Ray and Huey were watching one entrance to the alley. Fraser and Dewey were at the other entrance. Later, Ray would wonder if it would have made any difference if he and Fraser had been together, but at the time it seemed a logical use of manpower to split them up. Backup cruisers were around the corner out of sight and the three Chicago detectives were in constant radio contact with them. Any moment now they expected the perp to show up, to keep the appointment scheduled for them by a stoolie.
As he stood pressed against the wall of a building, gun at ready at his shoulder, Ray was thinking that he and Huey must look like some police duo out of a movie. Two tall, trim men – Huey, black and respectable in his suit and himself in his tee-shirt, jeans and unruly blond spikes. Me and Fraser together – with the Mountie in his red get-up - now that always looks too weird. Ray glanced back towards Fraser and Dewey, at the far end of the alley some 50 yards away to see what kind of picture the two of them were making, then quickly jerked his eyes away, berating himself for becoming distracted. For this stake-out Fraser’s dress was as inconspicuous as that of his fellows – jeans, polo shirt and short leather jacket. The only thing that would distinguish the Mountie from the Americans to a stranger, if that stranger had been able to make out any details in the midnight gloom, was the fact that he wasn’t hefting a pistol.
Focus, Ray told himself, and went back to peering out into the dark streets, wrinkling his face in concentration.
From behind him came a scuffling, then shouts, then sounds of gunfire. Ray had to cover the short distance down the alley slower than he would have liked, trying to run towards the far end while constantly looking back over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t being followed from the rear. By the time he reached the other side, sirens were screaming as the uniforms in the squad cars took up the chase. Fraser was on the ground. Huey, who had covered the intervening distance along with Ray, shouted into his radio, “Officer down! We need help here NOW!”
Ray was barely breathing as he dropped to haunches beside the Mountie. Fraser was conscious. His eyes, wide with pain met Ray’s eyes and Ray couldn’t hold back a grimace. Blood was seeping through Fraser’s jeans over one hip. Putting one hand over another, Ray pressed his hands against his friend’s wound to slow the bleeding, while listening to Dewey barking into his radio, instructing the uniforms in the patrol cars.
“You’re going to be okay, buddy. Help is on the way. It’s going to be fine. Right? Going to be fine.” Through the muddle of sounds – his own babbling, Fraser’s moans of pain, the wail of the approaching ambulance, Ray heard Dewey say “Well, technically, you know, he’s not an officer in this jurisdiction.”
“Oh shut up,” Huey said.
“We expect him to recover fully,” the doctor had told Ray. As the blond detective sat by his partner’s hospital bed, he had no way of knowing that three years ago a social worker had said almost the exact same words to Ray Vecchio.
With plenty of quiet time to think, since Fraser was still asleep on strong painkillers most of the time, Ray was nevertheless thinking, on and off about Vecchio. More specifically he was thinking about Fraser and Vecchio’s escapades that he had read about while studying to be that other detective. It had struck him then, and he remembered it now, how very often it seemed that they ended up hurt. Ray himself had scraped Fraser off the sidewalk outside Warfield’s, but he’d never happened to see Fraser hospitalized before. But Vecchio had – often. And put the Mountie in the hospital himself that time.
Did Vecchio feel that awful tearing in his gut, like Ray did now? Seeing Fraser beat up, that hurt but that was the kind of thing that might happen to a guy who puts himself out around bad guys like Fraser does. Ray had a compartment in his mind to put things like that, where he suffered for his friend but didn’t need to feel like the world was out of kilter because of it.
It was different to see Fraser flaked out, mouth hanging open, pale and empty looking, as though the tubes attached to his friend were sucking life out rather than pumping in nutrients, painkillers and antibiotics into him. Funny, it was only seeing him in a hospital gown that Ray realized he seldom saw much of Fraser’s actual skin. He slept in those long-johns. For all that the Mountie was covered by a thin hospital sheet from chest down, he still looked exposed.
Welsh walked in while Ray was musing. He was more respectful of hospital rules and only came during the approved visiting hours, while Ray sat beside the recovering Mountie whenever he was not working, including many of the hours he should have spent sleeping.
“How’s he doing?” Welsh asked, only to make conversation since he knew Ray would have notified him if Fraser had taken a turn for the worse.
