Fraser wasn't sure what to make of the desk sergeant who greeted him when he arrived at the 27th district building. He called Fraser "Nanook of the North", seemingly a put-down, but there was nothing in his voice, face or manner that suggested insult. Rather, he was open and friendly.

Nor did Fraser know what to make of the man's question "Have you got a dog?" A few Americans he had met had teased him by asking him if he had a horse. Fraser decided to just take everything at face value until he had a reason not to, so he told the desk sergeant about Diefenbaker. It seemed to satisfy the man, who proceeded to talk about pigeons. Fraser waited for him to finish and came to the business that brought him here.

"Oh, yeah, that case. One of the detectives has it. Vecchio, I think."


The man pulled a sheaf of legal-sized papers from a drawer in his desk and flipped through it. "Here it is: request from the RCMP. Vecchio had it but it just got re-assigned to Detective Huey."

 

The desk sergeant leaned forward towards Fraser, as though to speak to him confidentially although a heavy wooden desk separated them and all around was the noise of police business. Nonetheless, Fraser leaned in closer too.

"You want to be nice to Huey. His partner just got killed a few weeks ago," the sergeant confided.

Fraser made a politely sympathetic comment and wondered whether the loss of a fellow officer had also affected the sergeant's mind. The desk sergeant indicated a corner where Fraser could leave his pack and bedroll, and then Fraser followed the man's pointing finger through a door that led to the detectives' squad room.

Detective Huey turned out to be a black man of medium build in a non-descript business suit. Even sitting down it was clear that he was very tall.

Fraser introduced himself to Detective Huey, who grasped Fraser's much smaller hand in his own large paw and gave it a shake that impressed Fraser as firm, but not overly so. Detective Huey waved at a visitor's chair and Fraser took it.

"I have to apologize, Constable Fraser. I got the case last week but I haven't looked at it yet. We've had some stuff happening here . . ."

"I understand. The desk sergeant mentioned that you've recently lost your partner. I'm very sorry to hear that."

"Thanks. So, this Mountie that got shot let me guess. He was YOUR partner, right?"

"He was my father," Fraser told him.


"Aw, Geez. I'm sorry. So you and your pop were both cops. You guys work together?"

"Actually, no. I've been on the Force thirteen years and we never once had a single detail together. Never even stationed to the same post."

"Well, Canada's a big place, they say."

"Yes, it is."

There was a silence that followed but it didn't seem uncomfortable to Fraser. He accepted that Huey would need time to ease into whatever he had in mind to do or say next. After a brief pause, the tall detective spoke again.

"Thing is, Vecchio had the case before me and I was going to ask him if he'd done any work on it. Now's as good a time as any I guess. Let's go talk to him."

The man rose and led the way through the warren of corridors that made up the 27th. As they walked, Huey asked, "What's your first name, anyway?"


"
Benton," Fraser replied, as he trailed after the American.

"
Benton," Huey repeated. "I like that. Unusual. Wish I had a name like that."

"I wish I could give it to you. It causes me nothing but trouble. You really don't want to go through life with a name like
Benton."

They came to a heavy steel door and Huey pushed it open. Fraser looked through it to a long corridor with holding cells on either side. Just before going through, Huey turned back towards Fraser and gave him a sad smile.

"Anything's better than going through life with a name like Jack. Everybody's Jack. Somebody calls my name in a crowded bar and ten guys at least turn around. I'm going to call you
Benton, okay?"

Fraser was affected by the man's warmth. Although he seldom made jokes of any kind, he ventured "And I'm NOT going to call you Jack.

Huey's mouth widened to larger smile, although there was a sadness in his eyes. "Call me Huey. You're all right,
Benton." He slapped the Mountie's chest playfully with the back of his large hand then waved for Fraser to follow him through the door to the holding cell area.

 



Huey dropped his voice to a whisper as they proceeded along the hallway. "Let me do the talking. Vecchio's undercover so I have to get him out of the cell without giving him away."

Huey stopped at the third holding cell on their right. Fraser saw that it was filled with half a dozen men, a few in jeans, tee shirts and leather jackets, one oddly dressed in a tight jump suit and heavy makeup, and two similar looking smarmy characters, both in expensive suits. The suits were talking to each other and the taller of the two
lifted his leg onto a chair, affording Fraser a brief view of the sole of his shoe.

It seemed odd to Fraser that a man wearing such elegant clothing would have a hole in his shoe. It was a fleeting thought and he dismissed it. It was none of his business. He had no jurisdiction here, except for whatever tasks may fall upon him in the liaison office, and he wouldn't even know what those were until he reported to Superintendent Moffatt the next morning.

"Can you read that? Does the label not say Armani?" said the man with both feet on the ground, "Of course it's original merchandise. A friend of mine just sort of found a truckload sitting on the side of the road."

 

There was a bit of an Italian lilt in the man's speech, not enough to be called an accent. The two men went on discussing some business deal they seemed to have going. Fraser stood quietly, watching and listening. He recalled the name both Huey and the desk sergeant had used, Vecchio. Perhaps this brash Italian was the detective undercover.

Huey beckoned to a guard standing in the corridor and said in a whisper, "Tony, get me Vecchio but make it look like he's in trouble, okay?"

The guard nodded and called into cell, "You, Armani. Somebody wants to talk to you."

Vecchio shot the guard a disgusted look and then glanced at Huey and Fraser. The man's good, Fraser decided. A casual observer wouldn't be able to tell he knew Huey or that he was sizing me up.

With a putout sigh, the Italian slouched his way out of the cell and into the corridor. Huey caught his arm and said, "Come with me, pal. We're going to talk." The two moved off together with Fraser once again trailing along behind.

As soon as they were back in the squad room, Huey let go of Vecchio's arm. The Italian detective was not pleased with the interruption, it seemed.

"What's so important that you had to bust in on me right at this particular moment? I was this close to a deal," he griped.

"You never gave me your notes on that RCMP case. Constable Fraser here came down all the way from
Canada. I wanted to show him where we're at with it," Huey said evenly, not reacting to the other man's tone.

"Oh yes, the dead Mountie thing. Well if he came all that way maybe he could wait a few hours. There's plenty of time for him to go get his boy-scout badge." Then Vecchio turned and addressed Fraser, "Sorry, Charlie, but I sort of have other fish to fry."

"Look, Ray, you ought to have some consideration. The victim was . . ."

"A fellow officer," Fraser interrupted Huey. He had no desire to placate this angry, unpleasant man, or to share anything personal with him. Just give the information to Detective Huey, he thought, and then I won't ever have to deal with you again.

Vecchio exchanged a look with Huey, and not so belligerently said "I hear you. Losing a colleague that's tough. Don't we know it? Come on, I'll get you the file. Only it pisses me off when you bust in on me just when I'm about to take down the biggest operator in the garment district for buying stolen merchandise."

Fraser had been beginning to think a little better of the ill mannered man until he heard this last sentence. "So, you were attempting to sell him a truckload of illegally obtained men's clothing?" he asked.

"That's right," Vecchio shot back, as he walked over to his own desk. "What's it to you?"

"It's none of my concern," Fraser said, mildly, "Only, isn't that entrapment?"

Vecchio lifted and examined several files on his desk one by one, then slapped the desktop and let out an oath in Italian. He went over to a filing cabinet near his desk, opened it, rifled among some papers, withdrew a file and slammed the drawer shut. He held the file out, waiting for someone to take it from his hand. Huey made no move
to take it.


To Fraser, Vecchio said, "Maybe you can be all nice and polite and follow the rules up in
Canada where the worst crime anybody commits is fishing over the limit. But down here we got real bad guys to catch and sometimes we got to cut corners to get our man."

"Hey, calm down.
Benton doesn't need to know about our problems."

"
Benton?" Vecchio repeated.

"Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," Fraser introduced himself and extended a hand towards Vecchio.

Vecchio put the file folder he was holding into Fraser's proffered hand. "Nice to know you. Jack, you think you could get me back to the cell so I can try to salvage what's left of my collar?"

Huey crooked a finger in the direction of a uniform that was standing nearby and asked him to take Detective Vecchio back to the cell.

Still holding the file folder in his hand, Fraser watched them go.

"Look, I hope Vecchio didn't offend you or anything," Huey said after the other detective was safely out of hearing range.

