It was a Thursday evening at the 27th and the detectives that were fortunate enough to be on the day shift were all busy clearing their desks, locking away whatever needed to be kept private, and generally getting ready to call it a day. Fraser sat patiently in the visitors’ chair by Ray’s desk while Ray logged off his computer, muttering about “infernal machines” as he waited for the device to tell him he could now safely shut down. While it was easier on Elaine for the detectives to each have their own terminal, Ray hadn’t quite reconciled himself to the technological change. And he certainly didn’t like a machine telling him what to do and not do. Fraser had finished his shift much earlier and made his way by bus to the 27th. A dinner in the Vecchio house awaited him, as soon as Ray was finished work.
Huey and Gardino were putting things away at their own desks, but they were talking across the room to each other rather than griping to the office equipment.
“All our cases should be as easy as this one,” Huey was saying, “Man, it was easier than taking down the Corippos.”
“Yeah, I’ll say,” echoed his partner.
Here was an expression Fraser couldn’t remember hearing before and he repeated it in a questioning tone, inviting anyone who cared to do so to explain it. “Easier than taking down the Corippos?”
It was Gardino who answered. “It’s an expression. I don’t know where it comes from but I only heard it used by Chicago cops. Something to do with a mob family way back a long time ago.”
“Way back, before any of us were around,” Ray added, giving his desk drawer a satisfying slam. “Prehistoric times.”
Welsh emerged from his office and stood in the open doorway. “Prehistoric times, like the year before I joined the force,” he said, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorframe. “You really don’t know the story of the Corippos? What’d they teach you at the Academy?”
None of Welsh’s own people had anything to say to this rhetorical question but Fraser piped up saying, “Apparently nothing about the Corippos, Lieutenant, but maybe you’d care to enlighten us?”
Ray and his two colleagues looked daggers at Fraser for threatening to extend their workday and delay their escape from the squad room. Welsh was astute enough to catch this and offered his people an out, but not without a little sarcasm. “Some other time, Constable. My men have put in a really hard day, they need their rest.”
Huey and Gardino made their escape but Ray paused for a moment and made a show of settling himself back into his chair. “I’d like to hear the story, sir.”
“Good. Curiosity is trait I like to see in my detectives. Wait here.”
Despite the dig it was clear that Welsh was pleased. He went back inside his office and emerged with a bottle of gin under one arm, a water glass under the other arm and two more glasses - one in each hand. He arranged these on Ray’s desk then pulled another chair over and sat down. Two of the glasses he filled with liquor for himself and Ray. Then he paused, letting the bottle hover over the third glass and looked to Fraser for the go-ahead.
“No thank you, Lieutenant, I’m driving.”
“No you’re not!” Ray blurted out. “You’re coming back with me to my house in my car. What the hell do you mean you’re driving?”
“Unless the Lieutenant’s story will take more than two hours to tell, the drink in that glass will not have worn off sufficiently for you to drive home legally. I’ll have to drive.”
Ray pushed the glass away. “Then I’ll get coffee, if you don’t mind waiting, sir.”
Ray went over to the other side of the room where a coffee pot, now turned off, still held lukewarm sludge. Ray lifted the pot and waved it, but Fraser shook his head, declining even this offering. Ray poured a cup for himself and returned with it.
Welsh took a gulp from his own glass before starting his tale.
“The Corippos were a small-time family. Loan sharking mostly and only in the Chicago area. They weren’t big enough to be a threat to the serious players. The Donnelly’s, the Zukos, all the other big-name families let them go about their business. It wasn’t worth their while to bother trying to shut them down. So, the Corippos had a nice little operation going for themselves and they would have lived happily ever after except the heads of the family – two brothers – were lacking in employee-relations skills.”
He paused here to down the rest of what was in his own glass and reached out to draw Ray’s rejected drink closer to himself.
“The Corippo brothers didn’t know how to treat their people. A few of their collectors ended up in jail and the brothers didn’t do anything. Didn’t bail them out, didn’t provide for their families. Now if there’s one thing you need to keep a mob family going strong, it’s loyalty. You expect absolute obedience and silence from your people and in turn you take care of them. The Corippos somehow didn’t twig to that. Maybe ‘cause they weren’t really Italian, they were Swiss. From the southern part of Switzerland.”