“Still flaked out,” Ray said. “Y’know, I’ve been thinking about Vecchio. Seems like him and Fraser both did a lot of hospital time when they were together.”
Welsh dragged another chair beside Ray’s, after first depositing a potted plant on Fraser’s windowsill. “First week they knew each other, Ray got himself blown up. That was just the beginning. Fraser got stabbed, shot, beat up. Vecchio took a bullet for him after shooting him, so maybe that’s poetic justice. They spent a lot of time in emergency rooms, that’s for sure. Funny, since you came, neither of you has seen the inside of a hospital. Well, until now.”
“Are you sure he’s asleep?” Welsh added. He got up and waved a testing hand in front of Fraser’s face. “The constable’s a wily son-of-a-bitch, for all his innocent act. He could be listening.”
Ray noted that Welsh spoke not with annoyance but rather with admiration.
“No harm if he’s listening, right? Not like we’re saying anything he doesn’t know,” Ray pointed out.
“Guess not,” Welsh said, sitting back down. “We were talking about Vecchio.”
“Oh yeah. Well, tell me this wasn’t weird: Vecchio shot him in the back. Christ, I never understood that. I mean, I studied all the reports but I can’t picture it.”
“I was there,” Welsh told him, “Vecchio saw the Metcalfe woman pull a gun. He fired just when Fraser jumped up and tried to apprehend her.”
“Did you see the gun?”
“I was looking the other way.”
“Okay, right. You were after this woman and there she was on the train getting away and Fraser was chasing her. And somewhere else something more interesting was going on that you were looking at.”
Welsh said, tersely, “Fraser was running after the train to try to capture Metcalfe. The constable just happened to jump up on the train right when Ray fired.”
Ray gave Welsh a suspicious look. “And that’s the story everybody’s sticking with?”
“What, you don’t believe Big Red would jump onto a moving train?”
“Naw, I believe that. The first day I met him he went climbing all around a moving car. No, I just mean, well, it all just sort of smells funny. I remember when I was reading about it in the file, it seemed strange. Fraser was still out on bail. So he must have known he shouldn’t do anything that would look like he was leaving town - especially with Vecchio on the hook for big money if he skipped. Sometimes I think that Fraser and my Fraser are completely different guys.”
Welsh, having nothing he wanted to contribute on that particular subject, answered only with a grunt.
“So, what was the real story?” Ray pressed his lieutenant.
“There’s no story. Whatever the report says happened – that’s what happened.”
“And you really want me to buy that?”
Welsh sighed deeply and then after a pause he pronounced. “I guess you just had to be there,” with a finality that told Ray the subject was closed.
The two sat in silence for several minutes.
“Well, to change the subject - you’re all three of you getting credit for the collar, in case you didn’t know,” Welsh said, finally. “You and the duck boys. Wish we could give Fraser some credit. Trouble is, officially he wasn’t even there. Poor bastard. He takes down as many no-good-niks as our own men and never gets anything for it.”
“Sucks to be him,” Ray observed, for want of anything better to say.
On the day of Fraser’s release from hospital, Ray, Welsh and Thatcher all gathered in his room to escort him home and also to spring on him a surprise they had been planning. Welsh had taken the conversation he’d had with Ray that evening to heart and had begun thinking, for the first time in the years that the Mountie had been involved with the Chicago PD, how unfair the Canadian’s situation really was. Of course, nobody forced him to hang around the 27th. Still, you had to admit that Chicago was a little bit of a cleaner place for Big Red being around.
That had led to some discussions with the Mountie’s C.O. Thatcher had been reluctant at first but Welsh and Ray together had talked her into going along with Welsh’s idea.
Meanwhile it had been Turnbull who had taken on the task of seeing to Fraser’s practical needs. He brought the new pajamas and toothbrush and various toiletries to the hospital and had taken away the blood-stained clothes for laundering. And two weeks later, when Fraser was ready to go home, he had been the one to bring clean ‘underwear, socks, jeans, undershirt, red-checkered lumberjack shirt and freshly polished boots for his colleague to wear home.
Fraser was waiting patiently, sitting fully dressed on his bed when Ray, Welsh and Thatcher walked in.
“So, you ready to go home, buddy?” Ray said with forced joviality that fooled none of them, least of all Fraser.
