The story they went with in the episodes is that Stanley Raymond was brought in to replace Raymondo to protect the latter's identity. Usually we take that at face value. That's why the 3rd and 4th season sidekick had to be a Ray. What if there were another reason?

 

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Ray came back to the squadroom from lunch on time that Tuesday. Usually he took longer than his allotted hour when he and Benny went for their usual Tuesday lunch. But this week, the Mountie wasn't there. Nor would he be there next week either. He was on vacation in the north. Way up in the north. He wouldn't even have a phone.

 

Benny had left him a number in case of emergency, an outpost where he could connect to a phone line by climbing a pole and plugging in. As he gave the number to Ray, just before leaving for the train, the Mountie actually sounded as though he would have liked a nice emergency, just as an excuse for the climb. So this Tuesday Ray munched a pizza alone, imagining his friend, all unshaven (a sight Ray had never actually seen), in a checkered shirt and jeans, doing something silly like jumping down a waterfall.

 

Ray came in to squadroom and had barely settled behind his desk when Welsh beckoned him into his office. Ray came in and saw a man in a non-descript black suit sitting in one of Welsh's visitors' chairs. He knew the man, and guessed why he was here.

 

"Don't tell me," said Ray to the office in general, rather than to either Welsh or the other man.

 

"You've got eight hours," said the other man, "Clean out your little desk, go home, have one last home-cooked meal, kiss your mommy good-bye. Here's your plane ticket. Meet me at the check-in counter at nine."

 

Ray took the plane ticket. It was made out to the name Armando Langoustini.

 

"Son of a bitch," Ray muttered.

 

"Come on Vecchio, what the hell was all that training for? We got our opportunity but we have to move fast. You come to the airport with only the clothes on your back. No wallet, no bag."

 

"Not even a toothbrush?"

 

"You'll be using Langoustini's toothbrush. And his socks. And if he's got rubbers in the bureau drawer you'll use those too. Sharpen up, Vecchio. Slip up like that undercover and you're dead meat."

 

"Lay off, Winslow. He's just surprised. Give him time to get used to it."

 

"He's had years to get used to it. Now he's got eight more hours. I'm out of here. I got things to do. So long, Armando. Be on time."

 

"You may as well go home, Ray," said Welsh, he was surprising kind and it was a little embarrassing "You can come back and clean up later when nobody's around. I'll hang around here late in case . . . "

 

"Okay, sure," Ray didn't move. "I guess I just never thought it'd really happen." Ray got up and took a couple of steps to the office door. Then he stopped. "Fraser".

 

"Damn," said Welsh.

 

"Who's Fraser?" Winslow didn't like anything happening he didn't know about. The plan was too well worked out.

 

"My partner." Ray said sadly.

 

Winslow whirled around to Welsh. "You gave him a partner? That goes completely against the plan. We agreed you wouldn't give him a partner, just in case. What gives here?"

 

Welsh sighed. "Fraser's a Mountie. I didn't give him to Vecchio, he just sort of arrived one day. They're not really partners."

 

"Yes we are, sir. In every way that counts. I got to tell Fraser I'm going away."

 

"Out of the question!" declared Winslow.

 

"He's right, Vecchio. Constable Fraser can't be told. You know that."

 

"He can keep a secret. I can't just leave while he's on vacation, without telling him."

 

"Sorry, it's not part of the plan." Winslow insisted.

 

Ray ran his fingers through his hair. "I can't even say good-bye? I promised I'd pick him up at the train station."

 

"Call him and tell him you may not be able to pick him up. That's the most I'll agree to," said Winslow.

 

Ray wanted to protest but held back. He knew Winslow was right. He'd had months of training, four years ago. Every six months he had a refresher. Just in case. He might have gone his whole career never having to be Armando Langoustini. But, if it ever happened, it had to be like this.

 

"You're losing your best officer, sir. You realize that." he told Welsh.

 

"You think you're my best officer?"

 

"Not me. Fraser." Ray allowed himself a deep sigh. "Okay, Winslow, I'm out of here. I'll go have Ma's cooking one last time. She's a great cook. I'd invite you back home with me, but you're a son-of-a-bitch." So saying, Ray went out of the office.

 

Welsh sat thinking. Ray had a point. (Not about Winslow being a son-of-a-bitch. Most assuredly he was, but that was his job.) Alone, Vecchio was a decent officer but no superstar. But for the last couple of years he'd been solving case and case and boosting the department's statistics considerably. All because of the Mountie.

 

Winslow sat watching him as he pondered. "Something wrong, Welsh?"

 

"I'm thinking about what Vecchio said. About losing the Mountie. Damn shame. He's good."

 

"How'd you get a Mountie anyway?"

 

Welsh told the story.

 

"Seems like a handy dude to have around all right. Shame to lose him. If I had any feelings left, I'd be sorry for you. Say, why not just keep him?"

 

"Nah, he's Vecchio's buddy. Without Vecchio there's no reason for him to come around."