Fraser took a breath and let it out with a sigh. "I have to admit I'm glad you have the file," Fraser handed the folder over to Huey, thus making the statement now literally true. "Detective Vecchio . . .well . . . I hate to speak ill of someone I've just met and I'm sure he has his reasons for being annoyed . . . but . . ."

"Don't be too hard on Vecchio. He's had a rough time."

"It's very charitable of you to defend him. Especially since it was your partner that was lost, not his."

Huey sat down at his workstation and Fraser dropped into the visitor's chair on the other side of the desk. While scanning the documents inside, Huey continued talking to Fraser.

"Vecchio's got reason to be upset. Louis, that was my partner, he got blown up with a car bomb. Vecchio was the target. It was HIS car, but Louis went to get his jacket, opened the car door and POW. You see, Vecchio's got a history with one of our mob bosses. They grew up in the same neighbourhood. We've got evidence implicating Zuko to the murder but the brass won't let us run with it. So Vecchio's frustrated. Hell, we're all frustrated."

"He must be feeling very guilty that another man died in his place," Fraser allowed.

"You don't know the half of it. Vecchio yanked Zuko's chain on purpose. There was this birthday party and Zuko's sister was there. Vecchio figures if he hadn't made a move on her this never would have happened."

"I'm not sure I should be hearing this, Huey, if a lady's honour is involved. All I'm saying is: none of this gives him license to act unethically. Nor to be rude to a visiting officer."

"Well, I guess not, but you got to give the guy a break. He's got all kinds of reasons to think he was responsible for Louis getting killed. So he's sort of bummed. Not thinking straight, you know. Hell, it's been hard on all of us."

The other man's sympathy for his co-worker and his downplaying of his own grief impressed Fraser. "Yes, I imagine so. I wonder if Detective Vecchio is too distracted to notice his victim's shoes?"

Huey popped his head up from the papers at which he was looking. "Shoes?"

"His man in the cell. He had a hole in his shoe. I'm not familiar with your city, but I would think a man who is, as Detective Vecchio puts it, the biggest operator in the garment district, would be careful with his grooming and dress. I doubt he would go out in public with a hole in his shoe."

"Well, I'll be damned," Huey let out a low appreciative whistle. "We better go tell Vecchio. This could be a set up."

"I'll leave that to you. As far as I'm concerned, if an officer uses illicit tactics he deserves whatever happens to him."

 

Fraser leaned over the desk to try to make out some of the information on the papers that lay open before Huey. "Are you finding anything useful in there?"

"Um, I'll need a little while to go through this. Want to give me a number where I can find you tomorrow?"

The papers that Fraser could see, upside down to his point of view, all were on RCMP letterhead. Correspondence from Fraser's own detachment, no doubt. Nothing that looked like case notes or the report of any investigation that may have been done here in the States. Fraser didn't think it would take anybody more than a few minutes to look through it. Still, Detective Huey seemed to want to stall and Fraser saw no advantage in pushing the man. Perhaps Huey was simply embarrassed that nothing had been done on the case.

Fraser had been expecting the Americans to give his case very little attention but he hadn't expected that the reason for that neglect would be that they were absorbed in high drama of their own, complete with murder, mob intrigue and forbidden romance.

Fraser consulted his notebook and rattled off the main telephone number of the Consulate. "I don't know what my extension will be. Actually I don't even know what my duties will be. But you should be able to reach me through the switchboard."

Huey handed Fraser one of his own business cards. "And you feel free to give me a call any time."

Fraser thanked him kindly and was further impressed by the man's courtesy when he rose to escort him out of the station. Assuring him that he could find his own way, the Mountie headed out. It was fortunate, he decided, that his father's case had ended up with Detective Huey. Working with Detective Vecchio would have been a thoroughly unpleasant experience.



Vecchio stopped beside Huey's desk while Huey sat listlessly flipping through a number of files wondering which, if any, to tackle that afternoon. He could always just go home pleading sickness and Lieutenant Welsh wouldn't mind, but rattling around his house all alone wasn't going to be any cheerier than hanging around the squad room. At least here it was noisy. Huey liked noise these days and hated quiet.

"I've got your man," Vecchio said, distracting Huey's attention. "Frankie Drake. Good chance he's the shooter but he'd have to be hired by somebody."

"Vecchio, what the hell are you talking about?" the distraction should have been welcome but Huey wasn't in the mood for Vecchio right now.

"The Mountie case. I looked into that list of names. I still had a photocopy in my desk drawer. I checked with the American Dental Association and one of those dentists isn't current with his dues. Seems he's been dead for twelve years. So I called up the other dentists and one of them had a picture of the guy pretending to be Dr. Lawrence Medley. Soon as I saw the picture I says to myself: I know this character. Hit man, one of the best." Vecchio dropped a sheaf of computer printouts on Huey's desk, complete with photo.

"How come you're still working the case? It's my case now."

Vecchio grimaced. "I figured I owed Dudley Do Right a favour. That garment guy I was trying to set up - I did some digging after you told me about the shoe. Turns out he was Internal Affairs trying to entrap me into entrapping him. What a racket. Anyway, if you see the redcoat tell him I said . . . hey Lieutenant!"

Lieutenant Welsh was passing by the desk as Ray was saying this. He stopped when he heard Vecchio's call.

"Yeah, Vecchio."

"Zuko. Are you going to let us haul him in today?"

"Zuko. You want to talk about Zuko," Welsh waggled two fingers to summon the two detectives closer. "You two asked me that yesterday and I said no. Now, it may amaze you to hear that no new evidence has come to light in the last twenty-four hours so the answer is still no. And it is going to be no tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that unless I see something more definite to tie Zuko directly to the bombing."

"Explosives buried in his yard. That's not definite enough?" Vecchio demanded.

"It's too definite. You of all people should know that, Vecchio. You know Zuko's not that stupid. Look, I'd like to see Zuko go down but not if it means letting Louis' real killer go free. Maybe this is something useful here, gentlemen?" Welsh indicated the printouts Ray had just given Huey.

"Um, no sir. This is a lead in the Mountie case," Huey said. "One of their constables came down all the way from Canada so we figured we'd better put a little time into it."

Welsh wasn't interested in the Mountie case. "What did you learn when you canvassed Zuko's neighbours?"

Vecchio and Huey both lowered their heads, avoiding their boss' gaze.

"Well? Did the Captain herself not suggest you two go out and do that?"

"Didn't make sense to do it, sir. One, Zuko was at his own birthday party all that night we saw him there ourselves and two, everybody on that street is beholding to him. Nobody's going to tell us anything Zuko doesn't want us to hear. That's my neighbourhood, Lieutenant. I know how things work there," Vecchio explained.

Welsh rubbed his forehead with the palm of his meaty hand. "I can't take Zuko in on what we have. I need more. If you want me to hand the case off to another district, maybe somebody more objective . . ."

"No!" the two detectives shouted in unison, causing heads to turn from all around the squad room.

"Good. Maybe get your Mountie to help out. They always get their man, don't they?" Welsh said and moved off.

"You know, that's not half bad an idea," Vecchio said, a little thoughtfully. "
Dudley's a looker. Take him and that fancy uniform of his when you go see Drake's ex-wife."

"I'm going to see Drake's ex?" Huey repeated.

"She's the best lead you have. We don't have an up-to-date address for Drake. She'll help you out. He slammed her arm in a car door. Repeatedly. She'll help you, all right."

"Well, thanks Ray. You want to come along on this one? Seems you ought to. You took it this far."

"Nah. You and Mister Fancy Pants have your fun." With that, Vecchio left.

Huey bent down to study the folder in front of him.



Huey got only Fraser's voicemail when he called the Mountie that afternoon. About
4:30 he called again and zeroed out to a receptionist who told him Constable Fraser was on guard duty and wouldn't be answering calls at all that day. He asked when the Constable would be finished his shift and, to his surprise, the woman obligingly told him
Constable Fraser would be off duty at
5:00 pm. Putting down the receiver Huey mused that whatever guard duty was, it was pretty innocent of the Canadians to answer him straight out when it would be over.