Fraser nodded. “The Ticino region, known for . . .”
Welsh narrowed his eyes at Fraser and the Mountie fell silent.
“It took a some years of course but dissatisfaction within the family grew pretty bad. Finally, a year before I came in, like I said, a couple of guys starting talking about a mutiny. There was this nephew, Alonso Corippo and he had a hankering to go straight. Wanted to be a lawyer or something.”
Ray snorted and tossed off a comment that going from a mob operator to a lawyer was hardly a move towards respectability. Welsh chuckled with him then went on, sipping at Ray’s drink as spoke.
“Alonso Corippo talked another dozen guys into coming with him to the police, all at the same time, to rat on his uncles. He figured they’d be too many for the old men to come after and they’d be safe. They also figured they’d demand some police protection before telling what they knew. Well, they had it figured right. In exchange for protection they sang like birds and the old uncles didn’t have sufficient manpower left to do a thing about it. They weren’t arrested right away, though and one night the two brothers just high-tailed it out of Chicago. Best information is that they went back to some little village in Switzerland to live out their days on the money they took with them. Which was, don’t get me wrong, a considerable amount. But the Corippo operation collapsed on its own and not a drop of blood was spilled.”
“Amazing. Wish we could take out more bad guys that way.” Ray said. “What a feel-good story.”
“It’s a nice one,” Welsh said, timing his comment perfectly to follow the swallowing of the last remaining gin in the glass. Ray and Fraser took this as a gesture for their dismissal. They thanked Welsh (kindly, in Fraser’s case) and took their leave.
Lately there were fewer people around the Vecchio dinner table than had been the case that first night when Ray first brought Fraser home. Only Maria, Tony, their two children, Francesca and Ray were there for Ma to feed but somehow the atmosphere was never any less rollicking no matter what the actually count of Vecchios. Ma delighted in feeding the Mountie and pressured Ray to bring his friend home often. Fraser and Tony were two men that were of great satisfaction to Ma Vecchio because, unlike her own scrawny offspring, they plumped up in response to her feeding efforts. But of the two Fraser was particularly pleasing to her because he made such flattering speeches about the dinner whereas Tony only consumed them and widened.
At dinner, Fraser recounted the story of the Corippos as it had been told to him and Ray. He was openly moved by it, stating over and over again how satisfying he found this tale of the ridding of Chicago of a criminal element with no ill effects – nobody killed, maimed, injured in any small way or even jailed. Everyone else at the table caught his enthusiasm and gushed along with him.
All but one. Ma didn’t quite frown or look distressed but Fraser noted that she alone among the family remained silent through the whole conversation and did not smile even once.
After dessert, Ray uncharacteristically offered to help his mother with the dishes, himself alone and all the rest of the family he dismissed from any responsibility in this area. It was understood that Fraser would also join in with the cleaning up since he always did that no matter whose turn it was for dishes. The rest of the Vecchios accepted Ray’s offer and the friendly bickering spread out to other rooms of the house leaving only Ma, Ray and Fraser in the kitchen.
While Ray scraped plates, Ma washed and Fraser dried, Ray said casually to his mother, “So, Ma, what is there about the Corippos that I don’t know?”
Fraser started and managed not to drop the soup plate he was holding.
“What do you mean, caro?” the old woman said, not looking at her son.
“I saw you making faces all the time Fraser was talking. Something’s wrong.”
“Nothing,” she murmured but neither man believed her.
Fraser placed the fortunately saved soup plate on the kitchen counter and offered to leave the room so that Ma could talk to Ray in private.
“You stay. You’re family,” Ray told his Mountie friend. “Ma, I’m a detective. If I say you look like there’s something wrong and you say there’s nothing, that makes me look bad in front of Benny.”
Thus appealed to, Ma took the dishtowel out of Fraser’s hands, wiped her own hands on it and tossing it onto a counter. “Raymondo, you better be sitting down for this,” she said and set the example by sitting down at the kitchen table herself.
Fraser and Ray sat down with her. Ma began her tale. There was a time, when Ray was a child, when things were not going well financially for the Vecchios. His father’s drinking reached the point where he could not hold down a job to sufficiently support the family and sons, Ray and his older brother, were schoolchildren too young to help out. Ma earned what she could by babysitting neighbouring children who had mothers that went out to work – a situation unthinkable for the Vecchios themselves with four small children of their own to be looked after.
