"You won't like prison."
When Fraser thought back over these words of Victoria's, as he had ample free time to do these days, it occurred to him that she had been right, but that it was no great mental stretch for her to have come to that conclusion.
He had a very long time ahead for thinking. Only three days so far and counting towards the five years he would have to wait to apply for parole.
No, it wasn't hard to guess that he wouldn't like prison. He was a nomadic animal, roaming the north for most of his life. Even under the discipline of the RCMP his job required him to stay on the move. They'd had to get him out of Moose Jaw after only six weeks because he couldn't adapt to such an urban lifestyle. But even so, most people � even city people � didn't like prison.
Victoria acted as though she knew him through and through, and at the time we had wanted to believe that he knew her, that he knew who she was. He'd been foolish, he now realized, but he had had a great deal more time to reflect on it than he had had when she was about to leave.
Fraser stood on the railway tracks, watching Victoria's train begin to pull away. With a quick glance to his right he saw Ray watching. Victoria's voice called to him "Come with me!"
Insane. She'd framed him, put his life at risk, tried to destroy Ray in the process. She was a murderess, a thief and a liar. And he loved her.
"Come with me."
Even shouting over the sound of the moving train, her beautiful voice was a siren call, leading him to destruction.
"Come with me."
If he left now, Ray would have to pay the bail he had pledged. His best friend would be burdened with a punishing mortgage Fraser knew Ray could not afford. To run after this train would be a betrayal of all he treasured: his career, his integrity, his respect for the law, his friendship.
"Come with me."
That beautiful voice overrode all other blandishments. With a last look at Ray, he started to run. He chased the train while Victoria stood there holding out her hand to him. Jumping up, he grabbed her waiting outstretched hand. Still holding his hand, she led him inside the train to a place where she had a trench coat thrown over two seats. Two saved seats. She had expected him to come with her, even after all she had done.
He dropped into one of the seats and for a few minutes he focused on breathing deeply to catch his breath after the exertion of running. If you had asked him, before tonight he would have denied being able to overtake a moving train. Love gave people peculiar strength.
She sat down beside him, at first respecting his silence.
His mind was blank for some time as the train clattered along. What was there to think about? He had made the decision not with his mind but with his legs. Well, with another part of his anatomy as well.
His heart? As he had reflected upon the matter since then, he now knew it hadn't been his heart at all. His defense lawyer had spoken of the "small brain". That must have been what had propelled Fraser's legs that night.
What Fraser now knew that it was only while he sat beside Victoria on the train that his heart asserted itself. He permitted himself to think about the future that awaited him as well as the future that awaited Ray. The small brain's voice was receding and his large brain and over-burdened heart were taking over.
He turned to look at Victoria beside him. Her expression was hard and calculating, even now that she had won.
Finally she spoke. "I knew I was right to get two tickets."
It was the wrong thing for her to say just at that moment. Perhaps now that she thought she had won entirely, she was getting sloppy. He had wanted her to talk of love, desire, pleasure, the most infinitesimal appreciation of what he had sacrificed, anything to confirm to him that he had made the right decision there on the platform.
Just as it had taken him an only an instant to decide to run away, it took him just another instant to decide to go back.
The train stopped at a suburban station outside Chicago. Fraser rose from his seat and spoke three words to her, then walked firmly to the doorway leading out of the compartment and stepped down without hesitation from the train to the platform.
Three words � it seemed only appropriate. She had called three words to him "Come with me".
His first answer had been wordless. To run to her call.
Then he had said his own three words to her. "I'm going back."
Fraser sat across from the defense lawyer appointed him by the court. The RCMP declined to get involved in his murder trial. He hadn't been on duty and the event had nothing to do with official police business. He was on his own.
Ms Sullivan, a woman in her fifties, had an air of competence about her. Fraser, having expected to be assigned an inexperienced youngster, decided to be brutally honest with this woman and let her know right up front where he stood.
Certainly she had been brutally honest with him. "In court, we'll do and say what we need to, in order to get you off. But for me to defend you properly, I have to know the facts. Level with me. It won't go any farther than this cell but I have to know what really happened."