When he drove up in front of the Consulate a few minutes before five, Huey saw why it was no security breach to tell him exactly what
Benton's hours were. There was the poor Mountie standing motionless in front of the door like one of those guys outside the Queen's palace in England. Huey sat is his car and waited while a knot of jeering boys
mocked the Mountie and a couple of scantily dressed teenaged girls primped in front of him. Poor bastard. Is this what cops had to do in
Canada? No wonder they needed American help to catch their murderer.

Bells from a church up the street from the Consulate rang five times and at the very last chime, Fraser came to life. He rocked briefly back and forth on his feet (Huey supposed he was trying to get some circulation back) and wiped a couple of sticking spitballs from his left cheek. Then the Mountie noticed Huey sitting there in his car and came over.

"You have something," the Canadian said, without preamble.

"Yeah. A lead. Get in."

"Maybe I should go change first. We don't usually wear the red serge in the street."

"You look fine. Climb aboard and I'll fill you in while we drive."

Fraser took just another moment to run the front of his boots against the backs of his pant legs to wipe away the traces of ice cream some passing school children had dropped on him. As he opened the door on the passenger side of Louis' car he observed, "I really shouldn't come with you. Officially I'm not supposed to be working the case."

 

Howeverhe was already in the car and his hat was on the dashboard in front of him by the time the sentence was finished. The wide Stetson wouldn't stay on its perch however and slid to the car's floor. With a little grimace of embarrassment, Fraser picked up his hat and kept it on his lap.

Huey drove off.



The sun was only just beginning to set by the time they drove up in front of the decrepit bungalow that was the home of Mrs. Drake. Fraser and Huey got out of the car and started up the front path.

Fraser paused and turned so that only his profile was facing the house. Then he confused Huey by squatting on the ground.

"Follow my lead," he said softly, looking up at Huey. Then the Mountie touched his forefinger to a bit of dirt on the front walk, brought the finger to his lips and tasted the substance he had picked up.

"Eat stuff from the ground. I don't think so, man. Is that a Canadian thing?" sniffed Huey, amused.

"Turn so that your face is partially away from the house and talk to me seriously, as though we were discussing something I found," Fraser instructed.

The Mountie seemed pretty sure of himself so Huey shifted slightly so that he was turned about 45 degrees away from the house. "Why am I turning away?"

"To make it difficult for her to read your lips, in case she just happens to know how."

"Her?"

"The woman at the window. She's been watching since we drove up. That may be Mrs. Drake. If so, I want to get her off balance, make her think we found something but of course she won't even begin to be able to guess what it is we found on the ground."

Huey knew better than to look at that moment. Instead he kept his eyes on Fraser, saying "Messing with her mind from a distance. You're one crafty bastard, Benton."

"I'm no Dudley Do-Right if that's what you mean," Fraser agreed. "Well, that's enough." He rose to a standing position and then motioned Huey to lead the way to the front door.

Once inside, they played "bad cop/good cop" together so well that it felt to Huey as though they had been working together for years.


 

As they drove off from the house in the direction of the address given to them by Mrs. Drake, Fraser commented that in fact it had been too easy, which found he worrisome. Huey had to agree. They came very close to turning around but neither man was comfortable with just giving up the idea.

Huey started up a train of thought that Fraser found interesting while they were stopped at a red light. "Okay, suppose we figure this is probably a set up but we still want to go, just in case there's something we can learn."

"That would be a fair supposition," Fraser allowed.

"We go in with our eyes open, we're extra careful, we're crafty bastards," Huey turned to smile at the Mountie as he said this.

"Agreed, but is that sufficient?" Fraser asked, and the comment reminded him of how much he had enjoying being complimented earlier in the evening. He didn't experience that often.

"How about I call for back-up? There's still risk but we . . . what's the word . . ."

"Mitigate," Fraser supplied. "We mitigate the risk."

"Yeah. Are you game,
Benton?"

"Huey, let's do it."

When the light changed, Huey gunned the car causing a dramatic squeal of the tires. For the first time since Louis died, he was excited about doing something.



Fraser wasn't entirely sanguine about Huey's kicking the apartment door open, but since the Mountie had no jurisdiction he decided that therefore he had no responsibility. Huey went in first, pistol at the ready, and swept through the rooms one by one to find them all deserted. Fraser followed after, his right hand feeling empty without the familiar touch of his own gun. I might as well be naked, he was thinking as he made his way through a short, dark corridor towards the living room where Huey had opened a window to signal to the patrol car
outside where he was. Fraser was about to suggest to Huey to put on a light when his night-vision kicked in and he made out the trip wire just behind Huey. Huey had stepped right across it on his way toward the window.

"You know, Benton . . ." Huey started saying. He turned away from the window and took a step back towards the centre of the room, bringing his right shoe close to the wire. Without thinking about it, Fraser lunged at him, caught the larger man off balance and spun him around 180 degrees, then shoved him through the window. But Huey's foot still tripped the wire leaving Fraser to take the brunt of the explosion while the American careened out the window, flipped over, bounced off a canopy and landed unhurt on a fully laden vegetable stand.



The nurses were under orders to give Fraser pain medication every four hours, but the dosage he was getting was effective for about 30 minutes less than that time. The Mountie didn't want to be a bother to the hospital staff and had, in addition, some confused sense of valour that made him think he should be stoic in front of the Americans. So it was that he experienced, along with his physical pain, clarity of mind for the half an hour before the appointed times for his IV to be topped up with liquid relief.

It was during one such lucid interval that Huey arrived bearing this evening's supply of gifts: a get-well card a foot tall, the swimsuit edition of a popular men's magazine, and a bakery box filled with a half dozen rum balls. He had been there every evening as soon as he got off duty, always with an armload of odd objects, right after checking on Diefenbaker. With his human unable to care for him, the unfortunate wolf had been moved by Constable Brighton from quarantine directly to a boarding kennel run by a veterinary clinic not far from the Consulate. Huey had toyed with the idea of babysitting Benton's animal himself then rejected it. Diefenbaker, although bored and annoyed, was safe and well cared for where he was for the time being.

 

Huey did make a point of stopping off to check on Diefenbaker before visiting Fraser in the hospital. It didn't make much difference to the wolf but it made Huey feel good to be able to report to the Canadian every night that he had seen his wolf and he was fine.

Fraser tilted his head to the side to indicate that Huey's latest offerings should be stowed on his bedside table. The motion sent a jolt of pain through his neck and he let out a deep groan, dispelling any air of stoicism he may have been trying to convey.

Huey sat down on a chair beside the bed, wearing an expression almost as pained as the Mountie's.

"I messed up," he said contritely.

"Don't. It was my own fault. I'm not so crafty after all," Fraser automatically edited out the word bastard from his own speech, for all that he had enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that came from hearing Huey apply it to him.

Huey shuffled his large feet against the hospital linoleum. "You better not be my partner anymore, Benton. I'm bad luck."

Even with the distraction of his own pain, Fraser felt the man's very real distress. It was touching. Fraser's mind focused then on a single word of Huey's: partner. He'd never had a partner before, unless you counted Diefenbaker and he wasn't officially a member of the Force. Huey's use of the word touched Fraser and he was casting about in his mind for something tender but not too embarrassing to say to his new friend when a nurse came into the room.

The nurse automatically reached for the curtain around Fraser's bed so that she could change the patient's catheter bag and top up his medication out of the view of the visitor. Fraser said to her "No, leave it. I don't mind if my partner sees."

Huey's eyes moistened slightly and Fraser saw the tautness in his face relax a little. As though somehow bestowing a reward for saying just the right kind word at the right time, the narcotic hit Fraser's brain.

But Huey wasn't quite finished dumping on himself. "I'm just cursed, man. First Louis gets blown up, now you."

"Louis and Huey. I have to change my name to Dewey," Fraser said, slowly losing his bearings.

"Say what?"

"Ducks. You and your partner are ducks. Huey, Louis, now you have to have Dewey. I'm going to be a duck. I'm going to be Dewey."

Huey had to chuckle with amusement. "You're pretty dewey already. Man, you're feeling no pain."

"I'm feeling no pain," Fraser agreed dreamily, "I'm going to be a duck."

"You can't. You don't have jurisdiction," Huey teased him.

"I'm going to be an honourary duck," Fraser insisted. By then he had reached the end of his ability to formulate a sentence and drifted off to sleep.

