do this as well as you do."
"You will, Robert. It just takes practice. Remember I've been dead a lot longer than you have."
Caroline wanted to spare her husband's feelings. Every soul had the ability to control places and things Here, but it took some skill. How long one had been dead really wasn't the issue. It took concentration and Robert was still just too impatient. Caroline knew he would pick up the knack in due course. One thing there was no shortage of Here was time.
"What's the blanket for? It's not cold Here." Asked Bob.
"It's not for cold, Robert. I just want to have the feeling of tucking him in. I missed that so much."
She covered her son, making sure to imagine the wool to be soft, not itchy like that of an earthly Hudson's Bay blanket. Then Caroline took her husband's hand and they stood together, watching Benton sleep.
"How long are you going to let him sleep, Caroline?"
"I don't know. For a while. He's had a hard passage."
"Well, damn it, his passage was no harder than mine . . . or yours, come to that. We were all three of us shot, you know."
"I know." There was that impatience. "Why don't you make us a fire, Robert. You're good at that."
Bob closed his eyes and screwed up his face in what he supposed to be an expression of concentration. A fire lit itself in the belly of the woodstove on the side of the cabin that was the kitchen area. Bob was learning.
When Ray finally became aware of the coherent passage of time, he found himself in an office. A mahogany desk, two comfortable chairs. Himself in one chair, facing the desk and a middle-aged maternal looking woman in the other, behind the desk. Potted plants. Credenza. Boxes of kleenex on the credenza and on the desk. Diplomae and floral paintings on the wall. One window looking out over some kind of lawn. Daytime. The motherly woman spoke to him.
"Do you know why you're here?"
"I don't even know WHERE I'm here," Ray admitted. The question tipped him off that this was a hospital. Yet, he was sitting up and apparently not hurt or sick.
"I'm in a loony bin, right?"
"Centerpoint Psychiatric Hospital. We don't use 'loony bin', officially."
She smiled at him and the smile was kindly. If she wasn't somebody's mother, she should be.
"I'm Doctor Reyburn."
Then Ray realized she would know who he was. That manilla folder on her desk was probably his file. "I guess you know that," he added, sheepishly.
"No harm in telling me again. Do you remember coming here, Mr. Vecchio?"
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Ray thought back. It was an interesting question. He couldn't quite put his finger on his last clear memory.
"Fraser and I were chasing a suspect. A murderess. Fraser's a Mountie. You know, from Canada. I think I remember we were in a train station. Victoria - that's the murderess - she dropped a suitcase full of money and I stayed to gather it all up. Fraser ran off after her."
"Do you know where this Fraser is now?"
Even in his confused state, Ray knew this was an important question.
"Depends. What time is it, and what day of the week?"
"Tuesday. A little after nine. In the morning."
"There's sunlight coming in through that window, there. I figured out you meant morning. I'm not that out-of-it."
"Sorry." Doctor Reyburn still had the same motherly smile. Ray knew it might be a professional affectation, but it did make him feel safe.
"Then Fraser would normally be on guard duty now. I imagine that's where he is, unless he has some reason to be somewhere else. Sometimes he has special assignments, but usually he'd be on guard duty Tuesday morning."
Ray had enough experience questioning people to see that Doctor Reyburn didn't think Benny was on guard duty and was trying not to let Ray realize that. He called her on it, to prove to her he wasn't crazy.
"Okay, Doctor. Where do YOU think Fraser is?"
"Oh my, you're good, Mr. Vecchio. I'm impressed." She replied calmly but her mind was racing. She hated to ever lie to a patient, but she had no intention of telling Vecchio where she knew his friend was, nor did she want him to think she was avoiding his question. An out occurred to her. She was an agnostic and had never really decided whether she believed in life after death. It was a cheap way out, but it was, in some way the truth. "
"I really don't know where he is."