"That would take two hours to tell, and I don't think you want to spend that much time with me today."
She had smiled a smile that Fraser liked: amused, intelligent and just a bit maternal.
"Is it a good story?"
Fraser smiled back at her. "I think it's worthy of one of those cop shows you see on television."
"Then by all means tell it, Constable Fraser, but give me the shortened version."
He did that and Ms. Sullivan had to admit it was indeed a good story.
Fraser went on, "Please let me spell out my position for you. You don't have to 'get me off' as you say. I only really want two things and if I get those two things I'll be happy to plead guilty to something."
"Here are the two things I want. First, I don't want to die. I'll accept a prison term but I want to go on breathing. No death penalty."
"That's should be do-able," Ms. Sullivan said thoughtfully. "And the second thing?"
"The second thing is that I want Detective Vecchio completely exonerated. He had nothing to do with the killing and he didn't know he was passing stolen money. The responsibility is entirely mine."
"Hardly. But I'm guessing you still want to protect your lady friend."
Fraser nodded wordlessly.
"Constable Fraser, my mother used to say that every man has two brains � a big brain and a small brain. I put it to you that you are thinking with your small brain right now and it's not going to serve you well in the long run. I'd advise you to try to let me give this woman her share of the blame even if we can't locate her. Evil woman takes advantage of innocent young man. It would play very nicely in court."
"I'm not young, Ms Sullivan. I'm thirty four."
Again she laughed. "We won't quibble over that. Fortunately you're cute. You don't deny being cute?"
"No, I don't suppose I really could, in all conscience."
"So, just so that we're clear, you're willing to do time to protect this woman even though you are innocent."
"I'm not innocent."
"Not innocent, not young, but you confess to being cute. That's one out of three. But you do confirm that you didn't commit the murder."
"I did not commit the murder. But to protect Detective Vecchio and ensure my own survival, I'll plead guilty to whatever charge you can negotiate as long as it doesn't get me executed. Ray would never be able to live with himself if I died."
"Constable Fraser, if we approach it that way, you'll do considerable jail time and your career will be ruined."
"I'll already threw my career away when I went after that woman. I deserve to be punished."
Ms Sullivan leaned forward and looked him straight in the eye. "If you have any romantic notions about atoning for your sins, I'd advise you to give them up now. Jail isn't fun and it's especially not fun for police officers. I'm here to tell you � you won't like prison."
She didn't see what was funny about what she had said but it somehow amused this Mountie because he threw back his head and laughed heartily.
Second-degree murder was a fair compromise, Fraser assured Ms Sullivan when she brought him the offer from the district attorney, as long as all charges against Ray were dropped and the detective's name entirely and officially cleared. She counseled against accepting, telling Fraser that she felt he had an excellent chance of being found innocent by a jury. Particularly if she stacked the jury with females.
Fraser declined. Accepting the lesser charge would guarantee what he wanted for Ray. Ray himself pleaded with Fraser not to agree to a deal that would require prison time and slap him with a criminal record. Didn't Fraser understand that he would no longer be a Mountie? Did he really believe he would survive years in jail without severe physical and emotional damage?
Fraser was adamant. He wasn't concerned about the face value of the sentence but only how long it would be before he could apply for parole. That was the only number that really mattered to him. He knew how to be a model prisoner and was confident of release when his first chance of parole came around. Ray's safety was paramount and he couldn't guarantee that without absorbing all blame himself.
There was no trial, but the story had media appeal � it had sex, violence and money. Nor did it hurt that the accused Mountie was highly photogenic. Dudley Do-right falls for a bank robber and shoots her new boyfriend in a fit of jealousy. Ray Vecchio was left out of the limelight, a non-issue.