Huey had no particular place to go at this hour. He was too tired to work on a case and didn't want to face going home to his too-empty, too-quiet house. Anyway, it felt somehow appropriate to sit at the Mountie's bedside. He picked up the magazine he had brought and flipped through it, to the background music of Fraser's gentle snores
and occasional mutterings.

This tranquil scene was interrupted by Detective Vecchio sauntering into Fraser's room, clomping loudly. "Hey, what's happening here!" he called out to no one in particular as he came in.

"Shhh. You'll wake him."

Vecchio had a Tupperware container in one hand and a bunch of carnations in the other. Huey found Vecchio's presence suspicious. After tracking down Drake, the Italian hadn't evinced any further interest in the Mountie or his doings.

"Go ask the nurses for a jar for those. There's never enough vases so the staff bring jam jars from home and keep them at the nurses' station," Huey said, not bothering to hide his annoyance.

Vecchio paused, as though debating whether or not to argue, then, with a shrug, put the plastic container on Fraser's table beside the pastries and went out with his flowers.

Huey removed the lid from the Tupperware container and the smell of oregano and tomato sauce went wafting through the room.

"My mom doesn't think hospital food is fit for human consumption," Vecchio said, coming back into the room with his flowers in a jar half-filled with water. He set the flowers on the windowsill, in the company of a half dozen other such makeshift arrangements all flanking one elegant floral display sent by the Canadian Consulate.

The flowers being safely set in place, Vecchio scanned the ward for a spare chair for himself but there was none to be had. He shrugged and dropped down onto the end of the Mountie's bed. The bounce of the mattress roused Fraser just enough for him to acknowledge someone in the room but not enough to bring him out of lalaland.

"Any particular reason you're here, Ray?" Huey wanted to know.

"What, can't a fellow visit a friend in the hospital?"

"You and Benton aren't exactly friends. What gives?"

Vecchio didn't answer directly but he looked at his watch and then turned to the door between the ward and the corridor.

"You're waiting for somebody?"

"Shhh. You'll wake him," Vecchio jabbed a thumb in the direction of Fraser in his bed and grinned.

"You're not funny, Ray."

"Me? I'm always funny. Hey, what are these?" Vecchio opened the bakery box, helped himself to a rum ball and bit into it.

"Those are for
Benton."

Ray leaned over the sleeping man. "Mind if I take one of these? I thought not." And he continued to munch.

"So have you told him the latest about his case?" Vecchio asked, licking bits of chocolate sprinkles from his fingers.

Huey looked over to the sleeping Fraser. He looks like a little kid, he thought. Everybody looks so innocent when they're asleep, even me I guess. "Naw, he's too out of it. But, damn, we're close. Elaine's checking out the calls from the phone booth outside that apartment and outside Drake's favourite bars. That apartment we went to didn't have
a phone line. You got anything new on Zuko?"

"I don't have squat," Vecchio admitted. Then he fell silent and checked his watch again. Huey watched Vecchio tap his fingers impatiently for a few more minutes then Vecchio reached for another rum ball. Huey slapped at his hand.

"Leave some for
Benton."

"Screw," muttered Vecchio, but he drew his hand back, and looked at his watch yet again.

"It's thirty fucking seconds later than the last time you looked at that watch. Who are we waiting for?"

"None of your business."

"I'm sitting right here and I'll see who it is, so it'll be my business soon."

"I said screw."

Huey sighed. "Look, Ray. Ever since Louis died you've been going out of your way to be a son-of-a-bitch. I'm the one that should be all bummed, Louis was my partner."

That finally got a reaction from Italian. "It should have been me, Jack," he cried out, "That bomb was meant for me. I shouldn't even be here now."

They heard a woman's voice interrupt, saying, "I'm glad you ARE here, Ray."

The woman standing in the doorway leading to the corridor was thin of body and features, but more gaunt than attractively slim. Her expression was tight and serious. "I'm sorry about that other detective, but I'm just glad you're alive."

"I'll be damned," Huey said, under his breath. But his mother had trained him well. No matter how much he disapproved of the latest visitor, she was female and that required him to rise and give up his chair for her.

"Uh, Irene, this is Detective Huey. Louis' partner," Ray introduced.

"You didn't say there was actually a sick person here, Ray. When you said to meet you in a hospital room, I thought you meant an empty room." Irene said to Vecchio, while looking guiltily at the unconscious Fraser.

"He's not really sick. More like, blown up," Ray offered.

"You set this up! What the hell! Ray, you and your girlfriend are using
Benton's room for a rendez-vous. That's low, Ray. That's really low."

"Keep your shirt on. Frank's goons follow her around everywhere she goes in public and I can't get near the house. They can follow Irene to the hospital but nobody can get in this room unless we see them. There's no safe place for us to talk, Jack. The Mountie's out of it, he won't mind. He'd probably want to help out if we asked him. Do-gooder type."

Huey gritted his teeth and tried to control his voice, keeping it low so as not to disturb Fraser. "You didn't ask. God, Ray."

"Jack, couldn't you excuse us two for a moment. We just want to talk. Honestly. Just talk. Decide about some things."

Huey had been leaning against the wall on a space just beside the window. From that place he regarded the woman and his fellow detective. "I'm here on legitimate grounds - visiting my partner. I'm not going anywhere."

"Ray, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I'd better go," Irene said.

Huey forced his immediate outrage aside and saw that in fact
Benton wasn't being harmed or even disadvantaged, and Ray and Irene did have it tough. Huey had worked with Vecchio enough to know this was out of character for the Italian. Brash, he certainly was, and noisy and a little uncouth. But Ray was a nice guy, basically, "You two may as well stay a little while, I guess. Benton's out like a light."

"Who is he?" Irene wanted to know, "It doesn't feel right just staying in his room and I don't even know the man."

"You tell her, Ray. I'm going to go get a sandwich," Huey quickly decided his previous refusal to leave was a sufficient gesture of disapproval. He didn't have the actual authority to throw the other two out, nor did he have any desire to listen to whatever they had to say. It was all just too depressing. He pulled his long body away from the wall where he had been leaning and strode out of the room.

Half an hour later Huey had forced his cup of coffee and chicken salad sandwich to last longer than was reasonable for the volume of food and drink. He was just coming down the corridor back to Fraser's room when Fraser came to enough of a level of awareness to detect people in close proximity. Hearing a woman's voice and a man's voice that
wasn't Huey's, he turned in the direction of the conversation even before easing his eyes open just a slit against the harsh florescent lights. The man's face was one that he knew.

"Hel-lo, Dee-tec-tive Vecc-hi-o," he sing-songed.

Vecchio hadn't realized the Mountie was awakening.

"Hey! How you doing?" he tossed off.

"I'm an honourary duck."

"Oh good. I was wondering. Irene, meet Constable Benton Fraser. Constable Fraser meet Irene."

Fraser opened his eyes a little more. The woman's name somehow registered through his drugged haze. "Hello. . . Irene. Are you . . . a duck, too?"

"You know, Jack. He's more fun when he's loopy," Ray said to Huey who was just at that moment coming in.

"Are you two through?" Huey demanded.

"Yeah, I guess." Vecchio looked to Irene. "Maybe you better not stay out too long."

"I guess you're right," The woman bent over to retrieve her purse, which she had slipped under the chair upon sitting down. Her face came close to Fraser's as she did this and the drowsy man felt inclined to say something to her, since she was so very close to him.

"If I walk like a duck and I talk like a duck . . ." Fraser started a disoriented recitation. Then he sank back into drugged oblivion.

Irene hesitated just as she was walking past Ray, paused and gave him a kiss before leaving. Huey watched the two of them and felt disgusted.



The next evening Huey arrived at the hospital with a crossword puzzle book, a bag of red liquorice and some aftershave. Fraser, his lucid intervals now increased to more than two hours, commented as Huey walked in.

"I knew it. Three things. You always bring me three gifts when you come. I'm expecting gold, frankincense and myrrh tomorrow."

"You're a nice guy, Benton, but you're not that nice."

Huey settled in.

Fraser drew a breath before asking a question. "Speaking of gifts, there was a container of linguine by my bed when I woke up this morning. You didn't bring me that last night."

"Is that all you remember about last night?"

"I think there were other people here besides you. I may have dreamed it, but somebody had to have brought the linguine."