Ray interrupted. This part of the story was familiar to him. He remembered these difficult days but also remembered a time when suddenly there was no more agonizing about money and far fewer fights between his parents. To this day he didn’t know what changed at that time. “You’re going to tell me what that was all about now, aren’t you, Ma?”
“Yes, Raymondo. And, Benito, I hope you won’t be too disappointed in all of us when you hear this. But, as my boy says, you’re family now.”
Ma went on to talk about how it ate and ate at Arturo Vecchio that he couldn’t properly support his family but he was incapable of stopping the drinking that was causing the problem. In his frustration and anger and guilt he lashed out at the closest victims, his own wife and children. And the guilt from hurting his family intensified the cycle. These were the bad days that Ray remembered, when Pop didn’t come home most nights and when he did come home there was a good chance he’d hit somebody.
“I’m not defending your father for everything, caro. But you can try to understand that he was in pain himself. He never touched you kids when things were going well for him and he could provide for us. He wasn’t one of those bullies who hurt people just to show he was a big man.”
“He was a different kind of bully? A better kind?” said Ray through gritted teeth.
Ma heaved a deep sigh. “I know you resent your father but we were a different generation and we saw things different back then.”
She glanced towards Fraser who took care to keep his face blank. He had a feeling where this story was going and if he was shown right in this, Ray would shortly be even more distressed than he was now. Perhaps it was in anticipation of this that he was snapping at his mother.
Ma went on with her tale. One day Arturo came home and tossed a wallet full of big bills on the kitchen table, the very table around which the three of them were now sitting. He proudly told his wife that he had a new job with good pay and flexible hours. This money was an advance from his new employer but Gwen shouldn’t worry about it – he would earn this much again and much more very soon.
Conflicting feelings fought in Gwen Vecchio’s bosom as she counted through the cash. So much money! She could pay off the landlord, the butcher and the milkman right away and still have money left over. But she was suspicious. In their neighbourhood a windfall like this usually meant a man had hooked up with certain elements. “What kind of job gets you so much money so quickly?” she demanded of her husband.
“I know what you’re thinking. I’m not working for the Zukos,” Arturo raised his right hand. “I swear on the heads of our children.”
Ray thought about it. “So that’s the kind of bully he was. A professional. He was working for the Corippos.”
“But he was never comfortable with it, Raymondo. He knew it was wrong but he didn’t think he had any alternative. He made good money. I was careful and we saved a lot. He drank much less and all the time he was working for the Corippos your father never laid a hand on any of us.
“He didn’t have to beat people up at home He got enough of that at work,” Ray snarled.
Ma got up and stood behind her son’s chair. She put her arms around him from behind. “Mi figlio. The next part will make you feel better about your father. That group of men that denounced the Corippos to the police, your father was one of them. They got no money for it. All they got was a chance to go straight without any punishment. Your father got himself out of that life with no harm to himself or any of us. That’s not easy to do. He took a great risk.”
Fraser watched Ray intently for his reaction. His mother obviously thought Ray would feel better disposed to his father upon knowing that he we went straight voluntarily. But Fraser saw his friend’s body tighten like a coil and he feared some sudden action. When Ray jolted upright in his chair and flung his arms off, throwing his mother off, Fraser was already on his feet to catch and steady her as she fell backwards. He guided the old woman safely back to a chair.
Ray was livid. “And this is supposed to make me feel better! It’s not enough Pop was a crook. He also ratted on his friends. Oh I’m so proud! He was a thug AND a snitch.”
“Ray, please,” Fraser ventured, but it was a reflex. He really didn’t have anything to say.
“You may as well go home, Fraser. No sense in a super-Mountie do-gooder hanging around with the likes of us. Get out of here.”
“Don’t listen to him, Benito. You stay right here. I’ll make us some coffee and we’ll all settle down.”
Fraser was waiting for Ray’s shouts to bring the rest of the family running but it seemed that the sound of anybody yelling in that household wasn’t enough to attract attention.
“No . . I’ll . . . finish up the dishes. You two can go talk,” Fraser offered.