Fraser knew more or less what his cell would look like; he'd visited convicts often enough to have an awareness of the living conditions. As the guards marched him to his new home, he was curious what his cellmate would be like. Whoever it was, this stranger would be someone he would have to get to know and learn to manipulate in order to make his own life easier. It was some kind of a minor challenge, at least, to occupy him during the tedious month and years that lay ahead. He had other vague plans: he might write his memoirs, obtain a position as trustee, do tutoring in literacy to his fellow inmates, find a subject that he didn't already have extensive knowledge of and study it. He was not without things to keep himself busy, he decided.
The guards stopped in front of a cell. One of them opened it with a key and motioned for Fraser, who had been walking unshackled, to enter. There had been no need for restraints. Standing in full sight, surrounded by guards, only the most foolish of men would try to make a break. The guards had sized up Fraser already and decided that he was delicate, pretty, with small hands and feet. Not much of physical threat. Most likely he was smart, and that might prove troublesome, but certainly not the first night. A pretty dude like this Mountie was going to have an interesting time of it on the inside.
"Your bunkie's name is Argent. Argent, this guy's called Fraser. Have fun, kiddies." With that the guards barked with laughter and sauntered away.
Argent was large and beefy. Coarse black hair escaped from above the neckline and below the cuffs of his prison shirt. The cell had two beds, one each against opposite walls and Argent sat on one of them, watching his new cellmate enter their shared domain. Folded sheets and a folded blanket sat on the other bare mattress of the other bed. Fraser saw two pillows, both old and thin, behind the head of his cellmate. The man's arms were crossed behind his head. One of these pillows was evidently meant for Fraser's bed. The stench from the large man's armpits probably permeated both pillows, Fraser thought with regret, so he didn't really want to claim his property.
Fraser was in no hurry. He had confidence in his own physical and mental skills and felt sure he could come to dominate this man eventually. But there might be complex interactions among the inmates. Where did this man stand in the unofficial hierarchy? Was he feared by the other inmates? Was he popular? Ridiculed?
First impressions are lasting, went the old saw, but Fraser had his own attitude about first impressions. He frequently let people under-estimate him, finding it a useful tactic. And the last time he had been in prison, hadn't the one man he would have thought was the cruelest and most dangerous rescued him? No, first impressions were a foolish man's way to judge someone.
Just to test the waters and give him his first chance to feel out his cellmate, Fraser, upon entering the cell, went right over to stand beside Argent and said mildly, "Good morning. I'm Benton Fraser. I see we'll be spending some time together."
Argent grunted out a couple of syllables that could have been affirmation.
"Pleased to meet you," Fraser continued, and held out his hand.
Argent only looked at the hand as though it were some vermin that had crept into the cell. He grunted again.
Fraser was now curious to see whether he could push this character into actual speech. "I imagine one of those pillows was meant for me. Now that I'm here, perhaps . .."
He got words: an obscenity. Fraser only shrugged and proceeded to make up his bed with the sheets and blanket he found. The pillow wasn't a particularly good one; he'd be just as comfortable without it.
At lunch that first day, in a huge institutional dining hall, Fraser watched Argent to see to whom he would talk, who would approach him, whether the guards paid him any special attention.
Some of the inmates sought out friends to sit with and took the opportunity of mealtime to be sociable. Argent was not one of these. When he walked with his full tray towards a table, the inmates sitting there shifted uncomfortably and a ripple went up and down the table when he sat down.
Fraser was standing with his own tray, not yet choosing a spot to sit. He was too busy gathering data. He was ready to try to determine whether the other men's avoidance was from fear, or whether they disliked him for some reason.
He moved in the direction of Argent's table, walking as though to pass right behind Argent's chair and keep moving. Right behind Argent, Fraser pretended to trip and fell against his cellmate, letting food spill over the larger man.
If the men around the table feared Argent, they would tense up, expecting violence. If they were not afraid of him, they would find the incident funny. To Fraser's delight, Argent stood up immediately and whirled around towards him, fist upraised. Fraser expertly ducked to avoid a blow but managed not to look particularly skilled. The men would consider him a wimp � and that was fine for now. Argent bellowed and tried for another punch but by then a half dozen guards were squeezing through the space between the tables. Argent, seeing them, subsided and sat down again cursing.