Thatcher told him. “I’d better warn you now, so you don’t try to make any objections. Turnbull moved all your things to the Queen’s bedroom so you’ll be more comfortable while you’re recuperating.”
Fraser nodded in acquiescence. He was under doctor’s orders to rest at least another week in bed so the opportunity for some unaccustomed luxury wasn’t entirely unwelcome. While he never would have asked to move his quarters himself, he silently thanked Turnbull in absentia for having the idea and resolved to find a way to show his gratitude later.
“He’s intending to wait on you hand and foot, Fraser, and I don’t think even a direct order is going to stop him. Just don’t let it go to your head.”
“That’s not going to happen, Inspector,” Welsh said. “The constable here is a modest enough fellow. Too modest for his own good. Which brings me to a little surprise we have for our newly sprung friend here.”
The three took a step closer to Fraser and, sensing some significance in their manner, the Mountie braced himself.
Welsh dug into his pocket and brought out a rectangular leather case, about the size of his palm. Ray and Thatcher stood completely still, and a little straighter as Welsh held the case out, with no little gravity, in Fraser’s direction.
Fraser accepted the case and opened it. After eyeing the contents for a few beats, he looked up to see the other three people smiling at him. He looked back down said nothing for a time.
When he did speak his voice was slow and controlled as though he were holding back anger. “I don’t find this funny. I’m sure you all meant no harm, but it IS a crime to impersonate an officer of the law.”
“Say what?” Ray said for all three of the surprised well-wishers.
“I would have expected better from you, sir and you too, Lieutenant. And you, Ray . . .” he finished the sentence with a poisonous look in his partner’s direction. “Besides being against the law, I find this in very poor taste. Forgive me for speaking frankly, sir.”
Ray, Welsh and Thatcher tossed their dismay amongst themselves like a basketball, trying to figure out what the problem was. Thatcher was the one to speak for the group saying “Constable, we went to a lot of trouble to arrange this for you. Are you telling me you don’t want it?”
Fraser looked back into his palm and read what he saw there. “Benton Fraser. Chicago Police Force. Some people might consider this an appropriate gag gift, but I don’t. Begging you pardon, sir.”
Realization dawned on the group. “He thinks it’s a gag!” Ray declared and they all laughed in relief.
“This is for real, Constable,” Welsh assured Fraser. “I’ve done some paperwork and got you equivalent status. You’ve got the same rights in this jurisdiction as a Chicago cop.”
“I . . . I . . .” the astonished Fraser stammered.
“I could only make you an ordinary patrolman. I know you’ve got a lot of years of experience, but this is the best I could do. You can still do all the good stuff: arrest bad guys, carry a weapon, do searches if you have a warrant. The whole she-bang.”
If Fraser had been auditioning for an acting role he couldn’t have run through such a visible series of emotions as he now displayed. In the space of a minute he went from anger to shock to puzzlement and finally to joy.
“Welcome to the Chicago PD, Officer Fraser,” Welsh said, grandly.
“This is only for occasional use, though, Fraser. You’re still expected to fulfill your consular duties,” Thatcher clarified.
“Understood,” Fraser whispered, “I don’t know what to say. This is . . . this is . . .” he paused, apparently overcome, and the others beamed at him as he wiped the corner of his eye.
Enjoying his friend’s happiness, Ray thrust out his right hand in the Mountie’s direction and said, “Put ‘er there, partner! Now you’re a real cop!”
Fraser jerked his head upward. His eyes fixed on Ray’s face, he replayed his last run of emotions, reversing from happiness through shock to annoyance.
“Oh dear,” said Thatcher under her breath.
Welsh rolled his eyes.
Fraser glared at Ray, saying nothing.
“Don’t you pay attention to him, constable,” Welsh said. “As you can see, it’s no big deal to be a detective in Chicago. They give any idiot that rank.”
Still looking at Ray, Fraser flipped the leather case shut and extended it in Welsh’s direction. “Thank you kindly, Lieutenant, but I’m satisfied with my present situation. I hope it won’t be too much trouble to have this rescinded.”
“No, you keep it. In case you change your mind,” and then Welsh shook his head in Ray’s direction.