Dr. Reyburn continued with a list of questions which Ray could easily tell were standard for a new patient. He answered as truthfully and completely as he could. He knew this was for his own good, and she was really a nice lady, although she tended to lay the maternal bit on a little too thick.
She finished off with: "You'll see me for one hour each weekday morning. After two weeks, we'll assess your progress. I'll get an orderly to show you to your room and explain the hospital routine to you. Somebody will bring you back here tomorrow morning at ten."
Ray knew he had lost time between seeing Benny go after Victoria in the station and coming to awareness in Reyburn's office. That needed explaining. The hours between therapy sessions he mostly spent, at the doctor's suggestion, trying to reconstruct, trying to remember.
He actually enjoyed the therapy sessions themselves. Raised to show his feelings openly, he was happy to describe how Pa beat him, Ma nurtured him and his sisters annoyed him. He even managed to use the kleenex at appropriate moments. If it weren't for the bad food and weird company, it was like a vacation. But one thing was very wrong and he resolved to discuss it with his motherly shrink.
"It bothers me that Fraser hasn't come to see me. Any time either of us is in the hospital, we're always there for each other. Only thing I can figure, he must have told me he was going somewhere and I don't remember it."
As usual, he was watching Dr. Reyburn as he talked and trying to figure out what was in her mind. Detective's force of habit.
Dr. Reyburn picked up her pen and started to write on her usual yellow notepad.
"There, you did it." Said Ray. "Just now."
"What did I do?"
"Writing. The minute I ever mention Fraser, you start writing."
"I take notes all the time, Mr. Vecchio."
"Yeah, every now and then you write something down. But whenever I mention Fraser that little pen of yours is off like a runaway train."
Dr. Reyburn's hand ached to write that down.
"You're right. I am interested in your friendship with Fraser."
Ray took the bait. "Well, we call each other partners, me and Fraser, but it's not official or anything." Ray went on to describe in detail how they met and bonded.
"It seems to me that you and Fraser are very close."
"We're like brothers," Ray declared, promptly, "We'd - either of us - give our lives for the other one, any time."
"So, you think he'd give your life for you?"
"That's not exactly what I said. I said we'd give our lives for each other," Ray corrected her, "But, yes, I think he would. He's the best man I ever met."
"He's smart; he's strong; he's loyal; he's honest. Maybe that's his one fault. He's too honest, kind of trusting, like a child. He's no match for an evil woman. I guess that's what happened with Victoria."
Ray suddenly realized he had been avoiding using the V-word.
"Victoria. She's the key isn't she? All that stuff about my family, it's all true but it's not what's important right now." He started laughing. "That's what Benny always says, 'That's not important right now, Ray,' ", he mimicked, " 'what is important, is . . . ' ".
"I'm not sure."
I think you're close to becoming sure, Mr. Vecchio. Tomorrow will be two weeks that you've been here. We'll discuss your progress."
"It's been two weeks now that you have been here, Mr. Vecchio. This is the day we were going to, well, take stock. Do you think you have any memories back from that 'lost time'?"
"None at all," said Ray, "But I have realized a lot about my family."
"Your family is important to you." It wasn't a question.
"And as the eldest child and only son, you feel responsible for your family's welfare."
He agreed. "I'm, like, the protector."
"And you started feeling that way even as a child, because of the way your father was. You grew up feeling you had to protect your mother and sisters."
Ray nodded. This was all true.
"Now, if anyone were to threaten the safety of your family, say, threaten your mother with some kind of harm... "
"... I'd kill them."
A simple statement. Dr. Reyburn let it hang for a few moments in the air.
"But what if that someone - that person who threatened your mother - were a friend?"
"You mean Fraser?" Ray broke out in a sweat.
"I didn't refer to him specifically, no."
"But you meant him, didn't you?" Ray began to get angry now. "You ought to be ashamed. Fraser loves my mother. He calls her 'Ma'."
The room was arranged so that Ray's back was to the door of the office, and Dr. Reyburn was facing it. At that moment, she was the first to see the door open and an unfamiliar man in a red tunic come striding through. She wasn't sure, but she thought that's what a Mountie's uniform was supposed to look like.