Any who were close enough to see the incident sat hushed and tense. Yes, they were afraid of Argent.
Better than I could have hoped, Fraser thought, as he moved along at the guards' instruction. There was very little left on his tray to eat but he didn't mind. Information is what he had been after and he now had a heaping helping of that.
Argent did not initiate any conversation in the cell between after lunch, only glared at Fraser in a way that Fraser supposed was meant to be intimidating. Fraser played along, keeping his distance, remaining on his own bed except when Nature called. They were taken out for their dinner and Fraser chose a seat far enough away from Argent to seem to be avoiding him, but having a clear sight line between them. While Fraser ate, he made a point to look up often at Argent, turning away fearfully when the other man caught him looking. The other inmates close enough to see them noticed this as he hoped they would.
Fraser's reputation preceded him. No one spoke to him at lunch but at dinner, one of the men at his table started in conversation.
"So, you're the Mountie."
Fraser muttered a non-committal "Yeah".
"What's this about a Mount-ee?" another spoke up.
"That's what pretty-boy here is going to be. He's in with Argent."
"He's the Canadian dude. Didincha hear? He off-ed this other dude who was doing
There were shouts of approval around the table at this.
"Bitch was a bank robber, too."
"Hey, good stuff."
"Wish my wife would rob a bank."
The banter continued around Fraser, there was apparently no need for him to join in. All he did for the remainder of the meal was smile shyly and give monosyllabic responses when he couldn't avoid it. So far prison was proving more interesting than he had expected it to be. He would sleep without a pillow tonight. It would have much more use than for sleeping for the time being.
For another couple of days, Fraser endured small acts of bullying in their cell. Argent tripped Fraser as he moved about and dropped first the Mountie's towel, then different articles of his clothing on the floor. He kept the two pillows touching his person at all times when he was in the cell, taking them under one of his large arms whenever he got up from his own bed. When Fraser didn't react to any of these tactics, Argent threw the Mountie's toothbrush into the toilet.
With inner amusement, Fraser permitted all these annoyances without comment and even showed made a pretense of increased trepidation as things went on. He was waiting for the right moment � some promising straight line to be delivered by this apparent oaf. Fraser had to allow that for some people, the first impression they give others is an accurate one.
On the third day of Fraser's incarceration, Ray visited. He was so somber and dejected that Fraser was hard put to try to cheer him up. Dear Ray, he was as contrite as though it were himself and not Fraser who had been disloyal. Fraser did not tell him about the ongoing saga with his bunkie.
When Ray asked the expected "Can I bring you something next time?" Fraser had to admit he hadn't yet ascertained exactly what kinds of goods he was allowed to receive as gifts. He confessed this to Ray, then made a mental note to ask one of the guards how he might find out just what the relevant regulations permitted.
They were allowed half an hour together. Fraser didn't let Ray see it, but he was relieved when the time was up. Ray was heart-broken and Fraser saw no way to alleviate his friend's distress. It was all so unfair, since he, Fraser, had an ongoing project to occupy his thoughts and keep him from sinking into either boredom or despair for the time being. Finally, Ray slunk away and Fraser's heart ached for him. Maybe I could let him bring me a big fluffy pillow, he thought.
That same night, Fraser was presented with the opportunity he was waiting for. Light's out was called and the cellblock was switched into darkness. Both Argent and Fraser lay on their respective beds. Argent's voice, gruff as though not accustomed to being used for actual words, came across the room.
"Now's a good time for us to get things straight."
Fraser waited, with interest.
"You're the prettiest boy I've seen in here for a long time. So, here's the deal. I'll let you be my bitch, and you won't get hurt. Life will be nice in here for you. You'll even get your comfy cushion back."
Fraser briefly weighed his response. Argent wouldn't be expecting acquiescence right away.
"I don't like that . . . kind of . . . stuff," he said in a fearful whisper.
As Fraser expected, Argent was delighted by this answer. "You can like it or you can not like it, makes me no never mind."