With shrug, Fraser tossed the case into a plastic bag that already contained the few personal items that he still had with him in the hospital. Then he picked up the bag and said, “Let’s be on our way. I’m guessing Turnbull has some kind celebratory meal waiting for us at the consulate. Am I right?”
Thatcher forced a smile. “He’s been cooking for two days straight. Pretend to be surprised.”
With another look at Ray, Fraser said, “I AM surprised.”
Then he led the way out of the room to find an orderly waiting with a wheelchair just beyond the door in the hallway. With a resigned sigh, Fraser settled into the wheelchair. He’d been hospitalized in Chicago often enough to know it was a regulation that discharged patients be taken out of the building in this manner. The orderly pushed off and they proceeded towards the elevator with the two superior officers flanking Fraser and his escort, and Ray trailing along behind.
“What did I say?” Ray protested towards everyone’s back as they walked.
“Moron,” the Inspector shot back at him.
“What?” the detective insisted.
Since Fraser was right there listening, Welsh said nothing more. He just hoped things would work out somehow.
Apart from the kitchen and bathrooms, the VIP bedroom was the only room in the converted mansion that now served as the Consulate General of Canada that retained its original function. Even though Mounties called it the “Queen’s Bedroom” none of them really expected the Queen to ever use it. But Fraser and Turnbull both had a monarchist streak in them and enjoyed thinking that if Her Majesty ever did turn up in Chicago, she would have a spot set aside for her under their very roof.
The latest dignitary to have stayed there was the country singer, Tracy Jenkins. Fraser was thinking, as he lay resting in the king-sized bed, about her and her recent visit to Chicago. He could have gone with her on the road as a back up singer, but for his devotion to his calling as a police officer. Now, with too much time at his disposal to lie alone and cogitate, Fraser was doubting the wisdom of that choice.
For the first thirteen years of his career, he had used his skills in tracking, marksmanship and deductive reasoning to maintain law and order in vast areas of the north. He knew his fellow officers considered him an oddity but he also knew they respected his abilities. Most likely he would have finished his career as his father did, an honoured upholder of the old school of law enforcement, if he hadn’t come to Chicago on the trail of his father’s killer. That had set the whole odd series of events in motion – he’d found out the traitor, Gerrard, and turned him in, knowing full well that by trying to protect the integrity of the Force, he’d be ostracized from it. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. No matter what ridiculous work he was put to, such as standing immobile for hours outside the Consulate letting tourists snap his picture, he was an officer of the law.
But not in this jurisdiction.
It hadn’t hurt too much to hear Dewey say that. Fraser said it himself often enough and it was the truth. No, those weren’t the words that had hurt.
The Inspector knocked at the closed bedroom door. Fraser could tell the Inspector’s knock from Turnbull’s knock easily. His colleague tapped with obvious diffidence, as though afraid to disturb the occupant, the door or to impose himself on the world in general. By contrast the Inspector always rapped authoritatively when she wanted to enter. She had excused him from the requirement to stand in her presence, since he was under doctor’s orders to rest, but he still sat up at attention when she came in.
“Sir,” he acknowledged her entry. Thatcher settled herself into a brocade-covered armchair and Fraser, accordingly, lounged back on his pile of pillows.
“You’re to return to modified duties as of Monday. I’m excusing you from door guard. I was thinking there are a number of speaking engagements I could turn over to you. You’d only have to be on your feet for about half an hour at a time and I already know you have a gift for oratory. Only if you’d like to, of course.”
“That would be fine, sir,” Fraser answered politely, “Perhaps that would be a good opportunity for me to try out a new mode of dress.”
“New mode of dress? Fraser, I’ve told you I don’t like you appearing in public in the brown uniform. We’ve agreed on the red serge since you’re not fond of the standard blues, although if you ask me I think they look quite nice on you.”
Fraser let that last remark pass. “What I mean, sir, is that you wear a business suit on such occasions. As your deputy, wouldn’t it behoove me to dress as you do?”
“You want to wear a suit while on duty?”
“Well, sir. As Detective Vecchio pointed out, I’m not acting as a police officer. It would be more appropriate for me to wear street clothes.”
“Oh, so that’s what this is about.” Thatcher got up and paced the room for a time before speaking again. “Has he been around to apologize?”
“For what, sir?”
“Come on, Fraser. He said something totally stupid. But he’s your best friend. Well, the best friend you have available to you right now.”