"Vecchio was here. You were out of it."

"Apparently. It was nice of him to bring me some food, I guess, but I didn't dare eat it not knowing where it came from. There was a woman, too, wasn't there?"

Huey related the previous evening's events. Fraser's reaction surprised him.

"That shows a want of consideration, Huey. I'm not sure I'd sanction somebody taking advantage of somebody else like that."

Huey was a little surprised at himself for defending Ray, given the revulsion he had felt the night before but Fraser's reaction took him aback. He repeated his reasoning of the night before, that for all Ray's rudeness he really hadn't done Fraser any harm.

Fraser nodded agreement. "I don't know what it is about Detective Vecchio. Somehow every time I have anything to do with him, it sets my teeth on edge."

"He is helping with your case, Benton."

"That's nothing to commend him for. If he had been doing his job properly he would have looked into it long before it ever came to you. "


"We had another case on our minds," Huey reminded his friend.

Fraser was immediately contrite. "That was insensitive of me. Strange. It really isn't like me to be so critical."

"And it's not like him to be that much of an asshole. I guess you two just bring out the worst in each other."



Elaine brought Huey the results of her research. The telephone booth outside Drake's most frequently used watering-hole had no less than seventeen calls placed from it to a number in the Canadian north. Elaine not only traced the number but also called it herself on what she hoped was a plausible pretext.

She stood to the side of Huey's desk and watched the detective read the notes she had just handed him. He looked up at her, astonished. "Holy shit!"

"My sentiments exactly."

"I have to take this right to the Chief. This is big," Huey told her. He took up the file and headed off to Welsh's office.

Welsh snapped at his detective at first, upon hearing that it was the Mountie case and not the Gardino case that Huey had to talk about. But when he, too, read the results of Elaine's work, all wind was taken from his sails. "Jesus," was all he said.

"My sentiments exactly, sir," Huey echoed Elaine's comment.

Welsh leaned back in his chair. Hard-bitten as he was, with no shortage of times around the barn under his belt, he was at a loss how to approach this one. "It's a foreign government. I never dealt with anything like this."

Welsh thought about it while Huey just sat there, his elbows resting in his lap and his face leaning against steepled fingertips.

Welsh started musing aloud. "Thing is, we don't know if this is one dude with a grudge or something ordered from higher up. It would take big bucks and connections to hire Drake. If this was ordered by the RCMP brass, then nobody up there would thank us for bringing it to anybody's attention."

"Constable Fraser would thank us," Huey pointed out.


"Constable Fraser has nothing to do with the case officially. Which is just as well for him. If his own people ordered his own father killed, how long would he last if he broke this case?"

"You think they'd do him too?" said Huey.

"Don't know. Who knows how Canadians think. He wouldn't be popular, that's for sure. He's lucky as hell he's not officially on the case."

"So, who would we tell?" Huey insisted.

"Somebody nobody will miss. Did Fraser ever say what his official reason for being in
Chicago actually was?"

"Assistant to the liaison officer over at the Consulate. Except the poor sucker spends most of his time standing around getting his picture taken by tourists."

"Serves him right for having such a baby face. Never mind that, officially he's with the liaison office. That's good. That gives me an idea," Welsh said. "You never met the liaison officer, Moffatt, did you?"

"No sir. No reason I would have to meet him."

"He's an idiot. Nobody would miss him. Now that I think of it, isn't the official liaison officer just the person we should tell about a thorny little problem like this?" Welsh was beginning to look almost happy.

"As long as it doesn't put
Benton in any trouble," Huey said.

"
Benton?"

"Constable Fraser. We've sort of become friends."

"He's a decent guy?"

"One of the best, sir."

"Good, well your friend's ass is covered. He's lying snug in the hospital. When this hits the fan none of it will land anywhere near him. Jack, blowing the bastard up is the best thing you could have done for him."



"He was my father's best friend on the Force. They were at the Academy together." Seeing the evidence that Huey brought to the hospital was one thing, but believing it was another. Fraser was having trouble grasping the story Huey was telling him.


Fraser had made an excellent recovery and was within days of being released. He was no longer receiving pain medication any stronger than over-the-counter preparations, but the story he was hearing from Huey made his head swim as though he were under narcotics all over again.


Flooded hunting grounds. A whole detachment of officers working to cover it up. No, it was beyond belief, but here was Huey with the whole thing documented.

"Your dad wanted to blow the whistle, that's why they ordered a hit on him."

"His own people," Fraser said, stunned, "My own people."

"It wasn't just your Mounties. I mean, not that that makes it any better, but the police weren't alone on this. It's the developers that set up the whole deal and put out the money."

"His best friend! Like another father to me! Son of a bitch!" Fraser hadn't been able to cry since first hearing of his father's death. He'd remained dry-eyed while he identifying his father's body, heard his eulogy, gone through his personal effects and closed up his cabin. Now the tears came. "Son of a bitch!" he cried out again.

Huey touched his friend's shoulder. "Sorry, man." He took the file folder out of Fraser's lap and slid it under his own arm. "You want me to go?"

Fraser shook his head, wordlessly.

Huey dropped into his usual visitor's chair. He knew, from his own experience with grief, just what it was
Benton wanted now. No words, no kind of intrusion, just the quiet presence of a well-wishing friend. I can be here and listen, Huey thought. That's what I needed when Lorraine died and that's what I needed when Louis died.

Lorraine. Was it really more than ten years? Huey sat, thinking back on his own life while Benton went on weeping. It was eleven years since he bought the house he remembered because the mortgage statement just came last week and he had checked the amortization schedule. Not even a year after they bought the house, Lorraine's
leukemia was diagnosed. He'd mentioned to
Benton once over a dinner that he was a widower and the Mountie hadn't questioned him about the details. Benton's smart that way. I'm going to tell him all about Lorraine when he gets out, Huey decided.



There could be many reasons why Constable Brighton dropped all hostility towards the new Deputy Liaison Officer upon hearing he was hospitalized. It may have been simple human decency, or perhaps she figured being blown up was sufficient punishment for usurping the job she had wanted. Certainly her colleague's predicament presented several logistical problems, which gave her a chance to exercise her best organizational talents. She had to persuade the management at the hotel where Fraser had been staying that she had good authority to come in and remove his personal effects, after having settled his bill. She had to ascertain the whereabouts of Diefenbaker and ensure he was smoothly transferred from quarantine to a kennel. Fraser's things had to be sorted through and items he would need in the hospital separated from things to remain stored at the Consulate. A place for him to stay upon release from the hospital had to be chosen and secured. After considering and rejecting many options (including Huey's offer to take the man in himself) she decided that Fraser should simply stay in one of the Consulate's spare guest rooms until he had a chance to choose a place to live for himself.

Normally Superintendent Moffatt would have had these plans presented to him as a fait accompli. All he would do was sign whatever documents Constable Brighton told him to sign. But Moffatt was suddenly called back to Ottawa, for reasons not made clear to her. With neither chief liaison officer nor his deputy available, Brighton was now technically in charge of the department which, in fact, she ran anyway. That speeded up operations noticeably.

Huey was helpful in gaining the cooperation of the locals
Brighton had to deal with. Brighton opined at one point that in all her years at the liaison office, this was the first time she'd actually worked together with a Chicago cop on a specific project.

Things were going quite well for
Brighton until, a few days before Fraser's planned return, she received a certain communication from Ottawa informing her that Superintendent Moffatt was being transferred to Baffin Island and his new deputy, Constable Fraser, would assume the vacated post of Chief Liaison Officer. And she herself, in recognition of her many years of fine service, would be permitted to serve as Constable Fraser's deputy.

Fraser, being the adventurous fellow that he was and therefore having been not infrequently confined to hospital, was not a stranger to the protocol required when leaving hospital and returning to duty. He knew he was supposed to report his planned return date to his commanding officer and receive further instructions. But Superintendent Moffatt never returned Fraser's phone calls. It was Huey that told his Mountie friend that Moffatt was gone. Finally a short message came from
Brighton instructing Fraser to report to her at 9:00 am on his first day back.



Since the two of them were of equal rank, Fraser didn't have to stand at attention in front of
Brighton's desk but since he was, officially, reporting for duty it seemed to him appropriate to assume the stance one was supposed to assume when reporting for duty, even if the person being reported to was not his superior.