"Maybe you won't hurt me, but what about the other inmates? I see the way some of them are looking at me. I'm scared. If I let you . . ." here the Mountie paused delicately as though afraid to describe the act, ". . . they'll, you know, want to do things to me too."
Argent let out a happy growl. "None of those assholes would dare touch my bitch. They wouldn't dare. If I say your ass is mine, it's mine and only mine and those sons of bitches know it."
"If you told everyone to leave me alone, they would? Really? Gee." Fraser managed to sound like an anxious schoolboy, which delighted Argent no end.
"You bet your pretty little ass. But it ain't so easy. I gotta taste your ass first and see if I like it. You just crawl on over here and we'll get started."
In the dark, Argent couldn't see Fraser rubbing his hands with uncontrolled glee. "Don't hurt me, okay?" the Mountie faked a whimper. Then he stood up and felt his way slowly in the dark across the cell to Argent's bunk. Argent was going to have to let Fraser get close to his private parts in order to make Fraser behave as his bitch. It was really going to be too easy.
Fraser's eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness. He could make out Argent sitting his bed and, oh the arrogance, he already had his pajama pants off.
Fraser had been in a slinking posture. Now he straightened with a jolt and delivered a sharp kick to Argent's nether regions. He followed this with a well-placed punch to the man's chest that knocked whatever wind he had left out of him.
Argent howled in pain. Fraser knelt beside his bed and screamed, "Stop! Leave me alone! I can't take it! Stop!" Each time Fraser delivered a blow to Argent, he himself squealed in apparent agony, and pleaded for Argent to leave him alone. Argent's cries were wordless. All his breath was being knocked out of him � he was unable to speak, only moan. Anyone listening in could have believed that it was Fraser being pummeled.
After a few minutes, Fraser stopped and allowed Argent to recover, gasping for breath. He hadn't touched the man's face or arms, there would be no visible signs of the beating. Fraser brought his face close to Argent's ear and whispered.
"Now, would you please tell everybody I'm your bitch, as you call it, and make sure nobody touches me. If anybody touches me, I'm afraid I'm going to make you pay for it. Anybody includes you, obviously. I advise you to accept this arrangement. If you told anyone I attacked you, it is unlikely they would believe it."
In the darkness Fraser could still make out the man's nod.
"Just to make sure everyone else knows you're the boss, I'm going to let you keep my pillow," he crooned softly and dangerously.
Argent only gulped, still unable to speak.
"And I wouldn't advise putting anything else of mine in the toilet. That's most unhygienic," Fraser whispered, "I might just fish it out and make you swallow it. Now get some sleep. You've got a big day of bullying ahead tomorrow."
Fraser left him and moved over to his own bunk. More action was needed to complete the plan. After a sharp intake of breath to steel himself, he punched himself in the face several times, in spots calculated to cause visible wounds, about the eyes and at the corners of his mouth.
The inmates' fear of Argent would be ratcheted up several notches the next day. Fraser predicted that Argent would take advantage of the situation and let it be understood he had 'kicked Fraser's ass', as he understood was the common parlance. And they would also assume that after kicking, Fraser's ass would be subjected to other types of indignity.
Inmate and guard alike, Fraser, was certain, would believe Argent's boast that the ass in question, his own, was not to be touched by anyone else. True, Fraser would have a night of self-inflicted pain to deal with but he suspected the guards would be agreeable to letting him go to the prison infirmary in the morning, where he would get tender ministrations from the staff. Cute indeed had its uses.
And if Argent failed to maintain the fiction that Fraser was sacred, well, Fraser could always repeat the lesson of tonight until it was learned. Fraser doubted it would be a problem, though. Argent would want nothing more than to protect his reputation as a tough guy.
Fraser stretched out on his bed and mused. His face was hurting him far too much to allow him to sleep, but he had suffered such things before. It would pass.
He thought about Victoria. She was right. He didn't like prison. It forced him to use ungentlemanly means of persuasion and strong language to achieve his ends. But, it could be worse.End