“Sir, I asked Detective Vecchio not to come at all. I’ve been feeling . . . fatigued.”
“Then you haven’t given him a chance to say he’s sorry. Fraser, I was annoyed with him myself when he first said that but you have to give him a chance to make amends. He cares about you.”
“Is that an order, sir?”
“Oh, Fraser, for Heaven’s sake!”
“Because I’m sure you’re aware I’m not obliged to take orders in matters that concern my personal relationships.”
“You are the most infuriating man in the world!” Thatcher appealed with open arms to the Heavens before dropping back into her chair. “Look, in your function as liaison you’re required to maintain good relations with the local authorities. Cut the man some slack, Fraser.”
“Yes sir. We were talking about my duties.”
“Oh, very well. Come down tomorrow morning and I’ll give you a schedule and some outlines.”
“And my dress?”
“You can go naked for all I care!” Thatcher declared. With that, she left the room and Fraser to his own thoughts again.
Lt. Welsh tossed a bulging manila envelope onto Ray’s desk. “Open that, Detective.”
“It’s addressed to you, sir,” Ray pointed out, lifting the package and examining the writing on it.
“Yeah. From the Consulate General of Canada. Open it. If it’s that great biscotti Turnbull bakes, you’re NOT in deep doo-doo. Otherwise . . .”
As they both expected, it was Fraser’s Chicago PD shield. Ray put the item on his desk and then scanned the accompanying note printed on RCMP letterhead.
“That’s not a recipe for biscotti, is it, Detective?”
“No sir, it’s a recipe for deep doo-doo, sir.” Ray stood up and faced his commanding officer. “Your office?”
“No, I’m going to ream you out right here. I’ve become accustomed to seeing a red coat around here. Go crawl on your belly to the Mountie and make nice.”
“He won’t let me. Turnbull doesn’t even let me in the door. Says Fraser’s too tired for visitors.”
“Well, that’s been changed. I just got a call from Turnbull. Thatcher’s ordered Fraser to regularize his relationship with local authorities, which means he’s going to let you grovel and beg forgiveness for being such an insensitive jerk.”
For the first time in three weeks, Ray grinned. “That’s great. I’ve been practicing my grovel!” Ray shoved some papers into his desk drawer, snatched his car keys from a torn-off styrofoam cup and dashed towards the door of the bull pen.
“Detective!” Welsh called after him.
Ray froze and swung around to see Welsh brandishing Fraser’s rejected shield. “Take this with you. We might get him on the payroll yet.”
<hr = 50%>
Having lost weight during his recovery, Turnbull’s enticing cooking notwithstanding, Fraser looked sharper in his grey three-piece pinstripe than Ray could ever remember seeing him. The shirt Fraser wore under it was as white as the arctic snows, complemented perfectly by a tie of deep burgundy. The Ice-Queen must have dressed him, Ray decided. The Mountie looked like some important official in that get-up, and entirely out of his element in his own tiny office.
“Hello, Ray,” Fraser said, formally, as Ray came in.
“Look, buddy, um . . .” Ray stammered. “Do we have to talk in here? You don’t look right in here, like it’s not you anymore. You’re all spiffy.”
“I’ve stopped dressing like a police officer, if that’s what you mean,” was Fraser’s icy reply. He led Ray to a drawing room and waved at an uncomfortable looking straight-backed chair, but Ray didn’t sit down.
“Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?” Fraser said, with no expression whatsoever.
The apology Ray had rehearsed seemed too lame for the circumstances so Ray, as he often did when rattled, just babbled instead.
Fraser let him stammer on for a while before interrupting. “You don’t have to apologize, Ray. You said what you felt. I can’t hold a man responsible for expressing what he feels.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Ray. You simply let everyone know that you don’t regard me as a policeman and, apparently, never have.”
“No, Fraser! All I meant was . . . I mean . . . I’m sorry if I . . .”
“I said you don’t have to apologize. I tried to have the same friendship with you as I had with Ray Vecchio. I see now that was a mistake. You’re a different person and you don’t see me the same way Ray Vecchio did.”
Ray’s stomach and heart bumped into each other trying to jump up into Ray’s throat. God! This was awful! Ray had figured his friend was still upset but this was beyond what he was expecting.