Brighton regarded him from behind her desk. God, what a fine looking man! Why was he unattached? His personnel record had no one in it for her to notify of his injuries. Maybe gay, the pretty ones usually are. Well, it was too bad she was going to be his direct subordinate. He seemed like just the tight-assed type to refuse to fraternize with the
troops. Ever practical, she wrote him off as a possible love interest, at least for the immediate future.

"Read this," she handed him the letter detailing both his orders and hers and waited while he stood there and read it and enjoyed the sight of disbelief spreading all over his handsome face.

"I . . . I . . . " Fraser stammered.

"You've got the big office now, Fraser. Want me to come in and help you set up your desk?" She smiled at him and they both recalled how she had helped him "organize" his office that first day of his arrival.

"Um, no, thank you kindly." Fraser was only taken aback for a moment before he got his bearings. "I'm sorry you were passed over again."

Brighton shrugged. "I have the job I wanted. I don't want yours." She stood up from her seat behind her own desk and came to attention.


"What shall I do first, sir?"

Recalling the woman's former plight of having to "show her legs" along with the other demeaning implications of that euphemism, he barked, "Constable, get into a uniform. Any standard uniform of your choice."

She saluted him and fairly sped out of the room. Fraser had no doubt she would return in trousers.

Fraser made his way to Moffatt's old office and stood in the middle of the room, taking in the surroundings and trying to absorb the fact that they were his own. The irony was, he had very little desire to remain in
Chicago and now that his father's murder was solved. He had been hoping to ask whoever his new commanding officer was for a
transfer out. This was all going to take some serious thinking through. Did he even want to go back north, knowing what he now knew about Gerrard and his father's other colleagues?



It was a little after four in the afternoon. Fraser hung up his phone, paused, drummed his fingers on his desk briefly, then rose and walked over to Brighton's office. He found her tapping away busily at her keyboard.

She looked up as he came in, registered who it was and stood up to attention. "If you want me, you can buzz me to come see you. You do realize that," she said.

Fraser smiled shyly. "Actually, I didn't think of it. It's only been two days. I don't really think of myself as anybody's boss. Constable Brighton, I wonder if I could ask you to do something for me?"

"Yes sir."

He cleared his throat. "You don't have to call me 'sir'. We're both the same rank."

"I know that. You wanted to ask me something?"

"Oh yes, well . . . I've just been invited to dinner at short notice and I'm not going to have time to make a present. I was wondering . . ." he paused, embarrassed.

Here it comes,
Brighton thought, and I thought he was different from the others. He's going to ask me to go shop for him. I wouldn't have thought it.

"I wonder if maybe . . . do we keep a supply of spare gifts here at the Consulate? I thought if so maybe I could pick something out. I'll pay for it of course."

Brighton was pleased to be proven wrong. "Come with me, sir. We've got a whole closet full of Canadian-made bric-a-brac." She motioned for him to follow her and they went together into the corridor. "Did you say make a present? You make your own?"

Fraser explained as they walked down the corridor. "It's not as eccentric as it sounds. There aren't many stores in the bush and even when there are stores the variety of merchandise is so limited that whatever you buy the recipient probably knows where you got it and how much it costs. And, to make it worse, if he had wanted one of whatever it was, he would have already bought it for himself."

They stopped at a storage closet. "Is this for anyone I know?"

"It's for Detective Huey. I'd love to make him a dream-catcher, but perhaps that's too exotic."

"Are you kidding? We've got a dozen of those in here." She opened the closet to reveal shelves full of gewgaws, bottles of maple syrup, boxes of maple candy, Inuit carvings and ookpiks of various sizes.

Fraser was pleased to find a dream-catcher very much like one he might design himself. "What's our cost on this one?"

"If it's for Detective Huey, don't worry about it. You've got a budget line for gifts to foreign officers who help us with cases. Give him something much nicer, Constable Fraser, he deserves it."

"No, this is exactly what I wanted." Together they headed back to the offices of the liaison staff. "I've been meaning to ask you something else. Seems like I'm always asking you what my duties are. From what I've been able to figure out, I don't do very much officially."

She steered him into his own office and shut the door behind them.


"Remember I told you that I didn't want your job. I wasn't just being polite. Every Consulate has a Chief Liaison Officer. It's a dead end post to get rid of people nobody wants around. Didn't you think it was strange they replaced a Superintendent with a Constable? Moffatt got the job because he was a moron and it was a good place to bury
him. You've got it because everywhere you go you'll be a reminder of what happened to your father. You were lucky enough to be in the hospital when the scandal over the power dam broke, or you'd be the one in
Baffin Island now."

"All things considered, I'd be more comfortable at
Baffin Island. I've been thinking of putting in for a transfer home."

"Don't hold your breath. Oh, I'm sorry. Don't hold your breath, sir. Look at it this way. Nobody expects anything of you, so you can spend your time doing basically whatever you want."

Brighton wasn't at all surprised to see how much this displeased Fraser. From the first day she had been able to see he was accustomed to being in action. "You might want to spend some time helping Detective Huey with his case," she offered.

"That's a purely American matter. We've no Canadian involvement unless the Chicago PD specifically asks for our help. Thanks for helping me with this," Fraser waggled the dream catcher in her direction. "You may as well go home, Constable Brighton. If we don't do anything here of any value, you might as well put off whatever you're working on until tomorrow."

"You're the one that doesn't do anything of value, I'm afraid, sir. Whatever actual liaison work there is goes to the deputy. That post hadn't been filled before you came and I was taking care of it. I thought I'd get the job then you came. Now I've got the title, which is what I deserved in the first place. My work really is work. I'll explain what I do if you like. Technically you're my superior so you may as well know."

She saw the dejected look come over Fraser's face and wondered if there was anything she could say to make him feel just a little better. "You know, even down here we heard about your father. He was a great man," she ventured.

"Yes, he was," Fraser agreed simply.

She stood waiting. Fraser realized that she was waiting to be dismissed. He waved an impatient hand in her direction and said, "Go ahead. Good night. Oh wait, I'm supposed to be your commanding officer so, dismissed."

Again she turned and headed out of the room and again she paused. "Where does Detective Huey live, by the way? In town? Do you know how to get there?"

"Someplace called
Schaumburg. I was going to look up directions on the CTA website."

"Take one of our cars. Log the time under 'official visits'. Sir." And then she really did leave.



Fraser took the smallest of the consular cars, a four door sedan, rather than one of the limousines. As he drove he considered his new situation. He'd lived through be being abandoned, being snubbed, being welcomed, on a couple of rare occasions even being celebrated. But he'd never yet experienced being irrelevant It would be up to him to determine the colour of his life for the next few years. He could try to escape back to the life he knew before, except that was poisoned now by the knowledge of the corruption that had led to his father's death. He could relax and enjoy, as Moffatt had, the perks and power of official dronedom. Or he could try to find something useful to do. In this day and age of computers the presence of a physical liaison was less and less needed. His own function seemed
to be ceremonial and seemed no more valuable than his former task of standing motionless outside the door and letting tourists take his picture.

Huey's house was one of a row of similar bungalows in its subdivision. Bicycles, tricycles and basketball nets on poles decorated the outsides of his neighbours' houses and in the driveways sat functional cars and mini-vans. From seeing it, Fraser guessed that Huey and his wife must have bought their house with the intention of starting a family, putting down roots, becoming part of middle class America. Leukemia killed not only Huey's wife but also
his intended future. It would be interesting to learn, when Huey felt at ease enough to open up about it, why Huey had kept this house and still lived in it.

Fraser found the address and pulled into the driveway, parking behind another car that was already there. It wasn't Huey's car. Huey drove a five-year-old blue Camry, which Fraser supposed must be parked inside the closed single garage. This car was very much older, from the seventies, and green. When he had parked and got out and close
enough to tell, he saw it was a Buick Riviera. Well, Huey hadn't specifically said Fraser would be the only guest but Fraser had somehow absorbed that from the tone of the conversation when Huey had invited him.

Fraser pressed Huey's doorbell and the greeting he got from the American when he came to the door wasn't what he expected. Huey put one long finger against his own lips to indicate that Fraser should stay silent. Then he whispered, "He asked me to let him come over, I swear. It wasn't my idea. He's all upset and didn't want to be alone.
I'm sorry."