“I got nothing to talk about. You stay or go. I don’t give a damn!” Ray shouted and bolted from the room.
Fraser considered going after him but decided against it. He picked up the dishcloth from the counter and continued drying dishes. Ma patted his arm and then went back to the sink.
“Fraser, my office. Now.” The order came from Welsh. He found Fraser wandering around the 27th looking for Ray.
“Vecchio’s on a stake-out. Didn’t he tell you he wouldn’t be here to meet you?”
“Ray wasn’t expecting me, Lieutenant. I just thought I might find him here and we could talk. He’s been . . .” Fraser paused, looking for the right word, “. . .distant.”
“He’s been a pain in the ass,” Welsh opined, sitting down at his own desk and motioning Fraser to have a seat opposite.
“I’m afraid so, sir,” Fraser agreed.
“He’s in a snit over the Corippo case,” Welsh told him.
“What makes you think it has something to do with the Corippos?” Fraser asked, surprised and also impressed.
“Constable, they didn’t put me in charge of a squad of detectives because I have a pretty face. Uh, no offence intended.”
“No offence? I don’t understand.”
“I mean, I’m not putting down a pretty face,” Welsh said.
“I still don’t understand.”
“Okay, Constable, have it your own way. Vecchio went strange the day after I told you two about the Corippos. All I had to do was pull the file and see the list of names of the snitches. It says right here: Arturo Vecchio. His father, I take it?”
“Sir, I’m not comfortable with the word ‘snitch’. Mr. Vecchio’s actions were admirable. He could have continued to make a great deal of money but instead he acted for the good of society.”
“My guess is Ray doesn’t see it that way. And neither do you by the way. Not really.”
“It’s written all over your face. You’re embarrassed, Constable. Maybe that’s why Ray is avoiding you. Maybe you think less of Vecchio because of his dad, but if you do I’m here to tell you, you’re out of line. There are pressures on people in a big city that maybe you don’t have to cope with in the far north. I was thinking that you, as Vecchio’s friend, would help get him out of his blue funk. Now I’m not so sure.”
Fraser protested. “Lieutenant, I think nothing of the kind.”
“Didn’t we just establish that I’m boss of a bunch of detectives? You can fool yourself, Fraser, but you’re not fooling me. I read you like a book.”
“You’re mistaken,” Fraser insisted.
“Then prove me wrong by getting me the same old annoying Vecchio back. He’s on office duty tomorrow afternoon between one and five. Learn to control your facial expressions by then. You can go.”
Fraser thought about Lt. Welsh’s words all through that the day, that evening and the next day until he arrived back at the 27th at ten minutes to five the next afternoon.
The man was making too much out of this. It wasn’t as complicated as Welsh seemed to think. Ray was ashamed that his father was involved with a criminal element. It was only too clear. It had always irked his friend when people assumed that any Italian was somehow involved with the underworld. Ray took great pride in the fact that no one in his own family had anything to do with any criminal organization. So this news about his father was a shock first and then a humiliation.
And what did Welsh know about the pressures of the north? Fraser thought of his own father, pressed to do wrong by colleagues, government officials and even the citizens he protected. It cost Bob Fraser his life to hold fast to his principles. And here was Welsh thinking that the Fraser didn’t know about pressures to do wrong. How little he understood.
Well, it was Ray that was important. To get Ray to feel better. To get him to understand that the sins of the father are not visited upon the son and he needn’t feel guilty about his family’s past. He, Fraser, would comfort his friend and boost his spirits.
It didn’t work out as he planned when he approached Ray’s desk.
“Okay, Mister Deduce-It-All. Didn’t you figure out yet that I’m avoiding you?” Ray burst out.
“I want to talk to you, Ray,” the Mountie said, simply.
“Well, I don’t want to talk to you. Scram. Mush. Whatever. Get lost.”
Fraser had to smile at this phrasing, which didn’t improve Ray’s mood at all. At the sound of Ray’s voice, Welsh drifted out of his office to observe the proceedings. Fraser apparently needed a little help so he barked “Vecchio! Go talk with him. That’s an order.”
“I’m off duty, sir. You can’t tell me what to do.”
Welsh glanced at a clock on the squad room wall. “It’s ten to five. For the next ten minutes I can tell you what to do. Go make nice with the Mountie.”