 

Winslow gave it a little more thought. "One time we had some guys in from Scotland Yard. Gave them a special status. They were ours, on loan from their own government. Ever thought of that? A little paperwork and you've got yourself a Mountie. Your own man, all official."

 

"Form three-seven-four-nine. Foreign Officer Equivalence Request. I've thought about it. Wouldnít work. First thing Ė you need his own CO's approval. And she's got the hots for him. She'd never let him go."

 

Winslow smirked.

 

"Second thing. He works better for me unoffically."

 

"How so?"

 

"Fraser's a maverick. Does his own thing. On the outside he's all correct and tight-assed. But when he's after his man, he breaks any rule to bring him in. Afterwards he stands here and apologizes. I give him hell, but we both know it's just for show. He doesn't report to me. I don't have to discipline him. I donít have to be responsible for him. I just reap the rewards."

 

Winslow was impressed. "You sly bastard. Want to change hats? We can use sly bastards in the Bureau."

 

"No thanks. Behind this desk is where I belong."

 

Winslow rose to leave. He extended a hand and Welsh took it. He held it a beat longer than was necessary and looked Winslow in the eye.

 

"Take care of my boy, Winslow." Winslow nodded. Welsh walked him to the squadroom door then went back towards his office. He diverted and stood looking at Ray's empty desk, thinking.

 

To keep the Mountie, he had to have Vecchio. Then, an idea. He shook his head at the wickedness of it. He needed a Vecchio. Question was, why did it necessarily have to be the same Vecchio? He scratched the back of his neck and allowed himself just a moment's hesitation to decide if the plan were too underhanded to implement. Then he went back to his office, closed the door and placed some calls.

 

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The detective lieutenant invited Stanley to lunch. He asked him at nine in the morning, leaving Stanley the rest of the morning to fret about it. The axe. It had to be. He knew they had a file big enough to justify it. Well, no sense in working too hard this morning. Not like it mattered anymore. After lunch he'd be over at the unemployment office. He goofed off most mornings anyway, too hung over or just too depressed to work. That was in his file.

 

Stanley was even more convinced he was right when he saw how expensive a restaurant they went to and heard Lt. Conroy say, "Order whatever you want, Kowalski. On me."

 

Last meal. Great. May as well go whole hog.

 

Over shrimp cocktail, Lt. Conroy got right down to business. "Kowalski, you're a fuck-up."

 

"Yes sir," Stanley agreed. Not much point in denying it.

 

"You used to be my best man, but since your divorce you're a total fuck-up."

 

Asshole, did he have to rub it in like that? Okay, I suck. What else is new?

 

"Are you taking those pills the shrink gave you?"

 

"I stopped," Stanley said between bites of shrimp. "They dry me up."

 

Lt. Conroy tried to be sympathetic. He'd had a course recently on effective management techniques. "Yeah. I hear anti-depressants really dry out your mouth."

 

Stanley downed the last of his shrimp. "Not my mouth they were drying out. My dick."

 

Lt. Conroy cleared his throat. "Yes, well . . . Kowalski . . . " again he cleared his throat. "I'm having you re-assigned."

 

Stanley had begun chomping on a roll, and choked on it. Re-assigned? Not canned?

 

"Reassigned where, sir?"

 

"The twenty-seventh. The whole deal's kind of strange. You have to assume the identity of some other detective. Use his name, work with his partner. Everything."

 

This is interesting. Have to admit.

 

"So, like, this guy looks like me?" Poor bastard.

 

"Nothing like you. He's Italian, you're a Pollack. You're blond, he's dark."

 

"Great casting. Who's bright idea was this?"

 

"The guy's CO. He wants a stand-in while Vecchio is undercover and he doesn't really care who it is as long as itís a detective."

 

"Vecchio." Stanley tried the name out. "Vecchio.Glad to know you. My name's Vecchio. What's my first name?"

 

"Raymond. Most people call you Ray."

 

Stanley considered the co-incidence. "My middle name is Raymond. Go figure. So, when does this start?"

 

"Tomorrow"

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Welsh watched and listened as Ray talked to the Mountie one last time.

 

"You do understand that I'll be in touch," Ray was saying. He paused and listened. "Yeah, Benny, as a friend. You have a safe trip."

 

Welsh sniffed and wiped his eye. Then he snorted at his own sentiment. It was a rotten trick he was planning to play on the Mountie. There were plenty of ways he could explain Vecchio's absence. He liked Fraser. The son he wished he'd had. Maybe, deep down, that's why he was going to such trouble to keep him around.

 

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Fraser's head was bent low, close to Welsh's own, listening carefully.

 

"So to protect his identity, we have to pretend this new guy is Raymond Vecchio."

 

Welsh saw Fraser nod thoughtfully. It worked. Fraser had bought it. To protect Vecchio he'd keep on doing what he'd been doing. No way he'd do anything else. Welsh felt like a heel, but he had his Mountie.

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