“Don’t say that,” he choked the words out. “We’re partners and . . . and . . . we’re buddies. Come on, Fraser give me a break here. We have to be friends or I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
Fraser smiled, but it was a professional smile that he might use when trying to calm a distraught citizen seeking help. “I never said we weren’t friends. Please don’t be upset. Why don’t I have Turnbull bring you a cup of tea? He’s just made a fresh batch of biscotti – the kind you like.”
“Damn it, Fraser, talk to me! This is me!”
“I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, Ray. I’m sorry but I really do need to get some notes together before it starts. You know your way out.” Fraser left with straight-backed dignity. Ray crumpled into the nearby chair.
“Fuck!” he burst out, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” He dropped his head into his hands, “What was I supposed to say? What does he want to hear? I just don’t get it!”
Thatcher motioned Fraser to sit down. While he was technically declared recovered and back to regular duty, she felt guilty making him stand up any longer than necessary. She sat down in the chair in front of his desk and he sat down in his own chair.
I’ve got to talk him into taking a bigger office, Thatcher thought, looking at him. Perhaps it was the suit giving him that air of dignity. Or maybe he was just seemed so serious because he was more taciturn than usual. Turnbull had tipped her off that the detective’s visit hadn’t brought about any reconciliation. Fraser’s no good without his Sancho Panza.
“Fraser, there are a couple of things I want to discuss with you.”
Fraser nodded and waited.
“First your speaking engagements. I’m getting glowing reports about you, so I’m giving you next week’s batch as well,” and with this she plunked the pile of file folders she had been carrying on his desk.
“Next, something not so pleasant. I understand you and Detective Vecchio are still on the outs.”
“Sir, Detective Kowalski, or, if you prefer, Detective Vecchio is my concern.”
“I admit that’s true, but I don’t like to see you so unhappy. You’re grumping around the consulate and getting all the rest of the staff in a bad mood. I can’t have you hanging around inside all the time. You need to go out and play with your friend.”
She could see he was only getting his back up – both physically and emotionally. He sat up straighter in his chair and his face went blank with a look that told her he was trying to decide how to phrase his next sentence.
On an impulse, she forestalled him before he could come up with some annoyingly formal pronouncement. “Would you like to talk about it, Fraser? Maybe if you let out how you feel a little to someone else?” Yeah, right, she thought as soon as she said it.
To her surprise, Fraser’s expression softened. “I guess, I never really let myself think about the differences between Ray and Ray. Ray’s special to me in his own way, but there’s something about the way Ray used to treat me – only once did he say the word “partner” but he always made me feel like. . .” he trailed off. “That’s unfair to Ray, though isn’t it? I know he respects me, only . . .”
Inwardly Thatcher sighed with relief. She’d managed to shove a thin wedge into Fraser’s emotional ice-block. Better leave him alone now and let him mull over things a little. One thing she knew about Fraser from experience: once he got an idea into his head he kept hold of it, chewed it, worried and chomped at it. He was just like his wolf in that respect. A very canine pair, the two of them.
History repeats itself. That’s what Fraser was thinking as he stood in just about the same position by Ray’s desk as he had that first time he had reached out to Ray at Welsh’s suggestion to give him a chance.
Fraser came into the squad room and presented himself at Ray’s desk just as Ray was putting away some files and preparing to go home for the evening.
“Uh, Ray,” he said, in the same hesitant voice he had used that evening two years ago.
And as he had done back then, Ray looked up, hopefully.
“Do you, uh, want to go get something to, uh, eat with me?” Fraser asked.
The pair went out together to the parking lot, to the approving nods of Welsh, the other detectives, the desk sergeant and not a few passing uniforms.
They filled the drive to Ierfino’s and the time it took for Ray to park and the two of them to settle into a booth with small talk. Ray told the latest gossip from the station and Fraser described the goodies Turnbull had been cooking up for him.
To his credit, it was Ray that brought up the reason they were there.
“Okay, let’s get it out in the open. What did I do? Because I’m good at begging forgiveness, Fraser. Stella made me do it all the time. But I’d rather understand, you know.”
Fraser folded up his menu and set it aside with great deliberation. Then he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, and steepled his fingertips. He tapped his fingers lightly against his lips.