Snickers came from the other detectives at this unfortunate phrasing.
“I didn’t mean that. What a bunch of sicko’s,” Welsh said and retreated to his office again.
The friends went down to the canteen. Fraser waited while Ray studied the candy machine, seeming to mull over the choices with great care and then very slowly put coins into the slot. Still standing facing the machine, he nibbled at his candy bar for several minutes. Then, with great deliberation, he looked over the soft drink machine as well, put in coins but not enough to buy anything, pressed the reject button and got the coins back. He repeated this action several times then paused to look at his watch.
“Lookee here. One minute after five. I’m off duty. So I don’t have to talk to you. Have a nice evening, Benny.”
Ray turned to head back up the stairs but Fraser grabbed his arm. Ray looked down at his arm with Fraser’s hand on it.
“Strong-arming me? Is that something a second-generation Mountie is supposed to do? Leave it to guys like me with a family history.” He shook off Fraser’s hand, but at least this time he stood still.
“Ray, please sit down so we can talk.”
Ray did so, but eyed his friend warily. “What are you here to tell me, Fraser? Don’t feel bad that my pop was a crook? Don’t feel bad that he was disloyal. Okay, I feel fine. I feel fine on just SO many levels. Now get out of my face.”
“You’re upset, so you’re taking it out on me. I understand that, Ray.”
“You understand nothing! You’re sitting there looking at me like I was some kind of bug and you’re all high and mighty. If you think that makes me want to talk things out with you, you’ve got another think coming, pal. God, the look on your face!”
Fraser could only stammer in protest. This was ridiculous. First Welsh and then Ray were accusing him wrongly of both attitudes of the mind and expression of the face that were wholly unthinkable. What was wrong with Americans, anyway?
“Okay you want me to talk, let’s talk about fathers. Your old man was a legend. The great Robert Fraser who could do no wrong. Gerrard went on trial and he couldn’t get a whole courtroom of Canadians to believe the great Bob Fraser was crooked, even with bank records to show money went in his account.”
“That was explained, Ray. He didn’t make those deposits in person and he never withdrew any of the money.”
“The point is, he had this rep and you’ve got the same rep even down here. Can’t do wrong. Can’t even lie. How do you think I feel now, Fraser? All this time I knew my pop drank and gambled and beat up on us. But at least I had the satisfaction of knowing he wasn’t a criminal.”
“Technically, Ray, those things are against the law,” Fraser pointed out, then mentally kicked himself for it.
“Oh great! And you figure telling me that is going to make me feel better. You’re some kind of a psychologist, you are. You say you don’t look down on my family and me but you can’t hide the look on your face. You think your dad’s better than mine. You think you’re better than me.”
“Ray, you’re projecting your own feelings of guilt. And I’m getting tired of everybody around here talking about my face,” he added, his hold on his temper loosening as he thought back on his conversation with Welsh the day before.
“Fine. I’ll tell you just one more thing about your face.” Ray pointed an angry finger right at Fraser’s face as he said this. “Don’t expect to see ME in it any more. I don’t want to talk to you.”
Ray got up and climbed the stairs back to the squad room without another word.
All the rest of the evening, Fraser’s mind raced. Could Ray be right? Ridiculous. Of course Fraser was proud of his father and wanted to be like him. Who wouldn’t want to emulate such a model? It was only Ray’s own anger at his own father that caused him to say such hurtful things. Any man would be proud to be Robert Fraser’s son. What was wrong with that? Virtue was its own reward after all. Why should Fraser feel guilty for being a staunch upholder of the law and the son of a man who was the same?
And that business about showing his disdain on his face. Wasn’t he an experienced police officer? Wasn’t he adept at controlling his emotions, keeping his personal feelings to himself?
Fraser fell asleep with these thoughts tumbling about in his mind.
In Fraser’s dream, it was dark. Not the darkness of night or a closed room, in which you know something is there but you can’t see it. Nor was it composed of the colour black, a tangible hue that could be applied to something, as you could red or blue or some other colour. This was a void, a total absence. With dream awareness Fraser knew that light did not exist yet. Nothing existed. Only a formless emptiness that couldn’t even be said to exist because it was eternal nothingness. His own consciousness perceived it even though he did not yet exist. Such is dream logic.
