Fraser reported to Margaret's office for their scheduled meeting with an American Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. In response to his knock, Margaret barked out her most authoritarian "Enter, Constable". This told Fraser that she wanted to impress whomever was there with her. Fraser was usually servile in her presence when on duty, anyway, but since they had started having social dinners together she occasionally let up on the 'butch boss' routine. From the other side of the door Fraser picked up on her signal that he had better grovel, and grovel good, in front of this American. He opened the door slowly and timidly poked his head in, as though afraid to enter. Margaret caught his eye, smiled her barely visible approval and motioned him in.

 

It was a strain to Fraser's composure to stand at attention and be introduced to Special Agent Suzanne Chapin. He wasn't sure if Suzanne wanted it to be known they knew each other, so he limited his interaction with her to "How do you do, Agent Chapin." He avoided meeting her eyes. Margaret watching him carefully. If he had any non-verbal communication with Suzanne, Margaret would certainly pick up on it.

 

Suzanne took the initiative. "It's nice to see you again, Constable."

 

Fraser oh-deared silently. He would now be faced with trying to persuade Margaret that there was nothing between himself and this petite agent with the luxuriant brown hair.

 

At Margaret's invitation, they all sat down and Suzanne explained her mission. She wanted their help in breaking up a smuggling operation that involvedIndian reservations on adjoining sides of the Canadian/American border.Suzanne wasn't entirely clear on why the RCMP representatives in Chicago should be involved, since Chicago was nowhere near the area in question, on the St. Lawrence River, and neither Mountie normally dealt with tobacco smuggling. When Margaret pushed for an explanation her answer was so vague and unsatisfactory it pretty much invited the two Mounties toacknowledge that it was a lie.

 

Margaret understandably came to the conclusion that it must indeed be Fraser that Suzanne was after, and held that opinion up until Suzanne added, "I'd like Detective Vecchio on this case with me. He's been valuable in the past. And since Constable Fraser is his unofficial partner, I could get Vecchio on the team without attracting undue suspicion." Fraser inwardly thanked God that it was now clear that Ray was the object of Suzanne's interest .

 

"I'd like you to place Constable Fraser at my disposal for a few days," Suzanne said, looking Margaret straight in the eye as she said it. The two women's gazes locked and Fraser watched to see which would break away first. He was glad to see it was Suzanne that gave up and looked away. He liked his women strong.

 

"Then, will the ATF be reimbursing us for Constable Fraser's wages?"

 

"We weren't planning to. My department wants to consider this a liaison function."

 

Fraser hid his hands under the table and crossed two sets of pudgy, childlike fingers.

 

"Very well."

 

Yes! Ray will be so happy!

 

-----------------------

 

The operation itself was, of course, too secret for the details to be revealed to the public. So all we are allowed to know is what happened among Suzanne, Ray and Fraser personally. That makes perfect sense. Doesnít it?

 

Suzanne had it planned to pick up the two friends at the 27th in her own car. Fraser was to go there first, about a half an hour before and fill him in. Fraser chose not to tell Ray the identity of the federal agent before she showed up. He wanted it to be a wonderful surprise.

 

"I don't know, Benny," Ray groused as they both sat waiting at Ray's desk. "I hate working with feds. Seems like even before they become feds they have to pass a jerk test."

 

"They test them on their ability to dessicate meat?" Possibilities came into Fraser's mind. He imagined federal agents of various ages, sexes, sizes and colours all gathered around producing jerky, a substance similar to pemmican without berries.

 

Ray's answer broke Fraser's pleasant reverie. "No, I mean they have to prove they are jerks. You got them in Canada Ė jerks?"

 

Fraser had to allow that he knew several. "But, Ray, are you sure EVERY fed you know is a jerk?"

 

"Each and every one, pal."

 

"All?"

 

Then Ray thought about Suzanne. "I guess there's one that's not," he said wistfully.

 

"Ah," Fraser was relieved. "I'm glad you don't really think I'm a jerk, Ray. I know you tease me, but deep down . . . "

 

"What do you mean? What do you have to do with it?"

 

"I'm a fed, Ray."

 

"No, you're not. You're a Mountie."

 

"The RCMP is a federal police force. Royal CANADIAN Mounted Police. Not Royal Ontario, or Royal Toronto, for example."

 

"Whoa! Hold the phone! Benny, you're a fed?!?!?"

 

"Yes, Ray."

 

"No wonder you're a jerk." But he said it in a kindly way, with affection for his friend. Sure, it hurt to think about Suzanne again, but that wasn't Benny's fault. Benny was a pal. He let him get away with the brave front he had put on when he had seen Suzanne leave. Good old Fraser. He never got mad. Ray even kept his former marriage a secret for a good year into their friendship, yet Fraser never said a word of complaint. Fraser the faithful. Ought to call him Fido. Ray figured he should toss him a bone.