Huey noticed the dream-catcher under Fraser's arm. "Is that for me? Hey, thanks man."

Fraser's attention was distracted by wondering who 'he' was and he had forgotten all about the gift. He handed it over.


Huey broke into a smile. "A dream catcher. I've heard of those. Cool. Well, come on into to the living-room and try to be nice to him, okay?"

Huey's conciliatory tone of voice and plea for Fraser to try to be nice told Fraser the other guest must be the one person in
Chicago he actually disliked. For Huey's sake he would be nice to Detective Vecchio but his hopes of having an enjoyable evening with his friend were dashed.



The dinner menu was so typically American that Fraser was hard put not to show his amusement. Canned tomato soup, a salad that was mainly iceberg lettuce, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and niblets corn on the side. Fraser was impressed that the meatloaf was obviously homemade. Huey apparently had some cooking skills. When Huey went to the kitchen to fetch dessert into the dining-room where they sat, Vecchio leaned over to the Mountie and whispered "Ten bucks says he brings out apple pie and ice cream."

In the interests of amicability, Fraser only said, "I don't gamble."

Vecchio was almost right in that Huey emerged carrying a pie in one hand and a plastic bowl filled with chocolate chip ice cream in the other. But the pie was cherry not apple.

Vecchio hadn't been forthcoming about the cause of the upsetness Huey had alluded to at the door. He seemed his usual loud, acerbic self until, while they were dutifully eating their way through dessert, he suddenly came out with, "Who the hell does she think she is, running away like that!"

Huey put a forkful of pie back into his plate, lay his fork down, straightened in his chair and said to the Italian, "Let it go, Ray. She explained it to you. She's got her own house and her kids to worry about. You're too much for her to handle right now. She didn't say it was over. She just said she needed time."

Vecchio cursed in Italian.

"At least you've got a chance of getting her back some day," Huey said, very quietly, and then continued eating.



They sat now in the livingroom again, Huey and Vecchio working their way through a bottle of homemade wine the Italian had brought and Fraser sipping coffee.

Fraser had been thinking that perhaps the time was now right for him to get involved in the Gardino case. He decided to start easy and said, trying to sound as casual as he could, "I guess there's nothing new on Detective Gardino's murder."

Vecchio shot him a glare that clearly said, mind your own business.

Huey said "Nothing," dejectedly and took another drink of wine.

"Sometimes I find when I'm too close to a case, there's things I miss just because they're too obvious. Sometimes I find when I tell the facts to a stranger, things come up that I wouldn't have thought of."

"Yeah, well I don't find that," Vecchio grumbled.

Fraser ignored him and focused on Huey. "We've got some time. Maybe if you talked me through all the things that happened that night. All the details you remember. Some new angle may come up. You never know."

"You mean, you might notice something us stupid Americans missed," Vecchio said.

"Ray, shut up. I know you're hurting but Benton's not the cause of your problems. What the hell. I'm going to tell him the whole story. You fill in anything I forget as we go."

"Yeah, yeah."

Huey launched into a detailed account of the night of Ray's celebration dinner. He delivered the story with the precision of a policeman giving testimony on the witness stand. After first maintaining a disgruntled silence, Vecchio got into the mood and starting adding details, occasionally taking over the telling of parts that he remembered more clearly. And when Huey hesitated at the description of the explosion, Vecchio's expression softened and he leaned over and patted his former partner's arm, then took over the telling himself.

They went on to outline the evidence they had found against Zuko. From time to time Fraser posed the occasional question but mostly he let them tell it in their own way.

When they had wound down and seemed to be done, Fraser probed into areas the American detectives passed quickly over. Once his own questioning was done, Fraser, gulped down what was left of his cold coffee and asked Huey for a refill. He wanted a few minutes to think.


Something was nagging at him. By the time Huey had brought the coffee and Fraser and put in milk and sugar and drank half of what was in the cup, the cause of his unease came to him.

"Something about the timing of this bothers me," he said.

 

Vecchio seemed to have used up his supply of hostility for the time being and actually leaned forward, interested.

"It only seems like a few hours between the time that Detective Vecchio angered this Zuko and the bomb was actually planted. Detective Vecchio, your car was parked outside the station for, how long, an hour, when you spoke to Lieutenant Welsh?"

"Not even. More like half an hour."

"A very narrow window of opportunity. The person who planted the bomb must have been tailing you waiting for his chance. And that person had to have been set into action some time beforehand. He'd have to go get the bomb and then follow you around waiting for an opportunity to plant it."

"Where are you going with this,
Benton?" Huey asked, eagerly.

"Detective Vecchio, how long might a party like Mr. Zuko's go on? Well into the wee hours I would think."

"You would think right," Vecchio told him.

"With Mr. Zuko in the spotlight the whole time. Now the explosion happened only a short time after you and your friends left. It would be a simple matter to ask somebody who was at the party whether Mr. Zuko left for a noticeable period of time."

"Irene already told me. He was there the whole time. She didn't have him out of her sight, except when either she or he went to the bathroom. But that would leave Zuko enough time to place a phone call and start the whole thing in motion."

"True. But that's going on the assumption that Mr. Zuko is responsible for ordering the what's the word you use hit. Mr. Zuko's a career gangster is he not?"

"Third generation. His father's father started the family business."

"You have to wonder if a man that experienced would do something so precipitous as to order an immediate attack on a man that dozens of witnesses have seen him quarrel with AND be so clumsy as to leave incriminating evidence buried in his own back yard. Unless . . ." Fraser paused here and rubbed an eyebrow, ". . . unless he was employing the somewhat comic book technique of doing something so blatantly stupid that no one could believe he would do it."

"We can count that out," Vecchio told him.

"So let's go on the assumption that somebody wished to frame Mr. Zuko. Now follow this logic with me and let me know if it breaks down at any point. We could start by inquiring of people who were at the party if anybody left shortly after you did and remained away long enough to plant a bomb."

"You've already broken down. Anybody at that party was was high enough on the totem pole that they wouldn't do the dog work. They'd call a subordinate who would call someone else. That's a phone call. Anybody could go make a phone call without being noticed. Just have to go to the john."

Fraser nodded. "Then that speaks of someone who has wanted to be rid of Mr. Zuko for some time and was waiting for the right opportunity. They would have had the mechanism in place and when the quarrel broke out, they saw a chance to set up Mr. Zuko by ordering an attack on you. A decision made quickly, but backed up by long term planning. Not someone losing his temper in the heat of the moment."

"Then Zuko's got a problem," Huey observed.

"One would think so. Someone among his closest retinue is either an enemy or passing information to an enemy."

Ray refilled his own glass, then Huey's, saying, "So what have we got?"

Huey answered. "We've got a scumbag with a lot of manpower, a lot of information and a budget that's probably bigger than ours . . . "

". . . in whose best interest it would be to find your murderer for you." Fraser finished his friend's sentence.

"What! We're going to work with Zuko now?" Vecchio nearly shouted, outraged.

Fraser in response dropped to a pitch some octave lower than he had using before and very much softer, a tone of contempt. "It hasn't bothered you to work with people you thought were criminals in the past."

Vecchio slammed his glass down on the coffee table, sloshing the wine. "It's about time you got down off your high Mountie horse and stopped sneering at the rest of us because we're not pure and lily white enough for you!" He jabbed an angry forefinger in Fraser's direction to punctuate his words. "The only reason you're down here at all is
because some of your people are so corrupt that they off-ed one of their own and some others are too stupid to solve the case themselves. You don't preach to me, pal. You got that?"

Fraser didn't change his tone in any way, nor did he so much as shift in his chair. "Some of my people may be corrupt. But I, personally, have never once compromised my principles. And neither did my father."


"Well isn't that all just duckie." He stood up and said to Huey. "Thanks for supper, Jack. I got to be getting home."

"Aw, Ray. Come on."

"No, I'm out of here. Don't want to upset the sensibilities of your Canadian friend. He's so much better than the likes of me." Vecchio made a wide-armed theatrical bow in Fraser's direction then headed for the front door.

"Ray, come on back." Huey went after him and dragged him back to his previous seat. "We got stuff to talk about."