And then there was light. At first it was a small bright smudge at the edge of the void. It spread until it covered the whole of Fraser’s dream-awareness. You couldn’t call it white, because white is also a colour of sorts and nothing yet lived to perceive colour. All that was pure darkness before was now equally pure light.
The light began to change. It coalesced into recognizable forms here and there and from the places where it withdrew darkness returned. Giant, glowing spheres formed where the light concentrated. Next, smaller globes formed which did not glow on their own but reflected the light of the larger bodies. Uncountable spheres and at a single instant they all went into motion, circling in an intricate dance. Because there was now matter and movement with which to track it, Time could begin.
Next in the dream Fraser’s consciousness found itself in a place that he knew was one of the smaller, non-glowing globes. It was covered with water, huge shifting seas with waves that dwarfed anything that would later be created. Here, too, was a dance, of swirling and heaving water.
It’s Creation, Fraser’s dream-awareness thought. God is creating the Heaven and the Earth just as first his grandfather taught him and then, when Fraser learned to read, the Old Testament confirmed. He’d be nearly ten before anybody ever tried to persuade him otherwise.
More changes occurred. Some of the water separated from the main, swirling body and floated away to form a layer of gas all around the new world. More of the water withdrew revealing dry land.
Fraser watched in fascination as some of the land remained flat and other sections swelled into hills and mountains, wrapping some of the water around itself in rivers and isolating some into lakes.
Vegetation grew next. Fraser had been watching each stage of Creation enfold from his disembodied state of awareness. At this first sign of life he became excited. Animals would be next. Then people. He could hardly wait.
And there they were as expected: birds in the air, fish and then mammals in the sea. And then came the creation of Curiosity. Which animals would he see first, Fraser wondered? Would they appear as science as taught, crawling out of the waters? Would he witness the extinction of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals, as Science taught was the sequence of events? Or would all animals spring up at the same time, as some fundamentalist friends of his grandparents believed?
As he was thinking this, the first thought-voice other than his own in the dream came to Fraser: a deep, melodious, rumbling voice such as his grandfather used when preaching sermons – but much lower and more powerful.
“That’s not important right now,” rumbled the unknown voice.
“Just my luck,” the Fraser-consciousness said to itself, disappointed.
While Fraser had been distracted with this brief interchange, the world had become filled with all the animals familiar to the waking Fraser. His brief disappointment over not learning the truth about evolution was overshadowed by something more interesting. Man was about to be created.
But it was not to be as Fraser expected. Fraser’s attention was suddenly focused, as though his mind were a camera lens, on a single animal among the world’s life. A wolf paused in his walk across a rocky landscape, sat down and lifted one leg to scratch behind his ear.
About a dozen fleas jumped off the animal’s body and landed on an outcropping of granite. Fraser saw them all in detail, although they were too small for him to be able to detect with his waking vision, keen as it was. Then, to Fraser’s astonishment, they grew. Each flea enlarged in size until it was bigger than the animal it had abandoned. The fleas one by one leaned back on their two hindmost legs and balanced, upright, leaving all their other legs waving free in the air.
Fraser had a sense of “fast-forward” now. The fleas developed a language, formed a civilization, and built cities. Mankind was nowhere to be found, the fleas had dominion over the earth. It was all very puzzling and while dream-Fraser pondered this variation on his understanding of the way things are supposed to be, he heard the deep voice again.
“What have you learned from this?” demanded the voice.
Fraser awoke with the question still sounding in his mind. It took him a few minutes to re-orient and understand that he was in his own bed in his own apartment. His own wolf, without any fleas as far as Fraser knew, slept on the floor beside the bed. The voice and the world that it created for Fraser’s instruction were all gone.
It was fortunate that he was no longer in that reality because he had no answer to give the voice. What had he learned from this? He had no idea. He thought about it all the time while he was showering, dressing, walking Diefenbaker, and making breakfast. He had walked three of the seven blocks from his apartment to the Consulate when the answer finally came to him.
As soon as got to his own office, Fraser called Ray’s cell phone.
“What part of ‘I don’t want to talk to you’ don’t you understand, Fraser?” the angry detective demanded after Fraser had said hello.