"Who are you, and how did you get in here?"
Ray whirled around. He reached for his gun by force of habit, before realizing he was not armed.
"I'm Bob Fraser. Benton's father." Bob didn't bother to answer how he got in there. Better to leave that part out.
"Oh, I see."
Dr. Reyburn resolved to have a few angry words with security later about how this man got in. Meanwhile, if he were the dead Mountie's father, she could see how he would want to get at Vecchio. She pressed a button on the underside of her desk to summon help. Until that help came, she was the protector - of her patient. She stood up and faced him.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Fraser, but I'm afraid you can't be in here," she said, carefully.
"That's all right, ma'am. I'm really not here."
Ray jumped to his feet. "You're Benny's dad!"
"How do you do, Yank?" he put out his hand for Ray to shake. The hand wasn't completely solid but there was enough there to for Ray to grasp.
The Mountie didn't seem threatening, but Dr. Reyburn didn't relax. Who knew what this grieving father might want to do to his son's killer?
Bob Fraser turned his attention to the doctor.
"You're on the right track, ma'am, but you're pussy-footing around too much. We have to push this boy." He turned to Ray. "Yank, I have a message for you from Benton. He says he forgives you."
Dr. Reyburn interrupted. "How could you have a message like that?"
"Benton just asked me to come see Vecchio, here, and tell him."
She wasn't sure how to challenge this without actually coming out and saying that his son was dead, something she didn't want to say in Ray's hearing. So she waited.
Ray was staring at the Mountie. "So this is what you look like. Why are you here? Where's Benny?"
"Benton's dead, son. You killed him, remember?"
"It's true, Yank. You shot him. You watched him die. Then you flipped out. You just lost your mind. That's why they've got you here in the funny farm."
Ray groped for his chair and dropped into it. He put his head into his hands. It started to come back to him: the train platform, the blood, Benny's broken voice saying "Forgive . . . " Ray looked up. "He forgives me. HE forgives ME?"
"For shooting him. He says don't worry your head about him, he's fine. He's enjoying Eternal Bliss. Perfectly happy. He specifically said to say 'Thank you kindly' for arranging it. What a horrid expression! He never learned it from me, that's for sure."
Ray sat motionless as memories flooded back to him. 'I was going with her,' that's what Benny had said. 'Oh God, I'm so sorry. I was going with her.'
Benny had been jumping bail, a bail secured by . . . "My house! He was running away! We could have lost our home! Damn you, Benny," he cried out, "How could you do that to my mother!"
Bob Fraser smiled with satisfaction and made an exit worthy of a B-movie western hero, declaring "My work here is done."
The security guards rushed in at that moment, and Dr. Reyburn ordered them to go look for a Mountie and escort him off the premises. She never did find out that the intruder had been a dead man.
Ray was crying. "Bliss . . . Eternal Bliss . . . just like he never did anything wrong . . . and we could have been out on the street . . . I could never have afforded that mortgage . . . it's not right . . . he should suffer . . . my poor mother . . . "
Now Dr. Reyburn was back in familiar territory. She let Ray cry a little longer, then prompted him.
"You're angry with him. He endangered your family."
Ray looked up at her through his tears. "Did I shoot him on purpose? To stop him from getting away? Could I have been THAT mad?"
"What do you think?"
And the session continued.
Bob Fraser opened the door to the cabin and was hit immediately with the smell of something frying. Caroline and Benton were busy cooking something in a deep fat fryer on the stove. Bob unbuckled his Sam Browne and hung it, along with his Stetson, on the hatstand near the door and sidled up beside his wife. He kissed her on the cheek. Her cheek was all oily.
"Hey, Dad! We're making fries!" The evidence confirmed it. There, on a table, were three large platters of french fries.
"I don't know why you're bothering to do that. Everything tastes like nothing Here."