 

"You know, Benny, When I said that time didn't care that fed, Chapin, left, I was lying. I still dream about her." This was a friendly, companionable and totally true admission.

 

"I'm glad to hear that, Ray."

 

"What!" Benny was such a jerk. "Why the hell would you say something like that?"

 

At this literarily convenient but otherwise improbable moment in the dialogue, Suzanne came in and walked right up to Ray's desk.

 

"You!" Ray cried out.

 

Fraser and Suzanne both enjoyed Ray's shock.

 

"I . . . " Ray started but didn't know what to say.

 

"Very good, Vecchio," said Suzanne, "You know any other vowels?"

 

"Why?!?!"

 

"Sometimes." she confirmed.

 

"Hunh?"

 

"A. E. I. O. U. and sometimes Y. Vowels." She settled into Ray's visitor's chair, from which Fraser had risen when she had approached.

 

"Didn't Constable Fraser tell you the plan?"

 

"He told me we were working with a fed, but . . . "

 

"Try some detective work, detective. You're working with a fed. I'm a fed. The logical conclusion being?"

 

"We're all working together," supplied the helpful Mountie.

 

--------------------

 

Being with Suzanne again, Ray felt like he was in the middle of some haunting, lovely song. Maybe, like, from Leonard Cohen.

 

Late that night, Suzanne took them down to a place by the river. Ray could hear the boats go by. He could spend the night beside her. Then he realised he probably would. They waited a long time on stake-out (remember we aren't allowed to know the plan). She fed them tea and oranges that came all the way from China. He wanted to travel with her; and he wanted to travel blind. But, being on stake-out, he hadto sit still and keep his eyes open. In fact he was trying to impress her with his cool demeanor and alertness.

 

Suzanne explained that this was the spot where the members of the American tribe met with the members of the Canadian band.

 

"Cool," said Ray. "Do we get to hear the band?"

 

"If we're lucky, we'll hear them. Not the whole band, of course. Just the smugglers." she instructed him.

 

"They sing?"

 

Fraser joined the conversation, sensing that wires were being somehow crossed. "They are smugglers, Ray. They are going to want to be as quiet as possible. I can't imagine they would sing."

 

Ray was having trouble with this. "So they hide the cigarettes in their instruments? They couldnít fit much in a guitar."

 

Suzanne and Fraser looked back and forth at each other and at Ray.

 

Very gently Fraser said, "Ray, I don't think guitars are part of the scenario."

 

Totally confused now, Ray asked, "What are they? A brass band?"

 

Suzanne had had enough. "Vecchio, could you please, very very slowly, try to tell us what the hell you are talking about."

 

"The Canadian band. You said."

 

The two feds rolled their eyes.

 

"Constable, he's your partner. You tell him."

 

Fraser did. "Ray, in Canada the native groups are not called tribes, they are called bands."

 

Ray realized he wasn't impressing her much. Damn.

 

-------------------

 

After a stakeout that lasted well into the wee hours, the two feds and one 'mun' captured their smugglers. The details of how they did that, being not available to the public, cannot be revealed here. You believe that, donít you?

 

What we are allowed to know is that Ray ended up being beaned on the noggin by an errant slide trombone being smuggled in along with the cigarettes. Ray lay on the ground with his head in Suzanne's lap, while Fraser rounded up the smugglers and placed them under arrest. The band members tried to tell Fraser they were not subject to Canadian federal law, and in this they were quite right. But Fraser delivered an elegant speech and convinced them of the error of their ways. He herded them into a waiting bus. Remember, we're not allowed to know how it came to be there.

 

Ray wasn't hurt badly enough to be in any real danger, but his head hurt enough that he had to stay in Suzanne's lap. Every time he tried to sit up he went woozy and had to lay back down again. Suzanne stroked his hair gently, as they waited for an ambulance.

 

"This is an improvement, anyway," said Ray, between groans. "I get knocked out but this time you don't run away."

 

She smiled at him. "That's because I'm not the one who knocked you out this time."

 

Ray went serious. He reached up and grabbed her hand. "Donít run away this time. Stay with me. I've had a sign that we should be together."

 

"I know. I had one too." She kissed the top of his head, where a lump was forming.

 

"Yeah? What was the sign?"

 

"You went all stupid, Vecchio. Nobody could be as stupid as you, so it must mean you were out of your mind with love for me."

 

"I can live with that." said Ray, hoping the ambulance wouldn't come for a long time.

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