“The part where you actually mean it, Ray.”
“I actually mean it. Until you can talk to me without looking at me like I’m some kind of insect, just stay away.” He switched his phone off.
But Fraser was waiting for Ray in Ray’s own living room when the detective got home that evening after work. Fraser was glad for once that the women of the household paid him so much attention when he came over. With Ma, Francesca and Maria all sitting around him, chattering at him and forcing food into him, Fraser was safe from having Ray curse him in front of them.
“I was telling your mother and sisters about a dream I had last night,” Fraser said to Ray while Ray was hanging his coat and hat in the closet by the front door.
“It’s a really interesting dream, Bro,” Francesca added.
Ray grimaced and walked past them all into the kitchen. Ma motioned to Fraser with a twist of her head that he should go after him. Fraser followed Ray into the kitchen and found him pouring himself a glass of milk.
“Want some?” he asked Fraser, speaking more cordially than he had to Fraser for some days. Probably his mother’s influence, Fraser decided. He may be angry with me but I’m in his house and therefore he has to offer me food and drink no matter how he’s feeling. Fraser nodded and went himself to take a glass from the cupboard.
“You’ll need something to wash all those cookies down. You know you’ve gained weight since you first came to Chicago.”
“It’s your mother’s fault.”
Ray was definitely being nicer. Something was changed. Had he had a dream of his own?
“You’re wondering why I’m so nice all of a sudden. You’re a guest in my house, Fraser. I didn’t invite you but you’re here so I’ve got to be nice. That’s the custom of generations of Italians.Among other customs.” He took a gulp of his milk. “Now go back and talk to Ma. She likes analyzing dreams. Used to do it for all the neighbours back in the old country, she tells me.”
Fraser was not going to be dismissed. “No, Ray, it is you I want to tell about the dream. Well, not all the details but the conclusions I’ve drawn from it.”
“I’m really not in the mood for more stories. I’ve heard lots of stories in the last couple of days and none of them made me very happy.” But he sat down at the kitchen table with his milk at the kitchen table anyway. “Inuit story?”
It was Fraser’s turn now to tell a tale of his own childhood. “You know that my grandparents were very religious,” he began.
Ray nodded. “Missionaries, you told me. Took a traveling library all around. Went to China, like Ingrid Bergman.”
Fraser was temporarily derailed. “Ingrid Bergman? My grandmother was nothing like her at all. She was very short, barely five feet and Ingrid Bergman was much taller. Bergman was blond and Grandmother was dark. Bergman was big-boned and Grandmother was . . .”
“Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Fraser. It’s a movie. Ingrid Bergman went to China to be a missionary. No other connection, I just thought of it when you mentioned your grandparents.”
Fraser refocused and went on with his recitation.
“Grandfather wanted me to be conversant with the tenets of other religions. I knew the Inuit and Tlingkit legends before I came to live with them. But Grandfather made me read all manner of sacred writings: the Book of Mormon, the Talmud, the Koran.”
“In Arabic of course,” Ray said, dryly.
“The Koran in Arabic. The Talmud in Hebrew. The Book of Mormon in English.”
“Go on, Fraser.”
“One of the books in the library was a copy of the Yom Kippur service. It’s the Jewish Day of Atonement. I used to think that was a very efficient way of doing things. They set aside one time of the year to seek forgiveness for all their sins, in bulk, making sure to include any that may not have been aware of - just in case.”
“Get to the point, Benny.”
“In that book there is a passage that struck me when I read it but I haven’t thought about it in more than twenty years. It came back to me in a dream last night.”
Now Ray was interested. He leaned forward to listen.
“Ray, the passage goes like this: ‘Man was created on the last day of Creation so that if he becomes overbearing and haughty, he can be told – even the flea was created before you.’ You were right. I’ve been just a little too proud of my father’s virtue. And my own.”
Ray smiled, this time a wide and genuine look of happiness. “More than a little, Benny. I’m glad you told me all this. I could already tell something was different when I saw you. Your face is different. More relaxed.”
Fraser hadn’t touched his milk until then, being too tense and absorbed in what he was about to impart. Now he felt better and took a big gulp.
“Something else about your face, Benny.”
“You’ve got a milk moustache.”
The friends laughed together.