“Talk to me,” Ray insisted, “That’s what we’re here for, right?”
Fraser slid his fingers to the side of his face and rested his cheek against them. Ray leaned forward, expectantly.
At last Fraser started. “When you were studying to be Ray Vecchio, did you read about the time I lost my memory? It was just before I went on vacation and came back to find you at the 27th.”
“Sure, I had to learn about that.”
“I remember the things I said and did during that time. Odd, to think back on it now – going into my old apartment and seeing it with a stranger’s eyes. Seeing Diefenbaker and being startled. Talking to the Inspector without knowing who she was. So strange. You know that Ray guided me through the whole thing – took me from place to place, person to person, memory to memory - until I came back to myself again.”
“I’d have done that for you if I’d been there. You know that.”
“Would you let me finish this story, Ray?”
“Okay, okay, sorry. But it’s like – you don’t think I would take care of you if I had to and I would, I would.”
“I know you would. That’s not the issue. I’m going somewhere else with this.”
A waiter arrived and they placed their orders. Only when the young man had left did Fraser continue.
“I’ll always remember what Ray said to me in the hospital that day. They examined my head,” Fraser paused and looked to Ray.
“Hey, that’s such an obvious straight line even I won’t touch it,” Ray protested.
Fraser smiled a little and went on. “And then Ray came to the examination room where I was waiting. He handed me my clothes and started talking to me. He told me he was a detective. I was scared. I asked him ‘Am I under arrest?’ And he said something I’ve never heard you say.”
“Well?” Ray prompted.
“He said ‘No, you’re a cop, too,’” Fraser leaned back. “Do you see the significance of that, Ray?”
“I think so. I’m trying to, Fraser.”
“Ray wanted to tell me who I was, because I myself didn’t know. I didn’t even know my own name, Ray. So he told me my identity as HE saw me. You’re a cop. That’s how he thought of me, no matter how much he teased me.”
Fraser paused while Ray considered what he had been told.
“I guess, in the end, it’s not fair to blame you for the way you see me. My friendship was forced on you. You had to accept all my peculiarities and befriend me right away as part of the job. If we had met by chance, as Ray and I did, who knows if we would have hit it off or not,” Fraser chuckled to himself. “It was like an arranged marriage, in a way.”
Ray looked up in alarm and Fraser waved a dismissive gesture. “No, I don’t mean it like that. I mean, we were forced into being a “duet” without being given any say in the matter. You had the advantage, Ray. You had some warning.”
“I guess it must have hurt. Losing Vecchio like that.”
“Yes, Ray. Very much.”
“And I guess you wish you had him back.”
“Well, since we’re being honest . . .”
“Instead of me,” Ray concluded. “You know, if you want to just pretend you and Vecchio had a fight and weren’t hanging around with each other anymore, we could work it that way. You don’t need to be bothered with me anymore if you don’t want to, I guess.”
“You tried to break up our partnership once before, Ray.”
“Yeah, I know. And you cried. Maybe you thought I didn’t notice, but I saw you. You had tears in your eyes.”
“Yes, I did.”
The arrival of their food gave them something else to pretend to focus on for a few minutes. Fraser carved slices out of his manicotti with a surgeon’s precision while Ray speared and swallowed gnocci one by one.
Eventually Ray lay down his fork. “What happens now, Fraser? Are you going to hold it against me forever that I first experienced you as a freak instead of as a cop. ‘Cause that was what you seemed like at the beginning.”
“And you seemed like an interloper.”
“Why, because I run fast?” Ray wanted to know.
Fraser choked on his manicotti. “Not antelope. Interloper. Intruder. Someone who was butts in where he doesn’t. Forcing himself on people. Pushing in where . . .”
“I get the picture.”
Fraser met his friend’s eyes squarely for the first time since that night, weeks ago, when he had been sprawled on the ground bleeding and looked into his partner’s eyes for help. Ray’s blue eyes were the ones pleading now for relief from pain.
“On the other hand, I knew Ray a whole week before he risked his life for me. You did that the first day. All things considered, you’ve been a good friend, Ray.”
“Let’s try this again. Put ‘er there, partner,” Ray extended his hand across the table.
Fraser looked at the hand and was about to point out that it had tomato sauce on it, then he thought better of it and clasped Ray’s outstretched hand in his own.