Vecchio let himself be taken, but continued to glare at the Canadian as he moved back through the livingroom.

"We got nothing to talk about. Zuko's our man, we just don't have the evidence yet. All this other talk is just stupid. Mister Liaison here thinks the way to solve anything is for everybody to just play nice together."

"You seem determined that Mr. Zuko be guilty," Fraser pointed out. Slower to anger than Vecchio, he was beginning to smolder.

"And you keep wanting me to believe he's innocent. It's like you're working for him," Vecchio shot back.

"Do you hate this man so much that you're willing to let Detective Gardino's real killer go free to get at him?"

Vecchio went white. He raised a fist. Huey jumped up and grabbed his former partner's arm. "Ray! No! Don't fight in my house!"

Vecchio whipped his head around and met Huey's eyes. Still holding Vecchio's arm Huey said, "He's right, Ray."

"Jack, this is Zuko we're talking about here."

"I know you hate him, Ray. I know you got good reason to hate him. But I think
Benton's right. He's not the one who killed Louis."

"I can't believe you're siding this guy!"

Vecchio and Huey continued to stare at each other. Then Huey said, "Ray, do you really think that if we nail Zuko, you won't have to feel guilty anymore?"

Vecchio drooped and sagged back into his chair.

"Because that's not the way it works. He died. You lived. It's not fair. You got to find a way to deal with that."

Fraser put in, "Somebody used both you and your enemy to further his own ends. Get that person now and go after your enemy another day."



Vecchio left shortly thereafter, but calmly, so Huey let him go without any protest. Once he had seen Vecchio safely out and closed the door behind him, he came back to the living-room and dropped heavily into the oldest and softest of his armchairs.

"Didn't I ask you to be nice to him? I've seen you with people, Benton. You're the sweetest, kindest, politest dude I ever met," Huey said from the depths of the chair.

"I was polite. Never once was I impolite."

"You know what I mean. Ray's hurting. He's having a hard time these days."

"None of us are having easy times, Huey. You lost your partner, I lost my dad."

"You lost worse. You lost your illusions."

"That's true enough. But getting back to Detective Vecchio, you're right. I really do look for the best in everybody. Almost everybody. But something about him . . . I can't explain it. Maybe certain people were just never meant to get along. Maybe some great Power sent him to me as a test of my forbearance. I don't know. You never told him
about my father, I trust?"

"No, but you almost let it slip there tonight. It was lucky for you Ray was too upset to pick up on it. But you should have told him."

"I don't want his sympathy."

"You two are really something. Ray's an okay guy. One of these days you two will find something in common."



The woman on the telephone insisted on an appointment with Constable Fraser, and as soon as possible. Brighton probed her for details about what she wanted, assuring her that the liaison office dealt with police matters and some other department in the Consulate could most likely help her with whatever she needed. But Mrs. Ierfino was
adamant, saying that her business with Constable Fraser was both urgent and personal. No one else would do.

 

Seeing no reason why not, Brighton scheduled her to see Fraser at two that afternoon.

She arrived in his office right on time and Fraser rose to greet a woman he did not remember ever meeting before.

"I came to see you because you're Ray's friend," she began.

I have no idea who she is, Fraser thought. And as for my being Detective Vecchio's friend, that's an interesting assumption.

The woman saw the puzzlement in his expression. "You don't know me? I'm Irene."

The only time he had ever been in the presence of this woman that was so important to Vecchio he had been heavily drugged. "I'm sorry I didn't recognize you. I'm afraid that when we met the last time, I was a little . . . disoriented. And Detective Vecchio never mentioned your married name. What can I do for you today?" Even though this was
a standard opening question, Fraser really was curious what this woman could want from him. "I understood from Detective Vecchio that you had left town."

"Leaving. Friday. Constable, I know some things that might help find the man who tried to kill Ray. I want to tell someone, so they can look into it. But I can't have this traced back to me. I thought, you, you're a foreign government."

Fraser was too excited by the chance of a lead in this case that he didn't even bother to correct her to say he only represented his government in limited matters.

"I thought I could tell you what I know and you get it to whoever has to know, without mentioning my name. I can't be seen getting involved in this."

"Not even to save your brother? I don't think anyone would fault you for that."

"I hate my brother; he's a monster. But that monster is my brother, so I love him. Does that make any sense? I want to help but I don't want to be involved. It's all too mixed up."

"That's your own decision, I suppose. What is it that you want to tell me?"

"It's something that happened the night of the party. Frank has this lieutenant, Michael Sorrento. He's next in line after Charlie as my brother's closest advisor."

Fraser didn't know who Charlie was but that didn't seem important enough to interrupt her.

"Right after I danced with Ray, well, actually, during, my brother said that he wanted to cut his cake. He wanted everybody to be around watching but Michael wasn't there. His wife didn't know where he was so she called him on his cell phone. She got his voicemail. So either he had his phone turned off or he was talking to somebody. Now,
Constable you have to understand how my brother operates, if you want to see how important this is. At a big party like that, Michael would know he's on duty and has to be where my brother can see him and use him. And he has to be seen. My brother likes his people around for other people to see. Am I making sense?"

"He craves attention. And validation. Yes, it makes sense."

"I hate to admit it, but he's not the man our father was," Irene said sadly.

"Few of us are. Please go on. Michael Sorrento was missing from the party and not answering his phone."

"There's no way he'd dare turn it off on a night like that. Like I said, he was on duty. And he wouldn't go out of Frank's sight just to make a casual call. It had to be something very big. A family emergency maybe. But his wife didn't know where he was. So I think, and I'm not sure but I just think, Sorrento saw the trouble between Frank and Ray and moved fast to take advantage of the situation."

"I've actually been thinking that someone at the party might be a suspect. I told that to Detective Vecchio the other night. If you could give me anything else to go on?"

"All I have is what I told you, Constable Fraser. I'm just going to leave all this with you and I'm going to ask you not to tell Ray or anybody else about this conversation. I don't have any proof of anything. But somebody should check it out."

"Somebody will," Fraser assured her, "I'll make sure of it."


Satisfied, she got up from her chair and extended a hand to Fraser for him to shake in parting. "I'm glad Ray has a friend like you. I know you're going to help him. Thank you." Her voice trembled. She was on the verge of tears and she fled the office before they began to fall.


 

Fraser was well known enough in the squad room that nobody questioned his marching right through to Huey's desk the next morning. The handsome Mountie had taken to wearing ordinary business suits on duty, having enlisted Huey's help in acquiring these. When Huey had casually commented that Ray was knowledgeable about clothes and might be a good advisor, Fraser had only commented dryly that he couldn't afford to buy Armani retao; and wasn't interested in abetting criminals by purchasing clothes out of the back of a truck.

Fraser relayed the story to Huey as it had been told to him.

"God, Benton! An actual lead! Where did you get this?"

"I'm sorry, Huey, I'm not at liberty to say."

"But we're partners, you have to tell me who it came from!"

"I can't. All I can say is that it is a reliable source."

"You can't pull that protecting your sources shit. You're not a reporter. You're a cop."

"In this jurisdiction I'm not even that. I'm a bureaucrat," Fraser said, pained at this admission. "Constable Brighton keeps telling me I should get out and work the case with you, but I suspect she's just trying to keep me out of her hair."

"She's right. You should get down with me and Ray and get your hands dirty."

"The operative words are 'and Ray'. If the two of us work together you may very well have another murder on your hands."



A week later Fraser got a telephone call at the office from Vecchio.

"I just wanted to let you know, one of my snitches knows another snitch who ratted on Sorrento. We've got him in custody."

Fraser already knew this from Huey, but he refrained from saying it. He was determined to be nice to Vecchio for Huey's sake. I'm Huey's friend and he's Huey's friend, he reasoned, so we've no right to put a mutual friend through stress just because we can't come to terms between us.

Fraser waited for Vecchio to actually say thanks for your help but that expression wasn't forthcoming. So he said, "Your department solved my murder case, Detective. I'm glad I was able to return the favour. Even Steven."

"Even Steven?" came the disdainful voice on the other end of the line. "Nobody says 'Even Steven' anymore."

"Why?"

"It's juvenile," Vecchio told him.

"Oh."

Fraser was at a loss. He said a quick, and what he hoped was polite, good-bye and hung up.

End


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