"Oh, we have a clever son. He's already figured out the trick of making food taste like food."
"Try one, Dad!" Benton plunged his hand into the boiling oil.
"Benton, stop showing off." His mother shook her head in dismay. "He's been doing that all afternoon."
Benton brought a single chip out of the fryer and presented it, proudly, to his father. He imagined it had cooled down first, just in case his father forgot to do it. He watched eagerly as Bob tasted the chip.
"Hey, this is great, son."
Benton took his father's arm and excitedly pulled him over to the table. He pointed to each platter in turn.
"These are Prince Edward Island. And these are Russets. They're the best so far. And these are Idahos. This batch," he pointed to the stove, " is Yukon Gold, but you know, Dad, I'm afraid they're going to be mushy." Bob could see his son thought this was a catastrophe of major proportions.
"Don't worry, dear," said Caroline, soothingly, "There are plenty others to try."
"Mum's letting me fry every kind of potato in the world!" Benton's face was shining with happiness and grease. He went back to stove.
"That's nice, son. Caroline, could we have a word?"
Caroline held her finger to her lips and inclined her head towards their son. "Your father and I are going for a walk, dear."
"You have fun." Benton answered, automatically, without turning around.
The parents went outside and Caroline summoned up a path leading away from the house into a fragrant pine forest. She took her husband's arm as they strolled along.
"Now, Caroline, how much longer is this... this... cooking going to go on?"
"Now Robert, Benton's entitled to a little Bliss."
"I know, but... potatoes?"
"Every soul experiences Bliss in its own way, Robert. When I first got here I spent, oh, I don't know how long, just picking flowers."
"But does he remember anything?"
"Nothing much. He knows he's dead, but he doesn't remember how he got that way. He doesn't seem to remember anything that happened after he was seven. It will come back to him soon, I'm sure."
"But it's not right. Shouldn't he have to face up to what he did?"
"Robert, I know you have trouble with these abstract concepts, but remember what I told you. Everything that happens Here is right. It can't be any other way. He'll remember when he's ready, and he'll atone as he is meant to. Just give it time. Now tell me, how did it go with Ray?"
"Ha. I had to push him. That silly lady doctor was going to let him just blather on and on. He'll be fine now."
"Robert, you're always so impatient."
"Shouldn't we maybe push Benton along, too? Force him to remember?"
"No, Robert. For Ray it's different. He only has a limited amount of time on earth. He has to get on with it. That's not the case Here."
"Oh, all right. I just wish it weren't potatoes!"
"Just be patient, Robert. Why don't you go cool down and relax for a while?"
Around the bend, a smaller trail led from the path into an Arctic wilderness. Bob stared longingly into the frozen wasteland. "Caroline, are you sure its okay?"
"As long as you only stay there a little while. Benton's looking forward to seeing you eat those fries. Don't disappoint him. "
"I won't. I've learned my lesson. But, could I have . . . "
"I'll have it waiting for you."
The hardest thing that Bob Fraser had faced, upon first arriving Here, had been the guilty realization of exactly why he had left first Caroline and then Benton alone for so long. It was no more complicated than the fact that he loved being alone in the wilderness more than anything or anyone else. But now that he had done the appropriate atonement for his selfishness, he was allowed to have his fun from time to time.
Bob hugged his wife. Then he detached from her and took a few steps back. He stood as straight as a cadet on parade, threw his head back, and scrunched up his face in intense thought. Boots, leggings and parka formed around his body. He raised his arms high and spun around for Caroline to admire his achievement. She clapped her hands enthusiastically.
"Well done, Robert. You really are getting the hang of it."
Bob laughed with delight, took a deep, theatrical bow and bounded off happily into the snow.
Caroline watched his first few joyful steps, turned away with a smile, and continued on down the path alone a couple of hundred yards, enjoying the pine air. Then she made the cabin appear and went inside.
"Mum! Can we go see if they have potatoes on any other planets?"